End of the year hard drive clean-up and I found this, written idly whilst doing Not Very Much At All. Now I want to carry on writing it.
The College of Magic, City of Beara, Nerandor
Taryn Pallerion, Elemental Mage of the Fourth School mumbled something incoherent and rolled over in the bed, only the top of his tousled hair visible from under the sheets.
“Go ‘way,” he muttered, flapping one hand ineffectually from under the covers in the general direction of the voice. “Still ‘sleep. Not time to get up yet.”
Really, what was the point of taking the final tests of the College to become a fully fledged mage, no longer a Novitiate, only to be denied the simple pleasure of laying in bed far longer than you would have done when you were a student? Had he been more awake, and had he been inclined to be particularly bothered by the disturbance, he would have been most affronted. Taryn liked sleeping. It ranked right up amongst his favourite pastimes.
Instead of responding to the voice as his sense of duty suggested he ought to, he chose to attempt to will himself back into what had been proving to be a rather pleasant dream involving himself and the twin girls who served as assistants in that delicious little bakery in the Trader’s Quarter…
“Master Pallerion, Master Leondrin requires your presence now.”
The sheet was torn away from him and he emerged, blinking into the sunlight that streamed through the window on the east side of the room. As a senior Novitiate, Taryn had acquired the luxury of a single bedroom, after years of sharing with a minimum of four others, and because he was Leondrin’s favourite, he’d gotten the best room.
Hywel, his master’s man-servant was standing at the end of the bed, arms folded across his chest and a look of distaste on his face. Taryn rubbed his eyes and sat up with a groan.
“You never were a morning person, were you, Master Pallerion?” The elderly retainer moved to the wash stand and poured a bowl of cool water for Taryn to wash his face before heading for the small wardrobe that contained his clothing. He threw open the doors and considered the contents whilst Taryn slowly got himself from the horizontal to the vertical and performed his ablutions. He wore not a stitch of clothing, but Hywel had seen it all before anyway.
“Your clothes, Master.” Hywel laid out Taryn’s favourite white linen shirt and dark trousers on the bed. As ever, Taryn marvelled at just how sprightly the old man was. He must have been well into his eighties, but never once complained about aches and pains the way some of the mages in the tower did.
“Hywel, how many times? You’ve known me since I was eleven years old. Drop the formalities.”
The old man looked with a certain fondness at the tall, slender young man as he slid into his clothing. From the first day he’d arrived, Taryn Weaver had held old Pallerion Leondrin in a captivating web. Hywel knew, although he never spoke of it, that the boy had borne more than a passing resemblance to Leondrin’s own son who had died many years before during one of Beara’s less peaceful times. Hywel knew the danger implicit in such transference of affection, but fortunately, the young man Leondrin sponsored into the College had proven to be singularly different to the long-dead Shadan.
He was lazier, for one thing.
“Master you are, boy, and master you will always be. I would not be observing the formalities if I were to start calling you by your first name, now, would I?” Taryn shrugged his shoulders lightly.
“I’ve heard you call Master Leondrin by his first name on more than one occasion.”
“Ah, but that’s different. He and I go back a long time. Why, I remember Pallerion when he was naught but a whippersnapper hisself. He were just like you, boy, always a-bed until well past breakfast.”
“I missed breakfast?” Taryn’s disappointment was palpable. The College served excellent food at all meal times, but breakfast had ever been the best. There was just something so extraordinarily comforting about the platters of bacon and griddled sausages, the fluffy scrambled eggs, the veritable mountains of toast…
Taryn couldn’t stop the sigh.
“Aye, lad, you missed breakfast. If you don’t get your arse in gear, you’ll miss lunch, too.” Hywel’s wrinkled face broke out in a grin and he handed Taryn his belt. Fastening it around his narrow waist, Taryn went through the ritual of checking all his spell component pouches were present. He twiddled at the gold stud he wore in his ear, a nervous habit, and then nodded at his reflection in the looking glass in satisfaction and pulled on his soft, leather boots. He would, he concluded, do.
Less than ten minutes later, he was seated in the small study of his master, Pallerion Leondrin, the Fire Master of the College and head of what was rather grandly called ‘the Citadel of Elements’. The ‘Citadel’ was merely one of the many schools that together formed the College in Beara. Leondrin himself was not in the study, but Taryn lounged with easy familiarity in one of the comfortable armchairs, tempted to put his feet up on the desk – as he was every time he came in here – when the aged, and much-loved voice snapped him to attention.
