It was very quiet in the Temple this morning. Griften hadn’t stayed at the temple often since being charged with the keeping of the Citadel of Serenity, but his memories of the years here still were very clear.
A proper tribute to a man so well-respected.
The ceremony had been yesterday, but this quiet would continue for seven more days as was appropriate for one such as Senji.
Perhaps this quiet will echo through the halls when my time is ended…
There was always some activity in the Temple, a self-sustaining group of hundreds of people always needed some activity, but even those normally in critical phases of their training will remain still and in quiet contemplation during this time of mourning.
Griften strolled aimlessly through the halls of the Temple and could not hold back the thoughts of yesterday’s events…
“Will this suffice?” The acolyte asked, but Griften wasn’t listening. He stared out the arched window across the white peaks of the Rakers that lay before him. “Master?” The acolyte could tell he didn’t have his master’s attention.
Griften turned and focused for a moment on the robe the monk held up for Griften‘s approval for the day’s ceremony. As Senji’s long time pupil, Griften was charged with overseeing the logistics of the ceremony.
If they only knew everything, things would be different.
Justinian held up a long, white robe; often worn for ceremonies such as this. Usually, monks passing from the order was an occasion to be celebrated as much as monks celebrate anything; monks considered death in almost all forms as a transcendence to another form of sorts. This occasion, however, was not a happy one; Senji was murdered; his life stolen from him, stolen from the Brotherhood… stolen from Griften. Griften‘s focus drifted again as the flashbacks threatened again.
“Black.” Griften snapped back into the moment. “The congregation will dress in black this day.”
Justinian paused a moment but quickly recovered. “Yes, Master, I will see to it. Do you need anything else?”
Griften turned away, back to the window. “Masters to carry our Brother. I need the Masters.”
Justinian bowed politely and disappeared into the hallway; the rustle of his sandals on the stone floors the only sound in the quiet, mournful temple.
If they only knew…
Later that day, when it was time for the procession, Griften found himself ashamedly wrestling with an inner turmoil no effort would quiet; Griften‘s emotions were threatening to rise to the surface. Years of training & discipline had shaped Griften into a statue of composure under duress; immovable, unflinching; like granite. But now, surrounded by the familiar surrounds of his youth, a time when he was so different than he was now, Griften found himself close to losing his composure amidst an army of his brethren; many of whom looked up to him!
Griften took a deep breath and focused his attentions again, realizing now that he was not alone anymore in the antechamber. He had been joined in silence by the high-ranking monks of his order, the remaining Masters of the Winds, now coming together to bid farewell to one of their own.
Without words, Griften and his Brothers hoisted the wide, wooden platform that bored the shrouded body on to their shoulders. No powers were ever used, and they would not be today; a silent tribute in committing the body back into nature as it had once come; humble, natural, and with great respect.
Slowly they stepped forward in unspoken unison, and started down the long hallways towards the outer doors. Griften‘s gaze became distant as he could hold back the memories no longer:
“Griften, pay attention. Griften!” Senji’s voice snapped Griften back to reality. Griften turned and saw his trainer, young and wide-eyed, starting at his newest acolyte. “You daydreaming again? You’ll get a chance to do your mental calisthenics later, but not until you learn this!”
Griften sighed, “But we’ve done it a hundred times!”
“You whine like a mule on your parents’ farm, you know. My count is forty-two, so you’ve got a ways to go until you reach 100.” Senji smiled at Griften, never harsh in his instruction. Griften marvelled at Senji’s rigor; just three years his senior but already a member and already granted an acolyte to train. “See? Like this. Remember, left foot forward…” Senji stood next to Griften, imitating again his stance. “1, 2, 3, 4, repeat.” Senji acted as if his staff had a mind of its own, it moved like it was one of his arms.
“Ok, I think I know what’s going wrong.” Senji said. Griften was glad the training circle was empty this morning. He didn’t work well with everyone watching; he was still new here and he always felt that everyone was watching him. “Let’s try it this way.” Senji’s smirk broadened into an all-out grin as he moved opposite Griften instead of beside him.
“What are you doing?” Griften asked, standing upright and leaning on the training staff.
“This move you’re awful at, well it’s a defensive and offensive move combo like I said. It keeps you safe as you try to disarm your opponent. You lack imagination, Griften. You’re not seeing your opponent, so we’re going to try it this way instead.” The grin was now as mischievous as Griften could remember seeing in Senji; a fleeting glimpse of the boy before the monk, perhaps? Senji had never sparred with Griften before; one-on-one combat only came much later in training, after many more lessons and a great deal more practice!
“Ok…” Griften reluctantly agreed and positioned his feet again.
“Ready?” Senji asked.
“A monk does not succumb to their emotions, Griften.” Senji said over his shoulder as he returned to his starting position.
“Again!” Senji said, going faster now.
1, 2, 3, WHACK!
Griften dropped his staff in a flash of blinding pain as Senji wrapped his fingers with a crisp snap of his staff.
“Gotcha!” Senji’s smile was back. “Faster!” He began again and Griften grabbed his staff quickly out of sheer desperation.
1, 2, 3, 4, Repeat!
“Nice one,” Senji called as Griften survived to Step 4. “Again!”
1, 2, 3, 4, Repeat!
“Faster!” Senji called again.
1, 2, 3, 4, Repeat!
“Faster!” Griften was past thinking at this point; he was acting out of pure self-preservation. His hand throbbed and his movements were commanded by sheer panic.
1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4…
Griften could hear a rhythm now. In the clacking of his staff, in the shuffle of Senji’s feet on the floor….
1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4… And then it happened. The sound of his staff hitting the floor. Griften looked down and saw the staff lying there, but he still held his tightly; knuckles white with the grip. Griften could hardly believe it.
