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The tale of Ocra the Keeper. Chapter 1

by RishiWisdom


Ocra lived on a high river bank, close to a forest that rose up the hill as a dense wall. Behind the hill, as far as the eye could see, more hills, higher hills were sleeping in fog. The river bed was covered in boulders, mossy at the top where crows and herons would sit and nib at it, slimy and shiny at the bottom having been embraced by the waters for so long. The swift waters were especially dangerous in spring during the high water season.

Ocra has lived here since she could remember herself, brought up by the previous Keeper, Oni. She never knew her parents or if she ever had any – Oni never spoke about such things. Ocra has been raised to take care of the Hill Region, and since Oni has passed into the subtle realm, she has been the Keeper. She knew there must be other Keepers for every hill beyond her realm, but she never met them.

Every morning she would come up to the edge of the bank, open her palms and just take in the life force flowing in the air, then she would lie in the river bed, speaking to the river. The river was named Anduna, and Ocra knew her very well – as well as you can know a river – a living being so different from and superior to us. Hills and rivers, not to speak of the Mother Bharat, live in a different time span taking little notice of the fast changes in our small lives, unaffected by them. But you can hear them speaking if you hearken to their flow of life force and tune in to their mind.

Ocra remembered how she first heard Anduna. She was 4 springs at that time. Oni was teaching her to meditate and lie in water without breathing for a long time and merge into the river’s life force. After some futile attempts Ocra was finally able to relax and clear her mind to let in the life force. First she felt amazingly peaceful and safe and lost track of time, when gradually the soft sound of a song started to flow into her mind – the song of Anduna. She didn’t understand the words, but she could feel the meaning with her heart: “Anduna is my name, and I feel my might and beauty as I’m flowing over the Mother, the sparkling magical world around me is filled with life force and is overflowing with love, I want to spread it all around me in gratitude to the Mother”.

Over the years she would ask her questions about the world and listen to her songs, as the time went the songs became clearer and their bond stronger. This was one of many duties of a Keeper– to create and maintain bonds with the powerful living beings whose presence is not perceived by people but who shape the life on Mother Bharat. So Ocra also learned how to listen to the hill, the ocean, the fire and the wind, the sun and the moon. Keepers call them Devas and accept their guidance on how to take care of their region.

Another duty of a Keeper would be to internalize and formulate the Devas’ songs in their own language. That’s why they would also become known as poets and singers. But those songs were not ordinary songs, they weren’t meant to entertain or inform. Rather with their subtle beauty they would put people in a state of meditation connecting them with the heart of the Keeper. From this heart wisdom would flow into the listeners’ hearts who then feel like it was their own. In this way Keepers would weave harmony into the world.

On a clear evening of the light half of the first autumn month Ocra was sitting near her stone house running her fingers over the strings of her small harp singing the Autumn Song. This was a very unusual song – she heard it from leaves and tree bark when she was patrolling her realm two days ago. Ocra never listened to the songs of inferior beings, but this time she felt she had to. Something was different about the seriousness of the message. As usually during a patrol she opened her palms to sense if the flow of the life force was healthy in this part of her region – she could feel the thin herby flow from the dying leaves, the transparent but strong flow from the trees, several agile flows from small animals – everything was in order.

Ocra was leaving when she noticed that the leaves were rustling rhythmically and there was a certain emotion hidden there, the emotion they wished to convey. Then, as Oni had taught her, she sat down on the ground, put her open palms on the knees and closed her eyes. First she breathed in and out at regular intervals controlling the life force movement in her own body. Thus she muted her outer senses, stopped her mind’s work and focused on the gentle rumbling humming emitted by the hill and by the soil itself. When the humming filled her she started to rock side to side in accordance with the waves of the sound. At this moment the rhythmical rustling of the dying leaves unfolded and flew into her ears, but this time she could understand what message they were eager to share.

Ocra diligently noted all the subtle feelings, emotions and images she perceived and then, without opening her eyes, she came back to her senses and used the mind to create associations with every item she received through this song. This would help the Keeper create the song of the dying leaves later.

Ocra didn’t get tired like ordinary people do, she rarely ate and slept for just a couple of hours a day. People need food and sleep to refill the life force supply in their body, but Keepers didn’t have a supply – their life force was always flowing in and out entwining with the life force of all the living beings in their region allowing them to merge into the nature, be one with it. This feature made them perfect for their role.

But there was a kind of tiredness Ocra could feel – the tiredness of spirit. It came when she would only fulfill her duties and forgot about the spirit. The spirit required feeding. Oni was particularly adamant about this practice, teaching Ocra over and over to meditate early in the morning, while everyone was still asleep, so that she could realize herself as a small spark inside her body, a spark which is an infinite part of the primordial light – the Original Living Being. Oni explained that every spark has a deep-rooted desire to express their love to this Original Being and receive reciprocation – this interaction is the fundamental practice that enabled Keepers to stay alive and maintain their qualification. And their duties, Oni used to tell, were the expression of love they can offer to the Being. It was the hardest practice for Ocra to learn, but she quickly realized she couldn’t perform her duties if she didn’t feed the spirit.

