Gael entered the small house where he and his mother lived. He was tired of the day’s work. He took off his leather gloves and washed his hands. Then a voice sounded from the other room.
'Gael? is that you?'
Gael walked over. There his old mother laid ill in her bed. He sat down beside her.
'How are you mother?'
'Tired, she said.
'More of the same?'
His mother nodded.
'More tired than yesterday, probably not as tired as I will be tomorrow. How far did you get?', She asked.
'I think we will be done harvesting the wheat tomorrow. At least I hope so.'
Gael's mother smiled. Gael never liked the wheat harvest, and she knew.
'And how are the herbs?'
'Willowscap is doing great. And Dyers Karamine seems to survive.'
'Good', she said and turned her head and looked up at the ceiling. Gael kept sitting by his mother's side.
'Will you stay?', she asked.
'I will stay with you mother.'
'No, I mean when I’m gone will you stay on the farm?'
'Of course I will stay!', Gael answered.
'You could leave.'
Gael hadn't really thought about life after his mother's death.
'Ehm, I could leave in early spring. Leanhan could tend to the herb garden for a bit.'
'I think you should leave.'
'What do you mean?'
'Your brother has Serah, and loves it here. You always dreamt of leaving the farm behind. Don’t stay here and slumber like us. Please go see the world!'
'Promise me that you’ll leave.', she snapped.
'You cannot ask that from me.'
'I can and I will! I think there is much more of this world waiting for you of out there.'
Gael stayed silent.
'Okay, I'll promise to leave the farm.'
His mother turned around and closed her eyes. Gael stood up and left his mother's bed. He thought about where he was supposed to go as he left their house. He closed the wooden door behind him.
It had been two weeks since Gael left the farm. Now that his mother had died, Gael was going to fulfil the promise he made to her. Today Gael would arrive at his destination, the University of Challiste. When he was young he dreamed of studying at the University. Now he was going to see it. The University of Challiste served as a centre of knowledge. This knowledge would be gathered from all over the Empire. A wide array of disciplines were researched. The sheer size of the University meant that the city it was in would be vast. Gael had heard about the size of Challiste but that could not prepare him for the view he met when the city came into view.
Walls lined with round towers stretched for miles. Gael thought that the long journey would finally pay off. The closer he had come to the city this morning, the more merchants and other travellers joined him on the road. With almost childlike anticipation, Gael followed the stream of people through the gate. The influence of the University was clearly visible. Multiple storied buildings and clothes made of intricately woven fabrics. For a moment this made Gael uneasy, as if he didn't belong in this place. This feeling left as a sea of voices came to Gael. He had walked onto the market square which was filled with people and market stalls. In the middle of the square stood a tall black signpost with yellow lettering. Gael knew which direction he needed to go because he planned his journey well, but still Gael’s heart jumped when he saw the sign:
On the approach to the University shops lined the street. They sold notebooks, ink and quills. During his stay he was surely going to visit them, but for now he continued on. Then a metal fence with a massive gate came into view. The bars of the fence were painted a dark green and the gate had brass lettering, saying: ‘University of Challiste’. Gael stepped on the white gravel path of the University grounds, leaving the busy street behind. It excited and intimidated him at the same time. The white gravel path lead to the main building. The big building was designed to project the grandeur of the University itself. It was made of red bricks and had multiple stories. Gael had to climb a small set of stairs to get into the building.
When inside the main hall it took Gael a moment to get his bearings. Connected to this hall were multiple hallways and staircases. Students and university staff alike came and went to the different departments. Most of them wore robes. They had different styles of robes but three colours stood out. Most of them wore black robes, and some red. On one balcony a man wore the light blue robes b of a professor. Beneath that balcony there was an entire wall with high counters. Eventually Gael read ‘Visitors’ above one of the counters and approached it. At the counter sat a woman who was sorting forms and stacked them in neat piles. It took her a while to notice Gael.
'So is there anything in particular you would like to see?', Suzet asked Gael while they were walking through one of the University hallways. Gael immediately had a large grin as he was unable to hide his enthusiasm.
'I would love to see the agricultural department, if that is possible?'
'Of course! The agridept it is!' said Suzet. Suzet was a slender woman. Her sleek blonde hair was in a tight knot. She looked a bit stern which Gael didn't think fit her kind demeanour at all.
'Why the interest in agriculture if I may ask? Are you a farmer?'
'I have worked on a farm my entire life but I have always been interested in researching plantlife. I have even been enrolled as a student at a dependence for it.'
'Oh, did it not work out?'
Gael hesitated for a second, but continued:
'I enrolled in Dorringer.'
Suzet fell silent. When she was a young girl there was a fire at the dependence at Dorringer. The buildings went up in flames. Even quite some people had died.
'Were you there with the fire?', she asked.
'It was on my first days in Dorringer. I had signed the enrolment documents but the tutelage hadn’t even started yet.'
'Oh that is tragic. Did you get a chance to study again?'
Answering that question hurt Gael a little. It had been quite a privilege to enrol. He did not have a wealthy family and buying the equipment took them a lot of their savings.
'Because quite a portion of the staff had died and all the literature and equipment burned up the University decided not to rebuild the dependance. I just went back home to work on the farm.'
'I'm-I'm sorry to hear that.'
It was hard for Gael to talk about Dorringer. He had seen his dream burn. Arriving home was even worse. Of course his family knew the fire wasn't his fault but his father and brother silently blamed him for his ambitions. Even for his mother it was hard to hide her disappointment. He had carried the weight of the loss for years. But he couldn't get angry about it. It just saddened him a little. Gael put the thoughts behind him. It had been years. He was now here, in Challiste, and he would not let this ruin his days here.
'Those enrolment documents have to be sent here to Challiste. They always do that right after the signing.' Suzet said and added: 'You know what? We'll pick up your enrollment on the way!'
Gael had only just met Suzet. She clearly was a woman of action. Which he liked, but he didn't know if he even wanted the document. Gael decided not to bring it up again as they continued through the hallways.
Gael was met with a heavy smell of soil as they entered the main hall of the agricultural department. The department had a few different areas, but directly connected to the main hall was the giant greenhouse. He walked over to the entrance of the greenhouse and looked over rows and rows of planters filled with all kinds of plants. These planters were separated by wide paths, from which students and researchers studied the plants. They examined the plants with delicate tools. Gael immediately felt at home. This reminded him how he and his mother would work on the herb garden. They spend countless hours in the woods searching for plants. They sometimes got strange looks from other villagers. But he didn't mind, they didn't understand the value of the work he and his mother did. These people would, he thought as he looked at the people in the greenhouse.
