Chapter 30: Wizard's Apprentice
Kwado’s first night in the wizard’s tower went by quite uneventfully. Sabin had his apprentice bring up some robes for Kwado, which, even though they were much larger than Alto’s, were still rather snug around the shoulders and neck. After a late dinner of porcini cap stew, the wizard had Alto show Kwado to his room. It was cramped, dusty, and looked like it had not been used in years.
To Kwado it was beautiful. After spending weeks sleeping in the dirt, he thought the shabby sleeping arrangements were about as grand as any palace bedroom. He attacked the bed, hurling himself onto it so that the headboard groaned and leaned forward. He rolled in the dusty blankets like a troll hot dog with a toothy grin and fell fast asleep.
His dreams that night, for the first time in a long time, were peaceful.
Early the next morning he was woken by an incessant rapping at his door. Kwado would have grumbled about being roused so rudely, but he was still not over the fact that he even had a door again. He hopped out of bed, pulled on his apprentice robes, and opened the door.
Alto stood in the hallway, sneering at him. “Get up. It eez time to start your chores.”
Kwado yawned. “What time is it, exactly?”
“Two hands after zee dawn,” Alto said. “Around ‘ere vee don’t sleep awl day, not ven zere iss vork to be done.”
The apprentice’s grumpy disposition only made Kwado chuckle. He was not going to let some grouchy little man ruin his elation at finding a new home. Kwado stretched his arms out wide and cracked his back with one last yawn. “I still can’t believe I’m a wizard’s apprentice.”
Alto rolled his eyes. “As eef anyone could fathom such a travesty.”
“He’s a nice man, that Sabin,” Kwado said.
Alto squinted at him thoughtfully then shrugged. “I assume yew are referring to zat pathetic request yesterday? Yew only prove how stupid yew are, wasting such an opportunity.”
Kwado nodded emphatically, letting the insult slide. As if offering him an apprenticeship was not enough, Sabin had readily agreed to his one and only term—to help Ragga. Sabin had sent another of his birds through the scrying mirror, this one aimed for the trolless. One splat of bird poop, and her back began to straighten out, the hump dissipating and her spine healing. To see that load lifted from her did Kwado’s heart good.
He opened his arms wide and yawned loudly in Alto’s face. “Okay, I’m ready for my first day as a wizard’s apprentice! Lead the way!”
Alto pinched his nose and shied away. “Perhaps first yew wash up?”
“A bath?” Kwado said. He had almost forgotten such things still existed. “That would be wonderful!”
Alto rolled his eyes and led the way upstairs to a massive room dominated by an in-ground pool. Several footed tubs stood in the front of the room with small pedestal tables beside them, each one bearing glass bottles of shampoos, body oils and soaps.
Kwado gawked. “You guys really do have a pool? I thought he was just messing with me.”
“Zee Mas-teer never messes,” Alto said with his nose in the air. He waved a hand as if dismissing a peon. “Now go and clean up. Yew steenk like a vet veasel.”
“Does it matter which one I use?” Kwado asked, looking between the tubs.
A thought crossed Alto’s face and he shook his head slowly. There were four tubs, three of which looked the same, but the fourth was a bit shabbier than the rest, its edges and sides worn and stained a copper color that while different did not look unappealing.
Kwado narrowed his eyes at Alto. “Mm hmm…I’ll take this one,” he said, standing in front of one of the regular tubs. He pointed to the worn tub. “That one must be Master Sabin’s.”
“Oh, yes, I forget so,” Alto lied poorly. “Zee mast-eer, he does not like others to use ees tub.”
Kwado frowned at the tubs. There were no pails or buckets that he could see. “Where do I get the water from?”
Alto rolled his eyes and walked out of the room. “Fig-or it out. Ven yew have fineeshed, meet me in zee library.”
“Hmph, lot of help he is,” Kwado muttered.
He searched the room for a container that he could use to move the water from the pool over to the tubs, but there was none. Ready to give up, he brooded over the tub, staring at the door. What a jerk Alto is. Why couldn’t he just tell me where to get the water?
