Wow…got a bit dusty in here.
Highlights of the last 364 days, in no particular order:
– I received Grace. Actually, my wife did most of the work, but result was the same. She’s currently sporting a large, ugly scrape under her right eye and a big shiner, the result of being smaller than our exceptionally dumb dog, and too slow to get out of the way. There’s a metaphor there, but fuck it, I’m not going to do all the work for you.
(Okay, I lied, that was in a very particular order, I could’ve spent the rest of the year in a Matrix-style gooey-bath coma, or as the judge for the coke and hooker olympics, and this still would have been the most important thing that happened to me, and the first thing to mention.)
– I worked on what may be the most critically-reviled major-launch, AAA game of the last 10 years. Woohoo.
– We rescued a momma-cat and some kittens (she wasn’t much more than a kitten herself), and while one has found a home, we’re still surrounded, and quickly running out of food.
– My Boo became a little girl, started real school, and broke my heart every time I looked at her.
– I started writing again, after a too-fucking-long absence, which includes this blog (which is actually still being maintained, dumbfounding me).
– I had the greatest anniversary in the history of anniversaries, and dare anyone to try and say otherwise.
There was a lot of bad shit too, mostly to do with money, but I’m not going to dignify any of it by listing it out. Suffice to say, when the revolution comes, I will be amongst the fuckers lining folks up against the wall, and not one of the fuckers actually up against the wall. My goal, oddly enough, is to reverse that.
And now, as an early gift for the final year of the decade…
Speaking of, if you disagree, and think the decade ends tonight, do me a favor and close your eyes and count to ten. Did you start off, “Zero, One, Two…”? No? Then put on your big boy pants and apply a lesson from one part of your life to another. The next decade starts in 201ONE, not 201ZERO. Jesus…
Where was I? Oh, yeah, an early gift. An early draft. Please excuse the passive voice, it’s there purely as placeholder so I can get past a tricky spot and remember to come back and do some actual writing there later on.
Jared knew the man was approaching from behind while he was still a ways off. He was tightening his packs, making sure they were properly balanced, and could hear the footsteps approaching, a steady shuffling in the gravel contrasting with the chaos of he and his men getting ready to leave. A quick glance in the polished surface of the bike’s muffler showed a shape approaching. It was an imperfect reflection, but it was easy enough to make out the crimson robe and large golden cowl. Especially when he’d spent so much of his childhood surrounded by priests dressed the same way.
He gave the leather straps one final yank, making sure they were tight and secure, and addressed the approaching priest without turning around.
“Was there something else Father?”
He heard the stutter of nervous feet coming to a sudden stop. He turned around and found the priest staring at him, wringing his hands. Jared could see that the old man was flustered; he knew it was difficult enough for the people living in these outlying towns to muster the courage to speak directly to him (on the rare occasions when they were close enough to be heard at all). But this man was a priest, and so knew the not-so-secret secret of his Sight, and must now be wondering if Jared had somehow divined his approach, had known it would happen before the idea had even occurred to the old man.
The presence of the Sight in even the humblest, poorest of boys was a scary enough unknown to drive a rational train of thought from most men’s minds. And Jared was not humble, and not poor, and no longer a boy. And he had to catch himself here—he realized he was frowning, which would not help put the old man at ease.
This happened more often than he would like: people assuming that any insight or observation he made was the result of the Sight, rather than simple attentiveness. Like paying attention to the sounds around him, and glancing at a nearby reflection. It did have its uses; people were less inclined than usual to question him when he offered his opinion or gave a command, even considering who he was and the role he would someday have to assume. But he didn’t always enjoy it.
He consciously set aside his long-enduring frustration and smiled at the old man, waiting for him to speak.
“No, Your Royal Highness. Um, I mean, I had…
“There’s a boy here.”
And there the priest stopped, either too overcome with nerves to continue or just assuming that the Prince would know exactly what he was talking about from so few words, because of the Sight. And Jared thought he did know; again, not from the Sight, jus a bit of intuition and self-awareness.
“There are many boys here, from the looks of it. I’m guessing you mean that there’s one particular boy here, and he’s just joined you, and is having a difficult time of it?”
“Yes, Your Royal Highness.”
“And you were wondering if I would speak with the boy before I leave?”
“Yes, Your Royal Highness.”
“Well then, give me a moment and we’ll be off.”
Jared turned and walked towards his guard, who were still readying their bikes as he had been a moment ago, and called out to his Captain.
