To Do Great Things
by V. Shalace
Four days ago, all the pigs in the village fell ill. There’s no mess quite like the mess made by a sick pig, and I’ve been up to my elbows in muck trying to help. I’m afraid, however, that my weak constitution made me more of a hindrance, and Mother finally ordered me to bed.
I hope this isn’t a bad omen.
My classes begin tomorrow. It will be my first time teaching an entire class on my own. Frankly, that’s about the only thing that’s been on my mind.
All the best,
Teachers are discussed often here amongst the temple novices. Lady Misami tells the best stories, old Tomo teaches like a man on his deathbed, and Chiri will give you a passing mark as long as she knows your face by the end of the semester—or so I’ve heard. Yet even though we talk all the time, if you were to ask me, I still couldn’t tell you which of the teachers is the best. I have learned something from each of them, even if that something is what not to do.
You’ve taught me a lot too, don’t forget. I only remember as much history as I do because you were there to help me. I’ve told all my classmates here in history about you. My little brother is the most patient teacher you could ever have, I tell them. We all wish Master Nitra was more like you. He has a mind like a steel trap and can’t accept that our minds aren’t all like his.
Thank the Heavens that my student days have ended.
Today, I officially begin my duties as a certified Sorcerer of the Prism Council. As a Root Sorcerer, it will be my task to assist with the care and conservation of our beautiful empire’s natural resources. I had hoped to visit you all, but it seems my team will be starting its circuit at the northern mountains instead of the border as I had thought. Heavy snowfall in the mountains this past winter has caused the rivers to rise dangerously now that the weather is warming up, and more hands are needed in case of floods. That means it’ll be autumn by the time I return home.
I hope the recent cold spell hasn’t caused you too much trouble. Just in case, I’ve included a few packets of that herbal tea I used to brew for you. Here at the Oriko Temple, we have some of the highest quality herbs on the market.
May this letter find you well and your students treat you kindly.
I have five students in my class. I prepared an introductory speech, but with them all staring at me, I couldn’t recall a single word of it. So I told them a story about us. They’re at this school to learn about the dangers we face in life and how to live, and so I told them of that demon that attacked us—that night when I got these scars on my back. That old storage shed still hasn’t been fixed. If I went out there now, I imagine I could still find the claw marks in the wood and the bloodstains, even after all these years. If Teacher Jun hadn’t taught us about the plants to ward off demons and you hadn’t learned those lessons so well, I wouldn’t be here. Even now, I find it hard to venture far from the village alone.
I think they were more impressed by my scars than my story, but that’s all right. I’m starting with basic herb lore and any interest makes me happy.
Grandmother keeps asking me where you are. She forgets often that you’re still gone. She misses the stories you used to tell her of all the great things you’d someday do. I try to tell her stories like you did, but I’ve never been much good at making things up. Though now that you’re a full-fledged Sorcerer, I can tell her real stories about the things you used to dream up.
Best of luck,
I still dream about that night. I’ve met plenty of demons since, but that one—that’s the only one that continues to haunt me. I never knew bears could be so massive, or perhaps its skeleton was warped by the magic that revived it as a creature of the dark. Remembering the heavy stench of death that clung to it chills me to the bone. I’ve never felt my humanity as keenly as I did looking into its eyes. And I’ve never been so relieved as I was the day that Storm Sorcerer finally arrived to slay it.
I wonder at how the one Storm Sorcerer on my team seems to have no fear in her at all. I’ve seen her grapple with a monkey demon barehanded just so she could guarantee a killing shot with her lightning. Sometimes, she scares me more than the demons do. She calls herself Roxanne, but people refer to her more often as the Golden Huntress for this beautiful scarf she always wears around her neck. The Azra Temple where she trained must be quite intense. Compared to her, I feel like a coward even though I’ve always considered courage to be one of my better qualities. Alas, we can’t all eat demons for breakfast and come out with our stomachs intact.
As it is, I’ll make do with what courage I have and try my best to give grandmother stories that she can’t forget.
I’m finally back home. It feels like I’ve been running marathons since dawn. Perhaps working out in the fields with father would have been easier.
We’ve added a room to the schoolhouse since you left big enough for twenty, but even five seems like too many right now. Annie is studious despite being the youngest, but Bran won’t stop poking her—and refuses to sit anywhere but next to her. Nessa follows me everywhere and asks tons of questions, which is good except she seldom stops to listen when I reply. Jet only wants to play games, and Tohmi won’t speak to me at all although he does the work that I give him. What am I supposed to do?
Teacher Jun is retired now and helps out at the hospital. I asked her for advice, but she only laughed and said that’s how children are and I’d have to find out what’s important to me as a teacher first—my teaching philosophy if you will.
Even so, I don’t remember being this difficult as a child.
