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  • Writer's pictureRebekah Olson

Chapter 38

When Jerryck tried to simply tell Nita that he wanted Zev for an apprentice, she insisted all requests for apprentices be in writing, especially from members of the core staff. Annoyed, it took a few days, and some help from his wife before Jerryck got around to penning a formal request. It was about mid-afternoon when he brought it to Nita’s new office, the same one her father had used before ascending the throne. Judging from the gossip of people in the reception area, Nita and Terrance had gone in with one of the elite guards shortly after lunch, and hadn’t yet come back out. Jerryck sat and waited. It took nearly an hour more before the door to the office opened. Terrance emerged first. There was nothing in his face or demeanor that gave Jerryck any clues to anything discussed inside. When he left, more than half the waiting people followed him. Tajor came out next, escorted by the princess, who had the wide eyed expression of someone given a waterfall of information in too short a time period. She said to him, “You gave me more to consider than I expected.” “Take your time to assimilate the information,” Tajor said. “Discuss it with your father. I’ll abide by whatever decision you make.” Several people stood when Tajor left her. Some waved to draw Nita’s attention. She looked around at them all. Jerryck sunk down in his seat so her eyes would go over him. Though it would be nice to get this over with, most of these people had waited longer than him. “Jerryck—” she pointed at him— “I’ll talk to you next.” He got several glares as he followed her in. He handed over the request he’d written, then summed it up for her. “I’d like to take my nephew Zev for my apprentice.” She took the letter and quickly read it over. She stood in front of her father’s old desk, hers now. “You’re certain he’s the one you want? You’ve been introduced to several boys with the potential to learn your craft in the past couple of months.” “I told General Heston at the start that I’d always thought I’d apprentice Zev, not some random stranger,” Jerryck said. He listed some of the attributes he’d written down. “He has a strong aura, good for working magic. He plays a few of the harmless magic tricks I used to pull off as a kid, so I know he has the potential. He’s bright. Observant. He shows interest in what goes on around him. He never hesitates to ask about anything he doesn’t know. And he already assists me sometimes with menial chores anyway.” “You wrote all that.” Nita set the letter down. “What about all the tall tales he makes up. You wrote that’s a sign of an active imagination?” Jerryck was more grateful than ever his wife had helped him. She was the one who had insisted he include counters to some of Zev’s negative quirks. “If he can harness that imagination properly, applying it to creating spells, the tall tales will probably stop. He’ll have new stories that will be absolutely true.” “The general studies tutor says he needs to apply himself more.” “You know that tutor is hardest on his best students. He did it to me. He did it to you. He says that about all the smartest kids.” “All right.” Nita stepped around the desk, much tidier than her father had ever kept it. She opened a tall drawer with file folders, selected a paper out of one, filled in Zev’s name in a blank spot, signed the bottom, and applied her seal. She handed it over. “I approve this. Pending Zev’s agreement, you may slate him as your future apprentice, effective on his fifteenth birthday.” Jerryck smiled. This had been much easier and far more efficiently handled than he had thought it would. He left the office, making room for whoever she called in next. # At supper, Jerryck went to the common dining hall. All four of Kendra’s kids squeezed in by him at the long tables and chatted so much it was a wonder they got any food in their mouths at all. Between food garbling their words, and the buzz of conversation all around them, he couldn’t make out much of what they said to him. As people finished their meal, and desserts were set out for the diners, things quieted down some. Jerryck took that opportunity. “Zev, I have a question for you,” He said. Zev stopped shoveling in cake long enough to look up. “How would you like to be my apprentice?” “Great!” Zev’s face split open in a huge grin. Then he closed up again. “I’m not fifteen yet.” Jerryck shrugged. “That’s fine. I can start teaching you a few things anyway.” “Really?” Zev brightened back up. “You’d do that?” “Absolutely,” Jerryck said. “Why is this coming up all of a sudden?” his sister Chandra asked. Marla had stopped eating entirely. “Everyone’s taking an apprentice now.” Zev talked with his mouth full. “Darren’s older brother was made an apprentice groom in the stable yesterday. And Zed’s an apprentice smith now too.” “And I was told that if you agree, I could slate you for my apprentice,” Jerryck said. “It would be official as soon as you turn fifteen.” Zev dropped his fork. He leaped from his seat, whooping and jumping around. Zech, the toddler, laughed and squealed, clapping his