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Accounts of an Apprenticeby Joseph Setorius from Threshold Magazine issue 9
Author’s Note: The following story begins during the first week of 998 AC. Each future episode will cover roughly the span of one week. Allowing a great amount of description concerning life in Glantri City, and the School of Magic. Not all of the current episode’s tale is described in detail as I wanted to get to the “meat” of the story, which is Palzac’s current dilemma. Hopefully, at a later date I will have time to go back and illustrate the backstory; giving it the same treatment I plan to use with future episodes. I hope you enjoy it at least as much as I labored over it!
ACCOUNTS of an APPRENTICE
[Note to John. The above title is actually going to be replaced with a picture that has the title and episode written on it. Much in the vein of the old Princess Ark Series!]
Palzac's footsteps clomped against the cobblestones, echoing off the buildings and reverberating down the length of the Street of Wounded Warriors.1 It was late. Too late for anyone wandering the streets to be engaged in honest activity. Palzac's only consolation being the Street of Wounded Warriors was a narrow twisted back-alley in this city of mages. There had been a break in the weather this week, and melting snow ran towards a shallow swale in the center of the street, eventually finding its way into one of the city’s numerous canals. Late as it was, the still-evaporating snow compounded the air’s already frigid bite; the moisture slowly seeping through every layer of Palzac’s clothing, wetting skin and chilling his bones. A condition not unfamiliar to him, hailing from the small fjord-side village of Daggenskjold, located in the Kingdom of Vestland. It seemed a long way from here, and the current circumstances in which he found himself.
Daggenskjold sat at the terminus of NordesFjord, the Northernmost sound of Vestland.2 Palzac could still picture the clinker constructed longships lying along the shore, or laid up on the pebble beach. Founded just fourteen years before Ottar the Just’s victory over King Finnbogi of Ostland at the Battle of Bridenfjord; though many of Vestland’s towns and villages had since modernized, adopting square grids for their streets and avenues; Daggenskjold remained in the past. Its defensive palisade formed by a circular earthen enclosure topped by sharpened timber poles, which in turn was surrounded by a shallow muddy ditch trickling down to the fjord. During the short summer months, mosquitoes found this mucky trench amenable, adding to the village’s many woes.
The Longhall of Kolskegg Aethelson dominated the center of the fair sized village, and featured an elevated walkway leading to the jarl’s Main Longhouse behind.3 Eight octagonally arranged lodges encircled the Longhall, each occupied by prominent members of clans swearing allegiance to Aethelson. Ringing this inner stronghold lay the accommodations of the artisan class. Palzac’s kin cohabitated with three other families in an oversized hut, sporting a tented roof. Yet Palzac did not mind the confines of the smaller sized dwelling. During the long, dark, cold winter months, less heat escaped out the rooftop vents than in the larger longhouses; and tallow candles reflected light off the converging rafters, keeping the cabin cheerful and well-lit. Palzac felt the residence’s most redeeming quality; however, was its location farther up the slope, and thus farther from the dampness of the shore.
Though Daggenskjold did produce significant trade goods commanding higher prices on foreign shores, the village’s main export remained raiding. Its longships trolling the Northern shores of the Isle of Dawn, and the coastal settlements of the mainland as far North as The Prow.4 Unfortunately, many of the communities which Daggenskjold’s vikings preyed upon, held similar vocation, often launching retaliatory attacks. Daggenskjold’s one advantage lay in its often veiled location. The village had taken its name from the fog that fortuitously rolled in each evening; obscuring the village from unfamiliar eyes seeking revenge upon the raiders to their home shores. The enveloping fog frequently helped set foreign ships upon the fjord’s treacherous seamounts, sending them to a watery grave. Since its founding, a “daggenskjold” or “day’s end shield” was seen as an auspicious event. Yet Palzac found it materialized so often, it couldn’t be bringing too much fortune to the downtrodden settlement, for little luck ever passed Daggenskjold’s way. Additionally it did not just confine itself to appearing in the evenings, and was so ever-present Palzac found it downright depressing. Palzac often wished a party of overseas crusaders had avenged their kin long ago; thus perhaps preventing anyone, though mainly himself, from having to suffer a life upon NordesFjord’s gloomy inland shore.
Palzac's father, though well respected in the community, was an artisan of modest means. Yet one holding knowledge of how the world works, without possessing any of the tools to join. Money, power, connections. A cordwainer by trade, the family constantly struggled to survive each passing year. Palzac struggled just to become a passable apprentice, possessing none of the dexterity or skill of his father. Shortly after turning age five, his parents gave birth to a second son, and after aged nine was soon surpassed in skill by his younger brother. His brother having a knack for manual tasks, where Palzac held none. Taking what little savings they had acquired, and wanting more for their son, Palzac was at that early age apprenticed to a man, said to possess an expertise of the arcane powers.
This man, Eilif the Learned, had come from somewhat similar, although more affluent, circumstances. Youngest son of a Norrvik mercantile family, the ambitious Eilif knew he would never be kingpin among his kin. A trade expedition to cosmopolitan Glantri convinced a young Eilif, the Great School of Magic is where he belonged, and seven years hence had completed his studies and overcome the Dungeon of Aces to undistinguished accolades.5
Five years after, while researching an inter-dimensional spell capable of transporting him to the Plane of Fire, he happened upon obscure references to a great and powerful force, able to permanently take him to a higher one. Yet Eilif was too eager to learn more, and strove forward without necessary caution and reserve. Several powerful associates, considering themselves the keepers of this unique force quickly became aware of his advances. Fortunately, he also became aware of their suspicions, and attempted to allay their fears. But his initial negligence had convinced the clandestine organization, he was not to be trusted. Realization he would likewise never be recognized among Glantri’s favored sons, Eilif returned to Vestland, accepting being a big fish in a small pond was where he belonged; and infinitely safer.