Hopefully, your luck has been better than mine,
Calm down, ‘Michi,
I know you care deeply about doing a good job, but it’s not like you to let it frustrate you so. Take a break. Get to know them and give them a chance to get to know you. I bet if you asked Father about farming, he’d tell you the same thing. You can’t rush plants into growing up, and it’s the same with people.
Oh, and for the record, when we first started school, you cried every day from the moment Mother dropped us off until the end of class. You wouldn’t let go of my arm so I had to learn to write with my left hand. Teacher Jun told me not to worry, that we all just needed time to adjust.
Speaking of time, I’ve enclosed a pocket watch made for me by one of my teammates. It’s crafted from Eronite, the metal we Sorcerers use to channel our magic and create things of power. If you open it and shine a light on it in the dark, it will project a moving map of the constellations. I know how much you like to watch the stars. Perhaps your students, too, will share your passion.
Thank you for the gift. Please tell your friend that my students loved it. Yesterday, I dimmed all the lights in the schoolroom except one, and let the watch fill the shadows with stars. I showed them the different constellations, although I ended up letting Nessa do most of the talking. She knows a surprising amount about them, and she loves to act out her stories. Tohmi watched her more intently than I’ve seen him watch anything. Afterwards, he drew a picture of one of the constellations for me. I hung it on the wall beside my desk.
Maybe you’re right. I’ve been far too serious. It’s just that since you left, I feel that I need to make up for your absence somehow. It’s silly, I know, but I suppose that’s human nature. Perhaps I’ll take up morning meditation.
You must be getting close to the mountains now. I hear a strange flu is troubling the area.
Please be careful,
Normally, passing on your compliments to Dawnali would have earned me an extended and enthusiastic explanation of how he made the watch, but tonight, no one wants to talk. Most of us have been tending to the sick since dawn. Something has poisoned the lake that this village depends on for its water, and the soil here is too hard and dry for cultivating medicinal plants. I’ve all but exhausted my supply of herbs. Never once during my training did I think that I’d be using my magic to dig graves.
Roxanne cried today. They’re the only tears I’ve ever seen her shed. I’m not sure if they were tears of sadness or frustration. Her power may come from her training, but I think her strength comes from somewhere else, somewhere deep inside where she keeps those tears and knows what it means to shed them.
Tomorrow, we head upstream to see if we can find the source of the contamination. Dawnali will stay behind to help the villagers until we return.
It may be awhile before I can write again.
I found Tohmi crying behind a tree in the schoolyard yesterday. I called out to him but he didn’t acknowledge me. Before I could go over and ask him what was wrong, he dried his tears and went back to studying his books. He’s always studying, reading, and watching the others. I kept him after class to sort things out, and I finally know why.
Why didn’t his parents tell me that he has trouble hearing? That he can’t speak? If I’d known, I could have taught my lessons differently—maybe used more pictures, acted things out more, written things down for him. I wish I’d noticed earlier. He’s such a smart child and he works so hard. The least I can do is try to make it easier. At least now I know why he keeps to himself so much when I can see how much he enjoys their company. I swear that from today onward, things will change.
I hope you were able to help that village. In some ways, I think sickness can be more frightening than demon attacks. The hardest enemies to face are those that we can’t touch.
My students asked me what it’s like to be a Sorcerer. What would you have me tell them?
Several creatures were killed in a rockslide a ways up the nearby mountain, one of them a demon. Its blood was what poisoned the stream. I’ve set up a temporary dam while we wait for the Prism Council to send a Sorcerer who can purify the dark magic. In the meantime, I think I can cultivate a plant that will produce an antidote. If it works, we’ll distribute it through the settlements.
Your students, tell them... that being a Sorcerer means you have the power to do amazing things. You travel a great deal, meet all kinds of people, and help keep our homes safe. It can be fun, but it’s also a lot of work. And sometimes, you have to do things that you never wanted to do—make decisions that you really wish someone else would make instead. People look to you for answers, and it’s not always okay to say, “I don’t know.”
Now that I’ve written it down, I guess it’s a lot like what Grandmother used to say about growing up. Not that I would have accepted that answer from Teacher Jun back when we asked her about Sorcerers. I refused to see magic as anything but extraordinary. Perhaps I was a little too full of dreams, but really, is that such a bad thing?
Scratch what I wrote. I’ll leave it up to you what you want to tell them.
The children here folded several paper flowers for me. Most flowers don’t grow so well here, so the locals invented all sorts of ways to compensate. There should be one in this envelope, although it’s probably quite squashed by now. I’ve also included a book that teaches you how to make them. It’s much harder than it looks—at least it was for me. I hope your class enjoys figuring it out together.
The paper flowers in the envelope are from my students. There should be five, one from each of them. I wish you could see what we’ve done with the classroom walls. Every morning, the sunlight shines through the windows on all the paper flowers and it’s almost as good as being outside.