little hands at his brother’s antics. Heads turned, people looking to see what the hullabaloo was about. Chandra saw that and yanked on Zev, trying to get him to sit down. He ignored her. Until Marla started crying. Zev sat beside her. “What’s wrong?” “Are you going to move out of our room?” she said with a sniffle. Jerryck had thought they’d all be thrilled. He stopped himself just before telling her so. Chandra hadn’t been as thrilled as he thought either. So perhaps it was just another of his social blunders. “Not right away.” Jerryck tried to console his niece instead of telling her to be happy for Zev. “It just means I’m going to start teaching him a few things. He’ll have to do that in addition to his normal chores and lessons, so he’ll have less free time, but he’ll still live in your room for a little while, until we get a few things arranged.” “It’s not like I’m leaving the palace.” Zev hugged her. “I’ll still eat with you here. And I’ll spend as much time with you as I can. If you ever need me, you’ll know right where to find me.” “In Uncle Jerryck’s workroom?” Marla wiped a couple tears away. “Or in my old room behind it,” Jerryck said. “That’s not really a room.” Chandra looked dubious. “It’s more like a closet space. And I don’t care what anyone else says, I think you curtained it off to hide all the junk you stuff in there. You think Zev is going to sleep on one of those stacks or something?” “That’s part of what I meant about arranging things,” Jerryck said. “I’ll clean it out. And it’s not junk. There’s a use for every item stored in there.” “How often do you use them?” she asked. “Some of the things in there are overflow for tools and ingredients I don’t have space for in the workroom cupboards and shelves.” There was no way he would admit out loud that some of the things in there he had never used. He was simply too fascinated with them to throw them out. “I’ll get it cleared out enough to have a cot in there. Then it’ll be in about the same state it was when I moved into it back when I was slated to be an apprentice.” “See, Marla?” Zev kissed the top of her head. “I’ll stay right where you can come get me anytime you need.” “I guess that’ll be okay.” Marla pushed away her dessert. # It took another half a week before some of the turmoil in the palace calmed. Positions filled. People settled into their new roles. Everyone adjusted. Jerryck received a message that he couldn’t skip the weekly general staff meeting. Again. He suppressed a groan. Terrance would announce the new Priad. And then Jerryck would be bored through the rest of the time he could be doing other, more productive things. He was attending far more meetings lately than normal. Maybe he could use that as an excuse to skip all of them for the next few months. When he got there, almost everyone else had already gathered. He may as well have stepped into the common dining hall for all the cacophony. People discussed, debated, some even laid odds on who would be named. A few arguments sparked up, then quickly settled as they eyed the elite guards that always lined the walls under the various district banners. Jerryck spotted Tajor and his three friends among them. The room quieted and all the secondary advisers shifted restlessly when Terrance stepped up to stand in front of the table on the dais. He said to everyone, “As promised, the first item on the agenda is the last position on the core staff. My daughter has chosen a man that meets my approval.” One of the advisers who had constantly sided with Lalven against Nita slumped in his seat. Another, who had always spoken up for her, sat straighter. He smiled as Terrance handed the meeting over to the princess. She rose from her seat, but didn’t come around to the front of the table like her father. She said, “I’ve spoken individually with each and every secondary adviser, plus many others. I received their recommendations and took them all into consideration. I took counsel with my father. I gave more weight to his recommendation than any other. That man is the one I’ve decided to appoint, for reasons that won’t be discussed in this meeting.” Jerryck resisted resting his chin in his hands and letting his eyes glaze over. Why did people have put so much preamble on something that could be straightforward and simple? Everyone else seemed to enjoy the anticipation. The adviser who slumped sat up, looking slightly less pessimistic. The one who smiled, beamed even more and tilted up his chin. Almost everyone else leaned forward, sitting on the edges of their seats. Except the guards. They might as well have been wall fixtures for all the expression they gave. Except Tajor. For some reason, he stiffened and looked slightly alarmed. “We have decided to appoint Tajor,” Nita said. The eager adviser deflated. “Tajor?” The slumping one curled his upper lip. “Tajor?” “Yes.” Nita didn’t look directly at them. She looked across the room, at everyone else, at the shocked expressions. Heads turned back and forth to stare open mouthed between her and Tajor. Some people came close to displaying open offense and disgust, as if the appointment were a personal insult. As if they