I watch the drifting clouds through the window of the cafe, barely aware of Shazira near me.
The food is long finished, but still, we sit.
There is little talk, with our heads full of the coming test.
Tzina comes running in to find us, more excited than I’ve ever seen her.
“He’s here, ina.”
Balshown has come to the Watchtower to meet my family.
He’s the oldest master in the guilds, and the most powerful.
There are many stories about him, but only he knows where truth ends, and fiction begins.
Shazira is nervous about his visit, but Tzina is frantic.
“Relax Tzina,” I say calmly.
“Ina,” she says, “he’s here to meet oodah and me.”
“What if I say something stupid?”
“He just wants to meet you, Tzina.”
“How can you be so calm, ina, around someone so powerful?”
“He’s a legend, and they say he has a terrible temper.”
She leans closer to me and whispers.
“He kills his housekeepers over food!”
I would laugh, if she wasn’t so upset.
“I’ve heard the stories, Tzina, but he’s not like that.”
“He lives in a simple house with beautiful gardens.”
“He cleans his own house, and cooks his own food.”
“Do you believe all the stories that they tell about me?”
Twelve masters from various guilds walk with him as he enters the cafe.
Guild masters in most guilds wear a plain white robe with colored stripes at the wrist and shoulder that identify their guild.
In the flow guild, masters wear a plain black robe with colored stripes.
Balshown does not follow tradition.
He wears a hooded white robe, with a yellow belt.
There are black stripes across the shoulders, and brightly colored symbols, scattered across his robe.
At his entrance, everyone in the cafe is silent, and rises in respect.
“Yagrin!” he says warmly and loudly, so that the whole room hears.
Then he gives me a hug, as the crowd murmurs and Tzina gasps.
He touches palms with Shazira, and smiles at Tzina.
Then he sends the other masters away, and pulls me aside.
“Yagrin,” he says quietly.
“Take me somewhere private so I can speak with your family.”
The only private place in the Watchtower is the the Dreaming Room, where Shazira and I sleep.
Tzina has no private space in the tower, no room of her own!
Most nights, she sleeps on a mat on the floor of the violet or white rooms, just another overnight visitor.
Sometimes she stays with Shazira’s parents on one of the nearby islands, where she has her own room.
The four of us enter the Indigo Dreaming Room, and I activate the privacy screen.
“Master,” says Shazira, “may I bring you food or drink?”
“Thank you, Shazira,” he says.
“Juice would be wonderful.”
She pours dark purple juice into a crystal glass.
As she pours the juice, Balshown reaches into his waist pack and removes two small boxes.
He hands one to Shazira and one to Tzina.
“What are they?” asks Tzina, nervously.
“I’ve brought presents for you,” he says, happily.
The boxes hold a large necklace for Shazira, and a smaller one for Tzina.
The necklaces are made of ooksil, the silver-white metal that’s common on this world.
Each necklace decorated with several polished, oval stones.
Orange, with small scattered patches of dark red, blue, and green.
“These are Filan, Master,” says Shazira, astounded at the present.
“Where did you get them?”
Filan is a precious stone found only in the land of the Bizra, and rare, even in that land.
The stone enhances a person’s ability to flow.
Only the rich wear Filan, if they can find it.
No Jiku have gone to the Bizra land for over a hundred years.
We’re not welcome there.
“I collected them myself, sister, when I was still an apprentice in the Flow Guild, over two hundred years ago.”
Members of the same guild at the same level call each other “brother” and “sister”.
Masters call apprentices “son” or “daughter”.
It’s rare for someone to master more than one guild.
Balshown is so identified with the Weavers Guild that everyone has forgotten that he is also a Flow master.
Balshown speaks with Tzina for ten minutes, and asks her to demonstrate her ability to flow.
When she finishes, he acts like a proud grandfather in his praise of her.
“Now, Tzina,” he says, “let me have a few minutes in private with your parents.”
She leaves the room through the doors to the outside deck.
“Tzina is young to wear the student’s robe,” says Balshown.
“How long has she worn it?” asks Balshown.
“She loves flow, and has talent,” says Shazira.
“Yagrin encouraged her to take the robe a year ago, but she’s in no rush to test for the apprentice robe.”
“You trained her?” he asks.
