A LessonMature

"We can be anyone. We can be anywhere. We watch you and know you. You will not know us. We live alongside you, with you, but are forever apart. Unreachable, untouchable, incorruptible, unknowable."

Sia'id San Rei, Order of Seldys


The sun had come out, shining down through the leaves in spears of green light, catching the raindrops so they glittered like diamonds. It didn’t make Waunn feel any better. His legs ached, he had blisters on both feet and his back was in agony. It didn’t help either that his new master strolled easily over the ground and somehow found the energy to complain loudly and endlessly about the weather, the cold, the mud and the rain. Well, if it’s so terrible why did you come? Waunn thought. I didn’t want you. Go back home, see if I care. I don’t want you. All I ever wanted was her.


He’d planned, dreamed rather. Nights and nights he’d lain awake seeing Modesty’s face, holding her hands in his. And in the dream he would convince her. The words he could never seem to speak would flow out of him, right and good and eloquent. It would be perfect, like something out of an old story, and she’d know and understand, want the same things. Want him the way he wanted her. So the dreams would go, until he lay awaking, stretched out on the bed, feeling the hot and lonely pulse, salt tears in his mouth, flushed with shame and trembling so he was sure everyone in the house felt it. Modesty. And he tried to tell himself he didn’t want her just for that. No, it was love, not lust. Love. But he wanted her so, in the darkest, coldest hours before first light he knew sometimes he’d settle for having her just that way, even if it was only once, even if she didn’t want it too. To pour his aching, longing into her. To find that release in her that set off star-bursts behind his eyes. And he’d thought love was happy, was good, was perfect and true. Instead it brought him nothing but misery.


She doesn’t want you. You’ll never have her now.

“Waunn!” Kernew called, sounding impatient. Waunn realized he’d already heard him call a couple of times, hadn’t registered. He looked up and saw his new master standing and glaring at him.


“Glad to see you’ve decided to rejoin me,” Kernew said. “Stay awake, can’t you? I said, let’s stop for some lunch.” He cast about as he spoke, found a dry-looking spot at the side of the track and sat. “Come on, get the food out. I saw your mother pack a tasty ham. We’ll have that, with the bread and some of that cheese.”

There was a long silence before Waunn realized his master was waiting to be served. Kernew did nothing, just watched him cut the bread and slice the salted ham, a faint and condescending smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Neither spoke as they ate, and Waunn went back to thoughts of Modesty. Where was she now? Was she thinking of him? Not a chance, he thought bitterly.

“Waunn?” Kernew was speaking to him again.


“Do you know why you were apprenticed to me?”

Waunn shrugged. “Something to do with my parents,” he said.

“Well, in a way. You were promised to the Order of Seldys. The price your father paid for leaving. How does it feel to be bought and sold Waunn? To be handed over like a piece of goods to pay a debt?” The words were like a blow to the chest. Waunn felt a muscle jump in his jaw as he gritted his teeth. Kernew grinned. He caught Waunn’s arm as it flew up. He was strong, much stronger than he looked. “So you are listening. Finally,” he laughed.

Waunn couldn’t stand the laughter. He tried to punch Kernew again, but his fist slammed only into Kernew’s free hand, which shot up so fast he missed it, caught and held him pinned. Waunn struggled, his heart thudded and he heard himself panting with effort.

“Let me go! Let me go, you bastard!”

“Watch that tongue. Waunn, listen. Listen to me. Calm down now. You can’t win. Hate me if you like. Hate me if it does some good. I do not want or need your approval for anything I do. I’ll test that temper of yours again and again. You need to control it, do you hear? You’ll hear much worse. You’ll bear it all and ask for more. You’ll beg to be humiliated. What are words Waunn? They’re seldom truthful. They’ll come at you, full of hate and bile and most of it will be lies.”

Waunn spat, but Kernew even managed to dodge that, moving his head just enough. He pushed Waunn hard and suddenly, and with no arms free to catch himself Waunn was helpless. He went over on his back, a sharp stone scraping against his head just behind his right ear. He stared up at the thin stripe of the sky visible above the trees.

“The lesson is ended,” said his master’s voice.

What lesson? What lesson! That? That was a lesson?


The End

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