She felt a small shudder of fear. Fear was always a part of life for the people. Because of fear, they made shelter and found food and grew things. For the same reason, weapons were stored, waiting. There was fear of cold, of sickness and hunger. There was fear of beasts. And fear propelled her now as she stood, leaning on her stick. She looked down a last time at the lifeless body that had once contained her mother, and considered where to go.
"Of course not. Your strong hands and wise head make up for the crippled leg. You are a sturdy and reliable helper in the weaving shed; all the women who work there say so. And one bent leg is of no importance when measured against your cleverness. The stories you tell to the tykes, the pictures you create with words — and with thread! The threading you do! It is unlike any threading the people have ever seen. Far beyond anything I could do!"
Nodding in agreement, the women turned their backs on Kira and moved away, scolding and kicking at the small tykes by their sides. The sun was low in the sky now. They would attend to their evening tasks, preparing for the return of the village men, who would need food and fire and the wrapping of wounds. One woman was soon to give birth; perhaps that would happen tonight, and the others would attend her, muffling her cries and assessing the value of the infant. Others would be coupling tonight, creating new people, new hunters for the future of the village as the old ones died of wounds and illness and age.
Kira had always had a clever way with her hands. When she was still a tyke, her mother had taught her to use a needle, to pull it through woven fabric and create a pattern with colored threads. But suddenly, recently, the skill had become more than simple cleverness. In one astounding burst of creativity, her ability had gone far beyond her mother's teaching. Nov/, without instruction or practice, without hesitancy, her fingers felt the way to twist and weave and stitch the special threads together to create designs rich and explosive with color. She did not understand how the knowledge had come to her. But it was there, in her fingertips, and now they trembled slightly with eagerness to start. If only she was allowed to stay.
"Take pride in your pain," her mother had always told her. "You are stronger than those who have none."
Now, secret in her hand, the cloth seemed to speak a silent, pulsing message to Kira. It told her there was danger still. But it told her also that she was to be saved.
Matt heard him and looked up toward Kira in dismay. "No. Me and Branch, we be going now," he said. Then with an expression of concern, he asked, "You don't be captive here, do you?" "No, she's not a captive," Jamison reassured Matt. "Why would you think that?
"This is the entire story of our world. We must keep it intact. More than intact."
She saw that his hand had moved and was stroking the wide unadorned section of fabric, the section of the cloth that fell across the Singer's shoulders.
"The future will be told here," he said. "Our world depends upon the telling.”
The Singer's robe contained only a few tiny spots of ancient blue, faded almost to white. After her supper, after the oil lamps had been lit, Kira examined it carefully. She lay her threads — the ones from her own small collection and the many others that Annabella had given to her — on the large table, knowing she would have to match the hues carefully in daylight before she began the repairs. It was then that she noticed — with relief because she would not know how to repair it; and with disappointment because the color of sky would have been such a beautiful addition to the pattern — that there was no real blue any more, only a hint that there once had been.
When he read the word hollyhock aloud with his finger on the word, she saw that it was long, with many lines like tall stems. She turned her eyes away quickly so that she would not learn it, would not be guilty of something clearly forbidden to her. But it made her smile, to see it, to see how the pen formed the shapes and the shapes told a story of a name.
"It's a lovely thing," he said, seeing the small cloth. Kira stroked it before she closed the lid.
"It speaks to me somehow," she told him. "It seems almost to have life." She smiled, embarrassed, because she knew it was an odd thing and that he would not understand and could perhaps find her foolish.
But Thomas nodded. "Yes," he said to her surprise. "I have a piece of wood that does the same. One I carved long ago, when I was just a tyke.
"And sometimes I feel it in my fingers still, the knowledge that I had then.” He turned to leave.
That you had then? No more? The knowledge doesn't stay? Kira was dismayed at the thought but she said nothing to her friend.
