The ring of eman vath, p.14
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       The Ring of Eman Vath, p.14

           Hal Emerson
 

  Chapter Twelve: The Minor Arcana

  AmyQuinn woke early the next day and was unable to fall back asleep. It was still dark outside, but the kind of silent, expectant dark that comes just before dawn. She had fallen asleep easily enough, but now that she was awake her heart was hammering against her ribs like it was trying to kick its way out.

  She pulled the covers up around her and turned so she was facing the wall, but the change in position did nothing to help. It felt as though springs had been attached to her eyelids: every time she shut them, they would invariably snap back open again.

  Finally, she gave up trying and sat against the wall to watch the thin slice of light that came through her window slowly brighten. With each second that passed, her nerves wound tighter and tighter, until there was a knock at the door and she jumped. She dressed quickly and followed the rest of the apprentices to breakfast and then to morning meditation in an enormous room on the opposite side of the Tower from the Sorcerers’ Court, where gathered everyone in the Citadel.

  There were hundreds of people, but no one spoke. The only sound was the swish of clothing or the accidental scuff of a boot on the stone floor. Everyone acted as if they were alone, and a weight of solemnity weighed down on them to such a degree that the new apprentices barely dared to breathe.

  Simple cushions lay over the floor of the enormous, bare room in perfect rows and columns, and the only illumination was the reflected light of the sun as it rose over the hills of Aginor behind them. The view through the open wall on the far side of the room was breathtaking – they could see all the way out to the Shining Sea over the last stretch of land around Var Athel. After a few minutes, a small bell was rung, and everyone sat, legs folded beneath them, and watched the sunrise.

  What must have been half an hour later, the bell rang out again, its shivering laugh bouncing around the room to wake the guests from their meditation and hurry them on their way.

  AmyQuinn and the new apprentices were led away by Deri’cael Pyrce, hurrying off with none of the measured calm with which they’d entered.

  They whispered excitedly to each other about what they might expect. There were wild rumors – one of the taller boys quite stoically told them that he’d heard they would be tested first thing, and that those who failed would be asked to leave. A smaller boy, the one who had been brave enough to ask questions the day before, told them that he knew for a fact they would not be kicked out until the second week of training, and only if they showed no aptitude or could not keep up with the work.

  AmyQuinn found neither of these possibilities comforting. In any case, what would the training be like? In all the stories she’d ever read or heard, Sorev Ael were always pouring over heavy tomes and writing notes with quill pens, and it was always the oldest who were the best and knew the most because they had spent so many years reading everything they could get their hands on. She felt horribly unprepared.

  But when they arrived at their first Naming class, she found that there was no parchment, quill pens, or books of any kind. Instead, the Sorev Ael who led the Naming class told them that it was expected by each of the Seven Schools that the apprentices memorize all that they were taught, for a very simple reason:

  The Words could not be written down.

  The Words were what Master Rewit, the Sorev Ael who taught Naming, called the sounds of the deep language. He explained that they that bypassed spoken noise altogether and went straight to the level of thought.

  Rewit himself was a kindly older man wrapped in dark green robes over simple gray breeches and boots, and, after he’d introduced himself, he spoke only in Words. He was a Master, the title given to specialized Sorev Ael who taught apprentices, and as such the Words came as easily to him as the common tongue of Aeon came to the apprentices.

  That first hour of instruction was punctuated by long, frustrating bouts of silence, wherein Master Rewit asked them questions or spoke a sound to them that they were asked to repeat back. It was like trying to speak a language you had once been taught but that you could no longer remember. Like trying to think as a newborn does, or to reason like a madman. When the apprentices did manage to form one of the Words, managed to imbue the nonsense sounds with meaning and thought to give them power, the Master Namer immediately asked them to repeat themselves, a feat which none of them managed. By the time they left, it seemed to be the general opinion that they had learned not a single thing that day.

  Next was Enchantment, taught by a tall, fair woman with lines about her face that placed her somewhere in her late thirties. She was dazzlingly beautiful and also had an air about her that quite clearly said she could beat anyone senseless who dared to trifle with her. By the end of the day, she was by far their favorite.

