“My old eyes are tired. Read to me, Darryn. Start there.”
Darryn leaned over the book from his perch on Albert’s thigh, his eyes fastening on the word above Albert’s fingertip. It was one of the less interesting books that Albert read to him from, but it would be easier. The first word was really a number. Darryn liked numbers. There was less to learn about reading numbers. “One-one-three,” he read.
Albert frowned with his eyes shut. “Three numbers,” he said, “but all right next to one another, so they’re one number. When there are three numbers, what do we call it?”
When Darryn only frowned in response, Albert answered his own question. “Hundred,” he said. “One-zero-zero is one hundred. If it were two-zero-zero you’d have two hundred. So how do you read the first number, since it’s the first of three?”
“One hundred?” Darryn guessed. “But it only says one.”
“Its place in the longer number gives it the hundred. Do you count your stitches, Darryn?”
Darryn nodded. “Up to ten. Then I start again from one-one.”
“One-one is eleven. You should count up to twenty from now on.”
“Twenty,” Darryn frowned.
“Two-zero. Count to ten for me.”
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten,” Darryn rattled proudly.
“After ten comes?”
“One-one. Or—el-evan.” Darryn tested the word on his tongue.
“Eleven,” Albert smiled. “Count to eleven.”
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven,” Darryn recited, grinning when he finished with the new word and Albert nodded at him.
“One-two, which we call twelve. Count to twelve,” Albert suggested.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve.”
“Good. Then thirteen. One-three.”
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen—one-three. One-four is next.”
“Fourteen,” Albert nodded.
“That one makes sense,” Darryn grinned. “Then fiveteen?”
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, five—I mean, fifteen.”
“Very good,” Albert laughed. “From there it’s easier. Guess.”
“Seventeen?” Darryn continued, earning another nod from Albert. “Eighteen? Nineteen?” Darryn hesitated.
“Then twenty,” Albert smiled.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty!” Darryn beamed.
“Can you write them for me?”
“There’s some parchment at the end of that table there. Pick out a quill and bring them here then bring me an inkpot. Carry it carefully. I’ll hold the pot for you while you settle the paper and yourself there on the floor.”
Darryn did as he was bidden, sliding off of Albert’s knee as the old man lifted the book from their laps. He found a sheet of the thin parchment and from a jug beside the parchment stack chose a black crow’s feather. He carried these to Albert and put them on the floor at his feet, before going to retrieve the inkpot. He carried the ceramic pot in both hands and handed it carefully to Albert, who handed it back to Darryn only when Darryn sat at his feet with the paper in front of him and the quill on his lap. Albert had taken off the top.
“You remember how to write?” he asked Darryn.
Darryn nodded and put the tip of the feather into the black ink. It came out dripping.
“Dab it off on the edge of the pot,” Albert reminded him.
Darryn did so then carefully positioned the pen on the parchment.
“Start with one.”
That was a straight line down.
“Two,” Albert counted.
Darryn drew a curve like edge of half of a leaf and added a straight line along its bottom. Three was two curves like the hills turned sideways. Four was two lines: the first went down then sideways and the other crossed it, going down like a one. Five started like four turned sideways, then he added a hump like the end of three. Six looked a little like a tadpole. Seven was a straight line on top and then it angled down not straight but like it was running away from Darryn. Eight was two connecting circles. Darryn liked eight. Nine was a circle, but then its tail ran away like seven’s. Ten was a straight line for one and an egg next to it for zero. Eleven, he knew, was two ones, and twelve a one and a two. He drew them all up to nineteen then looked to Albert.
“A two and a zero.”
Darryn completed the list.
“Now read those to me.”
Darryn did and looked up to see Albert grinning at him. “We’ll make a reader of you yet, Darryn. You keep that parchment. You show your parents, and you read it to yourself when you get a spare moment. We’ll work on counting to thirty—that’s three-zero next.”
“Thirty,” Darryn repeated, “three-zero.”
“Focus on twenty for now,” Albert advised, smiling.
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