The boy did not understand the importance of books. His mouth turned downward in a slight grimace, and he looked at Teacher. Teacher had gray hair and green eyes, they seemed to stare at nothing, a lot of times. Brian wondered if he was well. He did not look well. He looked very sick. He climbed off the stool, and looked at him. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. “I thought I sent you home. I told you not to come back. I dismissed you!” He clenched his fists. It was not a good idea to anger the Prince of the Emperor of Jennsen, but it was important. The Emperor had taken him aside, and told him to tutor his son. He was bound to obey. Obeying was what Teachers did; that was how they survived in the universe that was harsh and cold and cruel.
Teacher waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “I understand you do not take things seriously, my boy,” he chirped. “I have come to help you.”
“Help me with what?” he asked. His voice trembled like the Western Winds that rose from the South, and settled in the East, and everywhere in between. He owned everything on this planet, from the vast forests of Straighte, to the Inland of Eucalydies. The planet was monstrous, far larger than anything the Settlers had ever found. They settled on the planet thousands of years ago. The oceans were large-there were only two, but the water was angry, choppy, epic. Yes, the word would work. His father was gone most of the time. He wanted his father to be at home, so he could play with him. The maids and servants and the neighbor boys were not fun to play with, they made fun of him because he was rich, and he did not have shabby clothing. His clothes were made from the finest tailors in all of Jennsen. It was ideal for the prince of an Emperor to wear such fine clothes, and he definitely was made of money.
“You are the son of an Emperor,” he said in a thick voice. “You are supposed to be educated, elegant, endearing-you are none of these things! Look at how you walk! You walk like a duck! A duck!”
He looked around in abashment, and a sword hung on the wall. He grabbed the sword, and started swinging it in a clockwise position. “This is what you are supposed to learn, young student!” he cried. “You are supposed to learn how to duel!”
Brian shook his head. “I do not understand,” he said. “I am supposed to be married, and breed-that is what is in my Histories.”
Teacher stopped cold. He put down the sword, and stared at him, his face bold. Brian thought Teacher looked a lot like a duck. His hair was long and gray; his face was long; even his hands were like webbed feet, they stuck out tremendously. “How do you know about them, boy?” he demanded. “How do you know about the Histories? Only adults know about them, not children!”
“I followed my father.”
Teacher nodded thoughtfully. He saw it now. Brian was one of the Oddities, they were the ones who always had to make trouble, who didn’t appreciate Order, or anyone who could lead. Teacher cocked his head to look at him. He had to help him, before the Empire fell around his ears-or, his throat, for people who did what he did usually had their heads cut off. Brian was not like the Others. He was special. He was the son of an Emperor, and his life was spared. “Listen carefully, boy,” he said. “I know you see things, you think things that are different. I want you to listen to me. Do not tell anyone what you think. Ever. If you want to live.”
Brian’s eyes widened in fear. “If?” he echoed. His voice sounded loud to his own ears.
Teacher nodded. “We are at war. We have been at war for a long time. Real war stopped a long time ago, when the Emperor’s son, Temptess, discovered Magic. Not the real magic, but…close enough.”
Brian wished he would elaborate. He did not. He continued, “I am your Teacher. I will teach you how to read.”
An hour passed, and Brian still did not understand books.