Life and Times of a Priestess: Ch.5: Cultural Exchange (Part 3: Section 2: 'The Homecoming')
Part 3 : Section 2 : ‘The Homecoming’
Dalos was also used as a supplies distribution centre. Canned foods for the soldiers were shipped directly from Prancir to the coastal port and brought by smaller boats or by barge up river to Dalos before distribution southwards in muletrains or upstream. All the rail networks around about the city had been destroyed or damaged during the siege and the fighting, and so many of the male prisoners had been put to work, rebuilding the rail links which would enable Prancir to consolidate its new colony and supply its soldiers more swiftly.
Some of the officers stationed in the city began to bring their families, or at least their wives, to live with them, if not their sons or daughters, being educated back in Prancir. Inevitably some did bring their whole family if the felt they were to stay here long. That meant buildings being taken over for these families, usually the largest and best of the empty buildings, but sometimes female citizens, children and old men of Dalos were rehoused. They began their own schools and their children could be seen striving hard to master the many disciplines which the officer class wished their children to learn. Small groups of them walked through the streets to school in the mornings and back in the evenings while most of Dalos’ own male citizens lived out in the camps where they worked.
Gradually normality returned. The treatment of the citizens and captured soldiers improved. They behaved well under supervision, carried out the jobs they were told to do and became useful and compliant to their masters. The officers in charge of them began to trust them to do their work and began to allow Pirion officers to oversee the work. Some of the Prancirians became lazy and began to sit around as they let the men of the Empire control their work. It became understood that the prisoners would work, allowing the Prancirian officers to rest if the bullying and unnecessary tasks ceased and they were allowed control of their own working conditions. They worked reasonable hours again, and none of them collapsed from exhaustion any more. The finished work was of a better quality than before.
Danella’s desire for a greater goal in life, suspended during the fear and uncertainty of the conflict and its aftermath, returned to her. While she felt respect for the life of the Empire she had felt constrained by its routine to such an extent that the ceremonies had lost their power over her. Her friendship with General Polad had reawakened her interest in the world around her, and given her more to think about. She had learned such a lot from him, and from the books he had leant to her. She had read about the history of the Empire and of the Vanmarian nations. She learned about the war while most of her fellow Priestesses and other citizens of Shanla preferred to remain ignorant. It was this ignorance which disturbed her the most about Pirion. How could it resist the onslaught of the barbarians when millions of its own people knew little about Vanmar and many assumed that everyone in the world lived as they did, in social and sexual harmony.
The science of Pirion, while strong in matters of health, was not as developed in production as that of Vanmar. While the citizens of the Goddess lived their easy lives of routine and plenty they were satisfied, and many of their creative instincts were thus dulled. They did not need to strive for social and sexual advancement as the Vanmarians appeared to. There was little motivation to develop new ideas because there was no great reward to be found. In Vanmar she believed inventors worked not entirely for the pleasure of creation but for monetary gain which would afford them a better lifestyle. They could be rich above their fellows if they worked hard and developed new ideas. Pirion citizens also worked to advance themselves. Soldiers wished to become officers and generals, Priestesses wished to become High Priestesses. The managers wished to become higher managers. But there was little gain in lifestyle by it, only in status. In Vanmar the rewards of success were greater, and the punishments of failure were also far greater. Indeed fear was a motivating factor to rival greed. Fear was not something which had existed in Pirion, in recent times at least. All citizens were secure in their lifestyle. Thus the Vanmarians invented things. Their ships were faster. They had invented the steamship first and the railway and Pirion had copied them slowly some years afterwards. They produced goods and products more efficiently and sold them to other nations which made them rich.
Pirion merely looked after its own needs, each locality producing the food and products it needed. Its people did not need so much.They had the ceremonies of the Goddess and the ways of love to occupy and entertain them so they had little need for the products and ‘gimmicks’ which occupied the houses of the wealthy in Vanmar.
