What the Feeler Knew
The room drew silent as Gray waited for Tell to speak. He couldn’t hear Victor out in the hall anymore and assumed the man had retreated to do what he always did when left to wait by himself; he was likely out there with his boots propped up on the furniture and a book in his hands. Usually a story of some kind—Victor had very little interest in “real” books.
“One learns more from fiction,” he liked to say.
Gray was the opposite. His entire life involved facts and details, and there was very little room for anything that wasn’t absolutely real.
Tell took a deep breath, folded his hands neatly in front of him as if he were a reader presenting a case in court, and began his argument. “You aren’t afraid of anything,” the boy stated, without a hint of question in his tone.
That was what Tell thought of him? He actually thought Gray was fearless? Gray laughed, the sound tinged with mocking but not against Tell. Just against the thought. “Listen well, boy, and take note—I’m afraid of fire.”
Tell blinked. A moment tripped past before he said, “What?”
“Though I have more soil than sea in me, I still have trouble around flamemakers. I used to have nightmares about them when I was a child. Even from a distance, the heat of a fire feels like ants crawling across my skin, and I can feel myself drying out.” Gray grimaced. “It is not a pleasant sensation. I am a child when it comes to fire. This is a ridiculous fear, and I know it’s ridiculous, and yet I am afraid anyway. I am also afraid of sand spiders, even when they are not real. Do not make something of me that I am not.”
Tell did not appear repentant. “I am a feeler.”
“I know. Obviously.”
“A feeler who has been listening to your emotions for weeks now. I know when you’re afraid and when you are not, and I am an accurate judge of what occurs within you. Let me say what I wish to say, Gray, and you can correct me later.”
Chastised, Gray closed his mouth.
Tell waited, peering at Gray suspiciously, but when Gray maintained his silence, the boy nodded to himself and continued speaking. He sounded calm and very unlike a feeler in this moment. “You aren’t afraid of anything,” he repeated, and again the words were like the tingling pricks of an approaching fire on Gray’s skin. “I am familiar with fear, and I know how often those around me are afraid. The fear of others is often why feelers have such trouble. It is because others are afraid, which causes us to feel fear. But I have been focused on your emotions, and as a result, I have had two restful weeks. Indeed, my peace these last several days has been greater than it’s ever been.” He hesitated. “Even when I was young and my mother was still alive, she and I were always afraid. But now I feel like a person who has been made entirely different. I get to live a different way.”
The boy took a deep breath. “There have been only two times when I have felt concern coming from you. Perhaps other feelers would call it fear, but I know you and I would not call it that. It was concern. You were nervous, but not for you. In both cases, it was…” His voice cut off. Eventually when it returned, it had lowered to a whisper. “It was because of me. Once was when we were about to enter the inn at Black Rock, and it seemed likely that Koss the highwayman waited for us inside. You put your arm around me, and I felt what you didn’t tell me. You were nervous and I, in turn, was surprised. Why were you nervous—you who are afraid of nothing?”
Gray remembered that night well. Not knowing what would happen when they crossed the inn’s threshold, he’d made a few comments about Tell’s lack of training and said, “Let me take care of it.”
Tell had replied, “Is that the only reason? That you have more training than I?”
A heavy implication had rested on those words. Why that question, of all things? Gray almost felt offended. Did the boy fail to know him, even after all these weeks? The desire to protect Tell had nothing to do with the boy’s gifting, that he was a feeler. It had to do with Tell’s father…and the fact that Gray had no desire to stand in front of the king one day and try to explain why he had led the prince of Rak-Min into a dangerous situation. “Are you asking if I want you to stay out of it because of your gift? That is not my reasoning whatsoever.”
Tell had smiled mysteriously. “I didn’t think it was.”
Now, standing in front of Gray with emotion swimming deep in his eyes, Tell blinked again and looked away. “I cannot promise you that I will never feel pain in my heart again. I cannot tell you that I am ‘fixed’ or that I have no doubts. But I can say that all I knew in the past was the hatred and malice of others. They told me I had no worth, and I could feel that they spoke the truth—at least, it was true to them, in their minds. My emotions didn’t know what to do with something that others believed was true. It is…very hard not to believe the emotions of others. That, I think, is why my clan does so poorly around those who do not respect our gift. If others feel a certain way toward us, we start to feel that way about ourselves.”
His chin lifted slightly. With the movement, the light shifted in his eyes and he suddenly appeared near laughter. He met Gray’s gaze. “In the last few weeks, with you, it is like I have learned how to breathe. I have learned how to do something that does not come easily to any member of my clan.”
Gray wouldn’t have been able to speak even if he’d known adequate words.
“And so.” The boy grinned. “Here is what happened to reveal to me the secret you have tried to keep hidden. The secret of my parentage. You were nervous for my welfare, which made no sense to me. You’re e’nethaine—I have witnessed your uncommon strength and the determination you have shown to protect me.”
Gray stepped over and shut the door. He gripped the handle for a moment before releasing his breath and turning back around.
“Why, then, were you concerned about one small thiever? It didn’t make sense, as you are more than capable of defeating the enemies around you.” Tell’s brows walked slowly up his forehead. “So it occurred to me that perhaps you had a different reason for being nervous. Maybe it had little to do with protecting me—something you were sure to do, no matter what—and more with why you were with me in the first place.”
Gray felt his eyes narrow.
Tell laughed. “You know my family. You have openly told me this, though you will not give me any details about them. There is only one logical reason I can see for why you would refuse to tell me about something that, obviously, matters a great deal to me. You must ‘owe’ them in some way; you are committed to them. It is more important to you to protect them than it is to tell me the truth.”
At that, Gray started to answer, but Tell held up his hand and said quickly, “You have to listen while I speak. That was our agreement.”
Muttering to himself, Gray folded his arms and looked at the boy pointedly.
Delight flooded Tell’s face. “You are, of course, a jeweler. The strength of the jeweler gift is that it prospers in whatever it touches. Whatever its goal, it will become the best at that goal. Most jewelers desire wealth, which is why they’re called jewelers; they are incredibly wealthy. But other jewelers, such as yourself, don’t care for wealth. They have set their goal on something else.”
With a nod, the boy said, “It occurred to me that perhaps your goal, the driving force of your gift, is my family—these people you will not tell me about. A jeweler doesn’t do small things; that is not how the gift operates, so this family you work for, it would have to be a house that was worthy of you, both of your gift and of the fact that you are e’nethaine. Neither of those points is a small matter.” He stopped speaking for a moment. “It would have to be a house you trusted and one you felt you would be able to trust long into the future, because the e’nethaine live so much longer than the rest of us. One house immediately comes to mind.”
Again Tell paused. “And we just returned from Theraine. I don’t know everything that happened there, but it seems obvious to me that your occupation—the goal of your gift—likely played a role in their response to you. There is only one house with roots in both King’s Barrow and in Dasken that could cause that level of response with a foreign throne.”
Tell ended his speech with a shrug that made him look his age. He might speak of thrones and be able to piece together facts others could not, but when he shrugged like this, he was just a boy once more. “How did I do?” Judging by the gleam in his eyes, he knew exactly how he had done.
In this moment, Gray could see the kind of ruler Tell would be one day. Nothing would escape him. He would embarrass all his counselors—because he would consistently know more than they did. And he would be proven right in his arguments.
The boy had done well. Surprisingly well.
Gray wished he could tell him so. Tonight, when they were surrounded by so much needless death and waste, and sorrow that could be felt in the bones, it was a pity that Gray could not say everything he desired.
– H –
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Copyright notice: © 2018 by Lauren Stinton. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.