AT THE BEGINNING OF my second term, Kilvin gave me permission to study sygaldry. This raised a few eyebrows, but none in the Fishery where I’d proven myself to be a hard worker and a dedicated student.
Sygaldry, simply put, is a set of tools for channeling forces. Like sympathy made solid.
For example, if you engraved one brick with the rune ule and another with the rune doch, the two runes would cause the bricks to cling to each other, as if mortared in place.
But it’s not as simple as that. What really happens is the two runes tear the bricks apart with the strength of their attraction. To prevent this you have to add the rune aru to each of the bricks. Aru is the rune for clay, and it makes the two pieces of clay cling to each other, solving your problem.
Except that aru and doch don’t fit together. They’re the wrong shape. To get them to fit you have to add a few linking runes, gea and teh. Then, for balance, you have to add gea and teh to the other brick, too. Then the bricks cling to each other without breaking.
But only if the bricks are made out of clay. Most bricks aren’t. So, generally, it is a better idea to mix iron into the ceramic of the brick before it is fired. Of course, that means you have to use fehr instead of aru. Then you have to switch teh and gea so the ends come together properly….
As you can see, mortar is a simpler and more reliable route for holding bricks together.
I studied my sygaldry under Cammar. The scarred, one-eyed man was Kilvin’s gatekeeper. Only after you were able to prove your firm grasp of sygaldry to him could you move on to a loose apprenticeship with one of the more experienced artificers. You assisted them with their projects, and in return they showed you the finer points of the craft.
There were one hundred ninety-seven runes. It was like learning a new language, except there were nearly two hundred unfamiliar letters, and you had to invent your own words a lot of the time. Most students took at least a month of study before Cammar judged them ready to move on. Some students took an entire term.
Start to finish, it took me seven days. How?
First, I was driven. Other students could afford to stroll through their studies. Their parents or patrons would cover the expense. I, on the other hand, needed to climb the ranks in the Fishery quickly so I could earn money working on my own projects. Tuition wasn’t even my first priority anymore, Devi was.
Second, I was brilliant. Not just your run-of-the-mill brilliance either. I was extraordinarily brilliant.
Lastly, I was lucky. Plain and simple.
I stepped across the patchwork rooftops of Mains with my lute slung across my back. It was a dim, cloudy twilight, but I knew my way around by now. I kept to the tar and tin, knowing that red tiles or grey slate made for treacherous footing.
At some point in the remodeling of Mains, one of the courtyards had become completely isolated. It could only be accessed by clambering through a high window in one of the lecture halls or by climbing down a gnarled apple tree, if you happened to be on the roof.
I came here to practice my lute. My bunk in Mews was not convenient. Not only was music viewed as frivolous on this side of the river, but I would only make more enemies by playing while my bunkmates tried to sleep or study. So I came here. It was perfect, secluded, and practically on my doorstep.
The hedges had gone wild and the lawn was a riot of weeds and flowering plants. But there was a bench under the apple tree that was perfectly suited to my needs. Usually I came late at night, when Mains was locked and abandoned. But today was Theden, that meant that if I ate dinner quickly, I had nearly an hour between Elxa Dal’s class and my work in the Fishery. Plenty of time for some practice.
However, when I reached the courtyard tonight, I saw lights through the windows. Brandeur’s lecture was running late today.
So I stayed on the rooftop. The windows to the lecture hall were shut, so there wasn’t much chance of my being overheard.
I put my back to a nearby chimney and began to play. After about ten minutes the lights went out, but I decided to stay where I was rather than waste time climbing down.
I was halfway through “Ten Tap Tim” when the sun slipped out from behind the clouds. Golden light covered the rooftop, spilling over the edge of the roof into a thin slice of the courtyard below.
That’s when I heard the noise. A sudden rustling, like a startled animal
down in the courtyard. But then there was something else, a noise unlike anything a squirrel or rabbit would make in the hedge. It was a hard noise, a vaguely metallic thud, as if someone had dropped a heavy bar of iron.
I stopped playing, the half-finished melody still running through my head. Was another student down there, listening? I put my lute back in its case before I made my way over to the lip of the roof and looked down.
I couldn’t see through the thick hedge that covered most of the eastern edge of the courtyard. Had a student climbed through the window?
The sunset was fading quickly, and by the time I made it down the apple tree most of the courtyard lay in shadow. I could see from here that the high window was closed; no one had come in that way. Even though it was quickly growing dark, curiosity won over caution and I made my way into the hedge.
There was quite a lot of space there. Portions of the hedge were nearly hollow, a green shell of living branches, leaving enough room to crouch comfortably. I made note of the place as a good space for sleeping if I didn’t have enough money for a bunk in the Mews next term.
Even in the fading light I could see I was the only one there. There wasn’t room for anything bigger than a rabbit to hide. In the dim light I couldn’t spot anything that could have made the metallic noise, either.
Humming the catchy chorus of “Ten Tap Tim,” I crawled through to the other end of the hedge. Only when I came through the other side did I notice the drainage grate. I’d seen similar ones scattered throughout the University, but this one was older and larger. In fact, the opening might be large enough for a person to fit through, if the grate were removed.
Hesitantly, I curled a hand around one of the cool metal bars and pulled. The heavy grate pivoted on a hinge and came up about three inches before stopping. In the dim light I couldn’t tell why it wouldn’t go any farther. I pulled harder, but couldn’t budge it. Finally I gave up and dropped it back into place. It made a hard noise, vaguely metallic. Like someone had dropped a heavy bar of iron.
Then my fingers felt something that my eyes missed: a maze of grooves etching the surface of the bars. I looked closer and recognized some of the runes I was learning under Cammar: ule and doch.
Then something clicked in my head. The chorus of “Ten Tap Tim” suddenly fit together with the runes I’d been studying under Cammar for the last handful of days.
Ule and doch are Both for binding Reh for seeking Kel for finding
Gea key Teh lock Pesin water Resin rock
Before I could go any further, sixth bell struck. The sound startled me from my reverie. But when I reached out to steady myself, my hand didn’t come to rest on leaves and dirt. It touched something round and hard and smooth: a green apple.
I emerged from the hedge and made my way to the northwest corner where the apple tree stood. No apples were on the ground. It was too early in the year for that. What’s more, the iron grate was on the opposite side of the small courtyard. It couldn’t have rolled that far. It must have been carried.
Unsure of what to think, but knowing I was late for my evening shift in the Fishery, I climbed the apple tree, gathered up my lute, and hurried to Kilvin’s shop.
Later that night I fit the rest of the runes to music. It took a few hours, but when I was done it was like having a reference sheet in my head. The next day Cammar put me through an extensive two-hour examination, which I passed.
For the next stage of my education in the Fishery, I was apprenticed to Manet, the old, wild-haired student I’d met during my first days at the University. Manet had been attending the University for nearly thirty years, and everyone knew him as the eternal E’lir. But despite the fact that we held the same rank, Manet had more hands-on experience in the Fishery than any dozen higher-ranking students combined.
Manet was patient and considerate. In fact, he reminded me of my old teacher, Abenthy. Except Abenthy had wandered the world like a restless tinker, and it was common knowledge that Manet desired nothing more than to stay at the University for the rest of his life if he could manage it.
Manet started small, teaching me simple formulae of the sort required for twice-tough glass and heat funnels. Under his tutelage, I learned artificing as quickly as I learned everything, and it wasn’t long before we worked our way up to more complex projects like heat-eaters and sympathy lamps.
Truly high-level artificing such as sympathy clocks or gearwins were still beyond my reach, but I knew that it was just a matter of time. Unfortunately, time was proving to be in short supply.