Carthinal left the tower to wander around the gardens. He sat down on a seat near to a stream and leaned back to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine. The winter was almost at an end, and there was beginning to be a little strength in the sun at last. He heard footsteps behind him, and opened his eyes to see Tharron approaching.
‘I hope you don’t mind me joining you, Carthinal,’ he said as he sat down on the bench next to the younger man. ‘I wanted to congratulate you on passing your tests. I believe you passed very well. I cannot tell you more than that at this juncture though, but Mabryl would have been proud of you.’
‘Thank you,’ replied Carthinal with a smile. ‘I hope that Mabryl would have been pleased. You don’t know how sorry I am that he couldn’t be here. I sometimes feel there must have been some more that I should have done so he could be with us now.’
The young half-elf’s face filled with sorrow as he spoke.
‘I am certain that there’s nothing at all that you can blame yourself for, Carthinal.’ The older man placed a reassuring hand on Carthinal’s arm. ‘Just be glad for his life and remember him as he would have wanted you to remember him. And,’ he added, ‘If he can see from where he’s gone, I know he will be looking on you with pride.’
‘You’re right of course,’ replied Carthinal. ‘I’ll never forget his kindness to me. I owe him more than I could ever repay. I’ll try to live as he taught me and maybe that’ll be some repayment of my debt.’
‘Well said,’ smiled Tharron, ‘But this is a time for celebration, not sadness. You’ve made it into the ranks of the mages, and there’s nothing to stop you from going further. There are no more tests like the ones you have just taken, only your own growing powers and experience will take you through to the ranks to the arch-mages and maybe even magister some day in the future.’ He shivered suddenly. ‘It’s beginning to get a little cooler out here. It must be nearing half after the eleventh hour. I usually eat something at around the twelfth hour. Would you care to join me? The dining room will be opening fairly soon, or we could go to an inn. There’s quite a good one not far away.’
Carthinal suddenly realised that he was extremely hungry. He accepted Tharron’s invitation, and the two of them decided to go to the inn, away from the confines of the tower so that they could have some privacy and for Carthinal to escape from the reminders of the tests just undertaken. The meal was excellent, and Tharron insisted that Carthinal drink some of the extremely good wine that he ordered as a celebration of his success.
‘You’ll get your results officially tomorrow when you’ll find out how well you’ve done overall,’ Tharron told him. ‘The practical is weighted in the results and carries twice the marks of the others. We consider that it’s more important to be able to practice magic than to theorise, so that’s how we do it. I believe you acquitted yourself superbly in the practical test, and also overall, but you’ll get your final results tomorrow at the Ceremony of the Presentation of the Robes. The ceremony will be held in the Great Hall an hour before the lunch hour. It’s followed by a banquet to celebrate. This gives the candidates time to recover from their ordeal, and still gives time for private celebration afterwards.’
After a very good meal, for which Tharron insisted on paying, Carthinal excused himself and left to make his way to see Yssalithissandra. She had told him where her rooms were and he had no difficulty in finding his way there. It was about an hour after sunset by the time he knocked on her door.
‘Come in, Carthinal,’ called a warm, feminine voice from inside the rooms.
He opened the door and entered and found himself in a cosy room. There was a fire burning in the grate on the wall to the right as he entered, with a pile of logs ready to replenish it as it burned down. In front of the fire were two settees set facing each other. They were upholstered in red velvet with gold covered cushions scattered over them. On the floor was a rug of red and gold and gold brocade curtains hung at the window on the opposite side of the room from the fire. A window seat filled the window alcove and the curtains were closed against the chill of the night air.
The room was lit by candles in holders rather than by torches, and between the two settees was a low table supporting two wineglasses and a bottle of wine. Sitting on one of the settees was Yssalithissandra. She was wearing white robes, and her hair was unbound. It seemed to be made of spun gold in the flickering light of the candles and fell down past her shoulders, reaching almost to her waist. Carthinal stopped in the doorway. He knew he was staring, but could not help himself. She was beautiful.
‘Come and sit down, Carthinal,’ she said, ‘And have a drink. I’ve opened a bottle of Perimo in honour of your success.’
