Evenarian excerpt

The Evenarian
By Julia Dickinson

For talk is evil: it is light to raise up quite easily, but it is difficult to bear, and hard to put down. No talk is ever entirely gotten rid of, once many people talk it up: it too is some kind of a god.



      “I have many important things to say but little time to say them.”
      Turo sighed and looked down at the speaking stone in his hand. It was smooth and round like a large pebble, but it glowed from the inside with a gentle red light. Turo had only ever seen his teacher use the stone, and he was not even sure if it was working. Should he hold the stone closer to his face? Speak louder? Should he use the Northern dialect that he had spoken his whole life, or try the Southern language?
      Turo lifted himself off the rickety cot and tugged at the new clothes they had given him. The rough-spun pants and tunic were too big for him. They hadn't even given him a rope to tie around his waist, but he could guess why. Taking his own life would be a kind fate compared to what was planned for him.
      Holding the stone, he ambled to a wall where a round portal, open to the elements, served as a window. His cell was high in one of the citadel's many towers giving him a view of the canyon below. The sun was setting over a plateau to the west and Turo remembered the moment he and his teacher had first caught sight of this magnificent city. But that had been months ago, so early in their travels. Much had changed since then.
      The sun's molten orb was level with Turo's window, setting the sky ablaze. He shaded his eyes with his free hand but did not look away. It was likely the last sunset he'd ever see. Soon it would all turn to grey, and then black.
      “I didn't set out for any of this to happen,” he told the speaking stone. Snug in his palm, the stone pulsed with its reassuring red light, so he went on. “I suppose my father would say...” Turo's throat thickened with sudden emotion and he had to stop again. Thoughts of home would only slow him down now.
      Turo took a deep breath and looked down at the stone. “This is my story, for those that would hear.”

Chapter 1

      “There's a world beyond all of this. It's calling to me. Has been for years.”
      “You want to leave?” I asked Bly, perplexed. We had everything we'd ever need in the cloister. I certainly never intended to go anywhere else.
      “Leave this place? Of course! It's all I want!” There was an angry edge in Bly's voice. “I cannot wait to be known as a famous prophet instead of just 'that southern boy.'”
      I looked up from the scroll I had just unfurled to study my friend instead. Bly had been my cellmate since we both came to the cloister two years ago. He was thinner and taller than me and much better looking. He had been born with his mother's curly black hair and sharp features. But the thing that most set Bly apart from the rest of us was his light tan skin, a sign of his mixed blood. The color reminded me a bit of bread crust. But it had never occurred to me that his looks could be a burden to him. 
      “You should come with me,” Bly said as he leaned across the table, grabbed the edge of my scroll, then yanked it away from me.
      “To where?”
      “To Wythlecliff, of course. We could make a great team. Just imagine how much money we could earn. Everyone in the capital is rich—well, practically everyone. They will pay handsomely for glimpses into the future or the past.”
      I supposed Bly was right, in his way. Many mages made a profit from their skills because magic could not simply be learned by anyone who wished to know it. One had to earn a magic license in a cloister, pass the exam and fulfill dozens of other requirements before calling themselves a true mage. Such were The Ways. Some mages left for the outside world, yet some stayed in the cloisters. They took the Vow of Lassal and devoted their lives to study and teaching the next generation of mages, or working their way up within the Order's hierarchy. I already knew my path led to the vow.
      “Bly, let's not talk about this right now,” I said. “Really, we should study.”
      “You don't understand,” Bly's voice dropped. He leaned towards me with a conspiratorial gleam in his eye. “I want to leave now. Forget about the exam. You stay and take it if it means so much to you. But what more do we need from this place? Most lads are nearly done with their apprenticeships when they reach seventeen winters. But after the exam, we are facing three more years in this dusty old place! We know our trade, Turo. I for one don't want to waste any more time.”
      I just stared at Bly for a moment not even knowing where to begin with him. Reducing magic to a mere trade was insulting enough. But I knew what else Bly was implying, and it was even worse. He was asking me to leave the cloister before our time, make a promise we had no intention of keeping, and live as charlatans. He may as well have asked me to jump off a cliff.
      Bly mistook my silence to mean that I needed further convincing. “Wasn't I right about the poor harvest last year?” Bly pressed on. “And about Fenya the blacksmith's wife having twins?”
      It was true, he had been right both those times. Granted, he had been right other times as well. But that did not change the fact that my friend seemed to have gone mad.
      “This is foolishness! You would be a... a...” I did not want to say the word.
      Bly raised a black eyebrow and said it for me with a smile on his lips. “A charlatan?”
      “You cannot do this! You cannot!” I wanted to reach across the table and grab Bly by the shoulders, perhaps shake some sense into him. Then we both jumped up from our chairs at the sound of a familiar yet disapproving voice.
      “Cannot what?”
      Prior Dorrian was standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips.

