فصل 07

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: گرد آوری آبی / فصل 7

فصل 07

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7

An egg! That was a treat. In addition to the boiled egg, her breakfast tray contained more of the thick bread and a bowl of warm cereal swimming in cream. Kira yawned and ate.

Usually at waking she and her mother had walked to the stream. Here, she supposed, the green-tiled room took its place. But Kira was nervous about the room. She had entered it the night before and turned the various gleaming handles. Some of the water was hot and startled her. It must be for cooking. Somewhere below, a fire had apparently been built. Somehow the cooking water had been hoisted here, but what was she to do with it? There was no need for her to cook, Kira thought this morning as she had last night. Warm prepared food had been brought.

Mystified still, Kira turned her attention this morning to the long, low tub. Jamison had suggested that she could wash Matt there. There was something that looked and smelled like soap. Leaning forward over the tub’s rim, she tried to wash but the procedure was awkward and unnatural; it was easier in the stream. And she could wash her clothes in the stream and hang them on the bushes. Here in this small, windowless room there was no place to dry anything. No breeze. No sun.

It was interesting, Kira decided, that they had found a way for water to enter the building, but impractical and unsanitary, and there was no place to bury waste. She wiped the cold water from her face and hands with the cloth she found in the tiled room and decided that she would return to the stream each day to attend to her needs properly.

She dressed quickly, laced her sandals, pulled the wooden comb through her long hair, grabbed her stick, and hurried through the empty corridor to leave her new home and go for a morning walk. But before she had gone very far, a door in the corridor opened. A boy she recognized emerged and spoke to her.

“Kira the Threader,” he said. “They told me you had come.”

“You’re the Carver,” she said. “Jamison told me you were here.”

“Yes, I’m Thomas.” He grinned at her. He seemed about her age, not long into two syllables, and was a good-looking boy with clear skin and bright eyes. His hair was thick and reddish-brown. A chip in one front tooth showed when he smiled.

“This is where I live,” he explained. He opened the door wider so that she could see inside. His room was just like hers, though on this, the opposite side of the corridor, his window view was to the wide central square. She noticed too that his room seemed more of a lived-in place. His things were strewn around.

“This is my workroom too.” He gestured, and she could see a large table with his carving tools and scraps of wood. “And there’s a storage room, for supplies.” He pointed.

“Yes, mine’s the same,” Kira told him. “My supply room has lots of drawers. I haven’t started work yet, but there’s a table under the windows, and the light is good there. I think that’s where I’ll do the threading.

“And there — that door? That’s your cooking water and your tub?” Kira asked him. “Do you use it? It seems such a bother, when the stream’s so nearby.”

“The tenders will show you how it works,” he explained.

“Tenders?”

“The one who brought your food? That’s a tender. They’ll help you however you want. And a guardian will be checking on you every day.”

Good. Thomas seemed to know how things worked. It would be a help, Kira thought, because it all seemed so new, so foreign. “Have you lived here a long time?” she asked politely.

“Yes,” he replied. “Since I was quite young.”

“How did it happen that you came here?”

The boy frowned, thinking back. “I had just begun carving. I was a very little tyke, but somehow I had discovered that if I took a sharp tool and a piece of wood, I could make pictures.

“Everyone thought it was quite amazing.” He laughed. “I guess it was.”

Kira laughed a little too, but she was remembering herself, very small, finding that her fingers had a kind of magic to them when she held the colored threads, seeing her mother’s astonishment and the look on the face of the Guardian. It must have been the same, she thought, for this boy.

“Somehow the Guardians heard about my work. They came to our cott and admired it.”

So similar, Kira thought.

“Then,” Thomas continued, “not long after, my parents were both killed during a storm. Struck by lightning, both at once.”

Kira was shocked. She had heard of trees felled by lightning. But not people. The people didn’t go out during thunderstorms. “Were you there? How did you stay safe?”

“No, I was alone at the cott. My parents were doing an errand of some sort. I remember that a messenger had been sent for them. But then some guardians came and got me and told me of their deaths. It was fortunate that they knew of me and felt that my work was of value, even though I was still small. Otherwise, I would have simply been given away. But instead, they brought me here.

“I’ve been here ever since.” He gestured around the room. “For a long time I practiced, and learned. And I’ve made ornaments for many of the guardians. Now, though, I do real work. Important work.” He pointed, and she could see that a long piece of wood was resting against the table, leaning in the same way that she leaned her walking stick. But this stick was intricately decorated, and from the shavings on the table she could tell that the boy had been working on it.

“They’ve given me wonderful tools,” Thomas told her.

Outside, the bell rang. Kira was disconcerted. Back in the cott, the sound of the bell meant that it was time to go to work. “Should I go back to my quarters?” she asked. “I was going to walk to the stream.”

Thomas shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. You can do whatever you want. There are no real rules. Only that you are required to do the work you were brought here for. They’ll check on your work every day.

