Clockwork, part 1 of 6
I remember... being five years old and entering the city for the first time.
I held father's rough hand tightly, sure I would be lost in the flow of people, more than I knew existed. I had only seen my father's farm before then, with its overgrown stock pens and dried-up fields. My old life had ended just that morning when he interrupted the imaginary battle I was commanding in the empty barn and asked me to be brave.
When we reached the town square it was just as father had described it - the different guilds had set up tents and booths and parents were taking their children around to each. Several of the parents were crying - father wasn't one of them, but he had the same expression on his face that he had when he visited my mother's grave. I didn't cry either, both because he had asked me to be brave and because he had told me that even if the farm had been prosperous he would have wanted me to do something greater. At five, I could hardly imagine anything greater than working on a farm and was eager to find out what he meant.
We walked up to the first tent, the only one that was mandatory, and ducked inside to meet the monks.
"Remember what I told you," father said, looking more serious that I had ever seen him. "I believe that the almighty gods have given you a gift, and I want you to show it to these men."
I nodded, and turned towards the table where the monks had placed two finely polished planks of wood. Each had a strange symbol carved into it, and on one of the planks it gave off a faint green light. As they directed, I reached out and laid a hand on the unlit symbol... they told me to concentrate, to imagine the energy of my soul flowing out of me into the carved lines. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths, and after five minutes the monks shook their heads and told me to go. I cried, asked them if I could have another chance, but the monks dismissed us.
Ignoring the other tables my father took me directly to the one set up by the clockmakers. They said that a five-year-old would never be able to pass their test, but my father insisted and so they placed two boxes in front of me. The box on the right had a lid that covered all but a crank and a small wheel, and the box on the left looked the same but with no lid. Nothing connected the crank and wheel in the open box, and I laughed as I realized that this was the same test as the monks - make the magic flow in yours like it does in ours. The clockmakers flipped over a timer, but before even half the sand had made its way to the bottom bulb I had sorted through the nearby pile of gears and cogs and was able to have my wheel spin the same direction and speed as the example. Curious, they presented me with harder and harder tests until they had no more to give.
When I had said goodbye to my father for the last time and had settled into my tiny room in the clockmakers guild, I pulled the pocketknife from my belt and carved a symbol into the wall from memory. With barely a glance it flared to life, casting a greenish glow through the cramped space. As I would so many times in years to come I thought about what my father had told me before we arrived at the city.
"You have a gift from the almighty gods, son. That gift is intelligence, cunning, trickiness. Very few can light the runes, but those that do have no choice in life; they must be monks, forever - and that would be a terrible waste of your talent. When we enter the tent I want you to show your true gift, the gift of your cleverness. Do you understand?"
With another thought I extinguished the rune, and went to bed.