For the Guild of Dreams feature this week, I’m interviewing a popular fantasy character: Vorona, the shaman of the village of Nastaciu, the home of Javor, the main character from The Bones of the Earth.
The Bones of the Earth is set in the sixth century CE, the darkest of the Dark Age. The place is eastern Europe, on the southern slopes of the Carpathian mountains.
Vorona is described as young and beautiful, incongruously voluptuous where everyone else is too thin following repeated famines and years of poor crops. She has some magical abilities, after all. What would be the first thing you would do with magical powers?
As the shaman, it’s Vorona’s role to communicate with the spirit world to bless the crops and animals, as well as to cure disease and bring luck to the villagers.
Vorona lives alone in a hut a little separate from the rest of the village. I visited her there for this interview.
Vorona: Welcome in. I’ve been expecting you. Tea?
Guild of Dreams: No, thank you. It’s too hot today for tea. Perhaps we could sit outside, where there’s a breeze?
V: All right. Make yourself comfortable.
GD: Isn’t it unusual for the shaman to be a woman in this era?
V: No. Traditionally, women have a closer connection to the other world than men do. As the sex that brings life into the world, we also have a closer affinity with Moist Mother Earth.
GD: As the village shaman, it’s your job to communicate with the spirit world to help ensure fertility of crops and your village’s livestock. But the whole region has suffered from repeated crop failures for years, if not decades. Does that mean you’ve failed in your job?
V: Not at all. I have communicated with the spirits, particularly the kupalo, who bless the fields. For the past two years, since I have been shaman, the crops have been returning, slowly. But the spirit world is unhappy with humankind overall, particularly with Rome and Persia and other so-called civilizations. They have turned away from Moist Mother Earth in favour of the sky gods.
The spirits and the gods are also troubled. There seems to be a great strife among them, and the troubles in our world are but a trembling caused by the great forces in conflict.
GD: A war among the gods?
V: Yes: between the celestial forces, the sky gods, and the chthonic, or earth gods. The main civilizations of the world largely worship the celestials now. However, a generation ago—in my time, that is—the earth belched forth a great cloud that hid the sun from view for over a year. It caused great hardship on humans and other animals, but it showed the power of Moist Mother Earth.
GD: In my time, we know that as the great volcanic eruption of 535 CE. Now, tell me, how well did you know the hero, Javor?
V: I knew him very well. He does not know me as well, and he does not appreciate how I watched over him as he grew up.
GD: Did you have a great role in his upbringing? Were you close to him?
V: I was close, yes, but he did not know that.
GD: That seems to be characteristic of Javor — that he doesn’t understand other people very well.
V: He does not understand other people’s masks and pretensions. But he perceives their hearts keenly.
GD: Would you describe Javor as unusual?
V: He is exceptional: very intelligent, very quick and very courageous.
GD: Yet, in his home village, he was thought of as an imbecile.
V: Yes. Mainly because he does not respond in the way that others expect. He does not understand the difference between what people say and what they really mean.
GD: That sounds like it could be a problem for him.
V: Javor had a great difficulty making friends as a child. Usually, the others shunned him and made fun of him. Fools have no capacity for appreciating his unusual gifts.
GD: Did he have any friends?
V: He had one or two. Hrech is a kind boy and rather low in social standing, himself. And some of the girls took pity on him. Javor, being Javor as well as hopeful and in many ways a typical teenage boy, mistook pity for love.
GD: It sounds like he had a difficult childhood.
V: Yes, and a sad one. All his siblings died, the last two in a pestilence — I believe you call it the pneumatic plague — during a particularly difficult winter. Then when his parents were killed, Javor was alone.
GD: Is there any hope for him?
V: Javor has a great destiny. I cannot see it, but I can tell that his life-stream extends far into the future and is filled with great deeds. He will face dangers that few men could comprehend. But he holds gifts from several … I suppose the closest word would be “gods.”
GD: So, you can see the future?
V: In a way. And for a short time.
GD: Can you tell me next week’s winning lottery numbers?
V: Turn off that recorder and get out of here!