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The worst thing about bein' cold and wet is how it gets in your bones. When my brothers and I would horse around in the river, Ma would always strip us down soon as we got home. "You act like wild critters, you'll catch your deaths," she'd say, hanging our clothes near the fire.

I never thought of death like a thing I could catch, not back then. Our farm near Sunder was a good place, full of food and laughter. I think I knew there was suffering in the world, but mostly it seemed real far away.

It wasn't till I was forced to leave our valley that I got a taste of what I'd been missing. The world was a more wretched place than I'd ever imagined it was, and nobody cared whatsoever for anyone but themselves.

It took me three months to walk to Seven Stars from Sunder, and that was a long time to go without seein' a friendly face. Those last few miles, I was pure desperate. I could feel the cold crushing my lungs, and hunger gnawing at my belly. Still, I kept my head down, held my cloak tight, and plodded up that road. Reaching the top of that last terrible hill, I let myself take one good breath.

I was about to do something Ma would not like one bit, but I didn't see what choice I had. All I knew about her kin was that some of them were wizards, and the only wizards in the East were at Seven Stars.

Seven Stars itself was the tallest thing I'd ever seen. It was perched on a cliff that just made your eyes go straight up. Folks told me I wouldn't miss it, and they were right about that. Still, that old castle looked shabbier than I'd imagined. Nature was obviously tryin' to eat it back. Ivy and moonflowers grew on the walls, and there was a great big gaping hole blasted in the roof.

Smoke wafted up from a dozen chimneys, and that was the first thing I noticed was magic. It was all different colors, and some of it sputtered or sparkled, movin' as if it had a mind of its own.

Above all that smoke were two flags whipping in the cold wind, the Red Star of the North, and the Blue Star of the East. A long time ago, Seven Stars had lived up to its name, but then the South and West stopped bein' civilized. With monsters eatin' folk and bandits always ready to rob you on the roads, even the poorest little villages built themselves great big walls, and everyone stayed close to home. One by one, the stars went away.

How long things had been such a mess, I didn't know. Probably, it was the Old King's fault. He'd given up his throne and disappeared a long time ago, but folks still blamed him for everything.

I tried to rap on the gates of the castle, but my hands were numb and clumsy. The sound of the knocker falling just once was so loud I was sure it could be heard miles away.

There was a creak. A door opened somewhere up. The fading sun wouldn't let me see much, but my gut told me someone was lookin' down at me. When you hail from Sunder as I do, that's a familiar feeling, bein' looked down on. Half the world thinks they're better than us.

"Is anybody home?" I shouted.

A tall man peered over the battlements. He was dressed in a black robe and pointy hat. In Ma's stories, wizards always wore pointy hats, but I'd never seen one in my life and I hadn't considered how funny it would look. I swallowed a laugh before it burst right out of me. Wizards were dangerous, and no beggar ever got nothin' by startin' out bein' rude.

"Go away," the wizard said.

"Hello, up there! I'm lookin' for work!" I waved. Honey instead of vinegar, as Ma would say.

"I said, go away," the wizard repeated.

"Please," I begged, givin' it my best. I'm not half bad at beggin', though my older brother Allen always was better at it. He could make tears come if he wanted. "My feet are frozen!"

The wizard snorted. "Get some shoes, you lazy Tessar!"

The way he said that, I was sure he meant it to be mean.

"I ain't a Tessar!" I snapped. "I said I'm looking for work!"

The wizard on the wall crossed his arms, giving me another nasty look, like he figured I was lyin'.

I considered how to respond. Forgetting to say "I am not" instead of "I ain't" did make me sound Wester. That wasn't the same as being a Tessar, though not many could tell the difference. Now, I liked Tessars, or maybe I just liked the idea of em' from Ma's stories, but most folks thought Tessars was thieves who didn't do no honest work, started fights everywhere they went, and talked about nothin' but how the House of Wells would someday rise again.

If my sorry cloak hadn't been the only thing keeping me warm, I would've tossed it in the river. It wasn't a Tessar cloak, but was too faded to look Eastish. Eastish blue is the color of blueberries, almost black. Tessar blue is the color of the summer sky, and a very different thing.

