Narrim could hear his grandfather’s voice as clearly as if the man stood next to him. The fiery memory of his switch lashing across Narrim’s exposed back burned through Narrim’s mind, inspiring him to roll his shoulders.
The sun now hid almost entirely behind the horizon, leaving the heat of the day to dissipate. The moon, full and white, had already risen high enough into the sky that it had begun to bleach the savannah with its pale, heatless light.
Narrim would need to return home soon. In the fading light, he would be unable to continue his practice. Moonlight and shadows had a way of twisting things and making it seem as though he had drawn something better or worse than he actually had.
The circles in the dirt of the practice area looked perfect, but looking perfect was not enough. They had to be perfect, or they were useless. Narrim’s shoulder ached from the act of drawing them over and over again. He ignored it. It was less, he thought, than the pain of failing his grandfather.
Narrim shuddered at the sound. His ears twitched, and he turned his head, questioning, for a moment, if he’d actually heard the words spoken aloud. He hadn’t. Hallan had already retired for the evening, leaving Narrim to work on his own.
Narrim knew that Hallan was disappointed in him. His circles were not yet perfect. Narrim worried that they would never be perfect enough to function, and they were just the baseline for the summoning circle. If he couldn’t get this part right, he feared that his grandfather would never even bother teaching him the rest. After all, what would be the point?
He felt the switch lash across his back again, the punishment for an imperfect circle. Hallan could identify them just by glancing at them. Narrim could not.
He felt jealous of Memmyr. Hallan showed her more kindness, perhaps because she was a girl, or perhaps because she was not his grandchild. He expected less of her, and so even when she failed, Hallan felt less disappointment. She had not perfected the circles yet, either, but when she moved her staff through the sand, there was a graceful artfulness to her movements that Narrim felt he would never match even with years of training.
He felt jealous of Saadan, too, who often complained about the rigors of his warrior’s training, but who, in the same breath, could barely restrain his smile as he went on about the things he had learned or the friend he had gotten the better of during a sparring match.
Narrim was expected to learn how to fight, too, though it hardly seemed he had the time, now his training under Hallan had begun in earnest. Hallan had been preparing him for this from a young age. Narrim still had not been ready. He hadn’t known how hard it would be to draw a perfect circle. He hadn’t known how much the muscles of his arm and shoulder would burn from hours upon hours of practice drawing in the sand.
Narrim’s father had taken over his training with the spear and bow, which took place early in the morning, before the sun had even risen, when its light had just begun to lighten the sky. He was kinder than Hallan, but he was not kind. Narrim had bruises from not only the poles the practiced with in place of spears, but from his father’s hooves and even his horns, as well, with which he was quick to punish Narrim when Narrim made a wrong move.
He wanted to ask Hallan to summon a healing spirit for him, though he feared his grandfather’s reaction. Narrim didn’t want to show weakness. His grandfather intended him to be a shaman, and shamans had to be strong at all times. Stronger, even, than warriors, because a shaman had to be strong of both mind and body.
Narrim would not share that line of thought with his brother, though, because Saadan had hinted that he thought Hallan had chosen Narrim to become a shaman because Saadan was stronger. Narrim knew that was not the case, especially now that he had begun his training.
Narrim drew one more circle in the loose sand, his long pole carving a cool line. When he had learned to draw the shapes of summoning to his grandfather’s satisfaction, he would earn the right to make attempts using a real summoning staff. For now, he was relegated to a stick in the dirt. It was all he deserved.
The circle looked perfect to Narrim, once he had finished. It was difficult to saw in the moonlight, particularly due to the mutable nature of the sand, which could never be used as a medium for a real summoning circle. Only Hallan could have told him whether the circle was exact enough.
Narrim sighed. He had forced himself to continue, but he now had to admit that this further practice was pointless. He would be even more useless tomorrow if he wore out his arm so badly he couldn’t use it, and practicing imperfect circles, if only on accident, would only form a habit that would prove difficult to break.
Narrim hung his staff upon the rack and retrieved a broom, the end of which was formed of soft, feathered grasses. It would have been nearly useless for sweeping a floor, but it worked perfectly for smoothing out the sand of the practice area. He began in one corner, as his grandfather had taught him, and smoothed out the sand all across it in preparation for tomorrow.
The act of smoothing the sand calmed him. This, he could do right and properly. It didn’t matter if it was imperfect, because it only had to be smooth enough to practice upon. Nothing depending on this. The rhythmic motion of the broom brought Narrim a peace he hadn’t felt all day.
If he did not perfect the circles tomorrow, so be it. He still had years of practice ahead of him, if his grandfather had not exaggerated, and it had only been a month since his grandfather had begun to train him and Memmyr. Perfection would come with time and practice.