If he sat upright in his bed and turned to the side, Aric could see, out of his bedroom window, a good portion of the land that belonged to his grandparents. He knew, from when his grandfather spoke about their past, that the amount of land they had owned had once been much smaller. Over the years, Jacob and Stelle had gradually purchased adjacent plots of land until, with time, they’d arrived at what they had now.
It had started as the land Jacob had inherited from his father, Aric’s great-grandfather, who had farmed it not with profit primarily in mind, but merely sustaining himself and his family. Jacob, from a young age, took a different view: he wanted the farm to be a success.
When they’d been younger, and their holding much smaller, Jacob and Stelle had cared for the farm themselves. As they grew the farm, though, and as they grew in age, they had come to rely on hands from Exora to maintain most of the farm’s daily needs. Jacob took a more active role than Stelle, now, though he grumbled at times about aching joints. Stelle mainly saw to the bookkeeping and relations with traders and with the sellers in town.
Aric had even less to do with the farm’s day-to-day operation than either of his grandparents, though he was at — well, past — the age when his grandfather had left school to keep the farm in operation. This was due, in part, to the number of people from town willing to work for the wage his grandparents paid, which left Aric with little to do around the farm even if he sought the work out.
His grandfather did pay him a bit when Aric worked during his breaks from school, though that wasn’t why Aric helped. He didn’t enjoy the work, and he knew he never would, but if he didn’t contribute to the farm somehow he felt guilty. His grandparents had worked so hard their entire lives on this farm. They and the farm had given him so much. It felt wrong not to try to give back to them, somehow.
Jacob had said something to him once that had, for a time, assuaged his guilt. “The farm was my dream. It doesn’t have to be yours.”
Jacob and Stelle wanted Aric to keep going to school. They wanted him to finish Primary School, because both of them had left it early — Jacob to work the farm, and Stelle to marry him. They wanted him to continue on to a Secondary School and get a job that required an education.They wanted him to find his own path, and his own dream.
Aric did very well in school. That’s why his grandparents wanted him to continue on with his schooling. That’s why, when school was in session, they barely let him work on the farm. They wanted him to focus on his studies so that he could continue to do well, and so that he could select what sort of direction he would take his Secondary education.
The thing was, Aric didn’t need to focus in school. That was part of the reason he did well. Learning came easily to him. It came so easily at times that he felt like he must be missing something. He went to study sessions with his friends, El and Sam, but he quickly grew bored of them because he had already learned the information.
Like not having to work on the farm, this made him feel guilty. El and Sam were smart. They were smart in different ways from each other, and from Aric, but they were both still very intelligent. Sam was booksmart, for sure. Give him a class he was passionate about, like history or literature, and his grades surpassed Aric’s every time. Yet Sam had to work for it. He had to study nightly, and he put a lot of effort into his homework.
El’s grades weren’t often as good as Sam or Aric’s, and she had to work the hardest out of the three of them when it came to written tests or any sort of memorization, but she was what Aric would call “body smart.” She was good at sports, better than Aric and far better than Sam, and she excelled in Combat.
Each year, the three of them made sure they had at least one class together: Combat. El had to cajole and encourage Sam every time, because he not only disliked it, he was pretty bad at it. He did it, nevertheless, if only to make sure they had at least one class they could spend together.
El was always at the top of that class, with Aric close behind her. She was, without a doubt, amazing. Even their instructor was legitimately impressed with her. Like the rest of school came easily to Aric, fighting came to El naturally. When they sparred, she bested Aric perhaps three or four times out of five.
This made sense, given El’s dreams for her future. She wanted to be a Lawkeeper. She had even received a scholarship last year from the Lawkeepers themselves after their Combat instructor had recommended her. When she completed Primary School, she would travel to Gate, the city that held the Lawkeeper’s College, and continue her schooling there.
Aric had asked her, on more than one occasion, if she was sure about what she wanted. He’d asked her if she wouldn’t rather stay in town, so that she could stay near him and Sam. After all, they’d been friends since their very first day of Primary School. With a sad look on her face, El said that she would miss them, and that she would send them letters, and that she intended to see them again someday, but yes — she knew what she wanted.
That, too, made sense, because she’d been set on being a Lawkeeper for as long as Aric had known her. A lot of little kids had dreams that warped and morphed into new dreams as they aged, but not El. The only doubt Aric had ever seen in her had been after classes in Law and Philosophy, in which El did almost as well as she did in Combat. He’d asked her if she might like to be a Lawmaker instead, and she’d said, “Maybe.”
That was as far as the conversation went. El wanted to be Lawkeeper, and Sam? Sam wanted to be a Librarian.
He wasn’t as sure about it as El, perhaps, and he hadn’t been decided for nearly as long as she had, but, as Sam described it, in the past few years it had begun to feel like the right thing for him. Sam loved books. He loved learning about the past, and about the way the different countries governed themselves and how they interacted with one another. He liked learning about the way the world worked, and he latched onto any glimmer of knowledge he could find about the Auroki.
If Sam could convince his father to let him leave, he, too, would be going off to Secondary School in another city, to become a member of the Librarians. From there, he would choose a further specialization. He hadn’t yet decided whether to devote himself to sciences, to literature, or to history, but he felt confident that whatever was right would come to him.
Aric did not share Sam’s confidence. He envied it, in fact. He envied El even more, who had chosen a point in the distant future toward which to set her course and who had headed straight toward that goal her entire life. Aric didn’t have that.
He knew he wouldn’t be working on the farm, even though he could. His grandparents didn’t want that for him, and frankly, he didn’t want it for himself either. There was nothing wrong with it. He respected his grandparents and all of their hired hands. It just wasn’t what he wanted.
The problem was, he knew all of the things he didn’t want, and nothing that he did. Like El, he did well in Law, Philosophy, and Politics courses, but he had no interest in becoming a Lawmaker. The subjects bored him, which meant the job probably would, too. He didn’t want to become a Lawkeeper, either, because while he did well in Combat classes, and he did enjoy the physical exercise, the idea of having to hurt and jail people as part of his profession made him deeply uncomfortable.
He had no interest in becoming a Banker. Though he did well in Mathematics and Finance, they — like so many of his courses — bored him. He heard that members of the Banker’s Guild made a lot of money, but money itself held no appeal to him. The only thing he liked about it was that it made life easier. Aside from all that, his grandparents rarely spoke of the Bankers in a positive light, which made Aric loathe to be associated with them.
The thought of remaining with at least one of his friends appealed to him, so Aric had considered going to the Librarian’s College with Sam. He didn’t really want to. He didn’t actively want not to go, either, which was at least a step up from other career paths he’d considered. He imagined he would be bored, as he was in Primary School, but at least he wouldn’t hate it.
These sort of feelings were something Aric didn’t like about himself. He rarely felt passionate about much, or drawn to anything, even when he was good at something. He didn’t do much because he wanted to do it, but rather, because he didn’t want not to do it.
It made him feel like a disappointment that he hadn’t yet decided on a Secondary School. He felt like his grandparents were relying on him to choose. He felt like his teachers expected things of him, because he had done well in school. He’d come to dread the question that the adults in his life liked to ask: “What are you going to do when you graduate?”
He didn’t have an answer. He didn’t know. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. He just had a list of things he didn’t want to do, with a few things he didn’t think he’d mind as much. His friends had dreams and goals. His grandfather had a dream, and he realized it. Now he wanted Aric to find his own, but Aric didn’t have one.