فصل 20

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: گرد آوری آبی / فصل 20

فصل 20

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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20

Thomas nudged her and gestured with his head. Kira glanced over and smiled to see Jo, so eager and squirming earlier, now sound asleep in the big chair.

It was late morning and the Song had continued for several hours. Probably many of the tykes in the large hall were dozing, as Jo was.

Kira was surprised not to be bored and drowsy herself. But for her, the Song was also a journey through the patterned folds, and as the Singer sang, holding up the related parts, she remembered each scene and the days of work, the search through Annabella’s threads for exactly the right shades. Though she remained attentive, occasionally her mind wandered to her own task that loomed ahead. Now that the old dyer’s threads were almost gone — and the woman herself was gone too — Kira found herself desperately hoping that she would be able to remember and to create the dyes alone. Thomas drilled her again and again from his written pages.

Though Kira had told no one, not even Thomas, she had realized recently, to her surprise, that she could read many of the words. Watching his finger on the page one day, she had noticed that goldenrod and greenwood began the same way, with a looping downward curve. And they ended the same way too, with a little twiglike upright line. It was like a game, to find the marks that made the sounds. A forbidden game to be sure, but Kira found herself puzzling over it often when Thomas wasn’t watching, and the puzzles had begun to explain themselves to her.

The Singer was in a quiet section now, one of those times following a great world disaster in which ice — white and gray sheets of it, made with small stitches so that it had no texture but instead an eerie, glistening smoothness — had engulfed the villages. Kira saw ice very seldom, only occasionally in the very coldest months when sleet struck the village, breaking tree branches, and the river froze near its banks. But she had remembered the fearsomeness and destruction of it when she worked on that section and had felt glad when beyond the edges of the ice disaster, green seeped in again and a quiet, fruitful time ensued.

He slid into the singing of the green part now, melodic and soothing, a relief after the frigid destruction that had made his voice harsh and forbidding.

Thomas leaned over and nudged her again. She glanced at Jo but the tyke had not moved. “Look down the aisle on the right,” Thomas whispered.

She did, and saw nothing.

“Keep watching,” Thomas murmured.

The Singer’s voice continued. Kira watched the side aisle. Suddenly she saw it: something moving stealthily, slowly, stopping now and then, and waiting; then creeping forward again.

People’s heads blocked her view. Kira leaned slightly to the right, trying to see around them, trying not to let the Council of Guardians know that something disruptive was happening. She glanced at them but they were all attentive and focused on the Singer.

It moved again in the shadows, and she could see now that it was human, a small human, on all fours like a stalking beast. She could see too that people sitting on the edge of the aisle were beginning to notice, though they kept their eyes toward the stage. There was a very small stir; shoulders turning slightly, quick glances, expressions of surprise. The small human crept forward again, inching stealthily closer to the first row.

As he approached, it was easier for Kira to watch without changing her position, since her chair faced the audience, away from the stage. Finally, as the intruder reached the edge of the first row, he stopped creeping, squatted, and looked forward toward the stage — toward Kira, Jo, and Thomas — with a grin. Kira’s heart leaped.

Matt! She didn’t dare to speak aloud but she mouthed the word silently.

He wiggled his fingers in a wave.

The Singer inched his fingers up the staff, feeling for the place, and continued.

Matt grinned and opened one hand to show her something. But the light was dim; Kira didn’t recognize what he held. He held it up between his thumb and finger, displaying it to her importantly. She shook her head slightly, indicating that she couldn’t tell what it was. Then, feeling guilty at her lapse in attention, she turned and began to watch the stage and the Singer again. Soon, she knew, there would be an intermission — a break for lunch. She would figure out a way to catch up with the tyke then, and examine and admire whatever he had brought.

Kira listened to the Singer’s voice as he sang the serene melody of plentiful harvests and celebratory feasting. This part of the Song coincided with her own feelings at the moment. She experienced an enormous sense of relief and joy, now that Matt had returned and was safe.

When she looked back, he had crept away again, and the aisle was empty.

“May the little Singer have lunch with Thomas and me?”

It was the midday interruption of the Gathering, a lengthy gap in the day for food and rest. The tender pondered Kira’s question and agreed. Leaving by the side door through which they had entered, Kira and Thomas, accompanied by Jo, yawning, went up the stairs to Kira’s room and waited for their food to be brought. On the plaza outside, the people would be eating the food they had brought with them and discussing the Song. They would be anticipating the next section, a time of warfare, conflict, and death. Kira remembered it: the bright splatters of blood in crimson threads. But she put it out of her mind now.

While Thomas and Jo began on the large lunch that appeared on a tray, she hurried across the hall to Thomas’s room to look down from the window and scan the crowd for a dirty-faced tyke and a bent-tailed dog.

But there was no need to search from the window. They were waiting for her in Thomas’s room.

“Matt!” Kira cried. She set her stick aside, sat on the bed, and took him into her arms. Branch danced at her feet, his eager nose and tongue damp on her ankles.

“I been on a horrid long journey,” Matt told her proudly.