"Great Stars! What's going on out here?" A voice demanded.

The wizard I'd been talkin' to took a step back, dropped on one knee, and bowed his head. "A thousand apologies, Master Narien! There's a Tessar at the gate. She won't go away."

Another door opened, and a second wizard came out onto the wall. He was real tall, pale as a winter cloud, and he stared at me. His eyes could've cut right to my bone. They were the coldest I'd ever seen. I knew right away, that old wizard wasn't someone that did anything nice for anyone. He didn't have one ounce of niceness in em'. If I didn't want to die in the wilderness, I'd have to make him think I was useful.

Thing was, that thought gave me a spark of hope. I was better at bein' useful than I was at bein' distressed.

"I am not a Tessar!" I protested. Nobody seemed to hear me.

"And for this reason, Journeyman, you disturb my work?" Master Narien scowled. Thunder rumbled. A storm had been brewing for hours, but it sure picked a suspicious time to arrive.

"It will never happen again, Master!" the young wizard swore.

"What do you want?" He asked, lookin' down at me.

"Shelter, sir. I haven't got any money, but I'll do whatever work you'll give me," I replied. "I'm starved and awful cold."

"Hm. What sort of work?" Master Narien asked.

"Well, picking apples and chopping wood. Minding goats and chickens. But I'm good with horses too," I told him. "I learnt from Talkers."

I'd only met one Talker in my whole life, so that wasn't all true, but it sounded good. I decided to stick with my fish story, and just be careful about not makin' it too big.

"I didn't realize there were any speaking beasts in the East." Master Narien looked me over, maybe tryin' to guess how old I was, or if I was a boy or a girl. Probably, he thought I looked like a horse myself. I'd heard others say so. All my life, I've been a head taller than everyone, and awful thin even though I'll always eat seconds if I can get em'. My nose has been broke three or four times on account of tusslin' with boys bigger and stronger than me. If I covered my hair like a girl ought to, it'd be nothin' much to look at, but bein' in the sun makes some gold burn through the mud brown. I think my hair's nice, but I ain't never been called "pretty".

"There's not many," I admitted. "But they like my Da's apples. Well, they did like em', when there was still apples to be had."

"This is a wizard's school, girl," Master Narien said. "We don't have any horses here, "Talkers" or otherwise." He gave me a look. Like he thought he'd seen me before, which couldn't of been true.

"That's all right. I can milk cows, I can fetch water. I can mend if you need it. I can cook too. I make the best pie. Honest! It's so good you can't ever get enough of it," I did my best to smile.

Maybe I'd said too much, but once I started tellin' lies, that fish story kept on growin'. I couldn't sew a straight line to save my life. I did know how to make pie, though it was nowhere near as good as Ma's.

The old wizard hesitated. I was sure he still thought I was a Tessar. I looked the part, barefoot and all.

"Please, at least let me warm up," I pleaded, doin' my best Beggin' Allen impression and wishin' I could get tears to flow. "I'm froze to the bone!"

"Let her in," Master Narien ordered.

The younger wizard looked surprised to hear that, but he wasn't brave enough to argue with the old man. He raced down the stairs right quick and opened the porter's door for me.

I dunked inside before anyone could change their minds. Even bein' in the courtyard was warmer than outside the walls, and I'd get good sleep with the pigs and chickens. Warm, fresh hay was a familiar smell, and I missed it somethin' fierce.

Unlike my brothers, I'd never wanted to leave Sunder. If our farm hadn't burned, I would've kept working it best I could till everyone came home.

"Nice to meet you," I said, offering my hand.

The young wizard snorted. He stepped away from me like he thought I was even dirtier than I was. I hadn't had a proper bath with soap in months, but I washed my face with cold water most every day. My clothes were almost not worth keepin', but it was so cold and wet I didn't dare try to get em' clean. It'd be too terrible, sittin' naked on the riverbank waitin' for them to dry.

