کتاب 03 - فصل 04

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: پسر / فصل 36

کتاب 03 - فصل 04

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 17 دقیقه
  • سطح سخت

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Four

Feasts were frequent in the village. Sometimes there was an excuse: Harvest, Midsummer, or a marriage. But often, no reason was necessary. People just wanted a time of merriment, laughter, dressing up, eating—and overeating—and so a feast was planned.

Kira dressed the children in bright-colored embroidered outfits that she had designed and stitched. She was a masterful seamstress. Many people sought her out to create their wedding clothes; and they still talked in the village about the hand-woven cloth adorned with intricately patterned birds of all kinds in which she had wrapped the body of her father before his burial. Kira’s father had been blind, and sound had been his life. He knew—and could imitate—each bird’s call and song; they came from the trees, unafraid, to eat from his outstretched hands. The entire village had gathered to sing a farewell as he was laid to rest, but the only song that day was theirs; the birds had fallen silent, as if they mourned.

Her own garment for the feast was a deep blue dress; she entwined blue ribbons through the straps of her sandals and in her long hair. Jonas smiled at her in admiration and affection, but his own clothing, even on Feast Night, was simple: a homespun shirt over coarse trousers. With a roll of his eyes, he let his wife attach a blue flower from the garden to his collar. Jonas was not fond of decoration. His tastes were plain.

Annabelle and Matthew scampered about the large room, giggling, while Kira wrapped the pie she had baked and placed it in a basket she had adorned with daisies and ferns. Frolic yawned and rose from the blanket where he’d been napping. The dog sensed excitement and wanted to take part. Noticing, Kira laughed, and leaned over to wind a stemmed flower around his neck. “There,” she said. “Now you’re in your party outfit too!” Tail wagging, Frolic followed the family as they set out from their house. Jonas carried the pie basket and Matthew rode atop his father’s shoulders. Annabelle held tightly to her mother’s free hand, the hand that didn’t grasp the carved cane that Kira had always needed for walking. Ahead, beyond the curve of the path, they could already hear music—flutes and fiddles—from the gathering place where celebrations were held.

It was a very small village that had had its beginnings years before in a gathering of outcasts. Fleeing battles or chaos of all kinds, often wounded or driven out by their own clans or villages, each of the original settlers had made his way to this place. They had found strength in one another, had formed a community. They had welcomed others.

From time to time, as the years had passed, people muttered that they shouldn’t let newcomers in; the village was becoming crowded, and it was hard, sometimes, for the newcomers to learn the customs and rules. There were arguments and petitions and debates.

What if my daughter wants to marry one of them?

They talk with a funny accent.

What if there aren’t enough jobs?

Why should we have to support them while they’re learning our ways?

It had been Jonas, during his time as Leader, who had gently but firmly reminded the villagers that they had all been outsiders once. They had all come here for a new life. Eventually they had voted to remain what they had become: a sanctuary, a place of welcome.

As a child, Gabe had yawned and fidgeted when his class was taken, as each school class was, to visit the village museum and learn the history. History was boring, he thought. He was embarrassed when the museum curator, pointing to various artifacts in the “Vehicles of Arrival” exhibit, had gestured to the battered red sled and explained that a brave boy named Jonas had battled a blizzard and fought his way here carrying a dying baby.

“And today we all know that Jonas has become our village Leader, and the baby he rescued and brought here is a healthy boy,” the curator had said dramatically, “named Gabriel.” His classmates grinned at him. They poked each other and giggled. Gabe pretended to be bored. He averted his eyes and leaned down to scratch an imaginary bug bite on his leg.

Most of the earliest settlers, those with their histories recorded in the museum, had grown old and were gone now. Kira’s father, Christopher, was buried in the village cemetery beside the pine grove. Left for dead by his enemies in a distant community, he had stumbled, sightless, to this village and been saved; with his new name of Seer, he had lived a long life here of dignity and wisdom. Kira tended his grave now, taking the babies with her while she weeded and watered the soft blanket of fragrant purple thyme she had planted there.

He was buried beside his adopted son, Matty. The villagers remembered Matty as a fun-loving young man who had been destroyed when he fought the evil, unknowable forces that had menaced the village in those harsher times, seven years earlier.

