As soon as the corn was roasted, Liantuang reached out like a flash and whisked it away. His grandmother looked at him sternly, but Liantuang was not bothered. He knew she was just putting on a show. His grandmother doted on him.
“You should wait for it to be given. It’s not nice to take it like that,” scolded grandmother.
“Yes grandmother. But I wanted to make apei-hu on the corn for you. It’s difficult to make on cold corn,” replied Liantuang, looking at his grandmother and smiling at her, his dimples deepening.
His grandmother burst out laughing. “Apei-hu indeed! Look. I have all my teeth.”
“I don’t mean you,” grandmother. “Rigamlung’s grandmother has very few teeth left. I’m thinking of her.”
“I’ll tell on Rigamlung’s grandmother. Isn’t he your best friend?”
On rainy days children stayed indoors, eating roasted corn with their grandmothers. Liantuang was taught the trick to pick off alternate nahuamthu with his teeth. The gaps formed looks like an old person’s sparse teeth. Children loved to do this while eating. Liantuang spent most of his time with his grandmother, as his parents were in the fields working.
After Liantuang’s birth, his grandmother seemed to have entered into another season of spring. Her pain seemed more bearable and the growth in her breast seemed to have been arrested, for the time being. Grandmother thanked her daughter-in-law for the medicine, but Sangailiu knew that her will to live longer for her grandson had slowed the growth of the lump in her breast. She’s thankful for this respite. Liantuang Pu was very frustrated to see his mother suffering and not being able to help much. He helped his grandfather to make a low seat, for his mother to sit comfortably, but in this too he could not be of much help. He was an excellent hunter before he encountered the tiger spirit but was badly wounded. Although he had recovered completely from the wounds before the inter-village war, he had not gone for a big hunt again even though several opportunities came his way. He hunted just some small games. The tug to go back into the deep woods was always there. He loved the challenge, the adrenaline rush to chase down a game. Maybe the real reason why he loved hunting was being able to go where no one dared, out in the world by himself, with the spirits and the beings in the forest.
Then he remembered that fateful hunting trip. He remembered that better than the great village war he had been a part of. On the day he was to go on the hunting trip, his mother had said, “Kadiganglung, you are one who has the mark of your ancestor. You know the birth mark on your right chest. Last night I dreamt that a spirit tiger was prowling near the place where your placenta was buried. I had this feeling of danger and a great fear overcame me. It was dark and I could not see properly. I was holding all the special gingers. I woke up shivering. It does not bode well. Call off this hunting trip.”
He wondered, whether he would ever join a serious hunting group ever again.
He took it upon himself to wake up Liantuang, when he was smaller, at the third cock crow. He had no problem getting up as early as his wife and mother. The rest of his family got up a little after them. Now that Liantuang was growing up fast, he woke him up earlier and earlier. But Liantuang, like most young people, thought, “There’s no point in getting up early. Getting up early all the time is a stupid thing to do, especially on genna days, when you cannot work.” His father wanted him too to love waking up early to welcome the dawn. The feeling of wakefulness in the early dawn, even when the birds still felt frosty to stir or whistle, was amazing. He loved to go out and look at the still grey sky and think about his dreams, his love, his past and what the future might be for his son.
Liantuang’s grandfather also often thought about the future of his grandson. One day, he stood on top of the hillock and surveyed his land. He said aloud to himself, “Look till the eyes can travel. Look beyond the hills. Look down at the valleys. The evil in the world comes not from an evil heart, but from an ignorant heart. Ignorance of the ways of his people. Look what good will and teaching could transform. The worst vice, our ancestors said, is that of ignorance that thinks it knows everything. That’s why we remain silent in the midst of elders, even though we know a lot. Remember, when you grow up, that the murderer’s soul is blinded by rage and ignorance of age-old teachings.” He shook his head, suddenly aware that he was preparing his mind again to teach Liantuang, his grandson.
He recalled the birth of his grandson, Liantuang. His hands had trembled when he held him. His people had awaited the prophesied Liantuang to be born. To realize he was born into his family, as his grandson, as his father’s great grandson and as the son of his people. What a great privilege! Yet an overwhelming compassion came upon him for the tiny being sleeping on his palms. He will live a short life, this, he was sure. All throughout generations, the lives of Liantuangs were short lived. Most of them did not live long enough to see their grandchildren. But he also knew that his grandson would live one that was full of courage and strength.
