How has the world affected you? How have things like language, culture, and geography written on the slate of who you are? Think about this for a moment. Don’t think about it for too long, for the whole world may very well crumble around you as you sift through what really exists and what is a social construct. I like to think of myself as an observer of the wold, a passive recorder of history, though it is what has been written on my blank slate that has caused me to want to be so passive. Around and around it goes. This wold is a miss-mash of interconnected webs both deliberate and accidental. Perhaps there is no objectivity when observing the world, and perhaps I am being hypocritical for suggesting such a thing. Looking back upon my own slate, now cluttered with experience and devoid of clean blankness, there have been many things in my past that have influenced how I have grown up. One thing in particular, though, is a very vivid memory I have of when I was young. Now I will endeavor to present it here how I remember it, though it has been many years since it happened. Who am I? Now my name is Rufus, but at the time I had another name, a name that I shall never utter again.
To understand these things you must first understand a bit about me. My very existence is a bit of an anomaly. My mother was an elf who fell in love with my father, a human. This story might seem familiar to romantic types, but at the time it was all but unheard of. I never knew my father since he died in battle before I was born, but my mother often told me stories about him when she was sure no one could hear us. She told me of his strength and valor and often reminded me that I inherited my bright red hard to manage hair from him. I didn’t need her to remind me of the last part. The other elves in the village where I was raised often reminded me of my heritage. Their hateful gazes seldom left me. Even in front of my mother they told me that my conception and my whole life was a terrible terrible mistake. I cried at first when they said these things, of course, I was a child. After a while, though, I began to mimic the brave face and defiant posture that my mother showed me. I refused to let these words get to me, but my slate had long before been written on, hadn’t it?
In this particular village there was a tradition every once or twice a year to make a pilgrimage to the top of a high mountain to bring food to the Fortune Teller. As the story goes, he was an elf that climbed to the peak of the mountain when the first race of men fought for land with the elves. He was first sent up as a lookout who just never came back down. He lives out his immortal years watching the humans live within the plains that the elves lost in the First War. His life is spent in quiet contemplation and impotent rage. He shuns all contact with those not bringing him food. It is this life style that the elves of my village believed endowed him with the ability to see into the future. Whether this was true or not was beside be the point. He was not so much revered as he was feared and seen as a burden that the village had to bear with grace.
Everyone in the village had to bring an offering to him at least once in his or her life and, considering the life time of elves, it was usually many times. I was a special case. My mother wished to shield me from the responsibility at such a young age. Going to see the Fortune Teller could be a life altering event. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the other villagers pressured her to take me on the pilgrimage that year. I found the mountain itself fascinating, so in that respect I wanted to go, but what I had overheard about the Fortune Teller also made me apprehensive about it. Eventually my mother relented to the villagers’ demands. It was only natural. How much can one person do when faced with an angry majority? She had to live in that village for the rest of her life after all.
When the day finally came to make our journey, my mother wrapped me tightly in heavy wool clothes despite the warmth of the day and warned me not to loosen them, for it would grow colder that higher we climbed up the mountain. I will never forget the look on my mother’s face that day. I had never seen her eyes so dark and her face so grave and serious, my mother, who always seemed to smile and laugh even through the hardest of times. Somehow this scared me more than the threat of meeting the Fortune Teller.
Our own previsions were carried on my mother’s back in a hiking sac while the food for the Fortune Teller was nestled in an ornate woven basket. I was quick to notice the difference in the presentation of the food as well the difference in the quality, but far from thinking that this was unfair at all, it made me worry about meeting this person. Was I really fit to see the kind of creature worthy of fine food and his own legend? To me, the Fortune Teller was on the same level as as mythical beasts from elven folklore, like a monster that lurks in the dark woods and prays on foolish travelers that don’t follow the rules. How could I, a mere child, hope to combat such a force of nature?
It was on these things that I contemplated while watching my mother’s stiff back as we ascended the mountain. More than once I stumbled and fell on my face in the gathering snow, and more than once she offered to carry me, though her own burden was heavy. I thought about it, but somewhere down deep inside me I knew I should be doing this on my own. With the kind of logic only a child can have, I was sure that if I made the climb myself I would be able to look the Fortune Teller in the eye and know my own worth. Being a child, though, I couldn’t make it on my own. The snow was coming up higher and higher on my small body and my limbs were starting to numb. I never asked her to help me; I didn’t have to. She saw me struggling and, sacrificing the better food in the snow for a moment to scoop me up into her arms, needed little deliberation. I don’t know how hard the rest of the trek was on her, but she never let it show on her face. Whenever she saw me looking at her, she put a bright smile on her face, and if that smile didn’t reach all the way to her eyes, I didn’t notice.
