Flint sat with his back pressed to the marble walls of the school. They were cold in the early morning air, but they were dry. Dew littered the grass of the garden in front of him like diamonds dropped onto emerald ribbons, but the roof above the walkway had blocked the rain from last night.
A steadily approaching metronome of heeled boots made his skin prickle, but he refused to turn his head. He figured that staring at the newcomer would be awkward. Flint rose to his feet when she was nearly on top of him.
“Good morning.” He offered bravely.
“Mr Nielsen,” The woman replied with a nod. “I am headmaster Guinneviere Henderson.” She reminded him as she extended her hand. Flint returned the handshake and began to follow Guinneviere as she ventured into the garden.
“I’m glad you came.” She told him.
“I don’t know w-what else I could have done.” He said honestly.
“I suppose that's true. With that being said, do you know why I wanted to speak to you in person?”
Flint shook his head.
“Then to get any confusion out of the way, your application was accepted.” She explained, stopping to watch a dragonfly perched on a sage green bush. “But I’m sure you know that such information doesn’t normally call for a meeting.”
Flint’s brief moment of shock was quickly replaced with a familiar calm focus. “Is t-there something wrong?” The boy asked.
“Not yet.” Guinnevere replied, glancing at him cooly. The tall witch resumed walking through the damp grass without looking back. Flint took a few long steps to catch up, refusing to let her walk away from him without an explanation.
“But it’s true that I’m going to be a st-tudent next year at Morova, r-right?”
“Yes. However, I’m not so sure that would have been the case if I hadn’t placed my word in your favor.” She paused, calculating her next words. “Magic is the lifeblood of our civilization. Young witches and warlocks don’t go to school to learn how to be a doctor, they learn how to make magic heal people for them.
“Everyone has their own task and place in the nine cities, but each specialty comes from the same principle of using magic to do one’s job. You, however, seem to avoid magic instead of gravitating towards it. In the entrance exam, you used as little magic as possible instead of showcasing your abilities.”
Guinevere began strolling alongside a set of neatly trimmed hedges, oblivious to the cold dread that was creeping its way up Flint’s spine.
“You attended a different school before this, correct?”
“It’s a shame that it didn’t work out for you. I guess Morova Academy can be your second chance.” Guinneviere watched an ornate bird bath near the end of the courtyard, ignoring the fact that Flint had no response.
Flint Nielsen was not easily frightened. He had faced plenty of challenges to stand in the garden with the Headmaster, and interviews were one of his more common adversaries. But this time it seemed different. His interviewer didn’t say so, but he had an unmistakable feeling that she already knew the answers he would give her. Master Henderson could have already guessed more about Flint than he could have ever mentioned in his student application. You didn’t become a headmaster unless you impressed the city council, and you didn’t impress the city council unless you were smart.
Flint took a quiet, fortifying breath. “The previous school was my sec-cond chance.” He admitted. “Third actually. Before then I was a student at Hedgefall, and b-before that I was homeschooled.”
Guinneviere didn’t seem fazed. “Second place is only determined by where you start to tell your story. What kind of narrative are you trying to create? How convincing does it need to be to be passable?”
Flint swallowed in thought of the wording he used on his application.
“Can I be st-traight with you?”
“Oh I would much prefer it if you were.”
“I’m horrible at magic.”
“In what sense?”
Flint blinked at her. “Huh?”
“In what way does your magic go wrong? Do your spells backfire? Do your runestones snap in two if you use them too often? Or is it just that you can't seem to use it, that your actions don't result in anything?”
“Uh, the l-last one.”
“Do you know why?”
He shook his head. “It's not even m-my stutter. I’ve tried using other forms where I don’t s-speak, like glyphs and runes.”
“And they are still too difficult.” She finished. “But, they’re not impossible.”
“I know.” He told her a little too quickly.
Guinevere walked over to the birdbath. “There is no way for me to make this any clearer: I want you in my class. What I need to know is how badly you want to stay there.”
“Why do I need to know?” She asked.
“Why did you p-put me in Morova?”
She gazed at the still water. “Your need for a second chance isn't out of misbehaviour or apathy surrounding your future, it's because that's the thing you need: a chance. I can recognize dedication when I see it, even if the appearance of skill or talent don’t match the person who possesses it. ”
“The sc-chool of Morova values talent and experience.” He quoted.
“I’m the face of the school, and do you know what I value? Persistence.”
Guinniveire drew her hand around the circular birdbath, and murmured the skeleton of an incantation. With a crackle the water frosted over with delicate ice twirling itself into an intricate pattern. “I honestly don’t know what you’re facing. I was a child prodigy, I didn’t have time for all that ‘struggle’ and ‘obstacle’ nonsense.”
Flint marveled at the interlocking fractals. Headmasters were the only mages who were allowed to use more than one type of magic. Considering that they were in charge of teaching the next generation, it made sense that they needed the ability to monitor the coursework of every field. What better way to do so than by first understanding it?
“Try something for me, I want you to melt the frost.”
Flint blinked up at her. “Huh?”
“I want you to melt the water.” She repeated.
Without any further hesitation, Flint held his hand above the surface, hovering his splayed fingers closer than what his peers would have done. Speaking softly yet firmly he repeated the spell for fire over and over again. When he drew his hand back, fighting desperately to hide how it was shaking, there was no fire, nor had the frost melted. Yet a watery hole had been left on the icy surface in the unmistakable image of a handprint.
The headmaster said nothing. Flint waited in the crisp morning silence, patiently waiting on the verdict. Strangely enough, it didn’t come, at least, not in the way he had expected.
“I take it you're familiar with the saying: strike while the iron is hot?”
“I can imagine you’re someone who’s good at knowing when to strike, but the other variable is when the iron will next be hot enough to do so. In my experience, it rarely comes waltzing up towards me. You’re going to need to know how to kindle that fire with your own passion. When there isn't any other path through, you have to forge one of your own.”
Flint nodded periodically. “I know how to do ma-magic.” He argued.
“I don’t doubt it.”
They stood in silent opposition around the birdbath. After a few uncomfortable moments for Flint, Guinneviere made a silent decision.
“Your teachers aren't going to play favorites, and your classmates won’t welcome you kindly if they think that you got in without any effort. The success you seek is far away from where you stand now. There's a long road ahead of you if that is what you really desire.”
“But there's an e-end, right?”
She raised an eyebrow. “You tell me if you’re lucky enough to find one.” The headmaster strode off towards the hydrangeas, leaving Flint to fend for himself. She didn’t wish him good luck.
He had a sinking feeling that he was going to need it.