“Rendil, you best be home by sunset today,” instructed Milus. “And I don’t want you traipsing about after those Sages again.”
“I will be home, papa. I promise.” Rendil looked up at his father giving him the quick, small smile that always seemed to melt Milus’ heart.
Milus patted Rendil’s head and then quickly smoothed the shoulders of the boy’s tunic. “All right, off with you now. And no troublemaking, you hear?”
“I know, papa.” And with that Rendil ran out of the smithy and down the cobbled road towards the city’s center. Milus watched until Rendil had turned the corner and then stepped back to the forge.
“You worry too much, Milus,” said Elvara. “He is just a boy. How much trouble can he possibly make? Especially here in Targonor.”
“You have no idea what he is capable of getting into. And Elvara, although I know you mean well, it won’t be until you have your own child that you can understand.”
“I’m sorry, my friend. I know it has been difficult for you since you lost Marlene.”
“It’s just that…well, she used to take care of him while I worked. I suppose I never really considered the amount of effort it takes to raise him.” Rendil’s shoulders visibly slumped as his face softened, revealing the sorrow he had carried for the past year. “I just miss her.”
“I know you do.” Elvara walked over to Milus, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder. “You’re my dear friend. Just let me know if I can help.”
“I appreciate that. Thanks for offering.” Milus picked up his hammer from the anvil. “Now, these swords aren’t going to make themselves. Let’s get going.”
- * *
Rendil loved the carefree days; the days of no chores, no schooling, and best of all, no hot and sweaty work carrying heavy iron through the smithy. The carefree days were his days to explore, to learn the things not taught in school. Rendil learned the most from observing. Often, he found a perch above an awning in the market square and watched the business of buying and selling. He also saw the nimble fingers of the thieves and cutpurses at work; the clever sleights of hand that switched one item for another while purchasing. He watched the subtle distractions created to help a partner steal a particularly juicy piece of fruit or a shiny locket from the jeweler’s carts.
Rendil watched and noted the actions required for each larcenous feat. Several times, he even climbed down from his position and performed the maneuvers on an unsuspecting merchant. Each time he did this, he dared more by choosing a riskier target. So far, his luck, or his skill, had held out and he had not been caught. However, after each escapade, he felt guilty and would find a way to return the recently purloined item to its rightful owner.
For Rendil, it wasn’t about the theft. It was about perfecting the skills. He didn’t want the items nor did he steal for gain. Stealing meant nothing to him; it was the drive for understanding, the wish to know exactly what the thieves’ actions felt like that led him to practice their arts.
One of his other favorite groups to watch was the Sages Arcane. The long colored robes they wore, the books they carried, the snippets of conversations they engaged in, all fascinated him. It was as if they lived in another world apart from everyone else. Rendil wanted to understand their lofty speech and pierce their heads-in-the-cloud oblivion, to find out why they seemed so different.
On this day, Rendil made his way up a favorite alleyway just off the market square, along the road towards a back entrance into the Sages Academy. He heard some voices coming from the other end of the alley. Working his way along the shadows, he was finally able to see two sages standing close together, conversing in hushed tones. One was dressed in a dark gray robe, his long hair pulled back into a ponytail held by a leather cord. The other, taller than the first, wore a red robe. Most of their conversation was in whispers but Rendil could sometimes pick out words here and there. The Sages were talking about some theory on magic. The subjects of several overheard snippets revolved around spell casting and secret books and words of powers. From time to time, the pair of Sages would look about them to make sure no one was near. Each time they did, Rendil would creep further into the shadows of the alley to avoid discovery.
His eavesdropping so engrossed him that he failed to hear the near silent footsteps behind him. However, the open-handed slap to the back of his head certainly got his attention.
“What are you doing skulking here?” asked the newcomer. “Are you spying on my brother Sages?” The stranger grabbed hold of Rendil’s tunic and held him firmly in front of him. Rendil could still not see his captor. Instead, he cast his eyes downward at the ground while furiously running through scenarios of escape in his mind. “Fellows, I think we have a spy here. Come look.”
The two Sages he had been watching turned in Rendil’s direction. One of them said, “Who’s there? And what are you babbling about?”
“Oh sorry, didn’t realize you couldn’t see me. I’m Golath,” said the Sage behind Rendil. “I just caught this boy watching you two. I think he’s a spy.”