When we reached where the Fortune Teller was, the snow was coming down fiercely. It fell like a curtain in front of my face, obscuring my view. I could see slight movement beyond my mother’s arms, a limb slightly darker in shade than the snow that was falling. It was there and then it was gone in an instant. My body tensed up and my mother held me a bit tighter. I think we were both scared, but I clung to her like a lifeline in that strange environment. Slowly, a voice filled my ears, a kind of unnatural hiss calling my mother’s name. My mother loosened her grip on me and slowly lowered me to the snow. Scared as I was I grabbed a hold of my mother’s leg and stared out into the snowfall. “I am here,” I heard my mother say, her voice sounding hollow over the roar of the storm.
What happened next seemed to happen all a once. In a blur of movement, the Fortune Teller came to stand in front of us. I had been expecting a regal looking elf, a strong figure whose every moment spoke of wisdom. What I hadn’t been expecting was the creature that stood before us. He was tall, yes, in the manner of elves, but his frame was slightly hunched. His bones were uncomfortably visible, covered only by lifeless gray skin. He had but a few strands of graying hair. His face was gaunt, his eyes dark and sunken but for a strange glint of madness. He was all but naked, what was left of his clothes nothing but decaying rags.
“I see you have returned,” he said. His voice was craggy, hard as the mountain itself. He addressed my mother again in that horrible low hiss.
“I have,” my mother said defiantly, though her voice was flat.
His gaze then wandered to me and my whole body tensed under his intense stare. His eyes seemed to burn more fiercely when he saw me. “And I see that you have brought your mistake with you.”
“This is my son,” my mother answered, her hand perched atop my head protectively.
The Fortune Teller seemed to be ignoring her. “You looked so much better the last time I saw you. You had the light of forbidden love in your eyes and the fire of lust in your belly. Tell me, what did it feel like to be a filthy human’s whore?”
At one level I felt that I should say or do something to protect my mother’s honor, but on another I was unsure of what to do or if my actions would only make things worse. My mother only smoothed my hair with a bit more force and held the basket aloft. “Here is your food, Fortune Teller,” she said, voice as devoid of emotion as it had been before.
He took the basket by its handle and a sudden frown tugged at his mouth. “You left it to the snow,” he said.
“I did no such thing,” my mother answered. I could see the skin under his left eye twitch as his frown deepened.
“You shall die in great pain,” he said. I took it as a threat until he added, “That is the Fortune I see for you.” Just then he stooped down to look me in the eyes. “And as for you,” he said and paused as if searching or reading something. He let out his breath. “You shall bring nothing but despair, as all humans do.” with that he stood again and disappeared back into the veil of falling snow.
My mother picked me up again, turned around and we headed on our way. Just like that the meeting had ended. Far from awed or changed, I felt perplexed. The Fortune Teller now seemed less to me like a mythical creature than a normal elf that was starving and lingering on the edge of death. He was not magical, he was just mean spirited. I was sure he was not worth the effort of thinking about, but I couldn’t seem to get him out of my head. I kept hearing his rough voice in my mind. “Filthy human.” “Mistake.” “Bring despair like all humans do.” It wasn’t until we had made it half way down the mountain and stopped for our own meal that I understood what I was feeling. He saw right through me. From the moment he laid eyes on me, he knew who I was. Would it always be that way? Would the label of mistake and filthy human be something that I would always have to live with? Would these feelings of inadequacy never leave me?
I hadn’t realized I was crying until my mother wiped my tears away. I looked up at her and saw her own tears threatening to fall. She smiled in spite of them. “The grudges of the past don’t have to be your own,” she said, her voice beginning to quiver with emotion. “You are better than that. You are better than hate, because you are love. You are my precious child. You were brought into the wold from love and you will always be loved. Promise me,” she said, the tears finally falling from her eyes, “promise me you will remember my words.”
Her tears fell upon my face to mingle with my own. “I promise,” I said, and I meant it. To this very day I can hear her voice in my dreams reminding me of her love. At times the memory was the only thing that saved me.
We are all blank slates waiting to be written on, but by the time we realize this our blankness has already fled. We cannot control what is written on us, but we can control how we read that writing. We can choose what attitudes we keep about the good things and the bad. I want to make sure that you learn this, because I spent many years without knowing it, years I will never get back. What attitudes do you keep that you shouldn’t and what attitudes should you gain? How do you see the writing upon your slate? Think about these things but not too long, lest you fall apart wondering who you are.