Chapter 2 – Mage Barracks
Princess Nora was gone, left to work on her magic work, and Era Longman was with Jiro, he had led her out of the castle and across the court yard. He hadn’t said a thing since Era had explained what had happened over the last few hours. He simply told her to follow him and now there they were, on the far side of the castle and at a small door that was guarded by only one soldier. The guard let Jiro through without any questions. Era hadn’t realized that the castle was protected by two walls, an inner shorter wall, and a tall outer wall that looked like it wouldn’t fall for anything. A building shaped like a fat watch tower stood free standing in the northwestern corner of the wall and that is where Jiro led her. There was a single man at the door, dressed in a dark red cloak and he had his arms crossed. He looked up at Jiro as he came to the door and muttered.
“Good evening Master Jiro,” he bowed slightly, and then he saw Era, his posture stiffened. “Who is this?”
“It doesn’t matter, let me in.” The cloaked man sighed and pushed the door open.
“Mistress Arryn is asleep.” Jiro nodded thanks and headed into the building, which was pitch black inside. Era hesitated for a moment before following.
As soon as Era stepped inside, her skin started to tingle and her empty stomach became agitated. Jiro lit a lantern and Era blinked in the sudden brightness. She was in a hallway with rooms on each side and Jiro was already half way through the building. Era hurried after him.
They went up three sets of stairs Era glanced out the northern window and gasped as she saw the sea for the first time. The harvest moon, which was always full on the day of the festival, reflected against the water from its western angle. Era could hear sound of the waves and closed her eyes in ecstasy. She hadn’t realized she was standing still until Jiro grabbed her arm and pulled her down the corridor to the end where a door made of ebony stood. Jiro gave three hard knocks and waited. After a minute, he knocked five times. After another minute, he raised his hand again, but the door whooshed open and the smells of incense wafted out.
“Come in Jiro,” a tired female voice said, “but I hope you have a better excuse than last time for waking me at this late hour.”
“I do Mistress Arryn,” Still holding on to her arm, Jiro dragged Era into the room and pushed her in front of him. Era couldn’t see anything for a moment, but then light blue globes were floating in the air, casting eerie shadows over her. Out of a dark shadow immerged a woman as pale as moonlight and eyes the color of honey. She was very old and skinny, but the look she gave Era was that of a queen in her prime. Era clutched at her heart and shivered from feeling suddenly cold and vulnerable.
“Who is this,” the woman asked Jiro, as though Era wasn’t their.
“I’m not truly sure,” Jiro answered, walking over to her. The old woman looked up at him sharply and narrowed her eyes; they glowed like two harvest moons. Jiro looked back at Era who stood awkwardly, wandering what in the world was happening to her.
“She looks like a Mytronan,” Mistress Arryn said and crossed her arms.
“I don’t think so, here accent is that of our forest people,” In a lower tone he muttered, “crude and harsh.”
“What you talkin’ about,” Era said, angered by this last comment. “I ain’t stupid you know? I also ain’t deaf neither! What in the realm of the Nameless Gods is goin’ on?” Arryn’s mouth twitched.
“I see what you mean Jiro, she’s one of our people.”
“With increadable raw talent. She-” Arryn’s mouth became a thin line.
“Don’t even suggest it Jiro! She is too old to be trained! There is possible no way that she could join our ranks.” Before she could continue with what would have been a long lecture, Jiro leaned down and whispered something into Arryn’s ear. Era saw the old woman’s eyes widen and she stared with a new interest at the girl.
“But that is impossible! She is far too young. Who is your magic teacher girl?” This last bit was directed at Era.
“Don’t got one.” Arryn snorted, obviously not believing what the girl said. “I don’t,” Era continued. “Only magic that I’ve done comes naturally. No fancy man in high britches to teach me. I swear on the Nameless God of Food that I ain’t tellin’ no lie!”
Era had to explain her entire night’s adventure again to Arryn, and as she did before when telling Jiro she left out the part of how she had been planning to jump off the cliff anyways. By the end of all Arryn’s questions which Era didn’t understand the half of, Era had reached her limit and her eyes could barely stay open. After Era’s story, Jiro and Arryn talked to each other in low tones and Era didn’t even try to listen to what they were saying, having no any idea that they were discussing the next stage of her life. Era sensed them looking at her after a while and she looked up from a temporary stupor.
“Do you have a place to stay?” Arryn asked. Era almost said yes, but changed her mind at the last second.