“A spy you say?” replied the first Sage. “Now why would a boy like him be interested in us or what we say? Let him g--,” The other Sage placed his hand on the arm of the speaker and whispered something to him.
The second sage then began to speak. “Thank you for warning us of this possible spy. I don’t think there are many spies about the alleys of Targonor interested in the scholarly jousting of two such as us. However, you can never be sure. He does look harmless but we shall see.”
The Sage walked into the alley and stopped in front of Rendil. “Now, let’s get a look at you.” Golath released his hold on Rendil and the Sage placed his hand on Rendil’s shoulder and leaned down to look at the boy’s face. “What’s your name?”
“Address me as Master, not sir. Why were you in this alley? Were you following us?”
Rendil did his best to try to calm his nerves. This situation was not turning out the way he intended. “No, sir, I mean Master. I was looking for my cat in the alley here. She ran away.”
“Your cat?” The Sage stood up. “I think not. There’s no cat here. You’re lying to me! One last chance, boy. What were you doing?” The Sage towered over Rendil, his voice taking on a tone that clearly showed the authority and command he was used to.
“I…I was watching you. I’m sorry,” choked Rendil.
“I don’t know. I just watch people who are interesting.” The first tears slid down his cheek.
“Did someone tell you to watch us? Someone dressed like us?”
“No, Master. No one. I just like watching people.”
The Sage stood quietly for several seconds just staring intently at the boy. Those seconds felt like an eternity to Rendil. “I believe you. You are telling me the truth now. I can tell by your face.” Turning to Golath, who had moved away from the back of Rendil to the side of the Sage, he said, “Take him home. Tell his parents what he did and instruct them to keep him away from Sages.” Looking back at Rendil he added, “Bad things can happen to spies!”
The sage added, “Thank you again, Golath, for your…vigilance. If there is anything I can do to repay your assistance, please ask. I am Dorrin Longreat, and my associate is Vinton Mepson. You can find me most days within the Academy.”
“You are most welcome, Dorrin,” said Golath. “I will certainly let you know.” Grabbing a hold of Rendil’s hand, Golath turned back down the alley. “Come along, Rendil. We have an appointment with your parents.”
Dorrin watched them disappear out the far end of the alley and then walked back to Vinton.
“Dorrin, do you think he understood anything we were talking about?”
“You mean the boy? I doubt it. But if he did, we will know soon enough. I do have one task for you though.”
“What is it?”
“Find out more about this Golath. There is no reason he should have been here. It’s too convenient. As for the boy, he is my responsibility. That is one boy I will be watching very closely.”
“I want you to take on an apprentice,” said Dorrin.
Hanrick looked up from the leather-bound tome he was studying in the dim small room. He was surprised to find Dorrin awake at such a late hour as his usual schedule had him retiring to his room right after the evening meal and then rising right before dawn. Hanrick knew his teacher’s habits well and had made good use during his apprenticeship of Dorrin’s absent hours. The time on his own had allowed Hanrick to delve deeper into the thick volumes on theoretical magic that were among the few books to survive the flight from Targonor to the new seat of the Thestran kings.
“Dorrin, are you sure I’m ready?” asked Hanrick. “I was only your apprentice for 3 years.”
“You are no longer an apprentice. Grow up, Hanrick!” Dorrin’s brow furrowed with agitation. He was not a man used to being questioned, especially by a former apprentice. “You were made a full member just two weeks ago. The times have changed. They had to change after what happened in Targonor. We no longer have the luxury of coddling newer members.”
Dorrin pulled up a chair and sat opposite Hanrick. Reaching over and closing the book Hanrick had been studying, Dorrin continued, “Now, I have already chosen your apprentice. I was going to take him myself but I am confident in your ability to pass on the training I so graciously imparted to you.”
“If you feel I am ready, then I accept your task. I do have one question, though.”
“Am I allowed some leeway in the teaching methods?”
“Were you not satisfied in your own training?” Dorrin arched his eyebrow and stared at Hanrick.
“No, that was – is not the issue, Master. My training was exemplary. I would just like to employ some methods I have been reading about.”
Dorrin leaned back in his chair, studying Hanrick. “I suppose that will be acceptable. He will be your charge and, ultimately, your responsibility, whether he succeeds or fails. The Sages Arcane needs as many well trained members as we can muster. However, you must inform me of your training methodology upon my request and I must have access to your apprentice as required.”
