By BARRY VAN-ASTEN
THE SERMON ON THE MOUND
It had been a long day, and as the day grew into night Pegamina, finding no place to rest, decided to wander a little from the track she had been keeping to. She hadn’t wandered very far when she heard the sound of raised voices which seemed to come from behind a stone wall. As she crept silently towards the wall, the voices began to grow louder until she could almost hear what was being said, though not quite, for the sound of a flowing river seemed to half drowned out the voices.
As she peered over the wall, she could see what all the noise was about, for there, by the side of the riverbank was a small collection of odd-looking creatures, all sitting around the side of a grassy mound, on top of which, stood a very important looking bird, a raven in fact, waving its wings and stamping its feet in all directions. And as she looked about the scene before her, she noticed by the side of the river, paying no particular interest in what was being said, was the unspeakable toad in all his glorious unspeakableness, flat on his back and demanding in full voice the traditional treading, quite oblivious to the fact that he was being enormously ignored.
Without being seen, Pegamina climbed onto the stone wall and lay down upon it as quietly as she could and listened.
‘Furthermore’ croaked the raven ‘did not this flame burn in the days of two moons!’ And here the raven began to quote a strange passage from the holiest book in Sleepy Sadness known as The Pense or The Dense, which begins:
‘The noble knight nuffs his nade
In quanerous rodells by the lade.
Slurping Goodbar – jatacasted,
Tome Slanty, the gurlet, purdoranced.
Undew norns did slapeless, wadelgrabe,
Through dripping, guey, Noggin Slabe;
Where Ular bellowed: “Boll Berwick’s Bruste!”
Upon Mount Zosta, the Wibble’s Puste!
Run rackled, begulfed in momulous grief
And entant the sloven, wooly reef.
Nitter, natter, the bewilderous things;
Toadish brines by eternal springs.
Yimmer, yammer, the moondish flats,
Osgan Moord, contentus grats;
Bagal, finial, rugged rand, and
Slip slither, silty sand!’
Now, I should point out that The Pense or The Dense is considered to be the holiest of books ever communicated by the Superior Being known as the Ancient. It was received after the dawn of time by an unknown prophet who spent his life teaching that which was divinely given to him. But unfortunately, the prophet was as deaf as an old pair of boots and could not be sure whether the book was to be known by the title of ‘The Pense’ or ‘The Dense’. And so it came to be known as ‘The Pense or The Dense’. The book is written in the style of an epic saga. Telling of how wars were lost and wars were won, and it gives an excellent account of noble deeds and acts of treacherous villainy. In fact, it is a complete history of Sleepy Sadness and its surrounding villages. Tradition has it that there were a further nine volumes originally written, but only the first has survived, which alone takes a lifetime’s study, and so most serious students can do no more than browse through its incomprehensible contents. Kingdoms have been won and lost between those who refer to it as ‘The Pense’ and those who know it as ‘The Dense’. And even now, scholars are disclaiming its authority as the word of the Ancient on the grounds that the prophet, being stone deaf, must have misheard and misspelt most, if not all of the book, and so it is therefore unreliable, and some would say unreadable. But still it continues to be the most revered and worshipped object in Sleepy Sadness.
‘Furthermore,’ croaked the raven once again, ‘I come not to you, but for you. I ask not that you shall follow me, only that I shall lead!’ And here, he began to recite the parable of the crooked man:
‘In a crooked room, there lived a crooked man,
And in his crooked dreams, he dreamt a crooked plan:
He dreamt a crooked man could fly, far from this crooked earth
And crooked eyes looked on the light dimmed by his crooked birth.
He walked across the crooked floor and around the crooked walls
And to the crooked table where the crooked curtain falls,
Where there stood a crooked book full of crooked words
And little crooked pictures of little crooked birds.
Sat by the crooked window he watched the crooked sky
And asked the crooked question why a crooked man can’t fly.
He searched his crooked heart and found the reason why:
A crooked man has a crooked soul so a crooked man can’t fly!
But the crooked man had one desire since he was a crooked boy:
He had to know within himself if a crooked man could fly!
So in a suit of crooked feathers he drew a crooked breath
And the crooked man leapt from his room and to his crooked death!’
By now Pegamina was becoming quite sleepy and found it difficult to listen to what was being said. Only small snatches of words seemed to reach her ears between the sound of the rippling river and the wind blowing in the trees. And only distorted images of the raven, flapping its wings and stamping its feet upon the mound, seemed to enter her tired eyes.
As she lifted her heavy eyelids, first one then the other, she could see that all that was left of the strange gathering around the mound were just a few noisy shapes in the moonlight.
‘...and we are merely wished into a world we no longer wish to participate in. It is ourselves; our very selves, with all its desires and pains and infantile fancies that cause this everlasting sorrow. For let us not forget the words of the Ancient: “It is in the mystery of the heart where sorrow’s seeds are sown, and it is in the cradle of our tears where sad seeds come to bloom!” And furthermore...’ she heard between the river and the wind. But she had fallen fast asleep.
‘Furthermore’ croaked the raven