Dryn awoke shortly after the tenth hour. She had gotten to the inn late the evening before. It had been later than propriety should have allowed, but she was driven by desire to make it to the village that night and no later. So, she walked when she should’ve slept. She had been walking for many, many months. In fact, she had walked across all the regions of the empire, visiting places that most people wouldn’t see in their lifetimes. Places that their children and their grandchildren would probably never see, and she did this at the urging of her grandparents. They had given her quite a large amount of coin and pushed her out the door.
“Go see the world. Meet people, learn things, and don’t come back until you do,” they said with a wink and a smile.
Thinking on her grandparents brought a smile to her face. They had done an excellent job raising her after her parents’ death. She was very, very young when it happened. So much so, that her only memories were of the pictures and stories that she had been told.
Her parents had been powerful mages who excelled in many facets of magic, but their true joy had been alchemy and the research and development of new applications of magic. When the golem wars began they had been called to duty and lost their lives in the process. That’s when she came to live with her grandparents, and their love had been all that she had ever needed.
She was as comfortable as she could ever remember being; it had been ages since she had slept in a proper bed. She could have spent another whole day sleeping, but today was long awaited and her excitement outweighed her weariness. She washed her face and put on the dress she had purchased for today, a pretty, pink dress with short sleeves, straight collar and skirt just to her knees, gathered her things and made her way down the stairs to the common room to get some food.
The common room had slowed from the morning rush by the time Dryn made her way down from her room. Only a few other late risers or early drinkers were still there.
“Good morning, Miss Dryn. You slept well, I gather? We still have some time before my wife needs to begin preparing for the lunch rush if you would break your fast.”
“That would be delightful, Master Drull. Thank you.”
Horace Drull, the innkeeper, was a portly fellow with a kind face and ready smile and his wife, Heilda was a fantastic cook. Their inn, though one of only two inns in the town, was quite popular. There had been a number of people from all walks of life, when Dryn arrived the night before. Artisans, merchants, and mages all enjoyed good times and good food. And at the forefront of it all were the Drulls. A fool could see that they loved their work and took pride in their building and their workers.
Master Drull set out a bowl of oatmeal with what looked like blue and black berries mixed in, some sausage links, and fresh milk.
“So what brings you to Tamarind’s Barrow? You wanna be a mage I’d wager.”
Dryn looked up with her mouth full of oatmeal and smiled.
“Mmmhmmmm!” She quickly swallowed her mouthful and continued, “I can’t wait. I hear the university doesn’t turn anyone away. I’ve been rejected so many times before.”
“You don’t say.”
“ Oh yeah. Until about a year ago, I wasn’t able to use magic at all.”
“Couldn’t even use a fire rod.”
“But everybody can use a fire rod. That’s why they enchant the blasted things. For us normal folk.”
“Trust me. I tried….hard. Nothing worked.”
“Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a person who couldn’t at least work an enchantment. So how are you gonna get into a mage university?” Master Drull asked.
“Like I said, I couldn’t use magic. Now I can. Sort of.”
“What? How did you change things? What do you mean sort–”
“Horace Drull!” interrupted Mistress Drull with a smack on his shoulder. “You let this poor girl alone to her breakfast. She’s got a big day ahead of her and she doesn’t need you talking her ear off.”
Master Drull chuckled and said, “ You’re right my dear and best of luck to you Miss Dryn.”
“You’ll be needing it too,” said Mistress Drull. “Classes began a week ago. You might be too late.”
Dryn paused with a pensive look in her eye. She looked up at the innkeeper’s wife and said, “No. They’ll have to accept me.”
Mistress Drull looked at Dryn with a satisfied smile. “…I bet they will. Now hurry up with that food and be off with you. I won’t be having you late for your first day.”
“Yes ma’am!” said Dryn with her mouth full of her last bite of breakfast. She stood up, gulped down the last drop of milk, grabbed her luggage, and made her way to the door of the inn. Before she reached the door, Mistress Drull called out to her, “We look forward to seeing fantastic things from you.”
“I look forward to doing them,” Dryn said playfully. And with that, she made her way to the University of Magical Sciences.
By this time, the villagers were in full swing: merchants hawking their wares, blacksmiths and carpenters hammering away, and children playing in the streets. The people seemed content, and there was a vibrancy to this place that only made her more excited for the end of her journey.
After about an hour of walking through farmer’s fields and forests, Dryn reached the summit of a hill that overlooked the university. She quickened her step and hurried down the road until she was almost running. She couldn’t wait any longer; and the sight of the walls of this old fortification, turned house of learning, filled her with a satisfaction that she hadn’t been expecting. It was almost enough to make her cry, but she held strong and ran even harder, her luggage bouncing off the stones in her fervor.
The school had been built on one of the larger hills for which the Seven Hills had been named. It was a lone sentinel standing vigilant, a solitary protector of the countryside’s surpassing beauty. And it was beautiful. The lush greenery, rolling hills and a crystal blue lake behind the University invited a swim in the warmer months.
She made it to the gates as students were filing out from the keep. It seemed despite Mistress Drull’s insistence, Dryn ended up late on her first day. Some of the students seemed happy to amble around in small groups of friends, laughing, chatting, and eating their lunches, but a rather large group seemed to be forming around a raised stone platform, upon which two male students were standing. The spectators were laughing and yelling with obvious excitement, and Dryn was unable to hold back her curiosity. She made her way to the outskirts of the crowd to get a closer look when she noticed a boy on the ground, leaning against a tree, a short distance from everyone else. He was a rather good looking boy. With his school uniform untucked, his tie in his pocket, and his blonde hair in his face, there was something intriguing about him. “Why does he separate himself from everyone? Does he have no friends?” she thought. It doesn’t matter. She would be his friend.
