Series: Blind Glory
Disclaimer: characters property of Software Sculpters etc.
Warnings: pre-series AU, eventual shonen-ai
Notes: The next chapter of Gutters will be posted together with the part of Nothing Gold it fits--one or two more posts after this one, I think. After that they won't have to wait on each other anymore.
The Blind Glory arc is archived here.
Feedback gets so much love.
In which Rezo's future is decided by a goat.
Needless to say, the boy never did come around, or not far enough to open his eyes. Armed with his sunscreen, dark glasses, and a walking stick just his size, though, he was willing enough to venture out of the house. By the time he was a wistful, stubborn five-year-old who was able to catch some of the things that decided to fall off the shelves (entirely of their own volition. Really.) before they hit the floor, he even felt confident enough to go walking alone, although his parents took weeks of persuading on this point.
He was a quiet child, still. His mother once asked him why his spoke so rarely. Instead of the ‘nothing to say’ she was expecting, she received a bearcub hug and the impulsive declaration that he liked to hear her talk. She was touched, and he responded favorably to the suggestion that she might like to hear him talk, too.
“Only natural,” his father said proudly, for his mother’s voice was exceptionally low and attractive, and tried to teach his boy to sing. Rezo quickly learned to enjoy music, both listening to and making it, and seemed to consider it a delightfully frivolous grace note in his dark and quiet world. After a few weeks the teaching stopped, though, and he was allowed to get on with being happily tonedeaf in peace.
When he was six and a half, accompanying his father on a trip down into the town in the valley, they were attacked by a mountain goat with something to prove. It charged Rezo, the smaller target. While his father was still fumbling for a spell that would make the thing leave without bringing down the mountain, he brought his stave down unerringly between its horns, knocking it into dizzy flight.
His father regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, then asked, “Heard it coming?”
Bewildered by his triumph, Rezo answered, “Yes—but Da, I knew where it was.”
This seemed to make more sense to his father, who just hummed thoughtfully and started walking again, than it did to him.
Instead of going straight to the import store for wheat and vegetables (Solara grew tea trees, pine trees, maple trees, a few kinds of hardy fruit trees, and painfully maintained hillsides of herbs and pepper plants, but not much else) as they had been instructed, his father led him to the warmish, musty wooden temple where the three Representatives of the Gods to Solara lived in a state of constant squabble. It wasn’t even Giant’s Flagon wood, Rezo noticed, sniffing, like a temple ought to be. Just planks of extremely old chestnut. Very impressive. What were they doing there, exactly? Did this have something to do with the goat?
At this point in his ponderings, the resident Dragon Priest (who was, as everyone in town agreed, more than slightly bonkers) took one look at him, shrieked, “EEEEEEEEEVIL!” and ran to hide behind his shrine in a flurry of dust and cotton robes.
Rezo squinched his eyelids tight in what would have been a blink if he’d been anyone else, and decided that it might be wise at this point to retreat. Whatever was going on, it involved people, however deranged, not goats. Whatever natural talents he might possess in dealing with goats, he prided himself on being a big boy, nearly a grown-up, and certainly wise enough to step back and let the experts take charge in their own personal areas of expertise. He ducked under his father’s cloak.
The other two Representatives rolled their eyes at each other. The Demon Priest calmed her peer down and dragged him away while the Mystery Priest invited the Greyweirs to sit down. “Don’t mind him,” she advised with affectionate disdain. “He believes in fate. Tea? We have green, fruit, mint, and some caffeinated garbage from Testostabournel.”
“Green, please,” Rezo said politely when his father nudged him between the shoulderblades.
“What does Fate have to do with that man calling my son evil?” demanded Mr. Greyweir, accepting a cup of caffeinated garbage.
“I can’t know what anything has to do with anything until I know what you’re here for,” she pointed out reasonably.
The Demon Priest came back, dusting her hands off, and snorted, “Wimp.” She snapped a fire spell off her fingers to heat the teapot, making Rezo jump as the air in front of him crackled.
“Is he coming back?” the Mystery Priest asked, idly curious.
“Dunno, don’t care. Whatcha got?”
Mr. Greyweir explained. In the middle of it, the Dragon priest returned, shaking but determined. Then the two of them, the Dragon and Demon Priests, fired off a lot of questions at both Rezo and his father, while the Mystery Priest sat and sipped, silent and alert.
At first the questions were mostly about his eyes and the progress he had made towards moving around on his own. These were easy enough, and Rezo felt comfortable even though the Dragon Priest kept jumping every time he fidgeted. They were especially interested in the way things fell off the shelves at home, and the way he sometimes got there in time to catch him. He was questioned in exhaustive detail about the goat, and so was his father.
