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34: Embers

Under still warm coals
lie echoes of the past
bursting into flames
with the fuel of thought
vagrant music flaring in the night
fleeting fires rekindled
by still bright embers of the mind
receding once more
into dwindling warm coals

Night, and a beach-fire, and two people, finding in its warmth and glow things almost forgotten, some outdistanced by time or deliberately glossed over, meant to be left undisturbed, but shining now before them.

     “Chanting Breeze and I grew up together,” Rose began, after a contemplative silence between them as they sat gazing into the ageless incandescent depths of the fire. “It was his guitar, and—I think I can call it my guitar now. He’d like that. Thanks for bringing it along. It was good to be playing it again. I’ve neglected it lately—rather deliberately since I came back.”

     She looked at him, gave a little laugh and then confessed,

     “Silly sentimentality and—memories I guess.”

     He and Rose and Fire looked back over past happenings in silence once more until he said quietly,

     “If we want to get into old memories, I have one I thought I’d stashed away for good some long time ago. Never connected it with Shalisa Creek Bay until tonight. I knew him. At least—I met him a few times. He used to sit and play his guitar under that big fir tree away down the beach there, didn’t he?”

     Rose looked at him with startled surprise in her face, then asked,

     “You were here that long ago?”

     “No, I met him at the university. He was a couple of years ahead of me, in the law faculty. A lot of us from the music program used to get together on a Saturday night and raise hell jamming, and Pop Scene musicians used to get in on it too. He was with them. He and I used to play classics together if there happened to be just the two of us before the noise started.

     “I noticed after awhile that he wasn’t coming anymore, and then I heard he’d left for home. Took me awhile to remember that guitar, but I knew I’d seen it somewhere before. Looking at it in your house, out of context, I didn’t recall where right away. He had a beautiful touch with it. He gave himself with his music.”

     “What a strange circle life is,” she smiled. “Who would have thought that you and he would have met that way.”

     “Music brings people together.”

     There was another pause and then she remarked,

     “I guess women were there too—jamming.”

     Puzzled, he looked at her and felt he was on earthquake territory.

     “Well—yeah—these days women can do anything they want to.”

     “They certainly can,” sighed Rose, “And they certainly do.”

     “Do we have regrets about directions here?” he asked, trying to follow her thoughts.

     “That—and other things.”

     He suddenly got the drift of her conversation as his own deliberately neglected memories reached out of the fire and singed him.

     “Oh! Yeah—well—didn’t you ever get off the path?”

     She hesitated, then replied honestly,

     “Frankly—no. I was too young and love-struck.”

     They relapsed into silence again as Fire drew their thoughts, then he told her,

“We all get older—supposedly wiser. Don’t blame him too much. It wasn’t his fault. Mine actually. She was my girlfriend—or at least I thought she was. I brought her along one evening. He walked in, tall, handsome, giving out with that wonderful mesmerising presence he brought with him in his eyes, and she just got up, walked away from me and nabbed him.

     “We’re all fools, and there are people out there who collect other people to get bragging rights. A couple of sessions of being run over by the collector and we simply collapse and give in. It’s easiest, it’s wonderful and it’s deadly. They eat us, spit out the bones and go looking for more. I didn’t know she was one of those. Like you, I guess I was too young and love-struck at the time. Was that why he left, do you think?”

     “Oh no. He had a more lofty reason. He refused to bow to somebody else’s laws.”

- - -

Saturday night and the pub would be filling up.

     Chanting Breeze lifted his guitar from the corner of his room where it leaned comfortably, waiting for his touch, and ran the shoulder strap gently through his fingers.

     Rose had made that for him.

     The feel of the woven reeds with its raised and colourful patterns always heightened his awareness of the beauty surrounding him in this place he loved, because she had put into her weaving the stylised representations of what made it the delightful and fascinating home it was for him.

     The length of woven strap represented life here—things which filled a part of this space called Shalisa Creek Bay, some of it from the visible world and some of the unseen, which was always so present and important to the ongoing existence of everyone and everything around.

     Beyond Flower and Tree was Cloud, and he knew the blue behind the white also embraced Sky. There with Rainbow was Waterfall in wavy lines and there also was Cliff and with them, the Spirits of that place. Forest dwellers rested beside Creek, and in Meadow by the place of the Old Ones with their Yew trees standing green and timeless. Beach sand delineated space between Shore, Tide and Sea, and the small toe of the Gap with Guardian recorded the beginnings of it all.

     As he tuned the guitar, he regretted that the pegs were now mismatched, some having to be replaced from wear over time, and one of the originals carved of ivory had been lost after it had cracked and had to be replaced. He thought it must have fallen from his pocket somewhere after he’d sat restringing the instrument under his favourite tree, but he hadn’t been able to find it again. He had concluded at last that perhaps a raccoon had carried it away, or Tide had claimed it for a keepsake.

