Secrets and Spellcraft – Michael G. Manning

Will had never been to school, any school, so he wasn’t sure what he had expected. It certainly wasn’t what he saw as the king’s carriage drove past the guard station at the college’s main entrance. The gate nestled securely within a formidable wall that rose thirty feet in height. He felt as though he was passing through a boundary into an entirely different world. As they passed under the high arch and through the wall, he expected his view to be dominated by looming stones structures, but instead his eyes were greeted by green lawns with sculpted bushes and centuries old oaks shadowing a neatly cobblestoned lane. In the distance there were numerous large buildings clustered together here and there, but there was no fortress as the wall had led him to expect. Later on, he was forced to learn a new word to describe the wide layout of ancient buildings and landscaping: campus. And yet there was more, for the entire thing took up more than a thousand acres of land. On every side—surrounding the academic buildings, the chancellor’s manse, the student dormitories, the masters’ dwellings—was a rolling landscape of trees and fountains, sculptures, and even a heavily wooded park. It was an entirely different world, encapsulated by the great city of Cerria. Bloody hell, thought Will, but even his inner voice was subdued with awe. He felt as though he had passed through a congruence point, emerging onto a new plane of existence. From the way Arrogan had once described the wizards of Wurthaven, Will had expected to find them in a grubby and poorly maintained single building. The carriage proceeded to the center of the campus, where four tall buildings soared toward the heavens. The road passed between two of them and then entered a lane that circled the interior courtyard between the four.

It stopped in front of one, where the driver indicated Will should get out. “Thank you for the ride, sir,” said Will. The driver tipped his hat and lifted the straps, urging his team to pull away. Will was left standing alone. He hoped that the building he stood before was the correct one, and plucking up his courage, he walked to it and tugged open one of the broad oaken doors. Once inside, he discovered that the exterior was deceiving. The first two floors were actually one floor with vaulted ceilings and two wide staircases on either side that led up to the higher levels. There was a variety of people moving about, and as Will took in the scene, he couldn’t help but mutter, “Fucking hell.” He had never been in such a building. A man passing by him glanced oddly in his direction when he heard the words, then hurried on.

He wandered aimlessly for a few minutes, circling the wide, central space and reading the carved stone signs chiseled above the entrances on either side. He stopped when he found the one labeled ‘Registrar’s Office,’ which was the one he had been told to look for. Passing through another set of tall doors, he found himself facing a long desk with several men seated on the other side. Two of them were talking with others that he assumed were students. The third seemed to be free, so Will stepped up to greet him. “Hello.” The man glanced up and then returned to whatever he was reading. Will thought that was rather rude, so he persisted. “Hello, my name is William Cartwright. I’m here to see the registrar.

” The fellow looked up, his eyes widening in faint surprise. “I’m sorry. Are you a friend of Lord Doster?” He’d never heard the name before. “I was told I need to see him to get settled for classes here.” The man behind the desk frowned, then pointed at a small, wooden plaque in front of him. It was labeled with the words, ‘Closed. Next window please.’ Will nodded toward the next window. “Is that Lord Doster, then?” The clerk sighed. “Temarah save me, are you an idiot? Lord Doster doesn’t personally handle registrations.

” “I’m in the wrong place?” “No, hayseed, this is the place. This office handles student registrations. Wait for the next open window and they’ll take care of you. I’m on break.” Will’s cheeks colored. He stared to move on, but he didn’t leave without a parting shot. “Asshole.” The clerk stiffened, sitting up straight and a malicious light filled his eyes. Pushing aside the ‘Closed’ plaque, he smiled. “My break is now over.

How can I help you?” Will repeated himself, “My name is William Cartwright. I was told to register for classes here.” “Have you been admitted to Wurthaven?” Uncertain, Will answered, “Um, I’m not sure? How does that work?” The unnamed clerk smiled. “I’ll check the list for your name.” He got up and went to a massive ledger, where he casually leafed through the pages. The man returned with an artificial smile. “I didn’t see it. You’ll have to go to the vice-chancellor’s office and see if you can be admitted.” “Where’s that?” The man pointed upward. “Seventh floor.

You can’t miss it.” Will left. The stone stairs leading up were wide and well maintained, so it was only a matter of some effort to climb them. Thankfully his time in the army had gotten him into excellent shape, so it was only a mild annoyance having to climb to the top floor. Once there, he found it was much smaller than the lower floors, and a single hall led him to a wellappointed office. A secretary waited behind a private desk when he entered. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked, glancing at him over slender glasses. “For what?” “To see the vice-chancellor.” “No, ma’am. I was told to come here to be admitted.

