The Threshold Child

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Chapter Ten: Fruitless Lessons

Adesina didn’t sleep well that night. Her thoughts were a flurry, unable to even arrange themselves in a coherent manner. Strangely, the thought that seemed to dominate was the fact that she hadn’t Dreamed since entering the High City. For some reason, that bothered her.

Just after midnight Adesina sat up in exasperation.

“Ravi?”

He lifted his head immediately, as if he had been awake the whole time. His golden eyes glowed in the moonlight. “Yes, Ma’eve?”

“My mother told me that I did not need the forest in order to Dream.”

Ravi inclined his head, following her train of thought in spite of her lack of clarity. “That is true.”

“Then why have I not Dreamed since leaving it?”

A soft sigh escaped Ravi, as if he were preparing for a long explanation. “The gift of Dreaming is a skill that takes practice. The forest is a special place that makes Dreaming easier to those who have the ability. You simply need to learn how to Dream without that extra help.”

A slight frown furrowed Adesina’s brow. “Will you teach me?”

There was a hint of hesitation in Ravi’s eyes. “I can try, but it would be difficult. Especially for one such as you.”

Her pride was immediately piqued. “What do you mean?”

He smiled at her reaction. “Merely that you have been trained to think a certain way your entire life. The gift of Dreaming requires a different sort of perception.”

She leaned forward, eager for a challenge. “How do I begin?”

Her guardian nodded his head toward the window. “Look out and tell me what you see.”

Adesina did as she was bid. The moon was waning, but the white buildings seemed to amplify the light. Everything was silent, almost as if any sort of noise would not be allowed in a city such as this. “I see white buildings, all evenly spaced from each other. Cobblestone streets painted white. Lots of reflected light and open space.”

She turned around when she heard a quiet chuckle. Ravi was shaking his head. “That would be helpful to know if I were trying to sneak through the city, but is that all that there is?”

Adesina looked again. She wasn’t sure what kind of answer Ravi wanted to hear. She began studying the details of the scene before her. “Each house has a garden and each yard is surrounded by a white picket fence…”

The enormous feline appeared noiselessly at her side. “You are only looking at the obvious, Ma’eve. You must be able to see deeper than what is immediately apparent.”

She nodded. This was a principle that was taught at the Shimat fortress, but Ravi had stated that her Shimat training would be different from what he was teaching her. She blew out her breath as she turned her eyes to the window again. “What am I supposed to be seeking?”

He returned to his place on the floor next to her bed. “Keep looking. When you see it, you will know.”

Adesina sat at the window for the remainder of the night. She studied the street until she knew every minute detail. Still, she could not see anything miraculous. She did not know what Ravi expected her to see. Even as the first rays of dawn crept through the city, her perspective didn’t change.

She even neglected her exercise routine that morning in favor of this new training, but could not help but think it was a waste of time.

Jelana appeared at the appointed hour to encourage her to hurry downstairs. Adesina gave Ravi a reproachful glance as she got ready for the day. “I still do not see anything.”

Ravi nodded as if that was what he had expected. “Keep looking, Ma’eve. It will come to you in time.”

Days passed and Adesina could see nothing out of the ordinary. Any time she observed something new to Ravi, he smiled and shook his head. Finally, after a week of this, Adesina gave it up in frustration. She went back to her Shimat routine every morning with a glare shot at Ravi, daring him to comment.

Even though she had given up her daily vigil at the window, she still studied her surrounding more carefully than she had done before. She had never failed a challenge before, and she didn’t intend to fail now.

The afternoon after she resumed her Shimat training, Adesina and Ravi were alone in the shop, which was a rare occurrence. Ravi had settled in a patch of sunlight and closed his eyes as if to sleep. Adesina knew he was wide awake and usually liked to use their limited time alone to talk. Today, she felt should be an exception and she left him to immerse himself in whatever deep thoughts swirled around in his head.

The young Shimat picked up her tools and began finishing the repairs on the chairs she had been assigned by Hass. There was a sort of content absorption that filled Adesina’s mind when she sat to do carpentry work. All of her focus turned on the task, freeing her thoughts from the drudgery of her everyday life.

As she sat smoothing a replacement rung, a quiet noise penetrated her consciousness. Her hand paused as she turned her attention to the sound. It was a voice singing—a rich baritone that swelled with poignant emotion. Almost involuntarily, Adesina got to her feet and followed the music, which led to the medical clinic next door.

She had never taken the time to meet their business neighbors. Her brief encounter with the lumberers was the only time she had seen anyone other than Hass and his customers. Adesina saw that the door to the clinic stood wide open. She was met with a curious assortment of sights and smells.

There were many shelves filled with containers of all shapes, sizes, and colors. All of these were labeled in a neat feminine handwriting. There were quite a few chairs lining the wall and a couple of tables where patients could lie down, and one of the back corners was curtained off for privacy. There were also a large number of drawings and notices attached to the wall. Some encouraged cleanliness, some showed diagrams of human hands or feet, and so forth.

The source of the music was in the middle of the room. Adesina recognized the curly haired head of the boy who had bumped into her at school. Aleron, she had been told was his name. He sat facing away from the door, mixing together herbs for his mother’s trade. He sang in a voice that rivaled Ravi’s. He was alone in the clinic and did not notice Adesina standing in the entrance.