Chapter 2

      “I...cannot pass the exam without studying!” Bly offered cheerily as Prior Dorrian came into the library. Then Bly shot me a quick look I knew all too well. It meant “keep your mouth shut.”
Dorrian looked us over for a moment, placid as usual with his hands tucked inside his brown robe's sleeves—a gesture usually reserved for cold weather, but the prior affected it year round.
      “So this is where you lads have been hiding yourselves all morning?”
      “Yes!” Bly piped up again. “Studying away. Just studying everything in sight. Yes we are!”
      “Oh? Wonderful to hear it.” Dorrian did not sound convinced, but his expression was mild enough as he pulled out a chair at our table and sat. He gestured for the two of us to do the same. “I've been meaning to speak to the two of you,” he said. I began to sweat anew. Surely he suspected something!       But Bly sat down again, so I followed suit.
      Prior Dorrian was too old to be my father's age but did not seem quite aged enough to be a grandfather. Like many of the other avowed mages who lived in the cloister, he seem to have been taken out of time, assuming a permanent age that was sagacious but not frail. Some mages speculated that magic itself imparted this gift of longevity. It was even said that after decades of practicing spellcraft, high mages' bodies and faces changed and they began to look less like normal folk and more like...well, I'd still not met a high mage, so I wasn't quite sure what to make of the stories.
      The Prior glanced down at the scroll still unfurled on the table before me, taking in the cramped ink letters. “Ah yes, the life of Queen Elena as revealed by one Brother Galerium. They called her the Amethyst Queen, as I recall. An interesting tale, but it's not on the exam.” He had bushy silver eyebrows that he liked to raise when he was making a point.
      I felt my face redden. I'd grabbed the first scroll on one of the history shelves without even looking at it. The one I'd meant to take, an account of Maythis Abbey's dissolution, was on the shelf below.
      “What did you want to say to us, Prior?” Bly asked, all innocence. He all but batted his eyelashes at Prior Dorrian. I wanted to cuff his ear, but that would have to wait until later.
      “I was hoping to talk to you lads about your plans once your five years are up,” Dorrian said as he set the scroll down and folded his hands in front of him.
      Now I was perplexed. “But that's three years off,” I said. And he knew as well as I did that our fate still hinged on the exam. What could the Prior be getting at?
      “Never too early to start thinking about what sort of mage you want to be,” he replied.
      Bly sprang to life, not even waiting to hear what the Prior had to say next. “I know exactly what I'm going to do!” he insisted. “The day I get my license, I'm making for Wythlecliff. I can see myself serving the King. I see it as clearly as a prophecy.”
      Dorrian cocked his head when he heard that. “Oh? I did not know our colleague Lord Colam was retiring from his post,” he said. “Besides, you do know that the royal mage's position is not sanctioned by the Order. His authority comes from the king. If Colam were still among us, he would...well, he'd be no higher than an obscure country prior.” Dorrian winked at us. If he meant to lighten the mood, it did not work.
      “Where is it written that only one mage may serve the king?” Bly was getting combative now. He did not hear the gentle ribbing tone in Dorrian's voice, or perhaps heard it and misliked it. I knew better than anyone how dearly he clung to his dream of becoming a famous prophet. 
