Greetings to all viewers, welcome back to everyone following. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by. And I hope the story is interesting enough to merit sharing with a friend.🙂
This excerpt continues on with the teachers as they trek to collect the student and debate pedagogical theories. At the break, we finally shift back to Dom, off in the tidal river that runs through the mangrove forest. This picture is from falconmetaknight, showing the Florida Everglades, but it’s a lot like the mangrove I saw on Kosrae as well. So we’ll call it even.
They walked the rest of the way to the river in silence. Shina enjoyed a glow of anticipation at hearing that Kyoko was going to work with Dom—one way or the other. It didn’t matter where exactly they trained: Kyoko was not a great teacher because of the training hall on his island. He was great because he had a gift of teaching. And he would teach her son. And her son would learn and inherit the wonderful fullness of Presence. Shina floated along in relief and satisfaction.
As they moved through jungle’s sunlight and shadow, Shina opened her mouth a couple times to thank Kyoko; however, she decided to remain quiet for now. She could thank him later, when it was less likely for Daiyu to take kind words for one person as an insult to another. Instead, Shina tugged and smoothed the training uniform she wore, tucking the folds of cloth tucked into her belt first one way, then another. She watched the three people in front of her, each moving in their own unique way as they each traversed the same path.
Near to the river, splashing sounds came to their ears, along with the sounds of someone shouting and struggling. The four stopped. Midori looked back at them, a quizzical expression on his face.
“Dom?” Shina asked.
“I don’t know who else,” Midori said. “Wait, while I go check. No sense in all of us getting muddy.”
He left the trail, half-stepping, half-sliding down the incline towards the marshy soil and mangrove trees. As he left, Daiyu spun round. When her gaze and Presence came to bear on Shina, the cascade of sharp, red shapes radiating out in a circling pattern around the woman’s head was vicious and it nearly startled Shina into a defensive stance. She caught herself though. Just because the older woman had been quarrelsome all morning and felt particularly antagonistic right now, it didn’t mean she wanted to fight. Shina clasped her hands behind her back, working to keep her own feelings peaceful, her own Presence mild.
“Measure Kyoko,” Daiyu said, “we’re alone for the moment. So I want to be completely honest. There is more to this than just the injustice of offering extra help to a student. I have watched Dom’s lack of progress for years now. From what I have seen, the Motions are something Dom is not meant to learn.”
Astonished, it took a moment for Shina to grasp that the other woman was speaking seriously. Dom not meant to learn? Not meant to understand as much as he could about life? By whom? Dom not meant to grow as far as the Final Measure allowed? Her brows shifted together, changing the look on her face from confusion to offense. In a soft voice, Shina started, “How dare you—”
Kyoko turned slightly towards Shina, lifting his hand in a slow movement to ask her to wait. “Can you clarify, please, what you mean, Measure Daiyu?”
With Daiyu’s gaze fixed on Kyoko, Shina could see little of the woman’s Presence, but her words were plain enough. “Dom is beyond the point of being allowed to study advanced techniques. He cannot discern the energies of another human being, as required in the Advanced Motions. He is blind to it. Or else there is something more wrong with him. It would be like the Measure of Songs trying to teach one who is deaf.”
Daiyu fell silent, but Kyoko waited, his hand still raised to give Shina pause, although his eyes were still on Daiyu, waiting for something more. The woman looked off into the foliage. She started to speak, but stopped again, like a foolish, little child caught in a prank.
Finally Daiyu finished her argument in a rush of words. “If the Final Measure hasn’t given this boy the capacity to even see Presence, then it is not wisdom to try and force a knowledge of the Motions upon him.”
Shina caught her breath. She blinked, while Kyoko lower his hand in a slow, graceful movement. She wanted to lash out at this woman, her neighbor that she had known for years, who had the gall to now insult her son this way. With stiff, deliberate movements though, Shina turned away. She forced herself to look back along the trail where they had walked.
So. Now it was in the open. Daiyu had concluded that somehow that Dom had been.… What? Cursed by the Final Measure? So Shina and Yasuo were harboring some kind of demon in their home? She took deep breaths, searching in the chaotic shapes of tree trunks and branches, vines and shadows. She had to find something to settle her eyes on. Because her son was a little slow, he must therefore be some hideous abomination? Infuriating! Did Daiyu think the same applied to every child who couldn’t do the things other children could do? A troupe of devil-spawn running among the few angels who could immediately perform everything the senior teacher commanded?
