The door to the cabin opened unexpectedly, Kelly flinched, but it was only Kent returning. He was carrying a large backpack with him. He took out a pillow and carefully placed it underneath Suvarin’s head. She stirred and tried to speak. Kelly noticed there were a couple of sleeping bags inside the bag too, along with what must be some of Suvarin’s clothes.
“It’s ok Suva, you’re going to be ok, you’re safe now just rest.”
Suvarin wasn’t ready to lose consciousness, “the blood!” she cried out.
“I delivered it to Laneg, he is treating the knight now.”
“The knight! Will he be ok? I only got two units of blood!”
“Laneg said he would make it, he will just take much longer to recover. Relax, you did really well. You saved his life.”
Suvarin slumped back down into her pillow, “Tell Laneg that my brother has O negative blood, he is training to be a knight, maybe he can donate some?”
Kent gently soothed her, “Laneg has everything under control. He’s an excellent surgeon, one of the best. You just focus on yourself, you need to rest up and get better.”
Suvarin’s face contorted to one of fear mingled with sadness, “Kent, I feel so cold, I am weak, I don’t know if I will get through the night.”
Kent stroked her forehead gently, “You’ve been through a rough experience, I will stay by you all night, I won’t let you slip away.”
Suvarin started to sob, Kelly watched with fascination as Kent stroked her forehead and dabbed her tears away gently with a handkerchief. She had never seen a man being so tender, attentive, and caring before. Kent looked up at her and mouthed that she was free to leave if she wanted, he would take care of Suvarin himself. Kelly surprised herself by the discovery she didn’t want to go. She wanted to stay. But not because she was worried about Suvarin, because she felt terribly afraid of what might happen if she left.
Kelly stepped forward and lay down next to Suvarin and whispered, “It’s ok Suvarin, I will also stay and see you in the morning.”
Suvarin smiled, “Thank you Kelly, you are such a brave beautiful girl.”
Kelly felt an uncomfortable twinge of guilt listening to Suvarin’s sincere praise. She nonetheless grabbed one of the sleeping bags from Kent’s backpack and starting setting herself up right next to Suvarin.
Suvarin looked up to Kent, “Kent, I feel burdened.”
Kent blinked a few times, and uttered a confused, “excuse me?”
“This morning, when we argued, I was really mean to you. I think I might have called you a coward, I know that you’re really sincere about not hurting other people, but you are no coward. You are one of the bravest men I know.”
“It’s ok, Suva, I understand.”
Suvarin frowned and continued, “No, it’s not ok, I felt scared, I know what the Tyranni are capable of, and I love you the way you are Kent. I allowed my fear to blot out my love for you, I felt angry, I wished you were someone you weren’t, I wanted you to change all because I felt afraid in the moment. That was cruel of me. I am really sorry.”
Kelly watched as Kent’s eyes grew moist. She couldn’t explain it to herself, but she felt angry.
Suvarin looked affectionately up into Kent’s eyes, oblivious to Kelly’s angry glare, “Kent, could you tell me that story again? The one you made up while we were studying at the monastery together?”
“The one about being unburdened?”
Suvarin smiled and nodded. Slid down next to her, he hesitated, drew in a deep breath, and began to tell the story.
An old man fell asleep and stopped breathing. When he awoke he was in a world nothing like the one he had lived his life in. There was no land, no sky, no sun, no moon, no stars, there was only nothing and beyond that nothing, nothing more still. The man sat in eternity for how long he couldn’t fathom until a young woman who looked elusively familiar appeared before him. The woman knew his name and asked how he was. The man replied that he didn’t know how he felt; only that he felt no pain, could breathe no air, feel not pulse within him, and could not tell how long he had been there. The woman gazed upon him pensively, but warmly.
The man inquired with the woman as to who she was.
“I am your mother’s father’s mother,” she said.
The man exclaimed that she must be his great grandmother. The woman nodded.
“I don’t recall ever meeting you though, why are you here?”
“We never met. You were born long after I died. Now, I am here to help prepare you for death.”
“Prepare me? Why do I need to be prepared for death? Doesn’t one just die?”
