“It will not always startle you so much, the weeping,” Phirine reassured her. She was the most recent secret keeper to complete training; Cana found her to be wise, but not so distant as their other contemporaries. “Although they don’t always weep.”
“I know what tears are,” Cana protested, frowning. “This was…different.”
The man she had seen yesterday had turned out to be Kyeran, an acquaintance of her father’s that she had met several times. Cana had seen him in the commons that morning and recognition had clicked into place. He had conducted his business and left quickly, speaking to no one.
“I don’t think I fully understand what we’re doing,” Cana said. It was not the first time she had said this, but it had taken on new meaning in the face of her first encounter with a Source gatherer.
“We are not meant to always understand.” Phirine’s hand went to her chest, presumably touching the bottle that hung beneath her loose brown shirt–required wear for all secret keepers.
“And that doesn’t drive you crazy?”
Phirine looked at her. “It may as well not. There is little other choice.”
Cana nodded, falling into somber silence. How noble a calling it was, everyone said, to become a secret keeper. Now that she was identifiable as such by her clothing, people nodded to her in the streets as if she were some sort of sage. But Cana didn’t feel any wiser than anyone else. At the moment, she didn’t know what she felt.
“What you should truly be worried about,” Phirine went on, her tone light again, “is your audience with Sanari.”
Cana’s stomach tightened. “Really?”
“No,” she said with a grin. “It isn’t bad. Sanari would never have let you test at all if she didn’t know you would pass.”
She squeezed Cana’s hands in a sisterly gesture; Cana noted that the skin of her palms was stretched tight, as though burned.
“I hope you’re right,” she replied, thinking of Sanari. She was a wizened woman, that was certain, and had been conducting the work of a secret keeper for many years. Cana had not been sure she would be able to complete the first portion of her training because of Sanari, and the way she had disapproved of every question Cana had raised.
Swallowing her nerves, Cana made her way down the network of hallways to the examination room. Secret keepers lived and worked apart from the main public spaces, meaning that their passageways were mostly silent. Cana passed two of her contemporaries on her walk; they greeted one another but did not stop to talk. Everything around her was a shade of brown or gray, lit up by the Source-powered orbs that signaled the passage of time. Cana thought of the bottles full of color she had seen around the necks of the other secret keepers. Even though they were murky and somewhat dull, they pleased Cana’s eye in a strange way. It wasn’t often that the villagers saw much color at all.
She knocked twice on the examination room door when she arrived, but did not wait for acknowledgement before entering. Sanari was the only occupant of the room, which was perfectly circular and empty save for two chairs in the center. Cana had spent the first portion of her training here, sitting oral exams and hearing lectures from each of the secret keepers. She had hoped to leave the feeling of inadequacy behind when actually working with the Source gatherers, but it seemed that Sanari’s presence could still strike fear into Cana’s heart. It was the mark of a good instructor, everyone said. Now, Cana sat straight in her chair, waiting for Sanari to begin whatever inquisition was planned.
“It is said,” she began, shifting her white braid over one shoulder, “that one must possess certain qualities to become a secret keeper.”
Cana looked at her, trying to turn to stone. Inside she was burning to ask questions, but providing answers was not Sanari’s way.
“Tell me, Cana, what are the qualities required to do this work?”
“Selflessness,” she said immediately. This answer she knew by rote, from the countless times she had recited it. “Patience. A tendency toward calm. And the ability to face uncertainty without flinching.”
Sanari simply stared at her for a long moment, testing Cana’s ‘unflinching’ ability to its limits.
“Yes, all right. Say what you’re thinking.”
Cana let out a breath, sensing the drop in tension while trying to organize her thoughts.
“Phirine says that we are not meant to understand why the Source gatherers come to us so distraught.”
It was not a question, which perhaps was why Sanari responded.
“The power of the Source comes at a price. This is the only certainty we have.”
“But why? Is there no better way for them to bring the power to us? Why does it burden them so?” Cana tried not to raise her voice. “When I was with Kyeran–”
“Ah,” said Sanari sharply.
“When I was with the gatherer,” Cana amended, “he seemed relieved as he was leaving. But I saw him again this morning and he still looked so troubled. It was as if there was still darkness within him.”
“Our work is not meant to eliminate all trouble, or darkness. It is not within our power.”
“Then why can we not be more powerful? Yesterday I felt that there had to be something more that I could do. I…I wanted to do more.”
At this, Sanari’s expression softened to the tiniest degree. “Your questioning will bring you grief, Cana. That I can promise you.”
“You have said that before.”
“It was true then, just as it is now. And before you ask, you did well yesterday. The gatherer was able to relieve himself of his burden, for a time. That is what we do.”
“Thank you, Sanari,” said Cana on a sigh. “So I may continue the work?”
“Oh yes. I believe that you will do fine work with the gatherers. Your true test will come after they are gone.”