Day 28’s dream-memory is called “A Chorus of Cicadas”. At first glance the tale being told through Kaim’s remembering this particular memory seem quaint at best and silly for those with cynical hearts. But if one really looked at went deeper into the memory it tells a story about why we sometimes must fight even when peace is what we truly want.
This tale reminds me of the Latin phrase “Si vis pacem, para bellum” which simply translated means “if you want peace, prepare for war”. While war is never something to be undertaken there are times when we must protect that which we hold dear: a bright, peaceful future for our children and their children. It’s the right of every person to defend their hearth and home. To keep their loved ones safe even if defending them involves violence.
Many conflicts, both large and small, always seem to have an element of greed behind it. One side wants what the other side has and willing to fight over it. Which is why it’s much harder to fight for moral ideals and the betterment of future generations than it is for material gain.
A Chorus of Cicadas
This forest is home to a priceless treasure.
A marvelous–and exceedingly rare–creature lives here.
You could search the entire continent and never find another such habitat.
“Of course, the value of our ‘treasure’ is not apparent at first glance.”
The village elder holds a cup of liquor made from fermented berries as he speaks. His ancestors have kept watch over this tiny village for generations.
It is summer, and the massed cries of a million cicadas pour down upon the small fort that guards the entrance to the village. The chorus of insects sounds like a steady rain.
“I wonder if you gentlemen understand what I mean?”
The elder scans the dozen or so powerfully-built men gathered at the fort.
All of them wear a look of puzzlement. All but one, that is.
“You said your name is Kaim?” asks one of the villagers. “You seem to know what he’s talking about.”
Kaim nods and points upward.
“It’s the cicadas,” he says.
A stir goes through the villagers. With a delighted smile, the elder says, “So you know, do you?”
Far from delighted, the men in armor share suspicious glances.
All are mercenaries.
They have been hired by the villagers to protect the forest’s “treasure.”
“Hey, hey, wait just a second there.” rumbles the voice of one soldier, perhaps emboldened by the liquor.
“Are you telling me this ‘treasure’ we’re supposed to protect is just cicadas? What’s so special about them? They’re everywhere.”
“That is true.” says the elder. “Which is why I said the value of our ‘treasure’ is not obvious at first glance.”
“They sound just like any cicadas I’ve ever heard.”
Another of the mercenaries says, with a look of amazements.” Yeah, how is this ‘chorus of cicadas’ different from any other? They sound just like the ones in my hometown.”
The other soldiers laugh in agreement.
“Absolutely,” says one.
“No difference,” says another.
The elder and the villagers, however, are not amused.
They turn to Kaim as the elder asks him, “Will you help us protect our ‘treasure’?”
“That is what I’m here to do,” he replies. “Tell me again, Kiam. Do you really know the meaning of the ‘treasure’ of this forest?”
“I do . . .”
“Then let me ask you this. Do you know when this summer’s battle will bear fruit?”
Kaim takes a sip of his liquor, releases a long, slow breath, and says,
“In 75 years. We’re fighting for the summer 75 years from now. Is that what you mean?”
Another stir goes through the group of villagers.
The elder, with a great look of satisfactions, nods deeply and refills Kaim’s cup.
To the stunned mercenaries, the elder says.
“We have protected our cicada chorus generation after generation.
The ones who made it possible for us to hear this summer’s chorus–listen. It sounds like pouring rain!–are the villagers who were grown-up men 75 years ago when I was just a boy.
The chorus that shook the forest last summer was protected 76 years ago, and next summer the cicadas protected 74 years ago will start singing together. This is how we have prtected the forest of cicadas over the years.
Do you gentlemen now see how much it means to us?”
It is a matter of simple arithmetic.
After the eggs are buried in the ground, the cicadas that live in the forest spend 75 long years in the larval stage. At last, in the summer of their 75th year, they become mature insects, come out of the ground, and sing like mad in the treetops for the short week or two they remain alive.
Just before they die, they come down from the trees, mate, and bury their eggs in the ground. The new crop of eggs then spend another 75 long years in the earth . . .
“The fact that we can hear the cicada chorus this summer means only one thing; that the forest was at peace 75 years ago. Similarly, if the forest remains at peace this summer, the villagers will be able to hear the chorus 75 years from now. We have used what little money we have to pay you gentlemen to assemble here for this: to make the forest resound with the cicada chorus in 75 years.”
All the mercenaries but Kaim openly show their disappointment.
“Wait just a second now, grandpa,” says one soldier standing ramrod straight. “You mean to say we’re supposed to risk our lives to protect a bunch of bugs?”
“And even supposing we succeed in what we risk our lives for now, the results won’t show up for 75 years?”
“That is precisely what I mean.”
“Come on, old man, you must be kidding. If it were money or valuables, that would be one thing, but we might lose our lives here. And for what? Bugs?”
“Well, you are mercenaries, after all.”
“Okay now, grandpa, I’m going to ask you one last time. I know this village is poor and I know you people have had to scrimp and save to put this money together. There’s no question about that. But whenn you say this is for bugs . . . for 75 years from now, you’re not living in the same world I’m living in. For something like that, you’re willing to spend every last bit of money you’ve got and, in the bargain, get us to gamble our lives?
Are you insane?”
“We want the children 75 years from now to hear the cicada chorus for themselves. What’s so strange about that? Now we are having trouble understanding you.”
