The Water Mage of the Mageless Isle

This story fits into a larger series I'm writing, but it acts as a character study for other kingdoms in the fantasy world. Not all desire magic, and some actively reject it.

“First Year Njeri, remain after class today,” Hubert Teacher ordered as the bell rang for the end of classes.
Njeri sighed, but remained in her seat. Around her, a few of her friends gave her sad faces, but none tarried. While Hubert Teacher wasn’t especially mean, he was strict. Besides, he was a known member of the ruling party, and therefore anything one said could be used against them later.
All of the teachers at the Royal Military Academy on the Isle of Itzal were members of the ruling party as was required by law. To teach there, one had to be a member and have no magic whatsoever, but on the Mageless Isle, no one had magic. If it was discovered, the child was either killed or abandoned or sent to live in one of the other kingdoms in the Forty Isles where mages did live.
Njeri sketched in her notebook until everyone had vacated the room. She was a gifted artist, according to her step-father, and would make a wonderful military member. As a ranking member of the Royal Party, Njeri’s step-father had managed to get her into the academy despite the fact she wasn’t from pure bloodlines.
Just what was it that Hubert Teacher wanted?
The door clicked shut. “First Year Njeri, it has come to my attention that you excel in two things. First, you are an excellent artist who can recreate anything you see. Second, you’re an exceptional swimmer. Are these true?”
“Yes, Sir, Hubert Teacher.”
“Then I need you to do something for me, if you are willing to risk an adventure.”
Adventure? Life was meant to be filled with training while at school. Adventure came later, at least that was what all the other teachers insisted.
“What sort of an adventure, Sir?”
“I am unable to disclose said information unless you agree.”
“Does it involve risk to life and limb?”
“Possibly.”
“Should I warn my mother I may never see her again?”
“Probably not.”
“Very well, Sir, then I accept your adventure.”
The door to the adjoining room opened and a third year student entered. Not only was the individual a third year, but he was also the king’s second eldest son. Not the one who would inherit the throne, but one who would ultimately lead the military into any battle his brother waged.
Like many on the isle, he was fair-skinned with dark brown hair. He stood a head taller than Njeri, but it was the piercing golden eyes which held her attention. Everyone said the prince - no Third Year Kaknab was friendly, but he didn’t seem especially so.
“Third Year Kaknab; First Year Njeri. You two will be working together with me on this task,” Hubert Teacher explained. He pulled out a map of the school grounds. He motioned for both to relax as he began his explanation, “For our up-coming teacher evaluations, we are to take two students each and train them to accomplish a given task. I chose the two of you because of your excellent skills.”
“He means we both are the best swimmers in our classes,” Third Year Kaknab explained.
“Among other reasons, Third Year,” Hubert Teacher corrected. “Now, our mission is to find the pair to this item.” He pointed to an ugly cat statue on his desk. “The oc were at one time worshipped as the gods on this island, but the practice has long-since died out. However, two of these statues, this one and its mate, are part of the school’s artifacts. One has been hidden, and we need to recover it.”
“This sounds more like a treasure hunt than anything else.”
“It is, but that is precisely the point - working in small teams to apprehend, capture or take the item. The other teams which will be working will either attempt to take the statue themselves, protect said statue or cause trouble for us.”
“Where is it hidden?”
“Beneath the school, here.” Hubert Teacher pointed at a location on the map. It was at the edge of the school’s lake, and only accessible by two narrow bridges. “It’s located in a room in the lower portion. We can access it by water, but only the two of you can swim that distance then be able to fight any attacks.”
“Where will you be, Sir?”
“With you. I’m the only teacher who can swim that distance and still put up a fight, but the others don’t know that. It will be to our advantage.”
Njeri studied the map for a few moments. “You expect us to enter through the window there?”
“There’s a small staircase which leads inside. We’ll access it there.”
“Someone will be guarding it, Sir,” Njeri pointed out.
“Most likely the weakest members of the team. A last resort.”
“And what are we to do with it when it has been taken?”
“Return it to the headmaster.”
Third Year Kaknab shrugged. “Sounds simple enough. When do we begin?”
“In a fortnight. We have fifteen days to prepare for this. Are you both ready? You will have to be able to swim every day, and also train with me after classes.”
“Yes, Sir,” both students answered.
“Well done. We’ll begin with training tonight.”
That night, Njeri stumbled back to her room where she never bothered to change out of her training uniform, but fell across her bed mindlessly toeing off her shoes. What had she gotten herself into? She was by far the weakest member of the team. The other two were both male and older than she was, not to mention taller and stronger. They could last longer than she could.
Her only advantage was illegal on the Mageless Isle, but how would anyone know she used magic when she was surrounded by water?
Ah, but her team would know, wouldn’t they? If they had been any other members of the school, risking her magic might have helped, but one was a stickler for rules and the other a teacher. No, best not to use her magic. Better not even to hint at having it. After all, no one knew she had it even after fourteen years of living.
She could continue along just as she had been. Safe. If her magic was discovered, who knows what would happen.
