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Like the turning of the night

We left the Temple of Ice in a group of the same size as that with which we arrived; yet all were strangers except one. This, for Mita was returning with the monks going off shift to their home temples at Junei-Ichii. Apparently she was the one entrusted with a fortnight’s collected essence of the Ice.

Thinking about that made me think about what my friend the talkative monk had said regarding the preparation of that essence, and that made me think about Sully. As a result I was in a somber mood as we descended the glacier. I volunteered to take the trailing end when we roped up in order to get a bit of peace and to give me something else to think about.

When we reached the place where we could work our way across loose rock to the steep trail down I was surprised to see a tired-looking monk waiting for us. He didn’t even have warm clothing, but he was sweating from the climb. He and Massey immediately went off a ways and talked in low tones while the other monks milled around, removing their warm clothing, fiddling with their gear, and seeming anxious. This clearly wasn’t a normal happenstance.

Only Mita stood her ground; he face drawn and pale. After a moment Massey called her over. I followed, but Massey waved me away. The three of them talked a bit more, voices raised a bit but not enough for me to understand more than a word or two over the wind.

“Who talked?” That was Mita. I didn’t hear the answer.

Later Massey said, “. . . it will avail them not. They have not the key . . .”

Then, quite suddenly, Mita began stripping off her pack and warm weather gear, passing them to the monk, who tried to put on her jacket and found it far too small for him. Finally he rolled up Mita’s warm weather gear and tied it to her pack, taking it up and giving her his own in its stead. Meanwhile Massey called the monks together.

“Mita and I and Griff here will take a different way down. Frederich will return with you as the Bearer of the Essence. Fare well and tell no tales of what has passed here; or at least not until you have spoken with your priors.”

At that Massey started off down a track along the top of the cliff I hadn’t noticed before, Mita on his heels. The other monks were staring at me so, after a moment, I turned and followed; mystified by these shenanigans.

. . .

The second path came to the point where the lower cliff and the upper cliff joined, with the glacier off to our right. There it plunged between two great boulders and continued as a ledge, working a crooked way down to a spot where a limb of the mountain thrust out, then following that ridge further down.

I asked Massey about it and he shrugged. “It’s a short cut.”

We were indeed going more in the direction of the Pilgrim’s Trail than returning the way we had come up would take us. So I chose to accept his answer as complete and, with much effort, refrained from asking why Mita was accompanying us or what that had been about back there at the glacier’s edge.

Mita herself had stopped glaring at me. Instead she seemed to pull in on herself. If anything, she looked shocked and lost. She wasn’t paying enough attention to where she put her feet and stumbled a few times. Once I had to catch her to keep her from tumbling down the slope. She thanked me and returned to her own thoughts. I was clearly no longer her greatest problem in life.

. . .

We had barely made it to the tree line when the night started cutting into the sun. By the time it was full dark we were in a deep ravine where the trail ended at the shore of a lively stream, crashing and boiling over rocks.

I could barely see Massy taking off his pack. “Too dark to ford tonight. We’ll spend the night here and cross in the morning.”

Mita said nothing, instead setting down her own pack against a tree and sitting down with her back to it.

I gathered firewood while Massey lit a small fire and warmed our dinner over it. Afterwards there was no story and little conversation. Eventually I slept a bit.

. . .

I woke from bad dreams and went to relieve myself into the stream. The fire was out and it was cold, but the sun was just beginning to peek around the edge of the night. When I returned to our rough camp I found Massey already up and standing where he could look up past the sides of the canyon at the sky.

“Morning.” I said.

“Indeed. It is morning without doubt. Most insightful of you.”

I looked at him in askance and, though he was facing away it seemed as if he noticed my surprise at this display of grumpiness. “Sorry Griff. I didn’t sleep well.”

“Things on your mind?” I was hoping he would open up a little.

“More like roots in my back.”

Plainly he wasn’t about to spill his guts. “How many days to Hyubashi pass?”

“We are already on the other side of it. It is but a day to the temple at Andong.”

I whistled, surprised. We had come farther than I expected, but that is how it works high in the mountains. We truly had taken a short cut, even if we had missed a bangai along the way.

There was a snort and a oath behind us. We turned to see Mita struggling out of her blanket. I went over to give her a hand up, but she only glared at me and rolled over to get up on her own and then crashed off through the bushes. Clearly things were getting back to an even keel.

The night had rolled back a little more by then. When I turned I could see Massey grinning, though he quickly erased the expression from his face.

“She will part with us at Andong.” Massey explained.

“I think she has troubles.” I was still trying to get Massey to tell me what was going on. “Is the solution to them there?”

“The solution to trouble is never a place. It is a process. Like walking the Circuit or building a house or caring for children. Doing things changes you, even if it doesn’t change the world.”

“Then what is she to do?”

“That, my son, is for her. Just as your solution is for you. Each to their own.”

Massey paused for a moment and looked up at the sky again. “Think on the day and the night. Constantly changing, yet always the same. Always going around, but never going anywhere.

“Each person’s path in life is like the turning of the night. Mysterious, yet explicable. And entirely outside of our control. The most we can expect is to truly understand how our lives have axels and a counterbalance and hope we can keep rotating on them long enough to gain some distance from our problems.”

“Gain distance without going anywhere?” It seemed to me Massey was being even more mystifying than usual.



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