The hidden darkness behind closed eyes

The silent fear that pursues the mind

A lost generation that longs for rebirth

The lost turn of time wasted by its own

We sing of the legacy left by our fathers

We sing of a purpose that has not been fulfilled

To bring the sun from its faded glory

Back to the light of its first birth

Look to the stars and See them in truth

For in the Heavens all Knowledge is written

Through the eyes of the Gods all darkness flees

And the world can be seen in the purity of light

The last notes died away, leaving behind traces of the powerful emotion that had filled the song. Adesina quietly backed away, not wishing to make her presence known. She went back to her work frowning slightly and oblivious to her surroundings. She did not even notice that Ravi was studying her with a thoughtful expression on his face.

The words of the song ran through Adesina’s mind in a maddening circle. She wished she had heard the beginning of the song. Perhaps then she would have been able to make the connection that stood just outside her reach. Her focus destroyed, Adesina put her work away for the day and began closing up.

As she was locking the door to the shop, Aleron was leaving the clinic. He spotted her and gave a friendly wave.

“I did not know that you were an apprentice to Master Hass. Just think of all the boring afternoons I suffered through, when I could have walked next door and talked to you.” He offered his hand to Adesina. “I do not believe we have been formally introduced. I am Aleron.”

Adesina took his hand, a little wary of his enthusiasm for a stranger. It wasn’t the open curiosity and slight suspicion she was accustomed to meeting. It was almost as if he considered them to already be friends.

“My name is Adrie.”

He did not question her about her origins or give her unusual features an inquisitive glance, for which Adesina was grateful. Instead, he nodded with the happy manner that seemed natural to him. “I walk past Master Hass’s house on my way home. May I walk with you?”

Unlike some of the young men she had met, Aleron was actually asking permission. Adesina had a feeling that, regardless of her answer, he would walk through the Square with a content look on his face. Aleron seemed to be the kind of person that let nothing dampen his spirits. In that way he reminded her of Lanil, her childhood Shi friend.

Adesina nodded. “Yes, you may.”

A sunny grin broke across his face. “Thank you.”

As they turned to walk away from the shop, Adesina caught a glimpse of Master Chatham glaring at them from his window next door. She reached out and rested her hand on Ravi’s back, which had become a habit.

“How well do you know Master Chatham?”

Aleron was surprised at this choice of subject. “Not very well. Why do you ask?”

She shrugged. “I have only met him once, but he seems to dislike me. I do not understand why that would be so.”

“Well,” Aleron frowned, searching his memory, “I remember hearing that he left the High City when he was young and no one knew where he went. When he came back, years later, he was quite bitter. I do not think anyone knows why.”

The young woman shook her head. “What does that have to do with me?”

He shrugged. “Perhaps it has nothing to do with you personally. You sort of represent the outside world, and maybe his anger is directed towards the world rather than an individual.”

She was surprised by the wisdom in his simple words. He was unlike anyone she had met in the High City, and she decided that she wouldn’t mind getting to know him better.

Their talk turned to lighter subjects. Aleron was eager to learn her opinion of the city, their school, her peers, and so forth. Adesina was cautious in her answers, but found herself being more honest than expected. There was something about the young man’s open and understanding expression that made her feel like she could say anything she wanted. She was careful to answer as Adrie, but each reply was colored with her own opinions.

Aleron was not only open to what she said, but he agreed with her on the majority of the points discussed. He was aware of the pretension of the city and felt the same dissatisfaction. He looked around to make sure no one was listening and then leaned towards Adesina confidentially.

“Right now I am training to be a healer with my mother, but as soon as I come of age, I am leaving the High City.”

He looked as if he had done something daring by expressing such intentions.

Adesina suppressed a smile of amusement. “And where will you go?”

He shrugged. “I do not know yet. Sehar is a large continent, and they say that there are lands beyond the seas. I have always wanted to travel around and help people who could not get it otherwise.”

Adesina couldn’t help but smile at this statement. “That is very idealistic of you.”

His expression became worried. “Is it an unlikely goal?”

She felt a twinge of regret from causing him to question his aspirations, yet she didn’t want to give him false hopes. She considered her words before answering. “Well…it will be difficult, but not impossible.”

Aleron looked relieved. “Oh, I am not afraid of hard work.”

The smile returned to Adesina’s lips. “Of course not.”

At this point they had arrived at Master Hass’s house. She wasn’t sure how to bid him farewell, but he saved her the trouble of working it out by simply giving her another cheery smile and a wave as he walked away.

Jelana met Adesina at the door with curiosity in her eyes. “Was that Mistress Breena’s son?”

She nodded. “Yes. His name is Aleron.”

“He walked you home?”

Adesina hesitated. “Was it improper of me to allow it?”

Jelana hastily shook her head. “No, no. It just surprised me.”

The Shimat had the uncomfortable feeling that a number of interesting ideas were brewing in the older woman’s imagination. To avoid further questioning, Adesina hurried upstairs.

Jelana had made it clear that she thought it wise for women to marry young, even if that meant sacrificing the completion of their education. Adesina suspected that she wouldn’t be too picky about whom Adrie chose to marry, as long as he was a citizen of the High City.

Ravi, who seemed to be having the same thought, chuckled softly as they walked to Adesina’s room. “What will you do when they find a suitable match for you?”

Adesina snorted. “Politely decline, and bid them to mind their own business.”

She sat down on the bed and watched Ravi stretch out on the floor. “There are worst things in this world than having people care about your happiness and well-being.”

Adesina reached for the small dagger she kept hidden under her mattress. She twirled it in her hands absently, leaning back to stare at the ceiling.

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