Authors: R. A. MacAvoy
EARLY BIRD BOOKS
FRESH EBOOK DEALS, DELIVERED DAILY
BE THE FIRST TO KNOW—
NEW DEALS HATCH EVERY DAY!
Lens of the World
You are the lens of the world: the lens through which the world may become aware of itself. The world, on the other hand, is the only lens in which you can see yourself. It is both lenses together that make vision.
I have ruined three clean sheets and broken a pen nib in writing this salutation of two words. I had not thought I was nervous, but how can I deny this image the world throws back at me: four smears of black ink and one broken bit of brass?
I have been used to writing histories at your command, sir, such as that of my first visit to the court of the Sanaur Mynauzet of Rezhmia, where the king is a demigod and the court spends half its time trying to kill him. This narrative, set in its climate of rolling grass, high mountains, dusty spices, murder, and roses, seemed to have an intrinsic interest beyond my ability to spoil in prose, but I am not so certain that the story of my own forty years of life will stand so well.
If the subject of an autobiography is insipid, the narrator can only be the same, and where does that leave me? I imagine you yawning behind the reading lens I ground for you fifteen years ago. Still I scratch by your own order, so yawn away, King of Velonya; though you are a courteous monarch, the paper takes no affront, and my refuge is in true obedience. In this thing at least, complete obedience.
Seeking a beginning that might attach interest, I consider the incident of the wolf that might have turned into a man, or the man with the nature of a wolf, since that episode was astonishing and full of proper theater, but though it was bloody it was also ambiguous, and it occurred after my childhood and schooling were over.
My initiation into the ranks of the peculiar and rightfully unpopular Naiish nomads is more instructive in the usual sense of the term, and it has its share of blood, battle, and unexpected changes of allegiance, but it also happened much too recently.
I must first retreat to a time where I may describe the disinterested craftsman Powl and what he made of an odd-shaped piece of material. This, too, is ambiguous; I begin to see that the theme of this whole story is ambiguity, but I must start somehow.
I will try to describe myself.
My first memory is dimness and movement: the heavy boots of soldiers and the great, white, flailing limbs of a cook in my uncle’s kitchen. They grunted and heaved and she cried out, not in terror but in weary disgust as they flopped her onto the rough wooden chopping table.
This interpretation is the redraft of the incident, through the mind of Nazhuret, forty years old. At the time, the collected sounds had no more meaning to me than the cries of animals outside the door at night.
Those cries can terrify children, too.
When some waggish man-at-arms lifted me off my feet and made to drop me on her belly, on the piled wet and dirty skirts, I almost peed onto the poor woman, and my screams were much more the usual sounds of outraged innocence than her own.
Of that house I remember no more than this. Of my uncle—I was told I had an uncle—nothing.
My first real memory of myself was that of my own remarkable ugliness, revealed in the great, badly silvered practice mirror at school.
It surprises me always, how early children learn what they look like. Had I not had the name Zhurrie the Goblin thrown into my ears every day I think I would still have known I looked like one. You, sir, have been kind enough to deny that there is anything daunting in my features, but then you are a very liberal man in matters of taste, and I have known you to show enthusiasm over the lines of a camel. And then, remember that I have grown into my face, as all men do, until now it is more my years than my birth I expose to the world.
In the mirrored wall I saw a white oval wider than long, widest just below the great, staring, lashless eyes. My nose, which would someday arc out and then tilt up (like water frozen on a windy lake), hardly existed in those years, and my mouth was very small. My ears attempted to make up for the inadequacies of my lower features, however. They stood out so wide that I looked as though I had my hands cupped behind them, straining for some sound. My hair was pale, pelty, and weightless, like the down of a day-old chick.
Even then I was undersized, though mostly through having short legs, slightly crooked by some infantile disease. It was only later I discovered how unambitious my growth was to be.
