Myreon’s Test, Part 3
When the time came, Myreon was the first applicant called. She looked neither right nor left as she walked through the ranks of her wealthy, well-dressed peers. Myreon didn’t need to see the contessa’s face to know what she thought of her, nor was it a mystery what kind of toothy, artificial grin Gold Chain would sport as she passed. They had come back in twos and threes, surreptitiously clutching small pieces of jewelry or tiny vials of dark liquid, not speaking with each other save to offer vague commentary about the weather or the time. Myreon had glared at them all, but they hadn’t returned her look. They looked away, politely ignoring her existence. They were wealthy, and they had a lot of practice evading the gaze of poor people. They were good at it.
Passing through the iron gates of the Arcanostrum was like passing through a thin sheet of cold rain—the taste in the air changed, the temperature cooled, the sunlight became filtered and diffuse. Myreon had done this twelve times before, but even on the thirteenth she was still disoriented. She could never tell if the place she was now was actually on the other side of that gate or not—it looked nothing like the simple paved path one could see from the plaza beyond. It was a garden, of sorts, shaded over by old willow trees and featuring a perfectly circular pool with a rim of mossy stone and filled with yellow-green water.
There, standing around it in a half circle, were the five Archmagi—Cormyr of the Dweomer, Odric of the Fey, Salien of the Lumen, Lyrelle of the Ether, and Lord Defender Trevard. They wore simple cloaks and bore staves as unique as their persons—this one withered and bent, that one gleaming, straight, and true. The Lord Defender was wearing a suit of mageglass armor so spotlessly bright that it sparkled like silver in the twilight gloom. These were the five most powerful wizards in the world, the Keeper of the Balance himself excepted, and they were all staring at simple Myreon Alafarr, with her dog-eared old spellbook and her plain dress.
“You are aware of the test’s requirements?” Cormyr asked, his hawk-nose bouncing a little with every accented syllable.
Myreon nodded. “Yes.”
Salien smiled at her. “Very well,Ms.Alafarr—you may cast your spell.”
Myreon didn’t move. She had been planning what to say ever since Lyrelle left her on the plaza, but now she could think of nothing that wouldn’t sound like a whine or an excuse. She clenched her teeth to keep her chin from quivering.
Salien motioned for her to begin, her every movement soft and somehow fascinating, like the gentle motion of a swan on water. “Go ahead, Ms. Alafarr. No one expects much.”
Myreon’s eyes began to water. “I…I’m afraid I can’t cast a spell, Magus.”
Salien frowned. “Oh. Not a one?”
Odric tugged a twig out of his long, unkempt beard. “Hmph. Did you read the sign?”
Myreon nodded. “Yes, but…but I can’t.”
Lord Defender Trevard nodded slowly. “We understand, miss. It is a very challenging test—you have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Tears were flowing down her cheeks at this point. Myreon was holding her breath so as not to sob. If only they weren’t being so nice about it. If only they mocked her like the others, then it would have been easier. Instead, she stood there feeling like she was being stabbed over and over in the guts, and there was nothing she could do but to stand there and take it. “I…I know…thank you.”
Lyrelle tapped her staff against the ground. “We will be making our final decisions for admission tomorrow, Ms. Alafarr. Please return then to hear our results.”
Odric raised his hand. “You should know, though, that not passing the final test weighs heavily upon our decision.”
Myreon nodded again and dabbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. “Yes. Thank you, magus. Thank you for passing me this far.”
Cormyr shook his head. “We promote on merit and merit alone, miss. You have nothing to thank us for—thank yourself.”
And that was it. Myreon left that magical garden and walked back into the plaza. All of the other applicants saw her face and didn’t need to ask her a thing. They all knew what had happened.
The walk back to the inn was long—longer than usual. It might have been due to the time of day; it was still early, and the streets of Saldor were bustling with all kind of traffic. Myreon, though, wasn’t thinking about the traffic. She was thinking about those glittering spires and ivy-clad halls to her back. She was thinking about the things she would never learn and the places she would never see. She was thinking about winter.
Drython Alafarr was sitting on the steps before the inn to meet her coming home. Mitos the innkeeper was with him, whittling a stick and chewing tobacco. Both men rose when they saw her coming.
“You’re home early!” Drython said, smiling at her.
Myreon didn’t say anything. She didn’t want to cry—particularly not in front of that creep, Mitos. “It was a different kind of test today.”
“Did you fail?” Mitos asked, spitting into the gutter.
Myreon glared at him. “That’s private.”
The innkeeper shrugged and went back to his whittling. His eyes, however, kept straying to Myreon’s bodice.
