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The Tale of the Apprentice #5

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He was shaken awake by Magister Holbenth, early the next morning to judge the light coming in through the windows of the library. The teacher just stood there for a few moments, his hand on Tarranau's shoulder, not saying anything but clearly trying to apologize for what he was about to say through his touch.

“Magister Gothren found the amulet of his that he was looking for in your room. It was a trophy amulet, one of the ones that he keeps on display behind his desk in his apartments. Someone had snuck in, taken it down and run off with it, and Magister Gothren, as soon as he came home to his rooms that evening, apparently was overcome with anger at the temerity of the person who would dare to steal something of such personal importance from him. He began waking all of his favourite students, asking if they had seen anything. Finally, one of them said he'd seen you carrying it, a boy named Fradich. After that, Magister Gothren came and got me, in order that he not be accused of planting the item or ransacking a room for no purpose. After that, well, you know what happened. It is why you are here and not in your own room.”

“Magister Holbenth, please get to the location of the amulet. I'd like to know where it was planted on me, and how that could have happened.”

“I'm sorry Tarranau, I was a little caught up in what happened. It was in a bucket of seawater on your desk, it had been on the bottom, covered with a little algae so it did not show or glint whenever any one looked at it. Magister Gothren had looked everywhere else in the room, made a total mess out of everything, all your clothes and bed coverings sprayed everywhere. That man is an utter pig, and could have behaved with at least some dignity, instead of wrecking your room out of spite. Then, after gleefully destroying everything, he looked around till his eyes alighted on that damnable bucket, and he rolled his sleeve up and plunged it in, fishing around until he came out with that muck covered amulet, almost capering as he waved it at me, yelling 'I've got him! That child was trying to make a fool out of me, hiding it in the very thing I sent him for homework. I'll see him expelled for this, you'll see if I don't'. With that, he skipped out of the room, far happier than I would have thought appropriate for a teacher who had just found a student stealing from him. There was really nothing I could do at that point, so I went back to bed and tried to salvage some sleep. Once I woke up I came here to tell you the bad news.”

“So, when is the disciplinary board going to meet to discuss my case? And do I get to defend myself at all, or will I have to be ejected from a school where I have spent most of my life and my family's money without even been allowed words to explain what really happened? OH! Fradich... that boy is a bully, and a petty thief. He's even tried to get money from me when I was younger, threatening to hit me. I scared him off, but he does that now to some of the younger boys who will not talk to the teachers about it. Blast, if only I could get one of them to speak about it. I know they won't, after all, I'm the sinking ship and no one is going to jump on board of it. I will get a lot of sorry looks and quiet apologies and “I'm sad to see you go” murmured into my ear, and that will be that, me gone and the school resuming its normal course. I'm always glad to see the empathy here that will help me with my suddenly new aim in life. I'm sure you're going to give me the money from the school coffers for this last term, aren't you? After all, I'm certainly not going to be here to use what it paid for.” Tarranau paused, looking at Holbenth, who was openly taken aback at the venom in Tarranau's voice, his hand removed from the student's shoulder and a step back from where he had started the outburst.

“Three days from today. The members of the board decided they wanted more time to try and talk to any people connected with the case, including you and me. I might also remind you that I had nothing to do with you being accused, so I do not deserve an outburst of that nature.” “I know, I know, but you're the only person who I can actually express myself to in these circumstances. I speak like this to any other teacher, and I get told off, and if I try and speak to a student like that, they will not understand. Also, you are the bearer of bad news, Magister. Few will react well to what you just told me, I would think. So, I have three days, at least one of which will be taken up with talking to the members of the board, sitting around waiting on their whim and mercy, brought in to answer a question here, a concern there, and then sent back to sit while they discuss my fate behind closed doors. Outstanding.”

“Tarranau, I have spoken to at least one of the members this morning, and they've asked that you remain with a close distance of the school, and that you don't go down to the docks district. They haven't told any of the sailors what happened here, but neither do they want you trying to leave the island while still under the good auspices of this school. That means you really should not go to the beach that you have told me about, it is too far away and too quiet in terms of traffic. So come, we should go get your room fixed back up, even if you're not going to be using it much. If nothing else, we can pack your things for later.”

The apprentice gave a shrug of the shoulders. “It will be packing to leave, unfair though that may be. Still, I may be luckier than I expect. No sense worrying at it now, though.” Tarraranau gathered the pillows and blankets that he had slept in, and made his way back to his room, talking quietly to Magister Holbenth about times and trials where things had not been so murky. As he made his way across the open areas of the school, gathering reactions ranging from sympathetic comments to eyes down avoidance to the open sneers of a few who took joy in seeing some of their betters fallen. Magister Holbenth's comments from earlier were particularly apt when he and Tarranau arrived at his room; Magister Gothren had scattered everything, not bothering to keep any clothes folded or off of the floor, things scattered in a kind of petty vindictiveness, done just because it was possible to do it.