Then they took him into another room, away from his father, and began to bombard him with another sort of questions altogether. At first he wanted his father back, and then he was very glad that no one but strangers were hearing the answers. They asked him about his most secret desires, how quickly he attended to his chores, how often he broke things, both with and without meaning to. They asked what he liked best and least in his parents, in other people, and in himself, and how he felt about an assortment of random objects like candles, shadow, flowers, knives, silence, birds. They asked over and over, with inexhaustible patience, until he understood that they didn’t want the polite answers, they really wanted to know.
“A shame, such wickedness,” the Dragon Priest, who had calmed down considerably and pulled himself together, said sadly to Mr. Greyweir when they all came out. “It’s intrinsic, I can see it. A terrible wrongness at the core.”
“How dare you—” Mr. Greyweir began, incensed.
The Dragon Priest motioned to stop him. “There is a wrongness there,” he said firmly, in his quavering voice. “It is incontestable. Much rage, for little reason. A very strong demon. Mine, too, is strong. Your son fights his bravely.”
“It’s a pity, too,” the Demon Priest sighed. “Anger is power. Anger is strong. He has good potential, and it could make him great, if he let it. But you won’t let him, of course. That’s what I hate about people like you, mountain man. You take your kids and coddle them, weaken them with guilt and shame and soft living, cripple them with sympathies, so when one of you comes along who could really be someone, you water him down into vapid normality.”
“And you?” Mr. Greyweir, who had never been allowed to see the baseless fury of which they spoke, and who had himself never been more furious in his life, asked the Mystery Priest. “What do you have to say?”
She stretched and ignored him, addressing herself instead to the boy. “Kid, these are the facts of your life, so listen up and get used to them,” she drawled.
“Okay,” he said warily, clutching his third cup of tea as though it would do some good.
“You’re blind,” she announced bluntly. “You were born for darkness, and you will live in it until you die. Anyone who knows what Astral vision’s for can tell you that. There’s only one path to open eyes I can see for you, and the cost is, believe me, not worth it. Not worth anything. You also, however, have more raw talent in your staff hand than the rest of this backwater combined. So Jeral can help you.” The Dragon Priest nodded earnestly.
“How?” snapped Mr. Greyweir. “By telling him he’s evil?”
“Not at all,” the old man protested, startled. “For a boy his age to have resisted the wickedness in his bones so strictly that his parents have no notion of it—that makes him either a very sly or a very good child.”
“And I can attest he isn’t cunning,” the Demon Priest grimaced. “Bright kid, but not what I’d call swift.”
The Mystery priest patted Rezo’s knee and assured him, “That’s a good thing, kiddo. Cheena’s standards are a little, um, different.”
“Although I’m sure he could be clever,” the Demon Priest retorted, annoyed, “if anyone would bother to teach him. Parents are such milksops, nowadays. All morals and no survival instinct.”
Not sure whether to be insulted or placated, Mr. Greyweir settled for asking, “What do you propose?”
“There are two spells which will help him live normally,” the Mystery Priest explained. “Astral Vision and Braille Voice. If we can teach him the second, books won't be closed to him. I know we can teach him the first, because he used it instinctively today, and that’s what brought you here. It will let him sense the location of objects and intelligences in space, whether anyone else can see them or not.”
“I can teach him these,” the Dragon Priest said. “And I will, if you will send him to me for three hours a week or more. One hour to practice each spell—and one to help him control his anger.”
“Trial of fire,” the Demon Priest smirked. “He’ll come out of an hour with Jeral either a saint—or a murderer.”
“And we all know which of the two you’d prefer,” the Dragon Priest snapped.
“I,” sneered the Demon Priest, “will dispose of you myself, when it suits me.”
“I,” the Mystery Priest said calmly, “will teach you to write, boy.”
“Saint Leariel strikes again,” the Demon Priest sighed.
“No child who comes to this temple will walk away illiterate while I live in it,” the woman returned, her voice still serene, but with an edge to it.
“I cannot think,” grumbled Mr. Greyweir after the agreements had been finalized, on the way to the import store, “why I agreed to have you taught by such a… a…” Words failed him in the presence of innocent ears, and he settled for, “Such a mistaken old man.”
Rezo, whose parents’ good opinion of him was sometimes all that kept him from making the most colossally destructive nuisance of himself that a six year old pyrophiliac who knew where the matches were could contrive to be, said nothing.
Jeral, Rezo was surprised to discover, was the best thing for him since shoes without laces. He was gormless, a stutterer, and jumped at figments of his imagination. He was also, in spite of this or maybe because of it, the bravest person the boy had ever met. He was terrified all the time, especially of Rezo, but he wouldn’t quit. Rezo found himself faking ineptitude at things magical to prolong his lessons in self control, about which the old man knew a great deal.