      The prior raised his hand for quiet, a gesture we knew all too well. “I didn't say what you were going to do. I said what you are going to be. There is a difference,” Dorrian said. “Frankly, I am concerned for the two of you.”
      Bly's face fell at that. I could only imagine what my own face looked like. My mouth went dry and the nausea I'd only just tamped down threatened to come back with a vengeance. Had we been such terrible candidates for the last two years? What if we were going to be tossed out before even taking the Exam!
      “What worries you, Prior?” Bly asked bravely.
      “The seeker's calling is not a light one, nor a simple one,” he began in a gentler tone. “We are keepers of knowledge, perhaps of all true knowledge. Never forget: People in the world call us mages, but we call ourselves Seekers of Truth. We are all that stand between truth and the superstitions of old. And the best way to prepare for that duty is to study all aspects of our craft. That is the purpose of the Exam—not merely to pass it, but to ready one's self to become a mage. It is not a trifle made to take up time. I am concerned that you lads have failed to grasp that.” Now Dorrian looked at me. I gulped, but his soft tone did not waver. “Turo, what sort of mage do you want to be?”
      “I intend to take the Vow of Lassal and stay here—become an avowed like you,” I said. I suppose you can say I was one of Dorrian's acolytes, but only because mages of his ilk followed the long-departed Lassal's example to shut themselves away from the world, just as I'd longed to do since I was a boy.
      “You may both say those things now,” the prior told us. “I only wish for the two of you to make the right choices, the choices that are true to yourselves. And the best way to do that is to study magic in all its breadth and variety. Choosing your vocations can wait, and so much the better! You will have the rest of your lives to practice magic and only a short time to study it. Do so now, while you still can.”
      “But all seekers have to choose, I mean even you specialize in botany,” Bly countered. “That is why we had a good harvest last year while the townsfolk had to buy extra grain at Eastgate.”
      A frown sullied Dorrian's countenance, but he quickly recovered his usual placid self.“I came to my vocation after many years of general study,” Dorrian said. “Even then, I was called to help sustain our little cloister, not to enrich myself. Such is the flow of destiny.” Suddenly, the prior's face lit up, and he spread his hands across the table's surface. “Ah, of course! Think of it this way: the mage's responsibility is like the gardener's. He must tend to many different plants in turn. Perhaps there are one or two varieties he is well-versed in, but he must know a bit about all the plants or else the garden will fail.”
      The prior leaned away from the table, pleased with himself as he always was after a lecture. I was pleased, too. Without knowing it, Dorrian had saved me from Bly's scheming. On the other side of the table, Bly was silently smoldering. Perhaps it was his southern blood that made him so quick to anger. But I was relieved, and as always, eager for the prior's esteem.
      “Wise words,” I said with an appropriate amount of awe. “Thank you, Prior. Candidate Bly and I will think on them.”
      “Hmph,” said Bly before he grudgingly echoed, “Yes, wise words.”
      Dorrian graced us both with a wide smile. “I am glad we had this little chat.” As he rose from his seat, he said, “Slow your minds, slow your bodies. Why are you in a rush? The world will still be there in three years.” He handed the scroll back to me. “Why not bring a few study materials outside and join the rest of us? It is a lovely day.”