     He began chording softly and idly, then started singing an old folk song about a troubadour who had gone off to the wars at a distance and was now returning home to family and lady love, laden with treasure, gaily strumming his guitar—the one which his father had carried with him through previous battles and had bequeathed to the son for the continuance of praises about the noble family he came from and the bravery and wisdom all such members of it had displayed in war and council.

     If one believed the tuneful pseudo-historical verse being recited through the medium of a contemporary man accompanied by his ancient instrument, it would seem that none of these warriors had ever been cowards or traitors, or just plain ordinary frightened human beings who would much rather have stayed home, tending their orchards and loving their wives and children. No, they were all valiant and eager soldiers, abandoning home and comfort to slay for glory and plunder at the first sounding of a martial horn.

     Chant laughed a little to himself as he finished the song. Even as a child he had never quite accepted the idea that harps and lutes and guitars—ancient ones handed down from father to son—always managed to survive violent set-tos when men and armour could not.

     Being banged across a brawny back whose attached feet were chasing an opponent over rough uneven ground, or getting bounced up and down on the cantle of a saddle while charging enemy ranks, hardly seemed the best way to have preserved such fragile heirlooms, to his way of thinking. He knew only too well that much larger and more substantial items came to ruin simply by sitting still looking useless over the centuries.

     It could be presumed, Chant had figured, that before the battle began such precious belongings were laid carefully aside in some safe place, to be retrieved later when the danger was over. However, following that path of reasoning, he had concluded that such cautious forethought must have left quite a large pile of unclaimed musical instruments somewhere around after each battle, since not everyone returned from such deadly games, including, he had been told, a few of his own ancestors who did-and-died for the sake of—what?

     <Better a live pauper than a dead hero. If one must fight to protect his home, that must be done but, get killed fighting for glory and wealth? Total insanity. Any normal thinking man would rather be alive than dead. Who wants a brave and glorious name for somebody else to talk about with your wife and children after you aren’t around to enjoy it—or them? People should be exhorted to live for their homes and their countries rather than to die for them. What can a dead person do for his people? He has no further voice in council, nor ability to defend his own home.

     <True, such an attitude often leads to problems and poverty, as in the case of my own ancestors, some of whose members, I was told, were inclined to seek peaceful settlements rather than aggressive ones. Authority is quick to take advantage of peaceful reaction as a tool for its own advancement.

     <Take the word—traitor. Depending on where your thoughts lie, if a leader wants to lead—whether he’s reasonable and logical or not—you’d better fall in line or be prepared to deal with the consequences.

     <Heroics don’t only come from war and warriors. I think sometimes it takes more courage just to get up every day and face whatever comes—especially if you’ve defied authority.>

     The history of his own particular ancestor who had bequeathed this shining medium of magic sounds to be passed down through the years, had been told to Chant when he was a little child.

     As a young man—almost a boy, this minstrel had been sent to sea by his father to uphold the tradition of a great and glorious name. He was to conquer peoples, seek a magnificent fortune, presumably taken from the conquered, and return with same for the benefit of all.

     Not having found sea, glory, conquest, nor treasure to his liking, he had abandoned such prospects just before his ship was to set sail from the unproductive shores they had finally reached, where they had been met with gentle kindness and food, but where neither treasure nor the wish to argue about their lack of it had been forthcoming from the people living there.

     The night before the ship had left in search of more lucrative pickings, the young man had fled into the forest, where he had wandered, lost, hungry and cold for days, with plenty of time to ponder his manner of having dealt with orders, as well as his chosen preference for the consequences of disobeying same, until he had been found by some Shalisa fishermen who had come across him sitting forlornly on the beach, playing his guitar and singing softly to himself for consolation.

     They had taken him back with them to their bayside home.

     Chant had often wondered about that relative of the far distant past, who had given up everything familiar to follow a strange and unknown path of his own. The only concrete evidence he had of this man’s existence was himself and the guitar he had been given by his own father who had received it from his and so on back into time—an old, delicate, shaped universe for music, fabricated of wood, ebony, ivory, mother-of-pearl, and the mind of someone who knew how to produce such a wonderful medium for sound with the tools and materials in his hands, fastening into each piece a spirit of optimism and beauty and joyfulness, as well as more poignant and solemn themes, for the discovery of those who would use his gifts throughout their lifetimes.

     It had come across Sea, through storm and calm, brought by a man who had fled the fate which had been charted for him by his father, and it now rested in the hands of another who had also faced such a choice.

