… a bit to read.

And, as you’d probably guessed, that was the end of any “thinking” that I’d done about Mr. Marteal’s upcoming “test”. Once Dam and I were done talking, I’d tracked Gale down… and was pretty busy for the next hour. I’d introduced them to each other, talked to Dam about our “underground” problem, revealed the “odd spot” for him to see… and all that. We’d then discussed things for just a bit – and had to set up another meeting after that, because I knew that Farr and Lyz would suspect something if I was too late for the “party class” we’d planned. I had nothing but the underground on my mind as I ran there, though!

Now, maybe I would’ve given my “test” more thought if Farren and Lyz were in one of their curious moods and asked me about what’d kept me at Marteal’s for so long that afternoon! But they’d clearly assumed that nothing interesting was going on between us, because Lyz’s “Was it the same legendary nonsense?” was the only Marteal-related question of the night. And I get that! I mean, we had better things to talk about – like the first session of Eternity charms, which Amara was supposed to teach the very next day!

And then, that “next” day was no better, thinking-wise, between our classes and another underground dash with Gale and Dam. So I’m sure that you can imagine how clueless I was when I’d showed up for the “meeting” which Marteal wanted me to observe, two days later!

I was the last to arrive, too – because I’d never been to Teachers’ Library until then, and got lost. God only knows why Marteal decided to have that meeting there! Maybe it was the rules, or something. Anyhow, three solemn-looking folks were already seated opposite Marteal by the time I’d knocked on the door of the library room they’d reserved for their conversation.

“I would prefer it if you spent most of your time listening, my boy,” Professor Marteal said in an undertone as he walked me to the far edge of the conference table and pulled a chair up for me. He was very serious. “You are welcome to contribute your opinions when the protocol allows it – but because you’re so new to the process….”

“I’ll think twice before I speak, sir,” I nodded, trying to sound serious and confident, too.

Needless to say, I didn’t feel like that at all! The way these new Congress folks looked at me made me feel like I did not belong there! What’s more, they seemed to think so, too!

“A first year in the apprentice program? Aren’t you pushing it, Caesar?” one of the visitors remarked.

She was rather pretty, and her demeanor would’ve been mother-like… if she didn’t eye Professor Marteal and me with such coldness!

“There is an exception to every rule, Laura – for those who deserve it,” Marteal replied courteously but coldly. “And David is a special student indeed.”

“So what’s the reason for his exception, I wonder?” she inquired amusedly.

“Well, it’s not like I can keep Mr. David Alexander Angelo from exploring his… interests,” Marteal faked a smile.

“Pleased to meet you,” I chimed in when the three of them directed their attention to me.

I really didn’t like their looks, or their attitudes… or anything at all about them, for that matter! I mean, they acted like Marteal and I were their enemies – and I haven’t yet given them a single reason to think so! I almost felt like I should leave then – just get up and get out of there…!

And then one of those chaps, a younger super-blonde guy who sat to the left of “Laura”, smiled. He seemed friendlier than the rest. So I felt a tad better.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Angelo,” he said pleasantly. “So what is it like, eh? Being an apprentice is always hard, but at your age… I can’t imagine!”

“Well… it’s not that bad, I guess,” I tried to speak up and not mumble – and felt even more confident. “My regular classes actually give me more trouble than the ones I have with Professor Marteal,” I continued, trying to make light of the situation. “History’s a killer, for example. It ties my brain into knots!”

They smiled – all of them, even Marteal. He in particular seemed to like my reply, and my confidence. I mean, he’d had this uncomfortable look on his face when that chap had started asking questions – and calmed up once I’d replied like I did.

But… what on Earth were they talking about me being an apprentice for? What did Marteal tell them? Did he have to do it, so that I would be allowed to listen in? That had to be it, right? Because… I mean, I wasn’t one!

“Now, I do believe that you came here for reasons other than to inquire of Mr. Angelo’s educational hurdles, gentlemen… ma’am,” Marteal said next, his smile fading. “So let’s get to it, if you please.”