When Liantuang was an infant, he had loved to put his grandson on his outstretched legs and rub him down from head to toe, chanting softly to himself, “Abunga ta kami daihmei ta houni ning nge daa! How I wish I could live to see you grow up to your full stature!” Liantuang was shooting up like a seed planted next to the cow dung heap. His superhuman strength was discovered early on by those around him, when he was still a toddler. What his little fingers grasped hold of, even adults found it difficult to pry open. He walked on tiptoes all the time. Very rarely did his soles touch the ground. Elders of the village remarked toddlers walking on their toes was a sign of physical strength.
He grew up like any normal young boy in all aspects except for his extraordinary strength. He too had his fiery blunders and flurried rashness of growing up. He once went with his friends to a neighbour’s chicken coop and took away a rooster. The neighbor saw him and his friends, but did not say anything about it to his family. Days later, his grandfather happened to overhear Ringamlung bragging about the escapade to his friends.
When grandfather got home that day, he waited for Liantuang to return home.
As soon as Liantuang stepped over the threshold to the kitchen, he knew something was up. There was something in the air. Everyone seemed to avoid looking him directly. He searched his mother’s face. She looked at him expressionlessly. He then looked at her eyes. He could see a dark cloud gathered there. He then looked at his grandfather steadfastly. His face was leanly composed; his eye calm. Not a wrinkle of accusation on his tanned face. Had there been the least anger, or impatience in his body language, he would surely have detected?
Liantuang walked over to the west wall, as normally as he could, and put away his sling. He then took out his small dao from its wooden holder and put it between the wall and the beam that ran across. Then he took his low wooden seat and sat down. Something was strange. Everyone seemed to be going about their business, but the younger children eyed him and then surreptitiously looked at their grandfather.
That night, after early dinner, as they sat about near the fire, warming themselves before they go to bed, their grandfather began to talk. “Gather closer, I’ll tell you all a story”. Then he began. “Once long time ago, there lived in a village a family. The middle son was naughty. His grandfather and his aunts tried their best to discipline him, but he did not pay heed to any of their teachings. It was his habit to take other people’s hens and roosters without any compunction. He went on to steal bigger animals. The neighbour, tired of his thieving ways, one day put a spell. Unaware of it, he took a hen from his neighbour’s coop and prepared a meal. While he went to pluck some herbs to garnish the curry, his younger siblings tasted some of it. Immediately, they got sick and eventually died. You see, our loved ones suffer because of our irresponsible actions. When a bad habit is not corrected in time, it leads to the destruction of even whole villages.”
On hearing his grandfather’s teaching, Liantuang blushed to the tip of his ears. The tender hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He was embarrassed. He had thought his escapades with his friends were fun and harmless, but he understood it was not a good thing to do. He did not sleep that night. He decided to do only what is right and honourable in the future. To never allow himself to be the prey of aimless days, like some of the village youths.
As Liantuang grew up, he often accompanied his father and his father’s friend Baulung in their hunting trips. He quickly learnt the tricks of hunting. He became very popular not only because of his physical strength, but also because he always wanted to do what is right and proper. But he had a temper like the raging of the field fire. Once it was his khangchiu’s turn to carry big boulders up from the river bed to their village; the village was making the stone steps in their Raengan. Liantuang carried the biggest boulders which were too heavy for the other youths. In one trip, when he was carrying up a humongous flat stone, everyone who met him on their way to the field commented, “Liantuang, nang kiu taan ning the.” Strangely, the more he got to hear them say, “Liantuang, you are very strong”, the angrier he became. As he carried the stone up the path, he thought, ‘if I hear one more person say that again, I’ll throw the stone down’. Right then he heard again, “Liantuang, you are very strong.” He was overcome with annoyance, he threw the humongous stone on top of a pile of huge boulders. The smooth top part of the stone cracked. To this day, the stone lays in its original place, where Liantuang threw it down.
During the period when Liantuang Pu was spirited away, his family drifted through life, in despair and hopelessness, rather than lived it. Liantuang’s grandfather would sigh deep but would encourage his family during dark moments to draw on the experiences they had of the hard times of famine, drought and war. “Never allow our willpower, courage and self-dignity to collapse,” he would say. The family would then find the courage to drag themselves out of the pit of despondency they had fallen. “Each of us had to be content to live only for the day. Doing what we can. Look at how our kindred folks cared so much for us. If we show a long face, they will feel bad.”
