Vigil for a Dragon, pt 13

You know those stories about kings and queens going incognito and walking among the simple peasant folk to find out what said simple peasant folk really think? Yeah, they’re bullshit. Every one of them.

It just doesn’t work. A royal without a single callus, whose clothes are all un-patched and whose hair has been washed this year, not being noticed? A person without a single practical skill – most monarchs wouldn’t know which way up to hold a broom, for example, and you’d be risking your life to stand next to one holding any sort of gardening implement – managing to fit in among a class of people whose very livelihoods depend on knowing these things and knowing them well? It is to laugh.

The best that such a fairy-tale-believing royal twit can hope for is to be humiliated, because the other options are all worse. They are, in ascending order of badness, injury, death and being taken hostage. You might think that death would worse than being taken hostage, but that’s because you’re one of those simple peasant folk who doesn’t understand the complex realities of the international geo-political system. Or at least, that’s what they’d tell you. In truth, princesses are not exactly in short supply, are only really useful for forging dynastic alliances, and are, let’s face it, easy enough to replace should you lose one. The real bad news about having your royal daughter taken hostage is one that anyone would understand: it costs money. Lots of money. And then it costs more again, because a kidnapped daughter will need a bigger dowry than usual to bribe some poor idiot into marrying her.

So naturally, when the Princess Amelia decided that she was going to walk among the common people of the realm all unknown, she got maybe five feet from the castle gate without being recognised. Not that anyone said anything to her, of course – one of the practical skills peasants tend to possess is a keen awareness of when their masters need to be indulged – but she was marked. In some ways, this worked out well for her – it meant that she had a certain degree of protection as she walked through the streets. But in the long run, gossip was her undoing. It doesn’t take long for a tasty rumour to circulate, and before long, it reached precisely the wrong pair of ears.

Two nights later, a man came up behind her and placed a hood over her head. A few days of being gagged and blindfolded in the back of some carriage later, and the next thing she knew, she was three kingdoms over and didn’t speak the language. Oh, there was a translator, but the man was an obvious lech who she was fairly sure was reinterpreting all the communications passed through him for his own benefit. The attempt to ransom her fell through when a plague wiped out her family and the new royals found it easier to pretend that she’d died with them. (The translator was beheaded after Amelia learned enough of the language to communicate without him and it was discovered that he had been less than trustworthy.)

That was two years ago.

Vigil for a Dragon, pt 14

Amelia is a very different woman now.

Forced to make her way as a kitchen drudge, Amelia now knows practical skills she was only vaguely aware existed before all this. She can cook and clean and sew. And oh yes, she can wield a sword. Her escape from her captors, almost a year ago itself now, was a simple enough thing – she simply hid herself in a wagon that was leaving the castle – but life since then has been more complicated. But not worse.

On her first night out, she fell in with some brigands, and that would likely have been the end of her if their leader, a good-looking fellow named Lobb, had not been feeling playful. When she challenged him to a duel, he told her that if she drew first blood she could join their band as an equal. So, as he turned to ask one of his followers to loan her a sword, she kicked him in the crotch, then slammed her knee into his face as he doubled over in pain. The resulting nosebleed was agreed by all there to constitute first blood, much to Lobb’s chagrin.

Amelia has never looked back. She worked hard and learned fast, and now she could pitch a tent, start a fire, ride a horse – all those things considered too indelicate for princesses to know. More importantly, she could defend herself with a sword, a knife or just her own two hands, and she was even getting more accurate, slowly, with a bow and arrow. She had an insider’s knowledge of where the rich and noble liked to hide their things, and the kinds of passwords they liked to ensorcel treasures with.

Lobb’s gang had never had it so good. With her advice, they stole more than they ever had before, and as she grew better at strategizing, did so with less effort, too. Within a few months of joining the gang, she had become the co-leader of it with Lobb (now somewhat less handsome, after his broken nose healed awry, but the had become lovers anyway, although that is another story entirely), and full leader in her own right after Lobb’s unfortunate encounter with the hangman.

In her heart, she cherishes a dream of winning back the kingdom to which she is the rightful heir someday. But the only outward sign of it is the veil she wears, that she not be recognized until it pleases her to be so.

Vigil for a Dragon, pt 15

Hollis Kitson lifted up his head an inch or so and spat blood. Feeling with his tongue, he carefully ascertained that none of his teeth were missing, because from the way his jaw felt, he couldn’t be sure that they weren’t. Luck, it seemed, was on his side for once. So it could have been worse, at least. It seemed to Hollis that he was telling himself that more and more often these days.

