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29: Facing the Sharpshooters from the Unknown

(Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda)

Don Juan paused for a moment. Don Genaro looked at me and winked.

“Carlitos wants to know what it means to have command over the totality of oneself,” he said, and everybody laughed.

He was right. Under other circumstances I would have asked about it; the situation, however, was too solemn for questions.

“It means that the warrior has finally encountered power,” don Juan said. “No one can tell what each warrior would do with it; perhaps you two will roam peacefully and unnoticed on the face of the earth, or perhaps you will turn out to be hateful men, or perhaps notorious, or kind. All that depends on the impeccability and the freedom of your spirit.”

“The important thing, however, is your task. That is the bestowal made by a teacher and a benefactor to their apprentices. I pray that you two will succeed in bringing your tasks to a culmination.”

“Waiting to fulfill that task is a very special waiting,” don Genaro said all of a sudden. “And I’m going to tell you the story of a band of warriors who lived in another time on the mountains, somewhere in that direction.”

He casually pointed to the east, but then, after a moment’s hesitation, he seemed to change his mind and stood up and pointed to the distant northern mountains.

“No. They lived in that direction,” he said, looking at me and smiling with an air of erudition.

“Exactly one hundred and thirty-five kilometers from here.”

Don Genaro was perhaps imitating me. His mouth and forehead were contracted, his hands were tightly clasped against his chest holding some imaginary object that he may have intended to be a notebook. He maintained a most ridiculous posture. I had once met a German scholar, a Sinologist, who looked exactly like that. The thought that all along I might have been unconsciously imitating the grimaces of a German Sinologist was utterly funny to me. I laughed by myself. It seemed to be a joke just for me.

Don Genaro sat down again and proceeded with his story.

“Whenever a member of that band of warriors was thought to have committed an act which was against their rules, his fate was put to the decision of all of them. The culprit had to explain his reasons for having done what he did. His comrades had to listen to him; and then they either disbanded because they had found his reasons convincing, or they lined up with their weapons at the very edge of a flat mountain very much like this mountain where we are sitting now, ready to carry out his death sentence because they had found his reasons to be unacceptable. In that case the condemned warrior had to say good-by to his old comrades, and his execution began.”

Don Genaro looked at me and Pablito as if waiting for a sign from us. Then he turned to Nestor.

“Perhaps the witness here could tell us what the story has to do with these two,” he said to Nestor.

Nestor smiled shyly and seemed to immerse himself deep in thought for a moment.

“The witness has no idea,” he said and broke up into a nervous giggle.

Don Genaro asked everyone to stand up and go with him to look over the west edge of the mesa. There was a mild slope down to the bottom of the land formation, then there was a narrow flat strip of land ending in a crevice that seemed to be a natural channel for the runoff of rain water.

“Right where that ditch is, there was a row of trees on the mountain in the story,” he said. “Beyond that point there was a thick forest.

“After saying good-by to his comrades, the condemned warrior was supposed to begin walking down the slope towards the trees. His comrades then cocked their weapons and aimed at him. If no one shot, or if the warrior survived his wounds and reached the edge of the trees, he was free.”

We went back to the place where we had been sitting.

“How about now, witness?” he asked Nestor. “Can you tell?”

Nestor was the epitome of nervousness. He took off his hat and scratched his head. He then hid his face in his hands.

“How can the poor witness know?” he finally retorted in a challenging tone and laughed with everybody else.

“They say that there were men who pulled through unharmed,” don Genaro continued. “Let’s say that their personal power affected their comrades. A wave went through them as they were aiming at him and no one dared to use his weapon. Or perhaps they were in awe of his bravery and could not harm him.”

Don Genaro looked at me and then at Pablito.

“There was a condition set up for that walk to the edge of the trees,” he went on. “The warrior had to walk calmly, unaffected. His steps had to be sure and firm, his eyes looking straight ahead, peacefully. He had to go down without stumbling, without turning to look back, and above all without running.”

Don Genaro paused; Pablito assented to his words by nodding.

“If you two decide to return to this earth,” he said, “you will have to wait like true warriors until your tasks are fulfilled. That waiting is very much like the walk of the warrior in the story. You see, the warrior had run out of human time and so have you. The only difference is in who is aiming at you. Those who were aiming at the warrior were his warrior comrades. But what’s aiming at you two is the unknown. Your only chance is your impeccability. You must wait without looking back. You must wait without expecting rewards. And you must aim all of your personal power at fulfilling your tasks.”

“If you don’t act impeccably, if you begin to fret and get impatient and desperate, you’ll be cut down mercilessly by the sharpshooters from the unknown.”

“If, on the other hand, your impeccability and personal power are such that you are capable of fulfilling your tasks, you will then achieve the promise of power. And what’s that promise you may ask? It is a promise that power makes to men as luminous beings. Each warrior has a different fate, so there is no way of telling what that promise will be for either of you.”

The sun was about to set. The light orange color on the distant northern mountains had become darker. The scenery gave me the feeling of a windswept lonely world.

“You have learned that the backbone of a warrior is to be humble and efficient,” don Genaro said and his voice made me jump. “You have learned to act without expecting anything in return. Now I tell you that in order to withstand what lies ahead of you beyond this day, you’ll need your ultimate forbearance.”

I experienced a shock in my stomach. Pablito began to shiver quietly.

“A warrior must be always ready,” he said. “The fate of all of us here has been to know that we are the prisoners of power. No one knows why us in particular, but what a great fortune!”


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