e came upon one another three
dashes or so from the monastery. I had taken the long route and was walking down
the forest path. He ran up the final bend in the road before the monastery
(final for me, I suppose - first from his perspective), and came into view. I
never hear his footsteps. Judging from the slight precipitation on the valley
between his nose and upper lip, he had run most of the way from the lower
practice grounds. The smell of resin was strong in the air, and a vague scent of
dust and sunshine hung to the earth road.
"I can't find Master Kao!" he said. He did not quite have to shout, although
there was a good dash between us. You can't imagine how his voice carries. It's
not that he is a loud person - he is very soft spoken actually - just a man
whose vocal chords have been designed for the open air.
"He has gone herb-picking," I said.
He reflected on this for a moment and then ran the rest of the distance between
us. "The signal pyre above the Port of Nor is lit," he said, soft spoken again,
although a nearby squirrel did look up from the much nibbled-at pine cone
between its paws. "All the ones along the northern coast actually. A fleet has
been spotted off Cape Cloud."
I nodded again.
"Oh." He lifted his head, eyes scanning the cloud covered peaks. "He will be
back soon, I suppose?"
"He will be back when he is back," I said. And we both laughed. Master Kao.
His eyes went to the peaks again, then we walked to the monastery. He matched
his steps to mine and I matched my breath to his. I noticed that it came in
quick sighs. Quick for a monk, I guess. I counted six pulses on the in-breath.
But then again my pulse is slower than his. I chose a measured pace to give him
time to recover. We walked the rest of the way in silence.
I could tell that he was meditating on the breath. His breaths had lengthened
and now came in a steady pattern: twelve pulses in; six pulses retained; twelves
pulses out; six pulses between each breath. I could also tell that his mind was
not at peace, that he had to continually guide his attention back to the breath:
a long cycle of twelve-pulse breaths; several quicker breaths, growing hurried;
he realises our breathing has parted ways; then another cycle of twelve-pulse
breaths until the rhythm is broken again.
We came to a few peds of the gate, but his breath had still not settled.
"Come, sit with me for a moment," I said.
He eyed the gate briefly, but did not move towards it. We sat on a jutting of
rain-rounded rock, not quite facing the monastery.