“A ha! That’s where they’ve taken you off to!” The pair of misplaced books glared at Ancaerin down the length of the Academy’s hallway, as though blaming him for their mistreatment. “Apprentices,” the bard muttered to the tomes, as he scooped them gingerly into the crook of his arm. The vast majority of the books in the Academy’s library were completely benign, but it never hurt to be respectful where wizardry was concerned.
Proper respect was a lesson that the new crop of apprentices had yet to learn. They appeared diligent enough at their studies, but Ancaerin found himself constantly picking up after them, interceding on their behalves when they ran afoul of Hermedhie’s epic temper, or – worst of all – meeting with their noble parents when the baronets and marquises inevitably came to ask why they had not heard from their offspring for the past three months or more.
“A simple letter will suffice,” Ancaerin had coached one freckle-faced girl, a daughter of the Coriel family, but the advice fell on deaf ears. The bard of Bellam expected a visit from Sir Coriel any day now.
Thus, even as Johann had become the Academy Master, Ancaerin found himself placed in the role of Academy Mother, and the resolution of day-to-day hassles inevitably fell to him. Upon reaching the Academy’s library, in fact, he was confronted with another of his daily aggravations. A short, dark Brecht man sat sprawled in one of the library’s wood-and-leather chairs, feet propped on a reading table, cleaning his nails with a dagger. Ancaerin’s bard-trained and half-Sidhelien sight could see around the edges of the illusion masking the man’s features, so that beneath the smirking Brecht expression swam a blank clay-and-copper faceplate.
“Zee bard!” Kristoph drawled, as Ancaerin, studiously ignoring him, moved to reshelve the books. “What is your name again? I am always forgetting…you are so rarely zee topic of conversation…”
“You remembered my name well enough a fortnight ago, when Lord Bellamie needed you to report on the Tosokhdai girl’s progress. ‘Ancaerin,’ you called to me then.” The bard’s imitation of Kristoph’s accent was flawless. “’Tell me, who is zis Chantou?’”
Kristoph scoffed. “I never would do zis thing! Chantou, she is like my own small sister! Of course I know her name! Zeese other apprentices, though…”
“Let’s be clear,” Ancaerin interrupted. “Lord Bellamie may trust you for his own reasons…he is a trusting soul. But I know what you were, and I do not think you have changed so much in the time you’ve been in that…body.” He schooled his voice to carry just a hint of threat. “If I ever see the slightest sign that you have reverted to your old ways…”
“Ho ho! The bard! He will sing me to death, perhaps? He will shoot an arrow into my so-forgetful brain?” Kristoph stopped just shy of sneering. “Do not think I do not know about you…little bard. I know your parents, who zey are, who are your relations. Does Johann, I wonder? Does your own cousin…?”
Ancaerin did not deign to respond. “I have my eye on you, Lost soul. Keep that metal nose of yours clean, and all will be well. Cross me, or Lord Bellamie, or one of the apprentices…” He let the threat hang in the air and, turning on his heel, walked out of the library.
“Oh, I will give you no cause for concern, half-Sidhe.” With the bard gone, Kristoph’s accent suddenly seemed far less pronounced. “We won’t be any trouble at all…will we?” Looking for a moment into the air above him, Kristoph leaned back in his chair, taking up the dagger to clean the joints of his metal hands. Though his clay-and-iron faceplate was, of course, expressionless, the glamour that covered it settled into a smile.