Suzet who was following Gael from a distance came standing next to him.
'What do you think?', she asked.
'It- it's amazing. It a thing of beauty to see these people work!', Gael said as he struggled to find the right words.
Suzet asked Gael to follow her. She led Gael to the balcony overlooking the agricultural departments main hall. Behind a counter there sat a firm woman with a serious expression. Gael guessed what this was about and started:
'About those documents. I don’t really know if I want them. It is all in the past, maybe it is better to leave it there.'
'Yes well, hear me out. I thought, maybe, if we have this document we could talk to some people and you could maybe intern for a while. I can see that you like it here.'
Gael got a spark of enthusiasm. Working here? Discovering everything this department had to offer and staying at the University for a while, would be like a dream. Gael could already see himself walking through the university hallways. But Gael had learned in his many tough years not to get his hopes up too soon. Suzet approached the woman.
'Estelle, we are here for this man’s enrolment. Can you look for the name Gael in the last enrolments of Dorringer. Could you get those documents for me?'
Estelle looked a bit confused by Suzet's request and left the counter. Suzet however, turned around quite pleased. Smiling, she met Gael's doubtful gaze, which betrayed him.
'How much as I would love staying here longer, I can only afford to stay here for a few days before I must return home. That is, if she finds the documents at all.'
'Maybe we could arrange something', Suzet said, refusing to admit to Gael's pessimism. Though she knew that there could be problems. She hesitantly added:
'If we get your enrolment payment proven, we could try to get it refunded, even if it is only partial'. Gael wasn't convinced but admired the lengths Suzet was willing to go for a complete stranger.
'It is very nice of you though, helping me', Gael said, 'Thank you for doing this.'
'It is the least I could do.'
They both leaned on the balcony railing overlooking the main hall. Enrolment or not, he would rent a room in the city and had a few days to explore the University some more, but would eventually return home. Standing here in this strange place the thoughts of home made him feel safe. He saw some students reading and talking on the ground floor. This was a magical place, and Gael decided that it was best to keep it that way by not staying here for too long.
It took a while for Estelle to come back. She slapped a stack of papers down on her counter:
'Okay. I did what I could. Because the documents are quite old. I have filled in all the enrolment forms and have his registration and proof of subscription right here. They check out, so you only need to sign this form here.'
She picked a form from the pile and handed it to Suzet.
'And you’ll need approval by the department headmaster, professor de Brún. But then everything should be sound and your enrolment as a student would be complete', said Estelle as she stood with her hands in her sides looking proudly over the work she had done. To her surprise she was not met with the gratitude she expected. Gael and Suzet looked at Estelle with disbelief. She continued, but now slightly irritated: 'Professor de Brún is at his office today and I could make an appointment for you, but you'll have to wait until he is available.'
Gael’s head was spinning. He could still be enrolled? As a student? Three hours ago he had never seen the University now he had the chance to study there. He grabbed one of the papers from the stack. It was his enrolment document. This was the document that he signed twenty-six years ago. He saw his handwriting on the yellowed paper. This was the dream of a young version of him. He would have done everything to get a chance like this again. He met Suzet’s gaze looking at him with anticipation. Gael felt as if he owed it to himself to do this, to grab this chance with both hands. He turned to the Estelle:
'When might professor de Brún have time for me?'
Gael sat in the main hall of the agricultural department. He was waiting for his appointment with the department headmaster, professor The Brún. Suzet had left him to continue her University duties. She had been so happy for him. Gael figured this was probably not how she expected her morning would go. In the main hall the agricultural department gathered for lunch. A lot of them wore dirty workman's clothes, but some of them were wearing their official uniforms. Gael could recognise students, researchers and professors. It looked like they got along with each other quite well. Gael knew that not all departments were like this. He smiled as he imagined himself standing in between them.
Then he saw Estelle. She was walking through the main hall looking around. Gael knew she was searching for him. To Gael’s amusement he saw her irritation growing as she could not find him. He decided to stand up and wave through which she finally noticed him.
'Headmaster de Brún will see you now', she said curt.
When the door opened the headmaster looked up from a file he was reading.
'Welcome mister Linnwik', he said with a clear voice, 'You can sit down.'
The headmaster was not a tall man, he was clean shaven but had messy dark grey hair. His face was weathered which proved he had spent much time outside working on the land. His small office was filled with drawer cabinets. Beneath the leather folder which the headmaster was reading Gael saw his enrolment documents. The headmaster saw Gael looking and closed the leather folder.
'It is a request for the development of a plant which would 'change the world!'', the headmaster said with a small grin.
'Wil it?', Gael asked surprised.
The headmaster chucked.
'I get five requests like this a year.', he said, 'I understand this is your first visit of the University. What do you think?'
'It is great! Especially the greenhouse.'
'It is quite a marvel isn't it? It revolutionises cultivation of certain plants which can't handle the weather here. The best project I signed the agreement for', the headmaster said smiling, and sat back in his chair. 'So mister Linnwik, why do you wish to enrol?'
'Well I have lived on a farm so I have worked with plants my whole life', Gael said reciting the words he thought of when waiting for the headmaster.
'Me and my mother would go and search for wild herbs and tried to domesticate them to grow them at home. I like to believe we got pretty good at it, but I have always wanted to expand my knowledge. I think we could discover many more uses or ways of growing plants if we just did more research and left behind superstition and old ways of thinking.'
Gael hesitantly added: 'That is why I enrolled at Dorringer all those years ago.'
'Yes. About that.', the headmaster said, 'There are some problems with this enrolment and to go straight to the point, I can not enrol you for studying here.'
Gael felt his stomach turn, but the headmaster continued as he picked up some of the documents:
'First of, besides the age of the documents, there is the problem of the payment. At the university there is a higher enrolment fee. Now, of course, I could enrol you if you could pay the difference. But then you should have that kind of money laying around.'
The headmaster glanced up at Gael from the documents, who stayed quiet.
'Second of all, Gael', Nils dropped his papers and folded his hands, 'I want to ask you to think real hard about if you really want this. This University is a demanding environment in a strange city. There are researchers and professors younger than you that have retired.'