It was indeed a lovely day, and much more pleasant in our little courtyard, where there was a slight breeze. Our two dozen brothers were absorbed in silent concentration. I felt a surge of satisfaction as I looked upon the scene. Yes, this was why I had entered the cloister. This was the sort of mage I wanted to be. I was sure of it.
      We had just settled ourselves at one of the trestle tables when I heard the front gate squeak open. I looked up and saw Brother Kendrick, his leather satchel of healing herbs and ointments slung over his shoulder. He'd just returned from a morning in town, and the dour look on his face made me believe there must be trouble.

Chapter 3

      To say Kendrick was younger than the Prior may have been a mistake for, as I already said, Dorrian had an agelessness about him. Still, Kendrick's dark brown hair was peppered by only a few silver strands and his long face, while serious, did not have many lines.
      Kendrick made straight for the prior. Dorrian was sitting at the head of one of the trestle tables but did not rise to greet him. “Brother, you've returned.” Dorrian paused, looking up. He saw Kendrick's look of worry too. “What has happened?” he asked. “Is it the farrier’s boy?”
      “Oh no, my patient is quite well.” Kendrick's tone was not pleased. “I predict the young stablehand's leg will make a full recovery. But I heard the queerest talk when I was walking through the town square. There were some men who'd just come up from Thiffort...”
      Kendrick spoke rather loudly—he always did—and a few heads shot up when he said this, mine and Bly's included. Both our families still lived in Huddlset and there was always the chance that news from town might include them.
      “Talk of what?” Dorrian queried.
      “That new heresy again,” Kendrick said grimly, as he set his medicine bag on the ground. “The one in the south.”
      Now everyone abandoned their work and looked at Brother Kendrick, and Kendrick was looking at Dorrian. No one spoke for a long time, but I noticed a few eyes flicking in Bly's direction. His father was of the Thurassi tribe like the rest of us, but Bly's darker looks forever marked him as foreign. And I knew some of our brethren thought that was enough to somehow make Bly responsible for things his far-off kinsmen did. It was unfair, but we all knew what southerners were like.
      A few of our brethren cleared their throats. They wanted the Prior to say something. Dorrian shifted in his seat, looking uncomfortable. Something had seeped into the bright summer day and settled among us. Something threatening, like a thundercloud.
      “What are folks saying?” Dorrian said.
      Kendrick sat down on the long bench, choosing the spot closest to the prior. He suddenly looked very tired. “It is odd,” Kendrick told the prior. “This heretic cult is speaking of logic, of finding new ways of understanding the world. They say the Ways are the ways of the past. I have never heard anything quite like it.”
      “Logic?” Dorrian let out a short laugh. “Dear brother, we are the keepers of that.” Then he folded his arms and looked up at the nearly cloudless sky. “I am not quite sure what these new heretics are getting at,” the prior began thoughtfully. “It sounds rather foolish to me. But Thiffort is far from here, and the men of the Thurassi woodlands are upright—among the most devout in the Kingsrealm, I dare say. They know the power of magic. They respect our Order.”
      “Heresy threatens all upright men,” Kendrick said darkly. “Heresy begets heresy. And I fear this is...” He shook his head, paused and put his folded hands on the table, staring down at them with a stricken look. “It is somehow more than heresy, Prior. When I heard those men talking of new truths, I felt my blood run cold. It is superstition masquerading as truth.”
      Now murmurs sprang up around the tables. My brethren began to speculate. We'd all heard rumors of this heresy before, but no one knew much of what it was about, only that it was happening. So this was news indeed, but did we need to worry? And what did it all mean?
      “Superstitions come and go,” Dorrian intoned, silencing our chatter. “They are a passing fashion. Why, when I was a lad, folks in the back woods still sacrificed chickens to the forest spirits. Can you believe that?” He chortled again.
      “But Prior, this is different. I cannot quite explain it, but men are speaking of making something new. It feels—”
      The prior cut Kendrick off with a brusqueness I'd never heard. “The world may have its 'new' notions all it likes,” Dorrian snorted, then slowly moved to stand. “We will endure behind our walls as we always have and tend to our gardens of truth.” He tucked his hands into his sleeves and raised his voice. “Never forget, my brethren: the superstitions of the world burn like guttering candles. They will not last the night. But truths shine eternally, like the stars.” He paused momentarily, then said, “Now I believe it is almost time for our midday repast. Shall we eat outside today?”
      The heads around me nodded at this. I heard soft, relieved laughter as everyone stood from their own benches and began to gather up the scrolls and books they'd laid out.
      Before following my brethren back into the cloister to fill our trenchers, I paused to look around our small courtyard. I saw the grass growing up between the flagstones and the cluster of fruit trees just beyond the low stone wall. Our gate was made of wooden planks. This was no fortress, and the day still felt darker than it had before.

