Footprints

„I don’t understand. When I aim at a target, I hit it just like you. But when the target is moving, I can’t hit it. How do you do it, Nerúwan? What am I doing wrong?“

Nerúwan narrowed his eyes and looked at the discouraged Abarhil. Perhaps, he was contemplating which answer Abarhil could process. Abarhil watched Nerúwan’s narrow eyes and he spotted a slight smile on his lips. He was painfully aware of his discomfort, and felt angry at his clumsiness.

Nerúwan shrugged his shoulders. „I told you it takes a lost of practicing. Not even every Adiwan can do it. Your arms are tight but your mind wanders and strays. That’s why it cannot capture the right moment. When your mind stops, it will find the target. Roghídan must learn to be patient, then he will hit the target!“

Abarhil was upset with this response. Unable to control his anger, he spoke out of turn: „Your damned mysterious advice! One might go mad. You’re the same as your father and Oghlar. You’re all as clever as a king’s jester. Stop the mind! Can’t you just tell me how to do it?“ Abarhil threw his bow on the ground and dramatically put his head in his hands. „Now I hold it but nothing’s changed. Nothing!“ He looked at Nerúwan angrily. „Does it have legs to run around? But I know how it is,“ he said angrily and pointed at Nerúwan. „You have some secret trick that you don’t want to share with me! And you know what? Keep it. I’ll figure it out on my own.“

Nerúwan  watched Abarhil’s angry outburst with confusion. „Roghídan is angry for nothing. Nerúwan has told him the truth. The secret is in the ability to quiet your mind. Only then can it reflect the reality. When the arrow and the target is one in your mind, only then will you hit.“ Nerúwan’s face changed and he looked strictly at Abarhil with disappointment. With slight disdain he said: „Roghídan is raging like a little child who’s not getting what he wants. Know that rage is a bad helper!“

With these words, Nerúwan turned and silently left. Abarhil stood baffled in the middle of the trail. Only now did he feel ashamed of his outburst.

Cranky and out of sorts, Abarhil returned to Súrwan’s hut. When he stepped into the hut, he saw the brin talking to Oghlar, whose condition had improved. Although he was unable to get out of bed, he lay on a package of fur and talked livelily with Súrwan. Abarhil greeted them and silently went across the hut to his corner, he had no intention of joining the conversation. He sat down on his bed, put the bow and arrows down, and after some time of mindless staring at the brown walls, he lay down and gazed at the ceiling. Oghlar instantly spotted the unusual behavior, but he talked with Súrwan for a couple more minutes in order to finish the open debate. Only after they had finished, did Oghlar turn to Abarhil.

„What is it, Roghídan? Am I mistaken if I say that you are not in a very good mood?“

Abarhil squirmed as if he had lain on thorns, but he said nothing.

„Come on, what happened; tell me!“ encouraged Oghlar.

Abarhil hesitated, but then he sat up and the whole story poured out. Oghlar listened, and as Abarhil continued, he began to smile slyly and at the end he openly chuckled. He knew how proud Abarhil was of his shooting skills and he guessed correctly that today his pride had suffered. Súrwan sat and listened too, but unlike Oghlar’s, his face did not express anything.

„… well, and then, when I asked him to tell me how to do it, he made a fool of me and told me to stop my mind. Do you understand it, Oghlar?“ Abarhil sat on his bed with his legs crossed in front of him, but his hands moved constantly to express his grievance. He did not pay much attention to the faces of his two listeners and all of the suppressed resentment poured out. „It’s like telling a sailor to tug a cover when the wind’s not blowing. What’s such advice good for? He’s made a fool of me!“

Oghlar did not stop smiling and said nothing, he only looked at Súrwan sitting opposite to him. „My son was right. Roghídan has no reason to be angry because he, indeed, received the correct advice. The bow may be stretched with an archer’s arm, the eye may look for the target, but the arrow is shot by the archer’s mind! When the mind is restless, the archer can never hit the target!“

Abarhil looked at Súrwan with resentment; this was exactly the kind of response he did not want to hear. With an unspoken question he looked at Oghlar. Oghlar said nothing, he only nodded while smiling, and pointed at Súrwan as if telling Abarhil where he should seek his answers. The young man took a deep breath to control his upset soul and then turned to the brin who looked patiently at Abarhil with an unchanging face.

„Súrwan, I’m sorry for my anger. I suppose I don’t understand it. Can you explain what your son meant? Can you explain what stopping the mind means?“

Súrwan smiled and cheerful flames sparkled in his eyes.

„Just like Oghlar, just like him,“ thought Abarhil. However, Súrwan did not say anything and he stood up. When the brin left the room, Abarhil looked at Oghlar. He just nodded and said: „Get used to it. Brins do not speak much but when they do it is worth careful listening.“  

The brin came back in a little while and brought a large copper pot and a bag with water. He took the pot and turned it towards Abarhil. „What do you see?“

Abarhil looked at the bottom in surprise, and then at Súrwan. „What should I see? Nothing! The empty bottom of a pot.“  

Súrwan did not respond; he poured water into the pot and then waited until the water settled. He motioned to Abarhil to look in the pot once more. „What do you see?“

Abarhil looked at the water and in the dim light of the lamps he saw his own ratty face. „Well, what can I see; water. And also the face of one man who has no idea what’s going on.“

Oghlar laughed heartily. Annoyed, Abarhil looked at him and said: „Well, I hope you’re having a good time. It is certainly good for your healing; otherwise I’d throw something at you. I was hoping for an explanation, but now I see the performance where I’m the fool had yet another act.“

Súrwan forced Abarhil to look in the pot once again. „What do you see?“ he asked again as he hit the pot with a stick several times. The water rippled and the image disappeared.

