What Ito had mistaken for the soft protestations of young seabirds was actually the fisherwife instructing their new apprentice on the nuances of tidal pulls, the knack of tension and release, and the value of quiet, practiced devotion in bringing forth the inexhaustible bounty of the sea.

    *  *  *

    It was due to his formidable reputation for having rooted out the Musician-Assassins of the Stolen Court that Professor Wang had been tasked with hunting down a certain heretical flautist, whose lips, it was said, could lure the shyest orieoles from their hidden lairs, and render the brusquest warhawk pliant and cooing.    No scholar thought to attribute his subsequent failure to anything but his accidental death by drowning, until his apprentice inadvertently let slip in post-coital conversation his erstwhile Master’s penchant for late night, unaccompanied liaisons with amateur birdwatchers in his soundproof audience chambers.

    * * *

    As soon as he hears about the new Songmeet and its contenders, he will begin his preparations.  He will rehearse his most poignant laieas, have a new lholhsa suit made to fit, start to pack his sahmpau, even though the gathering is still many moons away.  He will spend days thinking about significant gifts; he will walk the the shoreline looking for perfectly formed cunkals to string together, or sundried fyrgls blooms, or the blue polu shards that wash downcoast sometimes from the broken towers.  He will settle for a facecloth woven from shukansilk, impervious to sun and water yet light enough to wear for hours and still breathe through.  It will cost him two Grand Songs at the Mayar's birthday festivities (and the loss of his voice for a week from the strain).  He will turn down all other engagements as the great Meet nears, regardless of price or creed, and in doing so benefit several lifelong rivals and lose a few close friends.  He will spend the quiet time trying to remember the exact texture of moonlight on velweave carpets and the weight they can bear without creasing.  He will sip ti the fragrance of freshly oiled hair.  He will not sleep without dreaming of doors closing.

    *  *  *
    Desiring to preserve the memory of his departed lover, Ma Chang painstakingly collected every personal effect he could find: combs, pens, shoes, toothbrushes, glasses.  He realised with a shock, after fluffing up their favourite shared pillows in the third decade of absence, that he could no longer distinguish the drone of his own snoring from that of his lost beloved’s.

    *   *    *

    Now the only sounds he registers resemble the drumming of sudden rain on broken skulls.

    *   *    *

    The 27th Sky Whisperer tells this story of Her enlightenment:  Charged with the sacred burden of carrying the Silent Urn into the wind tunnels, She is distracted by an argument between two Mind Engineers of the Second Order over a bottle of heartgrease. She stumbles, drops the Urn, hears the crack and tinkle of a thousand shards.  Picking up the empty vessel, She finds it intact and whole.  At that moment She learnt to conquer silence. 

28 October 2011   01:56 hours
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