Master Narien drifted down the stairs. The wizard had a way of moving that looked almost like floating, and he was pale enough to be a ghost. He stared at me, and I stared right back at him. When you know you're poor and ugly, you get used to that sort of look. The family that farmed across the river from us had a real unfortunate daughter, and folks always said "she's got beautiful eyes" when they wanted to be nice to her.

If folks are kind, they don't say nothin' about how I look. If they're feelin' nasty, they say I've got Frost in me.

Master Narien seemed to be thinkin'. The more I looked him over, the more I saw that he wasn't quite right himself. His arms were too long, and his whole body, from his nose to his fingertips seemed stretched out. His chin was pointed, and his eyes were almost white, with just a little touch of blue. There was a fierceness in em' too, that made me think of a cat, or maybe a snake. Course, for a wizard, bein' intimidatin' was probably a good thing,

I realized I was bein' rude staring, and decided to try and curtsy, which didn't make no sense without a skirt on. I couldn't decide what to do with my hands.

"My name's Hazel," I said. "I come from Sunder."

"That's very far away," Master Narien observed. Sunder sat on the coast where the caravan routes of the Sea of Sands touched the Great Forest of the West. It was as far South as anyone could go without leavin' civilization. I didn't know how many miles I'd walked. I'd never had a map. "What brings you here?"

"My brothers and my Da went to the War," I replied, staring at my feet so I didn't stare at him. "Dunno where my Ma is. West, somewhere. That's where she always goes, but she's never been gone this long."

I decided not to say anything about Ma's wizard kin just yet. The only one of her relatives I'd ever met was her brother Cory, and he wasn't the kind of man who'd ever need magic. Uncle Cory was a treasure trove of stories and wilderness lore, and absolutely deadly when it came to fencing with sticks. In truth, I guessed him for a Tessar, but it seemed best not to mention that either.

"If you are looking for the War, I'm afraid you've not traveled far enough. It has not come south of Windward Pass in forty years," Master Narien told me.

The War was always movin', somewhere way up in the snowy North, and most everyone who went looking for it never came back. According to Ma, on the front lines the Tessars were battlin' dark elves and dragons, like they'd been doin' for more than a thousand years. I'd even heard tell of a mountain coming to life. That was the reputation of the War. Why half my family had decided to go to such a downright inhospitable place, I couldn't fathom.

"Sir… I can't go no further North. Maybe I could if I had a better blanket and some boots, but I won't make it nowhere in the state I'm in. D'ya think I could try when the snow melts? Would you give me work till then?" I asked hopefully.

"Your persistence is to be commended. But I'm afraid we've no use for you," Master Narien replied.

I bit my lip. That was no surprise. My beggin' never was quite good enough to make up for my strangeness, and a lot of folks had already told me to move along. In one town, a spiteful old lady called me a "vulture" and chased me off with a broom.

The last stop before the War was Corith, and if I could convince the wizards to give me a little food and some rest, I thought I could make it there. Corith was the biggest city in the North and had lots of work, I'd heard tell. You just had to tolerate the cold. While I liked the idea of gettin' to Corith, I wasn't lookin' forward to tryin' to cross the Winterplains. Even if it stopped snowing, I was afraid of runnin' into centaurs or wyverns.

I wasn't gonna leave till the wizards kicked me out, but I did figure it was smart to keep my mouth shut and try not to be underfoot.

"Can you read?" Master Narien asked suddenly. It was real strange, the change that came over him. All at once, he was lookin' at me differently, kind of squintin' like he caught a glimpse of something he recognized.

"Sure can," I told him, though that was exaggeratin' again. I knew my letters, I could write my name, and sort out what a sign said in the market, but I'd never had my hands on a proper book, not even when I was suffering through my schooling.

I'd had four whole years, only because Ma insisted. Still, I hadn't learned much of anything in all that time, on account of constantly tusslin' with other students an' bein' stubborn and disrespectful by nature.

"I don't much like to read, sir," I admitted. "I'm no good at it. I'm good at working though. I'm real good at working."

Master Narien smiled slightly. "I may have something for you after all," he said.


1. The Librarian

"The First Rule of Magic – Trust It."