Brother Kendrick's face and arms were very tan because he spent much time out-of-doors, often making the two-league journey to Huddlset to practice healing arts among the townsfolk. And while Dorrian and most of the other brothers preferred a clean-shaved face, Kendrick wore a beard like most of the men in town. He was an avowed like Prior Dorrian, but sometimes it felt like Kendrick was not quite one of us. He knew more of the world, to be sure.
      “Do you truly think this southern heresy is dangerous?” I asked him as we cleared the cups and trenchers from the trestle tables. We all shared such duties and today was my and Kendrick's day to clean up after the midday meal.
      “Oh yes, I have no doubt,” Kendrick said as he stacked up some plates.
      “So what are we to do?”
      “The prior has spoken, so we are to do nothing,” Kendrick sighed. “It is a matter for Wythleminster—if the heresy reaches that far north, of course.”
      “Of course,” I echoed quietly. There was one more thing I wanted to ask, though the words caught in my throat. “Would Wythleminster...I mean, if the heretics are dangerous enough...”
      Kendrick raised an eyebrow. “You want to know if they'd burn, eh? Is that right, Turo?”
      I looked down at the flagstones. “Yes,” I said.
      “It is true, the punishments for heretics and charlatans are pitiless. But think of the trouble they'd cause if Wythleminster let falsehoods and charlatans stand. They'd be more than a guttering candle then. The truth needs help sometimes, you know. And the Arch Prelate is a good man, wise and just. I met him once, years ago when I visited the capital. His vocation is war-making. Did you know that? He knows what it means to take a life, I think. Yes, Wythleminster only burns men who need burning,” Kendrick concluded.
      I was shocked by Kendrick's words. There was a harshness to him that I had never understood. I felt myself shrinking away from him and made for the end of the table where a few place settings remained to be cleared by his side.
      Kendrick studied me for a moment with his sun-strained eyes. “Ah, you mislike that answer?”
      “No,” I insisted lamely. “Only...What if we go out among plain folk as you do, and tell them the truth? Maybe then they wouldn't believe in superstitions?”
      Kendrick was silent for a moment, as if considering something, then he grinned at me. “You know Turo, that is exactly how I feel. It is our duty as Seekers of Truth. We must spread it, use it to help others. That is why I chose the healing vocation.” He walked down the length of the table and stopped a few paces from me. “Folk these days think of any self-called mage on the street as a keeper of lore, not us—not those who have devoted our whole lives to studying magic.” Kendrick paused, then asked me, “Have you considered what to do when your five years are up?”
      “Oh, ah...” I could not hold back a grimace, no more than I was able to escape that nagging question. “I didn't mean I would go out into the world,” I said. “I hope to take the Vow of Lassal.”
      Kendrick looked flustered. “Another scholar of the Histories, locking yourself away from the world,” he groaned. “Prior Dorrian can teach anything but ambition. Turo, I am asking you to consider what a lifetime here would truly mean. You have seen seventeen winters, yes?” I nodded. Kendrick's eyes lit up. “Ah, I took the Vow of Lasall when I was not much older than you. I dare say I did not quite understand its full meaning, to live the rest of your life here in the middle of the woods. At least consider doing work in Huddlset, as I do.”
      This conversation was growing more uncomfortable by the moment. “What could I possibly do?”
Kendrick rolled his eyes as if the answer were plain. “Teach the Histories to the townsfolk's children, for one. They would benefit from a bit of learning, and we could use the coin.”
      It was true; I'd learned much of the Histories, the tales of leaders and kings long past, and of the lives and deeds of the great mages. Teaching would certainly bring some income to our cloister, too. Some of the older seekers' families were dead or dissipated and had long since ceased their annual tithing—tithing little cloisters like ours depended on for survival.
      But it had not been so long since I'd been a child myself, and I remembered how little my playmates cared for anything but wooden swords and dolls. I'd been the different one, the outcast.       “The children in town can't be bothered with the Histories,” I said. “They only want to play. My words would be wasted.”
      “Fine,” Kendrick said, looking disappointed, as he picked up his stack of trenchers and turned from me. “It was only a suggestion.”

