Radenth 29, 1013
Finally, Geoffrey had some time alone with his book.
Well–not his. The book he had borrowed. Mistress Lancaster had been kind enough to let him take it home with him after he had expressed more interest in what she had been saying about it than the rest of the class combined. She was probably just grateful for a kindred spirit.
He knew the piece was supposed to be for their religious instruction. It was a parable written for the heathen Glasonlanders … well, back when they were still heathens, when the faith was still being spread. Some said it had been penned by St. Darren himself. That was why it was in this book, with many other examples of works written and said to be written by him.
Geoffrey supposed that made sense. This poem was based on a dream. And St. Darren was Darren the Dreamer.
It was a strange dream, though: a dream of the cross on which St. Robert had hung before he died. Geoffrey knew, guiltily, that he ought to be focusing on the true meaning of the text, on what the vision meant, on what St. Robert’s sacrifice meant for all Wrightians. But he couldn’t.
He was too entranced by the language.
Enough of foes, forsooth, fastened me there.
All those foes might I lay low, yet firm I stood.
I trembled when the Hero clasped me.
Geoffrey stopped there, just for a moment. That line — it was a line describing an execution, horrible torture. But it didn’t sound that way. Pluck it out, put it in another context, and it was the sigh of a maiden remembering her lost love.
Was it supposed to sound that way? Geoffrey knew that nobody else in the class had thought so — and he would have known, because there would have been giggling all over the room if anybody else had come to that interpretation. Instead there had been mostly sighs — of the bored, not enthralled, type. And there were a few students who watched the proceedings with wide eyes … but they were the type who always got overly worked-up over their religious instruction, and nobody paid much attention to them.
Was there something wrong with Geoffrey for seeing that? For thinking that? Was it impious? He hoped not … there couldn’t be anything improper, not when it was — well — a tree that was talking.
… He hoped …
The door suddenly flew open, and Captain Andavri — the Cap’n — slid in. “Hey, Geoff! You almost ready? The cat’s away–”
Geoffrey yelped, but luckily he had the presence of mind to shove the book under the mattress before the Cap’n could get a good look at it.
The Cap’n stopped and blinked mild blue eyes at Geoffrey. “Ought I to have knocked?” he asked.
“What? Oh … no. Sorry–you–you just startled me.” Geoffrey smiled nervously.
The Cap’n watched him with one eyebrow raised.
“Um–what were you saying?” Geoffrey asked, his cheeks burning.
“Well,” the Cap’n started, “I was just wondering if you were ready to go. ‘Cause, you know, the cat–bein’ your grandmother–since she had to go take tea with your aunt, your mother and I decided that it would be fun to take you and your brother and sister out for a treat.”
“Oh,” Geoffrey replied, something like relief rushing through him. It meant that he probably wouldn’t get a chance to read his book again until … Lord only knew when … but in comparison to what the Cap’n might have been saying … “That sounds fun. Where are we,” he swung his feet to the floor, “going?”
But before the Cap’n could answer, the mattress shifted, ever so slightly, under Geoffrey’s weight.
And the book fell to the floor with a clatter.
The Cap’n’s eyebrows went up again — and Geoffrey heard himself shout, before he could think better of it, “It’s not what it looks like!”
“Oh, boy,” the Cap’n murmured. “Look, Geoff — growin’ up with a passel of women as you have been, it wouldn’t be surprising to me if you’ve got some of the wrong ideas. What you were doin’ –”
“–is normal, is natural, and believe me, if you were to go blind doin’ it, why, there wouldn’t be a sailor on this earth who could see past the nose on his face–”
“What? Nooo!” Geoffrey moaned. He thought he would have been in for it if his grandmother caught him with the book, but this — this was worse!
“Now, now, I’m just settin’ you straight on some of the facts of life — good Lord, if you southlanders did that more often, you’d all have so many less hang-ups!”
“It’s a book!” cried Geoffrey. “I was reading a book!”