Eilif’s proficiency with fire, having been a Fire Elementalist of the Third Circle, proved indispensable; dispatching countless troll bands roaming the hills above Sudorn and Daggenskjold. He quickly earned reputation as a formidable mage, and the troll’s greatest foe. Kolskegg Aethelson and Rurik Sturlason both embraced Eilif’s construction of a spire, which he built immediately below the divide between the sea and the Streel, and appropriately named Trollbane Tower.6 7
Though only eighteen miles further inland, life at Trollbane Tower was worlds away from life upon the gloomy shore. The wind often blustering down from the heights, bringing with it the invigorating chill of snow-packed mountains, and the pungent aroma of Vestland Fir. Although over the course of the first several months, Palzac felt he had simply traded one kind of servitude for another, receiving little instruction in the magical arts. Instead he was consigned to carry out the everyday household tasks of the tower. Having not had an apprentice or steward in quite some time, there seemed an endless list of tasks and travails his new Mästare set upon him. Yet Palzac remained diligent and tireless in his duties, hopeful he might eventually be shown the door to higher power. After eight months of continuous toil, he finally found he had outdone his catalogue of assigned chores.
The following day, pleased with the positive progression of his secluded spire, Mästare Eilif at last relented, beginning Palzac’s instruction in earnest. Yet just as he had possessed no aptitude for manual trades, Palzac initially appeared to have none for cerebral pursuits either. It seemed the harder he strove to succeed, the more complete his failure. At last he had been shown the door, and yet held no key to enter. At the end of another day of abundant disappointments, Mästare Eilif at last realized the solution to Palzac’s quandary.
“Your concentration is too intense. To master the enchanted arts, you must let go your logic, and embrace the impossible! Only when you have shed reason and rationality can you hope to thread the strands of celestial energy, meshing the fiber of forces emanating from unseen planes. Your mental focus and determination molding them into spells of your desire.”
“How can I focus without concentrating?” Palzac asked, somewhat skeptically.
“Focus is not the same substance as concentration. Focus is life-force, essence, the paths to your soul. Find it, and you may find the solution to your woes!”
Though this instruction did not immediately bear fruit, Palzac persisted, undaunted by past failures. Gradually he began to harness the wild energies, focusing them into recognizable designs. At long last, he found his focus; and after, his determination discovered the hidden paths to power. Though Mästare Eilif judged Palzac was progressing at a snail’s pace, eventually light appeared from darkness, as Palzac completed his first spell.
Occasionally he was sent on errands to Sudorn. A slightly larger settlement Southeast of Daggenskjold in the dominion of Fynmark. These trips were a welcome respite, and besides Palzac’s initial journey between Daggenskjold and Trollbane Tower, his first glimpse of a world beyond the one he knew. The isolated ruins of monasteries, temples, and clan halls dotted the hills along the hunting trails leading down to Sudorn. Palzac supposed the inhabitants had been victim to roving bands of trolls.8 Besides having the liberty to wander Sudorn’s streets, Mästare Eilif regularly gave Palzac more coin than was required, allowing him to purchase something for himself. Palzac never abused this privilege, always returning with what was wanted, alongside some of the remaining currency.
His internship with Mästare Eilif persisted nearly a year when another youth of similar age and circumstance, carrying a full purse and signed letter of intent from some well-connected patron, appeared upon Trollbane’s threshold. Initially Palzac deemed this a fortuitous turn of events. Someone to share the burdens of labor and exaltations of study. But it quickly became apparent, the aspiring novice bore more ambition than he, and possessed a competitive streak that prevented friendship. His initial elation quickly soured. Ten months later, Palzac found himself slowly being supplanted under the Mästare’s watchful eye. Increasingly he was relegated to mundane chores, as the maestro fawned over his more promising apprentice.
Until at last a new idea took shape in his Master’s mind…
One evening while perusing the modest library he had acquired over the years, Mästare Eilif thoughtfully paged through the few books he had attained vaguely intimating probable paths towards Glantri’s greatest power, and lamented abandoning his quest for true knowledge and power. Mästare Eilif had all but given up hope of returning to Glantri, his face well known among certain members of the Glantrian elite. But what if he were to send someone in his stead?
“Palzac?” He shouted down the winding stair.
“Yes Mästare Eilif.”
“Please come here a moment.”
As Palzac entered the cramped circular chamber atop the lonely tower, Mästare Eilif instructed “Shut the door.”
Palzac could hardly contain his excitement. Months had passed since his master wished speak to him behind closed doors. Perchance Mästare Eilif had at last sussed out the conundrum behind his inability to quickly grasp arcane concepts. Perhaps he had grown suspicious of this new apprentice, fearing the ambitious lad would eventually try and usurp his power. Or maybe the youth had reached his potential, burning out in a blaze of mediocrity. Palzac could only hope.
“I need you to do something for me,” he started.
“Yes, Mästare Eilif.”
“I am sending you away…on an important errand.” Palzac at once looked dejected, figuring the Master had at last tired of him, and was sending him back to Daggenskjold. “No need to be discouraged. The…mission…shall we say, I have for you will take considerable time, and will require your utmost discreet talents.”
Palzac was perplexed. He was unaware of possessing any discreet talent. In truth he was nearly sure he retained no talents whatsoever; beyond dusting, sweeping, mopping, cataloguing…and changing the chamber pot. His competence at cooking was so awful in fact, Mästare Eilif had retaken responsibility of preparing meals himself. Though Palzac derived the least bit satisfaction when it was declared his peer possessed no culinary skills, either.
“You will travel to the Principalities, and attend the Great School of Magic. Consequently, this will allow you to continue your studies. Perhaps under another master, you might unlock hidden power within you.”
Mästare Eilif paused, gauging Palzac’s initial response. Palzac was so bewildered and mystified; however, he didn’t know rightly what to say. Could he have heard correctly?
“As payment for your tuition, room and board; you will instigate a secret investigation for me.”
Now Palzac understood the heart of his master’s stratagems. Palzac was to cease being his Mästare’s apprentice, and start playing his pawn. Palzac was resigned to cooperate, after all it wasn’t much less a demotion than the one received ten months past. “What’s the mission?” he inquired, anxious to learn of his accepted fate.
“This is where your discretion will be paramount. Handle this wrong, and you will wind up dead. Your conduct must remain free of suspicion. The assignment may take years to complete, but this will allow you to continue your schooling. I have a contact, an old friend really, still living in Glantri. You must at first contact this Master Van Dyke.9 Give him this letter, and my regards.” Mästare Eilif handed him the bound dispatch, sporting his master’s seal. A dark grey spire fashioned as a torch, from which blazed a dark blue flame.10 Mästare Eilif continued on, “He will set you upon the correct path. Once commencing upon your journey; however, there will be no turning round. You must never mention my name. I still have foes there who would see me finished. Nevertheless, learn what I need, and it may open doors for both of us.”
