- Chapter Two -
Ten Gold Coins
give you five gold coins,” said the man cloaked in shadow.
I could not believe my ears. Why, it
was enough money to buy cartloads of food, plus the carts and even a team of the
finest horses and a stable or two to keep them in. Five gold coins, he said. Not
five silver. Not five gold pieces, but five whole, gold coins. And for what? For
an apprenticeship from Amder, probably the most worthless person I have ever
known. It was incredible. I just stood there with my eyes wide and my mouth
hanging open. Amder, on the other hand, didn’t seem the least bit surprised.
He grinned, crossed his arms and turned to the storyteller for a counter offer.
“Too rich for my blood,” said the
latter as he darted away.
The man in black remained and waited
for our answer. Unsure of how to address him, I asked, “What does Sir do for a
“Sir?” he scoffed. “I’m not a
knight or a baronet. I’m a wizard, of course. Haven’t you ever seen a
I shook my head and blushed,
embarrassed by my lack of knowledge.
Before that day, I had always thought of wizards as thin, wizened, old
men. It had never occurred to me one could be no older than our father had been
and built as strong as a fortress.
Amder stepped in front of him and
asked, “Do wizards travel?”
The man bent close to our brother’s
face and spoke quietly as if he was letting Amder in on a precious secret.
“I do,” he said. “There are some
who are employed by royalty or noblemen in castles, but I’m not one of them. I
work only for myself and go wherever I please. I’ve worked for princes and
dukes but also generals, sea captains and merchants. I have traveled great
distances and have seen more of this world than you can imagine even in your
Amder smiled, and his eyes twinkled. No
doubt is was the mention of generals that had won him over. His greatest
ambition was to be an officer, and he seemed pleased with the idea of working
under a general. He held out his hand to fix the deal, but I was still
“Five gold coins?” I asked. “For
“All right.” The wizard
straightened once again to his full height. “Six, then.”
Getting no response from either of us,
he opened the purse on his belt and began to count the money.
“One, two, three, four, five, six…
seven…” Each gold coin was almost as wide as my palm and as thick as my
smallest finger. The biggest coins I had ever seen. The sunlight danced off them
and made me blink. “Eight…. nine…. ten. Ten, that’s my final offer.”
Amder triumphantly shouted, “Done!”
I shrugged and held out my hands to
take the money. The wizard, however, gave the coins to Amder and, to my horror,
grabbed me! Before I even knew what was happening, he ran off through the crowd
and dragged me along with him. He pulled me by my wrist this way and that,
darting between the stands, stores and people, barely allowing my feet to touch
the paving stones. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t even breathe. I wanted
to say this isn’t right. I’m just a girl, a child. He was a stranger,
a man. A man who had paid a fortune. A man who would no doubt expect something
Finally, he stopped by a wagon, and as
he reached up to unlock its door with a key he wore around his neck, I let out a
long, loud shriek. Gathering all my desperate strength, I tried to pry his grip
from my wrist. He pushed me up against the side of the wagon and hissed, “Ten
gold pieces for an apprenticeship. That was the deal.”
“For my brother,” I cried, “not
“Your brother isn’t worth that,”
he said. “I wouldn't take him even if you paid me a hundred!”
By this time, Amder had caught up with
us. I expected him to say something, but he stood there clutching his pouch now
heavy with gold.
“Amder, please,” I said, “give
the money back!”
He shook his head.
Well, I couldn’t believe it. I stared
at him. How could he shake his head? Didn’t he realize what this bargain
“You can’t let a man buy me,” I
wailed. “I’m a girl!”
“That’s not a problem,” said the
wizard. “I’ll fix that.”
didn’t know what he meant to do to me, but I knew I didn’t want to find out.
I shrieked again and tried to pull away. This time he let go, and I dropped to
my knees. I grabbed Amder’s ankles and begged him. “Please, please,
please… You can’t do this to me. Please, Amder. I’m your sister. You
can’t do this to your own sister! Please, give the money back. Please,
“And what will we eat, then?” he
asked. “You said it yourself. The family will starve.”
“There’s the money from the
“That’s very little. It will only
feed us for a few weeks. Ten gold coins, Toren – we’ll live
like kings for years!”
