Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Korm's Master (Part Four)

Korm shook his head, staring at the fat old Morg, not daring to open his mouth yet.

"I thought not." Belmok set his cup down and folded his knuckled old claws together. "What I was going to say is that it would be a shame for a fellow of your promise to have to pack it in so soon. Without a subject, of course, you can't be accepted into the School, and no acceptance means no scholarship, and no scholarship, in your case, means, I imagine, that you'll starve. Correct?"

Korm nodded wordlessly.

Belmok grinned ferociously, exposing his gapped and yellow fangs.

"Well, behold a fine bit of legal chicanery, boy. Although it's traditional to join the School immediately after the graduation of First Mastery and an interview, it is not mandatory. In fact, history is rife with examples of elderly Morgs who pursued higher learning later in life. You just need to hang on until a suitable subject occurs to you."

"But...but what will I do till then? How will I live?"

"Look around this room. Tell me what you see."

"I...I see a lot of books."

Belmok smashed his fist on the desktop and laughed.

"Spoken like a scholar, lad. But what you don't see, or are too polite to see, is the dust, mess, and confusion I'm squatting in the middle of. It's my own fault. I'm entitled to have a scout, but for ten years I've been too sour and solitary to keep one around. Well, I've got one now."

Korm's eyes widened.

"Me, sir?"

"You, sir." The old Morg opened a desk drawer and drew out a round plug of brass. "Here. Go to the refectory and get yourself a meal. Put on some ballast to settle your stomach on that tossing sea of Lorelied wine." Korm plucked the bit of metal out of his hand with trembling fingers.

"Now, the job doesn't pay anything, just room and board, but in the meantime you have access to books, books, and more books. You'll begin this afternoon. When an idea for a subject pops into your head, just run it by me and we'll see if we can't have you in some classes in a twinkling."

"Oh, yes sir!" Korm said, bowing gratefully, holding the brass slug like a prize. "Thank you, Grand Master, thank you very much indeed!" He turned to leave.

"Just a minute, Master Korm!" The old Morg held up an imperious hand, the under-fat of his arm wobbling like a jelly. Korm turned back fearfully. Belmok pointed to the young Morg's chest and stroked his long pewter beard.

"A word of advice? Those medals. I'm sure they made you seem pretty distinguished at your old school, but everyone here has a collection just as impressive, if not more so. To wear them at Tronduhon might be seen as a bit of ... juvenile boasting, shall we say? Especially if you're not officially a student yet."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Korm said sheepishly. He stepped outside the door and began trying to unobtrusively pluck out the pins. He looked both ways uncertainly.

"To your left, Master Korm." Belmok's dry, sarcastic voice floated behind him through the door. The young Morg hunched, flinching, and escaped into the hallway.

That afternoon started a time that Korm came to consider a strange fold in the tapestry of his life. It began with him clearing out the small room reserved for a scout near the Grand Master's chambers. It was hardly bigger than a closet, and had filled up with a strange stew of odds and ends over the decade. Once it was clear, he had a puzzling time trying to wedge the trunk filled with all the clothes and books he had brought into the tiny space. He ended up sleeping that night inside the open trunk, on top of his spare wardrobe.

In the coming days he found a little shop in the city specializing in student trades, and exchanged his trunk for a second-hand bedroll and several other small items, including a brass lamp and a stuffed owl. The lamp was for reading at night, and the owl was for company. He needed the company.

He was in a very strange position. He wasn't part of the School just yet: without the colored sash declaring his area of study, he existed in a sort of limbo. Regular students and teachers, seeing him dusting shelves or, later in the year, laying on fires, ignored him. They never saw him in classes; there was never a chance of introductions or explanations. In a forest of three thousand scholars, he was alone.

On the other hand, his dark green tunic of First Mastery kept him separated from the three hundred or so folks who serviced the school, cooking and cleaning and mucking out. They would answer his hesitant requests and inquiries with deference, perhaps finding him a brush or a bucket, then speed away, happy to be done with the eccentric requirements of their 'betters.' On the whole, they treated their betters as if they were the prize inmates of a glorified chicken run, and Korm was the odd duck out.

(To Be Continued...)

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