706 Ashan 51...
"Mads, darling, take a seat."
In the two odd arcs he'd spent under the Madam Graciana Moreno's care, Mads had learned three very important lessons. The first was when the Madam asked him to do something, whether it was a direct command or suggestion, she expected him to do so. The second was the rules etiquette, however tedious, were expected to be as closely adhered to as possible. The third and final was to ask any question that popped into his head - so long as the first two things were properly observed.
Draped in a creme colored swath of soft fabric that hung from her angled shoulders like some sort of exotic gown, Graciana grinned, the light from the morning's sunrise catch in her eyes and illuminating the glow that could only really be described as hunger - though in the most general sense of the word. "I would like to begin a new sort of schooling. An... erection of a foundation upon which you will construct what I believe will be a fine monument to the both of us."
"Watsa-" Pausing in mid crouch, wide grey eyes flickered back and forth for a trill as he caught himself, correction far more habitual than a flawless delivery. "What is a 'monument'?"
Patting one of the cushions to her left, Graciana regarded the smaller, curly blonde haired boy settle down beside her before she replied, tone even and conversational - no hint of the condescending tone many adults employed while dialoguing with children. "A monument is a remembrance. A celebration. A memory held in high esteem. It is something one creates in honor of those who came before - who provided guidance, strength, wisdom..."
"Like a statue?" Their city of stone was not without its sculptors. While most were too poor to afford so luxurious a service, the city itself was not entirely barren of such structures - though to consider them common would be in error.
"Similar. In this case, I used 'monument' in more of a metaphorical sense. Do you remember what a metaphor is, Mads?" She handed him a small bowl, about half the size of his palm, filled with water. It was far weightier than its delicate form suggested, even if one took into account the water within.
"When you say something that means something one way, but you mean it another way." He spoke slow and steady, his whispery Vahanic a cheap but ever improving mimic of Graciana's more refined timbre. All the while, he stared curiously at the bowl, bright eyes reflected into the water's calm surface, hands resting, folded one over the other with palms up and bowl in place in his lap. Its surface was cold to the touch, but his warm hands had already begun to instill within it a more comfortable temperature. "What's- what is this for?"
"Our lesson, darling." In a singular fluid flourish, Graciana presented to him a small leather pouch, though she kept it in her own grip for the time being, instead easily shifting into an explanation. "There will come a time, Mads, when you will need to think calmly, clearly, and on many, many different things all at once and under duress." After a slight pause, she reconsidered her choice of words. "That is to say: someday, you will need to still those ever-present questions that dance around that beautiful mind of yours and focus on very specific voices, even when you may not want to."
He blinked, still focused on his own reflection. "Like when you say I need to sleep, and I sing my lullaby?"
"Yes, it is not dissimilar. Though to put things into perspective... as you learn to better navigate your thoughts, your mind, you may find you have no need for a lullaby at all."
"I like my lullaby."
Thin, delicate fingers gently settled on the boy's knee. Graciana chuckled, quietly, and nodded. "Yes, darling. I know you do."
"But I understand."
"Excellent. Shall we begin?" It was a question that wasn't a question - something Graciana had explained to him long ago. Mads politely nodded, the farce of consent as much a game as any other. "Just as you are doing now, stare into the bowl. I want you to focus on the surface of the water - not your reflection, mind you, but the surface itself." The boy looked up from the bowl with a frown of confusion, though there was the flicker of excitement that burned behind - the child wasn't one to balk from a challenge. "I want you to tell me when you see it. The surface."
Slowly, Mads' gaze dropped back to the bowl, his small lips pursed in thought. "...okay."
"Wonderful. I'll prepare breakfast in the meantime."
Breakfast had gone untouched since it had been made.
Mads, hunched over his bowl, eyes straining and teeth grating against one another in a methodical scraping metronome had yet to call Graciana over to him. The woman lounged comfortably upon the cushion of the bench by the window still, the natural light of the morning providing a steady illumination of the text held casually in her hands. She eyed him every now and then, an amused smile creeping into the corners of her mouth, but remained silent save for the light rustle of turning pages.
The water was one of two things: either a hazy mirror within which he could see nothing but his own face or a liquid which filled the bowl. The surface itself eluded him. He’d trying to steady his breathing. He’d attempted to close his eyes and picture what the surface was meant to look like without a reflection in it. He’d attempted to listen to the water itself, gently rocking the bowl back and forth in hopes the surface made a specific sort of sound when it “broke”.
Time had lost meaning, in a way. So focused was he upon the bowl and the water within, he’d hardly even noticed when the plate of food had been set beside him, nor did he realize just how far the sun had risen above the quiet streets outside.
Defeat was not something that came easily to him. Emotions, such as they were understood by most, didn’t affect him in the same way they did others. He felt them, but they were always distant, more suggestions than overriding forces of human nature. Other things held far firmer grips over him, namely a distinct desire to win. It didn’t matter if it were a game or a question or a feat of skill or strength. Whatever the challenge, Mads always strove to rise to meet it – though it did first require him to consider something as such.
The discovery of the water’s surface, then, had proved to be an ever-ascending spiral of failure and a renewed desire to succeed.
With a soft thud
, Graciana shut the cover of her book and politely cleared her throat. “Mads, darling, a moment?”
While there was clearly some reluctance in the slight flush of his face, the curly head of hair rose to reveal his ever clear, bright grey eyes. Frown firmly set on his features, he stared questioningly at her.
“Have you been able to locate the surface?”
His teeth ground together, an audible click
popping just behind his pursed lips. “No.”
“Refrain from making that noise, darling.”
“So, it still eludes you?”
Bright eyes blinked uncomprehendingly, though a bit slowly as his hunger and fatigue had begun to set in. “It… is?”
“It certainly is.” She folded her hands over the worn leather of the book’s cover, back straight and eyes discerning. “Can you tell me why?”
Hands still cradled around the bowl, Mads’ frown continued, though the furrow in his brow allowed him a far more thoughtful expression than one of exasperation that suggested arcs he’d yet to grow into. He didn’t answer right away; he mulled over the question, rolling it around in his head, considering, contemplating.
To no avail.
“…no. Why?” The puzzle was missing too many pieces. He couldn’t make those that he did have fit together.
“How long would you say you have been sitting there, searching for the water’s surface?” Her tone was even and calm – there was no condescending superiority, no motherly cooing. It was a question, plain and clear.
Again, he considered, brow knit. “Forty bits?”
“Three and a half breaks.”
Mads squinted at the answer.
“Yes. Thirty-six bits, to be more precise.” She raised a brow, feigning uncertainty. “Are you surprised?”
“That long?” He glanced back down toward the bowl, clearly wondering if the thing were enchanted or some such thing.
“How did you feel, while you sat staring into that bowl?”
“Like I wanted to find the surface.”
“And nothing else?”
Mads paused, considering. “…no. No, nothing else.”
“Marvelous.” Graciana let out a mellow chuckle. “This focus, this inner linear path you forced your mind to tread? This is the foundation of finding your calm, your objectivity. We will, naturally, explore many different avenues, but darling? Do not forget this feeling. It will serve you well.”
Not entirely comprehending the full scope of what it was Graciana said to him, Mads nodded anyway, staring down into his own reflection, his own eyes.
“Now then, I think it is time we fed that empty stomach of yours.”