“Then I will show you to your new room.” Elena touched Jiro’s arm and nodded at him. He nodded back and swept past Era to the door and was gone without a word. Era looked after him, feeling panicked. When Arryn touched her shoulder, Era jumped and stared down at the old woman and she scowled. “Common girl, don’t cause me any trouble.” Era followed Arryn out of the room and down to the bottom floor. The blue glowing orbs followed the old woman like guardians. Two doors away from the entrance on the right Arryn pushed the door opened and sent one of her blue globs into the room. Era saw cots full of people, but the orb stopped and hovered over a top bunk in the corner that did not look particularly comfortable.
“This is the place where you will be staying until you move up in ranks.” Era’s head snapped around to look at the old woman.
“What does that mean?” she said in a low tone, in order not to wake up the sleeping forms inside the room.
“Just go to sleep and I’ll explain the morning.” Arryn was suddenly gone, walking down the hallway, obviously to go back to her room. The globes went with her. Era made her way through the dark to a ladder. She climbed it and flopped on the bed which creaked in protest. She found think wool blanket folded neatly and a pillow full of something soft. She lay down and tried to get comfortable, a sudden tiredness swept over her and she was asleep before her head could hit the feather stuffed pillow.
Era dreamt of her brothers, her father and the trees they felled for a living. She dreamed of the tussles her brothers sometimes had with her, and in her nightly fantasies the thirteen year old girl smiled into her pillow even as tears left wet circles on it.
The wakeup call Era received was not ideal. A deafening bell was sounded and the girl moaned along with the rest of the occupants in the room. She sat up and hit her head on the low ceiling that she hadn’t worried about the night before. Era opened her eyes and only momentarily forgot where she was. When she remembered she moaned again and laid back down. She didn’t want to face the day and the confusion that it was surely to bring.
“Rise and shine newbie,” someone yelled from below and knocked on Era’s bed. Era looked over the side to see a red headed girl with fierce brown eyes and a star shaped tattoo on her forehead. Era looked at her, fascinated. She had never seen someone with hair the color of carrots and she rather liked it. The girl was obviously annoyed by the lack of response the new girl gave and she glared daggers up. “I said get your butt out of bed. I’m your guild for the day.” Era began to really wake up.
“Are you goin’ to take me to see the grandma lady?” The red head snorted.
“If Mistress Arryn heard you call her that she would have your head for decoration, but yes, after you’ve been washed and gotten some new clothes, Mistress Arryn has requested to meet with you.” Era jumped from the bunk and stretched. The red head looked a little startled. “Where you raised in trees or something?” In the middle of a yawn Era nodded.
“Sure, just the ones my brothers didn’t find good enough to cut down.” The red head laughed and held out her hand, deciding that she liked this darker skinned girl, even though she towered over her and obviously had no manners or education.
“The name’s Corey. I’ve been here since I was nine so I know the place pretty well.”
“Call me Era Longman,” Era said giving Corey’s hand. Corey winced and laughed at the same time.
“Just Era actually, now that you are a mage, you don’t have a last name anymore.” Era looked at Corey, feeling like the ground had fallen out from under her.
“What does that natter-chatter mean?” Era asked, feeling stupid. Corey rolled her eyes.
“It means that you have left your old life silly.”
“But what’s a mage?” Corey snorted and held a hand to her mouth.
“You can’t be serious.” Era narrowed her eyes and glared at the red head.
“I wouldn’t be askin’ if I knew stupid.”
“No need to get mean Era.” Era didn’t like how Corey said her name. “face still remained blank. Corey sighed. “A mage is a wielder of magic who work for the king.” A mage is a warlock that works for the current monarchy.” Era’s Era’s expression cleared for a moment, but then it became worried.
“But it ain’t ever good to use magic. Why would someone want to be known for usin’ it?”
“What in the realm of the Nameless Gods are you talking about? Magic is what protects this kingdom of Castarcle from the Mytronans and lets this land be prosperous! Magic is everything!” After Era looked at Corey with one eyebrow raised for a while, the red head rolled her eyes and grabbed her arm. “Whatever, you’ll get it eventually. It’s time for you to have a bath now.”
Era’s idea of a bath was to jump into the river and to get out again after a she had gotten the muck out of her hair and skin. Corey’s idea of a bath was very different. She led Era downstairs into a place hewn of pink stone and light that came from a glowing ceiling that Era couldn’t take her eyes off of. The largest room Era had ever seen lay before her. The baths were once one large mixed bathing area, but as time passed and culture changed, a large thin wooden wall was constructed to split the pool sized stone bathtub in twain for a female and male side. Corey dragged Era to the female side, where a dozen or so women swam or lay relaxed in the water, fully unclothed.