Carthinal was not sure he should have any more to drink as he had had wine with his dinner, but Yssalithissandra was already pouring a glass of the sparkling pink wine for him. He thanked her and sat on the opposite settee.
‘Now, I want to know about Mabryl. Tell me all about your life with him. We knew each other well when he was at the Tower. Then he decided that he didn’t want the academic life any more and went adventuring and we lost touch after a while.’
‘He told me that after he left the tower, he had gone adventuring for a number of years until he felt he was too old. Then he settled in Bluehaven, working for the Duke and other nobility. I believe he occasionally had the odd job from King Gerim too,’ Carthinal replied.
‘Did he now?’ Yssalithissandra sounded impressed. ‘I always knew he had it in him to go far. If he had been so minded, I believe he could have been Chief Magister of the Tower, but he preferred to live more freely than that job would have allowed.’
They talked about Mabryl for quite some time, each remembering tales of him, and laughing over some of the exploits that he had got up to as a student, as well as Carthinal relating some of the antics of himself and the other apprentices which annoyed Mabryl. Carthinal felt very much better as the evening wore on. He felt that talking of Mabryl to someone who had known him well and had been a valued friend was at last helping him to come to terms with the death of his foster father.
‘I’d almost forgotten the other apprentices,’ said Carthinal suddenly. ‘They’ll have to find another mentor now. They also don’t know of Mabryl’s death. I’m ashamed to say that I’d completely forgotten about them until just now.’
‘I’ll send word to them, and also tell them that they can come and join me here at the Tower. I’ll take them on as my apprentices. I don’t have any at the moment.’
‘Thank you Yssalithissandra. That will be a great help,’ replied Carthinal.
‘Please, Carthinal—Yssa. I hope we’ll be friends after this evening,’ protested the elf, pouring out another glass of wine.
Carthinal laughed. ‘Of course we will be, Yssa,’ he replied, ‘But I really shouldn’t have any more wine. I’m feeling a little light-headed as it is. I had some with Tharron over dinner too.’
Yssa looked up from pouring the wine. Her eyes were unreadable. She set down the bottle and moved over to sit down by Carthinal.
She stroked his hair, saying, ‘It is the most beautiful colour. Those reddish glints! How I envy you.’
‘But your own hair is so beautiful, Yssa,’ replied the bemused half-elf. ‘How can you envy someone who has red hair? I was always teased about it when I was younger. It came from my mother, you know. Now your hair is like spun gold—a precious metal, while mine is mere copper.’ He took a strand in his fingers as he spoke. ‘And it feels like silk,’ he continued.
Yssa blushed as he spoke. She was feeling a little light-headed from the wine, as indeed was Carthinal. A log in the fire popped, but neither of them seemed to notice it. They continued to talk to each other of inconsequential things and were acutely aware of the proximity of the other, but seemingly unaware of their surroundings. The world had contracted to just the two of them and the settee on which they were sitting.
Before he knew that he was going to do it, Carthinal took her hand and kissed her palm. She looked into his eyes, which seemed a darker blue than ever. Her hand came up to caress his cheek and as she did so, he leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the lips. It seemed to whet his appetite for her because he then pulled her towards him and kissed her again, this time more passionately. Yssa responded to his ardour and her lips parted as she accepted his kiss.
After a few minutes, she stood, took his hand and said, huskily, ‘Come into the bedroom. It will be more comfortable,’ and she pulled him towards a door in the back wall of the room.
Carthinal followed her and once in the room, they made love on her large and comfortable bed.
The daylight streaming in through the window woke Carthinal. He could not place where he was for several minutes and then he realised as memory flooded back. What had he done? He was in the bed of a respected arch-mage, and he merely newly promoted. She would be so angry at allowing this to happen he was sure. They had both been a little tipsy from the wine, but he should have been more responsible. After telling Tharron that he wanted to live as Mabryl had taught him, he immediately went and took advantage of a woman under the influence of wine.
At that moment the door opened and Yssa entered with coffee.
‘Yssa! I’m so sorry. Last night should not have happened.’
