Chapter no 10: Alar and Several Stones

The Name of the Wind

BEN HELD UP A chunk of dirty fieldstone slightly bigger than his fist. “What will happen if I let go of this rock?”

I thought for a bit. Simple questions during lesson time were very seldom simple. Finally I gave the obvious answer. “It will probably fall.”

He raised an eyebrow. I had kept him busy over the last several months, and he hadn’t had the leisure to accidentally burn them off. “Probably? You sound like a sophist, boy. Hasn’t it always fallen before?”

I stuck my tongue out at him. “Don’t try to boldface your way through this one. That’s a fallacy. You taught me that yourself.”

He grinned. “Fine. Would it be fair to say you believe it will fall?” “Fair enough.”

“I want you to believe it will fall up when I let go of it.” His grin widened.

I tried. It was like doing mental gymnastics. After a while I nodded. “Okay.”

“How well do you believe it?” “Not very well,” I admitted.

“I want you to believe this rock will float away. Believe it with a faith that will move mountains and shake trees.” He paused and seemed to take a different tack. “Do you believe in God?”

“Tehlu? After a fashion.”

“Not good enough. Do you believe in your parents?”

I gave a little smile. “Sometimes. I can’t see them right now.”

He snorted and unhooked the slapstick he used to goad Alpha and Beta when they were being lazy. “Do you believe in this, E’lir?” He only called me E’lir when he thought I was being especially willfully obstinate. He held out the stick for my inspection.

There was a malicious glitter in his eye. I decided not to tempt fate. “Yes.”

“Good.” He slapped the side of the wagon with it, producing a sharp crack. One of Alpha’s ears pivoted around at the noise, uncertain as to whether or not it was directed at her. “That’s the sort of belief I want. It’s

called Alar: riding-crop belief. When I drop this stone it will float away, free as a bird.”

He brandished the slapstick a bit. “And none of your petty philosophy or I’ll make you sorry you ever took a shining to that little game.”

I nodded. I cleared my mind with one of the tricks I’d already learned, and bore down on believing. I started to sweat.

After what may have been ten minutes I nodded again. He let go of the rock. It fell.

I began to get a headache.

He picked the rock back up. “Do you believe that it floated?” “No!” I sulked, rubbing my temples.

“Good. It didn’t. Never fool yourself into perceiving things that don’t exist. It’s a fine line to walk, but sympathy is not an art for the weak willed.”

He held out the rock again. “Do you believe it will float?” “It didn’t!”

“It doesn’t matter. Try again.” He shook the stone. “Alar is the cornerstone of sympathy. If you are going to impose your will on the world, you must have control over what you believe.”

I tried and I tried. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done. It took me almost all afternoon.

Finally Ben was able to drop the rock and I retained my firm belief that it wouldn’t fall despite evidence to the contrary.

I heard the thump of the rock and I looked at Ben. “I’ve got it,” I said calmly, feeling more than a little smug.

He looked at me out of the corner of his eye, as if he didn’t quite believe me but didn’t want to admit it. He picked at the rock absently with one fingernail, then shrugged and held it up again. “I want you to believe the rock will fall and that the rock will not fall when I let go of it.” He grinned.

I went to bed late that night. I had a nosebleed and a smile of satisfaction. I held the two separate beliefs loosely in my mind and let their singing discord lull me into senselessness.

Being able to think about two disparate things at once, aside from being wonderfully efficient, was roughly akin to being able to sing harmony with yourself. It turned into a favorite game of mine. After two days of practicing I was able to sing a trio. Soon I was doing the mental equivalent of palming cards and juggling knives.

There were many other lessons, though none were quite so pivotal as the Alar. Ben taught me Heart of Stone, a mental exercise that let you set aside your emotions and prejudices and let you think clearly about whatever you wished. Ben said a man who truly mastered Heart of Stone could go to his

sister’s funeral without ever shedding a tear.

He also taught me a game called Seek the Stone. The point of the game was to have one part of your mind hide an imaginary stone in an imaginary room. Then you had another, separate part of your mind try to find it.

Practically, it teaches valuable mental control. If you can really play Seek the Stone, then you are developing an iron-hard Alar of the sort you need for sympathy.

However, while being able to think about two things at the same time is terribly convenient, the training it takes to get there is frustrating at best, and at other times rather disturbing.

I remember one time I looked for the stone for almost an hour before I consented to ask the other half of me where I’d hidden it, only to find I hadn’t hidden the stone at all. I had merely been waiting to see how long I would look before giving up. Have you ever been annoyed and amused with yourself at the same time? It’s an interesting feeling, to say the very least.

Another time I asked for hints and ended up jeering at myself. It’s no wonder that many arcanists you meet are a little eccentric, if not downright cracked. As Ben had said, sympathy is not for the weak of mind.

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