Rori: Fathers and Daughters
On the third floor of Sunstone Spire, where the Paladin’s trained and ate dinner and gathered together for a game of cards, a young elf Mage gleefully snuck in to join them. She sat among a group of older Paladins with gray beards and balding heads and at the center of their attention was Ser Merrick.
His return from long journeys always invoked drinking, storytelling, and smoking pipes filled with sweet herbal concoctions. But Rori didn’t care for anything except the storytelling. And of course, whatever trinket he brought back with him.
Some days, Rori hoped he was her father. That maybe he fell in love with an Elf maiden, that he had to begrudgingly give his daughter away due to honor and valor. It was a romantic and heartbreaking tale that she kept secretly to herself.
But just as Merrick had given her a trinket from his travels and started spinning his tales, Winifred’s loud booming voice echoed across the room, “Ms. Serana!”
Rori’s cheeks flushed as every Paladin looked her way and laughed. They all made snide comments about the Mage at Merrick’s heels who was already being whisked away. She ducked her head down and slowly peered over her shoulder at Winifred. She hadn’t expected her mentor to find her so quickly.
The old Mage marched forward but her slippers were quiet. Her robes completely swallowed her thin frame which made her look far less intimidating. Her voice, however, made even the Paladin’s flinch as she lectured. “Of course, this is where I would find you.”
Rori respectfully got to her feet as her mentor reached the small group. “I already finished my studies on focus crystals and I wrote my essay on the effects of ambient energy.”
Winifred pressed her fingertips between her brows and rolled her eyes shut. “It’s not your studies I’m worried about...”
“I just came to say hello,” Rori reasoned. “And to receive a small gift.” She held up the small glass vial. “It’s filled with amber honey from across the sea. The Dev made it, if you can believe that. They love honey apparently.”
Merrick rose to his feet as well and bowed his head. “Forgive me, Magister Winifred. I only just arrived this morning. I asked Chancellor Nicaise if it was alright to see her but I realize now that this has interfered in some way.”
Winifred sighed and turned her head slightly. “Paladin Merrick. I apologize as well. Ms. Serana has chores to attend to and an upcoming test.” Her gaze darted over to Rori and narrowed challengingly.
Rori bowed her head politely then turned sharply back to Merrick. “After I prepare for my test, which will be very easy, could you tell me more? This evening perhaps?”
She wanted to know more about the Dev, what they looked like, what they sounded like. She wanted to ask about the Arpaeians and what sort of lives they must lead. And there was always, of course, what did non-magical people do with themselves.
He softly grinned, feeling it in the corner of his eyes. “Of course, my child.”
Winifred bowed her head. “Good day, Ser Merrick.”
Rori shuffled behind her mentor, crossing her arms in anticipation. “I know what you’re going to say.”
“You know this is against the rules. You are forbidden to enter this part of the spire. Mages are not permitted past the fourth floor and especially not apprentices. If the commander—”
“Master,” she pleaded. “Ser Merrick asked the commander. I always go and meet with him when he visits ever since I was a child.”
She stopped abruptly and spun around. “You are not a child anymore. You’re an adult now. You’re going to take your second trial soon.” Winifred’s shoulders straightened as she huffed down a breath. “At some point, you have to start following the same rules as every other Mage.”
Rori felt her expression hardening. She hiked up her robes, lifting them as she climbed the stairs to the upper levels. With every stomp of her feet up the stairs, the angrier she became. Her footsteps became louder and heavier.
Mages were forbidden to walk the first floor, to be anywhere near the front door of the tower. Mages were forbidden to step outside unattended. Mages were forbidden to fraternize with Paladins. Mages were forbidden to do a great deal of things.
Most days, she never dared to question those rules. They were a part of normal daily life. Those rules were meant to protect everyone and everything. And so long as a Mage followed those rules and controlled their magic with skill, there was no reason to fear the Paladins.
As they marched down the hall to the classroom, Rori rubbed the glass vial of honey tucked away in her pocket. She considered what it would be like to take a caravan across the great wide desert with Merrick and see the sand dusted cities he spoke of and meet with the Arpaeians. It didn’t seem entirely fair that she couldn’t go with him.
Winifred started the lesson as if nothing had happened, as if it were another day and Merrick wasn’t downstairs sharing more stories and laughing with the other Paladins.
Finally Rori couldn’t help herself anymore. She blurted in the middle of Winifred’s lecture, “What about the Dev? Where does their magic stem from? Why is it limitless? And the Arpaeians and Dwarves? Why are they born without magic?”
“Rori,” she groaned and pressed her palms flat into her podium. “What does that have to do with deflective spells?”
“Devian deflective spells might be... limitless?” She peaked an inquiring brow.
Her mentor let out a loud groan. “Your one-track mind never fails.”
