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Chapter 8 -- Discovery
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

The next day I awoke at dawn; my first time doing so since the museum. Before Mark got out of bed, I prepared a Mind Reading spell of long duration. It was getting easier to cast spells, but the long duration of concentration needed to draw the energy limited what I could cast or prepare. Fortunately Mind Reading doesn't need a large energy input; Force Bolt or Kinetic Shield would be another story.

I decided to hold the Mind Reading until training started in earnest. I couldn't be absolutely certain how long it would last.

Mark began preparing breakfast, and I happily joined him at table. I had never had bologna before the previous night, but fried eggs are fried eggs, and they tasted great to me. He served me orange juice, which I had never tasted, but it was much better than the tea. I ate until I was full.

Then Mark began my training again. I spoke the word to activate my Mind Reading spell; how would he know it was a magic word, I wondered. Since learning a new language is tedious, I won't detail it for you. Before the day was over, I had begun to learn to read.

This astonished Mark, but of course I already knew how to read the language of my time; I was familiar with over one thousand ideograms of that day. Most scribes of my time only knew the most-used two to three hundred. A phonetic alphabet was surprising, but easily mastered; I only had to learn the sixty to seventy glyphs used in English.

I had put aside the newspaper with the photo of me as a statue, so I began paging through it, trying to read each article and advertisement. I had so much to learn about this age!

After we had eaten supper, Mark said "I have to go to work tomorrow. I have a job arranged, and even with your generous loan I'll need to keep up my freelancing if I ever want another regular job."

"It's not a loan, it's a payment," I said.

"Nonsense. I'll pay you back when I have the money; but that may be a while." He paused for a moment, thinking. "I'll take the gold with me tomorrow, if it's alright with you, and sell it to a jeweler I know pretty well. I'm sure he'll give me a fair price."

By now I understood modern money as well as I probably ever would. Why accept valueless paper or cheap metals backed by an empty promise from the government? Gold is much better. Still, when in Ta Charka, do as the Ta Charkans do.

Finally I remembered the girl. "Yesterday morning, when we were coming up here we met a dark-skinned woman on the stairway. Tell me about her."

"Her name is Mara." I was stunned. The Mara I knew, who died fleeing Ket's fortress with me, was who this Mara resembled. I hadn't seen it before. This Mara was taller, and a bit paler, and of course clean and dressed rather than dirty and nude, so the resemblance was not clear to me then.

So much like my Mara, and with the same name... How could this be?

I had to know more of her. Mark had seen the surprise on my face and stopped; now I nodded, and he continued. "She lives upstairs. Her family came here as refugees from the Sudan, I think... somewhere in Africa anyway, when she was about ten or so. Her mother was ill when they arrived, and didn't live here long before they were burying her. I don't know what was wrong with her. Mara's father took care of her until a couple of years ago. I think it was a heart attack that killed him; I was in the middle of my divorce and didn't pay a lot of attention."

"She isn't married then?"

"No. No regular boyfriend either; no boyfriends at all." He had a strange look on his face, but his thoughts were guarded. Did he realize I could read his mind?

"Why not?" I finally asked.

"Before she came here, her people performed a female circumcision on her." I didn't have to ask what the word meant; the images in his thoughts were horrific. I was stunned that anyone would do such a horrible thing to their own child.

If you, the reader, are unfamiliar with this barbaric custom, I'll only say that she was maimed and mutilated so that sexual pleasure would always be denied her, and so that the act would actually be painful. Childbirth is also dangerous afterward.

I seethed with rage at her family, but all of them I knew of were now dead, and I didn't plan to go to Africa and seek retribution there. That would be foolish.

Then my thoughts turned to beautiful, sad Mara. I looked at the ring on my finger, and realized her permanent disfigurement did not need to be permanent after all.

It was late, so I told Mark I needed to sleep. The Mind Reading spell had lasted much longer than I expected this day, so I had to dismiss it before going to bed; one should never leave such a spell running when one is about to sleep. Other people's thoughts don't belong in my dreams.

As I lay there sleeplessly on the couch, thinking of Mara, I constructed and discarded many plans to heal her. You see, I not only wanted to heal her, I wanted her to love me. I had never even spoken to her and I already felt I was falling in love. It would be too easy to tell her who I was and what I could do, then use the ring to heal her; she might easily love me out of gratitude, and such a thing is dishonorable to me. It is a weak man's way.

No, I had to heal her without her knowing it was I who did it, and so then I must hide my powers from her afterward. If she woke up one morning healed, not knowing how, and then shortly afterward met a man who could do magic, she would not be fooled long.

I resolved that I would tell her I had healed her only after she declared her love for me, but that I would not in any event make love to her without her knowing. I could easily see her being very angry with me if I withheld this knowledge from her at that point.

Then it hit me. I was assuming I could heal her, indeed that I could do magic; but I lay there rubbing the stub of my nose, which was no bigger than the day before, and realized I might not be able to do it. If I couldn't heal myself, how could I heal her?

I needed power. Was it really all gone from the world? I went to sleep pondering that question.

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The Adventures of Solo Jones Last Updated 07/18/2005