Inkwarriors, part 5 (Fiction)

Meril moped around her home for a few days, mourning the loss of her wizard, but then had a sudden, inspiring thought. What if they were interested? After all, they hadn’t said no; they’d just pointed out the difficulty of a relationship between the two of them. Maybe she did stand a chance – if she could find a way to contact them again.

She began to keep a lookout for them, once again. She wondered if they were thinking about her. She hoped so, because she couldn’t stop thinking about them.

***********

In the wizard district, behind its high walls, a certain young wizard was thinking about Meril, but not in the way she hoped. They had thought, after their encounter and Meril’s confession of love, that she would forget them. And she had, briefly.

One of a wizard’s powers was to know when someone was thinking of them. Because a wizard’s true name was a secret even from themself, this feeling was usually a vague background mutter wherein someone was just thinking of wizards in general, but sometimes there would be a spike, usually when another wizard was thinking of them. Meril’s obsession had been annoying before she’d met them, causing large surges of attention. This had only intensified since.

The wizard was unsure what to do. The obvious solution would be to change their route, but the path they took through the city was part of the spell they were in the process of casting, and to change it would destroy the work of many months. Also, thought the irritated wizard, why should they have to change their habits for an inkwarrior, of all things?

The origin of the animosity between wizard and inkwarrior was lost in history, but the essential point was that their aims and methods were opposed. Everyone knew that wizards and inkwarriors did not mix, and indeed could be thought of as two opposing forces.

Both wizards and inkwarriors learned the same catechism as children:

What is an inkwarrior?

An inkwarrior writes the real to keep it safe from chaos.

What is a wizard?

A wizard uses words to bend the real to their will.

This chant was the only known point of commonality between the two groups. There were a few who claimed that this spoke to a shared ancestry, but that was fiercely denied by the elders of both groups.

The wizard decided to take the Meril problem to the wisest person they knew, their mentor. Perhaps they would be able to unravel this tangle. Even if they couldn’t, it would be a relief to talk to someone about it.

***********

Meril knew she should be studying, or practicing her glyphs, or doing anything but obsessing over her wizard. She was fully aware of this, but nevertheless she had not opened any of the books stacked in front of her, nor had she picked up her chalk. She had already taken, and almost certainly failed, nearly all of her exams. There was only the most important one left, the final test of an inkwarrior’s skill: mending the real.

She knew she’d fail it. Probably everyone in the house, down to the youngest child, knew she’d fail, but she had to take it nonetheless. After all, she couldn’t make the glyphs, and if you can’t write the symbols you can’t mend the real.

“I wish I could just quit,” Meril said to herself. But she knew it was impossible. There was nowhere she could go, and in any case she had no other skills. She would be an inkwarrior til she died, and she would never get to be with her wizard.

She buried her face in her hands and cried softly. She might as well resign herself to being the unwanted failure living in her family’s house.

© bardofupton 2019

Inkwarriors, part 4 (Fiction)

Meril gazed thoughtfully out the window, wondering how she could contact her wizard.

She already thought of them as hers, although she had no idea if they had any interest in her, or even knew of her existence. When she thought about it, which was rarely, she realised that she knew very little about them.

Wizards were traditionally ungendered, but Meril wasn’t bothered about that. Gender was a complicated business in the little kingdom of Azoudar: priests were always considered female, for what Meril had been informed were important historical reasons that could not be explained to her. (She had long ago worked out that this meant that nobody remembered the real reason.) The King was always the King, and always male even if he was not. (The current King was called Emily, and had given birth to two children.) Meril was aware that other places did not do this; she had read of places where, for example, only men could be kings, but it seemed ridiculous to her. It was only common sense that the best qualified person become king, surely. The only problem she had with the way her kingdom did things was its insistence that a person follow the career path of their parents.

“Because it’s not like breeding horses,” Meril said to herself. “My parents are both highly regarded inkwarriors, and I can’t even write basic glyphs properly.”

And of course, wizards had no names: it was thought to be something to do with the source of their power, but no non-wizard knew the truth of it.

Meril knew she couldn’t leave a note for her wizard, as wizards were illiterate: the written word belonged to inkwarriors – and priests; wizards passed down their secrets by word of mouth and during strange occult rituals. Since wizards were even more insular than inkwarriors, the only rumours that circulated about said rites were extremely vague.

She would have to contrive a meeting, somehow. That would be difficult, since technically she was not allowed out of the house alone. Inkwarriors were very paranoid about their secrets getting out, and hence no inkwarrior went anywhere alone. It was said that this was to avoid kidnappings, but Meril was fairly sure that it was more about not giving anyone the opportunity to sell their secrets. And to be fair, that was a real issue: even Meril, who was not yet a qualified inkwarrior, had had people slide notes into her hands offering her quite surprising amounts of money for her knowledge. She’d never acted on these notes, of course, but then she’d never had the chance. The accompanying inkwarrior had always taken it from her.

“This is going to be difficult,” Meril said to herself.

She brightened suddenly – perhaps there was a way. She would just have to be very picky about who accompanied her on her trip out. She needed someone older, and slower. And she would have to time it perfectly.

