New Leadership

New Leadership

Two men attempt to replace their village’s Chief (2/2018)


As the sun disappeared over the distant mountains, Togé sat on the rocky canyon ridge and pondered his fate. Would the Gods smile on him? He’d led a pious life, lived kindly, sacrificed to the Gods as required. Would it be enough?

In an hour’s time, he would compete for the title of clan leader. His rival was formidable: a huge bear of a man named Thèr. Thèr was strong and powerful. The villagers all knew the stories: Thèr killing a bear with his bare hands. Thèr wrestling a full grown zebra to the ground. Thèr surviving a boar attack that would have killed any other man. The stuff of legend, only real, embodied in the flesh of this mountain of a man.

And who am I? Togé thought. How can I possibly compete against him? He’ll crush me, literally. I may be smart, clever perhaps, but I’m no match for him.

Togé inhaled deeply and stood. The log on which he’d been sitting rolled, then settled. Not for the first time, Togé put his life in the hands of the Gods. They would determine his fate.

Meanwhile, Thèr sat quietly in his hut. His enormous hands rolled and crushed walnuts three at a time, bits of shell and chunks of nut falling unnoticed to the ground.

Thèr thought about his rival, a man clever enough to have invented rounded stones which could be placed under baskets, saving hours of difficult labor each day. How can I compete against a man as smart as that? I am but muscle; he is brain. I am no match for him.

Thèr exhaled deeply, left his hut, and walked to meet his destiny, whatever the Gods would decide it to be.

Lön, the clan’s current leader, waited in the village’s main square. The traditional Leader’s Fur, worn by all of his predecessors as far back as the village’s existence, was draped on his once-broad shoulders. In his gnarled right hand was the Leader’s Staff. Legend said that it was formed when a bolt of lightening struck the giant oak down by the stream at the canyon’s floor, and that nothing in the known world could break it. On Lön’s left thumb was the enormous jewel-laden Leader’s Ring, said to provide its wearer Great Wisdom.

Thèr arrived first. He smiled nervously to the villagers who lined the square. He bowed deeply to Lön, who motioned that Thèr should sit to his right. Thèr sat and rubbed off the few shells that had remained embedded in the deep crevices of his fleshy hands. A few moment’s later, after walking back from his secluded haven, Togé joined everyone in the square and sat to Lön’s left.

Seven droughts old, Lön struggled to rise. After an enormous effort, he stood as upright as his rickety bones would allow. He raised his arms and the crowd hushed. The setting sun reflected off of the golden threads within the Leader’s Fur, which would soon no longer be his to don.

“It is time. The Gods have willed it,” Lön said. His eyes welled up with emotion. “I have tried to serve you all well, my friends. But it is time now for new leadership. Our village has grown so much in these past many moons. Our buildings now number as the trees. Our livestock as the plants. We have enough grain and vegetables for all. Our trading partners visit more frequently, bringing more diverse goods than ever before. But I am an old man now. It is time for new leadership.”

Lön touched his fingertips to the shoulders of the two men sitting before him. “These two men are the very best of our village. They are model villagers, each in his own way. They are natural leaders, each in his own way.”

The villagers murmured their agreement.

“And so I have devised a test.” He looked down at the two men. “Pass the test and lead the village.”

By now, Lön was coughing badly. Each cough caused his body to spasm. His hands were shaking. With concentrated effort, he let himself down to the ground.

The two candidates for clan leader knelt in front of Lön, whose voice softened, emitting but a whisper. Only the two men, directly in front of him, could hear.

“Only the two of you can rise to the challenge before you. This is why you have both been chosen.”

Lön described the challenge to the men, motioned for them to go, and collapsed in exhaustion. The women responsible for his care rushed to his aid. One stroked his long white hair and sung a soothing lullaby while another wiped the beads of sweat from his brow. While the villagers watched and worried about their leader, the two men who might take his place took their leave. Each headed to his hut and packed supplies for the journey they were about to make.

