Within a few days of Ashren’s arrival Kern, realising how intelligent he was had given him the freedom of the tower, only warning him not to touch the equipment in the workroom if he wasn’t present. To his surprise the library became the boy’s favourite place, where he would pore over the illustrations and plates in Kern’s books. One evening he brought a book of maps into the study, and opening it at a double page which showed the Twelve Domains, indicated that he wanted to know what the marks on it were. Kern, pointing out the roads and rivers, the mountains, lakes, and sea, explained how maps were made and read, while Ashren nodded and smiled. But then he put his finger on the name of the Forest Domain, and made a questioning noise in his throat.
Once more Kern was startled. Why, of all the names scattered across the two pages, had he chosen that one first? This child was a mystery beyond his comprehension.
Ashren pointed at the name again, and when Kern read it out, his silvery laugh sounded through the tower, and his face beamed with delight. For some minutes he studied it carefully, then choosing the name across the top, which had the largest letters he asked what that was.
‘The Twelve Domains’ said Kern, and Ashren, looking at the words, nodded slowly before pointing to each letter in turn. It had never ocurred to Kern that, being dumb, Ashren could learn to read, but it was clear he wanted to, and he realised if he could only devise a suitable method of teaching him, it would open the doors of communication and learning.
He fetched some leaves of stiff parchment from a drawer, found his scribe’s knife and a cutting board, and sitting at his desk with Ashren watching his every move, he cut out a small square and wrote a letter on it. He’d intended to make cards for all the individual letters and combinations of letters, before teaching them, but Ashren was too impatient to wait for that; and as he completed each one he took it from his fingers and insisted on hearing its sound. He made Kern say the sounds three times, then while he prepared the next card he looked at it as if memorising what he’d heard.
They were halfway through the letters of the alphabet when suddenly Ashren laughed again. Kern, his pen poised over the parchment, looked up at him. Still laughing, Ashren pointed at him and then at the parchment, and with an answering smile Kern carefully wrote out his own name, before taking a second card, inscribing Ashren on it, and after reading the name presenting it to him.
His delight knew no bounds. He jumped up and danced around the room with the two cards in his hands, before finally coming back to the desk and laying them down side by side; then he kissed Kern on the cheek. Kern joined in his laughter before taking up his pen to write out the next group of letters.
After that they spent every evening using the cards to create all sorts of words, then with word cards they built up phrases, and finally full sentences. As usual Ashren proved to be quick to learn, and his memory was impressive. He rarely had to ask for something to be repeated more than the initial three times. On the day he took the pen from Kern’s fingers and showed he wanted to learn to write, Kern gave him a slate he’d prepared and some chalk, and he proved as nimble at this as he’d already proved in the tasks he performed around the tower. He only wasn’t allowed to write with a pen because vellum, parchment, or even rough paper were such expensive materials. But once he was ready he was given cut off scraps to practice on.
So the time passed happily enough on the whole. Ashren’s days were busy with chores, as he willingly did all the work Kern had originally intended him to do; but he wasn’t treated as a servant, little was hidden from him, and it was abundantly clear he would soon become an invaluable assistant in the workroom.