     <Maybe these enchanted things which can make soft hearts weep, and stir usually reasonable men into becoming berserk murderers, were collected from the field of blood by the peasants and auctioned off later to the highest bidders among the noble survivors—to help defray the cost of such carnage and the destruction of fields and fences and homes and lives which had been totally ruined in the encounter of two never-to-be-reconciled forces beating on each other to please some irascible noble who wanted more than he needed or was entitled to.

     <Souvenirs. Booty. Vengeful pride. The enemy’s instrument forced to play someone else’s love and war songs for awhile, just for spite. My own guitar—has it really survived all these years and accompanied all those mad, reckless men on all the ferocious forays I’ve been told about—or is it really just a symbol of blind obedience to someone else’s will—stories manufactured around any instrument to bolster flagging followers of the next generation? ‘Here is the spirit of music which I took with me through frightful battles, and which comforted me and my comrades in times of peril and hardship. It is yours now. Go thou, my son, and do likewise.’

     <I like to think of that spirit as assisting in the overthrow of unthinking conformity by one who saw his own path and was brave enough to take it. Seems there have been rebels in the family. Those who chose to think for themselves. I’ve been told that some lost their heads or underwent unspeakable treatment at the hands of former friends, locked in dungeons and visited by inquisitors.

     <It all seems so foreign and ridiculous to me, having grown up in this wonderful peaceful place, like my father, and his, and so many more. That’s probably why they keep repeating these tales of horror—as cautionary examples, to warn me away from such nonsense.>

     Chanting Breeze reaffirmed it to himself once again. He was a man of peace. He had lain on the beach of this warm bay many times, shirtless and shoeless in a pair of worn jeans torn off above the knees, with his eyes closed, hands behind his head, ruminating idly on such things while Sun aided and abetted his relaxation.

     Now, without the constant pressure he had known for years, a new part of himself had begun to take charge—or it might have been an old part, a boyish part which had been reduced to sombre seriousness, unknowingly and too soon, restrained by its own dungeon of gravity and responsibility.

     He hadn’t felt for years that he could laugh so much or that very real problems were so easily dealt with when the mind was free to do only that. Ordinary day to day happenings could occupy a whole day fully and satisfyingly.

     He was actually beginning to like himself and his direction.

     <Rose is so straightforward and honest that she brings out the same response in me. Before, it was always necessary to be cunning and constantly on guard, to think before I spoke with the people around me in the university where I was being educated to just such goals. Now I can say what I feel and get the same back. It’s so easy and uncomplicated.

     <Look at that moon, and it’s such a great warm evening. Maybe after I’m finished tonight Rose and I should take a walk along Beach and I’ll get her to bring along one of her songs. We can sit by our tree and sing it together and—maybe go up to Meadow. The daisies are in flower there now and they’ll glow all around, like little live spirits as bright as this moonlight. Deer’ll be browsing along the edge of the trees, and we’ll hear the voice of Waterfall whispering in the distance.>

     The imagination of the young musician roamed over a few more pleasant ideas as he watched Tide spreading a veil of pale shining gauze over the evening beach, and bringing in silver-leaf glaze to wrap around the pebbles along the shore.

     It was, he decided, a night for love.

     When he had been away in the city the days had dragged, but on weekends and holidays they were all too swift. Summertime was the best. He returned to the bay then and lived as before during the long days of Summer, but it had seemed too short a time.

     Now he was through with all that and Rose herself had decided not to go on to university in the Fall. He was glad she had made that decision. He knew only too well what could happen there. In his own mind, his time there had been a disaster.

     When he had accepted the obligation which named him as future leader the path which had been laid out for him to follow had seemed so clear and plain, but it had changed abruptly over a short time, entailing the necessity for him to learn all he could of things he had never thought of, for accomplishing this future role he had been cast in. Although in his heart it had not been his wish to leave home, that necessity had become part of his future.

     There had been so much hope put on his attendance at the institutions of higher learning. He would be an educated young leader with the skills to handle the laws of which they knew so little, and which threatened the ongoing peaceful ways of the bay inhabitants. Even the existence of the bay itself, as the beautiful place he knew, would be altered forever, it seemed, by the ongoing force of ever expanding industry if nothing was done to stop it.

     He was the one who would learn to turn the force of the antagonists back on themselves so that their own weapons would be the implements used for their defeat, leaving the Shalisa in peace at last.

     It was a heady and inspiring mandate to place on a young man who had little experience with worldly affairs.

     At first it had been exhilarating to be attending university but, like so many others, his inexperience led to mistakes. He made them just as quickly as anyone else, and was just as troubled and ashamed by his actions, as the role he had been cast in changed from ‘noble leader’ to ‘tarnished image’ in his own mind.

