Summer L14, 46 AE
A white marble walkway guides us to the temple. A horde of apprentices rushes up the steps before me. Though some are highborn, we wear the same charcoal-dyed robes. The temple doors, taller than five men, swing open to let us in.
“Foyd, Kaison.” The young master holding the ledger stares blankly ahead.
Today I begin my apprenticeship at the Temple of Summer’s Light. It’s the most important day of my life.
“Yes, thank you. I’m Kai.” I wave.
“Master NcTully is waiting for you in the East Library,” she says.
I weave through the crowd of other young apprentices and exchange a piece of parchment for a smile. I can’t believe I’m here. I find myself continually closing my mouth to keep a smile from swimming to the surface and making me look like a fool. The dyed parchment is the first proof that my apprenticeship is real.
Summer’s Light is the base of knowledge and civilization for the realm. Seekers of wisdom travel from every nation to visit the beautiful temple and listen to the masters recite text from the ancient scrolls. Most of the apprentices are devout Artians, but it isn’t a requirement to attend. Artism is the most common religion in the North and possibly the oldest in Elybion. My mother, a devout Artian, spent her entire life seeking the necessary knowledge to guide me to Summer’s Light.
Summer’s Light is the grandest structure in a city where greatness can be lost in a sea of pristine architecture. I slide my fingers down the walls as I walk to the libraries. It’s the greatest honor of my life to be here. Summer’s Light is a polished beacon of wisdom for the rest of the realm. The governors of Delphinus honor knowledge above anything else. The result is a prospering country. Other nations, in the South, invest their resources in armies and war, but Delphinus and the North Isles have little in terms of an organized army. Our people are pacifists who excel in politics, accounting, and city design.
I enter the East Library. Apprentices in burlap robes rummage through piles of loose parchment.
“Greetings. I was sent to meet Master NcTully.” I step into the foyer.
The busy apprentices ignore me. Beyond them, a great Fangourian calendar is carved into the wall. I’ve never seen a depiction so large. My breath shortens as my excitement grows. I’m in the right place.
The Fangourian Empire relied on man because they didn’t believe in any god. Near the end of their reign, the great minds of the empire developed the calendar, which united the realm under standard days. Not everything the Fangourians made was destructive.
I start to reach for the carved notches representing days of the year, but I pull back. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to touch it, and I don’t think I want to. The chiseled art seems like something that should be cherished and protected. The creators divided the year into eight rulers. Each season has two, and each ruler owns fifty days for a total of four hundred. Even rural families memorize the days. Most cherish the days owned by their country. I count the notches and follow them around the circular calendar to find today’s ruler. Today is the fourteenth day of Lebonor, who was the first grandmaster of Summer’s Light. What role will I have here with this calendar?
“Over here,” a scratchy voice calls from somewhere between the shelves.
“Master NcTully?” I say.
“Yes, yes. Now, come,” Master NcTully says.
I follow the man’s voice down the row.
“Master?” I search between the shelves.
“This way.” Master NcTully appears behind me.
His back is hunched so that his freckled white face, covered with a wiry gray beard, sits on his chest. His robe is midnight-blue like most of the masters’. Unlike most masters’, his dress is ragged, with many holes.
“This is where we keep the bits about land creatures. It’s common for us to get requests on the subject, especially from ranchers in North Aptoria. They seem especially interested in cattle breeding.” Master NcTully runs his fingers along the scrolls as we walk.
Bits of dust fall out and waft into my face. My nose scrunches as I try to fight sneezing. My tightened face isn’t strong enough to hold back the sneeze.
“You’ll get used to the dust,” Master NcTully says.
We make several turns down the winding shelves filled with scrolls.
“What is your name, son?” Master NcTully stops.
“Kai,” I say.
“Kai? No. What is your father’s name? Your family name?” he says.
“Foyd. My full name is Kaison Foyd, Master. Foyd is the name passed down from my mother, Master,” I say.