Shina stopped her racing thoughts and concentrated instead on the random arc of a mangrove stem that stretched farther inland than the rest. She considered the mangrove carefully. Very carefully. Each arc of the root system skipped closer and closer to the hill side where she stood, each curved segment raising above the thinner, criss-crossed roots of the other trees. It touched down into the mud every few feet. There was a rhythm in the distances between each place the root-stem touched the ground. She could identify it. Somehow she could measure it. Somehow.
She ignored the rest of their conversation. Between the implacable chaos of mangrove roots and her desire to not offend her guest, Measure Kyoko, Shina labored to make up her mind that she would not attack Daiyu.
* * *
Dom wrestled the savage jaws of the shark away from his head once more, using the fishing net to help keep hold on the thrashing, enraged animal. The powerful tail was still down in the water, shoving them both to the right and the left with each sweep. The gruesome rows of teeth opened and chomped shut in a senseless, violent rhythm, while Dom stumbled around in the frothing, muddy water. This was the last thing he’d expected when he started pretending to talk to that stupid crane. A good lesson somewhere in that. The silt sucked his feet deeper and deeper as he slewed the fish back and forth, trying to stay balanced. If he went down into the water with the miserable thing, he wouldn’t be able to keep his arms away from the jaws.
“No, you don’t!” he grunted through clenched teeth, heaving the predator a little higher as it launched into another spasm with renewed vigor.
Then his foot caught on a mangrove root.
Toppling to one side, he growled in panic and straining effort. He hoisted the shark that same direction and slammed it against the dozens of other roots curving down from the main tree trunk, using the animal itself to help steady his own footing. The momentum brought him much, much too close to the jagged rows of gnashing teeth. As he pushed back on the shark, it squirmed and twisted, writhing horrifically across the mangrove roots. It caught one of those wooden stems in its wide mouth and clamped down instantly, wrenching its neck back the opposite way, tearing the root into so many splinters.
It would be worse if it got his arm.
“No. You don’t.” But in spite of his insistence, his arms and shoulders were already burning. The excitement and near-panic coursing through him had energized him, but it was wearing off. He couldn’t wrestle with a natural killer like this for much longer.
“Aaii-ya!” someone cried. “What are you doing!”
Dom glanced up to see Midori standing on the riverbank, and he almost lost his hold on the rough fins and the tangled ropes. While he struggled to hold the shark still, and also keep it away from him, he slipped down to his knees in the mud. The animal was so much better suited for this kind of mindless, brutal struggle. Dom grimaced as the sandpaper skin scraped more and more at his arms and legs. The splashing water was punctuated with chomping sounds as the animal bit at the air, right and left.
“It’s a shark!” Dom shouted.
“Bah. It’s a baby,” Midori said. “What are you doing to my net?”
“I’m not— Augh!” Dom reared his head back with a new patch of reddened skin across his cheek. The animal’s hide was like scraping a lava rock across his skin.
Midori called out, “It’s too small. Let the poor thing go.”
“Bind me! The poor thing?” Dom struggled back up to his feet. Midori had always been an unconventional teacher, but this was going too far. “I am not letting it go!”
“Well, what else are you going to do with it?” Midori pointed to a larger root that branched out near Dom’s head. “Don’t just drop it and stand there. Shove it off and scamper up.”
Dom eyed the tree limb Midori was pointing to. Such a simple solution—from the man standing twenty feet away from the beast. But he didn’t have a better plan of his own. With a grunt, he heaved the shark off towards the middle of the river. Its tail skidded in the water and it fell with a slap only a couple feet away. However the remains of the throw-net were still wrapped around its fins and the tatters immediately snagged on the mangrove roots. So the shark immediately angled back at Dom.
Shouting in a mixture of defiance and fear, Dom lurched forward a step in the silt and tried to jump, but thick mud sucked at his feet, keeping him from lifting out of the water at all. He was barely able to grab the mangrove root overhead, but he hauled with his weary arms, dragging his legs up out of the water. Then he hung there, standing with his wet, muddy feet against the tangle of roots.
The shark, still tangled in the mangrove and the net, thrashed beneath him with furious sweeps of its tail and mouth.
Then Dom’s wet hands and muddy feet started to slip on the wood. Through clenched teeth, he muttered, “By the rule!” Squirming and contorting like a monkey, he worked to get a better grip on his wooden support. Water and mud splashed up from below as the shark tore against the constraining ropes.