Gael nervously plucked his beard. This was what he feared for. He should not have got his hopes up. But he quickly shook off those thoughts, he was not giving up so soon.
'I do really want to do research here.' Gael said. 'Can't I study and work for the rest of the payment?'
'I wouldn't agree to it, even if you were half your age.', the headmaster answered stoutly. He thought for a second and continued, but more careful: 'However, I understand your wish. I could also sign you up for an internship.'
Headmaster De Brún closed the enrolment documents and added: 'Who knows where it can lead up to?'
An internship would be wonderful, just as Suzet had said. But now he was this close Gael was not eager to settle for less and asked boldly:
'I have done research my entire life, doesn't that count for something?'
'As if we treat it as hiring an external expert?', The headmaster said surprised.
'We don’t enrol them as students. We hire them if we have cases we can't solve ourselves or if their knowledge is an addition to the University. It would solve your, financial, problem. Do you have any published work? We’ll need to get that validated by a professor here.'
Gael had never published anything. Most of his knowledge was in his head. He had written notes, but the thought that a University professor would be looking over his incoherent scribblings made Gael feel that he was running out of options. The cases. Gael figured it involved some agricultural work, he was used to that.
'And isn't it possible that I prove my worth by doing one of these cases?'
The headmaster sighed.
'I don’t think they fit your knowledge', he said.
'But if one would, is that something which would change your mind?'
The headmaster was silent for a second, and stared at Gael. Gael knew he was pushing his luck. He just wasn't ready to give up just yet. Then the headmaster stood up and grabbed a few files from a drawer.
'Let's see here', the headmaster said as he searched the files. 'Blacksmithing, husbandry, this one for an expert in parasites.'
Then the professor stared at one file for a while, then looked at Gael.
'Have you found something?', Gael asked carefully.
Nils didn't answer. He sat down, glanced at Gael again and read the title on the leather binding:
'The little hindsblue', he said. 'It is an old case which no one wanted to do. I should have tossed it out.'
The headmaster opened the file.
'The plant’s family, the well known little hindswhite, grows west of here. They only bloom once a year, at night, supposedly only when the full moon is full. The rare hindsblue was believed to have strange properties none of its family has. So the story goes it was picked so much they have had it extinct. This case is about going out there and finding it. We have had clerks to search for it with no effect, and no professor thought it was important enough.'
Gael froze as the case was not at all what he hoped for. The case sounded unfeasible and he expected to stay at the University. Before Gael could say something, the headmaster continued:
'Now: I understand perfectly well that this case might suit you, and I doubt a flower can be picked to extinction, but the flower has not been seen. Then there is the fact that it only blooms once a year, and is indistinguishable from its family the rest of the year. And to top that all off this flower is linked to superstition.'
In thought the headmaster ran his hand through his hair, which explained Gael how it became so messy.
'I am asking myself if I'm not sending you on a wild goose chase after some non-existent flower, just to have you leave my office.', the headmaster said coldly, but then grabbed a document from the file and placed it before Gael.
'With my concerns expressed: if you sign this Estelle will arrange a sleeping accommodation for you and minor compensation for the journey. The flower is supposed to blossom the second to last full moon, that is in about a fortnight. Which is a demanding timescale but should be manageable, you will have to depart in a few days. The rest of the details are in here.'
He handed Gael the case file. Going to search for this flower frightened Gael. The worst part was that the flower sounded like it came straight from a fairytale. Would he gamble his chance to work at the university on some superstition. But somehow the idea of the adventure made his fear lose it to his growing enthusiasm. Misfortune had made him unable to leave the farm his entire life. His luck seemed to have turned. He had kept his promise to his mother and left the farm. He took that promise to see the university where he always had wanted to do research, and now he had that chance.
'If you solve the case you can consider yourself hired', the headmaster said.
In thought Gael was walking through the hallways of the University. His footsteps echoed in the empty hallway. He was on his way to the dorm where Estelle had assigned him a bed. Gael tried to make sense of the whole journey. He was ruling out places to search for the flower. The file said that the little hindsblue was a typical meadow flower. From his experience Gael knew that these kind of plants were notorious for also growing in forest clearings. But doubt had set in. Signing up for the case was the easy part. The University was where he wanted to be, and now he let himself be sent off on some treasure hunt. Maybe he could still go back to the professor De Brún and apply for the internship.
Then he felt someone grab him by the arm. Gael jumped and forcefully pulled his arm free. There stood a surprisingly small woman in blue professor's robes, whose unkempt appearance made her look older than she actually was. Two wide open eyes looked at Gael from under a sea of dull brown curls. Behind the woman was a door with a sign: Department of the Inexplicable.
'Oh sorry, I didn't mean to startle you', she said with a soft voice.
'Is it you who is going to search for the little hindsblue?'
'Yes', said Gael, slightly surprised, 'That travels quickly.'
'I have a special interest in that flower. Do you have any idea where it could be?'
Gael hesitated for a second. He knew the department of the inexplicable. It was meant to be a place where life's mysteries could be theorised. But it got overtaken by the superstitious and now it just delves in the spiritual and the arcane. Gael always thought the department made more questions than it answered. He doubted if a professor of this department could be of much help, but it wouldn't hurt to share his thoughts either.
'Well it being a small meadow plant, I think it would be best to look in clearings within hunting forests in the region where the flower had been sighted. And I can’t really believe it will bloom for only one night, so in the week of the full moon I will just visit several of these forests. That’ll give me the highest chance of finding it.'
Hearing himself say that made him feel more confident about the whole search.
'Interesting', the professor said and turned around and went inside the department. Gael stayed behind in the hallway, asking himself if this was the end of the conversation. The chaotic mess of curls came around the corner.
'Come on', she said and made a quick hand gesture. Gael entered the department of the inexplicable. The room was filled with curiosities. On the walls were drawings of plants Gael didn't know. He saw a frame with what appeared to be a skeleton of a man the size of a hand. In the department there was also a young man behind a desk on the other side of the room. He was reading a book. When their eyes met Gael nodded politely, but the young man slowly turned back to his book.
'You might want to visit the forest of Yeavinkhall', the tiny woman said, as she was staring at a map.
'It matches your description. There is believed to be mysterious energy there.'
Gael sighed as his suspicions seemed to be true.
'The local villagers are very protective. They won't allow anyone to leave at night', The woman added. Gael snapped out of his disappointment.
