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Home > Soundless(14)

Soundless(14)
Author: Richelle Mead

And as Li Wei cries out, I know Feng Jie is right. It is his heart I am hearing, a way of expressing what he feels over his father’s loss that is both primal and far more eloquent than any words can convey. It is terrible and beautiful, and it comes from his soul and reaches something within mine. It is the sound my own heart made when my parents died, only I didn’t know it until now.

Li Wei attempts to pull himself together and peers at those gathered around. This shouldn’t have happened! he tells the crowd. He shouldn’t have been working down there, with his vision failing. Many of you knew it was. The foreman knew. But everyone pretended not to notice. How many more of you are like that? How many more of you are hiding your failing vision so that you can keep working?

No one answers that question, but one man at last bravely says, We have to work, or we can’t eat.

Only because you allow it to be that way! Li Wei protests. You further the system by continuing to be a part of it! So long as you keep sending metals down the mountain without question, nothing will ever change.

A woman responds, As long as we send metals down the mountain, my children continue to have dinner . If there is no food, they will starve. I will work my fingers to the bone to stop that from happening. Several other miners nod in agreement.

But there must be another way , Li Wei tells them. At the very least, if you are losing your sight, don’t go back to work. Don’t go down there to risk your lives and the lives of others. Don’t end up like him. Tears brim in his eyes as he clutches his father’s sleeve.

The other miners shuffle uncomfortably, but no one takes up his rally. One man finally claps Li Wei on the shoulder in sympathy and then simply says, We must get back to work. The priest has been sent for to tend to your father. I’m sorry for your loss.

Others make similar gestures of condolence and then trudge back to the mine’s entrance. Not long after that, the village priest’s acolytes come and deferentially cover Bao’s body before lifting it and taking it away for preparation. They tell Li Wei he will be able to view the body at sunset, and the funeral will follow. Li Wei makes no response as they take his father away.

Soon we are left alone. Li Wei slams his fists against the muddy ground and lets out another cry of frustration. Again, I am awed, overwhelmed by the strength and emotion conveyed in the human voice. For the first time since this phenomenon started happening to me, I begin to understand the power it could have and why our ancestors mourned its loss. Every sound around me—the renewed pattering of rain, the wind in the leaves—all of it suddenly has a new meaning. I can see how these sounds don’t interfere with the world so much as enhance it. The scope and potential are huge. It’s like having a new color to paint with.

Li Wei gets to his feet and notices that I am still here. His dark eyes lock with mine. There is a remarkable contrast in the emotion playing over his face and the imposing figure he makes with his height and build. Sorrow radiates off him, and I know I should say something, offer condolences, at the very least. But I’m still stunned, still awestruck by the effect his cry of grief had on me. His voice was the first human one I have ever heard outside of that first dream, and its impact was staggering. I can only stand there.

Li Wei snorts in disgust and storms away. His abrupt departure snaps me from my daze. I realize I must have come across as rude and cold, and I instantly feel terrible. Abandoning my observation post is a serious offense, but I can’t stand to let him go off like that, not when he thinks I was indifferent to his father’s death. I hesitate only a moment before leaving the mine and running after Li Wei. When I reach him on the path near the cliff’s edge, I tap him on the shoulder, and he spins around with a ferocity that makes me take a few steps back.

What do you want? he asks. I know the anger he wears is an attempt to hide his heartache.

Li Wei, I’m sorry about your father. I’m so sorry , I say. I know how you feel.

He scoffs. I sincerely doubt that.

You know I do , I chastise. You remember when I lost my parents.

Yes. Legitimate compassion flashes in his eyes, but soon that outrage returns. They died in the fever, just as my mother did. But that was different. None of them could’ve stopped that. Not like with my father. He had no business working when his vision was failing! It was agony watching him go into that mine day after day. It was a death trap. I knew it would only be a matter of time, but he refused to stop working and become a beggar.

I understand that too , I tell him. Zhang Jing . . . she is going blind. I pause, hit with the full impact of finally admitting this to someone. Our masters found out, and she can no longer be an apprentice. We had to take other action, make a big decision in order to save her from being a beggar.

Li Wei is very still now, regarding me with new interest. What did you do?

I take a deep breath, still having my own difficulties resigning myself to Zhang Jing’s fate. She is going to become a household servant at the Peacock Court.

He stares at me in confusion and then throws up his arms in disbelief. That is your big decision? To move her to a comfortable, safe job, where she’ll be well fed and face no risks? You actually deliberated about that and think you have anything in common with me or the other miners?

I know his harsh words are born from grief, and I try to respond calmly. I’m saying I know what it’s like to be scared for your loved one in that way. To have your life turned upside down. You aren’t the only one going through this. That earlier urge returns, the one that makes me want to go over and put my arms around him, comforting him as I would have years ago. But I can’t, not when others might see. Not when so much distance has built up between us.

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