The next morning, Carthinal rose at the dawn hour and after he had washed and dressed, he went down to the common room. The other two were still fast asleep in bed, not having come up until late. They had both had a fair amount of ale, and after a few attempts to badger a studying Carthinal to join in their good humoured banter, each fell onto his own bed and were still snoring this morning.
Carthinal ate a rather frugal breakfast and drank some coffee and then set off for the Tower. It was a slightly warmer morning than it had been up until now, and it was almost fully light, nearing as it was, the equinox. There was already some activity in the market square, most stall holders having already set up their stalls, and the cooks from the richer households were out buying fresh goods as early as possible so they could have the best choice. The morning resounded to the cries of the market, and the fresh smells of vegetables, flowers and freshly baked bread. From somewhere across the square, young men were roistering, having been out all night, and just on their way home, and the lights were going out in Madame Dopari’s Emporium as she closed the doors for another day to allow her girls to get some much needed rest. Madame herself was just seeing the last customers out of the door, and the women who came in to clean the place were going up the steps.
‘And I am going to do some tests! I’m not sure I want to do this, but I promised Mabryl,’ Carthinal muttered to himself as he walked past the Emporium.
Eventually, he arrived in the main hall of the Tower. Once again, he had the odd sensation that the inside was bigger than the outside, then he was spotted by Grimmaldo, and was soon involved in discussions about how difficult or easy the tests were supposed to be.
‘Tomorrow’s test is the one that I am dreading the most,’ said Olipeca in her quiet voice as she came to join them.
‘Oh no,’ said Carthinal. ‘The history one is the one that is the worst for me. I could never get into the idea that what happened in the past is of any importance or interest.’
‘That’s just typical.’ A haughty voice spoke from just behind Olipeca. It was Ebrassaria.
‘Just the sort of thing one would expect from the likes of you. Everything to do with magic is interesting and important if you want to become anyone in the magical field. Obviously you do not have any great destiny or ambition. I intend to become one of the great mages of Vimar, if not the greatest.’
‘Pride goeth before a fall,’ quoted Laurre. ‘There are four written tests and a practical, and we’ve not even begun the first written one yet. Let’s wait and see what happens here before we begin to express our ambitions for the future.’
‘Good thinking, Laurre.’ This came from Grimmaldo. Then he looked round.
‘I think they are coming for us now. Good luck everyone.’
‘You may all need luck. I don’t. I will be relying on my skill and knowledge,’ retorted Ebrassaria, and with that, she stalked over to where a mage in red robes was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. He led them up many flights of stairs until they came to the very top of the tower. Again Carthinal had the impression that they had gone up more flights than they should have for only ten stories. They found themselves in the room at the top of the tower. There were windows all round giving uninterrupted views over the town. They could see as far as the Blue Lake to the north, glimmering in the morning sun, and looking such a clear blue that it was obvious how it had got its name. They could also see the park land around the Palace and the Palace itself. On the other side was the Temple district, with the gleaming white temples and the shops associated with them, as well as other districts. In the distance to the west could be seen the faint blue outline of the Western Mountains across the Plain of Grosmer, but to the east, the peaks of the Mountains of Doom were far too distant to be made out.
While they were admiring the view, a door opened and a mage dressed in purple robes came in. ‘Please sit down, ladies and gentlemen,’ she said. She paused for a moment until all had found a seat at one of the six desks set up in the room. ‘I am Arch-Mage Rikonda, and History is my speciality as you may have guessed,’ she continued. ‘I will be conducting the test this morning and marking your papers too. I will be relieved part way through by Arch-Mage Akkaldo, but will return to end the test and to collect your papers. The papers will be marked this afternoon, and you will be able to see the results tomorrow morning pinned up in the Great Hall.’ Here she paused. ‘There should be writing equipment on the tables in front of you and sheets of vellum. You should each have three quill pens, ink and a knife to sharpen the quills if necessary. Are there any questions before I hand out the question papers?’
No one spoke, and they all looked nervous except for a supremely confident Ebrassaria. So the arch-mage handed out the question papers and they began the test.