With a large wicker basket under one arm, I stole a quick glance back at the cloister as Dorrian and I made our way to the garden patches behind our walls to gather vegetables for the evening meal. The cloister's formal name was Thornmage, drawing on some bygone era of prosperity. But these days, it was simply referred to as the Mill Cloister on account of it having once served that purpose before being taken over by the seekers. We did not have enough space to separate men from women, as they do in larger cloisters, so ours was an all-male contingent. That is common in the cloisters of small towns. No great local mages or prophets to name the cloister after, either, no grand towers or walls. The Order stressed self-denial and restraint, and the brethren of the Mill Cloister followed those precepts more than most.
      It was one of those late summer afternoons that is all green and gold and you think the day might last forever. But I for one hoped it would not. The air had grown heavy as the day wore on, making my rough-spun seeker's robe feel heavy too. But harvest time was just around the corner, and with it the chilly autumn breezes. The days were already getting shorter and I could hardly wait for relief.
Prior Dorrian did not seem bothered by the heat. In fact, he rarely seemed bothered by anything other than matters of the mind. As we walked, he hummed tunelessly to himself. If he was still thinking about the southern heretics, it did not show on his face. I wondered if I should disrupt his serenity and tell him about my conversation with Brother Kendrick. It still troubled me.
      Indeed, All the morning's events still troubled me. I thought I knew what I was meant to do with my life. So why were Bly and Kendrick trying to pull me in other directions? Were they simply trying to push their own aims onto me? It was unfair and baffling all at the same time. I sighed loudly, hoping Dorrian would notice. He did not. Then we rounded a little bend in the creek that wound past the garden beds. That was when we saw him.

Chapter 4

      He was walking out of the forest that bordered the garden. Stumbling, more like.
      Dorrian and I stopped in our tracks. I even dropped my basket in surprise. He was a man, that was plain enough. His sandy-colored hair was cropped even shorter than mine and he did not have a beard. Still, he looked older than me by a few years, and I'd never seen anyone who was both so tall and so thin, not even Bly.
      There were other odd things about him. The clothes he wore, their very fabrics, were unlike anything I'd ever seen. For once, my childhood in the home of a cloth merchant came in useful. The stranger's short tunic was tucked into the top of his pants, he had heavy-looking boots unlike anything even soldiers wore, and a huge pack slung over his back that was the color of summer leaves. The pack was made of a pearly cloth and looked smooth like silk, but it was clearly much tougher.
He saw us, stopped walking and stared back. I stole a sidelong glance at Prior Dorrian. Could this man be a scout from the South? Were tensions rising between the great powers again? Or was he merely a lost traveler?
      Then I realized he could not be from Sone. They had darker complexions, did they not? This man had milky skin as we northerners did.
      The stranger tried to speak first. “Tried to” I say because the sounds that came out of his mouth were a garbled mishmash of half-words and babbling like that a child makes when learning to talk.
“He is ill,” Prior Dorrian observed, sounding concerned. He took a step towards the stranger, who now had a hand pressed to his forehead and was looking about in amazement. “Do you need help?” Dorrian asked him, then quietly said to me, “perhaps he is some sort of mute.”
      “Is he under a spell?” I asked.
      The stranger let loose with the same stream of non-words again. He looked panicked now and was visibly sweating. He knew we could not understand him. But did he understand us?
Prior Dorrian pointed to the path along the creek that led back to the Cloister of the Mill. “Please, come with us,” he told the man.
      The stranger backed away when we approached, but a complex exchange of pantomime on Prior Dorrian's part convinced the man that we meant him no harm and were not try to steal his belongings. The stranger made one more attempt to speak, then sighed, shook his head and silently followed Prior Dorrian's lead. Vegetables would have to wait.
      Then it occurred to me that there were no roads nearby, not even many footpaths that I knew of. Where had this man come from?

We let the stranger lie down in Prior Dorrian's cell while he went to consult with the other elder seekers on what to do. We'd have to examine him for injuries and signs of enchantment.
      I was charged with taking his heavy pack up the stairs, where I set it on the floor of Prior Dorrian's cell. I looked down at the stranger, who was lying on the prior's straw pallet.
      “I'm Turo, a candidate here at the Mill Cloister. Please tell me if you need anything,” I told him. He said nothing in return, so I turned to leave.
      Then he made a sound. I whirled around. It almost sounded like...
      “Did you just say 'water'?” I said, utterly stunned.
      He lifted his hand from his face to look at me. “Wa...water,” the stranger croaked. The inflection was strange, but there was no mistaking the word.
      I stood frozen for a moment then gasped out, “Yes, yes! Of course!” And I ran to find Prior Dorrian.