- Kisrel's Fundamentals

Ten Years Later

The wheels of Master Rale's rickety cart caught every stone of the Grand Promenade. Each time the cart stuck, it tipped slightly and threatened to spill its contents. I moved so slowly I'd be sunburned before I reached the stairs. Wrinkling my nose was the only way I could keep my glasses on my face.

I'd crossed the Second Courtyard thousands of times, and might have done it blindfolded, though not while pushing Master Rale's cart. There were thirty books stacked on the stupid piece of junk. All morning, perfect Fourfold Wrens had been landing on my desk requesting additional materials.

So far as I could tell, the old wizard was researching the Ways, a useless subject. No one knew anything about the source of magic, though all wizards liked to speculate about it. Master Rale could read every book in the Library and never learn anything worthwhile, which was obviously what he intended to do. If anyone other than a Master had made such an outrageous request, I would've told them to piss off and take a sabbatical to Frost.

The Masters, however... well, they owned me.

I squinted at the sun. It was almost midday. At any moment, the bells would ring, and the Apprentices would be on their way to lunch. My tower of books wouldn't survive a single slamming door. It was too precarious.

A long stretch of cobblestone still separated me from Master Rale's tower, and in front of me was a bluish cloud, the remnants of a miscast spell. I held my breath, closed my eyes, and walked right through it, pretending it didn't bother me.

The wind blew that mess in the direction of an Apprentice lounging under an olive tree, and he sneezed. I rubbed my own nose and blinked a few times, waiting for my head to stop spinning. According to most everyone, women had no business learning magic because their bodies couldn't take the strain. In the time I'd been at Seven Stars, I'd come to realize that anyone who could see magic could do it. The Masters, however, were picky about their Apprentices. The boys they chose had to be from the right families, rich or noble, but always younger sons who weren't going to inherit the family lands.

My mother, a Wester, did not abide by Eastish notions of proper behavior for boys or girls. She'd given all of her children the exact same education. We learned to how to cook, how to fight, and how to cheat if we couldn't win fairly. Magic, of course, was the finest form of cheating. If Ma had been Gifted, she would've been unstoppable.

I adjusted a book on the top of my stack and gave the cart a little push to see if it would wobble. When nothing fell, I started across the Courtyard again.

I didn't make it far. The bells rang, doors flew open, and all my books toppled to the ground, loose pages skittering off on the wind. An Apprentice laughed at me, and I glared at him. The smile evaporated from his face. Although I was not in a position of real authority, I did have a reputation.

I'd captured about half the loose papers when Master Rale approached me. He gave me a cold, superior look, which was the look he gave everyone all the time. His eyebrows were permanently furrowed from constant scowling, and a mop of silly white hair sat on top of his head. It was either glued in place or heavily enchanted. All wizards dressed the same, in black and gold, but the Masters wore sashes which further identified them. As Master of the Northern Tower, Master Rale's sash was white and red. It stood out very dramatically against the normal palette of Seven Stars and would've told me, even from a distance, who was coming my way.

"Great Stars, Librarian! What is this mess? Were you packing for a trip to Frost?"

Master Rale never used my name. No one at Seven Stars did.

A Wren with its head bent the wrong way around shot past us and through the open window of his Tower. One book with a broken binding was less than an inch away from his foot. He stared at it as if he didn't know what it was.

"A little help would be nice!" I snapped, with more venom than I should have.

"Watch your tongue, girl! I can see you're flustered, but there's no reason to be rude," he informed me, putting his nose in the air.

I liked being called "girl" even less than I liked being called "librarian", so that word brought more spite out of me. "Oh, forgive me for trying to bring you everything you asked for! If you need half of Section C, would you please just come to the Library?" I picked up a copy of Ganwid on the Ways and waved it in his face. It was a popular fictional account of a Journeyman wizard who fought monsters and rescued princesses, the sort of thing that Apprentices liked to read in the privy.

He absolutely ignored me. Something else had his attention.

One of the larger books on the ground contained a dozen Wrens still twitching that I'd stuck together with sealing wax to keep them from fluttering off. Master Rale picked up the book and examined it with some confusion, pushing his glasses up on his nose.