“Don’t toy with me, old man! I can’t take a job like that!” the man shouts and storms out of the fort. Some of the other mercenaries call out to him. “Hey, wait for me!” “I’m coming with you!” “Risk our lives for bugs” What a rotten deal that is!” and they hurry after him. One man after another disappears with a parting remark. “I’m keeping my advance, though,” several of them add.
The only fighter left in the fort is Kaim.
The “downpour” of the cicada cries continues unabated.
The whole forest sounds like one gigantic creature.
One young man is working the lookout post at the fort in place of departed mercenaries.
He asks Kaim, “Are you all right with this?”
“I’m fine. I knew what I was getting myself into.”
“I heard after they left . . . those men are a bad bunch.”
“It’s true. They’re really in it for what they can get after the job is done.”
They’re fine until they finish protecting the village from the enemy. Then they start asking for “bonuses.” They grab valuables and harass villagers: “We saved the village for you, right? It wouldn’t hurt you to give us a little extra,” they say. The reason this year’s mercenaries quit is because they realized there was no hope of any bonuses out of this village.
“Why did you stay, Kaim?” the young man asks him. “There must have been a lot of jobs that would have paid you more.”
“I just thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to risk my life for something 75 years in the future for a change. That’s all.”
The young man nods his head thoughtfully. Then he tells Kaim one of the old stories of the village.
“Long, long ago, way before I was born, when the elder was still a boy, there was a summer when the cicadas didn’t sing at all. Of course, this means that, 75 years before that, there was a battle that ravaged the forest. The elder says that the summer forest without the cicada chorus was so sad and lonely it was horrifying: it actually gave him the chills. The trees themselves were alive, but it felt as if the whole forest had died. Sitting alone in the silent forest, he felt so lonely he wanted to cry. And, worse, he felt intense anger toward our ancestors for not having protected the forest 75 years earlier. The elder tells this story whenever he’s had a little too much to drink.”
Kaim nods in silence.
“I know all about that,” he almost lets himself say, but he swallows his words and smiles instead.
The young man goes on, “So anyhow, when the elder was sitting and crying in the forest, he says a traveler came along. A young man. Big and strong–a man like you, Kaim. And he said to the elder, ‘Don’t ever forget how sad and lonely you are today. When you grow up, make sure you never let the children who will come 75 years after you feel this way.’ The elder says he doesn’t remember the man’s face, but he will never forget his words. He tells this story to the young people of hte village over and over.”
Kaim nods again, saying nothing, but the skin on his back seems to creep beneath his shirt.
“All these years, the elder has kept the promise he made to the traveler. No matter how much the merchants might have pressed him, he has never let them do anything that will ruin the forest. He has kept on good terms with the neighboring villages to avoid making enemies. He has sometimes entered into dealings that were not to our advantage and lost many chances for us to make money. This is why the village is still so poor.”
The young man gives a self-deprecating chuckle. Still, not one person in the village resents the elder for what he has done. The village kids have always gone into the forest to ‘bathe’ themselves in the shower of the cicada chorus. That’s just how we grew up: we took it for granted. We all feel nothing but gratitude toward the elder–and all the ancestors who came before him–who have enabled us to hear the cicada chorus every year.”
Kaim says nothing in reply, but he begins to savor the creeping feeling across his back.
He brings to mind the face of that young boy he met so long ago–more than eighty years ago.
“Why aren’t the cicadas singing?” the boy sobbed. “Why is there not even one cicada this year? Why did our ancestors burn down the forest back then?” But he had a gleam in his eye, and that same gleam, hidden by wrinkles, still resides in the eyes of the elder. Passed down from one generation to the next, it is there in the eyes of the young man guarding the fort with Kaim.
This is the very reason that Kaim is here.
Now the village, which has kept the peace for so many years, is about to be attacked. The neighboring country is expanding its power. It’s army has violated the border and is heading this way.
The prospects for victory are slim.
The elder says, “If you can get us through this summer, that is all we need. All we ask is that you help us prevent them from devastating the forest until the cicadas have planted their eggs.”
The neighboring country is not likely to show much interest in this poor village, which is merely a pathway for the army marching toward the city beyond the forest. If the village can hold out until the end of summer and surrender with the coming of fall, the enemy will probably charge straight through the forest and head for the city.
The elder says, “And when, after a nice little visit, they leave us, we’ll have to offer them a parting gift. They can have this worn-out old head of mine.”
Laughing, he mimes cutting his own head off.
The elder has transcended any unseemly attachment to the world. He has lived a full life. Now all he wants to do with his remaining time is to give the children 75 years in the future the chance to hear the cicadas.
Tell me one thing. Kaim says to the young man bringing his sword closer to hand.
“When you’re a grown-up, will you be able to bet your life on a future that is still 75 years away?”
“I will,” he replies without the slightest hesitation. “We can’t see the joyful faces of children 75 years from now, but I do know that the forest has to be filled with the crying of the cicadas every summer, whether now or next year or 75 years from now or even beyond that. That’s what they call the grownups’ responsibility. And I’m not the only one who believes this: all the young people of the village do.”
“The elder has raised some damn good young people, I see.”
“What’s that? Did you say something?”
“No, nothing at all.”
Kaim holds himself in readiness, staring straight ahead.
Dust clouds well up on the horizon. An enemy unit seems to be approaching.
The chicadas cry without ceasing.
The enemy is coming.
“All right. It’s time.”
Kaim heads out to battle.
The cicada chorus reverberates endlessly as if playing the song of life.