Palzac very much doubted that. Yet instead he asked, “When do I leave?”
“You will depart with the first Klarmont caravan, which you must catch in Sudorn. Convoys don’t often stop for wayward travelers along Vestland’s backwoods roads. Though you are often known to make the trip in a single day, I would not tarry. Better to arrive early. As soon as you have your possessions packed, we shall leave. I will accompany you as far as the southern ridge. I am giving you fifty gold,” Mästare Eilif tossed Palzac a weighty velvet pouch. “The rest of your expenses will be taken care of with this usury note. Do not lose it! Show it to Master Van Dyke when you arrive and he will suggest a reliable moneylender with which to deposit it. Now…hurry along to bed. We’ll start off tomorrow.”
The next morning Palzac was up early, and by mid-morn they were off toward Sudorn. Upon reaching the ridge, cresting the hills falling to the coast, Mästare Eilif and his understudy headed back toward Trollbane, while Palzac traveled on.
His knapsack shouldered, the rest of his possessions were secured in a small chest which rested upon an opaque floating disc. Mästare Eilif had given him a simple wand which directed the disc, but cautioned the device, and disc, would last only so long. Palzac deemed he had better make it to the village before the spell expired, for lugging the small chest down the steep hilly slopes and gullies would take great pains, possibly leaving him in the dark before reaching Sudorn.
As his master departed he offered good fortune, and a stern reminder to conduct constant correspondence. Even the little brat had offered sympathy, but Palzac had not been impressed by his parting words. What risk lay in offering good fortune, when the bestower was already secure in his own? Perhaps they already knew he was heading toward his doom. Making the village before nightfall, Palzac did as he was told. He let a room for the night, and as the procession rolled into the village late the next morning, he at once located the caravan master, securing a berth on one of the elaborate coaches.
The next morning, after belongings were lashed taut to the hood, he climbed aboard. Though joining the caravan midway through its journey from Thyatis City, Palzac was able to find a forward facing seat, as it currently had only one other occupant; an older, overweight, perfumed and powdered envoy from Darokin, who abhorred passage by sea. The Broken Lands were restless as of late, and the longer road seemed the safer. Not many folks followed the Overland Trade Route this far North. She was even kind, offering Palzac confections and candied treats along the way. Both had never been to Glantri and casual conversation concerning their prospects spattered the journey.
Besides the caravan captain and two lieutenants, the caravan consisted of twelve coaches and twenty wagons, with double the number of coachmen and waggoneers respectively. Twice that number of mercenaries and mounted henchmen completed the caravan. Even the stylish coachmen looked coarse, giving Palzac some suggestion as to the route’s security. Immediately, after all personal effects and products were loaded, the caravan was underway.
It was just after first light as they passed high above Daggenskjold. The cross-country trail hugging the ridge rather than descending into the valleys. Though the weather was more severe, the route still saved time, not having to ascend the steep slopes of the coastline. Palzac was seated on the coach’s right side, enabling him to gaze down into the fjord, but unsurprisingly, a fog hung over the village. It was the last time he lay eyes on his hometown, or its apparent location, before leaving country; and Palzac supposed it would be some time before he lay eyes on it again.
Palzac’s overland journey took him across the Southern territory of the Heldann Freeholds. A passage not without its travails. The Freeholds were amidst an internal political and philosophical struggle, pitting the lords of the Freeholds against an unknown and elusive foe. Crossing the Glantrian border did not assuage Palzac’s misgivings, for the first region they traversed were the destitute lands of Boldavia. The forested Western hills of the region were so lawless and impoverished, only the caravan’s substantial mercenary force kept the belligerent inhabitants at bay. Palzac wondered how great the Glantrian magocracy could be, if it had so little control over its own border regions. If Daggenskjold was the ass end of the world, Palzac was convinced his master was sending him to the other side of the crack. Upon ascending the pass between the Wendaran Ranges and the Colossus Mounts, he thought surely he was being relegated to a dispiriting confinement worse than the one he had left in Daggenskjold.
Once entering the Flaemish Highlands; however, his spirits rose. The second morning, a stark brilliant blue sky greeted the dawn, more vivid than anything Palzac could have imagined. The contours of the clouds shone silver in the rising sun, their distinct outline against the azure sky a complete contrast to Daggenskjold’s hazy skies. From this moment on, his prospects appeared more promising. Each mile traveled toward the capital, the land grew progressively productive, and its inhabitants increasingly cheerful. Upon bursting through the Northern Tulip Gate, the noise, smell, and bustle of Glantri City overwhelmed him.11
Glantri City was twenty-five times larger than any settlement Palzac had seen, and although having heard tales of magnificent cities, nothing prepared him for the wonders of Glantri. His initial passage through the city was as if in a waking dream. He was barely aware as his scant belongings were unloaded from the coach and placed in an elaborate gondola. Palzac had spent his whole life looking at boats and ships at sea, but here in this inland nation was the first time he had ever been a passenger on one. Mooring poles in a multitude of colors were sunk beneath the murky waters, unevenly placed along the perimeters of the channels, several striped like candied canes. Blue marble towers overshadowed carved wood onion domes. Plastered palazzos in earthen tones either sporting gambrel or mansard roofs were the predominant structures of the city, yet marble towers of every size, shape, and color sprang from the canal or rooftops of larger townhouses. Still all buildings flaunted elaborate balconies and windows, with flowers of every species sprouting from the sills, though Flaemish grown tulips were most accessible in the city. Every architectural style seemed represented in Glantri. As he was staring at the buildings, people seemed to be staring at him. With his platinum blond hair and sky blue eyes, he didn’t exactly blend with the copper complected Flaems.
