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Master Speritus was late for his afternoon class, which did not trouble his students. The wizard was often late, and the delay gave the young men--all of whom were restless to take their journeyman exams and leave the Academy behind for good--the chance to relax and digest their mid-day meal and have a bit of fun before the real work began. The chattering of the dozen or so students had escalated enough to rouse the master's pet wyvern, Argus, who crouched like a stone gargoyle in one drab corner of the candlelit room. A tall, skinny youth broke ranks and stood before his classmates. Though he did not have the impressive physique of a trained Guardsman, his body was lithe, and he moved with agility and swiftness. His face was thin and angular, but not unhandsome, and his hawk-like nose was so similar to Master Speritus's that he seemed marked to someday take the wizard's coveted position at the Academy. His keen eyes judged the audience, reading the expressions of his peers.
"Now, now, settle down," the apprentice said, waving his arms for silence the way his teacher always did. "Since I'm mentored to the master, it seems only fair I take charge until his presence is reestablished."
This idea delighted several of his friends; some of the other students seemed less pleased, however.
"Instruct us, oh wise Jann of the Lean Features," said Borodred, an Ambrian whose shock of pale blonde hair, a common trait of the northern lands from which he had journeyed to learn his chosen discipline, had always made him stand out from the rest of his comrades. Most of the apprentices, like Jann, had brown hair cropped short so as not to rival thelengthy, luxurious locks sported by their superiors.
"Thank you, friend Borodred," said Jann, bowing dramatically. "To prepare you for your final trials before you are purged from this fine and honorable institution like so much bad fairy dust from a dryad's congested nostrils, I have prepared a demonstration for your amusement."
"You can't do any demonstrations without Master Speritus's assistance," objected one of the students.
Jann regarded his heckler in the same manner a wealthy merchant might regard a village idiot who has had the misfortune of being run over by one of his caravan's gold-plated carriage wheels.
"Of course, some of you might harbor doubts about my abilities," Jann continued. "You might believe that the only way to perform wonders is with magic. To you I merely say that there are more things in this world than magic alone, as I'm certain the master would point out to you. So then, watch and be amazed!" With a flourish of his long arms, the apprentice materialized a piece of grey linen in his right hand.
His audience grunted mildly in disappointment.
"It's just a piece of cloth," sneered the boy who had chastised Jann.
"Oh, it's more than that," said Jann. "It's a breechcloth."
The boy snorted, "So?"
"Well, dear Pinkus, it's your breechcloth."
"Mine?" Pinkus said, his cheeks turning red. "Mine?" he repeated, and his skin showed even more astonishing hues. "You went through my clothes trunk?"
"Pinkus! I would never do such a thing to a cherished comrade. That would be a violation of your privacy."
"Then where did you get it?"
Jann struck a pensive pose. "This is a matter that might require further investigation. In the meantime, I apologize to you, Pinkus. Why don't you come up and get your undergarment?"
Pinkus huffed, but stood up to get what belonged to him. When he did so, however, he noticed that a sensitive portion of his body was not as protected from the elements as it should have been. His mouth dropped open and his jaws clenched as he ran up to Jann with both hands gripping his apprentice robes more securely about his loins.
"Give me that, you cur!" Pinkus spat, and dashed out of the room.
The other apprentices burst into laughter as they caught on to Jann's prank. They were still laughing when Argus's husky croon announced the arrival of his master.
Though Speritus said nothing as he entered, the guffaws and chuckles abated immediately, and Jann swiftly resumed his place among the other students. The wizard patted Argus affectionately on the snout before facing his class. Speritus was a little shorter than Jann, though much more impressive in the bronze-colored robes that symbolized his stature as a full wizard of the Plebeian Brotherhood. His head was bald, but his beard still kept most of its youthful black, and his body remained thin and vigorous, especially when compared to other wizards, who did not adhere to Speritus's almost religious regimen of daily exercise. The master's good health was reflected both in his rosy complexion and the bounce in his steps.
Copyright © 2004 Kevin Hile