3 – What you don’t know

It was getting pretty late in the day. Ideally, they would have stopped in Dustwater for the night, but that was out of the question; so the carriage was speeding along (as much as one can speed on such a road) towards the next village, hoping to find a decent accommodation before nightfall. Here’s to hope that the next village won’t be filled with crazy people, Miranda thought to herself. The bandits were still tied on top of the luggage in the back of the vehicle; they were very unhappy, and had of course tried countless times to free themself, but apparently the woman had used magic on the ropes and nothing they did seemed to help. They were starting to get resigned to a long journey of pain, and eventual jail or even execution.

Inside the carriage, Spear sat in front of Miranda. He was very different from the always crying, defeated kid she had gotten to know; he was brimming with excitement and had a million questions, about the capital, about the school, about magic, about her adventures… The schoolmaster stopped him though, she didn’t have the patience to deal with any of that right now. The boy was disappointed and still clearly unable to sit still, but surprisingly he showed restraint and didn’t bother her further. She noted to herself that it was a good sign. They did discuss a few things, though.

First, before leaving, Spear had wanted to talk to Sara, but Jeneth had told him that it was a bad idea. He explained that nobody had suspected her of her involvement yet, and it was better to leave things that way. He promised that he would say goodbye to her for him. Once in the carriage, the boy had told Miranda that he was worried for his friend and if there was anything she could do. In the boy’s opinion, she responded pretty harshly to that: “He’s an adult, he’ll deal with his own problems. If you ask me, he’s as responsible for the whole situation as the rest of the village. Goodness is in the actions: there’s nothing good about doing nothing.” She was used to lecturing children. Spear was unconvinced, but he didn’t press the issue. Then the schoolmaster asked about his family.

The boy’s father’s name was Garret; he had chosen his own name during his coming of age ceremony, which was uncommon. Apparently it was the name of a famous general from the past. Nobody called him that though, everybody just referred to him as “the General”; Miranda rolled her eyes. The topic reminded Spear of something however, and he grew fearful again for a few moments. “Will I have to go back for my coming of age ceremony?” She assured him that it wasn’t necessary; it was very unusual for someone other than a parent to conduct the ceremony, but not unheard of; in any case it wasn’t something to worry about at this point. The boy felt a little better.

He continued to explain that his father believed in the power of names; the name chosen during the child birth ceremony would dictate the disposition of the baby’s body and soul. The schoolmaster noted that it was a common but baseless belief. The General, wanting soldiers, had named his children Sword, Spear, Whip and Bow. (Sword was already an adult, and he had left to head a group guarding merchant caravans; it was a great way to gain experience, his father said. Bow had probably been out with the hunters today.) Sara had been the only exception; apparently, the General needed somebody to take care of more mundane tasks, and thought that a “weak” name was more appropriate for the job. What would the guy think of being beaten to a pulp by someone with a “weak name”? – Miranda thought to herself and chuckled; then she also wondered if the other villagers ever got a chance at child birth ceremonies; five children was a very uncommon thing, usually considered too much for someone to care for; she guessed he didn’t do much caring anyway. She slowly shook her head while hearing the whole thing.

Spear had never wanted to be a soldier. He always preferred to read and learn; he dreamed of becoming a wizard. His father said that wizards were weaklings and he had no need of one. The schoolmaster was tempted to go back to make sure the General understood he had been beaten by a wizard named Miranda. The whole thing sounded like the gods had sent her there to delight in the irony.

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They were able to reach a village just after sunset. Miranda couldn’t believe it: apparently it was common for merchant caravans to pass through, and it had an actual inn. The food wasn’t great, but they were all hungry. (Spear thought it was pretty good food, though; he worried that he didn’t have any money to pay for it, but the schoolmaster told him that children shouldn’t have to worry about such things.) They rented a room to sleep (the bandits had to sleep outside, in the carriage, still tied by the ropes); Spear’s wounds on his back had not yet healed, and the schoolmaster apologized for not knowing any healing magic and not having any potions or unguents with her. The boy didn’t understand why she was apologizing; he also was confused by the look of anger on her face when she saw his back. She asked Joe to go buy an unguent or something, but Spear reassured them that Jeneth had already treated his wounds and he’d be fine, besides, it was night already and the villagers would probably be asleep. Miranda looked at him skeptically but didn’t press the issue; they’d be in the city soon and she’d be able to take care of it. The boy still couldn’t lie on his back, but a bed was much better than a tree trunk in the woods, and he was able to sleep ok.

