"So, Pan, I heard you had a visitor last night." Instructor Bedelia was looking right at Pan, almost trying to not scowl. Teachers are not fond of Questians, believing knowledge should be hoarded then dispensed, not freely traded.
"Yes, Instructor," Pan said, and practiced being as cold a fish as his father. He did reasonably well.
This, of course, frustrated Bedelia, who wanted to see some sort of shame. "And who was he, if I may ask?"
Pan gave her an indifferent gaze. "A traveler."
"A Questian," muttered Aeric, just loud enough for everyone to hear. Those who hadn't yet heard gasped, but everyone giggled.
All Bedelia said was, "Hmmm," and moved on to the next lesson, which was simple arithmetic. Pan did his best to pay attention, but that was rather difficult, seeing as how the other kids carried on.
"Hey, Pan," one would say, "could your sharecropper father answer any stupid questions?"
Then another would answer, "Of course he couldn't. He's dumb. And Pan's dumb like him." Which was not terribly witty, but the kids still laughed, and it still hurt Pan.
Luckily, Bedelia didn't get much opportunity to call on Pan and embarrass him, as Billiam answered any query left open too long.
When school finally let out, Pan went by Medic Field to play his flute. He looked over the thorny waste and sighed. The Sun was getting low in the sky, and the thistles and brambles shone gray in the failing light. Pan walked in about a mile, along a path not many people knew about, and took a seat on a rock. He played a simple melody, one in which he could simply vanish. He lost himself in the sound as the music echoed back to him from the hills, and the wind carried it to the horizon.
It was this very preoccupation that kept Pan from noticing Billiam coming up behind him. "Pan?" he asked.
Pan jumped. "Billiam? You scared me!" He shook himself for composure. "Of course it's me. Who else would play the flute?" Pan sneered at the last of this, and went back to his pipe.
"I had to ask because I couldn't really see you."
Pan stopped, sighed. "The Sun was in your eyes."
"Yeah. So, how are you?"
Pan gave Billiam a hard look. The boy was covered in various thorns from trudging through the field, and Pan would have been lying if he said this didn't make him a little happy. In fact, Billiam looked awful. "You came all the way out here," Pan asked, eyebrow raised, "to ask me that?"
Billiam popped his neck, which Pan recognized as one of Aeric's tough guy tactics. "No. I didn't." Unfortunately, Billiam didn't know what should follow, so he and Pan shared a moment of silence.
"Alright, then," Pan said, and lifted his flute.
"Wait, okay, I came here to ask you about the Questian," Billiam said, looking a little ashamed of his facade.
"Oh," Pan grunted, "you came here to make fun of me about the Questian."
Billiam kicked of bush, which caught his pant leg. "Ah, crap." He shook it out, tried to display some equanimity. "No, not make fun. When do I make fun of you?"
"You and Aeric and Bubula," Pan stated, knowing a complete sentence wasn't really necessary.
"Look, Pan, you're okay by me."
"The feeling isn't mutual. Leave." Pan returned to his flute, trying to find a calmer place.
Billiam would not be deterred. "Hey! do you know why Bedelia never calls on you?"
Pan didn't stop playing, but widened his eyes at Billiam, inviting a response in which he wasn't interested.
"Because I always answer them first," said Billiam.
Pan quieted and shook his head. "You're just bored when things don't get moving."
The other boy scratched the back of his head. "Yeah. That's true. Still, you didn't get embarrassed by her today, did you?"
"Yes, I did."
"Well not as badly as you could have!"
"No, but Aeric picked up the slack when he made those pervy comments about me and drifters."
"Well, I'm sorry!"
Pan and Billiam looked at each other, Pan blinking the Sun's reflection on Billiam's glasses out of his eyes. "You're sorry. Fine. Go."
Billiam clenched his fists. "No."
"Why, aren't you too popular to be seen around me? I know your plan. You know that if I'm not the low man on the totem pole, you'll be the one," Pan took a mocking tone, "you little Pallas owl, you."
Billiam's fists disappeared, and his face sunk. "Wow. You're smarter than I thought."
