File GSB-024: Vocation

“I’m not sure about this.” Lenna looked unhappily at her husband. “Aren’t they thieves and murderers?”

Griggin put his hands behind his head, and looked at the bedroom ceiling. A small frown was on his face.

“They certainly are. The only people less popular are Warlocks. But like us, Rogues have their uses. I feel heavy weather coming up, my love. There was another Trogg attack last week. The third this month. And they were too easy to beat off. They’re planning something. I want us all to be able to defend ourselves. Nix is a natural at stealth and subterfuge. When aimed at the right target, those are not intrinsically evil.”

“Still… Sneaking about. Poisons. Lock-picking. If he learns to do all those things, won’t he be tempted into a life of crime?”

“He’s also shaping up to be an excellent engineer. I looked at his latest project. His design was the simplest in all his class.”

“Simplest? Is that good?””

“Yes. Bad engineers make horribly complicated devices. More sprockets and cogwheels. More things to go bing. Nix’ walker was faster. Some of the others didn’t even make it across the room.” Griggin radiated pride. “He has the gift. So I’m hoping that his main income will come from his technical accomplishments, and that he’ll use his Rogue’s skills to make sure nobody takes it away from him.”

“Rather than the other way round?”

“Hah. Yes. Evil engineers have a tendency towards doomsday devices. It’s the final stage before a small band of children brings them down.”

“The Light forbid. Alright then, send him. But I’m keeping an eye on him. If stuff starts to disappear around him, it’ll be fireballs at dawn.”

“I’m more worried about Trixie. I’ve had word. She’s been in another fight.”

“What, again? Oh my.”

“It’s that temper of hers. We should have fitted a longer fuse, my dear.”

“What was it this time?”

“Oh, I don’t know. She hasn’t told me. Could be a girl thing. Have a word with her?”

“I will,” said Lenna. “She’s not a bad girl.”

“True,” said Griggin, “But fellow students ending up with the school nurse might give people the wrong idea.”

 

Lenna put a steaming mug of chocolate in front of Trixie, who was sitting at the kitchen table. A few biscuits were on a saucer next to it. Lenna sat down in front of Trixie.

“Right. Spill.”

“Spill what? Nothing to spill.”

“Someone beat himself up just to get you in trouble? Using your fists?”

Trixie stared into her mug and said nothing.

“Come on, dear. Don’t make me shoot fireballs at you till you talk. Mana potions are terribly expensive.”

Trixie snorted. Lenna put her hand on her long brown hair. Ye gods, the girl needed a haircut. Again.

“Come on. I can see you’re not happy with something. Spit it out.”

“He called me a warlock pet,” said Trixie. “Without the tits.”

Lenna breathed in, held, breathed out. Warlocks dealt with dark magic. Demonology. Affliction. Destruction. It was sometimes difficult to see what distinguished them from evil sorcerers. Griggin was the kindest person Lenna had ever met, and when she met him, a kind person was just what she needed. She’d married him without a shred of reservation, knowing he was a Warlock. But not everybody could see past the demons. Warlock’s children were often bullied at school. Nix knew how to stay out of trouble, go with the flow, keep clean. Trixie was not the kind of girl who even considered that.

“I’m sorry, dear. But you really should keep your hands to yourself, even then. You know how strong you are. People could get hurt.”

Trixie looked up, one eye glinting from under her long, bushy hair, saying without words that as far as she was concerned, Drongo and his cronies getting hurt wasn’t a bad thing.

“They’re just stupid, Trixie. They don’t know the first thing about Warlocks, and they’re scared of them. Don’t let them get to you.”

Lenna groaned at herself for saying it. She knew only too well how difficult it was. She shook her head and put a hand on Trixie’s shoulder.

“Try to stay away from them. Please?”

“I will, Mum.”


Nix reached down from the top bunk bed, and poked his sister’s shoulder. Trixie sniffed, looked up at him.

“What do you want?”

Nix dropped a few copper coins onto Trixie’s pillow.

“Your lunch money. I got it back for you.”

“They’ll only nick it off me again tomorrow.” Trixie said nothing for a few moments. “Thanks,” she added.

Nix turned onto his back. “I wish you could just get out of their way, Sis. It’s not like these guys’ll ever win the All-Gnomeregan uptake speed awards.”