The two of them set about restoring things to their rightful place, although doing so in a fitful manner, neither really wanting to speak or come to terms to with what the packing things away in the chest likely meant. Soon enough, the quiet was broken by Holbenth speaking: “I'm sorry, but I have to go. I am still a teacher at this institution, and there are other students who are being allowed to learn, and I should be there to assist them in that goal. I likely won't see you again until one of the disciplinary board hearings, there will be enough things for me to do, including giving my own version of the search of the room to the other teachers who will sit on the board. Goodbye, Tarranau.” That said, he turned and walked out of the room, disappearing down the hallway before the corner at the end took him from view.

Tarranau spent much of the rest of the day sorting and restoring his things to where they belonged, undoing the damage that Gothren had caused in his vicious search to find the “stolen” amulet that he prized so highly. With much to occupy his hands and little upon which to spend his mind, Tarranau looked ahead, to what would come after the disciplinary hearing, an event he was now sure would end in his expulsion from the school, a miserable send-off to what had been an at times pleasant experience.

There were really on two options ahead of him: the first was really several choices lumped together, but for him they all resulted in one thing: being forced to give up the practice of magic at which he had spent the last ten years of his life, and instead become a menial labourer, competing against those who had been training in their crafts for years, much as he had once been. He had neither the money nor the connections for any job above that of a basic clerk, and with Magister Gothren sure to mark him as an unworthy boy, he would be consigned to running and repairing fishing lines, or simply farming the mussel beds of the eastern coast along with his family. And, if he chose this option, he would always be among people who would remember him as the “failed apprentice”, for the mage's school was one of the centre points of the life on the island, and its most prestigious institution.

Tarranau was set against having his life defined by an act that he had not committed, and was seriously considering his other option: that of leaving the island, going to a place where the actions of this one institution would not dog him, and to re-establish himself as a mage there, utilizing the abilities he had learned at this school, rather than letting his childhood efforts be thrown away. Where to go was uncertain, for Tarranau was not a trader and did not know the geography of the continent well. He had heard names such as Bethra and Arnich, but knew little more than the names of the places where he might end up. There was also the matter of being in trading ports, for there would always be mages who had been attached to the school in one capacity or another arriving, most often serving as ship's mages, and they would know that there was not supposed to be a man of such talents as Tarranau might possess serving in that area. Thus, he would be forced into the interior, away from the shoreline and the ocean with which he had grown up, and into the more desolate and drier regions. A sacrifice, perhaps, but preferable to being marked as a failure for the rest of his adult life.

The problem with that would be to slip out of the island, for if he waited till the announced disciplinary trial, Tarranau's name would be known among all of the sailors as a man who had been marked, and was not supposed to leave until the trial, and his humiliation, was complete. Tarranau was left with the option of leaving before the trial, a choice that would have him marked as guilty and fleeing a just punishment. However, the result would be the same either way, and he could at least leave on his own terms. He had just finished repacking most of his things anyway, after they had been scattered by Magister Gothren, and so when the time came, leaving would be easy. The next problem that would arise that Tarranau could think of was the matter of passage. It was all well and good to go down to the docks carrying his chest, but without passage one of the members from the school who knew he was not supposed to be leaving would simply end his attempt, and he would be confined to his room.

Should he not bring his chest, he would need to go down and back to retrieve it, doubling the chance of him being spotted. Plus, there was the simple question of getting his chest out of his room. It was large, and square, made out of a cheap but sturdy wood, and did not move from the beginning of the school year until the end, almost without exception. Carrying it would be sure to get himself spotted and sent back to his room. He could, however, probably move several bags of items out of his chest at night and hide them for retrieval, although they would risk being stolen while they waited for Tarranau to collect them before going onto the ship. His best chance was probably to make several trips tonight, bringing his bags out, and hiding them on the docks, probably in the storeroom of one of the merchants that he knew.

There would be a back way into at least one of them, if he could find it. He could even arrange the passage tonight, for merchants would be awake at all hours, their world timed by the tide and not the passage of the sun. Tarranau grinned, the first time since he had returned from the beach. Maybe his life wouldn't be so bad after all after school. This had also resolved his dilemma about what to be, for he had never desired the life of the ship's mage, and here he was, that life taken away from him and a new one chosen. His whoop of joy echoed down the corridors of his dormitory.


The Tale of the Apprentice #5 © Stratovarius

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