The Exiled Monk (The World Song Book 1), страница 13
“Does that make sense? We are meant to follow not lead. What the Apostate did subverted the very essence and meaning of The Melody. There is but one that can create and we follow that one,” he gestured to the sky.
Peek nodded, but still didn’t fully understand, “How long?”
Locambius sighed and looked at the ground before looking back to Peek, “Young sir, trust is not measured in time. You may as well ask how long until a stone is ground into sand. If the wind and waves do the job alone, it will be a thousand years. If a man takes up a hammer it could happen in a thousand hours. If a monk plays The Melody it could happen in a few seconds.”
Peek still did not understand, but he asked no further.
On one of the days Peek lingered near the village, looking for Dray, he failed to notice someone approaching from behind him. When the hand dropped on his shoulder Peek spun and shouted.
“Sorry!” Cor stepped back to avoid Peek’s flailing arms.
“You startled me. I’m sorry.”
“I just haven’t had any time to talk to you. I’ve been running all sorts of errands for my dad and you’ve been doing all this monkly training,” he gestured vaguely encompassing the beach and the monastery, “Sometimes I wish we could go back to the times when we just ran together on the beach.”
Peek muttered, “You always won.”
“What?” Cor quirked his head to one side.
“You always won when we raced on the beach,” Peek said it a bit louder.
“I didn’t know we were racing.”
“I was. I lost.”
“Well that got depressing quickly,” Cor laughed his infectious, carefree laugh, “I was hoping for a more cheerful reunion. I’ve got a keg of ale back at my hut. We found it buried under the brewer’s hut and, remarkably, unharmed. I thought we could share it and catch up.”
Peek shrugged, “I have to get back to the monastery for the evening meal and sermon.” He didn’t want to be caught by Vlek again. He had successfully avoided confrontation by sending messages along with the food. He reported to other people so he wouldn’t have to see Vlek.
“Fraternizing with the help?” Vlek jumped out from behind the closest hut as if called by Peek’s fears. Peek couldn’t keep from flinching and then cursed himself for it.
“Dad, I was just learning about Peek’s training. Isn’t that…”
“Great, wonderful, whatever. I’m your chief, not just your father. And you’re supposed to be working for me. Off with you.”
Cor held Peek’s eyes for a moment before walking away.
Vlek watched Cor go and then stared off into the sun-reddened sky to the west for a few long moments. Peek wondered if he should try and go back to the monastery or not. Just as he decided to start walking away Vlek spun around and stepped toward him.
“I don’t know what you’re doing, boy, but you’d better stop,” the bony finger poked at his chest again. The smell of ale was strong on his breath and the faint wobble as he stepped spoke of his inebriation.
“I’m doing what I was told to do,” Peek raised his hands and adopted a submissive tone, “I’m obeying your orders and those of Locambius. I delivered their plans to you. I can tell you anything you want to know.”
Vlek spat on the ground near Peek’s feet. “You know I’m not talking about that. Don’t play the dumb bastard.”
“Okay, Vlek, I’ll stop,” Peek was ready to just be done with it. The beating was coming so why should he put it off any longer. “What do you want me to stop doing? Talking to Cor?”
Peek saw the twitch in Vlek’s eyelid that indicated anger. Vlek’s desire for power and his love of drink were vying for control of his mercurial emotions. Both paths led to danger for Peek.
“Bastard, you know that’s not what I mean.” He stepped closer to Peek. His breath stank of cabbage and ale. Peek looked at him without flinching this time. He counted that as a small victory.
“Please tell me Vlek, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Meekness was the wrong response.
Vlek struck like a coiled snake gripping Peek’s tunic and driving him back into the nearby tree. All the air whooshed out of Peek’s lungs and he saw stars for a moment. The hot stink of Vlek’s breath kept Peek from inhaling.
“Don’t try to rise above yourself, bastard,” Vlek whispered into Peek’s face. “You know what happens to bastards who get out of their place don’t you?”
The blows never hit his face. Vlek held him with one hand and punched him with the other all around the stomach, ribs, and kidneys. When Vlek released him, Peek slumped to the ground gasping for air and trying to vomit. Peek clenched his teeth and pushed himself up onto his hands and knees.
Vlek kicked him in the ribs, stealing Peek’s breath; in the stomach, robbing Peek of a voice; and in the groin, stabbing Peek with pain. Vlek kicked him until Peek’s strength gave out and he collapsed onto the ground. Vlek delivered one more kick and then knelt on Peek’s back, keeping him from drawing in any air at all. When Peek started clawing at the ground in panic Vlek let off the pressure just enough for Peek to take in some air.
“Don’t try to rise above yourself.”
He stalked off into the night leaving Peek weeping and coughing into the dirt.
Peek stumbled up to the monastery gates. After he pounded feebly, Duhlga opened the heavy door a few inches. It took her a moment to recognize him in the night with tear-tracked dirt on his face. But when she did, she pulled him inside and slammed the gate behind.
“Who did this to you?”
Peek kept his eyes fixed on the ground and mumbled, “I fell.”