As he did that, I remembered my own glasses, and wiped them clean on my sleeve. The pair I wore formerly belonged to Master Rale, which meant that the two of us shared a certain superficial appearance, at least from the perspective of the Apprentices, who were told by their seniors to "respect the spectacles".

"I didn't request all these books," he informed me.

"Someone did!" I replied. "My desk is buried in Fourfold Wrens!"

Master Rale eyed me suspiciously, and I swallowed hard. I realized belatedly that I'd used the spell's proper name. "Look, whether you need them or not, I've got to gather them up before the wind gets them," I said.

Master Rale picked up Ganwid on the Ways and evaluated it, a nostalgic smile on his face. "Have you read this one?" He asked.

I froze.

Was that a test?

Every so often, Master Rale would ask me something I didn't dare answer. He was trying to find out if I knew things I wasn't supposed to. When a Master asked me a question, the enchanted contract I'd signed when I first came to Seven Stars compelled me to answer truthfully.

"I only read books if I have to," I replied.

"Mm," Master Rale murmured. I could tell he wasn't satisfied with my response. The Masters weren't dumb. They were all the cleverest men in the world. Every one of them thought I knew more than I pretended. They might've figured me out, except they never compared notes. Each was afraid that the others would steal his research.

Fortunately, not lying to the Masters did not mean telling the whole truth. I felt a lump stick in my throat, but it wasn't enough to make me confess. I'd learned long ago that it was necessary for me to read absolutely everything which crossed my desk.

Being familiar with the contents of the books made me better at my job, and that was acceptable. However, there was an important line I couldn't cross. If ever I tried to cast the spells I read about, I'd be dismissed or worse. Rumor had it that Master Narien had actually killed his previous Librarian.

Even with the possibility of death hanging over my head, my interest in magic had stopped being purely practical years ago. I'd gotten bored with the standard fare and had moved on to reading my way through the Restricted Section, a collection of old and dangerous tomes reserved solely for the Masters.

When I'd first come to Seven Stars, I'd had very little formal education, which the wizards saw as a good thing. Managing the Library was a difficult job. There was a lot of scurrying up ladders and heavy lifting to be done, which exhausted the Masters, but there were many dangerous books that no one should be poking their noses in, which meant that Apprentices couldn't do the work. For these reasons, Seven Stars had long been in the habit of granting its most useless servants the unenviable title of "Librarian".

Master Narien had missed the mark with me, and I was sure he knew it. If he'd ever asked why I hated school so much, I would've been compelled to tell him that it was because I asked too many questions and got caught telling "fish stories" all the time. It was much easier to survive if people thought you were just lazy and stupid.

I'd stopped playing that game years ago, but the Masters didn't seem to care. They just gave me more work to do. Occasionally, they'd test my knowledge by asking me questions I had no business knowing the answers to. Sometimes, I wondered if I was a kind of experiment.

To my surprise, Master Rale picked up several pieces of paper and set two books back on his cart. Then he tucked Ganwid on the Ways under his arm in a manner that made me suspect he was going to sit in the privy for an unhealthy length of time.

After catching the last of the Wrens and re-stacking the books, I slowly made my way back to the Library, dodging Apprentices and servants. Unfortunately, taking the least-traveled route across the castle grounds put me directly in the path of Master Elrisk.

When I saw him, I froze and let him pass without saying a word. Aside from teaching several brutally difficult classes, the mad enchanter usually kept to himself. A few times every year, he inexplicably flew into a panic and attempted to flee the school. Sometimes he actually escaped, but Master Narien always brought him back. Why Master Elrisk seemed to believe he was a prisoner at Seven Stars was a mystery to everyone.

The Master of the Western Tower was apparently trying to embark on one of his journeys, but he was carrying far too much. Books, reagents, and other odds and ends would not stay in his bag. When he bent over to pick one thing up, he dropped something else. I stared at him. For reasons I couldn't fathom, the old wizard had abandoned his usual robe, and was instead wearing a worn leather hat the color of mustard with a huge brim, two bandoliers criss-crossed over his chest, and a ridiculous blue patchwork thing covered in silver stars. It was too short to be a proper robe, and he obviously wasn't wearing pants. I hoped he was wearing underwear. He was also barefoot. Though no one would have dared make the comparison, Master Elrisk looked like a Tessar.