     Then, as he settled into its milieu and routine, it had become simply a source of quiet pride, as a duty being fulfilled.

     That too had changed. As his time there progressed he had begun to look beyond the books of required reading to what lay in the future—to the structure of the laws he was expected to use for the good of his people and the philosophy which seemed to lie behind it.

     His quick enquiring mind took him deeper into the subject than the other students around him cared to probe. He looked at it with new eyes and from another viewpoint. He saw with the mind of a Shalisa, one taught not only in the disciplines prescribed by institutions of learning, but schooled as a child in the ways of his own people.

     Sitting with his books one evening, going over a precedent, he abruptly slammed shut the one he was reading, sat back in his chair and said to himself,

     <What the hell am I doing here? I don’t have to swallow all this to keep the land as Shalisa. It is Shalisa. Why should I have to argue about the right to our place in the world? To do so will be to admit that their all encompassing ‘reasonable doubt’ can be brought into the argument. What is this definition of reason—and who can’t be persuaded to doubt? Only myself. I see no doubt. As it stands now it is Shalisa land. We have the parchment given by their own law makers which says so. I and my people have no doubts about this. It’s others who question.>

     He sat, working over this sudden revelation of a solution he had found to the problem—an old solution which had been there all the time. He gave a little laugh of triumph and pushed the books on the desk away from him.

     <Why should I have to stand up and behave like other greedy, acquisitive, avaricious people, arguing and shouting and snarling about something which is a well known truth and is not to be questioned? Then, after degrading myself in such a way, give Law the opportunity to declare I am wrong because it sees only what it wants to with its own blind eyes. If that should happen everything of the Shalisa will be lost forever, handed over by Law to the control of others. There’s another way to keep our rightful place, without my having to behave in this fashion. Fact—and I have a very tangible one. Why should I be the one required to provide proof? Let them prove otherwise.>

    In the middle of a fine year, when he was up there at the top of his class, Chanting Breeze packed his belongings and left for home. He gave no explanation, discussed it with no one.

     <They’ll call me just another misfit, like others before me. One lacking in understanding, lacking assertion, lacking motivation, who can’t hack the work. Lazy, useless, incapable of learning, without the persistence to continue—but how could I ever explain to rigid minds the concept of non-ownership? That the land we live on and the bay and other waters surrounding it, which have sustained us into the present, are held in trust by Shalisa for future generations? That this trust has not been violated from remembered time?

     <I don’t have to be taught how to tell the world that our place is for the Shalisa and always has been. I already know this. Others are welcomed to live with us in peace, not as destroyers—not to own, buy, and sell this land outright, to be done with what they will. By such actions they’ll destroy the home of the Spirits who truly own this place, and with it the Shalisa themselves. It’s for me to prevent this, but being devious, evasive, ambivalent, ambiguous and—in my own eyes—dishonest, wasn’t an included requirement in the agreement I made to become leader.

     <I can’t behave that way. Will not.>

     He didn’t go to Rose or Grandfather or his parents immediately on returning. He left his car and climbed with strong quick motions up to Waterfall, where he sat, trying to commune with Nature and the Spirits of the place where he lived—trying to regain himself and his own spirit of song and gentleness.

     He sat watching as white water fell through rainbows down and down and down to course through quiet Forest which had been saved from logging by Grandfather and an understanding stranger, and which clothed this beautiful place of joyful Spirits, secreting its location until it flowed into the joyful light of Sun and out to meet its companion, Sea, where Fog often spread a veil of calm translucence for closing out the rest of the world, leaving the bay peacefully to itself and its own pursuits.

     This place where he now sat had been venerated by all Shalisa and all leaders and now by himself, the latest probationary designate to this task. He lifted his eyes up to where this Spirit touched his world, up beyond his own keen sight, up there somewhere from beginnings never questioned by the wise. Some had tried to climb up there for answers and the only one they had found had been at the bottom of the spill, never to be revealed to others by those, now silent, who had questioned a given truth.

     He knew there were ways to see above this place—flight, not of birds, but of humans, whose unseeing eyes observed only rock and trees, unable to detect the source of a Spirit. He himself didn’t want to pry. It was enough that he knew the benevolence was here when needed, to be availed of only in extreme necessity. He wondered now if indeed that necessity had come, but he also reasoned that such a solution of salvation held in its depth ultimate ruin. The strength of Waterfall Spirit was not to be used that way. The source was to remain where it was, high up here with Sky, untouched and unprofaned.

