Sunday, May 24, 2015

Last of the King's Men, Chapter 26

Using the techniques described earlier, visualize the similarities between each of the objects before you. In this way, realize that everything, including yourself and the world around you, is connected, wholly and eternally.

Edward sat in his room, staring at the candle, candlestick, and the desk in front of him. He closed his eyes once again, imagining the three objects exactly as he had seen them. He tried to picture each one with a faint web of points surrounding them, each point glowing a pale blue. He pictured the web growing brighter, and brighter, until it enveloped them all. His breath held, he opened his eyes.

There was no change. An ordinary candle sat atop an ordinary candlestick atop an ordinary desk.

He couldn’t figure out what he was doing wrong. Of course he knew that learning magic would be difficult- he had spent most of his life believing that it wasn’t real, after all- but he was so close. He had met someone who was not only a practitioner, but someone who claimed to be an expert at it- a master, even- capable of bending it to his will whenever he wanted. He had given him this book, a book full of magical secrets just waiting to be laid out and studied.

But it was hard. It dealt so much with visualization, and imagination. Was there really so much to be had from that? Edward had taught himself that what mattered was the physical, the here and now. Maybe he had accepted that magic wasn’t real because it fit his world view- but the more he thought about it, the more he realized he wasn’t always like this.

When he was a child, he believed in magic. He was sure every child did. But then when his parents died, he was forced to see the truth of a world without magic. If magic didn’t exist, then life without a family was just a fact that he had to accept instead of something that he had to pine over whenever he felt lonely. Part of him still wanted to believe, in magic and in the gods, but he just felt like there was no way it could be true.

And now… it was? He still didn’t know what to think. Studying this book of magic, he kept hoping that he would be able to make it work and then he could start believing again. He had seen it, of course, when the Wizard showed him some of his tricks, but the skeptic part of him refused to yield. How did he know that he hadn’t been made a fool? What if magic wasn’t real, and this was some elaborate hoax to part Edward from his hard-earned money? Mother Klirent would never stand for a son who got swindled out of his savings by some traveling con-man.

If he could only get this magic to work, it would all make sense. He could let himself believe and he wouldn’t have to be so angry about everything anymore. It would mean that there was potential, potential to make his life better, potential to get everything he ever wanted.

But then again, maybe that wasn’t a good thing. Maybe he would become someone he wouldn’t like. He had always heard that power can go to someone’s head- what if he let it take control of him? After all, what was he doing this for? He had always thought he was doing this to impress Marie Grett, to give him a better way to provide for her and to prove to her father that he wasn’t a no-talent bum who was condemned to a life of low-pay work? Malleck  was always a reasonable man, and had never been disrespectful to Edward, but at the same time, he was a hard worker who always provided for his family. Edward felt like he would never be worthy of Marie unless he could show that he was the same way.

Edward tried to read the passage in the ancient tome once again, but closed it and rubbed his eyes. He glanced toward his bed, and saw his blanket moving. He pulled it away slowly, and caught his pet rat sniffing around for something to eat. She stood up on her hind legs raising her nose into the air, her whiskers shivering. Edward picked her up and set her on his shoulder.

“Hey, Starbrow. It’s so hard to be a rat, huh?”

He reached into his pack and took out a chunk of stale bread, handing a tiny piece to the rodent. She grabbed it with her teeth and turned around, looking for a place to hide, settling on a hiding spot on his other shoulder. Edward took a deep breath, staring at the cold, boring candle in front of him, listening to the quiet sound of Starbrow munching and crunching by his ear.

He tried one last time- he had to keep trying, for Marie. He closed his eyes, picturing the candle and candlestick and desk in front of him. He felt the cool breeze coming in through the open window. He felt Starbrow, having finished eating, sitting on his shoulder, grinding her teeth gently as a sign of contentment. He could see the tiny points of light surrounding everything. He could see the web of dots that made up the desk, the way that the candle was firmly planted atop the candlestick, and the wick that protruded slightly from the melted top of the candle. He imagined the wick sparking, and that spark igniting the wax and coming alight; he imagined the flame growing and getting hotter. He felt like he could even smell the smoke- he could smell the smoke! His eyes shot open in anticipation.

The candle was not lit. There was no smoke. Edward stared at it for a few moments, disappointed with himself once again. He set Starbrow down on the desk, where she walked over and sniffed at the base of the candlestick. He set a hand next to her, nuzzling gently at the brown splotch on her forehead.

Then he noticed something. She had a tiny bit of wax stuck to her nose, which she was now trying to wipe off with her front paws. He looked at the desk, and at the base of the candlestick, a tiny drop of melted wax was cooling.
The next morning, Edward packed up his things, got dressed for work, and left home, leaving the rest of his stale bread and a block of cheese on his bed for Starbrow. He had tried making a cage for her to stay in, but he could tell that she hated it, so it sat unoccupied in the corner of the room.

After a long uneventful day at work, he walked to the general store for some needed things. As he reached the door, however, it opened in front of him, and out walked a woman- tall, skinny, with pale hair and an unearthly look about her, holding a baby in a sling around her chest. Behind her walked a tall, muscular green-scale draconian, following close behind her like a bodyguard. Edward couldn’t quite place it, but while he didn’t recognize the woman, he felt like he had seen her around town plenty of times. Shaking his head, he continued on his way.