  Her name was Esmaldi, and she captivated them with a sense of wonder and excitement about what they could do with the talent they’d been given. She began that first class by demonstrating how to imbue everyday objects with the power of the Words – giving them the ability to move on their own, making them burn when touched, transforming them from one shape to another by enchanting them with new names or making them forget what they were. She did all of this while singing and chanting in various rhythms and beats, and when she was done she would flourish her hands up and out and bow to riotous applause from the apprentices.

  “Each and every thing in the world knows what it is and what it’s supposed to be,” she said, after she’d made a boy’s boots hop off his feet and chase him around the large central teaching room to gales of laughter from the rest of the class. When he’d finally turned around and confronted the boots, they’d rolled over like chastised dogs, at which point the boy in question joined the laughter and glanced sheepishly over at Master Esmaldi. Most of the boys seemed to look at her that way.

  “Knowledge of Enchantment allows you to convince a thing to be more than it is,” she continued, vivacious enthusiasm coloring and lifting her voice. “You can tell a ring that it is also a music box, can even give it a song to sing; you can tell a cloak that it is made of shadow, make it hide the wearer; you can tell water that it is as smooth and hard as stone, even make it solid enough to walk on.”

  They left at the end of the hour with their heads buzzing, and already there was talk about what they might enchant. Esmaldi had told them they would begin the following day, and they all had lofty ideas of what they would end up doing and were once more convinced that the dream of being a Sorev Ael was attainable, even after the terribly disappointing Naming class.

  They next encountered the mad whirlwind that was Master Owain.

  Magery was far and away the class to which they were all most looking forward. They left the beautiful Enchanter’s Wing and moved off to the dark, bleak Mage’s Wing, and along the way their talk turned to the most storied art of the Sorev Ael: Summoning fire, calling the wind, and shaking the very earth with words of power.

  The Mage’s Wing was different from the rest of the Citadel. It had no soaring arches or ivy-covered walls, no soft golden light or welcoming floor rugs. It was instead simply carved and constructed from stone that faded from gray to black the farther into the wing they ventured. There were no candles, oil lamps, even sunlight from the bright fall day outside. The light instead came from heatless balls of fire hung up near the ceiling that cast strange, shifting shadows. The effect was chilling, and their conversation trailed off as they moved deeper into the wing.

  Plain doors and hallways branched off to either side as they went, completely lacking any sign of ostentation. The doors were all wood, well-cut but uncarved; the simple flagstone floor was perfectly fitted but faded with age; and the air was thin and cool and seemed to proclaim a kind of proud, intentional neglect.

  The corridor ended in the same large central room that the other wings had, around which the corridor split and continued on. The door was made of ironbound oak set in a doorframe that tapered to an arch, and over which was carved a shrieking raven, shouting a silent piercing cry i
nto the empty corridors.

  No one seemed eager to approach it.

  “We have to go in,” one of them said – a tall, dark-skinned boy.

  “After you,” said a different boy, this one with spectacles and a nervous, shifty demeanor.

  “Let’s all just go together.”

  “It’s a door,” AmyQuinn chimed in. “We can’t all go together.”

  “Then you open it!”

  “Let’s draw straws or something.”

  “That’s stupid, let’s just –”

  The door flung open of its own accord and crashed against the stone wall with an explosive bang that shocked all of them into immediate silence. But as the reverberations echoed up and down the corridor and nothing else happened, they slowly regained their composure and one by one gathered the nerve to slip inside.

  The room itself was very tall, so tall that the ceiling was lost in shadow. The walls were made of the same creamy white stone that lined so much of the Citadel, but here they were also flecked with darker patches of black and gray. There was a fireplace on the far side of the room, and inside was a roaring fire that did not quite succeed in driving away the chill that filled the air. A wide carpet lay before it, on which was situated a large wing-backed chair.

  There were no little balls of light here to provide illumination, and yet the very air seemed thick with otherworldly sensations, as if any movement or sound might consume them all in a rush of power. Marble statues lined the room in wall sconces – simple, elegant, images of men and women holding aloft handfuls of stone fire or frozen orbs of light, all watching, impassive, as the last of the apprentices slipped inside the room.