'There is a forest, which people won’t enter at night?' Gael asked in disbelief.
'The town has walls and gates which no one is allowed to leave at night.'
'If people won't go into the forest at night, they couldn't have picked the hindsblue', Gael said excited.
'That may be, but there has to be a reason why they have the walls', she said.
But Gael wasn't listening. He wasn't superstitious at all. Gael had spent enough nights in forests to be utterly unaffected by the fear of the supernatural. He even somewhat enjoyed himself out in the woods at night. This would be his best chance of finding the flower. The thought of going back to professor De Brún left his mind. He thanked the professor, and with newfound courage he left the department of the inexplicable.
Gael had spent his last days at the University planning for his journey. Now Gael was travelling again. He was able to ride on the back of wagons for the most part, but he had to continue on foot. Gael didn't mind travelling on foot. It got him everywhere he needed to be in his life. But now it had started to rain. Gael wore his cloak and his leather backpack kept him and his belongings dry. Along with those there now dangled an old clerk’s shoulder bag on his side, which Estelle had given to him. It contained the case file and all of the plans and notes Gael had gathered for his journey. Gael played with the thought of writing to his brother. It had been almost a month since he had left the farm. Though he and Gael didn't always see eye to eye, Leanhan was a good man. When they were much younger Leanhan spoke of a second farm. He had his eyes on a plot on the other side of their village. Their father Bois always loved it when Leanhan was ambitious about the farm. Regrettably their father got ill around that time. When their father died, Leanhan never spoke of his ambition again.
After a few hours Gael walked into a village. The sun would set very soon, so it was about time he arrived. The pouring rain made the village look gloomy. It was preparing for the night and its people were closing windows and getting inside. Gael decided to follow their lead and looked for the Inn. He strolled through the muddy streets until he came upon a building which looked like an Inn, but there was an armoured guard in front of the building. The guard looked very annoyed with having guard duty in the rain. The man wore a lot of bright blues on his armour that made him seem almost royal. He looked out of place in such a village. Gael doubted if he should try to enter the Inn or search another place to spend the night. But then the guard noticed Gael and he beckoned him to enter.
Gael entered the inn and the smell of hot food welcomed him. There were more blue dressed guards inside. They didn't pay much attention to Gael. Gael hung his cloak by the fire and found himself a comfortable place at the bar. When he looked around he saw that the guards were standing near a table where a man was rummaging through some documents and books which the table was full of. At the table sat a woman with long black curly hair. If her face was as beautiful as her hair Gael couldn't see because she was sitting with her back to him. Gael’s staring got noticed because the Innkeeper hit the bar in front of Gael with his hand.
'Can I help you?'
Startled and a bit agitated, Gael ordered some food and a drink. After he was done eating he got his notebook from the shoulder bag to look at his journey for the next day.
'Ah a fellow researcher?'
The curly haired woman was standing next to Gael at the bar. She was a middle aged beauty and despite her black hair she had bright blue eyes.
'Oh, yes, I'm working on a case for the University', Gael said as he closed his notebook.
'Don't they have clerks for that?'
'Well they have sent clerks but they failed and professors wouldn't bother, so they’ve sent me.'
'And you can do it?'
'I think I do', Gael said, allowing himself to boast a bit. The woman replied with a sarcastically impressed nod.
'You don't look like that much of an adventurer to me.'
That hurt Gael a little, but he played along.
'Sometimes you’ve got to be bold, take risks. You seem like a careful man to me.'
'Maybe that will work to my advantage', Gael replied, still a bit hurt. He decided to turn the conversation around.
'I saw that you were digging around in some books yourself. Any interesting finds?'
'None that I am allowed to discuss with you', she answered.
Gael looked behind her and he saw the guards playing cards.
'Your blue friends would betray that you work for some nobleman.'
'Oh I you could say that', The woman said with a crooked smile.
'I am an imperial inspector. So that nobleman would be our Emperor, Ritz Unipiller', she said. Gael recoiled as he released the status of the woman. Imperial inspectors took their orders directly from the emperor himself. They seek out corruption and criminals. They are feared by dukes and lords alike. Gael surely didn't expect to stumble upon one in a village like this.
'My apologies, please forgive my curiosity. I did not know.'
'You asked and I answered', the inspector said with a satisfied grin. She clearly enjoyed toying with Gael. He was still flustered as her demeanour wouldn’t make him think she was of high status.
'What is your name?', The inspector asked.
'Well Gael I wish you luck with your case. That we might meet again.'
'Thank you inspector', he said and hesitantly added: 'I hope your research goes well', swallowing the urge to ask her for her name. She nodded thankfully and left the bar to disappear in a room on the other side of the inn, next to where one of the blue guards sat.
The next morning when Gael left his room he saw no trace of the inspector or one of the blue guards. Gael felt slightly disappointed, but he put those thoughts aside. Because after a few hours of travelling he would arrive at the town of Yeavinkhall.
Gael arrived at the crude walls of Yeavinkhall. He thought it was unfitting for such a small town to have stone walls. The stones were of all shapes and sizes, as if there were no funds to build it but they built it nonetheless. It did have quite a sturdy gate Gael thought as he entered the town. A guard with a big moustache approached him.
'Good afternoon! May I ask what brings you to Yeavinkhall?', the guard said.
'Oh I’m just passing through', Gael said. 'Could you point me towards an Inn?'
The guard explained where he could find ‘Yeavinkhall Inn’. He had decided it was best not to be too open about the case. Him searching for a magical flower could draw unwanted attention to him. Gael made his way to the inn over one of the few paved streets. Yeavinkhall Inn was a small ill maintained building. The poorly lit inn had some simple furnature ad adjacent to the main space were a few rooms. The only person in the inn was the woman behind the bar. Gael bartered for a room with a window, so he could let some light in. It was a small room with a bed, table and chair. Gael unpacked and started to read his notes in preparation of the coming night. Outside he looked at an alleyway and the back of a butchers shop. As he heard the squealing of pigs Gael sighed in the realisation of his poor choice of accommodation.
After a while someone else entered the inn. The inkeeper spoke with a young man. Then there was silence followed by footsteps towards his door. Gael quickly covered up the case file and changed the page of his notebook. Someone knocked on his room’s door. Before Gael answered the door slowly opened. He saw a young man with fancy clothing and a friendly face followed by the moustached guard. The young man spoke with a soft voice:
'Hello! At first my apologies for disturbing you. I am alderman Marvinion. I was told we had a new guest so I thought it would be nice to have a little chat.'