“Excellent.” was all Senji said. With a courteous bow, Senji picked up his staff and turned to leave. “You may turn now to your other studies, Brother Griften.”
It was the first time Senji had ever called him ‘Brother’.
Griften‘s eyes watered ever so slightly and he swallowed hard, glad the Masters behind him could not see his face.
As they reached the end of the hallway, the doors were opened and the frigid air of the Rakers washed into the entrance. The sun reflected off the snow brushed into the corners of the massive courtyard, and the peaks shone in the distance with icy luminance even from far away.
Assembled in the courtyard was the entirety of the Monks of the Yellow Rose. Hundreds of monks, darkening the sun with robes all in black. The only sound now was the wind whistling across the open courtyard and the crackle of the torches in the distance.
Slowly Griften led them down the stairs and through the ranks of his Brothers. Silent, stone-faced and patient, the assemblage watched as the Master of the South Wind, Senji Tul-Marin was led for the final time through their midst. Arriving at the wooden stairs, Griften slowly began the climb, each step a reluctant agony.
Could this be? How had it come to this? Are they all watching me? Surely they don’t know…
Arriving atop the large wooden structure, Griften silently lowered the platform atop of the dais constructed there. Securing the shroud against the cold wind, Griften nodded and the four masters proceeded down the stairs again and took their place within the assemblage.
To an outsider, the following minutes of silence might have seemed awkward, or empty. But no monk moved or spoke. Surely they all were recounting much in their minds, but for the wind, nothing stirred. It was then, that she arrived.
From behind the congregation, the same large doors opened and The Grand Master emerged. Cloaked not in black, but in a gown of shimmering, almost water-like white, she was shielded against the sun by a hood of thick white cloth and her arms folded in front of her covering her hands against the cold wind. Griften was reminded again of her powerful presence; a silent, wordless thunder she carried with her with an elegance that could not be denied. Tall for a woman, she stood in the doorway for what seemed like a minute, but couldn’t have been more than seconds. As she descended the stairs, Griften noted that it didn’t even appear that she walked; so graceful her stride. Her long robe brushed gently against the snow on the ground, so she could have been floating on air.
With obvious reverence, the monks of the order watched her pass by to the small dais, and she arrived there quite suddenly; the funeral pyre reaching almost two stories overhead behind her. With a slow, painstaking gesture, the Grand Master then reached from the folds of her voluminous white robe and slowly drew back her hood. Her piercing eyes shone from her delicate frame and her head still showed not a sign of hair. She was breathtaking in her element, here, atop the Rakers, and a rare sight for her to join The Brotherhood, even for occasions such as these.
And then, beginning low and rising to a voice that could carry across two courtyards, the Grand Master of Flowers spoke:
“It is with a sense of loss we gather today, but I tell you it is not a sense of loss we suffer. Now we suffer envy, for our Brother has succeeded in his destiny where we have not yet done so. Understanding comes through knowledge, and Senji had much. I am certain that in his final moments, our Brother knew he had reached his goal.”
She knows everything. Of course she knows.
“We gather here now to celebrate the culmination of a life not wasted, but one that stands as an example to how life can be lived. Full, honourable, and devoted to a higher purpose. No, it is not loss we suffer this day, truly it is envy.”
The Grand Master then made another simple gesture, and a member of the order reached forward to the torches flickering but undefeated in the cold mountain wind. Walking around to the back of the pyre, the monk touched the torch to the pyre and tinder, and Griften could see now the flames begin their slow climb, beginning the final farewell of Senji Tul-Marin.
As the flames began to crackle against the dry wood, Griften took note that not a soul had moved. All attentions were on the pyre; even the Grand Master in this rare appearance was staring at the pyre; seemingly lost in thought.
Griften wandered again; remembering…
When Griften‘s senses returned to him, he was suddenly aware that he had been standing there for a great deal of time. Much of the congregation had now left; content in their goodbye to their brother and master, anxious to return to the warmth of the Temple for their contemplations.
Behind him, standing in a line were his eleven; Griften‘s strongest acolytes and those most devoted to him. Griften had never trained just one pupil for as long as Senji had trained him, Griften did not know this mentorship that he was so much the beneficiary of. Perhaps one of these few would look to Griften one day as having offered some insight, some help, some guidance.
How can I guide another when I have so many questions? How can I instruct anyone when I don’t know what to do myself?!
Griften looked across their faces and saw in them that innocence he knew Senji once saw in him. These young men had not yet entered the world. They’ve been sheltered by it, told about some of it, but they don’t truly know. They can’t understand. Even as the Grand Master’s words rushed back to Griften, “Understanding comes through knowledge…” he felt the words empty of their value.
“Brothers, thank you. Please return to the Temple. Your duties here are finished.” The acolytes paused a moment and returned as directed. Justinian lingered again a moment, looking for any sign of something he could do, but he saw in his master’s face nothing. “Go ahead, thank you.” Griften gave one last glance before turning again to those that stood at his shoulder; the Masters of the Winds.
“Thank you, Masters.”
Arioss, the Master of the West Wind turned to Griften. He was a very tall man in his early forties if Griften guessed right, but monkly discipline and the possibility of hidden power could mean he was much older. Incredibly fit and always hooded; these were some of the only things he knew of this Master, one he would eventually challenge for his rank. Senji did not speak much of the other Masters of the Winds, but Griften knew them to be men of stature and immense wisdom, just like Senji.
“Your soul is troubled, young one. Burden yourself not with what could have been, but heed well the words of our Master; she is right in all things. Your Master met his end in the manner destined for him. Trust in that.”
Without another word, the three remaining Masters of the Wind slowly filed back up the stairs and through the large doors which closed behind them.
Alone then, standing in the courtyard of the Temple of the Yellow Rose, with nothing but the howling wind and the roaring flames to bear witness, Griften cried.