Moments later, the two men met at the edge of the village, near the path that led down to the giant oak along the river at the canyon floor. They clasped forearms as was the custom of the village and began walking.

The two men were each lost in thought as they began their descent. Only a small sliver of the moon lit their way now that the sun had fully slept. When they reached the small, level clearing at the midpoint of their journey, they decided it would be safer to set up camp for the night than risk continuing to descend with so little light. Thèr quickly ripped off several large tree branches and built a wall, and used his canvas sheet to build a lean-to. He then gathered a handful of smaller twigs, dug a fire pit, and started a fire.

An hour later, Togé finally created his own haphazard structure and his own pitiful fire. He was exhausted.

The two men prayed to the Gods as was the village custom and bid each other good darkness. Neither slept well that night; each tossed and turned as much from the seeming impossibility of the challenge before them as much as the hard clay on which they lay.

At daybreak, the two men arose, clasped forearms, and wished each other good light. They prayed once again before clearing their makeshift campsite. After each man had eaten as small piece of salted meat, they continued their journey down to the river.

As Togé walked to the river, he rolled the Chief’s challenge through the fingers of his mind. The Chief had told them that while he couldn’t envision how it could be done, he believed it was possible to create a way to move water effortlessly from the stream, up to the village. Their challenge was to figure out how, and to make it happen. How can one move water uphill? Togé pondered. Even with the rounded stones we now have, the work would still be quite difficult. What would reduce or eliminate the work involved? Togé’s thoughts flowed and ebbed, twisted and turned.

As Thèr walked along side Togé, he though of the Chief’s challenge, too. He watched his adversary’s face and could tell the man was deep in thought. I have no idea how to do something like this, he thought. I could carry many large buckets of water each day, more easily and faster than others, but I don’t think that’s what the Chief meant. He found himself admiring the large redwood trees along the path to the river, most wide enough around that even he could no longer reach his arms around them. He idly plucked the spiky scales off of a massive Coulter pinecone in a spiral pattern, as he often did.

At high sun the two men came to the large oak at the river’s edge. They took shelter under the oak and rested, drinking from their calfskins. After their midday meal, the two men were silent again, each thinking about their challenge in his own way. Thèr would sometimes get up, go to the river, and attempt to bear hug the water, attempting to carry it, only to see it all roll through his forearms. Togé would sometimes get up and pace. For the remainder of the day, the Thèr alternated sitting and bear hugging the water while Togé alternated sitting and pacing. Night fell upon them and again it was time to make camp.

“Why don’t we share shelter tonight?” Thèr said. “I can gather the larger branches while you gather the twigs for the fire.”

Togé quickly agreed, happy not to have to chop down more tree branches. “Yes, excellent idea. I will also find us some berries to eat,” he said.

A short while later, their shelter was built, their fire was burning, and they had plenty of berries to eat.

“These are delicious,” Thèr said. “I don’t always know how to tell the ones we can eat from the one’s we can’t.”Togé patiently explained how to tell the edible berries from the poisonous ones.

After nightfall and prayers, the two men retired into their shared lean-to. Sleep came quickly for both men.

At daybreak, the two men arose, clasped forearms, wished each other good light, and prayed. In the morning, one man paced and the other man bear hugged the water and watched it roll through his forearms. At high sun, the two men ate and rested under the big oak. The afternoon brought more pacing and more water hugging. Night brought another shared fire and an evening in their shared lean-to. The men did not speak throughout the day.

Thèr finally broke the silence. “This challenge seems to be one made for you, Togé. You are the clever one, always inventing new ways to do things, and ways to do new things.”

“Perhaps,” Togé said, “but, remember, while I might have had the idea to create the round stones, it was you and the other strong men who created them with your power.”

Thèr grunted in agreement, but still felt hapless. Maybe my strength is helpful, but only after there is an idea, only once there is something for my strength to do.

