Clearing his throat, Galwynn said, “When I was a lad, I was adjudged to have some promise in the scholarly arts, and was invited to attend the Academy of Enlightenment. My mother and father, both learned, hard-working people, were happy I had a skill that might advance me in the world. So, on a chill morning in early autumn, they bid me farewell with tearful eyes and lingering hugs, as I joined an eastbound trade caravan that would leave me off near the Academy.
“On the first day of class I met my fellow students. We were a score of excited boys and girls babbling Hello-who-are-you?-s, Aren’t-you-excited?-s and Where-do-you-come-from?-s. Suddenly the room was blanketed with a hush as a procession of instructors strode into the classroom led by Vander Hardwicke, the then Master of Enlightenment.
“We students were dumbstruck! Can you imagine how we felt? We never dreamed the Master of Enlightenment himself, would greet us!
“His lips were pursed in concentration as he appraised our expectant, upturned faces. He seemed powerful, cold, and distant with eyes as blue as frost beneath the full moon, and a face ringed by a mane of hair as white as a snowdrift. But when he spoke, his voice was rich and warm like a favorite uncle’s.
“‘Welcome to the Academy,’ he said in that deep voice of his. ‘In the months and years to come, you will travel far, learn much, and bring back wondrous tales of distant places. In this way you will both learn the Enlightened Arts, and be of service to King and kingdom,
“‘Today, you are all apprentices. Tomorrow, you will become journeymen and perhaps masters. And someday—after I retire, of course—one of you might even have my job!’
“We all laughed at that. Hardwicke had been Master for as long as any of us, or even our parents, could remember. None could imagine a world that was any different. But we would come to know that that was the purpose of the Academy: To learn the art of imagining!
“Hardwicke scanned the room, and to my surprise, he pointed to me and said, ‘Please come here.’ My eyes widened at having been singled out, but I marshaled my courage and went to the front of the classroom. Then the Master pulled a small quartz sphere from one of the deep pockets of his tunic, and he casually rolled it across his fingertips and from hand to hand as he spoke to me and the class.
“‘What is your name?’ he asked. ‘Kevin Galwynn,’ I replied.
“‘Kevin, do you believe the world is solid and substantial? As solid and substantial as this crystal?’ He tossed the orb back and forth, from hand to hand, and back and forth again. ‘Do you believe only that which is real can be seen; and likewise, only that which can be seen is real?’
“‘Yes, sir,’ I replied, trying to be clever and confident enough to impress my teacher. Of course the world was solid, I thought to myself. Wouldn’t anyone think the same? What a strange question for him to ask.
“‘Indeed…,’ said Hardwicke, although I wasn’t sure whether his fading tone conveyed affirmation or a query.
“‘Listen carefully, young Kevin Galwynn,’ declaimed Master Hardwicke, ‘and do exactly as I instruct.
“‘Look at this crystal sphere in my hand. Look carefully, lad. Don’t let your eyes wander! Follow the crystal’s flight through the air as I toss it from my right hand to my left; from my left hand to my right; back and forth, back and forth. See how it glistens in its flight.
“‘Now notice the fissure in the center of the orb that is the color of milk, and how it catches the sunlight as the crystal arcs back and forth; back and forth. Notice that the crystal soars with a steady, unerring rhythm; as steady as the beat of your heart.
“‘Now, pay attention to the arc of the orb as it soars back and forth, and the sound it makes when it finishes its flight and lands in the palm of my hand. Listen carefully!’ said the Master. ‘Back and forth—thwack! Back and forth—smack! Back and forth—
“‘You’re doing well, lad, but gird yourself,’ said the Master. ‘This is the challenging part. Keep your eyes on the crystal; keep watching it arc back and forth; don’t lose sight of it…
“‘Now, Kevin Galwynn, act as I instruct without doubt or hesitation: Close your eyes, but continue to see the crystal in your mind’s eye!
“‘Can you still “see” it, even with your eyes closed? Only vaguely? Keep trying! You’re doing very well, young Galwynn.
“‘Notice that even in your mind, the orb still has weight and that I must heft it to make it arc steadily back and forth; back and forth. The zenith of its arc is as high as my chin, and its nadir is as low as my belt. Back and forth; back and forth… Can you “see” it, yet?’
