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Chapter one of four--Brother and Sister

            Menulum hummed softly to himself and kicked idly at the black flowers which grew at the borders of the blue sand path. As hard as he tried to conceal the impatience that stewed in his stomach, he longed for the sound of his Father's voice to come down from the white cloud which hid him. Today was Menulum's birthday, he was twenty now, and a young man, ready for the training which would end when he became an adult.
            For years he had looked forward to this day, and this day had lasted long years already, but still his Father remained silent, as if teasing him. Menulum hardly knew whether his eagerness was greater for the first lesson leading to adulthood, the eagerness for responsibility and stability, or for the Gift which was his for the asking today, as an aid on the road of his training. Only yesterday he had spent an anxious hour talking with Lilinim, his sister, and he already felt so much older than she, though in fact two years was not so much older, that the talk skirted the fringes of anger more often than it should.
            "But Menulum," Lilinim had said, "one day isn't going to make such a difference in anyone's life. You talk as if you were suddenly to become a different person tomorrow."
            "I WILL be different tomorrow." Menulum was certain with the certainty of children. "I won't have time for floating in the cool stream of Mercury, nor diving through the tree-gardens of Fern, nor even walking the wide ways in the Land of the Singers," though, if truth be told, his voice caught reflectively on that---how he loved to wander the fragrant paths where the Singers lived and crooned on every side. He couldn't quite imagine that he would never stop on an afternoon to listen to Sombom and his family chanting the hours away with clear, pure harmonies. "Childhood is a time of playing and dream-making, but a young man must set about his quest for adulthood; there won't be any time for skylarking and pretending: this business of being an adult is stern work and trying." His creaseless face attempted to pucker into a sage solemnity, but Lilinim only laughed.
            "You look like you've just bitten into a Sourpear." She grabbed gray grass from the sward and stuffed it down the back of his shirt, then danced away, waiting for the chase, but Menulum didn't move after her. She stood a distance off, looking back on him, thinking perhaps he had changed in the past few months. Certainly he didn't laugh so much as he used to, and his hair was beginning to lengthen out of the scruffily maned look she liked so well. Evenly trimmed and shining it was now, raven blueblack in the morning light, and just beginning to fall about his large pink ears.
            Lilinim longed just once more to rush upon him and flip those flaps of flesh which stood out from his small head. How she had teased him about them! "Elephant boy," she had called from a distance, and she knew that his face would flush scarlet under his dark eyes, and that his long lean legs would soon cover the distance separating them, though she ran as swiftly as she could on sturdy legs which were just beginning to shape out into the curves of young maidenhood, and they would roll like young cubs, squealing and shouting in the dry gray meadow, until she apologized, laughing, for her hurtful words. Then his face would relax and his eyes return to their black-onyx glisten and they would both lay back, looking at the green sky, staring at the white globe of the Sun, light and cool in the heavens.
            But, lately, Lilinim had seen, the surface glitter of Menulum's eyes had faded, as if the onyx-hardness was slowly being replaced by a black felt softness, a softness which didn't reflect the light in bright glints of gem-lustre, but a softness which absorbed the light into its substance, giving none back, so that the pits of the eyes deepened and darkened, so that where once she longed to look into the shallow clear pools of his eyes, now she feared falling deep into some dark depths which opened up behind his face. Perhaps there was something to this growing up, after all!
            Menulum's face, too, was changing, though she suspected that he was making an effort to hold his head higher than was his custom, and thrust out farther that chin which was once a pink flesh-pillow of childish fat, but which now seemed to be underlaid by a foundation of bone which began to draw strong lines and angles in his still-youthful face. Lilinim wasn't sure that she liked the change, but the change was there, so she could accept it without quarrel since there was very little she could do about it.
            "Why do you watch me so warily?" Menulum asked sullenly. He, too, had seen changes in his sister, and he as well as she looked with dislike on a shifting relationship between the two. How they had played before, like two joyful animals, taking no care for their clothes or their bodies, but delighting only in the loving contact of two who knew each other well. But now they were both changing into different personalities, close still, yet reserved.
