Since Accidental Sorcerers launches next week, and once again I got nuttin’ for #FridayFlash, I’m making a virtue of necessity and posting an excerpt.
For those of you who have been reading the serialized version (about half the entire story), our heroes were last on the way to Queensport and the annual Gathering of the Conclave. And now, they both get to meet other apprentices…
“Sura! I got your letter last summer, I’m sorry I didn’t write back, but I got so busy when Father apprenticed me to Tonima! It’s so wonderful, we won’t have to spend all that time in the kitchen this year! We’ll have our studies together…”
“Isa! Hello!” Sura disengaged herself and looked at the chattering girl who had always been her best friend at the Conclave. Isa hailed from Ugar, one of a loose alliance of city-states along the coast, east of Queensport. To be honest, Sura had been too busy herself to wonder why Isa had never written back. “It’s good to see you too! The year’s been good to you.” That was true; Isa’s childhood softness had ripened into a more mature kind. She wore the brown sash of Earth magic.
“So how’s your apprenticeship?” Isa asked her. “Anything exciting?”
“Oh, Isa, you would not believe…” She gave her friend a lopsided smile. “Father got a second apprentice over the winter, and he’s… well, we…”
Isa squealed. “Oh, you must introduce him to me! So… are you two—” She squeezed her thumb and forefinger together, and Sura blushed. “I knew it! You’ve got so pretty since last year, of course the boys would notice you. I won’t try to steal him, I promise!”
“Two apprentices? Must be nice,” said one of the older girls from her bed; several others voiced agreement. “And he’s your boyfriend too?” The others gathered around Sura and Isa. “Tell us all about it. Sounds like the most exciting thing we’ve heard so far.”
Mik looked around the boys’ room. The arrangement reminded him of the bunkhouse at his aunt’s ranch outside Lacota—except that all the beds were on the floor, and a bunkhouse did not feature ornate stonework and mosaics. Other boys, most older than Mik, from all points of the compass, chatted near the large window or stowed their baggage in drawers under their beds. Most were Western, like Mik: ruddy complexion, dark hair that often waved or curled. But there were many Northerners, tall and blonde, and even a few from the East and South. He shrugged and dropped his pack on a bed near the window.
Two of the older apprentices turned to face him. “Is this bed taken?” Mik asked.
“Over by the door, boy,” the taller one sneered—his accent, pale skin, and thin yellow hair marked him as a Northerner. “This side is for the senior apprentices.”
After facing rogue mages and river pirates, let alone an ice dragon, a supercilious apprentice intimidated Mik not at all. “I was told I could take any open bed. Who are you to say different?”
The blonde scowled; to Mik’s surprise, the other one grinned. “You should know me, boy. You certainly will in time to come. I am Hen sim Miran, descended from the Age of Heroes and the brave men of Ak’koyr. And who are you?”
“Mik sim Mikhile. My mentor named me Mik Dragonrider.”
The older boy barked laughter. “Dragonrider? Because you sat on a skink?”
Mik felt a touch on his arm and heard a low voice: “There’s plenty of bunks over by mine.” Mik turned to find a Western boy, closer to his age, wearing a friendly smile. “I’ll be better company than them, for sure.”
Mik returned the smile, and gave the newcomer a nod. He hefted his pack and looked at Hen. “What you believe does not concern me in the least.” He turned away, this time to a laugh and stifled snickers from Hen’s counterparts.
“I’m Charn sim Bas,” the new boy said. “You’re a brave’un, facing down that braggart.”
“Eh,” said Mik, “I’ve seen scarier things than him.”
“Oh? Like what?”
Mik grinned. “My aunt. She’d have cuffed me if I let a tater intimidate me.”
Mik pitched his voice higher and rougher, mimicking his aunt’s voice and Low Speech dialect: “Yar, a tater, about his ancestors goin’ on. Best part of him’s buried, it is!”
Charn whooped with laughter, rocking back on his bed. “Oh, that’s one to remember! I’ll have to tell my mentor that, she has to deal with taters all the time!” They bumped fists, and Mik had a new friend.
“Are you first-year too?” Mik asked.
“Second,” said Charn. “But that’s all right. We’ll have a fine time.”
Several other younger apprentices gathered to see what the commotion was about. The older ones ignored them, except for a brief glare from sim Miran. Only the latest comers missed the confrontation, and even they were drawn to an animated low-voiced conversation. “Why did your mentor name you Dragonrider?” one of them asked.
“It’s a long story,” said Mik.
“Good, you can tell it tonight,” said a brown-sashed Easterner. “After His Imperial Highness over there goes looking for a girl to impress.” He held out a fist with the pinky drooping away, an insulting gesture that he made sure Hen sim Miran could not see, and was rewarded with a chorus of snickers and stifled laughter.