As is my habit, since scene five is so short, I decided to concatenate it with the following scene, six.
Current word count is just over 96,000. I'm starting chapter 15, and I think I'm still on track for a 150,000 word novel.
* * *
The next day, Balfrith pulled out the letter he’d brought with him from professor Ducca, addressed to a professor Gregorius. He and Eldamir had planned to walk to the school after breakfast, and he was already growing excited at the prospect of meeting this man. Hopefully, they would be able to make some progress in their search for an answer to the cursed sword.
Taking Branulf and hanging its baldric over a shoulder, he went down to the common room for breakfast. Eldamir was already there, sipping a cup of wine while he waited. Balfrith joined him at the table.
“Where are the others?” he asked, hoping that Eldamir would not know.
“Roidh passed through earlier this morning, and sat with me while he broke his fast, but he did not stay long. He had some business of Adradomir’s to take care of, though he didn’t say much about it. I haven’t seen Calunoth.”
Balfrith nodded, and waved over the innkeeper, Goslar, who nodded to acknowledge the signal. He returned a few minutes later, wiping his hands on his apron as he approached. “Good morning, goodmen. I have fresh bread, cheese, and ale or wine to drink.”
Balfrith said, “Bread and ale, please.”
“Just bread for me,” Eldamir added, indicating the cup that he already drank from.
Goslar nodded and walked away, returning shortly thereafter with a large loaf of bread and a tankard of ale.
As Balfrith tore off a piece of the bread and began eating, Eldamir said, “I see you have Branulf with you. Did you remember the letter as well?”
Balfrith nodded, chewing thoughtfully. After swallowing, he said, “I was thinking - what if this professor Gregorius is unable to help us? What will our next step be?”
Eldamir smiled and shrugged. “Your guess is likely as good as mine. Perhaps, though, we shouldn’t worry over much about that now. At the very least, we might ask Gregorius for advice, even if he is unable to help us immediately.”
“Perhaps,” was all Balfrith said, though he still worried.
* * *
They approached the school an hour later, walking up the road from Westmere at a leisurely pace. Though Balfrith wanted to walk faster, Eldamir insisted on taking his time, enjoying the fresh air and sun. “It is a beautiful day, Balfrith. What is the rush? Either we will find the help we desire, or we will not. Getting there one moment sooner will not change that.”
Balfrith only grumbled to himself, and Eldamir laughed, breathing deeply and stretching his arms out as he walked.
As they approached, Balfrith saw that it appeared this school was only a single structure, rather than the sprawling campus that they’d seen at the University of the Arts in Nûmidëa. It was a large building, to be sure, but still he was surprised. He’d assumed it would be basically the same as the previous one.
“Not much here,” he said.
Eldamir nodded in agreement. “I have heard that the practice of magic among Men is not very common. Is that your understanding as well?”
“Aye, it is. Back home at the university, they study much more than just magic of course. Though we didn’t see much of the school except the provost’s office and professor Ducca’s lab, there are individual colleges dedicated to magic, the natural sciences, theology, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, law, rhetoric and other arts. I had once assumed I would go to the university myself, being the third son of a minor noble. Most young men in my position either go to the university and earn a master’s degree in some area of study, or they go to the king’s court and serve as a courtier. Either path can be quite rewarding, or so I was told by my tutor, Leofred.”
“And now?” Eldamir asked. “Surely this quest will not take your life to complete. Would not either of these paths still be open to you?”
Balfrith paused for moment. “I hadn’t actually considered that. You may be right.”
They arrived then at the main entrance of the school, a great set of double doors, standing wide open.
“I suppose we should find someone to direct us to this Gregorius,” Balfrith said, and Eldamir nodded.
They entered the building, coming into a long hall with a high ceiling, running the full length all the way to the back where they could see another set of open doors to the outside. Smaller, normal-sized doors lined both sides of the hall. Immediately to the right and left were stairs to a second story, and Balfrith realized that this tall hallway actually rose to that story as well. The upper floor on either side had open walkways with railings, and he could even see the tops of more doors peaking over the railings. There were clearly many rooms in this school, though by the closeness of the doors, he didn’t think any of them were very large.
A few people walked about in the hall, carrying books and scrolls, much like they had seen at the university. Balfrith approached a young man, stiffening his back and standing taller as he did so, and said, “Good day to you, goodman. I am master Balfrith, of Nûmidëa. My companion and I are looking for a professor Gregorius. We’ve been told that he teaches here.”
The young man glanced at him, looking at his clothes and the swords that he carried, then replied, “I am sorry, sir, but I don’t know this Gregorius. But then, I am a relatively new student to the school. Perhaps the provost can help you - or one of the other professors.”