“‘Yes! Yes, I can!’ I said excitedly. It was true. I could clearly envision the crystal sphere in my imagination rising quickly, pausing at its peak, and than plummeting just in time to coincide with the meaty-sounding thwack of the crystal falling into Vander Hardwicke’s hand beyond my closed eyes.
“‘Very good! Very good, young Galwynn!’ said the Master. ‘Watch the crystal ball carefully in your mind’s eye. It’s right in front of you! Follow it back and forth; back and forth. Wait for it to reach its zenith…wait for it…get ready… Now grab it from midair!’
“Without hesitation, with my eyes still closed, I swooped my hand out like a bird of prey and caught the crystal ball in mid-flight. ‘I did it!’ I exclaimed, as my eyes snapped open in amazement.
“‘Indeed you have,’ said Master Hardwicke, with a self-satisfied grin on his face, ‘indeed you have. But how? If only that which you can witness is solid and substantial, then how could you catch something you could not see?’
“I stood there confused. Hardwicke was right. My flesh-and-blood eyes couldn’t see the crystal ball to catch it, but I had done it anyway.
“At last, I found an answer and tremulously gave it voice. ‘I envisioned the ball,’ I said. ‘I imagined it flying through the air so clearly that, as far as I was concerned, I did see it. I don’t know how else to explain it.’ But then I listened to myself and began to have doubts. ‘But that’s impossible, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘I’m sorry, Master, for speaking so foolishly…’
“‘Foolish? Not at all!’ roared Hardwicke, wholeheartedly. ‘Your explanation is excellent!’
“Master Hardwicke put his hand reassuringly on my shoulder as he spoke to the class. ‘From time to time, and in one small way or another, you have all envisioned and acted on things not visible to the naked eye. That is why you were selected for the Academy. Kevin, I described the sphere to you—that is, I told you a story—that made the sphere so clear and vivid to your mind’s eye, that you were able to snatch the actual crystal from midair.
“‘What others can only do occasionally and in trivial ways, a Master of Enlightenment does all the time and in profound fashion. When a Master of Enlightenment envisions a place in his mind, the image becomes so vivid, so alive, that it continues to grow and change in his mind’s eye, duplicating actual events in the actual place.
“‘I send my journeymen to the far corners of the kingdom, and they bring back detailed stories of their travels. If a journeyman tells me of a distant apple orchard, I can envision it so clearly that I can see rows of trees stretching across the hillside. When spring comes, I can smell the sweet perfume of pink and white apple blossoms. In summer, I can hear the rain fall on the canopy of the orchard, and see the leaves of the apple trees dance with each plummeting raindrop. I autumn, I can see the ripe red fruit hanging heavily from their branches. And I can smell their tangy, sweetness so vividly, my mouth waters! All this I can do without actually being there.
“‘My journeymen go everywhere and tell me everything. I can envision the entire kingdom in my mind’s eye, and can thus advise the King about anything he needs to know. But in time my imaginings fade, like memories or dreams, and my journeymen must revisit the kingdom and bring back fresh stories. And who knows? Perhaps someday, some of you will become journeymen and bring back tales to tell.’
“As Vander Hardwicke had promised, over the years of my apprenticeships, I and my classmates traveled far from our school, homes, and country. We went south to the thousand ports of the Southern Isles; east to Kaspia beyond the Barrier Mountains; north to Winter’s Home, where the ice never melts; and west to Day’s-End-by-the-Sea, where the sun is last seen each day.”
Aaron’s face was bright as he said, “That sounds wonderful! What marvelous journeys you must have had.”
There was a touch of reproach in Galwynn’s reply as he said, “Our journeys were not meant for mere pleasure, although to be fair, they were made more pleasurable by good companionship and singleness of purpose. No, our field trips were lessons, and—adventures! And as such, they were not without happenstance. Some times we suffered pain, endured hardship, coped with sadness, and sometimes—” Kevin began, then paused solemnly, and finally repeated, “—and sometimes, not all of us returned.”
“Lives were lost?” asked Nimbus softly. It had not occurred to him that these fabulous journeys might be dangerous, or that someone who looked as innocuous as Master Galwynn had survived them.