They got up right before dawn and prepared to leave at first light. The innkeeper was a little grumpy, but they got some breakfast. Joe reassured his passengers that they’d be able to reach Redoaks city by sunset; the schoolmaster was glad to hear that; the bandits weren’t. She decided to make use of the time to teach Spear; he needed not waste any moment if he wanted to impress her in three months.

“To start, let’s make sure you understand the basics.” she said. “Do you know how many types of magic there are?”

“Magic of creation, which can only be performed by the gods. Magic of alteration, which allows manipulating the world. Healing magic, which allows healing people. Alchemy, which allows creating magical potions and so on.” The boy appeared to be reciting from a book. Memory is great, Miranda thought, but understanding is far more important.

“Do you know why only the gods are able to create?” she asked. Spear frowned.

“None of Jeneth’s books ever said…”

She nodded: “The answer is: we don’t know.” He raised his eyebrows and looked at her in surprise, then frowned again: “It was a trick question?”

“Not exactly. Knowing what you don’t know is far more important than what you know. If you can only remember one thing from this whole lesson, make sure it is that.” He grew pensive.

“Knowing what you don’t know means you know what to learn next?”

She raised an eyebrow. “That’s an interesting way to look at it.” Maybe Jeneth isn't wrong, after all, she thought. “But, that’s not the most important reason. People believe they know things even when they don’t. In fact, most of the things people will claim to know turn out to be wrong. And it’s not that they are lying, it’s just that they don’t know that they don’t know.” He kept frowning, deep in thought.

“But… then how do I know whether anything I learn from you is wrong?” When he realized he had said that out loud, he flinched as if expecting punishment. Instead, when he looked up again he saw a huge smile on her face.

“That is the question, isn’t it?”, she said. She was getting excited. How is this boy from that cursed village? Maybe, just maybe, this journey hasn’t been for naught, she thought. “Sadly, we’ll have to talk about this topic another time. You only have three months, don’t forget. So, let’s get back to the basics of magic.” Will this seed grow? She couldn’t wait to see. “Let’s put aside creation magic; priests and philosophers debate endlessly but nothing ever comes of it. You’ll find plenty of books if you’re curious. Alchemy is mostly about following specific recipes; one could say that it’s just part of how the world works, rather than being a type of magic.” She shrugged. “For the other two categories, I prefer different names: mastery of the world, and mastery of life.” She paused. He was looking at her with unwavering attention. “In order to affect something with magic, you have to understand it first. It’s like… touching it with your mind. Without understanding, it’s like groping in the dark.” Another pause. “What that means is, you have to master the world. Then the world will obey you. In the same way, in order to affect living things, you have to understand them first. You have to master life. The two things are similar, but they are different enough that people usually specialize in one or the other. You’re not going to find someone who is both a master of the world and a master of life.”

“Are masters of life just healers?”, he asked.

“No… but nobody likes to think of a wizard specializing in inflicting curses or diseases, while everybody likes healers. Still, anyone who can heal a disease must also be able to inflict it.”

His eyes widened. “Then… aren’t healers the most scary wizards?”

Her smile was huge again. “Indeed they are.”

“But… aren’t you the greatest wizard in the kingdom?”

“Comparing people like that is a fool’s errand. First of all, contrary to what some ignorant brutes like to believe, fighting is not the only thing in the world. It’s not even that important, but I guess that’s my opinion. But even then, you can never tell in advance who would win a fight.”

Spear recalled the events of the previous day. “Nobody in my village could possibly defeat you!” Miranda chuckled.

“Ok, so let’s consider a scenario. Imagine that your father, instead of being an arrogant imbecile, had welcomed me, and promised to take care of you and the bandits. He could have promised to send a messenger to other villages and the capital to warn them about the slavers. I was quite in a hurry to leave, and had no desire to drag those two in the back with me. I was planning to just leave you there anyway. I wouldn’t have given any of this a second thought. That would have been his victory, don’t you agree?” He opened his mouth, but then grew pensive instead.

“You’re saying that even I could have defeated my father? Clearly that’s impossible!”

Her eyes pierced him. “If by that you mean preventing him to torture you and having some time to read and study, I’m sure there could have been many ways.” He slumped his shoulders and looked at his feet.