And I got lost again pretty fast. This time, it wasn’t because I didn’t get what they were talking about. It was the same legal proposal, far as I could tell. Besides, Professor Marteal had done a great job of explaining to me what was what, over the past week. So that wasn’t the problem. What got my head spinning was the nit-picking that these new Congress visitors engaged in! They did not seem to like the Guard-influenced wording of Marteal’s proposal, and they weren’t shy about showing it. I mean, they’d haggled about the meaning of certain phrases – and even individual words – to no end! They’d suggested so many changes and had so many remarks that they’d filled almost a dozen pages with notes! I felt like that was really unnecessary – especially since the other visitor had managed to express his opinions in much less threatening form. But… I guess that was their style.

And speaking of styles. I had no idea why they’d preferred to hand-write those notes! I mean, it’d have been easier to type them, or something, wouldn’t it? And it really didn’t make sense that each of us had to sign every page after it was completed, either. That didn’t make the scribbles on it any more legible – or logical, either! So it felt like a total waste of time… and trees!

Then, they’d wasted even more of both once that trio got done with their remarks. See, apparently there was a similar proposal submitted to the Congress by the other dean – and they had to go through it, too, and make all those remarks and scribble down all of those signatures all over again! The only difference was that Professor Marteal was doing the nit-picking this time ‘round. I almost felt like asking him why this waste of time was necessary by the end of that meeting. The only thing that’d kept me from doing it was the fear of appearing stupid.

And if I’d learned anything that day, it was that appearing stupid is a lot less dangerous than actually being that way! See, I could have probably avoided my mentor’s “apprenticeship” trap after all, if I’d demonstrated my stupidity before these Congress guys had left! As it was, I’d walked straight into it – just like Marteal had expected me to!

“It was a pleasure to have worked side by side with you, Mr. Angelo,” the blond guy remarked just before they left. “I am looking forward to seeing you again in a few weeks.”

That sounded weird to me – but I’d still waited for those folks to leave before I’d asked any questions. I was on Marteal like butter on toast then, of course… just a little too late.

“What will they come back for, Professor?” I’d wondered then. “I thought that today’s discussion was quite comprehensive. Do they really think that there’s anything else to talk about?”

“Oh, there’s a lot to talk about any time a new law is about to be approved,” Marteal smiled. “But they aren’t coming back, David. Not until the next law is in the works. And, since I don’t have much time for legal work when school is in session – and neither does my opponent, Mr. Arthur –it’ll likely be a while.”

“Then why did that guy say that he’d see me in a few weeks, sir?” I wondered.

“Ah, that’s what’s confusing you!” he chuckled. “But, you see, David, my School isn’t the only place where these proposals are discussed. The other School’s dean will need to comment on them, too – and then these remarks will get presented during the next Congress session….”

“So… you mean, we’ll be going to go to the other School to discuss them?”

I got pretty excited by that possibility, see? My disappointment was all the harsher for it.

“Other School? No, David, that’s not how it works!” Marteal shook his head. “We’ll be going to the Congress to discuss this proposal… and hopefully see it turn into a law. I’m sure that you’ll enjoy the experience.”

We’ll go? As in, I will come along with you, sir?” I asked; he nodded. “But I don’t want to!”

“You may not want to – but you have to,” he told me seriously. “Both of our names are on the discussion papers, David. So, you must accompany me. It’s what apprentices do.”

“But I’m not an apprentice! And I don’t want to be!” I said emphatically.

“It’s time you stopped fooling yourself, David,” Marteal said harshly. “You wouldn’t be so interested in the Talented politics, otherwise. And you obviously are interested. I know that because of how much effort you’d put into our latest meetings. You just seem to be a tad lazy about following what interests you.”

“But I don’t understand anything!” I yelled then.

“That’s easy to fix,” he shrugged. “We’ll simply discuss all the things you need to know before you go to the Congress, my boy. We can start now…” I shook my head, too confused to even verbalize my unwillingness to talk – so he added: “or I can give you a couple days to think this through. But I do expect to see you in my office by this Saturday, David. Getting ready to face the Congress isn’t something you should be lazy about.”

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