Hanrick was caught off guard by this last request and it showed on his face as his mouth tightened. Normally, the relationship between a mentor and an apprentice was one of trust. Once an apprentice became a full member of the Sages Arcane, his former mentor never asked for, nor needed, contact with the new apprentices and trusted that the proper training would be carried out.
“Rest assured, Hanrick,” added Dorrin, clearly trying to ease the worries of his one time apprentice. “It isn’t that I don’t trust you. I have the utmost confidence in you. My task is to make sure we get the best apprentices we can.” Pulling out a letter from the folds of his robes, Dorrin passed it across the table.
Hanrick picked up the letter and opened it. Reading aloud, he said, “Rendil Wainscott, to be found in the vicinity of the Tuhr Smithy?” Reading further, he then added, “I see no reports of his testing in this. Where are the notes?”
“Oh, he was tested in Targonor,” replied Dorrin. “The notes, like so many other things were lost. In fact, I tested him myself. Now, tomorrow morning, find him and begin his training. I look forward to your reports.”
- * *
The young man paused at the doorway, giving his eyes a chance to adjust to the low light of the room, then stepped in tentatively as his vision recovered from the bright sunlight outside.
“You wanted to see me, papa?” Rendil asked the figure seated at the table. His father, Milus, looked up from the unfolded letter he was reading and laid it on the table.
“Yes, Rendil. It appears you’re to begin your apprenticeship with the Sages Arcane. This man over there brought the news.” Rendil followed his father’s hand as it pointed to the corner of the kitchen. Seated in a chair was a man, not much older than Rendil, dressed in a green robe with white trim. “The strange thing is, my son, I don’t remember ever agreeing to have you tested. What do you know about this?”
Rendil’s face flushed under the Milus’ intent gaze. His father was not one quick to anger. However, if he directed his stare at someone, especially as he was doing now to Rendil, one knew the best course of action was to speak directly and truthfully. “Father, I—,” he stammered, looking for the right words. “I put myself up for testing. I didn’t want you to be angry.” The confession came faster now, as if it wanted to get out, to reveal the truth to earn his father’s forgiveness and acceptance. “I’m sorry, papa. It was done before—in Targonor. Then, with the fall of the city and our moving here—Well, I thought the records were lost.”
The man in the corner spoke up. “Excuse me.” Standing up, he walked to the table and took a seat opposite Milus, leaving his back towards Rendil. “Master Wainscott, I’m sorry. This is probably a lot to absorb at once. However, I want to assure you that we of the Sages Arcane are committed to teaching those talented individuals we find. Not all of those we choose make it through the process. However any person who leaves does so with an education that is suited to an array of good occupations. Many merchants, scholars, and even some clergy have passed through our preliminary training. We want what is best for the entire community.
“I know you have seen, first-hand, the danger our society faces. All of us have. The fall of Targonor damaged every level of our society. We lost many of our own Members as we defended the citizens during the flight. We have lost even more in the past couple of years striving to build this new city. I assure you, we are only doing what is necessary to sustain the Kingdom, our Kingdom.”
Milus listened as the sage continued. Rendil stood awkwardly, wishing to flee, but also wanting to hear the outcome of this conversation.
“I also want to personally guarantee the safety and well-being of your son while he undergoes his training. In fact, I am assigned as his mentor. I have recently completed my own training and will be giving my full attention to his studies. My own master, Dorrin Longreat, was the one who tested Rendil in Targonor. He has requested that I keep him apprised of the training. As you can see, Rendil’s future is of great interest to all of us.”
Milus picked up the letter again and read it. After a time, he said, “So you are Hanrick Lantier, I take it?”
“Yes, I am. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Hanrick, do you mind giving me a moment with my son?”
“Certainly, I shall wait outside.” Hanrick pushed his chair away from the table and stood up, and with a quick nod to Rendil, walked through the doorway into the courtyard beyond.
“Rendil, sit please.” Milus motioned to the chair opposite him, recently vacated by Hanrick. Rendil took his seat and waited for his father to continue. “I am not going to pretend I’m not angry. Your not telling me was wrong. I taught you better than that, didn’t I? You know I expect honesty from you.”
Rendil lowered his eyes, looking at the tabletop. “I know and I’m sorry. I should have told you. With everything that happened, in Targonor—and since we left—well I was afraid I would never get your permission.”