His lessons with Leariel were less torturous than an exercise in dogged tedium. After she had explained the importance for an orchard's manager of not having to hire scribes to communicate with his customers, he became a determined, although not gifted, scholar. Writing was, for him, a painful process of aligning his paper properly at the correct angle with the side of the table and setting the inkpot into position without spilling it, determining which end of the quill was up, whether the wet spot on his finger from where he’d tested his quill-tip was blood or the ink it was supposed to be, trying to put the bandage in the right place without getting it stuck to itself, and then an unending refinement of motion memorization and fine muscle control. He might have felt less discouraged if he’d had fewer than five alphabets and seven sets of spelling rules to learn.
Dominess Cheena, however, bothered him. She kept speaking at him in a sly, persuasive voice that sounded a lot, both in tone and content, like the quiet one in his head that kept trying to get him in trouble with his parents. The only up-side to her presence was, as far as Rezo was concerned, that she was useful for practicing resistance techniques on. Most difficult was when she offered him sweets without asking anything in return. He wanted the snacks; they always smelled great; but Jeral had warned him about getting into the habit of accepting gifts, especially from untrustworthy people.
This was his parents’ view of the affair.
He talked a lot more--mostly about the Demon Priest and the hated spelling.
He was learning to write, but they were constantly running out of bandages for his quill-testing hand.
By the time he was eight, he’d gotten himself better prepared for real education than any other local his age. By the time he was eight, he had absolutely nothing in common with any Solaran kid they'd ever met.
By the time he was twelve, he had long since learned everything the priests had promised to teach him and was still going back for lessons, which told them that he had a distinct intellectual bent to complement what they had always known to be his native intelligence. There wasn’t much call for intellect in Solara. Wisdom and cleverness, yes, book-knowledge, no.
The minute Jeral had started teaching him to channel the magic roiling out from his palms, the number of kamikaze knickknacks in the house had decreased dramatically.
“Yes, it’s a nice benefit,” Mrs. Greyweir fretted wearily, and she had the final say about the poultergeist effect because she did most of the cleaning up after it, “but it leaves the question of what we’re going to do with him. Other boys his age are halfway ready to get married and start their own orchards. Rezo’s never even climbed a tree except to get fruit out of it for me, and I don’t think he’d recognize a girl if she sauntered up to him and squirted perfume in his face.”
“He’s only twelve,” Mr. Greyweir said placidly.
“Not for much longer. Anyway, twelve is more than old enough to have friends.”
“Not girlfriends,” he protested with mild horror.
“No, boy friends. Stop laughing. No, really, shut up. ReZO!” After a moment, he came in from outside. “What’s that string on your stick?”
He touched it with a hand whose baby fat had receded in favor of long, long fingers with spatulated tips, set on a large palm. He was going to take after his mother. “It’s for fishing.”
Mr. Greyweir raised his eyebrows. “Aren’t any fish up here, son.”
“I know,” he explained, “but Dominess Cheena needed someone to help her unpack her new alter after Uncle Jeral broke the last one, and she didn’t want to owe one of Priest Jeral’s students, so she said if I could figure out how to tie a strong knot that wouldn’t slip, she’d teach me to fish as a Future Life Skill.”
“What did Uncle Jeral say?”
“Well, he’s a vegetarian, so he didn’t like it, but he said it was all right as long as she taught me the real way, not the summoning spell to cheat. Did you want me?”
“Yes—I thought we should talk about your luck-year party.”
“Oh!” His eyebrows bounced as he considered this. “I am going to be thirteen,” he agreed, surprised. “Did I have a luck-year party when I was seven?”
“Well, no. You didn’t know anyone we could invite. We had a regular birthday party here, though.”
“I remember that,” he said, as though relieved that there hadn’t been more to remember that he had forgotten. “Da made snow, and we put maple syrup on it and made shapes. And there was beef roast and soft bread and sassafras tisane, and you told me stories.”
“That’s right. But you’re older now, and we can have a real party. Who would you like to invite?”
He looked uncomfortable, and started playing with his string and poking the dirt with his stick. “Um… I don’t think Uncle Jeral would enjoy a party. It’s not nice to make him walk up the mountain, anyway, even if we cleaned all the dead leaves off the path so it wouldn’t be slippery. He’d have a heart attack or something at the first goat.”
Mrs. Greyweir shot her husband a significant glance. He sighed, and asked, “Is there something special you’d like to do, instead of a party?”
He hesitated, but it was a tentative hesitation, not a thinking one. “Actually,” he said slowly, “Priest Leariel is going down to Seragrace to report to her Guild. Could—could we go with her? She says there’s a building, a museum, with just sculptures. She said if they knew I’m blind they might let me touch. She says whole fields full of strangers get together to play music and tell stories, and there are buildings full of nothing but books…” He trailed off, embarrassed to be hopeful, and not particularly optimistic.
Mr. Greyweir raised a plum-frost eyebrow, rather redder than his son’s, and looked up at his wife. “What do you think, Shaeriel? Can our budget survive a trip to the city?”
Rezo didn’t say anything, but he stopped playing with his stick, and his face glowed.