Danella was reading the book ‘The Homecoming’ which the officer Paul had lent to her. As the script of Vanmar and of Pirion was the same and the language of Prancir sounded something similar to the way it was written she had found she was able to recognise many of the words she had picked up in talking to the soldiers. She found she had been able to guess at the meaning of other words from the sentences. Her first paragraphs had been slow and she had sometimes asked the more sensitive and friendly soldiers for help on certain words after she had given them what they came for. Those who returned to her, or to the Priestesses as a whole, regularly were often happy to help and pleased to see her making an effort to understand and become more like the Prancirians. They perhaps liked to assume that her interest in Prancir was a repudiation of her own homeland and national identity, although that was not at all her reason for learning about Prancir and its culture. She wanted to understand it, partly because she was bored by the sameness of the culture of Pirion, but also because she wished to understand what drove the Prancirians to this madness of conquest and control.
Some of the soldiers recognised the book. They explained that it was a well known book in their country, telling as it did about the years of revolution and civil war and the invasion of their country by the Vanmandrians and others which had occurred perhaps a hundred years before. There had been many other wars since apparently, but this period was one to which the Prancirians seemed to look back with pride, the period when they had again become an Empire, perhaps unconsciously copying Pirion as well as their own glorious Empire of ancient times, when the great Emperor Charlendane had ruled over lands twice the size of present day Prancir including half of Vanmandria. It was for this reason that the Prancirians were proud of their first Empire and that pride extended to their second Empire when for a time Prancir had freed the people of most of Vanmar from the tyrannies of ancient feudal lords before those ancient families and those ungrateful nations had undone the work of that great Emperor Chameleon.
“The Homecoming” itself was written many years after those wars but it portrayed, with realism, the glory and the suffering of the lead character Grimond and his wife Eleanor, and their eternal love and loyalty was a symbol of Prancirians’ devotion to the national cause.
Danella was pleased to have borrowed this particular book. She wanted to see if the novels of Prancir were at all like the ones of Pirion. There were a few in Pirion today who wrote Fiction stories. but rarely stories of realism and power. Doubtless the Prancirian fiction exaggerated the reality, but it gave her understanding of the past of the Prancirians which she craved. She could not imagine that anyone could survive the dangers and crises which Grimond and Eleanor faced, but it was just plausible enough to represent the past. She was aware that this was the author’s creation. It represented his ideas and his interpretation of the past. Also his attitudes to life, towards war, and towards sexual relations were represented.
As a Priestess of Pirion Danella could little understand the attitudes towards warfare, towards foreigners and towards the new Emperor of the time, Chameleon. She worked through the book sometimes asking questions to the soldiers, sometimes asking Paul when she visited him again. The most difficult parts to understand were the passages where Grimond spent lonely days and nights on battlefields and in foreign places, thinking only of his love for Eleanor and wishing to return to her.
There was never any mention of any visits to the dormitories or rooms where conquered female prisoners might await Grimond’s demands, or of opportunities to become friendly with the other women. Grimond kept himself ‘pure’ and Eleanor, by implication, waited for him in loyalty without any thought for other men except to chastise the soldier and old friend of Grimond’s who, once believing him to be dead, asked for her hand in marriage. “No I cannot give it, for I do not know he is Dead. Until I see his body with my own eyes I cannot believe it”, she had said. Danella realised that under Prancirian customs Eleanor could not marry until death was proved, but she had not even given the suitor the answer that she might marry him when the body was found. Danella could not understand that she would not wish to take comfort from this man who so forthrightly desired her, instead she reviled him, as if he were some rude, impious child, for his inappropriate lust. The culture of the Prancirians baffled Danella all the more, but she began at least to have some idea of how their culture worked. Monogamy appeared to be their guiding light. The other was a belief in the importance and supremacy of their own nation over all others. These were both philosophies she found quite distasteful although they both contained a certain charm which she began to appreciate as she read.