CHAPTER III: SONG OF THE FAMILY

A KREAN NOVEL

 
The Child of Spring   
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Introduction. In which Winter remembers. The two monks discuss the change that looms over White Mountain.
 

on't you find it odd? That they're headed to the Port of Nor?" he said.

I shrugged. "I know little of the wars of Men," I said. "But this I know: Kingdoms come and kingdoms go. The peace of the mountain remains."

"There will be no peace on the Mountain if the Port of Nor falls."

"Attack the monasteries and make an enemy of the Order of Stormblades? I think not."

Beneath our dangling feet, in front of us and to our left, the valley stretched from horizon to horizon, and beyond it, there was the sea. The stone was cool to the touch, a lingering memory of the night in a landscape of light and life.

"It feels good to sit here, to feel the solidity of the rock under my hands," he said. "This rock was here before monks and monasteries came, and it will be here after we have gone. And one day it too will be gone."

"Everything flows," I said. His breathing was still intermittently troubled. I laid a hand on his shoulder and felt the Flow leave me and begin to seep into him. After a while I took my hand off.

I heard the creak of a rope as one of the younger monks worked the well. The slosh of water being drawn. The rhythm of the grinding stone where Aunt Winn worked the corn for the morning bread. A Stormblade practicing in the lower grounds. I could see these things without looking at them. The Song of the Morning. The Song of the Family.

Besides me, with less than a palmspan between our shoulders, Orange hummed an ancient song that had only three notes and yet endless variety of interval. Sometimes it rose to an aching chord that caught the throat. This is warmth, it said. This is safety. This is the Whole.

The sun caught in his hair and cast it to molten bronze. Orange. Hearing it, you might think he must have been named after his hair as is often the case with these things. But then I suppose we would have called him Copper. His hair is lighter than mine, a richer brown with filings of copper, but not quite orange or red. No. He is named for his zest for life, his vivacity. Above all, he is named for his laughter.

His laughter belongs to a different world than the ports of men and their ships. It belongs to the Mountain. It whoops and peals and thunders unashamedly; if it finds no echo, it feeds on itself, and when it seems to be checked, it peals forth louder than ever, especially in periods of deep, collective meditation.

I am very fond of Orange, of his laughter. I think we all are.

When the Flow had first opened up in me and I was pushed out of my body and Master Kao was away, he came to visit me every morning for six days until Master Kao returned, and sat with me through the hours of Sunblaze, when the winds are high and their call strongest. We were six at the time. I remember him sitting by the bed, working his way methodically through the jam and bread in his basket, a slice at a time. "You can have one too. All you need to do is come back."

Then he would shrug, butter the next slice and proceed to eat it with the rapt attention and mindfulness only children and monks have. Aptly enough, his basket would be full with small jars of orange marmalade. Actually, not orange. In these parts we call them "the brownie orange" because they look like miniature oranges. Compared to orange jam, the taste is sharper, less sweet but without the bitterness. It is my favourite and he knows this. The brownie orange grows only in one place on the mountain and it is a perilous climb. Every year someone slips and breaks an arm or a leg. Then Master Kao teaches us how to set bones. One year a boy almost fell to his death.

When the masters came in to refresh the wards, he would pick up his basket - by now invariably empty and head out. He would pause at the door, calling casually over his shoulder just before he left: "There might be more tomorrow. I suppose you will just have to hang around." He would then spend the rest of the afternoon gathering more of the little round fruit and cooking it with Aunt Winn for the next morning's visit.

His voice brought me back to the present. "There will be many deaths today. I wish there was more we could do."

"We can only do what we can," I said, putting my hand on his shoulder in consolation.

"Couldn't the masters stop it?"

"It is not our war, Orange."

"There must be something they can do. Can't they call to the wind, can't they call to the sea and prevent their ships from landing?"

"And how long should we keep the storm alive? A year? Two?"

"As long as it takes. Eventually they would give up and leave."

"There will be other ships, other fleets. Eventually one would land."

He paused and considered this. When he spoke again, he had come to a decision, but it pained him. "Then we must call the wind and destroy their ships. There will be fewer deaths that way."

"Would you kill one man to save another?" I said.

"And yet they must be stopped."
 


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