فصل 21

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: گرد آوری آبی / فصل 21

فصل 21

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  • زمان مطالعه 11 دقیقه
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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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21

“What’s wrong, Kira? Tell me!” Thomas was following her up the stairs. The Gathering had finally ended. Jo had been led away by tenders but not before she had had an exhilarating moment of triumph.

At the end of the long afternoon, when the audience stood and sang, in chorus with the Singer, the magnificent “Amen. So be it” that always formed the Song’s conclusion, the Singer himself had beckoned to little Jo. Though the tyke had wriggled and dozed during the long hours, now she looked up at him with eagerness, and when it was clear that he was summoning her to join him, she scrambled down from her chair and ran enthusiastically to the stage. She stood by his side and beamed with satisfaction, waving one small arm in the air, while the people, released now from their solemnity, whistled and stamped their feet in appreciation.

Kira, watching, remained motionless and silent, overwhelmed with her new knowledge and a heavy feeling that combined dread and terrible sorrow.

That fear and sadness stayed with her as she limped laboriously upstairs and Thomas urged her to explain what was wrong. She took a deep breath and prepared herself to tell him what she knew.

But at the top of the staircase, they were interrupted by the sight of Matt in the corridor outside Kira’s open door. He was grinning broadly and dancing impatiently from foot to foot.

“It’s here!” Matt called. “The big giftie!”

Kira entered the room and stopped just inside the door. She stared curiously at the stranger who sat slumped wearily in her chair. She could tell from his long legs that the man was quite tall. There was gray in his hair, though he was not old; three syllables, she thought, trying to categorize him in some way that would perhaps explain his presence. Yes, three syllables, about the same as Jamison; maybe the age of her mother’s brother, she decided.

She nudged Thomas. “Look,” she whispered, indicating the color of the man’s loose shirt. “Blue.”

The intruder stood and turned toward her at the sound of her voice and at the continued bursts of Matt’s barely-contained excitement. Kira wondered briefly why he had not risen when she entered. It would have been the expected gesture for even the most inconsiderate or hostile stranger, and this man appeared to be both friendly and courteous. He was smiling slightly. But now she could see, to her distress, that he was blind. Scars crossed and disfigured his face with jagged lines across his forehead and down the length of one cheek, and his eyes were opaque and unseeing. She had never seen anyone with destroyed vision before, though she had heard of such things happening through accident or disease. But damaged people were useless; they were always taken to the Field.

Why was this sightless man alive? Where had Matt found him?

And why was he here?

Matt was still prancing about with anticipation. “I brung him!” he announced gleefully. He touched the man’s hand and demanded confirmation. “I brung you, didn’t I?”

“You did,” the man said, and his voice was affectionate toward the tyke. “You were a wonderful guide. You brought me almost all the way.”

“I brung him all the way from yonder!” Matt said, turning to Kira and Thomas. “But then at the end he wanted to feel his way alone. I be telling him he can keep Branchie for a helper, but he want to do it all alone. So he gimme the scrap for the first giftie. See?” Matt pulled at the man’s shirt and showed Kira the hem, at the back, from which he had torn the piece of cloth.

“I’m sorry,” Kira said politely to the man. She felt awkward and uncertain in his presence. “Your shirt is ruined.”

“I have others,” the man said with a smile. “He wanted so badly to show you the gift. And I felt a need to find my way by myself. I have been here before, but it was a long time ago.”

“And look!” Matt was like a toddler or a puppy, dashing about in excitement. He picked up a bag from the floor beside the chair and pulled its drawstring open. “Now we be needing some water,” he said, lifting several wilted plants out gently, “but these be all right. They be perking up when we give them a drinkie.

“But you never be guessing what!” Now he turned to the blind man again and tugged at his sleeve to be certain he was paying attention.

“What?” The man seemed amused.

“She gots water right here! You probably be thinking we gotta take these plants to the river! But right here, iffen I open this door, she gots water that squirts out!”

He pranced to the door and opened it.

“Take the plants, then, Matt,” the man suggested, “and give them their drink.”