“I’m going out now to visit my mother’s sister. She has a new tyke. A girl. Look! I’m taking a toy.” He reached into his pocket and showed Kira an intricately carved bird. It was hollow; he held it to his mouth and made it whistle. “I made it yesterday,” he explained. “It took time from my regular work, but not much. It was easy to do.

“I’ll be back for lunch,” he added, “because I have work to do this afternoon. Shall I bring my lunch tray to your quarters so that we can eat together?”

Kira agreed happily.

“And look,” he said, “here comes the tender who’ll pick up the morning trays. She’s very nice. You ask her — No, wait. I’ll ask her.”

While Kira watched curiously, Thomas approached the tender and spoke briefly to her. She nodded.

“You follow her back to your quarters, Kira,” Thomas said. “You don’t need to go to the stream. She’ll explain the bathroom to you. See you at lunch!” He put the little carved bird into his pocket, closed the door to his room, and headed down the corridor. Kira followed the tender back the way she had come.

Jamison came to her room shortly after lunch. Thomas had eaten and hurried away to his quarters to resume work. Kira had just gone into the small room lined with drawers and slid open the one containing the Singer’s robe. She had not yet unfolded it. She had never been permitted to touch it before and was in awe now and a little nervous. She was staring down at the lavishly decorated fabric, remembering her mother’s deft hands holding the bone needle, when she heard the knock on her door and then heard Jamison come in.

“Ah,” he said. “The robe.”

“I was thinking that I must soon begin my duties,” Kira told him, “but I’m almost afraid to start. This is so new to me.”

He lifted the robe from the drawer and carried it to the table by the window. There in the light the colors were even more magnificent and Kira felt even more inadequate.

“Are you comfortable here? You slept well? They brought your food? It was good?”

So many questions. Kira considered whether to tell him how restlessly she had slept and decided against it. She glanced at the bed to see if the bed coverings would reveal her tossing and noticed for the first time that someone, probably the tender who brought and took away the food, had smoothed everything so that there was no sign that the bed had been used at all.

“Yes,” she told Jamison. “Thank you. And I met Thomas the Carver. He ate his lunch with me. It was nice to have someone to talk to.

“And the tender explained things I needed to know,” she added. “I thought the hot water was for cooking. I never used hot water just for washing before.”

He wasn’t paying attention to her embarrassed explanation about the bathroom. He was looking carefully at the robe, sliding his hand across the fabric. “Your mother made minor repairs each year. But now it must all be restored. This is your job.”

Kira nodded. “I understand,” she said, though she didn’t, not really.

“This is the entire story of our world. We must keep it intact. More than intact.” She saw that his hand had moved and was stroking the wide unadorned section of fabric, the section of the cloth that fell across the Singer’s shoulders. “The future will be told here,” he said. “Our world depends upon the telling.

“Your supplies? They are adequate? There is much to be done here.”

Supplies? Kira remembered that she had brought a basket of her own threads. Looking now at the magnificent robe, she knew that her sparse collection, a few leftover colored threads that her mother had allowed her to use for her own, was not adequate at all. Even if she had the skill — and she was not at all certain that she did — she could never restore the robe with what she had brought. Then she remembered the drawers that she had not yet opened.

“I haven’t looked yet,” she confessed. She went to the shallow drawers that he had pointed out to her yesterday. They were filled with rolled white threads in many different widths and textures. There were needles of all sizes and cutting tools laid neatly in a row.

Kira’s heart sank. She had hoped that perhaps the threads would already be dyed. Glancing back at the robe on the table, at its wide array of hues, she felt overwhelmed. If only her mother’s threads had been saved! But they were gone, all burned.

She bit her lip and looked nervously at Jamison. “They’re not colored,” she murmured.

“You said your mother had been teaching you to dye,” he reminded her.

Kira nodded. She had implied that, but it had not been completely true. Her mother had planned to teach her. “I still have much to learn,” she confessed. “I learn quickly,” she added, hoping that it didn’t sound vain.

Jamison looked at her with a slight frown. “I will send you to Annabella,” he told her. “She is far in the woods, but the path is safe, and she can finish the teaching that your mother started.

“The Ruin Song is not until autumn-start,” he pointed out. “That’s still several months away. The Singer won’t need the robe until then. You’ll have plenty of time.”

Kira nodded uncertainly. Jamison had been her defender. Now it seemed he was her adviser. Kira was grateful for his help. Still, she sensed an edge, an urgency, to his voice that had not been there before.

When he left her room, after pointing out a cord on the wall that she could pull if she needed anything, Kira looked again at the robe displayed on the table. So many colors! So many shades of each color! Despite his reassurance, autumn-start was not that far away.

Today, Kira decided, she would examine the robe and plan. Tomorrow, first thing, she would find Annabella and plead for help.

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