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CHAPTER EIGHT
A Reason And A Robe


The crowd was thinning as they approached the tables. Several groups were dispersing for poolside in a casual straggle. Vasai was at the tables. She was wearing a soft blue gown which enhanced her delicate features and dark russet hair. The grey eyes had taken on a shade of the gown, and flickered with highlights of blue sifting through. She smiled warmly as they approached, greeting them with a silent gesture. Turning to Carl, she spoke in a soft, clear tone which had none of the sing-song accents of Etanai's speech. "Kar-al, you seem refreshed from your night's rest" - she said, eyes twinkling with gently teasing humor.

Carl grinned sheepishly, "Yes - thank you, Vasai - I'm gratefully recovered from my fit of suspicion. !"

Etanai suppressed a throaty chuckle, and Vasai's rippling laugh mingled with Carl's deep one, in a good-humored chorus, also joined in by the few younger members still lingering at the tables. One gestured questioningly in Carl's direction, pointing toward the roadway where the visca was now returning. "He's asking if you might like a trip in the visca, now that you are more at home in your surroundings", Vasai explained.

Yes - I think I might like that - later - when I've learned my way about a little better" - Carl tugged lightly at his shirt and jacket, adding - "and maybe found a change of clothes". He found he was experiencing a growing urge to share the simplicity of Ulathai dress. This puzzled him at first, but as he thought about it, he decided it was rooted in his desire to mingle wholeheartedly with these people. By old standards this was a major change for Carl, but now it just seemed right.

Etanai laughingly commented "It seems to me, you have found your way about quite well, Kar-al" ! But - he was quick to add, so as not to embarrass Carl. "But - I understand your meaning, my friend. I'm only kidding - as you say".

Vasai excused herself, explaining - "I've a few matters to attend to now - Omu Amrishi - " ! Again, she made the gesture with which she had greeted them. As she moved away, Etanai interpreted - " 'Omu Amrishi' is our common greeting for both arrivals and departures - and many other instances. It's usually accompanied by the gesture, but not necessarily so. The gesture, without the words is understood the same. Broadly translated, it means 'One in Amrishi' - which is our way of recalling that, in reality, we neither arrive nor depart, except in appearance. We are all always in Amrishi."

It was a simple flowing gesture; a light touching of the chest, then the forehead, then hand lifted in a quick salute which described a small circle in the air. It was not difficult for Carl to see how it described the symbolism explained by Etanai. As with all ways of the Ulathai, a beautiful simplicity served to express inclusive, and vast, ideas. The result was always esthetically simple, and warmly human.

As they gathered their food, and casually returned to the divans, Carl was musing about a small mystery he found as he studied his surroundings. Most of the Ulathai were apparently beardless. Only Andrah, who had a trim goatee-type beard, and Chan Shu, whose white beard extended in waving flow to tunic-top, were exceptions among those he had observed.

Also, he had been intrigued by the fact that, although the Gita, the Elder Guardian, and Kashira, the Samai, were of different tone in complexion, there were no strong racial characteristics among these people. All had the finely molded, classic features, which were difficult to categorize. The golden-toned skin could not be classified with any special group of people known to Carl. And Carl had traveled widely. It piqued his curiosity.

Seated sideways on the divan, and munching a seed cake, Etanai watched Carl with brief glances. He was aware of the forming questions, and was awaiting a formulated question to be voiced. As if finally sensing that the Elder would be receptive, Carl voiced his inner wondering. "Etanai, I've noted there seems to be no beards among most Ulathai. Only the Gita, Andrah, and Chan Shu, have beards. Is this a general characteristic among your people, or just that my contact has been limited so far ?"

Etanai was thoughtfully silent for a few minutes before answering, as if shaping his response. "This characteristic - in origin - is a result of environmental conditions, Kar-al, as skin tone also is to a large degree. It has , through time, become an established genetic factor. This applies to my people, as they are, to the Gita, to Chan Shu, and to your people - as they are. "

Etanai had stated his answer slowly and thoughtfully - and gave every indictaion that no more would be offered concerning the matter. Recognizing that the Elder would advise him only as he saw fit, Carl ventured the second aspect of his curiosity, concerning the absence of strong racial characteristics, and was rewarded with a more lengthy and detailed reply. Etanai had finished his lunch, and reclined in the divan, sipping his beverage. His attitude suggested that some more thorough revelation was forthcoming. Carl leaned back to listen.

