He didn’t mind being watched. It was what worried most students at the college, the continual observation. From the tower in the centre of course, they expected that. But from every corner, every window, every door, from mirrors, from vents and gratings and drainholes. So many eyes, watching. Always watching.
“You don’t find it creepy?” Aldus had asked, on the second day, when they had found themselves working together in the Kapnomancy laboratory. They were waiting for the pyre to be lit and the smoke to offer it’s wisdom. He had to admit he did not. Being watched had never been his problem. If anything he found it comforting.
When Aldus broke down in the middle of the second term, he took him out into the middle of the green, where there were still eyes, their own to start with, other students, a mistress in her robe and hat watching as he supported the bent over, crying youth, and of course the tower, staring down. Those that were close were known to Aldus, had faces and names. And the others were far away. You could ignore them if you wanted.
“Patrick,” said Aldus, hands covering his face. “Patrick, they’re watching.”
“I know,” he said. They were always watching. Eyes See. That’s what they do. Inaugural College was known as IC (or Eye See). “You’re just overwhelmed. Too much work, too much expectation…”
“Too many watchers,” he whispered.
“That’s how it is,” he said. He had another thought. “This isn’t good, is it. You know they’re still watching.”
“I can feel the pressure of their eyes.”
Patrick’s problem was not being watched. He stood and stared at the tower. At the temptation. “Come on,” he said, picking Aldus up.
Just this once, he thought, pulling Aldus along. It’s not as if it’s for himself. It’s to help Aldus.
Inside the tower was worse of course. Every corner, every window, even under the stairs. Patrick persisted, insisted. Aldus stumbled upwards until at last they emerged on the top, just under the great eye.
By not looking up they could avoid it, pretend it was just an orb, a round roof, something like that.
“Look out Aldus. See.” He gently took his hands from his face. “You can see. The whole of the green. And into the buildings of the quad. Every student, working, studying, playing. Eating, flirting, living their lives. From here we can watch them.”
Aldus shuddered. Patrick continued. “We are always being seen, being perceived. It is how we know who we are. How everyone knows who we are. And we, in return, must look back. To see and perceive others. So that they know who they are.”
He stayed with him for the rest of the day, and into the night, and when Aldus had cried himself out took him back to his dorm room. In his mind he could see it, a picture for the entire college laid out, from atop the tower. He looked out the window, to see the eye in the tower watching back, and high above the moon, unblinkingly standing guard.
It was the summer term when it all caught up with Patrick. Idolomancy, Imagomancy, Katoptromancy and Sciomancy, all the image telling he’d simply skated by. Avoided overthinking it, just interpreted them. Not made his own pictures. Not picked up chalk or stylus, let alone a picturebox.
It was the time of the Midsummer Dance, where students, servants and scholars would walk the patterns from dawn until dusk, as above, so below. The dance mirrored the changing of the skies and seasons and in turn predicted the coming year.
Aldus and Patrick met with the Warden of the College. “I have a task for the two of you,” he said. Aldus looked away from the mirror-polished desk, reflecting the eyes that emerged from every corner of the study.
Patrick was pleased. “We are at your disposal Warden.”
“I need you to create a record of the dance. To make pictures of how it develops. How it will effect us in the coming days.”
Patrick froze, only his eyes moving. He tried to seek out the other eyes for reassurance. They did not help.
“Thank you Warden. We’re honoured. We will make a true record.” Aldus covered for him. “Come Patrick, we must prepare. Immediately.”
It was, of course, futile to hide his dismay. “What is the problem Patrick?”
There was only confession.
“I was apprenticed to the town picturemaker. He had the picture boxes. We used them to record everything that happened in town. We worked hard on it, improving the quality of the images, the chimerical solutions to turn the pictures into true reflections.
“So very true. We stumbled across a formula that made them bright and honest and captured all that was about them. We would take the pictures at the town celebrations, at weddings and naming days. In the pictures they would appear as living, breathing people, full of hope and joy.
“A true image takes part of the soul, just a tiny portion. And it returns when they say the picture, cycling in and out.”
Patrick paused, faced out the window to the great eye, then back to all the watching orbs in the room, in every corner and space.
“I took pictures. I took them from hiding and on the street. I captured people at work and at play. I watched them to see when they were most alive, most themselves and I took the picture. I TOOK the picture. And I hid it in my studio.
“Why, you might ask, did my master, the town picturemaker not stop me? He had been my first model, and as I took his picture, took his soul, he became a mere shadow. Turning his work over to me, I took his business, his home, his life.
“I applied for scholarships and with all this life, all the soul energy that I had drained out of my town I shone so brightly that I was offered a place here at the Inaugural College. But the town was dull and empty and the people there without vigour. So I burned the pictures, and the picturemaker shop, releasing whatever there was after I absorbed it. And then I left.
“And I feel it. All the time. The urge to take a picture. Just one. And keep it, locked away for me. It is the eyes that keep me on the straight and narrow. It is the eyes that let me resist.”
Aldus sat for a while. Did more eyes appear, more watching orbs? Perhaps so, or perhaps it just felt that way. At last he spoke.
“They watch all the time. There are always eyes here. If you take a picture you cannot hide it away. So it will be safe. Safe for everyone else and safe for you.”
Patrick shook his head though he knew what Aldus said was true. “Even one is too much…”
“Patrick, I will be making pictures. I will be making them with you. Together we will make them, and put them on display. And you’ll learn. Learn how to take them without endangering anyone else. You helped me when I could not take being watched. And now I will help you. Help you watch, properly, not taking more than you should.”
Patrick shook his head but he had to agree. Just because he had taken pictures, taken too much before. That was no reason to never do it again. And if anywhere was safe it was here, here where the eyes see. He could make pictures, take pictures. And if they were too perfect, if they reflected too much of the world, the eyes would seek it out and remove it, recycle it in the spiral of watching, returning it eventually from watched to watcher and back in turn.
And when, at the height of the dance, as the frenzy threatened to overwhelm with chaos, bloody feet slapping out the rhythm, the eyes rolling in ecstatic seizure, focussed on everything and nothing, he took one picture and it was good and he kept it to himself it was not that bad a thing to do. A very small sin.
Neil Willcox owns a tarot deck but as a rule doesn’t use it; this is both literally true and a literary metaphor. He broke his non-cartomancy habit for this piece, which also incorporates a dream about eyes. He lives in South East England where his tarot deck is now safely back in its box. A recent fantasy story of his about medieval clothes, gender and boxing matches can be found in Swords And Sorcery Magazine; another about horses, drowning and phones is forthcoming from Crow And Cross Keys. He can be found online at nightofthehats.blogspot.com and on twitter @neil_will