While I have known for some time that the name of this blog comes from The Longest Journey, it wasn’t until this past week that I actually sat down and played this title. Within the first twenty minutes, I already began to see the inklings of why that particular name was chosen for this space. The game is full of many instances of inclusion, but I wished to discuss one that most drew my attention: the Tale of Homecoming. Spoilers ahead.
April Ryan, the game’s protagonist, goes through the game being heralded as the woman from the prophecy by various peoples and species. It is when she encounters the Alatien people that the Tale of Homecoming is told, though the reason for its telling is just as important as the tale itself. April is seeking to reunite the Maerum and Alatien peoples, who have a common ancestry, and relied on each other for a mutually beneficial relationship, but went to war and are now sworn enemies.
To do this, she must see the Teller of the village, the one who is said to know all the Alatien stories, and among the reasons April came to this part of the magical world known as Arcadia in the first place. In order to even see the Teller, her guard poses to April that he will ask questions of her from the tales of Sea, Winds, Stars, and Homecoming, and she must answer correctly. Because this is an adventure game, the goal is simply to talk to people and to get the answers so that they show up in the dialog options with the guard. Fairly simple, and yet, it brings attention to a key point in this game.
April is a stranger to Arcadia at the start of the game. She is to be instrumental in its future, but she knows next to nothing about the world. In order to be the savior of the Alatien, she must first know some of their basic stories. They are stories that would be likened to fables, full of small nuggets of wisdom universally applicable, and yet tied to a particular culture with its flavor text and way of viewing the world.
Among those stories is that of Homecoming told by Neema, which you can watch on YouTube right here, and for which I’ll provide the text below:
This is the Tale of Homecoming, my Tale, and I shall tell it in my own words, as told to me by my teacher, in her words, and by her teacher in turn.
Moran was a handsome young Alatien man with strong wings and a hardy beak. He lived below the white cliffs, where the water was salty and the fish plentiful. Moran was betrothed to Anara, the loveliest girl there ever was. She was fair, and slender, and tall, and her eyes were the clearest shade of blue.
But Moran was hesitant to enter into union with Anara, to become her husband and to give her children. He would always come up with a new excuse for why they had to wait a little while longer. Now, Anara was skilled at pottery, but even more so with stories, and the Teller of the village had many times asked Anara to be her apprentice, to learn all the Tales so that some day she could take over as the Teller. But Anara refused, knowing that if she did accept the Teller’s offer, she would never be able to marry Moran, because a Teller cannot have a husband nor children of her own.
Her refusal to become the Teller’s apprentice was unheard of, because who could refuse such an honor? But to Anara, love was more important. Her love for Moran was beyond honor, beyond reason. But despite Anara’s love, Moran was still hesitant. And then one day he told Anara, “I am traveling on a pilgrimage to the far shores. I will be gone for some time, and while I am traveling, and in accordance with our traditions, I will be freed from our betrothal. Not until I come back will the bond between us be renewed.”
It was not unusual for a young Alatien man at that time to go on a pilgrimage, and the bond between the betrothed would often be cut while he was away, to be formed again upon his return. But Anara was heartbroken, because she had thought that Moran would soon want to marry her. When Moran saw her tears, he said to her, “Do not weep. When I come back, I promise I will marry you. Just wait for me, and stay with your pots, to make the time pass quickly.” And then Moran left on his pilgrimage to the far shores.
Many years went by, and Moran had exciting adventures on the far shores, but by and by, he began to long for home, and for Antara, and now he had finally realized that he loved her, and that he wanted to marry her. But when he returned, he could not find Anara amongst the pot makers.
He went to visit her family, and they told him that, after waiting for many years, Antara accepted the Teller’s offer of apprenticeship, and that when the Teller left on the last wind during the previous winter, Anara herself became the new Teller. Angry, Moran made his way to the Teller’s nest, and when he saw Anara he said to her, “You promised me you would wait!” But Anara did not say a single word in answer. She just turned around and lifted something wrapped in leaves from the cot behind her, and gave it to Moran.
Moran unwrapped the package, and inside, he found an old pot, cracked and broken in two. “What is this pot?” he asked. “And why did you not wait for me like I asked you to?” And finally, Anara spoke, and she said to Moran, “I made this pot for you, my dear Moran, when you left, because I wanted it to be my marriage gift to you. But when many, many years passed, I finally realized that you did not love me the way I loved you, and to live hoping otherwise would be death.”
“But I want to marry you!” cried Moran. “I came back!” But Anara just nodded at the broken pot in Moran’s hands, and said, “Like an old pot that is left without care, a heart may break in two, and a broken heart can never be mended.” And so Anara turned away, never to speak with Moran again. And Moran’s heart, like the pot that was left untended, broke in two, because absence makes a heart brittle.
Neema, the teller of the story, is looking for a mate herself, so that when she tells the tale of Homecoming, she is giving her own version of the story. It serves as a cautionary tale (as can be said for the other Alatien storytellers), and it reflects the culture in which such stories are told are given life by the tellers–there is no one truth to the story.
This is a fact that the Teller later reveals to April, after confirming that April is a good listener. Her firm belief is that the tales must change with every telling, because if they were not to change to reflect the people who told them, they would just be words. Words themselves are not as important to the Alatien as the meaning the words convey, and how they reflect the current teller.
Given the fact that these tales are told to April, it brings to mind the question of how she would repeat this story to other people of Stark, her own world, which serves as a futuristic setting of our own. While she would need to give context if she were to use the words directly, if she were to tell the above tale to us, without us knowing the particular rituals of the Alatien, we could likely understand them anyway.
Of course, given that the entire story is a frame narrative as told by an elderly April Ryan, the question of how these words are understood and reflect in the culture of her listeners, a couple in the game, and the player, is also worth contemplating. Among the reasons the story reflected with me was the nature of the beginning of the story: woman waits for her man, who is off to have adventures, because he isn’t ready to settle. It is the subversion of the fact that she neither waits for him, nor really betrays him (as I could see it also being depicted, where he comes back and has to win her back from another suitor), but instead lives her own life that struck me as particularly poignant, especially in a game with a female protagonist.