The Last Orellen

by

sieley

Chapter 13: Basic Magical Practice

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Basic Magical Practice

There were only three potential reading teachers in the village—a retired priest with a foul temper, a ship’s captain who would be gone as soon as the sea ice cleared, and an elderly woman named Nanu.

Nanu was called half-wizarn, a title which earned her only a bit more respect than she’d have been afforded by her great age alone. She’d studied magic in the big town on the other side of the island when she was a young girl, but she hadn’t continued the study for long enough to learn much of worth. She had, however, learned how to read, and she was one of the few people who owned books and scrolls. Fourteen of them. It was by far the largest collection of literature in the village.

She came to the pig barn the day after the bonfire, apparently the only adult in town who wasn’t still nursing a hangover. While Jorn winced in the light of the precious, magical sun crystals that kept the pigs happy at this time of year, Nanu pondered each beast, checking them from their teeth to their tails. She finally selected one of the pigs for herself—a stocky hybrid between the special pigs from the continent and the sturdier local breed—and the deal was complete.

“And bring one of these with you when you come,” she said with a gesture to the crystals. “We’ll need light to read by, and my old eyes don’t like candles so much anymore.”

The next day, Kalen’s mother bundled him up in so many clothes he looked like he would be trekking across the whole island instead of just the length of the village, and she sent him out the door with a box that held a jar of preserved berries and one of the valuable crystals. (The pig would be fattened up and butchered before it was delivered to the reading teacher.)

Nanu didn’t live in one of the long cabins that were usually shared by extended families in the village. Instead, she had her own small house on the outskirts. Kalen knocked and was allowed in. It was grim inside—dark and cramped compared to his own family’s house—but his parents would never forgive him if he spoke such a rude thought out loud.

“Good morning, Teacher Nanu,” he said. (Exactly how one should greet a teacher had been a source of discussion among his parents and his aunt and uncle for most of yesterday. This was what they had all decided on.) “I’ve brought the sun crystal and some preserves for you.”

The old woman nodded. “Thank your mother for me, then. I’m not one to say no to a jar of summertime in the depths of winter.”

She pointed to a small table and two chairs by the hearth, and Kalen took his seat.

“Never taught much.” Nanu plucked an ancient, leather-bound book from the wooden chest that doubled as a platform for her bedroll. “Let’s see how we do.”

The continent’s main alphabet had thirty-six symbols in it. Every symbol made a sound. There were a few additional special symbols that could be added to the letters to change the way they were said in words. Nanu explained all of this while they drank tea. “I guess the thing to do is have you learn six letters today and six tomorrow and so on,” she said. “In six days, you’ll have the bulk of it, and we’ll start putting them together into words.”

Working with a crumbling white stick that his teacher called chalk, Kalen drew the six shapes on a smooth piece of stone. He said their pronunciations out loud as he did it. Remembering the sounds was much easier than drawing the shapes.

After only a bit of study, the sounds and the look of the shapes stuck in his head like they’d been nailed there. But when he tried to draw them himself on the stone they looked more like random squiggles than the proper letters Nanu drew.

“You must have a smart head and stupid fingers,” said Nanu. “I suppose that’s better than it being the other way around.”

“I can do it.”

Kalen had suffered a nightmare last night—one about a woman in blue silk arriving in town and revealing to the whole village that she was his real mother. Shelba had tried to wrestle her for telling such lies, but of course, they weren’t lies. And then the woman had used her wizarn powers to drop all the villagers except for Kalen in the ocean.

He gripped the chalk stick tighter. The faster he worked, the faster he would learn to read. The faster he learned to read, the faster he could get back to spending his days just like he always had. And then the nightmares would go away.

“Maybe I should learn twelve symbols today, instead of six,” he said the moment his first one looked vaguely similar to his teacher’s.

Nanu shrugged. “I’ll tell you all of ‘em if you want, small man. As I said, I’ve little experience teaching.”

So they were underway.

Kalen was highly motivated, and he had plenty of hours to devote to the project. He had few chores to begin with, and his mother,feeling sorry for stealing his eighth year, helped him with them. He could study the letters for as long as he pleased.

When he showed the letters to his cousins and discovered that none of them could memorize the sounds and symbols as quickly as he could, the process became a source of pride. But eventually it was time to combine the letters into words, and Kalen stumbled into his first real trouble.

The letters and their sounds couldn’t be put together in the way that made sense to him.

He spoke the same now as any other child of Hemarland, and while the continent’s manner of speech wasn’t impossible to understand, it made everything more challenging than it needed to be. They spread their words out more, putting spaces where it sounded like none should be. And the vowel sounds were…well, it wasn’t even easy in his own name!

“But why can’t I write it Kaulin sonoo Jyorna!” he pleaded with Nanu. “Those are the best sounds for it! That’s my name.”