“Stop gawking and get undressed!” Corey ordered Era, whose mouth was open. Not feeling any shame of showing her own body, Era obeyed and Corey pushed her towards the water’s edge with a laugh, then she noticed something on her ankle. “What’s that?” She point to the silver ankle bracelet and Era looked down.
“I’ve had it for all my life.” Era said quietly. “My pa says it was my mum’s, I never knew her though. She died at my birth.” Era looked back at Corey, feeling nervous. “Are you comin’ in the water?” She asked to her dismay, Corey shook her head.
“No, I have to take your, um, clothes,” Corey picked up the pile of Era’s clothes with two fingers, “and get you something proper to wear. You do not happen to know your measurements do you?”
“What does that mean?”
“I thought not. Don’t worry no one will bother you, just swim around for a few minutes and I’ll be back before you know it.” Corey left and Era jumped into the water.
She had expected it to be cold, so she was shocked when it turned out to be warm and even a little hot. The water, not to Era’s knowledge, had magic in it which removed all the dirt from her body in a matter of seconds and undid all the tangles in her hair. Era had a lot of hair, it was the color of rose wood and reached down passed her hips. The girls around her tried not to stare at the tall, broad-shouldered, olive skinned girl who swam among them. More than one of the women around Era marveled her six pack abs. Era’s hair reached behind like a cloak and she swam with strong strokes, which displayed the scars and prominent muscles on her arms.
“Can she really be thirteen?” One girl muttered to another. The news of Era had passed quickly and most now knew that a supposed Mytronan lived among them, thanks to an overheard conversation. Era made sure to not look at anyone, being raised in a family of all boys she had always bathed alone and seeing the girl’s pale naked bodies made her uncomfortable. At last Corey returned carrying a towel and a bundle. Era hefted herself out of the water in a graceful movement and went to the red head, leaving a wet trail of foot prints behind her, they were immediately absorbed in the floor. Corey averted her eyes slightly and handed over the towel and Era gladly accepted it.
“Put these on, okay? They should fit your giant body” Corey said after Era had dried off enough. She tossed the bundles that turned out to be clothes at the younger girl and turned her back. Era shrugged and looked at the new garments. There were a few items that she hadn’t seen before, but she was able to figure where everything went. The clothing consisted of cotton underclothing, grey leggings and a grey tunic with a black belt with silver embroidery. On top of it all was a mid-length dark brown cloak with holes in them that worked as sleeves. It was the nicest clothes that Era had ever worn. The fabric had magic fibers in it so it fitted to Era’s measurement automatically. It was soft against her skin and smelled of incents. A blue ribbon was also included for her hair. And Era tied it back making a sloppy boy like she always did. That is when she noticed how silky it was. She ran her fingers through her hair, mesmerized and feeling like a new being. Corey turned back to see Era admiring herself and rolled her eyes.
“You’d think you were wearing the robes of the queen by the way you are admiring yourself. It’s embarrassing, stop it.” Era glared at the other girl for a second, but stopped, wiggling her toes. Corey noticed and cursed. “I knew I’d for got something, common, let’s go get socks and shoes.” Era followed, loving the way the way the clothes moved as she walked. Her bare feet slapped against floor as they headed upstairs. They stepped onto the ground floor and went into the first room on the right, which turned out to have shelves full of clothing; all had the same color as Era’s. Era glanced at what Corey was wearing to see her where the same grey underclothing, but a full length sleeveless red cloak.
“Here,” Corey pushed a pair of socks into Era’s hand and went to look for boots. The boots she picked out went half way up Era’s calf and was laces up all the way. Era stood in her new garb and smiled, not even wondering what happened to her old cloths, which Corey had trashed. Corey smiled at how mesmerized Era was with the new clothes. In the short silence, Era’s stomach growled and Corey raised her eyebrows and knitted them together.
“What was the last time you’ve eaten?” Era had to think for a second.
“Yesterday, sometime in the morin’” Corey snorted.
“It looks like it’s time for you to eat.”
