It was common knowledge that it had been seventy thousand years since the great volcano last erupted.
When it happened, so spoke the tribal elders, all men, and beast were slain.
‘Only the strongest, the great and proven to god, were allowed to live and carry their blood.
Tosahwi, son of late Chief Massasoit, grandson to the late, great warrior Ujarak, who first took this land, it will happen in your lifespan. God will send you his test. You will see the great volcano erupt again!’,
The tribal chief’s eyes lit up as he spoke to the ten year old Tosahwi in his tent by the fire as the flutes played and the drums bounced - echoing in the spring breeze outside.
The boy sat still in the lotus position. His dark eyes wide open and still. The sound of the flutes were celebrations for the successful hunt. His uncle had returned with the other men in the morning. They had killed Bison. Tosahwi kept his gaze on the chief while listening to the flutes to calm his mind. Trying to hide his nervousness. Never has the Chief shown the honor of asking any youngblood to a private audience. Ever.
‘You must understand young Tosahwi, you have great strength within you. Your late father Massasoit was the chief before me. He ruled well. He was wise and he was smart and he knew how to fight without shooting an arrow or touching the tomahawk.’, and the chief, standing big and tall above the boy, on the other side of the fire, stopped and looked down in the intelligent eyes of the young Tosahwi. ‘Do you know how to fight that way, young Tosahwi?’, the chief asked.
‘No, Chief Tekoomsė.’, Tosahwi answered with quiet voice.
The old chief lifted his head again and watched the white smoke escape through the thin roof of the tall tent. He then said, ‘You must know what it is that your enemy truly desires. And then you give it to them. Because what your enemy desires is what you desire. And it's not bloodspill. It is peace and prosperity.
And there are only two things that can ever get in the way of that.’, the old chief Tekoomsė held and looked back down at the boy: ‘That is fear and that is greed. Those are temptations fighting all men. Your father knew that very well. You must never forget this and one day you will understand, because you will feel.’
‘Yes, Chief.’, the boy replied.
‘Today I have told you something that no boy of your age should know. And something that none of our people know. Some of the elder can feel that change is coming. But they won’t speak it. And I must ask you young Tosahwi to not speak it either. As it will only frighten the weak and anger the strong. No man wants to know they will perish for sure.’
‘But don’t all men know they will perish one day? Like my father perished fighting? And my grandfather perished of old age?’, the boy asked.
‘All men know. But no man believes.’, Chief Tekoomsė whispered, staring into the boy's eyes. Tosahwi was frightened to speak back at the Chief, but he felt as if he must. As if not asking now would make him wonder forever.
‘Do you believe you will perish, Chief?’, the boy asked, surprised at how strong his voice echoed in the tent.
‘I will perish before you are ready to lead, young Tosahwi. That is why you must become a man now.’
‘Why me?’, the boy asked and he really didn’t know.
‘You will be strong enough to suffer the most. And wise enough to fear the least.’, Chief Tekoomsė said.
‘I want to be as strong as you are, Chief Tekoomsė.’, the boy said, determined.
‘If you can walk ten years without speaking a word about the great volcano to anyone, not even to me, or your mother, brother or sister. Then you will be. If you fail to do so, you can never be Chief, and our people will not survive the volcano. And you will perish alongside them.’
The boy was frightened and suddenly, he didn’t want to be so special anymore.
‘I don’t want anyone to die.’, the boy said.
‘The only way to protect those you love, is to suffer as a man must suffer. As it is man’s job to suffer. If you don’t suffer. Everybody around you will. And you won’t be a man.’
The chief looked at the boy with serious eyes.
‘Today can be the first day you are a man. Or the first day of your eternal defeat. And as every great man had to do before you, you as well must make a choice.’
Tosahwi looked up at the Chief.
The drums became silent.
The flutes echoed out in the wind.
And it was only a light breeze in between Tosahwi and the fate that would decide about the rest of his life.