“Yes, but she is easy to teach.”
“She listens with all her strength, and practices more than I ask her to.”
“What of Yagrin,” he asks her.
“Does he know how to flow?”
“The old Yagrin,” she answers, “had little interest in flow, other than the techniques of flow that are included in weaving.”
“Yagrin gave all his strength to the one guild.”
“This Yagrin,” she continues, “is different.”
“He’s fascinated with everything, including flow.”
“He learns with the appetite and energy of a young child.”
“Would you be surprised, Shazira, if I told you that he has the talent to master flow?”
“No, but it counts for nothing, if he must leave us, exiled by the council.”
She turns away for a moment, her eyes full of tears.
“He will not leave you,” says Balshown.
“I promise it.”
“Will he defy the council?” she asks.
Balshown is quiet.
“The way of an ordinary traveler,” he says, “is filled with loneliness.”
“An old life is lost, and he will never truly feel at home.”
“Yagrin is different.”
“You and Tzina are his life and home.”
“He will find a way to stay with you, or return to you.”
“How can you be sure?” she asks with a cry in her voice.
“I can’t be sure,” he says, “but I’ve never seen talent like his.”
“The council cannot stop it or cage it, for long.”
“I understand the loneliness of ordinary travelers, for I am one.”
Shazira and I are shocked into silence.
Balshown ignores our shock and continues.
“I’m not a traveler like Yagrin, seeking my twin.”
“My race was nothing like the Jiku.”
“We lived on a world far from here, but they are all dead.”
“I trust you to keep my secret,” he adds.
“I already live alone, so there is little the council can take from me.”
“Now I must go.”
We step out onto the deck, and Tzina is there.
Balshown kisses Tzina on the head, and Shazira on the cheek.
“Thank you for inviting me here, Yagrin.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet your family.”
Then he rises so quickly that my eyes can’t follow him.
I barely see his blur, before it disappears from sight.
“He’s not what I expected,” says Shazira at last.
“Great masters rarely are,” I tell her, as we walk inside.
Tomorrow I will be tested.
Shazira and I are alone in the Dreaming Room, sitting together, talking about Balshown, but there’s a cloud behind her eyes.
Finally she speaks.
“What will happen if you fail the tests, Yagrin?” she asks, unable to meet my gaze.
I take a deep breath, and try to slow my rapidly beating heart, as I prepare for the truth.
“Balshown is confident that I will pass the tests.”
“He’s also sure that the guild will still expel me because I’m a traveler.”
She looks horrified.
“That can’t be true!”
“The guild thinks that he disapproves of me, as he once did, and so they speak freely in front of him.”
“Then we’ll leave the Watchtower,” she says slowly, trying to keep the cry out of her voice.
“We must stay together.”
“Shazira,” I add, “there’s more.”
She waits quietly, wondering what else.
“Balshown says that the council will also dissolve our bond.”
“They will do all they can to isolate me, and drive me away.”
“We’ll run away,” she decides, “to any place that will have us.”
“Tshuan will welcome us,” I tell her.
“Tshuan?” she asks.
“Anywhere but Tshuan.”
“It’s strange and dark there.”
“Tzina’s spirit will be crushed in such a place.”
“It is a dark land, but it’s the only place outside the council’s control.”
“It’s a horrible place!” she says.
“Don’t ask me to make such a choice!”
“Shazira,” I tell her.
“I couldn’t bear to see you and Tzina go there.”
“Then why did you suggest it?”
“It was Balshown’s idea.”
“I don’t like it, but it’s the only way I see for us to stay together.”
“We can go far away,” says Shazira, “to some wild place that the council’s power doesn’t touch.”
I shake my head.
“Will the three of us live in a forest?”
“What kind of a life will that be for Tzina?”
“If we stay together, she can never return.”
“The council will punish her, and never let her bond.”
“Will we condemn her to be alone, forever?”
“What choice do we have, Yagrin?”
“Perhaps Balshown is wrong,” I suggest.
“Maybe the guild and the council will leave things as they are.”
“Let’s wait for the tests and see what will happen.”
She tries to speak, but the words won’t come out.
She runs to the deck, drops her robe, and flows into her flying shape.
I don’t follow her.
She needs to be alone.