D. T. Friedman

Archive for February 2010

Ensei gingerly parted the curtains that led to the common room of the Memory. At first, his eyes skipped over Tabor as she sat beside Nef, the Counter of Generations. She sat so still, she might have been one of the inhabitants.

Ensei had been playing chase games with the other youth of the village when he got her message. He was still sweaty, but he had remembered to drop by his home tent to retrieve his green headscarf. The inhabitants of the Memory wouldn’t notice if he neglected to wear it, but Tabor would.

Nef towered over Tabor, cup tipped as always. The drop he had spilled at the birth of the green generation had almost reached his waist. The drop he had spilled before that was turning into a bird, and would, in time, follow the frozen flock of its brothers toward the ceiling. Tabor studied the transforming drop-bird, her expression unreadable.

“They say Nef moves slowly, even to the others in the Memory,” Tabor said. “His water spell isn’t even complete.”

Her eyes rolled up to approve the green scarf, and Ensei’s heart twisted. He had gotten used to Tabor’s increasingly measured speech, but her smallest gestures revealed to him how much her current had slowed. What would have once been a momentary glance lasted long seconds. He looked at the Memory’s other inhabitants. They stood around him, some moving slowly as if through chilled honey, most frozen as Nef’s birds. He suppressed a shudder.

Ensei considered reaching out and cupping his generation’s water drop, bringing it into their own current and out of Nef’s. He could change it into a bird for Tabor and it would fly, panicked, around the cloud of its immobile predecessors before pushing its way through a crack in the reed-walls and escaping. But he wouldn’t; no one was allowed to touch the Memory. He put his arm around Tabor instead, careful to slow his movements so they wouldn’t startle her.

“You said it was urgent,” he reminded her, speaking deliberately so she would hear his words at a reasonable speed.

“Yes. A messenger came this morning. The Steward is ill, and will die if he is not seen by a Healer.”

“That’s terrible. The nearest Healers are several weeks’ journey away…”

“I am days away, traveling by the Mother River’s center current.” She dropped her eyes to her clasped hands.

“But…we are to share a cup in two days time…”

“The villages are restless,” said Tabor. “The radicals’ discontent is spreading to the far corners of the Wards, and there are rumors of villages ravaged by Fires.” She shuddered; the movement seemed strange and even artificial from Ensei’s vantage.

He let silence stretch out so Tabor would feel it. How dare she? This would be the most joyful day of their lives, with the river-vines in bloom and the Mother River at her fullest…

“The Steward cannot be weak in these delicate times,” Tabor said, unable to meet his gaze. Her fingers twisted around each other.

“This does not concern us.”

“It does. Our lives are never separate from those around us. We made that choice when we accepted the Mother’s Gift as children.”

“It was chosen for us!” Ensei said, then stopped himself. The fruitless old argument always drew a sigh from Tabor. She no longer bothered to remind him they had both chosen to continue their studies when they came of age. He would always respond by reminding her she had decided at their ceremony, and he had chosen to remain with her. But neither would allow that conversation to happen again. It was too awkward, now that Tabor’s current flowed so much more slowly than Ensei’s. It took too much time.

“It is not a long journey,” Tabor said.

“But the radicals…the hostile villages… It’s dangerous, using the Mother for a journey…”

“We have both traveled before.”

“If something happens, who will be Caretaker of the Memory? Tela is still young and confuses the order of the generations…”

Tabor raised a hand to Ensei’s cheek. “We will share a cup when I return.”

Ensei blushed. Tabor always saw through him. “It will not be our day.”

“If you wish to wait until next year…”

“I do not wish to wait until next year!” Ensei shouted, seizing her shoulders. She flinched back a moment later. He had forgotten to move at her speed. He released her, smoothed her robe. Now she had made him feel guilty.

“I should have expected this.” He got up to leave before his anger took a greater hold over him.

“You are fording upstream. Why won’t you stay and talk to me?”

“Oh, I am the one acting like a child?” Ensei forgot to control his words so she could hear them. “Every decision you make is for yourself, no matter who else might be affected by it.”

