Chapter 4: Lessons
Aphella wiped sweat from her brow and repeated the exercise. She took a deep breath and incanted in a whisper her mind’s words for color, one after the other, thought over word at the same time. The water in the blown glass vessels, arranged in a wide arc in front of her, leapt to a bright, living light. Green, yellow, blue (the hardest for Aphella to imagine and speak), orange, and finally red, the tall bowls created an intermingling warm white light on the walls and ceiling of the practice room.
“Still slower than the ideal, but better.” Shaenyll’s voice softened. “Now rotate.”
Aphella took another deep breath and extended the tip of her spear. She imagined the light bleeding from one bowl into the next, and conjured a syllable to match the idea. Streams of color flowed from each vessel to the one on its right as her spear channeled power into the room. As it happened, Aphella smiled. The room became even brighter. In the thrill of success, a thought entered her singular mind. It was a small thought, a humble thought, of training not in the practice room below Shaenyll’s house, but outdoors, in a city.
The red bowl ceased to flow, and its light remained where it was on Aphella’s far right, only a thin stream of light connecting it to the distant green bowl of water, and that was soon put out. Soon the light in the bowl mingled with the blue and made a bright purple that pained the eyes.
“Focus!” Shaenyll said.
Aphella released her breath, letting the water bowls lie where they were.
“If you cannot focus now, here in this room, you will not be able to focus when the demand is real and your life is at stake,” Shaenyll said, shaking her head.
“Sorry,” Aphella said. “There were so many. If we were still working with one or two…” Aphella cut off as she caught Shaenyll’s impassive stare.
“You are far beyond working with a single target, or one, or even three. Perhaps a pretty girl with a promise to a rich trader could get by with a single target, heating stones or lighting lamps, one at a time, but-” Shaenyll cut herself off, as if sensing she had crossed an invisible line. She continued impassively, “Five targets is totally appropriate for you.”
Aphella narrowed her eyes. “What have you heard about Ty and Maeven?” Immediately, she felt abashed, not as much for asking as for feeling anger. She had not been thinking of Ty at all, at least, not since the feast.
Shaenyll gave a slight chuckle. “At least we know where your mind is drifting.”
“No, I wasn’t-” Aphella began, but quickly closed her mouth. She remembered again her thoughts in the exercise: a city, and her place in it – a new, exciting thought. Though her jealousy of Ty was embarrassing, she decided she preferred it to telling Shaenyll the truth. “I will do better in the future.”
“I’m sure you will,” Shaenyll said. “Age will bring focus, if nothing else will.” Shaenyll sighed and sat down on a nearby chair. “Do you know why I push you so?”
Aphella looked at her, seeing the woman’s age in her collapsed posture, though her body and face still seemed taught and youthful. Strong lightweavers did not decay the way the dim did, losing strength and beauty as life slowly left them. For the bright children, age brought more light, more power, until finally they were spent from the inside out, and the long sleep of stone came. Shaenyll was not the eldest on the council (that designation fell on the shoulders of Hamon the warder), but she was the oldest woman that Aphella knew, having kept carefully the clocks for one hundred turns of the annual gear, and she had been living twice that long when she gained the position.
“I push you because you have the capacity to excel,” Shaenyll said, taking Aphella’s silence as a “why.” “You above all other youths- young adults,” she hastily corrected, “have real talent and the ability to grow. You’re better than I was at twenty, or forty, for that matter.” She looked down at her long hands, and rubbed them together. “We will need a new warder, and time keeper, too. Eventually.”
“That won’t be for a long time,” Aphella said. She wiped sweat away from her brow with her sleeve, and was surprised to see how wet it was when it came away. “Not for a long time, I hope.”
“Time means something different to me than to you. Watching the counting of years, your perspective changes. I would like to have my successor picked before I grow too tired of seeing, and talent here has dwindled of late.”
“I can’t tell what you mean, Shaenyll. Out of one side of your mouth you compliment me, and out of the other you claim I have no talent.”
“Careful how you speak, child.” Shaenyll’s eyes looked up, blazing white. “I do not speak out of both sides of my mouth,. Perhaps other elders do, but I mean exactly what I say.”
“Zyteus,” Aphella said flatly.
Shaenyll locked eyes with her for a long moment. “There are times to speak, and times to stay silent. Guard your tongue at all times, especially with the Eld. That is a more important lesson than the lightweaving.” Shaenyll took a deep breath. “I should not call you a child anymore. You are a woman. That means respect, but also a loss of forgiveness.” Shaenyll sighed and stood up. “Come with me, sister.”