A look of amusement flitted across the woman’s face. “I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed. We don’t do that here. You need to visit the registrar’s office on the ground floor.” He’d been had. Will’s brows lowered like looming thunderclouds. “The man down there told me I had to be admitted here.” He started to leave. The secretary took pity on him, however. “Wait.

” He turned back, listening. “While it’s true you can file for admission, it generally takes months. Do you have a sponsor?” Will thought for a moment. Originally Lord Nerrow had offered to sponsor him, but King Lognion had said it was a bad idea, since it might eventually get to the ears of the Arenata family. The king had offered an alternative. “Yes, ma’am. King Lognion.” The secretary froze in place for a moment. “Are you putting me on, young man?” Will shrugged. “No, ma’am.

Should I return and tell him I still need to be admitted?” He was beginning to feel a bit of malicious pleasure. She frowned, still unsure whether he was playing a prank or being serious, but she decided to err on the side of caution. “One second.” She disappeared through another door and returned a minute later. Then she held the outer door for him. “Let me take you downstairs and see if we can sort this out.” When they arrived at the registrar’s office, the secretary, whose name he had learned was Dorothy, walked completely around the long desk and consulted the massive ledger herself. The unfriendly clerk who had turned Will away initially watched her anxiously. Will gave the man a smile when their eyes met, and he saw an icy seed of fear settle in the man’s heart. You’re so fucked, he thought.

Dorothy turned around, her cheeks having noticeably reddened. “Which one of you sent this young man up to the vice-chancellor’s office?” she asked in a cold tone. None of them answered, but Will pointed. “I believe it was him.” “Stanley,” hissed Dorothy. The worried clerk started to rise but she waved him away, then marched through another door. Will’s sharp ears picked up the shrill tones of her voice as she made her complaints to Lord Doster, the registrar, personally. He was also delighted to hear her mention ‘that idiot Stanley’ in one sentence. She emerged a few minutes later, her stride brisk and her expression cold, ignoring Stanley’s apologetic looks as she left. Stopping beside Will, she told him, “If you need anything in the future, don’t be shy.

My name is Dorothy and I work for the Vice-Chancellor of Education.” With a nod, she was gone. Stanley was shooting daggers at Will with his eyes. “I just did what you told me to do,” said Will calmly. A new figure emerged from the office Dorothy had gone into, a man with an aristocratic bearing. He rounded the desk and offered Will his hand. Will took it. “You must be the new student King Lognion sponsored,” he said, pitching his voice louder so everyone in the room could hear him clearly. “I’m sorry for any confusion. My name is Garett Doster.

” He glanced over his shoulder. “I’ll have a word with you after I get back, Mister Fyfe.” Stanley’s face paled. Will gave Stanley a wink as Lord Doster put an arm around his shoulder and let him out of the office and into the main atrium. “Don’t I need to sign something?” asked Will. “All that’s been taken care of,” the registrar assured him. “If there’s anything else that needs doing, I’ll take care of it when I return.” “But classes—” “Those have already been set for you as well, considering your unusual circumstances.” Lord Doster spotted a familiar face and called out to a young man who was passing by, “Mister Burwood!” The student he called to turned and stared at them in confusion for a moment before he realized who was speaking to him. “Lord Doster,” he answered, bobbing his head.

“What do you need?” Will had already noticed that some of the norms he had come to expect of interacting with nobles were somewhat blunted here. The students and staff treated Lord Doster with respect, but none of the fawning obedience that noblemen usually required. “William, this is Robert Burwood, a second-year student here at Wurthaven,” said the registrar, introducing them. “Robert, this is William Cartwright. He’s starting here tomorrow on the recommendation of King Lognion.” Robert’s eyes widened with surprise. He extended a hand. “Pleased to meet you. Just call me Rob, everyone does.” “I go by Will.

” “William needs to get his bearings, Robert. I’d appreciate it if you would take him under your wing and help orient him. Could you take him to the dorms and help get him settled? I’m sure he’d like to unpack his things,” said the registrar. Will coughed. “Actually, all I have is what I’m carrying.” He wore the clothes the king had given him, and he carried the oiled leather bag that held his mail and gambeson. Aside from those and four silver clima in his coin pouch, he had nothing else. Lord Doster and Robert gave him a surprised look, but the registrar recovered first. “Well, I’m sure you can buy whatever else you need in a day or two. You’ll certainly need a change of clothes, at the very least.

” “And paper, pens, journals—” added Rob. “But there are shops here on the campus. I’ll show you.” Will was beginning to have serious doubts. Four clima had seemed like plenty of money to him before, but he doubted it would suffice to buy clothes along with expensive items like paper and books. “Let’s see the dorms first,” he suggested. “This bag is heavy.” “I’ll carry it for you,” offered Rob. He started to tug at the strap and stopped when he felt the weight. “What do you have in there?” “My armor.