The Elder waited until Carl was comfortably settled in, then began to speak slowly and deliberately, selecting each word with care. "Once, like your world, we had definite differences of a racial nature. As our society evolved, and became more inclusive in its racial intermingling, differences gradually blended. This occurred over a lengthy period of time, and evolved through many critical stages. The particular specialties of development, which each had brought to a point of fulfillment, became factors of strong dispute for a period. However, we eventually saw the value of these specialties was enhanced by co-operative exchange."

So serious was the Elder's tone, that Carl sensed he was now touching on the very root of Ulathai attitude toward Life. He listened intently, acutely sensing the deepest meaning of every word, as carefully as Etanai selected them. "As we progressed in this understanding, a refining and strengthening took place, until. gradually, we were merged into one race in Amrishi. Such differences as we now know are only differences of function., and are both valued, and respected, for such variations. ALL are recognized as equally valuable in the full expression of Amrishi - the Universal Essence."

"In time, this will also occur in your world. The factors that lead to it are already beginning. It is becoming more and more evident that isolated cultures are impossible in your present times. You are witnessing, and experiencing, the throes of dispute such as we once experienced, although not quite to the point of horrendous wars such as your world has known. It is most important that each racial type has developed their special qualities to a refined and constructive degree, before such blending can successfully be implemented. Happily, we recognized the solution early enough to avoid extremely destructive conflicts. However, sadly, it is not an uncommon phase of development in evolution of societies."

"Already, your Western continent is called the 'melting pot'. This is indeed a major part of its destiny. Many of the ancient writings of your world refer to a future 'Golden Race'. In a sense, you could say that describes our present society, and your future one."

As he spoke, Etanai had spaced each idea of his explanation with pauses. This offered Carl a panoramic view of a social development. He could see the underlying cause of some of the world's turbulent problems. Etanai offered a view of possible future solutions, which presented a hope he had not been able to see before. Oh if the world could only embrace such potentials, and rechannel energies now used in conflict to support them ! This arose from Carl's inner self as an almost audible cry, but it reached his lips only as a sigh, and his eyes as a mist.

Etanai responded, aware of Carl's longing. "To bring such harmony about is the work of Ulathai, Kar-al - take heart ! We much need those who catch this vision, and are willing to aid us in the effort". Etanai's voice rang with the same intensity Carl felt. "I would certainly like to aid such work, Etanai". Carl spoke quietly, and with his whole soul.

"We are aware of this, my friend." The Elder responded with feeling. "It is an integral part of the strands of concord which have brought us together. You have not come here haphazardly. This deep, inner desire to see world problems healed, has been working with great insistence within your inner consciousness for some time. It is largely that which precipitated your break with your old life, and brought you to the desert for self-search. Paradoxically, it is that same desire, become dedication, which shall mend the break."

Carl thought of Julie, and other ties he had severed when leaving. Some, he would have no desire to renew, but it was a happy thought to envision reunion with Julie. If only they could find a meaningful way to renew their marriage. At first, he had been numb, feeling nothing but a need to leave his old life behind. Later, he began to miss her. Oddly, it was in small things that he first noticed strange 'absence', as if all meaning had gone out of them. Surfacewise, he convinced himself it was 'habit-interrupted' that caused this feeling. But deep within he knew better. Yet , she had been dissatisfied. Many times he told himself it was best this way. He'd been too unsure of the actual cause to even debate it with her. So, he had just left, feeling hollow. There was no defined break he was clearly aware of - enough to start a plan of repair. He wouldn't know where to start. He could see now some of the reasons for his hollow, burned-out feeling. That had certainly been part of the problem. He might have more to offer their relationship now, with the resurgence of motivation Etanai's words offered. It might be possible to 'mend the break' , as the Elder said.

Again, Etanai answered his unspoken thoughts. "It's not returning to the old that you will be doing, Kar-al. It will all be seen in a new light, with understanding, and supported by your inner-Self. Your approach will be different because of this. You will meet with a different reaction in your world. A more free and meaningful way of life will be the mending. The mending will also be a healing."