“You mean you’ll live like a king.
But what about me?” I began to sob, loudly and painfully gasping for air.
“Stop thinking about yourself,”
Amder growled. “Think about the rest of us.”
It was then I realized what he intended
to do. He may have said “the rest of us”, but he wasn’t thinking of
Shennen, Din or you. He knew before we had left home the reason he had brought
me with him. I had carried a sack
filled with anything we might be able to sell: a small carpet, some beautiful
cloth, mother’s silver candlesticks and father’s silver decanter and wine
goblets. I had hoped to earn enough to buy a little food. I didn’t think
anyone would be foolish enough to pay for Amder, but I also hoped someone might
take him for free so there would be one less mouth to feed. I couldn’t sell
our possessions no matter how hard I tried, and he wanted money to buy himself
an apprenticeship that would take him to distant lands. If I couldn’t get it
by selling our things, then he would sell me.
His sister mattered no more to him than a decanter or a pair of
candlesticks. He held my life in his hands – those ten gold coins – and none
of my begging and none of my tears could persuade him to give it back.
My chest heaved, and my lungs felt as if a hundred tiny daggers were trying to scratch their
way through them. There was only one thing I could do.
“Do you swear…” I ran out of
breath and had to stop for a gulp of air. “Do you swear on your life that you
will use every bit of gold the wizard gave you to help our brother and
Amder’s eyes shifted as he considered
“I do,” he said.
The wizard opened the door to the wagon
and grabbed my arm again.
“Are we all finished with this
business, then?” he asked.
I looked to Amder one last time, hoping
he might realize just how terrible his decision was. He looked at the wizard and
replied with a nod. I held my face in my hands and trembled. I had no choice
now. It was a short while later before I said, “Yes.”
The wizard lifted me and placed me
inside the wagon. Then he climbed in and locked the door behind us. He pushed me
onto a padded seat. It took some time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, and
before they did, I could hear the snip, snip of scissors cutting off my long,
dark brown hair. I wanted him to stop but was still in shock and couldn’t
move. He asked me how old I was.
“Ten,” I replied.
“That doesn't give us much time.”
He cast a spell and spread a powder
around me. Its peculiar odor, like a moldy tree, made me wrinkle my nose. He
held up a mirror.
“What do you see?” he asked.
“You’ve cut my hair short.”
“Are you sure? Perhaps you see a boy.
He looks very much like you, a twin brother you never knew you had.”
I looked again. This time I saw my face
transformed into that of a young lad’s and back. I gasped, closed my eyes and
pushed the mirror away.
“The spell I cast,” he said,
“Will make all those who don’t know with absolute certainty they were
looking at a girl see you as a boy.”
He put the mirror down. “Do I
understand correctly that your name is Toren?”
“Not anymore,” he said. “If
people are to think you are a boy, then you must have a boy’s name. You are to
be called Tor. I am Bender, but you shall call me ‘Master.’”
“Yes, Master,” I murmured.
I raised my arm to wipe away my sticky
tears on my sleeve. He pulled a handkerchief out of his cloak, poured a few
drops of water on it and gave it to me.
“I’ve had enough of your
sniveling,” he grumbled. “You are never to cry in front of me again. If you
do, I shall beat you. Is that understood?”
I nodded. He told me to clean my hands
while I was at it and then straighten the mess. I didn’t know what mess he
referred to, so I looked around in the weak light. The wagon was unlike anything
I had ever seen. It resembled a little, wooden house on wheels more than a cart.
There were books, bottles with potions, tiny boxes with powders, trinkets,
paper, quills, horns of ink, and various unfamiliar items on the shelves of open
cupboards and spread across the floor. There were mundane objects, too: cooking
utensils, containers of food, tools, clothes, candles, and lanterns. The chair
beneath me was one of two wooden chests with elegant red, padded lids woven in a
pattern of golden leaves. They sat on the floor by a small table built into a
wall. The rest of the furniture consisted of more wooden boxes and a smelly
mattress stuffed with wool, propped up on its end. There were no windows, but
sunlight crept in through cracks in the roof and sides.
