004 - Give yourself to life
Somehow, this made me want to breathe deep and hard. “The first thing to do—you are doing it already, good. Breathe. Keep it flowing, like water. When did you last drink?” He went away and came back with a large cup of water and made me drain it dry, though I had not thought I was thirsty. He touched the top of my head and the spot between my legs again. “See that river of light between my fingers. Feel it. As well you must open yourself.”
“More than I already have? You have my great secret, and how long have I been here—a twentieth?”
“It’s all right,” he said again, and with one hand took hold of my penis. It was impersonal—he was a healer—but his touch had power in its tenderness, as if to say to me, ‘I am here, and there is no turning away from that.’ I stared at him for a moment but he was not looking at my eyes, and his expression had not changed. Despite all my fear, my body granted him its trust. I fell into myself, my mind blanking but for the thought of the river of light.
“What I am doing is speaking with your body, because when it comes to life and death, your body is wiser than your mind. How many times have you tried to kill yourself, and your body refused?” He didn’t sound as if he didn’t know that it had been several. By not answering right away, I got away with not answering. “So I am going to make your body tell your mind.”
I swore Second Fire come, I thought. What have I done? But I heard myself say, “I should trust you, you mean, as I’d trust a surgeon.”
“Yes, exactly. That is physically; this is emotionally and spiritually. You must give up your power of choice in matters of your life and death, because such decisions you aren’t competent to make. Your habit of thinking and choosing is going to kill you in three moons. If you could change that by yourself, you would have already; you can’t, so you need to give it to someone who is competent, who knows, who understands and who isn’t afraid of you, and I think I am the only one.”
I just lay and breathed, trying to keep the room from spinning with the depth of my breaths; I could do nothing else while I heard this.
“Keep the path of light strong in your inward eye, and keep breathing, else what I’m going to tell you will knock you unconscious, no joke. Tell the truth: you don’t much believe me, do you, that it is not foreknowledge, but a feeling that you don’t deserve to live?”
“I... well, I’ve thought it was foreknowledge for twenty-one years.”
“Fair enough.” He let go with the one hand to touch two points on my chest with his fingers. I felt another strangeness on top of everything else. “So tell me you do, then. Say, ‘I deserve to live.’”
I opened my mouth, and my tongue locked just as on Haiu Menshir the first time. “I... I...” I struggled for a time, and managed no better than wordless panting. “I... kyash, what’s wrong with me?”
“Breathe. Nothing. But I am touching your aura in such a way that you can say nothing but the truth of your belief. Call it the aura-seer’s truth-drug.” He let go, and the strangeness was gone. “Question: what is the one thing that can counter foreknowledge?”
“Have you ever worked with an augur?”
“Yes... Jinai Oru.” I could not even imagine arguing, prevaricating, not answering his questions, anything but just giving him succinct truth, as if he were Azaila.
“Jinai Oru! The greatest augur. You worked with him on decisions you had to make, for others. You would do anything for the people of Yeola-e, even beyond death... it’s another reason. Have you ever asked him to look for your own death, so you could see how to prevent it?”
Like yesterday, I remembered Jinai saying, when I had asked him whether he ever looked for his own death: “No—I might see it.” I remembered how that had seemed to make us brothers.
Again, my speechlessness made no difference. “Why not?”
“I... I always considered it inevitable.”
“Why? As you say, foreknowledge can be countered by foreknowledge, and that is something you know. What stopped you?”
I felt myself fall into myself again, trembling now. I could think of no explanation, except his.
He laid his hand on my brow. “I see... you as a child on the mountain, with... an older man. Shadow-father. It was your duty to be a great warrior, you’d be a traitor if you weren’t; all these things he taught you and so you took the sword deep into yourself. You are such a warrior, and you did not want to be one at all—the core of you still does not. Because you did not want to give out death, you did not want to render other sons fatherless… you think this stopped mattering, that you left it behind with the things of childhood… we don’t leave behind matters of conscience, only hide them from ourselves.
“Your shadow-father told you it was your duty, that you would be a traitor if you quit war-training. So you stayed, and took the sword very deeply into yourself, as you do all your obligations. But there had to be a price to pay. A great price, for something that was so against your conscience, and yet which you do so much and so well. You already had an idea what sort of price. As I said, your family stream-tests. All Yeola-e used to, and all Yeola-e carries the trauma, still, deep in our souls. We may not live if we are not strong... breathe.
“Your shadow-father... a hard relationship, with him. When your blood-father was killed, he leaned more on you than he let you lean on him, though he was the adult and you were the child. And... he let you know you were not to outdo your blood-father. At the same time, you were supposed to be the greatest warrior, which was outdoing your father. You had to outdo him and not outdo him, both at once. You found a way, the path unconceived. ‘No one deserved more than he,’ did your shadow-father not say that? That gave you the clue: more life. You could be the greater warrior so long as you didn’t live longer than he. How old was he when he died?”
“Twenty-eight,” I whispered. The world spun end over end; I couldn’t stop it; the only steady things were the river of light, and his hands, touching me to depths deeper than I understood. Breathe. Keep the river of light steady.
“Your shadow-father feared you, too. Even when you were a child. Many people fear you still, they fear your capability and your power, regardless of your intent; they see it as inequality and we are a very egalitarian people. None more than you, so you would give your life to assuage their fear. And it is fair exchange, you feel, for what you have been given. The best die young, is that not the saying? Breathe... you see what I mean, you are near to passing out.”
When I could, I whispered, “I feel like I’m dying.” Each idea he spoke seemed to sink me deeper, as if towards some kind of complete collapse, or defeat, or surrender.
“That’s all right,” Surya said. “It will feel like dying, for all it’s countering death. You’ll get a lot of that, throughout. For you to live, something in you, something substantial, must die, and that death you will feel as the death it is. As I said, it will be difficult; I would not lie to you. There’s no way around it. But you have done very difficult things before, met great challenges, and on the other side lies rebirth. You deserve to live. To get old, to work for another twenty or thirty or forty years, to see your children grow and thrive and marry and have children of their own. You think a thousand things about yourself that are wrong; one of them is that you know how to give yourself to life, and to take it in, when in truth you don’t. I will teach you, I am teaching you.
“You have given yourself to death—give yourself to life. The sword is killing you. Oh, yes, that is another thing you will have to do: lay it down, go asa kraiya.”