Carl thought of how clearly he had glimpsed an order behind the seeming absurdities of life only a short time ago. Yes - he thought - to walk in the world with such clear vision would give greater meaning to everything. He thought quietly on this for awhile.

When he again turned to Etanai, the Elder was sitting quietly with his head on the divan headrest, and his eyes closed. An air of repose was over the scene. Only a few of the younger Ulathai could be heard splashing in the pool. Feeling a need to rest his thoughts, he closed his eyes, and slipped into deep quietude, as still and effortless as floating on sunlit waters. Again, he felt that deep sense of pulsing peace which he had experienced the previous evening. Even the faint courtyard sounds grew distant. Only the soft tinkling of the fountain washed the silence, mingling in harmony with the meditative state .

Sunlight was gentle on the courtyard, providing a soothing, comfortable warmth. Carl's body appreciatively basked in it . His mind welcomed that utter peace which leaves one untangled and calmly aware.

In the span of hours since he'd arrived at the Encampment, there'd been very little physical activity, yet he felt as if he had been very busy in a satisfying way. It seemed much had been accomplished; an unusual assessment for Carl, who had once suffered from a restless work-horse attitude about how his time was spent. There had to be some visible result. Now - he could see, and truly appreciate the value of time spent touching one's true 'center'. He resolved that such time usage would surely be a part of his life from henceforth. It is such moments that improve the quality of our living, and our expression. Why was so much of the world aimed at flight-from that true center, instead of withdrawing into it for renewal when needed ? Carl mused about these tendencies. He wondered at such a depleting attitude. It had been the very thing that had brought him to the brink of total exhaustion. He wondered how many times someone somewhere was shipwrecked on such a rock of world weariness. How would it have ended for him, had he not had this 'strange journey' ?

A wonderful feeling of all being as it should washed through him. He was in touch with his Spiritual Identity. He was centered in peace, and yet he was vibrantly aware. Now he knew what "Amrishi" meant. How true, the Elder's description ... "the effortless functioning of life when it is healthy ... "

He'd been resting for some time in pleasant silence, when he heard a slight stirring near him. He opened his eyes to find Vasai standing beside the divan. There was a glint of merriment in her eyes. Etanai had risen, and was standing beside her. Carl must have had a quizzical look on his face. Vasai laughed lightly, and said - "All is well, Kar-al. I've just come to show you to your quarters. Unless you wish to spend another night in the tower " !

At this, Etanai laughed gently, and Carl felt a slow grin spread across his face. "Thank you, Vasai - other quarters would be fine, although I did have a pleasant night in the tower, once my feathers were soothed " ! With a brief chuckle, Etanai turned toward the walkway, and Vasai motioned for Carl to join them. As they moved along the wide walkway, light of late afternoon was covering the courtyard with mellow gold. Activity was thinning. Carl thought briefly of sundown yesterday. Much that had been a mystery then was now clear, and comfortably accepted. What changes would tomorrow's sundown bring ?

They passed the tables, moving through the shaded walk, and on through an arched doorway. They then followed a softly lit hallway, toward what Carl guessed to be Southeast. Finally, they entered a large, tastefully furnished, circular room. Again, there was the small fountain in the center, splashing, and tinkling softly. There were two of the luminous pillars, opposite each other, the width of the room apart. Three arched windows floor to ceiling, looked out on open grounds. There was the usual table, amply spread - and along the curving wall, near the windows, a very large, beautfully adorned bed.

Directly toward the South, there was a folding screen. It stood away from the wall some distance. Of the prevalent crystalline substance seen many places in the Encampment, inlaid with many colors, it was beautifully designed. A great, white, flying bird, a waterfall, and various floral and woodland designs, adorned it in exquisite display. Carl stood drinking in the artistry, for a moment unaware of anything else. It seemed to trigger some recall in him, but nothing he could define.

His attention was called away by Vasai, who was standing near the windows. She pressed a small bar on the wall near the windows. The rounded glasses rolled upward into the ceiling, revealing grounds with the soft carpet of greenery, shade trees, and a small pool surrounded by flowering plants of many varieties. The garden floor was strewn with the starry blossoms now familiar to him. A fresh breeze entered the room, laden with a clean, floral scent.

