4 – The school

Spear was woken by the butler knocking on his room’s door. Light was filtering through the heavy curtains on the window. It took a few minutes for the boy to convince himself that this was real. He was in the capital. He slept in this bed. In this room. In this mansion. Everything told him that it must be a dream or a hallucination from the torture. But the pain in his back and the memories from Miranda’s lessons were real. The butler knocked again, and he got up. He was guided to a large bath and given new clothes. He hesitated to accept all this but the man was impassive and didn’t leave any room for him to do anything else. The wounds on his back stung in the bath but it was otherwise very welcome. Once he was clean and dressed again he was guided back to the dining room where breakfast was ready. Miranda was waiting there for him.

“I am very busy today, as I’ve been away more than planned, and I have to deal with the issue of those bandits. I’ll leave you at the school. Master Sparrows will take care of you, he’s in charge of admissions. Once you’re settled in, I suggest you find the library and continue studying physics.” They ate quickly and left to find Joe already waiting for them in front of the gates. Spear was disappointed to not be able to walk through the city, but he didn’t bother Miranda and sat quietly in the carriage. They reached the school in less than ten minutes.

Two people were already waiting for them just past the gates. The schoolmaster immediately went to talk to one of them, but the boy didn’t listen, too focused on the sight in front of him. It was a tall, U-shaped building, with a large courtyard in front. In the middle of the courtyard was a beautiful marble fountain. Besides the courtyard, the building was surrounded by green grass interrupted by trees, benches and winding paths. The building had so many large glass windows; Spear had never seen this much glass all at once.

The man that had been speaking with Miranda addressed him, with a frowning, stern face. “I’m Master Sparrows, follow me.” He was tall and thin and sported a fancy moustache. He turned and walked towards the entrance of the building.

The entrance was marble and quite impressive; the hallways were richly decorated but looked almost plain when compared to the schoolmaster’s mansion. They walked to an office – still larger than Jeneth’s cabin – with a large wooden desk and rows of shelves with books and other objects that the boy didn’t recognize. The man sat behind the desk. He flipped through some papers and grabbed a pen. (The boy had never seen anything like it, perhaps it was a magic pen? He was used to quills and inkwells.) “Your name?” he asked.

“Spear.” The man waited a moment then looked at him with impatience.

“And your family name?” The boy frowned.

“Uh…”

“You don’t have a family name?” The man sighed and muttered to himself: “I don’t know what Miranda’s thinking…” then asked: “Does the place you come from have a name?”

Still frowning, the boy answered: “Dustwater.” The man wrote it down.

“The next time you’re asked, you will answer with ‘Spear of Dustwater’ or simply ‘Spear Dustwater’.” Shaking his head, he kept writing, then after a few minutes he got up and gestured for Spear to follow.

As he opened the door, he found another man who was about to knock. “Ah, Master Nantee, you’re here already. Please come inside.” He let him in and closed the door again.

“Is this the boy?” the newcomer asked. Master Sparrows nodded and addressed Spear: “Master Nantee is a healer; please remove your shirt.” The boy had a moment of confusion, then did as asked and turned around. The healer looked at his back then turned to stare at the other man, who in turn looked surprised for a moment, then frowned. Master Nantee shook his head, stepped forward and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, concentrating. In a minute or so, any trace of wounds had disappeared. Spear had never experienced anything like this; Jeneth had healed him many times, with potions or unguents; but it was a slow and imperfect process, just a little better than doing nothing; preventing infections, perhaps. This was completely different. This was… magic. Real magic. The boy turned, wide eyed, to look at the healer, but he had already turned and, still shaking his head, opened the door and left. Sparrows was still looking at the boy, frowning. He sighed again. “Well, I’m glad we dealt with that problem already. Please follow me.” His expression seemed less harsh than before. What Spear didn’t know was that he was deeply impressed; the children he knew wouldn’t have been able to walk around with such wounds on their back; not to mention what those wounds implied – whip lashes. He couldn’t imagine what kind of horror this boy had been through.

