Two days after moonwatch, Shazira sends me out of the Watchtower.
“The guilds will never follow you, Yagrin, unless they know you.”
“Go meet them.”
I spend two days in the city, in the marketplace, the parks, and the guild halls.
I’ve spent time with the healers, teaching the thunder voice, but I’m a stranger to the other guilds.
They’ve heard of me, but they don’t know me.
Legally, I’m newborn, and a traveler no more, yet no one forgets.
The masters stare at me when they meet me, and see the three bands of color on my robe.
No one has tested for three guilds in hundreds of years.
I try to speak with them about their families, and the skills of our guild.
They pretend to be polite, and make excuses why they can’t stop to speak right now.
The truth is, many of them are frightened of me, and some are just angry.
Guild members are proud of the master’s bands on their robes, and the long years of effort it takes to pass the tests.
I’ve become a master in weeks, not years, and I cheapen everything that they’ve done.
How can they look at me as one of them, when everything I do is different?
Masters of the same guild call each other brother and sister, and to some Jiku, the guild is the only family that matters.
Lifelong friendships are common in the guilds.
We understand each other as no one else can.
I’m called master, and carry the bands, but as I walk through the guild halls, I can feel that I’m not welcome here.
“They need time, Yagrin,” says Shazira, when I tell her of my days.
“I understand,” I tell her, “but there is no time!”
I find it easy to slip into sleep on other nights, but the day holds me.
At midnight, I still stand on the deck, watching the moon, and thinking of the guilds, while she is long asleep.
There’s a part of me that takes pride in passing the tests so quickly, and being the only modern master to carry three bands.
“Fool,” I accuse myself.
This war will not be fought by colored stripes on a piece of cloth.
The war will be won or lost by the masters themselves.
How do I convince them that the war is more than a dream?
Their strength is useless, unless they’re prepared for war.
Who will teach them?
I’ve never fought in any wars, and the guild training teaches us to use our gifts in the service of other Jiku, not to fight.
Will any of us have the courage to do what’s necessary?
Why do I chase the fourth band of the artists?
Simply to say that I have mastered all guilds?
Am I so driven by conceit and pride?
Few of the artists have energy skills.
Will those masters save us in the coming war?
Eventually, I push aside all these thoughts that move me in circles.
I lay down, clear my head, and let the quiet fill me, and sleep comes.
The Gift of Power
My first nightmare in thirty years.
It repeats itself, again and again, throughout the hours, until I awake terrified.
Four master’s bands on my robe are burning like fire.
I tear them off my robe.
The robe keeps burning, and I throw it off, too.
Then, bands of color appear all over my body, and burn, hotter than the other fires.
I can’t escape them.
They consume my physical body, and the energy bodies beyond, until there’s nothing left of me.
I find Chiwan, to tell him about the dream.
He’s no older than Balshown, and Balshown seems more powerful, but Chiwan has a quiet wisdom that sees what others hide from.
“You’re afraid of your own strength, Yagrin,” he says.
“You think that it will destroy you.”
“Should I abandon the guilds, Master, and live a simple life with my family?”
“Do you think that you’ve come to this world by accident, and been given gift after gift so you can hide in a forest?”
“You can’t escape your power by running from it.”
“The more you try to hold back your strength, the more your gifts will grow twisted and strange.”
“If you do that, you will never know who you really are, and what you’re meant to do!”
“You strengthen and preserve your power when you free it.”
“Some men find their place by walking on paths that others have made.”
“You’re a storm, Yagrin.”
“Make your own path.”
We sit together after that, in silence, and just listen to the balance of the energy web.
Thirty minutes later I thank him, and fly away.
The world has a quiet whisper, and asks only one question.
“When will you free your gifts to rise up and serve me?”
The world will tell me where I’m needed.
Then, it’s up to me to get out of the way of my gifts, and see where they take me, and how they will answer the world’s call.
The training for the artist’s guild will help me to imagine what’s possible, and show that vision to others.
I’ll set my gifts free to chase that vision, and find the way to where only I can go.
Sometimes my power will come forth as thunder, and sometimes as a gentle rain.
The King’s Greeting
Thoughts of Tshuan fill me, as I fly home.
I feel compelled to visit Keela and her father, but I don’t know why.
“I’m going to Tshuan for a day,” I tell Shazira.
“You have so much to do here, Yagrin, and I don’t trust the ways of Tshuan.”
“Come with me,” I suggest, as I look into her eyes.
She thinks about it for a few seconds, and then smiles.
“You used to love flying with me, Yagrin,” she says, looking far away.
“I still do,” I tell her.
Tzina will wait for us in the Watchtower, and practice her art.