     He brought his eyes down and regarded the spill, so deceptively soft in appearance. He thought of Rose, of the day they had stood together here, and he put his head down on his arms folded across his drawn up knees, and asked forgiveness of Waterfall for what he had done and the insult he had offered in coming there with her in that way. He confessed that he could no longer sustain the forward momentum along the path on which he had set his feet because he felt defeat was in that direction.

     He was told that defeat and success were of his own making, that he was the one who had chosen the direction he had taken and, since he thought defeat was somewhere along that path, success could only be found by walking another.

     Chanting Breeze raised his head.

     Pool was dancing to the music of rushing water and as he watched, rainbows moved and changed everywhere. Birds and flowers and trees. Sun warmed the slab of rock on which he sat and filled the hidden space of Waterfall’s home with light. He saw and heard and let this place enter his mind once again, as it had when he was a boy.

     Waterfall, Rainbow, and dancing Pool—and the returning sound of Music.

     He stayed there for two days, and those below kept their eyes away and waited.

     On the third morning he came down. He threw himself first into the icy pool, swimming hard against the flow of water which pushed him toward Falls, catching at the edge of Pool to hold himself safe, glad of the inner strength and purpose he had found for this resistance, until numbness warned him it was enough.

     He pulled himself out at last, removed his dripping clothes and let Sun dry him. Then, before he left, he thanked Waterfall, put on his damp clothing, returned downward and walked to the place of the Old Ones to make his peace. He explained himself there. Then, with his new direction and determination, he went to stand before his leader.

     Grandfather, who had seen the young man go along the beach on his way to Meadow, waited some more. Now he said nothing when Chanting Breeze entered. He gestured that the visitor should sit down but, with a shake of his head and downcast eyes, the young man indicated that he felt he was not worthy to do so at this point.

     Grandfather waited in silence.

     A long time passed while Chanting Breeze drew himself together, until he lifted his head at last, and looking into the eyes of his leader he began in the Shalisa tongue,

     “That which you ask of me, Grandfather, I can’t do. If I continue with this thing I’ll lose my own spirit in darkness. I’ve come, not in failure, but with conviction. I’ve seen that I was mistaken in choosing the path I’ve been following. Perhaps I didn’t see what was expected of me but it was what I saw, and for me it’s wrong to go on. I’ve seen that it isn’t necessary to do so. This place is ours. We know it to be so. We don’t need to argue about it. We know this truth and if necessary we have proof of their own making. Let them be caught in their own nets. I now follow the path shown to me by WaterfalI who tells no lies. I know from where I come. I know to where I go.”

     Grandfather looked into the eyes of Chanting Breeze, seeing beyond their troubled anxiety. There was silence again. Stretching silence. Onward silence. Broken by wisdom.

     “You have spoken truth. What we asked of you, Chanting Breeze, is not as precious as your spirit is to all of your people. It is for you to decide. I know you have thought well and chosen a path which you believe is best for all. It is wrong to ask a giver of songs and a voice of the Shalisa to leave his heart and take up these things for which he has no love. What you give us can never be taken from us by any law, and its place in our lives can never be filled by things learned from books. Your joy in song is ours forever. Think no more on this. Sing for us again and be at peace.”

     Once more Meadow was filled with music. Once more Chanting Breeze walked with Rose along Shore and sat beneath Tree to play his guitar as they sang together. Once more they climbed to Waterfall and, wrapped in the rainbows there, he spoke his words, asking her forgiveness once more and pledging never again to leave the path he now had taken.

     Once more, on Saturday nights, he went to the pub and sang and earned money. He recorded some of his songs in the passing winter. People liked them. They sold well.

     He knew now of one way he could help his people. He would make money instead of law. It was as powerful, if not more so. He was taking good care of what he earned, for he had learned how to make it grow. In his mind he saw it growing like the trees of Shalisa Creek Bay and he would see to it that it would grow as fine in a different way.

     <I’ll use it for the Shalisa. I’m young enough. I have plenty of time.>

     It was a fine and laudable dream.

- - -

Sitting idly strumming his guitar, Chanting Breeze was content. He felt he’d found his path and his purpose at last. He put the instrument in it’s case and went out to the car to head for the village, and Rose ran out from Grandfather’s house to kiss him, saying,

     “Don’t stay too long. It’s such a lovely evening.”

     “Sure is, and I won’t stay any longer than I have to,” he smiled, kissed her again and drove off.

     He rumbled and rattled along the old logging road which, although now abandoned, was not yet overgrown, thinking of the coming evening after he was finished at the pub—Moon, Waterfall and Rose.

     The pub was noisy, and crowded with people from out of town. The place had a reputation for good food and, now, for good music. Weekenders drove out for the country atmosphere and to let themselves go, behaving in ways they wouldn’t have, had they been back in their own places. It seemed they operated with the idea that going to small towns gave them licentious freedom to do as they pleased, and many of them did exactly that, abandoning inhibitions and, even at times, common civility.