As a boy I spent many stolen moments staring at my reflection, hating it but fascinated, as many people are by spiders. I don’t remember any particular feeling of self-pity—self-pity is not one of the original flaws of children—but rather I hugged my repulsive peculiarities to me. Unlike many young boys, I knew who I was: Nazhuret of the goblin face, Nazhuret of no family, Nazhuret of Sordaling School.
My king, I know you will grow angry merely to read again that the Royal School at Sordaling has had masters and even boys who used the youngsters sexually. The school is under your own sponsorship, certainly, and was founded by your family, but still no king can be responsible for human nature being what it is. Your own education was very noble, good, and private, and I remember your saying that your greatest stumbling block as a child was that your tutors couldn’t wallop you as you needed.
Most of us are not princes-heir, and we have to come by our learning in any way we can. We have different stumbling blocks, and randy masters were one of mine.
In Sordaling, all sorts of boys and men meet, most not staying beyond a year or two, and I have spent so much of my life there that I cannot judge its good and evil as simply as a stranger might, though I knew both very well. Being the youngest boy at Sordaling for my first four years and the smallest for two more, I was frequently held down and brutalized. Had the drillmaster (usually it was the drillmaster, ironically) done this to me in exchange for favors, or had he petted or praised me, I probably would have had my honesty or my independence of spirit ruined, but although there was buggery in my childhood, there was very little catamitery.
I disliked being buggered, but I also disliked being bashed about the head with wooden swords by boys twice my size. No one ever led me to think the two experiences were of different quality, and when I finally learned to avoid them, it was in the same manner.
By the time I was nine years old, it was rare for any but the most proficient students to be able to rap my skull with the practice bat, and the masters found whatever enjoyment my small form provided (thank God I was ugly) unworthy of the struggle.
The yellow brick buildings of the military school make a sort of city within a city, and the fact that students are denied the rest of Sordaling is of minor interest, especially to the young. To spend eight of the ten months of the school year in a loose confinement made up mostly of boys one’s own age is no hardship, as long as one does not carry the mark of the victim on his brow. The usual two years spent in training and study are a bright memory for many of the most boring lords of Velonya.
Of course, I spent not two years but fifteen years at the school, but the routine did not wear as thin as might have been expected. The fact that I was as much a servant as a student meant I had frequent access to the outer city, and even when there was no errand to be run, I knew a dozen inobvious ways out, and could be trusted to carry messages from students to young-cock town-bred rivals, or to these rivals’ sisters.
I was never betrayed, though the hotbloods were frequently caught. That says something about the character of the students at Sordaling. Or perhaps of their recognition of my usefulness. Or of their fear of me.
Can a strapping young lord be afraid of an undersized boy without family whose job it is to change the young lord’s sheets? Yes he can, when the boy has friends among both schoolmasters and cooks. Especially among cooks. And when the boy is so habituated to use of the stick that he can strike his enemy up the crotch in full view of the class in such a manner that all the students and the master will miss seeing the illegal blow and mock the injured fellow for self-dramatization.
This is a very poor thing to be proud of, isn’t it, sir? Perhaps I was not proud of it; that I can’t remember.
I can hear you saying that there is no such thing as a young lord at Sordaling School, since all students are treated equally, called by their prenom only, and forbidden to tell anyone their lineage.
This rule is a beautiful one, my king, and your great-grandfather did nobly in devising it. It is sometimes even obeyed, at least in public, but I reply that there was rarely a boy whose right name and titles I didn’t know by the threshing frolic of their first year.
Except my own name, of course. About myself I knew only that my uncle had convinced the headmaster that my birth was genteel enough for the school’s standards, which are moderately high. Unless this unremembered uncle returned to claim me or the headmaster broke the king’s rule, I should never know more than I knew when I came, which was that my name was three odd syllables in a row, accent on the first: Nazhuret.
Heimer, friend of my years ten through twelve (my friendships were neatly packaged in two-year intervals), said that my name sounded like the sneeze of a cat.
Sometimes I dwelled upon the idea that my birth was quite exalted, but that my