The Seer – Snippet 50
“Learn to read and who can say what you might do? You could work a trade in-city. As bright as you are with numbers, perhaps even become a scribe.”
If he were lucky. If he didn’t get his head bashed in a moment after stepping through the city gates. He would need skills and sense enough to keep his mouth closed to survive in a city. He would need friends.
Her mind was already on how she would manage it. For Samnt she would go to Yarpin. Make some introductions. There were those in the capital city who would be pleased to be in her debt, who would help her find a position for a bright farm boy. They would go in spring, she decided, when he was of age. Something to look forward to.
Samnt snorted. “If I were a mage, I could…” He snapped his fingers. “Well, I don’t know, do I. Because you won’t show me.”
“You are correct in this.”
“Save me from plowing and shovels and shit-holes, Maris. Teach me. I’ll study hard. Please?”
He had no idea what he was asking.
Nor had she, at half his age, when her parents had put her small hand in the large hand of the black-robed stranger. Not until ten years later, when Keyretura had finally allowed her to visit home, where she sat by her father as he died, did she understand just how much her parents had paid to see their only child contracted in a mage’s apprenticeship.
Her father had comforted her then, wiping away her tears with his shaking hand, eyes full of pride, saying her name with his final breaths. It had shamed her to the core of her spirit to realize that while she had been studying in Keyretura’s mansion of glass and water, learning the impossible, her parents had been struggling to afford to eat.
She could tell Samnt that he had no spark, that this door would never open for him. But looking at him now, eyes sparkling, young face full of passion, she could not quite bring herself to give voice to that particular lie.
Pointing at the bookshelf, she took a tone she had learned from ships’ captains, Perripin magistrates, and Keyretura. “That book there, the brown one. Get it now.”
He watched her, expression defiant.
She remembered being so openly rebellious with Keyretura, recalled the agony that followed. Yet she had done it again and again.
“Can you get the book with magic, Maris? Float it in the air?” He snapped his fingers again, up next to his ear. “Like that?”
“That one there,” Maris repeated, still pointing with her one hand, the other dropping toward the floor, three fingers curled, the other two pointing a ground into the earth. She was annoyed at his resistance, felt her emotion rise to anger, let it build.
“Come on, Maris,” he said, restlessly standing but not moving toward the shelves. “You don’t wear black. Aren’t mages supposed to wear black? Show me what mages can do.”
Keyretura’s voice was clear in memory. Show me what you have learned to do, Marisel.
Samnt wouldn’t like to see what mages could do. What they had always done, from the Shentarat glass plains to the Battle of Nerainne to the melting plague, mages took what they wanted, destroyed what got in their way. Left the ruins for Iliban.
Iliban. The mage word for those who weren’t.
Pushing aside such thoughts she stood and went to the bookshelf, pulling out the book she had indicated, hefted it in one hand. “Heavy. You were right to let me fetch it for you. Might have strained yourself.”
Samnt rolled his eyes. “Maris, show me just one thing and I’ll study. Whatever you say. On the harvest, I swear it.”
Maris held up the book. “Behold the one thing. Valuable beyond any trick I could show you. Now we study.”
He exhaled loudly, frustrated, just as Maris slammed the book flat on the table.
“Samnt, you must attend to my words –”
“– not the book,” he said loudly at the same moment, standing, waving his arms. “I meant –”
“I know what you meant. I’m a midwife, too, Samnt. Why don’t you ask me about birthing babies?”
“I’ve seen babies born. I don’t need to see more of that. Lots of blood. Now I want to see –”
“In the Buravin Tel fire pits they bet on how many heartbeats the condemned will stand before they topple into the lava. Trust me in this: there are things better not seen.”
But he was not listening. Too much curiosity, not enough sense. It tugged at her, his craving to understand, but it was a sharp blade and it would cut him if he were not careful.
“‘Fear magic from a distance’,” she said. “Have you not heard this wisdom?”
He waved it away. “I’ve heard it. I’m not afraid of you, Maris.”
“Then you’re a fool.”
How had her simple desire to teach this young man to read and write turned so sour? It was her own fault; she had been kind.
Was this what came from being raised by loving parents? From being treated gently?
He shook his head, refusing to be cowed. She could send him away, she supposed, but he would be back tomorrow, the same litany on his lips, the same hunger in his eyes. Reason would not convince him.
“So be it.”
His face lit up. “I’ll study after, I promise.”
Maris nodded, feeling distant.
“Maris, you’re not at all what I thought a mage would be. Friendly. Generous. I like you so much.”
His words threatened to slice through the layer of numbness she now spun around herself, but she had learned her protections across the decades with Keyretura. Even Samnt’s innocence could not cut through that.
“Sit down,” Maris told him flatly.
He sat down in the chair, smile wide, face eager. She exhaled, went deep into his body. A touch here, a shift there.
“Now stand up.”
He didn’t move.
“Stand up,” she said again, knowing he heard her.
He remained still.
“You wanted to see some magic, boy,” she said roughly. “Now you have. What do you think of it?”
His only movement was shallow breathing. Maris turned away from him as something bitter and familiar settled inside her. She picked up her mug. She sipped at her tea.
Again she had failed. Pain and suffering following in her wake.
The mother and fetus had not been working well together. She had given them all the healing herbs she could, and had delved deep into the woman’s belly with her focus, trying to smooth the child’s way out. One by one she tried to fix the many problems, but too much was wrong with the channels that connected them. Sunrise came, then midday, then evening. Another sunrise.
It came clear: she could save only one.
Somehow the mother had read this decision in her face and begged for her baby’s life. But a glance at the father, a taste of his unsteady, weak spirit, told Maris that the baby would not live long without the mother. So she touched the small entity within, gave it what comfort she could, and brought it from womb into life and then to the door of death. She put the small body on his mother’s breast.
The woman howled. Maris had been young enough then to think an explanation of how life and death were two sides of one thing, how neither could exist without the other, might help ease the agony, but it did not. The woman cursed Maris, the power behind her words fueled by the power of childbirth. The curse set deep into Maris’s spirit with a penetrating venom that shocked her.
Maris had left, sick in body and spirit, taking herself deep into the wilderness, beneath the tall trees and into deep loam. There she burrowed into the ground, in search of solace and healing. It had taken months to recover.
It was a hard lesson, to discover that everything she had to give was not enough.
As it was not now.