Once upon a time, there was a village on top of a distant hill. In the village lived the Quigs. The Quigs were a very social people - they were also a very practical people. All day long they toiled in the fields, harvesting umptum and riggle-moss. This was hard work for as you know, umptum roots are stubborn, one might say like the Quigs.
Yet despite the hard-working ethic of the Quig people, they still found cause to celebrate every evening, around the fire they built using the inedible long thorns of the riggle-moss. Of course as one might guess there was great cause for joy at these celebrations. For one, the long strenuous work of day was done. For two, one could sit back and enjoy singing a verse or two from the Sharnay Cycle (a long lyrical poem) while savoring a warm glass of povvle juice. But for three! Oh, for three! For three, one could watch the Dance of the Dimney, performed in perfect unison by all teenagers of the tribe.
I don't assume you know what a dimney is? A dimney is a tool very near and dear to the hearts and lives of the Quigs. You see, a dimney is the tool that is used to draw the precious umptum out of the earth - its combination of hooks and loops perfectly fits in between the umptum and the earth, allowing for a smooth and quick separation that locks in all the flavor of the umptum without disrupting the order of the soil. However, in the Dance of the Dimney, the Quigs use the tool for quite another purpose altogether - they use it much like a magician might use a wand, or better yet a wizard uses his staff - to create beautiful movements of power, grace, and awe.
The Dance of the Dimney meant something different to everyone. The Quig children longed for the day they would get to dance with one - to learn the sacred choreography passed down from generation to generation. The teenagers saw it as a rite of passage, a tradition that brought them closer together. And the adults would watch the dance, often with tears in their eyes, as they remembered when they too wielded the dimney with such mighty dexterity.
In one particular hut lived a set of twin brothers - Algamy and Tep. They were both teenagers and both first years in the dance. Both were exceptionally well-versed in the dance for their father was well-known as one of the best of his generation. Tep found the choreography fun but easy, proudly boasting that he could perform the dance "without thinking". Algamy felt the same way except for the first part - he didn't find the choreography fun at all...
Algamy had more time to think about certain things than Tep. You see, Algamy was not as healthy as his brother - he had a heart condition that prevented him from working as long in the fields every day. When the sun was highest in the sky, the elders relieved Algamy of duty in the umptum fields and, embarassed that he couldn't keep up with his brother, Algamy often sulked into the valley, dimney in hand, to do what he did best...think.
"I don't understand what's so great about the dance," thought Algamy. As he was walking, he used his free hand to rip a branch from a nearby gillam tree. "Why, I could do the same dance with this gillam branch. What makes the dimney special is its craftmanship. Look at all these hooks and hoops! I'm sure if we put our minds to it, we could come up with a new dance, a dance that can ONLY be done with a dimney."
And so, on that day, instead of twisting leaves into his hair, Algamy began to do something that he had been told never to do. He picked up his dimney and began to try a different dance. At first, he felt like a criminal. "If Father discovered this, I'd be done for," he thought. And at first, he even thought the exercise futile. The dimney kept dropping, and his dance didn't feel as "important" as the one his father taught him. He picked up the dimney and was about to give up when he noticed something - the hook on the pruning end was wide enough to fit over his forearm. He set it there and gave a loud clap. This excited him - he had never thought that you could "hold" a dimney and clap (something the Quigs were fond of doing) at the same time! He put it on his other forearm (fit just as well) and let out an even louder clap. Then he figured out that by a simple flick of his arm he could switch the dimney from left to right arm, all the while clapping in time. "This is very different, " thought Algamy, "and I'm not sure that Father or Tep for that matter would approve, but I find it fun nonetheless, far more fun than the dance I do every night." And even though Algamy longed to practice his newfound skill, he knew it best to keep it a secret...at least for now. The sun was quickly setting and he rushed back to the hilltop. He couldn't be late for the dance after all.
That night at the Dance of the Dimney, Algamy found himself making more mistakes than usual. He felt bad, but his mind kept wandering back to the hook on the dimney. He longed to break from the ancient choreography, hop in front of his peers, and ignite the crowd with a sequence of clapping, all while hopping the dimney back and forth from arm to arm. He imagined they would chastise him greatly but at the same time, he had the slightest hope that they would take to his new dance. All of a sudden Algamy snapped out of it. He had tripped on a stone surrounding the fire pit. Hopefully his father wasn’t paying attention. Of course he could never show the new dance to the Quigs – they would cast him out of the village on the hill. It wasn’t a good idea to mess with perfection.
