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Chapter 3---The Loom

            After many false starts, Menulum knew that he was only torturing himself: the best deed was to blurt out his request for his Gift.
            "Father, I have decided to take the Loom."
            "How do you know of the Loom?" There was no attempt at evasion, but the note of fear could not be hidden in the sternness of the voice.
            "When you told me the Legend of the Loom, I was fascinated by it, but then I heard you talking to Mother one day, and I knew you had it hidden somewhere."
            For many minutes there was little movement in the room. From the featureless aspect of the cloud, Menulum had no hint of his Father's emotions: just another reason for his wishing that his parents had their bodies. Finally, without a sound, the cloud moved out of the chamber onto the sunlit slopes; Menulum moved as silently behind. Up to the crest of the hill they went, the Father before the son, and they stopped on a cliff-face overhanging the River Ebon. There the cloud paused, and Menulum waited as if a question were about to come from it, but after a moment's hesitation the cloud lowered over the edge until it stood level with the lip of the last stone over the crag. Unquestioningly, Menulum stepped off the sheer drop into the cloud.
            He dropped gently until he was to his waist in the mist, then stopped, suspended in the midst of the cloud, which slowly moved down the side of the cliff. It was not often that his Father treated Menulum in this way: in a certain sense Menulum was saddened that his Father still handled him like a child. Wouldn't a Father who respected his son have requested him to get down the cliff under his own power, rather than handling him so carefully? But when the cliff abruptly stopped, and a shadowy overhang prevented all light from reaching into a cleft in the rock-face, Menulum knew it would have been impossible for him to discover this hiding place: from the other side the rock edges merged to give the impression of a solid face; only someone who KNEW that this ledge existed would be able to find it.
            As the cloud seeped into the rift in the rock, Menulum still wrapped in its untouchable folds, it began to glow from within, and the glow illumined the inside of the cliff-face, and Menulum stiffened at what he saw.
            Far back into the living rock, the rays from his Father sought out the walls of the rock-cavern, and it was far larger than the meeting-tent in which all the townschildren could gather. The walls seemed literally blasted out of the cliffs with jets of air, since there appeared to be no sign of any sort of metallic implement cutting into the rock. It was if a maelstrom had whirled for ages, upside down in the cliff, to form this funnel-shaped room with the apex of the cone reaching far out of sight, certainly coming very close to the ledges above. In the center of the room, exactly echoing its shape, stood what looked to be a black, smooth-surfaced rock.
            "The Loom," said the Father.
            Whether because it was the first words uttered in the cavern, or because his Father's voice was perhaps louder than he was used to hearing, Menulum shivered at the sound of the booming word. The Loom!
            Released for the grip of the cloud, Menulum walked slowly toward the rock, then silently around it, peering up at it as it stretched just over his head. At length, as if he expected to find it hot, he put his hands out to the surface. As his feelings of awe lessened, Menulum explored the featureless surface more anxiously, finally turning with a mystified expression on his face: "How does it operate?"
            "There are no controls for the hands to touch, my son, nor levers to learn for its use." Wrapped in patience, the Father answered to his own satisfaction, but not to his son's.
            "Then how can I use it?"
            "No person can "use" the Loom without the danger of the Loom using him. If you are careful, however, you may try to obtain what you need from it."
            "But Father, I don't understand." Menulum had enough experience with his Father to know that there was no earthly way of forcing him to utter anything that he didn't wish to say.
            "What would you want from the Loom?"
            Menulum stood, surprised at the question, for a long time, with nothing much in his mind except the question. "Why---why---anything I could get." But immediately he knew that that was the wrong tack.
            "You might get death, you may destroy the world, you may get your name spat upon through history as the foulest traitor known to man---if you wanted anything you could get." The voice was not angry but perilously cold and austere.
            Menulum, given time and courage by his Father's relative calm, said "I would like help in losing my body."
            "Why do you want to lose your body?"
            Stunned, Menulum found the very question he had been wanting to ask thrown at him. "But I DON'T want to lose my body! But I do---I do want to become an adult, and being an adult MEANS that you've lost the body."
            The voices rumbled through the room, as if a chorus of tired old men were following, repeating their conversation. "You may grow older, much older, and still possess the body, but you cannot become an adult until you truly WISH to lose the body. A mature body is not necessarily an adult body; adulthood is a condition of the MIND, not of the body: it is a condition of the mind which KNOWS that the body must be lost."
            "But, I still don't understand: I can't be an adult until I lose the body, yet I can't lose the body until I have the MIND of an adult."
            "That is a truth which you have spoken. Look at it; SEE the truth."
            Menulum stared uncomprehendingly at his Father. "To be an adult, I have to have the mind of an adult first?"
            "The statement is clear and true."
            "But---but how do I GET the mind of an adult."
            "By losing the body."
            "But I can't be an adult UNTIL I lose the body?"
            "Father! Please, help me! I can't see!" Menulum fell on his knees before his Father.
            His Father's voice was unchanged: "You can see only by seeing."
            "Then I can lose the body only by losing the body." Menulum wrestled desperately with the words, striving to make the meaning clear to himself.
            "I can have the mind of an adult only by having the mind of an adult."
            "I lose the body by WANTING to lose the body?"
            "No. You will never lose the body if you WANT to lose the body. If you WANT to lose the body you only tie it closer to yourself." Menulum's Father spoke quietly, urgently, saying each word as if each contained the key to the meaning, yet by stressing each word equally, he gave to Menulum a faint sense of the foolishness of words.
            "But I can't lose the body by NOT wanting to lose the body, either?"
            "You know that to be true."
            It was a fact; Menulum began to see what his Father was saying. "I can lose the body neither by WANTING to lose the body, nor by NOT wanting to lose the body."
            His Father said nothing.
            "I must lose the body by---losing it." But though these words were the same as the words he'd uttered before, there was such a conviction in his words that his Father's voice betrayed his joy.
            "You have said it, meaning it, for the first time."
            "I can't steer toward it, neither can I steer away from it."
            "You are choosing different ways in which to say the same thing."
            "Wanting to lose my body would hinder my losing my body; seeking to keep it would keep it with me also. There is the middle path---"
            "The path of living your life."
            "The path of living my life---" Menulum began again to feel unsure of himself.
            "You lose your body by living your life until the time comes when you lose your body."
            "Is there no way in which I can speed up the process?"
            "Only by not wishing to speed up the process. In wishing to hurry on the path of life, you will find yourself going backwards, or, even worse, standing still."
            "But, Father, how do I know if I am following the RIGHT path?"
            "How do you know you are breathing the right way?"
            "I don't. I---," and a clear light broke from Menulum's eyes. "I just simply BREATHE."
            "That's the only possible way to breathe."
            "Of course! If I thought about each step of breathing, I would suffocate."
            "That is not a truth, but if you wish to think of it as a truth, you may."
            "Father, how can the Loom help me?"
            "It is you who asked for the Loom, not I who offered to give it to you."
            "Yes, but---" and again the power of knowledge lit Menulum's eyes. "But it WILL help me to live, if I learn of its power, won't it?"
            "You can live with it; you can live without it. But the paths are not the same."
            "But will the Loom PREVENT me from losing my body?"
            "No more than breathing will."
            "Then I choose the Loom as a Gift."
            "Then it is yours. " And Menulum's Father vanished from the cave.