Rounding Manor Row, Ambassadors Canal came into view. Embassies of various countries dominated the canal, each built along the traditions of their representative nations. One building, looking more diminutive than the rest, displayed a tented gambrel roof, with a dormer window rising from each face. Orange Prince’s Tulips grew in flower boxes beneath windows of the estate. Palzac guessed this must be Master Van Dyke’s Palazzo.12
Palzac gave the gondolier a few extra ducats to wait while he made contact with Master Van Dyke. Van Dyke’s palazzo lacked its own landing, but the neighboring townhouse’s levee boasted a walkway leading between buildings to The Rim, whereupon Palzac could access Van Dyke’s front entrance. Boldly banging on the door, it was punctually answered by an attractive solidly built young woman with flaxen colored hair. She scolded Palzac for pounding on the door, directing his attention to the knocker. He was then directed to take a seat on a wooden chair in the foyer. Her common was incomprehensible, having a thick Flaemish accent; nonetheless her commanding manner made it clear how she expected him to comply. Palzac unshouldered his knapsack, setting it upon his chest, which he left sitting next to the chair.
Palzac waited for what seemed like hours. Finally an inner door opened and two gentlemen exited, boisterously guffawing at some jest. Palzac could not tell what was being said, as they spoke in Flaemish. The larger gentlemen with flaming red hair headed out the door without so much as glancing at Palzac. The other man reentered the study, the young woman following. Shortly thereafter he reappeared in the lobby, and proceeded toward Palzac.
“Goede Dag. You must be young Palzac?” he inquired in curt common. His kind brown eyes at once putting Palzac at ease.
“Wha…a…yes. How did…?”
“Mästare Eilif sent vord by red-tail…hawk that is. It is said pigeons bring vords of peace, and hawks bring vords of var. You veren’t planning on invading vere you?” Van Dyke’s thin pink lips curled upward, obviously delighted by his own wit.
“Ah…I was hoping to attend the School of Magic.”
“Yes, of course; and locate a reliable usury if I’m not mistaken?”
Van Dyke headed back to the study, and Palzac supposed he should follow. As Van Dyke sat at his desk he motioned for Palzac to have a seat.
Vell let us see here…” Master Van Dyke began ruffling through a drawer and pulled out a thin black book. He then thumbed through the pages, pedantically perusing his directory.
Palzac studied his new patron. Coffee colored hair splotched gray betrayed his age, yet he retained a fit figure. A tan waistcoat covered a darker brown doublet with stiff pointed collars, which Palzac later learned he had designed himself. He wore silver rimmed spectacles, which fascinated Palzac, never having seen such a thing before. Palzac had noticed earlier Van Dyke wore trousers matching his doublet, and russet leather clogs with square silver buckles.
“Aha! Here is vhat ve desire. Silas Silverberg. He runs the eponymous Silverberg’s. An elegant establishment, yet often overlooked. Seeing as how it sits next to the ostentatious Builder’s Consortium. The man is parsimonious vith his sovereigns. But I suppose that is an advantageous trait in a moneylender, no?”
“I guess.” Palzac really didn’t know what the man was talking about. Parsimonious? Was that some kind of fruit?
“Nevertheless, you vill first need to register at the school. I vill hold onto the usury note for now. It is not the kind of thing you vant to carry around in this city. Ve then later travel there together, yes?”
Palzac was actually quite unsure, and it showed on his face. Was this man just going to take his money...well his master’s in truth, and dump him in the canal?
“No reason to be frightened.” Van Dyke reassured. “I am an old friend of your Mästare Eilif, and rest assured, ve vant no harm come to you. Leave your things, go and see the Registrar, then return here. This pass vill allow you to pass over the pons.” Van Dyke handed him a vermillion dyed slip with his signature and seal. “I vill put you up ‘til you find a place of your own. Tis best for a young man to be independent. Now off vith you!” he announced with a cheerful smile, standing to indicate the meeting was at an end.
“Thank-you,” was all Palzac managed.
Heading out the door, the flaxen haired girl gave him suspicious stares as he walked past and out the entrance.
Returning to the quay, he noticed the gondola was gone. Yet fortuitously, another was across the channel, unloading its passenger and contents. The passenger, struggling to rise from the boat, wore an indigo colored gabardine adorned with waves and clutched an intricately carved staff crested by a seahorse. A matching skullcap decorated with crescent moons, suns and stars sat atop his head. His left arm was bound in a sling.
Upon unloading his cargo, the gondolier pushed off into the channel, and Palzac flagged him down.
“My good fortune to gain another passenger so soon.” He said, biting down on the ducat Palzac proffered.
Turning toward Manor Row, the City Belfry loomed over the horizon. As the expansive Alexander Platz and towering Great School of Magic at last came into view, Palzac became completely buoyant. Surely his miserable master had crueler plans in mind than internment in this shining city?
Upon mooring at the quay, Palzac leapt from the gondola, at last anxious to learn of his appointed fate. The city guards directed him toward Pons Sapientia and the School of Magic.13 Once inside an overeager youth, exiting with a group of friends, directed him to a large set of stairs, ascending out of sight. Palzac’s climb up the innumerable steps took a rather chaotic course, often doubling back on themselves or heading off in irregular tangents. After what seemed like nearly an hour, at last he reached the rooftop gardens, at the edge of which he surmised stood the administrative offices. Palzac made his way over to the hexagonal tower dwarfed only by the observatory and Grand Master’s Tower, and proceeded inside.
“May I assist you?” A balding man wearing white gloves and eyeglasses immediately enquired.
“I wish to enroll for the current trimester.” Palzac voiced with exuberance.
“Well you are certainly not in the right place!” The man sunk his thumbs into the pockets of a black waistcoat worn over a white doublet, and advanced upon him.
“Where am I?” Palzac obviously seemed quite confused.
“This is the Tower of Archives. Hopefully nothing of yours will wind up here for a long, long time. I am Archibald, Chief Archivist. Yes you may laugh, or snicker as is your wont, at the name. Given my current vocation it seems quite absurd. Little did my mother know…”
“My name is Palzac,” Palzac offered.
An awkward moment of silence passed between the pair.
“Yes, well in any case, you will need to be heading downstairs. If you follow me out onto the terrace I will show you where.”
Palzac followed Archibald outside, where the proper tower was pointed out. Bounding down the stairs with considerable agitation, Palzac made his way toward Administration. At least the trip down was substantially easier. So…the little shit had sent him on a wild goose chase. Unfortunately, in his exuberance Palzac hadn’t bothered to commit the boy’s mug to memory. Payback was in order. Arriving at length to the lowest level of the Administrative tower, he addressed the nearest occupant.