Annie smiles every time she sees them.
Perhaps I can convince Bran to fold them for her. I’m sure he’ll find that it works better than poking her all the time.
What it’s like to be a Sorcerer... I thought about it for a long time and I’ve decided that I’m not going to answer them. Instead, I told them about the sickness in the village and the work your team has done there. Whatever stories you share with me, I will share with them, and they can draw their own conclusions.
Maybe “I don’t know” isn’t a great answer as a teacher either, but luckily for me, “let’s figure it out together” is.
Please take care,
Did you know that there’s a village in the northern mountains called Eyna? It has a population of fewer than two hundred, and I’ve never seen it on any map. Apparently, many such villages can be found in these mountains. They bake the most mouthwatering honey cakes here, and making them is a social ritual—even for a hopeless cook like me. Still, a stomach full of good food and a hot fire, and almost everyone can at least manage a smile despite all this cold and damp.
I’ve included the recipe.
Eyna sits on a long, narrow island at the center of a great river. It’s far enough inland and on high enough ground that the floodwaters don’t reach it, but most of their boats have been washed away or smashed against the shore. I’ve grown half a dozen new boats for them so they can still get around while they rebuild. Sounds strange, I know, but it’s fast and they work. It’s a specialty of mine—shaping plants as they grow, I mean, not making boats. It’s advanced Root magic where you not only help plants grow, but also alter their shape by guiding your energy through them the right way. For one of my exams at the temple, I wove three trees into a standard family home. Pity it’s such draining work or we could build entire villages this way—although I got zero points for aesthetic appeal. I know I’ve never been artistic, but I still thought that was a little harsh.
I digress. It’s been raining for three days and telling stories huddled together in the village meeting hall makes me nostalgic. Roxanne could make the rain stop if she wanted, but aside from the fact that it’s against the Prism Council’s code, she seems to like the rain. She’ll sit by the window and watch it for hours with her scarf draped about her shoulders like a shawl. Even in this gloom, the golden yellow of it is so vivid. One of these days, I must scrape up the courage to ask her about it.
My best wishes,
My students and I painted a map of the empire on the back wall. I’ve never heard of Eyna either, but I remember reading a book about the many villages scattered amidst the mountains. I’m starting on geography and we’re making it a game. I put Jet in charge of designing the rules with a few guidelines of my own. They want to play girls against boys—they always do—and as their teams travel across the board, we’ll learn about the places they pass through. I think we’ll begin in the mountains where you are. Perhaps if I have them follow your footsteps, these lessons will feel more real to them.
They loved the cakes, although Nessa added something to hers that turned it a splotchy purple. No one wanted to try it so she and I ate it together. Turns out she put in all these berries and flower petals, trying to make her cake smell and taste sweeter. Her mother always puts these things in her cakes, or so she tells me, to enhance the flavor or make them more nutritious. Nessa dreams of opening a bakery in the capital someday and becoming an even better cook than her mother. She has it all planned out, how her pastries are going to be as colorful as the rainbow and taste different with every bite. She described it in such detail that I dreamt about it that night, and then she asked me, “Do you think I can really do it?”
It’s the first time she’s ever stopped to listen to my answer. The others refusing to eat her cake must have bothered her more than she let on. I promised that I’d be her first customer.
Aside from you, no one’s ever asked me such a thing before. It’s strange to realize that as her teacher, my opinions actually matter to her. It’s an intimidating responsibility and serious food for thought.
All the best,
I can’t begin to count the number of times your faith in me has helped me find the courage to keep moving forward. I suppose I simply can’t bear the thought of disappointing my little brother. Whenever I felt homesick during my studies at the temple, I’d think back on the day I left home—the smiles on your faces and the tears in your eyes. Mother, Father, you—none of you really wanted to see me go, and yet you found it in yourselves to smile for me because you believed that I could make it.
Sometimes, that made all the difference, and here I am. A bit grubby at the moment and rather cold, but here.
The ocean really is breathtaking. We reached the coast earlier this afternoon just in time to help bring ashore these fishermen from a boat stranded on the reefs. Tomorrow, we’ll help them free their vessel and make any necessary repairs, but for now, I think they’re just glad for the company. It can get lonely out here with the nearest settlement more than two days away by sea.
Good thing we don’t get pirates this far north.
In the meantime, they’ve shared their fish with us. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the smell though, even if fresh fish is a rare treat for us inlanders. I could have done without having to gut them myself. Hopefully, my discomfort wasn’t too obvious. At least Roxanne was amused by it all. She’s the only one of us who’s ever lived by the sea.
I should like to see the ocean someday. Bran brought a toy ship from home to show us, one of those tiny wooden ones that float around inside glass bottles on colored water. It’s a model of the ship his father used to sail on before a run-in with pirates crippled him and his family came west. According to Bran, he’ll be a sailor too someday, maybe even a Storm Sorcerer, and he’ll take us all with him to see the sea as the captain of his very own vessel.
