by Than Pence
Jhorri, an apprenticing Freezer, is given a brand new mission!
|Jhorri Grond pushed the rod into the ground beneath the shallows with a grunt. The lake was calm, her body causing the only ripples. In minutes, all four of her Jo’tren rods were in place. She chanted aloud to ensure that the Members could hear her words; spirits could be finicky.
In the water, the quartet of rods aligned themselves and glowed blue on the ends, forming a square beneath the surface. It was many seconds of subtle shifting before the glow brightened. Jhorri felt her cheeks redden with embarrassment: if she had managed a more perfect cube initially, the rods would have activated by now.
She cast her eyes shoreward. Ta Whomal was there, frowning, marking his tablet. Jhorri tucked a strand of black hair behind her ear. A moment later, a flash, and the rods were dingy brown again.
She couldn’t help but smile as she moved forward, sloshing water playing accompaniment to her gait. Jhorri grabbed the long Jo’tren rod nearest her and pulled.
The rod didn’t budge.
Her face warmed again. Whomal cleared his throat on the shore. Jhorri didn’t turn to look. She pictured his wizened scarecrow frame holding his precious tablet with one crooked arm and looking down his swinish nose with his cold blue eye. It was a sight often seen at the front of the lecture hall. Jhorri couldn’t wait until she graduated to becoming a Freezer.
Jhorri grimaced when she finally realized what she’d forgotten. With a deep, throaty phrase, she announced to the Members that she was through with the spell.
The block of ice surged up. Jhorri realized belatedly that she shouldn’t be so close when the ice comes loose: that’s how Ta Whomal came to possess only one cold blue eye.
* * *
“You were great!” exclaimed Quip. Jhorri tucked her hair behind her ear as her friend and classmate, Quipikite Gosnel, boasted during their trek from the lake. She was still in her robe and, it being soaked, did not impress upon others that she was a healthy teenaged woman.
I look like my mother’s mother. Quip, two years younger, looked like he was about to start skipping along the trail. The dirt he was kicking up immediately clung to Jhorri’s sopping robes.
“I forgot to end the spell. End it! Those are major marks, Quip.”
He waved it away, his freckled face scrunching up. “I hear that ‘appens a lot. No big!” He started walking backwards up the trail. “Even Whomal made that mistake a time or two!”
He backed into the ta almost immediately. Regret welled up inside Jhorri; she knew he had heard Quip’s insensitive remark. The underclassman turned, his dry, dusty robes whirling. All Jhorri could see was Ta Whomal’s eye. There was definitely a nose and eyebrows and a whole face and maybe even a body, but the eye was the only thing that registered.
Her heart hammered in her chest and she felt as if time around them had frozen.
Ta Whomal smoothed the patch over his missing eye and said, “Ta Fy’lhen has requested your presence, Lady Grond.” He spoke but never broke his gaze with Quip. The effect chilled Jhorri to the core. “She’s waiting in Sharkford Hall. Report to her immediately.”
Seconds passed with Ta Whomal looking into Quip’s face and Jhorri staring, horrified, at the pair. Like a viper, the teacher whipped his head in Jhorri’s direction, said, “Go, now!” and shoved past the freckled redhead.
Jhorri nodded and started up the trail, but paused when she realized Quip wasn’t behind her. Turning, she saw him standing on the trail, his head down. She grabbed his wrist. “Hey, you come, too. I’m not seeing Fy’lhen alone.”
“You go. I need… to… um…”
Jhorri looked down to where Quip was staring and nodded. She headed up the trail and thought, I bet he wishes he’d gotten his robe wet today. Might’ve hid that accident.
* * *
“I can’t! I’m on track to be the worst Freezer of my class!”
“Shh, shh, shh, pretty thing. That’s not true.”
Jhorri rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on! I forgot to end my spell today. During an examination! That’s not someone that should be… No. It just isn’t.”
She slumped down and stuck her hands into her damp robes. Ta Fy’lhen made her little tsk, tsk, tsk sound that always meant the shiny, sweet-scented teacher was going to get her way.
“Now,” she started while placing her pudgy hands on Jhorri’s shoulder. “Being a good Freezer isn’t always about the practice. The history is also important.” She guided Jhorri’s eyes to lock with her own. “And you’re the best.”
The ta’s eyes, lavender sugared with flecks of green, seemed to sparkle and Jhorri felt mesmerized. She shook her head when she realized again that the teacher was asking her to do something crazy: she wanted Jhorri Grond, a student advancing to apprenticeship, to approach a metalworker and convince him that plumbing was not going to be possible.
According to reports, Kor Bovel was attempting to circumvent the Freezing Guild and their water delivery system and encourage people to shove long, metal tubes into the ground in hopes that natural water would come directly to them.
“It’s absurd!” Jhorri said finally “Even if this Bovel guy could do what he claims, why send me?”
“You’re perfect for the duty, Lady Grond.” She adjusted her wig: powder floated onto her padded shoulders. “A young, knowledgeable woman like you could easily remind this metalist… Do you think that’s what he’s called? Metallergist? Metalman?”
Jhorri shrugged, biting her lip. “Maybe just a metalsmith.”
Ta Fy’lhen shrugged. “Whatever. He’s bound to be a nuisance. Imagine: people relying on dirty, filthy water from under the ground instead of our purified, clean ice blocks.” She feigned clutching her chest. “Madness!”