He turned toward Kira and she could tell that he knew how to feel her presence in his darkness. “It’s woad we’ve brought you,” he explained. “It’s the plant that my people use to make blue dye.”

“Your beautiful shirt,” she murmured, and he smiled again.

“Matt told me that it’s the same shade as the sky on a sunny summer-start morning,” he said.

Kira agreed. “Yes,” she said. “That’s it, exactly!”

“Much the same as the blossom on a morning glory vine, I would think,” the man said.

“Yes, that’s true! But how —”

“I haven’t always been sightless. I remember those things.”

They could hear the sound of running water. “Matt? Don’t drown them!” the man called. “It would be a very long trip back to get more!”

He turned back to Kira. “I would be happy to bring more, of course. But I think you won’t need that.”

“Please,” Kira said, “sit down. And we’ll have a meal sent up. It’s time for dinner anyway.” Even in her confusion, she tried to remember the basic courtesies. The man had brought her a gift of great value. Why he had done it, she couldn’t begin to comprehend. Nor how hard it must have been to come a great distance with no eyes and no guide but a lively boy and a bent-tailed dog.

And at the last of the journey, when Matt had run ahead with his treasured scrap of blue, the blind man had come alone. How was it possible?

“I’ll call the tenders and tell them,” Thomas said.

The man looked startled and concerned. “Who’s that?” he asked, hearing Thomas’s voice for the first time.

“I live down the hall,” Thomas explained. “I carved the Singer’s staff while Kira did the Robe. Maybe you don’t understand about the Gathering, but it’s just ended, and it’s a really impor —”

“I know about it,” the man said. “I know all about it.

“Please. Don’t call for food,” he added firmly. “No one must know that I’m here.”

“Food?” Matt asked, emerging from the bathroom.

“I’ll have them bring our dinners to my room down the hall, and no one will know,” Thomas suggested. “We’ll all share it. There’s always more than enough.”

Kira nodded agreement, and Thomas left the room to summon the tenders. Matt scampered behind him, alert to the prospect of food.

Now Kira found herself alone with the stranger in the blue shirt. She could tell from his posture that he was very tired. She sat down, facing him, on the edge of the bed and sought in her mind the right things to say to him, the right questions to ask.

“Mart’s a good boy,” she said after a moment’s silence, “but he forgets some important things in his excitement. He didn’t tell you my name. I’m Kira.”

The blind man nodded. “I know. He told me all about you.”

She waited. Finally, into the quiet, she said, “He didn’t tell me who you are.”

The man stared with his unseeing eyes into the room, beyond the place where Kira sat. He began to speak, faltered, took a breath, then stopped.

“It’s beginning to get dark,” he said finally. “I’m facing the window, and I can feel the change in daylight.”

“Yes.”

“It’s how I found my way here after Matt left me at the edge of the village. We had planned to wait and arrive at night, in the darkness. But there were no people about, so it was safe for us to enter in daylight. Matt realized it was the day of the Gathering.”

“Yes,” Kira said. “It began very early in the morning.” He is not going to answer my question, she thought.

“I remember the Gatherings. And I remembered the path. The trees have grown, of course. But I could feel the shadows. I could feel my way along the center of the path by the way the light fell.”

He smiled wryly. “I could smell the butcher’s hut.”

Kira nodded and chuckled.

“And when I passed the weaving shed, I could smell the fabrics folded there, and even the wood of the looms.

“If the women had been at work, I would have recognized the sounds.” With his tongue against the roof of his mouth, he made the repetitive muted clacking sound of the shuttle, and then the whisper of the threads turning into cloth.

“And so I made my way here all alone. Matt met me then and brought me to your room.”

Kira waited. Then she asked, “Why?”

As she watched, he touched his own face. He ran his hand over the scars, feeling the edges; then he followed the jagged skin down the side of his own cheek, along his neck. Finally he reached into his blue shirt and pulled forward the leather thong that hung there. As he held it in his hand, she saw the polished half-rock that matched her own.

“Kira,” he said, but he did not need to tell her now, because she knew, “my name is Christopher. I’m your father.”

In shock, she stared at him. She watched his ruined eyes, and saw that they were able, still, to weep.

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