Two days later, Meril put her plan into operation. She had been noting her wizard’s travels, and knew that they always passed her house at three hours past noon. She therefore arranged her trip out so that she would be returning home at that time.

Meril ensured that she was ahead of her escort, a slow-moving, easygoing inkwarrior called Bari. As they were nearly home, Bari wasn’t too worried about Meril striding ahead. Meril saw her wizard approaching and sped up a little, so that she bumped into them just after they passed her door.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Meril said quickly. “But I just need you to know that I love you.”

The wizard stared at her.

“But… you’re an inkwarrior.”

“I know that,” Meril said sharply. “I’m fully aware of that. I just…”

“Meril!” Bari shouted. “Are you talking to that wizard?”

The wizard stepped around Meril and strode off quickly down the street. Meril sighed as she watched them go.

“Just apologising for bumping into them,” she replied.

“Well… I suppose that’s all right. Just don’t make a habit of it.”

“I won’t,” Meril promised. After all, the wizard clearly hadn’t been interested. Maybe it was time to give up on love and concentrate on her studies, like Paro had told her.

© bardofupton 2019

Inkwarriors, part 3 (Fiction)

Meril sighed, putting her chalk down and staring glumly at the glyphs she had attempted to draw.

“I swear I actually get worse the more I practice,” she muttered.

She grabbed a cloth and quickly erased her writing. Even though it was just chalk, and not ink, the habit of destroying any work that was unintended for permanence was ingrained. Also, she didn’t want anyone to see what a bad job she’d done. She knew what the glyphs should look like, but somewhere between her brain and her fingers that knowledge seemed to get lost.

“Precisely why I should do something else with my life,” she said aloud.

“Like befriend that wizard?” Paro inquired quietly from the doorway.

“No, I was thinking of a job,” Meril explained.

“Didn’t you read that book I gave you?”

“Yes, but I’m a terrible inkwarrior. My glyphs are misshapen, so they don’t work. What’s the point of keeping me?”

“You know our secrets, though.”

“I wouldn’t betray you!”

“What if this wizard you’re pining after asked you to?”

“I… I wouldn’t.”

“Easy to say, Meril. But not so easy for us to believe. And we can’t have wizards knowing our secrets.” Paro sighed. “And it’s not just up to us. Even if the guild would let you go, the priests would not.” He patted Meril’s shoulder. “You’re not the first to want something different, Meril, but that’s not the world we live in. You need to make the best of it.”

Meril sighed again. “I know,” she said sadly. “I know.”

“Keep studying,” Paro told her as he left the room.

Meril nodded, but stared out the window instead. Maybe her wizard would walk by. It was around the time they normally did.

She’d first noticed them a year ago, rushing past in the bright pink robes of a wizard’s apprentice. The robes were meant to make them stand out, and they did. It was the pink that had attracted Meril’s attention that first day, as she was staring aimlessly out of the window. And then they had dropped an item, some kind of glass container, and it had broken. She’d seen the look of horror on their face, and felt a pang of sympathy. She too had destroyed important objects, and paid the price in increased chores and angry scolding.

The wizard had looked around furtively, not seeing Meril at the high, narrow window, and had muttered a quick spell. The shards of glass crawled back together, and Meril felt a strange thrill at seeing something forbidden. She knew that if she’d had that power, she’d have used it for the same purpose. She also knew that she should report the use of magic, so that the inkwarriors’ guild could check for cracks in the real, but she had no intention of doing so. It would be a secret between her and the wizard.

After that, she’d looked out for them every day, and gradually come to feel that she knew them. Loving them was a simple step from there. She had still not actually met them or learned their name, but she was determined to make that happen. Somehow.

© bardofupton 2018

Inkwarriors, part 2 (Fiction)

Meril stared at the book. It was extremely thin, more of a pamphlet, really. She hesitated, then flipped it open. At least it was a change from studying.

Elise was the child of a soldier and a weaver, and would therefore have the choice of either career. Her father hoped she’d choose to be a weaver like him, and stay close to home in safety. Her mother had no opinion on that or any other matter, having died in battle when Elise was only four years old.

“At least she got a choice,” Meril muttered sulkily. Inkwarriors always married within their community.

Despite her father’s best efforts, however, Elise had no interest in weaving. Even as a very young child, her only interest was making people laugh. And she was good at it. Her original repertoire was silly jokes that were mainly funny due to her age and the way in which she told them, but as she got older she developed into a true comic.

At this point, her father realised that they had a problem. Somehow Elise was convinced that she was going to be an entertainer. He spent many days and nights trying to convince her that she could be either a weaver or a soldier, but never a performer. Elise refused to budge. She pointed out that she had neither aptitude nor interest in either career, and that she was a talented comedian and it would be a waste of her skills to take up any other calling.

“Besides, it’s a bit late now, isn’t it?” Elise argued. “I’m too old to start learning those skills.”

Her father sighed. “It’s my fault. I should have insisted you choose one or the other years ago, I know, but you were so happy. And you’re all I’ve got since your mother died. I just wanted you to be happy. But now I just want you to live.”

