“What is the Scholars’ line, aunt Lucille?” Mary asked, braving her aunt’s stormy looks.
The room was quiet for a few moments. Normally Lucille would have chastened the uncouth youth for asking such an impertinent question, but under the circumstances it dawned on her that the spirit of cooperation might bring to the surface details that her niece would otherwise not think of sharing with her. She answered.
“It’s our family line, dear. Way back when the Book of Prophecy was written, some of the members of the council were in disagreement, they insisted the Circle had misinterpreted the ancestral wisdom, they persisted in using mirrors, they founded their own school of thought. There they taught their own philosophy, and science, and rules of conduct, which unfortunately were in direct violation to the Council rules, in every way, really. It didn’t take the Circle long to declare their teachings toxic, a plague on society’s morals and a blatant trampling of our truths. The Circle required them to cease and desist any activities not endorsed by the Council. The more audacious members of the group protested publicly, in the Council Hall, during the plenum meeting, and thus pushed, the Circle, wanting to display strength and cohesion, voted unanimously for immediate banishment of the non-compliant.”
“The remaining members of the Scholars’ line acquiesced to denounce their erroneous teachings and adhere to our society’s truths, and despite the fact that they could never regain the full status and privileges they enjoyed before, they reintegrated in society and managed to live their lives in peace.”
“Of course the Circle never trusted them again, their teachings were showing such disregard for the Prophecy that nobody could in good faith believe them when they said they changed their minds. It’s not something that we usually share with children like yourself, we don’t want to worry you unnecessarily, but some of the things they said…” Lucille paused briefly, unsure if she should continue.
“Please tell, aunt Lucille, I promise I won’t be disturbed,” Mary insisted, wasted effort, really, because Lucille had already decided to share the whole story with her.
“Well, for one, it appears that they worshiped mirrors,” she whispered fearfully. Mary gasped.
“Really?” the girl asked, matching her tone of voice.
“At least that’s what the Council kept saying, over and over, it seems the Scholars protested adamantly when the mirrors were broken and some even placed themselves in front of the cursed objects to protect them. They had this weird belief, though, that not all mirrors are equal, for some they didn’t care at all, and for others they would have laid down their lives.” Lucille paused again, before she continued in an even softer tone of voice, filled with sadness. “Some believe that a few Scholars did lay down their lives to protect the mirrors. What a weird and wasteful idol worship, what would push someone to die for an inanimate object, and an undesirable one at that?!” She stopped to reflect.
Mary waited a few seconds, but curiosity was stronger than her.
“So, what happened next, aunt Lucille? What do we have to do with all of this?”
“Well,” Lucille continued reluctantly, knowing that she’ll have to arrive to her socially undesirable status sooner or later, “again, rumors have it that some of the repenting Scholars weren’t all that repenting. It seems they kept teaching their knowledge in secret, at great peril, at least to their direct descendants, some say they continued teaching the old language,” Lucille continued fearfully, “some say that the old language does something to the mirrors, something unnatural, terrifying.”
“And we are descended from them, aunt Lucille?” Mary said. “How come your parents didn’t try to teach you the old language?” she asked innocently.
“You do realize that what you are asking me is if my parents violated every commandment of our society to fill my head with poisonous untruths?” Lucille objected.
“Really, aunt Lucille, if you did know the old language and wanted to teach me, I’d be more than eager to learn it,” Mary’s eyes shone with curiosity, and her aunt gave her a probing stare and wondered why the girl was suddenly so interested in a dead language nobody could understand anymore.
“Why would you…? Of all the things, Mary!” she continued reluctantly, and then she became a little sad. “I don’t know it, dear. Over time, because of the secrecy and the danger, most of the knowledge was lost, and in the end we were left with bits and pieces, more ritual than true knowledge, really, and that’s all my mother taught me, a few words, I don’t even know what they mean…”
“Surely, you could pick it up if you happened upon the language, if you saw it written, for instance,” Mary insisted. Lucille was drenched in the sudden realization that the girl had gotten herself in over her head and if she didn’t find out exactly what the trouble was, they were both going to end up joining their audacious ancestors in exile.
“See it written? Have you lost all common sense, girl?! Do you know how much effort and grovelling it took me to make those dragon ladies of the Circle look past my undesirable ancestry? Get me kicked out of the Council, why don’t you!” Lucille shouted, outraged.
“Please, auntie? For me?” Mary begged, her clear green eyes looking tearful all of a sudden. Lucille relented.
“All right, I’ll teach you what I know, but mark my words, girl, if you end up getting yourself in trouble, I wash my hands of you,” Lucille agreed reluctantly. “First things first, there is the legend of the Fire Maiden,” she started again.
“I know about the legend of the Fire Maiden,” Mary interrupted her, somewhat disappointed.
“Not that legend. The other legend. I don’t know truth from old wives’ tales, so I’ll feed it to you straight. They say that the blood of the Fire Maiden can open the mirrors, whatever that means.”
Mary stood quietly for a second, pondering what she had just heard. Lucille continued.
“See, it seems that some of the ancestors in the Scholars’ line happened to have hair and eyes like yours. They all got banished, of course, repentant or no,” she continued, trying to pour some ice water over Mary’s newfound elation. “Don’t look so pleased with yourself, girl, I didn’t say that was a good thing.”
“What else do you know?” the girl prodded.
“You heard Rosemary talk about the Que’d, didn’t you?” Lucille whispered.
“The Que’d isn’t exactly a book, more like a set of instructions on how to use the mirrors, some think even how to build them. The legend says that one of our ancestors hid a copy somewhere the Council would never think of looking, and it’s been around ever since. The Council gave up searching for it after several generations, nobody can read it anymore, even if they managed to find it. The old language is forever lost,” she stopped again.
“What else, aunt Lucille?” Mary continued prodding.
“You’ll laugh, I find it hard to believe this myself, but my mother always said that our society was pushed backwards, that the knowledge we lost was infinitely more advanced, she said that our village could talk to other villages through the mirrors, that we sought knowledge in them, all forbidden things, of course.”
Mary gasped, shocked. She started pondering. Nothing good could come out of this, of course, of the mirrors that had secret knowledge in them, that showed pictures from afar, how could this not be from evil? Then maybe the village was right that she was evil too, even though she was pretty sure that she wasn’t going to give anybody snake skin and eyes that set things on fire, she was pretty sure of that.
If those mirrors could pour forth knowledge, who knows what else could come out of them? Who knows what she herself could inadvertently draw out of them, as she and the mirrors were intricately connected. She panicked and decided to tell her aunt what she knew. She went to get the Book of Prophecy.
“Mary, I told you a thousand times to stay away from this cursed tome. What do I need to do to make you listen to me?” Lucille regained her usual attitude.
Mary said nothing, she just opened the book, took her aunt’s hand and started caressing the rugged pages with it until the look in Lucille’s eyes turned from bewilderment to awe.