The time seemed to pass quickly to Carthinal. He risked a glance at the others and they all seemed to be writing hard. He did not notice when the arch-mages changed duties, nor when Arch-Mage Rikonda returned.
He was just about writing his last word when her voice said, ‘All right, ladies and gentlemen. Time is up. Please stop writing now and put your quills in front of you,’ Then she smiled for the first time and Carthinal noticed that she was not as old as he had first thought.
‘You may now leave and go to lunch,’ she continued. ‘You will find it in the same place as yesterday. Please be back in the Great Hall for half an hour past the seventh hour to be ready for an eighth hour start this afternoon.’
The apprentices stumbled wearily down the stairs discussing the paper as apprentices had done throughout the ages. There were some groans as one or another realised the mistakes they had made, (some of these were from Carthinal) and whoops of joy over correct answers.
At lunch, Hammevaro sat next to Ebrassaria. It was obvious that he thought that his charms would win over the elf maid, but in spite of his charming smile and golden mane of hair, he was making no headway at all with her.
Carthinal muttered to Grimmaldo, whom he found himself sitting next to. ‘He may as well forget her. She’s an elf, and many of them think that humans are little better than animals. I suspect that she’s one of those.’
‘You’re right there, friend,’ replied Grimmaldo. ‘Although they make a lovely couple, don’t they, with their imperious looks and conceited smiles,’ he continued with a grin.
Carthinal could not help but laugh at the truth of this remark, which made the pair look at him in surprise. Their expressions made Grimmaldo join in and the two of them were soon convulsed with laughter. The others wanted to know what the joke was, but it was several minutes until they managed to calm down enough to tell them without Hammevaro and Ebrassaria hearing.
The group went outside to sit in the gardens. Hammevaro was still trying to gain the attention of Ebrassaria, and the pair sat a little way away from the others.
Suddenly, Laurre said, ‘Do you think that there is something odd about this tower?’
‘If you mean the way it seems that the inside is too big for the outside, then yes, I have,’ replied Grimmaldo.
The others agreed that they had noticed it too, even to saying that they felt they had climbed more stairs than they should have done to reach the test room. Much discussion followed on that point until they realised that it was time to go to the Great Hall again.
The afternoon’s test passed in much the same way as the morning’s had, and afterwards they all decided that they would have a few drinks that evening, the others having gone to their lodgings the night before after Carthinal left them. Olipeca was worried about the Alchemy and wanted to study it for a final time so she decided not to go, and Ebrassaria said she was not interested. Hammevaro also, strangely for one who was so confident in his abilities, decided that he must study too.
‘He’s really trying hard with her, isn’t he?’ observed Grimmaldo, and the others laughed, earning a look of daggers from Hammevaro who had overheard.
Grimmaldo grinned at the other man and earned a scowl in reply. ‘I don’t think he’s used to meeting resistance to his charms,’ he went on.
Carthinal suppressed another laugh. He could not help it, but he felt a strong, inexplicable antipathy towards the other young man.
They visited several inns, but were careful not to get drunk so that they would still be able to function the next day, and they did not stay out too late. Carthinal returned to the Golden Dragon by the seventeenth hour and fell into bed where he slept peacefully until morning, not even disturbing when a rather drunken Basalt and Fero came in much later.
The next morning, to their delight, they found that they had all passed the first test. Hammevaro and Ebrassaria had both gained distinctions and, much to her surprise, Olipeca had gained a merit. The rest of them had achieved passes, but Carthinal was satisfied with that for this particular test.
This day was much the same as the previous one; test in the morning, and after lunch the results of the previous afternoon’s test were posted up. Carthinal was surprised to find that he had gained the highest mark and had been awarded a distinction along with Ebrassaria. Hammevaro had gained a merit as had Grimmaldo. The others had all passed again. It was thus with high hopes that they entered the hall for the last written test.
That evening no one went out on the town as the following day was the practical test, and they all had to be alert and full of energy for that, so an early night was on the cards.