Section I: Episode 23
January 9, 2015
The lector stepped back to the others, and Surgesten, the High Cantor, stepped forward. They all looked so small on the torzaykeos, from up here in the seats, and with the torrent of light streaming behind them, but their voices carried well. With the assembly joining in, he began to sing
I Have in My Throat
I have in my throat many words
at all hours on all days.
I have such important things to say,
things that matter dearly.
And if I do not speak, then what am I
when the days have gone?
Yet I know I am not the only one
with words in my throat.
The Mates of Relance will cherish and dread
the Day of the Dawn,
Reciting to each other our commitment
It is to our everlasting shame that
we destroyed the world;
Let once be enough, and this Day
our atonement forever.
The song had a festive air; for all the severity of the words it was considered joyous to be in a position to protect the world from suffering such a fate again. As the song ended, Surgesten stepped back and now Jahvoy stepped forward, to guide the service along.
"Lector Metset has recited the First Dynasty. May we receive it with the passion in which she gave it. Now we call Lector Tane to the torzaykeos to recite the Second Dynasty."
Jahvoy stepped back to his place at the precipice, and the second leftmost of the seven berobed lectors stepped forward.
"Tane is a friend of mine," said Agram.
"I didn't know that," said Miatysacis.
"I don't think well of most adults, but some…some I like. I've been to her house many times. She's teaching me how to roll pimjits."
"You?" Boon scoffed.
"Anyway, I told her I was looking forward to her lecture."
"What's she going to talk about?"
"She said it would be about acceptance."
"Makes sense," said Boon. "Second Dynasty is usually humble."
The honor of Lector was bestowed for the day only. In her usual life Tane was a mason, with the broad shoulders and chest that came of a lifetime of heavy lifting. Her long gray hair was concealed by the robe, but for a few strands that came out in the front. She had a high voice that didn't carry as well, but it was no problem, for in this place her words carried just as well even so:
"If you knew me, you would say how stubborn I am. That is my spark, and I have no particular desire to change it.
"Being stubborn is a small curse. I don't have any social grace. I'm not proper. I don't need the validation from others that most people do. Yet we define ourselves by our society, and it frustrates me sometimes to be so inept at it. It takes a certain obliviousness to be so stubborn. But that is who I am. It's futile to treat me as if your preferences and opinions matter as much to me as mine do. You'd be wasting your time to tell me to strap my boots differently. You'd be sorely disappointed if you expected me to learn to dance. And forget about suggesting something for dinner if it's not what I want.
"What I don't have is any desire to be hostile with people. 'Stubborn' isn't the same as 'mean.' I'm not a mean person; I think I'm rather gingerly. When I was younger I used to pick fights all the time in order to make my point, even though I hated getting into arguments. I'd get so worked up." She tilted her head and laughed knowingly. "Today I live in the desert.★ I'm the Tane I always was, but I've learned to be social, or at least some pale farce of it, and in return you all haven't banished me."
Galavar looked over and saw Agram nodding.
"Aren't you glad you didn't miss this to go to the library?" But Agram just scowled at him, not even bothering to look away from the lector.
Tane continued, "We all know the Doomsday Commandment. 'On that day you shall live as though you destroyed the world yourself.' Poetically it's supposed to refer to the Day of the Dawn, but when my Doomsday came I was ninety-two stops old and summer had only just begun. I was in the construction yard with my crew, building Patterey's house on Vivid Road. One of my workers had begun to fall ill and I told her to sit down and rest. She asked me to bring her a drink of water, and even though I was busy I decided to fetch it myself.
"It was such a small gesture, but she was so grateful for that water. She didn't say anything more than 'thanks,' but the way she said it…you'd think I'd saved her life. I took the empty cup back from her, and when I looked down at it I felt like one of the Gods. It was the most powerful I've ever felt in my life. Then, in some small corner of my imagination, a voice told me 'What if you hadn't gotten it for her?'
"I don't know where my spark went, but it went away for a few moments, on some private journey together with my thoughts, that only they could know. When they returned to me, I couldn't have told you what I had been thinking about, but I began to cry. That was the day I understood what it means to love the world.
"It is the special heritage of our people that we are called to rise up and look at the wider world as God does—to care not only for our own portion but for all Relance. Perhaps in another lifetime, in another country, I wouldn't care. There's nothing in a mason's work that requires it. I think it is altogether too easy to look at a block of stone and not see the relance looking right back at you. The viutari mind excels at being narrow and small, when that is what a mate sets upon themselves to be. But in Ieik we are commanded all of us to defend the world, personally, and, let me say, it took more than half a lifetime to understand what that really means.
"And to succeed in it…perhaps that takes more than a whole lifetime.
"In our perseverance, we find our own reasons for wanting the world to thrive. Mine is stubbornness. I want my life to take the form I choose for it. I look upon God, whose presence reflects the light of our will, as you can see in the surging stream behind me, rising up from the Fateful Well and crowning this amphitheater with our communal desire for peace and wellbeing, and I see at once that our preservation rests not in his hands but in our own. And as for my share of that great responsibility, I don't trust anyone else to do my job. My life is mine to live, and nobody else can live it for me. My burden belongs to me.
"If that doesn't make sense, you're not alone. I tried to explain it to my husband as I was preparing for this lecture, and he never got it. He thought he did, but he didn't. It's my fault, I think. I'm not good with words. But I know there are some of you out here this morning who will understand anyway, and that's why I agreed to be a lector this year. Thank you all for listening."
★ Today I Live in the Desert
"Today I live in the desert" is a metaphor among the Ieikili. Nearly all of them were born and lived their whole lives there. The phrase means "I was clueless, but now I'm not." In Tane's lecture, this line would have been received with mirth and, often, commiseration.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!