So after creating associations for the song of the dying leaves she felt a little tired in spirit. She understood why – the unusual source of the song and the emotional message she received made her a little restless. She needed answers. So Ocra climbed the topmost boulder in the vicinity, lay out the deer skin she always kept on her for such occasions and sat upright aligning the flow of her life force. She took the beads hanging from her neck into the right hand and started to chant the secret mantra Oni taught her.

Immediately she felt relieved and little by little as if connected to her long lost true home. Ocra loved her life and the work she was doing in her region, she felt satisfied. But chanting this mantra brought a completely different level of satisfaction. The chanting made her delve deep into herself, to the places within her she had never known existed before she tried it for the first time. With years of practice Ocra also found herself connected to other living beings who lived beyond her region, in fact beyond mother Bharat herself, she only communicated with them during the chanting of the secret mantra through the feeling of connection and support they gave her – she saw vague images and felt their life force, but that was it. She knew herself to be a part of a big picture, of a family she left long ago. This always made her feel fearless because she knew she lived in a world created and maintained by those who care for her.

But this time Ocra also had a task. So she addressed the Original Being – but there was no answer. This was the first experience for Ocra when she felt someone’s presence, but couldn’t communicate. Then she tested the other living beings she felt support from during chanting. One of them whom she saw as a man in white clothes with a long white beard answered her question with short, but concise messages that just appeared in her mind like gusts of fresh wind. Satisfied, but puzzled, Ocra opened her eyes and felt pregnant with knowledge and wisdom of the elders – that is what she called them in her heart.

Slowly she got up and for some time just stood there taking in everything she learnt. Then she collected the skin and put it in her side bag. The bag reminded her of Oni again: the mentor embroidered this bag for her student when she came of age, that is turned 14. Before the Keeper’s initiation Oni sent her to gather the herbs that only adult Keepers were allowed to gather and gave her this bag. The embroidery showed a deer family grazing in the forest made with threads of different colours and some gem stones Oni received as donation from the village people.

Emerging from her thought Ocra noticed that it was darkening and headed home. She was safe because she knew what she had to do. Having returned home, she entered her stone house, a small one-room hut with a fireplace and a stove along the back wall, two beds, a couple of chests and a table with chairs. The beds weren’t ordinary human ones, it was imperative for them to be purely natural built without any human craft so that they helped Keepers to be connected to their region at all times. They looked more like big nests woven from soft branches, covered in fresh leaves and grass. It was autumn now, so the leaves and grass turned yellow and red. By the end of winter they would almost entirely wear out, so they were sometimes substituted with soft evergreen foliage until the beds were buried in the woods in spring and created again in spring.

The table was cluttered with books and notebooks –one of the Keepers’ duties was to carefully note down all the songs they hear and chronicle all the events they experience or even just hear of. No one Ocra knew needed books, people would come and hear her songs and remember them forever passing them down to their descendants, but she knew from Devas there would come time when people would only be able to learn from books.

It was dark inside, and as the last light of the day was leaving the hut, it made everything look blue and soft as if blurred. Ocra fumbled in the dark to make fire, it wasn’t very cold yet, the autumn was still settling in, but the presence of fire always gave her a sense of approval from the Devas. Then lit a candle, sat at the table, took out an inkbottle, a writing stick and opened her notebook. For a moment she paused taking a breath before diving into inspired writing. She loved the process, it was always so immersive and liberating – she felt like a vessel filled with infinite wisdom and beauty seeking to pour it on paper.

Ocra was writing for an hour or so, pausing to find a better word or metaphor for what she felt and perceived during her meditation. Then she extinguished both the candle and the fire and went to bed. Keepers didn’t actually sleep at night. Their body and mind needed rest just for a couple of hours so they plunged in a deep meditative state. They used the time to breathe in synch with mother Bharat and to tune into the flow of life force of the whole planet.

The next morning was the first day of autumn. Ocra knew the song of the dying leaves had to be sung today. After the morning rituals she washed her clothing in the Anduna river and hanged it outside the house, changed into a formal Keepers’ dress which was kept in a chest beside her bed, then reached behind her bed for a harp case, took it out and went outside to play in the sun. Ocra closed her eyes and let her innermost feelings lead her fingers to accompany the poem that she wrote yesterday. At first she lightly touched several strings one by one to set the mood of a meditative atmosphere. Then she swiftly ran her fingers over them pulling chords and sequences with regular intervals as if every chord needed to take its breath: breathing out, fading, pausing, breathing in, building up again… Then the gaps began to shorten gradually and the chords weaved into a continuous fabric of music with a melody emerging on top of it. This is when Ocra’s voice entered following the pattern of the melody, flowing beneath it:

The life is leaving us and death is closing in,

The juice of life cut off - fragile and dry or skin.