Thinking of those times as he passed the cemetery on his way to the evening’s festivities, Gabe recalled the day Matty’s body had been found and carried home. Gabe had been young then, only eight, a rambunctious resident of the Children’s House, happiest with solitary adventures and disinterested in schoolwork. But he had always admired Matty, who had tended and helped Seer with such devotion and undertaken village tasks with energy and good humor. It had been Matty who had taught Gabe to bait a hook and cast his line from the fishing rock, Matty who had shown him how to make a kite and catch the wind with it. The day of his death, Gabe had huddled, heartbroken, in the shadow of a thick stand of trees and watched as the villagers lined the path and bowed their heads in respect to watch the litter carrying the ravaged body move slowly through. Frightened by his own feelings, he had listened mutely to the wails of grief that permeated the community.

That day had changed him. It had changed the entire village. Shaken by the death of a boy they had loved, each person had found ways to be more worthy of the sacrifice he had made. They had become kinder, more careful, more attentive to one another. They had worked hard to eradicate customs that had begun to corrupt their society, banning even seemingly benign diversions such as a gaming machine, a simple gambling device that spit out candy to its winners.

For years a mysterious, sinister man known as Trademaster had appeared now and then in the village, bringing tawdry thrills and temptations but leaving chaos and discontentment behind. It had been Jonas, as Leader, who saw through him, who sensed the deep evil in the man and insisted on his banishment.

Freed of the menacing greed and self-indulgence that had almost overwhelmed them during that time, the villagers had learned to celebrate themselves, as they were doing this evening.

Gabe stood still in the path for a moment. He noticed a small bouquet of fresh flowers beside the stone into which Matty’s name had been carved. The village people honored Matty’s memory with such tokens because he had made them into better people. Gabe did so more privately. He did so by reminding himself of a conversation he had once had with the older boy he had so admired.

“You must pay more attention in school, Gabe,” Matty had told him. Gabe had been required to stay late after classes that day, for extra help. Now they were sitting together on the outcropping of rock at the edge of the river.

“I don’t like school,” Gabe had replied, feeling the fishing line between his fingers.

“I didn’t either. And I was willful and full of mischief, same as you. But Seer made me work at it because he cared about me so much.”

Gabe shrugged. “Nobody cares about me.”

“Leader does. I do.”

“I guess,” Gabe acknowledged.

“He’s the one who brought you here. He had a hard time of it too.”

Gabe rolled his eyes. “Did you hear that at the museum as part of the tour? I wish they’d stop telling that stupid story. And give me another worm, would you? Mine wiggled off the hook.” Patiently Matty had helped him to rebait his hook. “You need knowledge,” he said. “That’s how Jonas got to be Leader, by studying.”

“I don’t want to be Leader.”

“Neither do I. But I want to know stuff. Don’t you?”

Gabe sighed. “Some stuff, maybe. Not math. Not grammar.”

Matty had laughed. Then he had turned serious again for a moment. “And Gabe?”

“What?”

“You’re going to find that you have a gift of some kind. Some of us do, and you’re going to be one. I can tell.”

Gabe busied himself with the worm and the hook. For some reason the conversation had begun to make him self-conscious.

“I know,” Matty said, “it’s hard to talk about it because it’s hard to understand. But it’s another reason why you must study. You must make yourself ready. Someday you’ll be called upon for something special. Maybe something dangerous. So you have to prepare yourself, Gabe. You’ll need knowledge.” “Look,” Gabe said loudly, changing the subject, and pointed. “There’s a big trout over there where the rock makes a shadow. He’s hiding. But he sees us. Look at his eyes.” Matty sighed affectionately and turned his attention to the large fish suspended in the dark water by the rock. It withdrew further, as if it felt their sudden interest, and its shiny eyes darted back and forth. Matty watched. “He thinks he can escape us by lurking there in the dark. But not us, Gabe! We’re too clever for him. Let’s do it. Let’s try to get him.” Thinking of it now, Gabe remembered it all: the laughter, the puzzling conversation, the sunshine that day, the sound of the slow-moving river, and then their stealthy maneuvers as they stalked the huge, silvery fish, finally caught him, and then threw him back. It had all been years ago, and they had never had another chance to talk in that way.

Matty had been correct, though, about needing to learn stuff. Gabe had tried hard to settle into his studies, and it served him well now, the math he had hated, as he measured and fitted together the pieces of his boat.