     He slipped the shoulder strap over his head, sat down at the mike and began singing. They loved it. They applauded noisily and with whistles. It was rowdier than he liked.

     After two encores he sat at a table set for him and began eating his dinner. The overly noisy babble of voices was disturbing to him. He thought of leaving but he had promised a second performance.

     Some men close by were having a terrible argument and swearing a lot. As he finished his soup two of them got up, knocking over a chair, and began grappling and clawing at each other, falling against his table as they did so.

     He rose quickly to his feet, snatching his guitar to safety as the two staggered into his table sending dishes flying. While he held his guitar high over his right shoulder away from harm he raised his voice above the noise, telling them,

     “Come on now, cool it!”

     Trapped by the wall behind him, he fended one of them off with the flat of his free hand as they fell against him and he told them,

     “Don’t get heavy here—go and sit down!”

     “Leggo me you damned bastard—I’ll take you out!”

     It was only then that he saw the knife. The man lunged at him, tripped, and the blow was given even more force than might have been delivered by hand and arm alone.

     Chanting Breeze hardly heard the noise and confusion around him. With a slow, unhurried motion he placed his guitar carefully on the table as the attacker backed off, and for one moment the young musician stood, quite still, his eyes seeing beyond this place to one which his spirit loved well.

     Then he fell headlong into Pool and was carried, laughing, into the spill, buoyed up by the soft, bright, billowing white mass of it, with Waterfall’s crescendo of music in his ears, Rainbow before his eyes, rolling and tumbling with effortless ease, dropping weightlessly down and down rocky Cliff, washing out with Creek from fine green Forest, across shell strewn Beach into the welcoming, comforting embrace of Sea, drifting quietly into sheltering, peaceful depths.

     At the inquest it was held forth that it had been an accident. There were witnesses who swore the accused man had been attacked. The weapon named was a guitar. Many had heard shouting from the musician, although they were not sure of the words. Many had heard the accused say, ‘Let go of me’—of these words they were quite sure. Many said they had seen the man trip as he tried to escape the voiced threats and the attack of the wielded guitar.

     Even when the owner of the pub explained that Chanting Breeze had simply tried to get out of the way it was not believed. It was contended that there had been no intent by the accused. It was claimed that the knife had been taken from another man in self-defence during the fight and, when the accused had tripped, trying to get away from Chanting Breeze, the accident had taken place.

     Accidental death. Another one of those drunken brawls in a pub on a Saturday night. A few words on the evening news. A few lines in two or three newspapers.

     The body was released for burial at last. The guitar and personal belongings were returned to his parents, along with the verdict. That, his books and his necklace of gathered friendly spirits were given to Rose when his parents left Shalisa Creek Bay for work up north, wanting to forget, hoping to be given the gift of passing time which blunts the memory of things too sad to hold in their entirety.

     Rose set the guitar in a corner of her room and didn’t touch its strings. She looked at the books and, as days went by, began to read them.

     After some time spent this way she went to Grandfather.

     “I will do what Chanting Breeze could not,” she told him firmly, “Because he thought it must be done their way. Law can be used in many ways. It will be necessary in future to know how. We’ve seen that it’s so. Even with the parchment there’ll be those who will argue. I’ll do this for my people, with honesty as he wished it, and for the good of those who are innocent and have no one to help them. I will not defend those who lie or cheat or steal—or those who kill. That will be for others. I’ll find a way to keep this land for the Shalisa. This I promise.”

     Grandfather, looking into the intense eyes before him, nodded.

     “You are young and have much to learn, but I believe you will be a great leader one day. My daughter would be proud that her daughter speaks this way. Do this thing for your people my grand-daughter.”

     After she had left he sat and wondered.

     <What will become of this now? She and Chanting Breeze were our hope and our future. Who now will understand and continue the way of the Shalisa? Are we also meant to walk the path of extinction like so many others, unknown by those who come after, and who care nothing for what has gone before?>

     He walked to his doorway, lifting his eyes to where hidden Waterfall kept converse with the surroundings as it traced its course to Sea. He turned back into the room and sat in the gathering darkness.

     Head high and straight-backed he sat, Leader of the Shalisa, which now numbered four, only two of whom still remained at Shalisa Creek Bay.

- - -

There was no need for David to say anything after Rose had stopped speaking, and he couldn’t have found words which would have conveyed more than his silence did. ‘Sorry’ would have been such an impotent, empty, useless remark.

     Embers and flames once more brought memories and dreaming awhile for the two of them and then Rose broke their silent musings.

