More than once upon a time, there was a land where the people relied upon the rain. In the spring, they planted corn and vegetables, and prayed for rain, so they had enough food to survive throughout the cold, dark winter.
One summer, the rain failed to arrive. Corn was drying on the stems, with no cobs in sight. Pumpkin leaves were shrivelled and orange, and the village was full of dust. There had never been such a drought in living memory.
Village councils gathered and offerings were made. No rain came. Elders met to sing secret songs. Women marked the fields with menstrual blood. Children fasted with their grandmothers. Still no rain came. Feuds that had run for a century were settled, wedding pacts were made, chaste women tended ritual fires for a full lunar cycle, but still no rain came.
The sun shone relentlessly in a cloudless blue sky. Everything was dry. The springs flowed slowly, the cisterns were empty, livestock and pets remained still, and hugged the shadows. The people were of the land, and they too became dry. They sat and stared across the desiccated fields, towards the distant mountains. They noticed the arching flight of vultures and hawks. Flies settled on their dusty bodies, and they lacked the motivation to respond.
Desperation led towards despair. Old women daydreamed of the past, young men burned with desires not yet realised. Everywhere dissatisfaction grew. Arguments broke out. Old feuds restarted once more with renewed vigour. Some folk thought of packing their possessions, and leaving their homeland. Others called for summoning a wizard, a sorcerer with powers beyond their own, the rainmaker from beyond the mountains.
Everyone had heard the stories, but none had ever met the rainmaker. Travellers and merchants had reported his whereabouts, in a cave above the great river. But what would it cost them? Would he agree to come? How could a stranger achieve what they could not?
It was a full four days walk north to the great river. It was agreed to dispatch the fastest runner, a youth of fleet foot and strong arm. He was instructed to run like the wind to the cave dwelling, and entreat the rainmaker to return with him to the village.
And run he did. The boy was on his hero’s quest, and he dedicated his whole self, as only a youth can do. Before the sun had set, he was in sight of the great river, snaking its way through the wide forest valley. Then in the dawn, he picked his path from crag to rocky scarp, until he saw the prominence where dwelled the magician, high above the valley, with a view that encompassed river, forest, mountains and beyond.
Once arrived on the plateau, the youth called out but receiving no reply, he called out again. When the reply came, after a long delay, it was not what he expected: “Go away, you’re not welcome here. I am not at home.” The voice was hard, sharp, and unkind. Tested now beyond the limits of his experience, the young man tentatively entered the cave. Again, he greeted the sorcerer by name, with all the terms of respect he could muster, and pleaded into the dark interior: “Please help us, venerable rainmaker. Our fields are dry, our animals are all bone, there is no grain in our store, and we will starve without rain.” There was a delay of some minutes, and then some shuffling, and finally, an old figure emerged, muttering under his breath. He picked up a staff at the cave entrance, and proceeded down the track. The youth followed him with his gaze, until the sage swung round and called: “Come on then boy, lead the way. If I must be disturbed, let’s get it over with,” with a voice bristling with irritation.
The spectacle of the old rainmaker striding into the valley, with the boy by his side, was greeted with mixed feelings. Some folk hoped it was the answer to their prayers, but others mistrusted sorcery, and feared that now they would descend even deeper into misery. The elders came out to greet him. They had prepared a ceremonial speech, and offerings to embolden the magic.
The encounter took place at the village entrance. Everyone came to witness, children, parents, and grandparents. Amid general excitement, the village chief greeted the sage, and named all the ancestors who were now gathered in honour of their esteemed guest. As the list of ancestors grew longer, the sage cast a stern scowl on the proceedings, interrupted abruptly by tapping his staff hard on the earth, and said: That’s enough. I’ve got work to do.” He pointed his staff at the nearby field, where the failing crops were hanging on to life by a thread, and he said: “Build me a hut, facing north, south, east and west,” and then he strode off to sit alone in the shade of an old tree.
In the bustle of conversation that followed, orders were issued, and men ran to gather tools and materials. Some elders were troubled by his manner. “Who does he think he is?” “He’s so rude.” The young ones giggled to see the grandparents rebuked like children. By nightfall, the hut was constructed, facing north, south, east and west. The rainmaker stepped inside, and closed the door behind him.
The following day, there was an air of speculation, but no rain clouds had gathered yet. “What was he doing in there?” “Is this really necessary” “Let’s give him a chance. He’s probably making spells.” On the second day, with still no sign of rain, some scepticism was to be heard around the village. “We’ve built him a hut. He’s probably sleeping in there. How long are we supposed to wait?”
On the third day, some folk wanted to knock on the door, and demand to know what he was doing. They felt angry, and deceived. But others counselled to wait. By the fourth day, the anger had dissolved into sadness. Now there was no hope for them. Children saw their parents weep, and people gathered their possessions for the long walk to the north. Accepting defeat, it was time to surrender their lands, and seek a new life somewhere else.
They were so busy with preparations, that they didn’t notice it at first. A small wispy cloud had drifted above their world, and then, like a tornado, it grew and spun, until the breeze was unmistakable. The sky suddenly darkened, and the first drops of rain appeared. Thunder cracked, and lightening flares danced around the sky. Then the deluge was upon them. Rivers rolled down valley slopes, and through the village. In an instant, the parched land was transformed into a fertile womb of life-giving mud. Dancing, laughing and singing, they worked through the night, digging trenches around the precious crops, and directing the floodwaters into their overflowing cisterns.
When morning came, the rains had settled into a steady downpour. Exhausted from the labours of the night, folk huddled together in doorways, and under hastily built shelters, watching over the miracle, as the rain resuscitated their ailing crops. In all the excitement, few gave much thought to the rainmaker. The hut stood quietly in the field. It was barely noticed, when the door opened, and the old man emerged.
The youth saw him slide away towards the North. He ran to catch him once more. The old man smiled, and his countenance radiated peace. With an innocent and respecttful tone, the youth asked: “What did you do to make it rain” There was a pause, whilst the sage gathered his thoughts. He placed a hand upon the young man’s shoulder, and replied: “I went into the centre of myself, connected with the four directions, and put myself in order.”