had any right to offense. It wasn’t their decision. The fact that some of them had been consulted at all was a privilege and an honor. They ought to be pleased. Jerryck shook his head. People were confusing. She looked right at Tajor. “You have nothing to say about this new appointment?” All the color had leached from Tajor’s face, leaving his skin nearly as gray as his hair and eyes. He pointed to the slumper. “I recommended him.” “We didn’t choose him,” Nita said. “We decided to appoint you. And you said you would abide by whatever decision we made.” “I wasn’t referring to this!” “Whether this is what you referred to or not, you gave your word. Stand by it.” Tajor’s aura buzzed, the same as it had in Shontarra. This time, he didn’t acquiesce. He broke eye contact, looking only at the back of the room. The buzzing continued. Jerryck sucked in his own aura, protecting it from even coming close to touching Tajor’s, even from across the large room. The entire rest of the meeting, that was all Jerryck concentrated on. He didn’t listen to anything said or done. He simply focused on keeping clear of the buzz radiating from Tajor. Tajor refused to participate. He wouldn’t respond to anyone on the floor. He wouldn’t budge from the wall among the guards to take the priad’s seat on the dais. And when the meeting was finally dismissed, he bolted for the exit. “Tajor,” Terrance called to him. He pointed to the door to the small council chamber off to the side. “You’re going the wrong way.” The buzz increased momentarily, until Tajor stopped and hunched his shoulders. Then it went back to the level it had been at before. It went down further after all the rest of the staff had left and Heston grabbed Tajor by the arm to direct him to the small council chamber. But it was still there. Jerryck made sure to stay as far away from him as possible, even in the smaller room. “You weren’t really serious, were you?” Tajor looked back and forth between Terrance and Nita. He planted his feet just inside the door, not moving an inch farther. “I don’t know how to do this. Surely you want someone more qualified.” Terrance stood behind his chair and rested his arms on its high back. “Like who?” “I gave you my recommendation,” Tajor repeated. “This position is my primary adviser,” Terrance said. “I need someone with enough experience in different situations that he understands things better than most. You think the man you recommended has more years of experience to draw upon than you?” “This position requires decision making skills I don’t have.” Tajor leaned his back against the door, his hands splayed flat on its surface. “I think he has more training than I.” Nita cupped her chin in her hand, smiling innocently. “What good is training without actual experience?” “And don’t worry about making decisions,” Terrance said. “You just give us your experience. Leave the decisions to us.” “No decisions?” The buzzing from Tajor eased further. “At all?” “I can’t promise no decisions,” Terrance said. Nita laughed. “Everyone has to learn how to make decisions. Whether we’re just a few days old, or we’ve lost track of our years because there are too many, we have to learn how to make decisions.” “And the consequences?” Tajor asked. “What if your decision is wrong? What about the consequences?” “Consequences are something we all face together and live with,” Terrance said. “In most cases, we compensate for, or take advantage of them. We’ll figure this out. Come take your seat at the table.” “Please?” Nita’s innocent look gave way to a pleading expression, the same one that had worked on her father when she was little. “Don’t expect me to say something just because it’s what you want to hear,” Tajor said with a glower. The buzzing abruptly ceased. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Nita said. “I’m not letting you out of elite duties for this,” Heston said, standing in his usual corner, arms crossed. “I’ve got other nobles in those ranks. They all do their duties.” “You’ve got minor nobles in the elite?” Jerryck risked getting close enough to sit. Even closer, there was no buzzing from Tajor. “Even if he didn’t before, he does now,” Nita said. “As priad on my father’s core staff, that makes Tajor a minor noble.” “I am not calling him a lord,” Jerryck muttered. Tajor cracked up laughing, color returning to his cheeks. “At least one of you is still sensible. For a while, I thought all of you had lost your minds.” Terrance laid out his agenda for the session. Jerryck grabbed some of the paper that was always available on the table and took notes. Not of the agenda. On Tajor. The buzzing happened when he refused an order. It stopped when he complied. Did it also stop when the order was rescinded? Several theories and hypotheses flitted about in Jerryck’s head. He hesitated before writing them down. What was it Yeshiyahu had said? Experimenting enervated him? Made it more likely he’d have an accident? Something like that. It explained why he’d blown up his workroom so many times. But surely, just recording hypotheses wasn’t actual experimenting. He should be safe enough. He put the pen to the paper. If Tajor was given