[Eleanor]: 668.Margaret - Grethe.IV

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2012-08-06 22:55:45
short story
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As it turned out, that family visit eased my homesickness so that I could concentrate on my studies. I was not alone in this; many of my classmates also returned from their holiday ready to tackle the academy’s rigorous curriculum. There were some few who did not come back, for whom family and friends meant more than developing their talents. These were destined to become village wisdoms and healers, but would never attain the status of full wizard. The rest of us dove into our studies with renewed vigour and no longer pined for the comforts of home. The letters from my mother were as frequent as ever, but I was not inclined to respond immediately as I had before. Often several would lie unanswered on my desk while I memorized lists of names and recipes for potions.

What I did glean from her missives was that she had approached my father with my idea, that he appoint an musician from among the palace retainers who would accompany her on the the viol. Finding no problem with that arrangement, he had let her audition various lutenists and harpsichordists in that capacity until she found one who made an acceptable partner. Not being a musician myself, I did not understand the subtleties of her choice, but after several months she settled on a young man who displayed immense talent on the harpsichord. She prattled on at great length about the repertoire they were exploring and how much happier she was since music was once again a daily part of her life. While I was happy for her sake, I could not muster much enthusiasm when my own days were spent measuring and mixing and taking notes while my professors lectured on various aspects of their specialties.

It was during this time that I discovered I had a particular talent for transmutation, the changing of one substance into another. While I still did well in other subjects, I seemed to have an affinity for matter itself, manipulating it at a level below that seen by the naked eye. My professors were high in their praise of my achievements and the head master assigned me to study with one of their most prestigious pedagogues who had given up a very lucrative career in order to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of wizards.

At first glance, Master Sparfeld seemed as old as the rocks and metals he magically manipulated and, for those who did not take the time to know him well, as hard and unyielding. During the first weeks of our association, I was greatly impressed by his age and stony appearance and not a little afraid of his flinty demeanour. He, however, must have recognized something worthy in me and softened toward me while I was still holding a respectful and somewhat fearful distance. After calling me into his study to discuss my curriculum, we declared a truce of sorts which eventually developed into a deep friendship based on mutual respect and admiration. He declared he had never had a more apt pupil and I had certainly never met anyone with such great knowledge and understanding of the subject I was studying.

With Master Sparfeld I delved deeply into the matter of the earth, learning how intricately related everything was, and how seemingly inorganic substances played an important rôle in the makeup of all things living. The phrase “animal, vegetable or mineral” was shown to me to be a lie, for every one of those things contains elements of the others. This knowledge and the methods I learned regarding the metamorphoses of these substances coloured my understanding of other subjects at the academy as well. Because of his expertise, Master Sparfeld was also considered an expert in many other things, including treating physical trauma, something I witnessed as he was called upon to minister to a student who had fallen badly while attempting to levitate. Absorbed as I was, time passed quickly for me and the next visit home, although more than a year after the first, caught me by surprise.

Once again I noted the changes in family members. Percy had developed broad shoulders and grown a huge red beard. He carried himself with self-assuredness now and had outgrown all the awkward adolescence I remembered. My father was as warm and affectionate as ever, but there was more grey in his hair and lines around his eyes. The pressures of the throne were aging him quickly. My mother, though, seemed completely rejuvenated with a sparkle in her eye and lightness in her step. She could not wait to introduce me to her accompanist and play for me.

Stephen was not what I expected. From my mother’s description in her letters, I had imagined a tall, handsome man around my brother’s age or slightly older with a regal bearing. Instead, he turned out to be not much taller than myself, and I am only average in height, slightly stooped with a receding hairline, but possessing an engaging smile that showed off excellent teeth and warm brown eyes. I liked him immediately, especially as I saw how fond he was of the queen and how he treated her with respect as a fellow musician rather than as a loyal subject. He also played the harpsichord very well, challenging my mother to exercise her utmost musical prowess. The concert they gave for my father, brother and myself to welcome me home was extremely professional and very enjoyable.

Before I returned to the academy, I had an opportunity to talk to Stephen and ask him about himself. He told me he had grown up in a town just outside the capital and had learned to play the harpsichord against his family’s wishes. His parents wanted him to go into business as a merchant, but he had no interest in that life, instead seeking out a music master to instruct him. No one else in his family showed any interest or talent in music and did not understand his passion. When it became unbearable at home, suffering the recriminations of a child who did not pull his own weight, Stephen left to come to the capital, hoping to seek his fortune as a musician.

He found a position at the palace and was hopeful that this would give him an opportunity to meet others like himself. While he had made some friends among the staff, they were mostly older than he with families and lives of their own outside the palace walls. He actually blushed when he told me that accompanying my mother was a welcome pastime, for despite the difference in their ages and stations, he felt that she was a kindred spirit, someone with whom he felt comfortable and whom he admired for her musical ability and her innate goodness and largeness of spirit.

I didn’t know what to make of this confession at first, for my mother was the queen and her association with a commoner like Stephen was under unusual circumstances. But he was an engaging person and I could not help liking him, trusting him to be honest and discreet. My feelings were no doubt coloured by my own daily association with commoners at the academy. As I mentioned, we were not treated any differently while inside those walls, and I even forgot at times that I was a princess and would otherwise never have any dealings with the people who were my colleagues.

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