As he disappeared down the hall, I heard him muttering about a book. Fortunately, he wasn't headed in the direction of the Library. That was a relief. The last time he'd paid me a visit, he'd torn through half of the Restricted Section and it had taken me two weeks to clean up his mess.

A dozen Apprentices were waiting in line when I returned to my desk. As usual, they were returning and checking out books. Though Seven Stars has the most spectacular Library in the world, books on the subject of wizardry are rare and costly. Even the most privileged boys share certain materials. Some books cannot be removed from the Library at all, and are attached to their shelves with enchanted chains.

I made note of each checked-out book in my ledger, and then slipped off to my office under the stairs. My personal space wasn't much to brag about. I could scarcely sit upright, and there were cups of over-steeped tea everywhere. I sniffed one to see if it was drinkable, and took a tentative sip. The tea was cold, but it didn't taste like it might poison me. I'd drank worse before, just to stay awake.

The bells tolled, signaling the Apprentices to return to their classes. I cleaned another smudge off of my glasses, and got to work. A few hours passed peacefully. I re-shelved the things I'd pulled for Master Rale, made some footnotes in Casera's Principles, and found a small box full of strange, dusty books in the Restricted Section that I couldn't read at all. Several Fourfold Wrens on my desk still fluttered slightly, but no more demands flew in through my window. In fact, I managed to make a fresh pot of tea.

After third bell, another group of Apprentices lined up in front of my desk and I got back to work. "Ruins of the North and What We Can Learn from Them," the first boy said.

"Rubbish bin. Incinerated beyond what a standard Reconstitution Spell can repair," I replied, sipping my tea. "Good luck with that."

"Ganwid on the Ways," another boy chimed in.

"Checked out," I told him. "Along with Casera's Principles, Blaise's Introduction to Alchemy, and the third volume of Reagents and Where to Find Them," I said, much louder than I needed to. Several older boys quickly scribbled down the titles of those books. Obviously, they were preparing for one of Master Rale's dreaded exams.

"Arkhazi's Elemental Invocation," Paul said.

I recognized his voice without looking up. Paul always had problems, and he looked like he hadn't been sleeping. Young wizards were supposed to complete their schooling in seven years. Most boys started when they were twelve or thirteen. A great number of them failed to complete Fifth Year. Paul was in Middle Fifth, and not doing very well.

"Which part?" I asked. "You do know there are seven parts."

"Um, third?" He guessed.

"Mm, no," I sighed. "You're very far behind. Arkhazi Five. A, Shelf 7. Largest on the right, red binding. There should be two copies. But everyone needs the damned thing, so you can only have it for one night."

The boy looked absolutely horrified, and I felt a little sympathy for him. "Read chapters three, four, and six. Eight, if possible. You can survive without the rest," I told him. Three chapters of Arkhazi would be difficult enough. Even if Paul followed my advice, he was still likely to fail. He was only an adequate student, and had the added misfortune of being the best friend of Master Narien's favorite Apprentice, Gilbert. Gilbert was too brilliant to ever study, and was always causing trouble instead.

I finished handling the problems in my queue and was about to bury my nose in an interesting book on controlling the weather when I realized that someone was watching me.

A very young Apprentice I didn't know stood so close to me that I could've tweaked his ear. He was maybe ten years old, short for his age, and heavyset, with a mop of downy blonde hair and a round, soft face. If he was as innocent as he looked, he wouldn't last long at Seven Stars.

"Apprentice, why aren't you in class?" I demanded.

"Master Rale said I should come help you," he replied. "My name's Louis."

"Ridiculous. Nobody helps me," I said. The only boys who were ever asked to leave a classroom were the ones the Masters thought were hopeless.

"I promise I'll be useful. I'm a good worker!" he said.

I hesitated. I could think of a few things that needed doing, but simple tasks like potato peeling and floor mopping often went horribly awry at Seven Stars because lazy Apprentices used magic to accomplish what could more safely be done with their own two hands. "No, I don't think so," I decided.

