“I want to learn. Teach me.” The young man addressed the old man.
“I am not the right person. I am no teacher.”
“But you know things, you can do things.”
The old man shook his head. “I can no longer ‘do things’. I used to be able to, perhaps, when I was younger, but not any longer.”
“I am young. Teach me what you know, and I will continue from where you left off.”
The old man looked away over the trees.
They were sitting on a grassy knoll beneath the cover of a tree, above the roots in the soil. The boy had somehow found him. Searching the land, he had said, seeking a master. The old man breathed long and deep and remembered the garden he once tended, the multicoloured flowers he had gathered from all around the world. So long ago, purpose long forgotten.
“The student makes the teacher,” said the young man.
“I am too old. I lost the path. Not so long ago, perhaps, but even a hair’s width from it is a million miles.”
It was true. Another lost soul. It was as if he had spent all his life living in the city, and all he ever knew was of the city, the streets, the shops, who to go to get food, where to work, where his friends lived. Friends… And here he was, outside of the city, useless. None of that knowledge mattered. None of the living mattered.
“You have lived most of your life in a city, haven’t you?” asked the old man.
“Some. And some in the forest. I have spent time living under trees. I have lore of plants and animals, though not much.”
“And your learning?”
“Stone and woodcraft, building, engineering. I know how to build a house.”
“Better than me, then. I live in a cave,” said the old man. It was true. He lived alone in a cave. He didn’t know how to build a house. He hardly knew how to take care of himself. He had spent all his life in service to others, and now he was serviceless.
“I will build you a house,” said the young man, “if you teach me what you know.”
The old man turned his eye to him skeptically. “A house?”
“Fit to live in over winter. Right here.”
The young man was genuine in his offer, the old man could see that. “How do you know I have something worthy to share?”
“You have lived your life. You are old. That should be worthy enough. You have learned from Meherim, and you were Gal like me. The Meherim guard their gates jealously.”
So the boy knows something about me. “I was a child when I learned. You are too old.”
“But did you have one of these,” said the young man and lifted up a pea-sized crystal between them.
The old man sighed and put out his hand. “No, no I didn’t.” The young man dropped the crystal onto his palm and the old man brought it close to his face. He had seen a few in his life, more towards the end of it. They were becoming more common, even out here in the Reaches.
“It is almost completely solid,” remarked the old man and quickly handed it back.
“I have others. That is the largest,” said the young man placing the crystal inside a small leather pouch. He tentatively held out the pouch.
The old man sighed deeply, ignored the offered pouch. “We are both too old, we do not have the materials. Even if I were to teach you what I knew, I have not worked garsu for many years.”
“I do not need you to cast spells. Only to share what you learned.” The young man offered the pouch again.
Before taking the pouch, the old man spread out his robe. The young man quickly stretched to his pack and after rummaging around pulled out a leather panel. The old man took the pouch and panel, layed the leather on his legs and carefully shook the contents of the pouch gently into the hollow of his palm. There were an assortment of crystals, most of them the size of ears of wheat, some smaller, and the largest one he had already seen. “One is unfixed, the rest are fixed, most are solid.” He carefully poured them back into the pouch.
“And this,” said the young man, handing him a glass phial.
The old man frowned and took it. He held it up to the light and shifted it and saw the multicoloured grains within. Garsu dust. He handed it back to the young man.
“And this,” said the young man, with enthusiasm. His last offering, thought the old man. Baiting me with treasures. What could this be? Another glass phial, smaller than the last, filled with liquid.
He turned it in the air before him. Green liquid, similar viscosity to water. “Teach me,” he said. “What is this?”
“Ink,” said the young man. “Garsu ink,” and smiled.
“Is that so?” said the old man and considered it. He had never heard of it. The garsu must be even finer. Soluble dust. Clever Meherim. Rare, by the way the boy was attending it. He handed the phial back.
“I will give it you. If you are the teacher, the materials are yours. You will be able to practice with it.”
The old man snorted as way of a laugh. “And you, boy, do you you think you have a way with magic?”
“No, not at all,” admitted the young man. “But I learned my numbers and the way of reading.”
“Numbers, eh? Well, we’ll change that soon enough,” he said. And that was that.
After a silence, the young man wondered: “So… does that mean you will take me on as your student?”
The old man looked over the valley south to the rising hills far in the distance, beyond which was the dual capital of Seven Valleys, Upper and Lower Tapton. Clear blue sky, beautiful day. Clouds would come, but today seemed like a good day to embark on the journey, perhaps the last in life.
“I will be slow. It will take a while to remember. And it will be incomplete.”
“I don’t mind. I have all the time in the world,” replied the young man enthusiastically.
“You will be slower. You will have to piece it together yourself. How well you do depends on your purpose. How it gives rise to your intention, how strong a conviction you have, how much of a pull your purpose has on your soul.” The old man turned to the young man, looked into his eyes. “Understand?”
The young man nodded.
The old man repeated his question, and the young man said, “I understand.”
“Good. I look forwarding to learning what reason brough you here, and what purpose will take you away.” The old man returned his gaze to the horizon. “Don’t blame me. I am just like the sky, the trees, this hillock we are sitting on, the ants that crawl over it. We are like two stones who have rolled up here on this hillock. Like the garsu, one solid, one clear. Understand that, and we’ll both learn something.”