Went to the Solstice Feast last night. You should have been there. You'd have loved it--it was the best one I've been to since I came here. It's strange--back in the Wheel, all our holidays were about people or events, but here they really are all about the seasons--Rebirth, Solstice, Harvest, New-Year, Winterfall. It's simple, but I like it. I almost like it better than the ones I grew up with. I wonder what kind of holidays you used to celebrate back in Indostan? You never told me.
It was a nice night--cloudy, but warm. It's been raining here the last few days, so the air had that smell like mushrooms and breathing plants. I love that smell-it reminds me of you. I know I used to tease you about the morels you spent so much time picking, but anymore I miss that smell, even if it was only on your breath. Anyway, the Feast. We called Corners, Madeleine said a few words and then Wintergreen led us in the singing of the Midsummer canticle. Do you remember that one? Still the day, slow the sky... Not my favorite, but I like it well enough. After that, we went back to the cooking fires and ate and danced like nothing you've ever seen. Woodlace made up these pela'd'at fritters--I've never had them before, but they were great. I probably ate three by myself! I always knew him as the Master Grower, but he's a pretty good cook too! Some of the Scouts put together a sparring match--winner take challenger. It was nice. Ash-Blade even talked me into picking up my staff, and even though I haven't really trained since the Reunion, I gave her a few solid whacks. You'd have been proud, I think. We called it a draw--no point in two Masters getting all sore about a loss.
That reminds, me--Ash-Blade! I don't know if you two ever talked much, but after you died she and I became really good friends. She was always nice to me in the first years of my training. She stuck up for me with Nightshade, just like you did. Did you know she's become the Master Scout now? It's true! I passed the Red Band on to her. I bet you didn't even know I was made Master Scout either, but that was so short a time that I suppose it doesn't matter. Oak-Root gave it to me, and during the Battle of the Reunion it was me and Nightshade against the Raiders. I wish you could have seen it.
Anyway, for what it's worth, Ash-Blade's doing really well. She was always so confident in that quiet way she has, but ever since being ordained a Master, it's like she's changed. She's... strong. She smiles more. I think she's carved out a new sword--the finish shines in the firelight now. I suppose her old one was pretty beaten up after the shipwreck. Anyway, whatever it is, she's finally happy, I think. She was probably waiting a long time for this. I'll have to go find her Song and read. I'm happy for her, and I know you would be too.
Is it wrong that I'm a little jealous of her? I just... I don't think I was ready to stop being a Scout. I wish that Madeleine hadn't asked me away to start studying again. Oh well. What does it matter?
So yeah. We talked, Ash-Blade and I. It was later in the evening, during a play the Healers were putting on. I'd been trying to stick close to Madeleine after the matches, but she found me and dragged me away out of the crowds. We ended up sitting out in the darkness near the entrance to the clearing, sharing a sliced-up gladefruit and listening to the tree-frogs.
She actually asked me: "How are you doing?"
Even now, I have to pause at that, you know? I don't think anyone's actually asked me that since he died. I tried to play it off. I just smiled and shook my head. I told her I was good, told her about everything Madeleine has me learning. Most of it was Eng to her--she smiled a lot and nodded her head, but honestly I don't think Ash-Blade can imagine a life that doesn't involve fighting. I know how she feels.
She asked me: "So we're safe now?"
I shouldn't mock her for wanting to know, but it just seemed like a strange thing to ask. I told her, "Yeah. The Wheel's changed now. Their city's fallen, and now the villages along the coasts are free to live as they want in peace." I can remember smiling. "Madeleine says that some of the women in the Wheel have started worshipping the Spirit openly again." I had to make fun of her a bit, so I punched her shoulder and added "You can stop worrying." She laughed. She told me that her Scouts had been finding small bundles of food or trinkets out at the edges of the Wood. I had to explain to her that these were offerings from the Wheel-People, and they've been doing it secretly for years. She seemed to think they were something to be afraid of--she'd been ordering the Scouts to avoid them.
"I thought they might be traps," she said to me.
I had to laugh again. Traps? Traps? I know, I know; she doesn't know the Wheel like we do, but it still struck me as funny. I don't suppose I blame her--she's never really led Scouts before, just fought as one. I can tell she's still getting the hang of this. She told me so: "There's a lot more, trying to lead, you know? The Song-Keeper says I'll be years trying to master everything I need to know. Said one day the lessons would be carved in my bones."
I remember smiling. "She's right, you know. It'll come eventually."
She laughed at me and shook her head. "I dunno. I have to wonder how Oak-Root did it, but--"
Even in the dark, I swear she went pale. I didn't bother saying anything. I know she didn't mean it--she tried to apologize, but why, you know? It's not like nobody can ever talk about him again, just because I never do. So what? It's just a name--Oak-Root. Oak-Root, Oak-Root, Oak-Root--see? I can say it all I want. I wish everybody wouldn't be so sensitive.
Anyway, that was it, I guess. We didn't talk a lot more after that--small things, mostly. After a while, Ash-Blade said she was gonna go to the Sweat. I decided to skip out--the last one was hard enough on me, and Madeleine didn't give me any trouble over it. We said our goodbyes and I decided to go back up into the trees to my hut.
I passed one of the cooking fires and saw Nightshade. She was sitting over a bowl of stew, I think, trying to talk with Silverseed, but sitting just behind her were a pair of Alder Guards. The Guards were pretending to ignore Nightshade, but they weren't doing a very good job. I wonder how long it's been since the Black Alder allowed them into the villages. Anyway, I tried nodding to Nightshade as I went by, but she didn't smile at me or say anything. She looked tense--awkward. She looked lonely, and it made me sad for her.
I should go. I'll talk to you again soon.