The woman shook her head, “no, you can’t take any burdens from the old life into the new life. You must shed all your pain, sorrow, regrets, and attachments before your new life can begin.”
The man argued with her and desired an explanation but she calmly affirmed that such burdens weighed his soul down and he needed to shed them before he could continue.
“But why you? Why not anyone else? Why not my father or my mother? Someone I actually knew?”
“Because their souls are still too burdened to meet you, they haven’t let go of their burdens yet.”
“But they died decades ago! Surely it doesn’t take that long!”
“It takes as long as it takes.”
The woman spoke so calmly and with such confidence that the man felt himself shiver and shudder. He cried out in horror and yelled at her, calling her a liar and a delusion.
The woman was calm, perfectly calm and nothing he said could disturb the tranquillity of her image.
The man kept shouting and screaming at her for a long time. He felt neither exhaustion nor boredom and so he did not stop ranting for some weeks.
Eventually the man grew curious as to why this woman did not respond to his fury and passion, so he stopped himself and asked her why she was so calm.
“It is simple: because I am unburdened.”
“You aren’t afraid? You aren’t sympathetic? You feel nothing?”
She frowned sympathetically, “No, I am just unburdened.”
“What does that mean?”
The woman looked at him for a few moments.
“Do you remember the time your older brother pulled down your pants in front of all your friends?”
The man started, “Why yes, how could I forget? He ruined my life. I can’t believe he did that to me.”
“Unburdened is when you remember that, but it doesn’t hurt you to remember.”
“You mean the memory? But he embarrassed me, turned all the children at school against me, he ruined my life.”
“Are you sure?”
“What do you mean?”
“He hurt you when it happened, but he never hurt you again.”
“Don’t be silly, he hurt me many times that bastard!”
“No. The memory hurt you, not him.”
“Do you want me to forget about it? Do I need to forget these things to reach the afterlife?”
“I don’t want you to lose your memories.”
“Why did you bring up this painful memory though?”
“So you could unburden yourself.”
“You want me to be unburdened?”
“I want nothing, I need nothing, I am unburdened.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Because you are here.”
“What if I never unburden myself?”
“Then you will never unburden yourself.”
“Won’t you be disappointed in me?”
“No. I am unburdened.”
The man tried again and again, but the woman answered the same way no matter how he asked it.
“My mother would be disappointed in me!” He shouted at her with venom.
“Your mother was burdened.”
“She was not, she hit me, and lied to be, she was a terrible woman.”
“She was burdened.”
“She never admitted wrong doing nor apologised.”
“She was burdened.”
The man grew frustrated again. He raged and howled at the woman for several days. Again, without a physical body he yelled and cursed and wailed without exhaustion and without boredom. He could have gone on forever; however, curiosity eventually interrupted him.
“Why don’t I ever stop yelling at you? Why don’t I ever get tired?”
“Because you have no body to tire, you can stay angry and never grow tired of it. There is no external pressure against you here. You are unburdened of the physical limitations of your passions.”
“So the only way I can stop being angry is if I stop myself?”
“So I could stay angry here forever if I wanted to? I would never feel tired of it?”
“Why don’t I just do that then? Why don’t I just be angry forever?”
“Because, you wish to be unburdened.”
“I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“No. It’s what you wanted, what you have always wanted.”
“But this is silly. One can’t be angry forever.”
“In that case, why are you here?”
“Because, I am dead.”
“No. You are here because you are burdened. You are angry, and you cannot leave this place until that anger falls away from your soul.”
“Burdened by my brother and my mother?”
“But they hurt me, they ruined my life.”
“But if they didn’t ruin my life, who did?”
The young woman looked intensely into the old man’s eyes, “You did.”
The man felt a surge of anger, but before it took possession of him, he noticed it, and stopped it. He wanted to know more, so he asked another question.
“How did I ruin my life?”
“By being burdened.”
“But my mother hated me!”
“No. She didn’t hate you.”
“Then what was her problem?”
“She was burdened.”
