Springtime on the Mountain
by J. R. Blackwell
Matthias landed his ship next to the temple at the edge of the mountain. He took the deep, soft breaths that Aupta had taught him to calm himself before a fight.
It had been six years since he had been on the mountain. Six years working as a mercenary. Now he was back at the temple where he had been trained, called by Master Aupta’s message.
Matthias pulled out the rice-paper scroll Aupta had sent him. On the scroll was a picture of the mountain next to the temple, deftly painted in a few black brushstrokes. Aupta had not signed it with her name, only with goodbye.
Matthias had been on the opposite side of the galaxy when the package had been sent. He had been trapped on warring planets. The package had taken a year to get to him. Aupta must have intended the delay; she was too precise not to have taken the timing into consideration. He knew what the message meant, but Matthias let himself hope he was wrong. Hope brought him rushing back to the mountain.
The robot caretaker bowed when he saw Matthias. It had been six years, but the robot treated him as though he had just stepped out of the temple for a short walk. “Matthias, how may I assist you?”
Matthias bowed. “I am looking for Aupta.”
The robot nodded. “She is on the mountain.”
Fog hung low on the mountain, but Matthias knew these rocks so well he could have run the path blindfolded. He had often found Aupta meditating in the mountain cave when he was her student. He could picture her perfectly: curly red hair, a yellow tunic, her silver sword balanced across her long legs.
Although they had slept in the temple, the cave was where he had been trained. He remembered how she directed him though repetitive drills till every movement became second nature.
The mouth of the cave was empty, but Matthias saw tiny footprints in the mud, too small for a grown woman. He entered the cave, hand on the hilt of his sword.
Standing inside was a young girl, four or five years old, thin, with dirty feet. Her hair was pulled up in a cloth knot and cut bluntly along her forehead. She wore a tattered white slip.
Matthias bowed. “I am looking for Aupta.”
“Matthias.” His name echoed in the cave. The girl’s little feet were bare on the stones. One of her knees was skinned and bleeding. “You’ve come back to me at last.”
“Yes Matthias. I am Aupta, but I am also her daughter Rille. We exist as one.”
Matthias gripped the handle of his sword. “Then she is dead.”
“The body of Aupta is in the mountain. I am she and her daughter, merged. She didn’t want to leave me alone, but it was her time to leave this life, so she transferred her consciousness to me.”
“Take me to her.”
“You are with her.” The girl shrugged, a distinctly adult gesture. “I can take you to where the body is marked.”
They walked over the mossy mountain. A cherry tree wept leaves into the soft damp breeze. The petals clung to Matthias’s dark cloak. At the top of the hill, there was a mound of stones. Matthias knelt beside it and touched his fingers to his head.
“She isn’t there.” said Rille. “Aupta is with me.”
“Her memories are with you. Aupta is dead.”
Rille threw up her hands. “You were always my most frustrating student.” Matthias turned around. The girl’s face was wet with mist.
“I was never your student.”
The little girl grinned. She was missing a tooth. “It was because I was in love with you. I never loved a student before, but when I fell in love with you, it made it harder for us both.”
“No.” Matthias’s fists clenched, his knuckles turning white.
“Spar with me, Matthias.”
“I don’t attack children.”
“You were always a prude. You need to know who I am.” She sighed. “You must know, so that you can know yourself.”
“I don’t want to play these games.”
“This isn’t a game, Outlaw Matthias.”
“I am not an Outlaw any longer.”
“You will always be an Outlaw.” said Rille. “The ship you landed at the temple was won in a war. Your sword was taken in a duel. You are a thief, a deceiver. Your father was an Outlaw and you are an Outlaw, too.”
Matthias whirled around “Don’t you dare,” he came towards her. “Don’t’ you dare provoke me. You left me! You left me and died and I can’t follow you!” He reached for Rille. He wanted to shake her, to shut her up. “You are a ghost!”
Rille swept her tiny foot around his ankle and pulled his arm. Matthias lost his footing and slammed hard to the ground. He lay on the wet moss, looking at the bright grey sky.
Rille leaned over him, her hair falling forward. “I’m still your Master, Matthias.”
The mist fell on Matthias’ face. “You are still my Master.”
“Matthias. Aupta was very old, older than this mountain. Her time had come and gone. Not even mountains live forever. All must change.” Rille turned around towards the rocky path down the mountain. “Let’s go back to the temple.” she said. “Aupta remembers you, but a part of me has never met you. I want to know who you are, I want to know everything.”
Matthias followed her down the mountain. Rille’s movements were awkward; her leaps were graceful, but she fumbled her landings. She stumbled on the slick rocks and blinked back tears. Rille pounded a tiny fist on the rocks, and pushed herself up.
“This body doesn’t always do the things I want it to,” she said, staring at her scratched hands. Matthias leaned down and opened his arms. “I know what you mean. When I was your student, it took a lot of training to get my body to move as I wanted it to. Maybe we can work on that together.”
Rille nodded, and put her thin arms around his neck, to hold the part of her that was a child. They went back to the temple together.
Copyright © 2006 by J. R. Blackwell