Kwado drummed his fingers on the rim. Tiny drops of water fell into the tub, and he jumped back, startled by the sudden movement. Working up cautiously to the edge again, he peered inside. Sure enough, there were small droplets of water at the bottom. What did I do? Tentatively, he reached out and touched the tip of his finger against the edge of the tub. Tiny droplets of water fell into it from somewhere just above the rim at its far edge, the side toward the drain.
“It fills itself!” Kwado exclaimed in wonder.
He stepped inside to test his theory, and the moment his bare feet touched down, a steady flow of water, the perfect temperature between warm and scalding, began to fill the tub. Quickly removing his robe, he laid back and plugged the drain with a cork on a chain. The soap smelled like rosemary and it was heavenly against his rough skin. The bath was probably the best he’d had his entire life, or perhaps it just felt that way since it had been so long since he’d had one.
When he finished and stepped out, the water was a muddy brown color that made him blush, but the tub quickly drained it, leaving behind an unsightly ring around its sides. He dried himself off with a towel, combed his thick black hair neatly to either side, and dressed, then used the damp towel to wipe away the ring left behind in the tub.
Looking at himself in the mirror, he felt like a new troll, one who was ready to become a wizard’s apprentice. Baron Frankel had always been right about him making a reputation for himself before approaching Aunt Lobelia, and this would do it. But how could he ever approach Lobelia after what he had done in the baron’s estate? Not for the first time, he longed to see Baron Frankel once more, if only to explain to him how sorry he was for all that had happened. Baron Frankel was a decent man and a good friend. He did not deserve the misfortune Kwado left at his doorstep. He shook his head. He had to leave that in the past—there was nothing he could do to change it. Now he had a new future ahead of him. If someone had told him he would become a wizards apprentice two weeks ago he would have thought them a loon.
He hurried out of the pool room and made his way down the hall, getting all the way to the end before realizing he had absolutely no idea where the library was.
It only took an hour and a half of searching every winding hall and different floor of the tower before he finally stumbled across his destination, a narrow room with round corners and a hallway door that doubled as an interior bookshelf. The door swung wide to admit him and then settled back in place of its own accord. The ceiling was high, a series of glass panes that Kwado would later learn were set in an arcane pattern that gave increased wisdom to those beneath it, adding a boost to the reader’s intelligence in the hopes that they might absorb the material more swiftly.
So many books lined the circular room, from floor to ceiling, that it left him dizzy. A single short ladder was fixed to the shelving on a track. It barely reached above Kwado’s head, which he found odd. Days later he learned the ladder was, like most things in the tower, imbued with magic, extending to whatever height the user wished and shrinking back to its original size when done.
“Thanks for giving me such swell directions to the library,” Kwado said dryly to Alto, who sat behind a wooden easel desk, of which there were four set in a square arrangement in the center of the room.
Alto stopped transcribing with his quill and placed it carefully down on its side, away from his scroll, then leaned over to peer around the side of his desk. “I vas vondering vhen yew vould stop lollygagging about,” he said. “I guess vhat day say iss true about trolls…yew are all lazee?”
Kwado took a deep breath. “Look, Alto, I know we got off on the wrong foot, and I am sorry for tying you up…really. But if we’re going to be comrades, wouldn’t it be better to just make up and move on?”
The wiry man let out something between a gasp and a snicker. “Yew vill never be my comrade, troll. Yew are just another of Mas-teer’s pets. And do you know vat his pets all have in common?”
“They can break his apprentice’s jaw?”
“Eww no, so prim-ee-tive. One ding I know iss Mas-teer always gets bored of his pets in zee end.”
The door opened behind them and Sabin stepped in. “Well then, good morning, lads.” He stretched his arms out, looking as if he had just rolled out of bed, still wearing a set of fuzzy pink rabbit slippers.
“Good morning, sir,” Kwado said with a slight bow.
