A Bat in the Hand
It was Sethbard’s day of the week when he was back in the small school room set into the forest just on the outskirts of the town. It was a bright sunny afternoon and every one of the two dozen mid-school age students yearned to be out in the warm sunshine. There wouldn’t be many days like this one left before the onset of the six months of winter that, every now and then, when the wind was from the north, you would be reminded of as a chill ran down your neck or up your sleeve.
As per usual, Sethbard was behind in most of his subjects. Particularly arithmetic and history. He was great at wood lore, though. He could even teach the teachers if it came to that. There wasn’t too much he didn’t know about what went on in the woods and which of the forest creatures was which. But now wasn’t wood lore time. Now was history time and although he had tried to read his books with some amount of concentration, not much had stuck he feared.
The teacher was working his way up and down the rows of students, all sitting at their desks with books closed as they were each tested on facts of the past. Sethbard hated this sort of testing. This cutting out of the wheat from the chaff, as it were. Inevitably he would have laughter heading his way.
The teacher stopped beside Gormat Toobudding’s desk. Gormat was Sethbard’s only friend in the school really. And only that because he happened to live on the road which stretched between the deep woods where he lived and the town. Most days, when Sethbard was in attendance, they would walk home together, talking and laughing and usually wasting some time along the river bank. Gormat was the son of Aldileye, the town magician and was, himself, apprenticing the arcane arts with a view in mind to take over from his father or perhaps set up his own practice further afield. In fact, Gormat was only one year away from taking his Emergence if all went well and had a number of fascinating abilities and spells, some of which he had even created himself. Sethbard was in awe of Gormat.
The teacher looked down his nose at Gormat. “Tell me, Gormat, which king was it that said this famous line before going into battle? I quote ‘Let those whose livers run green, leave now so that those whose hearts run gold can have the better of the day.’” Gormat winced. Gormat was somewhat of a poet himself and cringed at the abuse of his language that often cropped up in history class.
Gormat looked up at Teacher Rumsgotten. “Sir, that would be his Royal Highness, Trippover the Fourth, Lord of Tamora in the Fifth Dynasty.”
“That is correct, Gormat, well done. Can you also tell me the name of the battle at which those words were said?
“The battle of the Rubickk, sir?”
“Correct again. And what was the result of that battle?”
“Lord Trippover was defeated badly and died of the wounds that he received from his own men by mistake. Or so they said. This gave rise to the first use of the phrase ‘Battle Irony’.”
“Very good, Gormat. I think we might have a budding historian on our hands here, class.”
“I do love history, sir. Anything that can be written down in a book really. I intend to build a world-class library some day, specializing in magical lore, right here in Tenderbrook, once I have completed my Emergence.”
“That is a wonderful aspiration, Gormat. Now let’s move on. Sethbard…”
It was Sethbard’s turn. He could already feel his face turning red and his knee was jumping up and down of its own accord. Some of the others were already turning around in their desks to better witness the oncoming humiliation.
“Sethbard, you have deigned to visit us once more. That is truly wonderful.”
“Yes, sir,’ Sethbard replied, used by now to the tone of his master.
“Have you done all your required reading from the history text, I wonder?”
“Well, sir, I have done my best.”
“But, you know sir, these dates and names don’t stick very well in my head as much as I try to make them do so.”
“I know. You’re more a man of ‘action’ aren’t you, Sethbard. Like your father.”
The others started to giggle at this. Sethbard could feel his face flush and he considered throwing his bottle of ink in the master’s face. He could almost feel his hand starting to move towards the inkwell. Everyone knew that Sethbard’s father was a woodcutter because he couldn’t do other forms of work. He had been a soldier in the guard until he was injured in the head by an arrow in the Fession War. Why this teacher would make fun of him, Sethbard couldn’t understand. Perhaps because he, the master, had never had to sacrifice himself as his father had.
“All right, Sethbard, let’s get a good question for you. Are you ready?”
“Yes, sir. Quite, sir.”
“Good. In nine hundred and seventy five, two great houses went to war over the right to claim possession of the Timbertrack Gold mine. Name those two houses.”
Sethbard started to sweat. He knew he had read about this but when? He thought he knew one of the houses but the other?
“Um, sir, the House of, um…”
“ The House of Um? I don’t think I’ve heard of that one, Sethbard,’ the teacher said. The student body broke into horse laughter. “Quiet, children, you’ll throw Sethbard off.”
I’d like to throw you off, thought Sethbard. Off a cliff. He tried again. “The House of Lenning and the House of… of… Brillingston?”
“Well, Sethbard if by the House of Lenning you mean the House of Lumming and by the House of Brillingston, you mean the House of Bollingbroke, then you are absolutely correct. Is that what you meant to say?”
“Yes, sir. I mean, no sir. I mean… sorry sir. I guess I wasn’t ready after all.”
“Never mind, Sethbard. Perhaps one day after you have made a name for yourself in the great reaches of the world you will become the answer to a question yourself. A teacher like myself might ask of his class one day, who was the great warrior that was never prepared for a battle a day in his life. I know, a student might say, Sethbard. Sethbard the Unready!”
The class dissolved into merriment. All but Gormat, of course, who watched his friends anguish with great pain. What an ass this teacher was, he thought. What is to be gained from embarrassing his friend like this? What need to display his power over such an innocent victim?
“All right, students, that will be all for today. Tomorrow we’ll pick up where Sethbard the Unready left off.” More laughter and the class emptied out into the last rays of the afternoon sun.
Some students in a group laughed and shouted “Sethbard the Unready” as he and Gormat walked by towards the trail leading to the road home. Sethbard picked up a pebble and flung it at the boy who had shouted out, hitting him in the knee. The boy yelped and he and the rest of the group ran off towards the town.
The two boys walked the trail in silence. Gormat didn’t know what to say to help his friend. They walked slowly along until they came to the Cappapalli river and sat down beside a willow that leaned far out across the water.
“I don’t think I want to go back to the school anymore,’ Sethbard said, finally. “I think it’s not for me.”
Gormat looked over at his friend. “What would your father say about that?”
“Oh, he’d be angry I suppose. But I could help out more with the wood work.”
“Maybe,’ said Gormat. “But that would leave you pretty much out of options.”
“Ahhh, I don’t care. There are plenty of things I could do besides school things.”
“Well, I could join the guard like my father did. You don’t need school for that. Or I could join up with a group of adventurers and go to seek my fortune that way.”
“I guess, ' Gormat said, 'Say, are those boots still showing up on your kitchen table,’ Gormat asked.
“Every day,’ Sethbard replied, ’Why?”
“I have an idea about that. Can I come and stay overnight at your house sometime to observe the phenomena?”
“The phenomena?' Sethbard laughed. 'I wouldn’t have thought of calling it that.”
“But that’s what it is. Can I?”
“I don’t see why not. I’ll ask. How about tomorrow?”
“Great. Hey, watch this.” Gormat snatched a small green frog from the grassy bank. He held it one hand and then cupped his other hand over top of it. He muttered something under his breath and moved his hands in a large backwards circle ending with his arms outstretched over his head. Then he shouted, “Metibula!” and opened his hands. A small, brown bat was now in his grip where the frog had been. He unleashed it and it flew up across the river and into the trees on the other side.
“Wow!’ was all Sethbard could say. “That was fantastic.”
“Come on,’ shouted Gormat, 'I’ll race you to the forks!”
The boys ran off along the river. It was still a pretty good day.