We heard so many living fade and die before,

Being full of fear while passing to the other shore,

But we don’t fret regretting neither life nor death

For just external shells are cast with our last breath.

For shapes and forms will die and are already thus

But only we live on and joy lives on in us.


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65 Reviews

Points: 31
Reviews: 65

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Fri Nov 17, 2023 1:51 pm
VengefulReaper wrote a review...



Hi Rishi!

Saw your work in the green room and decided to give it a quick review.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I'm really intrigued with the world you have introduced me to in this. The concept of communicating with the natural environment through spirituality is something I found interesting here and its what hooked me till the end.

WORLD-BUILDING

As I said in the introduction, I found the world-building to be the most interesting part of this chapter. Keepers really gave off a very 'monk' feel to them. They're isolated from society to hone their spiritual connection with mother Bharat. I love how this small detail trickled down into mundane things such as the bed not being made by humans so that the Keepers could bond with their environment better.

Also something that I liked is that Keepers are like researchers except instead of experimenting on nature to draw conclusions, they just...ask it. I wonder what that language sounds like. Is "song" a symphony or a pattern of sounds created by a river or a hill that Keepers can interpret or is it like an actual song with lyrics like the last few lines that can only be HEARD by Keepers? idk. I think that is left to be unintentionally clear for now since you don't directly address what the river or the hill's "song" sounds to Orca.

CHARACTERS

So far, we've been introduced to Oni and Orca who are master and apprentice. I like Orca quite a bit as a character but I need to read more to be fully on board with her. This chapter heavily focuses on world building as opposed to character introduction. I think pulling back a little on the world building and seeding in a scene between Oni and Orca speaking will do wonders in displaying their personality, relationship and cement the tone of the chapter more firmly.

I like this part:

After some futile attempts Ocra was finally able to relax and clear her mind to let in the life force. First she felt amazingly peaceful and safe and lost track of time, when gradually the soft sound of a song started to flow into her mind – the song of Anduna. She didn’t understand the words, but she could feel the meaning with her heart

It shows me that she's going through some challenges in order to hear or understand Anduna. But there is a lack of a picture in my head. What does Orca look like or what is she wearing.

I also recommend avoiding the stuff in bold. This is the age-old "show don't tell" rule of writing. It's more impactful to describe Orca at peace rather than saying that she felt at peace. This is where I think the characterization can be inserted here to round out the chapter better. It is a chapter 1 after all. You don't want to blow off all your world-building here but you certainly want to cement your characters in the story.

I would love to see more of Orca as a character in future chapters. She seems like a really interesting person. Monk-like people always are particularly in their mannerisms and subtleties that are affected by their time in seclusion.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, I like this chapter. The world is really intriguing and will make me come back for a chapter two. The character work could use some further additions to make this an impactful first chapter of your novel. Ending on a song was particularly effective considering that I was wondering what these songs were like. I'm glad I got that by the end.

That's it from me! Take what you find useful and discard the rest.
Keep well and keep writing
-Reaper




RishiWisdom says...


Wow what an elaborate comment! Thank you so much, food for thought and a clear part for improvement definitely! Wish you all the luck too :)



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151 Reviews

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Thu Nov 16, 2023 3:48 pm
PKMichelle wrote a review...



Hello friend!
Welcome to YWS! I saw your work in the Green Room and figured I’d check it out!


On first impressions, this was an incredibly descriptive story with amazing details. The main character was well-developed, and there was a clear plot and direction in which the story was moving. Good job for that!


If I could offer any sort of advice, it would be related to the certain verb tenses you used. I only saw it once or twice, but in some spots you used verbs that weren't technically wrong, but just weren't what is traditionally used.
For example,

Slowly she got up and for some time just stood there taking in everything she learnt.


Once again, not technically wrong, but I feel "learned" would fit much better in this context.
But it's always up to the writer, so please take this criticism lightly and know that I mean nothing negative by it.


If I had to pick my favorite part, it would definitely be the way you implemented figurative language into the piece. It adds a certain depth and brings out more of a fantasy feel, as I assume you're going with.
My favorite line was in the opening paragraph.

Behind the hill, as far as the eye could see, more hills, higher hills, were sleeping in fog.


It's just a really beautiful description and really paints the picture of what it looked like, which is quite incredible!


Overall, this was a really great first chapter to hopefully a long and flourishing book. I enjoyed reading it and am looking forward to any chapters you post in the future!
Thank you for writing and posting this here, and I can't wait to see more from you!


Goodbye for now! I hope you have a magnificent day (or night) wherever you are!




RishiWisdom says...


Thank you so much for a detailed review! You see I'm not a native, so I sometimes mix British and American forms:) Your review definitely inspired me to continue - I guess it's your superpower!:)
All the best




My tongue must tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart, concealing it, will break...
— Katherine, The Taming of the Shrew