Myreon’s Test, Part 1
Myreon Alafarr’s father looked brittle and tired, like a rusty hinge about to give out. Still, he smiled his snaggle-tooth smile and handed her the battered old spellbook that had been handed down from generation to generation on the Alafarr vineyard. “You’ll do me proud, Myrrie, I know.”
Myreon smiled at him; it was difficult. “What about the bill, Papa?”
Drython Alafarr looked over his shoulder at the tiny room he and his daughter had shared the past week. Tucked under the eaves of the inn on its top floor, Myreon could only stand upright in one half of the room, and the other half was comprised of a stale straw mat that smelled of mildew and sweat. Her father had let her have it; he slept on the floor. “I’ll settle the bill; worry about the test—that’s what matters.”
“Don’t let that weasel cheat you.”
“Mitos isn’t a cheat—he’s been very kind to us.”
“Mitos is a sleaze, and he’s stuffed us in this hole and taken all our money because he knows you’re too kind a man to say anything.” Myreon glanced down the steep spiral stair to see if anyone was listening—it was still early, and the Ihynishman that owned the inn was seldom awake this early, but one could never be too careful. She’d noticed how the man had been watching her ever since they’d arrived. He would be sitting in a chair by the fire with her father every evening when she returned from the testing. He would be waxing his thick black moustache with his thin fingers while his eyes hugged her hips and slid up and down her backside. The leering only stopped when his wife would happen into the room, and then he would let his eyes flutter up to the rafters or into the fire and continue to nod along with whatever her father was saying. Myreon knew, though. She knew what kind of man he was.
Her father sighed and ran a hand through his thinning hair. “At least my daughter thinks I’m kind. Hurry up—go. You’ll be late.”
Myreon nodded. The knot of anxiety just beneath her breastbone tightened another quarter turn; when she left, it really would be time to face the final test to enter the ranks of the Arcanostrum, the greatest school of sorcery in the world. “Good bye, Papa.”
Her father hugged her tightly. “Don’t be frightened. I believe in you, no matter what happens. Hold your head high, no matter what—it shows good breeding. Do me proud.”
Myreon nodded again, unable to say anything else, and went out into the street.
The Alafarrs were once well-to-do vintners before the war, and Myreon remembered her father and uncles doing well by their families and never wanting for much. The war had changed that, as wars so often do, and left them barely able to keep what little land they still owned. Myreon knew her father had spent the whole of the family’s savings on this trip to Saldor, and just for her. If she failed or if she passed the test today, they would have a difficult winter. She could scarcely stand the idea of her father and uncles and mother going hungry because of her. “I will not fail.” She repeated to herself, over and over, just as she had every morning for the past two weeks. The knot in her chest tightened another quarter turn.
Myreon’s father was too poor to afford an inn inside the OldCity; they couldn’t even afford one just outside. They had been forced to stay in a run-down neighborhood in Crosstown, all the way across the river. It took Myreon the better part of an hour to wind her way through the tangled cobblestone streets, across the river on a water taxi or flat-bottom ferry, and then through the ivy-clad gates into the OldCity, where the impossibly tall towers of the Arcanostrum stood at its heart. Every day the sorcerous academy looked different, and every day Myreon made her pilgrimage to its gates, gazing up at its scintillating parapets and gleaming spires every few seconds. All the while, inside her head, she kept chanting, “I will not fail, I will not fail.”
Each year in late autumn, the magi of the Arcanostrum held a test to admit new initiates into their order. Applicants went through a variable number of tests, depending on who was doing the testing, with each test growing more challenging than the last. This year there were thirteen tests—the most in decades, they said—and today was the thirteenth. Where there had been literally thousands of applicants, there were now only a dozen or so, of whom Myreon was one.
Her competitors were the sons and daughters of ancient noble families or wealthy guildmasters, tutored since birth and afforded every luxury. They, Myreon had no doubt, were staying in fancy hotels or in private villas mere steps from the gates of the Arcanostrum. They had a team of people coaching them—perhaps even magi from the Arconstrum itself who were their friends and relatives. They weren’t distracted by lecherous innkeepers or destitute fathers or the chance of starving this winter. The Arcanostrum rarely took more than three or four new students a year—what were the chances she could overcome and…
“No!” She cursed at herself. “I will not fail. I will not fail. I will not fail.”
When Myreon finally made it to the wrought iron gates of the Arcanostrum, about ten other applicants were already there, chattering eagerly to each other. If they noticed her, they quickly turned away. Some sniggered, and Myreon assumed they were laughing at her. Others, though, looked worried. Some looked positively pale, as though they might pass out at any moment. One girl in an expensive dress vomited into a bag held by her manservant.
Myreon tapped the girl on the shoulder. “Excuse me?”
The girl glared at her. “Did you just touch me?” The manservant moved to block Myreon from physically accessing the girl again.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know…”
The girl pointed to her tiara. “I am a contessa! You don’t tap me on the shoulder like some barmaid.”
Myreon set her jaw. “Look, I just wanted to know what’s going on.”
The reminder of why they were there seemed to hit the contessa all over again, and the color drained from her face. “Emile! The bag!” She spun around and the manservant held the bag up as the rich girl heaved the contents of her probably very expensive breakfast inside. For the first time in two weeks, Myreon was glad she hadn’t eaten anything.
“Hey, girl.” Another applicant—a young man maybe two or three years older than her and wearing the livery of an Eretherian noble house—pointed at the gate. “There’s a note about it there.”
Myreon looked where he was pointing. Pinned to the gates was a note that read “The final test will begin an hour later than normal. You will be asked to perform a spell; come prepared.”
The tension in Myreon’s chest tightened another full turn. Her heart started pounding and she felt suddenly faint. “Cast…cast a spell?”
The young man shrugged. “I know. I’m pretty well cooked—I can’t cast a jot.”
Myreon stepped away from the gate, trying to keep tears from welling up in her eyes. Her whole body seemed to shake at once. A spell? She couldn’t actually cast a spell! That was why she was coming here! How could they expect her to cast a spell? It wasn’t possible!
Frantically, she tore open the little family spellbook. It was a collection of silly rhymes and simple curses—no real sorcery at all, just superstition and mummery with a little bit of common sense. She had been using it to keep notes in the margins and that was all, but now she paged through it furiously, looking for a spell anywhere that might serve. Nothing. Nothing at all. The only real spells in there were too complicated by half and written in a tongue she barely understood. “Oh no. Oh no.”
Myreon knew, beyond doubt, that she was going to fail.