Chapter 3:

No Longer a street rat

The Trials of Ilcor

Jasper did not mind the aloneness. It gave him no excuse to device his focus from consuming the meal before him. Jasper seldom ever tasted meat and the ones he had were thrown upon the streets as rubbish or as forgotten victims of the busy life of the market. The portion of chicken drumstick on his plate seemed almost as wondrous as the temple itself to him. Jasper wished he had been born in a home, for this meal would have tasted better savoured slowly, but his habits and appetite was that of the streets. Gone too soon was the drumsticks, mashed potatoes and peas from his plate and yet he regretted not one moment of it, licking his fingers and patting his belly for once silenced of its roar.

Meal done, Jasper gave time to look around and up at the boys staring at him from down the table. He was not new to interacting with other children, he often played and roughed around with the other slum kids. These ones were different and very different to them. Cleaned as he was, it was obvious it was an illusion or rather a very weak attempt to change who he was raised to be. You could see on their faces both curiosity and caution.

As is often with young boys, the curiosity acted first and the curious boy with freckled face and reddish locks shuffled towards him on the bench.

“Hello newboy, what is your name?”

“Jasper” He answered, voice cautious as the others, not knowing what the intentions of this boy was. Jasper being one of great curiosity was able to recognise it in the other but life on the streets had taught to not believe the first appearance he was shown. Unaware nor affected this reddish boy revealed himself to be a chattering one;

“My name is Nash, I am six! I saw you are new right? Sister Lilyana is usually in charge of the new ones. I came here when I was three. How old are you, how’d ya come here?” Jasper wondered how the boy could breath so well between so many words. He was glad at least Nash was asking the questions so openly that the other boys seemed as curious but not as forward to ask, breaking a barrier between him and the others. Jasper now had to choose how much of his own he should put down. If he told them he was from the slums, would they treat him openly? Would Nash’s curiosity continue but his heart closed from him? He was too young to know what was best for this social scenario but aware enough that maybe it was best to hide some of the more dirty things about himself. How else though was he meant to explain his presence there? Was it not worse to lie and stumble over it or maybe worse to not be able to fully satisfy Nash’s curiosity with surface level stories he could not back up with his own memories and experiences? Nash’s sparkling eyes and maybe even the food’s blissful after effect helped drop his guard and open his heart but decided in the end did he to tell the boys before him truthfully of his presence.

“I am five years old. I am from the slums and I was taken here by a knight while caught seeing the parade”

As he feared, some of the boys raised their lip in a scowl and went back to their chatter away from the dirt but to his releaf Nash, and a few of the more curious, open and younger boys remained invested and even more so. The slums were a different world to them after all, one beyond either their life at the temple or life from back when they had one outside. Was it uncommon for street boys to enter the temples such as he had done? Either way, he felt at ease with their furthered curiosity and began telling them of the different stories from his life on the streets; The various boys he played around with and the dangerous game of “Who can grab the most items from the moving travelling wagons” and of his mother and her tales of the castle. The castle tales had even the boys who had scowled before lend an ear. Who would not be interested in the golden statues that lined the castle? The velvet drapes in the colours of the gods and the wondrous paintings and depictions of the previous kings and queens and at their side, of course, their dragon companions. His mother was unable to stand and gawk at such sites, as it would be considered unsightly of a lowly maid to lay eyes on such riches and ignore instead her job and status.

The stories continued until a bell rang and the hall began to file out the room including his listeners. Jasper didn’t know where his place in this temple might be after lunch, so he decided to tag along to Nash, hoping that since they were of similar age they would be going in the same way. He would have waited for the sister from before to take him to his place, but feared he would be seen as just another boy lagging behind and be seen with judgment already as he had done all his life, moving forwards and onwards to see where the flow of the day would take him. It took him into a classroom further to the west of where his room resided and past the dining hall and into a building once again to the left with many rooms like before, these with windows amongst the wall. Rows of wooden tables and chais laid out. This was not a sight he was familiar with, but his chattering companion, who until then had been talkin about stuff he could make no sense of with words he had never heard, noticed his wandering eyes and explained what a classroom was.

The slums were no place for formal learning. You learn from good and bad experiences, you learn from observing and thinking. You learn from consequences that you did not want. Learning how to count the coins he had managed to grab off a passing stranger though, was of some importance and so his mother had taught him to count using both his hands and his feet. One to twenty was the learning he had and he had used that learning well up until this point. What would those tucked away in a temple need to learn he wondered. How many lessons about the god do these boys need in order to remember what was needed? Nonetheless he followed Nash into the room and to a seat by his side on the other side in the middle of the rows.

Jasper was lucky to have been found when he was, for he had come during the festival of welcoming which not only marked the young people’s new lives, but also the new year of the kingdom. Lucky because now, as the teacher began, the lesson was easier to follow since it began at the start of what needed to be taught.

The teacher was a tall woman who seemed younger than the first of the nuns he had encountered but still much around that age of wrinkles and peppery hair which poked slightly under her light blue garbs. She stood in front of a blackboard, which he knew the name of from Nash.

“We also use smaller versions of those for math and language” he had explained and then silenced for the rest of the class by the firm stare of the teacher.

“Hello children, I am sister Rovena. For some of you it will be your first introduction to the social order of this world, and some of you may have already learnt this before. You must learn once again until the time of your first trial. It is important you know your place in this world and how to make it through each trial and how they are blessed by each of their respective gods.”

