Sunday, February 25, 2018

Korm's Master (Part Nine and Conclusion)

Afterwards they walked together to the refectory, the young Morg as if he had just awoken from a dream, the old man talking cheerfully about what he felt like for breakfast. They made it to the long hall crowded with tables and benches, and Korm automatically arranged for their meal. When it arrived, he sat silently while his white-bearded guest shoveled down eggs and toast and roasted apples, chased by several strong cups of hot sweet mocha. Every now and then the young Morg opened his mouth as if to say something, then shut it, baffled, shaking his head.

They walked back to the Grand Master's chambers through the returning stream of students, who were beginning to wind their way again through the channels of the school. Korm lifted the latch and led the way into the office. To his surprise, Belmok raised his pursed lips and squinnied eye up from his desk as he entered.

"There you are, boy," he barked. "I thought you'd at least be on hand when I ... Dunwolf, old man!" His eyes sprang wide, dropping his ocular to his chest where it bounced on its ribbon. He heaved himself up from his chair and stamped ponderously over in delight, and took the wizard's hand. "What a surprise to see you here!"

"Greetings, Grand Master," the old man grinned, vigorously returning Belmok's grip. "I have a few questions I thought you might be able to answer for me, my friend. Your new famulus here was just helping me grab some refreshment while we waited for your arrival. Wandering's a hungry business, you know, and I have to take meals where I can get them."

"Of course, of course. Korm's a good lad," Belmok said. He lay his knobby claw heavily on the boy's shoulder. The young Morg seemed to sink beneath it. Wedged between the two towering elders he felt like he was standing down in a ditch. "Inspired me, in fact, to start trying to complete work on my old 'Notes on the Morg Migrations.' Might actually finish it before I die, now. Sit down, let me pour us some Lorelied."

Belmok lumbered over to the barrel in the back of the room, and Dunwolf sat in the chair between the fireplace and the desk. Korm, unsure what to do, hovered between them.

"If he has one drawback, it's that he's a bit of a skeptic about the Unseen," the old Master continued as he got some cups from the sideboard. "Maybe now that we've got a wizard around, we can cure him of that weakness."

"I think he's fairly reformed in that matter," Dunwolf answered dryly, glancing at Korm, whose cheeks colored as he looked down at his shoes.

"He's in a bit of a pickle at the moment," the old Morg said as he twisted the tap. "Been here for five months already, doesn't have a subject for his master. Shame, too, because I think he has good potential." He handed Korm a cup with a wink. "Don't let it go to your head, lad."

"Really," Dunwolf said, accepting his own cup thoughtfully. He looked at Belmok. "Talented?"

"He put my papers in order." Belmok bent to pour his own drink.

Dunwolf whistled. He twirled the wine and took a sip.

"You know," he said slowly. "I may have the solution to both our dilemmas. I was going to ask you to delve into this, Belmok, but if you're working on something else again ..." He paused and looked up at Korm. "Tell me, lad, have you ever heard of the Goldfire?"

Korm looked puzzled. Belmok went still, then slowly raised himself up straight, watching. Korm bent his head, staring into his drink, thinking deeply.

"The Goldfire? The Goldfire... yes, a talisman of some kind, I believe. Lost during the reign of Tarth. What about it?"

"I need someone, a hell of a good scholar, to look into its history, and trace down where it could be now. I think we may need it again pretty damn soon."

"Well, I suppose I could...," Korm started.

Belmok barked in jubilation, making the others jump. The fat old Morg sat down his cup, crossed his arms over his chest and bowed his head. Then he looked up and, elbows at his sides, spread his hands palms upward in triumph.

"I call Morlakor Shyreen to witness," he crowed, "And you, too, wizard, that neither I nor any Morg has given him this idea, neither by deed or word or prompting aforethought. Come, come here, boy." The old Morg turned and took a box from the shelf behind him.

Korm walked over in a daze. Dunwolf looked bemused. Belmok unlatched the box, put back the lid, and pulled out the long unreeling length of a red sash of History. He folded it so that it lay cradled between his hands, and presented it to the stunned young student.

"Well, take it, take it, tie it on," he commanded. Korm accepted it with trembling fingers, and looped it gingerly around his waist. For a moment he felt the strong fabric girding his middle. Then suddenly, decisively, he cinched it in a tight knot, and looked up, grinning fiercely, as if challenging the world to try to to take it from him.

"Excellent, excellent," Belmok chortled. "I've had a room held for you, a real scholar's chamber. You can begin your proper studies tomorrow! Ah, you'll need this book...and this one...and this..."

As the fat old Morg went shambling around the rooms, disarranging his newly immaculate shelves and gathering volumes, Dunwolf rose quietly and walked over to where Korm stood beaming happily, looking a little stunned, and quaffing his Lorelied in triumph. He put his hand on the young Morg's shoulder and patted it.

"Congratulations, Master Korm," he said in a low voice. "But don't forget the Goldfire in your celebration. Start on it quickly, now rather than later. I have the feeling that in the close future we in the South will have need of it, quite badly, quite soon."

The old wizard turned to the Grand Master and started following him around the room.

"Now I have a couple more questions, Belmok...," he began.

Late that night saw Korm moved from his little closet to a properly appointed chamber, with a real bed, shelves for his books, and a bottomless supply of ink and paper from the school stock. Already, as he moved to and from Belmok's office, his red sash was catching eyes and getting whispers about the new protege of the Grand Master. He still wore his hairy cone of a cap, quite out of fashion and beginning to shed, more for a penance than for pride. Besides, it had a lot of wear in it yet.

He sat down at his new desk, a heavy tome before him, pen and paper on the side, ready for notes. As a finishing touch, he lit the little brass lamp and put the old stuffed owl on the ledge above him. He cocked an eye up to where it stared solemnly down. He tangled his beard with his black claws.

"Well, Lord Fluffy," he said, "Let's get started."

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