The next day, Camon was again sitting in the inn’s common room in a chair facing the fire. The room was small with one fireplace but ornately decorated with sculpted wood and tapestries and several upholstered chairs and carved tables. The fire was warm and inviting as the snow continued to fall outside. It had covered the road, which was otherwise vacated with only an occasional pedestrian going about business. Camon removed a pipe from his clothes, stuffed it, then lit it with a stick from the fireplace. The aroma of the tobacco filled the room. He smoked the pipe for a few minutes before he put it out and was just about to nod off into sleep when Achara came and sat down in the chair next to him. She looked freshened and relaxed.
“Good sleep last night?” Camon asked.
“I haven’t slept that good in weeks!” she exclaimed. “This place is a nice accommodation compared to some of the dives we’ve been staying in along the way.”
“One of the perks of staying in a city is more options for accommodations,” Camon said. “Along the road, you take what you can get.”
“Yeah, I guess it takes some getting used to. You know, sleeping in a new place every night.”
“I’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to call a place ‘home’ truth be told, I’m a vagabond, so I have no place to lay my head.”
“How long to Rahtclang from here?”
“Probably just about a month. And it’s far enough south that snow isn’t as much of a problem.”
“How do you deal with all the travel? It seems like it would get old or lonely.”
“I guess it’s just part of the job. I’ve been doing it for so long that I don’t think about it much anymore. Maybe at first, it bothered me some, but now I accept it as normal. It gives you a lot of time to think, and you get to see the world.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed that I spend more time reflecting on things while we’re staring down the road other than just the road itself,” Achara said, fidgeting and staring into the fire.
“Have you come to any conclusions or had revelations in your contemplations?” Camon asked.
“I’ve been practicing some of the things I learned back at the monastery,” she answered.
Achara reached into a satchel at her side and pulled out the journal she had been reading and handed it to Camon, “These things.”
Camon opened the journal and thumbed through it, “Where did you get this?”
“I found it in the library at the monastery,” she explained. “Krii said it was given to them by a traveler from the west. He said I could have it saying that if the Empire ever found it, they would confiscate and destroy it.”
He handed the book back to Achara, “That they would do. It’s contraband of sort. They don’t like seers or anything dealing with seers. Krii though, is not the kind of guy that likes to see books destroyed. It’s a travesty to him. Books are knowledge, and even if one disagrees with the contents, that doesn’t warrant their destruction. What have you learned from it?”
“Animal kinship and how to be an empath,” Achara said.
“Like learned about them? Or actually learned how to do them?” Camon asked.
“How to do them. The kinship came first, then the empathy.”
Camon’s face went flush, “When you say you learned to do them, how long did it take?”
“An afternoon. After reading the journal through once or twice, I went to the gazebo in the monastery gardens. There I was able to connect first with a bird, then a squirrel. After learning that, I tried the empath’s techniques. This one was harder, but I was able to get the hang of it pretty quickly. I can’t say that I’ve refined it much though because the journal doesn’t give much detail on how to do that.”
“That’s incredible…” Camon said in disbelief.
“I’ve been practicing empathy since we left the monastery, and it’s been quite revealing.”
“I suppose you’ve been snooping around with me then,” Camon said.
“Yes,” she said. “But as I said, I don’t know how to refine it. I can feel the projected emotions. It’s not always easy to tell who is projecting them, especially in a crowded room. But that’s about as far as I can go with it.”
“The fact that you can do even that much is pretty impressive. People study for years to even be able to do that. And animal kinship in an afternoon? That’s another one that takes years to master.”
“You seem…fearful,” Achara noted.
“You picked up on that, and I’m glad you did.” His face got stern, “Here’s the part of learning magic where I’m going to sound like a parent.”
“The part where you tell me that I’m incredibly gifted in magic, that it’s dangerous, and that I should be careful with it?” Achara asked.
“Yeah, something like that. But I don’t want to disparage your use of it. I think it’s wonderful that you’re picking up on it so quickly. What scares me, though, is not your carelessness. You’re not careless in the least and have lived more life in your youth than most adults live in their age. And I don’t think you’re of the type that lets it go to your head like some do. It’s a stereotype that those with a natural gift for magic in the priesthood tend to look down on those who struggle.”
“If it’s not these things, then what is it that you’re scared of?” Achara asked
“Magic, as you probably know by now, is incredibly nuanced. Weak magic doesn’t magnify flaws like strong magic. Do you remember the cathedral tower and the intensity of that magic there?”
“Yes,” Achara recalled.
“That magic had to be tuned to a precision that required a lifetime of devotion to master. Even the slightest flaw in the spell there could have cursed the land rather than bless it.”
“Like the passion stone and Ratana?”
“Exactly. I got desperate, and I did something rash. I got lucky that I didn’t kill her or myself and that the only side effect was her coma. I would entreat you to see that not as a victory, but as a failure.”
“But you saved her life, didn’t you?”
Camon frowned, “Yes, I probably did, which is what scares me about your magic.”
Achara furrowed her brow in confusion, “How so?”
