Very slight spoilers…
I generally feel with these quiet parts of the Bite Back books that I’m going overboard. Readers generally come back and tell me I’m not. Anyway, I’m going to try out a short section on this blog that hasn’t even been seen by the beta readers yet…
How in such a complex, structured society as the Athanate, could you win an argument? The issue under discussion is this: when the paranormal races reveal themselves to humans, should they agree to abide by human law, or should there be a separate law for them? A very intricate sort of problem and one on which a great deal hangs in the balance.
The Empire of Heaven (China and most of south-east Asia) stood aside from the first Athanate Assembly when it was invoked in the 1920s. The Empire of Heaven is the largest group after the two main creeds of the Assembly, Panethus and Basilikos. As the parameters of the new Assembly are being hammered out in book 5, the Empire arrives at the meeting, in the person of their Emperor’s own Diakon, Xun Huang. What side of the debate will he come down on?
This is a small part, a quiet interlude in the usual rush.
This is Huang’s speech to the Athanate. He may have been influenced by Maya Angelou (paraphrased here): “They may forget what you said but they will never forget what you made them feel.”
Huang walked to the center of the floor and stood still, waiting until the silence spread.
When he did speak, his voice was so quiet everyone had to lean forward to hear.
I didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t what came.
“I am old, even as we Athanate count it,” he said.
His words were slow and formal, with a rhythm that seemed to carry me along.
“Many, many years ago, I buried my father in an unmarked grave, beneath a solitary Linden tree on a south facing hillside, near a quiet river. In the heat of summer, the Linden’s leaves are thick and dark and green. They take the shape of hearts, and beneath their shade, the ground is always cool; the air always holds the scent of limes. As winter nears, those leaves turn and fall like a harvest of the richest gold, and make a crown to rest upon my father’s head.
Between the wars that tore our land, I would return there, and lie on that hillside. It eased my soul, and restored my strength in a time of great turmoil.
Then, beside my father, I buried my sons and my daughters, their youthful faces as yet half-formed, unblemished by age.”
Huang paused and looked up and down the ranks of Athanate, and we were silent. The whole auditorium had unconsciously synced their heartbeats with their neighbors’, until we were a creature with a single pulse, waiting, listening.
“No man should bear that sorrow,” Huang continued. “No woman either, and my wife joined them before the leaves had fallen again. I planted the trees that were their only marker.
From that moment, I slept only when exhaustion took me, because on waking, for a moment it was as if I could turn and see my wife again, only for that dream to fade, and the nightmare of life to begin again.
When the Emperor found me, I sought death every day in the face of the enemy. What prize could he offer me, in my despair, that would make me want to become immortal? What reward to become Athanate, and know that sorrow for eternity?
He spoke to me; simple words, words he told me he first heard from the lips of the Kumemnon herself, her own words: This is the gift and the sorrow of the Athanate; to see your loves pass before you like the days of summer, while your heart still beats. To keep your vigil in the shadows, and rise again with every sun.
That part you all know. Many carve it above doors to their hidden sanctuaries, to remind them that as there is light, there must be darkness, and the world turns regardless.
But the Lamentation of Arunne goes on: To be bound upon the wheel of heaven; to toil and toil and never be done. To love without reserve forever, and rise again with every sun.”
He paused, and in the depths of the auditorium the Athanate shivered as the words touched us.
Huang went on.
“That is what he said to me, and I bared my neck to him.
On that hillside now, beside the quiet river, there grows a forest, such that I may not find my family’s trees among those that mark my kin. I return there sometimes for a night. To sleep, to dream, and rise again with the sun.
The war took away my family, and my Emperor replaced it with duty. He offered me no soft consolation, no comforting lies. As one who passes from childhood must put away the easy refuges of youth, to become Athanate is to shoulder a greater destiny. And to achieve that, one may not live as a man or woman may live, under the strictures of their society.
The Athanate people must retain their own laws and customs.”