“Son, I’d have to be both blind and daft to not know you won’t be a smith. Getting you to help out in the smithy is like trying to shoe a pig. You can get it done, but when it’s done, you end up tired and dirty and the pig is squealing mad. I have never expected you to follow in my steps. I just want you to be happy. Is this what you want? If it isn’t, tell me and I will run this Hanrick off.”
Rendil thought about that question. He’d spent his whole life searching for an answer to, “Is this what I want?” All those times he followed the Sages, even on the day he had made a mistake and been caught, Rendil had dreamed of joining the order. His desire had grown even stronger since that day, especially because of his odd and more frequent encounters with Master Longreat. Master Dorrin, as he had asked Rendil to call him, showed such an interest in him. Several times, the sage had shown him a simple cantrip or had talked to him about life as a sage. He was condescending most of the time, often downright rude. Rendil ignored such manners. He was fascinated by the sage’s ideas.
One day, Dorrin had given him some books to read. Rendil had secreted them away like some ill-gotten treasure. He only brought them out when he had time to study them in privacy. Once, Elvara had caught him with one of them. She had asked what it was. He told her it was a study book from his teacher. Elvara had nodded and said nothing, but still he thought she saw through his lie. She always did.
Rendil kept his odd relationship with Master Dorrin a secret. No one else knew about it, at least that’s what he thought. A few weeks before the flight from Targonor, Master Dorrin had spoken to Rendil about the Sages Arcane. The Sage had pulled out a sheaf of notes from the pocket of his robe and said, “Who would have thought a little spy could be so talented? Oh yes! I remember our meeting, just as I know you do. It seems we are both fortunate I didn’t slay you on the spot as is my habit with nosy alley skulkers. You have a great future ahead of you, Rendil. These are my notes about your tests. The world of the Sages will soon open to you.”
That was the last Rendil had seen of Master Dorrin. In fact, the boy thought the Sage has perished in the terrible aftermath of the fall of Targonor. He certainly hadn’t expected to find that, after all these lost years, the Sages were still interested in him.
“Well, son, what’s your answer?” Milus’ question jolted Rendil out of his reverie.
“This is what I wish, papa,” replied Rendil.
“Very well. You best get your things packed so as not to keep the sage waiting. And make sure to stop in the smithy to tell Elvara goodbye.”
Both Milus and Rendil stood up. Milus walked over to his son and embraced him. “Remember you are always welcome here.”
Their embrace ended. Rendil made his way to the ladder that led to the loft above to retrieve his belongings.
“And son, always remember, I am proud of you. You don’t have to impress me.”
“I know, papa.” Then Rendil added, “And thank you.”
Rendil pursued his studies with the same focus and concentration he had used to master pick-pocketing in his youth. Each night, he lay awake mulling over the complex theories introduced that day and reviewing every tidbit of overheard conversation. Thinking through a thorny problem often calmed his mind so he could finally sleep.
His days were full and his studies engrossing. A normal day began with an early meal followed by private study and a discussion with Hanrick. They usually walked together to the midday meal. Rendil would then start his afternoon in the library. Recently, his time among the books and scrolls had shortened as he found other apprentices and mentors more available for conversation. He was even allowed to sit in on some talks given by the senior sages. It wasn’t long before Rendil had learned of the Sages’ role in the building of New Targonor, the responsibilities of advising the Thestran Council, and even the need for proper evaluation of new candidates, among other subjects.
Rendil endured the long and tiring days without complaint and looked forward to his evening conversations with Hanrick. Hanrick would question Rendil about the day’s teaching and then ask him to find ways to apply the material to his apprenticeship. Rendil felt his relationship with Hanrick strengthen during these meetings.
Hanrick was a patient teacher. He was quick to explain and would give clear reasons for doing or not doing certain actions. If Rendil became frustrated, Hanrick would change his approach and Rendil would soon find himself solving the problem from a completely different direction. In Hanrick, only five years his elder, Rendil found a confidant and friend, as well as a mentor. Hanrick’s teaching methods were entirely different than the demeaning admonishments and patronizing corrections Master Dorrin used, and Rendil was glad of it.
One night at their usual meeting time, Hanrick entered the small room he shared with Rendil, and observed his apprentice sitting at the table studying the apprentice primer. Books were stacked on every part of the table. Among those books, Hanrick spied a magic treatise, a book about the Sages Arcane, a small history of the Thestran kings, and several maps.
“What’s all this, Rendil?”
