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Reaching the Royal Terrace, Charn turned to look at all of Westmarch sprawling below him, all the way down to the crowded harbor where Prince Nalfur’s navy anchored cheek by jowl with merchant ships. Puddles from the departed rains sparkled, bejeweling his city. Such a beautiful place to live, he thought, allowing himself a little pride before continuing on his way.
The librarian took the list Charn offered him, and his empty pack. “You can sit and wait over there,” he told Charn. “This shouldn’t take long.” Indeed, it did not. Charn barely had time to construct his favorite daydream, he and Isa in any private place, before the librarian returned with his pack.
“Those who have gone before you have abused your book enough,” the librarian told him. “If you feel the compulsion to add to it, make it something useful.” Charn nodded, took his pack, and departed.
The sorcerers of Westmarch lived and worked on Kestral Terrace, among the wealthier merchants and distant relatives of the Prince. Charn brought his burden to his mentor, Zharcon the White, who nodded absently and gave him one of the four books. “Make a thorough study of this,” she said. “I’ll see that we have time to go over things later this week.”
Charn mumbled consent and carried his book away. “The Portico,” he said to himself. It was outside, and had shades overhead if the sun got too bright. The other apprentices were likely there as well. Reaching the Portico, Charn saw he was right; all but one or two apprentices were out here. One of the missing was Vibeli sam Tatrin, which was a minor disappointment. Vibeli was a frequent visitor in Charn’s daydreams, even if she was unfriendly in real life. Charn shrugged and opened the book.
“A Survey of Magic Useful for the Intermediate Apprentice,” he mumbled, reading the title page. The mentor had not given him a specific area to study, so he looked over the summary. The most promising topic, COMBAT MAGIC, was crossed out. He flipped to the indicated page, to find the entire section had been excised. The book must have dated to before The Treaty, to have had such information at one time.
Choosing “Exercises in Two-Element Spells,” he opened to that chapter—and was immediately distracted by the marginalia and glosses, left by other apprentices down through the ages. “That’s what the librarian meant, then,” he said.
“What?” Charn looked up to see Portia sam Perin, a new apprentice, standing there and smiling. She always smiled when she talked to him, which made Charn a little nervous.
“Nothing,” he said. “The librarian warned me that other students had marked in this book, is all.”
Portia peered over the table. “Indeed,” she said. “Well, I have reading to do, too.” She took the table next to his and opened her own book. “Does this happen a lot?” she called to Charn. “The mentors leaving us to ourselves all the time?”
Charn shook his head. “No. There’s some politics.” There’s always politics when your ruler is crazy, he thought. “Nothing for us to get involved with. They’ll work with us some tomorrow, or maybe in another day or two. Until then…” he lifted his book, and Portia grinned and turned to hers.
The spring air and Charn’s hormones kept him distracted, or maybe it was the marginalia. Sketches of faces, detailed drawings of naked female torsos (and some male), insulting commentary about sorcerers or apprentices long on the final journey, even some interesting asides about the main text from time to time. Charn dwelt on one of the drawings, thinking about Isa and her own curvaceous torso. He’d see her at the Gathering, in a few months, and hoped he’d have a chance to see more of her (if the gods-forsaken mentors wouldn’t watch over them). Her letters were like her speech, long and rambling, and he enjoyed reading them even if his replies were much shorter. He let his mind wander, and thought about Mik and Sura for a moment. Sura was angular compared to Isa, even to little Portia, but Mik was completely devoted to her. Besides, there was a popular song about what happened to any, man or boy, who trifled with a daughter of the Matriarchy. Isa was a much safer fantasy—
“I’m sorry,” said Portia. “I was wondering if you could help me with something.”
Charn looked up at the girl standing there, politely not blocking his sunlight. “What?”
“It’s my Fire magic,” she said. “I’m supposed to light a candle, but—but I can’t get it.” She looked near tears.
Charn sighed, but nodded. “My mentor said that Fire magic is the hardest element for beginners,” he assured her. “Unless you have an affinity for it.” He followed her back to her table, where a squat candle sat.
He chuckled. “First thing, let’s make it a little easier.” He opened her book and stood it up on the other side of the candle. “There, that’ll keep the wind off it. Sit. Relax.” He pulled a chair alongside the table, keeping a little distance. “You know how to find your center?” She nodded. “Good. Find it, then this is the tricky part. Think of something that makes you angry, but not so angry you lose your center. Then, you focus…”
A minute later, Portia squealed with delight at the burning candle, and jumped up to hug the surprised Charn. Standing at the railing, Vibeli looked at them and smirked.