Abarhil raised his head and uncertainly replied: „Well, what would I see? Nothing!“

„That’s it!“ said Súrwan and nodded his head. He laid the stick on the ground and motioned to Abarhil to sit across from him. „The pot is your body, solid and tangible, but empty until you fill it with something. As the pot is filled with water, your body is filled with your mind, only then can your body serve its purpose. The water is your mind, soft and inaccessible, it fills your body and only then has it achieved its purpose.“  

He interrupted his speech and questioningly looked at the young boy. He wanted to be sure Abarhil had understood. Abarhil nodded silently, so he continued.

„When the mind has settled, it reflects what is in front of it. When it is restless, it reflects nothing. And this stick,“ Súrwan raised the stick with which he had hit the pot, „is your rage, your anger or fear, for which you cannot see the reality. You are like a blind man who suspects what is about to come but cannot see it. Nerúwan can stop his mind and it then reflects the target he needs to hit. This is the moment when the mind and the target are one. The target becomes part of your mind as your image becomes part of the water surface in the pot. Nerúwan’s arm is not guided by his will, but by his empty mind which reflects the image of the target. Do you understand now?“

Súrwan finished his unusually long speech and bid Abarhil to respond. Abarhil sat in the same position and his gaze turned away from the brin’s staring eyes. His eyes wandered around the room as if trying to find help for his struggling soul.

„Does Roghídan understand it now?“ asked Súrwan again.

Abarhil hesitatingly nodded.

„Well, it’s clear to me what Nerúwan meant. But tell me, Súrwan, how do you stop your mind? And one more thing. What is the mind for when it’s empty? We have our minds to think,“ objected Abarhil.

„The stopped mind is an empty mind where no thoughts flow,“ was the brief reply.

„But what’s a mind with no thoughts good for? After all, it’s the essence of the mind to create thoughts. It’s its purpose,“ said Abarhil again. It had never occurred to him, and he had never heard, that the mind should be empty; and that the thoughts should be driven out so the mind could work correctly. It was something very new for Abarhil’s understanding and his knowledge refused it.

„Junk,“ said Súrwan, confidently and adamantly. He nodded his head to show that his statement was irrefutable. Abarhil again raised in anger. He admired his teachers, their knowledge and the abilities of their reason. It did not matter whether he had been taught rhetoric, mathematics, or cartography; he had always been reminded that reason must be nurtured, trained with frequent repetition and practice. Thoughts must be created and sorted. They must be understood. And now he stood face to face with a man who had no idea of the greatness of all the disciplines that his educators had taught him. Abarhil was being told that all that was just rubbish occupying his mind unnecessarily. He refused to accept it and his disapproval was more than visible. Oghlar, who knew Abarhil’s passion for knowledge, as well as his temper, suspected what was going on in Abarhil’s mind. Therefore, he joined the conversation for the first time to avoid an outburst that would break the rules of gratitude toward their host.

„Abarhil, calm down!“ he said with empathy in a common language that Súrwan did not understand. „I think there is a misunderstanding between you. You have to understand that Súrwan knows nothing about your education. He means it in a way that for archery, thinking is unnecessary. He surely did not mean that what you know is rubbish!“

Abarhil turned to the half-sitting Oghlar and opened his mouth to object. Discomfort and anger shook his soul and he needed to blow off the steam. Fortunately, he realized that both men were truthful. If he needed to hit the target, his knowledge of cartography and rhetoric was useless. He closed his mouth and took a deep breath. Then he turned to Súrwan and nodded slightly to indicate his consent. Súrwan had watched his inner struggle with considerable enthusiasm. He did not understand what Oghlar had said, but he could read in the boy’s face what had happened in him. He waited for a little bit and then he continued.

„A thought is like a footprint that helps trace the prey. Too many thoughts are like too many footprints. What benefits do you get when you find a tangle of footprints at the watering hole? How do you find out which to follow to trace your prey?“

Abarhil looked at him thoughtfully. The barrage of strong emotions had gone away but he still struggled to tame the tension. He focused on Súrwan’s words, whose meaning escaped him.

„Súrwan wants to say,“ the brin smiled kindly and with his arms opened, „that to achieve your goals, all you need is one footprint. The right one! Too many thoughts in your mind only create confusion! Then you are unable to decide. That’s how it is.“

A smile remained on Súrwan’s face even when he picked up the pot and took it out to empty it. Abarhil watched him and when he realized that the conversation had ended, he moved back to his corner and pondered what he had heard.

„To achieve your goals you only need one thought, the right one,“ he whispered as if wanting to burn the sentence into his memory. Hearing this, Oghlar turned, and with satisfaction he watched the thinking young man. He said nothing because their conversation had served its purpose. The fish had swallowed the bait and Abarhil’s teaching had begun without him even noticing.

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