“Is about time yew voke up,” Alto said, resuming his work transcribing. “I have been hard at eet, showing zee troll how to make copies of your vork for hours now. As yew can see he has not done much himself…he iss quite stupid, after all.”
“Oh?” Sabin said, leaning around to see Alto’s craftsmanship. “Very nicely done.” He turned to Kwado. “Don’t fret, lad, we’ll teach you to read and write in no time. A smart fellow like yourself…it should be no problem to pick up.”
“I already know how to read and write, sir,” Kwado said.
Sabin raised a doubtful eyebrow and Alto snickered. Kwado snatched a quill from the empty easel desk in front of Alto’s and dipped it into the inkwell. He opened the tome sitting on that desk and unrolled the length of parchment beside it, carefully setting the pointed tip of the quill onto it. Within seconds he had two lines of text transcribed, nearly identical to the original. He turned to show Sabin, who was already craning over his shoulder.
“Very nice, Kwado, very nice indeed,” Sabin said, clapping his shoulder. “Keep up the good work. Your script looks excellent, well trained indeed.” He turned and headed back out of the library. “I’m off to grab some breakfast. I trust you’ll both be on time for today’s lesson in the solar?” He paused at the door, looking over his shoulder. “Oh, and Alto...”
“Yes, Mas-teer?” Alto said, perking up like an expectant puppy.
“Pay attention to our new protégé, here. You just might learn something from him about proper calligraphy. Oh, and Kwado. I have been doing some thinking on your name.”
“My name, sir?”
“It’s too flat to be a proper wizarding name, too flat by far. I’ve decided we shall call you Vance. Now that is a nice proper wizarding name, rolls off the tongue far easier than Quay-Jo, don’t you think?”
“I’m just honored to be given this opportunity, sir.”
“Yes then, now that’s settled on with it you go lads.”
The door shut behind him, leaving Kwado in the room with Alto boring holes in his back with his eyes.
“You heard Master Sabin,” Kwado said, turning back to his work with a smile. “We have lots of transcribing to do before lunch.”
From somewhere deep in the bowels of the wizard’s tower, an old grandfather clock went off, its chiming bells working down every corridor of the place. Kwado dipped his quill into a small glass of water, cloudy bursts of ink muddying the clear liquid, then laid the quill on its side, the tip resting on top of a wrinkled piece of fabric. He leaned back in his stool and admired his morning’s work. From the time Sabin had left them alone until now, he had transcribed over fifty pages of The Wondrous World of Fungi, a tome on the many practical and impractical alchemical applications of mushrooms in all their varieties. His script was an almost perfect match for the original, the curve of his S’s and swoop of his U’s the only real indicator it was not the original copy itself.
All the same, he smiled to himself. Sabin was right. He did possess a certain knack for calligraphy that he had never realized.
“Pat yourself on zee back later,” Alto said, strolling past his desk for the door.
“Oh right, lunch time,” Kwado said, hopping off his stool and catching up with the ornery little man. His stomach growled loudly, and he blushed. Who would have guessed such an appetite could be worked up sitting at a desk all day? “So…what do you think is for lunch today?”
Alto curled his lip at him. “Isn’t zat bell-ee big enough?”
“Depends…what’s on the menu?”
Alto rolled his eyes and huffed. “How should I know? Mas-teer serves vhat he vants. And vhat he vants is usually disgusting.”
“Oh no,” Kwado said. “Is he a bad cook?”
“I have not had a decent ravioli in over five years,” Alto said by way of explanation.
Kwado pursed his lips and followed the rest of the way in silence. He tried to imagine what could be so awful about Sabin’s cooking. Did wizards cook their own meals? The tower was certainly large enough to house a complete staff, though he had not seen another soul wandering the confusing labyrinth of halls.
When they came to the dining hall, he stopped just inside the doorway and gaped. “Our dining room is outside?”