“Easy for you to say. You can just sneak round them. I can’t.”

“Make an example of one of them, then. You’re still holding back on them, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. But I can’t. All they do is grab me, nick my money and dump me in the cludgie. They haven’t really hurt me.”

Nix stuck his head over the edge of the bed.

“Like hell they haven’t. I’ve seen the bruises, Trix. You’re tougher than your average girlie girl. One of those would have been in hospital by now.”

“So why don’t you put your foot down, big brother?”

Nix took a deep breath. “Anything I can threaten them with, I can’t follow up, and they know it. They’d get their dads to have me expelled, or even arrested. And you’d be back where you started.”

“Only if you get caught.”

“Riiight. I think the only way of not getting caught is to kill them. That’s taking things a bit too far.”

Trixie rolled onto her back, looking up at Nix in the bed above her.

“So what can you do?”

“Give me your money tomorrow, and I’ll buy lunch. You can’t go without, Sis.”

“Thanks,” said Trixie.


“Well, well. If it isn’t our little Succubus. You know the drill titless. Out with the money.”

“Don’t have any.”

“Oh come on. Do you really want to do this the hard way? Not that I mind, but my friends get awful tired kicking your butt.”

“Stuff you. I didn’t bring any money. What’s the point? You’d just nick it off me.”

“Oh gods… Trying to be clever are you? Allright then. Get her lads.”

Even before she tried, she knew it was useless, but still, Trixie ran. They caught up with her before she’d taken three steps and the three of them dragged her into the toilets. She was thrown face first onto the floor. Hands were thrust into her pockets. Her school bag was turned over. No money was found.

“Right titless. Where is it?”

“Like I said, I don’t have any.”

One of Drongo’s little helpers grinned. “What’s the bet she’s got it in her bra?”

Drongo laughed. “Bra? She don’t need any. Let me show you. It’ll teach her not to try and be smart.”

Trixie was turned onto her back, and Drongo ripped open her blouse.

“Well what do you know? The little warlock girl has one anyway. Let’s see how much money she’s got in there!”

Trixie screamed and heaved for all she was worth. Drongo was thrown back. Trixie’s legs moved with predatory speed, and she planted her sturdy leather boots squarely in the faces of the two boys holding her arms. They let go and Trixie jumped to her feet. With a growl, she ran for the door.

“Don’t let her get away!” Drongo scrambled to his feet, and made to run after Trixie. Trixie kicked the door to, and turned her back towards it. She put her hand to her lip, and looked at the blood on it. Her eyes glinted at the boys from under her tousled hair.

“Who’s first, bitches?”


Griggin was sitting in one of the chairs opposite the Head Master’s desk. His face was completely expressionless, a good habit to pick up if you have to stare down demons.

“I’m afraid we cannot tolerate this. Young Drongo Cogspark has three broken ribs. Grog Macehandle has lost two teeth, and Durn Fizzbottle’s arm was dislocated. Do you expect me to simply let this pass? Your daughter has been in many fights, and I feel she must be taught a lesson.”

“My daughter informed me that the boys you mention made a regular habit of offering her violence, and stealing her lunch money. My wife has seen…” Griggin’s expression betrayed nothing as he looked into the Head Master’s eyes. “Physical evidence of this.”

“Trixie is a violent girl, Mr. Steambender. Hardly a day goes by when she is not involved in some kind of disturbance. I have heard these tales before, and I find it hard to give credence to them.”

Griggin sat completely still on the hard wooden chair. His fingers were steepled together in front of his stomach. Cogspark. Macehandle. Fizzbottle. He knew the names. They lived in the upper levels of Gnomeregan, and made regular donations to the school. Expelling three healthy young innocent boys might well prove disastrous for the school’s balance sheets.

“I have made some discreet enquiries with other parents. They inform me that Trixie is not the only victim of these boys’ predations. My son Nix has confirmed this as well. I feel I must disagree with your assessment of the situation.”

“Then I will simply agree to disagree with you. My judgement stands, Mr. Steambender. As does the punishment. Twenty strokes of the cane. It will teach her not to attack my students.”

“Your students made it a regular habit to attack my daughter, Head Master. You now wish to punish my daughter because this time, she won?”

“Three young boys had to be hospitalised, Mr. Steambender, as a direct result of your daughter’s actions. I feel that she gets off lightly with a caning. I have refrained from involving the authorities to avoid… unpleasantness.”