“What might I help you with?” Offered a haughty curly-haired character in slashed red and plum doublet with reticella lace collar and cuffs. Scrolling flower embroidery in a vertical pattern containing fleurs-de-lys decorated front and back. Had Palzac been a veteran student, he might have realized this hinted the man had ties to House Amberville. He wore long square-toed shoes with a low heel and oblong sterling silver buckles. Umber colored breeches above white hose completed his stylish ensemble. Never having seen someone so elaborately attired, Palzac had difficulty not gawking.
“I was instructed to report here. I wish to enroll for the current trimester.”
“Who are you?”
“Yes…Well first you will have to purchase your Right to Reside Certificate. In order to accomplish this you must first report to the Citadel and present your credentials. Whereupon they will direct you to the Bureau de Clinique in the House of Ministers, where you will be examined for infection or disease. Plague has been a problem in the past. You are not a carrier of the plague are you?”
“NO!” Palzac was immediately overwhelmed at the instructions being leveled at him.
“Good. Then you have perhaps cleared your first hurdle. Once being cleared by the Clinique, be sure and mention your intention to attend school. Otherwise they will only give you one Authorization and Licensing Leaflet, instead of the necessary two. I will then give you a temporary pass to wander the city, but this will expire at midnight tomorrow. Next you will need to head to the Rosapietra Tabbacchi near Ambassadors Row.14 There you will purchase two entry visa stamps, and have them affixed in the top right square.”
“Is that all?” Palzac’s head was beginning to spin.
“Not in the least. Then you must head to the House of Ministers, with a usury note, stating you have at least 600 ducats, which should easily cover your rent, and enrollment at the school for the current trimester. They will then impress your Right to Reside stamps. Be sure to get both impressed. This will allow you to wander the streets unhindered. Afterwards you will return here, where you will pay for the current trimester. The fee is 480 ducats.15 We will then provide you with a list of possible tenements for lease. Under normal circumstances you might find residence at the school; however, yet being a foreigner your name will appear further down the lists. Currently, the school dormitories are full up. It is unlikely you will find residence here. Though you needn’t pay for board if you wish to take your meals at the school.”
“After that?” Palzac was quickly realizing, registering for school might be as difficult as navigating the NordesFjord.
“Next you will need to locate your patron, and have him prepare three marques of commendation. These must first be taken to the Watermark Parchment and Scroll Company in the merchant’s quarter, and watermarked. The area is constantly crowded. Paying a gondolier an extra ducat to dock on the back pier is best. Thereafter they must be signed by one of the ruling Princes, or their representatives at court. One signature, per letter. Citizens usually complete this step before stepping foot in the building!” the Grand Registrar remarked reproachfully. “This will need to be completed promptly, as classes are filling up quickly.”16
“Next?” Palzac asked in an acquiescent and compliant tone, hoping to the Immortals the next step would be reiterated after completing the previous.
“You will finally reappear at the school, ready to register for classes. I will hand you one…and only one, schedule form. Do not lose it! There has been an outbreak of irresponsibility running round this academy, and I will no longer tolerate it! If you wish to attend, be attentive. Spend an entire day tracking down your prestidigitators…”
“My what!” Palzac’s complacency was beginning to fade.
“Prestidigitator.17 Professor is such a mundane profession. We like to think of our masters as instructors in the arcane and esoteric; and not surprisingly, so do they! Anyway, track them down and obtain their signature on your schedule form for the appropriate class. Once this form has been completed, you will bring the document here! I will at once sign it, then you will sign it. I will then take your schedule to the High Secretary for approval.18 It will then be placed in this bureau until the trimester is completed. At which time, assuming success in your classes, I will place your marks upon an official transcript. Of which one copy is kept in the school vault, with the other residing within the Citadel.”
“Are we finished?” Palzac inquired in an even and polite tone, mustering the last of his meagre patience.
“Lastly”, the encumbering administrator plowed on, “I will affix the school’s stamp and seal for the current trimester next to your Right to Reside stamp; and at last, ‘Immortals assist us’, you will be an undergraduate of Glantri’s Great School of Magic. Further, the stamp and seal will also attest to your ability as an Arcaner, affording you all the rights and privileges of our class.”
Had Palzac not thought it might have prevented his inclusion into the school, he might have fainted on the spot. Before more orders were dispatched, he darted out the door, bound for the Citadel.
“Oh, and one other thing!” the academic bureaucrat called out while Palzac was still within earshot, “if you are smart, you will deposit one of your Leaflets with a reliable usury. For if you should lose them…”
Despite the extensive obstacles of bureaucracy, and the laborious chore of appeals, within the day he had acquired his Right to Reside, and by the following week’s end, Palzac had become a bona fide scholar at the Great School of Magic.
With the trimester not beginning for another week and a half, Palzac was initially unsure of what to do with himself. No shoes to mend or construct. Not a chore to be completed, nor a book to be read and memorized. After his starting expenses had been paid, Palzac had little left for frivolous pastimes, yet until now neither had he any time nor money to ever develop a hobby or interest. Life without supervised regulation had been an unknown up to this point. What was he supposed to do with himself? Freedom - even with few ducats to spend - was going to take some getting used to. He decided the best use of his time would be wandering the streets of his newfound city.
Palzac learned there were seven major quarters within the city proper. Though usually not outgoing, being lost and desperate sometimes makes you bold. Accosting strolling residents, he learned each quarter was devoted to either a particular activity or class. All were obviously named, immediately indicating their occupants or function. Palzac was thoroughly enjoying all the atmosphere a city had to offer. Constant noise and activity; streets lined with lights and people; and gondolas crowding the canals. It was in great contrast to the life he had lived. However; there were two things he could do without. The first being, thieves were constantly about. Van Dyke had a lanyarded pouch sewn for Palzac to be worn around his neck, and under his shift. He was told to keep his Leaflet and money there. If Palzac was to take anything out, he should find a secluded spot. “Thieves can’t steal vat they cannot see,” he was told. The other was the smell. Though in a land of fantastic thaumatology, utilitarian magic suppressed most of the stench, the Vesubia and Isoile Rivers doing the rest, their currents slowly drawing the water through channels and canals of the city’s streets, out of the capital. Much to the chagrin of settlements downriver.