Kira had not been much in the world of men. They led very separate lives from those of women. She had never envied them. Now, as she found herself jostled by their thick, sweat-smelling bodies, as she heard their muttered angry comments and their shouts, she found herself both frightened and annoyed. But she realized that this was hunt behavior, a time for flaunting and boasting, a time for testing each other. No wonder Matt, with his childish swagger, wanted to be part of it.
Annabella laughed. "There be no beasts," she said.
The fabric gave a kind of answer but it was no more than a flutter, like a breeze across her that she would not remember when she woke at dawn. The scrap told her something of her father — something important, something that mattered — but the knowledge entered her sleep, trembling through like a dream, and in the morning she did not know that it was there at all.
Ruin. Rebuilding. Ruin again. Regrowth. Kira followed the scenes with her hand as larger and greater cities appeared and larger, greater destruction took place. The cycle was so regular that its pattern took on a clear form: an up-and-down movement, wavelike. From the tiny corner where it began, where the first ruin came, it enlarged upon itself. The fires grew as the villages grew. All of them were still tiny, created from the smallest stitches and combinations of stitches, but she could see their pattern of growth and how each time the ruin was worse and the rebuilding more difficult.
But the sections of serenity were exquisite. Miniature flowers of countless hues flourished in meadows streaked with golden-threaded sunlight. Human figures embraced. The pattern of the peaceful times felt immensely tranquil compared to the tortured chaos of the others.
Tracing with her finger the white and pink-tinged clouds against pale skies of gray or green, Kira wished again for blue. The color of calm.
“So we are each artists, and we were each orphaned, and they brought us each here.”
As Kira prepared for bed, she thought about the frightened, lonely tyke below. What songs were they forcing her to learn? Why was she here at all? Ordinarily an orphaned tyke would be turned over to another family. It was the same question that she and Thomas had discussed the day before. And the answer seemed to be the conclusion they had reached: they were artists, the three of them. Makers of song, of wood, of threaded patterns. Because they were artists, they had some value that she could not comprehend. Because of that value, the three of them were here, well fed, well housed, and nurtured.
Kira did too. She wanted her hands to be free of the robe so that they could make patterns of their own again. Suddenly she wished that she could leave this place, despite its comforts, and return to the life she had known. She buried her face in the bedclothes and for the first time cried in despair.
"Why must there be such a horrible place?" Kira whispered to Thomas. "Why do people have to live like this?" "It's how it is," he replied, frowning. "It's always been."
A sudden vision slid into Kira's mind. The robe. The robe told how it had always been; and what Thomas had said was not true. There had been times — oh, such long ago times — when people's lives had been golden and green. Why could there not be such times again? She began to say it to him.
"Thomas," she suggested, "you and I? We're the ones who will fill in the blank places. Maybe we can make it different."
"Them be all broken, them people. But there be plenty of food. And it's quiet-like, and nice."
"What do you mean, broken?"
He gestured toward her twisted leg. "Like you. Some don't walk good. Some be broken in other ways. Not all. But lots. Do you think it makes them quiet and nice, to be broken?"
Puzzled by his description, Kira didn't answer. Pain makes you strong, her mother had told her. She had not said quiet, or nice.
"Anyways," Matt went on, "them got blue, for certain sure."
"Kira," he said, but he did not need to tell her now, because she knew, "my name is Christopher. I'm your father."
In shock, she stared at him. She watched his ruined eyes, and saw that they were able, still, to weep.
“We have gardens. Houses. Families. But it is much quieter than this village. There is no arguing. People share what they have, and help each other. Babies rarely cry. Children are cherished."
Kira looked at the stone pendant that rested against his blue shirt. She touched her own matching one.
"Do you have a family there?" she asked hesitantly.
"The whole village is like a family to me, Kira," he replied.
The three of them — the new little Singer who would one day take the chained Singer's place; Thomas the Carver, who with his meticulous tools wrote the history of the world; and she herself, the one who colored that history — they were the artists who could create the future.
The guardians with their stern faces had no creative power. But they had strength and cunning, and they had found a way to steal and harness other people's powers for their own needs. They were forcing the children to describe the future they wanted, not the one that could be.