“The Phoenix Treaty, signed at the Summit of Trieste in the 54th year of the Third Age, placed the responsibility of Utica’s reconstruction in the hands of the Fey, in exchange for ownership of the city.” Arkh offered an almost bored look as he recited his answer.
“Very good, Apprentice,” Senior Cartographer Winter said. “You have answered thirty-two questions correctly, out of thirty-two so far.” Her pitch-black eyes met Arkh’s as she set down the book she was reading out of. “You have completed part two of this Assessment, and may take a ten-minute break, if you wish, before moving on to part three.”
Arkh waved gingerly with his right hand as he shook his head. “No thank you, Senior Cartographer. If its all the same, I’d prefer to just move on.”
The Cambion raised an eyebrow, and hesitated for a moment. This was her first Assessment with her new Apprentice, and was still getting a feel for how the Orc worked. She wasn’t sure if this display was motivated by eagerness, or arrogance. “Very well,” she finally said, after a moment. “Please put away your maps and notes for part three.”
Arkh gathered his things up off the desk and returned them to his pack. He pulled out a small stack of blank parchment and a quill, then sat back in his chair. Senior Winter noticed his advanced preparations, and decided to take the opportunity to learn about him. “Actually, Apprentice, I’m going to administer part three orally, this time.”
Arkh gave a brief, confused look, then nodded. “Okay,” he said, as he emptied his desk. “Then I guess I’m ready,” he chuckled, through a slightly uncomfortable smile.
“Very good,” Senior Winter said, clearing her throat as she cracked open a different book. She took a moment to study the section before reading aloud. “You are traveling through Valiraura with the intent of acquring detailed maps of the region. You have received Guid permission to survey the land, but Fey soldiers in green and brown are blocking your passage, declaring that they never approved a Guild excursion. You have a single bodyguard with you, as well as your surveying equipment, and supplies enough for the two of you to last three more weeks. How do you proceed?”
Arkh knew almost immediately that the expected answer would likely be “return to the Guild for clarification of mission.” However, he did not want to fumble this opportunity to impress his new professor. That—and he was still frustrated at the loss of Master Banagher, and wanted to prove that he was, in fact, field material. He thought for a moment, then leaned forward. “And I was foolish enough accept this mission without personally seeing approval from the Fey?”
Senior Winter cracked the smallest of smiles. “You were.”
Arkh nodded in contemplation, then spoke again. “Where in Valiraura am I?”
“You are… ninety miles west of Mooring,” Winter said, after thinking for a moment.
“Oh, so I’m speaking to deserters?”
Senior Winter tilted her head slightly, and narrowed her eyes. “I’m sorry?”
“You said that they’re in green and brown—which means they’re Oak Court—yet being ninety miles west of Mooring would put me just outside the Fey town of Birchwall, which belongs to the Amber Court. And unless Oak is planning military action, the presence of their soldiers in Amber territory would be an unacceptably hostile demonstration. So they’re deserters.”
Winter furrowed her brow in frustration. “Incorrect, Birchwall is property of the Oak Court.”
Arkh smirked a bit as he sighed. “Well, yes, it was. But Master Cartographer Aldrich pubished a thesis last week that detailed his most recent excursion to Valiraura, and how tensions between some of the Courts in the east have been tightening lately. At one point, he mentioned that Birchwall was recently gifted to the Amber Court as a gesture of goodwill, in an effort by Oak to quell rising hostilities.”
Winter’s red skin was now more red than it was when they began. Her gentle, inquisitive smile, had faded to a cold frown, and her black eyes had, somehow, gotten blacker. Wordlessly, she produced a stamp, stamped a Certificate of Passage, and presented her Apprentice with the ‘Field Readiness: Valiraura’ Ribbon, which Arkh proudly pinned to his robe.
Arkh was sitting in the courtyard, trying to sit up straight, as to show off his newest Ribbon. This one was particularly important to him, as it was not ony his first Field Readiness Ribbon, but it was his twentieth Ribbon overall; he now qualified for promotion to Junior Cartographer. He certainly didn’t expect it right away, but he knew that it wouldn’t be long before he got it—a year at most. It was a good moment for him.
He was in the process of trying to look like he was reading, when a sudden clamor erupted from the field behind him. He turned on the bench to see a circle of Apprentices surrounding two others. One was a small, lanky-looking human, clearly very afraid of his opponent. Across the circle from him stood an ebon-skinned Elf girl, hunched down with clenched fists, clearly ready for a good fight. Arkh sighed, set down his book, and got up off the bench. “I just know I’m gonna get blamed for this one,” he thought, as he approached the fight, rolling up his sleeves.