Uncle Hyena (unclehyena) wrote,
Uncle Hyena
unclehyena

Harborchild

It is often said, and believed, that a newly minted wizard is the second most useless thing in Khazan. This fascinates me, because there is no similar consensus on the identity of the MOST useless thing in Khazan; in fact, the question is the subject of frequent debates and occasional bar fights. But everyone agrees that fledgling wizards are number two, even though it isn't true.

This is not to say that many, if not most, newly minted wizards are pretty useless. The most inept journeyman wizard can best a peasant with a pitchfork two times out of three, but no sane person no one would argue that being able to command two to one odds against a peasant with a pitchfork is respectable compensation for seven years of intense training, hence the truism.

Wizard's apprentices, in the Guild schools at least, tend to fall into two broad categories: The wealthy and inept, and the poor and talented. The first group are the spurious subsequent children of the Great Families, and are usually spoiled and obnoxious in addition to having barely enough talent to qualify for training. The second group are the random abandoned by-blows of Great Wizards. Given that Great Wizards tend to be wealthy, powerful, charismatic, and have access to mind control spells, they produce a LOT of abandoned by-blows, and the best of them tend to be dragooned into the Guild schools. So the rich fools pay for the poor bastards to learn what they need to know to become the next generation of Great Wizards. The rich fools also heap a significant amount of abuse on the poor bastards along the way, and inevitably pay for it with interest a few decades later when the much abused poor bastards actually BECOME Great Wizards.

On the happy day when a given apprentice is declared a journeyman (and shown the door), he finds himself with knowledge of a number of interesting and occasionally powerful spells, exactly none of which will help him earn a living. If the journeyman in question is a rich fool, he will immediately pay to learn as many additional spells as his pointy little head will hold, and then rush off to meet his fate. If, on the other hand, he (or, as in my case, she; abandoned by-blows are, naturally, just as likely to be female as male) is a poor bastard, he can become an inept soldier, or he can become an inept thief, or he can indenture himself to a Great Wizard in exchange for the knowledge of some USEFUL spells.

I chose to indenture myself for ANOTHER seven years in exchange for three spells: One that healed wounds, one that cured diseases, and one that let me build reservoirs for magical energy and thereby doubled the amount of magic I could do in a given day. It took my new master about a week to rent me out, on a year long contract, to a mercenary leader in need of a healer. So I became a soldier anyway, but at least I was a specialist soldier who was not, as a general rule, expected to throw herself into harm's way.

I soon learned that while my contract included food and shelter appropriate to my rank, it did not include a stipend, nor any provision for uniforms. I was dismayed but not particularly inconvenienced; I was used to earning my spending money by gambling with my peers, and assumed (correctly, as it happened), that I would be able to do the same as a soldier as I had as an apprentice. I was able to buy my initial kit without utterly exhausting my savings, and marched south with a few dozen other recruits to fight in the apparently perennial war against the lizards of the great southern swamp.

Cargoran's Regiment consisted of about five hundred troops, nominally divided into four companies. I say nominally because there was an all but official fifth company that contained the regimental supernumeraries: The command group, the supply group, the artillerists, the (surprisingly numerous) camp followers, and anyone else whose duties allowed them to spend the majority of their time in the regimental rear. This generally included the healers; there was a non-magical healer-sergeant assigned to each platoon, and a magical healer-lieutenant assigned to each company, but for the most part we all congregated around the (also magical) healer-captain in the regimental surgery.

I learned a great deal. The other three healer-lieutenants were inclined to stand by until someone came in with a major injury, and then use nearly all of their magic in a single spell, but the healer-captain (a wily old goat named Sarathel, who was NOT guild trained) tended to combine rough healing with magic, and accomplished a great deal more. I spent a lot of time looking over his shoulder, and assisting the healer-sergeants, who had no magic at all. I kept very busy, earned a reputation as someone who knew what she was doing, and soon found that I was collecting gratuities from the more severely injured soldiers. This was a good thing, because another thing I learned was that veteran soldiers were not nearly as loose with their money as were wealthy apprentice wizards; I won more than I lost, certainly, but the payout in silver per hour was painfully slight.

I had been with the regiment for some nine months when word reached Colonel Cargoran that I knew how to play Territories, and he summoned me to his quarters for a game. I lost, but I made him sweat in the process, and he enjoyed that. I soon found myself spending more and more time in his presence, first just to game, but later, as he came to respect my intellect, to observe and comment on tactics and the state of the regiment. As the year drew to a close, I was regularly included in Cargoran's staff meetings, the only lieutenant (out of more than a dozen) to draw such duty.

The Colonel commented that my uniform was looking a bit threadbare, and I replied ruefully that I was spending too much time with the senior officers to earn my spending money gambling with junior officers. This surprised him; he was under the impression that I received a stipend from my master in Khazan. This led to some negotiation between my master and the Colonel, with the result that my contract was renewed for two years at its original rate, and the increase my master had requested (and that the Colonel had nearly agreed to) went into my pocket instead.

The extra money made my life quite a bit easier. I didn't stop gambling, but I no longer had to choose between gambling and sleeping when I needed the sleep. I was even able to hire one of the goblin camp followers as a personal orderly, and that made my life MUCH more comfortable. For her part, Xarbarg the goblin much preferred looking after my gear to whoring; she said it was less work AND better company.
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