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image by Leeca at sxc.hu

image by Leeca at sxc.hu

This is a story of a time when a land fell into darkness. Once full of wealth and structure, the empire was conquered, ravaged, then deserted. Sickness came and devoured the people, one by one, one thousand by one thousand.

In those days, there were no kings, no chiefs, no lords. There were small groups of people scattered across the countryside, huddling together for survival. There were no conquerors. There were no leaders of men. Fear led them. Death held them in its tyrannical fist. Despair ruled their villages.

In those days, the secret to survival was whispered to the sleepy children and recited in hushed voices across crackling fires. The secret was wrapped in the words of other times and other people, in stories and myths. There were once people, the stories said, who were strong and golden, people not wasted away by disease and grief. The people in the stories were proud and fearless. The lands in the stories were paradise. The gods in the stories were just and mighty and made all things new.

As the words flowed out into the chilly night air, something magical happened in the minds of the listeners. Across the dark grey of a winter’s expanse, they looked out and saw the promised land: a bright sun shining over glowing green hills. The harsh call of the carcass-eating crows was heard as the soft trill of a lark singing in a dense forest. Warmth spread across the listener’s skin to fill the voids of their hungry stomachs, and for that one moment in time, all was well. Instead of the despair crushing a man’s shoulders, he felt hope lifting his chin. Instead of the weakness of hunger, he felt power coursing through his arms and legs. Then he would look down at himself, through the eyes of the story, and see a hero, golden and strong.

In those days, the story was worth more than bread.