فصل 19

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: گرد آوری آبی / فصل 19

فصل 19

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  • زمان مطالعه 12 دقیقه
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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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19

It began early. At dawn Kira could hear the sounds, even from her room on the opposite side of the building, as the people started to gather. Quickly she finished dressing, pulled the brush through her hair, and ran to Thomas’s room on the other side of the corridor. From there they could look down at the plaza where all large gatherings took place.

Unlike the day of the hunt, this crowd was subdued. Even small tykes, usually so unruly, clung to their mothers’ hands and waited quietly. The sound that had awakened Kira was not shouts and jostling but simply the tread of feet as the people streamed up the narrow lanes and moved into the throng waiting to enter the building. From the Fen path came a steady flow of silent citizens clutching and leading their tykes. From the opposite direction, from the area where Kira and her mother had lived, came others whom she recognized from her old neighborhood. There was her mother’s widowed brother with his boy, Dan, but the small girl, Mar, was not with him; perhaps she had been given away.

On a typical day, families were scattered and apart, tykes scampering unsupervised, parents at work; but today hubbies stood with their wives and tykes with their families. The people seemed solemn and expectant.

“Where’s the staff?” Kira asked, looking around Thomas’s room.

“They took it yesterday.”

Kira nodded. They had come and taken the robe yesterday as well. Weary though she was of the work, her room seemed diminished with it gone.

“Should we go down?” she asked him, though she didn’t relish the prospect of joining the crowd.

“No, they said they’d come for us. I asked the tender who brought my breakfast.

“Look!” Thomas pointed. “Over there, way in the back. See, by the tree just before the weaving shed? Isn’t that Matt’s mother?”

Kira followed his pointing finger with her eyes and found the same gaunt woman who had eyed them suspiciously from the squalor of the cott. Today she was washed and tidy; beside her, holding her hand, was the tyke who looked so much like Matt. The two stood waiting as a family. But there was no second child. No Matt. A wave of sorrow swept through Kira, a feeling of loss.

Looking down at the sea of faces, Kira gradually recognized people here and there: the weaving women, separate from each other, each with a hubby and children; the butcher, clean for a change, with his large wife and two tall sons. The entire village had gathered now, only a few stragglers still hurrying up the lanes.

A small surge of movement began and she could see that the people were shuffling forward. The crowd rippled like water moving on the riverbank when a log floated by.

“The doors must have been opened,” Thomas said, leaning forward to see.

They watched as the entire village, person by person, entered the building. Finally, when the crowd outside was almost entirely gone — and now they could hear the murmur of voices and the shuffle of footsteps from below, inside the building — a tender appeared in Thomas’s doorway and beckoned.

“It’s time,” the tender said.

Except for a quick peek through a cracked-open door when she looked for Jamison one afternoon, Kira had not seen inside the Council of Guardians hall since the day of her trial months before. The circumstances had been so different then, when she entered the cavernous room and limped alone down its central aisle hungry, lonely, and fearful for her life.

Today she still leaned, as she had that day, on her stick. But now she was clean, healthy, and unafraid. Today she and Thomas were brought through a side entrance near the front, so that they saw the faces of the village watching them.

The tender pointed, directing them to a row of three wooden chairs on the left, just below the stage, facing the audience. Kira could see that there was another, longer row of chairs on the opposite side, and she recognized the Council of Guardians members who were already seated there. Jamison was among them.

Quickly, reminding herself of the custom, she bowed her head toward the Worship-object on the stage. Then she followed Thomas, and together they took their places in two of the chairs. A murmur passed through the audience and Kira felt her face flush in embarrassment. She didn’t like being singled out. She didn’t want to sit here at the front. She remembered the derisive voice of one of the weavers only a few days before. “She don’t need us no more!” the woman had called.

It’s not true. I need all of you. We need each other.

Gazing at the crowded audience, Kira remembered the many past years when she had come dutifully with her mother to the Gathering. Always they sat in the back where she couldn’t see or hear, and she had endured the event bored and restless, sometimes kneeling on her seat to try to peer around the spectators’ shoulders and get a glimpse of the Singer. Her mother, she remembered, had always been attentive and had gently restrained her when she wriggled in the seat. But the Gathering and the Song were long and difficult for tykes.