     “Tell me—how do you know he used to play the guitar by that old fir?”

     “I got caught here by darkness once when I flew in at the start of building the casino. Had to stay the night. I took my flute and wandered along the beach, and the tree seemed to invite me to lean against it, so I sat down there and played a bit of music, just relaxing and enjoying not having to do anything in particular, and while I was at it I found a guitar peg in the duff. I put it in my pocket intending to take it home with me but—that was when he came along. He asked me not to. I didn’t know it was him at the time, but I put the peg back. I just felt it meant something to somebody.”

     He hesitated, then added almost apologetically,

     “I guess that sounds crazy.”

     “Not at all,” she assured him. “It meant a lot to me when I found it the day I came back here.”

     “You found it?!”

     “I was sitting there in a deep fog—real and in my head. I was cold and lonely and wishing I hadn’t come, getting ready to give up and go back again and—then I found it in the duff.”

     “That’s why he asked me to put it back!” he exclaimed. “I knew I wasn’t nuts!”

     “Of course you’re not—just different like everybody’s been saying all this time. They just don’t know how to deal with it, so it’s easier not to.”

     Fire began to concentrate itself, withdrawing its leaping, flashing flames, offering instead soothing quiet coals to put forth warmth for the two pensive people sitting there, flanked by the white samoyeds.

     “You know, I can’t thank you enough for Tranquil Spirit,” offered David. “I used to feel a sort of wonderful, happy solitude here sometimes, when I was alone with just Ulf and Gurth—something in this place which never came to me anywhere else—like a friend, always ready to join me here—a sort of all around kind of thing, like a cheerful, welcoming spirit wherever I went in the bay. I’ve laughed and sung and played music with it here, swimming or sitting on the beach or just wandering around. It was everywhere, but of course it always slipped back into the trees every time I left.

     “Now though, it’s different. Sometimes when things start grabbing me and I catch myself getting discouraged I just sit down in my little floating office, close my eyes and hold the little pouch in my hands and—I’m at Shalisa Creek Bay again, the way my flute helps me to lose myself, except I couldn’t play my flute all the time in difficult situations, but now I can just reach up and finger the necklace and... .”

     He stopped speaking, took his eyes away from the fire and looked at her, suddenly feeling he was exposing too much of himself again, then said, in his usual retreating way,

     “Sorry. I’m off on another ramble. Must be the beer talking.”

     “Not beer,” Rose told him with a smile, recognising his defensive mechanism coming into place, “You just seem to be taking on the ways of the Shalisa. I’m glad you stayed on taking care of the fire. It was good to talk. I haven’t had anyone but Grandfather to confide in for so many years, and I guess I’ve been bottling it up all this time. Thanks for letting me dump on you. Glad you didn’t conk out on me before I got here.”

     “Thanks for coming back,” he smiled. “I guess I kind of hoped you might. Sure helps me not to feel so weird about things. Think I needed to talk too. Guess I had my head in my sweater when you came up. I thought you’d been summoned by the fire or something.”

     “Well, it’s a bit odd, but I got the idea that’s why you were sitting here by yourself. I did feel kind of summoned.”

     “Coincidence—or—you know—once or twice I’ve begun to doubt my own sanity here.”

     “You’re not the only one,” she assured him. “This place gets people, including me sometimes.”

     “If we keep this going maybe I won’t need a telephone when I want to talk to you next time,” he laughed.

     “That’ll be fun,” she laughed with him. “I’ll try to stay tuned in. I think I can sleep now. Shall we put out the fire and head for our bunks before you fall over and get roasted?”

     “Good idea,” he agreed, knowing that the companionable presence of Fire had helped them toward a more peaceful attitude within themselves.

     David brought water in the ‘finger bowl’ bucket, pouring it on until the fire hissed, turned black at last after several more inundations, and went out steaming, transformed into damp charcoal and charred bits, once more storing away its magic for the future.

     “Good-night Fire, see you again,” was David’s laughing farewell as they began to walk away.

     “Thank you for keeping us so warm,” was Rose’s parting remark to the dark ashes.

     “Geeze it’s dark,” he remarked. “You got a flashlight?”

     “Of course. How do you think I got here?”

     “So that’s your secret,” he accused. “Not Grandfather at all.”

     “It was Grandfather all right. He was always telling me to shine light in dark places. Want me to do that?”

     “Oh, I can see now,” he told her as they walked down the beach without using the artificial aid, Ulf and Gurth pacing on either side. “It was just the sudden blackness. You know how the light dazzles your eyes. Surprising how much a person can see without light at night out here. Look at those stars. The Milky Way never turns itself on like that for us at home. And Orion. We could almost shake hands with him. And look at the Big Dipper. Do you call it Great Bear? Its almost tactile here.”

