The walls surrounding the Ianterran School for the Gifted rivaled any Navihm had seen in his 22 years. Not even the towns and cities he had passed through on his journey through the Lowlands had walls this impressive.
“Not quite what we are used to hey Equus?” Navihm said to his mount, patting his neck. The shaggy horse shook his mane, seeming to agree with his master. When they had first left Genticus he had encountered a walled city for the first time. At the time, Navihm had wondered why people would want to separate themselves from the world with brick and mortar. Now, craning his neck to see the guard standing on top of the wall, he wondered this again.
The man shouted an enquiry down to the boy. Navihm didn't quite grasp what the guard had said, a pang of longing for his familiar foothills had distracted him. Navihm shouted up for him to repeat what he had asked. Impatiently the slightly haggard looking man repeated himself, sounding somewhat irritated.
"What business do you have here?" shouted the guard again. Navihm couldn’t be sure he'd understood him correctly. He wasn’t fluent in the halting, choppy tongue the Ianterrans insisted on speaking. It seemed the sort of thing a guard should ask.
“I’m here to see the dean,” he replied in the common tongue. “He is expecting me.”
The common tongue was the language used by traders and merchants when trading across borders became more common across the continent. Increased interaction between the Lowland countries meant that nowadays, most people spoke the common tongue. There were many different languages used on the continent, even amongst the Lowlanders.
The huge portcullis opened partially to admit Navihm into the school. A guard, younger than the first, was waiting for him just inside.
“Papers,” he said, bored. Navihm rifled in his pack hung on the back of his saddle before dismounting and handing the letters to the guard. The man gave the papers a cursory scan and waved Navihm in. Marching quickly over the courtyard, the guard droned out orders.
“You can put your horse in the stable over here. The dean won’t be taking meetings for another hour or so, so you will have to wait. Do whatever you want, just don’t get into and trouble and don’t bother any guards or teachers. The dean’s office is on the second floor, just up those stairs.”
He was pointing to a narrow stone staircase on the other side of an opened door.
Navihm was half listening, more concerned with taking in the sights around him. There were few people around and those who he did encounter usually walked past purposefully, giving curious glances at the guard and the travel-stained foreigner trailing behind him.
Navihm entered the stable the guard had indicated and stabled Equus where other saddled horses were kept, either waiting to be ridden or were stabled only temporarily like Equus. Navihm loosened that saddle straps, making it more comfortable for his mount and eyed the other horses. They were all at least a hand taller than Equus and were shiny and sleek where his mount was shaggy and stocky. Equus was bred for hard work and for mountain conditions, these horses were bred for their looks.
Navihm spent his time exploring the school.
He wandered into a building that was separate to the main castle-like building. It was only one story and the interior walls were painted a stark white. Navihm had never seen anything like it. What was it used for? he wondered. A small girl, almost half Navihm’s height walked past holding a tray full of small white cloths.
“Excuse me?” Navihm stepped into the room. The girl must not have seen him standing in the doorway because she squeaked and dropped the tray. It landed with a huge crash and the strips of fabric unravelled all over the white floor. The girl was staring wide eyed at Navihm, hands pressed to her mouth. She let out a string of rapid words in her language, most of which he missed. “Sorry….scared me … didn’t …. here?”
“I’m sorry,” Navihm said in broken Ianterran. “Didn’t understand. More slowly?”
“I didn’t expect anyone to come in, you gave me a fright,” the girl still looked a bit frightened. She hadn't moved since Navihm had spoken. She just stood frozen and wide-eyed. Navihm stepped towards her, her eyes went even wider and she shuffled her feet as if preparing to run. He bent down slowly, mindful of her skittishness and began picking up the fabric. After a brief hesitation, she bent down also, careful not to brush hands with the boy. Navihm wondered if she was this anxious around everyone or if it was just because he was a Genti.
“You name?” Navihm wasn't quite sure that was how it was phrased, but he supposed it was close enough because the girl understood.
“My name? Oh yes, how silly of me. I didn't introduce myself. My name is Millicent. Um, Millie. You can call me Millie.” She tucked her chin length brown hair behind her ear nervously. Her eyes wouldn't quite meet his, instead, they kept flitting restlessly around the room, eventually coming to rest on his hands. She noticed that he wore three rings, on his thumbs and his right forefinger. They were just plain metal bands but they captured her attention. She was more confident staring at them than she was looking the tall foreigner in the eye.
She was a shy little thing.
“I Navihm,” he said, placing the last of the material strips on her tray.
“Navihm? What’s Navihm? Oh! Is that your name?” she stood. “I’ve never heard of a name like that. I suppose Millie is just as odd for you, isn’t it?” It was hard for Navihm to understand the girl. She seemed prone to chatter and she talked quite quickly.
“Please, more slowly? Where is this place?”
“What place?” She noticed that Navihm was looking around the room at all the beds and white walls. “Oh, you mean here? This is the school’s medical ward. Like a hospital, but smaller.”
“Hospital?” Navihm was unfamiliar with the word.
“You know, where people go if they are sick or get hurt.”
“Oh, for healing?” She nodded. “You have whole building for healing?”
“Yes, of course. Don't you?” The idea seemed absurd until Navihm realised that the Lowlanders didn’t have magical healers like in his home country. They wouldn’t be able to heal people instantly, it would take time for them to recover. That explained the beds. They were interrupted by a skinny woman with deep frown lines.
“Millicent!” she yelled. Millie jumped and would have dropped the tray again if it wasn’t for Navihm catching it.