“Matthias! Small delay here.”
A small man, barely older than Jared himself, stepped away from the other men-at-arms, grinning wickedly.
“Have we insufficiently pillaged here?”
“No, your evil ways have been quite sufficient. There’s just something I need to attend to before we leave.”
“The crown must weight heavy on someone so dull and infirm.”
“The crown part is easy, despite my lack of wits. This is a different matter.”
Matthias noticed the priest standing near his Prince’s ride, and his next question was more serious.”
“Is everything okay? Should I rouse Canaan?”
Jared looked over at his own priest, already astride his own motorcycle and dozing, the stains on his robe of last night’s food and drink—especially drink—clear in the morning sun.
“No, the matter’s not with me. No need to wake the poor thing.”
Matthias was visibly relieved. It had been nearly two years since the last time the Sight had overcome his Prince, and he was due another Fit at any time. It was why he had argued against this visit to the outlying towns when they were first setting out two months ago, and why he was in such good spirits now that their tour was nearly at an end. They were only a few days’ ride from home, where Jared could be properly cared for—in private—when his next Fit inevitably came.
“Alright, then,” he said, “Will you be long? Should the men stand down and ready to take another meal here?”
Jared shook his head. “This should take only a moment.”
He turned back to the priest and waved in the direction of the Care-Keep, its spire clearly visible on the other side of the town.
“Lead on, Father.”
The priest nodded and began walking back towards the Care-Keep, a nervous shuffling that suggested a great deal more urgency and speed than was actually translated to his pace. Jared found it easy to keep up with him, asking a few questions as he passed through the town, observing the life unfolding around him, seeking an understanding that came from him mind, rather than his curse.
“How old is the boy, Father?”
“Twelve this past summer, Your Royal Highness.”
Twelve was a bit old to be first afflicted by the Sight; it normally accompanied the first of a boy’s physical changes, around ten years of age, so it made sense that this one would be having a more difficult time than most accepting his fate. He must have thought himself too old, clearly past the point where the Sight would have struck him, and thus safe from it. It would have been a shock to find himself cursed after all.
Jared paid attention to the people around him as they walked through the main street—unpaved but the gravel well tended, many of the shop fronts actually open and doing a small business, both for those who lived here and those who were passing through—and noted that there were a number of children about, many helping their parents, many others playing with each other.
It was a good sign; the droughts of three years ago were finally a memory, and as the weather was now growing chill, the days shorter, the people of this town—and the others they had passed through on their journey—were already finished with the harvest, and had time to make proper preparations for the winter, as well as celebrate the joy that sufficient food could bring. The past years had seen too many families desperately working until the first snowfall, and sometimes even after, trying to scrape together enough sustenance that they might have a chance to survive the winter months. This was life as it was meant to be lived, not endured, and that would have made things even more difficult for the boy when the Sight came to him: not only was he supposedly too old, and thus safely past it, but he would have been enjoying this unexpected Good Year with his family and friends…only to have that suddenly ripped away from him.
He followed the priest to the other end of the main street and through the arched doorway into the nave of the Care-Keep, pausing as the sudden change in light left him momentarily blind. As his eyes adjusted, he took a moment to reach out and actively use his Sight to get a feel for the place.
It was empty. Not of people—he could feel the priest, just ahead and to the right of him, also waiting for his vision to adjust to the dim indoors. He could also pick out the other two priests of this Care-Keep elsewhere in the building, quiet and unmoving, probably sleeping late; this was a small town, and the three of them would be plenty to attend to everyone’s needs. There was a hot spot of activity further away, towards the rear of the building, likely the non-ordained help, responsible for cooking and cleaning and everything else that needed doing to keep things working as they should while the priests attended to their sacred duties. And somewhere directly ahead of him was a blinding glow: likely the boy he was to speak with, still burning intensely in the aftermath of his first Fit, and the onset of his Sight.
But nevertheless, the Care-Keep was empty. Layers upon layers of psychic dust everywhere, long undisturbed. The boy was likely the first in this town in a long time to require the priests’ attention, and in the intervening years, the priests had grown lazy, and quiet, attending to their other duties—to the town and people within it—as a series of chores, performed by rote, rather than the sacred obligation they were.
Jared found himself growing more and more angry. Spiritually, there was no difference between this Care-Keep and an old abandoned barn. Except that barn would harbor them memories of the simple births, life and deaths that had happened within its shelter in years past. Here, there was nothing. It was a miracle that the rest of the town throbbed so with life, with its heart so dead and cold.
