Aug 252013

Read me the story:
Tenli looked out over the Dawnwood with carefully detached appreciation. It was hardly possible to look at such a view without appreciation. It lay spread before him vast and perfect, a dream, a tapestry, something too big and deep and glorious for words. A wide sweep of sky, with overlapping layers of clouds painted in colors ranging from vividly savage to unbearably delicate. The endless cloak of the wood itself, draped over the undulating foothills in a thousand shades of green and blue and gray, textures playing with the light, absorbing it and flinging it back with gleaming reflections. A smoky line of foothills barely defined the most distant horizon, a hieroglyphic charcoal stroke joining sky and land.

It was a fine view, he thought. You could see a lot, from just over seventy meters up. Something splendid like this was easeful, as a last view. It had been a horrible life and it would be an honorless passage, but a last view of such immensity gave the ending some worth. He looked down, over the tower’s parapet. On this side, there was only the white stone of a little-used path, a strip of jaifryl bushes, the Cloister wall. The stones of the path beckoned him. Quick, sure, final.

To be sure, it would be better to simply leave—still the heart, empty the lungs, shut down, flow by flow, each thread of nihal and zhohar, and step forth, free of the disgusting, useless, misshapen, malformed body, into the final Light. But he was no Adept, yet—nor ever would be, it must be clear even to the Elders by now. And… he was not sure that even the most advanced Adepts could go unbidden into the Presence.

Still, it would be bad enough, going unreleased, via a quick flight and a hard landing. They would never take his name into the Song of Ra’anir.

But what did that matter? They never would have taken Tenli into the Song, anyway. Her they would Sing. The cruelest thought yet; leaving Tenli breathless with the pain of it. She— the one who had never existed at all— she would take his place in the Song, have that much of life, anyway. And he would be the one never to have existed.

Would it matter? He looked out over the Dawnwood again. If you choose oblivion, you’ll never know, and never care. You escape the pain, and everything else.

It would be worth it! The voice inside him raged, screamed. No more! He found his hands balling into tight, tight fists, his body weight leaning, pressing onto them against the rough stone of the parapet. No more shame, no more dreary contemplation of day after day, stretching out ahead of him and never, ever, never feeling right. Never feeling like himself. An endless procession of days, each a dreary ordeal of being… Not-Tenli. Stuck, crying, bleeding, lost…

It would just… be… over. Blessed, blessed, peace. Nothingness. Oblivion. Everything someone else’s problem. No more problems at all.

The stones below seemed to rush up to meet him, suddenly, and instinctively he pulled back, took a deep breath. The last breath? Filling his lungs, feeling his chest—detestable chest!—expand with air. Blood drumming in his ears. He could feel his spirit loosen within his consciousness. Poised, ready, wings spread. As though the stars were calling him. Leaning forward again, slowly, balancing.

Except… if he did this—now—with the disgusting, appalling blood in him—that would not be him, either. He heard Chenaru’s voice in his inner ear: “If you do not take charge of her nihal, it will take charge of you.” Then… this was all that Not-Tenli nihal twisting his mind, distorting him even further. That “last” breath escaped him, with a sob. Was followed by another.

The colors in the sky had shifted, muted. From far below floated up a three-beat chime from the Cloister’s ghanala, signaling the watchturn. Time seemed to pause, perfectly balanced between day and evening.

It felt like a defeat.

So did many victories, though. That, at least, Tenli had already learned. He just had to hold to that knowledge: “Feeling” alone is unreliable, incomplete. He watched the sky colors continue to shift. Motion rippled in the distance—wind coming up over the Dawnwood, sweeping down from the foothills. An almost horizontal ray of sunlight suddenly fell across the treetops, illuminating a swath of verdant brilliance, and then slowly faded. His pulse slowed.

Chenaru heard her novice’s footsteps coming down the stairs from the tower’s upper level, measured, unhurried. Her eyes closed, momentarily, with an unbreathed prayer of thanks to the Power, then she opened them.

He paused, in the doorway: Lithe, well-knit youthful frame; scraped, bleeding knuckles; eyes shuttered over with discipline. He drew in a breath in the manner of one about to speak, but then let it slowly out again, without a word.

She nodded to him: Payndi to novice. “You will do well to care for your hands before you begin assisting with meal preparation.”

There was nothing in her tone but calm observation, but Tenli suddenly felt the roiling chaos within recede further, and a light warmth, like a cloak against those internal winds, fold itself around his heart.

