August 6, 2008

The Diplomat Teaches Oneness

by Kat Beyer

The Diplomat and I sat with some thieves in their hot, stuffy cave. They watched us, unable to believe that we were who we said we were: the Gaia diplomat and his novice, traveling alone, and carrying or wearing all that we owned—clothes and begging bowls. Their eyes said, “how can you make us rich?”

We sat there while they tried to take our measure. At least there was a cat. That's another good animal from Gaia. It let me scratch its ears, having already taken my measure.

I hadn't wanted to go with the thieves, when there was still time to choose. The Diplomat had said, “they are part of us, we are part of them, we are all one with everything else,” adding, “whether we like it or not.”

Sometimes I thought the Diplomat was a naïve idiot.

“Rathand will take you some place while we talk it over,” said somebody who thought he was the Chief Thief.

So we sat outside in the cold, blessed air. Rathand let us sit against a big tree. He sat down facing us, his sword across his lap.

In the middle of asking Rathand about his family, the Diplomat paused as though he were listening. Then he stood up.

“We will be going now,” he said. “Though I would have liked to hear about your mother. Please don't use your sword, it would be bad for you.”

Rathand looked down at his blade in surprise, then lowered it.

“You could come with us,” offered the Diplomat.

Rathand stayed, however, when we walked straight into the brush.

“I hope that boy is all right,” said the Diplomat when the shouting started far off, “but he had to make up his own mind. They were going to kill us, you see. Hang our bodies by the road to frighten people.”

I stared at him.

“I have had practice not fearing death,” he went on. “But I'm busy, and besides, you are here. So I thought we should leave.”

“How did you know what they were going to do?”

He looked at me, blinked, and grinned. “Haven't you been listening? We are one with all creatures. When you know that, it is easy to hear what you are thinking in your other heads.”

Many footsteps later, though, he admitted he had preferred listening as the cat.

December 14, 2007

The Diplomat Complains about Rice

by Kat Beyer

The Diplomat didn't like rice. He told me why in the first village we stopped at, the first village that didn't know my village had exiled me, and that didn't call him "Gaia rat,"--the first village that feasted us instead.

He said that rice reminded him of growing up in the monastery back on Gaia. He was adopted into the monastery like many other hungry boys. There was little else to eat but rice.

"Earth was having some population problems," he said, which was odd, because by now I knew that he called each thing what it was, and what had happened on Gaia had been a disaster. Maybe my village had feared that he brought the disaster with him.

"The rice was never very good. It always had maggots in it."

I love rice, one of the few foods from Gaia that we like here. It's an honor-food. But I hate maggots. Now I could understand.

"We were desperate for the protein, so that was not so bad."

I didn't understand again.

"Except for the boiling," he went on. "I hated taking those little lives. It wasn't their fault that they looked exactly like rice grains."

He turned his bowl round in his hands.

"They reminded me of the soldiers always marching through. Soldiers like those little lives, caught up in a rice bag that wasn't their fault."

He paused.

"My metaphor is not good. Of course rice is a living thing as well. But for me eating rice is like eating grief."

He had never complained about anything before. At last I ventured, "Then why, Elder, are you eating it now?"

Together we looked down the rice in our bowls, the honor-food of the feast.

"Surely they would make you another dish if they understood?" I pressed.

"On the other hand," he said, "Maybe I need to learn to eat grief. Maybe I could do with more patience. Besides, they are only trying to be thoughtful. I wish to be a good guest."

I wish to be a good guest. I have spun those words around and around in my mind many times since. Sometimes I wonder if I was exiled for being a bad guest in my own home, perhaps being ungrateful when I was fed something I didn't like.

"The maggots and the memories aren't their fault," he added.

November 12, 2007

The Diplomat Teaches Leaving

by Kat Beyer

I was exiled, for I would not kill the Diplomat. He had arrived at our village on foot, with robe and begging bowl and a faded badge from the government of the planet Gaia. I had tried to kill him, and had learned that I would rather admire him instead. "Gaia rat," they called him, and me, "helper of the Gaia rat." But when I told them of his mysterious powers, how he had disarmed me by--talk? My own tears?--and how he had outlived our strongest poison, none of them were brave enough to kill him themselves.

"Go," they said to me, my father, my mother, everyone I loved; "where?" I asked, and they said, "We do not care, for you are like the corpse of a stranger now," and for a moment I felt my flesh crawl with chill, as if each cell in me were really falling still.

I said, "Then I will go with the Diplomat, and be twice dead to you." Just as I turned away I caught a small movement of my father's hand and knew then that they did care, that their whole hearts ached with love and anger.

I went to the orchard. I saw from the Diplomat's face that he did not need to be told what had happened, but I told him anyway, while we walked. When I was finished we had reached the edge of home. I did not want to look back, but he said, "Will you be my student?"

"Yes," I said.

"Then look back," he said, and added simply, "You must carry this place with you."

I looked. I saw the cluster of bumps that were my people's houses, sitting together like loaves at a feast; the glint of the solar stills and the oil press beside them; the hatcheries and the sheep-yard (not all things from Gaia were bad, were they?--I asked my people in my mind); the low stream running through the valley bottom, the orchards, the quiet flags on the hill--hanging flat today, though no doubt tomorrow they would carry a message to the other villages: "A son is dead."

The Diplomat brushed my wrist with his rough thumb. We turned and walked down the hill.

October 19, 2007

The Diplomat

by Kat Beyer

I had to kill the Diplomat. The elders said so, and nobody argues with them. He agreed to have breakfast with me.

I took him to the orchard, and he helped me make a fire pit. He talked about his home planet, Gaia, but he called her "Earth." I said I thought that was a plain name for such a beautiful-looking planet. "I like it," he said, "plain, yes, but there's a lot going on under the surface there—like here," he added, and patted the earth beside him with one wrinkled brown hand.

After I served him, I slipped my knife out. They said they chose me because I was the best rat hunter. The first ships from Gaia brought rats with them, and we lost a lot of harvests. "Gaia rat," they called him. I thought rats never looked so peaceful.

"But won't his people come with big ships and guns?" I had asked my father (not an elder yet—OK to argue).

My father said, "He came on foot. No big ships. Just a little old guy in a robe. His badge is faded, and the plastic on his communicator is yellowed. What do you think?"

I looked at the Diplomat peacefully eating. A film of grief started to form over my eyes but I wiped it away.

He looked at me and smiled.

"You were going to stab me with that, weren’t you,” he said.

I saw I had wiped my eyes with the back of my knife hand. I stared the blade.

After a moment I said sadly, “It’s still too late.”

He looked down at his bowl, then up at me. "Ah?” he asked, holding it up.

I nodded. His grin seemed to embrace me.

"I forgive you for killing me," he said.

I did not wipe the film away this time, and I buried my face in my hands and howled.

After a moment he tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up, rubbing my eyes.

"My dear friend," he said, laughing, "Did you think I prepared for this journey without defending myself? Did you think I had no protections?"

"I know you disarmed me somehow," I said hoarsely.

"Well learned. And if you want to poison a human, galangal doesn't really work. We use it in cooking.”

That's when I laughed too.