The boys and girls of the temple stood in filed rows. No one talked, no one moved. The entire temple population was packed into the great hall. Everyone that is except the temple leaders. Then the most senior of the Ro-Kan monks sombrely entered the hall, followed by Master Ekusa. The doors were shut behind him with a certain finality.
Yumi stood stock still with the rest of her peers, her heart racing uncontrollably but she couldn’t say why. She was excited she realised, she had never witnessed an event like this before and she was eager to find out why. She looked at Kenko and let out a stifled giggle, he looked as tense as she felt. She reached out and took his hand, he was tense, he was as rigid as the trunk of a great cedar. She looked at him more seriously now, she realised her brother was uptight but this was something else. “What is…” Yumi’s whisper was interrupted by Master Ekusa clearing his throat.
All eyes focussed on Master Ekusa now, all ears straining intently to hear what was to come.
Having cleared his throat and gained the unequivocal attention of the room, Master Ekusa began…
“How do we talk of that which hurts?
To who do we reveal the pain that grows?
It can come at an ungodly hour,
This pain, the shame, I cannot shed.
As a tree races to be tall,
It finds it has so far to fall.
Until this story of mine own is told,
This fire within me will burn.”
As Ekusa finished his poem, no one moved. Riku watched Yumi watching Kenko. He saw the concern, so odd on her usually carefree face. It pained him to see her so worried.
The room stood still, Ekusa waited, one of the things the monks had was patience reflected Riku. He stood and waited thinking about what Ekusa had said and then like a flood of understanding, realisation washed across his young brain. It must be Kenko, he must have done something, Ekusa must be giving him a chance to own up, thought Riku.
Again Ekusa broke the silence “Well you have had time to consider my words, who amongst you has something they would like to say?”
It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have embarrassed him in front of everyone, thought Riku. Here goes nothing… Riku stepped forward, “it was me.”
An excited murmur arose in the hall, a myriad of whispers wondering what the new boy had done to cause this.
Kenko physically shook as if from a blow as Riku confessed. Why is he taking the blame for me? I should own up now it’s not right for him to take the blame. Kenko rose his eyes to meet Master Ekusa’s, their gazes met, the flawed protégé and his master. He went to take a step forward and with that Master Ekusa gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head, stopping the boy in his tracks. Kenko felt bewildered as Ekusa gave instructions to the monks by his side. Everyone was herded out of the main doors. As Kenko was pushed onwards towards the door a backwards glance saw Ekusa and Riku leaving through the side door to Ekusa’s study.
Kenko knew now the real feeling of shame, he realised he was the tree that had grown too tall. His pride had provided a much bigger fall than Riku’s sweep ever could have. He walked calmly to his favourite tree. Yumi watched Kenko walk away knowing this was not a time where a little sister could help. As he sat down and folded his legs away, Kenko realised he felt calmer than he had for cycles. He allowed his mind to wander around the events of the last few weeks. He understood fully the sacrifice that Riku had made on his behalf and why. He was thankful to Riku not just for taking the blame but for showing him how to be a better person, he saw that now. As the awareness of how to be strong yet flexible like Riku sunk in, he felt the strangest feeling, a feeling of true strength. He felt the power coursing in his veins, tingling through his body. He looked down at his arms and with delight saw that his skin was turning to bark. The shock made him momentarily lose his focus, he centred his mind reclaiming his new found calm.
Riku sat down in the chair in front of him, carved from an ancient willow trunk. Across from him Master Ekusa looked on for what seemed like an age, the old man didn’t move. Riku peered at him trying to ascertain whether he was even breathing.
Riku considered this a strange punishment at first, until the numbness began to spread through his body. What is Master waiting for? This wait was worse than anything else. Does Master know something I don’t? Wondered Riku.
“Enter, Kenko.” Ekusa smiled knowingly at Riku’s startled face.
Riku watched Kenko walk formally into the room and stop stiffly before Ekusa. Kenko bowed his head, “Sorry Master.” Ekusa simply held up his hand to gesture for silence, as the room fell back into quiet Riku let out a groan. Ekusa looked at him in surprise now and then let out a rather loud chuckle. He shooed the boys out with his hands, as he laughed at the nature of youth.
Riku and Kenko walked along in silence. Neither boy willing to break their amicable peace. Both enjoying the others company, for the first time without a dangerous edge to it. Kenko was the first to speak inviting Riku to his favourite tree explaining that he had something to show him. They walked under the boughs of the trees, the light dancing on the sun dappled ground.
“I’m sorry I…” declared Kenko earnestly.
“No need to apologise, now what did you have to show me?” Riku interrupted in his typically laid back style. Kenko allowed himself to draw upon the Ki he had felt earlier causing his skin to harden and turn to bark in patches along his arms.
“Wow,” said Riku, excited now “That’s amazing, now look at this,” said Riku. Riku drew upon his own Ki summoning water out of both ground and air around him, he began to form a ball and his focus deserted him, the water dropping from the air, forming a puddle at his feet.
The boys laughed at their fledgling powers, united by their new found secrets.
In the coming weeks and cycles the boy’s friendship developed into something akin to brotherhood, Ekusa looked on with a sense of joy as he watched the boys grow.