I don’t want to write anything more right now but I think it is a good topic for a Thoughtful Thursday next week.
Elrik turned to him and asked in a very official tone, bowing again:
“Do you allow me to protect your future apprentice, Master Zavi?”
Zavi nodded gravely and all of a sudden Neelya found herself pressed to that incredible, muscled body under the black cloak. She was happy the cloak shielded partially her face because it turned puce as Elrik put his long, strong arm around her waist. He kept her hidden under his cloak all the way until they arrived to their destination. It was a big stone building, rather wide than high, with two eagles flanking the entrance. Neelya, preoccupied by the fact that she was being led by such a paragon of male beauty, pressed so close to him that she could feel every move of his muscled arm and smell his musk, arrived slightly dazed. Zavi showed her through a pair of high, wooden doors and she found herself in an antechamber done in golden marble. A big mahogany desk was positioned next to other door and Zavi approached a middle-aged man, sitting behind it.
“Master Zaviroc with his new apprentice. We have an appointment.”
“Rightly so, my young Master, rightly so. They have been waiting for you, do come in.”
Zavi took Neelya’s hand and she was forced to leave black folds of the cloak and part with his owner. She did it very reluctantly. She had to admit that if Elrik was supposed to be her future Master she would be far more inclined to stay in Nar a bit longer.
“I will wait here for you two,” said Elrik and sat on one of marble benches which lined the walls. Neelya sent him a smile and she would even wave but she didn’t have enough time, being dragged by Zavi, quite forcefully, inside.
They entered a big chamber or hall , all in crimson and gold. They approached slowly a set of four long, heavy mahogany tables covered by the cloth of gold. Behind them in plush armchairs sat three men of different ages, dressed in black. The one in the middle had a golden medallion on his black robes and was visibly older than his companions, with a bald
head, silvery beard and slightly sallow skin. Zavi bowed and Neelya followed his example. The man in the middle bowed back and said in fluent Thavosi:
“Welcome, Master Zavi, and you, Neelya of Thavos. What brings you two before our Council?”
“Welcome, Master Councilor. I wish to present this young lady, formerly Neelya of Thavos, discovered by me, as a potential mage. I make claim to her and I request you register her in your books as my apprentice,” answered Zavi.
“What is her basic gift?”
Master Councilor took a long staff and knocked once into the floor. Then he said:
“Bring a bow and one arrow inside.”
Neelya stirred but Zavi pressed her hand and whispered “later”. A Black Brother entered the chamber and lay a wooden bow and an arrow with a golden tip on one of the tables.
“Neelya, take this bow and try to shoot me,” said Master Councilor.
Neelya thought she didn’t catch the meaning but the old man, seeing her surprised face, smiled and repeated his order. When she still hesitated, Zavi nudged her with his elbow in a meaningful way. All right. If they want to have one mage less, so be it. She was ordered to do so and she had three other witnesses present. She took the arrow and the bow, weighed it in her had for a moment, checked its string, drew it, took careful aim and shot. The arrow hissed in the air and flew right through the chest of the Master Councilor. The elderly man smiled again. There was not even the tiniest mark on him although the arrow flew right through his heart. Neelya gave a gasp of surprise.
“Well done, my dear and don’t be so shocked. It is a weapon made of magic. If you weren’t gifted you wouldn’t be even able to see it, let alone draw it or shoot me so effectively. The registration shall continue. The candidate passed her apprentice test.”
Two other men started to write furiously, filling in some forms.
“Just a moment, sir. I don’t want to become a mage, “ Neelya interrupted not missing a beat. It was her only chance and she was determined to use it.
