Chapter 30: Wizard's Apprentice
He lifted the lid, revealing lemon chicken coix beside stuffed pastry shells of crème, sage, and basil with a pumpkin ragout and side of steamed radishes drizzled in garlic pesto. Sabin greedily scooped a heaping portion onto his plate and passed the serving spoon to Alto.
The apprentice took a small portion and placed the serving spoon and platter back in the middle of the table. Kwado ignored the slight and helped himself, shifting the table as he stretched his arm out to reach the spoon. He took a portion as large as Sabin’s, minus the chicken, the aromas of basil mingling with a lemon zest tantalizing his taste buds. The first bite was heaven, far exceeding any of the meals he had enjoyed at the baron’s estate, and there had been many to brag of.
“This is amazing,” Kwado said. “Please tell me, who prepares these meals for us each day?”
Alto rolled his eyes. “Zee Mas-teer, you imbecile.”
Sabin was too lost enjoying his dish to berate his apprentice’s uncouth table manners. He did, however, offer Kwado a grin with a mouthful of pastry and proud nod.
Kwado smiled back. “Well, hats off to you, sir. To work hard all day and also find time to create such culinary wonders is truly awe-inspiring.”
“As eef anything on a plate would not suffice to a troll,” Alto muttered.
Kwado stared at him silently for a few moments. “Say…Master Sabin, how long did it take Alto to solve the challenge you have me working through?”
Between bites of radish, Sabin answered, “Let’s see…what was it, Alto? Three months, if memory serves.”
“Two and a half,” Alto corrected scornfully.
“Two and a half then,” Kwado said, nodding as if his mind was made up.
Alto narrowed his eyes and stopped eating. “Why are yew suddenly so curious about moi achievements?”
Popping a radish in his mouth, Kwado looked him in the eye. “Simple. I’m going to beat your time.”
For all Kwado’s bluster and the priceless look on Alto’s face after hearing a troll was going after his record, it was proving to be one of those timeless cases that defined the phrase easier said than done. Not that this deterred Kwado from trying his level best. From the time he made the bold proclamation, he was the first to wake each morning, preferring to take his baths in private before the others rose, after which he would make his way directly to the library, finishing his transcribing chores earlier, which bought him more time in the solar.
But for what? He thought. To sit here and stare at a floating knife and a perpetual ball of flames? For all the extra time he had put in, Kwado was no closer to understanding how Sabin’s spell worked. He had asked the wizard several times for some hint, even a tiny clue that might put him on the right path for self-discovery, but each time he was met with the same answer. You must learn to see with eyes shut.
“You must learn to see…,” Kwado grumbled bitterly, entering the library one morning. Every time he heard that phrase, he wanted to wrap his hands around the old man’s throat.
“Speaking to yourself, are we?” Alto said from behind his desk.
Kwado stopped mid-stride and frowned at the other apprentice. “You’re up early. Finally tired of being shown up by the recruit?”
Alto never looked up, studiously working his quill across the paper. “I do not know vhat yew are referring to. I vas simply having trouble sleeping and came in early.”
“Right,” Kwado said, shaking his head and taking his usual seat at the easel desk in front of Alto. He found it better to work without having to see the dirty glances Alto threw his way. He began to unroll his parchment then paused and turned around. “You know, Alto, what did I ever do to you that was so bad?”
“Besides attack moi and tie moi up?”
“You and I both know that was in self-defense,” Kwado said. “You just can’t stand the idea of a troll sharing the same space as you, huh? It’s okay for me to work the field and raise onions for you people, but trying to be polite for five seconds is just too much for you to handle.”
“I do not care zhat yew are a troll,” Alto said, still refusing to look up. The effortless way with which he made Kwado feel as though he was insignificant made Kwado want to scream.
“Is true,” Alto insisted. “Though I vill never get used to your odor, I have no qualms zhat yew are an ugly green big-nosed monst-eer.”
Kwado touched the side of his long hooked nose with a frown.