"Not hard," said Pan.
"You mentioned. Goodbye."
"I can't leave."
"Why not?" Pan was just getting annoyed at this point.
"Because I want to meet that Questian!"
Pan was flabbergasted. He was stupefied. He was dumbstruck. "You, teacher's pet, want to meet a Questian? Now doesn't that just beat all?" Pan then smiled and went back to his flute.
Billiam did not enjoy being ignored, especially after revealing this reputation-shattering information. He knocked Pan's flute away. "Yes, I want to meet him!"
Pan summarily punched Billiam and picked up his flute.
"Do you feel better?" asked Billiam.
"Yes. I do."
"So, can I meet him?" Billiam was a little worried he was jumping the gun, trying to go from sworn enemy to friend in twenty minutes, but you know how boys are: foolish.
Pan was not exempt from this descriptor, but that didn't much matter. "I have no idea where he is."
Billiam's tentative smile became a more concrete frown. "Huh?"
"How would I know?" Pan shrugged, and did feel a little bad for Billiam.
"I guess," Billiam sighed, then turned away. He started making his way through the prickly plants when he stopped and yelled back, "Where would you camp around here?"
Pan shrugged again. "Somewhere warm and dry."
"And where's the warmest, driest place around here, no matter what?" Billiam had that look of self pride in his face.
It was not to last. "Any house?" Pan asked.
"I mean outside! Ow!" A thorn has pricked Billiam's finger.
"Oh. In that case, the Great Oak Tree."
"Right! the Thursbaum!"
Billiam groaned. "The Great Oak."
"Oh," said Pan. "Right."
"So will you take me to him?" asked Billiam, too excited to contain his joy.
"No. Why would I?" Pan was not impressed by Billiam's posturing.
"I have a book..."
Billiam was able to contain his anger, keeping his mind on the goal. "This book contains a song known to attract moots."
Pan grinned a little grin. "Now you're talking."
It took them about an hour, but they made it to the tree. It was a dark, magnificent tree, brooding and thick in bark. "Wow," said Pan, "it's really big. I've never been out here."
"Yeah. It's really, impressive."
Billiam nodded and smiled. "It sure is."
"So," Pan looked around, "where do you think he's camping?"
Billiam looked around and saw a lot of nothing. "Oh, come on!"
Pan laughed. "Well, that's sunk. I'm going to play for the tree, though. Maybe it'll bring good luck."
Billiam sat down and pouted. "Maybe."
Pan played an old song, a song about weathering storms like all hard times. Billiam told Pan it was a very nice song, and Pan appreciated the compliment. What Pan and Billiam didn't notice, though, was that all the leaves were grasping toward Pan. When the song was over, they shot straight up.
That, Billiam noticed. "Hey, Pan, did you see the leaves WHOA!"
What alarmed Billiam so much was a bolt of lightning striking the tree, electricity jumping among the leaves before settling in a knothole, making it glow an opal glow.
"It wasn't even raining," said Pan.
"And it didn't hit us," said Billiam.
"And you boys are something else," said Vic.
The boys turned around and saw the ramrod-postured Questian. He had the twitch of fatigue, but did not show it in his face. It wasn't as though he were trying to hide it, but rather he was too strong to even realize.
"Hello, sir," said Billiam, full of awe. Pan felt he must be full of something else.
"Hello, boys. So, you found the Thursbaum. I've been looking myself for a while. Do you two know what this tree does?"
"No," they said.
"Look at that knothole where the lightning gathered." They did, and were shocked as it started growing. "It's a portal." The knothole dimmed as it grew into a door.
Pan shook himself out of his astonishment to ask a nagging question. "Vic, were you following us or something?"
Vic laughed heartily. "No. I'm camping right over there." He pointed to a lean-to on another, smaller oak."
Pan looked at Billiam. "How did we miss that?"
Billiam shrugged. Vic laughed again. "There are many things you miss, if you don't know the right question, boys," the man said. The last rays of day were dancing in his glasses.
"Then," asked Billiam, "where does this door lead?"
A red beam bounced off Vic's spectacles. "That is the question, isn't it?"