“Ensei…” She reached forward, but he grasped her hand and drew a deep breath.

“You have decided to go,” he said, measuring his words. “Nothing is left but for you to leave.” He walked away, but Tabor caught his arm.

“It is only a short…”

“Just go.” He shook his arm from her hand and fled.

Tabor followed, but Ensei’s current flowed faster than hers. He could elude her easily, even though Tabor had always been the faster runner when they were children. Before they had begun to use the Mother’s Gift.

Tabor had chosen to continue using the Gift, chosen to turn to Healing, chosen to take on even the smallest life-Fires that burned at their sick neighbors, no matter how much it slowed her current. No matter how far she left Ensei behind.

Her choice, her choice, her choice. Their childhood friendship, their education, their romance… everything revolved around her decisions. He had accepted them, as they had never seemed worth fighting over. But now their Sharing!

His feet had carried him to the Mother River’s banks. It seemed fitting; the Mother gave them their Gift, and they had spent their lives drawing strength from her. Here, surrounded by tangles of flowering river-vines, he and Tabor would have drunk from the Mother from the same cup, joining their souls.

But she had decided once again to put her wishes ahead of his.

Not even the sound of the Mother’s varied currents could calm him. He could have howled in frustration, but instead he threw himself down into the springy mat of river-vines. Tabor did care for him, he knew. But the knowledge was painful, too; she made her choices regardless of their feelings for each other.

At length he heard her approach, footsteps hard as if she ran, but paced as if she walked. Ensei sank himself deeper into the river-vines. She always knew where to find him, as if he couldn’t even choose to hide.

He used his anger to reach inside himself for the Mother’s Gift, and used the Gift to reach out for the river-vines. Tabor was calling him, but her slow shouts were becoming less measured. The river-vines grew to a soft, tangled forest of flowers around him, a wall between himself and Tabor. Ensei could hear the sobs in her voice as she tried to push through to him. He encouraged the river-vines to wrap around Tabor and push her back, even as she struggled to reach him.

Suddenly he noticed how much his current was slowing as he drew his Gift from the Mother. Afraid he had lost control, he released the river-vines as if they had burned him.

Tabor’s hands found a thin spot, and she managed to clear a space large enough to push her head and shoulders through. “Don’t do this,” she said.

He had forgotten how sweet her voice could be when they shared the same current. Her eyes glittered as if they held back tears. Even her green headscarf blended into the evening. He could feel himself forgiving her once again, reaching out to her with his trembling heart in his hands.

Then he saw how fast the night was falling; even in trying to avoid fighting with her, he had slowed his current to her rate. She chose; he followed.

Just go, he thought. With renewed strength, he curled the river-vines around her body. They pulled her back, and more vines tangled themselves in a wall between them.

He glimpsed her eyes, hurt, surrounded by flowers as she was dragged back into the purple dusk.

“Just go,” he whispered, and collapsed back into the bed of river-vines. The flowers were soft and sweet, and the Mother lulled him to sleep so she could renew his strength.

When he awoke four days later, Tabor had gone.

#

Ensei hadn’t slowed his current this much since he was a child; it was difficult to get used to. Then, Tabor had been beside him to help him through the changes. Without her, it was almost unbearable. People spoke too quickly, their movements jerky and startling. He spent the first few days in the Memory, getting used to how quickly the sun rose and set. Then Ofer, a village elder, wore her orange headscarf when she visited Ensei. He fled the Memory after that, terrified of becoming a living statue like Nef and the others. He moved his home tent as far away from the Mother River as he could, and watched the villagers race about their business in the too-short days. He didn’t even bother to visit the game fields.

Three weeks after Tabor’s departure, Ofer came again to see him. She didn’t wear her headscarf, and Ensei was grateful.

“Tabor has returned,” Ofer began. Ensei flushed. He had hoped she would stay away long enough for his anger to abate and for the Mother to recede. But beneath his resentment, he felt excited. He shared Tabor’s current once again; maybe now that they could communicate at a normal rate, they’d be able to resolve their arguments, speak honestly to each other, and perhaps set things right.