Although Glantri was a nation of magical wonders, Palzac later found the land was not an unlimited well of magic from which to draw; it only sustained so much magic at any given time. Given the finite amount of power in Glantri, Palzac suspected likely there was much competition for what was present; and perhaps explained why different crafts drawing on different energies had developed.
By sundown each day, both his head and eyes were sore. So much to take in. Returning to his tenement, where he had leased a decent single-sized room for two ducats a month, he retrieved his pump key and headed to the square.19 A long line of residents formed a queue along the exterior. After a sun filled day traipsing through the city, he was covered by dust and sweat. But he did not relish waiting just to pull a pail of water from the pump. Crowded conditions had their own downside he supposed. He also thought he had been swindled on rent, but the proprietor had promised the building was free of bugs. Additionally, a new immigration wave had overtaken the city, and business was booming. Perhaps he had been lucky just to find a room at all.
The final few days before class, Palzac decided to see what surrounded the city. However; what lay beyond the walls, was not nearly as interesting as what lay inside. Nondescript sprawling suburbs sat Northeast and Northwest of the city, surrounded by endless muddy fields growing a wide range of crops. Northeast, expansive tulip fields littered the countryside, and immediately North of the suburbs a caravansary rested along the road to Taterhill.
Returning to his tenement well after dark on the last day, Palzac climbed into his pallet soiled and mud-spattered. Soaked, sore, and exhausted; he quickly fell into a restless sleep of disturbing visions. First drownd at sea, then burned alive by the ambitious apprentice. Worst among his nightmares, he was committed to mopping an endless chamber seeming to grow ever more cavernous just as he was nearing completion.
Consciousness came creeping back in intermittent waves. The sight of cracked plaster on the wall. A grey woolen blanket pulled over his head. Sun slanting through cracks in the door. Sun…sunlight…day. Complete awareness came rushing back.
“Black Abyss!! I’m going to be late for the first day of classes!!”
Immediately propelling himself from his pallet, grabbing pails and pump key, he rushed out to the square. Miraculously no one was at the pump. Quickly he filled his pails. Scurrying back to his bedsit he doffed his nightdress, dumping a pail of ice-cold water over his head. He was too panicked to notice the chill, yet was keenly aware of his absolute sobriety. Opening a box of charcoal and talc he scoured the previous day’s muck from his hide, afterwards pouring the other ice cold bucket over his head. Digging in his chest he found fresh jonnins, his best shift, and favorite trousers.20 Brown with green piping, his most prized purchase from Sudorn. Throwing on a light smock-frock Palzac raced out the door, away from the tenement toward the nearest quay; hailing the closest gondola, proffering a raised ducat to demonstrate he was quite able to pay.
A dilapidated gondola promptly appeared. Despite Palzac’s misgivings concerning its seaworthiness, anxious urgency overrode his apprehension. Throughout the trip, Palzac made all kinds of verbal exhalations and physical gesticulations to impress time was of essence, but the languid gondolier leisurely poled the boat, unconcerned with the impatience of his passenger. All the while humming a repetitious refrain. Palzac was quite certain it was the only melody he knew. He began nervously tapping his feet in an effort to hasten the journey. Nevertheless, throughout the entire trip, the gondolier never sped up. Finally they reached the elongated jetty abutting Alexander Platz.
Launching himself from the vessel, he shot across the Platz, bounding over Pons Sapientia and up the stairs, holding his Leaflet aloft to prevent any obstructions to his rapid passage. Breathlessly he burst through the classroom door…only to trip upon the master’s staff, which was being used to demonstrate a proper gesture. Palzac flew across the room, arms outstretched, as his knapsack and all its contents wound up strewn across the front of the room. Without missing a beat the master continued on, as though the incident were part of the lecture.
“Coincidentally, Grand Master Flash has shown us the correct gesture for fly!”
The entire classroom erupted in laughter. Red-faced and abashed, Palzac quietly took his seat. The Master was evidently satisfied with Palzac’s level of mortification, and let him slink into studious obscurity throughout the rest of class. Though afterwards a stern reprimand of “Don’t let that happen again!” made a positive twofold impression. Palzac appreciating the prestidigitator letting him off easy. However; his given handle: “Grand Master Flash”, eventually shortened to just “Flash”; stuck. Though escaping further discipline, Palzac owned it amicably.
On the whole, the rest of the term passed uneventfully. Though Palzac learned little of thaumatology that first trimester. He, along with the rest of the students in his circle spent their days acquiring mundane knowledge in geography, history, economy, general law and philosophy. Of course the Principalities were the principal subject of most these topics. By the end of the trimester, he could confidently recite the names of every prince, duke, or minor lord, and their appointed dominion within the Principalities; perhaps even listing what products each produced. Every student knew the exchange rate between a daro and a ducat, and not one was unaware of the minute details of Lord Glantri’s life and achievements. There was not a law, common or otherwise, Palzac was unfamiliar with. He applied himself conscientiously on this subject, figuring this would prove advantageous in the future. To end the term’s lectures, they discussed magical theory, the master even hinting of Glantrian secret crafts.
They even received instruction in what was known as the three “Rs”. Which coincidentally, past midpoint of the trimester, seemed to take up three hours. But again, by trimester’s end they could accurately proportion components; read Glantrian, Darokinian and Common; and most importantly, read and write magical runes and symbols.
They participated in exercises upon Alexander Platz, and received spiritual guidance in hours long meditations; sitting cross-legged atop the Great School among the rooftop gardens. Learning to harness something called chi. Though Palzac kept confusing this word with a popular tea served at the Mages’ Hostelry.21
Initially Palzac loathed this inert quiet time, harkening memories of the long winter nights in Vestland. Eyes were to remain shut, yet the mind open. Instead, Palzac would often peek out under his eyelashes, gazing at the lofty towers and rooftop patios and ice gardens. Feeling the warmth of the winter sun, the stark blue atmosphere broken by herds of cumulous clouds slowly migrating across the pristine sky. Yet after awhile he began to find the sessions enlightening. Clearing all thought from his mind, attaining ascetic contact with his focus. Its first occurrence since casting light so long ago. Perhaps this is what was meant by chi. But his connection was more lucid and coherent than before. Perchance chi was a more powerful form of focus?