Duhlga took Peek’s chin in her hands and forced him to meet her eyes. They locked gazes for a half dozen heartbeats before she sighed and led him to her hut.
Peek didn’t have the will to resist so he sank down onto her bed. Out of her satchel she pulled her whistle and started to play. The air around Peek’s body grew cool and then moist. It refreshed him for a moment. Then Duhlga’s song switched. The flowing, fluttering sounds of the water-song seemed odd coming from the whistle, but she made them fit well enough. The basin by her bed filled with water and soon she used it to wipe Peek’s face clean of dirt and shame.
“Thank you,” Peek grunted as he tried to rise.
“You missed dinner, do you want some food?” She spoke as if nothing had happened.
Only then did Peek realize how long he’d been on the ground after Vlek beat him. He must have passed out for a time. Vlek never hit his face or head, but the pain likely overwhelmed him. Peek felt a fresh wash of shame suffuse his soul.
“Please,” he managed to slip the word past the lump in his throat.
Duhlga lit a candle with a few notes and Peek saw her smile at him as she stepped out of the hut. Her joy hurt almost as much as Vlek’s fists. How could Peek be so weak as to need the help of an old woman? How could he find comfort in it? Peek found himself remembering his mother and the times she would slip out of the hut at night. It was never with a smile for Peek, nor a lit candle. She thought Peek wasn’t watching, but he saw her leave long after dark and arrive back before dawn.
When Duhlga returned with a plate of cold food Peek fought down the lump in his throat again and sat up.
“Thank you,” he said taking the food from her, “You don’t have to do this.”
“What do you know of what I have to do, young sir?” Her head cocked to the side almost like a girl sassing her mother.
“I just mean that—”
“I know what you meant,” her warm, welcoming smile took the edge from her words, “You thought you were being gracious, but in reality you were trying to be independent.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Peek asked around a mouthful of cold mutton.
She looked pointedly at him, “What is wrong with that, young sir?”
“If it is, then you have some work left to do,” she tilted her head meaningfully.
Peek stuffed some food in his mouth to avoid having to answer immediately. He wondered what this kind woman meant with all her talk of independence. Surely he didn’t have the skill or strength to be independent yet, but once he learned the magic — the true magic, not just the techniques of breathing and standing — then he would have the strength to do what he wanted to do. That’s all he’d ever wanted, to be in charge of his own life. Not Vlek, not Rea, not even the shadow of Cor looming over him, just Peek, deciding what to do and why.
But Duhlga made that seem like a bad thing. She acted as though independence was a weakness and not a strength. Peek detested the way Vlek treated women as somehow less than himself, but in this moment he couldn’t help but wonder if that was just a gender difference, if Duhlga wanted to be dependent because that’s what women want.
“We all need each other, young sir,” Duhlga said as Peek chewed on bits of carrot and turnip. “It matters not who we are or how strong we become. We need each other. You’ve had a rough life, worse than most of my brothers and sisters can imagine. But even that doesn’t exempt you from needing people.”
Peek fought the persistent lump in his throat with a chunk of bread. The bread barely won.
“Thanks for the dinner,” Peek searched for a place to put down his plate and settled on handing it to Duhlga, “I’d better get some sleep. I have more training tomorrow.”
Peek rose and stepped past the aged woman, but as he moved to leave her hut a surprisingly strong hand gripped his wrist. “Have you breathed?” she asked.
“What?” Peek thought of the ache in his ribs that plagued each shallow breath he took.
“Rudi taught you, did he not?” Duhlga set the plate down and pulled Peek back toward the center of the hut, “In, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Out, two, three, four.”
Peek swallowed hard, “I remember.”
“Then why have you not breathed?” She stood the way Rudi had taught Peek to stand, centered and balanced. She inhaled, held, and then exhaled.
Peek thought of just leaving. He could walk away into the night. He could walk away from the monks and the village and everything. What if he just let the wild magic loose? He could live as a hermit and no one could stop him. Alone he would be safe and so would everyone else. He had almost made up his mind to do just that when her face came into his mind. Dray. Peek wanted to leave everything except her. He couldn’t leave her. Could he?
“Just breathe, young sir,” Duhlga let out the words in the rhythm of her breathing. Peek looked at her, stooped with age, but bright eyed and thoughtful. Her shoulders were rounded by the years, her skin weathered and wrinkled, her hair white and wispy, but her hands were strong and her breathing steady.
Peek stood the way he’d been trained, closed his eyes and inhaled. The rhythm was almost there as he held the air in his lungs, but his body couldn’t hold it for the full count and his breath exploded outward.
“Good. Keep breathing,” Duhlga said before pausing while she inhaled and held her air before continuing, “the rhythm will come.”
Peek closed his eyes and stood with her in her hut as she kept speaking in time with her breathing.
“When thoughts come,” she said, “Let them float away. Don’t judge them. They are neither good nor bad. Just let them go.”
Even as she spoke, Peek’s mind filled with shame, then anger, fear, hurt, loss, guilt, and a deep rage. He tried to let each one float away, but they were heavy, hard, and sticky. His brow furrowed and breath halted.