But Ofer’s eyes bore bad news. She took a breath to speak, but Ensei didn’t wait. He ran through the village toward the Mother River, and stopped short when he reached the Memory. Villagers crowded around the path to the entrance, their heads wrapped in the colored scarves that marked their generations. He could see a stretcher being borne through the curtain, and recognized the small hand, reaching up past an elder’s shoulder, frozen in a Healing gesture.

Ofer caught up to him as he stared, placed both hands on his shoulders.

“It was a Fire.” He knew she was trying to speak gently, but he remembered how difficult it was to inflect drawn-out words.

“How bad?” he asked.

“None recall one so strong,” Ofer said, misunderstanding him. “The Steward nearly burned to death from the inside…”

“No,” Ensei interrupted. “Tabor.”

“She saved him.” Ofer shrugged. “But in Healing so strong a Fire, she slowed her current enough to be honored in the Memory.”

Ensei could barely speak. He had been so angry when she had left; now he would never be able to make amends. If Ofer was right, he would never be able to speak slowly enough that she would hear his words.

“Can I see her?” he asked.

“We are settling her into the Memory now. In a few days, we will begin a ceremony to honor her. You may see her then.”

Ensei considered pushing through the villagers and demanding to see Tabor. But he would be stopped before he even neared the entrance. He wouldn’t be able to move quickly enough to slip past. Instead, he went home, fingers angrily wiping his dry eyes.

#

Ensei and Tabor had learned about Memory ceremonies during their education, but the Mother favored so few with her Gift that not even the orange generation had held one.

Tabor stood in the Memory’s common room, her brow unfurling from the concentration she had used to fight the Steward’s Fire. The villagers surrounded her, their colorful headscarves bobbing as they knelt to place small tokens at her feet. Ensei stood back, trying to imagine what the scene would look like to the Memory’s inhabitants. The villagers must move so fast they turned into little headscarf-colored streaks.

Eventually only Ensei remained. The elders had replaced Tabor’s green headscarf, so future generations would know how long she had been in the Memory. Her hand was still outstretched, but was beginning to relax from its Healing shape. Ensei swore he saw confusion and fear in her eyes. He longed to hold her, to explain what had happened, just as she had explained it to him the first time he had slowed his current.

But he could not; he could never be there for her again, just as she would never be there for him. She was of the Memory now; she probably couldn’t even see him.

He set the token he had brought at her feet: a river-vine flower in a cup of the Mother’s water. But he no longer hoped she would see it wilt; he felt he could drown in the emptiness of his heart that until now, Tabor had filled.

He sat before her, staring into her immobile face. He tried to recall his anger, but it was gone.

As the sun rose and set and rose, he felt more and more hollow. He refused most of the food and drink that Ofer brought to him, and ignored Tela’s occasional bumbling ministrations to the other inhabitants of the Memory. They placed a loaf of bread beside him every few days.

The river flower wilted before him, and when he looked up he could almost see Tabor’s eyes drop to his face.
He got to his feet, unable to endure her gaze. He could fall into her eyes forever, but would be nothing more than a flicker to her. He had to find some way to reconnect with her, to explain to her that he had been childish.

He remembered long ago when he had asked Tabor how the people in the Memory stayed alive; any water they tried to drink would evaporate before they managed to lift the cup to their lips; any food would rot long before they could reach for it. Tabor had explained that when an inhabitant was hungry, he would put out his hand. The Caretaker of the Memory would place bread or of fruit there, and the food, with no other connection to the village’s current, would enter the inhabitant’s current. If he didn’t want it, he would drop it and the Caretakers would try again and again until they figured out what he wanted.

Tabor had shown him Akol and Falei, two inhabitants who had decided to toss a globe-fruit back and forth over the generations, instead of eating it. Ensei looked over at them now; the ancient globe-fruit still looked ripe as it made its leisurely arc between the two, even though Akol and Falei wore the headscarves of the distant brown generation.

If fruit and bread could enter the Memory’s current just by being placed in an inhabitant’s hand, then why couldn’t a man enter another’s current by removing his connection to the rest of the village?