The man repeated his questions, the answers were always the same: because those people were burdened. Other time he felt less confused when she answered, and so he kept asking and every moment he ruminated on the phrase, ‘they were burdened’, an image in his mind gradually shifted into focus; until at last he saw what the woman meant. When he understood what unburdened mean, he wept.
He wept for months without end, the pain, the anger, the regret, the rage, the hatred, the vitriol, the grudges, he wept them all out. Sometimes gently, sometimes so intensely he could do nothing but crawl into the pool of his pain and exist there and nowhere else. At the end of the fifth month he finally stopped weeping. He looked up, and the young woman was still there. He wondered what kind of patience she much have to wait there with him in this dark place.
“Aren’t you bored listening to me weep?”
“I am unburdened.”
The man looked at her and saw her perfect tranquillity. He felt small and ashamed.
“I am not ready to die am I?”
The woman looked him in the eye and said, “No. You are not yet ready to live. But you are getting close to it.”
The man heard her, and realised it was true: although he had grown old and died, because he was burdened he had never lived before.
“Great grandmother of mine, my burdens are many and heavy, it will take me some time to relieve myself of them. Even in these five months of weeping, I have only unburdened myself of my hatred for my brother and my mother. Must I spend years shedding these burdens? If I can at all! Why are you so unburdened?”
“I died young, and my parents loved me just as I am.”
“How did you die young? Are you not my mother’s father’s mother?”
“I died at age 17 giving birth to my son. I was never there to show him my love.”
“What happened to him?”
“He grew up burdened and resentful that I had died. He never forgave me for dying. He burdened himself with this resentment and he married a woman who was equally resentful. They had a daughter together and they poured all their resentment into her; burdening her as they had been burdened.”
“Then what happened to her?”
“She grew up feeling resentful, it burdened her and held her down, and when her children were born she poured her resentment and over them.”
“That’s horrible. Why did this all happen?”
“Perhaps, I died too soon? Perhaps, my son doubted that I loved him? I don’t know.”
“What happened to you when you died?”
“I waited here for a long time. Burdened by the guilt of dying too soon.”
“What did you conclude?”
“That I was dead, and had to let go of my burdens. One can’t move on to the next life without learning to unburden oneself of things one can’t control.”
“But what about my mother and her father? They didn’t die as young as you; they had a choice! They are responsible for what they did!”
“Where are they now?”
“Dead, and somewhere around here I suppose.”
“What are they doing here?”
The man realised at once, “They are clutching onto their burdens. Not allowing their new lives to begin.”
“Since they’re dead, can they do anything to help unburden you?”
“No,” said the man.
“Then who is left to unburden you?”
“Would that I could go back and live. Live and pour my love, not my burdens, into my son’s heart, so that he would never have poured the bitterness into your mother’s heart. Then you might have been spared these burdens. I am sorry that died too soon, and so I couldn’t communicate my love to you through the chain of life: The chain of life that stretches from eternity; which has weaved its course through me and finally onto you. But I am dead now, I cannot unburden you.”
“Then who can unburden me?”
“Only you can.”
“But my mother and my brother owe me apologies!”
“Yes, but they are dead now. Even when they were alive, had they apologised to you, would an apology alone have allowed you to unburden yourself?”
“I guess not.”
“No one can unburden us of the pain we carry.”
“Yes. That is correct.”
“It wasn’t my controlling mother or cruel brother who burdened me the most, it was me?”
“I understand now. So what happens next?”
“You must now start your new life: without the burdens.”
The man considered this for a long time.
Eventually the woman asked him, “Are you ready to start your new life?”
The man nodded.
The woman embraced him, leaned into his ear and whispered, “then let go of your burdens and arise anew!”
The woman faded away and the pain of old life returned to the man’s body.
He drew a new breath, opened his eyes, and found himself in his bed at home. He looked down at his body. He was still old, just as he had remembered himself before he had stopped breathing. He remembered all that his great grandmother had told him.
He got up, and started his new life.
Kent looked down at Suvarin, and she was sound asleep. Kent fell asleep soon after. Kelly alone clung onto consciousness, and to the fires of anger burning in her heart.