The Heavenward Path

The Heavenward Path by Kara Dalkey Read Free Book Online

Book: The Heavenward Path by Kara Dalkey Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kara Dalkey
moon glowed like a silver mirror. As I lay between Goranu's great beating wings, I wished the flight would last forever.
        But after an hour or two, we at last descended into the mountains of Tamba Province. I caught a whiff of pine-scented wind that made me shudder.
        "Hang on," said Goranu. "This may be a rough landing."
        I wrapped my arms around his neck. With several jarring bounces, Goranu finally stopped in front of the gate of my sister's mountain lodge.
        "Um. You can let go of me now," said the tengu in a slightly strangled voice.
        Reluctantly, I let go of his neck and slid down his back to the ground. I took a little time to adjust my kimonos and smooth my windblown hair. When I at last turned to enter the lodge, Goranu, in human form again, blocked the gate.
        He held out his hand. "Your payment?"
        "Ah. Yes." Though it made me sad, I took the rice paper scroll from my sleeve and handed it to him.
        Goranu began to take the scroll as if it were made of gold. Suddenly, it gave off a red glow. "Ow!" said the tengu, and he dropped it on the ground.
        "Oh no! I should have realized," I said. "The sacred words will burn you."
        "I will still take it with me," Goranu growled, shaking his hand and sucking on his fingers.
        "Let me tuck it into your belt, so it will not hurt you."
        "It will still be against my skin and feathers."
        Not knowing what else to do, I removed my outermost kimono. I still had six other kimonos underneath, and Papa had said he'd buy me new ones, after all. I wrapped the scroll in the kimono so that it formed a thick bundle. "There, that should help." I gently reached over and pulled on Goranu's belt sash and tucked the bundle into it.
        He breathed a soft, shuddering sigh.
        "I'm sorry. Did that hurt you?" I looked up. His face was very close to mine.
        "No, Mitsu-chan," he whispered down at me. "All is very well."
        "Oh. Um."
        "Um. You may let go of my belt now."
        "Oh. Forgive me." I let go of his belt and took a step back. I did not want Goranu to leave. I did not want him to read the sutra and die. But I could think of nothing to say that would stop him. Already his fingers were sprouting feathers. He lightly touched my face and then took off running down the Western Road. In a moment, he was in the air, once more a darker patch of night against the shining stars.

         The little stream is blocked by fallen leaves. Ah! It can flow a new way…
        After Goranu's departure, I stared at the gate in the garden fence and wondered what to do. It would be foolish to stand out there shouting like a street vendor, so I pushed gently on the gate. It swung inward with only a faint squeak.
        The house was on a steep hillside to my left. Bright lantern light shone through the translucent rice-paper-and-wood walls. They have done much to repair this house , I thought. It looks almost pleasant.
        By the dim light, I could see that the tall weeds that had hidden my escape with Amaiko had been cut down and a garden had been planted with a pleasant graveled path winding through it. I heard footsteps on the veranda of the house, and I glanced up.
        A woman walked there, but she was dressed very strangely.
        Instead of the many layers of kimonos, she wore Chinese trousers and a long jacket that was slashed at the hip. Her hair was tied back with a strip of cloth. She did not seem to see me. She went to the veranda railing and held out her right hand, which was wrapped in leather. "Ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki!" she called out in a high-pitched voice.
        Its wings only whispering, a hawk flew out of a nearby pine tree and landed gently on the woman's wrist. She turned toward me as she fed the bird something, and I recognized her.
        "It is Sotoko!" I said to myself. "So I am not the only

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