Still lying facedown in the gutter, he risked turning his head slightly for a better angle of vision. He couldn’t see Fargan anywhere on that side, so he tried looking the other way. Not there either. So it was probably safe to stand up again now. He wasn’t just going to be knocked back down again the instant that he did.

Time, he thought, to steal a horse and get as far away from this town as possible, before Fargan talked to his friends, and they all learned what so far only Fargan knew: that the property deeds Hollis had been peddling were about as real as a lover’s promise never to be angry. They would come looking for him, he knew. But it was entirely up to him whether they found him or not.

Vigil for a Dragon, pt 16

The last thing anyone was expecting was a god to fall out of the sky. Piotr, who was unlucky enough to be standing under the god when he landed, probably expected it less than anyone. Unlike the rest, though, he was spared having to deal with the consequences.

The god lay there, groaning. It was Shaeyl, one of the twin hermaphrodite gods of Love and Lovers – her brilliant silver hair was stained and dirty with the chaos of her fall, but her birthmark, in the shape of half a heart, was distinctive and unmistakable. It was also sporting a large cut separating its upper third from its lower third.

The humans fled – their kind never could abide the presence of the divine – leaving only their prey, a lone elf, to approach the god. She was in pain, injured and bleeding. The elf was puzzled by this, but there would plenty of time to solve that puzzle later. He moved closer. The god was clearly alive, and surely the man she had landed upon could not have survived such an impact. He checked anyway, to make certain of it. The one called Piotr was dead. A shame she hadn’t landed on Silas instead – without their leader, the humans might have given up the chase entirely, he thought, then chided himself for his lack of charity.

So, the humans would be back soon. What of it? In the meantime, he sought to give what aid he could. Such was the code he lived by, and nothing mattered more than. He was distantly aware that the humans who had pursued him had stopped running and started talking amongst themselves. When they had found all their stragglers and re-formed their numbers, they would likely return to finish him, but that was unimportant. They would not attack him again while he stood so near a god, just in case doing so angered the god. At least, he hoped they wouldn’t.

Vigil for a Dragon, pt 17

The god was unconscious, and her wounds looked like they’d kill a human or an elf, but the elf was fairly sure that he could save her. Gods were naught but mortals writ large. If mortals could heal, then gods must have incredible recuperative powers, surely? All he had to do was help get them started. While he worked, he tried to imagine what could possibly have done this to a god. There were legends of gods fighting, being wounded and dying, but only a truly great power – another god, or more than one – could ever achieve such a feat. In helping this god, although he would almost certainly win her favour, the elf knew that he would make enemies. The same enemies that had done this to her. It didn’t bear thinking about, so he didn’t think about it. It wasn’t germane to the matter at hand.

In time, his ministrations began to take effect. The god seemed to be coming around. Finally, her eyes opened, and she gazed about her in puzzlement.
“Where am I?” she asked.
“You are in the land of Rotharl.”
“Rotharl? I don’t-“
“In the world of Teleran.”
“Teleran,” she said. “Wait, Teleran? In the mortal world?”
“Yes.”
“How did I get here?” she asked.
“Ah,” said the elf. “I had hoped you could tell me that.”
“I don’t recall,” she said.
“Well, of the two of us,” said the elf, “you are the god.”
“I am,” she said, “but I do not feel very godly. I feel… I don’t know the word.”
“Sore.”
“What is sore?”
“It is what you feel when you are wounded. Sore, hurt, in pain – any of those.”
“Then I am sore. And weak. I begin to understand now why I so often receive prayers from mortals asking to be delivered from pain.”
“They pray to you mostly to be delivered from pains of the heart. Pains of the body are a different thing.”
“And these are pains of the body?” He stared at her for a minute before he caught himself.
“I am sorry. I meant no mockery. It just surprised me that you did not know. But of course, you are a god. Why would you know such a thing a first hand?”
“Believe me, I wish that I still did not,” said the god.
“I am not surprised. I could not have survived what you went through, and I imagine it takes it toll even on a god.”
“It does,” she agreed. “It does. What are you doing?”
“I have some minor skill as a healer, lady. I cannot magick away your injuries, but I can at least bind your cuts and splint your broken bones.”
“And that will help them to hurt less?” she asked. He grimaced.
“In a sense. For the moment, they will hurt no less. They may, in fact, hurt more. But they will heal the faster for it, and thus, hurt for less time.”
“Ah,” said the god, and fell silent. She watched him work on her body without further comment for a time.