The man stood in the door frame, while Gael sat at the small table in his room. A bit overwhelmed Gael could not hide his annoyance and answered: 'Well, chat away.'
The alderman's face folded in an overly friendly smile. 'I was curious what your business is in Yeavinkhall.'
The innkeeper was leaning over the counter to watch the spectacle.
'I am just passing through. I would like to stay maybe one or two days, make some drawings of the village.'
Gael showed the men his notebook were pictures he drew on his last days in Challiste could be seen. 'I like to draw', he added, and surprised himself how easy he lied to these people. He just wanted to be left alone so he tried to come of as innocent as possible.
'But is there something wrong? Shouldn't I have come?'
'Of course we do not want to cause you any trouble', the young alderman said, 'We had some trouble with visitors in the past. Especially when they have an university clerks bag.'
Unease rose in Gael's gut.
'Oh but this is an old one they wouldn't use any more. I bought it from some clerks when they were in my village, Eswik', Gael said.
'Eswik', The alderman said and looked from Gael's notebook back to Gael.
'I see you have drawn a black signpost. We’ve been told the stories about the black signpost of Challiste's market. It would seem that you have been to Challiste. Have you visited the university?'
'The University? No, I am just a farmer.'
'Can we take a look inside the bag?'
Gael now understood what kind of hole he had dug for himself and started:
'Oh do you really need to? I would appreciate it if....'
'Stop. Just, please. Stop', Alderman Marvinion said and took a menacing step inside the room.
'Look. Either you are from the University or you are a farmer who bought a clerks bag. Show us the bag or we take it and hand you over to the Marshal.'
'Okay, okay', Gael said, raising his hands in surrender. 'My name is Gael I am from Eswik.'
The alderman silently waited. Gael grabbed the clerks bag and got out the case file.
'But I got hired by the University to work on a case.'
'You lying University scum. The file!', the alderman commanded.
Gael handed him the file and the alderman started looking at the pages.
'Tell us more', The alderman commanded while still standing intimidatingly in the middle of the small room.
'The University is in search of a flower. I figured it would be around here somewhere.'
'And with around here, you mean the forest?', the alderman said to Gael's surprise.
'Well yes, I think I might be able to find it in the forest clearings.'
'At night?', the alderman asked. Gael had feared the conversation would go this way and reluctantly answered:
'Yes, at night.'
The alderman turned the final pages and finally said:
'I suggest you take you research elsewhere, because under no circumstances I am giving you access to the forest', Alderman Marvinion said and returned the case file to Gael.
'Can't you make an exception? This research is important... for me', Gael said, trying to appeal to alderman, but the alderman lost his composure again.
'You think you are better than us?! Are you going to nose around riling people up with superstitious tales?!'
'Of course not, if you let me in the forest I'll even prove there aren't any!', Gael argued. Alderman Marvinion composed himself again.
'I will do no such thing. I don't know how they do it in Eswik, mister Gael, but here we have our laws. I won't make exceptions for visitors and certainly not for above-it-all University folk.'
'Look, I understand in the past some of the University did bad things. But I am not them. I don't ask a lot, I just want to search the forest. I’ll talk to no one, and I will leave tomorrow morning.'
The alderman was silent for a second and looked at Gael.
'You will leave indeed tomorrow morning', he said, 'But you are not leaving the walls tonight! You are not allowed to leave the inn until the gates are closed. And that is final!’, alderman Marvinion said. Before Gael could object the alderman commanded the guard to stay behind. The alderman left and with a small grin the mustached guard sat himself down at one of the inn’s tables.
They did as the alderman had said. The hours had passed and Gael and the mustached guard, who was sitting on the opposite side of the inn, both sat at their dinner. Gael had been waiting bitterly. Yeavinkhall forest was his best bet of finding the little hindsblue. Another guard entered the inn and said:
'Good afternoon sir. Tonight ill take south, George north and Janus east. How are you?'
'Best guard job I ever had', the mustached guard said almost mockingly loud. They then started arguing about whether the bakery would make cherry pie tomorrow and Gael focused on his meal.
The town bell tolled. And with an expression that said: ‘My job here is done’ the mustached guard looked at Gael. Gael ignored the guards, stood up and went outside. It was almost dark as Gael walked towards the gate. Just as he arrived two guards were locking it up. Gael thoughts drifted home. If he had stayed he wouldn't be in this predicament.
'I'm sorry', The mustached guard said from behind Gael and added:
'I want to ask you to go back to the inn and go to bed early. Continue your search in the morning.'
'One night wasted', Gael sighed as he walked back past the guard. When he entered the inn the innkeeper gave him a painful smile.
'Can you wake me at first light? I'm going to bed early', Gael asked her and entered his room. He started to pack his belongings. He put his notebook in the shoulder bag and held the bag in his hands. The leather had creased and was frayed at the edges. It had probably seen a lot of adventures Gael thought. He could hear the words of the inspector:
'You don't seem like that much of an adventurer to me. Sometimes you’ve got to be bold, take risks.'
With those last words clear in his mind he put on his cloak and swung the bag over his shoulder. If he recalled the conversation between the guards correctly there would only be guards in the north, east and south. If he got to the western edge of Yeavinkhall unseen he could find a way to get to the other side of the wall. Strangers stand out in towns like this Gael thought.
After a moment of hesitation he leaned over to the window and unlatched it. Very slowly he climbed out of the window carefully lowering himself onto the dark muddy alley. He looked back through the window and saw the relative safety of his room with the rest of his belongings. He suppressed the urge to climb back in, and made his way through the alley. As he entered the streets and made his way west, sticking to the dark where he could.
When he arrived at the western edge of he started to understand why there were no guards. Between him and the wall was a large open square with lantern posts. Gael thought the people of Yeavinkhall used this space for festivals or celebrations and to Gaels relief, the lanterns were not lit. On the opposite side of the square was a tower embedded in the wall, with a big wooden door. There were more than thirty yards between him and the Tower.