Master Sparrows guided Spear through hallways and a wide staircase. They reached a door on the third floor. “This will be your room. Make sure to remember it.” He opened the door. The room wasn’t much smaller than Jeneth’s cabin. Spear made a mental note to stop comparing everything to Jeneth’s cabin. Clearly he had to adjust his idea of what was normal. There was a desk with a chair, and an empty bookshelf. A bed was on the other side of the room, then a dresser with three drawers. There was a soft carpet on the floor! He kept staring at the room. The man spoke again. “Since you don’t have any belongings, there’s no reason to stay here; I’ll show you where the library is. Oh, Master Wellspring said that she’ll have some clothes and basic supplies delivered here; make sure to thank her later.” Spear didn’t think he could say “thank you” to her enough times. They walked back to the second floor where the library was located.

The boy couldn’t stop gawking. The room was huge. There were many rows of bookshelves, all filled with books. So many books! He decided that he must have died on that wooden post and had been summoned to the realm of the gods. There was no other explanation for this sight and what he was feeling. The man shook him.

“You will listen when I speak to you!” he said, irritated. Spear quickly came back down to the realm of the living and flinched.

“Sorry!” He scrunched his face, waiting for pain. Sparrows was surprised by his reaction, then realized his mistake; he quickly withdrew his hand and spoke in a calmer tone.

“The librarian is not here today; school is supposed to start in three days; I’ll show you the section with books on physics relevant to you.” He walked across the rows of books to a specific shelf and pointed to some of them. “You can read on the desks over there. Do not take any books out of the library. Is everything clear?” The boy nodded. The man turned and left.

Spear turned to look at the books. He hesitated. He really wanted to explore the entire library, wander in this maze of books and learn all its secrets. How many stories would he find? How many topics were there to learn? How many things he had never heard about or could have never imagined? He should be studying and preparing for his test. He only had three months. He didn’t want to go back to Dustwater. He didn’t even want to leave this school, if he had to be honest: this was beyond his wildest dreams and he would never again have a chance like this in his life.

But… an hour or two of looking around couldn’t hurt anything, could they?

✤ ✤ ✤

The boy spent the entire day wandering between the rows of bookshelves. He forgot to eat; he forgot anything else. He looked at titles, he wondered at cover decorations, fancy bindings, impressive illustrations, and at the variety of topics. He found all sorts of books on magic; he especially spent time looking through introductory books that tried to teach how to “sense the world” for the first time. They all started with teaching meditation, which was a way to focus on your senses and, by ignoring all the other ones, finally find your “magic sense”. Apparently, in addition to the usual five senses like sight and touch, there was a sixth, magic sense that allowed people to perceive the world around them, or the life in their own body or other creatures. Contrary to the “normal” senses, this did not develop naturally, unless you learned to use it and trained it. The most popular method to “awaken” this magic sense that was taught to aspiring wizards involved using an unguent that causes your skin to itch; then you would meditate and focus on the itching sensation, trying to identify the magic behind it rather than just the mundane feeling. It was considered to be the best way to teach because it involved focusing on your own body – which was much easier than trying to focus on anything external – and the itching forced you to focus on a very specific part of it. It was of course greatly preferred by aspiring healers since being able to sense wounds, diseases etc. was the first step to learning how to cure them. In fact, if you were able to sense the itching via the magic sense, you would be able to make it go away.

Spear found all this fascinating. He wanted to try it right away, but he didn’t have the itching unguent. He reasoned that any strong sensation in his body would work; he was suddenly disappointed that the wounds on his back had been healed. He proceeded to pinch his own arm very hard, then stifling tears he tried to meditate and focus on the point the pain was originating from. He probably spent an hour or two doing this, occasionally pinching some new part of his body. He finally thought to re-read the instructions carefully. That’s when, in one of the books, he noticed a paragraph that said that most students were able to awaken their magic sense in just a few months. A few months! He didn’t have all that time! He slumped his shoulders and was about to give up. Then he decided to look at the other methods used. Apparently some people liked tying a weight with a string and then swinging it (this was apparently called a pendulum); then they would meditate, trying to sense it with magic.

The boy thought that this would be more convenient than hurting oneself, though the book noted that sensing the world was harder than sensing your own body. Alas, he didn’t have a string or any other way to make a pendulum to test this. He gave up on this endeavor and decided to look at other topics. That’s when he found the book that stole the rest of his day; it was called “Barry Hotter and the Rock of the Wise man” and it was the story of a young boy hero who was a prodigy of magic and had to overcome all sorts of challenges and villains.

✤ ✤ ✤

“Are you Spear?”, he heard a voice. Turning to his left, he found another boy looking at him. It took his brain a few moments to return to reality and understand what was in front of him.