The elf suddenly looked up, a distant sound catching his attention. He had hoped to have more time than this, but hopes were futile. They were coming back. And from their voices, they blamed him for the death of Piotr.
“My lady, I do not wish to alarm you, but I have enemies. And they are returning here to find me. Is there anything you can do?”
“I can barely move. I think perhaps I can make us invisible to mortal eyes, but that would be all. And not for very long.”
“It will be enough. Humans lack patience.” The god seemed to look at him for the first time.
“Are you not human, then?” she asked. He grinned tightly.
“I am an elf.”
“Forgive me. It’s hard to tell.”
“We all look alike to you?”
“Something like that,” she said with a rueful smile.
“Well, get us out of this, and I will forgive your insult,” he smiled back.

Vigil for a Dragon, pt 18

For a man who spent his life telling tales to others, thought Davos, I do seem to spend a ridiculous amount of time listening to others tell theirs. He signaled to the barman for another round, although he of course would only nurse his. The old men could drink their fill, so long as it made them garrulous enough.

How many taverns had he sat in, just like this one, listening to variously angry or proud or bitter or melancholy old men telling tales like these? Always hunting for some idea, some turn of phrase or twist of plot to make into a new song. Davos loved to play, and to sing, and it was an honour to sing the songs created by the great bards who had preceded him, but if all you sang and played was the songs of others, you’d never join their number. Hence, research. A million tales told by old men and old wives, a thousand taverns where they were told, and he was still searching. Still trying to find the song that would make his own legend.

This particular night wasn’t looking promising, and Davos knew that despite his best efforts, his attention was wandering. Keeping half an ear to the old men, Davos scanned the room. It was never too early to start looking for a little pleasant company for bedtime, or for a good place to sit or stand and ply his trade. One of the men said something, and he turned back, wishing he’d been paying more attention.
“I’m sorry, did you say a dragon?”
“Yes, that’s what I said, lad. A dragon, sure as you’re sitting here.”
“I thought that dragons were supposed to be extinct.”
“Mostly extinct, lad. Mostly. There’s one left,” said the old man.
“So why haven’t I heard about it before?” asked Davos.
“It’s been asleep for centuries. Hardly anyone even remembers it’s there.”
“But you do.”
“Aye, I do.”
“Forgive me my cynicism, but really, how likely is that?”
“I forgive you, lad. I wouldn’t believe it myself if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes. Y’see,
when I was a boy, I lived in a village that lay just below the cave where the dragon slept. We boys used to dare each other to sneak into his cave.” Davos smiled.
“As boys do.”
“Just as you say. We’d dare each other all the day long, but maybe one boy a year would actually go into that cave.”
“And did you?”
“I did, once,” said the old man. He fell silent then. Davos imagined him staring back into the past, remembering what it was like to be a boy once upon a time. Remembering what it was like to be brash and fearless and give no thought to consequence. He let him go on for a while. If you’re going to persuade others to tell their tales, he knew, you have to know when silence is the best persuader.

But there are limits. You also have to know when someone has gotten lost in memory, and how to drag them back to the present again. Davos was about to prompt the old man for more when he spoke again. “I snuck into his chambers to impress a girl I was sweet on. I must have been maybe 14 years old. The dragon was the largest living thing I had ever seen. He was the size of a large hill, and the sound of his snoring was the loudest thing I can even imagine.”
He paused again, then drained his new glass in a single gulp.
“I stole a necklace from his hoard. A pretty bauble to win the heart of a pretty girl, or so I thought. I gave it to her, and she was pleased. She put it on, and thanked me with many kisses. We lay together that night, and promised ourselves to each other, for eternity.” Another man moved to speak, but Davos motioned him to be silent.
“The next day, she took ill. She sickened before my eyes, day by day, until a month or so later, she died. She had wasted away to nothing at all. It was the necklace, the damned necklace. Nothing can be removed from the hoard of a dragon without its permission, you see. Anything stolen is under a curse. No good will come to those who steal from a dragon, or who keep what has been stolen from it. After we buried her, still wearing that stupid necklace, I dug her up and took it from her body. I buried her again so no one would know, and I crept back into the dragon’s cave and threw the accursed thing back into the pile I’d taken it from. And I never went back home again.”

