My lessons with Professor Eberhart will be, from now on, considerably more difficult. The next element I shall learn to control and call on is fire, which is the next easiest from water, though by far the most dangerous. For that reason, he does not wish me to start on it until I have gained more control over myself and my Gifts. Therefore, I am now practicing manipulating objects. Rather than just sending a paperweight flying around the room, I am to stack blocks and run marbles through little mazes and the like, all with my thoughts. "Control," the professor keeps saying, even as my tower of blocks crumbles and my marble shoots out of the maze entirely because of my frustration. "Control," he says as he hands me horrid little puzzles to work on to improve my patience between lessons.
One puzzle is a square with a frame, inside which are little tiles which slide back and forth, and up and down. When in their proper places, they will form a picture, but for now it looks like nothing more than a mess. Another has three tiny marbles under glass; the intent is to catch all three marbles in all three indentations or holes in the floor of the thing, and all at once! I think it is impossible, and have been forbidden from using my Illumination to solve it. A third is not really a puzzle at all, but a very large knot of twine, which I am to pick at in an attempt to untie, when the other two puzzles have frustrated me to the point of throwing them against the wall. Ugh! I never thought learning to use my Gift would be so terribly difficult! But the professor said all these things will help me use and control my Gift better. (He also muttered something under his breath then, but it was in Germanian so I could not tell what he said.)
I have realized I have been clenching my jaw while I wrote the previous two paragraphs, so onto something more pleasant. Or at least not quite as frustrating.
Mr. Miller and I did not get to take our customary walk last night. Instead, the school had a fire drill, a practice for what they would do if there ever was a fire or other disaster which would necessitate evacuating the school. I was on my way to the parlour, where we habitually met an hour before supper, when a number of bells, I suppose in a tower high above the school, started clanging. A moment later Mrs. Dogwood entered the corridor, sighing and talking to herself. "Come on, then," she said, gesturing for me to follow her, and she explained what was going on.
Thankfully I was already in my coat and gloves, having intended to take a walk outside, but many of the students were not so fortunate, and stood in rows at the far edge of the lawn, class by class, shivering. Those students who strayed out of line were chastised, and I think some sort of mark was made by their name, perhaps points against them. Several of the professors had clipboards on which they marked off students one by one. When everyone was accounted for, which took a very long time, we were finally allowed back inside. At that point, it was time for supper, so I shed my warm clothes and went into the parlour.
"I did not see you at the drill," I said to Mr. Miller once we were seated with our meal. "Were you outside?" He nodded. "It was dreadfully cold, wasn't it?" He answered yes. I realized then that I was speaking about the weather, which is something I try never to do, for only boring people talk about the weather.
"Are you enjoying the book you are reading?" I asked a moment later, and again he nodded. Then he held up two fingers. "You're... reading it again?" I asked uncertainly. He shook his head, then held his hands out, palms together, and opened them, keeping his littlest fingers close like his hands were a hinge. Or a book! He repeated the gesture, this time with his hands in a slightly different place in front of him. Two books! "You're onto another book?" I asked, and he nodded, looking pleased that I had understood him.
I, too, was pleased that we were able to communicate without him having paper and a pen, but after a time, I asked, "How did you speak to the captain and crew aboard the Erebos?"
He frowned, but seemed to be thinking about how to answer me. First, he pretended to write, one hand holding a pen, the other acting as paper. Then he made the "book" gesture again. "Writing and... reading?" I asked. He shook his head and thought a moment more, then held both hands up, opening and closing them quickly. At first I thought he was saying "Ten, ten, ten," but that didn't make any sense. Perhaps ten thrice? Thirty? But that made less sense. "I'm sorry," I said, "I don't understand.
He thought a minute more, then made what looked like a bird's beak out of one hand, and opened and closed it, like the bird was squawking. Or speaking. He pointed at that hand with his other as he did this.
"Speech... your hand speaks? You speak with your hands?"
An emphatic nod was my answer, as well as a smile.
"And they understood you?"
He held one hand out and made a wobbling back-and-forth motion, to say "Sort of."
"Like I am doing now," I smiled, and he smiled back.
We finished our meal, then sat for a time by the fire. "I wish you could tell me about yourself, like I told you about myself," I said, too nervous to look at him as I confessed this. "It would take a week if you did your hand speech," I said with a smile, "but perhaps... I might get you pen and paper?"
Mr. Miller shook his head, almost too quickly. Clearly he did not want to tell me about himself. I knew from what Captain Belleclaire had told me that Mr. Miller.... That he was not a "good" man, by most definitions. He had killed people, he had stolen things, he had assisted in dark plots. But all I had ever known of him had been kindness and understanding, even if he was, at times, rather awkward about it. (I think that I would be awkward, too, if I were unable to speak.) He is my only friend now, and I think that I am his only friend as well.
"Will you ever tell me about your life?" I asked softly. He hesitated, but then nodded. "Do you not trust me?" This was answered with an emphatic nod. "Then I do not understand what holds you back. I hate to sound childish, but... fair is fair, yes? I told you... everything about me."
This seemed to move him, for he leaned toward me, and again I could see the longing in his eyes to be able to speak. Then he looked around, as if lost. After a moment, he went to the buffet at the side of the room and wrote on the top of it, then motioned for me to join him there.
I HAVE DONE TERRIBLE THINGS
was written in a layer of dust on the polished wood. (I have tried to imitate his odd handwriting and I think have failed.)
"But you are through with that now, are you not?" I asked. "You have... you have left that life to start anew."
He only shrugged, and looked pained.
"You are my friend," I said firmly, and touched his sleeve to get his attention and emphasise my words. "Friends do not keep secrets."
I looked up into his eyes, clear blue like the winter sky, and as endless. (I realize how overwrought that sounds, Dear Reader, but I do believe I could look into his eyes for hours, though I refuse to let myself really think of why.) My hand moved a little closer, to rest on his arm; I could feel the heat of his skin through the thin fabric of his shirt, and heard my heart pounding, felt it in my throat and fingertips.
Then he pulled his arm away and wrote in the dust further down the buffet:
SOON. I SHALL TELL YOU SOON.
"Do you promise?" I asked. He nodded, looking into my eyes.
A promise was a promise, and if nothing else, one could certainly say Mr. Miller was a loyal man. His answer was enough for the time being, so I stepped back and let out a breath I had not realized I was holding. "We should clean this up," I said, motioning to the dusty buffet and going back to the table to get a napkin. "Mrs. Dogwood would not like to see messages had been left in her dust." I laughed, and Mr. Miller smiled, and the tension between us seemed to have broken.
I would have liked to stay a little longer, but soon it was time for my lesson with the professor. Today was uneventful, for the most part. I finished the sheets and asked Mrs. Dogwood for another pile; instead, she gave me squares of cloth to hem into napkins. They are, at least, a bit more satisfying, for seeing the little stack of finished ones grow is much nicer than the seemingly endless four sides of the sheet. The sunset over the forest tonight was beautiful, and I seem to have been struck dumb by its loveliness, for I spoke hardly at all at supper.
And now here I am, writing this by the light of a little lamp, though I am exhausted. Mr. Miller's company and the thrill of practicing my Gift are all I have anymore. That and the thought of, someday (soon, I hope), helping our cause in the coming "conflict" Professor Eberhart still refuses to speak of.