Gael surveyed the houses on the edge of the square and saw light flickering behind opaque panes of glass. Against better knowledge Gael left the shadow behind to cross he harrowing distance. He heard his footsteps softly echo against the walls when he closed in on the tower. At the door he carefully lifted the wooden lever which unlocked the door. Slowly he pushed the door which loudly creaked when it was only partially opened. Gael grabbed the shoulder bag and held it in front him as he inched himself through the door.
Inside, the silent dark felt safe in comparison to the plaza but still his heart pounded as he sat squatted inside the tower. His eyes had to slowly adapt to the darkness. The only light entered through a hatch in the ceiling. The little space the tower had was filled with boxes and barrels. Gael could see the ladder leading to the hatch on the other side of the small room. He could move the boxes around but Gael figured there was little to no room for that. Carefully he climbed on some big boxes which held his weight comfortably. Confident he climbed further along the room which made him stand a few feet from the ground.
At the front of the ladder there was a stack of large barrels. He placed one foot on the top of a barrel and reached for the ladder with one hand. His fingers reached the ladder and he slowly shifted his weight further. As his full weight was on the barrel the lid of the caved in with a loud crack. He swung towards the ladder tipping over the barrel. When he grabbed the ladder with his other hand he heard a thud which was deafening in comparison to the silence from before. It introduced a new grinding sound and Gael looked behind him. The barrel fell on another barrel and was slowly pushing it over. Realizing the inevitable Gael quickly climbed the ladder to the top of tower. Below him the barrels fell onto each other and crashed loudly on the floor.
With a thud the hatch fell close as Gael stood on the ramparts. There was no point in being quiet anymore. Though he always disliked heights Gael hastily climbed on the merlons. Voices sounded from across the plaza but when Gael peered in the darkens behind him but could only see the silhouettes of houses against the clouded night sky. Gael looked down the fifteen feet drop when the voices became louder. He jumped. Gael landed feet first but fell and ended up with his face onto the wet grass on the other side of the wall. As pain surged through his body Gael climbed up and ran into the dark Yeavinkhall forest.
After running a decent distance from the town Gael stood still and listened. The silence confirmed that he was not being followed. It seemed the inhabitants of Yeavinkhall were true to the stories told about them: they did not enter the forest at night. Gael took a deep breath in relief. He recognised the familiar soft smell of the wet forest floor. This comforted Gael. He was no stranger to scouring the forest at night but normally he would take a lantern with him. Now, still partially hidden behind clouds, the moonlight shone its light through the leaves. The full moon reminded him of his task here and it doused his doubt as to whether he did the right thing by escaping Yeavinkhall.
Gael walked through the forest for a while until the trees made way for a clearing. With held breath he set foot in it. Mostly tall grass filled the clearing. He started to search for white flowers. He saw whistling weed from which the stem could be turned into tiny flutes and even some white clover, which cows seem to like a lot and made a very poor tea. None of them had petals shaped like hind’s ears. At least he should find some hindwhites Gael thought. After having almost circled the clearing he stopped and scratched his head as he started to doubt his theory.
Then the full moon came from behind the clouds. The bright moonlight cast harsh shadows as Gael again wandered around the newly lit clearing. He saw a flower with closed buds and kneeled beside the flower. Carefully he peeled away the bud to see white petals, shaped like a hind’s ear. Like a weight was lifted from his shoulders Gael jumped up and started to look around. He found another hindwhite, but to his surprise he saw that the flower had already partially opened. As he kept searching more and more of the white flowers reached for some moonlight and filled the clearing. Moths, butterflies and other insects got attracted to the white flowers that reflect the bright moonlight. Gael could not enjoy the spectacle as he frantically searched for a flower with blue flowers.
He didn't find any and the light began to fade again. Big dark clouds had started to hide the moon and the clearing became dimmer and dimmer. To his desperation he saw that the hindwhites started to close again.
It wasn't long until Gael stood in the dark clearing. Without the moon the forest was pitch black. He had found not a single trace of the little hindblue here. To make himself feel better he decided to search for another clearing and wait for the clouds to pass.
With luck Gael had found the path, but walking it was more difficult. The dark made him listen carefully to his surroundings. Sometimes he could swear he heard some animal flee in the foliage and he regularly got his face full of leaves. Gael grumbled to himself as he finally realised how stupid he was not to take his backpack and other belongings with him. With those he could just stay in the forest until morning, and travel to another town. Now he surely had to face Yeavinkhall’s hospitality. It was unlikely that he could break into the village he had broken out of. As he made his way through the dark, disaster struck as Gael tripped over a root. He hit his head on the ground hard.
Spots of white blue light shot before Gael’s eyes as if the stars danced in the sky. They made constellations Gael had never seen. Then the light got more intense as if the moon joined the dance. Gael covered his eyes with a hand as he was welcomed by an immense headache. There was a burning pain on the side of Gael's head. When he reached for his hair he felt that it was soaked. The smell of blood filled his nose. He laid on the forest floor, thinking he had not lost consciousness. The lights returned but quickly dissipated when Gael opened his eyes again. He was met with the darkness of the forest. He rolled over and rose to his knees, his head pounding painfully. When he moved his head he could still see the spots of light flashing in the corners of his eyes. Gael decided it was not wise to go on like this. It was probably not wise to have left at all, he thought. Gael sighed, slowly pulled himself further upright and lent to the tree that tripped him. The night was completely overcast and he could still barely see.
While holding his head he left the tree. With every step the spots of light flashed in the edge of his vision. After a while one of the lights stayed in Gael’s corner. He pressed his eyes closed but whenever he opened them the light returned. This wasn't a flash. When he noticed it was a small blue light that shone from the corner of his left eye he looked. There was a clearing, and in the middle it was as if a tiny blue fairy had landed on a blade of grass. Gael’s heart started pounding. With a speed too great for his newfound pains he ran to the light. He knelt by a plant with blue flowers, and had petals in the shape of hind’s ears. To Gael the flower glowed faintly, but he wasn't sure he could trust his eyes yet. He clenched his hands with excitement, but the immense headache made it hard for him to truly appreciate the joy he felt.
Without losing the plant from his sight Gael searched the forest floor for a stick and the largest leaf he could find. With the bud of his knife he beat the stick in the ground next to the plant and pricked the large leaf on it.
Trying to keep his thoughts straight he observed the flower. The plant had another, smaller blue flower lower on the stem. After a moment of hesitation Gael used the hook on the end of his knife to cut it off. He got out his notebook and put the flower somewhere in the back of his notebook. He rose to his feet, for which his head thanked him with a painful throbbing that was synchronised with his heartbeat. After taking a last look at the flower he put the notebook back in the shoulder bag. As he made his way back through the clearing he noticed the moon had come from behind the clouds.