“In, two, three, four,” Duhlga reminded him, “hold, two, three, four. Out, two, three, four. Let the feelings melt away in the waves. One wave, and then another. Let peace wash over them and take them away from you.”
That image helped far more. Peek imagined his fear of Vlek — imagined Vlek himself — being eroded by the hungry sea. Like a sandcastle before the tide, it slowly melted away. Peek could still see the outline, if he chose to, but the distinct edges and shape of his thoughts were fading moment by moment. The tight knot in his chest unwound. His shoulders dropped and his spine straightened. Softly, in the distance, Peek heard the sounds of music, like monks practicing in a hut across the yard.
The feeling of Duhlga’s hand on his chest returned Peek to the world. He opened his eyes and saw her lined face smiling at him. Peek found he could smile warmly in return without any dissemblance.
For twenty years they all sat beside the Pool of Eytskaim. At first the kingdom waited for one to emerge and take the vacant throne. But over time most people forgot about the wise and powerful king. Local chieftains rose to power. Clans and villages went to war. Warlords pretended to rule over portions of the once great kingdom.
With the land in disarray and the disciples quietly aging beside the Pool of Eytskaim the need for wisdom and power grew. A young girl, steeped in the legends of Eytskaim, dared to enter the disciple’s domain. They did not oppose her at first, but all noted her presence. Since the death of Eytskaim, she was the only non-disciple to pass through the gate at the pool.
First the girl went to the tree and found the oldest disciple there, Talib.
“When will you be done? We need a king.”
“If the melody were immutable, so would be the world.” Antiphates of Spioraid
ut when do I get to learn to do magic?”
“In time, young sir. The Melody calls those whom it desires, not the other way ‘round.”
Peek took a deep breath, winced at the pain it caused in his bruised ribs, and unclenched his fists as he followed Rudi to the listening place. The path was starting to wear with their passage day after day. What started as a barely discernible game track to the end of the cape slowly adapted to the heavy footfalls of humanity. Trampled underbrush broke and died leaving only bare earth to mark the trail.
The first time Peek followed Rudi out to look over the ocean and learn to breathe the trek seemed to take hours, now it faded into obscurity as a natural part of his daily routine. Sometimes Rudi would send him out alone, other times with monks to guide him in certain aspects of his training. So far, though, Peek hadn’t played a single note. The only magic he’d done had been by accident. It was as if the monks were trying to keep him from doing magic at all.
“What do you hear from The Melody today, young sir?”
Rudi liked to start with this question. Adrocus, Bracius, Duhlga, and Locambius each had their own style of training him. Rudi loved to use questions. Peek had soon learned that ignorance was not an answer Rudi would accept. He had to listen and hear or the asking of the question would be the only training for the day. Peek remembered the exhaustion of a day spent trying to convince Rudi that he couldn’t hear anything and the stout monk standing like a wall against the idea. Peek’s stubbornness may have found an equal.
“I hear… the song of the ocean meeting the earth, air flitting through the trees,” Peek closed his eyes and breathed deeply, “The heat of the sun warming the damp earth sings the faintest echo of the fire song.”
“Aye, good listening.”
Peek had also learned to not mention any of the non-elemental songs he heard. It wasn’t that the monks denied any of the other songs, they thrilled in hearing the vast and complex harmonies of The Melody. But they also forbade anyone to attempt the merging of tunes. The fire-song could only be played alone; the same with the air-song, water-song, and earth-song. Locambius often reminded the monks that it was up to The Melody to decide how songs fit together, not monks. The player was not to attempt to be the composer.
Rudi pulled out a set of reed pipes, similar to the ones Locambius carried, but much newer. The lashing holding the reeds together still shone in the sunlight instead of a matte
“This is the traditional training instrument of our order. The simple five reeds will allow you to play any of the basic songs of The Melody. Once you’ve mastered them, you can seek the wisdom of The Melody to know your calling. Remind me. What are the instruments and their songs?”
More questions. Peek had memorized what seemed like volumes of information about the monks and The Melody. Adrocus had helped him to go over the concepts late into the nights, quizzing him until one of them fell asleep.
“The whistle plays the air-song, the horn plays the fire-song,” Peek resisted the urge to tick them off on his fingers, “the drum plays the earth-song, and the harp plays the water-song.”
“Good,” Rudi nodded, his hands clasped behind his back, “And why does each instrument go with its song?”
“The whistle is pure air, simply directed into music. The horn is made through fire, metal molded by heat,” Peek matched Rudi’s posture, in part to help keep his hands occupied, “The skin of the drum is tanned with the salt of the earth. The harp is bent into shape by water.”
“Again, good,” he rose up on his toes and inclined his head in approval, “You’ve been studying. Well done.”
Rudi made a strange face as if he were trying to smile, but he was afraid to show his bottom teeth. “This,” he said through his grimace, “is the position of your mouth when playing the pipes. Notice that from my bottom lip to my chin is perfectly flat, that’s where I can place the reeds so they are steady.” He took his pipes and placed the largest one against his chin so his lips were positioned just over the top of the opening, “From here you can blow, but each reed will take a different amount of breath.” He blew across the top of the reed and produced a low tone, “Now, you try.”