            "You? I'm not looking at you," lied Lilinim, shifting her glance slightly to the side, and pointing. "I see a Sweetapple hanging there, ready for the picking, and I feel a thirst for it." But as soon as Menulum swung around to see where she pointed, her look returned to her brother, and she saw a slight shadow on his neck where none had been before. Where there had been only featureless flesh padding young bones, now were suggestions of lines of strengthening ligaments and tendons. Where once his body had been the graceful willow wand or mallow withe, now it was growing square with a first outline of muscle and sinew. No longer was it the cuddly bonelessness of a mewling cub, but it was developing the elongated tension of the full-grown lion. She saw this as Menulum rose to his feet and strode to the Sweetapple tree, and she gasped as he unfolded surprising lengths in his body to reach up and pluck the golden fruit: she had been certain that he would have to clamber up the tree, child-like, and there might be a cut or a scratch on his limbs which she might fuss over and tend to. But all that, she saw with sadness, was over now.
            Menulum took few strides to return his prize to his sister's hands, but he, too, looked long as he handed the golden globe toward her. Lilinim brushed the blonde sweep of hair from her face, and Menulum felt that this was a new motion. Before, she would have laughed up through the silken screen of her hair and scarcely have worried if the first bite had gotten entangled with her tresses. She had always been a natural person, permitting things to be as they may, but now she had, he saw, a new care for her appearance. Gone were the tangled skeins of hair, which had to be removed each evening over the fire with groans and squeaks of over-acted discomfort. Gone, too, were the muddy fingers and play-scuffed knees, but in their place were fingers which were toying with the idea of growing tapered fingernails and knees which didn't connect two straight columns of leg, but which began to curve to join a swelling curve from the calf and a gentle rise of thigh. She reached for the apple and their fingers touched, but instead of touching and ignoring, as had been their custom, the fingers reacted, retracted, remembered the touch, stored up the sensation as one which was strange.
            As Lilinim bit through the golden skin into the pinkish pulp, she took care that no drop would fall onto her waistless white dress, and this, she knew with a start, was different for her: maybe a day COULD make a difference in the way in which a life is lived.
            "Thank you," she said, "for the apple," and again the novelty of what she was doing was strong in her mind. She looked at Menulum, who held one hand in front of his face, turning it back and forward, and felt pride and fear: pride that tomorrow he WAS going to be a young man, walking into a new room in his castle of life, and fear that the new room would have to be different from the room in which he lived, with her, today. Tomorrow he would be gone from her room, the room of uncaring childhood, and she would be left alone in its echoing emptiness. Almost she yearned to follow him.
            Menulum had glimpsed a shadow on the back of his hand where no shadow had ever rested before, and he drew it toward his solemn face: there on the back of his hand which had once been featureless was the tracery of a few strands of black hair. He closed his fist and saw unfamiliar bones shift and disappear in the back of his hand, saw that his hand was broader now, not the narrow graceful hand of his sister's but a stronger, more capable tool---a tool which might through more years grow into something more like a weapon than like a hand slender for trilling a flute. He turned the hand in the shadowless daylight and saw that his fingers were no longer slim for thin rings of gold, like his sister's, but were growing in breadth and thickness, to be able to pull harder on the bow, dig deeper with the spade, control better, he thought with dawning awe, the weight of a sword which he might one day carry into battle.
            They sat silently, watching the white Sun-globe slide down the darkling green sky, following the sunset of this last day of Menulum's youth. In the silence of the gloaming the black Starflowers began folding their petals into sleep, and from a distance the rush of the ocean on the coast carried sounds of time without end to their ears---time without end, but time always with change, and part of the change was the silence between them.
            "Why are you hushed, Lilinim?" asked Menulum, not looking toward her, but keeping his gaze fixed on the Sun, now no higher than a man on the hilltop.
            "We are---not what we were," she said; she, like Menulum, feeling that inside which she had felt only fleetingly before: feeling blood more red than the fast pink of childhood flowing more surely through her veins, feeling thoughts less frivolous than the butterfly-wishes of her girlhood coursing more deliberately through her mind.
            "Why have we changed?" Menulum played the child, though he knew the answer more strongly than he felt he now knew the girl sitting beside him.
            "Why shouldn't we change?" Lilinim knew, too, the answer, and slipped for a moment into the banter of younger days. But the tone was a step above banter, and the reply was as serious as the original question.
            "Time permits nothing to stand still. A new section has fallen from the cliffs on the banks of the River Ebon, and at low tide there is a new marshland where the river meets the Western Ocean. If the lands and the oceans change, why should not we?"
