فصل 22

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: گرد آوری آبی / فصل 22

فصل 22

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22

In some hidden place to which Matt had led him in the night, her father slept. But before he had left her in order to sleep, he had told her his story.

“No, it was not beasts,” he said, in reply to her first questions. “It was men.

“There are no beasts out there,” he said. His voice was as certain as Annabella’s had been. There be no beasts.

“But —” Kira began to interrupt, to tell her father what Jamison had told her. I saw your father taken by beasts, Jamison had said. But she waited and continued to listen.

“Oh, there are wild creatures in the forest, of course. We hunted them for food. We still do. Deer. Squirrel. Rabbit.” He sighed. “It was a large hunt that day. The men had gathered for the distribution of weapons. I had a spear and a sack of food. Katrina had prepared food for me. She always did.”

“Yes, I know,” Kira whispered.

He seemed not to hear her. With his blank eyes he seemed to be looking backward in time. “She was expecting a child,” he said, smiling. He gestured with his hand, making a curve in the air above his own belly. In a dreamlike way, Kira felt herself, small, inside the curve made by his arched fingers, inside the memory of her mother.

“We went in the usual way: together at first, in groups, then separating into pairs, and eventually finding ourselves alone as we followed tracks or sounds deeper into the forest.”

“Were you frightened?” Kira asked.

He shook himself loose from the slow measured speech of his memory, and smiled. “No, no. There was no danger. I was an accomplished hunter. One of the best. I was never frightened in the forest.”

Then his brow furrowed. “I should have been wary, though. I knew that I had enemies. There were jealousies, always, and there were rivals. It was a way of life here. Perhaps it still is.”

Kira nodded. Then she remembered that he couldn’t see her acknowledgement. “Yes,” she told him. “It still is.”

“I was soon to be appointed to the Council of Guardians,” he went on. “It was a job with great power. Others wanted the post. I suppose it was that. Who knows? There was always hostility here. Harsh words. I haven’t thought about it in a long time, but now I recall the arguments and anger — even that morning, when the weapons were assigned —”

Kira told him, “It happened again recently, at the beginning of a hunt. I saw it. Fights and arguing. It’s always that way. It’s the way of men.”

He shrugged. “So it hasn’t changed.”

“How could it change? It’s the way it is. It’s what tykes are taught, to grab and shove. It’s the only way people can get what they want. I would have been taught that way too, but for my leg,” Kira said.

“Your leg?”

He didn’t know. How could he?

Now she felt embarrassed, having to tell him. “It’s twisted. I was born that way. They wanted to take me to the Field but my mother said no.”

“She defied them? Katrina?” His face lit and he smiled. “And she won!”

“Her father was still alive, and he was a person of great importance, she told me. And so they let her keep me. They probably thought I would die anyway. “ “But you were strong.”

“Yes. Mother said pain made me strong.” Telling him, she was no longer embarrassed, but proud, and she wanted him to be proud, too.

He reached out, and she took his hand.

She wanted him to go on. She needed to know what had happened. She waited.

“I don’t know for certain who it was,” he explained when he continued. “I can guess, of course. I knew he was bitterly envious. Apparently he approached silently behind me, and as I waited there, watching for the deer I’d been stalking, he attacked me; first with a club to my head, so that I was stunned and dazed, and then with his knife. He left me for dead.”

“But you lived. You were strong.” Kira squeezed his hand.

“I woke in the Field. I suppose draggers had taken me there and left me, as they do. You’ve been to the Field?”

Kira nodded, then remembered his blindness again, and said it aloud. “Yes.” She would have to tell him when and why. But not yet.

“I would have died there, as I was supposed to. I couldn’t move, couldn’t see. I was dazed and in great pain. I wanted to die.

“But that night,” he went on, “strangers came to the Field.

“I thought at first that it was diggers. I tried to tell them that I was still alive. But when they spoke, it was with the voice of strangers. They used our language, but with a different lilt, a slight change of cadence. Even as desperately wounded as I was, I could hear the difference. And their voices were soothing. Gentle. They held something to my mouth, a drink made of herbs. It dulled my pain and made me sleepy. They placed me on a carrying litter they had made of thick branches —”

“Who were they?” Kira asked, fascinated, unable to keep from interrupting.

“I didn’t know. I couldn’t see them. My eyes were destroyed and I was almost delirious with pain. But I could hear their comforting voices. So I drank the liquid and gave myself up to their care.”

Kira was astonished. In her entire lifetime in the village, she had never encountered a single person who would have done such a thing. She knew no one who would be willing to soothe or comfort or aid a grievously wounded being. Or who would know how.

Except Matt, she thought, remembering how the boy had nursed his little damaged dog back to life.

“They carried me a very great distance through the forest,” her father went on. “It took several days. I woke and slept and woke again. Each time I woke, they talked to me, cleaned me, gave me water to drink, and more of the drug to ease my pain.

“Everything was blurred. I didn’t remember what had happened or why. But they healed me, as much as I could be healed, and they told me the truth: I would never see again. But they told me also that they would help me to make a life without sight.”

“But who were they?” Kira asked again.

“Who are they, you should say,” he told her gently, “because they still exist. And I am one of them now.

“They were just people. But they are people like me, who were damaged. Who had been left to die.”

“Who had been taken from our village to the Field?”