Elise laughed. “Who’ll know?”

“Everyone,” her father said. “Soon you’ll have to register your choice and start working.”

“Why can’t I just register as an entertainer?”

“Because they’ll kill you!” Her father stopped, took a deep breath and tried to speak more calmly. “It’s forbidden.”

“But when they see how good I am,” Elise began.

“Nobody will see how good you are if you’re dead!”

Elise rolled her eyes and laughed. “When was the last time that happened? It’s just a threat they make to keep us in line.”

“It’s not a threat, Elise.”

“Have you ever seen it happen?”

“No, but…”

“Exactly! I’m going to do what I want, and I don’t care if they disapprove.”

“But…”

Elise ran off, confident that her father was being overprotective once again. Her father was equally confident that he was not, but could think of no action he could take. Even if he had known who to bribe, he had no money, and he doubted anyone important could be bribed with the poorly-woven blankets that were his main output. He decided to focus his energy on convincing Elise to change her mind.

He failed.

When the census takers came to the village for the triennial registration, he begged Elise to lie and say she was a weaver. Elise refused, laughing off his protests.

“As if they’ll care,” she said. “They just want something to put on their forms.”

And off she went to the town hall.

Her father followed her, waiting outside the town hall while she registered, for registration was considered a private affair, even though it was a foregone conclusion in virtually all cases. He waited for a long time. All the other young people had gone in, registered and left, but there was no sign of Elise. At last, when night was starting to fall, he gathered his courage and entered the hall.

An official was seated at a table, writing. Servants were tidying the room, and a couple of large men who were clearly bodyguards lurked at the side of the hall.

“I’m looking for my daughter, Elise,” he told the official.

“She’s gone.”

“Gone?”

Meril sighed. “So she’s dead, right?”

“Executed,” the official replied.

“But… But…. Didn’t you let her explain?”

“You know the law. So did she, even if she thought she could flout it. Why waste time with a trial when she’s clearly guilty?”

Elise’s father stared at him.

“Where’s her body?”

The official gestured, and a servant brought a small box over and handed it to Elise’s father.

“What’s this?”

“Your daughter.”

Elise’s father opened the box. It was full of ash.

“Due to the nature of her crime,” the official continued, “she cannot be buried on holy ground.”

“What did you do to her?” Elise’s father screamed.

The bodyguards grabbed him and began to drag him from the room. The official stared coldly at him.

“I merely carried out the sentence prescribed by law. It was your responsibility to teach your daughter the law and ensure she followed it.”

Elise’s father sobbed as he was removed from the hall. He knew the official was right, that he had failed his child, that the true crime was his.

Meril rolled her eyes. “Oh please! What blatant propaganda. Like anyone would be convinced by that.”

She tossed the pamphlet on the desk, and picked up her slate and chalk. Maybe she should at least practice her glyphs.

© bardofupton 2018

Inkwarriors, part 1 (Fiction)

The first thing an inkwarrior child learns is the Code. It’s the first thing they learn when they begin to speak. The Code binds all inkwarriors, regardless of what political differences they may have.

The Code is simple to remember, hard to master. It goes thusly:

An inkwarrior writes the real, keeping it safe from chaos. An inkwarrior wastes no words, writes no lies, holds nothing above their calling. An inkwarrior goes where they are needed, shows no favour, takes no bribes. An inkwarrior owes allegiance only to themselves and to the real…

Meril paused, sighing. “Must I keep repeating this? I know it by heart!”

“If you truly knew it, you’d not be mooning over some wizard! You’re an inkwarrior, Merril. You cannot love a wizard.”

“But I do!”

“You’ve never even spoken to them!”

“I… That’s true, but it doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t matter? You’ve no idea who they truly are. And they’re a wizard, so, y’know, evil.”

“How can you say that?”

“Wizards dabble in chaos for their own aggrandisement, Meril. Everyone knows that.”

“Well… I’m sure this wizard is different.”

“Doesn’t matter. They won’t give you the time of day. They hate us as much as we hate them. After all, we do spend a lot of our time undoing what they’ve done.” Paro sighed, seeing the determined look on Meril’s face. “You should forget them. It can’t go anywhere.”

Meril shook her head stubbornly.

“You need to study, Meril. The first exam is in two days!”

“Maybe I don’t want to be an inkwarrior.”

“So? An inkwarrior child becomes an inkwarrior. Just as a wizard’s child becomes a wizard, and a carpenter’s child becomes a carpenter.”

“And that is why our bookshelves are so wobbly,” Meril retorted, “because our carpenter has no actual aptitude for carpentry. Why can’t I become something else?”

Because it’s ordained. Do you want to fight not just the inkwarrior guild, but the priests and the king too?”

Meril stared stubbornly back at Paro, but said nothing. He sighed, and pulled down a thin book from the overflowing bookshelf.

“Read this. Maybe it will change your mind.”

“What is it?”

“It’s the story of the last person who tried a change of career.”

“It’s not very long.”

“There’s a reason for that.”

© bardofupton 2018