There was a long silence when he had finished, and tears fell from more than one eye at the table. Davos pondered how best to use this story. It would make a fine ballad, full of tragic love, to melt maidenly hearts, he thought. But maybe there was more yet to be teased from it. An idea was forming in his head, of not just telling tales but of making them. He waited for the old man to speak again until he could stand it no more.

Finally, Davos broke the silence.
“What did you say the name of this village was?” he asked.

Vigil for a Dragon, pt 19

Darrus Sharpblade looked up from his forge, and grimaced inwardly. Humans. He didn’t mind humans in most contexts – their food and drink in particular were wonderful – but he hated to talk about weaponry with him. The needs of humans and dwarfs were so different that the conversation was inevitably frustrating and unproductive for everyone involved.

A lot of humans made the mistake of thinking of other races as being just like them, only at a slightly different size. They thought of dwarfs as shorter humans and elves as more slightly built humans, and that was all. The highly significant differences in musculature between the three races they completely overlooked. The gods alone knew how they managed to explain away obvious differences in aptitude, such the elvish skill at archery, or the dwarfs’ preference for hammers, axes and maces. Perhaps they just put it down to cultural differences.

To a scientician, such as Darrus, cultural explanations were a place to start, nothing more. They explained why the people in one land favoured single edged knives while their neighbouring realms preferred double edged knives. True understanding lay in the physiologies of races. Ever since he moved to human lands, he had made it a point to understand these differences. Scientific medicine required scientific methods, not wishful praying at disinterested deities. It galled him that after more than five decades among humanity, Darrus was still more sought out by them for his talents as a smith than his skills as a healer. Nonetheless, he forced himself to smile at the approaching humans between hammer blows, then returned his attention to his forge. Creating a properly sharp scalpel was no easy task.

“Greetings,” he called when he judged them close enough, keeping his hammer raised for the moment.
“Hello,” said one of them. “Are you Darrus Sharpblade?” The other human elbowed the first.
“Are there any other dwarfs with no beards around here?” he asked. Darrus ignored his remarks. Among dwarfs, he might have chosen to take offense, but if he had done so every time a human said something stupid, he’d have no time for anything else. Including sleep.
“I am he,” said Darrus.
“My name is Salvor,” said the second human, “and my friend who doubts his own eyes is Breid.”
“A pleasure to meet you both,” said Darrus politely. “Please do no think me rude if I continue to forge while we talk; I am at a crucial juncture.”
“Of course,” said Salvor, who had apparently decided to talk for both of them. The hammer swung down and rang against the anvil.
“Now,” –bang- said Darrus, -bang- “how may” –bang- “I be of” –bang- “service” –bang- “to you?” He paused, and lifted the scalpel for a closer examination.
“We have a friend who is injured,” said Salvor, “and we wish you to heal him.”
“I see,” said Darrus, returning the scalpel to the anvil. “And” –bang- “where” –bang- “might I” –bang- “find this” –bang- “friend” –bang- “of yours?” –bang-!
“Well,” –bang- said Salvor, “he lives” –bang- “near he-“ –bang- “-re, and” –bang- “we hoped” –bang- “you would” –bang- “accomp-” –bang- “-ny us” –bang- “to see” –bang- “him.”

Darrus pulled up the scalpel again for another look, and grunted in satisfaction at what he saw. He was about to quench the yellow-hot metal until he remembered what he would be quenching it in. These two didn’t look squeamish, but a bucketful of blood sometimes leads to the wrong sort of questions, even if it’s only pigs’ blood. Darrus returned the scalpel to the anvil, and aimed to miss it with the hammer. –bang- –bang- –bang- –bang- went the hammer, each time so close that the humans would be fooled, while with his foot, he discreetly nudged the bucket around to the blind side of the anvil, where the humans couldn’t see it. Only then did he quench the blade in the blood.

