Paieon of the branch was the name we gave him. He arrived one evening at the twilight and sat himself at the outer reaches of the circle; silent and serene sat he, as if no stranger, but a sibling, returning.
The deed were so well done that no offense was taken. How could it be? The law of the smooth path and warmed stone was inviolate – any who seek peaceful comfort were but forgotten ones; a shamefully lost memory to be regained, and the task to be taken in hand with humility and honor. This was the way of things after the dark and deadly days, and so it was for Paieon as well.
He was a odd and tender brother in any moment; stormy eyes that belied his passivity and somber, solemn voice that spoke not so much at length as sweetly. There were no words but those which soothed to cross his mouth and before long, the frictions of the tribe were as his nest of snarled threads; arriving in swollen, yarn-like masses but always, always departing in silken skeins. Nimble of hand and quick of mind, his was the gift of the aloe and of doves; balm and downy succor that never seemed to notice the lacking of others, only their needfulness.
He sang life into our senses; notes of sound that were not always music but which always seemed somehow symphonic. And we came to think of him as “ours” in that strange way that people so often do; anything, once accustomed, becoming some aspect of territory or chattel. Never as directly dominant, of course, but there are many ways to hold without holding and our grip upon Paieon was as sure and tight as death, just as willing to strangle to keep its place.
I will never forget the look of him when it was discovered, when the bleached joints and ribs were found resting in the shallow hollow just beyond the shadowed wood. I never knew whose grip had tightened to choke away the fear of loss, but whichever of us ended her thought nothing of the trinket bound at her ankle. Nothing at all until the serene and solemn stood there, by the flickering and, as gently as ever, gave the searching question to us for answer. I shame myself to recall it, even now, as the thing that cost all when it was the sickened, serious tension of the still unknown hand.
She was his mentor and muse, he shared quietly with us. He told of her careful teaching and the simple, sweet ways in which she had taken the stone from his chest and instilled in its place a song that could be given without end to all things. She had come, he said, to deliver its last refrains; the final verses through which any exhaustion might be refreshed and by which all passing could be returned to beginnings rather than endings. I did not notice which faces or eyes could stay with him; innocent though I was, the weight of a True Ending pulled my attentions to ground as surely as if I were sunlight or rain, as effortlessly as an autumn leaf, falling. The sudden shouts and sighs brought my attention back to the moment and I sought him there, by the shifting shadow and flame, and shouted my own surprise to find emptiness where, but a moment ago, he stood.
We searched for many moons; every seemly sound waking hopeful surprise and every discovery of nothingness crushing it like that poor, white skull beyond the circle. The only remainder, found in that moment of shocked surveyance, an acorn, the shape of the thing in itself.
We kept it as a sacred thing for many moons more before holding ceremony and returning it along with the abandoned bones to the center of the circle. The soothing, shifting fire, extinguished, we laid them to rest together beneath the melancholy, full eye of the moon.
Unmaking is a sad and sorry thing. The memories draped in long and heavy lengths; no spark would hold and the stony cairn where once we knew sanctuary became a silent scream that gnawed us to the bone. One by one, we drifted, until even the memory of shared song and succor lay desiccated and blanched. And then…. nothing but surrender and chagrin and solitude, all things, undone.
Such is the way of the stone people. Still I find that I wish I had never known song, that this terrible silence might be other than so loud.