The next day, Algamy ate a quick breakfast and ran to the market before field duty to pick out a new journal and quill, which he stored in his side-sack all during work. As soon as he was relieved, Algamy did not sulk away. Instead, he smiled and ran as fast as he could to the Gillam Wood where he set out his new journal on a log. He labeled the top of page 1 “My Dance” and underlined it with his best interpretation of the dimney. Then he wrote his research from the day before, making sure that he would never forget anything from his new dance. As soon as he was caught up, he took a drink from the nearby stream, wet the hair away from his eyes, and concentrated on what new ideas he could derive from the fascinating handiwork of the dimney.
Gentle reader, this continued for weeks and the results of Algamy’s work were many. Algamy had never considered himself a very creative individual, but this work seemed to flow naturally from his body. He purposefully set one major rule for himself – don’t repeat any of the old dance. This forced him to find many new ideas, including swinging the large hoop around his neck and even balancing it on his foot. He had never seen anyone else attempt these things with a dimney so many of the moves took constant practice. He gave up on a few, deeming them impossible for any Quig. Often , he’d look at other animals who happened to frequent the glade, imagining if they could do something with the dimney he couldn’t. The only animal which seemed willing to observe the dimney was a small frammit, and unfortunately only found it worth nibbling.
The journal began swelling with a wealth of dimney discovery. Algamy was coming to the last page and he still felt there was a lot to explore. In fact, he had almost perfected a move involving the use of his knees to flip direction of the dimney. As he practiced this move which he felt held great potential, he barely noticed the sun slowly going down. By the time it struck him as far past the time he should be leaving, it was too late. Throwing his journal into his side-sack, Algamy began sprinting back up the hill towards what he knew would be certain trouble. He was late for the nightly ceremony.
He had been late once before, many many years ago. That time he had fallen asleep out in the fields and was called to explain before the elders why he had missed the sacred dance. This time he would have to lie though, a trade at which Algamy was very poor. In addition, he would have to answer to his Father and bear the unending torment of his brother. Tep viewed everything as competition, and therefore if Algamy missed a dance, Tep was winning.
Just as he had suspected – when he reached the fire pit, all eyes were on him, though some were more discreet than others. He even heard some of the very young and very old whispering. He never realized that whispers could be heard over music. He rushed into the dressing room, throwing his side-sack onto a bench and throwing on the brown robe he wore every night. Dimney in hand, he breathlessly strode out to join his peers, knowing that no one would cheer or cry out. It was quietly understood that he would have to account for his tardiness after the dance was successfully completed.
It turned out Algamy had missed no more than five minutes of the actual dance. Yet he was sure that Tep was inwardly jeering at his foolish mistake. After the dance was finished, everyone gave a huge hurrah and the fireside chatter returned to normal, except slightly strained. They knew that something was coming and sure enough, one of the elders grabbed Algamy tenderly but swiftly.
“You know what you have to do Brother Algamy, yes?” A slow nod indicated that, yes, Algamy knew he’d have to account for his lateness in front of the clan. As he was guided towards the stoop, his mind raced. What would he say? He had to lie, but yet the apology had to sound sincere. Could he get away with a “sleeping” excuse? He was 19 and sleeping in the fields seemed too childlike.
“Brother Algamy, as you know, it is customary for you to apologize to the Quig Clan whenever any absence of any sort is detected during the Dance of the Dimney. We don’t intend to judge you too harshly, but a sincere apology I’m sure would be appropriate tonight.”
Sweat began to bead around Algamy’s forehead.
“You see…” he stammered. “I didn’t mean to be late today. I mean…” he paused afresh. He needed to sound more together. “I realize that the dance is sacred and I can offer no other excuse for my tardiness tonight other than...”
“He has a new dance.”
The voice was Tep’s and every head turned to meet the voice except Algamy’s. He froze, the stoop dropping out from under him.
“Apparently my brother is a genius, my fellow Quigs. I can’t believe he didn’t mention it before. You see, I found this journal wide open on the bench inside the changing room as I was getting undressed just now, “ Tep explained. “It’s my brother’s writing, everyone will attest to that, and I noticed that today’s entry is by far his longest yet. This really looks like some interesting stuff. It says here, “I have managed to revolve the dimney, using only my back and chest.””
The crowd began muttering. Algamy’s heart began racing and for once, he hoped it would give out. Wasn’t it supposed to with his condition?
The crowd’s interest was no doubt sufficiently piqued. They had not expected such a matter of tardiness to last more than a minute or two, after which they could return to their povvle juice and card games. Instead, the elder was faced with some sort of unexpected sibling confrontation he wasn’t quite sure how to resolve.
“Tep, I believe you also have an apology to make,” warned the Elder.
“I am sorry, Elder Yhan, for interrupting the ceremony in any way. I hope you understand that my unruly behavior stems from my excitement to see my brother’s new dance, something that I’m sure no one in the tribe has ever thought possible or…permissible.”