“I see. Well, that’s a rather boring name. I suppose that it’s a common name in Ariland. Pity, there aren’t any notable historical figures with that name.” He pats a large bound book of texts. “This is where we house all the texts about the families of the realm. My name, NcTully, comes from a long line of stewards here at the temple. Our name originates from Master Garth NcTully.” He looks back for a response.
“Oh, really?” I say. He wants me to be impressed, and it’s not a lie for me.
“Yes, it’s true. My ancestors were among the first who rediscovered the North Isles, which is your home, if I’m not mistaken. You can thank my ancestor that you are here.” He laughs and pats the book a few more times.
Part of me wants to thank him, and part of me resents his statement completely. I keep my mouth shut and follow him down another row of shelves.
“We have many requests for proof of heritage and family lineages. It is a constant battle and one we never have enough apprentices for. I think I’ll start you here,” he says.
“Really? That’s great. I’ve studied many of the ruling houses, and I can recite—”
“You’ll need to prove your quill speed. We don’t have tolerance for a slow print, and I do hope you know your calendar,” Master NcTully interrupts.
I nod and remain silent. I know everything about the calendar, but he isn’t interested in what I know. I hide a sigh and suppress my excitement about the calendar for the time being. Master NcTully is most interested in making sure I know my place.
“Come this way.” NcTully waves me on.
My mother’s protection trinket brushes my skin underneath my robe as I turn. Then I remember the songs my mother taught me about the calendar as NcTully guides me. I smile, imagining her reaction if she were to see it carved into the white marble.
My work grows as the days pass.
The Foyer of Letters is the most cluttered excuse for a hall in all of Summer’s Light. Apprentices crowd the hall to gather letters for themselves and their masters.
“For Master NcTully?” An apprentice hands me a pile of letters.
“Yes.” I accept the stack of mismatched parchment.
I examine the letters for the feathered hand of North Aptoria, which I find pressed into blue wax on one of the sealed letters. Each Aptorian family has a unique emblem, but this feathered hand represents the five major families united.
“This is it.” I slide the letter to the top of the pile. “Thank you.”
“A delivery from Tyfu for Kaison Foyd.” A master shakes the roll of parchment in his hand.
“Yes, Master.” I wave my hands, full of letters.
“Here, then.” He dumps the scroll into my elbow crease.
The red wax seal of Tyfu bleeds through the parchment, but I know the author.
How are your studies? Perhaps your letters were lost somewhere in the Northern Sea. I know you are safe with the stone, but I miss you. Take a ferry home to visit us during the journey season. Remember your teachings. Art has a plan for you, and she will guide you through the gateways.
Love, Mother—Joleen Foyd
Her signature is scratched at the bottom of the letter. The journey season is the time when Artians travel to sacred sites for prayer and reflection. The season occurs every other year, and the most recent journey ended a few days ago.
I reach through my robe for the leather-bound trinket. What superstitious bundle has my mother left tethered around my neck?
The crowd of apprentices continues to scurry through the letters of the realm. My eyes connect with one of the masters, dressed in white robes. He stares confidently from across the room. His skin is richly brown, like an Arilandic highborn, while his hair is black, contrasting against his undyed hood. His strikingly violet eyes pierce through me. I feel awkward, like I should look away, but my curiosity hooks me to him. Although I’ve never seen this man, he seems to recognize me.
A group of apprentices rushes between us, and I lose sight of the man. Master NcTully will note my absence if I linger any longer. I grab the letters and leave.
I’ve spent weeks copying text about the storage and upkeep of honey. A wealthy lord from Swedas requested the bundle, and we have remained busy since. Stagnant dust floats around us as we work. I haven’t left the library since the masters assigned the task. I would like to sleep in my hammock, but the climb up the stairs to my chamber is more of a chore than when I first arrived.
The work is grueling, but no one complains. The others are all my age or perhaps younger. There are two young women sitting in front of me. Their assignment is to log all the species of bees. We work together, yet separately. There are too many words for us to read the same scrolls twice, so we share what we find.