Her father smiled. “Not only from here. There are other places. They had come from all over, those who had been wounded — sometimes not just in body, but in other ways as well. Some traveled very long distances. It’s astounding to hear of the difficult journeys.

“And those who had reached this place where I found myself? They had formed their own community — my community now, too —”

Kira remembered what Matt had described, a place where broken people lived.

“They help each other,” her father explained simply. “We help each other.

“Those who can see? They guide me. I am never without helping eyes.

“Those who can’t walk? They are carried.”

Kira unconsciously rubbed her own damaged leg.

“There is always someone to lean on,” he told her. “Or a pair of strong hands for those who have none.

“The village of the healing has existed for a long time,” he explained. “Wounded people still come. But now it is beginning to change, because children have been born there and are growing up. So we have strong, healthy young people among us. And we have others who have found us and stayed because they wanted to share our way of life.”

Kira was trying to picture it. “So it is a village, like this one?”

“Much the same. We have gardens. Houses. Families. But it is much quieter than this village. There is no arguing. People share what they have, and help each other. Babies rarely cry. Children are cherished.”

Kira looked at the stone pendant that rested against his blue shirt. She touched her own matching one.

“Do you have a family there?” she asked hesitantly.

“The whole village is like a family to me, Kira,” he replied. “But I have no wife, no child. Is that what you mean?”

“Yes.”

“I left my family here. Katrina and the child to come.” He smiled. “You.”

She knew she must tell him now. “Katrina —” she began.

“I know. Your mother is dead. Matt told me.”

Kira nodded, and for the first time in many months she began to cry for her own loss. She had not wept when her mother died. She had willed herself to be strong then, to decide what to do and to do it. Now hot tears stained her face and she covered it with her hands. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed. Her father opened his arms, offering her an embrace, but she turned from him.

“Why didn’t you come back?” she asked finally, choking on the words as she tried to stop crying.

Looking out through the shield she had made with her hands over her eyes, she could see that the question pained him.

“For a very long time,” he said at last, “I remembered nothing. The blows to my head had been intended to kill me, though they failed. But they took my memory. Who I was, why I was there? My wife? My home? I knew nothing of any of it.

“Then, very slowly, as I healed, it began to come back. I remembered small things of the past. Your mother’s voice. A song she sang, ‘Night comes, and colors fade away; sky fades, for blue can never stay…’”

Startled by the familiar lullaby, Kira murmured the words with him. “Yes,” she whispered. “I remember it too.”

“Then very gradually, it all came back to me. But I could not return. I didn’t know how to find the way. I was blind and weakened.

“And if I did find a way back, it would be to meet my death. The ones who wanted me dead were still here.

“Finally,” he explained, “I simply stayed. I mourned my losses. But I stayed and made a life there, without your mother. Without you.

“And then,” he went on, his expression lightening, “after so many years had gone by, the boy appeared. He was exhausted when he arrived, and hungry.”

“He’s always hungry,” Kira said, smiling slightly.

“He said he had come all that way because he had heard that we had blue. He wanted blue for his special friend, who had learned to make all the other colors. When he told me about you, Kira, I knew you must be my daughter. I knew I must let him lead me back.”

He stretched slightly, and yawned. “The boy will find me a safe place to sleep when he returns.”

Kira took his hand, and held it. There were scars even there, she saw.

“Father,” she said, feeling her way uncertainly with the word she had never used before, “they won’t hurt you now.”

“No, I’ll be safely hidden. And after I’m rested, we will slip away, you and I. The boy will help us pack food for the journey. You will be my eyes on the way home. And I will be the strong legs you lean on.”

“No, Father!” Kira said, excited now. “Look!” She waved her arm, indicating the comfortable room. Then she paused, embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I know you can’t really look. But you can feel how comfortable it is. There are other rooms like it along the hall, all of them empty except the ones where Thomas and I live. One can be readied for you.”

He was shaking his head. “No,” he said.

“You don’t understand, Father, because you’ve not been here, but I have a special role in the village. And because of it, I have a special friend on the Council of Guardians. He saved my life! And he looks after me.

“Oh, it’s too much to explain, and I know you’re tired. But Father, not very long ago, I was in great danger. Someone named Vandara wanted me to be put to the Field. There was a trial. And —”

“Vandara? I remember her. That’s the scarred woman?”

“Yes, that’s the one,” Kira acknowledged.

“It was a terrible thing, her injury. I remember when it happened. She blamed her child. He slipped on wet rocks and grabbed her skirt, so that she fell and gashed her chin and neck on a sharp rock.

“But I thought —”

“He was only a small tyke, but she blamed him. Later, when he died, from the oleander, there were questions. Some people suspected —” He paused, and sighed. “But there was no proof of her guilt.

“She’s a cruel woman, though,” Kira’s father said. “You say she turned on you? And there was a trial?”

“Yes, but I was allowed to stay. I was even given an honored place. I had a defender, a guardian named Jamison. And now he looks after me, Father, and supervises my work. I know he’ll find a place for you!”

Happily Kira squeezed her father’s hand, thinking of the future they would have together. But it was as if the air in the room shifted. Lines in her father’s face tightened. The hand that she held stiffened and withdrew from hers.

“Your defender. Jamison?” Her father touched his own scarred face again. “Yes, he tried to find a place for me before. Jamison is the one who tried to kill me.”

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