ou are a child of spring, but
winter reigns in your heart."
He held my hand between his hands, right thumb pressed against the centre of my
palm, drawing absent-minded circles. Then, he turned my palm down and patted my
hand gently before he let go.
Now, in all fairness, I am not a man prone to hatred or petty emotion. But there
is something particularly provocative about old men on mountaintops, with their
back against a tree, the sun on their face, and the sounds of the sea all
around, who think they can know the soul of a man they have never met, and
pronounce it in twelve words.
"Mmm." said I, stubbornly noncommittal.
I sat in the near dark beneath the hawthorn tree and slowly rose to the waking
world. Though my eyes were closed, I could see the mountain around me, and the
valleys beneath, transformed in the beneficent presence of the early morning
wind. I opened my eyes and traced the lines of my palms. The day had drawn only
a pale wash of light to the east. Perhaps it was not the wind but the quality of
the light, in those hours between Shadowleave and Firstflame, when the
distinction between sky and water becomes uncertain, when the whole of space
becomes opalescent in a sort of pearly, luminous grey. I let my gaze settle back
on my hands and traced the lines again, backwards. When I was satisfied that I
had not awoken into a dream world, I turned my attention outward.
The roosters had been crowing for some time and the early squirrels would soon
begin their ceaseless turning of twigs and bits of wood to see whether anything
to eat had been overlooked.
Resting my mind on the out-breath, I began to peel the sounds of the mountain:
the rush of the stream... a branch crackling a ped or so above my head and the
sudden flutter of birds taking off... a distant howling somewhere to my left and
the answering calls from the other peaks... the wind greeting the trees in a
sweeping arc across the valley below and the rustling response of the canopy...
I sat there and the world peeled away until I finally heard the little splash of
morning waves on the beach, at the foot of the mountains and beyond.
The dawn came quickly now, a wash, a glow, a lightness and then an explosion of
fire as the sun arose out of the sea. The wind stirred and brought the rich
smell of soil and pine. A wolf cub came close, and at a soft word from the wind,
curled up, arranged its tail neatly over its feet, and laid its chin delicately
on its paws. And all around the wind sang the Song of the Mountain. It was a
morning like other mornings and yet perfect among mornings.
I watched the baby wolf for a moment, and then my eyes went up to a flock of
wild geese heading inland to the heart of the mountains. The world was awake
now, and I rose and stretched and moved through Flowing Water, Short Form.
When I finished, my eye caught on an ant and its mighty struggle. It had loaded
its package on a leaf and was furiously paddling across a generous pool of rain
water with its front feet. It had paddled a palmspan or so when the breeze
picked up and pushed the leaf back to the shore. The ant made another start, but
the breeze shifted and the leaf began whirling around in wild circles. Clever
paddling in the opposite direction gradually stilled the leafy boat. After a
studious effort the ant managed to cross halfway across but the breeze drove it
all the way back again.
Standing there I thought of the opening lines of the Book of the Sea:
be kind to me...
The sea is so wide,
and my boat so small.
I scooped the leaf gently out of the water and carried it across.
The wind shifted and a new song had come in the wind. It spoke of timber and
resin and the beating of drums. Of a forest on the sea. It was a song of war.
In an hour the ships would be spotted from Cape Cloud. A few hours after that,
perhaps after Lighthrive, they would reach the skerries around the Port of Nor.
The fleet would make landfall by Sunreign. Death would come today and stain sand
and surf. Pointless, the wars of Men.
A fish splashed in the water, dove back again and was gone. The stream is strong
here, at the source of his waters. It calms as it winds across the mountain and
follows the lay of the land, bending where it bends, rising where it rises.
Somewhere in the distance, gently now, it flows through the monastery.
My mind went to Master Kao for a moment, and wondered where he was. An answer
came from the stream, somewhat apologetically:
I asked the boy beneath the pines.
He said, 'The master's gone alone
Herb-picking somewhere on the mount,
Cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown.'
Of course. He too had heard the wind, and long before I did. I listened to the
wind again, to the Song of the Forest on the Sea. Beyond it I heard another
song, far, far away. It was a song of the East. The Song of the Sea Witch. The
Song of Aca Santerra.
But what froze my blood was the song I did not hear: the Song of Essalui
My robes had caught the wind, the cloth billowing in the air, dancing in wide
arcs to my right. Every now and again I would feel it tugging, now gently, now
more insistently, against my neck, against my torso, against the left side of my
body where it circumnavigated the waist and flowed around my back.
I threw the shawl over my left shoulder and headed towards the monastery.