“Mages pull magic from the energy around them.” Rori propped her head onto her hand as she gazed off to the side. “Plants, herbs, animals, blood... Some like me can tap into the Aether. But all of these sources have a limit.”
“The Mage’s body is the limit,” Winifred corrected. “The Aether is a fountain that replenishes itself. But a Mage loses energy with each spell just like if you were running a marathon.”
“The Dev don’t get tired then?”
Winifred’s head fell forward as she leaned into her podium. “I’m not an expert on the matter... Few are. But from my understanding, their energy stems from their ancestral line.” She shook her head slightly and tossed her hands. “But again, Ms. Serana, this has nothing to do with our lesson.”
“I read in a book that two Dev fought for a month without taking a break.”
“Reading cheap novels instead of studying, I see,” grouched her mentor.
“No.” Rori huffed at the insult. “It was a historical account. It was in the archives.” She abruptly stood up and marched to the door. “If you’ll excuse me it’s time for my chores.”
Winifred all too gladly retorted, “You’re excused.”
Rori couldn’t understand why her curiosity was always a nuisance. Surely, her thirst for knowledge would be a delight to her mentor. But it seemed all anyone ever cared about were tests and lectures.
She went straight to the dorm’s kitchen where her best friend and co-conspirator was already there peeling vegetables.
“I caught the drapes on fire again,” he spat as soon as he caught sight of her.
Rori chuckled, “Yes, ‘hello’ really is pointless, isn’t it?”
He stopped what he was doing and gave her a long glare. “Didn’t you hear me?”
“Drapes. Fire. Again.” She nodded while grabbing a paring knife from the counter. “I’ve heard that story before. When are you going to tell me a new one?”
“It’s not funny, Rori,” he hissed. “They’ll toss me in solitary if I can’t even get a basic spell down.”
Rori rolled her eyes and began chopping some of the greens. “They wouldn’t do that. You always say it and nothing ever happens. Well, except a lecture about being more serious”
“Sure when I was younger...” His shoulders hunched and he leaned forward into the counter. “I’m reaching the age where they won’t let it slide anymore.”
Rori stopped what she was doing. She looked the other Mage in the eye, the way he nervously looked back. “They won’t. I don’t even think I’ve ever seen them take anybody.”
He scoffed, gathering up the silverware to set the table. “What about that... Emmet? They’re always locking him away.”
“Because he tried to escape. Five times.”
“Well can you blame him? I feel like I can’t blink without asking permission.”
“What?” Rori chuckled but then she realized Keir was being serious. “Of course you can. Why would you think that? They’re not here to kill us. They’re protecting us.”
He glared at her wordlessly as if he hadn’t heard her at all.
“Keir...” She shrugged her shoulders.
“You can’t be serious?”
“There are a lot of rules,” she agreed. “But they wouldn’t kill us.”
“Our very existence is illegal. Magic is illegal. We’re so illegal they locked us in a spire like prisoners. Every use or magic, every spell, is strictly regulated.”
Rori folded her arms and retorted, “Well, you have to agree that some Mages are dangerous.” She raised a brow at him. “Drapes are one thing but setting someone’s clothes on fire... You could hurt someone.”
“We shouldn’t have to live like this. We’re people, Rori. We share a communal bath and sleep in a room with twenty other people.” He began hacking away at a carrot. “You wouldn’t know that because you were practically born here. You’ve never known anything besides this prison.”
Rori’s lips thinned as a bitter smile began to grow. It was true, she hadn’t ever lived anywhere else besides the spire. She had no memories of a home or parents. She only ever heard about those things from other children.
She darted her attention elsewhere. “I think Winifred needed me for something.” She set down the knife and pushed the greens towards Keir.
“It’s fine. Really.” She waved a dismissive hand at him and strolled out of the kitchen as calmly as she could.
She knew Keir didn’t mean to hurt her. It wasn’t his fault she had lived behind stone walls since birth. To say it didn’t hurt to hear would have been a lie. She ached to see beyond the walls. To see and live in Merrick’s stories.
She had asked him once long ago to take her with him. He only laughed and told her, “Focus on being the best Mage and one day... you’ll see the world, I swear.”
Rori leapt down the stairs, taking them two at a time, her slippers hushing along the smooth stone. She ducked her head down when a Paladin came into view. The knight didn’t say anything to her while she passed. He allowed Rori to squeeze between his bulky armor and the narrow stairwell to the third floor.
She wasn’t afraid of him, per se, but she knew that what she was doing was against the rules. Keir’s fearful comments about the Paladins and Winifred’s lecture had unnerved her a little.
Merrick stood among a different group of Paladins, their voices hushed compared to the rest of the large hall. Rori hesitated in her approach. She didn’t want to interrupt an important meeting or overhear something she wasn’t supposed to.
“You there!” Someone barked out to her. “Mage.”