” Rob seemed confused, but he gave a quick wave to Lord Doster. “I’ll take it from here, sir.” As they walked away, he glanced at Will. “Did you say armor?” Will nodded. “Why did you bring armor?” “I’m a little attached to it,” said Will honestly. “It’s saved my life several times now.” “Are you a knight?” Rob’s tone suggested he would be surprised if such was actually the case. “No. I was a private contract soldier in Branscombe before I came here.” He paused for a moment, wondering if he still was.

“The king said I had to come to Wurthaven, though. Do you think that means I’m out of the contract, or will I have to serve the rest when I finish in a year or two?” Rob seemed stunned. “I don’t know, but nobody comes here for just one or two years. Most stay for at least five, more if they join the academia or take jobs in research.” “Five years?” It seemed like a lifetime to Will at seventeen years of age. If his military contract was stacked on top of that, he wouldn’t be out until he was closing in on thirty. “Is there that much to learn?” “That depends on you,” said Rob with a chuckle. “Some people devote their lives to this place.” “Like the registrar?” Rob shook his head. “I suppose he has devoted himself to Wurthaven, but I mean the academics and engineers—the researchers.

” Will gave him a blank stare. “People like Master Courtney,” clarified Rob, as though the name should mean something to him. “Who’s he?” asked Will. Rob’s jaw dropped a little. “You’ve never heard of Lord Alfred Courtney, the metaphysicist?” “Meta-what?” The second-year took his elbow, urging him to continue walking. “You have a lot of catching up to do. Where have you been until now, under a rock? Master Courtney is the head of the research department here and one of the largest contributors to our modern understanding of turyn and the underlying principles of magic. He’s so famous everyone in the city knows his name.” “Oh,” said Will, as though that answered everything. “But what is that metafizzy thing you mentioned?” “Metaphysics,” corrected Rob.

“It’s the study of the principles of magic and how it interacts with the regular, mundane world we live in.” Hearing the description, Will thought it sounded like a fancy term for wizardry, and he said as much. “That’s wizardry.” Rob laughed. “Well, yes, but there’s a lot to learn here so it’s divided into a number of categories. What would you call the design and construction of new spells?” “Wizardry.” “It is, but here it’s taught with the label of spell engineering. We have an entire department devoted to just that.” “And Master Courtney runs it?” “No, he oversees most of Wurthaven’s research projects, so he doesn’t really belong to a specific department. The Engineering Department is headed by Master Dugas.

” When Will only looked more confused, Rob went on, “The engineers do their best to create and perfect new spells. They work closely with researchers, though, since they’re often trying to turn new theory into something practical and useful.” That sounded much more pragmatic to Will than metaphysics, but he refrained from saying it. Rob’s words had implied there were more departments than just Engineering, so he asked, “How many departments are there?” His new friend began counting on his fingers, “Let’s see, Divinatory Arts, Alchemy, Artifice, Engineering, Healing, and—” he paused. “What was the last one? Oh! Psyche.” “No Department of Sorcery?” Rob waved his hand. “That doesn’t qualify as a subject of study. They inherit their elementals and any research into how elementals were originally tamed is strictly prohibited. The nobility prefer to keep their secrets to themselves.” Will found that interesting.

From what Arrogan had said, the secret was lost. “So some of them still know how it was done?” “Not as far as I know,” said Rob. “Otherwise we’d probably have a lot more sorcerers attending the college.” “They study here?” Rob nodded. “Of course. Aside from the elementals, they’re just like us. They need to learn spellcraft too, if they’re to make the most of what they’re given.” The young man stopped then, gesturing to the buildings that rose up in front of them. They had left behind the four central buildings that surrounded what Will later learned was called the ‘Quad,’ and stood now in front of two impressively large square buildings connected by a covered stone walkway. “These are the dormitories,” explained Rob.

“The one on the left is the women’s dorm. We’re not allowed in there. The one on the right is for those with testicular endowments.” Will’s head was already swimming with new terms and information, so he failed to recognize the word ‘testicular’ even though he was very familiar with anatomy. “Where will I stay then?” Rob began laughing hysterically. “You’ve got balls, right? Do we need to have Master Morris examine you?” Will grinned, belatedly realizing his mistake. “I suppose not.” He found himself growing to like Rob. The young man seemed solid and certainly wasn’t above rough humor. He assumed that Morris was the head of the Department of Healing.