When Liantuang Pu returned from the clutches of the forest spirit, he was just a shadow of his former self. He could recognize his wife, but his mind was cloudy. He lived for a long time in a state of wakefulness and dream, in the space between reality and fantasy. The villagers considered him to be crazy and had given up of ever seeing him whole again. The children of the village wondered what happened to Liantuang Pu and the elder generation, who had seen him fight in the war, shook their heads in despair.
However, through the loving care of his wife, Liantuang Pu very slowly but gradually gained back his memories and health. She had performed rites, day after day and administered medicines to him, for the second time in his life. The first time was when she came to his village with her grandmother, a great medicine woman, to give him treatment. He had been very badly wounded by a tiger spirit. The village pu-muh had not been able to cure Kadiganglung, so the medicine woman, Sangailiu’s grandmother had been called for from the other village.
By the time Liantuang Pu was his normal self again, his son, Liantuang had grown to full manhood. The village had become very dependent on him for everything, be it the stone hauling for the feasts, setting up the village bamduan, the inthaek bam, the guaih-aloimei, and even construction of houses. His fame spread far and wide. People talked about his feats and were in awe of his strength and songs were composed about him. He himself composed many songs. Some people were even jealous of him and his village.
There came a day when Baulung suggested to Liantuang Pu that they go again for a big game hunt along with his son. The idea appealed to him. A day was fixed and the muhs in the village did all the rites and the sacrifices for the hunting trip. Liantuang and Ringamlung were excited to go with the clan elder apou Baulung. They had heard so much about the apou’s hunting trips, growing up. They were in awe of him. They felt honoured to go hunting together with him.
The hunting party started early. Their paths led them through the forest not too dense. Small animals scampered about near their path, but they were out for the big game. They trekked along till they reached the dense part of the forest. Liantuang Pu was a bit apprehensive, but he tried not to show it. His son and his friend were looking so much to this hunting trip. He did not want to worry them.
As soon as they entered the thickest part of the forest, Liantuang Pu could feel his skin bristle with apprehension. He instinctively felt that something was amiss. He glanced around him. It was not the same spot where he was attacked by the tiger spirit long time ago but they were in the same forest. The sun’s rays came through the thick foliage in tiny flickering spots. Like the light of fireflies on a dark night. Suddenly, the forest sounds seemed to grow louder. And then all sounds stopped abruptly. A howling gale started to blow. The rest of the group was bewildered and terrified. They had never faced such force. They crouched low, and braced against the wind. Out of the thick foliage out sprang something that looked like a tiger, but the body was much longer than an ordinary tiger. It rushed towards Liantuang. Liantuang Pu saw it and screamed, “Lie down on the ground and hold on to your intah-riang”.
As he shouted the instruction to his son, he jumped with all his might in between the tiger spirit and his son. Baulung threw his spear at the tiger. Rigamlung, his heart beating wildly in his chest, rushed towards where his friend had crouched down, his spear ready to spear the tiger. Liantuang Pu and the tiger spirit flew over Liantuang and crashed landed behind him. The spear of Baulung lodged in the tiger spirit. Liantuang pu’s dao struck deep into the heart of the tiger spirit. The tiger spirit gave a blood curdling growl. While the other three looked on transfixed, the mighty paw of the tiger spirit hit Liantuan Pu in the head. The force sent him flying and hit a tree trunk and he slid down and then laid there. The tiger spirit changed shape and laid there, defeated and dead.
The split second before he struck at the heart of the tiger spirit, Liantuang Pu thought “My son will have more life and fire out of his life than I’ll ever get out of mine. I’ll win in the end even if I die in this fight, for my son will live to fulfil his destiny.”
As his spirit slowly left him, he knew he would not make. The mists swirled and cleared in his mind and soul. He focus his mind upon his wife and Liantuang. The shrill whistling in his ears and the thudding pain in his head all receded. He felt peaceful. The mountain rose up to meet him. The flowers bloomed. His beloved held his memory in her bosom.
She clutched his lifeless form in her arms and rocked back and forth. No words came from her for a long time. The pain and loss seared through her body. “Nang jan phuak thu Kadiganglung ding nge cho. Your named is fulfilled. One who lived for his land. One whose life is sacrificed for his loved ones and his people.”