Before he could talk himself out of it, he leapt onto Tabor’s back as he had when they wrestled as children.

The sun strobed in the sky, Tabor gasped, an orange streak shot toward them, and Ensei was dragged off her. He fell to the hard-packed floor, his planned apology hissing out between his teeth.

“How could you?” Ofer said when Ensei got his bearings. She shook him hard, and he protested. She cut him off. “You know the Memory is not to be touched. Look what you’ve done!”

Tabor, her face starting to register shock, had begun to tip over. She was falling.

Ensei moved to set her aright, but Ofer held him with a strength that belied her age.

“Let me catch her,” Ensei said. “Please, let me make up for my mistake.”

“That may hurt her even more. Being jerked back and forth by someone else’s current…no, you’ve done enough. Best to let her fall and pick herself up over the generations.”

She turned to Tela, who stood near the doorway. He must have been the one that had seen Ensei, and had run to Ofer for advice.

“Ensei may no longer enter the Memory,” she said. Ensei bit back a cry. He’d never see Tabor again… “It is for the best, Ensei,” Ofer continued. “You have mourned Tabor for weeks, when you should be honoring her. You have taken little food, and you are weak. Your judgment is clouded, and you’re hurting yourself and Tabor. Do you really think she wants this for you?”

“We fought…” said Ensei, but couldn’t bring himself to finish. Ofer’s eyes softened, but she still held his shoulder.

“Those in the Memory continue to live their lives, showing us that we must, too. Tabor will live long after we are gone, and future generations will hear her Memory and remember that she helped to ensure that the Wards would not be destroyed by radicals.”

“What do you mean?” asked Ensei. Tabor had only Healed the Steward…

“The radicals deliberately created the Fire that almost killed the Steward,” Ofer explained. “While you sat here, they rose up, depending for their victory on his weakness. Since Tabor Healed him in time, he thwarted their plot.”

“They are defeated?” asked Tela.

“Yes. The Mother is thick with radicals fording back to their home tents. Times may still be uncertain, but these people are no longer a threat to the Wards. Come now, Ensei. Live your life and remember Tabor as a hero.”

Ensei allowed himself to be pulled toward the curtains that hid the doorway, but held Tabor in his eyes as long as he could.

I will be there to catch you, he vowed. I don’t know how, but I will make this right.

#

Ensei moved his home tent once again, this time as close to the Mother as he dared. He threw himself into Healing, a course he had avoided for fear of slowing his current. Now, though, it seemed as if the villagers couldn’t get sick enough, and never in enough numbers. His current did slow, but the small life-Fires he fought weren’t strong enough to bring him near Tabor’s current.

The unrest of the Wards abated, and travel on the Mother River resumed. Pilgrims from distant villages once again stopped along the Mother’s banks to share news and to pay respects to each village’s Memory.

Ensei came to dread each arrival. He glowered at the pilgrims who were free to visit Tabor, and watched them honor the Memory through chinks in the reed-walls. Again and again, he listened to Tela recite the Memory of each inhabitant, ending with Tabor the Healer, who sacrificed everything, even her Sharing, to keep the Mother’s villages safe.

Again and again, the pilgrims asked why she was falling.

Ensei would draw on the Mother’s strength, casting out his awareness in search of anything he could use to slow his current. He often found life-Fires in the pilgrims, and Healed them before they moved on. Ofer and the elders weakened, but Ensei maintained them in good health that defied the ravages of age.

Still, it was not enough. The sun moved faster in the sky than it ever had, but to Ensei it still seemed stubborn and sluggish. Tabor was stretching her hands out, preparing to catch herself in exactly the way Ensei had always told her not to when they were growing up. She’d hurt her arms, falling like that. She might even hit her head. He pleaded with Ofer to intervene, but she refused. Hadn’t he learned the damage that could be done?

He had. It consumed him.

