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The Children of Darkness
They had waited for the Initiation for a month. They called themselves the Children of Darkness, and their leader, a boy with hair as light as sand was called Anuukaa Paasikivi. Like most of the shepherd children in the northernmost reaches, the Children of Darkness existed primarily on their own will, their own society, a nation of children. There were one hundred Children in the nation. Most of them were orphans, who ran away, and others had been left there by uncaring families, or so they told Anuukaa. They were three and four five, six, seven and eight, nine, ten, eleven and thirteen and onwards.
No one knew what the year was. In fact, not many of the Children could read or write. But they could sing on their own accord and garden, farm, and live and keep on watch for each other, to protect their sheep from the wolves that scowered the caves at night. Initiation had come at last. The children would find freedom, some sort of way, from the trappings of this dark life. Shepherding was a temporary existence.
Midday spread her wings. Anuukaa pulled a book from his satchel, reading quietly. The words enchanted him, enriched him with the strong sense of leadership and purpose.
“How can you read?” she asked in a voice fit for a twelve year old, but it came from the voice of a fourteen year old. The girl that approached him was extremely pretty, but Anuukaa did not know what pretty meant, or how to react to girls. She was called the Questioning Girl.
“I went to school,” said Anuukaa.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I was born in a place where people went to school,” Anuukaa replied. He hitched his hands in the pockets of his woven trousers.
“I think it’s wonderful you can read?” she asked.
“Yes,” Anuukaa said through gritted teeth. He closed Aristotle’s Metaphysics.
“Anuukaa, Ajni and Ravi haven’t come back from the well!” a panicked voice called. Anuukaa looked up and away from the girl and watched as a fat boy in a poncho came hurrying towards him.
“Yes, I know, Kyösti,” said Anuukaa. “They’re gathering lingonberries.” Anuukaa put his book aside. “I’m going to bed now. Kyösti, you watch the sheep tonight.”
Anuukaa was shivering beneath the sheepskin coverlets. Wind blew into his cabin, battering the rocks, scattering pebbles into the camp of cabins like grain. There was a knock on Anuukaa’s door. At sixteen, Anuukaa knew it was his responsibility to help the Children find the source of freedom. When he opened the door he expected to see the Questioning Girl, but instead he saw the only Child in the civilization of his age: Elizabet. Elizabet’s hair and eyes were dark, her skin as pale as the moon.
“Anuukaa, everyone else is sleeping,” said Elizabet, a hint of yearning unmistakable in her voice. “Initiation is soon. Can we take a walk?”
For the first time in a month, Anuukaa smiled. It was his father’s smile; the father that would never see his baby boy again. He took Elizabet’s hand. Salt-sea air washed over them as they looked towards the cliff and stepped on the great rocks that capped it. Elizabet sat on the largest rock, and Anuukaa climbed after her, noticing the handprints. A wave clapped against the cliffside, spraying them with mist.
“Elizabet,” said Anuukaa in a still voice, “I’m so afraid.”
“We all are, I think.” Elizabet rested her hand on his shoulder. “When you see what has to be done, everything will become clearer.”
She gestured to the sea, the sea that thundered like a hundred obsidian walls.
“What do you mean?”
“The ocean is a symbol, Anuukaa, of a great journey. You knew we had to take this journey,” Elizabet told him.
“I know, but what will happen to us?” he asked. “I’m the leader—I have to take this step first. I take the first step.”
“I’ll take it with you…”
Their skin touched. Taking Elizabet’s hands in his, Anuukaa let his lips flower hers. Every inch of them coiled together on the rocks. Anuukaa had never before experienced such a thing. What was love? Why was Anuukaa doing this? Did he love Elizabet? Did he even care for her? Or was it because her skin was as soft as alabaster, and made his own body shiver as if touched by soothing currents. Why did it choose to hide its origins? The power that made hearts, souls and minds become one in the blinking of an eye. Elizabet had wrapped her arms around the torso of the boy. The Children of Darkness could not see or hear them. Anuukaa and Elizabet were silent in their missionary carriage.
“When we leave this place,” whispered Elizabet, “I’m holding your hand, Anuukaa.”
“Why—why we’ve never done anything like—like this…” his breath was cold with anxiety.
“Anuukaa, when we became the Children of the Dark and the Angel gave us that vision…I knew then that I did love you.”
“What is love, Elizabet?”
Elizabet brushed Anuukaa’s nose with her mouth. “I know, but I cannot understand it…”
The brilliant moon flitted onwards as the Earth spun. The next morning came and Anuukaa and Elizabet shared a kiss, the ultimate bond of intimacy, and departed to their own cabins. Anuukaa washed in the lake and dressed. He ate breakfast with the rest of the Children: eggs and rye with lingonberry juice.
“Ajni, any wolves last night?” asked Anuukaa, as Elizabet joined them with water.
Ajni shook his head. “No.”
Swiftly, Anuukaa tucked his book away the satchel as Elizabet sat near him. She smiled and the Questioning Girl brought a pail of lingonberry juice. They all drank their fill.
“Anuukaa,” Elizabet said softly, “are you alright?”
Anuukaa touched her hand and told the others to go about their duty. It was the last day of their duty. Sitting quietly, Anuukaa and Elizabet went up to the cabin where he slept. Odd silence was everywhere. When Anuukaa looked out the window of his bedroom he saw some of the Children in the grasslands, and his mind wandered to what treasures or curses life with a family and siblings would have been like. His days in the schools of Helsinki were gone.
Anuukaa lay to sleep that night, after the day’s chores were done. No dreams came to him. Only Elizabet.
“Anuukaa tomorrow is the day,” she whispered.
“I know,” he croaked. With effort, he rolled on his side as Elizabet kissed his cheek. “I’m not ready.”
“But they are.”
Morning came and with it the rising of mist across the sea. Children from every part of the village beat drums in the distance. When Anuukaa awoke, Elizabet was next to him, clothed. Reality stung him with the force of a stray wave. The search for freedom had begun. Taking Elizabet by the hand, Anuukaa walked out of his cabin and was met with a sea of faces. Then they began their walk, their slow, laborious walk to the cliffside.
One by one they screamed and began to pig up pace in their legs, running for the cliffs until the blood rushed through their ears. The wind caught them…and Anuukaa watched them fly across the immeasurable vastness of the sea. Anuukaa saw the Questioning Girl giggling as she flew with the currents, surrounded by a knot of other Children. Elizabet kissed Anuukaa’s hand as tears began to well in his eyes. Elizabet was carried away by the wind a moment later.
And then he ran to the cliff, the last one, the last leader of the Children of Darkness.