Rob led him in through the center of the covered walkway, taking a right to enter the men’s dorm. The front door opened into a large space dominated by couches and chairs of a sort that Will had never seen. They bore resemblance to some of the furniture he had seen in the palace, but they lacked the ornamental features he had seen there, making up for the lack with an excess of cushions and padding. He immediately wanted to try them out, but Rob pulled him along to meet a woman sitting beside a table. The woman had a strong figure, though age had added some extra padding here and there. Her gray-white hair was piled up on her head in an impressive bun and when she looked at him, he was taken with her warm brown eyes. “This is Dianne. She’s the resident assistant here, but we all call her ‘Mom,’” said Rob affectionately. Setting aside her tea, Dianne stood and offered Will her hand. “Dianne Young,” she said briskly.

She’s anything but young, noted Will, immediately chiding himself for his uncharitable thought. To make up for it, he took her hand in his, but instead of shaking it as was expected, he bent over it and brushed his lips across her knuckles, a gesture he had learned at the palace. “William Cartwright, milady,” he said with a grin. Dianne blushed mildly and gave Rob a surprised look. “This one is going to be trouble.” “Don’t look at me!” exclaimed Rob. “He’s your child now, Mom.” “As if I could give birth to so many unruly boys,” said Dianne. “Come with me, William. I’ll give you your room key.

I think there are some packages waiting on you as well.” “Just Will, please,” he begged. “Will, then,” agreed Dianne. “Call me Dianne.” She turned away, already starting toward the desk that served as her duty station. Rob gave Will a wink and mouthed a word silently. Will took his cue and called out, “Sure thing, Mom.” The resident assistant kept walking, but she cast a stern eye on Rob. “How long are you going to keep that going?” “Until you finally agree to marry me, Mom,” said Rob with a roguish grin. “Hmmph.

I’m more than twice your age, you scoundrel. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to, with your unorthodox comings and goings.” She leafed through a book on her desk and then turned to open a door behind her desk, unlocking it with a key that hung around her neck. She went in and returned a moment later. She handed Will a brass key. “You’re in 407 with Seth Gabet.” Dianne pointed at Rob and snapped her fingers. “There’s a box in there for him. Be a dear and carry it since he’s already got a bag.” Rob emerged a moment later carrying a heavy wooden crate, then led Will to the stairs.

Will took pity on him. “I’ll switch with you.” Despite his brief tenure in the dungeons, he was still fresh from his time in the army. “No, I’m fine,” protested Rob, but by the time they had climbed the fourth flight he was red-faced and panting, while Will wasn’t even breathing hard. “I offered,” said Will as he stepped into a long, wood-paneled hallway. The building’s interior was old, but well maintained. He passed several doors, noting the numbers on them, until he came to 407. “Here we are.” Keys were a relatively new thing for him, so he fumbled with it for a full minute before finally getting the lock to turn. Inside, the room was positively palatial by Will’s standards.

His one week in the palace notwithstanding, he had spent a significant portion of the past few years sleeping on the ground. This room held a massive, wood-framed bunk bed that dominated the right wall. A narrow window was set in the opposite wall, and he was shocked to realize it held actual glass. On the left-hand side were two study desks separated by a pair of tall dressers. He was drawn immediately to the window, dropping his armor bag on the floor and staring outside. A view of the well-manicured lawns of Wurthaven greeted him, and he stuck his head outside to inhale the air. I’ve died and gone to heaven. Far below, he saw both male and female students walking, and he was unable to restrain himself. Sticking his arm out, he began waving. Rob quickly pulled him back in.

“They’ll think you’re off in the head if you keep doing that.” “I don’t mind,” said Will. “This feels like a dream.” “You are living the dream, my dear fellow,” said Rob, looking out the window. He swept his arm wide. “Below you will find a field of choice fruit, ripe for the taking.” “Fruit?” Rob winked. “Girls, my friend, girls. Half the student body is of the feminine persuasion. Merchants’ daughters, well-fed and well-dressed, daughters of noblemen, they lie before us like a banquet waiting to be supped upon.

” Will frowned. “Daughters of noblemen?” His new friend held up his hands in a placating gesture. “All right, I’ll admit, most of those are not to be trifled with, but you never know. Some are third or fourth children of lesser gentry. Besides, you don’t necessarily have to marry them.” His lips split to show pearly teeth. “I didn’t come here to chase girls,” said Will disapprovingly. “You should. Many profitable matches begin with a chance meeting at Wurthaven. Play your cards right and you could even move up the ladder a step or two.

Personally, though, I simply revel in the chase.” “I have a friend you should meet,” said Will, thinking of Tailtiu. His aunt would make short work of someone like Robert Burwood. “Oh really?” Will shook his head. “Never mind. Let’s see what’s in the box.”

.

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