"You're a Man Now, My Boy"

A scholar's Ordeal

By: K. Ryan, 2003

Rating: PG-13 for themes and sarcasm

Authors Note: This was my entry for this week's Seanfhocal Circle challenge ("Ordeal") at a href=" Dancing Dove./a I'd like to thank everyone there, whether they entered or not, for their support and general brilliance. I haven't been so inspired in a long time.

Oh, and note the disclaimer at the bottom.

Myles hated white.

So clean, so impractical-- and it showed up the dust horribly.

At least he only had to wear it twice in his life--his first Nameday (Long gone now, thank Mithros) and his Ordeal.

My Ordeal.

Going against all laws of alphabetical order, Myles of Olau was last. He'd watched year-mate after year-mate come staggering out of that little stone room, and had been the one who pulled the bandage tighter over the gaping wound that had been one of Gareth's fingers. Of course…there was nothing to worry about. What had he told Lianne only two days before, when she was half-fainting with nerves over her younger brother's wellbeing?

Hardly anyone dies in the chamber. There's a list, made up of all of five--I can show you the book, if you like.

Yes, that was it. He'd managed to calm Lianne down, after a while. A shame she wasn't speaking to him now, after Gary lost that finger. Myles felt a bit guilty over that, still. There was nothing in the library about missing extremities after the Ordeal--at least, not the type of ordeal which had a rather important capitalization.

Myles, kindly stop thinking, now. You're rambling.

The boy tried to take his own advice, but was distracted by the hearty tones of someone's former knight master. "You're a man now, my boy."

It took a considerable amount of willpower for Myles to resist pointing out the contradictions in this statement.

It seems, he thought, that if a knight master is supposed to pass on bits of enlightenment like that to their squires on a regular basis, I haven't missed out on much.

No knight had chosen Myles for a squire. He didn't mind, really, but he did rather resent being left to the tender mercies of the Training Master. It also made the question of formal instruction rather…complicated. An ordeal in itself, if you will.

Bad pun, son. Did I just…think that? Oh… Myles could hear the sound of someone breathing, rather angrily, behind him. Why do people hover?

"Squire Olau."

The one and only. Myles turned to look up into the angry blue eyes of the Training Master, and gave a perfunctory short bow. "My Lord."

"You are to ready yourself for formal instruction by the next half-bell."

"Yes, My Lord, but…with whom?"

The silence was thick and far more honest then the words that had preceded it. It was full of mutual disdain. "What do you mean, Olau? I have no time for this."

"Begging your pardon, My Lord, but, with whom am I to be instructed? Who shall--I feel compelled to ask this, you understand--be giving me my final instructions in the hallowed Code of Chivalry? I am, as I'm sure you have noticed, sadly lacking a knigh--"

"Silence, Olau. You appear to think that such reckless insubordination will go unpunished."

So, he recognizes sarcasm, does he? He can be taught! "Of course not, My Lord. I spoke in jest. But it still begs the question. Who--"

"You have the honor of being instructed by Sir Alan of Trebond…"

Didn't he only get his shield the year before last?

"…and myself."

Wonderful. Just…wonderful. "Thank you, My Lord."

Myles turned away, to go and get his whites.

"A moment, Olau."

He stopped, recognizing the tone in his master's voice.

"My Lord?"

" Don't err, boy. As much as I'd love to see the chamber take you in and rip you raw, I have a reputation to think of. For once in your life, just…just…." A vein was throbbing in the older man's temple. A matching one was starting up in the boy's.

"I suppose," said Myles, sweetly, his hands clenched. "I suppose this would be a bad time to tell you that I think your Code of Chivalry is a load of absolute rubbish, then?" He smiled. "A shame. I've been waiting for that moment for years."

It was a lucky thing that the Training Master was too stunned to speak.

Myles thought he'd gotten his punishment as soon as he set himself in the bath for cleansing. Someone had made sure the water was cold. Dead cold. He could barely hear Sir Alan's words for shivering.

"Myles of Olau, are you prepared to be instructed?"

No. "I am." Myles wished that his teeth hadn't been chattering so badly as he said that--hypocritical statement or no. Lord Alan was looking at him oddly. Well, someone's got their lance stuck up their arse…

"If you survive the Ordeal then you will be a knight of the Realm," said the Training Master. Myles knew it wasn't his imagination colouring the sacred words with pain. "You will be sworn to protect those weaker than you, to obey your overlord, to live in a way that honours your kingdom and your gods."