      Summer ale and some morsels of food improved the stranger's disposition greatly. He was now sitting on a stool in our kitchen, gnawing happily on pieces of bread and cheese. The whole cloister was gathered in the small, stuffy room and whispering softly, which made the man's head turn now and then. Brother Kendrick looked over the man's arms and legs, felt the sides of his neck for swelling and put a hand on his forehead.
      “Nothing. Not even a fever,” he declared.
      “I see no sign of enchantment here, though I did half expect it,” Prior Dorrian said. “Perhaps this man simply fell and bumped his head.” Now the prior crouched in front of the stranger and pointed to his own chest. “My name is Dorrian,” he said. “What is your name?”
      The man's mouth twisted, then he pointed. “Dorr...ian,” he pronounced carefully.
“Yes, I am Dorrian, Prior of Thornmage. But what is your name?” he repeated.
      The stranger's brow furrowed and he looked to be concentrating on something on the kitchen's far wall. No, something beyond the wall.
      “Josh,” the stranger said. We all looked at each other, uncertain if this was his name or a word from an unknown language. The he pointed to himself. “Josh,” he said. “My name...is...Josh.” That same strange, stilted accent again. A chorus of amazed ahs and ohs went up from my brethren.
      “Greetings, Josh,” Prior Dorrian told him with a smile. “Please, can you tell us where you are from?”
      This question only produced a frown on Josh's face.
      Prior Dorrian frowned too, and tried a different tactic. “I am from the town of Huddlset. We are close to it. Now, you sit in Thornmage—the Mill Cloister. So please tell us, Josh: Where are you from?”
      At this point, Bly leaned over and tugged on my sleeve.
      “Dinner still must be prepared,” he whispered to me. “Meet me by the well.”
      I wanted to stay in the kitchen and keep gawking at the stranger, but Bly did have a point. We'd given Josh the leftovers from the midday meal and soon everyone else would want their supper. So I scuttled out the kitchen door after Bly and headed for the well at the far end of our courtyard.
      “Turo!” Bly hissed when I caught up to him at the well's edge. “What is this all about?”
      I shrugged. “He's a traveler, it seems.” I waved my hand at the bucket on the ground, focused hard for a moment and said a levitation spell. The bucket rocked to life, rose into the air and dipped itself down the well.
      “But...his clothes! That strange pack he has with him!” Bly spluttered.
      “Just what are you getting at?”
      Bly's big eyes went even wider. “The legend,” he said. “The Old Ones!”
      I was momentarily impressed. And here I thought Bly didn't pay attention to his studies.
“And that is the first thing your mind went to? Bly, we see and read many odd things in our seeking, but...an Old One? Truly?” I retorted. “You may as well say he's an outlander, from somewhere beyond the map.” Though I admit, my own mind was now buzzing with fantastical possibilities. Bly's sudden zeal was giving me pause.
      “And why not?” Bly demanded from between clenched teeth. “I had a vision this morning. It was of a man speaking to the people. He changes them, changes their minds. What if this man has something to do with it?”

      When we returned to the kitchen with the full water bucket floating between us, it seemed Prior Dorrian had coaxed a few more words out of Josh.
      “How do you know he understands you and is not simply repeating what you say?” Kendrick wanted to know. “An animal may look at a man when the man speaks, though it does not ken his words.”
      Josh's head swiveled at this and he looked up at Brother Kendrick.
      “You think him a simpleton?” Prior Dorrian said mildly.
      “Perhaps. And if that is the case, I do not see why he is our responsibility,” Kendrick said, sounding dismissive. “Well, he is not ill or injured so he is not my responsibility.”
      “Give me more time with him.” Prior Dorrian said this as much to all of us as he did to Brother Kendrick. And that was that. My fellow seekers began to disburse with grumbles while Prior Dorrian and those who had kitchen duty remained. With Bly's odd notion in mind, I decided it was best for me to stay as well. I swapped kitchen duty with Brother Aron, who didn't seem all that interested in our tongue-tied visitor or making dinner.
      “He's putting on,” Aron intimated as he left the kitchen. I said nothing and went to the wide table in the middle of the room to begin tearing up some stale loaves for bread pudding.
      For my trouble, I witnessed a miracle.

Copyright © 2013 by Julia P. Dickinson. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, reposting, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission of the author.

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