She sniffed and smiled. “And you never washed, not once, while you were gone.”

“There be no time for washing,” he scoffed.

“I brung you a giftie,” he told her eagerly, his eyes dancing with excitement.

“What was it that you held up at the Gathering? I couldn’t see it.”

“I brung you two things. A big and a little. The big be coming still. But I gots the little here in my pockie.” He dug one hand deep into his pocket and pulled out a handful of nuts and a dead grasshopper.

“Nope. Be the other side.” Matt put the grasshopper on the floor for Branch, who grabbed it with his teeth and consumed it with a crunch that made Kira cringe. The nuts rolled under the bed. Matt plunged his hand into the opposite pocket and brought out something triumphantly.

“Here you be!” He handed the thing to her.

She took the folded thing curiously and plucked the dead leaf pieces and dirt away. Then, while Matt watched with delight and pride suffusing his face, she unfolded it and held it to the window light. A square of filthy, wrinkled cloth. Nothing more. And yet it was everything.

“Matt!” Kira said, her voice hushed with awe. “You found blue!”

He beamed. “It were there, where she said.”

“Where who said?”

“She. The old woman who makened the colors. She said there be blue yonder.” He wiggled in excitement.

“Annabella? Yes, I remember. She did say that.” Kira smoothed the cloth on the table, examining it. The deep blue was rich and even. The color of sky, of peace. “But how did you know where, Matt? How did you know where to go?”

He shrugged, grinning. “I recollect she pointed. I just followed where her point went. There be a path. But it’s horrid far.”

“And dangerous, Matt! It’s through the woods!”

“There be nought fearful in the woods.”

There be no beasts, Annabella had said.

“Me and Branchie, we walk for days and days. Branch, he et bugs. And me, I had some food I tooken —”

” —from your mother.”

He nodded, with a guilty look. “But it weren’t enough. After it be all gone, I et nuts, mostly.

“I could’ve et bugs if I had to,” he added, boasting.

Kira half listened to his tale as she continued to smooth the cloth in her hand. She had yearned so for blue. Now here it was, in her grasp.

“Then when I got to the place, them people, they give me food. They got lots.”

“But not a bath,” Kira teased.

Matt scratched his dirty knee with dignity and ignored her. “They was horrid surprised to see me come. But they give me plenty of food. Branchie too. They liked Branchie.”

Kira looked down at the dog, asleep now at her feet, and nudged him affectionately with the tip of her sandal. “Of course they did. Everybody loves Branch. But, Matt —”

“What?”

“Who are they? The people who have blue?”

He lifted his thin shoulders and wrinkled his forehead in an expression of ignorance. “Dunno,” he said. “Them be all broken, them people. But there be plenty of food. And it’s quiet-like, and nice.”

“What do you mean, broken?”

He gestured toward her twisted leg. “Like you. Some don’t walk good. Some be broken in other ways. Not all. But lots. Do you think it maken them quiet and nice, to be broken?”

Puzzled by his description, Kira didn’t answer. Pain makes you strong, her mother had told her. She had not said quiet, or nice.

“Anyways,” Matt went on, “them got blue, for certain sure.”

“For certain sure,” Kira repeated.

“I suppose you like me best now, aye?” He grinned at her, and she laughed and said she liked him best of all.

Matt pulled away from her, and went to the window. On tiptoe he peered down and then out. The crowds were still there but he seemed to be looking beyond them for something. He frowned.

“You like the blue?” he asked her.

“Matt,” she said passionately, “I love the blue. Thank you.”

“It be the small giftie. But the big one be coming soon,” he told her. He continued watching through the window. “Not yet, though.”

He turned to her. “Got food?” he asked. “Iffen I wash?”

They left Matt and Branch in Thomas’s room when they were summoned back to the afternoon section of the Gathering. This time they were ushered in and took their seats with less formality; there was no need for the chief guardian to introduce them to the villagers.

But the Singer, looking refreshed after lunch and a rest, made a ceremonial entrance again. He held his Staff as he stood at the foot of the stage, and the audience applauded him in acknowledgement of his remarkable performance in the morning. His expression didn’t change. It had not changed all day. No proud smile. He simply stood gazing with intensity at the populace, the people for whom the Song was an entire history, the story of their upheavals, failures, and mistakes, as well as the telling of new tries and hopes. Kira and Thomas applauded as well, and Jo, watching and imitating them, clapped her hands enthusiastically.

Through the noise of the applause, as the Singer turned and mounted the stairs to the stage, Kira glanced at Thomas. He had heard it too. The dull, dragging sound of metal. The same sound they had noticed in the morning before the Song began.

Kira looked around, puzzled. No one else seemed to notice the abrupt, heavy noise. The villagers were watching the Singer as he breathed deeply in preparation. He moved to the center of the stage, closed his eyes, and fingered the Staff, looking for the place. He swayed slightly.

There! She had heard it again. Then, almost by accident, just for a second, she glimpsed it. Suddenly Kira realized with horror what the sound was. But now there was only silence. And then the start of the Song.

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