  A single figure stood waiting for them by the fire. He had short white hair that matched his well-trimmed white beard, and he was dressed in a flowing white shirt, a charcoal-gray vest, and black breeches that tapered into black leather boots. He was of middling height at best, and the bottom of his vest strained against the beginnings of a late-life paunch, but his back was straight and his gray eyes flamed with intelligence.

  “Welcome,” he said.

  The door slammed shut behind them. They all jumped, and might this time have actually broken and run for it if there’d been any way to escape the confines of the room. Instead, they huddled together, as if this might protect them.

  “I am Master Owain. Come forward.”

  After a long pause, wherein he watched them expectantly, they did as instructed. When they were close enough, he motioned for them to sit around him in a half-circle and they complied.

  “Magery is not like the other arts of a Sorev Ael,” he said once they were seated. He began to pace – a slow and steady walk that took him from one end of the fireplace to the other, and his silhouette loomed over them, frightening and larger than life. “Magery is not the study of herbs, nor the clever creation of tricks and illusions. These things have their place, and some Sorev Ael see them as higher arts. I do not.”

  He stopped and turned, flourishing with an upraised hand. There was a flash in the darkness and an emerald light came from the ring on his left hand; the blank stone wall above the fireplace suddenly swirled and churned, and on it appeared words in the common tongue of Aeon, words that slowly wrote themselves one at a time in shining emerald light.

  “This is the oath a Sorev Ael must swear if he chooses to earn his ring in the art of Magery. It tells you much about what you will be learning here. Read, and then we will continue.”

  AmyQuinn did as told. The inscription said:

  I swear to protect all those in need; to speak for those who have been silenced; to stand for those that have been forced to kneel. I am the light, and I shine through deeds, not words. Should it be required of me, I swear to lay down my life in the service of the world. I am the sound of the Word and the burning bright light of Flame. I am the light that shines on the darkness of the world.

  After a suitable silence, he continued on.

  “A Mage is a Sorev Ael of the world. What you learn here is what you will take out from Var Athel into the lands beyond. Sages contemplate; Enchanters modify; Illusionists bend; Namers categorize; Herbalists brew; Healers mend. All are noble pursuits in their own right, but they mean nothing without Magery. Nothing without the Sorev Ael who go out into the world to be the guiding lights of change.”

  His gray eyes took in their every movement, every subtle intake of breath or nervous shifting. The energy of that room, the heaviness, ebbed and flowed through him. It was the same power AmyQuinn had felt in Valinor, the same power she had felt in herself when she’d touched his staff. Her pulse thrilled in her veins at the thought of it, and she felt incredibly light.

  “As such, your time here will not be spent in rote memorization or clever word play. Your time here will be spent doing.”

  He flung out an arm.

  Several people screamed, and then all of the apprentices recoiled and clutched at each other as an enormous shadow detached itself from the wall over the fireplace and broke into the air. Wings the size of a full-grown man’s torso exploded in a halo of feathers as the shadow shot toward them; there was a screech, a predator’s cry of triumph, and light from the fire glinted off of razor-sharp talons.

  “Azfar!”

  The command cracked out and solidified the heavy feeling of power, pulling it down and away from the center of the room and cloaking the figure of Master Owain. The creature changed course in midflight and shot up into the air over them, then banked and flew back to the Sorev Ael.

  Shaking, the apprentices watched the shape with wide eyes, and the illusion set in place not by sorcery but by fear faded away. The creature landed on Owain’s outstretched arm, and it clung to him with talons slightly smaller than a man’s hand. The wings were not several yards wide, but were indeed of normal size and proportion, and as they folded neatly into place on the creature’s back, the sleek body and beak of the raptor came into better sight, and they saw that it was a falcon with silver and black plumage. The bird shrieked once more, letting out that terrible piercing cry, and then was silent.

  “I need to test your fitness,” Master Owain said as if nothing extraordinary had happened. “Azfar will assist me.”

  AmyQuinn felt the beginnings of fear, and a number of the apprentices shot each other uneasy looks.

  “You,” he said, motioning with his chin to Balin, a short boy with a mop of brown curls. “Run across the room and touch the door before Azfar can grab you.”

