Fall: 18 years at the Monastery, One year after building the Range
Music, chanting, drinking, food, celebration, and dance. That’s what Sunar had asked for, and everyone in the Monestary had turned out to oblige him at one point or another during the day. The Last Day, another of the ancient traditions by which they lived said that he could ask for, and get, almost anything he wanted on his last day at the Monestary before he faced the Long Walk.
So, he’d asked that they have a feast, and that everyone have a good time. Most afternoon and evening group katas had been canceled, and the ones which still took place were done in the meadow around the Gazebo, as part of the festivities.
He’d gone into the air and preformed at Meesha’s instance. So it was that he found himself with a belly full of strong drink trying to make a modified-for-the-air crane-to-tiger transition work.
Wow. It worked fine. That isn’t false confidence because of the drink, was it? He spared a glance down at the crowd and saw only happy or mildly impressed faces staring back at him: none of the humor which would come from The Mighty Titan Suanr making a mistake.
He ran through the rest of the kata and landed to polite, but genuine, applause. Meesha came up to him with another small glass of whiskey and some of the bacon that had been cooked for the feast.
Master Ikthan stepped up with her, “I must congratulate you, Sunar. You did the whole thing flawlessly, despite your moment of uncertainty at the beginning.” Then the Master turned The Look on him, the one that asked ‘So, what have you learned?’
He took a sip of his drink and smiled at his teacher, “Lessons, still, on my last day, and with my Request being a day of festivity?”
Ikthan replied with a serious cast to his face, but a glint of humor in his eyes. “Always. One of the purposes of The Request is to teach a specific lesson: You will find lessons where and when you least expect them, and sometimes those are the most important.” He then quirked one eyebrow expectantly.
Sunar chuckled softly and shook his head, “The body knows. The drink addles the mind, and slows the connection between mind and body, but the body knows: trust that.” He then narrowed his eyes at his teacher, “You told Meesha to send me up there.”
Ikthan nodded, “Very good, you understood the lesson. As for Meesha, I may have encouraged a good idea she had for my own reasons. To the rest of the lesson: You will be walking into dark and dangerous places, it is your nature and the nature of the path of self-testing you have set yourself on. It is likely that you will find yourself hit with all sorts of spells or chemicals which will cloud your awareness. Remember this, remember that you have trained your body well, and can trust that training even when you can’t control it as well as you like.”
Sunar acknowledged the lesson with a hand-in-fist salute, which Ikthan returned. They then turned to walk together, with Meesha still arm-in-arm with him, and they all three talked of their year together.
Many hours later, as darkness settled on the Temple, he lay in the grass near the Gazeebo with Meesha’s head on his arm, and they talked. They talked of their love, of his need to go, of her need to stay, her desire to both wait and not to wait. They had one subject they avoided: what would happen tomorrow.
The avoided subject became larger and larger for them as they avoided it, however, and she finally rolled over to face him instead of the stars. A single tear rolled down her cheek, but she allowed herself no more than that. “I promised you I would not beg you to stay, and I will not. I knew from the start that we would end up here one night with you ready to go.
“I find that letting you leave is harder than I believed it would be, my love, but I know I can’t try to talk you into staying. Not in good conscience, not without doing you harm.” Her eyes took on a playful cast, but her face went hard, “There is one way I can make you stay, though, for a little while, and I have resolved my best to do so. Don’t expect me to go light on you tomorrow. The others may not tell you this, but they feel the same way.”
He smiled at her, and kissed her nose, “I expect no less of you – of all of you – than your best when I take The Walk tomorrow, my love. I believe in the Ritual of The Long Walk, and will stay another year if I must. That is part of the Ritual too, that you all show your love for me in such an… active… manner.”
She laughed and playfully slapped his chest. “Oh, so now you want me to show my love for you. Very well, it is your Request day, after all.”
Then she kissed him, and kept kissing him for hours, until the moon shone high in the sky and they finally curled up to sleep together beneath the stars.