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March 15th, 2020
Lucilius was not paying much attention as he watched with lackluster interest, his student pulling back the drawstring. All he saw were errors, the form, the tension of the student’s muscles, the angled arms, the curve of spine. Lucilius knew where the arrow would go. But he did not instruct, not seeing the bubbled hope on the student’s face. Lucilius was caught in images from long ago, from a time when he himself was learning.
Invisible across the water, the wind had been crisp, flexing the taut sail cloth, bending the stiff mast. The boat heeled as it sped up, water taunting the edge, tinting it green. Ease the main, the old sailor had whispered gently, and Lucilius at the helm let out some of the strickened line. The buried edge slipped out of the water and the boat levelled.
The student released the drawstring and the arrow careened off at an awkward angle. The student sighed hard and fast and then unsheathed another arrow and drew it back against the drawstring again. Lucilius casually stepped forward and tapped the boy’s shoulder down, and pushed a finger on the bow against it’s natural lay, and poked the boy’s side, making him jolt up straighter, tapped his pinched elbow up higher and then grasped a lock of the boy’s hair at the top of his head and pulled skyward. The boy grimaced as he stood straighter, trying to hold together all of the adjustments, trembling like a paper building before the softest movements of air. Lucilius took a step back to look at the boy, not noticing his own bored sigh as he did. The boy’s back had slumped again in response to all the other tensions he was holding and Lucilius quickly stepped forward again to poke the boy back to posture. The tiny details of the boy’s hard-set face quivered but Lucilius did not notice. Lucilius’ mind was elsewhere, remembering. . .
Close your eyes Lucilius. Now gently push her into the turn, and as she rounds, feel how the water eases and then tugs on her. That’s how you’ll know when she’s ‘round. I’ll handle the lines. Ready when you are.
Lucilius could remember even now all these years later as he brought the helm over with his eyes closed. How the weight had shifted against his feet, his body swaying with the move, the loose feel of the helm in the spin, and then quickly how it grew a force against his hold. He’d opened his eyes to a wide and nodding smile.
Now Lucilius watched the rickety posture of his own student, the small waver of the arrow tip. Lucilius knew how wide-cast that waver was, and when the arrow flew, Lucilius did not even follow it’s flight. He took the bow from the boy and with a slick speed of years and hours in the thousands threaded the arrow to a full draw.
See? Lucilius asked. All of the body’s movements are at once.
He eased the drawstring and then quickly repeated the swift move before the straining, wanting eyes of the boy.
Again, Lucilius said.
The boy took up the bow, drawing in all his breath. With teeth clenched and unseen the boy fitted the arrow, and then tried to expand himself as Lucilius had done, drawing the arrow back. But the boy was weak in ways that could not be filled in the moment, but only with great time, and because of this, he wavered in his core. The arrow went it’s own way, and the student looked again to Lucilius. The boy’s teacher had a face that showed plainly his truest thoughts, his better mind elsewhere soaked in years past with a time when he –Lucilius- had been a student. And because of this he failed to keep up the face his student needed, failed to see where his student was truly wanting.
You aren’t paying attention to the right places.
What should I pay attention to?
Only fundamentals. Your body. The breath. How both move, expand, how they rise to show you the right moment..
So I shouldn’t look at the target? The boy said looking off at the far circle, confused.
Lucilius waved a dismissive hand at the target without looking. That, is just a detail. It doesn’t matter.
The boy looked at him, more confused, and then the boy’s eyes wandered around as though they hoped to catch something that was missing.
How do I pay more attention to the body and the breath? The boy finally asked.
Lucilius pointed at a pair of empty wooden buckets and a thin yoke that connected the two handles. Carry water up the stairs for the rest of your day’s practice.
And with that Lucilius left, failing to feel the boy’s confusion who saw the buckets as punishment, not as an exercise for strength, as Lucilius intended.
The next day Lucilius watched again as the boy wobbled in his stance, his tired frame struggling against the draw of the bow, his sore fingers aching in their task, begging to shy away from the boy’s drive. But he was unyielding. The arrow flew and the target was left unblemished. The boy sighed and looked patiently towards Lucilius, but the boy’s teacher only shook his head with closed eyes.
The body. The breath, Lucilius said.
