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Calls the Westering Wind

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Calls the Westering Wind

When Yonec was a child, he spoke in childlike words. He cried out and the sound of his child’s voice was the cry the of sky that none could understand.

His mother knew this. His mother knew what this meant even if she did not understand his words. On her finger was a ring that she always wore that carried the meaning of his cries. When he called out, when her child opened his wide eyes, yellow like that of a hawk, she would spin this ring about her finger with her thumb. Round and round she would turn the silver metal. Silver, but never did it bend or wear away for all the turns that it made. Round and round.

Yonec knew that he was different when he was a boy. He knew it in the hollows of his bones. In the way the wind touched his skin as a friend might do. Called to him from the wide chopped sea. Called to him from the wild forests and the deep hills and the high lavender plains far away.

He felt that difference in each turn of the ring around his mother’s finger. For all that he did not know what it meant. If Yonec had been as other boys, he might have asked his mother. He might have plagued her with questions, but Yonec was not so. He saw more than other boys saw with his eyes always sharp. Even to a mile away. He saw the sorrow that she always carried there. Though she smiled and accepted the tokens of affection from his father. Small gifts of thread or iron needles.

His mother would not let him near the needles. So afraid was she that he would prick his finger. But Yonec was brave, for all that he was kind and sweet natured, he was a child.

So the needles called to him, as nothing else could have done. Not even the wind that told him not to be foolish.

But who is not foolish in those days of youth. So when his mother was from her rooms on the errands that mothers and ladies must do, he picked up a needle and unafraid, he pricked his finger on the end. His bright red blood welled up. It splashed a bright drop on the stone floor covered in sweet smelling rushes. Beneath the rushes, he saw older stains too then.

In that moment, he did not have much time to think on the old blood stains, black with age. For so greatly did the needle prick on his finger grip him, that he bent at his waist. That he fell struck with it and could not move for several candle marks and more. The toll of the abbey bell as it rang for None alone revived him. The ring of the bell and the prayers that carried with it.

For even as a young child, Yonec could spend long hours at prayer. This enabled him to open his eyes. His eyes that could see a mouse creeping at the bottom of the tower. Although, the tower was high.

As he lay on the stone, it seemed to him then that the old blood stains on the floor formed a spiral. Like the tile labyrinth in the church where the echo of the bell still rang. So with his finger, the finger that he had pricked, he went on a pilgrimage. That is to say, he traced the line of the labyrinth that he saw on the floor. He traced it and went to the center. As his finger came to the middle, which happened to be at the spot where a rose had been carved into the stone floor, it seemed then that he should be a hawk.

Young though. Of not even a single moulting. But still, he was brave. For it did not even occur to him that he should not attempt the sky. That he should not flutter his wings and leave the floor. That he should not fly out the window and into the wide calling sky.

He knew without knowing how he knew, how to ride the wind. His fingers that he had so often spread to touch the breeze, were now wings that caught the currents of the air, which were as clear to him as his mother’s brightly dyed threads of wool.

He flew over the forest. He saw his father in the woods. He hunted a great hart, as he often did. Yonec did not stop to speak to his father. He felt not the slightest desire to do so. Instead he flew on.

Yonec flew a long ways that day. It could not have occurred to him to stop. He flew until he came to a place where stones had been arranged in long lines. He came down to earth then. For it seemed that he should be a boy again. That he should walk with his feet on the dark earth. That he should feel the ground under his toes. The stones were only as tall as him at first. He walked through the stones. They grew taller as he walked. At first twice as tall as Yonec and then three times and then four. As tall as grown men. Then taller. He walked through the long lines of grey stones until he came to the place where they were as tall as a tree might grow and closely placed. Like a forest of tall thin rocks. Until it seemed to him that the stones were a forest. Old as the world and wise.

He walked through the forest and gained wisdom through his feet.

He came to a house made of stones. Not as the tower where he lived was made of stone. The tower kept stones tightly placed and the rafters were of wood. This house was made of great stone slabs that had been laid over each other to make a cave.

Naturally, he went into it.

He crawled into the dark space where he could not see and he came out the other side to where ruby apples hung as fruit on silver trees with gold leaves that shivered in the breeze. There was no telling how great the worth of that orchard.

A sparrow hawk perched on the nearest tree by the largest of the fruit. She said, “You are very young.”

Yonec was very young and very honest. He said, “Yes,” and because he was courteous even for one so young, he said, “You’re pretty and I like your orchard.”

She said, “It is not my orchard. It is your orchard.”

“Oh,” said Yonec, who had not known that he owned an orchard, much less one with ruby apples on silver trees. “Do you mean this is my father’s orchard.” Because although he was young, Yonec did have some understanding of how these things worked.

The sparrow hawk said, “It was your father’s and now it is yours.”

The sparrow hawk preened at a spot on her wing. She flew away then. Yonec had wanted to ask her more questions. He could have followed her, as a hawk, but that felt rude.

Since it was his orchard, he picked a ruby apple, but he didn’t bite into it. Although, it smelled very good. Warm and ripe.

Instead he went back out through the stone house and walked back through the lines of stones until they were only as tall as he was. Then he flew home. So easy it was to become a hawk. There was no pain to it. Just as there was no pain to breathing and no more thought to it than a heart beat. He simply was. It did not seem strange that the apple in his hands became a red blush on his feather tips. Any more than it seemed strange that he could become a hawk. Although, he was not so young that he did not know that neither his father nor his mother ever became hawks. His father very old and heavy besides and nothing much like him at all. Yonec looked like his mother, except for his eyes. Except that he could become a hawk.

He flew home easily. He followed the lines in his head that told him where to go. As easily as he might follow a brightly dyed skein of his mother’s wool thread. When he came back to the tower, his mother was in her room. She had the needle in her hand.

She saw him and she put it aside. She cried out and gathered him into her arms. He could not breathe for long minutes, she held him so tight. Still, she let him go eventually.

He held out the apple that he had picked for her and more tears came to her eyes. She said, “Your father used to give me apples such as this.”

She held the apple in one hand and she twisted her silver ring with her thumb. Yonec was young, very young, but he knew without her saying it that she did not mean the man in the woods, who was hunting a great hart. He was not so young that he did not also understand that he should not say anything of what he knew.

She wiped the tears from her face and said, “Here. We will split the apple.” She cut it up with a silver knife. It seemed then to Yonec that the only iron thing in his mother’s room were the needles. She fed him a bite of ruby apple. It tasted like sweet and sharp. It tasted like the wind that came off a high plain covered in lavender and traveled across the sharp mountains to visit the farther salt sea.

They finished the apple together. Down to the last sliver. Together, they went down the stairs of the tower to his mother’s walled garden. There in the garden, in the center where the sod had been cut to form the shape of a hawk, they planted the seeds.

It was late to be planting, but still they did it. It would be a long time before any of the seeds sprouted. As one did. Not until the next spring. It would be a long time before that sprout became a tree or that tree bore fruit. It was still a seed then in the late summer earth.

But there was time. Yonec sat with his mother in the garden. They sat until the lord of the house returned with a great hart that he had killed.

Yonec took his mother’s hand as they went inside and said, “I think it’s time I learn to become a knight.”

She brushed back the hair from his forehead and said, “Yes. Maybe. Soon.”

They went inside to break the fast of evening and that night, Yonec dreamed of ruby apples and the westering wind.