The dining hall for the mages was held in the castle. Era had to make sure she didn’t walk too fast for the shorter and less ravenous girl. They walked through the small door Jiro had shown taken Era through before and walked through the morning dew to the double doors into the castle. The dining room was the first door on the left. When Era entered, the waft of smells hit her like a barrier and her hunger made her faint. Corey rolled her eyes at Era’s dumfounded expression and then dragged Era into the room. Era as too mesmerized by hunger to notice the blatant stares she got when she went by, but Corey noticed and looked at the floor. She was embarrassed to be the one who that had to lead the Mytronan around, but Corey knew she could tell everyone of Era’s unusual behavior. No one would sneer at her.
The room was set up with five long wooden tables that could each sit fifty people and up front was another table covered with a white and blue table cloth. Every table in sight was covered with different dishes of food of different varieties. The highest quality food was on the table up front which is where the royals and nobles always sat. Everyone below wore garments of either soldiers or the different color capes of the mages. Corey sat Era down at the end of one table and Era looked at the bowls pickled herring and the slices of fresh. The first thing Era grabbed was the ladle and she poured vegetable soup into her bowl which was more elaborate than any she used to make at home for her father and five brothers. It tasted earthy and delicious and Era ended up eating four bowls of the stuff as well as some haring and two slices for bread. Corey, who was only eating a slice of bread with cheese and apple watched the food disappear and started to wonder where the Mytronan put it all.
“You’d think that you haven’t eaten in days!” Corey said in a snobbish tone, she had to make sure that the other girls didn’t see that she was treating Era kindly. What would they think? Era wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Haven’t eaten since the other night, if you don’t wanna include the apple I had for lunch.” Corey’s mouth fell open.
“Why would you do that? You’re not on like a diet or anything are you?” Corey has seen Era’s body. She had seen how skinny yet sturdy she was and had decided it wasn’t a body she would want, too strong and almost manly. Corey heard a girl laugh down the table and she turned to stare at her. As she had guessed, she was looking in her direction. Corey turned back to Era, feeling more irritated. “How long is it until you are going to be done?” Era look at the other girl in surprise she hadn’t liked the tone that Corey had used.
“If you’re in such a hurry then I’m done as can be.” Corey stood up and started towards the door in a ferocious mood. Corey stood, finally starting to notice the stares that she was getting and was about to follow the red head when she heard someone call her name from behind. She looked to see the princess sitting at the table, sitting next to an empty chair that was right of the king. She was glaring at Era in a very un-lady like fashion. Era thought better of glared back and the princess looked startled. No one ever glared back at her, she was the princess after all. Princess Nora stood up and went under the table to walk to directly in front of Era, hands on hips, but looking smug.
“I broke it.” She said with a crooked grin. Era crossed her arms and looked down at the shorter.
“How long did it take ya to do it though?” Nora blushed and put her hands at her side.
“Not to much longer!” Her voice was petulant and rude. “You probably weren’t even out of the castle before I shattered it. Yeah, not just cracked it, I shattered it.” Era grinned back the girl and turned around to walk after Corey, she hadn’t realized the room had gone silent, even the king was watching the ordeal between his daughter and this new mage girl
“You keep dreamin’ princess.” Era called back. “You probably were up all night, but that don’t matter, even if you shattered it as soon as I left that room, you know that I beat you at that one. Can’t wait to face you in the next challenge.” Era walked out of the room where Corey was waiting for her, horrified. As soon as Era was gone, Nora went back to the table feeling huffy and a low mummer filled the room as everyone talked about the way the Mytronan had stood up the princess. The king sat back and stroked his beard.
He was happy to hear that Master Jiro had already gotten her to shatter a vase, it had taken him three days, but who was this other young girl though, who treated his daughter as an equal? The King smiled. It looked like this Mytronan girl who Jiro had mentioned in such high terms to him was going to make castle life a bit more interesting.
Ever since the dinning room, Era was beginning to dislike Corey. Her kindness seemed less genuine and she now felt that there was contempt in her smile. Corey led her back to the fat tower, which she had found out was called the Mage Barracks, and back to Arryn’s room. Era coughed from the smoke of the incense which seemed even more intense than it had been last night. She heard Corey disdainfully mutter “Oh please!” Era walked into the middle of the room and stared at the corner where Mistress Arryn sat, invisible to the naked eye, but Era could sense her easily.
“Leave us,” Arryn said to Corey. “You are relieved of Era, go get Reese for me.” As soon as the door was such Mistress Arryn stood up from the chair she was stilling in and offered it to Era, who accepted the offer.
“So what in the Nameless Gods is happenin’?’” Era said in a heated tone, she had been irritated by Corey’s change of attitude. Arryn smiled without humor.