“I understand that, Head Master,” said Griggin. “Because I think that the major part of the unpleasantness would not land on my daughter’s head, but rather on yours, for allowing a criminal gang to exist within your school.”

“Conjecture and hearsay, Mr. Steambender. No crimes are being committed within these walls.”

Trixie, who had been looking at her feet, snapped up her head.

“Like hell there isn’t. Drongo and his little helpers have been nicking everybody’s money. High time somebody told them not to.”

“Quiet, Trixie,” said Griggin.

“As you can see, Mr. Steambender, Trixie has serious problems accepting authority. Twenty strokes will put her on the right path.”

“Trixie has never shown any problems accepting my authority, Head Master. Not because of fear of punishment, but because she knows that I will treat her fairly in any situation.”

“Are you implying that my treatment of her is not fair? We cannot allow violence and disobedience to run rampant in the school. Twenty strokes of the cane, Mr. Steambender. As a token of good will, I will allow her to keep on her underwear.”

Griggin said nothing for a few moments. He looked at Trixie. She was angry. She had a right to be, but she was not on her own territory. He looked back at the Head Master.

“Give us a moment,” he said. He got up from his chair, and led Trixie a few steps away. He put his hands on her shoulders, looked into her eyes.

“Trixie, I cannot reason with this man. He knows he is in the wrong, and can only worm his way out by blaming you. Are you afraid?”

Trixie’s eyes wandered to Head Master’s desk.

“Look at me, Trixie. Could you take twenty-one strokes?”

“Twenty-one?”

“Yes. I have a plan. I will interrupt the… procedure at some point. At that point, count the same number twice. Leave the rest to me. By the Light, I am not a vindictive person, but he will not get away with this.”

“I’m not scared. I’ve had worse. Getting even sounds good to me.”

Griggin stood up, facing the Head Master.

“Very well then. Twenty strokes and no more. Whereupon I will remove my daughter, and my son, from this school.”

The Head Master gave a little laugh.

“I knew you’d see sense. I will make an appointment with your daughter.”

“No,” said Griggin. “The punishment will be carried out here and now. I will witness it.”

“As you wish.”

 

The Head Master took out a half-dozen canes, and made Trixie choose one. She pointed at one. Then, she was made to bend over the back of a chair, lift up her skirt and call out the numbers. Her voice was steady as each of the strokes fell. The only sign Griggin could see was that her knuckles were white gripping the chair.

“Fifteen.”

“Trixie,” said Griggin, “Don’t break the chair.”

Trixie looked round, swallowed.

“Yes, Dad.”

The Head Master frowned.

“No more interruptions please, Mr. Steambender.”

The cane swished again.

“Fifteen.”

As a Warlock, it was not a survival trait to let your emotions show in your body language. Griggin did not move or speak until Trixie reached twenty. The Head Master’s offer to let Trixie keep on her underwear was of no value whatsoever. All his strokes landed on the bare skin of her thighs. Griggin also noticed that the cane he was using was not the one Trixie had pointed out. It was thinner. Griggin could see no blood, but each stroke of the cane resonated in his mind.

“Twenty.”

Trixie knew better than to stand up immediately.

“You may get up, and cover yourself,” said the Head Master.

Trixie did as she was told. Griggin took an envelope from his inside pocket. He opened it and put the papers on the Head Master’s desk.

“I have made all the necessary preparations to remove my children from your school. All that remains is for you to sign.”

“And why would I do that? You have signed both of your children up for the whole year. I see no reason to grant your wishes. My work is important to me, Mr. Steambender. Moulding the citizens of the future.”

Griggin stood up, and walked to the front of the desk.

“Mr. Head Master, you are a disgrace to the profession. You know full well that my daughter is the victim of the thieves you allow to run through the general populace unchecked, for fear that their parents might stop their donations. I have seen the petty cruelties you have visited upon my daughter. And you have over-stepped your authority.”

“What do you mean?”

“The punishment set was twenty strokes of the cane. You administered twenty-one. You have therefore struck my daughter without cause.”

“She counted out the strokes herself.”