“Eff yew were just a simple monst-eer, ‘twould be easy. Yew could live in zee tower and be useful, perhaps clean zee toilette as is appropriate. But yew? Yew dink yew can come in here and become one of us. At first it was…how you say, a comedy, but now it has become path-et-ic.”
Feeling rather deflated, Kwado turned back to his work, quietly unfurling the scroll and uncorking his bottle of ink. That morning he worked much slower than usual. Alto’s point hit a little too close to home for him. How many times had he thought the same thing over the past couple weeks? Even though he knew the apprentice despised that he had to be in a troll’s midst, it was too easy to swallow his insults this time. He tried to shrug it off and focus on the scribing work before him, but all too familiar doubts crept into his head.
Maybe he really doesn’t care that I’m a troll. Could it really be that I don’t belong here? And do I? After all these weeks of fruitless pursuit, can I really say that this is the path I was destined for? Master Sabin said it was so, but is that enough?
“Alto,” he said softly.
The apprentice sighed. “Vhat, troll? I am trying to vork nit gibber gabber.”
“How did you come to be Master Sabin’s apprentice?”
Kwado’s very presence might annoy Alto, but if there was one thing the wiry little apprentice never tired of, it was talking about himself. “Yew mean why did I request tutelage under Master Sabin, despite his current ill-fortunes? I hope yew are not insinuating zhat zhis appointment vas some sort of punishment by zee Order of Serapsis.”
“There’s an entire order of wizards?” Kwado said, unable to fathom the idea of there being dozens more men and women like Sabin out there in the world.
“Yew really know nothing,” Alto said, shaking his head, but continuing his work. “Zhere are six Archmages zat rule zee Order, each one a master of zee arts.”
“And Master Sabin…is he one of them?”
“Not anymore.” Alto lowered his voice, speaking as a co-conspirator. “Zere ver seven upon a time, but zee Mast-teer, he vas expelled from zhere ranks.”
Kwado gasped. “What did he do that could be so bad?”
“Eet is not for me to say,” Alto said. “But zee rumors are many. Master Sabin is, how you say, an eccentric? Perhaps his lifestyle...it vas too much for zee Order to bear?”
“Eccentric?” Kwado repeated. He had not noticed much strange about Sabin, other than the things one would expect from a wizard. He was an odd duck, but weren’t all magic users? Didn’t that come with the territory?
They remained quiet for a while, then a thought struck Kwado.
“Wait…if Master Sabin was kicked out of the Order, how is it that you came to be his apprentice? You are a part of the Order of Serapsis, correct?”
“I requested to be his pupil,” Alto said, as if it were simple.
“But why would you want to learn from someone not in good standing?”
Alto sighed and set down his quill for the first time, leveling his gaze at Kwado. “Just because he iss not getting along vit his comrades does not mean he is not an absolute Mast-eer of his art. Who better to learn from than a man who has nothing?”
“I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense,” Kwado said.
“What our friend here means,” Master Sabin said loudly from the doorway, “is that he hopes to ply my secrets that he may one day inherit my manse.”
Both of their heads snapped in his direction. Kwado quickly wondered how long the Wizard had been standing there and retraced his words to see if he had spoken out of turn.
“Isn’t that so, Alto?”
Instead of looking cowed, as one might expect when caught gossiping about their superior, Alto puffed out his chest and gave a firm nod. “I vill become greater zhan yew, Mas-teer.” He said it as if it were a righteous goal.
Sabin smiled crookedly and winked at his apprentice. “Good to hear, lad. Now both of you get your noses back in those tomes and quit gossiping like little hens. It’s giving me a toothache.”
“I don’t understand,” Kwado said, despite himself. “You want him to take away your title?”
“What higher achievement in life can there be than to overcome your mentor in knowledge and experience? How else are we to become wiser and stronger as a species if not through bettering our previous generation?”
Kwado clamped his mouth shut. None of it made any sense to him. Sabin stared pointedly at Kwado’s scrolls, and he turned back to them, putting all of his effort into transcribing and trying to ignore the nagging questions in the back of his mind. He knew that if he did not keep them harbored away, out of view from his logic, then he would have to confront the reality that he did not belong here after all.