It’s my turn to tell a story, is it?

Then I shall have to share one of my uncle’s tales, for I have no new stories this night. I have talked before of my uncle, haven’t I? The one who wandered the world in the times before, and brought back to us wonderful tales of places we would never see. We would all be gathered around the fire –

What’s that? Yes, we would sit around a fire in the dark, for the nights were still cold back then. You young ones, you will never feel cold in your bones.

So, we would sit around the fire, getting warm and after a while when we were all relaxed he would tell us another one of his tales. He saw so many places, walked so many miles! This one I remember, for I am never sure if this had really happened, or if he made it up.

There was a land he visited, it had many names, but those in the other lands said it was the Farmer Yukay, or just Yukay. No, I do not know what that means, or who the Farmer was, but he was not a good farmer, these were not good lands. This Ukay was separated from the great lands by the poison seas, but there was a tunnel, a tunnel many miles long you had to travel to get there. No, the tunnel is not the story for tonight, that is a story for a much darker night.

This is about one of the tribes he met there. The Ukay is a land of many tribes and many peoples, and my uncle met many of them and spent time with some. He spent many months travelling there, perhaps because he did not want to travel in the tunnel again! While he was there, he met a tribe, they were called the Libdem.

They were not a large tribe, though they always claimed they had been large in the past, and that there were many people near them who would join the tribe, but now they were rather small. And my uncle, you see, he was a wise man, a clever man, a learned one who knew much of not just the world as it was but the world as it had been before, and he thought that these Libdem, that even if they had never been as large as they claimed, that they were very old.

The Libdem, you see, they had many rituals, yet they could not explain to my uncle the purpose of these rituals only that they must be done and done regularly to appease the great gods they worshipped. Oh, the Libdem, they had many many gods, and they would spend days arguing with each other over which of them should be listened to on that day. Ken-di, Ayel-dece, Arz-Dan, Khan-Vrence, Jahn-Strut-Mil, Ni-Klegg, there were so many I cannot remember all the names my uncle told me, but all of them quivered in fear at the most powerful of them all, the great power of Vot-Ar. All the instructions of the other gods, all the arguments over their importance were all to one end and one end alone — winning the support of Vot-ar.

A good question, girl, but that is the point! You see, as much as they sought their god out, none of them had ever encountered Vot-ar, and so none could tell what would win that god’s support. There was talk of those in the past who had met Vot-ar, some who had even done it multiple times, but by the time my uncle visited them, there was no one left who had, though all were sure they could do it soon.

So, this is what they would do to try to meet Vot-ar, and my uncle was lucky to be present for this ritual, for it did not happen regularly. What would happen is that like many tribes, this tribe would choose a leader, but this leader’s job was not to lead the tribe, but to be sent out into the world to attempt to appeal Vot-ar and get the god to reveal itself to the tribe. Of course, as none of them knew what achieving the support of Vot-ar actually looked like, leaders would stay in place for many years until they decided it was time for someone else to seek the all-powerful.

So, when a leader chose to hand on their mantle, their replacement would be chosen from the elders of the tribe, the ones known as the Parley-Pardies. They were respected elders, but my uncle did not know how they were chosen, for this dozen or so did not seem hugely different from the rest of the tribe, except that they were treated with extra deference by the members. They were thought to have the instructions of the gods, and be the ones with the best chance of gaining the favour of Vot-ar.

Yes, they would choose a leader from among these Parley-Pardies, and only from amongst them, but first they had to follow another ritual. You know how we have those who are foolish on some days and yet wise on others? They had one such as this. He was said to be an ancient soul, who was one of the Parley-Pardies in the times before the times before, he was said to know the location of the steeper stones, whatever they may be, and that he had, in his youth, put many pieces of paper through the door of many houses, though none could enlighten me as to why that was important. When he was a fool, they laughed and called him Bonkers, an old epithet of the lands of Ukay, my uncle believed, but when he was wise and learned, they sat before him as well-behaved orphans might, and then he was known as the Calder.

Now, there was an ancient prophecy, said to have been uttered by the first Calder of the tribe, that the new leader would be chosen from just two of the Parley-Pardies and that one of would be of steel, the other of a type of uncooked bread my uncle did not know but they called a par-dough. And so, the Parley-Pardies would line up in front of the Calder, he would examine them through squinted eyes and declare for all to hear which of them were steel and which were par-dough. I do not know how he made that choice, and indeed, my uncle was told that those who had been Parley-Pardies for long times had been both steel and par-dough, but once he had made that choice, it was binding upon them all. One of those made of steel, and one of those made of par-dough would contest for the leadership of the tribe and the opportunity to present themselves before Vot-ar.

Oh, you are hoping that there will be a tale of a great battle here, aren’t you? The two champions meeting in combat to decide which shall lead the tribe. My uncle said he saw many of these amongst the people of Yukay, but not with the Libdem. No, with them, the whole tribe would gather in a single spot and the two would stand before them and speak of how they were influenced by the ancient gods, which instructions they had received from them, and how they would use this knowledge to appeal to Vot-ar. Individual members of the tribe would ask them questions, which were usually invitations to speak about their relationship to a specific god, and give praise to that god’s messages, and then when it was done, they would do it all again!

Yes, for many days the tribe would follow this ritual. Each day they would gather in a different place, and the two leaders would make the same invocations to the gods, and the tribe would ask the same questions of their gods, and they would do this again and again for many, many, days. My uncle told us that he left the Libdem tribe for some time during this ritual, travelled round much of the Yukay then returned several weeks later to see that this was still occurring every day and none of it had changed since the first day. Imagine the power of a ritual like that!

Yes, my uncle did say that those he met while travelling knew little of the Libdem tribe and their ritual, and that most thought the tribe existed no longer, but he knew better!

How did the ritual end, you ask? Well, this is wonderful. After they had done it for countless days, it was agreed by all that they had done it more times than they needed to, and should have ceased the ritual weeks before. Then all returned to their dwellings and retrieved a stone upon which they had marked the name of their choice to be the next leader, at which point all revealed to each other that they had made their choice and carved their stone before the ritual had even begun. All would then agree that they could have used the time more effectively in searching for Vot-ar, but they had enjoyed this more.

And what of this leader, now that they had chosen one? Well, my uncle was quite astounded by what happened next. The tribe had gone through this long and elaborate ritual, and surely the purpose of this was to give this new representative of the tribe such power as to be able to reach out and find Vot-ar, but it was not to be. Instead, the leader would then leave the tribe behind to take a long walk through the territory of the other tribes — and there was a custom amongst the other tribes to allow this, as they knew that new leader of the Libdem meant them no harm — and then return to the tribe to tell them just how this journey had brought them closer to Vot-ar, without ever actually meeting that great and powerful god. The tribe would then give the leader rapturous applause and go back to whatever they had all been doing before, including the leader.

And that, my friends, is my uncle’s tale of the Libdem. Perhaps one day, one of you will travel to far away lands, even find the tunnel that leads you to the land of Farmer Youkay, and you can see for yourself whether the Libdem still survive there. I like to think they do, and that one day they may learn you will never find Vot-ar, you must wait for Vot-ar to come to you.

(With apologies to Jonathan Calder, and blame to Mark Pack)

Many, many things. PhD student at QMUL. Councillor. Ran the 2019 London Marathon for Brain Research UK. @nickjbarlow on Twitter.

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