A silence, broken only be the sound of quills on a paper was the answer. Neelya continued:
“I think there must have been some misunderstanding and I assure you my uncle, King Numen of Thavos, is looking for me everywhere right now. I am not sure you are aware of the fact that I am his beloved niece and his archer-guard. I want to return home but, of course, I am prepared to swear that I won’t reveal any secrets of Nar and magic. I am sure something can be arranged to allow me…”
“Young Neelya, listen to me, please, “ the Councilor stopped her speech with a simple but powerful motion of his hand. “What is done cannot be undone. Magic brought you here for a purpose and magic can’t be discarded on a whim. Your fate has been sealed the moment you fell into hands of this young man, Zaviroc, and he recognized your gift. There is no way back unless you want to die here and now. “
“Master Councilor, there must have been some grave mistake. Mistakes happen. It’s enough to look at Master Zaviroc to see it rather clearly! He is so young and inexperienced! I don’t want to be his apprentice for a start! He hardly qualifies as a mentor of a woman, especially a woman with royal blood in her veins! I doubt he can teach me anything and I don’t wish to…”
Zavi got red and gave an angry hiss but the Councilor raised his hand again and showed that he should stay silent. Then he announced a bit officiously:
“If you wish you can petition to the Queen for the change of your Master after a year and one day from your registration, young Neelya. It is quite within your rights to do so but I recommend you think the whole issue through time and again. You must admit you hardly know your Master so you shouldn’t judge him and let me tell you these were harsh words, especially coming from a mouth of an apprentice. “
“Very well. However, I still can’t believe my uncle, the King of Thavos…”
“Here, take this letter, my dear, and read it aloud.”
A letter fluttered on the table and flew to her hand on its own. It was written beautifully on a first-quality vellum and bore the royal seal of Thavos – two golden ships under a crown and an sea eagle. Neelya recognized the hand of the royal scribe. Her throat constricted but she started to read it as she was told.
“Written on the third day after the full moon of Kar. Numen, the King of Thavos and Master of Ships to Callantho, the Queen of Nar. Greetings. As You gracefully informed us about the tragic death of our royal niece, lady Neelya, whose body had been found near the border of Nar and brought to us by servants of Your Royal Highness, we would like to thank Your Royal Highness for her kindness and trouble, accepting her heartfelt condolences. The funeral will take place immediately and we will mourn young Neelya for one moon starting right now…”
Neelya felt her knees buckling under her. It seemed that all had been prepared over her head earlier and she understood that she was clearly doomed. Zavi put his arm round her waist and helped her to stand up. She was so pale he was sure she might faint any moment. He led her out of the chamber seeing that the registration was completed. Neelya’s brain shut down and she wasn’t able to protest anymore. Seeing a letter from her uncle which confirmed her worst fears, reading it aloud in public, was the most horrible experience, as if she buried herself alive. She slumped down on the bench in the antechamber like a sack of sand, still unable to say a word. Elrik, waiting there, turned and came closer. Seeing Neelya almost unconscious he gave Zavi a puzzled look.
“It didn’t go well, as I feared,” answered Zavi quietly in Narean, also a bit pale and clearly unhappy. “She is in bad shock.”
“Apply a cheering charm, what are you waiting for?”
“ I don’t know how. That rascal Murq never had time to teach me one,” answered Zavi bitterly through clenched teeth.
Elrik took Neelya’s hand and focused on her face without commenting. Soon enough Neelya stirred and started to look less despaired, especially when she noticed Elrik’s face. She even tried to smile but tears kept flowing down her cheeks. Both men helped her to stand up and led her outside.
“Let’s return to Ketino’s inn. We can have a drink or two in peace and talk with Neelya,” suggested Elrik.
“Great idea. Let’s go.“
As soon as he said so another Black Brother went out of the building and signaled them to stop. He gave Zavi a small copper disk on a leather thong and a heavy purse.
“A sign for your apprentice. Don’t forget to put it around her neck and explain its meaning, Master Zavi. The money is meant to provide Neelya with full board; come next month for more. And congratulations of course. Female apprentices nowadays are rare indeed and you managed to find her only one month after your independence ceremony; such a fine lady and a warrior to boot. At least I’ve heard such rumours. I am sure you will be the envy of the whole Nar.”
“Thank you sir,” answered Zavi a bit coldly.
He still heard the words of Neelya in his head over and over again, telling the Councilor that he wasn’t the right Master for her. His pride was badly hurt and anger coiled inside him but he decided not let it show right now. He turned to Elrik, who watched him with a surprised look and said:
“Let’s go to Ketino’s and have a bottle of the best wine. My treat.”
I wrote more but I won’t post it here any longer in order not to bore you to death. If you want to be my beta reader (and find out about Neelya’s fate in Nar) contact me using the ‘contactr’ button and I will be sending next installments to you directly. 🙂