I wonder if the chamber can sense the sacrilegious?

Sir Alan was speaking again. "To wear the shield of a knight is an important thing. You may not ignore a cry for help. It means that rich or poor, young and old, male and female may look to you for rescue, and you cannot deny them."

I don't need a shield to be there for that, Myles thought, still shivering. He let the words flow over him, answering each command, as he must. Eventually, he was given permission to rise and dress, in the whites he hoped he'd never have to wear again in his lifetime.

As long as I have a lifetime in which to choose," he thought, gloomily. As soon as this was over, Myles knew he'd be in need of several drinks, each as stiff as the floorboards. Thinking about death at eighteen just wasn't healthy for anyone.

The Training Master cleared his throat, menacingly. "Remember", he said, drawing the words out with pleasure, "you must make no sound between now and leaving the chamber of the Ordeal.

This, for some inexplicable reason, made him angry. Myles had thought the Training Master had lost the power to do that long ago--but it was happening now.

You're never going to hear me scream.

The two men left him alone then, sitting on the stone steps, facing the chamber of the ordeal.

I am the son

And the heir

Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar

Left alone.

I am the son an heir

Of nothing in particular

Without a book.

You shut your mouth

How can you say

I go about things the wrong way

Just his thoughts.

I am Human and I need to be loved

Just like everybody else does.

Thoughts he would never, ever share,

(There's more to life than books, you know

but not much more.)

even with those he loved more than anyone else in the world,

(And when we're in your scholarly room,

who will swallow whom?)

until dawn lightened the gloom, and he could see a priest standing over him, pointing to the open chamber door.

The ominous clanging of the door, complete with echoes, was just a touch dramatic, to Myles' mind. Effective, though. He had to admit that.

Credit where credit's due, Chamber.

There was no reply. None were expected. And yet, suddenly, Myles of Olau could smell smoke.

He could see it. Heavy, thick and black--filling his eyes and nose and lungs. He wasn't in a small room of stone flags any more. He was out in the open, wearing--for no reason that he could think of--plate armour. He hated plate armour--and this was too big for him, and far too heavy. Myles felt weighted to the ground. He could barely move.

"Help us! Oh, Goddess ease our passing, keep your Brother at bay…"

The death prayer. What was happening? Myles wished he could call out, first to see who was hurt and where, and second to curse his useless armour, but he was forbidden to speak in the chamber of the Ordeal.

A forlorn scrap of paper flew into his eyes. Myles grabbed at it. A page from a book, all torn and scorched. He could see more clearly now. He could see that the smoke all around him was full of a fine, white ash--and fragments of leather, more paper, gold leaf scorched black and filling the air with a metallic smell….

They were burning books.

Myles could feel bile rise in his throat. This was wrong--it was disgusting. Furiously, the squire pushed himself forward, towards the source of the smoke. A huge bonfire, constantly being added to, by figures he couldn't see.

Hands clutched at him, nails scraped against his armor, screams and prayers rang in his ears, but he ignored them. He had to, had to stop….

The smoke and flames vanished. The bonfire vanished. Suddenly, Myles was alone again.

No, not alone. Though the smoke had vanished, there was another smell in the air.

Bodies surrounded him. Piled up, tacky with blood, their faces contorted and full of pain. Crows circled overhead, their voices harsh and mocking, as if they had swallowed smoke, themselves. It took Myles several agonized minutes to notice that each and every body had a book clasped in its hands--large and beautiful, in mint condition--the gold of the cover lettering glittering in the sun.

The boy recoiled as a hand reached out to him. "Afraid, are you?"

Myles backed away further still. It was a woman speaking. She was covered in blood, and missing an eye--yet she still clutched a volume of poetry protectively with her free hand.

"You didn't come and save us," she whispered, and gave a cracked smile. "But, we saved these for you. We knew you loved them so…"

Her head lolled back, and her hand fell to the ground. Tears ran down Myles' cheeks.

I'm sorry…I'm so sorry…

And the Chamber spoke.

"You're a man now, my boy. Get used to it."

The door opened, and all was still.

When we're in your scholarly room,

Who will swallow whom?

Disclaimer: Myles of Olau, his friends, the world he lives in, and, of course, the chamber of the Ordeal, belong to Tamora Pierce. We all know that. The songs "How Soon is it Now" and "You Handsome Devil" belong to Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. Long live The Smiths! (Even though they're dead.)