It was a small courtyard at the center of the tower, fully enclosed by the building’s interior walls. Beds of day lilies ringed the place, a rainbow of fresh spring colors that had no business being in blossom so late in the season. Sabin sat at a wooden bench, identical to the picnic tables every family in Westfall kept in their yard. He was wolfing down a bowl of porridge when they entered the courtyard and looked up only long enough to shoot them a quick smile before digging back in.
There were two plates on the other table. Kwado bowed to the wizard and quickly straddled the empty bench, eager to fill his belly. He poked the wooden spoon around in the porridge for a moment, ensuring there was no surprise meat under the layers of creamed oats.
Alto sauntered over and snatched his plate from the picnic table then made his way to a corner of the courtyard and sat down cross-legged in the grass. Kwado paused and sought Sabin’s attention.
“Pardon me, sir,” he whispered. “Are we not supposed to sit at the tables?”
Sabin held the back of his hand to the side of his mouth and leaned across his table. “He’s just being a grump.”
Kwado bit back a giggle and nodded to his new mentor. With that settled, he dove into the porridge with unsurpassed hunger. The dish was salty, with bits of fennel and coriander, most pleasing on his palate and as filling in his belly as if he had just eaten a four-course meal.
When they were all finished, the plates were stacked on the edge of Sabin’s picnic table, and the wizard led them back into the tower.
“But Master,” Kwado said, pausing just inside the hallway. He thumbed over his shoulder at the plates in the courtyard. “Shouldn’t we clean up after ourselves?”
Sabin shot him a wry grin and closed the door to the courtyard. He let it click into place then made a show of turning the knob twice to the left and once to the right. There was another strong click. Sabin opened the door and stepped aside, revealing a courtyard entirely devoid of plates.
“How is that possible?” Kwado asked, thoroughly impressed.
“Sheesh,” Alto whistled. “How do yew dink, simpleton? Vhere do yew dink yew are? Is magic, stupid…magic.”
“Oh right, of course, magic,” Kwado said, shamefaced.
“Never mind him,” Sabin leaned in, whispering, though it was still loud enough for Alto to hear. “It is good to be excited about what we do here and even better if you can maintain that sense of awe.”
“The loneliest man lives unimpressed with the world,” Kwado said.
Sabin snapped his fingers and pointed at him. “Hmm, very wise words, lad.”
“It’s an old farmers proverb my father used to say,” Kwado felt a frown take over his face.
Sabin nodded knowingly. “He sounds like he was a good man.” With that he motioned for them to follow as he marched down the hall.
It was a short trip from there to the wizard’s solar. This was the room where Sabin spent his time tutoring his pupils in the art of magic. The double doors to the room seemed like something Kwado could not miss, though he was certain he had walked up and down this very corridor at least twice that morning while searching for the library. They were solid oak, bound with decoratively hammered moon hooks and bordered with intertwining rows of flattened steel hands that frankly gave him the creeps. Odd were the ways of wizards.
Sabin entered first, throwing the doors wide and stepping aside for them to enter.
“Greetings, Master,” said an ethereal voice, rumbly as if from the bowels of a volcano that had just learned to speak. On the far side of the room, chunks of magma rolled together of their own accord, forming a large burning humanoid figure, its limbs connected with a crackling red energy. It stood eight feet tall, with a conical mass of basalt for a head and three glowing eyes, one on each side. It clapped its massive fists together, knuckle against knuckle, and bowed low. “The challenge will begin at your command.”
Kwado froze in place. “Am I going to have to fight that thing?”
“Heavens no,” Sabin said with a chortle. “Falmer is Alto’s challenge for the day. You have a long way to go before we start throwing earth elementals into the mix.”
“He’s going to fight that thing on his own?” Kwado said in disbelief.
Alto shot him a wicked grin and cracked his own knuckles. Without another word he rushed at the elemental and unleashed a stream of ice from his wand.
“Let the challenge begin,” Sabin said, a hint of annoyance under his words.
The elemental sprang to action, sweeping a stone arm out wide and deflecting the ice, which dissipated against the magical circle on the floor that marked their combat area.