Vasai then led him toward the screen. Behind the screen was a tiled area, containing a pool of clear, gently agitated water, a divan, and crystal racks with a variety of towels. "No doubt you would like to refresh yourself", Vasai said -"And - as you have mentioned more suitable attire, we have arranged that also. I've tried to design what would be right for you. What you would feel most comfortable wearing". With that comment, she eagerly drew him toward a curtained area near the pool." I hope you like your new wardrobe !" Drawing back the curtains, she revealed two robes, a medallion on a chain, and a pair of sandals.

Carl had never been a fashion nut, preferring comfort first. However, now he found himself eagerly examining this Ulathai selected wardrobe. One robe he recognized as intended for an inner robe, such as Ulathai Elders wore. It was straight, softly draped from the shoulder, sleeveless, and of the length of Elder's robes. The fabric was a soft cream and tan weave, with glinting fine gold threads woven throughout, so that it shone with highlights when moved. The 'over-robe' was open in front, with sleeves about mid-arm in length, and a collar which stood up about four inches at back of neck, tapering gently to merge with each side of the open front. Its color was a most scintillating combination. There was a base of deep, rich blue, interwoven with an irridescence of color, from vibrant and bold shades, to soft pastels. The effect was beautiful, constantly changing as light struck highlights. The slipper sandals were of a golden brown, and tan, with touches of metallic gold. Simple in a design of crossing straps, and open at heel and toe, Carl imagined they would be comfortable when worn.

As he touched the medallion, a wave of deja vu hit him. He knew immediately that he had seen the insignia somewhere before, but again, he could not recall any specifics. It was round , about 5 inches diameter, obviously of gold, with a scroll design around the edge. The central insignia was deeply etched, glinting where the etching reached a second surface which appeared like platinum, except that it sparkled more like a jewel than metal. He held it gently, tracing the lines with his fingers, trying to remember. It was as if an area of his mind opened, and there was a view of another place and time, flowing like the wind, too swiftly to capture.

Vasai's eye met his as he looked up, wondering. She spoke almost solemnly. "It is your name, as it is written in Ulathai script". She paused, searching his face for a response. "In Ulathai language, your name would be only slightly different in sound, but it would express much more. You spoke your name to us in two syllables - a merged version of how we would sound it. We would give it three syllables. These would denote three levels of your Being. Your name would be sounded as 'Ka-ra-el' - as it is there enscribed. "

Carl was indeed feeling like at least two people ! The one who came to the Encampment, and the one now emerging. He did feel a relationship to both, but it was too new, and too soon, for him to merge them yet. As for a third level - no doubt that had yet to unfold. Vasai watched him questioningly for a moment, reading his response. Carl was silent, still deep in thought. Vasai spoke again - "Do you like the robe and sandals, Ka-ra-el ? You see, they are woven of the colors of your planet, and the colors of your soul."

At last, Carl answered, a little uncertainly. "Yes - Vasai - they do seem right for my inner aspirations". He paused and smiled at her. "I'm just not sure I'm expressing in such quality yet." He was a bit mystified as to why he had replied in that way. He felt it truly expressed what he was feeling. He didn't feel that he expressed outwardly what he felt deep within. He was touched by the thoughtful care that had gone into his new wardrobe, but he felt unworthy.

Vasai studied him from eyes full of understanding. "Ka-ra-el - we are all still a 'work-in-progress'. It is our task to eventually embody the essence of our finest potential - our Spirit-Seed. As with all seeds, this unfolds in stages. We need to become conscious participants in our unfoldment, so that we can harmoniously adjust to the process. This attire IS right for you, I'm sure ! And - Ka-ra-el IS your true name !"

With a smile and a brief touch to Carl's hand, she turned and moved toward the door to the hall. Turning again at the door, she said with a smile - "Etanai has gone to his quarters, which are next to yours. After you've refreshed yourself and dressed in your robes, he'll return for you - Omu Amrishi." The graceful gesture seemed almost a benediction.

For the first time, Carl answered in kind -
"Omu Amrishi".


To be continued...
Chapter Nine