Wherein: The Ancestors Bicker Over the Telling; Paramon Teaches Liny; Mithic Gives a Lecture
They said, it was a relief to the settlers when Annak joined the clearing again. Everyone felt guilty about what had happened to those boys.
Maybe it wasn’t a relief, someone said, maybe it only opened old wounds.
Of course it was a relief, the first speaker snapped. Of course it was. What boy doesn’t want to be connected with his mother somehow?
Maybe if Annak had just died, or left like their father did, what happened with young Insnar wouldn’t have happened. Maybe bitterness wouldn’t have ruled him.
Oh, it’s never that simple.
You don’t know that. You just want it to be that way for the sake of a neat story. You just want the feast to be the story of a miracle.
It was a miracle.
Only in your telling. In reality, it was just another day in a long history of a people. Neither good or bad. History’s hindsight clarifies nothing about the story itself. You think it does, but any way you look at history, it’s your own way of looking. It doesn’t mean there’s ever an obvious, essential truth. Each one of us hears a different tale anyhow.
This statement was met with a long pause.
Well, that’s a hell of a way to tell a story, said the first speaker sarcastically, one hell of a way.
“Let me explain, Liny. I organize each student’s lessons to study what interests them naturally. We don’t have the long seasons of schooling, so it’s best to focus on what most interests the students, or suits their talents. For you, I chose philosophy, cartography, geography. We’ll map the intellectual and physical world.”
Liny frowned. “Sounds difficult. Are you sure I can do this?”
Paramon looked up at the sun filtering through the pines overhead. “If I told you that I knew a boy who figured out how to clothe, feed, and house himself by the time he was eleven, would you tell me that was a boy of limited abilities, or a boy capable of anything?”
Liny blushed. “I had to learn those things. This learning is different. I do this by choice.”
“Just that you make that distinction is a sign of your interest in discerning differences in types of thinking and action. This is philosophy. A way of learning to study knowledge itself. Or how each of us arrives at the code by which we live. You might find, also, as you grow older, that it can be a matter of survival, understanding how people think.”
“I want to travel. I need cartography and geography. Tislar knows those things. And to travel like he did, I’ll need them.”
Paramon was startled. “You want to travel?”
“’Course I do. Why wouldn’t I?”
“It didn’t occur to me that anyone would want to leave here so soon.”
Liny drew his brows together. “In the Order you couldn’t leave. Here, we’ve got the freedom to go anywhere.”
“Yes, that’s true.” Paramon looked down at his hands and shrugged. “It’s just that I thought this was the anywhere that anybody would be looking for.”
“Everybody doesn’t want the same thing, Paramon. You’re the one who said that!”
“Why don’t they?”
“They have different interests. Just as you’ve said about the lessons you plan. Each person has a different sets of interests or skills that move them to like different things.”
“Are there any basics that all men need?”
“Food, clothing, shelter.”
“I don’t know,” said Liny. “Maybe freedom.”
Paramon sat, hands folded in his lap.
Paramon brought his gaze up to the young man’s clear features, the clear eyes, the long chin bearing its first blond whiskers. “And do men have a right to anything beyond their basic needs?”
“A right? Why wouldn’t he have a right to do as he wishes, if he can, and it harms no one else?”
Paramon nodded. He smiled and asked, “Was that conversation difficult, Liny?”
“The conversation we just had.”
“That was your first lesson. And as I suspected, you were the one to teach it. I want you to think, for the next lesson, if you have listed all the basic needs for mankind.” Liny watched as Paramon took out a book, scribbed a few notes, then rose, nodded formally, and crossed the clearing toward the dune and ocean beyond.
On days they studied geography, Paramon asked Tislar to join them. Tislar told stories about specific places, what kind of fish could be found in the waters, where the worst shoals were, what manner of people lived there. He spoke of the shipments that were sent on the boats, and by whom. They worked until midday supper, which they ate together, often there was cold rabbit, turnips, and beer out of a pail prepared for them by Sillith. Afterwards, each left to tend his chores.
Paramon told them, “This is the true education, all of us learning at once.”
Liny asked, “What is Tislar learning, if he is the one talking?”
“He is learning how you and I learn. He is learning how best to teach us.”
The mornings stretched between the three of them as they sat or sprawled in the clearing. That long summer season, into the golden autumn, they were a familiar morning sight, the three of them, reading from books, or gesturing, their voices constant among the bickering chickens, chopping of wood and other morning chores. As time went on, Maynard sometimes joined them, and occasionally Onan and Wen, who took regular lessons from Paramon on reading, but liked to spend some mornings listening and watching the others in their talk.
Once, Paramon invited Mithic Tallo. He warned Liny the day before, saying, “I know he’s a difficult man, but he has a lot of cartography knowledge, and one must take all opportunities to learn.” Liny looked doubtful but agreed.
Tislar said mildly, “I think you’ll learn more if I don’t attend. Man hates me for some reason,” and winked at Liny.
Tallo appeared the next morning dressed strangely (in what Paramon, with shock, recognized as his university clothes), bearing a large pile of books and maps.
Without a word, Mithic straightened his clothes, smoothed his hair, put his arms out in front of him, shook his cuffs, and began speaking, looking out and over Liny and Paramon’s heads.
The lecture went on for some time. Mithic performed as if for an audience. His knowledge was impressive and organized, and he delivered it with timed chuckles, asides as if to a nearby assistant, and grand gestures of his hands.