Louis was not deterred. "What're you reading?" he pressed, peering over my shoulder.

"I'm not reading," I lied, slamming my book closed. "I'm looking for notes Master Elrisk misplaced."

While my contract wouldn't allow me to deceive the Masters, it did permit me to tell Apprentices whatever I felt was necessary. The most talented boys, like Gilbert, were always hungry for more powerful spells. Though I'd never heard of Apprentices actually killing each other, several times they'd come awfully close. Keeping dangerous magic out of reckless hands was part of my job.

"Oh," Louis paused. His eyes drifted to the shelves that loomed over us, and he seemed to be counting quietly, as if he was trying to estimate just how vast the Library was. Of course, there was also the Restricted Section, which most Apprentices never saw. It was only open to the Masters, Journeymen with special permission, and to me... because someone needed to sweep and dust.

"Have you really read all of these books?" He asked.

"Nobody has read all of these books, not even Kisrel himself!" I snorted. "I know where they are because I'm the one who puts them away."

"But how do you know which parts of the books are most important?" Louis pressed.

"Boy, I've been here half my life. Master Rale is the only instructor who ever changes his assignments, and he's not as unpredictable as he thinks he is. Now why did he throw you out of class?" I asked, changing the subject. Solving Louis's problem seemed like a good way to get rid of him.

"I don't understand Enchantment," he admitted.

I grimaced. Nobody understood Enchantment. So far as I knew, Master Elrisk was the only living enchanter in the world, and he was completely mad. Master Rale had failed Sixth Year Enchantment twice by his own admission, but he knew enough to teach the fundamentals. Apprentices were sent to Master Elrisk only after completing Fourth Year, specifically because his Tower was too dangerous for anyone who couldn't cast a good defensive ward.

"Can you help me?" Louis asked eagerly.

"Louis, I'm not a wizard. I'm a servant," I replied.

"Oh. I see." His expression changed. It seemed that the boy finally realized why Master Rale had told him to go "help" in the Library.

Anyone else might have gone back to the dormitories and started packing for their journey home, but Louis put his hands on my book. He wasn't going to take "no" for an answer. "Please," he begged. "I've asked everyone, and they all say the same thing. If you're failing, you need the Librarian."

I snorted. While true, that was not something I wanted Apprentices repeating. "Don't believe the gossip," I warned Louis. "Half is lies, and the rest is ignorance. The Fifth and Sixth Years are the worst! They think they're Masters already. Mark my words, most of them will be gone by spring. Like that meathead who hasn't finished reading Arkhazi!" That summed up what I thought about Paul.

Louis smiled slightly. I guessed that the older boys had been cruel to him. At very least, he liked hearing that they were stupid. "If you won't help me, will you at least show me how to find my own books?" he asked. "That way, I won't have to waste time waiting in line."

I found myself revising my previous opinion of the boy. He still didn't seem mean enough to survive as a wizard, but not all great wizards were ruthless. Some of the best were just clever and sneaky.

"It's actually a simple system. Everything is by subject first, then alphabetical by author, and finally numerical by volume or year," I picked up an empty tea cup and tried to drink from it.

Louis seemed concerned. "Do you need more tea?" He asked, noticing what I'd just done.

"It's not your job to wait on me," I informed him.

"All the same. If I get you a cup of tea, will you get me a book? Any book that you think would be useful for Master Rale's class?"

It sounded like a Tessar bargain when he put it that way. I liked the open-ended nature of it. "You have yourself a deal," I nodded. It also helped that there were four staircases, and possibly Master Elrisk, between me and the kitchen.

Louis scurried off. I smiled slightly. While the boy was gone, I pulled all of the books he'd be needing and set them aside in a neat little stack. On the very top, I placed Kisrel's Fundamentals, the single most useful book on wizardry ever written, specifically the heavily annotated copy which usually rested on the corner of my desk. I stuck a little note between its first two pages. "Start with this."

If Louis was willing to fetch me tea, I'd make sure he was ready for anything.