I shall look forward to it. Although when I have the time perhaps I should put more effort into learning how to swim.
All the best,
You can smell summer on the breeze here tonight, sweet and comforting in its warmth. We’ll be leaving the mountains in just a few days. I had hoped that our parting memories of this place would be peaceful, but alas, that’s not to be.
Demons attacked us while we were escorting a theatre troop to the next town. Two men were killed and several others were grievously injured. Roxanne went after the remaining demons while the rest of us tended to the wounded. I didn’t want her to go alone, but she refused to take any of us with her and she left before we could stop her.
She stumbled back into camp this morning battered and bloody but whole. I must confess that I didn’t get any sleep waiting for her. At least she let me help patch her up and get her something to drink. Luckily, we had a fresh change of clothes ready for her, although she wouldn’t let go of her scarf. I suppose she’ll wash that herself when she has time. I wonder if it comforts her to have it.
The camp was quiet with only the two of us awake. I had so many questions I didn’t know if I should ask, but for once, she spoke before I could. I suppose the dark circles under my eyes gave me away.
“This scarf,” she told me, “belonged to a dear friend of mine. We promised each other that we’d join a field team together, and we’d make it the best team around. She’s gone now. She was killed by a demon during the Azra Temple Certification Exams. Things like that happen sometimes.”
It sounds so matter-of-fact when she says it—things like that just happen.
“We’ve all worked hard to get here. My job is to protect this team and to slay demons. Let me do my job.”
That’s the most she’s said to me in three months. I’m not quite sure what to make of it except perhaps that we all have our own reasons for being here. She doesn’t care for gratitude or admiration, but that doesn’t stop us from admiring her or feeling grateful.
It’s her job to protect us, but it’s my job to keep us together and make sure we fulfill our responsibilities. I feel like I’m not doing enough. Two people are dead, all of us are hurt, and all I can do is hope that everything will work out somehow.
I apologize if I’ve rambled. I’ll write again when I’ve gotten some rest.
Enough. It’s such an arbitrary concept, and yet it seems we’re always trying to find ways to measure it.
The thing with being a teacher now instead of a student is that I’m the one who has to decide how much is enough—how much work, how much effort, and even how much progress. I know when my students are trying and when they’re daydreaming, and I know how much time and focus I put into trying to help them succeed. I imagine that it should be the same with you.
You know what you’re capable of. At the end of the day, that has to be enough.
Please take care,
One of the injured travelers—a little girl—is recovering much more slowly than the others. We think there might be some kind of infection. Her father was killed and her mother left them years ago. After discussing it with the troop director, we’ve decided that it would be best if we take her with us. We can find an Ash Sorcerer to heal her and give her a glimpse at some other ways of life. There aren’t that many children here her age and, according to the director, she’s never really liked the theatre.
Her name is Yzu. When I do come home, I’ll probably be bringing her with me. She tells me that she’s never been to school, although her father tried to teach her what he could. The other actors have taught her to dance and recite poetry, but out of everything they do, she only really likes to sing. Perhaps she can join your class. I think it would be good for her to have a chance to study with other children and figure out just where it is she wants to go from here. I’ve told her a lot about you, and she’s excited to meet you.
Tell Yzu that I look forward to meeting her. If she wishes to stay, she can always have your old room.
The Moon Flower Festival tomorrow will mark the end of spring and it’ll be a week before I see my students again. Before I let them go on holiday, I want to do something different. Instead of just having another lesson, I’ve invited their families to come in with them so their sons and daughters can share their favorite projects from class so far.
They should be here in about an hour. I came early to make sure everything in the classroom is in order. It feels so different sitting in here now. I wonder if my students were as nervous coming in here their first day as I was. Now, it’s just another routine—but a good routine, one that I look forward to. We’ve papered the walls of this classroom with our memories, and I keep wondering how much more it will have changed come the end of the year.
You remember that Teacher Jun asked me what was important to me as a teacher. Well, I’ve decided that what I want most is for my students to leave me the same way you left us that day to start your journey. They will leave my classroom believing that they can do great things, and if that’s the only thing they take with them, I’ll count my work a success.
We’ll all be keeping an eye out for your return. Nessa promised to bake you a cake when you do and she’s really getting quite good, so keep yourself safe and hurry back.
All the best,
Author's Note: I know the letters format isn't for everyone, but I've always rather enjoyed it myself as a reader. It also seemed to me like a nice way of contrasting Jaden and Eimichi's experiences.
While Jaden's sections come mostly from my own imagination, Eimichi's sections draw loosely from my own experiences as a teacher, as well as some of the stories I've heard other teachers share about their time in the classroom.