“As a Warlock Master, I have witnessed the tortures inflicted upon those who mis-handle demons, Mr. Head Master. I can count. So can you. I can understand, in the circumstance, why my daughter might be mistaken. You might have corrected her, yet you chose not to do so. You chose to use a cane with a sharper sting than the one my daughter chose. I can only explain your excess zeal as wilful and wanton. Revenge for my daughter’s endangering your over-inflated income.”

“Well, I will subtract it next time. And from experience, I can see that that will not be long in coming.”

Griggin cast upon himself a spell called Shadow Ward. It protected him from evil spells used by sorcerors of the Horde, or rogue demons. It also made his skin glow purple.

“Do you think I will let my daughter be mistreated in this manner? You have punished her for crimes she has yet to commit. Under no jurisdiction would this be allowed. I hereby sentence you to the same punishment you have inflicted on my daughter. Twenty strokes of a cane of your own choosing.”

“I will not submit to such threats. I will not choose any cane.”

“That is at your option. In that case, my assistant will use her own equipment to mete out punishment. I will begin the summoning.”

“Do you think you’ll get away with it? I’ll have you arrested, thrown out of the city.”

Griggin cackled. “And what will you tell them? That a Warlock of the Nether Circle summoned a Succubus in your very office? You’ll be locked up in a lunatic asylum. A Succubus can punish you in ways so subtle that they leave no marks on the skin, only the memory of pain. There would be no evidence. Nothing to indicate the agony you experienced here, in this room.”

Griggin bent forward.

“Or, you can sign the documents.”

 

Griggin, his arm round Trixie’s shoulders, walked through one of the long halls to his home. In his pocket were the signed documents. You can do more with a kind word and a sharp stick than you can with just a kind word. Just before he opened the door, he pulled Trixie to him and hugged her.

“Trixie, I am so sorry you had to go through all that. You were very brave, and you did not deserve it. Tomorrow we start looking for a new school.”

Trixie blew a few locks of brown hair out of her eyes, and grinned.

“Oh it was worth it, just to see Old Plank squirm. Would you really have set a Succubus on him?”

“No. You only summon a Succubus for actual combat, if you know what’s good for you. Good thing I didn’t need to, eh?”

“Dad, you were scary. Never knew you had it in you.”

“Come on,” said Griggin. “Let’s get you some ointment.”

 

Trixie, freshly anointed and bandaged, sat at the table, on a pillow, clutching a mug of hot chocolate.

“And then, Dad went all shadowy and Old Plank shit himself. He couldn’t sign the forms fast enough.”

“Language, Trixie,” said Lenna.

Pooed himself,” said Trixie.

“Better, but not much better.”

Lenna stood up, declared that it was night time and pushed the children off to bed. Griggin sighed as he followed Lenna to bed.

“So,” said Lenna. “What really happened?”

Griggin sighed. “More or less what we told you. Nasty, incompetent, vindictive little man. I’m glad I got Trixie and Nix out.”

“Aren’t you going to get in trouble for this?”

“I spoke with Mrs. Greasebolt. She may be ready to come forward. When she does, School Management will be in so much trouble that they’ll hardly have the time to conduct a vendetta against me.” Griggin grinned. “And they have nothing on me. All I did was talk. Poor Trixie was the only one who got hurt. We may have to do chocolate on demand for a few more weeks. With biscuits.”

Lenna turned over in bed and looked at the wall.

“If nothing worse happens to her in her life than what she went through today, I will be very happy. She’s destined for fighting. I can feel it.”

“Well,” said Griggin, “If that’s the case, then she had better get good at it.”


Trixie walked along next to Griggin.

“So. This school,” she said. “Do you know what it’s like?”

“Tough,” said Griggin. “The toughest school you can imagine would be a paradise compared to it.”

“Pah.”

“I’ve heard tales of students beating each other up. Lots of weapons there, too. Better look sharp.”

“Better than back with Old Plank.”

“Little chance of that,” said Griggin. “After Mrs. Greasebolt sued, lots of other victims came forward. Mr. Plank is no longer Head Master. There’s even word of him facing charges.”

“Hope they set the lawyers on him,” said Trixie.

“Lawyers are scared of the pupils in this school,” said Griggin. “Ah. Here we are.”

Trixie looked up at the name of the school. Her jaw dropped.

“Gnomeregan Military School?”

“Yes. I think you will feel right at home there.”

Trixie glowed. A big, big grin was on her face.

“How long do you have to be there before they give you a sword?”


Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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