“Where have you been at, boy? I was looking for you last night.”
“I was in Low Town, Master,” replied Taryn, getting immediately to his feet and moving to assist the old man across the study. Leondrin was younger than Hywel, but seemed older. A magical accident many years ago had lost him the sight in his left eye and given him a pronounced limp. Added to that, a natural weakness of the heart made him seem older and more frail than his seventy years. “You recall? I was arranging protection for my journey.”
“Your journey. Yes, yes, I remember.” Pallerion paused and sniffed the air. “You been drinking again, boy? Sort me a chair out will you? Do I look like a mage who wants to be kept standing?”
“I had a glass of wine or two.” Or three. Or possibly six. “To be sociable, Master. As you have taught us. The importance of being able to socialise on a level equal to those we would deal with.” Taryn’s eyes danced with an easy humour as he parroted the frequently spoken words.
“Smells like a gods-damned brewery in here. You been dealing with a Brewer? Mark my words, boy – you want to be drinking less. Do you not remember what you were taught in Anatomy? Alcohol causes damage to the liver. Do you really want to die in screaming, twisted agony?”
“I’m a Fire Mage, Master Pallerion. I’m likely to die in screaming, twisted agony at the hands of some fire demon or other anyway.” Taryn’s response was whip-quick – level and measured. “If my time comes before then, then at least at the hands of the dread-demon alcohol it might allow a moment’s pleasure.”
The old mage’s face broke out into a grin.
“Thrice-damn you and your sense of reason, Weaver, you always were too quick-witted.” He sat down gratefully on the chair that Taryn cleared for him and considered his student with a long, thoughtful glance. He set down the gnarled wooden staff that he carried and gracefully folded his fingers together before resting them in his lap.
“So you intend to go through with this journey, then?”
“Of course, Master. I have long yearned to travel the world and as you have always told us, there is no time like the present. Master Belamin has practically encouraged me to travel, to discover, to learn…”
“Belamin is a crackpot old Earth mage,” grumbled Pallerion, who was something like fifteen years that particular man’s senior. “More dirt in his head than brains, that one. You are able to tell him not to stick your nose into anything that’s your own business now you’re a Master in your own right.”
“He’s the Master of the College,” said Taryn, more shocked than his outward appearance let on. “One does not tell the Master of the College to mind his own business.”
“I do, all the time.”
“But that’s different, Master. You are a fully fledged member of the Conclave, whereas I am unlikely ever to attain such a position.” The bitterness in the young man’s voice was tangible. Pallerion reached across and brushed at Taryn’s shoulder, mock-playfully.
“That chip not getting any smaller, is it, lad?”
Taryn said nothing.
Pallerion leaned back in the chair and considered his favourite – and by far and away best – former apprentice. “Why is it that you have come to this decision and not accepted my offer of a teaching post here at the college?” The old man had never been one to tiptoe around a subject. He gave Taryn another of his cool, calculating looks and the young mage sighed heavily. With two Fire Mages in the small, confined space, the heat was stifling. Both men burned with inner fires that raised their core temperatures exponentially. It did little to quell the other burning passion that raged in Taryn’s soul.
“Is it a need to prove yourself, a need to demonstrate some sort of capability, or is it something more primal and basic than that?” The old mage persisted.
“Sir?” Taryn raised a brow, indicating that he didn’t understand Pallerion’s line of thought. Feeling uncomfortably warm now, he divested himself of the over-robe that he had put on until he was standing in the white cotton shirt and dark trousers. He sat down again and took the slim bladed knife from its place in the top of his boot. He turned the weapon over and over in his hands as the older man spoke.
“Are you taking on this foolhardy journey, which is likely to see you killed because you have no experience in the world beyond the College gates, or are you trying to seek out some long-forgotten artefact to prove your worth to the Conclave? What has Belamin promised you in return for such activity?”
Curse you, you old rascal, you miss nothing, do you? “Master, I cannot divulge that information, you know that a conversation between a mage and the College Master is sacrosanct.”
“I don’t give a horse’s rear end about that. You are my protégé and Belamin had no right…”
“He outranks you, Master. I believe you forget your place.”
There was a long, almost painful silence.
“No, Weaver, I believe you forget yours.”
“I spoke out of turn, Master. Forgive me. I wished merely to remind you that the College Master’s orders supersede any other given to an Apprentice, even those of his own Master.”