The people in the crowded audience, who though respectful had been shifting in their seats and whispering, quieted completely when Kira and Thomas entered and took their places. Everyone waited. Finally, in the silence, the four-syllable chief guardian, whom Kira had not seen since the trial and whose name she still could not recall (was it Bartholemew, perhaps?), rose from his seat on the other side. He walked to the space at the front of the stage and began the ritual that always opened the ceremony.

“The Gathering begins,” he announced.

“We worship the Object,” he said, gesturing toward the stage, and bowing. The entire audience bowed respectfully toward the little crossed construction of wood.

“I present the Council of Guardians,” he said next, and nodded to the row of men which included Jamison. As a group, they stood. For a nervous moment Kira couldn’t remember if the spectators were supposed to applaud. But a hush had fallen and the crowd was silent, though some heads seemed to nod toward the Council of Guardians in respect.

“For the first time I present the Carver of the future.” He gestured toward Thomas, who looked uncertain.

“Stand,” Kira whispered under her breath, knowing intuitively that it was the proper thing to do. Thomas stood awkwardly, shifting from one foot to the other. Again, heads nodded in respect. He sat back down.

She knew that she would be next, and she reached for her stick, which was leaning against the chair.

“For the first time I present the Robe-threader, the designer of the future.”

Kira stood as straight as she could and acknowledged the nods in her direction. She sat again.

“For the first time, I present the Singer of the future. One day she will wear the robe.”

The eyes of the villagers all turned to the side door, which had opened. Kira could see two tenders push Jo forward, pointing to the unoccupied chair. The tyke, dressed in a new but simple and unadorned gown, looked confused and uncertain, but her eyes found Kira’s and Kira beckoned to her, smiling. Jo grinned and hurried forward toward the chair.

“Don’t sit yet,” Kira whispered. “Stand and look at the people. Be proud.”

With a shy grin, with one foot nervously rubbing the ankle of the other leg, the Singer of the future stood and faced the crowd. Her smile, hesitant at first, quickly became both self-confident and infectious. Kira could see the people smile back.

“Now you can sit,” Kira whispered.

“Wait,” Jo whispered back. She raised one hand and waggled her fingers at the audience. A ripple of gentle laughter ran through the large crowd.

Then Jo turned and hoisted her small self, knees first, onto the chair. “I be giving them a little wavie,” she confided to Kira.

“Finally, I present our Singer, who wears the robe,” the chief guardian announced, when the people had quieted.

The Singer, wearing the magnificent robe and holding the carved staff in his right hand, entered from the other side. The crowd gasped collectively. Of course they saw him, and the robe, each year. But this year was different because of the work that Kira had done on the ancient embroidery. As the Singer moved toward the stage, the folds of the robe glistened in the torchlight; the colors of the threaded scenes glowed in their subtlety. Golds, light yellows deepening to vibrant orange, reds from the palest pink to the darkest crimson, greens, all shades, threaded in their intricate patterns, told the history of the world and its Ruin. As he turned to mount the few stairs to the stage, Kira could see the broad blank expanse across the Singer’s back and shoulders, the blank that she had been picked to fill. The future that she had been chosen to create.

“What’s that noise?” Thomas murmured.

Kira had been distracted by her awareness and appreciation of the robe and all that it meant. But now she heard it too: a dull, intermittent metallic noise, a muted clank. Now it was gone. There; she heard it again. A scraping clank.

“I don’t know,” she whispered back.

The Singer turned, at the center of the stage, after bowing slightly to the Worship-object, and now faced the audience. He fingered the staff like a talisman but did not need its guidance yet. His face was impassive, expressionless. Then he closed his eyes and began to breathe deeply.

The mysterious sound had disappeared. Kira listened carefully, but the muted scrape had subsided. Looking at Thomas, she shrugged and settled back to listen. She glanced at Jo and could see that the tyke’s eyes were closed too, and she was forming the first words silently with her mouth.

The Singer held up one arm, and Kira, from her knowledge of the robe, knew that he was displaying the sleeve with the scene of the world’s origin: the separation of land and sea, the emergence of fish and birds, all of it in the tiniest stitches around the border of the left sleeve, aloft now with his arm outstretched. She could feel the awed admiration of the audience as they saw the robe displayed for the first time in a year, and she felt pride in the work she had done.

He started in a strong, rich baritone voice. No melody, yet, really. The Song began with a chant. Gradually, melodies would enter, Kira recalled; some slow, soaring lyrical phrases, followed by other harsher phrases with a quick pulsating beat. But it emerged slowly, as the world had. The Song began with the origin of the world, so many centuries before: “In the beginning…”

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