#

A year passed in the village much in the same way as years had for generations. Ofer’s daughter brought the green generation into their childbearing years, and the Elders decided her child was the first of the yellow generation. They presented the baby to the Memory, and the villagers wore yellow-dyed fabric in celebration. It soon became clear that Nef was spilling yet another drop. The Mother was full, and the river-vines bloomed.

One day in the late afternoon, Ensei stopped Tela as he was shepherding a group of pilgrims toward the Memory. He pressed a flowering river-vine into Tela’s hands. Tela had become more patient and sure over the past year, and he waited as Ensei spoke to him.

“Would you give this to Tabor for me?” Ensei asked.

Tela took the flower, and the small bowl of the Mother’s water that Ensei offered him. Then, he and the pilgrims scuttled into the Memory. Ensei watched through a chink in the reed wall as Tela placed the flower in its bowl at Tabor’s feet. He set it down so quickly, Ensei was sure the bowl would crack. But no, it was just that Ensei’s current was so slow. As he watched, Tela took the pilgrims on what seemed like a whirlwind tour of the Memory.

Ensei just watched Tabor.

She now lay in the air at a dizzying angle, one foot stumbling forward to try and check her fall. It wouldn’t work; her toe would catch on the floor before she could lift it up in time.

The pilgrims grouped around her, nodding convulsively as Tela recited Tabor’s chapter of the Memory. Two pilgrims stood near the wall Ensei peered through, their arms crossed and their backs to him. One muttered something to his companion, and she nodded.

Ensei was shocked at their rudeness; pilgrims never spoke during a Caretaker’s Memory recitation. Tela seemed not to notice, though. He had only recently learned to recite the whole Memory by himself, and his eyes seemed dull from concentration. Troubled, Ensei went in search of Ofer.

He found her in her daughter’s home tent, singing a river-song to the new baby as he slept. She waved Ensei to enter.

“This child is Gifted by the Mother,” Ofer said.

Ensei nodded. He had known almost immediately; most newborns and their mothers required Healing after the ordeal of childbirth. Ofer’s daughter and her child had not needed him; the child had Healed them both. “Make sure he is given a choice. Be sure he wants this life before you thrust it on him.”

“It’s a hard thing,” Ofer said. “What is good for the village…what is good for the child… If you have a child, Ensei, and he is Gifted, would you support his Gift so the yellow generation might have a Healer or a Protector or a Builder?”

“I will never have a child. Tabor is of the Memory.”

“This is a good time to have children,” Ofer said. “The villages are peaceful now. The Steward rules wisely.”

“And everything is the same in our village as it was when the radicals were restless,” he said. “Except Tabor is gone. Nothing ever touches us but the news the pilgrims bring. Just so many stories, like small Memory recitations of villages we will never see.”

“Why are you here? You did not come to discuss children or politics.”

“I wanted to know which village the pilgrims came from. One of them spoke during the recitation of Tabor’s Memory.”

Ofer’s brow furled, but she said nothing.

“Oh, never mind, I don’t know why I came.”

“You would have shared a cup on this day last year.”

Ensei looked down. “We would have shared a cup on this day,” he said. “A year later. After she came back and our day returned.”

“Yes.” They were silent for long moments. The baby wiggled.

“I wouldn’t touch her,” Ensei said. He met Ofer’s gaze, and she held his eyes. “Not even to lift her back to her feet.”

“You may see her,” she said after studying his face for long moments. Ensei rose. “Send Tela here if you see him. I need to speak to him about the pilgrims.”

As Ensei ran to retrieve his headscarf, he felt as if he rode with the Mother’s fastest current. The gathering evening was warm and lush, and he had permission to visit Tabor. He would not touch her, as he had promised, but he would sit before her until she could see it was him. If he could not catch her, he would at least be there to offer any comfort he could. He threw his headscarf around his neck, not bothering to wrap it properly, and grabbed a cushion he could kneel on and later place under Tabor’s head so she wouldn’t hurt herself when she struck the ground.

He pushed aside the flap of his home tent and stopped in his tracks, eyes closed. The Mother was restless, her river-vines twisting in the wind as if they were panicked fingers. He could hear distant shouts, high and anxious.