The following fourteen days moved in a blur as they trained and swam. Most of their training involved working as a unit to swim towards the tower. As the morning of the test approached, Njeri stretched beside the waterside, waiting.
“You came early,” Third Year Kaknab greeted.
“I was already awake.” Njeri lifted her arms and arched her back. “You came early as well, Third Year.”
“I was already up,” Third Year Kaknab answered. “I told you to call me Kaknab. We’re a team.”
“Ah, there you two are,” Hubert Teacher greeted. “Ready?”
“Of course.”
“From what I can tell, we were correct in our assumptions about the two weakest members of the defense team acting as guards. Our larger problem will be when they learn of our escape. Along both bridges, two other attacking units as well as two defending units have placed long range catapults armed with heavy logs. If any of those should hit near us in the water, we could be in trouble.”
“Then we don’t let them know, Hubert Teacher,” Kaknab suggested.
The starting gun echoed, and all three went to the water’s edge and started to swim. While everyone was engaged above, they would swim across the lake, capture the item and return it to the headmaster. Each was equipped with a bag to hold the oc statue.
Above them, the noise of battle - yelling, screaming, cracking wood and even more cacophony resounded, but the lake was quiet. Nothing more than an early morning swim. Thankfully, the sun had only started to rise above the mountains surrounding the lake, providing enough light to see, but not enough to make them obvious in the open water.
The water lapped against the stone pillar of the tower. A narrow ledge circled the tower about two meters above the lake’s surface. Footholds inside the tower provided the only access. Kaknab, the fastest climber of the three, scaled first with the rope he had brought to tie around a hook in the wall. Dropping both ends into the water, the other two were able to scale the wall at the same time. They entered the room the two windows and the doorway.
Three of the members in the room were apprehended, but a fourth, who had just started up the stairs, screamed and yelled for reinforcements below.
“Didn’t expect a fourth team member,” Hubert Teacher muttered, tossing the statue to Kaknab. “I’ll hold them off, you swim.”
Kaknab started to the door, but stopped as a heavy wooden rod dropped before him. “None of us are getting out this way.”
“I’ll take Hubert and his minions!” Festus Teacher bellowed. “Come with me, men!”
“He’s using two of the grogs from Third Year’s battering team as support,” Hubert Teacher commented.
“Can we take them on?” Njeri asked as Hubert dropped the statue into his bag.
“Most likely not, and manage to escape,” Hubert answered. “At least, you can’t fight them, and Kaknab is our fastest swimmer.”
Njeri held out her hand. “I’m smaller, and will be able to dodge the items better. Plus, I can swim underwater longer than either of you.”
Hubert Teacher and Kaknab glanced at each other and shrugged. Hubert Teacher handed over the bag. “Once you reach the headmaster, a signal will be given.”
Njeri waited a moment after tying the bag around her chest then dove into the water. She sank down, regulated her breathing, and shot forward. Extending her feet behind her, she pushed against the water, dodging past and around the logs as they entered the water. The water threaded around her, becoming one with her as she pushed her abilities to their limits. She never had this sort of chance to use her magic. A ball of water wrapping around her like comforting blanket. The lake bottom approached quickly, and with a final thrust, she propelled towards the surface, leaping forward, away from the lake and onto the path where she left her watery world behind.
The headmaster stood in his tower, watching the proceedings. Taking the outside wall, she began climbing along the craggy stones. At the top where the headmaster stood, looking over the edge, her face a mixing surprise with impressed.
At the top, Njeri paused only a moment to catch her breath before standing with shoulders back in a sharp salute. When the headmaster motioned for her to relax, Njeri pulled out the statue and handed it to the headmaster. “I am under Hubert Teacher’s command, Headmaster.”
The headmaster signaled for the flare to be sent, signaling the end of the training.
“You have done your team and your family well, First Year Njeri. I am assigning you and Third Year Kaknab to special training from here on out.”
“Yes, Ma’am, but …” Njeri stopped.
The headmaster chuckled. “You thought it was an assessment for the teachers. It was, but we also wanted to gauge how well our students performed. You will continue training with Third Year Kaknab under the tutelage of Hubert Teacher.”
Muscle-memory brought her arm up in a salute and propelled her legs past the headmaster when her dismissal was given. It was supposed to be over after Hubert Teacher’s assessment. Now she had to train with them even more?! Using her magic to propel them to victory had been one thing, but …
“Just what have I done?”
“Won us the prize, I should think,” Kaknab said, slapping a hand onto her shoulder. “Well done, First Year.”
“How did you arrive so quickly?”
“Quickly?” Kaknab laughed. “You’ve been standing here for a good ten minutes worrying over something, and you were up with the headmaster another ten minutes. Once the signal was given, everyone was carried by boat back to the tower. We arrived a few minutes ago.” He thumbed over his shoulder. “He said we should let you rest.”
“Are you all right? You swam faster than I thought you could,” Hubert Teacher observed.
“Fine, Sir.”
“Good. You deserve a long break after what you did today, but you’ll have to suffice with dinner out.”
Kaknab grinned. “That’s more like it. I’d rather have food than a break, Sir.”

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