Jasper’s eyes were wide, body forward on his desk. A curious boy’s wonderland was here in a classroom that taught the stories of the world. His mother had bitterly mentioned the trials but not much in detail other than to scoff that he himself would never make it through any of the trials so he should not bother to begin with. As for the gods, no one on the streets dared believe nore worship one when such gods gave them such a life. Jasper was open to the idea of gods, for how else was the world made the way it was? How were the mountains formed and the rivers drawn upon the earth if not for some higher power designing the lives of the people below. The young Jasper had nothing much in his mind to explain such things other than a god, for even his life on the ground was controlled by adults, and then older adults and then those older adults controlled by the gods.

“There are four gods in this world; The god of air and dragons, Eimhir. Muirin, goddess of water and magic, Laoch god of fire and warriors and Treasa, goddess of earth and the harvest. These are their order of ranking, and we rule under them in the form of our places in society. We each work for a god doing our duties dedicated to them and the Order of Ilcor’s job is to teach and worship all four. The colours of the clothes of the people in this temple represent their ranks; Grey is the top, Blue the second, Orange the third and lowest being brown, which is what you wear now. Like outside the temple, here too you must respect the order of the society, for that is the way to keep the balance of the world and keep the gods happy.” Jasper thought back to the nuns he had encountered; the first one, grey. So he had met a high ranking nun early on in his journey. What did she do to become so high up? Was it the age or maybe she worshipped the gods extra hard while this one here with the light blue still needed more time to pray?

Sensing the wide curiosity of the room, the teacher Rovena explained that those wearing light blue are tasked with bestowing knowledge upon the future worshippers and the children of the kingdom’s future, for knowledge was very precious and what the goddess of water values the most.

“With that, I will explain to you the roles of each person of the kingdom; ones that you will also be a part of; soon you children will partake in the first trial. This trial is governed by the ruling god Eimhir. He is the ruler of the air and sky and the father of dragons. As a gift to humanity, we were given the chance to bond with his children. When you are seven years old you will be able to go into the Dragon’s Shangri-La and retrieve a dragon egg for yourself, which you can then bond with and share mind and power. All the kings of Ilcor have been dragon riders, none other than a dragon rider may rule.”

Jasper thought of the parade and recalled the rounded rocks the children there were holding in their arms. Were those dragon eggs? Jasper could not imagine what a dragon might look like other than from the drawing upon the kingdom’s crest. It could not possibly illustrate in his mind the scale of such creatures. In two years he would get a chance to find a dragon companion for himself. He was both excited at the prospect as well as terrified of what it might imply to enter a ruling creature’s realm.

“After Eimhir, Muirin is next on the order. Muirin is the goddess of the ocean, water and magic. When you are twelve years old, if you do not manage to get a dragon, you will swim to the bottom of the ocean and retrieve a pearl of power. These pearls each have unique powers and if you successfully retrieve one and consume it, you will become a mage and study the ways of magic and learning. You will be taught how to swim in preparation for this one so do not worry too much at this point.

If you fail this task, at age fourteen you will get your next trial. You will travel to the far north to the burning fields of Laoch, named as such due to the Loach, god of fire’s blessing and curse. To become a warrior representative of him, you must go through the burning field and retrieve a weapon. If you are successful you may train in that weapon and become a warrior.

If you fail, the last trial will happen when you turn sixteen. You will be tasked with a quest depending on what job you wish to pursue. If you succeed in this quest you will be granted an apprenticeship in that job. You become a commoner who works on behalf of Treasa, goddess of earth and the harvest to bring a fruitful year and bountiful harvest in each field you partake. Those who fail even that are cursed by the gods and have no place in our society. They will be branded as such and you would do well to avoid such a fate.” She scanned a glare to the crowd of children, in their little wooden tables looking up at her in wonder and horror and Jasper with a glimmer in his eyes. He would succeed. He would make sure of it. He wanted to make a name for himself and to have a place in this world. He cared not of being above others, just cared to experience many new things he would never have been able to as someone born on the streets.

“Do not worry, as your guardians we are tasked with preparing you for each task. Those of you who have only joined us now will find out about training.

Now, before you can become anything, you must learn how to read. For words hold knowledge, and no matter your place in our society, language is very important.”

The class going forwards taught Jasper the alphabet and numbers until his brain could take no more. There was so much one could learn in one sitting and this was too much. He was not alone as the other kids became restless but still the nun continued on unperturbed.

Class finally over, Jasper still wondering if he was even doing right in this temple by going around with Nash, had no real choice in the matter at this point for Nash led him along bragging about how he had already known all that was taught from his last year, but was made to stay in the class for another year being not that skilled at his alphabet. Jasper was unsure why he was bragging about this, maybe because at least he knew more than Jasper so that he would further look up to him.

Nash led Jasper to a large open area right next to part of the large marble walls that surrounded the temple. In this place was yet another scene he could barely comprehend with little knowledge of the world. Before him was a very long and squared body of water. Parts of it seemed deeper, the ones further from him. The other kids from this class were going into a white building with the temple’s typical reddish roof, coming out wearing nothing but tight breeches. The body of water seemed warm.

“How is it heated?” Jasper queried.

“The sisters say that the mountain heats the water up” Nash pointed at the large mountain towering above the temple, shrouded in most part in mist that one could not see the end. “They say it's a gift to Muirin from Laoch”

Satisfied with the answer, they made their way, Jasper following Nash’s lead, and changed and were taught by the sisters how to swim.

“You must prepare early for such a test. Don’t want you to flail about before you even start” The sister in charge told them.

The rest of the day was much of a blur to Jasper, already tired and overwhelmed by all he had seen and done for the first time that day. Dragged from swimming, to another class on numbers, to dinner and then finally back to the rooms. Jasper made his way to his new room, to his new bed and, satisfied with his new life, was able to drift off into a blissful sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.  

N. D. Skordilis