Pallerion scowled, his old, lined face crinkling even more. “Do you think I’m not aware of the covenants and rules that have bound me for more than sixty years, boy? Do you take me for a fool? Now tell me what was promised. If Belamin complains, point him in my direction. I’ll be glad to speak with him.”
There was a pause.
“And remember. You are an Apprentice no longer. Which reminds me. I have something for you…”
The old mage held out his hand and dropped something into Taryn’s hand. He stared down at the tiny ruby ear stud and felt an almost immediate lump of emotion in his throat. Each of the elemental houses received a jewel when they passed their tests: amber for the students of Earth, emerald for those of Air, sapphire for the Water Mages, and deepest ruby red for the Disciples of Fire. It was a singular honour to receive such an item and was normally accompanied with much pomp, ceremony and too much drinking.
This was somehow better. Although Taryn made a mental note to correct the too much drinking element later.
“You do me great honour, Master,” murmured Taryn, removing the gold stud and replacing it with the ruby.
“Nonsense. It is your due. You are a Master now, no longer a boy. But I will not lie to you. I am not happy about this expedition. Belamin is pleased by it. This naturally makes me displeased.”
Taryn had learned, in his time at the Citadel, that animosities and rivalries were commonplace between the Elemental Schools. Sometimes there were even rivalries between mages of the same calling, although those were generally down to more complex and far deeper rooted reasons. Taryn himself had gained more than one rival over the years from all of the Schools, his own included.
But the rivalry between Belamin and Pallerion was the stuff of legend amongst the students.
The College followed a traditionally strict hierarchy. At the top was the College Master, a mage elected into position by the voting council, known as the Conclave. The Conclave was formed from a representative sample of all four Schools, five from each, including the head of each school – the Fire, Air, Earth and Water Masters. When one member of the Conclave was elected into the position of Citadel Master, they were supposed to display neutrality and an additional representative was elected from their School to fill the place. The Conclave, when in session, therefore consisted of twenty Master Mages and one Citadel Master.
This meant that at any one time, one School held dominion over the others. True neutrality was, of course, hard to achieve and Belamin was as neutral as acid. Increasingly, Disciples of Earth had been attaining more and more in the world beyond the reach of the Citadel. It was often the way that when one School held sway, their disciples tended to grow in strength.
A Fire Mage had not been in the Citadel Master’s seat now for some fifteen generations and many had read the portents and omens as a sign that Pallerion’s time was right.
Yet Belamin had been elected to the position overwhelmingly.
Taryn had been furious that his Master had not achieved the position. There had been a steady decline in the numbers of Fire mages during the time he had been at the College and had Pallerion become College Master, the chances had been extremely high that once he passed his final Trial, he would have become the eldest Disciple and automatically been placed onto the Conclave.
“It is not our place to question games of divinity,” Pallerion had said at the time, after Taryn’s rather vociferous rant was over.
“But I was under the impression that nobody even liked Master Belamin.”
“You sincerely believe that this is a popularity contest, Taryanderon? Have you learned nothing in your time here? It is a political move and nothing more. Let it be, boy. If there is anybody in this College who has earned the right to dislike Belamin, it is me. Do not disrespect your elders any further.”
“Are you not even slightly angered by this turn of events, Master?” The twenty-one year old Taryn was every bit as blunt and forthright as his eleven year old counterpart had been.
“Angered? No. Saddened, yes. But what passes between Belamin and I is above and beyond such labels. I have made my peace with the situation, Taryn. I propose you do the same.”
It had done little for Taryn’s already low opinion of the Conclave. He now worked tirelessly towards his Trial, towards the time when he could stand for membership of the Conclave. Until the time when he, filled with the arrogance of youth, could step up and confidently show them how it should be run.
Belamin had, until his election to the head of the Conclave, taught Taryn twice a week in the art of herb lore and the making of elixirs. It was a subject for which Taryn had little enthusiasm and less patience and it had not made for a harmonious relationship. As he’d gotten older, Taryn had developed a quiet interest in the subject, proving himself to be a far more apt student than Belamin had previously given him credit for. He knew Taryn’s potential.
And though Taryn did not know it, Belamin feared it. He feared that some day, Taryn would rise beyond his station and take his place at the head of the College.
Thus, when Taryn had requested an audience with the College Master, Belamin, who had anticipated such a move, had arranged the meeting with alacrity. He had denied the boy’s request to be allowed to join the Conclave. There were precedents and traditions to be followed after all. But he had made Taryn an offer. He had made Taryn an offer that the impetuous, soul-searching young man could not have refused in the face of everything up to and including natural disaster.
