In Solinus, the sky was always black as onyx. When the white sun rose, its crystal-clear light illuminated the Town and the Beach and the Hilltop and the Golden House brightly, but the sky was always black as the Sea of Stars. The migration of the stars would sometimes cast the town in shades of violet or indigo, green or gold, and sometimes even red, and celebrations were often held to enjoy these events. They were unpredictable, but such was life in the sleepy town that everyone was happy to accept what the new day gave them. The local tanner might wake up to find her bedroom swathed in a gilded glow and elect not to open her shop that day. Tutors might find their students distracted with the effulgent undulations of blue and purple at the window and decide to end the day’s lessons early. The Mayor would observe these habits and, depending on how many citizens had decided to take the day off, she would determine whether a celebration should be held that night. Sometimes the Queen would demand one, sometimes the citizens would, sometimes an astral coloration would coincide with the Mayor’s birthday. Whatever the reasons, and there were many, Solinus was a town given over to frequent celebrations and few historical accomplishments, and this was exactly how the townspeople liked it.
There were exceptions, of course, and two exceptions were assumed to be the Little Professor’s parents. This assumption was made the day they disappeared off their long-dead cabbage farm, leaving behind their twenty-seven dogs of various breeds and diverse degrees of pedigree. Miz Toonix suggested, and Mister Borgins confirmed, that the couple often complained of the frequent frivolities of the Town whilst heading to or from work the day after a celebration. The fact that they never attended these festivities meant that few others were aware of their opinions or indeed were aware of them at all. So little to no effect was achieved when the couple gathered up their belongings and left town, presumably in search a more serious home, where people invested more sincerely in their labor. Their child (not that anyone knew he was their child) was not aware of this development until a few days passed, and by and large no one was affected by the miniature exodus.
No one except the dogs, of course.
One late morning when they were still children, the Princess Miricet was receiving lessons on the second floor of the Lighthouse. It was a large but cluttered room, filled with chalkboards, notepads, various writing implements in various states of use and decay; beakers, gourds, bowls, jars; compasses of every kind, rulers, weights and measures; virtually anything you could desire or imagine to measure or record something could be found on the second floor of the Lighthouse, and it was there that the Princess was drawing upon a chalkboard the formula to determine the circumference of a circle. Though a remarkably enthusiastic student, her efforts were a bit muted this morning due to the unusual brightness of the sky filtering in through the windows.
“It’s incredible, isn’t it,” she remarked, “that every circle follows this formula? What is there to say that a circle must always cultivate a relationship between its radius and circumference? Yet every circle obliges us with this partnership.”
The Little Professor, who had now been tutoring children of various ages (and a handful of adults) for two years, seemed to be paying little attention. He had a large lens grasped in both hands, and was holding it before the window. Bright, clear, sharp beams of light seemed to dance around the room as he guided the lens about. “They have no choice in the matter,” he offered with a kind of mild condescension, poorly veiled but innocent and ineffective. “These are not laws or rules like societies have. We call them the laws of nature, but they’re really just observations. All circumferences are linked to radii, just as all light is refracted by glass.”
“Yes,” she acknowledged, either ignorant of his scorn or supremely indifferent to it, “but who says that must always be the way things are?”
“No one says it,” he answered, already growing bored and consequently terse, “it just is.”
Even though he wasn’t watching her, the Princess offered him a smirk. “That doesn’t sound very scientific to me.”
The argument, if it could be called thus, was interrupted by a single high-pitched bark. It was joined shortly by a canine cacophony of diverse volumes and keys, underscored by a handful of voluminous growls.
Both children had been distracted in their studies all morning. The sky was unusually bright, something that happened barely once a year, and there was no question that local businesses would all be closing in anticipation of an evening’s celebration. Indeed, the Professor himself suggested cancelling lessons when the Princess arrived that morning, but she would not hear of it. Now, however, they found themselves staring briefly at one another as the barks echoed around them.
A minute’s time found the two children outside. The Princess was running about, playing with the dogs, giggling maniacally, transported beyond elation. The Little Professor was slowly, subtly, and with seeming indifference dissuading the dogs away from a long silken rope that was lying on the beach. This rope was connected to a thick, strong post built of shaped meteorite, firmly planted several feet deep into the ground and standing just outside the first-floor window facing the shoreline. The rope led straight out into the Sea of Stars, presumably anchoring something beyond sight. Several dogs had been gnawing and worrying at the rope, and the Little Professor was casually strolling about, gently nudging the dogs away with his foot.
It was in this manner Weather learned of his parents’ departure and his subsequent inheritance of a long dead cabbage farm and twenty-seven dogs. He had little use for the farm, but even less use for the dogs, who a mere thirty seconds into their tenure had demonstrated their ability to distract thoroughly from his studies and exercises. The Princess played with them for several hours, wrestling and rolling and even occasionally entrancing them with her unusual ability to sedate with her eyes. Other children joined her shortly, and the beach was soon far more crowded than it had ever been during the afternoon. The Little Professor briefly tried to encourage the dogs elsewhere by tossing a leftover starlet or two, but quickly gave up and returned to the Lighthouse. On occasion he would reemerge to dissuade a random dog from worrying the silken rope, but otherwise he was engaged in his studies; or whatever it was he did in the lighthouse all day while the other children played.