Vigil for a Dragon, pt 20

“What is the nature of your friend’s injury?” asked Darrus as he moved to bank the flames.
“He broke his arm,” said Salvor. “But it has filled with rot, and he is no longer in possession of his wits.”
“Gangrene,” said Darrus. “And spreading. I will come
“Thank you, Mr Sharpblade,” said Breid.
“Call me Darrus,” said the dwarf. “Before we go, I must warn you that it may already be too late for your friend. If we are lucky, he is merely feverish and his wits should return once he is cured; if not, the rot may have already reached his brain, and his wits may be gone forever.”
“How will we tell?”
“The longer the rot has had to set in, the worse the outlook is,” said the dwarf. “Other than that,” he said with a certain distaste, “it is in the hands of the gods.”
“Fair enough,” said Salvor. “Shall we go?”
“Not just yet,” Darrus said. “There is the matter of payment to be settled before then.”
“Surely that can wait?”
“It is the custom of my people,” said Darrus, knowing that the humans wouldn’t know any better. In fact, it was simply his custom, which he had begun after one too many customers had refused to pay after he was done. He had learned to be careful in these matters.

Vigil for a Dragon, pt 21

“North,” said the oracle.
“Are you sure?” he asked, before he could catch himself. The Oracle’s frown deepened. She was truly angered now, not just play-acting.
“I have told you twice already. Will you make me say this thing a third time, and have your doom set in stone?” Phanathon’s shoulders sagged.
“Uh, no, no thank you,” he said. The oracle grinned.
“I thought not,” she said.

Phanathon performed the appropriate obeisances of gratitude and departure, although his hurry was only to be away from the oracle, not from his home. He disliked the north for its warmth and the strange ways of its people. His southerly homeland of ice and sea seemed perfect to him, and he had always imagined that the reason people lived elsewhere was because they were insane. No doubt the heat made them so.

Now, it seemed that he himself must journey to these strange warm climes, and like as not go mad himself. And why? For some oracle’s nonsense that would only make sense after the fact in any case. He looked around himself quickly, afraid that he had said that out loud. Of course, the oracles were his people’s guides, mentors and protectors, but they were above all else, very, very touchy. It didn’t do to get on the bad side of one of them, not least because to offend one was to offend all. And all the people who listened to them. Which was everyone in the seven tribes.

Briefly, Phanathon wondered if he’d somehow offended one of them, but he was pretty sure that he had not. Which was actually worse, in a way, because it meant that whatever nonsense this errand north was, it was something real. It wasn’t just an oracle sending him on some improbable mission so that he’d die horribly (although if that happened, it would hardly be surprising. It just wouldn’t be due to the oracle’s deliberate intent).

He realised that while he’d been thinking, his footsteps had carried him to Vaggan’s Watch, his favourite place in the world. From here, you could look out over the southern sea, and on a clear enough day, you could watch the icebergs calve from the Frost King’s Maw. And at any time of year, you could watch the waves crash upon the shore below in foam and thunder, and feel the pleasant sting of the Frost King’s Breath upon your face. It was probably the last time he’d get to look south for a while, thought Phanathon sadly, and he made a special effort to commit the place, and its sights, sounds and scents, to memory. If he was to head north on some fool’s errand, most likely never to return, he would at least carry this place with him in head and heart.
If only he knew a little bit more about what he would face, but the oracle’s words were as nonsensical now as they always were at first. Some of them he was pretty sure weren’t even real words. What in all the worlds was a “dragon” supposed to be, anyway?

Vigil for a Dragon, pt. 22

Bridget looks both ways before she steals out from between the two buildings. When you’re running away from home, the last thing you want is to get caught before you even get across the street. And even ten streets away from the house, Bridget’s still taking care not to be seen. She’s been planning this for weeks now, and she wasn’t going to let all that effort go to waste.

Her best friend, Briony, has slowly accumulated a store of Bridget’s clothes, and packed them in a case Bridget bought for that very purpose. Bridget has made discreet enquiries as to her potential for employment on one of the riverboats that throng the docks of Cape Spray, and found answers that she likes. She’s even managed to squirrel away a tiny amount of money, thanks to a boy down at the market who’s sweet on her, and sells her a dozen eggs for the price of ten.

Her parents, she’s pretty sure, don’t suspect a thing. At least, if they do, they’ve given no hint of it, and they are not subtle people. There’s nothing subtle about beatings and screaming matches. So long as she has good luck, and doesn’t run into her father on the way to the docks, she’s figures she’s home free. Or better, left home, and free.

Of course, the Wry Gods listen for such utterances, and Bridget sees her father at the very next corner. She has enough time to dodge back out of sight, and she’s fairly sure he didn’t see her. She takes a deep breath and tries to get her heart to slow down. But then she hears his whistle. Her father apparently loves to whistle, although he derives no visible pleasure from it and has no perceptible skill at it. Today he’s whistling in that loud, disjointed way that signals that he’s angry about something, and if she were at home when he got there, Bridget knows he’d be hitting her before long. Although if he finds her out here on the street, she’ll cop a beating so epic it will make her regular ones seem almost pleasant by comparison.