“Ah… yes, that’s me.”

“Hi. I’m Claude. I’m in charge of the dorms. I represent all the students that live in the school. I wanted to introduce myself and explain a few rules and such, but you weren’t in your room; I was told you might still be here.” Spear looked at the window and realized it was almost dark outside; the room was illuminated only by the magic lamps. How was the day already gone? This was a disaster! Claude noticed his panic and tried to reassure him: “You’re not in trouble, though it’s getting late and it would be better if we went back up to our floor, there are a couple things I’d like to explain before we go to sleep.” That was not what he was panicking about, but he didn’t think there was any point in explaining, so he just sighed, put his book down, and got up. Claude continued: “I was not expecting to find another student here already; most kids arrive the day before school starts. I didn’t see you at dinner either. Well, the refectory is not open yet, so it was just sandwiches, but still.”

“Uh… I… didn’t notice the time, and… I forgot… to eat…”, Spear said, ashamed. Claude’s eyes widened.

“What? Oh, hmm, I think it’s too late now… should we go check?”

“No, it’s ok, I’ll be fine.”

Claude looked at him skeptically. “Are you sure? When did you eat last?”

“Uh… this morning, I guess…” Claude stopped walking and stared at him. Spear tried to change the topic. “It’s fine, I’m used to it. What did you want to talk to me about?” Claude still looked at him skeptically, but resumed walking.

“Just some of the rules. Usual stuff, be quiet, don’t cause problems, don’t leave your room at night, and so on. More importantly, we have a schedule for the baths, and I wanted to show you how to deal with laundry and stuff like that.” Spear looked at him quizzically. “Today it’s just us, and I bet tomorrow too, so you can take a bath whenever you want. But normally please follow the posted schedule. If you miss your time slot you’ll have to skip the bath, no exceptions. Trading slots with other people is technically not allowed, but they do it anyway.”, Claude shrugged. They reached the third floor and he pointed to a small door in the wall. “This is the laundry chute. There’s a bag in your room marked with your name, you can put your laundry in there, close it, and then drop it in here. Clean clothes will be delivered back to you the next day.” Spear realized that all the kids here were nobles or at least very rich, and must have a different standard of living compared to normal people; he decided to say nothing and just nod. “Do you have any questions?” Spear shook his head. “Ok then, good night. I’ll see you tomorrow at breakfast.” Claude vigorously patted Spear’s shoulder, then turned towards his room. Spear hesitated for a moment, then he also turned and went to his room.

✤ ✤ ✤

In there, he found a stack of blank paper on his desk, as well as a bag (he imagined it was for carrying books and paper), and something he hadn’t seen before. Examining it with curiosity, he finally recalled something that Jeneth once told him. This was like charcoal, but much harder… graphite, he thought his friend had called it? It was wrapped in something like wood, and sharpened to a point. He thought that it must have been made with magic. He tried to recall what Jeneth called it… Pencil? Sounded about right. It was very uncommon, he thought. Well, he guessed that it might as well be very common in this place. And it seemed much more practical than a quill and inkwell. Unless you had a magic pen like Master Sparrows, of course. He tried to use it to make a line on the paper. It worked surprisingly well, though the line was much more faint than what ink would have produced. He put it back down on the desk, still amazed by it.

As he turned, he noticed a bunch of clothes on the dresser. He realized they had left them for him to organize in the drawers. He figured he could do that tomorrow. He hoped he would be able to see the schoolmaster to express his gratitude. Thinking about sleep, he turned his attention to the two magic lamps attached to the wall with the desk. He reasoned that there must be a way for children to snuff them out without magic. Examining them closely, he noticed that the round base could be turned left or right; turning it right, the light grew brighter, while turning it left it dimmed until it completely went out. He stared at it for a few seconds in amazement before moving to the other lamp and snuffing it too. Then he looked outside the window; he could see some of the magic lights that illuminated the city streets at night. He debated whether he should close the curtains. He decided that it was better to get up at first light, to do some studying – the studying he should have done today – and that he didn’t think the magic lights would bother him, so he left the curtains alone, and hopped on the bed. A lot of thoughts swirled inside his head, and he was hungry; but above all, he was tired, and quickly fell asleep.

Next chapter: 5 – Surprise me

Spear of Aiste by Gabriele Santilli is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0
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