The breeze from the village center carried the scent of smoke.

Ensei ran into the village, but it was as if he moved underwater. As he approached, the villagers streaked by him as if he stood still. Tela appeared before him, eyes wide and terrified. He seized Ensei by the wrist and dragged him toward the village center, yelling unintelligibly. Ensei was about to tell him to slow down and explain what was happening, but they reached the center of the village to find the Memory afire.

The villagers passed casks of water from the central well, but the blaze had grown too strong for such a small measure. Two figures flashed by. He recognized the rude pilgrims from earlier; then they disappeared, Tela fast on their heels. Ensei turned to follow them, but a crash behind him drew him back. A portion of the reed wall had fallen down in flames, revealing the inhabitants inside. They stood motionless as always, unable to react to the fire around them.

Without a second thought, Ensei ran toward the Memory, reaching out to the Mother River and encouraging her to overflow the troughs that brought river-water to the village’s central well.

As he neared, though, the heat made him stagger. This was not a natural blaze; this was a Fire, deliberately set and fed by a Destroyer.

The water would only make the flames leap higher. Terrified, he reached out with the Mother’s Gift and pushed the casks out of the villagers’ hands. He forced the Mother back too, as she tried to protect her village.

He dunked his headscarf in the central well as he passed, and wrapped it around his head and face. He ignored the villagers who tried to hold him back, and fought his way into the Memory.

Ensei’s entire world turned yellow and red, and the smoke reached through his soaked headscarf with ashy fingers, smothering him. The reeds crackled around him, the curtains aflame and disintegrating. Somehow he managed to pick out Tabor in the center of the Memory, and struggled toward her as the Fire blazed faster and stronger than any flames Ensei had ever seen.

The water on his headscarf evaporated as Ensei threw himself before Tabor. Reflections of the flames danced in her eyes, but they were still fixed on the ground as she fell. Akol and Falei had abandoned their game of globe-fruit catch and were trying to shield their faces. The feathers of one of Nef’s birds had caught, and some of the Memory’s quicker inhabitants were wandering around, panicked, searching for an exit.

None would make it. The Memory would be destroyed, and Tabor with it. Then the Fire would spread to the village.

Without taking his eyes from Tabor’s face, Ensei reached out again to the Mother. She was a mindless force, unable to understand that her instinctive action could destroy what she sought to save. But Ensei could direct her, show her how to protect her village. He opened himself up as he had been taught. The Mother’s Gift surged through him, and he controlled it as best he could. He directed it toward the flames, pushing them back with as much strength as he dared.

Just as he thought he would prevail, though, the Fire once again grew stronger. Ensei redoubled his control of the Mother’s Gift and pushed back with renewed strength. But hard as he worked, the flames continued to advance. The smoke reached him once again and wrapped around his neck, choking the breath out of him as the heat baked him from the outside in. He gasped for breath as the last of the Mother’s water evaporated from his headscarf.

He renewed his hold on the Mother’s Gift a second time, but looked into Tabor’s eyes and stopped himself. Tabor had never worried about control. She had explained once that the Gift flowed through her as it would; trying to hold it back only made her weaker. She never sought to check the Mother’s power, only to channel it. And so her current slowed whenever she used the Mother’s Gift.

Ensei thrust his arms out and let go.

The Mother’s strength surged through him as it never had before. It snapped his head back, drawing a shriek from his throat. She flowed in a deluge, tossed him along in her currents. He cried out for Tabor, but she could not answer; she could only fall and fall. He forced himself to remember the Fire consuming the village, the Fire he must quench or lose Tabor forever. Fists clenched and eyes shut tight, he strained to direct the Mother’s torrential power to push back the blaze. He fought and wrestled with her; eventually she seemed to understand. The Mother surged toward the Fire.

Something struck Ensei hard on the chest, and he fell. He cried out, but landed on a bed of soft river vines instead of the packed dirt floor. A heavy weight landed on him moments later, and he wrapped his arms around it out of instinct even as it knocked the wind out of him.