Aug 032013

Read Me the Story:
embroidery-cropped“Blessingmother… they have arrived.” Kadaret murmured, respectfully.

“Is it so?” the old woman rose from her knees, and with the certainty of long practice, took the three steps to the hard plastic chair, and sat.

“They can wait,” she said comfortably. “It is time for my pranska. Did you bring it?” The veil turned in Kadaret’s direction.

Kadaret felt her jaw drop. “N-no, Blessingmother… I thought…”

The old woman chuckled. “You bring it, daughter. I’ll need it.”

Kadaret made a respectful knee-bob. Blind as she was, the old woman had an uncanny sense for such things. “Yes, Blessingmother.”

It had never occurred to her that anyone—anyone—! –would make the Cardinal Prelate’s own maiter wait!

She sped down the narrow corridor, past rows of the tiny cubbies that each provided a Vowed Daughter of the Weeping Handmaiden with a narrow sleeping pallet, a kneeler, and a small chest to hold her worldly goods. At the end there was a much broader cross-corridor and the arched doorway that led to the Garden Cloister. Kadaret did not spare a glance for it; she turned for the kitchen, and in very little time was back with a small dish, a spoon, and a clean napkin. She tapped the door frame.

“That was quick, very good. Very good.”

The old woman folded back the lower half of her veil, and fumbled for the spoon, digging it in to scoop a small mound of moist golden fruit.

Blessingmother Nanamet lived the most austere of lives, except for this one indulgence—one pranska, each Holyday, in the place of midday pottage. Everything about life at the Divine Mercy Monastery had been an invariant routine, including that.

With the news of the Conflagration, changes had come. But Blessingmother Nanamet still had her fruit. “Ahhhh….” The old woman sighed a little, and lifted the napkin to dab at a trickle of juice on her chin. “So delicious. Like the flesh of a beloved.”

What a strange thing to say. What would old Nanamet know of that, Kadaret thought? Everyone knew the Blessingmother’s story. She had been here, at Divine Mercy, since her very birth, more than sixty years ago. Her mother had been a Relict, Vowed here on the occasion of her Renunciation by her Ecclesiast husband who had heard the miraculous Call to Celibacy before he knew he’d engendered a child. Such cases were difficult, of course, but the Church could not deny a true Renunciation.

Born here, raised here, probably she’d expected to die here, like all the Relicts and Renunciates Vowed to the service of the Weeping Handmaiden.

Kadaret knew better than to let the slightest hint of her feelings show on her face, in her breathing, in a small movement. She knew the flesh of a beloved. Had thought herself beloved. Had believed that the Creator laid her path in the most abundantly joyful of places. Had quickened with her husband’s child, even. The miscarriage… it hadn’t been her fault! She had done everything, everything the birthwife had said!

Then Lankar had decided that the miscarriage was a divine leading, and he would heed the Call, and renounce Kadaret, and enter the prelacy.

Nanamet had spooned up the last bit of the pranska, and wiped her mouth daintily. Her face, still half-veiled, was turned in Kadaret’s direction and tilted slightly. The corners of the soft old mouth were tucked in with something that might have been compassion… or amusement.

“And what do I know of a beloved’s flesh, is that it?”

Kadaret tried not to start, but did swallow. The old woman probably heard it, with that preternaturally acute hearing, but she only shook her head a little, and let down her veil. “You still have so much to learn, daughter. All right. I shall keep the Holiest One waiting no longer.”

She stood, and replaced the chair under the little table, and turned to make a knee-bob to the ikon of the Bride on the wall above her kneeler.

Kadaret stood aside from the door. She knew better than to offer the old woman any assistance. Nanamet knew every millimeter of the Divine Mercy, moved about her daily rounds as adeptly as though she’d never lost her sight from the infection that had been diagnosed too late, and treated here with only the minimal facilities of the monastery’s Infirmary.

Beside the doorframe hung the long staff of the Blessingmother’s office. She put her hand to it unerringly, and preceded Kadaret to the Cloister Gate, where the Cardinal Prelate’s own private bounce shuttle waited, to take her to Pykalt for an Ecclesiastical Convocation. It was an unprecedented thing, to invite the Blessingmother of a monastery to such a gathering, even though technically such a rank was equivalent to Archprelate, in the Church’s eyes.

But these were unprecedented times.

“Well, come along, daughter.” Nanamet paused, and gestured to Kadaret to accompany her. “You don’t think I’m going alone, do you?”


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