“Could you direct me to one of these people?”
“Certainly. Please follow me, sir.” He then turned and started leading them further into the building. About half-way down along the hall, he walked to a door along the left side, and knocked on it, then opened it and stuck his head in. Balfrith heard him ask a question, but wasn’t able to catch the words.
Pulling his head back out, he said, “Please go in. The provost is busy at the moment, but should be able to see you shortly. Just take a seat and the secretary will help you.”
“You have my thanks, goodman - what was your name?”
“Goodman Sionnan - thank you for your assistance.” Balfrith nodded at him, and he smiled, bowed slightly, and returned to his own business. Balfrith and Eldamir walked through the door and into a small room, apparently a waiting area.
An older man sat at a desk inside, a piece of parchment before him and a reading glass in his hand, holding it before his eyes as he scanned the writing on the page. “One moment,” he said to them, still focused on the page. They sat down in chairs near the door, waiting.
Finally the man set the glass down, looked up and smiled. “Thank you for your patience, goodmen. I am secretary Caorall, and I understand you are here to see the provost. Do you have an appointment?”
Balfrith said, “I am afraid we don’t, for we only just arrived in Westmere yesterday. But we have a letter of recommendation, from professor Ducca at the University of the Arts in Nûmidëa. We’re looking for a particular piece of knowledge, and though he was unable to help us, he did refer us to professor Gregorius, here at the School for Learned Studies. It is Gregorius that we’re really here to see, but the young man who led us here thought that the provost would be able to introduce us to the professor.”
“Ah, I see,” said the secretary. “Do you have the letter with you?”
“I do,” said Balfrith, pulling it from his tunic and handing it over.
Secretary Caorall turned it over in his hands, looking at the seal, and then asked, “Do you mind if I break the seal and read the letter?”
Balfrith hesitated a moment, then said, “I think that will be alright. There shouldn’t be anything private in there, at least not as far as I know. Professor Ducca only said he would give us a letter of recommendation to his associate Gregorius.”
“Of course,” said Caorall. He bent the waxy seal, causing it to crack open, and opened the letter to read it. After a moment, he said, “Yes, I see.” Then looking up at them, he said, “The provost will not be able to help you - at least, no more than I. What I can do is, tell you that Gregorius no longer teaches here at the school. A few years ago, he traveled north to Nifflgarde, to visit some haunted ruins - I don’t recall the name of the place, but it was somewhere north of the city of Drakenmount.”
Balfrith said, “Do you know what he was doing there, and if we could expect to find him still at that place?”
Secretary Caorall shook his head, exhaling, and said, “As I recall, he went there to try and cleanse the ruins of the wailing spirits that haunted the place. He had written a treatise on hauntings, and decided that this would be a good place to test some of his theories. Alas, I cannot say if he is still there or not, if he has had any success in his endeavors, or anything else. We have not heard from him since he left - which, in my opinion, does not bode well. But perhaps he was successful, and decided to retire. Who can say? No one here, that much is certain.”
“I see,” said Balfrith, silent for a moment, thinking. Then, “Would you have a copy of the treatise that he wrote? Perhaps that will shed some clue as to where he went.”
The secretary looked up, and said, “Ah, yes, excellent idea! But let me propose this: given that it will take me some time to locate the work, assuming we still have a copy, it might be best if you return tomorrow, at about this same time. You now know where to find me, and I will make a note to be here, with the book if I can find it. And if not, I will work to find any other information that might be of use. If we are very lucky, we shall find the name of the place mentioned somewhere in his writings. And if not, as you say, perhaps we shall still discover some clue as to his whereabouts. What say you to that?”
Balfrith looked at Eldamir, who shrugged, and then turned back to Caorall. “This sounds well enough to me. We shall return at this time tomorrow, and look forward to meeting with you. And until then, secretary Caorall, you have my thanks for your assistance in this matter.”
“Think nothing of it, my friends. Your friend, professor Ducca, has many good things to say on your behalf. I only seek to honor his request, and give you what aid that I may. Until tomorrow, then.”
They nodded and left, Balfrith closing the door behind him. Once outside the building, he said to Eldamir, “Well, that was rather disappointing. Still, we may yet hope that the good secretary finds some useful information for us.”
“Indeed, he has already given us something of use: we know that Gregorius has gone north to Nifflgarde. Though we know not the exact place, it is still more than we knew when we had breakfast this morning.”
“True. Well, let us hope that by this time tomorrow, we shall know even more than we do now.”