Author's Note: Written some time ago to the tune of Kelly Sweet's tear-jerking "Je T'Aime". Since I don't think it's in the public domain, I won't copy the lyrics here. If you want, you can find the song on YouTube.
This story lands firmly in the Territory of Bittersweet—see my note at the end of the chapter as to why I thought it an appropriate offering on Mothers' Day.
Anyway, thanks to BlueTrillium for finding my mistakes.
Cradle Song: A Mothers' Day Tribute
Izark didn't sing often—or well.
Noriko came to understand this in the days following their harrowing conflict with the thing from the White Mist Woods.
Laying on her back—which hurt, as said body area was riddled with deep bruises, but not as badly as the movements required to change position—there wasn't much to do besides listen to the goings on around her.
And sleep. Between the herbs Izark fed her against the pain and her own innate tendency to simply go dormant while she was recovering from something, Noriko spent much of the time unconscious.
When she was awake, though, she whiled away the hours listening to the others as they discussed their collective situation—politics, strategies, food supply, how far to the next town…
The logistics of carrying a young woman whose torso and legs were one big case of blunt trauma was a point of some contention. Izark and Gaya—and Banadam, which Noriko found odd—were adamant that they wait at least a week before moving her. The others eventually agreed, though it meant sleeping out in the elements. Their caution for her sake was heartwarming, even as her chagrin at being a burden brought her close to tears.
When the female warrior was around, Auntie Gaya kept her busy with a constant stream of practical knowledge—how to process the roots she'd found that morning, pleasant spice combinations, all manner of bush-craft and heal-craft, and even a little bit about sword-craft.
Once, Duke Jeida spoke of his life, his aspirations, and his changing perspectives.
Izark was never far when she was awake. She knew he found other tasks while she slept—and that Barago was fairly impressed with the amount of wood Izark could cut and split with a sword in under an hour—but he seemed reluctant to let her wake without him there. She couldn't decide if this was because she'd asked him to stay near, or if he felt like she'd been injured because he'd drawn away just before the cliff face came down on her.
She quickly dismissed the notion that maybe he wanted to be there.
Frequently, one or another of their companions would start to hum as they went about their lives. More often than not, others would join in, adding lyrics if they knew them. The songs ranged from the humorous through the contemplative to the downright tragic, but most were some form of story. Folktales and chronicles, legends and memoirs, fictions and facts. The tale of the traveler Irktule came around, proving what the tree spirit had told her about his namesake.
It seemed as if Duke Jeida and his sons could relate the entire history of Zago in song.
Rontarna was particularly inventive with harmonies.
Koriki was tone deaf, but Rontarna's talent somehow turned his brother's rhythmic droning into something artistic.
Barago had one of the most beautiful bass voices Noriko had ever heard, and the others shared her admiration. The big warrior blushed and insisted that it just took training.
For whatever reason, Gaya favored love ballads—the ones where everyone wound up dead.
Banadam liked war songs.
Being from across the Inland Sea, Geena and Agol shared a slightly different repertoire from the Gray Birds and nobles.
Geena sang what were unmistakably children's songs, though the maturity with which the little girl approached everything turned the simple verses into revelations.
Agol sang lullabies.
Izark rarely joined in, and only because Barago pressed him. When a song finished, the former prize-fighter would wallop him on the back and assure the younger man that he would improve with practice.
Although they tried to hide it, the others were clearly surprised—Noriko deduced that in this culture, singing was a common source of entertainment, social activity, and probably the preferred avenue by which stories were told.
And Izark's singing wasn't bad, exactly. A bit rough, perhaps, but on pitch.
Banadam's martial tunes were filled with courage, and loyalty to a just cause.
Gaya's sad ballads cut deep, a cathartic address to decades-old emotional wounds.
Agol's cradlesongs held enough parental love to fill their campsite. Noriko thought that if only he had more than one voice box, the widowed father might have sung harmonies to take the place of a mother and grandparents that would never make another sound.
There were no emotionsbehind Izark's voice. No memories. No associations.
Just a void.
"Whaddaya mean, your folks didn't sing?" That was Barago, exclaiming over Izark's response when Agol tried to draw him out on his musical skills—or lack thereof.
Gaya and Duke Jeida's boys had struck out on their own a few days ago. From her room in the house they had rented for the last week or so, Noriko imagined she heard an exasperated sigh escape her self-appointed guardian.
"Just what I said," Izark retorted. There was a jagged edge surrounding the hollowness in his tone—one that she thought even Barago would hesitate to approach. "They didn't sing."
The next thing she heard was the sound of a wooden door jarring back into its frame.