Sabin lifted his hands and Kwado could swear he spoke words, though he could not make them out. A glowing sphere of blue enveloped the other half of the room, stretching from the stone tiles upward. When it touched the ceiling, all sounds from the battle were muted, though visually it was still one awesome display of power.
“Wow,” Kwado said. “I’m lucky he didn’t do something like that to me out by the woodshed.”
“Alto would not dare,” Sabin said. His face was suddenly grave. “There is one thing you must learn this instant, Kwado, holding it in your heart for the many years to come. Under no circumstances whatsoever is any apprentice of mine to use any magic outside of my tower other than the entry spell.”
“But…what if you were being attacked?” Kwado said. “Like when the trolls were coming.”
“I am more than capable of dealing with any threat that comes to my tower. If ever you so much as lift a stick with telekinesis, you will be certainly and uniformly banished from my mentorship, as well as that of any other wizard, mage, or sorceress in the Order of Serapsis. Do you understand me?”
Kwado placed a fist to his chest and bowed low. “I do, Master.”
“A little overly formal for my taste, but it’ll do,” Sabin said, a smile finding its way back to his face. “Now then, let’s begin your first lesson. Today we will get you started on your journey into the realm of magic, a path to universal knowledge fraught with mystery and wonder. It will be quite some time before we learn which school of magic is right for you, only knowing you possess the gift—”
“The gift?” Kwado said.
Sabin wrinkled his brow at his well-rehearsed speech being interrupted. “Yes, yes, the gift. Only one in, say, ten thousand possesses the ability to understand the realm of magic. You are blessed, lucky, fortunate, and all the other hullabaloo that goes with that particular honor and burden. Now please, do not interrupt me again.”
Kwado eagerly nodded, making a show that his lips would remain sealed.
“As I was saying, regardless of which school of magic you are destined for, we all begin our tutelage with the same spell. Now, can you guess which spell that might be?”
Kwado’s mind raced for an answer. “Um…a fireball?”
“Breathing underwater? No, wait…I know—is it that one where you can pull a rabbit out of a hat?”
Sabin went from looking annoyed to amused. “You really are such an innocent soul,” he said, more to himself than to Kwado. “Your first two guesses are completely out of your range just yet and, I have to warn you, the third is highly offensive to our kind.”
“I’m so sorry,” Kwado blurted. Then he realized he’d spoken out of turn and clamped a hand over his mouth and mumbled an apology through his fingers.
Sabin ignored it. “It is okay that you do not know where to begin. For if you did, what would be the need for a grand mentor such as myself, eh?”
He turned his back on Kwado, one arm folded behind him while the other circled in the air. The air above a stone dais beside Kwado shimmered and a sphere of fire lit, hovering in midair. Sabin stepped over to a nearby table and snatched up a simple dagger. With a flick of his wrist, the weapon zipped through the air, landing directly in the center of the fire, hovering at its core with the blade pointed downward. It was an impressive feat. Kwado was silently proud of himself for keeping his cool. He did not utter a single wow.
“The first spell you will need to master will be your most important,” Sabin said, facing him once more. “Your challenge will be to dispel my magic.”
Kwado blinked as if it would help him understand the logic in that. “Wait…before you can teach me a spell, I have to learn how to make a spell not work?”
“How does that make sense? How can I make something stop if I do not know how it starts?”
“Precisely,” Sabin said. He turned and sauntered toward a wide desk, where various scrolls were laid out amid phials and alembics. “And do remove your phalatite. We wouldn’t want you cheating.”
Kwado pressed a hand to his chest, feeling the crystal hanging around his neck under his robes. “How did you know?”
“Please, Kwado, don’t be dim,” Sabin said, handing him a small velvet pouch on long strings. “It doesn’t suit you. Take it off your neck and place it in this pouch. That will be enough to negate the phalatite’s properties.”
“But Master,” Kwado said, placing the phalatite inside and pulling the drawstrings, “how do I begin?”