Togé sat thinking that, yes, as the more clever of the two men, the challenge did seem better suited to him, but he still had no idea how to fulfill the Chief’s vision. And even if I can think of something, that’s not enough; ideas are meaningless unless they are brought into reality, he thought. I am weak; how can I possibly create whatever mechanism I dream up?

A third day came and went in much the same way. By this time, the two men talked more during the day. They even shared a good laugh when Togé teased Thèr about hugging the water all the time. “She will not kiss you, no matter how many times you hug her,” Togé joked. Thèr’s whole body shook when he laughed.

That night, Togé dreamt of their days at the river, of the shared lean-to, the shared fires, and the shared berries. He dreamed of his own pacing until his feet hurt in his dreams. And he dreamed of Thèr, silly Thèr, trying to hug the water. He pictured Thèr clealy in his dream and watched his huge arms crash down into the water and come back up with a huge rush of the river. He watched Thèr squeeze his massive forearms in an attempt to hold the water in his arms, and he watched the water escape, always. He dreamed of the two of them laughing about his joke. Then he awoke with a start.

“Thèr! Thèr! Wake up!” He poked Thèr’s arm, which felt like a boulder.

When Thèr rolled over to face him, Togé could not hold back his enthusiasm. “You figured it out. I figured it out. We figured it out!”

“What are you talking about?” Thèr asked, still half asleep.

“I know how to bring the water to the village. Once the channel and spiral are in place, we will never have to send the women to the river for water. Ever!”

“Channel? Spiral? What are you talking about? Have you gone mad?”

“Come on. Get up. I need your help,” Togé said.

The two men prayed, ate quickly, and walked to the river’s edge.

“Jump into the river,” Togé said. “Please.”

Thèr looked suspicious. “Are you going to make fun of me again?”

“No! No! Not at all,” Togé said. “Trust me. It is important. And bring one of those pine cones you’ve been playing with into the water with you.”


Two days later, Thèr and Togé crested the hill on path up to the village. By high sun, the men arrived at the village square. Word spread and quickly the square filled with villagers. A few elderly women brought the men bowls of dried berries, walnuts, and bread, as well as skins full of fresh water. A few moments after Thèr and Togé arrived, Lön was carried to his traditional spot of honor, the same place from which he instructed them men a week before. Lön’s health had deteriorated while the candidates for leadership were away. He could no longer walk, and hadn’t eaten in three moons. Two of Lön’s ribs were cracked from the coughs that wracked his body.

In a dry, raspy voice, Lön said, “You’ve figured it out?” He pulled the Leader’s Fur tightly; he felt cold all the time now.

The two men at his feet nodded.

A woman that cared for Lön wiped the perspiration from his forehead and did her best to sooth her beloved leader.

“Togé figured out how we can bring water up from the river without having to send the women to carry it.”

“Well, it was Thèr’s idea actually,” Togé said, meaning it.

Thèr lowered his eyes. He could never take credit for the idea. Maybe he could share the credit when it was finally built. It would take him and all the men of the village many seasons to do all the hard work that was going to be required.

Togé continued, “But Leader, I think that was not the only puzzle you set us out to solve, was it?”

Lön’s cough suddenly abated and the Leader suddenly became still. He looked at the two men before him, and smiled. “Oh?”

Togé looked at Thèr, back at Lön, and then back again at Thèr. Thèr’s face lit up with sudden understanding. He felt proud he had solved the Leader’s real puzzle, even if it took him a bit longer than it did Togé.

“That’s right, Thèr,” Togé said. “Lön wanted us to work as a team, as one.”

That night, Lön passed to the beyond in his sleep. He died at peace, knowing that his real lesson had been learned and that the village would have two strong, thoughtful men leading the way. Togé, Thèr, together.



Author’s Note:

The Archimedes’ screw, also called the Archimedean screw or screwpump, is a machine historically used for transferring water from a low-lying body of water into irrigation ditches. Water is pumped by turning a screw-shaped surface inside a pipe. See Wikipedia for more information. I was lucky enough to see one on display at The Leonardo da Vinci Museum, located in in Venice, Italy (

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