She laughed. ‘Why ever not? Didn’t you enjoy yourself? I know I did. You are a very good-looking young man, and an excellent lover. Did I not please you? Do you not find me attractive?’
On receiving replies of a positive nature, she continued, ‘Then what’s to regret?’
‘But you are an eminent arch-mage and I’m just newly promoted!’ Carthinal also felt some guilt about Asphodel, although he told himself that he would probably never see her again.
‘Rot!’ replied Yssa. ‘Since when does that matter? What is rank anyway? Simply something saying that I have more experience than you do. And I’m willing to bet that at some time in the future you’ll be a better mage than ever I am. Now drink your coffee and get dressed or you’ll be late for the ceremony. There’s soap and things on the wash stand in the corner. I’ve heated up some water for you.’
With that, Yssa left the room. Carthinal sipped his coffee and then got out of bed. True to her word, Yssa had brought water, and when he was washed and dressed, with his beard trimmed to the short stubble he preferred he strode out of the room.
Yssa looked him over. ‘That’s better. Now you look fit for a presentation. You’d better go on down. Please don’t be concerned over last night. It was something that happened that neither of us planned. There are no strings, Carthinal, remember that.’
Carthinal left the room and descended the stairs feeling relief at Yssa’s words. They could still be friends without last night getting in the way as it sometimes did in these circumstances. The young half-elf was please to think that, as he truly liked Yssa and enjoyed her company and wanted to think that she also liked him and equally enjoyed his company, which it seemed she did. Yes, they could be friends.
He came to the Great Hall, which seemed even larger than before. It was filled with chairs, and a platform had been erected at one side. The other four newly qualified mages were already there, and they called him over. Hammevaro did not seem very pleased to see him, but the other three were very welcoming.
‘Now we’ll see how well we really did,’ remarked Grimmaldo. ‘They’ll give us our overall results at the ceremony.’
Shortly afterwards, they were told to take their seats at the front of the room, and the other chairs quickly filled up. Soon the magisters, the highest-ranking mages, entered in the golden robes that were reserved for these high-ranking men and women, and took their place on the platform. One man remained standing. He was Robiam, the man who was the Chief Magister of the Tower. He spoke for some time, welcoming the newly promoted apprentices to the ranks of the mages proper, gave them a few wise words, spoke with sadness of the loss of Laurre. He then gave a brief history of how the tests arose.
‘Once,’ said Robiam, ‘There were many different grades of mages, and tests were taken to achieve promotion from one grade to the next. You young people would have been at the first stage of your journey through those ranks, and would have been known as Conjurers. The next rank was Magician, and you would have had to take a test to progress from one to the other. Conjurers wore scarlet, and magicians wore blue. So it went on through witch/warlock, wizard, enchanter etc. up to arch-mage and magister. Each rank had its own colours, and only mages of that rank were allowed to wear robes of that particular colour. It was all very restrictive and hierarchical.’
He paused as though in thought, ‘A bit like the various churches still do to this day. Now, however, we’ve scrapped all the different ranks and only retained arch-mage and magister for those truly gifted mages who can attain those ranks. Mages can wear whatever colour they wish, except for gold, which is restricted to magisters. You young mages have a one-year probation to serve though in exceptional circumstances it is possible to finish your probation early. Don’t worry, it’s not something else to “fail” or “pass”, but just a safeguard so that folk, both mages and others, have the information that you are very new to this calling of ours and do not have unrealistic expectations of you. It is for the safeguarding of both new mages and the public. New mages wear the scarlet that “conjurers” of the past used to wear.
‘Now it is time for me to stop talking and to do what you have all been waiting for—The Presentation of the Robes to these young people.’
They went up one by one and collected their robes. At the same time, their final grades were given. Grimmaldo had achieved a good pass, as had Hammevaro. Olipeca obtained a merit, but Carthinal had achieved a distinction. All except Hammevaro were pleased with their results, but even he managed to relax a little during the celebratory meal after the ceremony.
Eventually, everything drew to a close, and the group was free to don their new robes, which they did with alacrity, and to go out to celebrate in their own way.