Rendil looked up from his books, and rubbed at his eyes. “I was just looking at these maps of Thestra and trying to determine where the undead might next appear. We all know they came up from the south when we were in Targonor. However, the mountains seemed to have stopped them.” Rendil traced along the line of the Widow’s Veil on the map and then used his finger to circle the deep woods south of New Targonor. “Then we have the woods here to worry about. What if they found a way t—“
“That can wait, Rendil,” interrupted Hanrick. “I would like to talk a bit about your thoughts on the lecture from this afternoon. Master Gemmel had some interesting things to say, did he not? Specifically, I want to talk about the accepted practices of our art.”
“Well, that’s what got me started in all this,” Rendil replied as he motioned to the mess of books and maps on the table. “We don’t know what caused the undead to appear. We also don’t know why they attacked us. Could the invasion be magical, the work of some rogue sages?”
Hanrick chuckled. “I love how your mind works. Honestly, it is refreshing to hear a completely different viewpoint that only you seem to find.” He pushed aside some of the books and parchments from the edge of the table and then rested against it. “Rendil, where are these questions coming from?”
“I was reading in this history.” Rendil held up the battered tome about the history of the Sages Arcane. “There were some incidents recorded that raised my suspicions.”
“Rendil, let me assure you that many sages have looked into this. They have determined that the undead invasion is not magical in nature, at least in any magic we know. Whatever is behind the undead is still a mystery-- however it isn’t the work of ‘rogue sages’.”
“What do they think it is then?”
“That I don’t know, but minds more suited to the task than ours are hard at work trying to figure that out.” Hanrick picked up the apprentice primer and began to thumb through it. “What I more want to talk about are the accepted practices. You have read about them in here, I assume?”
“Yes, I have. I understand the need to assist the throne, the mercantile uses of our art to maintain fair trade, the pursuit and recording of knowledge, and the accepted military uses.”
“You certainly listed them, but do you truly understand them? What are some limitations or restrictions on these principles?”
“The biggest limitation the Sages’ have placed on themselves is the restriction on experimentation with life,” Rendil answered.
“Correct. Our art is not a healing art. We’re also not to seek wanton harm, nor are we to use torture. Why is that, you think?”
Rendil pondered the question for a moment, then replied, “Because we want to be respected for our abilities, not feared.”
“Interesting answer. It’s somewhat correct, but I want to hear more of your reasoning on this.”
“I was reading about the early days of the order and Talin the Mad and –“
“That’s an interesting choice of study,” interrupted Hanrick. “That is clearly outside the scope of your apprenticeship training this early into it.”
“I know, Master. However, it intrigues me. I’m sorry.”
“That’s fine, Rendil. You just caught me off guard. However, I do want you to clear your studies with me first from now on. Agreed?”
“Well, Talin the Mad was put on trial and executed for human experimentation. It took the Sages many years to put that behind them—er, us.”
“Why was what Talin did wrong?”
“Because there were no controls over it. He did it on his own.”
“That’s correct but not the answer I was looking for. Why were those actions by Talin so wrong?”
Rendil sat and thought of an answer. After several moments, he was unable to come up with a plausible reason. “I don’t know. Why?”
“Although we use our magic to enhance, we do not create life, nor do we take part in necromancy,” Hanrick explained. “We leave the healing arts to the priests, who are better suited to the task. In fact, often, our arts work at cross purposes with the natural order. Talin’s use of human subjects for his experiments destroyed several lives and left others near death. His fascination with cadavers and attempts to raise up constructs put our entire society in danger. He paid with his life for violating our tenets. His actions also opened the Sages Arcane to outside scrutiny, which almost led to our dissolution. We update our accepted practices frequently so we may stay true to our mission and don’t stray into those dark areas of study again.”
“But sages still theorize about it, right? They just don’t act on it.”
“No, they don’t. I haven’t heard of a single Sage who has taken up Talin’s, or similar, studies.”
“But they do.” And then Rendil related the story of getting caught in Targonor. He talked about the theories he heard whispered. He mentioned the names of the books the two sages discussed. As Rendil continued, Hanrick’s demeanor changed from one of interest to one of trepidation. At the end of the telling, Hanrick was clearly shaken.
“This happened in Targonor?” asked Hanrick. “Do you happen to remember what the sages looked like?”
“I can do one better. I can give you a name.”
“You know the name?”“You do as well,” said Rendil. “It was Master Dorrin.”