“This is the only task I cannot walk you through. If you are to be one with the realm of magic, you must first learn to see with your eyes closed.”
“With my eyes closed?” Kwado mouthed to himself as he tied the pouch to his waist belt. He turned to face the floating dagger encircled by flames. What the hell is that supposed to mean?
He plopped down on the floor and stared at the weapon hard. It looked like an ordinary dagger. Not that he had seen overwhelming varieties of them, but how different could one dagger be from another? The flickering flames of the sphere were entrancing. How did the wizard get it to stay lit like that and how did the sphere, along with the dagger, stay afloat?
His eyes roamed over to Alto. The apprentice was locked in furious combat with the stone golem, a barrage of conflicting spells and raining sparks of energy trapped safely in their little pocket of the room. Focus on the task at hand, he thought, shaking his head. He pointedly gazed back at the floating dagger and placed a hand on either knee, leaning forward and concentrating hard enough to make the vein in his forehead throb.
Then Kwado did what any normal person would when told to find something that was not there. He waited. He waited for an idea to come to him. He waited for some clue to present itself. He waited for understanding. And the longer he waited, the more he yearned for that day’s lesson to simply be over.
Alto never bested his opponent through the long hours of training, and he looked thoroughly exhausted by the end. The earth elemental knocked him out of the circle a few times, which seemed to signal an abrupt halt in combat, and one time it actually managed to knock him out cold for a few minutes. Through it all, the apprentice never gained any advantage over it. When the tower’s grandfather clock struck the eleventh hour, the wiry man and his opponent stopped in mid-combat. The elemental placed its fists together and bowed low, but Alto just turned his back on the creature and strutted away. When he passed the barrier Sabin had put up, the blue walls of light rapidly dissipated along with the elemental, who drifted apart into a pile of steaming magma.
Kwado looked up expectantly at Alto as he passed by. “The day is over? But I have not yet figured out my challenge.”
Alto turned his nose upward. “As eef a simple-minded troll could figure out zee mysteries of zee uni-verse.”
Kwado dragged himself to his feet and watched the self-righteous man saunter out of the solar. His head felt heavy and his shoulders sagged as he shuffled after Alto toward Sabin, who waited for them by the double doors.
“Well? What did you learn today?” Sabin asked expectantly.
Kwado frowned. “I did not complete the task, Master. I failed. Perhaps Alto is correct. I’m an onion farmer, sir, not a wizard’s apprentice.”
“Bah. Only a fool would let their nemesis deter them from their path so easily. Do you think Alto got this on his first try? He most certainly did not. But he also did not spend his time wallowing in self-pity. There are enough people out there in the world who hate you just for being born. You are different than them, a hard pill to swallow for the Neanderthals that populate this kingdom. They hate you because they’ve been filled with so much bad in their lives that they have to find something to latch onto, some reason why the world is so unfair. There’s enough ugly out there, stacked up against you, without you piling on more against yourself in here, Kwado.”
“You are most wise, Master Sabin,” Kwado said with deep humility, not fully understanding the wizard’s words but inspired by them nonetheless.
“Good,” Sabin said, tapping his lip with an extended pointer finger, “then no more feeling sorry for ourselves. Life deals you a hand of cards and you learn how to play them.”
With that, he marched down the hallway toward dinner. Kwado scrambled to follow.
There was a large difference between the dinner hall and the courtyard they had spent lunch inside. This was a quaint room, strangely out of place compared to every other room Kwado had been in thus far. It looked more like it belonged in a cottage house than a wizard’s manse. Kwado had to suck in his gut to squeeze between the table and the wall. He forced himself down into a seat. His knees bumped the underside of the table, which was not very tall, and rattled the porcelain dishes that were laid out. Alto rolled his eyes but said nothing as he took a seat opposite him.
Sabin tucked a cloth bib into his collar, licked his lips, and reached for one of the serving tray covers. “Yum, it smells delicious. I wonder what we have in store for us tonight, lads?”