“Are all our peasants as blunt as you?” She asked instead of answering.
“I like the clothin’ and the meal wasn’t half bad, but what’s it all mean? No one gives me anythin’ without a reason. What do you want?” Arryn looked at the girl and thought that if her speech wasn’t so strange, she may sound intelligent. Arryn leaned forward, deciding to tell the girl the truth.
“Jiro told me what you did,” Arryn started, in a serious way that made Era fidget. “You should know that the magic you preformed was not that of a child. Not only did you become a temporary phantom, but you stayed in that state for an extended period time, and just look at you, still full of energy. You are a prodigy Era.” Era had no idea what a prodigy was, but she didn’t really care.
“And why am I here, in these fancy clothes!” It wasn’t a question, but a command. Arryn glared at the girl with surprising ferocity.
“If you just let me speak, I will explain!”
“Then do it, don’t give me that natter-chatter and tell me what the hell’s happenin’ now,” Era said back, just as ferocious as the old woman. A sudden tightness took over Era’s breathing and she clutched at her throat. She could still breathe, but just.
“I will make this quick so you don’t suffocate.” Arryn growled, the room seemed to get darker and Era’s ears began to ring as she struggled for air. “As I was saying, you are incredible powerful, you told Jiro and me last night that you haven’t even had a teacher, but as used magic only here and there when it was convenient when you were younger. Because of this, I have decided to take you under my roof and make you a mage. You won’t just be powerful; you will be one of the strongest mages that ever lived with the correct guidance. You will have education of every kind and we will give you money when you need it. Your simple brown and grey garb right now represents the lowest type of mage, as you move up, you cloak will turn to green, then red and finally black. The only step after black is black with silver lining such as Jiro’s and my own. Most will only obtain red, and few will obtain black, but you have the potential to obtaining black and silver. That is why you are here.” Era gasped loudly as her throat un-contracted. It was a while before Era could speak again.
“So I’m now what? A mage?”
“But I don’t wanna be a mage.” For the first time, Arryn’s stern face looked startled and perplexed. Before any questions would be asked, Era continued, “I donno what people like you think, but magic ain’t good, my Da always told me that magic ain’t ever good. He’d always hit me for usin’ it. So why would I wanna learn to be good with it?” Arryn closed her eyes in frustration.
“Magic is one of the best parts of this world. Your father is a fool.” Era’s face went crimson for a moment, but then she thought of her father, of the way she treated her, and wasn’t so sure if Arryn was wrong. “Magic protects us, guilds us and leads us from the wrong path.” She eyes snapped open and they had a fire in them that they hadn’t had in them before. “I am not giving you a choice to become a mage or not. You are going to be a mage!” A knock on the door made Era and Arryn both jump. A boy with slanted eyes and tan skin walked in. He bowed and entered. Arryn realized that the room had turned black from her anger and she quickly stifled it. “Era, this is Reese, he will be your guild for the rest of the day.” Era looked him out and down. He also wore a grey cloak, but also had a sword at his side, which he had his hand on. From his collar a chain protrude, with a green snake pendant. He looked to be about her age. “You may go.” Arryn scoffed at Era. Era stood, glaring down at the old lady. She wanted to say something clever or rebellious, but nothing came to mind, also, she felt sort of fearful of the old woman now that she had nearly choked her to death. Also, even though she didn’t want to admit it, Era was excited to learn about her power. She looked to the door to see the boy named Reese halfway down the corridor. Era rushed after him.
“You don’t gotta run.” Era said in a gruff un-lady like way. “We ain’t racin’ last time I checked.”
“I’m not running.” Reese said in the heavily accented voice. “I walk faster than you, that is all.”
“Fine,” when Era walked next to him, she realized how short Reese was. “How old are you?”
“None of your business,” Era rolled her eyes as they walked down the stairs. Already, she was more comfortable with Reese than she had been with Corey, partly because he was a boy and also it was obvious that she wasn’t being a two face to her at all. She felt like she could be real with him. Reese lead Era out of the Mage Barracks through the outer wall. Era gasped at her second sight of the sea. She stood and stared at its blue expanse until Reese was so far ahead of her that she was afraid that she would lose sight of him. She ran with her long legs and was as Reese’s side quite quickly. He didn’t even look at her as she was back to his side.
“You are quite fast.”
“I donno ‘bout that, but I ain’t too slow I suppose.” Reese showed the first sign of emotion by sighing and rolling his eyes.
“I suppose,” he muttered.