The leaders traveled for days and met at the summit of the Plateau, in the cool shade of the Ancient Rule monument. In accordance with custom the leaders brought gifts for the other tribes. Great Root brought gifts from the earth, healthy vegetables and seeds that he shared amongst the leaders. Great Gust, chieftain of the Air tribe, brought sacks of grains, milled by the powerful winds that ravaged the Plateau’s lowlands. Great Wick, leader of the Fire tribe, brought disks of warped glass that could intensify the sunlight and light any fire no matter how cold the weather. Great Wake brought fish. Lots and lots of fish.
“Oy, how did you get all that fish?” asked Root.
“Yeah?” Gust chimed in. “We’re here to discuss the vanishing of the river, and you’ve got loads of fish?”
“What do you mean, the vanishing of the river?” asked Wick. “We’ve got plenty of water, and fish too. But thanks for the gift anyway. Nice trout.”
“I built a dam,” admitted Wake. “Now I can provide fish for my village forever. We can dry the fish and store it.”
“But then you’ll have more than you need!” demanded Root. “And worse, we have no fish! What in the name of the Plateau possessed you to do such a thing?” He pushed the basket of fish away.
“Why shouldn’t I?” said Wake. “You divert the river into the flood plains to grow bigger vegetables.”
“I used to, until you stole the river! And we have been doing that for generations, it never harmed you!”
“How do you know that? Whatever the size of your intervention, you nonetheless meddled with the Plateau. That irrigation system wasn’t put there by nature.”
Gust interrupted, with his voice light and breezy. “Gentlemen, please. We’ll have to solve this. I suppose the fair way is to vote. All in favor of tearing down the dam, raise your hand.”
Gust and Root shot their hands into the air. Wake made an exaggerated show of sitting on his. All eyes fell on Wick.
“Um…” said Wick.
“Well?” demanded Root.
“Well, the Water tribe’s dam has sort of increased our fish yield, so…”
“Unbelievable!” Root banged his large brown fist on the table. “So because you live upstream of this monstrosity and we live downstream, we’re going to go hungry and you’re not concerned. How can it be that this isn’t a violation of the Ancient Rule?”
“Nobody’s fucking with your stuff.”
“You’re fucking with our fish!”
“They don’t belong to you, they belong to the Plateau.”
The meeting was adjourned with no resolution. The chieftains of the Air and Earth tribes were furious. The chieftain of the Fire tribe was more than mildly uncomfortable with the atmosphere, but very much looking forward to a fishy feast that evening. The chieftain of the Water tribe went home happy. He was providing for his people, and his father would be proud.
As symbol of solidarity, the Air tribe shared with the Earth tribe their knowledge of meteorology. The rain barrels caught just enough water for the downstream tribes to drink and water their crops, and Great Root used composting and other ways to provide the earth with the rich nutrients once brought by the river. The two tribes had to work much harder, and they were poorer than before. But upstream, the Water tribe was doing just fine, the children were growing strong, the women were happy and the men were busy.
One day, Great Wake called for his merchants.
“We’re living in abundance and things are great,” he said. “Let’s a have a feast! Go and buy some peas from the Earth tribe, toss them a couple of herrings or something. And I’ll send the hunters out for some wild boar. We’ll get my sister to make some of that pea and ham soup.”
“Ah…” said the merchants. “About the boar…”
“Word has it that the Earth tribe went digging in the sludge left when their part of the river vanished.”
“Apparently they found some sort of mineral ore buried deep in the riverbed and they got the Fire tribe to teach them how to extract it.”
“How could they afford that, and why does it affect my pigs?”
The merchants bit their nails and wringed their hands.
“W-well,” they stammered. “They exchanged the knowledge about meteorology that they learned from the Air tribe, and now the Fire tribe are using that skill to harness sun power. The Earth tribe extracted the mineral ore and smelted the metal into rather amazing projectile weapons that they’re using to hunt the boar. There’s hardly any boar left in our woods.”
“What?” barked Great Wake and leaped to his feet. The merchants shuffled to hide behind each other. “So now they have the best peas and the best ham?” There would be no feast of pea and ham soup knowing their ingredients were substandard to those of the next door tribe.
The merchants looked at each other. Dared they suggest…?
“We could maybe buy some ham while we’re over there picking up peas? We have plenty of fish to trade?”
“They won’t want to buy our fish if they have the best wild boar on the Plateau! Don’t you understand this is about more than soup? This is going to have major economic effects on our tribe. We’ll go from being the richest, strongest and healthiest tribe on the Plateau to being just another link in this idiotic game of exchanging resources. We need to provide for ourselves.” He sat back down and stared at the palms of his hands. “I need to provide for my tribe,” he whispered.
But Great Wake remembered what his father had told him about the ancestors in the skies. They had all the answers, he had said. A little idea formed. When Great Wake told the Earth tribe that the ancestors had blessed him with the knowledge that all boar downstream of the dam had become poisonous, there was nothing they would do to challenge him. Nobody had ever questioned the wisdom of the ancestors before, and who would risk testing it? And so it became truth that wild boar could no longer be hunted downstream of the dam, and the Air and Earth tribes accepted this and stopped hunting boar, because the ancestors had blessed them with the knowledge through Great Wake.
From this point on, when Air and Earth villagers were very hungry, the upstream tribes traded fish in exchange for knowledge, and soon the Water and Fire tribes knew about meteorology and composting too. Great Wake was succeeding as a leader, and he felt his father would be proud.
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Featured image: Tribe: by Kapsikom