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Chapter 2---Father and Mother

            Later that same evening they had walked, not touching, back to their tent on the side of the hill, though they each wanted to take the other's hand, as was their habit when walking slowly together.
            The green canvas of their tent blotted out the last glow of the Sun as the hillside settled into night. As they drew aside the hanging at the door, the smell from the cooking-fire carried the savor of the evening pottage toward them, and they felt the same call of hunger that the child feels. Change can be great in a day, but all things are seldom changed in the space of a day.
            They saw that their parents had prepared their food, but they weren't in the central living-dining chamber. They went to their little sleeping chambers on opposite sides of the tent, and found them, too, empty. They refreshed their faces with water from the freshet that flowed down each side of their chamber, and somewhat later both sat together in the central chamber to share their pottage.
            They sat cross-legged on the ground on either side of the shallow basin in the ground, and both reached at the same time for the warm loaf that sat steaming in the stone oven at one side of the basin. Lilinim laughed-waved at her brother to take the first piece from the loaf.
            He detached a chunk from the end, saw with pleasure that this evening it was made from oat flour, and passed the remainder to his sister, who took only a small bite from the middle and put the rest back into the oven. Then both bent forward slightly and dipped the bread into the pottage, which revolved slowly in the basin in the middle of the floor. The thick brown mixture soaked quickly into the coarse bread, and they carried it without dripping to their mouths.
            "Um. This is cherries and plums, mixed with juice of lamb; what a good pottage." Menulum  dipped again into the basin, chewing quickly. Lilinim ate more slowly, still thinking over the conversation  of the day. Neither seemed much inclined to talk during the meal.
            After a while, as they drank from wooden containers of tangerine juice, they chatted about their friends on the other side of the hill, they called their pet snakes and mice to amuse themselves, and the green canvas glowed softly with a light not unlike the green light from the sky during the day. Still their parents did not appear, until, bored with diverting themselves, each retired into the sleeping chamber and "Mother," called Lilinim and "Father," called Menulum.
            Through the porous green fabric of the tenting wafted a multi-lobed cloud. It descended from the peak of the tent into the eating chamber, boiled around the basin for a few moments, during which time the remains of the pottage disappeared and the last crumbs were removed from the oven, then separated into two roughly similar globes which moved through opposite walls into the two sleeping chambers. Both Lilinim and Menulum greeted clouds in the same way: raising their arms over their heads, they lifted their heads toward the sky, while the clouds tranquilly enveloped them.
            In Lilinim's case the cloud penetrated her tunic and concentrated briefly about her knees. "Have you fallen down, my dear?" The voice spoke not from a localized section of the cloud, but seemed to come from every point of the cloud with equal intensity.
            "No, Mother. I was provoked with Menulum this evening, and I picked at my knees in pique." Lilinim lay back onto the soft gray grass which carpeted the tent inside as well as outside; the gray cloud, more out of habit than for any other reason, flowed gently under the recumbent figure and held it slightly off the ground. With a contented slight smile on her face, Lilinim turned her face into the cloud, making vague nuzzling gestures with her cheeks and lips, while her hair seemed possessed of a life of its own while the cloud played with it.
            "Has he done something to disturb you?" The cloud gathered briefly, as if squeezing Lilinim's shoulders.
            "Oh, Mother, sometimes he seems to have grown so far from me. He isn't as he was in years past, when we played frankly together and had no secrets one from the other."
            "He may not be the only one who's changed, my child. You, too, have altered with the passing cycles of time; maybe, in part, it is you who have secrets from him."
            Lilinim lay quietly, looking quietly up at the green tent-roof, and a tear gathered, sparkling, in the corner of her eye. "Maybe I have changed, Mother, but not nearly so much as he. He's almost 21 now."
            "Ah, both your Father and I know that too well, my child. When you think of your pain at growing distant from him, think, then, of his pain, which is the greater, for it is, in fact, he who grows more swiftly from you, and not you who flees from him."
            The tear begot a twin in Lilinim's other eye, but the moisture was so slight that when, presently, she closed her eyes, no moisture wetted her cheek which nestled in the warm embrace of her mother's presence.
            Far longer into the night lasted the dialogue on the other side of the slumbering tent. For it was only after Lilinim's voice had fallen into silence, and her mother had gently laid her down onto the sward and moved through the partition into the center of the tent, close by the wall behind which her husband rested with Menulum, that the silence on that side of the tent was broken.
            "Can't you tell me what's troubling you, my son?" The voice was low and undemanding, so that if Menulum chose he could ignore the question. But he had been on the point of speaking himself, and now he swiftly took up the gauntlet of speech.
            "Why should I be frightened of tomorrow, Father?" There was a long silence, though in fact the Father was not amazed to hear that his son was frightened at coming of age.
            "It means an end of play and a beginning of struggle. Tomorrow is an entranceway to the task which will occupy you for some years---whether they be few or many depends on your skill in finding that for which you seek." Through the partition the words came almost inaudibly to the mother. But at the common bond their two beings shared at the tent-wall, their emotions passed freely from one to the other, and she felt the struggle her husband was having within himself.
            "Father, maybe it is a coward within me which asks, but how do I KNOW what I am seeking for?" Menulum's body was tense as he sat in the center of his chamber. His Father hovered over him, touching him less than the mother had touched the daughter; it seemed that his Father became like a cloak or a shield for his back against the pressure of the darkness from outside the tent. There was not the same quality of physical closeness between the Father and the son, but the love demonstrated by the willingness of the Father to let the son face the difficulties of his coming day showed a strength which the love of the mother for the daughter could never hope to attain.
            "There are many reasons for you to seek to lose your body, but there is only one reason which will lead you to the right means, and that is the reason which only you can find."
            "Why must life be so hard?" Menulum felt a moment's anger with himself for showing the same weakness that his sister had shown to him that afternoon, but the feeling passed, and he was secure in the knowledge that he had asked the question which puzzled him.
            "It is not the hardness which is difficult; it is the fear of the hardness which paralyzes action." Menulum's Father tried vainly to remember the conversation his Father had had with him before his quest began, as his Father had tried before him. But the everlasting necessity for each generation to become convinced of its own truth forced an unbreakable barrier in communication between Father and son.
           Menulum threw himself face downward onto the grass. He couldn't tell whether he was more embarrassed to be labeled fearful or to talk about the subject at all with his Father. Finally, since NOT talking was more feared than talking, they spoke of many things, as only a Father can speak to a son or a son to the Father.