Liny took notes at first, and after a while, set aside his slate and listened. He became increasingly restless, glanced at Paramon with a frown. Paramon nodded in agreement. After almost an hour passed, Liny sighed, took up his slate and began erasing it. Mithic, seeing this, paused and stumbled over a date.
“What are you wiping off that slate, young man?”
Liny, surprised, said, “Is that your concern?”
“I’ve just given you important information, and you haven’t had time to study it.” Paramon watched, eyebrows raised.
Liny said, “I’d only written a few things down, and they didn’t seem important.”
“Not important!” Mithic threw his hands into the air. “Of all the arrogant. . .”
“Why should I know the exact dates?” Liny gestured at the slate and stood. He was already taller and more muscular then Tallo, and he frowned down at the agitated professor.
“For chronological history,” Tallo spat, “for proper sequence of events!”
Liny shook his head, “But each discovery led to the next discovery, so it’s more important to see it as one continuous event, isn’t it? Isn’t that the point here, to see the way man spreads and spreads himself across the land and sea, and to know about the major discoveries he makes as he goes, adding to his knowledge? Do we need to know how long it took each time? Don’t we have the maps, now, to measure the time for ourselves? Isn’t the course of time going to be altered by weather and captain’s personality, and other unforeseeable events anyhow?
‘We’re part of the unfolding right here. Right now, aren’t we? You talk about all of this as though it’s complete. But it’s a moving study. It may be different,” Liny shook his head and waved his hand in the air dismissively, “in the city, maybe you need to know all those dates for some reason, but I don’t need the dates. I just need to know what was discovered. ”
Tallo stood erect, red-faced with outrage. He snapped at Paramon, who was laughing. “Insurrection is no laughing matter. Your student is refusing to study pertinent facts.”
Paramon shook his head casually, saying, “He’s been studying philosophy. You can’t imagine how often it gets in the way of his more practical lessons.”
Liny stood, waiting for his point to be addressed by Tallo.
Tallo turned to him, jabbing his long finger in the air, “For your information, young man, these predecessors have staked their lives, their reputations, their family names, as I have, for the sake of these discoveries. It is our duty, our obligation to remember their sacrifice by name and date.”
“I’m not convinced,” Liny said.
Tallo cried, “You won’t even know when they lived!”
“I know that they lived, and why.” Liny said, “Thanks for the lecture, I’m off to swim.” He stopped and turned back. “You’re a strange teacher. You like answers better than questions. Paramon always says that teaching is about raising questions.” He shrugged at Paramon, waved and strolled into the shadowed woods.
Tallo turned to Paramon. “He’s a disgrace!”
“He’s a true student,” said Paramon, “who thinks for himself.”
Mithic shook out his cuffs again. “He has no protocol.”
“An island boy,” said Paramon sternly, “wouldn’t have any protocol, would he?”
Mithic’s eyes narrowed. “You call this a school?”
“No, I don’t. I teach them to read and write, and invite them to think for themselves. Why don’t you lend us some of your books? Maynard’s and mine are turning to sand with all these hungry readers.”
“Never,” Mithic said, grimacing.
“As you wish,” said Paramon. He stood and picked up Liny’s erased slate and his jaw was tight. “But Liny made a good point about you. Why were you a teacher? You don’t like people much. You certainly don’t know how to make them like you. I was trying to do you a favor, inviting you here to work with my best student. You treated him like he was merely a vessel for adoration. You weren’t even talking to him. Are you surprised that you haven’t a single friend on this island? Does it once occur to you that this is your fault, and none other? I wish I’d known you better, Mithic Tallo, before I agreed to come to an island where I’d have to witness your appalling behavior on a daily basis. I might have thought twice.” They stared at each other, Mithic’s mouth open in surprise. “Why don’t you go back to the city, Mithic? Leave Svan with us, for we love her. But you, none of us would miss. Not a single soul.”
At this, Tallo turned and stalked into the sun, stiff-legged with fury.
Tislar and Annak took regular evening walks. They walked all the way to the north side of the island, sometimes, now that Annak did not feel as though she had to hide. They talked, or walked in thoughtful silence, which Annak broke one night, saying, “Who is that?”
Ahead of them, in the dark silhouette of dusk’s light, a girl sat in the midst of a crowd of huddled ducks, their bodies and hers making distinct shapes, marks on the horizon.
“Sillith. Cataloguing ducks.”
“She looks like part of the land and sky itself, doesn’t she?”
Sillith, hearing, turned, and Annak called out, “Just like your mother! Always among the birds!”
Sillith rose, her body against the horizon and Tislar quoted, “And in the wretched light/rose the table’s rustic divinity.”
“What is that you’re quoting?” Annak asked as they approached Sillith.
“I don’t know,” said Tislar, “it was something Eckel always recited when he saw something mysteriously beautiful.” Sillith stood and waited for them.
As they neared, the ducks guttered their complaints before taking off in a swoop of wings. Sillith said, “It looked like you all rose right out of the land, the way you appeared like that.”
Annak exclaimed, “We just said that about you!”
“A trick of the light,” Sillith suggested, and shrugged.
“You are ever the scientist,” Tislar said, “Wouldn’t you prefer to think some mystical awakening occurred as we all came upon one another?”
She looked at him with her clear green eyes, frowning, and said, “Of course I’d prefer it, but it doesn’t seem all that likely, does it, when light could as easily be to blame?”
Annak laughed, “What is likely and unlikely, young Sillith, remains to be seen. That is one thing I’ve learned in my life.”