5 – Surprise me

Spear woke up a bit later than he had wanted to; the sun was already shining, though it mustn’t have been more than an hour after sunrise. He got up, put the blank paper and the pencil in the bag to carry, and walked out the door. He needed to get back to the library and study, but he was hungry. He realized he didn’t know how to get food; he hoped he could find Claude again and ask. He was pretty sure there were only rooms for the students and a bathroom on this floor, so he walked downstairs. Uncertain about what to do, he started exploring the hallways. Most of the rooms had rows of desks and chairs. He recalled a story he read once; these must be classrooms. He kept exploring until he reached the library; he decided to check the other side of the building. While walking over he noticed Claude walking down the stairs. The other boy saw him.

“Oh, good morning. What are you up to this early? School starts the day after tomorrow!”

“Ah… good morning… I… was hungry…” Claude’s eyes widened a little.

“Don’t tell me you don’t know where the refectory is? Follow me, I was just about to go have breakfast as well.” He started walking downstairs towards the first floor. They reached a large room with rows of tables. On top of one there were sandwiches, containers with milk, and a basket with fruits. “This is all we get until the kitchen is open again, probably for dinner tomorrow”, Claude said with sadness. Spear couldn’t understand what he was sad about. Then he recalled the food at Miranda’s mansion and wondered if people here ate like that every day. “Well, I’m glad they already delivered the food at least”, Claude continued, grabbing a sandwich and a glass of milk. Spear didn’t say anything, but marveled at the fact that they had cups made of glass. After some hesitation, he decided to grab a sandwich and a fruit that looked delicious. Then he went to sit next to Claude at the next table, and started eating his sandwich. It was made with fluffy white bread and slices of cheese and meat!

“So, I forgot to ask last night, what family are you from?”, the other boy asked him; he hadn’t started eating yet, but after speaking took a sip from his milk, still looking at Spear, who recalled what Master Sparrows had told him: “Dustwater”, he replied.

Claude frowned: “I’ve never heard of that…” He kept staring at Spear.

“Uh… it’s the name of my village…”, he said, worried about the direction the conversation was going. Claude’s frown deepened.

“A new upstart merchant family I haven’t heard about? They keep popping up lately…” he mumbled to himself while scratching his chin. Spear quickly tried to change the subject.

“Uh… how long have you been here?”

Claude’s face brightened: “It’s my last year! I expect to have my coming of age ceremony this year as well!”

“You can already do magic?”, Spear asked wide eyed.

“Of course!”, the other boy said with pride.

“How did you learn to use your magic sense?”

“Ah, that brings back memories… I was sent here right after my growing up ceremony… My family doesn’t need healers so I was told to focus on sensing external objects. They have a room here with all sorts of pendulums, spinning tops and so on. It took me about a year to start feeling something.” Claude slightly shook his head.

Spear internally panicked at that statement, but he tried to stay calm and asked: “Could you show me where that room is after breakfast?”

The other boy narrowed his eyes: “I don’t know why you look to be in such a hurry, but sure…” He started eating his sandwich, while Spear had finished his and had started on the fruit. It was incredibly sweet and delicious! The boy was tempted to go grab another one or two. Claude chuckled at him and said: “You didn’t eat yesterday, you should get some more food. And don’t forget to eat today!” Spear quickly went to grab another fruit and ate it while the other boy finished his breakfast.

✤ ✤ ✤

As promised, Claude showed him the location of the room used for practicing magical sense; Spear was tempted to start right away, but he didn’t want a repeat of what happened yesterday, so instead he went back to the library. There, he ignored his desire to continue reading the Barry Hotter book and picked up the books that Master Sparrows had indicated the previous day. Hours passed. The boy didn’t find the material particularly hard, but it was for the most part new to him, so he wasn’t moving through the books at a fast pace.

Unexpectedly, Claude showed up around lunchtime to drag him to the refectory; Spear was much less immersed in the books than yesterday, but he admitted that he was planning to skip lunch to study some more. They ate sandwiches again – quite unhappily, in the case of Claude, who complained about having to come back to school so early and having to deal with most of the staff still missing. He also asked Spear a bunch more questions, but he did his best to evade them, ate quickly and ran back to keep studying; luckily Claude didn’t seem to have any interest at all in the library, which meant he didn’t have to deal with him.