‘Carry the burden of pain, with the rewards of greatness. Or the comfort of submission, with the eternal loss of strength.’
Silence filled the tent. Tosahwi thought about his father and his grandfather. And he realised they suffered so that he could live. He then made a decision that would haunt him, and that would hurt him, but one he would never regret: ‘I will carry the burden of pain for our people.’ Tosahwi said clearer than he had ever spoken before, proving the Chief’s intuition correct. The Chief nodded.
Tosahwi was silent and stared into the small, quietly cracking fire, as the drums started bouncing again.
The Chief drifted down into the lotus position. His movements were slow, deliberate and graceful. When he sat still across the boy on the other side of the fire, he lifted a long, colorful pipe above his head. He held it there with closed eyes before a deep breath brought life back into him. He took the pipe and lit it on the fire. He puffed until it burned, then he inhaled deeply and held the smoke. He passed the pipe over to Tosahwi who watched in awe and couldn’t believe that he was allowed to smoke. Hesitantly he waited for the nod of Chief Tekoomsė, before gently grabbing the pipe as if it was an old, holy artifact and bringing it up to his mouth. The Chief’s eyes were closed and his old, wrinkled skin, without his strong, wise eyes made him look lifeless.
Tosahwi understood what he had to do. His lips formed around the old wood of the pipe. It was a taste of strength. He liked the feel of the pipe. It was smooth and perfect. He puffed as the Chief had puffed, then he inhaled deeply and closed his eyes.
The world was eternal blackness and dark triangles ruled the space around him. He drifted for millenia in nothingness and it was neither good nor bad.
Time stood still as life slowly started.
He saw Bison on the fields and the moon in the sky on a sunny day outside.
Hunters roamed around him.
Eagles dove into the rivers for salmon.
Suddenly the moon bled red and black walls of clouds rolled over the sharp mountain walls in evil spirit.
Then lightning struck and thunder roared.
For another million years there was nothing except for eternal wisdom and knowledge.
It was a young woman that brought him back.
She stood barefoot on an empty field with lush green weeds.
The sky was blue and the sun was warm.
He smelled the flowers and the rusty trees. And soon he was close around her and she was warm in his arms.
In their tent the fire protected them and he loved her very much. They were playing at the river together and kissing under the safe shades of the old trees.
She told him that she would always love him. He told her the same.
It was perfect.
Then she started to look sad.
And the boy who had become a man asked her why.
She looked down on the ground they were standing on, that had become scorching lava now.
She looked and smiled, but couldn’t hide her pain.
Deep fog surrounded them.
She told she would wait for him, even if it would take ten thousand years.
He asked her to stay.
Both knew she ought to leave.
He promised to find her in the deepest canyon or on the tallest peaks.
She knew he would.
Eternal hatred. Evil.
Then the volcano erupted.
The room turned and blurred. Then Chief Tekoomsė’s deep and calming voice brought him back: ‘Exhale youngblood! Exhale!’ Tosahwi exhaled as he opened his eyes and started coughing, stronger and more intense than he had ever coughed before. His lungs were on fire. The pain was intense. Panic struck him as he thought they would never feel normal again.
‘Don’t be frightened, not even in the face of death.’ , the Chief said. ‘Enjoy the suffering! You are becoming a man.’
‘You are becoming a man! You are becoming a man!’
Tosahwi was only feeling pain.
‘Breath Tosahwi! Breath!’, the Chief demanded.
He tried but kept coughing.
But there was only one way to go.
With time he was slowly regaining control over his lungs.
He let the fresh afternoon air in.
As his vision came back clearer, the fire reflected warm on his skin.
The flutes still played and the other children ran and laughed outside the tent.
The chief sitting still in front of the boy looked at him and said: ‘Listen to your people.’
‘You feel the pain of wisdom solely and quietly, so they can live happily and free.’, the chief said.
Tosahwi sat still and understood.
He understood because he felt.