a direct order he didn’t want to obey, was that what made his aura buzz and vibrate so much it made Jerryck’s teeth ache? That couldn’t be it entirely. Tajor had received a number of orders he didn’t want to obey. More often than not, he pestered, distracted, and annoyed the person giving the order until they didn’t make him do it. Which led rise to the theory that he did it on purpose to entice the rescinding of the order. Jerryck wrote out order after order he could give Tajor, just to see if he could get that buzzing to start up. Or perhaps he could get someone else to give the order. Tajor had a tendency to evade anything Jerryck told him to do. If he could figure out one that Tajor didn’t want to do, that he couldn’t evade, would that make his aura buzz? Until… when? When he capitulated? When he distracted enough that the order was rescinded or forgotten? Before Jerryck realized how much time had passed, everyone got up. The meeting had ended. The chamberlain, the chancellor, and the steward left. Terrance and Nita followed them. Heston lingered. “You get to keep the room you earned with the elite in their barracks,” he was saying to Tajor. “But I had most of your belongings moved to Lalven’s old room. You’ll board there.” “You moved my things before I accepted the position?” Tajor was still standing by the door to the large council chamber. Had he actually sat down? Or had he remained there the entire time. “Terrance assured me you’d accept,” Heston said. “Because he’d order it?” Jerryck asked. Tajor narrowed his eyes at him. He glanced at the papers Jerryck had been scribbling on the entire time, not that he could possibly read it from that distance. Or could he? He said, “Didn’t you learn recently that thinking and experimenting with new possibilities is an energy builder for you? If you haven’t learned to properly control that yet, aren’t you worried at all that you might have another accident?” “What experimenting?” Heston stepped over behind Jerryck and scooped up the notes. Glancing through them, he grunted. Then he said, “This vibrating you’re referring to, when he disobeys a direct order, is that part of his curse?” “I don’t think so,” Jerryck said. “That absorbs magic and breaks it. This is entirely different. Almost like it’s part of his very nature.” “Interesting.” Heston dropped the notes back on the table in front of Jerryck. He said to Tajor. “Confirm or deny this.” “Confirm or deny what?” Tajor asked. “That there are things about me that you don’t fully understand? Wouldn’t that be true about every human in existence?” “Evasion,” Heston said. “All right. Explain to me why you break people when you fight.” “Break people?” Jerryck stood. “Tajor doesn’t break people. I was told he doesn’t fight at all.” “Because when he does, he breaks who he fights with.” Heston crossed his arms, staring at Tajor. “Explain.” “You said it yourself.” Jerryck rolled up his notes. “He’s too strong.” “And he’s given me tiny clues in the past that he believes he’s weak,” Heston said. “Now be quiet. He’s letting you do the distracting so he doesn’t have to in order to evade.” “Really?” Jerryck hadn’t thought of that. He looked over at Tajor. “Explain,” Heston repeated to him. Tajor’s aura buzzed. Jerryck recoiled. He said, “You don’t want to explain this.” “I’ve explained it to Terrance,” Tajor said. “Just last week, I also explained to Nita. Isn’t that enough?” “No.” Heston remained steadfast. “Explain to me. Now.” “Why don’t you want to explain this?” Jerryck asked. “Because it reveals something about himself,” Heston said. “In case you haven’t noticed, you get the most evasion and distraction from him if you try and dig into his personal business or his past. If I didn’t know him so well, I’d have missed when he dropped the hints that he feels weak.” “How could you possibly feel weak?” Jerryck asked Tajor. “Is delusion part of your curse or something?” “No, weakness is.” The buzzing coming from Tajor ceased. “I’m at half my strength. When I’m agitated, I miscalculate how much force to apply. And no, I don’t like revealing my past, for very specific reasons. Which Terrance agrees with. So don’t ask me any more.” Heston nodded slowly. “We’ll leave you be. For now.” Tajor bolted for the door, faster than he had after the general staff meeting. Heston said to Jerryck, “I’m surprised you noticed this about him.” Jerryck rolled up his notes. “It was the reaction in his aura.” “Here’s a tip that I’m sure you haven’t noticed,” Heston said. “And it’s something you’ll need to watch for. When he’s agitated, he stops asking questions. He starts answering them, and giving orders.” “Wouldn’t giving orders mean he’s making decisions?” Jerryck asked. “He makes more decisions than he realizes,” Heston said. “It’s just when he’s aware of it and over-thinking all the possible consequences that he freezes up. In this new position, more people are going to be relying on him. He’ll be in more variety of situations. Pay attention. Because if he ever flips from asking constant questions to answering and ordering, something’s wrong. Do whatever he tells you.”

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