"How far is it now?" asked Sara, "You did say that we'll get there today, right?"
Nero glanced up at the sun, tilted his head to the side to think, and then moved his arms in an arc across the sky. He enjoyed pantomiming his thinking process so that apt students could learn without him having to explain, "At this pace, we will arrive around the time that the sun reaches it's peak. And yes girl, today's peak. If I was alone I would be long home though."
Embarrassed at the knowledge that she was slowing him down, Sara looked at the ground to hide the flush that crept into her face. After a moment she responded to the imagined rebuke, "I can go much faster you know. My friend Kelly and I once ran all the way round the village wall in less than the time it took mum to bake a loaf."
Reading Sara's body language, Nero thought to himself that just maybe she wasn't as emotionally stable as he'd been led to believe. He decided to probe a little further to see how she responded to losing. Sara was no use to him if she got hung up on defending herself for the sake of it. He really wanted her to be able to admit defeat and to learn humility from it.
After a few steps he asked, "And how long do you think you could keep that running pace for?"
Lifting her head with a small unconscious tilt, in imitation of his own earlier thinking posture, she then paused in her stride for a moment. Nero paused with her, turning back a little to keep her expression clearly in view. He noted the false confidence rise up as if she was about to blurt out a lie without thinking, and then amazingly he saw the embarrassed flush reappear as she realised that she was about to put her foot in it. Gradually, Sara deflated and resumed walking with her head hanging low and a sad look on her face.
"Tell me what you are thinking girl" Nero commanded in a strangely gentle voice.
"Well..." She paused to take a calming breath and took a moment to look up at his face. After a moment she decided that there was nothing mean in his intentions and let the breath out, "I'm thinking that I'm stupid and don't know as much as I thought."
She blinked back the stinging that was beginning in her eyes and took another breath, holding it with eyes scrunched tightly closed. When she blinked them open again, she was back in control.
"And how did you arrive at those thoughts?"
She looked at him again, thinking that just maybe he was wanting to rub it in, but no. His face remained neutral, definitely not like the big kids who had just started their apprenticeships and still wore expressions of smug superiority when they spoke to her.
Noticing her pause, and wanting to reassure Sara, Nero spoke again, "I'm not wanting to embarrass you further, girl. I just want to know whether you are conscious of your thought process or whether it's purely instinct that got you to the right place. And I don't mean to be cruel in repeating it, but you are right about your own ignorance, though paradoxically that is the wisest position you can hold right now. So please, open up your mind to me a little and share how you went so swiftly from cockiness to true humility."
She didn't understand everything he had just said, she wondered what a paradox was for instance, but right then Sara decided to trust Nero with everything. She could see that he meant her no harm and he spoke to her as if she was a real person with value. In his willingness to be gentle but still probing at something that hurt in order to release the pressure, she found a love for this strange man that had been missing since her father had passed.
So, once again, would you read more?