Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 20

A Regatta

Yes, I’m posting the Wizards episode early this week. Reality has been rather sucky lately, and an escape into fiction is a welcome diversion. Of course, in fiction, one can have a regatta in which nothing goes wrong, right? Not!

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 20

On my way back to the room, as I passed one of the laboratory classrooms, class was just getting out. I looked in the door, and I saw the students gathering up their materials in preparation to leave. Most of the class was sitting together in a large group, but Betsy was sitting off to the side, alone. I remembered how she had been shunned at breakfast; apparently that coolness toward her also extended to classroom interactions. I wondered whether magic lab was like chemistry lab had been back in high school, and whether the instructor had trouble finding someone to be Betsy’s lab partner. For that matter, maybe the school had had trouble finding someone to be her roommate – and thus she was available to become mine when I arrived. I waited by the door for Betsy to come out, and then we walked together to our room.

When we returned to the room, Betsy picked up a hull that she was carving. I recognized the slim, javelin-like shape and the knife-like keel. She was making an exact replica of my boat, even though she had never seen it. “Here, take a look,” she said, handing it to me. “It’s not finished yet, but it’s a good start.”

I took the boat in my hands, and I could feel the magic resonate beneath the smooth grain of the wood, just as my real boat resonated. But there was something more to the resonance, a harmonic that wasn’t mine but that was closely tuned to mine. Pierre’s? His boat was like mine, after all. “Beautiful,” I said.

The next morning, I returned to Jackson’s office. “Yesterday, we looked at divining, which is receiving information,” he said. “Now, let’s look at sending it, in the form of illusion or of telepathy.” He gestured to me to sit down. “First, there’s illusion – which isn’t just about vision. We use that term to refer to affecting any of the senses in a way that isn’t real. We can, for instance, use it to inflict or to relieve pain.”

“I think I know about that,” I said. “Pierre used to say that he added a little magic when he applied physical therapy. I haven’t tried that before …” I reached out and touched Jackson’s wrist. “Pierre’s hands had a halo of warmth around them…”

“Ahh …” Jackson sighed. “You say you’ve never tried this before? I wonder why you just pinpointed major relief on that wrist – an old football injury, where arthritis is building up. I’ve never had relief that instant before, or that thorough. We’ll want to enroll you in more training for illusion skills, just because you haven’t had practice, but clearly, you have talent in that area. Illusion is also one of the areas in which control is essential. Deception is tricky to handle, and it easily can play into the Others’ agenda.”

“I can understand that.”

“Meanwhile, let’s look at your telepathy skills,” Jackson said, flipping through his large book. “We already saw this morning that you can receive sensations although apparently not thoughts. Can you send anything?”

I wondered whether it would be safe to try to send something to Pierre, and then I realized that just the thought was causing an attempt at the action. I saw myself, through him, in his kitchen, using my coffee maker to brew himself a pot. I love you, I thought as intensely as I could. I felt Pierre smiling, a much bigger smile than I could attribute to the rich aroma of the coffee. “I don’t know if I got through,” I said. “I got a feeling like I just lobbed a big blob of intense emotion at him, but I don’t think he got any words.”

“I’ll say you did,” Jackson said, wiping sweat off his forehead. “We definitely need to be getting you lessons in controlling that talent. I’ll put you down for courses in illusion and telepathy, and I think I need to take a break for a while. I can assess the rest of your talents in a couple of days.”

The next day at breakfast, Rhonda introduced me to an athletic older man. “This is Howard, our sailing coach,” she said.

“We’re having racing today,” Howard said. “It’s just intramural, just our own students, but it’s an important part of their training. Before you can be a true wizard of winds and waves, you must have an understanding of the winds and waves. I understand you do, Sarah, but many of our students arrive with little or no formal knowledge. For them, the sailing and racing are as important as the spells.”

Howard led me down the corridor that led to the outer door, but just before he got there, he went out a side door into a stairway leading upward. “This is the way to the spectators’ gallery,” he said as we emerged into the lower level of the abandoned yacht club. The garage door entrance was to our left, and in front of us were windows, boarded up, facing the water. Howard pressed a spot on the wall, and the boards hinged up, revealing intact windows looking out from beneath the upper deck at the fleet circling around beyond the docks. As the windows let in light, I could see that the room was fairly well maintained, and not abandoned at all. It was set up as a snack bar, with casual tables and a food counter in the back. The tables and chairs were all set up to face the action. Howard led me through the snack bar to a door leading out to the lower deck, which also had tables and chairs set up, as well as a gangway to the docks. There we sat to watch the races.

Out on the water, dozens of dinghies were swirling around in a steady breeze, about eight or ten knots. The sun was shining, making the fleet look like a swarm of glittering white butterflies. I noticed that the sailors came in all shapes, sizes, and ages, from small children to middle-aged, from athletically trim to pudgy. “This is our novice fleet,” Howard explained. “These are students who didn’t have any sailing experience when they arrived here, most of them in the big fall enrollment, but a few more recently.”

I remembered my own early lessons. Handling a small boat is an excellent way to understand the winds and waves – the contact with both is very intimate; getting wet is a given, and you have to be very much in tune with both the boat and the conditions to keep from capsizing. I now realized that my own tuning was more than standard human intuition, and it was probably honed by just such exercises as I was now watching.