“And why not?” asked the Cap’n. “They’ve got some good ones, these days. Nice woodcuts. Why, I saw one the other day with–”
“Noo! Not that kind of book! This–here! I’ll show you!” Geoffrey dove under the bed, retrieved the precious book, and handed it up to the Cap’n.
The Cap’n took it gently, with some of the reverence any true book ought to receive. He carefully flipped through the vellum pages. As he did so, his brows furrowed more and more. Finally, after what seemed an age, he handed the book back to Geoffrey. “Well, as the Remans say — there’s no accounting for taste.”
Geoffrey’s cheeks burned. He liked the Cap’n; he wasn’t his father by any stretch of the imagination, but he made Geoffrey’s mother smile, and he actually was willing to listen to Geoffrey and Henry and Pippa, not just to get in with Blanche either, but for themselves, Geoffrey dared to think. To have the Cap’n obviously think less of him for his reading habits —
Then he realized what the Cap’n really was trying to say, and he moaned. “No! No, I wasn’t doing that! I was just reading!”
The Cap’n shot him a look that started as, Yeah, and I hear you’ve got some oceanfront property in the Dousa Desert you’d like to sell me. Then, instantly, it cleared. “St. Robert on a llama — you mean it, kid!”
Geoffrey breathed a sigh of relief.
He should have known it wouldn’t last. “What’s the matter with you, Geoff? You’re thirteen! You should be doing that every time you get five minutes and a room to yourself!”
Geoffrey’s jaw dropped and he felt himself turning red again–if he had ever stopped being red–and not least because, well, sometimes, when he did have five minutes and a room to himself …
“And, more importantly …” The Cap’n laid a hand on Geoffrey’s shoulder and smiled at him. A real smile, a gentle smile. “What’s all the guilt for? It’s a book. A good book. Why, I know Sorcha and Bart would be praisin’ to the skies any child of theirs who they caught reading a book.” He added, snorting, “They think Jack should be reading a good many more books, I know that — and not just the kind with woodcuts, either.”
“I …” Geoffrey looked helplessly at the Cap’n. Finally he shrugged. “I don’t know.”
His stomach twisted when he said that. Because he did know. But it wasn’t the lying — well, it wasn’t only the lying — that made him upset. He was taking the coward’s way out, because though he knew, he couldn’t find the words. Not words that the Cap’n would understand.
That burned him more than anything. Because words, he was beginning to sense, were important — and not having the right ones … he wanted the right ones. He wanted that more than–more than almost anything.
Through all of it, the Cap’n kept watching him with his head tilted to one side and an appraising look in his eye. Then, without warning, he grabbed the chair from the desk, turned it around, and plunked himself down on it. “Talk to me, lad.”
“What? But don’t we have to go?”
The Cap’n snorted. “Like that’s important. Nah, it can wait. Your mother will understand, of all people.”
“But Henry … Pippa …”
The Cap’n again tilted his head to one side. “You know what I think would be good for you, Geoff?”
“For you to stop thinking about Henry and Pippa — and even your mother — for five minutes, and to just think about Geoff.”
Just think about himself? But wasn’t that selfish?
Not for five minutes,said the voice of rebellion in his head. Geoffrey knew that voice well. He usually strove to ignore it.
But with the Cap’n smiling at him in that encouraging way, Geoffrey decided that no harm would come of giving into the voice, just this once, and only for five minutes.
“Well …” He scratched his head. “What–what do you want to know?”
“Whatever you want to tell me, kid,” replied the Cap’n. “But if you insist on an answer … I’ll settle for why you think a book of St. Darren’s poetry was the kind of dangerous contraband you have to shove under the mattress.” The Cap’n hesitated a moment, then added, “And by the way — given the way this bed’s constructed, with the ropes and all — if you do have to be hiding dangerous contraband, try hiding it under the pillow. Or, better yet, make a hole in the mattress you can get stuff in and out of.”