“Well, they were after all,” Kevin pointed out, “adventures.”
Galwynn relaxed his posture a little, as if to mark the end his tale. And so Lt. Nimbus could be forgiven for thinking that Kevin’s story was done.
Galwynn said, in a cheerier lilt, “One can learn a great deal from stories. For instance, as an apprentice, Master Hardwicke once assigned me the task of collecting war stories from old veterans of the War Between Land and Sky, and then from their young comrades-in-arms. Like your veteran warriors of Sky, the veteran warriors of Land remember the War with bitterness.
“But here is the strange part, the part that might pique your interest: The young warriors shared the same animosity towards Skyfolk as did the old warriors, even though the young soldiers weren’t old enough to have experienced the War themselves.”
Galwynn said, “When I asked the young soldiers why they felt such hostility toward Skyfolk they had never met, and such patriotic fervor about battles they had never experienced, do you know what they said?”
Without realizing it, Nimbus leaned closer; his empty mug of stew hanging loosely from his fingers, forgotten.
Galwynn said, “The reason they gave me was, ‘Skyfolk can’t be trusted. Each and every one of them is dishonorable, cowardly, and cruel. Everyone knows that. It’s common knowledge.’”
“‘But how could you know that if you weren’t there?’ I asked. ‘You could only have been told so by people who were there during the War. Who might they be? Can you trust their word?’
“‘Of course we can trust them,’ they protested, said Galwynn. ‘They are our veteran men-at-arms! We believe what we believe about the Skyfolk because that is what our comrades told us in every war story they recounted. They are trustworthy men; men we fought back to back with in battle; men who would never mislead a fellow soldier in matters of war.’”
“But that’s not true!” Nimbus snapped. His already highly arched eyebrows peaked with indignation. “Skyfolk are nothing like what they said, Master Galwynn! What those veterans said was just the scurrilous talk of bitter old men.”
Master Galwynn harrumphed. “Do you think? And yet, what the Landfolk said about Skyfolk then, sounds surprisingly similar to what you say the Skyfolk say about Landfolk now. Interesting, is it not?”
Master Galwynn inhaled a deep breath of the cool breeze wafting down the river, and sighed contentedly. In contrast, Aaron Nimbus’s mind was racing, trying to reconcile everything he heard, and everything he thought he knew.
“I think old Vander Hardwicke had me do that assignment,” mused Kevin Galwynn, “to teach me to keep my wits about me even when I’m being told a good yarn, and especially when I’m being told a good yarn by people I trust. And after they tell me their tale, I should ask myself is there a deeper story, a deeper truth, beneath the story they told.”
Aaron did not know what Galwynn’s recollections of his youth had to do with it, but the lieutenant could feel the certainty of his perceptions and beliefs begin to slip. “What deeper ‘truth’ might there be in the Landfolk’s story?” he asked.
“Why I think you know the answer to that already, Lieutenant. You said it yourself, and quite eloquently, if I might add. You said, ‘I think sometimes, wounded spirits heal more slowly than wounded flesh.’ Both sides of the War were wounded by great loss and grief, and their mutual, lingering, bitterness is the scar tissue that remains. I think that is the deeper story, that is the deeper truth, that binds together Landfolk and Skyfolk in a way they cannot yet accept.”
Aaron began to ask, “Are you saying…?” But before Nimbus could finish, the no-nonsense voice of his captain growled, “Up off your lazy bones, troopers! Break camp and make ready to ride!”
In short order, the skyriders were back galloping down the road to Castellanus, and Lt. Nimbus had no doubt they would make the castle before sunset. The only thing he did have doubts about were the scurrilous tales about Landfolk he had heard ever since he was a squire. And yet, Master Galwynn hadn’t ranted or declaimed about whether Landfolk or Skyfolk were dishonorable, cowardly, and cruel. He simply told a story and let the listener come to their own conclusion.
As Lt. Nimbus and the company of skyriders rode toward Castellanus, closely trailed by the odd little Landsman—who by the way, seemed to have gotten the knack of riding a sky-horse with grace—Aaron began to seriously doubt that all humans were callow fools. There were, he suspected, a few Landsmen who were much smarter, and nobler, than they let on.