     Then, as they started toward the barge, he turned to her with,

     “Uh oh—got a problem. Can you ferry us around to the barge ramp? I forgot. Ulf and Gurth don’t climb vertical ladders too well.”

     “Let’s go get BRIGHT LEAF,” was her solution.

     Into the evening came the scraping sound of the canoe as they launched it from the beach, small settling noises as they got in, but with the silence of an experienced paddler, Rose moved them off across the water and around to LEGER DE MAINs boarding ramp. As they came around the end of the barge sitting there in the darkness, dimly illuminated by the waning moon as they approached, to his eyes it took on again the appearance of a castle he had so often seen in it, and it seemed to be his enchanted troll’s hideout again, floating in the bay.

     As BRIGHT LEAFs bow bumped lightly against the ramp Rose asked, as she held the canoe steady against the barge.

     “Shall I leave the flashlight with you?”

     “No thanks,” he refused the offer, “There’s a lamp just inside the door I can light. Hop up guys. ’Night, Rose.”

     “Goodnight David,” her reply came up as she pushed BRIGHT LEAF away from the barge.

     Following the dogs up the ramp he stood on the deck, hearing the sound of the canoe being pulled ashore as she beached it, her retreating footsteps, and then the closing of her door.

      For a moment he stood gazing up at the brilliance of stars and moon against the darkness of the sky, turned to look out over the bay, rippling with its own reflected lights, hearing night sounds infiltrating the quietness, then started for the three broad steps.

     He stumbled from sleepiness as he went up, still thinking of what he and Rose had spoken of, the spell of imagination beginning to fade, but when he opened the door and walked in—there was his castle, its scars lost in shadows cast by the glowing fireplace, sleeping bag laid out before it—and a bottle with a little glass beside it—an offering from a man who himself knew the moods of Sea and the sometimes need of being alone with thoughts.

     Fitz had made sure he cleared out early, and was now fast asleep aboard JOLLY ROSE.

     “Hey guys,” David said to Ulf and Gurth with a smile, “Has this been a welcome today or what? We’ll sure sleep well tonight.”

     The two samoyeds, themselves tired from using the freedom the beach offered for long runs, full of good offerings from the company there, and the excitement which the whole evening had given them, didn’t need a second prompting. They settled themselves by the fireplace, rolled over, and decided sleep was just the right finish to it all.

     “That’s the spirit,” David laughed softly, stretched out his arms and gave each one a friendly rub on the shoulder. “I’m going to enjoy a glass of brotherhood here for awhile.”

     “Good idea,” said the silence from the two white brothers.

     David lifted the bottle, noted the firelight dancing into the little glass with the brandy as he poured it, and watched the sparkle of crystal and contents as he gave it a little swirl and took in the aroma appreciatively.

     “Here’s to friendship,” he said as he lifted the glass high, inviting Fire to accept the toast.

     Gazing into the flames as they reduced the wood to bright coals, David’s mind was on Rose. He thought of her guitar playing, of how plain it had been that she knew the instrument and her music well, and of what a pleasure it would be to hear it together with his flute—but the memory of Chanting Breeze seemed to stand firm and unmoving through it all.

     <I think I’ve just found the obstacle in the path Li and I spoke of—and it’s a lot bigger than I expected. She hasn’t forgotten him after all these years. Her song must have been about their time together—and I didn’t expect to hurt so much from that old memory of him and Diana.>

     He sat a little longer, watching the glowing coals, and decided he’d better set his mind on other things before he lost the feeling of peaceful serenity which had begun to settle on him.

     <Really ought to do something about LEAF WINE, but the weather’s too dicey to think of bringing TJUTELA up here right now to tow her back home. Think I’ll just leave her at the public wharf in the village until the spring. She’s safe there. Guess Gram and I had better finish up with putting the garden to sleep for the winter too—and maybe right about now I’d better put myself to bed.”

     He finished his drink, got up and laid some more wood onto the embers in the fireplace, ready for sleep, knowing that he had to get up early to meet his flight commitment the next morning.

     As he rinsed the little glass, he glanced at himself in the mirror Fitz had hung over the sink, and saw there a bright surround of curls shining around his face from the backlighting of his hair by the lamp.

     Only then did it occur to him what the two opening words of Rose’s song might have implied. She had said she’d changed the song.

     All the reasonable introspection of a few minutes before lost itself in the image of the mirror. Wide-eyed awake now, he ran his hand over his fair hair in surprise and murmured questioningly to himself,

     “Shining Hair—or do I presume too much?”