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Topic: To Have a Beginning There Must be an End (Read 369 times) previous topic - next topic
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To Have a Beginning There Must be an End

It finally hit her: the gut-punch the veterans of this process had warned her about. Enyd gripped the reins of her mount tighter, knuckles whitening, and concentrated on her breathing. The quivering flesh of her mount between her legs coupled with the smoke-infused snort reminded Enyd of its impatience, along with the tendency of this breed to take the bit in their teeth and fly away with unsuspecting passengers.

In two, three; hold; out two, three. In…

As she breathed, Enyd did what she could to blink away a blur of tears and keep her mind focused on the mountain path. She did not want to add personal injury, and an escaped dragon mount to her list of things to be taken care of before her departure.

Before this, it—the panicky sense of finality—had peeked its irksome head in the strangest times at the most bizarre places: standing in line at the morning market, the once assaulting smells of the local food stands now nearly unnoticeable; during an undistinguishable conversation over afternoon tea, another custom she'd adopted and loathed to lose; in the middle of a lesson, her mouth open to explain the differences or similarities of concepts yet falling mute as the panic gripped her vocal cords and twisted. In these moments, her heart would clench as she looked into the expectant faces of her colleagues; as she lay against her pillow, her eyes droopy with the days' fatigue, with her thoughts straying into the dangerous territory of no more.

The que ding gan battled her self-control in a direct assault. Enyd had shaken herself through the thoughts and feelings before this by distracting herself with to-do lists, with the needs of her colleagues, with conversations and people, and with the endless list of errands that needed running before she could heave a satisfied sigh of having accomplished something. But it'd latched onto her heart this time, wove itself into the neurons of her brain, and clarified that it would not leave.

A string of curses erupted. Gasping, Enyd pulled back on the reins, stopping her mount before it could rip off the head of a passing merchant, whose only fault had been the quaint use of oxen to pull his wares. It had been a near miss. She'd been so lost in her thoughts she'd nearly allowed a death on her hands. Enyd shook herself. This would not do. Ducking her head in embarrassment, she tugged on the reins until her mount responded with a leap off the path and over the adjacent cliff. In the valley below, she'd seen a village that catered to travelers such as herself. She could feed her mount, splash some water on her tear-puffy face, and stop in at a café for a drink and a snack before continuing. Enyd still had plenty of time…at least for that.

The momentary free-fall made all of Enyd's gear fly up to eye level. When her mount finally began its aerial slither towards the village, the straps securing her gear pulled everything back against her mount's body, and Enyd's heart melted back down into her chest. This was the part she both loved and hated about dragon mounts. It was far more convenient to have the aerial approach option, but she well knew how poorly things turned when in the free-fall the mount assumed control and rid itself of its passenger. That was why she always kept herself secured to the saddle when she used dragon mounts. She was uninterested in losing her life to a stubborn animal.

Thirty minutes later and she sat on a barstool, her stir stick lightly tapping against the edge of a mug of half-drunk tea. Enyd let her thoughts run as wild dragons, figuring it'd be better to process through it now when she wasn't putting other lives at risk with an aerial weapon.

"Wai-guo ren!"

Enyd looked up at the not-so-whispered words, knowing the term for "foreigner" undoubtedly applied to her. Spying the culprit, a young boy animatedly pointing in her direction, Enyd smiled at the mother. Enyd gave a nod of reassurance, letting them know she both understood their language and their culture of blatant curiosity and offered no judgment. On the contrary, she enjoyed such interactions. Whether the mother realized all that in a glance and a smile, the pair hurried off into the recesses of the village and abandoned Enyd with her thoughts.

Even if the heavens and earth moved, or the planets aligned, and Enyd could return to this country, it would never be the same. Not that the change she was entering was bad. There was nothing terrible about emigrating for a new imperial court position, a position that would help her grow and learn and become a better version of herself. Maybe even in her leaving, someone new could step in to take her place here, someone even more qualified in areas she was not, who could help carry the empire in a direction she could not.

Everything works out for the betterment of our souls. The last time Enyd had wandered into a church, one hidden away at the end of an alley—almost as if it were too shy to show itself to its predominantly Buddhist neighbors—the local pastor had said these words to her. He must’ve sensed her ill-ease, the disquiet in her eyes, the tremor in her posture that bespoke of an inner turmoil only a select group had felt, and even fewer could understand.

His words hadn’t been intended as an insincere poultice to her aching heart, and Enyd hadn’t taken them that way. She knew they were genuine, and she knew it would take time to buy into the truth they held. It was always like that: knowing something with the mind and latching onto that truth to start anew. But this was different from believing and acting on that belief. She was now in process, in a chrysalis of experience, the grief of the end of an age equal to the excitement of the beginning of another. 