“That will be all, Brother Tep. Give me the journal.” Elder Yhan easily took the journal and casually glanced at a few pages before turning to Algamy, who now had a strange mixed feeling of shame and exhilaration. “Algamy, this journal…is it yours?”
“It is, Elder Yhan.”
“Can you better explain its contents to myself and the rest of the clan? The front of the journal clearly states its goal: my new dance.” The Elder contained a small laugh. “However, I’m sure all of us would agree that the only thing different about your dance tonight was that it was about five minutes too short.” No one in the crowd chuckled or even murmured. It was clearly and finally Algamy’s turn to explain himself.
“Elder Yhan, I am deeply sorry for being late tonight. The truth is that I spent too long in the woods after being relieved in the fields. Many know that I often go there to think and to study, but recently my time has been filled with…exploration, I guess you might say. I think the dimney is a fascinating tool and relic. Its hooks, hoops, and craftsmanship inspire me and I thought it would be…exciting, I suppose, to work on new moves that can ONLY be done with the complex workings of our sacred relic. I did not intend to dishonor any Quig by creating a new dance. I suppose I only looked at the whole journal as an experiment, an exercise to keep me occupied when not in the fields working alongside my brothers.”
“I see,” said the Elder who really didn’t see at all. “You understand of course that the Dance is absolute – it cannot be changed?”
“We ALL understand that!” Tep had interjected yet again. When Algamy was ever in a bind, Tep saw it as his chance to rise to fame. “However, the dance, at least for tonight, is over. Perhaps as an addition to the evening’s entertainment, Algamy could show some of his new “moves” to the clan. Strictly casually, of course. We could have some music, it could put all our minds at ease actually, don’t you think Elder?”
“Speaking out of turn again, young Tep! I must insist that you..”
“He’s right.” A new voice run out. It was Algamy and Tep’s father, Bron. He strode forth, and the crowd experienced a renewed sense of interest in what now involved one of the foremost members of the clan. “As one of the Keepers and Teachers of the Dance, I agree with Tep that my son should show the crowd how he’s been spending his time. We’ve all seen him less lately and his tardiness suggests that he has thrown a good bit of himself into this search for a new dance. Why not give him the attention I’m certain he yearns for? A platform for his new, erm, hobby?”
The Elder stammered, “er, it will be so. Play some pipes, some drums please! Algamy, here, take my dimney, show us your dance.”
Before Algamy even had a chance to argue, the drums had struck up a beat, Bron had returned to his seat, and the crowd had begun clapping. Algamy’s heart strangely started to slow noticeably. Was this actually something he secretly wanted? All eyes were on him – the music was invigorating. He could protest or…
Rebellion beat out fear. He was being set up as a laughing stock by his own friends and family and yet, he would give this chance, this final stand, his all. With the dimney resting up against his chest, he began clapping with the crowd…and smiling. This smile was a new smile – it had an uneven curve to it that suggested mischief.
As he clapped he let the hook of the dimney slide to hook around his forearm. And then, after taking a big gulp of air, Algamy began to display the first move he ever recorded in his journal – the dimney hopping from forearm to forearm while he clapped. Povvle juice was flowing heavily among the crowd and the music was just as intoxicating. The crowd cheered Algamy on and he began to display harder and harder moves. At first he was tense but as he received cheers from the crowd, especially the children, he began to become more and more confident.
He danced like he had never danced before, manipulating the dimney in ways never before seen by any Quig, young or old. Over his legs, around his head, behind his back and atop his chin, Algamy decided to leave no page of his journal hidden. He finished with a toss high in the air that he caught (after a spin) in his elbows. He bowed to the crowd. With all the cheering that had accompanied his performance, he expected a huge burst of applause. Instead, as soon as the crowd realized he had finished, the drums stopped, leaving only the flutes awkwardly piddling away. The crowd began talking to one another rather than applauding. A certain tension that Algamy had not expected whatsoever began to creep back into his bones. He looked at Tep with a grin that was not returned. He saw Bron speaking with the Elder Yhan. The Elder Yhan was moving his arms a lot, and Bron was nodding his head in spurts.
Algamy had nothing to say – words could not solve this or protect him. They were his enemy – he had just expressed so much – too much – with his dance that words seemed to have no meaning. He laid the dimney down at the foot of the fire and took off as fast as he could for…where exactly he didn’t know…away from the hill. No one stopped him. They let him run.
Algamy spent many hours pacing around the forest before finally returning home. It was cold and he really knew of no other warm bed in which to rest. When he rounded the corner, he saw his father standing by the door.
“Algamy,” he exclaimed, “where have you been? How dare you disappear like this?”