I find one section describing which species produces the best honey.
“Here.” I lay the scroll in front of them.
“Thank you,” Phanelly Mercah says.
Phanelly is a princess of Dalveri, the capital of the North Aptoria region. Like most women from the Northeast, she is light skinned with a petite physique. Her shoulder-length hair frames her face with perfectly blended bits of wheat and barley. She doesn’t show any arrogance, which usually accompanies royalty here at Summer’s Light. Lord Davon Mercah, the ruler of North Aptoria, is her father. Since the fall of the empire, many of the great houses have adopted loftier titles, such as King or Prime, yet the North Aptorians refused the more extravagant names. I don’t know their reasons, but I like when fewer people in the realm call themselves king or queen.
Phanelly’s friend is Sanya Samon. She’s equally as attractive. Her skin is flawlessly dark, like a carefully stained wood. Sanya is related to the queen of Magnavoz and looks more Magnavozian than most.
At Summer’s Light, highborn apprentices are as common as lowborn. We wear the same clothes, and the masters discourage the use of titles. Still, nothing wards off their intimidating looks.
I carry a dry ink bottle to the front of the library, where a large vase of ink sits. Phanelly looks up from her work as I pass them. Her expressions are kind, but I’m uncomfortable.
“Pardon. Do you mind if I take a few drops of ink?” I say.
“Please do,” Phanelly says.
Usually the royals don’t acknowledge me. Her kindness is as rare as it is genuine. I smile and crank the lever, which pumps the ink out of the vase and through a filtered cloth. As the ink drips through the cloth, I watch Sanya and Phanelly work. Phanelly’s elegant script-hand produces line after line of flawless text, while Sanya’s hand is quicker and less refined.
“Your ink.” Sanya points at my overfilled bottle.
Droplets of ink splash onto the floor. I try to contain the rest, yet a clumsy jerk causes the ink to pour onto my robe. Sanya laughs, and Phanelly maintains her composure.
“Kaison, that’s your name, right?” Phanelly says.
My face flushes, and I wipe my ink-stained hands on my robe.
“Uh, yes. I’m Kaison Foyd, but please call me Kai,” I say.
“Very well, Kai. Aren’t you from the islands?” She writes as she speaks, looking up to me every other line.
“Yes, that’s correct. I’m from a little village called Watertree,” I say.
“That’s a lovely name for a town. I would like to hear more about it. I’m Phan, and this is my friend Sanya.” She points the end of her feathered quill toward her friend.
“Hello.” Sanya doesn’t look up.
“Hi. It’s nice to meet you both,” I say.
“Are you going to listen to Master Erwon and Master Yessic on the Plat?”
The Plat is a broad surface raised in the center of the garden. It is a holy place where masters give speeches on their discoveries. Sometimes the masters will have differing opinions, and they settle them on the same stage. During the debates, apprentices, other masters, and city folk form the audience. It is a battle of wits, where words can be as damaging as punches.
“Yes, I suppose I will.” I casually shrug, and I walk back to my seat.
“You can sit with us if you like.” Phan turns back to me.
For a moment I’m stunned. It seems like too kind an offer.
“Thank you,” I say.
When she turns away, I smile. Sanya catches my awkward grin. She frowns and lowers her eyebrows. I casually begin my script, and my smile fades.
“I’m tired of copying text. I thought we would be learning more interesting things by now,” Sanya says.
“We will be teaching the next rank of learners soon,” Phan says.
“I can’t imagine filling any more pages with this boring drivel about bees.” Sanya lies down over the table.
“It’s not so bad. Look at this line right here.” Phan points to the text she is reading from.
I edge closer to see what she is pointing at. Sanya waves her hand to shoo Phan away.
“See this, Kai?” Phan notices me peeking from behind her.
“What’s that?” I say.
