As Vasai disappeared into the corridor, Carl looked about him. The room was spacious, cool, and clean, with only such furnishings as were necessary for comfort. The floor was smooth and shining, resembling terrazo. It's colors were soft, muted, browns, tans, and cream, with brief splashes of deep blue. The pattern was a simple swirling design.
On both sides of the window-doors, he could see what he assumed to be drapes. They were of the deep blue color seen on the floor. He crossed the room to examine the small bar which he had seen Vasai press to open the window-doors. As he pressed it, the windows slid down silently. Spotting another similar bar nearby, he pressed it, and what he had thought to be drapes was revealed as a folding panel, which now unfolded in accordian fashion across the doors. It appeared to be of a pliable, metallic material, and stretched in rippling waves across the southeast window area, offering complete privacy.
Immediately, as the panel closed off the southeast light, the pillars increased in luminosity, so that the room was well lit. The pillars were obviously light sensitive, and increased output when needed.
The medallion was still in his hand. He looked down at it. The etching glistened brilliantly in the pillar light. "Ka-ra-el" - he sounded the name to himself in thoughtful tone. It did have a sound of saying much more than - "Carl" expressed. He decided he felt quite at home with the difference, though not really knowing why. "Well - I might as well be about it"... he murmured, as he moved into the alcove behind the screen.
As he removed his clothing, he felt as if he were removing the last remnants of an old 'surface-identity'. It was not with any sense of loss. The innermost Carl was well and thriving, actually feeling more alive than ever before. Only the facade he had worn externally for so many years was discarded. He recalled that 'persona' meant 'mask', and knew that it was that 'mask' which fluttered away, worn and tattered, in winds if newness. He felt a pleasant lightness of having shed an outgrown encumberance.
Before him, the robes shimmered. He realized that, when he donned them,the inner and outer Carl would be the same. It was the happy prospect of a new beginning. The false facade, which the world had seemed to make necessary for him, was no longer necessary. A new sense of freedom surged through him with exhilarating renewal.
He slid into the pool with a long, sighing, aah-aah-aaah. The waters seemed to caress his body with gentle strokes. The slight agitation of the pool waters was effervescent, a bit like bathing in champagne. He didn't know what extra ingredient was there, but it was more relaxing than any jacuzi he'd ever known. He relaxed completely, and submitted to the cleansing with the elegance of ritual. It seemed to reach his very soul.
At last, he emerged, wrapped himself in one of the huge towels, and approached the well-spread table. Selecting a patty, and a goblet of the amber beverage, he seated himself in a nearby chair. He lingered quietly, savoring the refreshment.
Finally,replenished and refreshed, he arose to dress. As he slipped into the inner robe, he was amazed by how comfortable he felt in it. Despite feeling a need for clean attire suitable for the present situation, he had wondered if he might feel awkwardly as if wearing skirts ! There was no such feeling at all. A 'robe' was quite different, he decided. The softly woven fabric felt smooth and light against his skin. The absence of a binding belt gave a feeling of ease and freedom of movement. After he had dressed, and had the medallion resting on his chest, he felt remarkably put together; unified within, and in command of the situation. He didn't even feel surprised by the fact.
He walked to the window area and opened the panels. They slid back noiselessly, revealing the garden in amber-rose light of sundown. It resembled some fantastic garden of antiquity, preserved timeless in the golden light of ages.He raised the window-doors, and walked out into what seemed Eternity.
The garden atmosphere was cool, with the simple composure found only where there is harmony. It was a natural and beautiful sanctuary, softly carpeted with the green growth and starlike blossoms. A few stately trees stood like pillars. Random floral displays added splashes of color, and wafted a delicate aroma through the air. There were varieties of many-colored birdlife, and a quiet pond. All enhanced by a rich brocade of sundown light.
The pond was larger than it appeared when viewed through the windows. It was delicately edged with the fernlike greenery and starlike blossoms. Carl recognized these as the first sign of oddly changing terrain, which had been so puzzling on first encounter. It was still a mystery to him, but now attracted his attention only in quizzical thought. He decided to question Etanai about it when the opportunity arose.
Near the pond were several smoothly rounded seats of the often noticed crystalline substance. Rather than fitted pieces, as furniture he recalled in his familiar world, these were molded of the substance, with no breaks, seams, or bonding elements, such as pegs or nails. He selected one, and found it to be most comfortable, with a scooped seat and rounded backrest. He settled back, relaxed, and peacefully accepted the soothing surroundings.
He had sat for quite sometime in pervading calm, letting a gentle breeze flow over him, and watching a beautiful white, wading-bird, which stood in the pond in an attitude of such still poise that it seemed to be carved from marble. The pond, equally still, reflected the image as if in a mirror, without a ripple.
Although he heard no sound, he sensed a presence, and glanced to his side to see Chan Shu sitting quietly, only a few feet away. Like Carl, he too was watching the wading-bird. He turned slowly toward Carl. A slight smile unfolded with gentle greeting. Compassionate eyes radiated a benign nature. He spoke quietly, but clearly. "When the bird is still, the water image is still. When the mind is still, the soul is still."
The words came with the soothing tone he would expect from a wise and gentle Elder Guardian. With them, came the realization of the deep meaning of that simple statement,as if cool light flashed within, quickening awareness. It was an awareness that would not be bound by words. An electricity of understanding passed between them. Carl knew that it was unnecessary to speak, and the Elder seemed pleased with Carl's silent response.
