I looked up into Seamist’s face, trying to muster my courage. “What?”

“I see you trying to steal my apprentice.”

And then I laughed. I couldn’t help myself.

“I’m just being friendly. I do not want your apprentice. I’m still an apprentice myself.”

Seamist let out a sharp, mocking laugh. “I know how those male wizards are. I won’t let him take what is mine.”

I understood, but I decided it wasn’t worth arguing. “Let us continue on our way. Perhaps you will see that Mhorik isn’t after your apprentice.” With that, I went back to the edge and climbed down the far side of the pass.

The next few days are uneventful, except for some hard looks from Seamist when I spent time with Calvis talking about magic. I didn’t let it bother me.

The mountainous trail gave way to a worn path across a broad plain. I overheard Mhorik and Seamist talking one morning as I was waking up.

“We should be there before the sun reaches the peak of the sky,” Mhorik said.

“Yes, I am certainly looking forward to the end of our journey.” I’m sure Mhorik caught the true meaning behind her words.

We indeed saw the sacred grove before the sun had finished climbing the sky. The plumes of rich smoke rose into the air from dozens of magical fires fueling potent spells. Two figures stood at the edge of the grove, watching our movement. The two women forward to meet us as we got closer.

“Hail, travelers. You approach a gathering of wizards,” one of the guarded wizards spoke as we approached.

“I am a wizard, Starwise, from the village by the restless deep. I am traveling with my apprentice, with the wizard Seamist, and with her apprentice.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Seamist scowl. She was insulted that Mhorik spoke instead of deferring to her.

“I see. Pass sisters and brothers, and be welcome.”

We entered the grove and Mhorik turned to Seamist. “Thank you for your company,” he said as he gave a small bow.

The scowl was still on Seamist’s face, but it turned to her familiar insincere smile. “Sure.” Then she turned to Calvis, “Apprentice, follow me.”

As she marched off, I grabbed Calvis’ hand and gave it a small squeeze. “Good luck,” I whispered. I let his hand go and turned to follow Mhorik.

“Where are we going, master?”

“We go to find a place to camp, then I will find out what ceremonies will take place. Traditionally, the presentation of the apprentices happens first thing every night.”

My hands felt suddenly sweaty as I realized that we were in the middle of a more wizards than I had ever even met before. I took a deep breath and held it a moment to calm myself. Exhaling, I looked around trying to understand exactly what I had gotten myself into.

We walked along a wide path through the grove, with the tall trees forming a canopy above. Other people were walking along the path, and still others were gathered into small groups and talking. The air was cool here and the sheen of nervous sweat made me shiver a bit. But, everyone seemed… well, normal.

We left the grove and walked into a large area where the grasses had been cut short. I saw many fires here with clusters of people and possessions around each one. As we walked, I noticed that most of the fires near the entrance were surrounded by only women, with male apprentices and male wizards taking up positions further away. Near the far edge of the the field, was a dying fire with nobody around it. Mhorik walked to that spot.

“Any reason we are so far away from the grove?”

“I’m an old man and I need my sleep. The groups around the fires near the grove tend to be too loud.”

I figured there was more to it, but I didn’t argue.

“Set up our camp here. I’ll get some herbs of protection for us and find out the schedule. Over there is a small creek,” Mhorik pointed with his staff. “Wash the dust of the road off yourself and put on your ceremonial cloak.” Mhorik pointed in the distance with his staff and set off.

I unpacked our belongings, setting out the sleeping furs and a few items. I unrolled my ceremonial cloak, checked it for damage, and took it with me to the brook.

Something about the thought of washing made me finally feel the dust and grime from our travels. I felt filthy and was overjoyed to see the creek just beyond the grasses. I quickly got out of my traveling clothes and slipped into the cool water. I dunked my head under, letting the water flow all around me. I stood back up, and started scrubbing myself with sand from the creek bed. I rinsed the sand from my hands and wiped the water from my eyes.

The sudden shadow looming over me made me nearly jump out of my skin.

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