“Sara said the same thing, basically. She was angry with me for getting myself in trouble.”

She nodded, but continued: “That being said, children shouldn’t have to worry about how to avoid their parent hurting them. None of this is your fault. The adults bear responsibility here; that’s why we have a coming of age ceremony. Jeneth could have done something. Your sister should have been angry with him, not you.”

Spear was still looking at his feet. He looked sad and deep in thought. Miranda quickly broke the silence: “We are digressing. We should be talking about mastery of the world.” He raised his head, then frowned.

“What about mastery of life?”

“I wouldn’t be a good teacher for that. The basics are the same anyway.” She continued her lecture: “As I said, the first step is to understand how the world works. The study of how the world works is called physics. That’s most of what you’ll be learning in the next three months.” He nodded, a look of excitement back on his face.

✤ ✤ ✤

Jeneth didn’t have any books on physics. Spear listened with great interest to Miranda’s explanations, occasionally asking questions, more often having to answer them. Time passed in a flash; the carriage stopped a few times to let the horses rest (the boy learned that there were special places just for that all along the road); at some point they ate some travel provisions they had bought at the inn; through all this though, the schoolmaster never really stopped teaching. Therefore, the boy was surprised when the carriage stopped once more and Miranda told him they must have arrived. It was just past sunset, the sky still light; he asked to be let outside to look; he saw a line of many types of carts, some empty, some full; a merchant caravan; another carriage. Everyone waited for their turn to enter the gates. He was amazed by the tall stone walls, and the guards wearing full plate armor. He walked next to the carriage, gawking at everything and everyone, until it was their turn to be inspected by the guards.

Miranda poked her head out of the carriage and the guards bowed. She asked them to take custody of the two tied in the back, and said that she’d talk to the captain in the morning. The resigned bandits were dragged away, and the vehicle was let in without further questions. Spear was disappointed to have to get back inside it; he had wanted to see the city. The schoolmaster laughed and assured him that he’d have plenty of occasions to see it in the next few months, besides it was quite dark already.

After about fifteen minutes of smooth cobblestone roads, Joe left them in front of a mansion. “It’s late, so you’ll just stay with me for tonight.” she told Spear. The boy had never seen anything like this. Nothing was like he had imagined from the descriptions in the books he had read. The building was surrounded by an iron fence with ornate iron gates. Past the gates, a small cobblestone path cut in the middle of a garden, which was faintly illuminated by magical lights. Spear could see flowers, beautiful bushes, marble statues, even arches made of plants. The building was made of bricks but decorated with marble, including three step stairs leading to a porch with columns. The front door was impressive and made of carved dark wood. He was gawking at everything. “No questions, and no exploring. It’s late and I’m tired.”, Miranda preempted him. He was disappointed, but only for a moment, since the excitement and anticipation overwhelmed any other emotions.

The door opened and a butler welcomed them; the schoolmaster instructed him to get a room ready for the boy and asked for a quick dinner, wanting to rest as soon as possible. The butler nodded and, after they walked inside, closed the door behind them, then disappeared somewhere. Spear saw a hallway with colored marble floors, so shiny he could see his reflection. Everything was brightly illuminated by magic lamps. The furniture was elegant and made of carved wood, the walls were covered in paintings and beautiful tapestries. Red was the dominant color. They walked to double doors that opened into a large room with an impressive dining table and even more impressive decorations; even the ceiling was decorated! Miranda gestured for him to sit at the table, then she also sat. In a matter of minutes, a servant appeared with food. It was also unlike anything he had seen before, and it tasted more delicious than anything he had ever eaten. They ate in silence, the boy too overwhelmed to say anything, and the woman just looking forward to finally sleeping in her room.

Afterwards, they said good night and the butler guided Spear to a guest room. It was much bigger than Jeneth’s cabin, and dimly illuminated. It was what, in the boy’s imagination, a king’s room looked like, with a large canopy bed again made of dark, carved wood. The bed was bigger than any bedroom he’d seen in his village! It was also incredibly soft and full of fluffy pillows. He wondered if he was really allowed to sleep in it? Maybe there was some kind of mistake? After a few minutes of hesitation, he laid on it. Despite all the excitement, and his body being sore from the carriage and the wounds in his back, he quickly fell asleep.

Next chapter: 4 – The school

Spear of Aiste by Gabriele Santilli is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0
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