Reading and writing and magic tricks

MENTOR
by Amanda C. Davis ©2010

The magic goes like this.

Travel to a high place, where only the wind can see you, or stand by a watery shore: a river, lake, or sea. Then you must shout your longing across the water or into the wind--with voice, soul, and mind. If you are meant to study the magics of the world, the wind and water will carry your cry to the one magician destined for you from before birth. This is your mentor. He will answer you; he will find you; he will show you the intricacies of nature, the subtle glory in mankind.

When I fell in love with magic I went to the shore of the lake near my village. I went at night. I was half-grown, then, and felt keenly the chance of humiliation here--what if I called, and no one answered? Fate had already decided whether I would fail. But to be seen to fail would undo me.

So I found a far-flung shore with trees and stones to hide me. I knelt in the dirty grass just beyond where the water lapped. The pulse pounded within me, the night made me shrink. I wanted to whisper. I did, at first. But no magic of wind or water will honor the meek, so I clenched my eyes and raised my jaw and shouted across the rippling lake:

"Come to me, I need you! Teach me! I claim my mentor! I want to know the world's secrets, I want to do the impossible! Find me, teach me, come to me!"

Silence at first. Then a breath on the wind, little more than a whisper: I come.

And he came--he came! The crumpled man in old robes, with an old stick, with his clubfoot and wrinkles and knotted fingers from a lifetime of serving the earth. The path smoothed before him, the branches bowed aside. He crackled with magic.

Mentor spent one day in our home, just a rest before the next journey. My mother scowled at him, and at me, but the matching of teacher and pupil cannot be undone, and the choice to follow magic is not one made with family in mind.

They all wept when we left--except for my older brother, whose face told me he would do it later, alone, and that wrenched at my heart harder than all the rest.

Heartsore or not, we left.

Mentor led; I followed. He spoke; I listened. By the time we reached his home in the high woody hills he was shaking from the journey, but the light in his eyes gleamed. He had thought, he told me, that he would die without being claimed.

I had thought I might shout at the wind and never be heard. In that, we were the fulfillment of each other's wishes.

The learning began, difficult and slow--not for the skill of Mentor, but for my own novice understanding. He taught me to listen for the rhythms of each article of nature, and when I could not hear them, he took my hands so I could feel them in his pulse. He showed me how to guide their patterns, to form them and break them, and I copied. I misunderstood. I failed. He repeated, ever patient. Sometimes I succeeded. When we smiled together the air warmed and the leaves of the trees danced to see it.

We were diligent to each other. We spoke to vines and turned bones to dust. Stone and wood and sinew obeyed. I had longed for magic, and now I had it; but what I had really longed for was Mentor.

This is his sin, then, for which I cannot forgive him: he ran out of life before he ran out of lessons.

The moment he left me, I knew. I must have seen it in my soul; he must have said his farewell in my dreams, because when I awoke I had been weeping. I sat up, marveling aloud at the tears on my cheeks--but I knew, like cold wind in my face, that no one would hear me. No breath stirred his blanket. The fulfillment of my wish had abandoned me.

Earth he loved, so earth he would become. I dug his grave half with my hands and half with spurts of insufficient magic, asking the dirt to fly from the ground, then digging with my fingers, then begging it to shift and open, then widening the hollow it made with a spade.

My mentor was frail. A smaller grave would have sufficed. But I could hardly stop.

When I could go no deeper I nestled the shell of his knowledge in its last burrow. We had spoken of this. I spread my calloused hands across his chest and listened for the rhythms of his skin, his flesh, his bone, of the soil, and asked them to become one. My mentor fell to dust beneath my hands. He had taught me enough for that.

At last he was under, hidden, absorbed. At last raw grief turned to loss.

And then I was alone.

For four months I clung to our routine, rehearsing my small magics. I spoke to soil and willows. Sometimes they answered. Under the pull and tug of my little forces I felt the larger ones, the greater arcs, the stronger winds, but without Mentor guiding my hand I could never reach them. Without him, I never will.

Four months, and I could not go on.

I took off running down a path that was never so jagged when we walked it together; thorns grabbed me, where no thorns grew. We often used to follow this way to a cliff over the sea, where we could talk to wind and water at once. Those great forces hardly listened to me--but they had listened once, and they must listen again.

I threw myself down at the edge of the cliff. The words tore from me. I screamed with voice and soul and mind.

"Come to me! Come and teach this orphan, this half-made hopeless thing! Find me, teach me, let me be for you and you for me! Come and let us be one! Oh, please--come to me!"

I waited on my knees. But all I heard were my own gasping sobs.

I waited for a long time, on the cliff by the sea and sky. I did no magic. I did nothing. I curled like a leaf, hoping to fade like one. Maybe I would find more worth in the grave.

The sun bowed low. The sky blushed.

I heard a voice.

I raised my head. Across the sky sighed the sweet voice of a young girl--a very young girl. The wind shaped her face before me. She was small and round-cheeked, only a child. It did not matter what words she might have used. The wind carried to me the meaning of her heart.

Come and find me. I claim you, Mentor. Show me the magics of the world.

>From the bare sky she gazed on me. I stared at her dimpled face, her messy curls. I would know her anywhere. I cannot teach you.

You must teach me. You are mine.

We spoke with our souls. She could not hear it.

I know so little.

I only need to learn a little.

I have nothing to share with you.

You have everything to share.

She was screaming: voice, soul, and mind. She must be taught. She demanded it; all laws of nature and magic demanded it.

"I cannot teach you!" I shouted at the wind and the water.

Her little voice hardly wavered. Then do what you can.

She vanished like sand in water. But on the horizon I saw a beacon erupt from earth to cloud: the map to my pupil. She could not see the column of light, though it enveloped her. The light shone for her mentor alone.

I stood, weak and wrung out. The rocks had torn my knees--the blood seeped into the dirt, and the dirt crept under my skin. The sky fell to blue and black. I returned to Mentor's home, prepared a silent pack, picked up his walking stick. It fit my hand. Outside the beacon to my student shone clear as a torch in the night. It would remain until I found her.

I whispered to her.

I come.

x x x

We all need a Mentor. I found mine at a small college in Pennsylvania and, every time I turn a phrase well, I honor him. Of course, when I botch one . . . but we won’t think about that. Instead, let’s tell Amanda how much we like her story—on our BBS—now. -GM

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