Rori stiffened for a moment. She peered over as the Paladin approached, each of his steps confident. As sweetly as she could, as calmly as she could, she turned and faced the knight with a grin. “Yes?”
His lips parted as the words stumbled, “Ah, yes, well, I... You are... not permitted in this area.”
She heard the hesitation, the nervousness in his voice. He was a little younger than her, probably still in training. She’d never seen him before and for all she knew he might have never seen a Mage up close and in person. It explained why he was so nervous to confront her.
“If you could please... uh, return upstairs...”
“Rori,” Merrick called out rather firmly.
She meekly looked between the young Paladin and Merrick. “Excuse me,” she muttered, worried that he’d be offended and cause trouble. She quickly hurried towards the safety of Merrick’s presence.
“Rori, this is Cyrus Ruslan.” He held out a hand to motion towards the baffled youth. “He was serving as my pupil before being stationed here. He’s a good man.”
Cyrus cautiously approached, cheeks reddening from embarrassment. His palm reached up to squeeze the back of his neck. “I, uh, apologize. I hope that I didn’t offend you, Ms. Serana.”
Rori smiled easily. It was hard not to grin at the sheepish nature of the Paladin. “You didn’t offend me, Ser Ruslan. I knew you were only doing your job.”
He tried to smile in return but his nervousness wouldn’t allow it.
“Join us, Cyrus, if you’d like. I was telling Rori earlier about our trip. I’m sure she’d be interested in hearing your version of events.”
Ser Ruslan groaned, fingertips pressing against his brows. “Or rather she would have a good laugh at them.”
“You were in the desert together?” She took down a rapid breath before blurting, “What was it like? Did you meet the Arpaeia? Are they as frightening as they say?”
Merrick chuckled, a hearty and delightful sound. It was the kind of laugh Rori imagined grandfathers made. “You’ll have plenty of time to ask him about it. He’s going to start his service here in Sunstone.”
She smiled eagerly but then it began to fade. Her eyes swept down to her hands, to the silky sleeves that just barely passed her bony wrists. “Are you leaving soon, then?”
A raspy breath passed his lips. He pressed his hand into her back, leading her away from the prying eyes of the other Paladins. “I will return just like I always have. I can’t return with stories if I don’t ever leave...”
She knew that thought was meant to cheer her up. But she wanted to spend more time with him. What she really wanted more than anything was to go with him...
“It’s only a week this time.” His steps slowed just as he was grabbing hold of her shoulders. He forced her to face him, to peer up at the concern in his gaze. “Take care of yourself. From what I’ve heard... you won’t be an apprentice by the time I return. You’ll go through your second travail next week and become a Master Mage.”
She forced a smile, forced a bitter laugh. “I could graduate now if I wanted.”
The old man smirked approvingly. “Shall we get back to our story then?” He turned and motioned Ser Ruslan to join them. They sat down at one of the various tables in the dining hall where a few others slowly began to join.
Rori didn’t take much notice of the others. She only cared about her father’s voice and, every now and then, Ser Ruslan’s timid input on their travels. It was the last story he ever told her. That night was the last time she ever saw Merrick.
Ser Ruslan found her in the spire’s library a week after Merrick left.
She was tucked away in one of the countless nooks, thumbing through older manuscripts in search of information for Winifred’s next lecture.
Rori only smiled and grinned as the sheepish Paladin approached. “Ser Ruslan.”
He fumbled with his words, with her name. “Ms... Ms. Serana, a report arrived moments ago...” He reached both of his hands up to his neck and clawed until his skin was turning red.
“What is it?” She already had a feeling it was about Merrick. There was no other reason for a report to pertain to her in any way.
“He was tracking a runaway when he ran into a group of fugitives.” He sucked down a shaky breath and cleared his throat. “He... didn’t survive the ambush. I should have... I should have been there. I’m sorry...”
Rori staggered back until she found one of the chairs. Her hands trembled as she clutched the book in hand. “What do you mean... Is it possible he’s just missing?”
The Paladin timidly shook his head.
She bowed forward and before she realized hot tears were already pouring. She would never see him again. He was supposed to return. He said he would return to the spire.
Ser Ruslan kneeled down and took the book from her. He set it aside and grabbed her hands between his. “Ser Merrick asked me to look after you. I will be here for you should you ever need me.” He looked out from the nook they were in to the quiet library. Thankfully no one really took notice of them.
Rori glanced as well and nodded her head. “Thank you, Ser Ruslan.” Her eyes met his and she couldn’t look away. She knew he was in just as much pain as her. They had both grown to care for Merrick.
But she fluttered her eyes and ducked her head down. “You shouldn’t stay here, though. It would be... unwise if someone saw us.”
His grip on her hands tightened moments before he got his feet and let go. He whispered in fear someone might overhear him, “Find me if you need anything.”
Rori nodded a few times but her throat swelled and she couldn’t say anything.