Even as all these talents were acquired, still lacking the social skills and courage to befriend any of his classmates, Palzac was usually left to his own devices. Occasionally he would drop obscure allusions concerning Glantri’s ultimate power; yet nothing was ever revealed of this enigma, or the clandestine organization said to preserve its secrets. In fact, most students seemed not even to know what he was talking about. This suited Palzac just fine. Still furtively he feared his newfound life and education could be stripped from him if he did not produce some evidence of its existence or invention. As the trimester came to a close, he was no closer to obtaining any proof one way or the other. During the final week of classes, another more confident youth approached Palzac offering casual invitation to a Year’s End party being thrown by his older brother and some flat mates. Perhaps here at last was his chance to mingle with a more advanced group of knowledgeable enchanters.
Yet acumen and alcohol seldom mix, especially for someone unaccustomed to either. Palzac originally planned to remain sober, but unfamiliar with peer pressure, he was persuaded into having a drink…or two. As the night wore on, intoxication fostering his confidence, he at last proclaimed an enthusiasm for the night sky. Vocalized with such brash bravado, and thoughtless presentation, there was little doubt behind his deux entendre; and an uncomfortable hush fell over the room. As the cacophony recommenced, he slunk outside to the balcony. Gazing at the night sky, even in his sozzled state, he was greatly aware of the gaffe. However; little did he know, in addition to his academic records; living arrangements, leisure activities, and nocturnal amblings had been documented along with most of his other unusual endeavors.
Knowledge and privilege being well regulated in Glantri, a common jest amongst its citizens is you even need a license to shit. Yet through the various boards of records and licensing, and the School of Magic, these institutions exist to serve another function; showing all moving through various circles, whose company they keep, and perhaps what knowledge they possess. It is said a lone individual sits at the head of these numerous boards. Known only as The Engineer or "Keeper of the Watergates", this figure maintains tabs of all knowledge flowing through the city streets, keeping continuous contact with the Council of Princes.22 Whether this soul indeed exists is the source of much speculation among residents of Glantri City, asserting he gains secret knowledge from an ability to communicate with the city's rodent population. Despite the validity of this ability, until now, Palzac had always been cautious; aware of where and what he said, acutely conscious of rats lingering about...whether on two legs or four.
Which made his current predicament ever so disheartening. Palzac was terribly aware of his inability to weave the complex webs of deception and duplicity the Glantrian lords employed so proficiently. But he later found it somewhat incredulous, that such an apparently insignificant phrase blurted out at one of a hundred plebian Year’s End parties, to an inebriated crowd no less, could have led so quickly to his current questionable intent. Possibly putting him in the crosshairs of one or more powerful figures in Glantrian society. The pinnacle consisting of the ruling princes of Glantri, and although a forum leading to true power, it was an arena Palzac knew he had no business entering. Had the Bells of Fate already rung?23
What if after seeing the price of power you no longer wanted power? Was it possible to step back from the intricately woven stage and withdraw unnoticed? Initially wanting only to view what lurked beneath the ocean of knowledge without drownding below, Palzac had waded too deep to turn back without first learning to swim these dangerous waters. Yet the more Palzac gleaned from whispered half-truths, it was the entire ocean they were trying to protect, and he had already seen the shore. He knew of its existence, and that alone was danger for those wishing to protect the knowledge leading to Glantri's greatest power. One said to have the power of opening doors toward Immortality...if such a thing were even possible. Palzac had not believed so, until witnessing the fervor of those striving to protect the path.
An older student also attending the party, and assistant to one of Palzac’s thaumaturgical prestidigitators, propitiously overheard his blunder. This pedagogic progeny of his professor recounted what he had heard to his Master. This Master, taking special interest in Palzac’s education, now struggled to set him upon the path of societal redemption, and hopefully, restored standing at school. How Master Krollnar had conceived of sending him to this ostensible minor lord Palzac couldn’t be sure.24 He had heard only whispers of Stein, and knew nothing of his allegiances.25 Though his name was scarcely mentioned in class when discussing ranking nobility, it was often cited when discussing diplomacy. Could this conservative conjurer row him safely back to shore?
Though he could not be sure, Palzac had little choice. After leaving the Street of Wounded Warriors and walking across the plaza, he handed a city guard the vermillion slip allowing him to enter The Rim.26 Making his way along The Rim, passing Prince Innocenti di Malapietra’s white marble Mansion & Dona Carnelia’s pink marble and mountain cedar Estate, over the Duke of Hightower’s low Townhouse, Stein’s Estate at last came into view.27 The structure seemed less imposing than some of the surrounding townhouses, despite having a lofty Flaemish gable, and did not possess much of an overhanging eave. The rooftop gable was replaced by a small clerestory window from which emanated a faint golden light. Not surprisingly, the structure’s exterior brickwork was composed of a diagonal Flaemish bond, and oriel windows frequently protruded from its face. Rounding the townhouse’s West wing, an imposing crimson entrance exhibited itself, conversely facing the city’s outer wall.
A gulp of acidic anxiety traveled down Palzac’s throat, depositing butterflies in his stomache. An unfortunate turn of events, as Stein was purported to be an entomologist of some repute. Hopefully, in trying to extract the insects of his conscience, dissection was not on the evening’s agenda. Yet here before the door to deliverance, there was nothing left to be done. Palzac advanced toward the entry. Under his present suspicion, Palzac was now faced with performing the most unpalatable task for any young man. Trying to convince the world he knew nothing.
To be continued…
1 The Street of Wounded Warriors winds its way through the buildings of the Middle Class Quarter, and connects the West End to The Rim, and Tulip Gate.
2 Daggenskjold was founded in 600 AC, and currently has a population of 384 people. While “dag” means day in Swedish, “skjold” means shield. Yet “daggen” really means “week’s end”, so I’ve taken some creative liberty here.
3 Kolskegg Aethelson has petitioned Harold Gudmundson, King of Vestland, to award him a dominion in the area.
4 The Prow is also known as Raider’s Point. Seeing as how I christened this feature back in 1984, I was reluctant to change it.
5 The Dungeon of Aces is described on Pages 90-93 of Gaz. 3, The Principalities of Glantri.
6 Trollbane Tower lays just below the divide between the coastal drainage systems and the Streel River, and just above one the springs that is the Streel’s source. From the top floors it is possible to gaze the sea to the East and the edge of the steppes to the West.
