The Bright Children, Chapter 4-2, “Lessons”

Aphella, surprised to hear Shaenyll call her something other than “child,” followed the tall elder out of the practice room and up a flight of cut stone stairs.

“Where are we going?” Aphella asked as they walked across an open courtyard. The lamps above were dimmed, and the street to their right was empty.

“To the chronometer,” Shaenyll said. “There is something I wish you to see, and something else that I wish to find out for myself.”

The clack of the their leather boots echoed off the stone buildings to each side of them as they reached the main avenue. Something about that sound made Aphella feel uneasy, the unsteady pulse of their heels filling up too much of the quiet street, and yet so much as to vanquish the fear of the dark that always hovered near at hand.

“What did you mean by a loss of forgiveness?” Aphella said, wishing to fill the empty spaces with a voice.

“The double-edged sword of age.” Shaenyll conjured up a soft ball of light to replace the dim light of street lamps, and it cast long black shadows to either side of them. The echoes continued. “Foolishness and bad decisions are expected from the young, but are intolerable in the old. You are at a very dangerous age – old enough to be held accountable for your foolishness, yet not old enough to have the wisdom to avoid foolishness.”

“Is this one of those times where I’m supposed to be silent?”

Shaenyll laughed softly. “No, this is not one of those times.”

After a beat of silence, Aphella said, “I don’t like being called a fool. I don’t like being treated like a child, but I like even less the assumption that I will still act like one even though I am of age. I don’t like everyone trying to make my decisions for me on one hand and telling me that I can make my own on the other. I have half a mind to leave with Frey, if for no other reason-” Aphella cut herself off and blushed as she realized that Shaenyll  was laughing. “What?”

“Nothing, Aphella. You just remind me very much of your mother.”

Aphella growled in the back of her throat. “Why do you teach me? Why do you want me as your successor when you have so little opinion of me? My mother is not me.” She stopped and looked hard into the face of Shaenyll, still smiling slightly.

“Not everyone has the same opinion of your mother as Ty’s father, or even yours. I had a great deal of love for your mother. Admiration, even. I love how like her you have become.”

“I think you’re the only one.”

“Not the only, I’m sure. Appalla was easily the most talented woman the village had seen in two centuries. I wanted her to be named Eld as soon as she reached one hundred, but she would not take up the mantle of authority. She had too much passion for her own pursuits, including the young man that would become your father, and too great a dislike of some of the other elders, such as Ty’s father.”

“I wonder what she’d think of he and I being friends now,” Aphella said. The approached the old meeting hall. A bright white lamp hung in front of the stone edifice.

“Appalla never cared what other people thought about her or her choices, so I doubt she would object to you and Ty being friends. Being more than that? I can’t say, but I imagine she’d encourage you to do what she did with Dolmar, and run him off to parts unknown.”

Aphella followed Shaenyll up the steps and into the main hall of the ancient building. Rather than walking the length of the gallery to the chamber of elders, they took a hallway that veered off to the right and up several short flights of stairs. Shaenyll’s glowing sphere lit their way since the wall lamps were dimmed for the village’s sleeping hours.

“Hold here a minute, child,” Shaenyll said, then corrected hastily, “Sister.” They had stopped in the middle of a narrow hallway, with no portals or any breaks in the evenly set pieces of stone.

Shaenyll pulled her focus, a triangular sheet of white bone as long as her forearm with two iron rings that allowed her to hold it in her palm, from a leather sling that always hung at her hip. She incanted softly and bone began to glow. With a subtle wave, light left it and swirled in front of them, then sought the edges of the wall. Aphella breathed, feeling a sudden release of tension she had not been totally aware of.

“I felt it,” Aphella said. “I think I felt it!”

“One of Hamon’s wards. An excellently subtle one. Most wouldn’t feel it, even the talented would have to know precisely where to look for it.” Shaenyll walked forward beckoning Aphella forward toward a spiraling stair. “Come. It will close on its own in a few moments, and don’t wish to raise Master Hamon this late and for no reason.”

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