Shazira arranges for temporary guardians for the Watchtower.
A few hours later, she takes her winged form, and we fly to the place of the seven hills.
I land in the clearing, near the doorway to the place of the old ones.
I feel a longing to sing with the old ones in the temple, but that’s not for me anymore.
I release my listening body, and it expands, settling over the whole clearing.
What does this place need for greater balance?
What healing, what solution is needed here?
The answer comes.
It’s almost time to free the old ones.
Soon, I’ll call them from their isolation, and they’ll walk as Jiku, safe and strong among us.
How will I transform them?
I give myself and all my energy to the question, and the need for a solution.
An image awakes in me.
I see myself casting off my Jiku body and becoming an eighth hill.
It rises from the clearing, shining brightly, and covered in clouds.
I have the strength to bring them home, today, in a moment, but it’s not yet time for this healing.
Shazira is quiet during my listening, looking around at the beautiful hills.
The king’s daughter, Keela lands beside us, smiling.
Shazira tries to smile in return, but only manages half a smile.
“Master and guardian Shazira,” says Keela formally, “welcome to Tshuan.”
“It will be my honor to introduce you to my father, the king.”
“Hello, Keela,” I say, “it’s good to see you again.”
“Master Yagrin,” says Keela, “you return to us!”
She looks at my robe.
“You’re a master of three guilds now, and guardian of the Watchtower again?”
“You left the old ones only a month ago!”
“Come visit my father.”
“He’ll be pleased to see you.”
We go with her to the king.
“Welcome to Tshuan,” says the king, spreading his arms, and raising both palms.
In response, Shazira and I hold hands.
Then we raise our free hands, until our palms make full contact with the king’s palms.
This is an old greeting, not used anymore.
In ancient times, it was used to greet a pair of bondmates who are highly respected.
“Your bond is a blessing to the world,” says the king, speaking the traditional words.
We answer, “we live to serve.”
Outside of Tshuan, this greeting hasn’t been seen in hundreds of years.
I see from the surprise on Keela’s face that her father has never used this greeting before.
Tshuan kings rarely greet anyone with anything other than words.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Commander,” says Shazira as we pull our palms away.
The king laughs.
“Did you coach her on what to call me, Master Yagrin?” he asks.
“He did not, Commander,” Shazira answers.
“I consulted some old memcubes to find the most honored way to address a Tshuan king.”
The king smiles at this, and Shazira responds with a relaxed smile of her own.
“My scouts tell me,” he says to her, “that you fly in a rare shape.”
“Yes,” she answers simply.
The king stares at her eyes.
She notices and her smile fades.
“It seems you are rare in many ways,” he says.
“Just say it,” she says angrily.
“I have fire eyes.”
“What’s wrong, Shazira,” I ask, with a puzzled expression.
“He doesn’t know about this?” asks the king.
“He knows part of it,” she responds, and is quiet.
“Master Yagrin,” the king says, “eyes like hers are more than rare.”
“Only twenty or thirty people in the whole world walk with such eyes.”
“Her eyes are like the eyes of the Bizra, green with speckles of gold.”
“In Tshuan, we say that fire eyes are full of wisdom and courage.”
“Why are you upset about this, Shazira?” I ask her.
“Because in our lands,” she answers, “people say that fire eyes are full of madness.”
“Most of those born with fire eyes go mad before they are five years old, and die.
“Among those who survive, some cannot have children, and many choose not to.”
“You told me all this.”
“I never told you,” she continues, “that women with these eyes have difficulty finding a man to bond with.”
“Who will bond to watch half of their children die?”
“Is this why we have only one child?” I ask.
“I never wanted children that would carry my burden, but you pushed me to have a child.”
“She was born with fire eyes.”
“I was nervous every day until she reached five years old.”
“Tzina is a treasure, but will she live her life alone?”
“Who knows if she will ever find a bondmate!”
Shazira raises her hand to strike me, but stops at the last moment.
“Then, after Tzina was born you pushed me to have another child.”
“You were obsessed with having a son.”
“The healers helped us have a boy, but they can’t affect which babies have fire eyes.”
“Boys with my eyes almost never survive.”
“He went mad and died at four.”
“You walked around, half-dead, for months after that, and we never had another child.”
“I meant no insult,” says the king, his face serious.
“We know of the madness, and the infertility, but we believe that those who survive are blessed in other ways.”
“My grandfather married a woman with fire eyes.”
“She gave birth to a male heir with brown eyes.”
“The king married her?” asks Shazira, incredulous.
“Well,” the king says smiling, “he was only a prince then, but he was first in line to be king.”