Spear was making less and less progress with his studies though; he was clearly getting tired. So, in the mid-afternoon, he decided to go try to train his magic sense. Meditation seemed a good way to take a break and still work on something important.

In the practicing room, he saw a lot of devices that he didn’t recognize, but he also saw a few pendulums and spinning tops; he decided to sit in front of a pendulum, make it swing and then meditate. Initially, it was quite hard to focus; all sorts of thoughts kept swirling in his head; everything told him that he would never sense the world in less than three months, and he didn’t think Miranda would be impressed by him just learning some physics. Perhaps he could find a job in the city, maybe even assisting some wizard, but he didn’t want to lose the chance to study at this school; it was clear that this was even better than the Wizard Academy, and that already had been an impossible dream. He opened his eyes; the pendulum had almost stopped. He sighed and pushed it again; he stared at it swinging for a few minutes. He had to succeed! He had to focus! He closed his eyes again and tried his best. He thought he could see the pendulum swinging in his head; he opened his eyes but the weight was in a different place than he expected; he had just imagined it, not sensed it. He frowned. Then he sighed and tried meditating again.

✤ ✤ ✤

Claude was surprised to find Spear already in the refectory; he expected to have to drag him away from the library again for dinner, but hadn’t found him there. The new boy was eating fruit.

“I didn’t think I would ever see you leave the library without being dragged away…” Spear raised his head and looked at the boy that had just arrived.

“Uh… I was tired of studying and decided to try practicing magic sense… but I wasn’t making any progress, so when I got hungry I came here.”

Claude narrowed his eyes: “You were expecting to make progress? Did you start practicing before coming here? For how long have you been trying?”

“Uh… no, I only started this afternoon…” Claude started laughing.

“And you expected to make progress in a few hours?” He kept laughing for quite a bit; Spear was growing quite uncomfortable. Then Claude sighed and spoke again: “I don’t know what your deal is, clearly you don’t want to talk about it so I’m not going to press you. But you need to understand that it takes years to learn magic! Even geniuses don’t learn in a day!” He shook his head, then he went to grab another sandwich; he sighed while looking at it, then sat next to Spear and started eating.

“Sorry…”, Spear said. Claude turned to look at him and narrowed his eyes.

“What are you apologizing for?” Spear didn’t know how to answer, so he just looked down. Claude sighed. “You know, without you being weird I would be all bored here.”, he said. Spear raised his eyes to look at him, but didn’t know how to respond. “I’m just poking fun at you…”, Claude added, then continued: “You’re not much for jokes, are you?”

“Sorry…”, Spear said again. Claude sighed and shook his head, then resumed eating.

✤ ✤ ✤

After dinner, Spear decided to take a bath and then go back to his room. He tried to meditate some more, but since he was quite exhausted mentally he fell asleep after not long. He woke up the next day at first light. He decided to go to the library before breakfast, and there he reviewed the things he had learned the previous day. Some time later, he went to the refectory where he found Claude, who was looking forward to the school staff arriving today. He explained to Spear that he’d be quite busy with all the students arriving; in particular he was in charge of helping first years settle in the dorms. He also told him that all new students would be addressed by the schoolmaster tomorrow morning.

“Do all students here live in the dorm?”, Spear asked.

“No, a good portion of the students is from this city, so they just live with their families. But students from other places live here as it’s better than most other accommodations in the city.”

Spear nodded, that made sense. They didn’t talk much more, he quickly finished his breakfast and went back to the library. He didn’t get far in his studies, though, before Claude showed up; Spear looked at him in surprise.

“The schoolmaster wants to talk to you.”, Claude said, looking at him with suspicion.

“Uh… ok…”, he replied. They just stared at each other.

“You don’t know where her office is, do you?”, Claude asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Uh… no…”, he replied. The other boy sighed.

“Follow me.”

“Sorry…”

“Stop saying ‘sorry’!”