I presumed he meant my hair, and I
started to pick it up. The wizard peered out of a narrow slot on the door. He
turned around and, seeing what I held in my hand, took it from me. He shoved my
beautiful tresses under the bottom of the entrance and let the wind carry them
away. I wanted to cry as I sat helplessly watching a part of me disappear
forever, but I closed my eyes and held the tears back.
He wiped his hands on his cloak.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
I hadn’t eaten since Amder and I left
home before sunrise on the previous day. It was now early evening.
“Yes, Master,” I replied.
The wizard took half a loaf of bread
from a high shelf and cut it with a knife the pouch on his belt. He spread
strawberry jam on the slice with his fingers and licked them clean as he passed
it to me with his other hand.
I devoured the food as fast as I could.
He gave me the rest of the bread and the preserves. It was delicious, as I
suppose anything would have been for me then. After I finished every last crumb
he returned to the door. I wanted to know what he was looking at but was afraid
“Sir,” I said before I could stop
myself. “I mean ‘Master.’ What do you expect of me?”
“As your apprentice?”
He turned. The roof of the wagon
wasn’t high enough to allow him to stand straight, but he still loomed above
me. I was terrified as he came closer. With a whimper, I cowered back as far as
I could into a corner with my head down and my arms over my face.
“I expect you to do absolutely
everything I tell you,” he growled. “I expect you to learn all I have to
teach you and more. And I expect you to become the greatest magic wielder who
ever lived. Is that understood?”
I nodded, although, in truth, I
didn’t understand a thing. The greatest magic wielder who ever lived? Me? How
could I possibly live up to such grand expectations?
I didn’t have the courage to ask him
that, but I did find enough for one more question.
“Master,” I said, “how long is a
“For you, seven years,” he
muttered, before returning to his place by the door.
I gasped. My life had been shaken twice
before, first with father’s death and then mother’s. But despite that, I
believed that I would grow into a young woman on my family’s land. I knew who
I was. I was the girl my mother had called “little mother,” and I would look
after my younger brother and sisters no matter what. Just like my mother and her
mother before her, I would marry before I reached sixteen years of age. I would
become a loving, hard-working and devoted wife, and some day I would have
children of my own. But sitting on that chest, exhausted and bewildered as I
was, I suddenly realized every belief – every thought I had ever had about my
future – was wrong.
“Seven years?” I cried. “It
won’t be over until I’m seventeen?”
“What do you mean, ‘over’?” he
said. “An apprenticeship isn’t the end. It’s only the beginning.”
As evening approached, the wizard
brought out a long, gray tunic, gray leggings, and a heavy, black cloak. He
ordered me to change into them. They were much too big. The hole at the top of
the tunic fell over one of my shoulders, and a rope he gave me for a belt helped
little. The cloak’s rough wool scratched my face as he pulled the hood over my
He gathered all the items that were
spread around the wagon, shoved them into the boxes and cupboards and latched
all their lids and doors shut. Then he grabbed my arm hard and pushed me through
a sliding door at the front. It was a second exit, and I cursed myself for not
realizing that I had been right next to it all that time. He ordered me to sit
on the driver’s seat and be silent.
Toren!” Amder called. “Is that you, Toren?
Is that you?”
He had been hiding near the wagon.
Perhaps he had changed his mind, but it was too late. I wanted to answer, but I
had agreed to the wizard’s bargain. As his apprentice, I had to do as he said,
and he had ordered me not to say a word.
The wizard reined in the horses, jumped onto the seat
beside me and sent the beasts galloping. Amder ran along the side of the narrow
street. I dropped the hood of the cloak so he could at least see me, but he
looked straight at my face without recognizing me.
His glance shifted once again to the
“Where’s my sister?” he yelled.
“What have you done with her?”
I thought I could still hear him
shouting in the distance between the poundings of the horses’ hooves, as
Bender the Wizard took me away from the only life I had ever known. I kept
thinking, please, please, please, stop. Stop at the city gate. Stop beside
the road. Please, stop and let me go! I don’t want to be a wizard’s
apprentice. I don’t want to be a boy. I want to go home to my family. I want
to be their little mother. I want to be myself. Please, this isn’t right. This
But the wizard didn’t hear my
unspoken cries. He kept driving the horses farther and farther from Pardessia.
Soon it became dark, and it terrified me to realize I had no idea what lay