Shazira is quiet for a while.
“Truly, the ways of Tshuan are different than the rest of the world!” she says, her face relaxing.
War and Healing
I hate to darken the conversation even more, but I must tell the king what I learned among the old ones.
I tell him how the old ones understand the coming war and destruction.
Shazira has heard some of this from me before, but the picture I paint for the king is more complete, and more frightening.
Shazira squeezes the hand she holds tightly.
Does she do this from fear of these tales of war, or to remind me that we stand together against any challenge?
I tell Keela’s father about the legend of the seven towers.
The old ones say that a master will journey out from the towers with the power to stop the war.
“I traveled among a people called the Gen, and I saw the seven towers through an alien’s eyes.”
“I think that I can follow their path to reach that world.”
The king is quiet while he searches his thoughts and feelings.
“I love honor and armies, and I would welcome a good fight.”
“I imagined the wars differently,” he continues.
“I thought the wars would be small and brief, just enough to return us to the old ways.”
“The wars you speak of us sound like the wars of ancient times, when the energy masters fought each other.”
“Most of the planet’s surface was scorched, and two-thirds of the Jiku population were killed.”
“We call it the destruction.”
“We have our own legends of the seven towers,”he adds.
“The stories say that when the war ended, almost all the masters left our world.
“Some of them journeyed to a world with seven towers, and sealed the path to our world so they would not be disturbed.”
“They promised that if they are ever disturbed by the Jiku, they will return to destroy us.”
We are all quiet for a long while.
Then the king continues.
“A year, the old ones say?”
“We’ve waited so long,” he says, “to return to the old ways, and now I wonder if we’re ready.”
“None of us are ready yet,” I tell him, “but we can prepare for what’s coming.”
“What should we do?” he asks.
“I don’t know yet,” I answer.
“In a week or so, I must complete the last Master’s test.”
“Then I will give all my strength to finding a way to prepare and protect us.”
In the silence that follows, I feel a need for healing near me.
My listening body aches to move and find a solution.
I release my listening body and it settles upon Keela.
“What does she need?” I ask myself, “and where will it be found?”
In a few moments, I see what is missing in her, a bondmate.
I see that it will be years of loneliness before he comes.
My heart aches for her, until I see myself standing with them at their bonding.
I see his face, much as I looked at sixteen.
“Yagrin,” Shazira asks, “are you all right?”
“You started glowing like the sun, and we had to move away from you.”
“There’s something that healers do,” I answer, “that we call listening.”
“We listen to the world and find what’s out of balance.
“We see a weakness, and the way to strengthen it.”
“Sometimes the listening tells us how to heal the body, and sometimes it goes far beyond that.”
“We call this power a listener, for it seems alive, with its own intelligence.”
“It knows where to go, and who needs it.”
“It settled on you, Keela,” I say, turning to face her.
“You’re troubled, waiting for your bondmate.”
“Today, the listening showed me your future.”
“In five years I will greet you at your bonding.
“Your bondmate will be sixteen years old, and wear a black necklace like mine.”
“Five years!” she says.
“I will be twenty-two.”
“The princess always marries before twenty-one!”
“How can I marry someone six years younger?”
“He will be wise beyond his years, and face dangers that would destroy others.”
“Who is he?” Keela asks.
“Do you know him?”
“Yes,” I answer with a sigh, “but it’s not time yet for either of you to know.”
She starts to say something, but her father raises his palm to stop her.
“It’s a wonderful vision, Master Yagrin, a worthy bondmate for my daughter.”
“He’ll tell us at the right time,” says the king to Keela, and she sighs.
“There’s something else,” I add, “that I need to tell both of you.”
“The old ones asked me to greet them when they leave the cave.”
“They want to see a familiar face, and they call me brother.”
“Today, I discovered how to release them.”
“I can transform them back into Jiku, like us, and leave their eyes of fire behind.”
“Shazira and I will come again to release them, and the two of you must be there with us.”
“They may be threatened when they’re released.”
“If anyone seeks to harm the old ones, I need your army close by.”
“The royal family has vowed to protect and serve the old ones,” answers the king.
“We’ll stand with you, may your return be soon.”
“When you come, honor us by bringing your daughter with you.”
Shazira and I agree, and say our goodbyes.
We rise quickly into the sky, and fly home.
“Who is her bondmate, Yagrin?” she asks.
“Is it you in a young body?”
“Not me, Shazira.”
“Berek?” she says, disappointed.
“I hoped he would marry Tzina someday.”
My face turns dark.
They can never marry.
Berek is my son, and Tzina’s half-brother, but Shazira, Tzina, and even Berek don’t know it.