The air was cool when he opened his eyes. The Fire was gone, and in its place had sprung up a tangled nest of flowering river-vines. The light outside the rebuilt reed-walls of the Memory had a twilit, flickering quality to it he had never experienced before. Tabor’s face hung above him, surrounded by flowers, smiling down at him.

“What happened?” he asked, as soon as he could speak. “The Fire…”

“It’s gone.” Her voice was soft and sweet, the way it had always been before her current slowed. “It was only a flicker.”

“I don’t…”

“I was falling. I was Healing the Steward…and then I was here. Then something hit me from behind, and I fell. But you caught me…”

“I caught you,” Ensei said.

“Then you were falling. Slowly. You slowed your current, Ensei. Was it the Fire you were talking about? You smell of ashes.”

Ensei pulled her down into an embrace, and coughed the last of the smoke past her shoulder.

“I had enough time before you hit the ground to grow a mat of river-vines so you didn’t hurt yourself, and I slowed my current down to match yours…”

“You slowed to follow me,” Ensei said. “I chose a path, and you followed.”

“Of course I did. You have always followed me. We both knew that whatever happened, we must always be together.”

“The radicals must have wanted revenge.” Ensei held her close. “It was the anniversary of their defeat, and they tried to destroy our Memory…”

“They are long gone,” said Tabor. “Look, a yellow generation!” Ensei peered through the river-vines to see the colored streaks darting around them. “And blue, too!”

“We are of the Memory. Ofer…and Tela…”

“They must be gone as well,” said Tabor.

Ensei bit his lip and looked away. Everyone they had known…they must have all lived their lives and passed on.

“But we are still here.” Tabor took his cheek in her hand. “We live on. We are together!”

“Yes.” Ensei plucked a flower to weave through her hair. As they sat up, Ensei noticed a cup placed at the edge of the mat of vines. Tabor followed his gaze. Every couple of moments, a yellow streak would bounce toward and away from it. Tela must have left instruction for the generations of Caretakers that came after him; the cup was filled with water from the Mother River.

Tabor grinned and reached for it, but stopped. She turned back to Ensei, and took his hand in hers.

“I left you,” she said, avoiding his eyes. “You begged me to stay, and I left. You must have been so alone…”

“It was only a short journey,” he said, cupping her face in his other hand. She leaned her cheek against it with a sigh. “And now you are back, and our day has returned. See? The flowers are in bloom.”

A tear rolled down Tabor’s cheek, and Ensei wiped it away with his thumb. She met his eyes, and every empty part of him filled to bursting.

He picked up the cup of the Mother’s water, held it between them. Once it was in his hand, the yellow streak stopped bouncing around it. “Will you share this with me?” he asked Tabor.

She smiled. She wrapped her hands around the cup, and Ensei covered her hands with his. She moved to drink, but Ensei held the cup between them.

“I knocked you over,” he said. “I thought…”

Tabor wrapped one of her hands over his, stopping his words. “I know. And you were there to catch me. As you always have been.”

They regarded each other over the cup. Ensei could see his love and uncertainty reflected in her eyes.

“We caught each other,” he said.

“Yes.” She looked around them, at the flowers, the streaks of color, the strange light through the reed walls. She looked at the other inhabitants of the Memory, no longer statues to their eyes. Nef’s birds flapped toward the ceiling, as if they were swimming underwater. “It’s a strange path we chose, isn’t it.”

“You chose it first.” Ensei smiled. “Will you share it with me?”

Tabor smiled back.

Each holding both the cup and the other’s hands, they said the ancient words that had bound generations of lovers together before them. Surrounded by the flowering river-vines and the other inhabitants of the Memory, they Shared their souls as the generations swirled past.



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  • Christopher Farley: I've just read "A song, against the Metronome" on Flash Fiction Online and I really enjoyed it - a fantastic piece. Thank you.
  • Gary Dowell: Danielle: We're interested in using your flash fiction piece "A Song, Against the Metronome" on districtofwonders.com 's forthcoming fantasy-themed
  • Nina: Danielle,this is fricking amazing!!! I can't believe that you're my friend!!!!

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