“I don’t know,” said the old woman, “don’t ask me!”
“I am asking you,” emphasised the man with a smile. “You are the only person who knows what is going on in your own head!”
The old woman laughed because it was true. Her son’s meherim had been asking her simple sums, three and seven, nine and six, and had stumped her with a complicated one, forty three and sixteen. She persisted and had answered correctly, for which she was very pleased. It had been decades since she had need of using sums, teaching her grandchildren perhaps, and she was surprised that should could remember any of it so distant was her childhood lessons. And then he had asked her how she had done it! Whatever could he mean?!
“It just came to me,” she snapped, exasperated at such a question.
“On the contrary, you had to work at it,” countered the man. “I am interested in what you are doing in your mind.”
“Nothing, I tell you,” barked the old woman. Though she was annoyed, it was more at herself. Secretly, she was enjoying it. The mage had lived by her son’s side his entire adult life, his Pungent Shadow she called him, or just Pungent. He had that same cold temperance he always had, give her chills. Now, with his attention upon her, she could actually feel the benefit of his indifference: he did not waver. Her annoyance, which pricked at her from rise to fall, did not seem to disturb him as it did her servants and family. She could tell they did not enjoy her presence, and the feeling was mutual. She’d rather sit alone in the garden, not so much to admire the birds, trees or clouds as others seemed to, but just to be alone, brooding over her life, imagining the lives she could have led if she had made decisions for her own life.
“Your job is to describe what is going on in your head as easily as you can describe how many fingers I am holding up, which fingers on which hand,” said the mage.
“Three on your left and two on your right,” said the old woman.
“Just like that, but with what is going in your head. I don’t want to hear any more of your not knowing, giving up and so on. You are the only person who knows, which is why I am asking.”
“What about your garsu magic,” asked the old woman.
“Lady Carmin, the garsu gives me some insight into what you have thought, it is true. I know when what you say does not match what you are actually doing. But there are deterioriations according to age which interfere with how thoughts are laid down in the structure of the crystal. Hence I am asking you questions and it is your job to answer at the best of your ability.”
“Alright, alright,” clucked the old maid. She had never pretended to understand what the arts of the Meherim were. She was content to call him mage or magician, which annoyed her son, and admittedly she drew some pleasure from experiencing the various plays which the garsu unspooled in her mind, a marvellous magic. She would spend hours of her day reliving the most fanciful dramas, murder and intrigue amongst lords and ladies, the myths of translucent angels and blood dragons, and the political histories of her own house and those of competing houses. She had not experienced anything like it when she was a child, it was all tapestries and puppet shows back then. She had learned to read and write, and basic numbers, but most of the stories she learned were word of mouth, recounted by the most able storytellers her father invited to their home. The xan-garsu performances were entirely captivating, easily consumed, though admittedly recently she had difficulty remembering the names of characters, and losing track of why they were behaving as they did midway through a story. Her broken memory was affecting the drama of it, and as a consequence the plays were starting to lose their appeal. Which brought her to increased annoyance generally because she had to spend more time in the real world which was dull and repetitive to a fault.
“So no more backing off, no more don’t knows. I ask, you answer. Do you understand?” pressed the mage, smiling. “Have some more tea.”
She laughed and carefully placed the cup to her lips. It was a trail she was used to, since her shaking made the cup tremble and the contents would threaten to leap from the brim. It was miraculous that as the cup came closer to her face, so close it was out of focus and below her line of sight, she could feel it settle against her lip and she could sip slow and calmly. But she still had to place a cloth on her lap because as she removed the cup from her lips the trembling would resume and accidental splashings were becoming more common. Age, she thought ruefully, the great leveller. Great or lower house, solozo or gal or barbaroi, we are all reduced to the same. Except the Pharohim, except Him, she thought with a mixture of awe and envy.
The meherim resumed asking arithmetic questions, which brought an unaccustomed sharpness to her mind. She was thankful for that so let him proceed.