  There was a stunned moment of silence. Owain arched an eyebrow.

  “I assure you, his talons are quite deadly. I’d suggest you start now.”

  The bird opened its wings, let out a screech of what AmyQuinn could have sworn was excitement, and then lifted into the air.

  Balin took off running as fast as his small, slightly chubby frame would go.

  The falcon raced after him, gaining height and soaring over him, watching with fierce golden eyes. The apprentices, who at first were dead silent in shock, began shouting encouragement. The words seemed to buoy Balin’s sinking sprits, and he redoubled his speed, but it did not seem like it would be enough. The falcon screeched once more and dove.

  Balin touched the door seconds before the raptor’s steely claws passed over his mop of curly hair, and the bird gave a disappointed cry and veered away. Balin, seeing his pursuer give up the chase, promptly collapsed, his shaking legs unable to support him any longer. Master Owain called for him to return, and Balin managed to push himself to his feet and do so, though when he arrived his face was so white and bloodless that he was made to sit by the fire and take deep breaths before Master Owain turned and pointed at random to another apprentice.

  “You. Go.”

  He went through the class one by one. The flashing silver talons caught none of them, but there were a few dangerously close calls. AmyQuinn noticed, however, that even when the bird was so close it should have been unable to miss, the apprentices still just managed to evade it. After she went a
nd returned – breathing heavily, but not as nearly as winded as some of the others – she realized that there wasn’t a trace of worry in Master Owain’s expression.

  Is it all a game? she wondered.

  “Very good,” Master Owain said finally when the last two, twins named Tyl and Wyl, had gone. “We’ll end early today. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

  They went to lunch and were returned to their rooms for the short afternoon rest period. AmyQuinn passed out almost as soon as her head touched the pillow, only to woken by a new Deri’cael she did not know and taken with the rest of the apprentices to their second Naming class of the day. It went much as the first had, leaving them just as frustrated as before.

  Next was Healing, which was the only class that seemed traditionally straightforward. It was taught by Master Spall, a young man with dirty blonde hair and spectacles who seemed to know every nuance of the human body. To begin with, they were expected to memorize lists of body parts and their locations, something on which they would be tested the following week.

  Illusions began when the tall, brooding Master Yurer met them at the large entrance to the Illusionist’s Wing and told them to follow him if they could. They tried and quickly became lost, turning down corridors that dead-ended, walking into doors that were actually walls, and generally bumbling around hopelessly for the better part of an hour. Master Yurer reappeared periodically, popping out of thin air, or, once, out of what they had all assumed was a solid wall, to give them guidance with a calm, encouraging smile. Other apprentices, Deri’cael, and even full Sorev Ael, passed by them at times, but all refused to help, and indeed seemed rather amused by their predicament.

  By the end of the period, they were all arguing with each other, and they only stopped when Master Yurer reappeared and told them they were done for the day. He dismissed them, and wished them better luck next time.

  Sagery, which was last and took place well into the evening, was the opposite of Magery: the Sage quarters were full of the orange light of flickering candle flames, and the whole wing was done in pure white stone and marble. The circular teaching hall was high and arched, and full of countless candles in ascending rows. The Master who taught them was a man named Vero; he dressed in long white robes that, with his white hair and beard, made him look frighteningly ethereal and in danger of being blown away by a strong breeze.

  When they arrived, they were instructed to sit on a smooth, raised platform in the center of the hall, on which had been placed a number of thick black cushions, the same cushions that were used for morning meditation. Looking up, AmyQuinn realized that the silver glow that suffused the room came from above: the roof was open to the night sky, and the light of the night’s moon, close to full and slowly rising, was filtering down to them through a series of flying buttresses and columns, giving the room an other-worldly beauty.

  Vero told them that Sagery was not about strengthening the body, but about strengthening the mind. As they began, each of them trying to stay awake though their aching bodies and heads yearned for sleep, Vero asked them questions about the nature of life and the balance of the world. None of them knew what to say, but Master Vero did not seem put-off; on the contrary, he told them that the point of the Sage was to ask the right questions, not to necessarily find the right answers.

  After gently waking those that had begun to snore, he ushered them to sleep with a kind, grandfatherly smile.

 
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