3. Land of Prophecies

Kino’s latest stop is in the Land of Prophecy, a country dedicated to interpreting and following their Book of Prophecy, a tome that came to them many years ago from a distant land. According to the accepted interpretation of the book, the world will be ending on the next day, right in the middle of Kino’s stay. All of the country’s inhabitants are certain of the truth of the prophecy- so certain, in fact, that they offer all of their goods and services to Kino for free.

As she walks back to the hotel after doing her shopping, Kino notices a crowd gathered around a speaker. It is the priest of this country’s Southern Tower, and he is explaining just how he deciphered the text to read that the world would be ending with the next sunrise. Certainly the people are hanging onto their every word, but for Kino, the best part of the end of the world is the great prices.

Back at the hotel, Kino talks with Hermes about the prophesied end of the world. In Kino’s opinion, people read too much into things- it just seems too easy for any one person to know how and when the world will end. And even if it is going to end tomorrow, it would not change how Kino wants to spend the evening.

As the sun rises the next day, the world is still very much in evidence, leaving the people more than a little perplexed and even disappointed. As Kino evades the shopkeepers’ attempts to collect money for the goods they gave her yesterday, the Southern Tower priest tells everyone that a lunar eclipse may have thrown off his calculations by one day- the end of the world is actually the next day. As the listening crowd grumbles in confusion, a priest from the Northern Tower comes forward and tells them that his calculations clearly show that the end of the world won’t be for another thirty years! As everyone accepts his words in relief, Kino decides that it is time to go.

Moving on, Kino reaches the border of the next country. To her surprise, the bored looking man at the inspection station becomes excited and energised to see her, even ringing a bell to tell the people of this country that a traveller is stopping by. And, as Kino enters the country, the inhabitants, all wearing cat ears, put on a festival for her. Singing and dancing, they tell her that this festival is to celebrate a coup d’etat made by the Cat Ear Party many years ago. As they perform, Kino seems happy to watch, but is less inclined to join in. And, when Kino finally departs, the inhabitants themselves take off their cat ears and return to their normal lives.

A little way along the road, Kino comes across a professor and his family living at a hermitage, and soon receives an explanation for the country she just left and their Cat Ear Festival. The festival was made up on the spot for Kino’s benefit- it is this country’s way to invent traditions and maintain or discard them based on the reactions of travellers. The professor tells her that, many generations ago, the country cast out their king and banned all of their old traditions. Unfortunately, this left them with no traditions of their own, and since that time, they have been searching for a tradition, using the opinions of passing travellers as their guides. As a direct descendant of that banished king, the professor has spent his life observing his former country, and he has concluded, just as Kino does, that their method of choosing traditions is a tradition in and of itself. However, the people themselves have yet to realise that- and when they do, that realisation may well destroy their tradition.

On her next stop, Kino finds herself in a very different country- one where the water-filled streets echo with a teenage girl’s endless recitation of depressing poetry. Kino is naturally curious as to the significance of this, and her guide is happy to tell her the entire story. Long ago, the country was blessed with a poet who could effortlessly write works of unsurpassed happiness, so much so that he attracted the attention of the country’s wicked-hearted king. Summoning the poet, the cruel king told him to write a poem of sadness within nineteen days- or face decapitation.

As the days passed, the poet found himself unable to come up with anything and finally, his wife could bear his anguish no more. On the final night, she slit her throat, and from then on, the gates of misery were opened in the poet’s heart. When he was summoned to the king the next morning, he began to recite his poems- words of such depression and despair that the king could not stand it. The poet was sent away, but even away from the palace he continued to speak, his melancholy words echoing through the street. For the next ten years he wandered thus, speaking his words every day, with his young daughter trailing after him. In that time, a pall of melancholy fell over the country, only to be lifted when the poet finally died.

However, the sadness did not end there, for the next day, the poet’s daughter, now fourteen years old, came out and began reciting her father’s words. This continued for another ten years, and by the time she finished, the daily recitation had passed into the realms of tradition. From then on, every decade, a fourteen year old girl was chosen to recite the poetry daily for ten years, a tradition that continues to this day.

Fortunately, it is soon time for Kino to leave this country, but as she goes, she receives an interesting piece of information. Many years ago, another traveller visited this country, and before he left, he wrote down the poet’s words in a book, in the belief that they were some kind of prophecy. Listening to the words the girl is speaking, Kino recognises them as passages from the Land of Prophecy’s Book of Prophecy- words which have come to influence people far beyond the land where they were written.

Continuing on her journey, Kino has one last encounter with those influenced by the poet’s words, when she runs into an army headed for the country she has just left. This country also received a copy of the book of Prophecy, but according to their interpretation, the world will end unless they attack the melancholy country. Kino questions their reasoning, but the man she speaks with is convinced that his country’s course is correct- after all, in their minds, the survival of the world depends on them.

As they move on, Hermes asks Kino whether she thinks that the prophecy is correct or not. For her part, Kino doesn’t know, at least, not until things are proved one way or another the following morning…