“What are you doing there, girl? Where are those bandages?”
Millie turned back to Navihm. “I’m sorry, I have to go,” she said.
“Thank you, Millie. Have good day.” Navihm gave her a small bow and left the ward. It was just about time for him to meet the Dean anyway so he made his way towards his office.
At the top of the stairs, a few people around Navihm milled about, talking amongst themselves. They lounged against a wall in what looked like a casual queue leading up to a door that read ‘Dean Ambrose’. This was confirmed when a bouncy blonde exited the room and the student next to the door entered. Navihm joined the end of the line and watched the blonde flounce past him. She made eye contact briefly and sniffed dismissively, eyeing his dark skin and road stained clothing. He supposed he would have to expect this sort of reaction from the students here. That response seemed common enough in town.
“Can you believe it?” said the boy on his left. “They gave me a roommate.” The rest of his words were too fast for Navihm to understand. The young man on the receiving end of the angry boy’s increasingly indignant tirade looked to be more interested in his nails than the spectacle the other boy was creating. He nodded along distractedly and occasionally rolled his eyes, unnoticed by the ranting young man.
It continued much like this for the next half hour or so until Navihm was waiting by the door listening to shouting in the office. The door slammed open and a flushed, angry youth stormed out, glaring at anyone that looked his way.
“Next waiting, please.”
Dean Ambrose was a short, blonde man in his early 50s, sporting a neat tuft of hair on his chin. He peered up over his glasses as Navihm entered and stood by the chair facing the dean’s desk.
“Yes?” said the older man expectantly, raising one brow.
“I am Enfeitar Navihm of the First,” he said in the common tongue “We have corresponded.”
Dean Ambrose switched languages promptly. “Ah yes, of course.” Noticing that Navihm still stood politely behind the chair he added: “Please, sit down.” Navihm nodded gratefully and sunk into the chair. He’d been travelling hard since sunrise.
“Now, down to business.” The dean pulled out some papers that Navihm recognised as the letters he’d sent throughout the past few months. “I'm afraid it was quite unexpected when you informed me in your last letter you would travel to us this month.”
“The school year starts soon and I was unwilling to wait. I made that clear from the beginning, Sir.” Navihm had been petitioning the Dean for admission into the school for almost a full season now. The constant protocols and formalities he’d had to go through were becoming increasingly frustrating. Finally, Navihm had decided to streamline the process and made the two-week journey to the school. In his experience, it was a lot more difficult to say no to someone in person.
“This is quite unusual,” the dean continued. “Normally acceptance into our school is confirmed a least a year in advance. This is a very prestigious institution, as you well know.”
“Sir, I explained to you in my letters about my bonding.” Navihm gestured vaguely to the braids decorating the side of his head. “You know that it is imperative that I learn to use my elemental gifts as soon as possible.”
“Yes, yes. The school's cultural advisor explained to me the significance of your braids. However, he was quite stumped when I explained to him your gifts for elemental magic. He was quite certain that was an ability unique to the Lowland countries. I was lead to believe that people from the tribal lands up north are only gifted with mind magics.” The dean sounded more than a little suspicious.
“That is normally true,” Navihm began, slightly awkwardly. “My parentage is unique. I do have spiritual gifts from my mother’s family, but I gained elemental magic from my father's. He hailed from a Lowland country, we believe.”
“Ah, an interracial marriage. You don't see many of those.”
A slight shifting in his seat was the only outward sign of discomfort Navihm allowed himself.
“The situation is quite a bit more delicate than that.” He said lightly. The dean’s eyebrows rose to almost touch his hairline. “My mother was 14 when she was attacked in the forest near her home. My father was convicted of a number of-” he hesitated, “similar crimes in the area. We believe he had fled to Genticus to avoid prosecution in the Lowlands.” The Dean cleared his throat and shuffled some papers on his desk, avoiding eye contact.
“Regardless, the situation is still highly unusual. We will continue to review your application and perhaps you can attend next year. If that is unsuitable for you there is another school in Hallasholm that might suit you better.” Dean Ambrose waved a hand, considering the matter over. He picked up a document from his desk and began taking notes in the margin.
“Sir, that is six week’s ride away. With all due respect, I cannot wait to complete my bonding for another year. Even if this other school were to accept my application, I cannot delay it even six weeks. I must learn to use my elemental magic now if I am to complete my bonding and protect my people properly.”
“My boy,” Dean Ambrose said dismissively, looking up only briefly from the papers on his desk. “The fact remains that this is the most prestigious school of magic in all the Lowlands, the children of nobles and royals attend these classes. I'm certainly not going to bend the rules for a bastard son of-“ he glanced at one of Navihm’s letters “a teacher.”
Navihm’s eyes darkened and he clenched his jaw.
“Perhaps your cultural advisor can tell you what being a teacher means in my country. My mother is one of the most respected individuals in the whole of the First. She is Prophet and advisor to the King, as well as a teacher to his children. You will not disrespect her.
“As for the matter of my birth, we do not have nobility as you do here in the Lowlands. Status is not inherited by accident of birth in my country, it is won through good deeds and truly noble actions. I am an Enfeitar. That means I’ve been graced with the highest honor that can be bestowed on my people. You have not only insulted my mother and my lineage, you have insulted my entire way of life.” Navihm stood, pushing his chair back sharply.
“If that is all, I wish you a good day Sir.” He gave a stiff, formal bow and exited.