“You’re telling me how to get away with hiding things?” Geoffrey groaned.
“No offense, Geoff — but clearly, somebody’s gotta. And I’m sure your mother will thank me. Because, of course, like a good big brother, you’ll be sharing this information with Henry, who will doubtless have more dangerous contraband to hide than you, and, well …” The Cap’n pointed up. “If his hiding place is no better than yours, you, my boy, are going to end up with many a concussion.”
Geoffrey looked up and instantly saw the Cap’n’s point. He would be sharing the strategy with Henry post-haste. And then trying very hard to forget he had done so.
“So, tell me, kid — what’s so bad about poetry?”
Geoffrey sighed and finally found an answer. It wasn’t the whole answer, but it was a start. “The–the book isn’t mine.”
The Cap’n’s eyebrows went up.
“I didn’t steal it! I’m just borrowing it!”
“Mistress Lancaster said I could!”
The Cap’n opened his mouth, then he shut it again. “Geoff …” He ran a hand over his face. “Don’t act so guilty,” he sighed. “Look, I know a thing or two about thirteen-year-old boys — and a boy who was acting as guilty was you were? Even I thought you might have been guilty. You act like that, and somebody — and by somebody I mean your grandmother — is going to think …”
“I know,” Geoffrey sighed. “That’s part of the reason why I don’t want her to find out.”
“Well, if that strategy works, it’ll work — and if it doesn’t, it really won’t work, if you get what I’m saying. But if you’re borrowing this book with full permission, then why the guilt, my lad?”
“I … I guess because …” He threw his hands out and shrugged. “Well … Grandma …”
“Oh boy,” the Cap’n whispered under his breath — and winked.
“She wouldn’t approve,” Geoffrey muttered. “She doesn’t even want me in school anymore. She keeps telling Mum I ought to quit and be their apprentice.”
“And do you agree?”
“No! I …” Geoffrey shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck. “I like school.”
“You act like that’s a capital crime, kid.”
“I …” He sighed. “Well … she’s probably right. I mean … what else can they really teach me that’s .. useful? I already know my letters and my sums, and … and what else do I really need to know?”
“What else do you want to know?” asked the Cap’n, turning the tables on him.
Geoffrey stared. He couldn’t answer that.
Not for lack of response, though. More like for lack of a place to begin. What did he want to learn? What didn’t he want to learn? Poetry, literature, history — rhetoric and logic — even arithmetic and geometry and astronomy and music — he wanted to know it all. And he wanted to be a part of the world where that kind of knowledge was allowed to grow and thrive, and not be dismissed as “silly” or “useless,” as people like his grandmother would dismiss it.
He remembered what Freddy had said about Camford. Freddy had been more focused on his own studies, but he had talked about the writers, the philosophers, the theologians …
“But that’s stupid,” Geoffrey muttered.
“What’s stupid?” asked the Cap’n.
“Camford,” replied Geoffrey. “Well … not Camford. But–it’s stupid for me to think about it. Because it’s not like I’d ever go there.”
“Boys like me don’t go to Camford.”
“Says who?” asked the Cap’n. “After all, Jack’s not that different from you, and he’ll be going to Camford if Sorcha has to move heaven and earth to do it. Banana and Benji, too.”
Geoffrey blinked at the Cap’n, and in a sudden flash of insight, he realized why it was that his grandmother didn’t like the Cap’n, why the Cap’n was so different from every other person he knew. It all boiled down to that simple, two-word question he’d asked Geoffrey:
Most people — his grandmother certainly — didn’t live that way. They never asked why not. It was a stretch to get them to ask why. Who and what and how — sometimes when and where — those were the questions they were content to ask. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to do it? They never scratched deeper than that.
But if you approached the world from a frame of why not like the Cap’n did — then your horizons broadened. Then suddenly the whole world was yours to conquer. You could see people, go places, do things, the way you couldn’t if your whole world wasn’t bounded by the alleys off one little street in one Glasonlander town.