Predictably, there was a festival that night. The Mayor called it the Silver Festival, as the bright sky became coated with shimmering gray halos as the sun set. There were donkey rides, dances, and the usual games that were thrown together when a festival was anticipated: hay-tosses, stick fights, sprints, and star-races; where two people would each choose a star in the sky in the hopes that it would traverse and wink out of sight first. The Princess invariably lost at star-racing, but she continued to play in furious hope that some night she would succeed.
On this night, the Silver Festival, the children were all distracted with talk of the dogs at the beach. They had all given them names, chosen favorites, and were endlessly and delightedly describing the day’s play to each other and their parents again and again. Many a star-race was declared a draw that night, as so few children could keep their heads craned up to watch the migration of the stars. They were continuously distracted with discussion of the dogs. Many had not even known the dogs existed before, having so rarely interacted with the now vanished prior owners. There was some idle speculation that the dogs signified an omen of good times to come, like a comet or a black cow or a pair of red nights, but nobody admitted to taking such talk seriously. Whatever their intent, however, every neighbor had something to say about these new animals.
Consequently, it should come as little surprise that a tense and anticipatory silence swept through the fairgrounds when the Little Professor appeared. To see the reclusive child was itself cause for surprise, but more alarming still was the large wooden skiff he was pulling behind him with a coarse manila rope as a leash. The skiff, which was painted a brilliant powder blue, had four wheels installed upon it, essentially transforming it into a large wagon. And sitting in that wagon, restless and bouncing, were twenty-seven dogs of various breeds and dispositions. The skiff-cart came to a stop near the center of the fairgrounds, and everyone stared.
A single dog, a mastiff, let out a tentative bark. Instantly, the fairgrounds exploded in squeals and cries of delight. The children charged in to free the dogs from the skiff, and the ecstatic atmosphere compelled many of the dogs to free themselves first. More play ensued, and even a number of the parents joined in. It was several long minutes before the Little Professor managed to achieve some level of quiet. He had an announcement for everyone.
It seemed that the Little Professor was not interested in owning twenty-seven dogs. He found them to be quite a distraction and was not sure he had the means to care for them. He had brought them to the festival in hopes that other families might take them. The crowd reacted poorly at first, booing and hissing that anyone could respond with such coldness to such adorable creatures. Slowly it dawned on each child, however, that they might own these dogs for themselves.
The children swarmed their parents. They begged. They howled. They promised such saintlike behavior that no parent would ever believe. In time, finally, Dobar the tailor (who was learning biology from the Little Professor) agreed to take a plump terrier called Wumpus for the sake of his daughters.
As Dobar took the little terrier up in his arms, however, he was approached by four other children, from four other families. Each one had hoped to bring Wumpus home with them. Dobar’s daughters explained that one dog could only have one owner, and after all their father had been the first parent to agree, so shouldn’t they get to bring Wumpus home? Nobody cried, but there were many wet eyes and tight lips, followed by a lot of uncomfortable shuffling of feet.
It was silent again. Everyone was looking around at the twenty-six other dogs. The air was thick as chowder, and twice as unpleasant. Tension was short-lived, however, as with a sudden twang everyone was racing after the remaining dogs. There was jostling, shouting, grabbing, and once or twice a little tripping. The normally peaceful town had become so unexpectedly tumultuous that the Mayor was at a complete loss what to do.
At last, another tense silence was produced. The Prince, whose name was Arafin, stood upon a small hillock holding a beagle and a bloodhound, causing everyone to point an accusatory finger at such greed. Once he had the town’s attention, though, he explained that he had no intention of taking either dog. Was it not a shame, he asked, that taking a dog home should deprive so many other children of such joy? Why should any one family take a dog, he said, and cause other families grief, when they could just as easily leave the dogs at the beach where they came from, so they all might enjoy them every day? Wouldn’t it be better, he wondered, if they stopped being so selfish, and just continued to share their happiness with each other? He then stepped off the hillock and placed the beagle and bloodhound gingerly back into the Little Professor’s blue skiff.
In five minutes’ time, the Little Professor was dragging his makeshift wagon away with twenty-seven dogs of various breeds. The children all congratulated Arafin on his ingenious observation, and the parents all complimented him on how mature and selfless he was. The Queen was not present at the festival that night, but she soon learned of her son’s altruistic actions and officially named him her heir.
The next morning, every child in town came to the beach to collect starlets, even those who felt they were getting too old for it. The dogs, however, were all sleeping, and were so adorable that no one wished to disturb them. So for the first time in years, the entire beach was picked clean of starlets as everyone waited for the dogs to awaken. Soon after, late morning romps at the beach became common for the children of Solinus, even those who felt they were getting too old for such things. These parties would often continue into the afternoon, and some could observe the Little Professor silently going to and from his Lighthouse. Miz Toonix, who collected stones from the meteorite quarry, reported to her neighbors that the boy had turned his parents’ dead cabbage farm into a rabbit farm, which he used to feed the twenty-seven dogs. Toonix found it a grizzly business, especially considering how the boy showed no real love for the dogs himself. But then, the boy had never asked for anyone’s love, nor their approval, and neither did he express any consternation when these things were denied him.
For Arafin the Prince, however, this was the beginning of his ascent to leadership. He learned that the greatest joy was in bringing happiness to everyone, and that if we all agreed to act just a little less selfishly, we can all find contentment in our lives.