Trials, Part Four

Dutifully, Evelos went to stand beside the weapon racks, waiting for one of the magisters to appear and tell him what he was supposed to do.

Nothing exciting happened the next day, unless one counted the fact he was finally here, taking part in an age-old tradition. His father had bid him goodbye and given him a hug, and now Evelos stood waiting his turn as the presiding magisters looked over their lists of names and sorted the waiting youths into different groups, presumably to take different Trials.

It should not have taken this long. Elves were not terribly fertile creatures, and the number of young elves in the kingdom who were of the right age to take the Trials could barely be counted on two hands. Perhaps the waiting was part of the Trial, Evelos thought, and so he stood stock straight, waiting his turn and wishing he could open up the tight collar of his Trial robes. He felt like he was slowly being smothered, even though the fabric of the robes was light and the day was not too hot.

“Croatius Runefire,” called one of the magisters, and the red-haired elf beside him instantly stepped forward. He had on a self-satisfied smirk, that bothered Evelos just a bit somehow, but perhaps it was there for good reason, as the magister had barely looked at the young elf before ushering him forward to one of the tall gates standing behind the magisters in a row.

“Evelos Sunwalker,” the magister called next, and Evelos tried not to stumble over the hem of his Trial robes as he came forward. The magister eyed him sharply, and Evelos froze, wondering if he had done something wrong.

“Hmm, a Sunwalker, I see. Not a paladin, eh?” she asked.

Evelos couldn’t help it; he blushed. “No, ma’am.”

“They probably just missed something.” Yet she kept eyeing him keenly. “Well, go on, through the door you go.”

Evelos looked behind her at the gates. There was nothing to distinguish them from each other; there were not even numbers painted on their fronts.

“Er, which one?” he asked.

“You’re the one taking the Trial, not me.” She waved him on again. “Go on.”

Evelos felt like the other youths were staring at him, even though they were probably paying more attention to their own nervous thoughts than to him. “But shouldn’t you tell me something about them or what to expect?”

The magister just glared at him. “Go on,” she said again.

“Okay,” said Evelos in a small voice, and he walked forward. If the other youths hadn’t been staring at him before, they probably were for sure now, he thought, snickering into their sleeves at this country bumpkin’s lack of knowledge. Was that a giggle he heard just then, even? But no, he couldn’t look back. If his father was watching—and sometimes parents did—they had been sure to inform Evelos of that at the beginning—he would be ashamed his son had hesitated so. So Evelos walked up to a gate and pushed it in.

The gate didn’t move. Feeling stupider by the moment, Evelos pulled instead of pushed, and this time, the door opened smoothly to admit him.

Beyond lay a wide courtyard. Evelos looked left and right, but his gate was the only one on the eastern wall; the others must have led magically to other places. He suddenly wanted to go back to test the theory, but he remembered the magister’s impatience with him, as well as his own resolve not to look back. Instead, he took a step inside.

Several weapon racks shimmered into view on the edges of the courtyard as soon as his foot hit the flagstones. Was this to be a test of his combat prowess, then? Evelos hoped not. He hated those lessons even more than the riding ones. Dutifully though, he went to stand beside the racks, waiting for one of the magisters to appear and tell him what he was supposed to do.

He had been waiting for several minutes, chewing his tongue nervously, but still no one had come. Perhaps it was part of the courtyard’s magic, and the Trial wouldn’t start until he picked up one of the weapons? Evelos glanced at them. Different kinds of swords, straight and curved, a few different kinds of bows, and lots of polearms. So many different polearms. Father would probably know all their names.

Evelos didn’t touch any of them. His nerves had begun to congeal into boredom, even annoyance—he frankly wasn’t that interested in a duel. And if waiting was indeed part of the Trial to try his patience, then it sure was working.

Still, he waited a few more minutes, reminding himself not to fidget, as that might be seen as improper. Still the courtyard remained empty. Was there something else he was missing? Glancing around to check he still wasn’t being watched, Evelos nudged one of the racks. He didn’t feel the telltale signs of a discharge of magic: his hands didn’t tingle and the rack felt just as real, solid, and heavy as it should. Evelos briefly considered overturning it, but he didn’t really want to cause a fuss, nor damage any of the weapons or the floor tiles if they turned out to be real.

Yet, he suddenly thought, nothing was forcing him to choose from the weapons either. Perhaps he didn’t have to participate at all.

Evelos glanced around the courtyard one last time. There were still no signs of a magister or even a sign telling him what he was supposed to be doing. There was a door over there, on the western wall. Had it been there before? Perhaps he could leave through it if he wanted.

Evelos felt his father might be disappointed in his lack of choice, but then, Evelos told himself, this was his Trial, not his father’s. If the magisters weren’t going to force him to work with the weapons, then he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to show them how bad he was, and he didn’t enjoy it for its own sake.

So instead he walked up to the west door and, remembering the tricky gate, pulled it open. A woosh of wind from the other side unsettled his hair. He suddenly wondered if maybe the courtyard hadn’t been part of the Trial at all, and perhaps a magister would be on the other side, waiting impatiently for him while he had been dawdling. Biting his lip, Evelos hurried through.

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