“Look here. Bees are vital to the success of farms. Locations with bees near are more likely to produce high-yielding crops. That’s pretty special. If you ask me, the bee is a direct gift from Art.” Phan rapidly taps her parchment with her quill.
I nod and continue to work, which suddenly seems more gratifying.
Later in the evening, I leave the Plat and journey through the garden to my tower. The debates were lively but long for a group of tired apprentices. As I walk through the fragrant orchard, exhaustion pulls my back into a hunch. Pigeons coo, skirt away, and circle back behind me. Phan and Sanya were kind to invite me to sit with them. No one talked, because speaking from the crowd is considered disrespectful, but even in silence, it was nice to not be alone in the crowd.
I reach the bottom of the tower. As I peer up the endless steps, lit by wavering candlelight, I exhale a long sigh. I ascend to the top chamber for the first time in weeks. The moonlights are shining through the window and under my door before I enter. I drop my satchel on the ground and stumble over to my hammock in the corner. The chamber is large enough to accommodate several more apprentices. Empty hammocks hang in each corner. I’m the only apprentice foolish enough to climb to the top of the tower. Giving way to fatigue, I fall into my hammock. It swings and sways as my eyes shutter closed.
I wake to silence. The moonlights have faded, leaving only gloomy darkness. Wooden planks creak from across the chamber. I peer up and across the room to find the source in the darkness. Nothing. My outstretched neck relaxes, and I roll back to the corner.
When my eyes meet the corner, a man with hot breath and glowing violet eyes is waiting.
I scream and scramble to fight myself free. Something is squeezing tighter around my waist and neck. The hammock? It’s wrapped around me. With exhausted lungs and a wildly beating heart, I thrash and scratch until I twist myself into another knot. One end of the hammock tears, and I fall to the ground as it unravels. The trinket unwinds from its pouch on my neck. Herbs sprinkle onto my chest, and a beautiful stone slides across the chamber floor. The moonlights have returned. Their radiance seems to flow through the stone like waves into a cove.
The man is gone, or was he ever here? I light candles all around my chamber and lean my back against the bricks. The fear of the man returning keeps me awake.
The next morning, NcTully is waiting to give us new assignments. Phan and Sanya move back to the West Library to aid Master Erwon with a finance assignment. I remain to replicate and update family trees. Though I’m surrounded by other apprentices, I feel lonelier without Phan.
My mind wanders to the glowing violet eyes. What magic possessed me? I need answers, but the ever-increasing piles of parchment nag at me.
“Begin. I’ll have more for you soon.” NcTully scurries away.
I skim through the pile of texts until I find one that interests me.
“Yes. Nagidah.” I pull out the black book with crimson stitching.
“Kai.” Master NcTully glares at me through the dusty hall.
The hardened leather cover has a sword encircled by roses. Below the emblem, “Nagidah” reads in crimson and gold thread. House Nagidah are the rulers of Magnavoz. Their crown rests at Rock Hollow, which is the largest castle in Magnavoz and the highest structure in the realm. Their castle is planted within and on top of a great mesa on the Magnavozian Plain. The Nagidah family led the rebellion that vanquished the Fangourian Empire. Though Nagidah is not native to Magnavoz, they rule like they have always been there. They are one of the most powerful families in Elybion, and they have a new addition to their family. A third child, by the name of Valisha. The tree shows two older children named Vega and Velvia. They were born one year apart to King Donak Nagidah and Queen Tyra Nagidah. The queen’s description has a secondhand addition that shows her maiden name, Samon. Samon is a powerful family with ties to both Magnavoz and Ariland. They have the financial skills of Arilandic tradesmen, while their political prowess matches that of the greatest Magnavozian rulers.
I carefully reproduce the Nagidah tree on a blank parchment. As I dot the last details, Master NcTully slams another pile of books and loose parchment beside me. I shake my sore, ink-covered hand. I can’t pity myself. There are many other nations with many other people. Each has their own concerns. I grab the top parchment and continue my work.