Oldest Life Lessons
It seemed like just a few days ago I was sitting, well, all right, fidgeting, in the seat my young pupil was in. Might have been the same exact stool.
I watched him as I settled. Ten years old. Brown mop of hair hanging in his eyes. Flirting with the girl beside him, though I suspect they didn’t realize it was flirting. I’ll have to tell the Ward of Novices about that but not right now. Let them enjoy their little moment.
I tapped my cane on the stone floor and the children turned, reluctantly as I remember my time, to face me. I looked into all of their shining faces. Bored already, a good number of them. The girl, though, what was her name? Oh yes, Naiomi. And the boy, Azri, both looked expectant. I nodded. We could tell, who will be a good mage and who just average, even though the novices were in their second year. The ones who actually listened. They would be great.
This year was no different. I was just a middling-mage myself. I was one of the ones already bored. But no matter. I am good enough to teach the young ones. And too old, really, for anything else.
I had my dreams, of course. I’d be a great mage and save the Emperor from some dastardly dragon or an evil demon. That never came to pass. First of all, because dastardly dragons and evil demons are few and far between. Most often the problems are so common that even my middling powers could handle them. But secondly, the really hard problems are for these, Naiomi and Azri, who had the power and the education to handle them.
I sighed and began the class on basic spells. I’d given this class for the last fifty-three years. I could keep up a running internal dialog while I gave them the class. Mostly, though, I wondered where my life had gone? What did I have to show for it besides a handful at best of great mages and a few hundred average ones?
What would these bright young faces before me think if they knew how their lives would turn out? Most of them would be sent to small towns and villages to help the councils keep the peace and handle any sicknesses that might emerge. Lives of drudgery, really, and no family of their own to ease their loneliness. No children, unless you count the ones in our classes, to leave a legacy for.
I drew my shawl around me as we discussed what makes a good spell. I’d been getting colder and colder for more than a year now. Just winter coming on, I told myself. And age, of course. No getting around that.
I was lucky. After doing a few stints with various mages in villages and towns, I was called back to Castle Porta to teach. Life here was more comfortable. The food was better and came reliably. I still remember the year I was with Mage Selean in the village called Thorson. Snow drifted to the eaves and even the wood had to be rationed. Many elderly and young died from the cold or starvation or both. No. I enjoyed my three meals a day, thank you very much. And a hot tea whenever I wanted to send my intern for it.
That’s a good life lesson. Don’t be in a situation where you’re freezing or starving. The children were startled at my wheezing snort. I covered it quickly as a sneeze and they settled back down. We finished the class with a simple spell. One each of us learned in our turn. It was also a sorter. The children who couldn’t manage the spell were sent back to their villages. Or if they were smart or talented in some other way, we kept them on. After all, much has to be done to keep a castle running that doesn’t need magic.
When I released them, the children leapt from their stools as though a wolf were after them. I sat, slumping. Resting. You’d think their energy would feed mine but no. Another lesson. They suck the energy right away. I rested, half-dozing. My intern, Katarina, woke me with a hand on my shoulder. “Master Wheren?”
I gave myself a shake as I woke. “Yes. Yes. I’m awake.”
She helped me to my rooms. Had me sit in front of the fire and brought me tea. I woke again in bed.
Drean stood next to the bed. The old mage raised an eyebrow. “With us still, I see.”
“And why is the castle healer at my bedside?” I looked around my bedroom. “And where is Katarina?”
“I sent her for tea. And I’m here because she couldn’t wake you.”
I struggled to sit up. Embarrassingly, he helped me. “I can do it.” I slapped at his arms as he helped me.
“I know. Just thought a helping hand would be welcome.”
“Hmph.” I pulled the bedding up to my chin as Katarina arrived with a tray.
“Master!” Her face lit up as she put the tray on the table. “I’m so glad.”
Later, I watched her sleep in the chair beside my bed. The fireplace was burning very low. Probably close to dawn. She was so young. Given me as a nurse more than for what I could teach her. I sighed. Again. Too much sighing lately. I tucked my hands under the blankets. I was too cold, but I settled into the pillows and closed my eyes. The last life lesson, I suppose. At least I wasn’t alone.