“For those like myself that have to spend years mastering particular arts, we, generally speaking, come to appreciate the nuances of magic. We learn it because small mistakes are painful and besetting. With that learning comes the experience and wisdom needed to help govern our use of magic. But for the rare exceptions like yourself, magic comes naturally and without consequence. Hence, it seems easy, like a child’s toy. And many people who have such gifting treat magic like a toy, but end up hurting themselves or others in the process.”
“Are you saying that I’m not ready then?” she asked.
“No, not at all,” Camon implored. “Quite the opposite. You are primed for it. I am just offering my concerns here. For you, the limits are not ability. It’s access to knowledge, which might help you gain the experience you need as you hone the knowledge you do have.”
“There’s something else you’re not saying, isn’t there?” she intuited.
“You are getting better, I can tell,” Camon said with a smile. “Yes, there is. In addition to safety, there’s also the concern of privacy.”
“Privacy?” Achara asked.
“One of the main reasons that the Empire doesn’t like seers is because seers can sense what others are thinking or feeling, just like you did with me. The seeing gifts encompass many things, and the most talented seers in the past could read a person’s very thoughts. Picking up on feelings is one thing, but when you start to take that to a whole new level, it becomes an issue of privacy for people. The Empire feared that seers could be used for espionage or to blackmail those in power. They deemed the gift too dangerous, and thus outlawed it. I realize that you’re not at that level, but you could easily obtain that ability with the right knowledge.”
“It has alerted me to dangers if that’s any reprieve,” she said. “I’ve noticed a strange presence following us ever since we left Rahtneua. I haven’t been able to pinpoint who it is, but the presence seems to linger on the fringes of wherever we go with malicious intent.”
“I don’t doubt that whomever this character that is following us isn’t the result of a long string of events, and I’m glad your gifts were able to pick up on it. You don’t have to prove to me their benefits. My point is not to discourage your use of your gifts. But you must realize that there is also the heavy burden of using it ethically with the power. Like my gifts – I’ve mastered the priestly arts and the Paladin arts. This makes me among one of the more cogent magic users in the Empire, but I have to make decisions – like the one with Ratana or you when I used the sword. These decisions have consequences.”
“How is it that we always come back to these discussions on ethics?” Achara asked.
Camon sat forward in his chair, “Because that is the essence of what it means to serve the Light. One of the biggest misconceptions about magic is that there is so-called ‘good’ magic and ‘bad’ magic rooted in whatever side they appear to serve. But magic is neutral. It has no dispositions towards the Light or otherwise. And whether one is using magic or using a hammer, it’s just merely a tool to accomplish a task. The intent by which the tools are used is what gives it moral shadings.”
“So, is that why Chak connected me with you? For you to be my moral guide as well as my instructor?”
“More the former than the latter. There’s not much I can teach you about your gifts directly.”
“Why you then? You don’t seem to be the epitome of morality,” she scathed.
“Precisely the point, I think,” Camon rebutted.
“You. Chak. You seem to like to bend the rules when it’s convenient,” she accused.
“Bend the rules?” Camon laughed. “The adage goes, rules are meant to be broken. The wisdom to separate values from rules is one of the first things to understanding what it means to serve the Light. Some also mistake serving the Light to be legalism. But I can already tell you that’s not you.”
“Chak seemed to know my father and me well, but I’m still not sure what to make of what he told me about my father. I haven’t thought a lot about what he said, but there is no hint of deceit in him. Was he the abbot that told you that you couldn’t be a priest?”
“No, he wasn’t. Chak has only recently become abbot there, but he has been on faculty there for some time. He was very much like his predecessor, though. Anurak has never been or aspired to be a premier monastery, and Chak honors that. And while he’s not always forthcoming like me, he’s not a liar. He’s in a delicate position, being both a servant of the Church and one that is friendly to those who might otherwise be shunned by the Church and the Empire at large.”
“Why not make Anurak more high profile?”
“Anurak likes to keep a low profile. It doesn’t attract attention to itself because the faculty there, generally speaking, are not the kind of people who tow the line when it comes to official Church positions. They try to see the bigger picture, keeping their pulse on matters that have far-reaching effects beyond the borders of the Empire. Moreover, the abbots historically have believed that humility as a monastery keeps those who attend there from becoming too proud. It keeps the brotherhood there more authentic.”
“Obviously, they aren’t afraid to associate with you even though the official Church position would have you arrested,” Achara observed.
“Exactly,” Camon said. “They are willing to associate with me and others like me, which from what I gather also would include your father. That’s a willingness to ‘bend the rules’ when the value underpinning that rules is not served by its execution.”
“I didn’t tell them, but the Inquisitors have been watching the monastery ever since we got there. I think they suspected we were there, but wouldn’t dare move on the monastery as that would make them look overly zealous. My suspicions were aroused by one of the monks talking about it in the stables, I then investigated it, and he was right. They kept their distance but would ride by early in the morning while I was out caring for the animals. I then tried reaching out through the animals, and I could see them through the squirrels’ eyes.”
“Keep practicing your gifts. I think you’re only beginning to comprehend what you are capable of, in any case. But please do keep in mind what I’ve said,” Camon implored.
“I will,” she replied. “What’s for breakfast?”
“Whatever they have here, I guess,” and with that, the two found the barkeep and ate a warm breakfast as they watched the snow drift down and the fire smolder.