7 Rurik Sturlason is listed as Jarl of Fynmark on Page 14 in the Player's Guide of Gaz. 7, The Northern Reaches.
8 A probable cause for the abandoned ruins are hinted at under Sudorn’s entry on Page 16, column three, Gaz. 7, The Northern Reaches.
9 Richart Van Dyke is an ally and representative of House Linden in Glantri City. He is an 11th level mage, and 3rd Circle Fire Elementalist.
10 Though Eilif’s seal/coat-of-arms is a dark grey spire fashioned as a torch from which a dark blue flame blazes, the blue wax seal on the letter is simply an impression of the same.
11 The “Tulip Gate” is the non-canon name I have given the city’s Northern Gates.
12 Palzac had been told by his master what would set Master Van Dyke’s Palazzo apart from the other townhouses on the block. Orange Prince’s Tulips are a symbol of House Linden.
13 Pons Sapientia is the covered bridge separating Alexander Platz from The Great School of Magic. “Pons” means bridge in Thyatian.
14 Rosapietra Tabbacchi; in addition to being a tobacco shop; sells stamps, quills and ink, cheap glass jewelry, candy, and inferior hourglasses. Recently there has been a push to allow them to sell salt, pepper and other spices.
They also sell “Books of Passage”, containing tickets for gondola passage, for those wishing not to carrying cash. Gondoliers may then turn in the tickets to the House of Ministers when paying taxes. As the tickets cost more than actual average fares, the profit from the service benefits both the state, and the gondoliers. When turned in they receive half profit value of the ticket against their taxes.
15 Tuition is described as costing 5 ducats per day, per level of the student on Page 58, column two, Gaz. 3, The Principalities of Glantri.
It further states that tuition may also be paid in advance for one or more weeks. This seemed ridiculously tedious to figure out in game play, and somewhat unreasonable given the nature of study and Glantrian bureaucracy. More likely the School of Magic and House of Ministry would want their gold promptly. Also, as in real life, most professions require a minimum period of constant study, rather than a day here a day there. Using the eight month minimum for child spellcasters, it seemed reasonable that three “trimesters” a year existed. Given classes are six or seven days a week…everybody needs a day to rest and take care of laundry…at 5 ducats per day, this would amount to 30 ducats per week. Or 120 per month, and thus 480 per trimester. The 600 ducat requirement is to insure students are able to pay not only for tuition, but additional supplies. The House of Ministry is interested in knowing that should a student fail in his studies, or drop out, there will be ample gold left to see him out of country.
16 The Grand Registrar is a non-cannon position in charge of registering students and collecting tuition fees, answering to the High Secretary of the School of Magic.
17 Though Bruce hints a “Prestidigitator” is simply a mundane sleight of hand artist; under location 34. Magic for Sale, located in the Business Quarter [Page 42, column three, Gaz. 3, The Principalities of Glantri.]; I liked the term, and thought it might be better suited as an often unused an obscure word to describe teachers at the Great School of Magic. Professor seemed more a profession rooted in science and reason than the arcane. However, “Prestidigitator” is a title, not an address. Students still call their instructors “Master”.
Though perhaps a new word combining prestigious and prestidigitator would be better? “Prestigio”, “Prestigitator”, “Prestigigator”?
18 The High Secretary is mentioned under the heading “Private Spell-Casting”, Page 50, column two, Gaz. 3, The Principalities of Glantri.
19Pump keys are provided to tenement landlords by the House of Ministers, and thus distributed to tenants of their buildings. They only work the pumps of any given district, thereby preventing residents from drawing water in “prohibited” areas. Merchants often have two keys. One for home, and one for their business location. As there often isn’t a shortage of water in Glantri City, most residents have accepted this minor inconvenience.
20 Jonnins are equivalent to “small cloths” or underwear. Jonnouts, on the other limb, serve the same function as woolen or long underwear.
21 The Mages’ Hostelry is the Great School of Magic’s practical “laboratory”, putting the school’s experiments to test. It is described as location 54. Mages’ Hostelry, located in the Entertainer’s Quarter. [Page 43, column three, Gaz. 3, The Principalities of Glantri.]
22 As “The Engineer” is non-canon, I left his existence a mystery. Perhaps at a later date, Bruce Heard or the Mystara community can decide if they like the idea?
23 The Bells of Fate is a national Glantrian holiday taking place at midnight on the last day of the year. It is described on Page 55, column three of Gaz. 3, The Principalities of Glantri.
24 Master Julius Krollnar 12th level mage, is Lady Rowena Krollnar’s uncle, and quite possible Lady Juliana Vlarrdoen’s namesake. A childhood friend of Prince Vlaardoen, and instructor at the School of Magic, he is also a 2nd Circle Fire Elementalist, and a 3rd Circle Cryptomancer.
25 Nikolaus (Nikolaas) Stein 12th level mage, is liaison between houses Linden & Ritterburg. Of Aalbanese and Bergdhoven descent, he quite possibly the best man for the job. Stein has acted as foreign diplomat in matters of extreme delicacy. His interest in entomology is restricted to beetles and butterflies. He also is a 2nd Circle Water Elementalist, and a 4th Circle Cryptomancer.
26 The Rim is the far Eastern walkway in the city, with access being denied to the lower class and beggars. It is described as location 9. The Rim, located in the Noble’s Quarter. [Page 55, column three of Gaz. 3, The Principalities of Glantri.] The vermillion slips may only be acquired from parliament, and are purported to have magical properties. One might grasp the reason behind this by learning the other name for Vermillion is Cinnabar/Cinnabryl. In ancient times, both these hues were derived from the same sources.
27 Townhouses here refer to the urban Great House equivalent, and not modern varieties having common walls and condominium rights. When referring to a Townhouse, Mansion, Palazzo, etc.; whatever most accurately describes the structure being discussed; if the building in question is being described as belonging to someone; for example, Lord Beaumarys-Moorkroft’s Townhouse; I have chosen to capitalize the term, as it is an extension of their greater estate or dominion; and thus, part of their title/titled “lands”. However when one of these terms exists by itself, it should be written in lowercase.