(This story takes place before Kingdom Beyond the Rim. I am posting it in small segments for my readers. Enjoy. )
Rule and Vow were a sacred oath in Magiskeep, but as a child he’d hadn’t yet sworn to either. Still, he knew it wouldn’t be easy murdering a Master of Magic, but there were ways. The best would be to catch her by surprise before she could call the River to save her from death. He would have to study and learn on his own, memorizing the spells, but in the end, it would be worth the effort. He was tired of the humiliation, her constant corrections and punishments every time he failed to match her standards. She was a hard, unfeeling woman and he’d learned to hate her. Now, as he sat on the hard wooden bench in her classroom, considering the alternatives, the Mistress of Beginnings made her fateful mistake.
Class was being held in the upper study chamber of the turquoise palace of Magiskeep. The third floor was usually reserved for classes of younger students, who had not yet been selected for Prentice stature. Lessons lasted from Easwin, the first hours of the day, until Windchange and midmeal. After a break of several spans, there was a Sowin session which lasted until evenmeal. Training was intense, but the young ones often passed among three or four Masters during their hours of study, changing from one Art to another to keep their childish minds interested. Usually, however, at least one day of each Sevenstin was relegated to Sorra, Mistress of Beginnings. Known to be a stern mistress, she had a reputation for schooling her charges thoroughly and well in all the basics necessary for later mastery of the Arts of Magic. Sagari, Master of the Keep, had appointed her to her position some seventy circles ago, and she had thrived in it ever since. She was a beautiful woman, though hard in her appearance, with soft dark hair pulled back in an ever present bun at the nape of her neck and two piercing green eyes which could see right through to her student’s hearts.
This morning, despite the sun streaming in from the window high in the wall of the room, the Mistress’ mood was dark. Despite all her warnings, most of her students had not completed their last assignment. Worse, it was not the first time this had happened. This particular group of children, identified by the dark blue tunics of the East Hall, were learning bad habits instead of spells and Sorra knew she was going to have to take some harsh action to break the cycle.
Now, she frowned down at the class of young PrePrentices seated at the dozen study desks and the closed the great leather bound volume in front of her with a decided thud. “I am disappointed so few of you have memorized the Chant of Sifting,” she said sternly. Dressed in a high cut robe of dark green and nearly six feet tall, Sorra cut an imposing figure as she drew herself up ready to begin the much needed lecture on discipline.
Ten students sank down on their stools, as if trying to hide from the promised chastisement, while the eleventh and twelfth straightened a bit, knowing they were exempt this time.
“Jenna and Siron, you are excused for midmeal. While I am pleased with your work, however, I would warn you not to rest on the pride of your accomplishments today. Becoming a Magician is a lifelong task demanding thousands of days as hard as this one. Learning one Chant is a small success in the River, children. You will need many is you ever hope to touch the Waters.”
The scowling mistress gestured dismissal at which the two youngsters bolted for the door, and then she turned back to her other pupils. Her green eyes surveyed the dispirited group--ten children, most little more than seven circles old, and all totally miserable. Sorra sighed. There sat little Jinda, and Sovin, in her mind far too little gifted to be worth schooling in the Keep. Sarn, Siamel, and Jessa all crouched with their faces buried in the texts as if studying now could make up for last Norwin’s shortcomings. They, at least, showed promise of future talent, as did Semion, Jafus, Serus, and Jomen. But talent would not serve in the Way of Magic, for Sorcerers had to be both trained and disciplined if ever they were to succeed in mastering the Art. None proved it better than the tenth student, Jamus, a lad a full season younger than the rest who had tested far better than any child who had ever come to Magiskeep’s Halls. Yet he, of all, was the least ready to learn the rote, and Sorra’s most challenging student to date.
Dark-haired, with two ice grey eyes set in a face which promised handsomeness once it matured, Jamus was a tormented outcast among his peers. Born in the Rim, the enchanted mountains far to the west, he had been orphaned there and brought to the Keep by the Great Master himself, who soon adopted him as his son. Even so, kinship to Lord Sagari offered little protection to the boy when he was among the other hopeful PrePrentices; for they saw him as an alien being who still stank of the red mountain dust and the sweat of Mountmen’s labor. They teased him unmercifully, and refused to accept him into any of their activities. His performance in classes did little to ease his plight. From day to day, even Wind to Wind, he wavered from talented practitioner to bumbling fool in exercise after exercise, fueling no end of mockery from the other children. Apparently, the Gift of Magic included no guarantee of consistency, and Jamus was living proof of how capricious the Talent could be in any one person.