No wonder his mother wanted a life of why not, a life that the Cap’n lived and breathed. And the more time he spent with the Cap’n … the more Geoffrey wanted that kind of life too.
But how were you supposed to get it?
“But …” Geoffrey murmured. “How would I afford that? And–and I’d have to go to the cathedral school. To prepare. How would I afford that?”
The Cap’n scratched his head. “Well, I could give you a spiel about hard work, and paying your own way, and earning your keep, and all that rot — but I’ve got a shortcut. What are rich uncles for?”
“Uncle Richard?” Geoffrey blanched.
“Or your Uncle Joshua. I know I’m not picky,” the Cap’n shrugged.
“Why would either of them want to pay for my education?” Geoffrey asked.
The Cap’n ducked his head and smiled. “Ever hear of an investment, kid?”
“Of course I–” Geoffrey stopped as the rest of the thought assembled. “Invest in me? Why would they do that?”
But he was asking the wrong question, wasn’t he? Wasn’t the better question why not?
The Cap’n proved it by asking that selfsame question. “Why not, kid? You’re their nephew. It’s always good to have a few more educated people in the family — it helps to pull everybody up. And tell me, where’s the downside in that?”
“But–but what if …” Geoffrey cringed, but the question had to be asked. “What if I don’t–pay off?”
“That’s why it’s called an investment, kid, and not a ‘sure thing’ or ‘done deal’ — sometimes it doesn’t work out. But let me tell you something. You’re bright, you’re eager, you’re willing to learn — and you’re awfully young. You could be a diamond — you just need a bit of polishing up. But how are you going to know if you don’t try?”
Geoffrey thought that the Cap’n might — just might — have a point. But he wasn’t done yet.
“And let me tell you something else, kid. You know what you want. And you owe it to yourself to chase it. Because if you don’t — then what, tell me, are you living for? The Lord didn’t put us on this earth to be blind little earthworms, burrowing through the soil, ‘doing our duty.’ I know that’s what some monks say, but it’s not true. The Lord already made the earthworms, so why would He want us to do what the earthworms could do better? Nah, kid. He put us here to be Sims. And that means trying to reach our full potential. Now, I’ve showed you a way — the only question is, do you have the Will?”
Geoffrey gulped. “I–well–” He took a deep breath. “Do you think — do you think I could get Mum on my side?”
“Geoff, do you think your mother loves you?”
“Aye, that’s what I thought, kid.” The Cap’n stood and pushed the chair back. “Now — enough of this. I’ve given you enough to think about for one day, and if I don’t get us to get a move on, then your brother and sister might just explode from the excitement — and we wouldn’t want that.”
Geoffrey laughed and stood. “Aye. Thank — thank you, Cap’n.” He extended a hand, intending to make it a handshake, man-to-man.
And it started as a handshake — but after the hands met, somehow — it turned into something that was half-handshake, half-hug.
Geoffrey found it hard to have a problem with that.
Without a further word, only a wink from the Cap’n, they headed downstairs. Geoffrey took the stairs first, and so he was the first to hear Henry call out: “There you are! It took you long enough! Come on, let’s go!”
Geoffrey also saw his mother turn around. “Ah–there you …” Her brows furrowed, and she looked from Geoffrey to the Cap’n and back again. “Is everything all right?”
“Is everythin’ all right?” the Cap’n answered — or asked — for Geoffrey. “Is everythin’ all right? I’m taking her and the kiddies bowling, and she asks if everything’s all right?”
The Cap’n crossed the room in a few long strides — he could move quickly when the mood struck him. “Of course,” he answered Blanche, “everything’s all right. Everything’s peachy. But …” He leaned forward and kissed Blanche. “Your son will be having something to discuss with you, when you get home.”
Blanche turned to Geoffrey with a quizzical look. Geoffrey tried to smile.
He had the way, he forced himself to remember. He just needed the Will.
And, Wright Willing … the Will he would have.