Sunar allowed his gaze to wander as he sat in meditation. The valley between the four peaks in shadow behind him, the plains leading to the mountain spread out before him, and Master Ikthan sat next to him. He’d tried to concentrate on pushing his wings to grow, like he usually did during morning meditation, but had spent most of his effort keeping his mind empty. Normally he kept his eyes closed, but the Teacher had instructed him to try something different today.
‘As if meditation hasn’t been difficult enough, lately,’ he thought to himself’, ‘and now I am supposed to do it with eyes open? The blackness of closed eyes is soothing, makes it easier to chase away the pain of being left alone, the pain of sleeping in the corridor after they discovered me in the guest room, the humiliation of eating in the communal dining like one of the bachelors. Everyone stared at me, every meal, and avoided me, like I was stupid, or alone.
Everyone except Shara, when she handed me my tray, and suggested I go home for the meal. Home! Ha! What Home do I have? No one else here is like me. No one understands. None of them even believe I will ever Fly! Which is why I must keep it secret.”
Thoughts of his wings distracted him from his anger, and he sought calm, turned his attention to them, ‘Yes, that is it. Coax them to grow, to be strong. They were wrong. They wanted to take them. My parents, my mother…’ He felt a tear form at his eye, but could not determine if it was from pain, anger, loneliness, or missing his mother, ‘NO!’ he thought to himself, ‘No, not my mother! That… that…Woman.. who has another child and can’t even give me someone else like me, who would have taken my wings, who… who sang me to sleep all those nights, who…’
A muscle in his neck, sore from sleeping in the cold corridor, knotted up. He closed his eyes to sooth it, ‘There, relax, stop. Bring the heartbeat down, control. That sound… Master Ikthan’s breathing has changed, and changed again. My eyes are closed, I am supposed to be keeping them open. It is all HER fault, that GIRL. Not like me at all, not what she was supposed to be! I was supposed to have a companion, finally! But no, THEY had to have another child like themselves!’
Sunar felt his heartbeat speed up again, and heard Ikthan puff out a small, fast breath, ‘I am disappointing the Master. This I will not do! Alone I may be, but I will be the best, I will show them all. Slow, slow down heart, go to proper rhythm. I will do as I have been instructed’.
With that thought he opened his eyes, and allowed them to wander across the world below, the creeping advance of the light below like the pressure of the many thoughts forcing away the calm of proper meditation. Alone. Like the Great Tree down below him. The Great Tree stood alone, nothing but bushes and grass for miles, alone, forlorn, it stood in isolation.
“Ah, yes, Child. Good. You have found the tree. I see you feel some kinship with it. Tell me what you see.”
“The tree is like me, Master Ikthan. Alone, standing isolated from all others, no others of its kind to be with.”
“I expected as much Sunar. For all you have learned, for all you can do, you have failed to look beyond yourself and see the truth. The Great Tree is surrounded by life and support. Look at the ring of bushes at the edge of its shade. They keep it company and hold the soil when the rains come. The grass, which adds nutrients to the soil which the tree needs. The birds in its boughs, which clear it of dead wood and carry its seed off to make more like it.
“The Great tree is connected to the life around it, providing shade and nourishment, and receiving much in return. Look, child. LOOK. See the circle of bushes and other life which surround that tree? Would they be there if it was not? Do you think it could stand if they were not? Or do you think that the other life is nothing? That the other life is less because it does not have the towering mass of wood that of the great tree?”
He had seen it as Master Ikthan spoke, seen the entanglement of life where he had seen isolation. In that moment, he saw his own foolishness, to believe himself forlorn because no other half-dragons lived in the Monetary. The rest of Master Ikthan’s words hammered him like blows, and he felt shame.
He had turned from The Woma…. turned from his mother, and from his father. They had raised and loved him, given him the precious gift of their hearts, and he had spurned it. For what? Childish pride.
His lower lip began to quiver, and tears fell from his eyes. He felt even more shame at his display. “I have been a fool, and cruel. My mother and father, they gave me all of themselves, and I have repaid them with spite. They gave me love, and I have hurt them. How could I be so blind? I…”
He pushed back his tears, not wishing to deepen his shame. Master Ikthan spoke, “You have behaved badly, my boy, yes. You have behaved like a child. Of course, you are a child, which means that some allowances can be made. For a time. You are also, however, very smart and sometimes show wisdom beyond your years, and the time for allowances is past. It is time for you to understand.”
“I understand my shame and my error. How could I do that to my parents, I love them, they love me.” He fought back more tears. “How can I be forgiven for causing them such grief, at a time which should be reserved for such joy? I have been so selfish.”
“You have brought much joy to your parents these few years Sunar. I believe it is the joy of you which allowed your mother to have a child. Your actions this week have, of course, brought some pain, but you know well that pain is a thing that happens in life, and a parent knows this well.
“Now, however, you have realized most of your error, but you have only learned half the lesson, for you have not come to understand why, and you even sit there, still, with the root cause still guiding your actions.”
He sucked in a hard breath, holding onto the pain, holding back the tears, trying to understand what he was still doing wrong. He would not shame himself further by balling like a baby, he would not.
Master Ikthan’s hand came to rest on his shoulder, “What holds back your tears, Sunar? You still do not understand. This happened because you refused to face your feelings of isolation, refused to understand them, and then they moved you to childish beliefs.
“It is the same thing, now, which keeps you from facing the pain you feel, from allowing yourself to experience and work through these emotions. Why, Sunar? What stops you?”
He sniffled, then grew angry at himself for doing so. He would not embarrass himself further. He would Not! He would understand Master Ikthan’s words, he would not give in to this pain. He was stronger than that, he was better than that. He felt more tears, tried to hold them back, and turned to stare defiance at Master Ikthan. His gaze was met with…. compassion. With a softness he had never seen on the man’s face.
That softness broke through, where pain and fury could not, and he saw what held him, what had pushed him to spurn love, what caused him real shame now, what kept him holding on to the pain instead of releasing it. “Pride. Pride, Master Ikthan, has been the cause of all of this, my own stubborn pride. I … “
His tears began. He let them go, crying without shame.