“Aye, but on the continent, sonoo isn’t one word. It’s two. There, you are Kalen, son of Jorn. If you write it the other way, people might misunderstand it. And even if they do understand it, they’ll think you had a poor teacher.”

Groaning, Kalen set aside his chalk. “I don’t understand why the continent gets to decide everything about reading.”

“It’s because that’s where almost all the books are written,” said Nanu.

“Just because the continent is bigger than Hemarland? Don’t some people here write books, too? Maybe in Baitown?”

“Mayhap one or two people have.” Nanu frowned at him. “But I am thinking now you don’t realize some important things about the world you live in. Let’s have a different sort of lesson today.”

From her book chest, she pulled out an enormous and beautiful map.

Kalen had seen a couple of maps before. Uncle Holv was a ship’s captain, and though he was not a reader in the same way that Nanu was, he did have charts. But the maps Kalen had seen were mostly maps of the Free Waters, with some of the islands nearest Hemarland on one side and a strip of land on the opposite to mark the edge of the continent.

The map Teacher Nanu had was a map of the whole entire world. And it was not what Kalen had expected.

At the center of the map was an enormous landmass, one that took up more than a third of the world.

“This is the continent,” said Nanu, pointing to the landmass. “All around it are the Bound Waters—the parts of the sea claimed by the many countries and kingdoms there.”

She drew her finger from the center of the continent northward and westward. “Everything that is not the continent or the rift is an island. Ours is bigger than most. It is here.”

Hemarland was tiny. And though there was a mark for Baitown, there wasn’t even a dot to indicate Kalen’s village.

“Now do you understand why most of the books are written in the continental tongue?”

Kalen understood. But he didn’t like it at all.

“What about the rift?” he asked, scanning the map for another large shape. He wanted something substantial--big enough to steal some of the continent’s thunder.

Nanu stood from the table and curved the edges of the map around to meet each other. “It isn’t accurate, since the world is shaped like a sphere, but it’s here. Do you see?”

In the place where the edges of the map met, directly across the imaginary sphere from the continent, the artist had drawn a gaping void with frothing waters surrounding the edge. Kalen tilted his head. “I don’t know what that’s supposed to be.”

“It is like a ditch dug into the existence of the world,” she said.

“It’s empty?” Kalen asked, disturbed by the notion.

“It’s empty of world and full of something else.”

“What?”

“Magic.”

Kalen leaned in, running his fingers gently over the fine artwork, trying to grasp the idea of an empty-but-full ditch in the world.

That was when he saw it. The cartographer’s signature. He sounded the letters out in his head, practicing his new skill. Meg. I. Mon. Or. Ell—

“Megimon Orellen,” he said suddenly, his mouth going dry. “Someone named Orellen made this map!”

“Aye, some powerful old wizarn who could move himself ‘round the world as he pleased. Though, it was the original he made. This one is only a copy. It’s a famous map.”

Nanu didn’t seem that interested in the mapmaking Orellen.

And though Kalen told himself not to be interested either, he couldn’t help prodding a little. “I heard…once I heard a story that wizarns could tear holes in the air, big enough for twenty men to walk through.”

“Ha! Mayhap they can, but not many of them I wager.” She began to roll the map back up with care. “If memory serves an old woman, Orellen is what they call the portal wizarns, who can travel far and wide. They are one of the great wizarn families on the continent. But I do not think it is an easy magic even for such as them.”

“So…they can go wherever they want?” Kalen tried to sound like he was merely curious even though fear was settling in. “They could show up right here in the village.”

“Well, that’s not a thing to worry about,” said Nanu. “Wizarns do not much like Hemarland. Only a handful in Baitown even, and most of those are Islanders from elsewhere in the Free Waters, used to living with magic that ebbs and flows. On the continent, the magic is steady like a pool, but the closer you go ‘round the sphere of the world toward the rift side, the more unsteady it gets. Here in Hemarland we have much magic one day and none at all the next. And no way of knowing which it will be!”

“Why is it like that?”

She shrugged. “Magic in this world pours out from the rift, pools at the continent, and everywhere else, it eddies or comes and goes like the tide. Mayhap if I’d studied under my wizarn teacher for more than a few months, I’d know why, but I don’t.”

“Do you ever do magic, Teacher Nanu?”

“Not much for one like me to do. I can light a fire with my magic, but any man with a fire stone can do the same. And I can feel it sometimes, when the power is flowing high around our island, but any soul in the village can look up into the sky and see it plain for themselves at such times.”

“In the sky?”

“The aurora. The bright one that comes. That is magic from the rift traveling across the sky. Non-wizarns see it just like a regular one, but brighter. But your old teacher can feel it in her skin, and she can see some of the colors to it beyond what others can see.”

Kalen blinked. The big aurora? The one that gave him shivers and was always too colorful in that strange way…like a regular aurora with crackles and flashes of rainbow light at the edges. Could everyone not see those?

But the Orellen family was a wizarn family. So maybe…

“Now, that’s enough distraction for one day,” said Teacher Nanu. “Do you understand why you can’t spell your words however you please if you want folk to read them the right way?”