Quietly, Chan Shu arose, making the gesture of Omu Amrishi, he turned and walked toward the buildings, Eastward from Carl's quarters. For the first time, Carl noticed that the garden was actually enclosed by surrounding buildings. All along the surrounding walls were window-doors which opened out on the garden, as his did. Of course ! he thought. These are the quarters for Ulathai Elders. Even as he was thinking this, Etanai emerged from a doorway next to Carl's. He greeted Carl with the familiar gesture.
"I see you're enjoying the peace of the garden, Ka-ra-el", he said, taking a seat next to Carl. It didn't surprise to hear Etanai sound his name as enscribed on the medallion. By now, Carl was aware that communication among the Ulathai was not limited to avenues considered 'normal' to him. Now, the name didn't seem strange at all. It was as familiar as his feelings of friendship with these people.
He smiled at the Elder to show his understanding. He was searching for the right words to express his feelings about the garden atmosphere. Finally, it emerged as a vague suggestion. "Something about the garden seems so - so strangely - timeless".
Etanai seemed to look into a great distance, as if through ages. He was silently reflective for a moment. When he spoke again even his voice sounded oddly distant. "True beauty is timeless, my friend. It comes from Essence, and returns to Essence - ever renewed. It is this 'Essence', from which all things arise, and to which all things return, that we refer to by the name "Amrishi".
Carl was listening thoughtfully, and studying the garden with new awareness. "Even the garden floor has stars..." he said, indicating the fern-like greenery, glittering with floral stars.
Ah yes - our friend, the Paz-Flora". Etanai quickly responded with a look of great fondness. "It's a gift that is truly Heaven-Sent." He sat in silence a moment, as if in deep thought. When he spoke again, it was with an eager tone, as if he had reached a decision. "I'll tell you about the Paz-Flora, Ka-ra-el, and you'll see why I say this".
"The Paz-Flora is one of our greatest treasures. Through the familiar action of plants, it cleanses our air, purifies our water, provides a soft carpet, distributes its clean scent to please the senses, and favors the eye with the loveliness of its blossom. But more ! - It even regulates our temperature to some degree !"
"When the air is cool and comfortable, its blossoms open as the tiny starlike flower you see. When temperature becomes very warm or cold, these blossoms close, and a distillation accumulates on the leaves."
If the heat increases to a great degree, this distillation thins to a fine lacquer, which coats the Paz-Flora, aiding in protecting the ground from heat build-up. In a similar fashion, when the temperature drops below a certain level this distillation forms, but instead of dissolving into a lacquer, it crystallizes into a pliable glassy coat. Shining in the winter sunlight, it is a beautiful sight, lending a golden softness to reflected light, rather than the harsh glare that rebounds from ice. This action also insulates the ground, in this case preventing freezing."
Etanai displayed his delight in the qualities of the little plant with an appreciative look shining on his face as he spoke.
"Also, without harm to the Paz-Flora, we may collect this distillation for our own use, as it is plentifully reproduced without harm to the plantlife. This is the golden beverage which you find so refreshing. It does indeed have a very healthy effect on the nervous system, toning it - as well as providing much nourishment of the usual sort."
"About four times in an Earth-year, the Paz-Flora will produce its prolific seed - truly a super abundance, as if all were not intended for regrowth. This seed is a very nourishing substance, providing most all nutrients needed for healthy survival. We make the seed-cakes from them. This, with the liquid necessary to the body, could sustain one indefinitely."
Etanai paused. Carl was studying the little plant with new appreciation. "Paz-Flora", he said, "what a lovely name." The Elder smiled appreciatively,and continued.
"The Paz-Flora did not appear in our world until after the dissension I spoke of had disappeared. It is said that it was always there, but only in the remote mountain areas. It is because of its appearance in our more populated areas, after we had learned to live in mutual harmony, that it came to be called 'Paz-Flora'.The name was suggested by one of our Elder Gitas. You have no doubt realized that in Latin languages this means 'Peace-Flower', so you see how appropriate the name is."
Carl had thought that would be the meaning in Spanish, but he wasn't sure if that were the origin of the name, or it were some similar sounding, but differently interpreted word of the Ulathai.
Another question had arose in Carl's mind as Etanai explained the several valuable qualities of the plant. "Have your people applied this insulating distillation toward any sort of coating for objects, Etanai"? Etanai smiled and chuckled with an amused gleam in his eye. He was thinking how quickly the worldly mind relates things to a 'commercial' value. "Oh yes, Ka-ra-el"...he paused a moment, then added, "but remember, my friend, the different conditions of the substance are dependant on a temperature constant."
With that, he immediately arose, and motioned for Carl to join him, saying, "Now we must proceed to the Concordium".
Etanai's step was brisk, and he was intent only on the walk to the Concordium, explaining briefly to Carl that 'Concordium' was the name of their meeting hall. Carl was pondering the Elder's final statement about the Paz-Flora. It sounded both final, and cryptic. Carl felt sure the tone was intended. It was apparent that Etanai did not plan further discussion of the subject. Carl said nothing.
Out of respect for his Mentor's wishes, he walked in silence beside him.
In The Concordium