“Hello, my name is Dryn. Why is everyone so excited?” she said as she pointed to the crowd.
The young boy looked up at her with an emotionless look on his face and cleared his throat.
“They’re about to duel. Maybe you should get a closer look.”
“Oh a duel! I’ve heard of this ritual.” Dryn said, as she sat down next to him. “They’re not going to try to kill each other are they?”
He turned to look at her as she sat down. His emotionless state disturbed as much by her question as her insistence on not leaving him in peace.
“Of course, they’re not going to kill each other. First, they’re just students. Secondly, duels haven’t been used for that purpose in ages.”
“That has sense to it. Tell me, why aren’t you up there? You want to, but something’s keeping you from doing so?”
The boy looked a little taken aback. As he attempted to stammer a response, he was interrupted by a voice from behind.
“I see we have a visitor. Young Miss, are you a friend of Daeken’s?”
Dryn turned around to see an older woman with a pretty face and her graying hair up in a bun. She was wearing green robes that brought out the color of her eyes quite nicely, even through her glasses, and a smile that made Dryn feel as if a lion had accepted her into its home. It wasn’t a bad feeling, but it wasn’t a relaxing feeling either.
“Hello, my name is Dryn. It is a pleasure to meet you. I am here to enroll in your school.”
“So you wish to be a mage do you? You are aware that classes have already been held for a week now?”
“I am, indeed. I feel sure that the headmaster will overlook my tardiness once he sees what I can do; though, I do want to apologize for being late. It took me longer than I thought it would to walk here from Bal’ Kirin.”
“Courteous and confident. I imagine I should take you to see him immediately. Come this way… and Daeken tuck in your shirt and put on your tie.”
Daeken begrudgingly did as she said with some choice words under his breath. Dryn turned to him with a chuckle and said,
“It was very nice to meet you, Daeken. I’m looking forward to being good friends with you.”
Dryn left with the kindly, lion teacher, as Daeken stared with that same perplexed look on his face. They walked across the courtyard to another student with black hair and fair skin, engrossed in a rather thick scholarly looking book.
“Miss Temperance.” said the teacher.
The girl snapped her book closed and jumped to attention. “Yes, Miss Ashdown.”
Temperance’s uniform was in perfect condition, every inch neatly pressed. Her long black hair as straight as an arrow fell over her shoulders except what was pulled back by a little clip at her right temple. Not a hair out of order. A model student if Dryn had ever seen one. Of course, she had never been to a school and had, in fact, never seen any kind of student.
“Temperance, this is Dryn. I want you to show her around the campus and then take her to the Headmaster’s office.”
“Thank you so much, Miss Ashdown. I look forward to studying with you. I’m sure there’s a lot I can learn from you.”
“That will be entirely up to you.”
“If you’ll follow me.” said Temperance.
Dryn curtsied and followed Temperance across the courtyard towards what used to be the castle’s keep, her mind wandering while Temperance gave her the “official” tour of the facilities.
“The main tower was built over a hundred years ago, but was repurposed as the main educational facility of our campus. The top floor was destroyed during a siege, and the fortification was abandoned as the population of Aldorn began to rise. This too has been repurposed as it now serves as the schools garden. If you look you can see the trellis…. Are you paying attention?”
“Oh yes! I find it all terribly interesting. I would especially like to see the garden. I bet the birds love it up there.” Dryn said as she stared up into the sky. Her gaze following a flock of birds till they were just out of sight. She looked at Temperance and cocked her head to the side as if just now noticing something.
“Your hair is really very pretty, Tem. Can I call you Tem?”
“What, I…” she began to blush. “W-Why don’t I show you the dining hall.”
She turned around and walked so quickly that Dryn almost had to run to catch back up. They made their way through the large doorway. There were so many students laughing and playing, practicing their magic. Dryn was amazed by it all. This was what she had been longing for and she could wait no longer. She interrupted her tour guide in the middle of a speech on the population of the school.
“So all of these students are mages?”
“They will be once they graduate. The senior class actually does some work outside the school in neighboring villages and what not.”
“ I want to be a mage so badly, Tem. Would it be alright if we went to the Headmaster’s office next.”
“Right now? But the tour… oh all right. Come with me.”
Dryn hugged her tight. “Thank you. Thank you. I promise I will let you finish your tour once I’m a student. I can tell you’ve worked hard on it.”
“Alright, alright.” Tem said with a chuckle while turning beet red. Dryn kept a firm grip around her waist. “Okay… That’s enough… Let’s go.” A couple of guys began to laugh as Dryn let go of her. Temperance grew even redder, turned around, and stalked over to the boys. They immediately stopped laughing and ran for the exits. With a satisfied look on her face and her head held high, she turned and said, “Right this way.”
They made their way across the dining hall and through the kitchens to the back entrance of the keep and out the door. To their right, Dryn could see a thatched overhang built from the side of the castle. The clanging of metal rang in her ears and gouts of flame poured out of the front.
“This is the Headmaster’s office. Just go inside and his secretary will introduce you.”
This is it, she thought. She was so excited and yet, somewhat worried that she would be rejected again. There was only one way to find out, though.
“One more thing,” said Tem. “I do hope he accepts your application and… thank you for saying I was pretty.”
Dryn hugged her again.
“Alright, I didn’t say hug me. No need for that.”
“It seemed as good a time as any,” said Dryn.
And with that, Dryn walked up to the Headmaster’s office.