Jared decided to mention this to Canaan, and make sure, once he returned home, that the boy was brought to a different Care-Keep, even if it meant leaving his town and family behind—as though the onset of the Sight didn’t do that job well enough, wherever the boy ended up living—to a place where he’d actually receive the care and instruction he needed.
Shapes grew out of the darkness as his eyes became accustomed to the low light, and he could see the priest already making his way into the main hall, not even waiting to see if his Prince was following him. Another burst of anger at the insolence, added to the clear dereliction of duty here. He took a deep breath and tried to set it aside, knowing it wouldn’t help him with the boy, and went after the priest.
He could see the boy immediately, sitting by himself near the front, staring blankly at the altar or an indeterminate point somewhere beyond. He was taller than Jared had expected, though he corrected himself: the boy was nearly two years older than most when the Sight came to them, of course he’d be tall, already in the midst of sprouting to his full adult height.
He didn’t approach the boy immediately—just because the priests here were criminally lax in their service didn’t mean that Jared had to follow their lead—and instead walked past him, directly to the altar.
He knelt, bowing his head, emptying his mind, reaching out with his Sight to encompass the altar, the Care-Keep, and the entire town in his no-mind attention, as he’d been taught so many years before. And then opening his heart to them all.
And in the quiet whisper and thrum that was the coursing life of the town, he discovered his anger again; it had turned inward (as it so often did), but this time with cause. Who was he to be judgemental of the priests when he’d also failed in his duties? He’d been so concerned with the primary reasons for his trip here and the other towns as Prince—accounting, reviewing the magistrate’s plans for seeking out and stopping the illegal mining operations that tended to spring up here near the border’s of his father’s lands—that he hadn’t visited the Care-Keep himself before now, just a few hasty moments of prayer and meditation with Canaan by the fire before sleep, and likely wouldn’t have even thought to enter this building at all had the priest not approached him. His responsibility was not to observe and pass judgement on others’ piety; setting aside his parents and secular destiny, as a man with the Sight, it was his role to serve, to tend to his own soul and those of the people around him, wherever he might be. And in that he had failed. The inability of this Care-Keep and its priests to properly serve its people—with or without a boy of the Sight to attend to—was a sadness. That he was only just now noticing, and absent the involvement of the very people he’d been so quick to condemn: that was a sin, and something only he could redress.
Having found the seed of his anger, he embraced it, named I, and in doing so robbed it of its power over him. He was free again to once more reach out to the town, this time with his whole, unemcumbered heart. He felt the dust begin to stir, then blow away. It was more than he could do to fully restore life to this Care-Keep and the town it served—much more than a dozen Sighted men could do in the brief time he had—but he could at least lay the paths for the work to come later.
He exhaled deeply, concluding the ritual, and opened his eyes. As he reached out to the dried Hiaku leaves in the bowl on the alter before him, taking one and crushing it over the phalanx of candles, scatter the dust amongst the flames, he added one more item to discuss with Canaan and the priests back home: bringing a team of Sighted out here, even in the face of oncoming winter, to continue the work he had just begun, to restore life to this nearly-dead Care-Keep. If the current priests could be revived in their own faith and duties in the process, all the better; if not, there was no end to the secular work they could be put to in keeping with their oaths to serve.
He got to his feet and turned around, and found the boy staring directly at him, tears streaming down his face.
“My name’s Jared.”
The boy opened his mouth, stuttering briefly before saying, “Why do I…feel…” and then he began to cry in earnest, but did not bow his head, keeping his eyes locked on the Prince.
“There’s a lot to learn,” Jared said, “A lot for me to tell you, and only a little while before I have to leave.
“Come with me.”
He walked over to the boy, and as the boy rose he put an arm around his shoulders, leading him back to the entrance of the main hall.
“What’s your name?”
In between sobs, “Sam.”
“I’m glad to meet you, Sam.”
Just before the doorway between the main hall and the nave, Jared turned he and Sam to the right, heading towards a smaller archway and a winding set of stairs beyond it.
“Are we…” Sam asked, “…We’re not allowed to go up here.”
“The first thing you need to learn, Sam, is that those words don’t apply to you anymore. The Sight is a burden none of us should have to carry, but it does have its benefits.”
