Amidst the sand
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13 The child by the merchant stand
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Amidst the sand
Author :Sighe
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13 The child by the merchant stand

When I'm not attempting to speak to cups, I talk to the people passing the merchant' stand. There are a great deal of them, but most are too preoccupied to converse with an adorned piece of bark.

Near the stall, a barefooted woman is sitting on a crate berating her child. Further down the street, two young men are seesawing on a hand-barrow next to where a young girl is standing at a pump, the water pouring into her bucket. Above her head, a line is stretched between two windows, where fabrics have already been hung up to dry. An older woman stands below, superintending her work with an occasional shout.

And so my days continue to pass by in the same manner as the ones before them.

That is, until a little boy, not even five years old, lets go of his mother' drapes and wanders over. He picks up the small wooden sword lying next to me, and swings it around with vigour.

"Excellent woodwork ma'am, it's unsurpassed!"

"No thank you. Put that down Marco!" The mother frowns.

"No problem ma'am, the boy likes it. You see?"

So while the merchant and the mother squabble, I savour the sun on my wooden body, smile at hearing the kid's clear laugh and say, 'you would make a fine swordsman, child, I can appreciate that.'

"I would?" Says the child.

He heard me! Oh, he heard me! Thank the angels and Gods of Mia, thank the heathen Goddess of medicine and the Gods of trees and pieces of bark, he heard me.

'You would, if you were to train, that is,' I say.

"What if I don't want to?"

'Then you'll get nothing for it in return.'

"Why not?" He lowers the wooden toy.

'That's how swordsmanship works, the more you practice, the better you'll get.'

"Really?" The boy advances.

This dear child, how is it that his small beautiful mind can accept that a piece of wood is talking to him. What an innocent spirit he has. Help the boy, I pray, that he doesn't tell his mother that he talked to me, she wouldn't appreciate the boy sounding as if he went mad.

'Really. You will get nothing you didn't work for,' I say.
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"Why?"

'That's how skill and ability work. Nothing is able to progress or grow without developing it.'

"And talent?"

'Talent is a natural instinct for an ability, but it will never see it's true potential without pursuit.'


"How do I know how hard I have to work for something?"

'You often don't - but if you have a wish or a dream - it makes it worth the while.'

"Oh," the boy says.

'Do you have a wish, kind child?'

His round, full cheeks swell as he smiles and says; "Yes! I want a castle!"

Oh my, another one? What is it that makes castles and palaces so compelling? Are they all dreaming of a kingdom?

Just as I prepare myself to berate him the same way I did Mia's son, he continues; "How hard did you have to work?"

'To become me? You wouldn't believe me if I told you, child.'

"Why? Are you that impressive?"

'That depends on who you would ask.'

"I'm asking you."

'Yes, since all others who knew me have since long disappeared from this world. And let me tell you, they were grand men and women. The greatest of their time, yet I doubt their names are known by the crowd lingering in between these market stalls.'

"Again, I wasn't asking about them," the boy sulks.

I know. I know, but I do not dare to utter a word about myself. You would run away scared. So I say; 'it is too long a tale, my young friend.'

"I have time."

'Indeed,' I say, 'years and years, time enough to walk the earth and it's ruins of history. But hear! Your mother calls you, do not let her wait any longer.'

The boy looks, smiles and runs after his mother, dropping the sword in the process. The merchant grumbles in his beard, discontent of the missed chance at selling his merchandise.

I am content. I didn't wish to scare the boy, for I may sound as if I could turn any conversation into an erudite discussion, a truly wise man will know me to be far from learned. My contemporaries called me 'stupor mundi', the "astonishment of the world"; and the majority of them had indeed been astonished—and sometimes repelled—by the pronounced unorthodoxy of their emperor.

Historians may praise me for my law reforms, my attributions to science and literature; and while my contemporaries sang the heroic tales of the Crusades and the Battle of Parma, many more cursed me for the dismay I brought upon their homes. Many feared me, and within good reason...

It are horrors that shaped and made me who I am today, child. There are things where I do not wish to frighten you with, though you may hear about them were you to ask a historian. I'm sure they would be able to tell you my story.

But I do not wish for you to empathise with me, my young friend.

Years and years, I had told the boy. Years and years. How long does he still have? Forty or fifty years, sixty if he's to grow up to be the town's old wise man.

But what are a mere sixty years to me? I spend centuries regarding the same display of the desert, and decades roaming the whole of my empire. How curious a thing it is, that my perception of time had altered this much during the peaceful years spend amidst the sand.

'Would it alter again,' I ponder, 'once I live for another generation? Or would it take another hundred years?'

The cup next to me remains silent. The barks of a far-off dog fill the background. I sigh, close my eyes and let myself be swept away by sleep.

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