Gabriel had tucked the pouch into his belt and run down the tangle of corridors that led to the Rectory. Running up to the door to the two story building out of breath, he heard a noise behind him. Startled, he turned to see Father Meinos standing up from a seated postion.
“Father, are you ok?” Gabriel queried.
“Ah yes young one, I was just meditating on your training. So nice of you to join me.”
“Sorry Father, Master Lear had wanted to give me a gift.”
“Ah yes, the stones. You have them?”
Gabriel patted the small pouch.
“Good. Come along now.” Gabriel followed Father Meinos into the Rectory, and out through the back door, into an a walled in courtyard. Stacked in one corner of the courtyard was a large cord of firewood. Against the opposite corner was a bundle of dried hay.
He remembered the days of bringing in hay for the Rectory and for the stables, before he was allowed to care for the animals. Him and two other children, another boy named Saul, and a girl that went by the name of Sara, had gone out to the field with a wagon and, between the three of them, had wrestled two bales onto the wheels and brought it back to the temple. They did this twice every morning, three bales for the stable and one for the Rectory. Gabriel had always wondered what the Rectory had needed with so much hay. He had a feeling he was about to find out.
“Sit,” Father Meinos motioned for him to sit down on the ground, across a small blackened pit from him.
Gabriel did as directed, and when told to dumped the gifted stones out on the ground in front of him.
“Ah good, he still had all sixteen. First we are going to start with figuring out which stone is which. Pick one up.”
Gabriel looked down at the stones splayed out before him. Counting them, he confirmed that there were indeed sixteen. They were rounded and smoothed, about the size of the glass marbles the local glassblower sometimes brought to the temple for the kids to play with. They were all of a dark grey color, with tiny variances in the patterns on each one. Looking at them, he could not think how he would ever be able to tell them apart in a pinch. He did as instructed and picked one of the small stones up, immediately noticing how damp it felt. When all of them had been dumped into his hands back in Lear’s room, he had not noticed anything this peculiar. “It feels wet, Father”
“Good, you have found a water stone. Put that off to the side. Try another.”
Picking up a second stone, his fingers began to feel warm. The stone did not burn him, but Gabriel definitely felt that the stone was producing heat. “This one is a fire stone,” Gabriel said, proud of himself.
“Ah, you have figured it out. Make another pile, and find me the other two. Earth and Air.”
Gabriel picked up a third stone, it felt wet, the same as the first. He added it to one of the piles, having to test the first stone to make sure he was adding it to the right one.
At this, Father Meinos chuckled. You will need to work on your memory young one.”
“I knew it was the right pile, I just thought I’d double check.”
“Ok,” the Father said, smiling.
The fourth stone that Gabriel held was so light, he had to look at his hand again to make sure he was holding it. “Father, this one is light as….oh.”
“Very good. Continue.”
Before long, Gabriel had a pile of three water stones, two fire stones, and two air stones but had yet to come across an earth stone. He finally picked one up. “This one just feels like a rock.”
“Well, that is what earth is, rock. What did you expect?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“Finish sorting them.”
He did as he was told and soon had four groups of four stones each.
“What do you think, are you ready to try them out?” The boys eager eyes were all the answer he needed. “Ok then, pick up two fire stones. I will be right back.”
Confidently, Gabriel picked up two stones, there combined warmth causing his hand to tingle. Father Meinos, having stood up, walked over to the bundle of hay and came back with a small handful, which he threw into the small firepit in front of Gabriel.
“Concentrate on lighting the hay on fire, then strike those two stones together over the fire pit.”
Gabriel thought about the hay beginning to smoke, and taking a stone in each hand, held his arms out, and swung them together, the stones making a loud clack as they struck one another.
The hay began to smoke, just as Gabriel had pictured it, but no telltale flame jumped to life.
“Concentrate on the fire harder, and the smacking less.”
Again, Gabriel stared at the hay, envisioning the entire pile engulfed in a large flame. Striking the stones together again, the handful of hay burst into flame and was quickly consumed, causing the fire to die out as quickly as it had sprung to life.
“Good. Now get more hay and try again. Think about how you used to start fires in the kitchen last year. You need the fire to be large enough to continue while you fetched wood, but small enough not to burn out so quickly.”
“Well why don’t I add the wood now?”
“That would be cheating. Practice.”
Gabriel remembered back to when he was working in the kitchen. His first job every morning had been to start the fires. He remembered doing this by grabbing a single hot coal from one of the fires in the next room, the fires used to keep the temple warm at night, and setting on a small pile of hay. He would then, as the hay was beginning to burn, grab a handful of small logs and begin to feed the fledgling fire. This also brought back memories of him stealing small loaves of bread from the baker as he turned his back on Gabriel. One day he had been caught, and the baker told him that it was ok, he always baked extras because someone was always stealing them. They had both shared a laugh at this secret, Gabriel glad that he was not causing any real problems, but upset that he had been caught nonetheless.
With this thought steady in his mind, Gabriel grabbed another handful of hay and set about practicing starting a usable fire. His first few attempts were two weak, but left enough hay for him to reuse. He overcompensated though, and his next three tries used all the hay he had causing him to stand up and get more. His fourth trip back to the bale, he grabbed two handfuls, causing Father Meinos to shake his head.
“You need to have confidence in yourself,” he chided.
On his ninth try, he got a steady flame burning and managed to get three logs onto it before it went out. The logs began to crackle in the fire and soon, a small fire was burning in the pit.
“Ok, put it out.”