She starting to get up and move about for more than using the chamber pot. Izark had seemed conflicted, but both Agol and Barago thought she should start using her muscles again as soon as doing so didn't make her tear up. Apparently, both men had sustained broken bones in the past, and knew from experience that the deterioration caused by inactivity was every bit as worrisome as an actual injury.
Noriko could see why—she was shocked at how her physical endurance had declined in just weeks. Simply walking from one room to the next could make her tired, and sometimes she had to settle for sitting up in bed to write.
On the fourth day, she pushed a little too hard. When he found her snoozing against a tree just thirty steps from the front door, Izark scooped her up and carried her back to her room, grumbling under his breath about not being able to leave her alone for a single moment.
The next time she woke, it was night. Somewhere, not far at all, someone was singing.
Izark was singing.
The melody was minor, but not entirely sad. From what she could understand of the words, Noriko thought it might be a lullaby, but not one of the ones Agol had shared with them.
Where any other song she'd heard from him had been just a pattern, this one had meaning.
Safety. Contentment. Rest.
You are loved.
She kept the memory of that evening for a month before she found the occasion to enquire about it. When she did, Izark asked her to let him think first.
"My parents never sang," he said suddenly, just when she had given up on getting an answer that night. It had been weeks since they fled Selena Guzena, leaving Gaya and the others to make their own way. A little startled, Noriko lifted her head to look at him over the moth-eaten covers of a rural inn. Izark sat at the edge of his bed, staring at nothing. "Not to me, or anywhere I could hear. All those songs that the others know—I'd never heard eight tenths of them before."
He went silent, and Noriko took the time to perceive what he hadn't said. "But you know that one? From…from then?"
By now, he'd told her the story of his childhood. She couldn't bring herself to call such a time and place a home.
"What is it called?"
"I don't know."
"Someone must have sung it to you. Who?"
"…I don't remember." There was something like horror in his voice, as if the loss of that one name was somehow worse than everything else going up in flames.
As if he'd inadvertently tossed something precious into the burnt-out void where he kept all that despair and guilt and rage, and he didn't know if he had the courage to go looking for it.
Noriko knew that he did.
But she didn't think he was ready.
"Izark," she called quietly, sitting up and pushing back the covers.
He looked over at her, a question dying on his lips when she crossed the space between their beds and wrapped herself around his head, his shoulders.
She felt the tension leave him, slowly, breath by breath. Finally, he raised his arms to return her embrace.
"Next time we see everyone, you should teach Agol that song," she found herself telling him, trying to acknowledge the good while keeping what they couldn't deal with right now at a distance.
Like the fact that they very well might never see everyone ever again.
They might never see anyone ever again.
Yes, it was best to keep that at a distance for now. "It's perfect for Geena…. Or—Izark?"
He shifted in her arms, but didn't raise his head from where it was buried against her shoulder. "Yeah?"
"Would you please teach it to me?"
That got his attention. She could feel it in the quietness that came over him—a kind of singular focus that stilled his breathing and broke the last remnant of his earlier unease.
If the speed with which he directed her to sit at his side was any indication, he liked the idea very much.
Slowly and clearly, Izark began to sing.
You are loved.
You are loved.
You are loved.
Author's Note: So…not an entirely happy story, but then Izark's relationship with his mom…well.
One of the major character comparisons in Kanata Kara is made between Izark, Rachef, and Noriko—all three have flashbacks in which their mothers play prominent roles. The lasting effect that mother-figures have on their children is a recurring theme throughout the series.
On a slightly different tack, it's pretty much been established that people who aren't shown enough affection between birth and the age of three or so end up with severe socio-emotional deficiencies (i.e.: Rachef). My mother has personal experience with this: her father and both uncles all suffer from an assortment of psychological glitches including but not limited to paranoia, narcissism, and schizophrenia.
Besides genetics, what do these three nutcases have in common?
They were all raised by my great-grandparents.
I've thought for a while that the circumstances within my extended family might be the reason why I like Kanata Kara so much (or really, most of Hikawa Kyouko's works), as the series touches on and wrestles with many of the same questions I grew up with and still have today.
Back on topic:
If his mother and father weren't ever inclined to fulfill little Izark's emotional needs, how did he grow up to be the sympathetic, empathetic, more or less stable man he is?
My theory? Even if he doesn't remember, there must have been another caregiver. Maybe a wet-nurse, or a nanny?
Singing is a big part of my mother's family life. Her father (probably the most functional of the three brothers) credits his involvement with Barbershop (and a very good psychologist) for his current mental stability. His music is one of the things she will admit to loving him for, even if she was really (justifiably) angry at him for a long time.
Wishing you and your's a thoughtful Mothers' Day,