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About Me

The gentle sunlight streamed through the trees above as he strolled through the royal
grounds, breathing in the fresh morning air and letting the rustling of the leaves flood
his ears like music. There was no one in sight, and he could almost imagine himself as
a prince admiring his own private garden, carefully planted and tended for his pleasure
alone.

There was this magnificent oak right in the middle of a bed of sweet scented herbs and
flowers that had always fascinated him. It loomed before him now, and he solemnly
approached it, walking right under its spreading branches. He touched its vast trunk
affectionately, and a big grin inevitably stretched across his face. He was so lighthearted
that he felt the urge to climb, and so he nimbly scaled up the lowest branches until he
found a large branch strong enough to hold him.

He was surprised at his own agility. It seemed that the years of training under the Royal
Guard had really done wonders to his body. Thinking back on all the vigorous routines
and harsh regimes he had been put through, he realized that they had been designed
solely to break down the body and then build it up again, turning flesh into steel – which
was just as well. The Royal Guard had no use for soft muscle and flesh, unless you were
a mage, but most mages were women, so things actually turned out quite perfectly as it
was.

A clear voice reached his ears, as though summoned by his thoughts. “Deugan! What
are you doing up there?” It was Emela, a mage trainee said to have the biggest magical
potential in fifty years. Rumor had it that she could cast her first spell when she was
only four, and she was accepted to train as an apprentice at age twelve – the youngest to
have ever done so. Most people did not find all this very surprising, seeing that she was
the only child of two of the most powerful mages of that age. He hadn’t met her until
recently, as the mages trained separately before this.

Deugan hurried down the tree to meet her. “Emela, I see you’re an early riser. Or is it
the nerves?”

Emela joined him under the tree. “Not really. I’m not that all nervous as I thought I
would be. But seeing that today is, after all, the last test for our training, I just felt like
waking up early to enjoy the peace and quiet, before all the hustle and bustle of the test
stirs up.”

“I’m sure you will ace the test,” Deugan said cheerfully. “They don’t call you a child
prodigy for nothing.”

She merely smiled. “I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. It finally hit me that our lives
won’t be the same after today. I mean, either way, whether we pass or fail. I guess I’ve
waited so long for this day to come and I can hardly believe that it’s finally here.”

“I suppose that applies to all of us, though all of us isn’t…much.” Deugan’s smile
faded.

“I know what you mean.” Emela’s face was solemn. “My parents tell me that it never
used to be like this. Not too long ago hundred of young hopefuls would sign up for the
Guard every year, and in the end a good four dozens or so would make it into the ranks.
The numbers have dwindled drastically over the past few years.

“You should see the look on Jacques’ face all through these few years of training.
Less than fifty of us signed up at the very beginning, and as they trickled away you
could almost feel his life force ebbing away. He’s a good old soldier, but even he is not
immune to discouragement in the face of this crisis.”

Deugan nodded. “I talked to him just this morning. I tried to get something out of him
concerning the test – but he wouldn’t tell me anything of course – and he looked really
worried. He tried to hide it by dumping all sorts of ridiculous expectations onto the six
of us, but you could see that he really was very down inside. The new recruits have just
been accepted. The numbers are not encouraging at all.”

“Well,” Emela brightened up. “Try and look on the bright side of it. Less people means
more chances for us!” She managed a little smile. “It’s almost time to meet up. I think
I’ll go get ready now. See you soon, Deugan. All the best.”

“Yeah, all the best,” he murmured as he watched her walk away. He took one last look
at the great oak, standing there so peacefully without a care in the world, and started for
the dorms.

Mardek was still sleeping in, as usual. Deugan shook his friend up and filled him in on
what had happened as he got dressed.

“Well,” Mardek said finally, “I say that worrying too much is not going to get us
anywhere. And about Emela, don’t worry, I’m not jealous or anything. I’m sure I’ll get
a chance to talk to her soon. If all three of us manage to pass the test, we would both
be able to talk to her for a long time yet. Come on, we’ve going to be late.” He duly
ushered Deugan out of the room.

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