Gael made his way back to Yeavinkhall, which was easier with the moonlight, but the pain in head still made it tiresome. As he reached the town wall the village was as silent as the grave. Without light the walls looked like ruins. With the shoulder bag held firmly under his arm Gael thought about what a nightmare it would be to climb the walls in his state. Gael walked along the wall for spots to climb. In vain, he thought as he came up on one of the gates. The gate’s braziers burned no fire, and they looked like they hadn't for a long time.
'Hello!?', He yelled, regretting it instantly. He stood in front of the gate, one part still in disbelief of his find, the other part tired and in pain. He crawled up against the corner where the gate met the gatehouse. He pressed the shoulder bag containing his notebook against his body and wrapped himself tightly in his cloak.
When he woke up in his room in the inn he was still wearing all his clothes. He vaguely remembered that one of the guards took him there. Outside his door there was a lot of commotion. Gael tried to focus on what they were talking about but that only reminded him of his headache. He lied in bed looking at the ceiling and decided that he would wait until peace returned before getting out of his room, but then there was knocking on the door.
'Give me a minute!', Gael called as he sat upright. But the door already opened. It was the alderman Marvinion again, looking at him angrily.
'That's him sir', the alderman said.
A big man, rivalling Gael in size, came standing in the door opening and gave Gael a hard look.
'Take a seat', the big man said with a commanding voice and pointed to the chair in Gael's room. Gael slowly switched from the bed to the chair and looked at the man. On his breast was a metal emblem with the coat of arms of the empire's constabulary, which could only have meant that the man was a marshal.
'Good morning', the marshal said.
'Good morning', said Gael, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Behind the marshal there was the alderman, the guard and some more townspeople. Again the barkeep was leaning over the counter to listen in.
'I'm Marshal Athelton and I have been brought here because you are being accused of criminal activities. Trespassing on the village walls and the ignoring of a direct command given by village officials.'
Gael felt courage leaving him as sat there, cornered in his room with the marshal and the rest of the town at his door.
'So tell me what happened yesterday', the marshal asked. Hesitant Gael started:
'Well I don’t know what you know.'
'Start where you want to start', the marshal added. He picked a stool from behind the bed and placed it in the door opening, opposite of Gael. He sat down and folded his arms.
'I am doing a case in service of the University of Challiste. The case is about finding the hindsblue: a flower believed to be extinct. I thought I would find it here, in the Yeavinkhall forest. Because I was fully aware of this town curfew, I thought I would leave before the gates would close. But then I was made to stay inside.'
'And then you decided to climb over the wall?', the marshal said stern.
'Y-yes then I climbed over the wall.'
'And the blood', the marshal said and pointed at Gael's hands and head.
Gael looked at his hands. The brown dried blood was under his nails and in the folds of his skin.
'I tripped and fell. It was too dark to see', Gael explained. Gael felt his head but to his surprise he felt no wound, it wasn't even painful any more. From behind the marshal the alderman interfered: ‘He broke into our storage and broke a barrel!'
'Ah, so you are a burglar too? and a vandal?', the marshal asked Gael.
'No no! Definitely not. I just wanted to get to the top of the tower!', Gael answered.
'What was in the barrel again?' The marshal asked over his shoulder.
'Well uh... Party decorations…', alderman Marvinion answered, confused.
'Party decorations', Marshall Athelton said dry. He leaned forward and beaconed Gael to come closer.
'And? Have you found it?'
Gael had almost forgotten what he had found the night before and quickly looked around in search of the shoulder bag. He saw the strap under the bed. To his relief he felt the weight of the notebook when he pulled the bag towards him. Carefully he picked it out of the bag. Both to his surprise and his disgust he saw that his bloody hand prints were all over the notebook. He scrolled through the pages and suddenly the fear crept up on him that the flower was gone, or worse, the flower wouldn't be blue. At the end of the notebook some pages seemed to stick together because of the blood. When he flipped the page it revealed a small flower. Its petal squished by the book, but indistinguishably blue. Gael sighed in relief and tipped the book over so that the marshal and the rest of the people could see it. The people exclaimed and a murmur rose through the inn. Gael admired the flower and the marshal grinned satisfied. He turned to the Alderman:
'What say you, Wilter? A University official has found a valuable resource in that haunted forest of yours. You must be thankful of this man!'
The alderman’s face switched back and forth between anger and disbelief.
'These people are not above the law!', The alderman barked.
'I don’t believe your 'law' is part of the Imperial conduct', the marshal said and stood up from his stool.
'You held this man captive on false accusations, unable to do his work. You were in his way which resulted in him finding his own. No actual harm was done to the town or any of his inhabitants. And to top that off instead bailing he offered himself to you at the gate', the marshal said and looked at Gael.
'This man should be written up for a commendation!'
'He- he could have died! Look at him!', Marvinion cried.
'Then next time, offer someone a light!', the marshal sneered.
Alderman Marvinion scoffed but the marshal continued:
'Wilter, I suggest you give this man whatever he needs', he said and took a step towards the alderman.
'And don't drag me out here again for such a triviality.'
Alderman Marvinion turned red and barged out of the inn. The marshal turned towards Gael again.
'You are not dressed in university attire, you work external?'
'No I'm not officially part of the university. This case is for me to somewhat prove it my worth.'
The marshal chuckled.
'Well I think you'd be a great addition. I wish you luck in the future', the marshal said and turned towards the moustached guard:
'Now I think it is best we should leave this man in peace, he has had a rough night. Would you be so kind to lead these people out of here.'
'You heard the man, get out, come on!' The guard said and waved his hands to herd the townspeople as if they were cattle.
With that the peace returned in the inn. Gael fell back into his chair and looked at the flower. Its petal’s were a light blue. Gael closed his hands around it to see if it was glowing as it did the night before. It didn't and he smiled as he felt foolish. He reached to his head and felt the dried blood fall from his hair. At that moment there were knocks on the door frame. The innkeeper was standing in the doorway.
'Would you like to wash up?', she asked.
'I would like that very much, thank you', Gael answered. She nodded in a way that it could be called a small bow, and disappeared. Gael centred the flower in the middle of the page, and closed his notebook.
