“It’s a potion.” He declared proudly handing me a bottle. “It’ll make your beard grow, boy. So you can become a man, and a fine wizard.” I pulled the cap off the bottle and sniffed. My eyes watered in self defense. It smelled like he took rotten garbage, cheap perfume and asafetida and boiled it in rancid fish oil. If it didn’t put hair on my face, it certainly would put it on my chest, or peel the paper off the walls.
“Thanks Uncle, but no thanks.” I recapped the bottle quickly. “I’d rather just stay as I am.”
“Why?” Uncle Alvar looked disgruntled. “If you want to become the greatest head wizard of all time…” I knew this old speech by now. He spouted it whenever he felt disappointed with me; for instance, when my chest started coming in, or my voice refused to deepen or my moon phases started. Not wanting to hear it, I turned and left the room.
“Where are you going?” he demanded, outraged.
“Master Sandar will want his tea soon.” I informed him.
Uncle Alvar drew himself up to his full height of five feet, four inches. “YOU WILL NOT TURN YOUR BACK ON ME!” he bellowed. “I am the head of this order, Alvar the Indirectly Prolific, most powerful of all Wizards! I could destroy you in an instant.”
“Yeah yeah.” I said over my shoulder, waving on my way out. I stood in at 5’8” and “His Shortness” didn’t intimidate me. Besides, if he hurt me, Mother would have a few choice words for him, perhaps more. There are very few people the Chief Wizard fears, but my mother topped the list and we both knew it. I prepared tea and brought it into Sandar’s study. Alvar joined him, looking annoyed.
“Thank you, Ferdinand.” Sandar’s ancient voice greeted me. Despite his decrepitness, I was fond of Sandar. He treated me kindly, made sure I had enough to eat, a little extra spending cash and a comfortable place to sleep. Also, while he worked well in the familiar surroundings of his tower, field work was definitely out of the question, so I got all those assignments. In exchange, I tried to take care of him as best I could. He seemed to appreciate it and basically let me do as I pleased in exchange.
The gong sounded, announcing a visitor. I left my master and my Uncle and answered the door, like a good apprentice. Who should be there, but my master’s boss, Lord Duke Kovar. He owned a great big castle and controlled the nearby town of Westeria. The wood where our tower stood was on the castle grounds. Most nobles provide private and separate lodging for their Wizards. It’s been that way ever since 200 years ago after a nasty incident involving a potion gone wrong, large clouds of noxious smoke, whipped cream and a horde of bees. To this day the kingdom of Thedinar refuses to allow cows within their borders.
I bowed low and ushered my Lord Duke through the door. He paid me the slightest of glances as he swept by in fancy velvet clothing and strings of gold. I never understood why he bothers. All the finery drew attention to his scrawny and angular features. The glitter caught the light from the torches and bounced it off his thinning, oiled hair. I avoided the glare and followed him upstairs where I opened the study door and made the typical introductions. Kovar seemed surprised and impressed to see Uncle Alvar there.
“Your Eminence.” He bowed low. I stifled a sarcastic snort. “How you grace us with your presence. To what do we owe this honor?”
Oh gag me. The man’s practically groveling. Uncle Alvar seemed to take no notice.
“Actually, I am here for my nephew’s birthday.” He replied conversationally nodding at me. “Dorian is 16 today and will soon have his beard.”
“Really?” Kovar looked at me again, harder and with renewed interest. “He’ll have a long way to grow it. His face is as smooth as a baby’s bottom.” Uncle forced a chuckled agreement as the Lord Duke settled himself in a chair, guffawing at his own joke. I hate it when aristocrats visit. They like to make jokes at the apprentice’s expense, though this time I took it as a compliment. I happen to work very hard to keep my skin nice. Just don’t tell my uncle.
“The reason for this visit,” Kovar began winding up as I poured him some tea. “As you know, I have decided it was high time I took a proper wife. So I arranged with Lady Josephine of Maprolous to marry her daughter. One Luella. Here is her picture.” From inside his robes, Kovar produced a small painted portrait of a Lady. Soft brown hair curled to frame a delicate face sporting a sweet, soft smile. Her eyes danced with hidden humor. If the artist had captured her image accurately, she was quite a beauty. I immediately felt sorry for her, to be stuck betrothed to a weasely person like Kovar.
“She was to arrive a week ago, but something has gone amiss. I fear my lovely bride has been kidnapped.” Kovar continued. I thought it more likely she had run away after seeing his portrait. “I want you to go to the village of Nekross, their last known location. Track where she’s gone, find her and bring her here. And I want the kidnapper arrested and brought as well.”
Sandar sat and contemplated the matter for some time. Everything seemed to take some time for him those days. Finally he said, “Very well. But I don’t have a mind for travel right now. Let Hendrick here go. It will be a good experience for him.” Kovar glanced at me uncertainly as Sandar gestured toward me.
I stepped forward. “I, Dorian, senior apprentice to Master Sandar the 45th Genius Smith-Wizard, shall find what became of your bride, be it good or ill.” I declared grandly to the Duke, bowing. A little traveling would be a good thing indeed. It would get me away from my Uncle. I planned to take my time in the search.
My show seemed to please Kovar. He nodded in approval. “My resources are at your disposal.” He offered in the traditional manner, handing the portrait over.
“With your permission, Lord Duke, I would like to take one member of the guard with me.” While I was powerful enough with magic and good with a bow, my up close and personal fighting skills left something to be desired. If I had to go in search of kidnappers, I wanted back up. No sense in frying them when Kovar wanted the kidnappers alive, and asking for an escort was more than allowable.
“Permission granted.” Kovar declared, jumping to his feet. Wizards always seemed to make him nervous for some reason. “I expect you to make your selection and be on your way by morning. Good hunting, boy.” Kovar briskly marched from the room, his business concluded. I took my leave of the two masters and went in search of backup.