He groaned. “Yes…”

They worked on his reading until early afternoon, when the sky began to grow dark. Before he left, Nanu entrusted him with his very first book. She let him pick between two of the fourteen she had because she said they were the easiest to read. “Took ‘em with me when I left my master in Baitown as a girl. And they weren’t worth enough for him to come take them back.”

One was a thick historical biography about a famous practitioner of the fire arts. The other was a thin, leather-bound book with no title on the cover. Kalen opened it and read the first page, carefully sounding out the words. “Basic Magical Practices of the Leflayr Family, Novisha…Novesh—”

“Novitiate,” Nanu said after he'd struggled a while. “It’s a word that means beginner.”

Novitiate Stage,” said Kalen.

“Aye. It’ll be a boring read for a non-wizarn. Well, it was a boring one for me even when I was trying to be a wizarn. But it’s meant for children, so I think it will be easier to read than the others I have.”

Kalen hesitated. He supposed there wasn’t too much difference between reading a book about a wizarn and reading a book that would teach you how to do wizarn things. After all, it wasn’t like he had to learn the wizarn things. He just had to read the words. And maybe…maybe there would be something helpful in the book. Instructions for how to stop other wizarns from finding you or kidnapping you or dropping the people of your village into the sea.

“I’ll take Basic Practices,” he said. “And I’ll be very careful with it, Teacher Nanu.”

She nodded. “Just don’t chuck it in the hearth or down a well, and it should be fine. It has some kind of durability enchantment on it, so clumsy young hands won’t do it any harm.”

Kalen wrapped the book up in a cloth anyway before he set off into the rapidly darkening afternoon. It felt like he was carrying a secret, even though that was ridiculous. Nobody in the village cared what book he’d borrowed from his teacher. They couldn’t even read it.

So why did he feel guilty…

“I’m not going to do anything but read the words,” he muttered to himself as he stomped across the snowy ground. “I’m not going to learn the wizarn spells unless there’s a very good one,” he said. “One that will keep wizarns away forever.”

But Kalen knew what it felt like when he told a lie.

And these words already felt like a big one.

#

Kalen had been studying the book for two weeks when the aurora came again.

He had read every word of it twice. (Nan seemed to think his progress as a reader was fast, though she always tempered this praise by reminding him that he was the first student she’d ever taught.)

The aurora—the rift magic—woke him from his sleep in the middle of the night. He felt the familiar shiver, like an icy wind trying to press its way into him. He automatically pushed back.

Then, he paused.

Don’t do it, Kalen, he thought. Don’t do it. It’s bad. It will mess things up.

Determined, he pushed back some more.

“The first step for the novitiate practitioner is mastering the balance of both ambient and internal mana. It is helpful for beginners to assume the standard meditation pose. One must invite the magic into one’s body…”

I won’t.

“This process can be difficult the first time it is attempted.”

I don’t take that as a challenge.

“The supervision of a more experienced practitioner is helpful.”

None of those here.

“This is an exciting time for a young practitioner, the first step of many on the road to a greater understanding and power.”

Kalen bit his lower lip. He stopped pushing.

“It is important to remember one’s first results may be small. Failure is an expected part of the learning process.”

Kalen felt the shivering all over his skin now, and he pulled his furs up around his chin. It didn’t matter if he had no idea what the “standard meditation pose” the book talked about was. He thought he knew what to do. He’d been pushing the magic away every time the aurora came for months.

And an invitation was just the opposite of a push, wasn’t it?

Plus…if the results would be small…would it really be so bad to try it?

Push it away, Kalen. Do it.

But Kalen lost his battle with himself. Instead of pushing, he pulled on the shiver.

There was the briefest instant of pause, a feeling that was barely resistance, then something flooded into him. It was bright and hot and strong.

It’s not small.

“At the novice level, it’s normal for one’s magical senses to be dull. Carefully observe the new threads of incoming mana…”

Kalen’s whole self felt like it was expanding and unfolding. Threads…what threads? There were rivers pouring into him and through him, circulating around his body in complicated ways with incomprehensible purpose.

“The experience will be tiring at first.”

Kalen had never been more awake.

“Except in rare cases, drawing magic into oneself for the first time will require a great deal of mental concentration and effort.”

It was almost as easy as breathing. And it felt twice as important. Kalen was dizzy and thrilled and alive. It was such a good feeling. Such a right feeling.

Oh no, he thought, dread and ecstasy coursing through him in equal measure as he drew in another deep “breath” of the magic. Oh no, Kalen. You’ve done it now.

He couldn’t even pretend to lie to himself anymore. If this feeling was the gift the Orellen name brought to go along with all the fear and trouble…

Then, Kalen was going to grab it with both hands.

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About the author

sieley

Bio: Currently writing a very long story. Reviews welcome. Please do not repost my work on other sites.

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