My convalescence was, I realized, a fabrication. It took time for this realization to strike, a whole other season of hot, but once it took hold I would not let it go. If I asked Auntie about it she told me I was ill, not like the sun-sick I’d been before, but ill with nature. This made no sense to me. I could feel nature pulsing outside of the cottage, feel it calling me, telling me stories. I could hear the birds whisper sweet nothings to each other, I could hear the ants warn each other of water spilling into their hills. They all mattered so much, and I wanted to find them, love them, cherish them.
When the crisp air came again, Auntie went to the villages. Before she’d taken me with her. Now she told me to stay home, rest, and work on my letters. For the first time, I defied her. When she left, so did I. I went into the hills and talked to the animals, the insects, the plants. I coaxed dying flowers back to blooming, I kept long grasses from giving in to their exhaustion. I had missed a whole season with them, I did not want to let them all go not.
Much of the season passed so, until I came home late, or perhaps Auntie came home early. She yelled and screamed, so angry that I’d disobeyed her. She took me back to the little stone room within a room. The man who’d been there was gone now and the stones told me he was dead. Auntie didn’t know what else to do and she put me in the little room and left me there.
I wanted out. Out of the room, out of my mind, out of my skin. The world was going on without me. I needed to sing the grasses to sleep, bid farewell to the migrating birds and soothe the butterflies as they died. But I was concealed in stone, and I could not feel them, could not connect to them. And so I clawed my flesh, I beat my fists against the stone, I screamed and cried and ripped at my hair. Auntie brought me food, but did not bring me company or peace. I begged her to let me out, but she said she couldn’t let me lose myself. She didn’t know I already was, trapped in stone like that.
And then, one day when the earth was sleeping, she came and was not alone. There were three of them, two women and a man. They smelled of sheep and horses, but with another scent as well, a tang of metal, a wisp of smoke. They were appalled. I was bloody and broken from my months in captivity. Auntie cried for me, and cried for herself. She’d failed me, she said, and the Whisper Man had died and she didn’t know what to do, or if I was dangerous. One of the women hugged her and told her she had done her best, but humans were not equipped to deal with Whispers. The man was disgusted with my Auntie. The other woman was focused on me. She brought me out, wiped blood from my face and hands, wrapped me in a blanket. Onaemi, she called me, my first true name.
I marveled at the sounds of sleeping earth, sounds that had been held away from me by the stone. I heard the snow softly sighing, and hibernating animals dreaming. I heard the mournful song of the dragon fill my mind and my heart ached for it.
Auntie cried herself out, and dumped coins into the man’s hand. They told her that I would be better off, that perhaps, if the Whisper Council approved, I might go to the Citadel. She said whatever they could do to make me well, she would welcome. Her eyes rimmed red, she watched them lead me away.