Not to mention the fact that Jared was also the Prince, and thus forbidden nothing outside his father’s word, but there was no need to confuse the boy. And, truthfully, the Sighted were forbidden nothing that they wanted…which was part of what made it such a curse.
He had no problem guiding the boy to the stairs, knowing exactly where they’d lead. Every Care-Keep—even the one in the capital where he lived—was constructed to the exact same design, passed on through the generations from an origin now nearly-forgotten and not often considered. These stairs led to the top of the spire, an area that was normally off limits to everyone, including the priests, but as he’d told the boy, those rules no longer applied to him.
The boy followed Jared up the steps, circling around and around, until they came to a trap door. Jared reached up and pushed it open, and then led Sam out onto the top level of the spire. There were no walls, just the pointed roof above them, and circling in place, they could see the entire town, laying below them, and the fields to the south of them, the forests to the north, the paved highway stretching away like a dirty scar to the west, the road Jared and his men would be taking home, as soon as he was done here. The blue sky overhead was hard and brittle, a cold wind skipping beneath it.
He walked Sam over to a small bench, sitting him there and then joining him. Sam’s tears were tailing off, and he was mostly wiping at a damp face and dripping nose with his shirt-sleeve now.
“This is how we’re going to begin: tell me what happened to you.”
Sam sat in silence for a bit, and Jared reached out to him, feeling the walls he’d thrown up against the memories of his Fit. They were thick and expansive, but not very well built and still fresh, and Jared was able to very quietly and softly find a few cracks in them, wearing them away, gently opening the door for Sam’s memories to come through.
“I was…I was awake, but I thought I was still sleeping,” Sam said, the words faltering from his mouth as they were pushed out into the world by the weight of the memories behind them. “I thought I was dreaming.
“My daddy was awake, and I could see him, even though he was downstairs, sitting at the table. It burned! I smelled smoke, and it hurt. And then there was my momma, and sisters, and they were all around me, everywhere, and I was in the middle, and they were all fire, and I never had anything hurt me like that.
“And there were all these voices talking, not just my daddy and momma but everyone, like the whole town was right there in my room with me, yelling at me all these things I couldn’t get. I couldn’t feel the bed anymore, couldn’t feel my arms or legs or nothing. And it got louder and hotter, until there wasn’t anything else, and then I don’t remember anything.
“I was here when I woke up. No one’s come to see me since, not even momma.”
It was all pretty standard stuff, things Jared had heard a dozen times before. It didn’t compare at all to what he’d gone through when the Sight had come over him for the first time when he’d been just nine years old, but as in most things, Jared’s experience had proven out to be quite different from everyone around him.
He leaned back, giving the boy the space to say more if he wanted to. There was more to it, of course, but most boys of this age—particularly in a small town this far out from the capital—didn’t have the vocabulary to describe the deeper feelings that came with a Fit. The was it felt like some second-skin, between your real skin and your bones, was being slowly flayed away, and a burning essence would leak through the cracks. The way you could feel how small your skull was, your mind exploding outward, torn to pieces as it passed through the bone cage it normally hid within. The way the very You that you normally inhabited was utterly gone, and you were thrown between everyone around you like a leaf in a raging tide.
Young boys usually didn’t have the words to try to describe it. And Sam was no different, despite being slightly older than most who went through this for the first time. He sniffled a few more times, but remained silent.
“Okay,” Jared said, “I want you to pay attention to me as I say this. I hear you, and I believe you.”
Sam looked up at the Prince’s face, and could see the truth there, and latched onto it.
“I went through the same thing when I was much younger, and so do many boys your age, every year. It wasn’t a dream; it really happened.
“Now I want you to forget everything those priests,” (it was hard to keep his disappointment in them completely out of his voice, but he pushed quickly past it), “have told you about what happened to you. They mean well, but they’ve never gone through it themselves.
“What happened to you is called a Fit. It’s when the Sight overwhelms you, and there’s no way to control it. It’s scary, but it can’t actually hurt you, and if you’re ready for it, and properly prepare yourself, it will be over before you know it.”
“Have you ever had one?”
“Of course I have.” Jared laughed a little, and was gladdened to see that Sam knew he wasn’t being laughed at, that it was just genuine amusement at the idea. “Every single boy who has the Sight will have Fits. That’s how it starts, and they come back around every couple of years. The priest do what they can to help you hold them off and keep the Sight under control, but eventually it builds up to the point where it won’t be controlled anymore, and it takes over for a little bit.
