I’m celebrating the holidays and the new year with my own kind of giving – 8 weeks of extra stories and scenes from the world of Sword and Verse and Dagger and Coin. Each week I’ll be unveiling a deleted scene or extra story from a different character’s point of view, culminating on February 11 (my birthday!) with Lilano, a novella from Mati’s point of view that tells the story of what happened to him and Raisa while they were out of town during Dagger and Coin.
Some of these stories were originally parts of the books, some were writing exercises for me when I got stuck, and some I simply wrote for the fun of developing the world of the books more fully.
Week 1’s extra is a story that some readers may have seen already, as it was the pre-order incentive for Dagger and Coin. This story, “Lesson”, takes place on Longa (one of the islands that make up what Qilarites call the Nath Tarin), a season before the battle in Sword and Verse. It’s from the point of view of Loris ko Puli, a character we meet in Dagger and Coin, and gives window into life on the islands and how the Learned Ones operate.
“A DYER LEAVES his vat unattended while he deals with a dispute between his children,” Calantha began.
“What kind of dye, exactly?” I asked, setting her mug of tea down on the table in front of her.
Calantha wrapped her hands around the mug. “Good. Lantana dye.”
I nodded. “Poisonous. He should know better.”
She shook her head. “He has a fence, with a gate and latch.” I flinched as she downed the steaming tea in one long gulp.
I sat on a stool across the table from my mentor, thoughtfully swirling my own tea to cool it faster. “Any responsible dyer would, of course, especially if he had children.” Hoke, the dyer in the neighboring village, had such a gate. I’d seen it a few Shinings ago when the market had been hosted there.
Calantha stared at me, waiting, and I went back over what I’d said, examining it for flaws as she had; Calantha ke Bri could find the flaw in anything and always took pains to do so.
“Ah,” I said at last, annoyed at myself for missing something so obvious. “Is the gate actually latched?”
Her expression did not waver; of course not. Calantha would never show something as encouraging as pleasure at her apprentice getting something right. “Got there, did you?” she said. “Yes, the gate is latched.”
“So then what?”
Calantha picked at the grass stuck to her shawl from when she’d been working in the garden earlier, and flicked the grass into her empty teacup. “The neighbor’s goat gets in,” she announced.
“Through the gate?”
I frowned. “How?”
Calantha shrugged. “Suppose it is a particularly intelligent goat. Suppose it can open gates.”
“Did the neighbor train it to open gates?”
Calantha looked up at the ceiling, in one of those particularly stubborn gestures of hers. “Unknown. Would it make a difference?”
I sipped my tea, then set it down after nearly scalding my tongue. How could the old woman drink it down like that? Her mouth must have been made of iron, the way the villagers whispered about behind her back—the only kind of mouth, they said, that could survive such a sharp tongue. I rested my hands on my thighs, thinking over the scenario she had proposed so far. I’d been given at least one of these dilemmas to ponder every day for the last three years, but I still couldn’t tell whether she thought I was progressing or not. Sometimes the situations were laughably easily to solve, and sometimes they were next to impossible. I’d have thought that, if she was testing me, she would have given me progressively more difficult situations to work my way through. But then, nothing about my apprenticeship with Calantha ke Bri had been as I had expected, including the fact that I spent more of my time cooking her meals, sweeping her hearth, chopping her firewood, and cleaning her dishes and clothes than learning about the business of the Learned Ones.
“If the neighbor had specifically trained the goat to open that gate, it might make a difference,” I said. “But that is unlikely. “
Calantha raised one eyebrow.
“Of course, to say so is a premature judgment,” I added quickly, before she could. “What does the goat do once it gets in?”
The ghost of a smile tugged at her lips as she continued. “Drinks from the vat, of course.”
“Yes, but not before the neighbor’s son milks her. The children are sick for three days, and the baby nearly dies of it.”
“But doesn’t die.”
I sipped at my tea again, pondering this. The temperature was more reasonable now. “Are there any other relevant details?” I asked.
“Relevant in whose estimation?” she said at once.
I inclined my head in apology. “If I were to ask the dyer what is important to know, what would he say?”
“That he took all reasonable precautions and that his neighbor needs to watch her animals more carefully. That the animal fouled his yard and its slobber must have been what ruined the batch of dye.”
“And the neighbor would say?”
“That poisonous dye should never be left unattended. That it might have been one of her children who stumbled into his yard instead.”
I frowned, imagining the scene to be like one of the painted glass balls that the glassblower on Vas made. In my mind, I held it up and examined it from every angle, from every perspective: the dyer’s, the neighbor’s, even the goat’s. I spoke aloud my observations as I did so, in between sips of my slowly-cooling tea, all the while watching Calantha’s face for hints that I was on the right track. As usual, she betrayed frustratingly little.
“Are there any precedents in the Book of Years for such a situation?” I asked at last.
“Most likely,” she said airily.
I sighed and changed my wording. “What precedents exist in the Book of Years for such a situation?”
She smiled thinly. “A boy on Mada left the well uncovered and another child fell in and drowned. The boy had to work for the family for five years in recompense.”
“To take up the work of the child that was lost.” I nodded.
Calantha slapped a hand on the table. “And to keep him and the family from avoiding one another. There is always more than one reason for the judgments of the Learned Ones.”
There was no scolding in her tone, just dispassionate observation, but it was a rebuke nonetheless. As unpleasant as Calantha liked to make herself to me, the villagers, her fellow Learned Ones, and basically anyone she met, she was also always acutely aware of the emotions running behind any encounter—something I often forgot to consider in the comforting grip of cold facts.
But I’d had enough of these conversations to know where she was headed. “So the ongoing relationship between the neighbors must be taken into account. A solution that allows them both to be compensated while limiting hard feelings between them.”
Calantha inclined her head the tiniest bit, as if she couldn’t quite bear to encourage me but couldn’t help acknowledging something correct. Her eyes gleamed, and my guard immediately went up. “Well, you’d best identify that solution quickly,” she said, “because they will waiting outside by now.”
My cup hit the table with a thunk. “What?”
Read the rest of the story here: Lesson by Kathy MacMillan