The starting countdown began, and the fleet’s swirling became concentrated, focusing on the invisible line between the committee boat and the starting pin. As the five minutes counted down, the fleet converged on the line, working to be just at the line, and not across, when the starting horn sounded and the small boats surged across the line on the upwind leg of the race. Already, I could see some differences in skills – clearly some sailors picked up the skills faster than others. Those who were first across the line quickly pulled ahead, and then they split into two main groups, about two thirds on starboard tack and one third on port, to begin tacking toward the turning mark. The rest of the fleet lagged behind, in a less coherent mass. Some were having trouble getting their sails sheeted in; some were trying to point too high into the wind; some had equipment problems such as tangled up lines. I remembered my own early days, when I learned the hard way how to avoid such mishaps as “foot cleat” – accidentally stepping on a line, such as a mainsheet, and keeping it from running as it should. I saw a couple of boats going in circles, and one capsize.

“I’m afraid we’re a bit short on coaching staff,” Howard was saying. “Perhaps you could come out when we practice, to help some of the novices. It gets worse this time of year for some of them; they’re beginning to learn spells, and they will accidentally add a spell to a sailing mistake and make things worse.”

“I don’t know if I can help with the spells,” I said, “but I can certainly help out on the boat-handling issues.” I also remembered my own first teacher, Pierre, and I hoped I could be as good a teacher as he had been.

Meanwhile, the leading boats had tacked and were converging on the turning mark. The sailors who had gone to the right side of the course, on port tack, now seemed to have an edge on the others – those few, I surmised, had sensed enough about the weather to know where the wind would be better. In a flurry of sails, the two flocks of butterflies converged around the mark, with much splashing, and sheeted out to begin the downwind run. As the fleet approached, I could clearly recognize the lead sailor, her scarred face red and purple from the fresh wind. It was Betsy. “Your roommate’s a great sailor, too,” Howard commented. “She’s more of a teacher than a learner now, even after just a few months. If I get you on board to help, too, then I think we can get this whole fleet into shape by summer.”

After the lead boats finished, I went out on the pier to meet Betsy and congratulate her, and we stood together watching the stragglers complete the race. I was itching to get out on the water – here was something I could do to help. “I feel the same way,” Betsy said.

Had I said something? I didn’t think I had.

“Didn’t you just tell me you wanted to get out there and help?” Betsy asked.

Time to let Jackson know that, at least at short ranges, telepathy does work for me, I realized.

“Another talent, Sarah?” Betsy teased. “Is there anything magic that you can’t do?” She gave me a quick hug.

“Now for the day’s second event,” Howard said. “We have our more advanced sailors sailing on two of our larger boats in a match race. They’ll start and finish at the mouth of this cove, but most of the race will be out in the open water. The view will be better from up there.” He pointed toward the top of the roof of the yacht club.

We went into the yacht club and up three flights of stairs, eventually coming out onto a large patio on the roof, hidden from below by the angle of the roof itself. Howard handed binoculars to me, and to Betsy and a couple of others of the novice sailors who joined us there. I noticed that here, unlike in the classrooms and dining room, Betsy was treated with respect. What mattered most was her sailing, not her scarred face or scandalous enrollment. She smiled at me. “I’m glad you think so,” she said. Howard and the others looked at us in puzzlement, and I realized that I was communicating only with Betsy, and not with anyone else. Nice to know I could focus my messages – I could imagine some embarrassment that might occur if I couldn’t. Betsy giggled in response to that thought.

The boats in the match race were keelboats, bigger than dinghies, but still small as ocean-going sailboats go. Each had a crew of six advanced wizardry students, and the boats were closely matched. They sailed a more complicated course, a combination of a triangle and an upwind-downwind run. The addition of the triangle would allow the boats to sail a couple of legs of the course on a reach, with the wind coming from the side of the boat, the most efficient point of sail, where all-out speed could be tested and neither tacking nor jibing would be required.

The two boats were so closely matched that they were just about even with each other for the entire course. They swapped leads often, and each one was ahead for about half of the mark roundings. They completed the initial triangle at a blistering pace, which would have put professional yachtsmen to shame, and they ran a fierce tacking duel on the upwind part of the final upwind-downwind course. They rounded the mark nearly even with each other and began the jibing duel down to the finish line. As they came toward us, I could see a wall of black clouds rising toward us at what seemed to be an unnatural pace. I was reminded of the unusual storm that had occurred the night I was killed, and I wondered what level of protections had been placed on the race course. Certainly, there would be the standard protections for when wizards raced, to prevent cheating by skippers using magic to make unfair changes in the weather. And there would be some protections associated with the school, to protect the most vulnerable of the young wizards as they learned their craft. But how far out did the school’s protection extend? It couldn’t cover the whole ocean; could it cover the area of that ocean race course? Or would the protection be weaker out there, because it was farther from the core of the school? I was getting a very bad feeling about the whole thing.

“I feel it, too,” Betsy said. “Howard, there’s something wrong out there!”


Post a Comment

<< Home