“But here’s the important part to remember: having a Fit doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. We all have them. And more importantly, if you work hard at it, the rest of the time, you’ll be fully in control of it.
“Wanna see what that’s like?”
Sam looked up at him, confused. “How?”
“Just hold my hand here, and close my eyes.”
This was a trick that Jared had learned years ago, from an old Sighted man who lived within his father’s house. Had lived, for he died shortly after Jared had met him (he’d never known the old man existed until his own Sight came over him), but in that brief window of time, barely two months, the man had taught Jared more about the Sight than everyone else combined in those first few years. Jared didn’t have two months with Sam—barely more than another hour or so—but he was going to do what he could in the time he did have.
He took Sam’s hand, closed his own eyes, and reached out to the boy. He opened himself and gathered Sam’s essence within him, and then began reaching out to the people and places around them.
“Alright, now there’s someone, just below us…probably the priest who brought me here. He knows we’re up here, and is worrying himself sick, but doesn’t dare come up here to disturb us. And there, off to our left, two more people, I’m assuming the other priests of this Care-Keep, and they’re not doing too much, probably reading or napping. To the right you can feel people working hard with a purpose…probably your help, getting ready for the noon meal.”
“That’s Josie and Sam! His name is Sam, like me.” There was a sad pause, then, “They’re the only ones who are nice to me anymore.”
“Then cling to them. Most people will have a hard time being nice to you now…they don’t understand what happened to you, and will be a little scared. When you find people who don’t care, and love you for who you are, love them back with everything you have. Understand?”
“Good.” Jared very carefully brought his and Sam’s essences back to their bodies at the top of the spire, and then released Sam’s back to himself. When he opened his eyes, he found Sam still sitting there, eyes, closed, but there was a small smile rising through the tears still drying on his face.
“Do you see what I mean?” he asked Sam.
“You really did that? Went where you wanted to go, just because you could?”
“Yes. I could, and I did. And I took you with me.
“It’s not easy to do, especially bringing someone else with you, but the most important thing for you to learn is that control. With it, you are blessed, and able to live and serve beyond anyone else. Without it, you’re an animal, raving and writhing in your own mess. Do you understand me?”
“No, not really…but I’ll try.”
Jared was momentarily stunned by the boy’s honesty. Of course he didn’t understand, the very idea of controlling the Sight instead of having it control you was something Jared was still struggling with, twenty years later. But it was unusual for a boy in so vulnerable a place to admit that he actually was vulnerable. There were depths here that his humble surroundings hadn’t suggested. Even more important to get him to a Care-Keep with priests who would do right by him…maybe even back to the capital itself, with Jared’s own priests (except Canaan, of course).
“Alright, open your eyes.” Sam did so, and looked back up at Jared. “I can’t explain everything to you right now…it’s a process that takes years, not minutes. But I want you to know a few more things before I leave.
“One: you are the only one responsible for what happens to you next. The priests here are nice, but…not exactly what you need right now. But they’re what you’ve got, so you’ll have to make the best of it.
“Second: drink the Hiaku tea they prepare for you, when and how they tell you. No questions. The tea will help you gain control over the Sight, and forestall the next Fit for as long as possible. If you drink it when and how they tell you, your next Fit won’t come over you for several years, and in the meantime you can prepare for it, learning and readying yourself.
“Third: the priests here only serve two purposes. They prepare the tea for you, and maintain the histories that the Sighted pass on to themselves through the generations. That’s it, as far as you have to be concerned. They do other things for the people of this town—well, they should, at least—but you’re no longer just another boy living in this town. You’ve the Sight. And there concerns are no longer your concerns, at least not until you’ve gained control over your Sight. You’ll do that with the tea, and with practice, and by reading through the histories of those who’ve come before you.”
This was all a lot for Sam to take in; Jared could easily feel how full his mind was getting, could see it in his face without bothering to reach out with his Sight.
“Is there anything you want to know?” he asked the boy.
“Does it ever stop?” And there were many more questions buried within that one, like “Will I ever get to see my family again?” “Will I ever not be weird and an outcast?” “Will it ever be quiet again?” Jared didn’t have answers to the rest of them, not in the few minutes he had left, and so just answered the first one.
“No, it doesn’t stop. But it does get better. Easier.”
He put his arm around the boy again, and leaned back, staring out into the cold blue sky, letting a few moments of silence fill in all the cracks he could feel opening in the boy beside him.