“Unlike the desert that we call The Dunes, the north and the south is well divided,” Otto Deckard told the individuals in the lecture hall.
The room was large, with five rows of seats with cushions. Each student held a wooden tablet that was covered in parchment. Each held a portable ink dispenser that had been one of their better inventions. Ink was held inside and forced through a metal tip, that many just called a PID. Catchy really, Deckard wished he would have thought of it first. A young man of twenty and two had thought of it; it made Deckard recall his age.
He was not an old man by any means, but anyone who had lived for one and forty years can feel old. Yet he was one of the youngest to teach in the greatest academic university in the world. Tiam was a place of peace that believed in two things: money and knowledge. They were a capitalistic city with great wealth which they spent to fuel greater knowledge that they then sold back with inventions and ideas that they could profit from. A very successful cycle and one that kept them out of the squabbles of the north and south.
“There are many stories that sing different songs. One says that the Sea of Sand was once a great body of water that ran around the center of our great planet. It feed into the smaller lakes and was crossed by ships of wood. One day the sun grew so hot that the center of our planet that all the water dried up,” he said with flourish, all of his students watching with wide eyes, “Others speak of the Water God paying homage to the Sun God by gifting all of the salt water to her. Another says that the Sun God took it as punishment from the Water God. Yet the only truth is that The Dunes are littered with salt mines. Can anyone tell me what else the People of The Dunes trade in?”
Hands shot up, but the first was a large boy with a fat face, freckles and curly brown hair, so Deckard pointed at him. The boy stood up and said loudly, “The People of the Dunes trade in glass, some mineral ores such as copper ore and opal ore, and most famously their healing potions.”
“One cannot help but mention those,” Deckard said as the boy took his seat, “There is no child in Tiam who doesn’t grow up on stories of their healing tonics and their mysterious origin. Can anyone tell me what they are made of?”
There was silence and murmurs around as Deckard waited patiently. Above the whispers a young girl with dark brown hair, large brown eyes, and coppery skin finally spoke, “The infamous healing potions are the infamous, well-guarded secret of the Dunes.”
“Yes they are,” Deckard responded, pacing back and forth while he spoke to his students, “No one is quite sure exactly where these healing potions get their power and many have studied it trying to determine the source. All have failed to duplicate its effects. Tonight I would like you to expand your minds, and attempt to validate which of the Dunes goods is its most valuable. Be it salt or ore or even the infamous healing potions. Which has most economical impact on the people of the Dunes? You are dismissed.”
The silence of the hall immediately erupted in chatter as he returned to gather his own instruction material. They chatted as they left the class, hurrying to their final subject of the day. As he gathered his materials one of his students waited for him at the door. He did not hurry towards the girl but smiled at her.
“Papa,” she said with a smile, “You had a very interesting lecture today. Were you reading those old books again?”
“All night,” Deckard admitted as he put an arm around her shoulders and walked from the classroom, “I will walk you to your next class, Evanora.”
“Evie,” the girl responded, and the look in her eyes suggested there was no room for argument, “Reading so late is not good for your heart.”
“But it is good for the mind,” Deckard countered, as they came to the next lecture hall, “I will see you at dinner.”
Deckard watched her walk into the classroom, his lovely daughter. She wasn’t really his, but she was his. It was difficult to explain. Deckard turned and began walking towards home. His thoughts tried to stray and yet he could not help but remember Edna.
Her mother had been at the university when Deckard was just beginning his final year before he would begin teaching. He was a brilliant and cold man back then, without any sense of anything about the world but in his books. Edna had been a beautiful woman and Deckard had found her a charming and most importantly brilliant student. He mostly taught theory classes to older students in his beginning years.
She had been so bright to him, so talented, and Deckard had been quite taken with her though she was fourteen years his junior. He had created plans in his mind of marrying her and breeding brilliant children. He had never gotten the chance. Edna had been attacked at the university by four boys her age. Her brightness had died that night and a child had formed in her womb.
Deckard had barely been able to keep her safe; Edna had wanted to end her life and had nearly succeeded a few times. After Evanora was born Edna had walked into The Knife and let the rushing river take her. Deckard had begun to raise the child as his own, naming her Evanora which was a variation of Vanor, a type of mathematical mapping of the stars. Vanor Stellar Mapping was named for Viktor Vanor of Roanoak who had come to Tiam in his elder years and devised his greatest work. It was used to travel at night without any other indication but the time of year and the stars.
Evanora was his map to the heavens; she had given him purpose after Edna. More than anything she made him into an inventor because of his wish to make her world a better place. She was fourteen now, the youngest allowable age to attend classes. She had passed her entrance examinations without fault and Deckard had never been more proud.
He looked around the streets, the great city of learning and progress rose up around him. The sandy colored stone was smooth and worn as were the cobble streets. Tiam was one of the oldest cities and yet its buildings were the envy of the world. He turned down the alley and went past a fountain where children were playing. Rotting oranges littered the ground; the first season would turn before they would flower and produce fruit again. Their blood red juices leaked from the bright orange exterior, as though the ground had wounded them.
He listened to the children laugh and play as he passed behind a building and their voices faded. He passed a flower garden where the White Women said their prayers. They moved around like ghosts, tending to their gardens as their voices sang their prayers. Their voices pierced the silence but as he continued they too soon faded.
He came to the door with the elephant head knocker before opening the door and walking in. He entered the garden area of his own, mostly of stone, simple bushes, and a waterfall streaming down from an elephant’s open mouth. The water was a river that ran in a square and continued to empty and fill through the elephant. A single bush held blossoms of the desert rose. Its bright pink blossoms winked at him as he took the stairs to the left. He pushed through the gate at the top and past the kitchen.
“Master Deckard,” Marisol called to him, her hair white and her face wrinkled.
“Yes Marisol?” Deckard asked taking a step back and waiting for the old woman to clamber over her bucket of butter.
“Master Trive came calling,” Marisol said her worlds drawled out a bit.
“Did he say why?” Deckard asked, as the older woman peered up at him.
“Only that he would call again tomorrow in the night,” Marisol responded.
“Evening,” Deckard corrected absentmindedly as he turned and walked towards his study.
Marisol shook her head and returned to her butter and dinner. Deckard was already lost in his thoughts; they were carrying him away. Master Trive was a fat man with greed in his eyes and ugliness in his heart. Yet he was rich and kept company with the richest of men in Tiam. Deckard considered himself rich but he was dirt poor compared to the wealth of Phineas Trive.
If he came looking for Deckard it was to spend his money in order to get Deckard to do something. Phineas had tried many times but he had always failed because Deckard was a man of principle. Yet even men of principle could be bought, men only needed the right incentive. He knew the older he got the weaker his resolve became.
Deckard sat at his desk, surrounded by piles of parchment covered in his inventions and ideas. From the tall ceiling models hung. They were made of wood and nearly clear paper. He had all different kinds but they were hardly noticeable as he stared at the open book. His eyes skimmed over the picture of a bird and he frowned at it. If men could but fly they would ascend to the heavens and forget their worldly problems.