Her father seemed not to notice. “When do you find out how you did? Tomorrow morning?”
He clapped his daughter on the shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll do well, Myrrie. They’d be fools to fail you.”
Myreon shook her head, her eyes fluttering and mouth pressed into a thin line. Her father saw her expression and she knew he understood. He gathered her up in a warm hug and whispered. “Never give up, Myrrie. If they don’t want you, make ‘em look you in the eye and tell you so.”
Myreon knew he didn’t understand; to think that Archmage Lyrelle would have a problem telling her she failed to her face! The hug felt good, though, and she leaned into it.
When they broke apart, Mitos was still there. He spat again. “If you fail tomorrow, missy, there’s a job for you here, if you like. I pay serving girls better than most.” His eyes glittered over he quivering moustache.
Drython Alafarr gave the Ihynishman a curt nod. “Thank you for the offer, sir, but my Myrrie didn’t fail anything.”
Mitos shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
The next day was cold and wet, with a rainy fog the clung to the stones and the lampposts of the city early in the morning. Myreon wore her patched and faded wool shawl and was wet through and shivering by the time she reached the plaza again. This time, though, she was completely alone. She waited before the gates in the morning mist, glancing left and right for any sign of anyone else, but there was no one.
Had everybody failed? It was possible, she guessed. Probably the archmagi saw right through their fake sorcery and had failed them outright. Or maybe they had all been passed straight away; the archmagi had just looked each wealthy young person up and down and said ‘congratulations, you’re just the kind of clever, wealthy fellow we’re looking for’ and that was it.
It couldn’t be, though. Could it?
The gates opened, all by themselves. Beyond, a Defender of the Balance in full mageglass armor and firepike pointed at her. “Myreon Alafarr?”
“With me, miss, if you please.”
Myreon stepped through and, again, the cold shiver passed through her body and she found herself standing again in that strange garden. It wasn’t raining here, nor was it cold; it was precisely as it had been the day before. The archmagi were there, as well, looking exactly the same as well. This time, however, there was a chair. Archmage Lyrelle motioned for her to sit in it.
“It has been an unusual year for applicants, to be certain.” Lyrelle said, her voice firm and declarative, as though she were reading a prepared statement. “Each year we expect a certain number of applicants to cheat or attempt to cheat, but very seldom do so many of them do so.”
Myreon blinked. “They all failed?”
“They were all eliminated immediately.” Cormyr said, his lip curling. “As you would have been, had you taken Lyrelle’s little offer.”
“So, I was right—it was a…”
Lyrelle raised her hand. “If you please—I haven’t finished. Now, it was wise of you not to accept my offer to cheat, Ms. Alafarr, even if it did mean you failed the test. As some of your fellow applicants surmised—and correctly—the test was an impossible one. It is extremely unlikely for a person without any formal training to be able to perform a sorcerous act to our satisfaction. Indeed, we expressly do not want the progeny of hedge wizards and adherents of petty witchcraft infiltrating these halls.”
“Hmph.” Odric offered, folding his thick forearms beneath his bushy beard.
Lyrelle favored the Archmage of the Fey with a significant glance—one that apparently bore enough weight that Odric un-folded his arms—and continued. “There is a second part to the test, however. We wanted to see if the applicant was willing to fail.”
Myreon’s heart leapt. Could that mean…
“What we do here,” Lyrelle continued, “is train young men and women to manipulate the very fabric of creation itself to their whim. It is a considerable power and with it comes considerable responsibility. There are a great many shortcuts and work-arounds in the High Arts, and all of them are dangerous and unwise. We do not wish to instruct people who would rather cheat than fail—that recipe leads to disaster for all of us.”
Myreon waited, but Lyrelle appeared to have finished. “Ma..magus, does that mean…”
The archmagi all nodded.
“I PASSED!” Myreon leapt to her feet. “I’m an initiate?”
Salien came to her, arms spread. “Welcome, initiate. May your stay here be long and enlightening.”
Myreon hugged her—she was thin and bony, like a bird—but broke away. “I…I have to go.”
Lord Defender Trevard blinked. “Go? Where?”
“My father! I need to tell him!”
“Bah!” Odric barked. “The man already knows.”
“Why?” Myreon said, blinking at the old mage as the other came forward to shake her hand. “Who told him?”
Odric laughed. “My girl, a man doesn’t need a test to tell him his daughter is a winner. He knows. He knows deep in his bones.”
Myreon grinned more widely than she had in weeks. She felt like she could fly away—she was air, the sun. She was the summertime in a wool shawl.