Today, the other students in class had at least managed to recite a few words of the chant correctly despite not having learned it all, but Jamus could not even spit out one word from the spell, as if he were entirely illiterate in its content. The only thing protecting him from the full force of Sorra’s wrath had been the failure of the others as well. Now, the Mistress of Beginnings found it hard to hold her temper with any of them, “Do you think you are above the Old Learnings? For ages, Sorcerers have studied these words and committed them to memory as among the first of all spells. No Magician can ever hope to cast a Weaving upon a thing he does not comprehend. Magic succeeds only through knowledge.” Sorra would have repeated the old story of Magic’s first discovery in the World and of the havoc wanton use of it visited upon mortals, but she had already given this class the tale a half dozen times. She doubted telling it again would have much effect at this point. “You must learn to sift the world, Children. You must learn to see into the heart of things, to understand how they are made and how they work.” Now she held up the leather bound tome, “This book is made of vellum and ink, an easy collection to comprehend. You have studied both already and know how each is created—how the fibers lie and how the color links. I led you to that knowledge by using my powers of Perception to let you See. But I will not always be there to lead you to the heart of creations. It will be up to you to discover these secrets on your own. This spell,” she jabbed her finger at the book, “opens the way for you to begin. What excuse can you have for not learning it as I instructed?”
The question was purely rhetorical, and when Jamus timidly raised his hand, Sorra stiffened. He had a habit of asking disquieting questions, so Sorra acknowledged him with some reluctance.
“Mistress,” he said quietly, “why do we learn words if we don’t need them? If I can sift without a chanting, is that so wrong?”
The class’ gasp nearly drowned out Sorra’s own. His suggestion bordered on blasphemy in the classroom. Sorra drew a deep, steadying breath, “The chants are needed, Jamus, no matter what you think. You’re not here to challenge the teachings of Masters who know more than you do. Magic needs a guide and words are the Magician’s tool, just as the carpenter cannot build without his hammer.”
“He would build without one if he could,” Jamus replied. “If he could simply raise his hand and see the house rise.”
Sorra took another breath which did little to calm her this time, “Then he would not be a carpenter, would he? Rather he would be a Sorcerer and the circle of my lesson would be closed. He could not raise the house without the knowledge of its construction and the words of manipulation.”
“The boards might fly into place without words, Mistress. I have not heard Sagari utter spells before casting a weave.”
Sorra gritted her teeth. Evoking Sagari’s name to prove a point was not the best of ideas for anyone. It insulted her by reminding her of the boy’s status in the Keep and provoked the other students by reminding them of exactly who Jamus was, “The Master of Magiskeep is a Seven Arts Mage who no longer needs to speak every spell aloud, boy. When you are a Mage yourself, perhaps you will be able to do the same. PrePrentices and Prentices—should you ever become one—are wordbound in the River until the Arts are Mastered. You had best remember that, for I and the other Masters will not tolerate any less of you.”
“But Mistress Joria…” Jamus began to protest.
Sorra cut him short, “Mistress Joria is not your teacher. I am. Were she assigned to the duty of instructing young fools like you in the Beginnings, then her opinion might matter to me. As it is now, I don’t care what she does or says in regard to the issue.”
Sarn giggled nervously, as he nodded knowingly at Siamel who batted her green eyes with pretended innocence. The two of them had often teased Jamus about his outlandish challenges to Sorra and resented his closeness to Masters such as Joria. This latest incident was going to supply a good Sevenstin of torture. Sarn winked and Siamel smiled back wickedly.
Now Jinda’s hand shot up. The eagerness of her tone clearly indicated she had noticed little of the tension building in the room, “Mistress, Mistress! I have the Chant now. May I say it for you so I can go before the meat is cold?”
The little girl’s naiveté was completely disarming most of the time, and Sorra found herself softening out of her present rage, “You may, Jinda. It would be good to hear someone answer well right about now.”
Jinda stood at her seat, tossed her blonde braid behind her neck and smiled sweetly, “Here are the words of Sifting as passed from Beginning to End…
Eyes of mine by River be
Led within that I may see
Heart of heart, and all within
All to end and all begin.
Grant me knowledge sharp and keen
To see what is and is not seen.
Touch my hand, O River rise,
Granting Vision to my eyes”
“Excellently spoken, Jinda,” Sorra replied, nodding to the girl. “Though I wish you’d learned that last night instead of this Easwin, I will excuse you from class.”