Winter: 16 years at the Monastery, Spring, twenty-three months after attempting to fly
The soft oranges of dawn danced through the window… the window, the one he had been afraid to approach for so long. Sunar felt a smile tug at the corners of his lips and held himself to a steady, even pace. Images and feelings flashed through his mind; this window, from which he had watch swimmers in the pool below: From which he had watched birds in the sky while his wings moved in time with their flight: From which he and his friends had jumped into the pool three stories below. This window, where he nearly damaged himself two years before, the site of his first real defeat, now to be the site of his first true success.
He reached the edge of the window and looked down to the pool where most of the temple’s population had turned out to watch his triumph. ‘No, you dolt’, he chided himself, ‘They are here to encourage you, and to share the moment with you. That’s what family does!’
He paused, and stopped to drink it all in. His parents, Master Ikthan, most everyone in the temple, the valley between the four peaks, the sky above the valley with the striated hues of dawn. Two hands, one Elvin and one human, gently but firmly grasping his shoulders, a smaller one pushing carefully on the small of his back.
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply through his nose, drinking in the smell of the hallway, of the dawn breeze coming up the side of the temple, of the chemicals from the pool, of the odors of his friends and family. He wanted to fix all of it in his mind. The thrill, the love which came off everyone in waves, the fear he rode like a dragon. The time had finally come, and he wanted to savor every moment.
The hands on his shoulders tightened, his friends offering reassurance. He turned his head both ways to catch the eye of each of his friends and his sister in turn. He gave them a brief smile and wink to let them know his fear had not taken him. He put his hands on the window sill, and a sound came up from below.
A single, perfect note rose up from every voice. His friend’s hands fell away from his shoulders, and they took up the note as well. He felt himself choke up at the encouragement of the ki song. He leaned forward a bit, backed his feet a little farther from the window, and gazed at the distant horizon. The time had come.
He surged forward, out the window and into the dawn sky. Snapping his wings out to either side of him, he spread the ‘fins’ which came out from his calves, and for the briefest moment, a moment which seemed to stretch to eternity, he felt as if he hung suspended in space: the pool below, temple behind, sky above, the endless horizon before him, and the ki song of his extended family buoying him up.
Wings popped into place, and the wingsails bit the air. His whole body hung suspended from those sails, but no pain. A feeling a little like doing pull-ups, but down the length of his back. The joy of exertion. Forward movement, driving into the nothing that is the atmosphere. The front of the wings pushing air aside, the wind tickling his wingsail.
Faster now, building speed, building *forward* speed. The ki song grew louder, but he barely noticed. Speed slowing, stalling! New instincts, from somewhere deep in the hindbrain kicked in. Tilt the trailing edge of the wings up, a little, lean slightly forward, trade a little height for speed. The tickle of air over and under wing increases, becomes a fast caress, then a rush of wind.
He roared into that wind. A full-throated, exultant cry of ecstasy: a sonic blast that could probably have shattered stone. Looking down, he found he had only lost a little altitude, had flown over the entire temple, and now soared over the valley. He dipped his right wing and, experimentally, tucked the tip in a bit. The air over that wing slowed slightly, his right side dipped, his left side raised, and he began to turn.
A nice, wide, graceful turn, headed back to the temple, back to the pool.
He looked down again, realized that he now flew high enough that a fall would probably kill him, and then looked forward and saw that his turn had lost more altitude than he’d thought. He might not make it back to the pool. Fear rose from his belly, but he resisted the urge to try and force it down. Instead he latched onto it, imagined that he sat astride it. He harnessed it’s energy to raise his wings, then brought them down in a might wing-beat.
Cool mountain air flowed under his wings, and yet seemed to push back against them. He surged forward, a small burst of speed whistled in his ears. He lifted the forward edge of his wings slightly. The whistling slowed; he now traded speed for altitude.
A smile forced itself onto his face, and stayed there. He beat his wings again, gained speed, gained altitude. The temple flowed beneath him, and he sailed past maybe a dozen feet above the pool. He had too much speed to land in the pool however, and heard some startled gasps from the crowd.
He felt a slight pain begin to from all the way down his back. He had never used these muscles quite like this before. Time to land, speed or no. He held his course until he came back over the pool, then arched his back, and his the front of his wings. Air pushed against his wings, tried to force them to move straight out behind him. His body tried to keep moving toward the temple, and an incredible strain started just below his shoulders, where the top of his wings connected, radiating down the wingsail all the way down his back.
The pain nearly made him cry out, but it lasted only a moment. After his convalescence, he knew well how hard he could push developing muscles. He rose, his speed battling gravity to send him higher. He gained the height of the window when gravity won out. His friends stood there, smiles and joy on their faces. His sister’s head just poked over the window sill, her eyes blazing like suns. He winked at her, wrapped his wings tight around him, and turned to face straight down as gravity re-asserted its dominance. He dove headfirst into the pool, the laughter and applause of the temple -of his family- ringing in his ears.
I’ve had to catch up on my reading of Sunar Monk. You chose a wonderful fantasy tale to tell us. There’s not one word that’s not needed. Each one informs us of Sunar’s world, whether it’s the scenery, emotion or experience he gains, they all have a place and you express yourself beautifully.