            Lilinim greatly wanted to answer that there should BE no need to change, that they should be able to play in the fields under the Sweetapple trees for countless cycles of fruition in those trees, but the very thought of those trees showed that changelessness would be fruitlessness, for didn't the very trees themselves flower, grow fruit, then seemingly die for no reason, only to leaf, flower, and grow fruit again in the cycle of time? But for the trees there was a return, another part of her mind countered, but for us, for people, there is no returning: the end of the cycle was a true end, there was no coming back to the beginning, to youth, once it was left behind.
            "Life is so hard!" Lilinim burst out, feeling hemmed in and pressed upon, sensing the burden of the years over herself as much as over Menulum, her brother.
            "No," said Menulum gently, "we may ease the hardness by choosing wisely which way we go."
            "Which way will you go, Menulum? Will you stay with us? Or will you leave, never to return, as so many before you?" Finally she looked to him for an answer, but he still looked far off, as if his advantage of two years enabled him to see the future with greater ease than she.
            "I must seek to become an adult."
            "Why?" Her voice came quickly, sharply.
            "Our Father wishes it---"
            Lilinim broke in on his deliberate voice: "But what do YOU want to do?"
            "---and I wish it," he finished in the same tone of voice, as if he'd never been interrupted. He resisted an urge to look with superiority on his sister, but the love he held for her prevented it. Menulum could feel that it was difficult for Lilinim, but he was also glad that she could not feel how frightened he was.
            "What's WRONG with retaining the body? WHY can't everyone stay in the body forever?"
            "To be an adult you MUST lose the body. Can you imagine Father with a body? Could you respect him as much as you do if he had a body like yours and mine? It's the age-old way---you must seek to lose your body before you can begin life as an adult." He rested his body on his hands, and the scented coolness of the gray grass rose to his nose in a wave of wonder. If only he could be as certain as his words sounded!
            "But I don't want to lose my body. I'm only beginning to learn how wonderful it is." Lilinim drew her knees up to her chest and drew patterns on her knee with her fingernail.
            "You'll grow to learn even more about it," Menulum said. "Until one day you may even feel that you love it, and it will feel even harder to seek to lose it. But think what a hindrance it would become as the years went on."
            "I don't understand!" Lilinim poked red spots into her knees until they itched with their irritation. "Didn't people, long, long ago, live with their bodies until they died? What was so wrong with that?"
            "You believe those old fairy-tales? I thought you were more grown-up than that! Can't you SEE how terrible it would be to live like that?" He recited his lessons more from rote than from conviction; he believed the things that his Father had taught him, but he wished that he UNDERSTOOD them a bit more clearly. Part of the burden of adulthood, he felt, were gentle lies told to young people and children, and he saw himself taking real responsibility on his shoulders by saying things that he didn't fully understand.
            "No. No, I can't." Lilinim tried to tell herself that she was far from tears, but she managed to hide the fact only from herself.
            "You haven't been listening to what mother has been telling you, is that it?"
            "Oh, I've been listening," Lilinim said bitterly, "but sometimes I get the feeling from her voice that she really doesn't believe what she's been telling me."
            "Things are DIFFERENT for a woman than for a man," Lilinim said plaintively. "I wish I could see mother's face when she talks to me. I WISH she had a body as I have. It would make talking to her so much SIMPLER." One of the red spots, poked on her knee, began to bruise and bleed, and she looked at it without understanding.
            "But why should things be simple?" Menulum tried to remember his Father's answers to questions which were very similar to his sister's. "It isn't easy to live with you, even if you are my sister, yet we---we---"
            "So now you're saying you want to leave me." And Lilinim's voice was only a little removed from a petulant wail.
            "No!! I don't know what will happen tomorrow. Tomorrow I get my Gift, and---"
            "What are you asking for?" Suddenly all thoughts of self-pity were gone, and Lilinim turned child-wide eyes to her older brother.
            "I can't say," said Menulum. "I'm not even sure Father will give it to me. I've been trying to think of an alternative, but I can't bring myself to believe he'll deny me what I want." He drew his lips inward until him mouth was only a thin line between his straight nose and beardless chin.
            "Oh, tell me, tell me," all thoughts of sophistication now gone, Lilinim tugged at the side of Menulum's tunic.
            "I'll tell you tomorrow," Menulum said, looking at his sister for the first time since they had started talking. "I'll know then if I can get it or not."
            But he did hope with all his heart that his Father would grant his wish for the Loom.