He had told him to go on a quest. It didn’t matter what it was, only that it was a means to prove his strength and capability. Even now he could recall the College Master’s speech almost word-for-word.
“Return triumphant and bring me proof of the Elder Mages, and you will not only be granted your place on the Conclave, but you will become revered. Remain here as a teacher as that old fool Leondrin has suggested, and you will fade into obscurity.”
And there he had played on Taryn’s need for recognition and not inconsiderable arrogance. Without stopping to think things through, Taryn had agreed and was in the process of sorting himself out some kind of bodyguard. He wasn’t a complete fool after all.
He finished fastening the ruby stud in his ear and turned his head boyishly to one side so that it caught a glint of sunlight from the window. Pallerion nodded sagely.
“It becomes you, lad. Remember that this jewel marks you as one of us. Remember who you are, remember all that you have been taught and above all else…return home.”
A long silence fell between them, awkward and uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, Taryn broke first.
“He has promised me my rightful place on the Conclave,” said Taryn, with a sigh, admitting what Pallerion already knew. The old mage nodded once as though this confirmed his suspicions. Taryn got to his feet and paced the room.
“I am a good mage, Master Pallerion…”
“I never implied you were not.”
“I have always studied hard and I have always excelled, you say so yourself.”
“I do not deny it.”
“Then why is it that Belamin will not grant me a place on the Conclave? I have so many ideas… so many… thoughts…”
“It is precisely that which prevents you from winning your seat on the Conclave. Belamin fears change. You represent, to him, all that he detests about the world. You are filled with youth and energy and radical thoughts. He is frightened of you, Taryn. Do you not see that?”
“Frightened of me?” Taryn laughed, humourlessly. “Am I so terrible?”
“No, boy, but what you are capable of is.” Pallerion’s voice was low, measured but filled with an underlying tone that Taryn had heard before.
“You know as well as I that the incident in the Tower was a freakish accident. It was a culmination of a surge of energy that discharged through me. No fire mage could wield that much power without some kind of supernatural intervention.”
“That’s right, Taryn. A freakish accident.” Pallerion got to his feet and caught the boy by his shoulders. “Harken to my words, Taryanderon Weaver. You have greatness in you. I feel it, you feel it – Belamin feels it. You are a potential force just waiting to be tempered – and he fears that you will alter the College beyond all recognition. Look back over the histories, boy, think what you have been taught. Think. Has there ever been a time when a Fire Mage has sat on the Grand Conclave in the head seat that war has not been upon us?”
“Hurrah, he is thinking. Belamin fears your ascendance. He fears war. It is up to you, Taryn, to prove him wrong. Going away will not make things better, it will merely put you out of his sight for a time. He will wait, eagerly, for news of your death and he may even request a minute’s silence at Conclave. But then you will be forgotten. You must live, Taryn.” The old man, over-exerted, began to cough, a rasping, painful cough that made Taryn wince and he guided the old man back to a chair.
“Master, calm yourself. Here.” Taryn handed him a glass of water. Leondrin took a long sip and regained his composure. “I will make a deal,” Taryn said, eventually. I will travel the world for six months. If, in that time, I have not found that which I seek, I will return. Will this appease you?”
The old man, incapable of speaking, nodded and clasped Taryn’s hand firmly in his own. When he released it, there was a small pouch which Taryn could feel contained a substantial amount of gold.
“Find… yourself the best bodyguards you can,” gasped the old mage.
“Master, I cannot take this…”
“I have no use for it, boy, not now. I have no children and you are my best hope for the future.”
“Ah. No pressure or anything, then?”
“Nothing. Thank you, Master Pallerion.” Taryn pocketed the pouch of money and moved so that he was kneeling in front of his master. “I will return, I give you my word. I will leave this very day and in six months time, or less if the gods shine their light on me, I will be back here.”
Still wordless, Leondrin laid a hand on Taryn’s head in a silent benediction. Taryn clasped the old man’s hand briefly, then got to his feet, grabbed his over-robe and left the room.
Pallerion stayed where he was for a long time after the young mage had gone, staring at the door. Taryn’s final words echoed in his head.
In six months time, or less if the gods shine their light on me, I will be back here.
“Aye, lad,” he murmured. “Aye. But I may well not be.”