Maati put a hand on her shoulder, then let his arm fall to his side. Eiah described the issues of the binding that troubled her most. To pull a thought from abstraction into concrete form required a deep understanding of the idea's limits and consequences. To bind Wounded, Eiah needed to find the common features of a cut finger and a burned foot, the difference between a tattooing quill and a rose thorn, the definitions that kept the thought small enough for a single mind to encompa.s.s.
'Take Vanjit's work,' Eiah said. 'Your eyes were never burned. No one cut them or bruised them. But they didn't see as well as when you were young. So there must have been some damage to them. So are the changes of age wounds? White hair? Baldness? When a woman loses her monthly flow, is it because she's broken?'
'You can't consider age,' Maati said. 'For one thing, it muddies the water, and for another, I will swear to you that more than one poet has reached for Youth-Regained or some such.'
'But how can I make that fit?' Eiah said. 'What makes an old man's failing hip different from a young girl's bruised one? The speed of the injury?'
'The intention,' Maati said, and touched a line of symbols. His finger traced the strokes of ink, pausing from time to time. He could feel Eiah's attention on him. 'Here. Change ki to toyaki. Wounds are either intentional or accident. Toyaki includes both senses.'
'I don't see what difference it makes,' Eiah said.
'Ki also includes a nuance of proper function. Behavior that isn't misadventure or conscious intention, but a product of design,' Maati said. 'If you remove that . . .'
He licked his lips, his fingers closing in the air above the page. Once, many years before, he had been asked to explain why the poets were called poets. He remembered his answer vaguely. That the bindings were the careful shaping of meaning and intention, that makers or thought-weavers were just as apt. It had been a true answer for as far as it went.
And also, sometimes, the grammar of a binding would say something unexpected. Something half-known, or half-acknowledged. A profound melancholy touched him.
'You see, Eiah-cha,' he said, softly, 'time is meant to pa.s.s. The world is meant to change. When people fade and die, it isn't a deviation. It's the way the world is made.'
He tapped the symbol ki.
'And that,' he said, 'is where you make that distinction.'
Eiah was silent for a moment, then drew a pen from her sleeve and a small silver ink box. With a soft pressure, gentler than rain on leaves, she added the strokes that remade the binding.
'You accept my argument, then?' Maati asked.
'I have to,' Eiah said. 'It's why we're here, isn't it? Sterile didn't add anything to the world, it only broke the way humanity renews itself. I've seen enough decline and death to recognize its proper pl
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