The boy nodded as he nocked another arrow, but he held the bow just like that, staring at the target. Just when he would usually draw the string all the way back, he only stood still, watching that elusive circle, so clear before his eyes, and yet shrouded. It lay behind an impossible veil.
Then the boy took the arrow off the bowstring and placed it back in the quiver. He did not look at Lucilius but walked to the wall display and hung the bow up in it’s place. Then the boy turned briefly to Lucilius, bowed deeply, and then walked away.
The next day when Lucilius expected to receive his student, he was left waiting. Lucilius stood watch for an hour, then two hours. Then after three hours, he wandered off into his garden, an arrow in one hand. He sat down beneath a giant oak that he’d planted long ago and watched the arrow as he balanced it on an outstretched finger. The boy did not show and would never return.
Lucilius spent the day sitting in the garden, thinking, reminiscing once more.
He could smell the salt and stink of fresh sea air. The speckling light on the water like millions of stone faces soundlessly chipped anew, reflecting again the crisp light.
Are you ready to be tested? Lucilius was asked.
Lucilius grew worried. I don’t know, he said.
A big barrel laugh sounded. That’s right. Not for you to know. This is where I must learn and test myself.
Wait, Lucilius said, puzzled, as he handled the boat’s helm. Who is getting tested here?
A broad smile answered him. Both of us.
Lucilius was handed the two lines for the other sails in addition to the helm he held. The old sailor smiled at him.
Well here goes. Save me Lucilius.
And with that the old sailor swiftly mounted the gunwale and tossed himself into the water. Lucilius was drawn into shock as he tried to realize the lines in his hands, the pull of the helm and the man now far behind in the water. Lucilius looked back, spotting the man’s smiling face as it bobbed between the waves. Lucilius checked the sails and corrected his course.
Ok, ok, he repeated to himself, as a plan of necessity emerged in his mind. The old man had lead them downwind. Lucilius would have to beat back up in order to get him back aboard, and the longer he waited the harder it would be. Lucilius drew in the lines and spun the boat high against the wind, and then tacked onto a second course, now calm under the rattle of sail and line, knowing their meaning now, drawing them in again as the wind caught once more. And then slowly Lucilius worked the boat back upwind towards the old sailor in the sea.
Lucilius sat beneath the great oak, remembering that time on the ocean and finally noticed that he was bleeding. His fiddling hands had drilled the arrow tip into one of his fingers.
There was something satisfying about the ach of pain that had dulled before the pinch, now realizing what he’d done as he’d been lost in the old reverie.
He watched the bright maroon lick a path down his hand as he held it raised to see.
Months later the wind whipped through the garden, pulling acorns from the vast tree. A girl stood against the wind, her eyes set, the draw string creasing into her cheek. The arrow flew, bending through the tossed air. And then she looked to Lucilius for his reaction. He was nodding.
It’s time, you are ready, he said.
The young woman’s face grew with question as Lucilius stepped close to her. He swiftly grasped the string that held her long hair in a tight bun and snapped it, loosing her hair to grow suddenly wild in the wind. The girl wiped a hand up along her face to reveal her startled look.
Do not touch your hair, Lucilius said.
But I can’t see, she said, confused.
Your hair is a part of you, Lucilius said. You will have to see with it. And now you will aim for the apple.
What apple? the woman asked, rattled now, only seeing Lucilius in fluttering glimpses that peered through the blinking gaps of her hair as it sailed in the wind.
Lucilius did not answer. He turned and began to walk out towards the target. The young woman held her hair aside against Lucilius’ words to watch as the man arrived at the target. She watched as he gently removed the arrows and piled them near the target, and then he turned to her, standing in front of the wide target, and from a fold in his robes, Lucilius removed an apple, and leaning back against the target, he placed the apple on top of his own head.
Lucilius could see a familiar shock filling the girl’s face, but he knew now what was required to quell the calculating mind, to draw it into the heart of a student.
The girl stood a few moments longer in shock, holding her hair aside. Then she released it, letting her long locks run freely with the wind. She took up her bow. She fitted the arrow and drew it back, breathing deeply, expanding herself against the power of the bow.
And just before she let the weapon fly, Lucilius smiled, and closed his eyes.
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