“Father, I’m sorry. I just…didn’t think anyone wanted to see me.”
“Algamy, don’t be foolish. Of course I want to see you. You’re my son.”
“But tonight…the dance, the laughing, the silence…Father, it was humiliating.”
A silence – the moon pulsed.
“It was humiliating,” Bron admitted, “to you as well as myself.” Algamy stood up and shrunk slightly. “You know how much the dance means to our Clan and to me. What you did tonight, in front of the entire clan, made me realize that I really don’t know who you are. What was wrong with the dance that you had to spend so many days changing it?”
“Father, please, I don’t want to humiliate you – you taught me the dance when I was young. But Father, every night, to do the same dance over and over again, it is as if I am just a man without a mind, repeating. When I do the dance, I don’t feel anything inside. When I did my dance tonight, I felt something – my heart was beating with the drums and the clapping. I felt like I was honoring…something with my dance.”
“Look, Algamy, Elder Yhan has strongly suggested that you no longer serve as a dancer with the Tribe.”
“What? But Father, I love the ceremony more than anyone else. Even Tep says that he does the entire thing without thinking.”
“Don’t bring Tep into this. I’ve talked to him and he understands that this is between you and me. He was out of line tonight to embarrass you like he did. I’ve spoken to him and I’m sure he’ll apologize soon.”
“So what do I do?”
“Algamy, it’s clear that you need to rest. You’ve been overexerting yourself, both in the field and with this journal of yours. I’ve advised to the Elders that you rest from all your duties for the time being.”
“Even the fields?”
Bron took a deep breath. His words were forced. “The Elders have told me that you should not be allowed to wield a dimney anymore, for work or for ceremony.”
The words pulled like roots at Algamy’s knees. How could one of the most fulfilling moments of his life yield such sour fruit?
“Am I to run to the wastes then, Father?”
“That’s silly, Algamy, I won’t have it. You’re to stay here and recover.”
“But Father, I am recovered. My heart feels stronger than it has in a long time.”
“Algamy, get some sleep. We’ll talk about this tomorrow once we’re both in our right minds.”
The wind rustled through the glade, determinedly.
“Yes, Father. Tomorrow.”
Tomorrow never came. Or, rather, it did but Algamy was not with it. He did not sleep either. His dimney was nowhere to be found so he took his child’s dimney from underneath his bed and left a note underneath his pillow. It read:
“I am alive and well. The seeds have been planted. When they grow, I will return.”
Algamy found a new life, far away from the village on the hill. Beyond the wastes, even. He used his child’s dimney as a walking support, vowing to settle whenever it broke. He stayed true to his word, although the dimney didn’t break for a very long time. When it did, Algamy knew he was very lucky and so will you, for it broke near the crossing of two rivers, now known as Broken Staff. Around it a culture slowly but majestically flourished. Algamy began making his own dimneys, improving again their form and function. The people who slowly flocked to Broken Staff were not Quigs – they were people of many different clans, which is why Broken Staff today is so incredibly diverse and multicultural.
Algamy lived a long time, longer than was expected for most Quigs. Perhaps it was the rejuvenating waters of the rivers that surrounded Broken Staff. Perhaps it was because he always carried an empty journal in his side-sack. One day, he told his wife and kids that he was going to return to the Village from which he had come. Not forever, mind you, just for a visit. They begged to come with him but he told them that this was a journey he must make alone.
After many days and weeks of traveling, old Algamy made it to the Village. It was nearing nightfall, but he did not want to force any Quig to quarter him for the night. However, he saw a fire burning which meant that he could surely find something to eat or drink. As he neared the fire, his eyes began to mist for he saw something that he had not seen in a long time – the dance of the dimney. This dance, my friends, was different than it had been when he was young. The teenagers clapped and switched the dimney from arm to arm. They wrapped it around their knees, balanced it atop their chins, and caught it in their elbows. The dance was beautiful and it made Algamy feel as if the decades that had passed in Broken Staff were a single second.
He approached one of the children after the dance had finished.
“Excuse me, young Quig, my name is Algamy. Do you know who I am?”
“No, sir, I’ve never heard of you before. Sorry, are you new?”
“I suppose I am,” Algamy chuckled. “Tell me, when did you change the dance of the dimney? It used to be very different when I was a child.”
“The dance doesn’t change,” the child said. “It’s always been this way. Elder Tep told us that when he taught it to us.”
“Is that right,” asked Algamy. “One more question – do you enjoy doing the dance of the dimney?”
“It’s very easy,” proclaimed the child. “I can do it without thinking.”
Algamy patted the child on the head and encouraged her to return to the ceremony. Then, taking up his walking staff, he smiled the same smile he had smiled all those years ago, and returned home to his family.