Midori called out above the sounds of churning water. “Hurry. We’re waiting for you.”
“Dearest Measure of Fishing,” Dom answered, “If only the island council had the wisdom to call a Measure of Climbing, I might be able to climb across to you quickly. But since our elders apparently don’t have such wisdom, I’ll have to beg for your patience.”
“Climb here? Bah. You need to set that poor thing free.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“You can’t just let it tear itself to pieces, all tangled up there.”
“And you can’t just leave it there to starve. I taught you better than that, Dom.”
“You didn’t teach me anything about wrestling with sharks!”
“Look, Dom—it’s more scared of you than you are of it.”
Dom glanced over at Midori quick enough to see him smother his smile. Shaking his head, he muttered, “It’s also more able to tear my hand off.”
“Well, be careful then, but hurry up about it. Just cut it loose already.”
Blowing out his breath as he realized the Measure of Fishing was not going to let this go, Dom looked up at the peaceful clouds drifting along in the blue sky. “You’re having a jolly time with this, aren’t you?”
“Course I am—you look like a monkey, hanging up there. Don’t tell me you lost your knife.”
“No, I didn’t lose it,” he snapped. He couldn’t believe Midori. True, he had always taught how a good fisherman takes care of his livelihood as well as the goatherds did. And it was true that he was willing to teach in different ways, helping students learn how they needed to learn rather than force them to memorize traditions and repeat mindless drills. That was one of the reasons Dom liked working with him. But this? This was crazy even for Midori. “Don’t you think it’s a little unfair to accuse a student of losing his knife when no one complains about the teacher losing his senses.”
However Dom craned his neck around to look more closely at the shark. The animal was growing tired, thrashing less and less. Dom could see where the ropes were twisted tight around its gills and fins, but he couldn’t reach that far hanging below the branch this way.
So he swung his feet up to the top of the arching root, then shimmied around so he was laying on his belly and chest against the curved wood, his head still tilted down toward the water. The wood dug into the skin of his chest and stomach. Balancing awkwardly, he reached up with one hand to the small of his back and took his knife from the sheath strapped to his belt. The paring knife was a small blade, shorter even than its own wooden handle, and it curved forward slightly to help cut through lines. Dom put the handle of the lightweight tool to his mouth to hold it while he climbed. Then stopped and took it out again, so he could spit out the mud and salt water.
“By the Measure, stop acting a pretty boy already,” Midori chided.
Not bothering to reply out loud, but thinking through several disrespectful responses in his mind, Dom gripped the knife handle with his teeth. Then he inched forward along the mangrove root, clenching the wood with hands and arms and legs and feet to keep from sliding face-first down on top of the poor, little, baby shark. When he was close enough to reach the thicker cord binding the shark to the broken root, Dom took the knife and stretched out his arm as close to the fish as he dared.
The first cut didn’t quite sever the rope. But the tug on the line caught the shark’s attention and it thrashed sideways to chomp and bite wildly.
Dom reared back as high as he could manage. “I’m trying to help, stupid fish!”
The shark sank back into the floating silt clouds, pulling most of the fishing net out of sight as well. Perfect. Apparently nothing was going to be easy today.
Dom switched his grip on the knife and measured the distance to the rope that was closest to the mangrove roots. Then he sliced downward. The knife severed the line. But that effort also threw Dom off balance. He dropped the blade and clutched at the mangrove root with both hands again, trying to keep from falling in next to the irritated man-eater. The water on his hands made the bark slippery again though and he gradually slid closer to the river surface. Then, as the cut ropes drifted down under the surface, the shark thrashed his tail again and tore away from the river bank, vanishing into the deeper water.
“Yeah!” Dom shouted at his success, then changed to, “No no no!”
He lost his grip on the wood and splashed down face-first into the muddy river. After he surfaced and wiped the dirty water from his face, he turned to face Midori’s laughter.
“Mezzan, releasing the animal is one thing,” the fishing teacher joked, “but joining it down in the muddy water? You’re taking my teaching of how to think like a fish a little too seriously. But you should be glad: if the old stories are right, the next time you meet that shark, it will remember you and save your life.”
“Ha, ha.” Dom grabbed up the buoyant wooden handle of his knife as it drifted in a lazy circle.
PS – I’ve noticed that the timing is skewed a little across these initial scenes. Hopefully it hasn’t been too noticeable, but if it was distracting, please let me know so I can try to improve it. Thx.