Panicked, Bridget starts trying doors in the alley, and runs inside the first one that opens.

Vigil for a Dragon, pt 23

It is high summer in the mountains, and the rocks bleed heat into the air late into each evening. The updrafts are plentiful and strong, and it is a great pleasure to soar upon them in the dying rays of the twilight sun each evening. So thinks the dragon, and growls in satisfaction.

But another thought, one that reckons more honestly of age, comes to him as well. It reminds him that even these warm nights cannot shift the chill from his bones. And it tells him the last thing any creature with a mind wants to hear.

“Won’t see another one,” it says.

Vigil for a Dragon, pt 24

Hollis Kitson was worried. Really worried. Hollis recognised three different kinds of worrying.

There was everyday worrying, such as worrying that the big grey cloud ahead was going to rain down on him, or how far away that invitingly near-looking next hill really was, or whether these socks needed darning. Those he had learned to tune out. Either they could be dealt with by establishing careful habits (as with the socks) or there was nothing he could do about them anyway (such as the weather). Hollis felt fairly safe ignoring everyday worries.

There was job worrying. Job worrying was more serious, but Hollis still took a fairly unserious view of it. It was only natural to worry that one’s careful forgeries would be exposed when the mark first inspected them (although if they got past that initial scrutiny, it was usually safe to stop worrying then), or to worry over the difficulty of telling between a lie believed and a lie unchallenged. Job worrying was a part of the job, and Hollis supposed that every job had some parallel to it. It wouldn’t do to forget it entirely, because complacency was the enemy of any professional, but especially a professional con man. But it was a worry that needed acknowledging, not indulging.

Finally, there was serious worrying. Serious worrying was the worst kind, and the only kind that Hollis found himself unable to master. Serious worrying was about things like how accurate the likeness on the wanted poster was, or how far a vengeful mark would pursue you seeking recompense, revenge or both. Hollis had learned, over the years, that serious worrying was unstoppable, and that the best you could hope to do was to permit it to pass over and through you, and go on from there.

So when Hollis found himself beginning to worry seriously just he was entering the town of Feldspar, he bent every effort to figuring out why.

Most times when he had worries, it was easy enough to pinpoint their origins and decide what steps, if any, needed to be taken to deal with them. This was not such a time. This time, his worries were nebulous. Hollis recognised this as his intuition speaking, and he was fine with that. He just wished that it would speak more plainly.

Vigil for a Dragon, pt 25

“You ask too many questions!” his master yelled. The rest of the class – the few who had not already been watching the argument between the old elf who taught them and the young elf whom everyone knew was the smartest member of the class – looked up at the sound. Genter stood his ground.
“It seems reasonable enough to me,” he said. The master paused a minute before replying. He’d had his authority challenged before, of course, but never so obstinately.
“And why is that, pray tell, young Genter?” he asked, taking care to stress the adjective.
“Well, here you are telling us nothing more about all these beasts and monsters and creatures, but all we’ve been learning for the last two months is how to recognise them from a distance, and how to flee them without attracting their attention.”
“So your complaint is that all you’ve been learning is the information sufficient, nay, vital, in order to survive the encounter? Perhaps you’d like to learn how each of them would kill you? How long it would take to die, how excruciating the pain, and so on?”
“Yes,” said Genter. “That, and how to kill them.” The older elf laughed aloud at this.
“How to kill them? My dear Genter, the reason for this list’s existence is that we have learned – at great cost, I might add – that we cannot simply kill them.”
“So you admit that we could kill them in some more complicated fashion?”

There was a longer pause, this time, and when it ended, so too did the exchange. The master made sure that he met Genter’s eyes as he slowly raised his hand and pointed at the door.

“Go to the priests of Shiralte, boy. Go there now, and tell them that you have shamed your teacher.”

Genter was surprised. He wasn’t sure precisely what this meant. Shaming one’s teacher could be a good thing or a bad thing, he supposed, depending on the circumstances. He wasn’t sure quite which this was, but there was no chance that the master would enlighten him. Bowing respectfully as he had been taught, he gathered his things and left the room, wondering what the priests would do when he delivered his message.