After the studious quiet of the castle, the marketplace of Radiant Garden was almost too much: too much sound, too much color, too many people. Two small boys chased up the steps, weaving between the feet of shoppers with baskets on their arms. The marketplace overflowed with produce, dried fish and smoked meat, ice cream, gloves and hats and scarves, bottles of mead. He bought an apple and ate it as he walked, in the late-afternoon sunlight. He listened to the snatches of conversation flowing around him—who was saying what about whose sister, who was having a baby, who thought she was too good for his friends anymore—and let the amorphous idea he had been considering take form.
When he returned to the castle, he would ask Ansem to take him on as an apprentice, like Braig and Even and the others. Life in the town seemed pleasant enough, but he didn't think he could become used to it. He had no memories of his life before Ansem took him in, so the still of the castle, the purity of ambition and loftiness of goal, was as familiar a home as he was likely to find.
"Are you quite sure that teaching them to make a catapult—"
"—a trebuchet, actually—" Braig corrected.
"—is a good idea? And being a trebuchet doesn't make it any better." Ansem looked mildly pained.
Braig shrugged. "They learn better if they see it in action. Diagrams on the chalkboard—that'll get through to some of 'em, but others, they need to see it to really get it."
Ansem sighed, but Braig could just tell he was trying not to smile. "Very well. Against my better judgement—"
"Does that mean that I can set it up in the postern?"
" . . . Please try not to let them break anything beyond repair."
Outside the library, Dilan leaned against the wall, waiting. He straighened when he saw Braig emerge. "So?"
"Your students will be ecstatic, I'm sure."
"I'm pretty fucking ecstatic. D'you know how far one of those things can throw a rock?"
"I can't say I do."
"Neither can I." He grinned. "But I'm looking forward to findin' out."
"You have the oddest enthusiasms," Dilan said, but with warmth.
"Well . . . " Braig's grin turned wolfish. "We can't all be pure mathematicians like yourself."
It was odd—not bad, but odd—to go home to see his family, and it was odder the longer he served as an apprentice. The castle was quiet, studious, solemn; his childhood home was downright raucous. (He thought sometimes that that was why he was so fond of Braig, who was the least quiet of any of them, except possibly Ienzo; and Ienzo, though sometimes talkative, was never raucous.)
It was oddest how quickly time passed, away from them. His youngest sister was two when he began his apprenticeship, and then four and eight and twelve and now fifteen, a young woman. "What do you do?" she asked him at dinner. "I know you study, but what?"
It wasn't a question he answered often. All the other apprentices knew very well what he did; Ansem encouraged discussion of experiments and theorums on the principle that cross-pollination of disciplines was a fertile field of new ideas. 'I'm developing a model of the hyperbolic plane' was succinct and accurate, but probably wasn't better to her than no answer. He side-stepped instead: "I've been teaching, actually. You're almost old enough to enroll in classes—have you thought about it?"
They walked together, his arm around her waist, comfortable. Fean ran ahead, her ponytail flying—it was a pity she'd inherited his hair, lank and pale, rather than her mother's thick dark hair, but at least she had her mother's eyes and the shape of her face.
"How is she doing?" Even asked.
"She's doing fine," Lena said. "She's learning to read from the Pooh book, and she has a lot of friends."
That was something else Fean had got from her mother. Even had few friends: those he had suited him, and he was comfortable with solitude. "Is one of them that Kisaragi girl?" he asked, more out of habit than anything. "She's going to learn bad habits."
"She'll be fine." Lena gave him a tilted smile. "She misses you, though. You're almost never home when she's awake."
He sighed. "I have neglected her. And you." He tightened his hand on her waist. "After this project is over, I'll take a vacation. And we can go to your parents' place, or to the shore, or—"
"—or you could just come home for a while," Lena said. She smiled wider, hopeful. "That would be plenty."
In the town, he was seen as something of an enigma: a scientist who was nearly a giant, and who studied, of all things, stone. What was there to know about stone?
But from time to time he would emerge, and make his way down to the town to have a few quiet words with someone. This day, he stood with a woman who owned a house in the lee of the cliffs, and pointed to an outcropping of rock far above. "It looks sturdy now," he said, "but within five years it will crumble and fall, and destroy your house. Be wary."
"Is there anything I can do?"
He thought for a long while, and then shook his head. "You can move," he said. "Only that."
Later, Ienzo said, "She isn't going to listen to you, you know." Elaeus said nothing. "She's going to stay there, because it's too much bother to move and she'd rather just believe you're wrong, and the rocks will fall and destroy her house." Elaeus nodded; it was likely. "So why do you waste your time?" Ienzo demanded.
It took him a long time to put his answer into words. "We must always try."
Ansem required all of his apprentices to spend some time teaching. It kept them grounded, he said, and ensured that their thinking remained fresh and did not become stagnant and esoteric. Ienzo understood his reasoning, but he never liked it. He claimed he resented being taken away from the projects that interested him. There was some truth to that, but more to the point, he had a great deal of difficulty standing in front of a room full of students who were nearly his age.
They were always unfailingly polite, because Ansem did not require his apprentices to tolerate rudeness, and instruction at the castle was a privilege, not a right. They were always respectful of him—much more so than they were to Braig, who they called by his first name instead of 'sir,' and to whom they were often quite blunt. But he could not enjoy the look of surprise on the faces of each new class, the silent widening of eyes and the sweeping head-to-toe glance that said Are you really the instructor?
Yes, I really am, he thought, but what he said was, "I assume you have all brought your texts? Good. We can begin . . . ."