“Sorr… uh…”, Spear flinched and looked down. Claude sighed and shook his head.

“What kind of trouble are you in that the schoolmaster calls you even before school starts?” he asked while walking. Spear didn’t know how to answer and kept avoiding eye contact. Claude rolled his eyes. “Never mind, of course you’re not going to tell me.”

They reached Miranda’s office on the first floor; Claude knocked. “Come in!”, a voice came from inside, and he opened the door.

“Schoolmaster”, he bowed, then continued: “I found Mr. Dustwater in the library.” The other boy entered the room and bowed as well.

“Ah, good. Thank you Mr. Penrose.” Claude left and closed the door. Miranda gestured for Spear to sit in front of her large, ornate desk. The boy noticed that it was a very comfortable chair. She clasped her hands and looked at him.

“I… don’t know how to thank you enough for everything you are doing for me…”, he said, quite a bit shy.

“You do know: impress me. I’m glad you’ve been studying. I’m busy though so let me get to the point. Normally, as a new student, you’d be attending the beginner classes; but, there’s no way you’d be any better than you are now in three months if you did that. I’d like to say that you can just attend the intermediate classes, but there’s a problem with that. Can you guess what that is?”

“Magic sense”, he said, without having to think about it. She smiled.

“Indeed. You will be attending the intermediate classes on physics, and you’ll have to work quite hard the first week to catch up, but if that turns out to be a problem then we can end our deal here. But, for the intermediate classes on alteration magic – what I call mastery of the world – you need to be able to use your magic sense first. Quite honestly this is a situation the school is not really prepared for. You could say I should have thought of it before making our deal, but if I had you probably wouldn’t be here.” His eyes widened and he bowed as deeply as he could while still sitting.

“Please! Master Wellspring, I will do anything! I want to learn!”

“Oh, don’t fret. I will honor our deal. I’m just trying to explain that things are not so simple.”, she said, waving her hand. “I wouldn’t repeat this in public, but I don’t think there’s any point in you attending any classes other than intermediate physics. Instead, your goal will be to learn to sense the world within three months, and somehow catch up to intermediate magic alteration before your test. As I told you in Dustwater, this is basically an impossible task; but, the whole point here is to surprise me.” She smiled at him. The boy looked at her with determination. He had to succeed! He nodded.

“You will of course want to take advantage of the teachers here to ask any questions though. Miss Goodsmith is the head secretary and you can talk to her to make an appointment with any teacher. Technically that includes me, but I don’t often have open slots to talk to individual students, so you’ll have more luck with Master Bree – your magic alteration teacher. In fact, you may want to make an appointment with him as soon as possible to get a personalized training program for the magic sense.” She paused, thinking of other things she wanted to address. “One more thing: have you explained your situation to Claude Penrose?”, she asked.

“Uh… no… I didn’t know what to say…”

“Good. It’s not that we should keep it a secret, but I imagine a lot of people would consider this unfair and be quite unhappy. So it’s better not to talk about it for now. Ah, you should also skip the first years stuff tomorrow morning; it’s just boring speeches and introductions, as well as general orientation. Just ask Claude if you have any questions, it’s kind of his job. If any student asks you why you’re not attending, just tell them you have direct orders from me.” He nodded. She continued: “That will be all. Don’t disappoint me.”

✤ ✤ ✤

Spear spent the rest of the morning studying. At lunchtime, he went to grab a fruit and ate it quickly; he didn’t see Claude, but students had started arriving and there were a few in the refectory and walking around the school. He avoided them and hid back in the magic sense room. (He decided that spending the morning studying and the afternoon practicing in front of a pendulum would be the most efficient.) He kept meditating and trying to sense the movement in front of him. It was frustrating, but he reviewed in his head what he had studied in the morning whenever he needed a break, so time passed rather quickly. At sunset, he went back to the refectory, but it was almost full of students; he felt uncomfortable and frightened and went back to hide in his room (some students looked at him with curiosity in the hallways, but he ignored them and looked down at his feet). He hoped he would be able to grab some food in the morning before everybody else got up. Still hungry, he fell asleep not long after.

Next chapter: 6 – Up and down

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