The embarrassment of my collapse and subsequent reference to my birth mother still burned my ears. While she had taken it well, smiling with a slight chuckle, Toa Freyah was a high-ranking member of our organisation and referring to her in such an overly familiar way was not considered appropriate. While she was my birth mother, she was also the birth mother to many more and I had as little claim to our connection as they did.
Billtak hadn’t been much help having laughed out loud at my slip which only fueled my embarrassment further. Fortunately, he had the respect to take it no further than that. The glare I threw him may have indicated as much.
Toa Freyah had arranged for house staff to prepare and serve a healing brew to steady my nerves and stomach. Her and Billtak then spoke at length after which she departed. Billtak stayed with me as I drank my brew. He talked to me about happenings around the academy and local township, but I barely understood his words.
As I drained the last drop of my elixir, Toa Freyah returned with two other Toa Masters.
Those with the ability to read were predominately male at birth. Very few females were born with the gifts, even if both their blood parents were gifted, but girls that were gifted grew to be powerful readers with abilities that transcended their numerous male counterparts. They formed a dominate part of the authoritarian hierarchy at the Academy which had essentially three tiers;
Tier 1 was the Toa, a council of five elected members. Four elected by those of the second tier, and the fifth elected by the other four. Toa Masters held their position for life barring health and personal decisions to leave.
Tier 2 was the Mar which constituted of 5 Masters, 5 Instructors and between 1 to 5 other Members based on ages and experience, often appointed by the Toa Masters. Mar Masters usually were appointed for a five to ten-year period
Tier 3 was the Graws and were Mentor Masters, or Instructors. They undertook the training of students and the day-to-day running of the academy itself.
Then there were Masters, of which I was one, and students. I was a Master serving time as a village Reader.
Young women who were not born with gifts either remained within the Academy in various capacities, or went on to other vocations, such as healers. Master Healer Talish was one such off-spring.
So as three Toa masters entered the room, Freyah, and two men, Lars, and Yohn, I stood to face them, and bowed as was expected. Billtak by my side, did the same.
“You may sit Master Juth.” I did as Toa Freyah instructed. “How are you feeling?”
“I am steady and calm.”
“Good. Can you tell us of your recent experiences?”
I proceeded to recount the events of the past few months starting from the disappearances, and then going into detail on the events of the past few days. Occasionally one of the Toa Masters would ask questions, and I did my best to answer. After sometime, I concluded my tale feeling somewhat hoarse. The Toa Masters turned to confer in private while Billtak fetched me some water to drink. I tried not to listen in but a few words I could hear clearly. My experiences clearly were cause for concern and excitement.
As Billtak returned, the Toa Masters turned back to me. Toa Lars, the eldest, looked at me with a grave expression.
“Master Juth, with your permission, we would like to Walk with you.”
I felt cold in that moment. It had been many years since I had been the one who dreamt. Not since my days as a young student when we practiced with each other had I allowed another to walk my memories. I swallowed my hesitation and dread as quickly as I could.
“Yes. Of course Toa Master.”
I may have managed to hide my discomfort at first, but then Toa Freyah, my birth mother, broke my stoney walls.
“All of us.”
The thought of one senior master walking my memories was one thing, but three was too much. My knees buckled and I feel back down onto the bench. Billtak reacted reaching out to catch me forgetting the cup of water was still in his hands. In the end, I was sat back on the bench with a face-full of water.
Toa Freyah, behind a poorly disguised smile, motioned to the other two Toa Masters.
“Let’s give him a moment to compose himself shall we?” and they left the room.
I looked to Billtak, and he at me. His expression was indecipherable. For a brief moment we just stared at each other, but it was just the distraction I needed. I burst into laughter, the first time I had laughed in a very long time.