Later that day Gael went back to the forest to carefully dig out the hindsblue he had marked with the stick and the large leaf. One of the townspeople gave him a large pot in which Gael prepared the suitable soil for the plant to live in. He carefully folded away the green leaves to confirm the blue petals were inside the bulb. The first few nights following the find he went inside the forest with a handful of reluctant townsmen. They searched for more of the hindsblue plants but found none which resulted in Gael going into the forest alone.
Each night he returned with seeing no hindsblue’s in the forest and even less and less hindswhite ’s. Much to Gael’s displeasure the townspeople started to call the plant ‘the last hindsblue’. The name seemed to stick but the flowers wouldn't bloom any more. Because the potting of the plant Gael expected this would happen but even he was a little disappointed.
After a week one of the University clerks rode into Yeavinkhall. As soon as the University heard about the hindsblue they sent him to bring Gael and the plant in. It was a tough hard man, who smiled as little as he said, dressed in the blue and olive green that characterized the clerks. The University used the clerks as runners, to send and receive files, book’s and other information. That this work had his fair share of difficulties was cemented by this man carrying a weapon.
Gael packed up and left Yeavinkhall behind for the journey to the University. During the journey Gael had put the hindsblue in the moonlight but without avail. It would probably take another year before the plant would show its flowers again. A web of merchants arranged for cart rides all the way back to Challiste. They are all very interested in the last hindsblue. Gael had told the story of him climbing over the wall probably more than ten times. Although he never told the part where he hit his head and saw the lights. He said he cut himself as he showed the blooded pages of his notebook. Gael thought all the attention was a bit too much, but even the University seemed to be interested a great deal because the clerk didn't move from Gael’s side and made sure he, and probably the little hindsblue even more so, arrived safely.
It was late in the afternoon he entered the wall’s of Challiste once again. Gael was sitting on the back of a cart with the hindsblue was on his lap. The dark green fence passed Gael as the cart had entered the University grounds. Gael suddenly got tensed up unknowing how everyone would react.
'Were here!', the merchant yelled as the cart stopped at a goods entrance. Without stopping or saying a word, the clerk veered off to the clerks lodgings. Gael thanked the merchant and entered the University. He searched the hallway towards the agricultural department.
'There you are!' To his surprise it was Suzet approaching him.
'I couldn't believe my ears when I first heard the news. “A flower believed to be extinct had been found”. I thought you would just go write some paper why it could be extinct, to get yourself accepted. But here you are, with the plant nonetheless.'
'Hi Suzet. It's good to see you', Said Gael, relieved to see a friendly face.
'It's good to see you too. You quite stirred up the beehive. They know of your arrival so I thought I ought to prepare him. They are quite interested in your find.'
'I don't get it, this case should have been removed. Why are they suddenly so interested?'
'You know how it goes. The University is keen on successes. And you have to admit, it is a good story.'
They arrived at the agricultural department. While holding the doorknob she added:
'Just try to enjoy it while it lasts.'
She opened the door for Gael and they entered the agricultural department. At first the main hall was fairly quiet. A few heads turned and some people started to whisper to each other. But then a man came walking at Gael with an outstretched hand. He was wearing the light blue robe of a professor.
'I wish to congratulate you on your find', he said and Gael had to awkwardly shift the heavy pot of the little hindsblue to his other arm to shake the man’s hand. After that more and more people got off their chairs to meet Gael. At some point even people from the greenhouse and the field’s started flooding in. When quite the crowd gathered a person in workman's clothes asked the question they all wanted to ask:
'Can we see it?'
Before Gael could react a professor handed him delicate steel utensils from his robe. Gael put the plant on a table as the room got quiet. Carefully Gael used the tools to peel away the green leaves covering the flower. Somewhere Gael still feared that the petals would be white, but when he revealed the blue flower the crowd applauded and cheered. Some even cried out in disbelief, but immediately got into a discussion with their colleagues. Then the headmaster approached from the crowd. He watched for a moment before he stepped to Gael.
'Can we have a word?' headmaster de Brún said, in a serious tone. Gael was hesitant to leave the plant behind, but Suzet and a few professors seemed to understand and sprung in action to keep people away. A few feet from the crowd they stopped as they looked at the commotion.
'You have attracted quite the attention,' he said. Then he took a moment to choose his words.
'Look Gael, I have never thought you were going to find that flower. I expected you to write some research document on where it could grow or why it didn't exist or something. A professor and I would review that and if it was any good I was going to allow you to study here.'
Not knowing how to react, Gael said nothing. Without looking at Gael, De Brún continued:
'However I think our agreement changed a bit. I didn't even believe it when I first heard about your find. But now here it is. However I think our agreement changed a bit. The professors objected.'
He paused again which made Gael feel terribly uneasy.
'They demanded me to assign you the position of researcher. To give you tenure here. They think your knowledge is an addition to the department', he said and turned to Gael.
'I think I might agree. Would you be able to accept a position as researcher within the agricultural department?'
'Yes! Of course, yes! I would like that very much', Gael answered without hesitation.
'Great! Congratulations!', De Brún said and he gave Gael a pat on the back. For a second there was a moment where the two men watched the crowd.
'Now don’t let me hold you up. Get back there, go tell your story', De Brún said. Gael thanked him and he went back into his office. Gael returned to the plant where the crowd bombarded him with questions.
That evening he walked towards the dorm where he still got a bed, but he would get his own room as a researcher. He looked at the hallways, thinking they would become very familiar to him. Though he recognised this hallway as being the one where the department of the inexplicable was located. The door was open and when he passed it he looked inside awkwardly locking eyes with the headmaster. The tiny woman came running out of her department.
'I heard you were back!'
'Yes. Thanks again for your advice', Gael said and smiled friendly although he did not want to stay there very long.
'Can you tell me what happened?'
'Oh there is not that much to tell. Another time, please.'
'Have you seen anything in the Yeavinkhall forest?', she asked hopefully.
'What I saw in that forest?'
Gael's mind drifted towards the flashing spots he saw, but answered smiling:
'Oh don't worry. Nothing but the night sky and plants. Luckily the right one!'
'Oh alright', the woman replied and looked distrustful at Gael.
'Take care', she added and with a nod and a small hand gesture she backed away. Gael continued walking and chucked to himself. Nothing inexplicable about falling on your face, he thought.