But he found himself wishing now that he had not felt so awkward, that he had confided in Matty that day. He had just discovered it then, the power that he had, the power to veer, and was still confused by it.

It had been at a feast, one of the usual celebrations. Probably Midsummer, he thought now, remembering it. With the other boys his age, eight and nine, he had joined the crowd watching a contest. Two of the village men were wrestling. Their bodies were smeared with oil so that their hands slid as they tried to grasp at each other. The crowd shouted encouragement and the men repositioned themselves, shifting on their feet, each waiting for the right instant, the right move, to topple the other and emerge as the winner. Gabe, watching intently, found his own bare feet shifting in the dirt; he panted, imitating the wrestlers. He focused on his own favorite, the man called Miller, who was in charge of grain production each fall. Miller was a large man and a likable one who sometimes on slow workdays organized the boys into teams and taught them intricate games on the playing field. Even in the midst of this intense match, Miller was laughing as he caught his opponent in a hold and struggled to down him.

Gabe, moving his own skinny body in imitation of the wrestlers, found himself wondering how it felt to be Miller: to be so strong, so in command of his muscles and limbs. Suddenly an odd silence enveloped him. He stopped hearing the grunts of the wrestlers, the shouts of the crowd, the barking of dogs, the music from the fiddlers preparing nearby. And he felt himself move, in the silence. He veered—though the word had not yet come to him then—and entered Miller. Became Miller. Experienced Miller. Was Miller for that instant. He knew, briefly, how it felt to be strong, to be in command, to be winning, to be loving the battle and the coming win.

Then sound returned. Gabe returned. The crowd roared in approval and Miller stood with his arms raised, victorious, then leaned forward and helped his laughing opponent up. Gabe slid to the ground and huddled there in the cheering crowd, breathing hard, exhausted, confused, and exhilarated.

After that day it had happened again, several times, until he could feel it coming, and then—later—found that he could command and control the veer. Once, he remembered guiltily, he tried to use it to cheat in school. Seated at his desk, floundering over a math test—fractions, which he had not studied the way he should have—he glanced up at Mentor, the schoolmaster. Mentor was standing near the window, looking at the board on which the test questions had been written.

If I could veer into Mentor right now, enter Mentor, Gabe thought, I could grab all of the answers to these test problems. He concentrated. He closed his eyes and thought about Mentor, about his knowledge, about what it would feel like to be Mentor. Sure enough, the silence came. He felt his consciousness shift and move toward the schoolmaster. Within seconds he was there, within the man, experiencing being Mentor.

The veer worked. But not in the way Gabe had planned. He found no math answers there. Instead he had an overwhelming feeling of a kind of passion: for knowledge, for learning of all sorts—and for the children who sat that day at the small desks, as Gabe did. He felt Mentor’s love for his students and his hopes for them and what they would learn from him.

The veer ended suddenly, as it always did, and Gabe put his head into his hands. The sounds of the classroom returned, and the schoolmaster appeared beside him.

“Are you all right, Gabriel?”

Gabe found himself shaking. He had tears in his eyes. “I don’t feel well,” he whispered.

Mentor excused him for the rest of the day and Gabe walked slowly away from the schoolhouse, promising himself that he would study, that he would not disappoint his teacher again as he had so often in the past.

He never told anyone. Veering seemed a private act, something to both savor and sometimes dread alone.

Now, though, he found himself wishing he had confided in Matty when he’d had the opportunity. Not only about the veer. He wished he had told Matty about how desperately he yearned to know about his mother. He couldn’t tell his lodge-mates; they would laugh. But Matty would have understood. And it was lonely, to yearn so, all alone.

He reached down into the path, picked up a small pebble, and tossed it toward Matty’s gravestone. It tapped lightly against the rock and fell to the ground where other pebbles lay near the flowers. He had thrown each of them. “Hi,” Gabe whispered.

Ahead, from the Pavilion where gatherings were held, he heard music and the happy shouts of children. He thought of his friends, of the games they were already playing, and of the contests and dancing later. He thought of pretty Deirdre with the sprinkling of freckles across her nose. He saw smoke and could smell the pigs that had been roasting on a spit most of the day. He knew Kira would have made a pie, and there would be thick cream swirled with honey to mound on top of it. Gabe left the cemetery and his somber thoughts behind him and began to run toward the party.

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