After getting what he needed from the general store, he was about to head home, but he poked his head into the Rusted Drake first. He didn’t see Fru’al inside, so he turned back around. He didn’t want to bother the old mage at home, but… He found himself walking back, past the Mill, towards the lodge where Fru’al and his companions had lived for the past few weeks. Following the path, he came to the door that faced north, and reached a hand to knock.

“Can I help you?”

Before he had reached the door, a voice from above startled him. He looked up, squinting, where a woman- Sanna, he thought he had heard her called, but he wasn’t sure- sat near the apex.

“Uh, yes- I was, I was looking for… Fru’al? Is he in?”

The silvery-haired woman pointed behind her with her thumb. “Around the front,” she replied.

“Thank you,” Edward replied, possibly unnecessarily, and walked around the building. On the other side, sitting on a bench on what he knew to be a freshly-built wooden porch (Edward was working at the mill the day Tarrow had bought the lumber), was the elderly wizard. Beside him sat a child, a blonde-haired boy with a troubled look in his eyes. Fru’al was holding one of his books in one hand, and he was gesturing firmly with the other.

For a moment, Edward felt a twinge of jealousy- he didn’t know who this child was or what Fru’al was talking to him about, but he instinctively felt like the mage was teaching him magic. And if he was, if this child were able to do in so little time what he had just spent over a week trying to learn, then that made him feel even more inadequate than he already way. But his common sense told him he was overreacting.

“Oh, hello, Edward,” said Fru’al with a warm smile. He set the book down next to him, and gestured the boy to leave. Without looking happy or unhappy, the boy nodded and walked away.

“Hello, Fru’al,” said Edward, sitting down on the bench near the old man. “How are you doing this evening?”

Fru’al smiled, stroking his grey beard. “I am doing fine. I was just talking to my friend Kefir about my travels. But I imagine that isn’t what you came to talk to me about.”

Edward scratched his head nervously. “No, it isn’t. I… I don’t know. I feel like maybe magic isn’t for me,” he said, not even believing it himself.

“Oh,” replied the sage, raising his eyebrows. “And why not?”

He shrugged. “I just… I haven’t had any luck at all. I’ve read the books you gave me, inside and out, and I’ve tried as hard as I can to do it, but I just can’t. I keep thinking I can feel it, but I can’t even get a stupid candle to light.”

Fru’al began to laugh. What was the meaning of this? Did he not realize that Edward was already feeling lousy enough- and now Fru’al was laughing at him?

“My boy, my boy,” said the old man. “How long have you been trying this? Two weeks?”

Edward shrugged again. “Yeah, I guess.”

Fru’al put a hand on his shoulder. “Young man, nobody ever said this would be a quick process. It took me a month before I was even able to make a spark. But trust me- keep trying, and it will come.”

Edward sighed. He was hoping to hear that the old man had some secret trick to making it work faster.

“Alright,” he said to the mage. “I guess I’ll just keep trying.”

As he got up to leave, Fru’al stood up with him, looking him in the eye.

“Just remember- you have to know why you’re doing this.”

Edward was confused. “What do you mean? I’m trying to light a candle-“

“No,” Fru’al interrupted. “When we first met, you told me why you were doing this. Just remember it.”

He furrowed his brow. He was doing this to impress Marie, but what did that change?

He said goodbye and walked back home. When he got there, he sat at his desk, noting that the bread and cheese he had left on his bed were not where he had left them- though he had an idea here they were, as there were two telltale bulges under his blanket.

He set his things down next to his desk, and stared once again at the candlestick in front of him. He could see that there were a few small bites taken out of the wax that looked very much like they were made by the jaws of a certain rat-who-will-not-be-named. Why did she feel the need to nibble on the candle, when she had perfectly good food he had left her? Edward shook his head.

He set his elbows down on the desk and rested his chin in his hands, his nose almost touching the candle. He felt exhausted, and barely knew why. He took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. He imagined the candle, the candlestick, the desk, even his arms on the desk. He wished for a moment that he had opened the window, since he would have enjoyed the breeze about now. He could hear Starbrow under the blanket nibbling on some cheese. He felt like he could see the points of light he kept visualizing, connecting everything together.

He was about to give up on what he was doing when his thoughts drifted to Marie. He imagined her face, her beautiful brown hair, the way that her eyes look like a different color at different times- sometimes grey, sometimes golden, sometimes pure blue, always stunning. He imagined her smile, and how great it would feel to sweep her off her feet and carry her into his home to be his, forever. How great it would feel to-

He felt a sudden burning sensation on his nose. He jerked back, and fell off his chair, kicking the desk in the process. He jumped to his feet, holding his nose in one hand, and stared at the candle. It lay upturned, melted wax spilled across the desk. A fine strand of smoke was cascading upwards from the wick, which still glowed faintly orange. Staring at the candle, Edward felt a cool breeze coming from the open window.

A wide smile crossed Edward’s face.

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