Strangely, it was possible to live in augmented reality. Existing in multiple ages. Enyd was young, remembering what the world looked like with the lack of experience, the naivete of youth coupled with the determination to do her most, her best, and to come out all the better for it. Enyd was as she was now, not young but certainly not so “old”—as her soul often traitorously identified her as being. She was experienced, a lao niao, still determined to conquer and yet patient enough to step back and wait. Enyd also felt she could project her thoughts and expectations far into the future and see herself as she could be, as she hoped she would become.

Enyd’s mind now traversed the strands of the universal time stream as quickly and ineffectually as one might sneeze. She lived as she’d been, saw the world from the vantage point of when she’d first arrived at the imperial court as an expatriate. Looking around now, Enyd remembered what it was like to consider the dense jungle and wonder at it; what she’d felt staring up, and up some more, trying to see the tops of the surrounding mountains from her little balcony sequestered in a remote corner of the palace. Enyd heard the voices of her friends, new to her then, though now their voices were avenues over which flowed the waters of comfort. She relived the introductions they’d made, felt again the positive anxiety of wanting to make a good impression, the surge of energy at finding a common thread over which to bond. Her mouth watered momentarily as the ghost flavors of dishes she’d once balked at invaded her mind’s pallet. Enyd could hear her voice echoing, I’ll never eat that!, whereas now she fought a craving for that very thing. Everything had been exotic then, and Enyd had been eager to know it, to embrace it, to adapt to it, perhaps even to adopt it into her very being.

The bell over the door brought Enyd slamming back into the present time, and she once more existed as the lao niao. She thought of all the things that had changed, for good or the bad, but that had irrevocably altered. The people who had come, and gone, and sometimes come again. All the negatives and positives wrapped up into an immense feeling of huai jiu gan . It was stronger than mere nostalgia. Her fellow expatriate friend, a veteran of this process, had described it as saudade: the intense yearning for a part of the soul now absent.

Enyd knew without having to look at the unopened letters in her satchel, where she’d tried to communicate her grief, that many of her well-meaning friends or family had encouraged her not to be “sad” and instead look forward to the next adventure. She did, and she was, but it was difficult to explain. What she felt was not sadness in a traditional sense. It was grief. Coming back was possible, true, but it would not be the same. It was much like burying an age, an experience, even a person. Not that it would be forgotten or that it wouldn’t still be a core part of who she was and who she would be, but Enyd recognized no one could "go back" exactly. And that wasn’t a problem. We live our lives looking back but must move forward, a fellow court official wrote. What she was dealing with now was a settling of thoughts and feelings of her lifetime here into acceptance so that she could better walk into her next lifetime.

A hermit sage she'd met on court business had told her that water teaches thirst, a grave teaches love, and battles teach peace. If Enyd had not this constant ache in her chest, the moment of her departure looming ever closer, then there would be no evidence of the pleasure of loving this place and these people quite so much. This pain reminded her it was possible to fall in love over, and over, and over again. That she had it in her and would have it still, to create and feel at home no matter where in the world the winds of change took her.

There is a bit of heaven inside each of us, and when we see that heaven in the soul of another, we call that soul a ‘kindred spirit.’ Her grandmother could not have known just how right she was all these many years after passing away. That Enyd could so wholeheartedly love two countries, two sets of families, and was set to venture into a third that she had every intention of loving. This was proof of her grandmother’s sentiments.

We don’t always have to like change, you know. Her father had comforted Enyd after she’d gone through a heartbreak years ago with these words. Sometimes the things that are best for us, the things that will help us the most, can be the most painful. It was true. Enyd had gone through the pain of that time and had come out stronger. She could love better now. She could think better of herself. She could move into her future with her shoulders straight and head high, her heart eager to love and be loved.

Her mother had also offered her comfort not long before her death. To have a beginning, there must be an end. The pain of losing her parents, and her grandmother, had all been in preparation for the pain of leaving this place. Enyd was a woman well acquainted with farewells.

Paying the keep with the appropriate currency, Enyd made her way back to her mount, tied up a safe distance away from the village stables. Her stomach still was unsettled by her grief; her eyes were moist with unshed tears. But Enyd was determined to live the truth of her mother’s words. Of her father’s. Her grandmother’s. The truth of all those who had come and gone and lived and loved under the sun.

FIN


que ding gan - Certain or fixed or determined feeling
lao niao- Old bird: someone experienced
huai jiu gan - Feeling of fond remembrance of times past

 
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