Jhorri hadn’t thought of that. The Jo’tren rods not only froze large blocks of water, they made sure no contaminants were locked in the ice. It was for everyone’s safety.
She looked at the teacher. “Do you really think he would listen to someone like me?”
“He has to, Lady Grond. Because you have right on your side, and he’s more wrong than a saddish song.”
Jhorri thought a moment more. She knew that a teacher would be best suited for this task, but Ta Fy’lhen was quick to point out that the incoming class needed as many governing bodies as could be mustered. And with her apprenticeship starting in two months, she had a stretch of time before she had to report to Lake Foad back east.
Before she knew it, she was making departure preparations.
* * *
By splintback, travel to Mount Grovel was simple for Jhorri. For Quipikite Gosnel, Jhorri knew it was no trimmed tree. “This splint is killing me! How do you stand it?”
She smiled, swaying with the movement. “Just go with it, Quip.”
“Easy for you to say. You grew up on a ranch. I’m not even sure I ever saw one ‘til last year!”
Jhorri chuckled and was once again thankful that Tas Fy’lhen and Whomal were gracious enough to allow Quip on her journey. “He could use the worldly experience to mature before next semester.” But they had already signed off on the idea before she’d made that point.
Now, at the peak of Mount Grovel, the pair found themselves at the entrance to a cavern. Wind whipped at her robes.
In a clearing beside the cave entrance was a large construct that Jhorri had never seen: it was circular and as tall as her splint’s neck. She rode up to the strange wonder and saw liquid inside it. It was black and swirled gently before her. She sniffed but didn’t smell anything peculiar.
“What’s in it?” asked Quip; he had already dismounted.
“A liquid. Black water, maybe?” She rapped her knuckles on the exterior. “It’s metal, here. What this guy wants to use to move water from under—”
“From under the ground, to be accessed by all!”
Jhorri turned quickly, the new voice startling her. A broad shouldered man was at the cave’s entrance. Quip stepped backward. Jhorri couldn’t help but notice his wiry beard and wide, pearly smile She dismounted, securing her Jo’tren rods, and quickly approached the man. He’s tall. “Jhorri Grond,” she said, clasping his hand firmly. “This is my friend Quipikite Gosnel.” She looked at the stark, freckled face of her friend. “Say hi, Quip.”
Jhorri ignored him. “He’s shy. You must be—”
“Kor Bovel, piper.”
“Oh, you play? I had lessons as a child.”
He smiled wider, a feat Jhorri didn’t think was possible. “No, not that kind of piper. And you look like you’re a child yourself. How old are you?”
Kor Bovel nodded but his eyes seemed to fade, as if he understood something for the first time. “Ah, I see. Sixteen.”
“I’ll start my apprenticeship in six weeks.”
“But you’re still… I was expecting someone more experienced from the Freezer’s Guild.” He looked at the two of them. “But I suppose a tour is in order. Come. I have refreshments.”
“First,” she managed before he stepped inside. “What’s that? What’s in it?”
“That’s a tank. And inside, that’s water.”
She frowned. “But it’s black.” Jhorri knew water wasn’t normally black. Her blocks of ice were white, but Kor Bovel simply smiled again and walked into his cave.
* * *
The diagrams made absolute sense to Jhorri, as did the logic for finding an easier way of delivering water to the masses. She’d always felt like, in an Age of Magik, carting around blocks of ice was far too crude. But she also knew that there was the issue of sanitation.
Try as she might, Jhorri Grond could not make Kor Bovel see that.
“You’re water is black, sir. People can’t drink that,” she all but screamed.
“It’s not black. It just looks that way because of the tank.”
“And how are people supposed to get these metal pipes of yours into the ground? Are we to have random citizens, thousands upon thousands of them, out shoving metal tubing into the ground? And drinking that muddy, cruddy water that is often found underground? All just so they can avoid paying fees to the Guild?”
“This isn’t about them paying fees.” Kor’s smile had vanished hours ago as he struggled to convince Jhorri about his product. “It’s about people having a choice in where their water comes from.”
And so it went, back and forth, with Jhorri unable to dissuade Bovel into dropping his claims and he had no impact on her mentality regarding metals pipes.
Night fell upon them and Kor, recognizing that he couldn’t allow the pair to travel down the mountain by moonlight, invited them to sleep in his cavern.
Come morning, Jhorri awoke to a scene that curdled her blood: Kor Bovel had been impaled with one of her Jo’tren rods as he slept. His face was filled with anguish and she was surprised she hadn’t been awakened in the night. Quip stood over the corpse, staring down at it.
She made no sound as she stepped to his side, but she felt her pulse quicken. Quip was quick to speak. “He wouldn’t listen, Jhorri. He just… wouldn’t.” She nodded once, knowing he was right.
After several agonizing hours, she was ready to leave the cleaned crime scene, wondering if she’d ever be connected to the murder. On her way past the tank outside, she stopped and leaned out to dip her hand into the water. When she pulled her cupped hand out, the liquid was clear.
The revelation sent a chill up her spine and Jhorri Grond wasn’t sure what exactly would come next. She double checked her Jo’tren rods, making sure all four were securely fastened: they were rare Magik tools, and they would always help secure the watering needs of the people. Now, and forever.
Word Count: 1,997