Teacher’s Price

Summer: 14 years at the Monestary, Spring, the day after attempting to fly

Master Ikthan stood in the bedroom doorway, his cold disapproval smothering what warmth Sunar and his friends had felt. The other boys gave Sunar quick glances of sympathy and fear, nodded, reached out to touch him for support, then quickly left the room while trying, without success, to look like they weren’t fleeing.

Their teacher waited until the other boys had gone, then sat down next to him, leaned toward him slightly, and stared for what felt like an eternity.

He started to fidget under that gaze, but fought to keep himself still. The pain brought by movement helped.

At last, Ikthan laced his fingers together, put his elbows on his knees, and spoke, “You will be leaving us, Sunar.”

He felt ice flow through his veins. People occasionally had to be removed from the Monestary, but for this?

The Master continued, seemingly unaware of the near panic his words had caused. “One day. This place is not one for you to live your entire life, as your parents have done, and as your sister and your friends will probably do. It will be a few years, of course, and no one will make you go, but go you will. There are things you need to learn about yourself which only you can teach, and you won’t find the stimulus you need for those lessons here. There are things about community, about what we have built here, that you must learn, but which you will not properly understand until you have contrasted what is here to what is out there. And there are other reasons, many of them, which will push you to leave.

“I had suspected for some time that this would be the case, and your foolishness in attempting to fly without consulting anyone, as well as your unwillingness to trust myself, your mother, or your father with your secret proved my suspicions.” Ikthan made a small soothing motion with his right hand. “I would have you stay if I could, but to do so would deprive you of your growth, and possibly deprive the world outside of the things that you will do. The only thing I can do, that we -this community and your family- can do, is prepare you as best we can.”

The words ceased for a moment, and Sunar let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He’d expected to be roundly chewed out in that calm, quiet way that only The Teacher could manage, but that didn’t seem to be the plan. He blinked several times, and allowed himself to feel some pride that he had kept his face passive.

After a moment, his teacher visibly came to a decision, sat up straight, put hands on knees, and spoke in a firm voice. “You will begin new classes tomorrow. You will learn about the world outside the monastery, and how things work there: money, laws, more training on their technology, all of it. I also encourage you to speak with those among us who joined our community later in life. Ask them why they chose to come here, and what things are like out there. You will need to know. I just hope that, one day, you will return to us.”

Sunar blinked, and realized he had begun to cry, though he had no idea why. He wanted to speak, to tell his mentor that he would never leave, but he couldn’t form words. He had expected to be chastised, not… this.

The Master’s gaze hardened, and Sunar braced himself. Master Ikthan’s voice changed, became cold as the night snow and hard as the mountain; “I expected better of you than this. Your parents and I have discussed this, trying to decide if we should confront you, watching to see when you would start to test your wings, wondering when you would come to talk to us. Part of me wants to apologize to you for over-estimating your wisdom, and not stepping in.” He shook his head, “You are, at the same time, both my wisest, and most foolish, pupil. You had the patience to spend years, in fact, most of your life, working on those wings. You possess the ability to do so without consulting anyone, and succeed, yet you do not have the wisdom to test yourself properly, to learn necessary skills, or even to realize how new skills are learned, and therefore to learn to fly in proper, small steps. “

He winced inside, watching his teacher’s eyebrows come down hard. The Master’s voice took on an edge. “Did it even occur to you that, when you fly, your entire weight is going to be hanging from those wings? That you needed to ensure they would be able strong enough to hold you? I watched you on your skiis this winter, watched you carefully keep your wings from catching air as you got up to speed. Did it never occurred to you that if they could not handle the wind from skiing, they would not be able to handle your weight when flying? Did you never pay attention to any of your classes, to any of the times where you were taught, or were teaching someone else, a new skill?”

“What would you have done if, the first time you started teaching your sister how to climb, she had tried to climb one of the highest walls?”

Tears stung Sunar’s eyes at the thought and he looked down in shame as memories of stopping her from doing just that before she had been ready flooded through his mind.

Master Ikthan relaxed slightly, watching the boy’s expressions. “Ah, now you see. This has ever been the problem with you. Always pushing ahead, never understanding the difference between pushing your limits and pushing your luck. Maybe we should have let you push too far, too fast, more often. Let you fail harder, and more painfully, except that would have likely ended up with permanent injury.”

Sunar forced his eyes up, forced himself to meet that terrible gaze.

Ikthan’s own eyes narrowed, and his mouth formed a tight line, “Ah, there it is. Now I understand why you didn’t come to us. You knew, some part of you knew, that you were not ready to fly. I had thought it was your pride, again, in the way, that you wanted to show us all up by doing this, or your fear that we would stop you, but no, it is none of those. It is that rare form of impatience you have, the impatience with your own progress.”

For the first time since entering the room, the master looked away. He studied the floor by his right foot for a few moments, then snapped his head up and resumed eye contact. “This is something you must learn….” He grew silent for a moment, then suddenly sat up ramrod straight. “There is nothing further any of us can do to teach you that lesson.” He gestured down the length of his bed, “If this does not teach you some caution, that we are trying to protect you, rather than limit you, then nothing will, and I will not be able to stop you from hurting yourself.

“So, learn the lesson, and learn it well. I will instruct all of the teachers in the Monastery. No one is to hold you back any longer. You wish to try something far out of your depth, go ahead. No one will stop you. The only limits will be the ones you place on yourself.” He sat back, studying his student for several seconds, then went on. “That said, if you show wisdom with this new found freedom, and keep from injuring yourself, then you will fly, one day. We will help you, we will strengthen you, and tell you what you should do to test yourself, and will help you to know when you are ready.

“However, if you wish to climb into that window tomorrow and jump, no one will stop you. If you do, however, I suggest let us know you plan to, so we can have someone on hand to pull you out before you drown in the pool.” He stood, gave a single nod of his head to the boy, and left swiftly.

A warm glow of joy filled Sunar’s chest. No more limits, no more being held back. He felt a lightness, as if a weight he hadn’t realized he had been chafing under had suddenly been lifted, and he rose to tell Sierra.

His body screamed in protest. It took all of his will to keep from screaming out loud. Master Ikthan’s parting words came back to him, and he saw himself for a moment, unconscious in the pool, wings permanently broken, and the dangers of his new freedom stood out starkly in his mind.

His mother came in a moment later, gave him some herbal tea, and told him to sleep.

He obeyed, grateful for her comfort, and as the darkness took him, he tried to convince himself that the shaking had come from the pain, and not from fear.

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