Immar Twistfinger strolled casually through the countryside, dressed in a blue robe, with a pointed, wide brimmed hat. It was a ridiculous outfit, but he found that it occasionally helped to look the way most peasants imagined a wizard 'should' look. And today was likely to be such a day. While speaking with a priest this morning, Immar had been advised that his god wanted him to meet someone on the Shildhaven trade road today.
Sometimes he thought the gods took pleasure in being cryptic, just to amuse themselves watching their followers fumble about trying to follow their instructions.
It was nearing mid day now, and Immar had been strolling since just after breakfast. He'd passed a few travelers, but none seemed to him worthy of a deific message. There had been a young woman shapely enough to be a celestial creature, but Immar doubted his libido was a matter of divine concern.
As he passed through a small fishing village he'd not visited before, he saw a small group of children standing around, and heard indistinguishable shouting from the tiny mob. In all likelihood they were throwing bones or partaking in some other childish pastime. Immar remained only vaguely aware of them as he scanned the rest of the village for anything which stood out. As he continued down the road, though, Immar saw that what the children surrounded was not a game, but another child. A young girl, unless he missed his guess.
The other children were hitting her with sticks, and kicking dirt on her. The kind of simple minded cruelty reserved for goblins, and children. Immar had just resolved to frighten the little cretins away from the poor child, when a man from the village interceded before he could, shouting loud enough that Immar could hear him.
"You little beasts! Leave her alone before I tan every one of your hides and drag you to your parents by the scruff of your necks!"
The children complied without argument, collecting into smaller groups and moving off in different directions and, Immar hoped, less cruel forms of play.
With the children now gone, the wizard could get a better look at the young girl, and could see why the children tormented the poor creature. Her face was a mess. A large, unnaturally puffy scar took up most of the left side of her face, devouring her eye, her ear, and large tufts of hair, leaving her red locks thin enough that her scalp was visible on one side.
Immar slowed a bit, impressed by the sheer brutality of her disfigurement. What could possibly leave that kind of horrible mark on a child?
Then he noticed one of the larger boys from before come out from behind a nearby tree and move slowly up behind the girl as she was pulling herself to her feet and dusting off her dress. The boy pushed her to the ground, and Immar was close enough now to hear his taunting.
"Pretty girl, pretty girl, you're so beautiful." His tone was beyond sarcasm. It was contemptuous, even hateful. The girl lay on her face, and she appeared so defeated that Immar quickened his pace to teach the little brat some manners. But before he could reach her, the boy grabbed her shoulders, spun her around--and got stabbed in the eye with the pointed stick the girl was clinging to like a dagger.
With her other hand, the girl grabbed the boy by his tunic, and pulled her face close to his, whispering something the wizard couldn't hear. She then pushed off of the boy, knocking him to the ground before he scrambled to his feet and ran off towards the village. The stick was still stuck in his eye, which bled freely. The organ was probably ruined.
Immar stopped dead in his tracks, stunned. He was only a dozen paces from the girl now, just staring at her back as she watched her attacker flee. If her appearance had not intrigued him before, her quick minded and decisive ferociousness most certainly had. Moving close enough to speak without shouting, Immar asked,
"What did you say to him?"
The girl jumped and turned around, startled.
"Who are you?!" she shot back, clearly distressed by an adult presence so soon after she'd half blinded the boy. Rather than answer her, Immar said
"He deserved what you gave him. I won't tell anyone. But what makes you so sure he won't?"
"Everyone will make fun of him if they know." the girl said, appearing to relax as she shifted her attention to examining the wizard. Immar was silent as she did so, and after only a moment she spoke again. "You're an Illuminan." She stated, without any question in her tone.
Before, Immar had been stunned. Now he couldn't help but let his mouth drop open for a moment. Most humans had never even heard of Illumians, assuming that the lighted runes circling Immar's head were the result of his wizardry, not his heritage. None the less, he corrected her.
"It is pronounced 'Illumian.'" he said.
"I knew that!" the girl shouted. Immar didn't press the point.
"How do you know about Illumians?" he asked instead.
"Vicar Tolkris lets me use his library sometimes." she replied, gesturing towards a small stone building with the symbol of the god Pelor on the door.
Once more Immar was taken aback. Most peasant humans he had met were barely literate, yet this child apparently took an interest in study, and at an age of no more than seven or eight! The wizard had no doubt that this remarkable girl was the one he had been sent to to meet.
"I'm still curious; what did you say to that boy, after you wounded him?"
The girl's eyes dropped to the ground, her fear of Immar as an adult apparently returned. He guessed she had been punished for a sharp tongue before.
Nervously, she said "I told him that now he can be pretty too."
Immar had to suppress a boisterous laugh at that, and knelt to put himself at eye level with the girl.
"What is your name, young human?"
"Erin." she said simply.
"Well, Erin, how would you like to be a wizard?"
Erin's mother was more difficult to convince than the girl herself had been.
"She's seven summers old!" the woman shouted, becoming distressed as Immar continued to press her.
He gritted his teeth as subtly as he could manage. He had to take this child as his apprentice. If not for the will of the gods, then simply because she deserved it.
"How long can your daughter be happy with the books at the chapel?" Immar asked.
"He's right, Mother." Erin chimed in, not one to be left out of adult conversations.
"And even if she could be, what future is there for her in a village this small? The boys who throw rocks at her now won't show her any more love when she becomes a woman."
"Hey!" Erin shouted, turning on Immar angrily. He pressed onward.
"And how effective can a one eyed fisherwoman really be, anyway?"
"HEY!" Erin shouted again, louder this time. "I'm the fourth best spear fisher in this village!"
Immar turned to look at her.
"I really must learn to stop being surprised by you. I apologize for assuming." he said, before looking back to lock gazes with Erin's mother. "But that only goes to demonstrate my main point. Erin is made to face greater challenges than those offered through the eternal struggle between fish and fisher. Let me give her the tools to do that."
"Please mom!" Erin begged.
Her mother looked back and forth between her daughter, and the wizard who wanted to take her away. Tears began to appear on the woman's eyelids.
"Is this really what you want, Errie? You know you can't change your mind once you do this."
Erin seemed a little surprised by that, and turned to look at Immar for confirmation.
"It's true." he said. "I live very far from here, and I am a very busy wizard. I cannot be bothered with an apprentice who is not dedicated to her craft."
Erin's face was as serious as a seven year old's face had ever been. But it only a took her a moment to return her gaze to her mother.
"Yes, mom. I want to." uttered with the solemnity of a soldier.
The woman stepped back until her feet met the edge of a chair, and slumped into it, bringing her hands up to cover her face. When she removed them, Immar saw her try to hide the tears she wiped away.
"Alright." she said, sounding suddenly lonely.
Immar nodded, and moved to the side of the room to begin casting a spell while Erin and her mother made their goodbyes. He heard the woman telling her daughter to be good, and not to forget that she was loved. By the time the woman's heavy sobbing had quieted, the spell had completed, creating a portal in the center of the room.
"Come, Erin." Immar said.
"Just a moment!" she shouted, and ran into the next room. She returned shortly with a bag slung over her shoulder, and a fishing spear in one hand. Immar could see the leg of a stuffed toy sticking out of the bag. The wizard nodded, approving. Nothing about wizardry discouraged a fondness for possessions.
Immar then placed his hand on Erin's back, and turned once more towards her mother.
"You are giving her a great gift. She will always thank you for that."
Before the woman could respond, the wizard and his apprentice stepped through the portal, into a tower several days travel away.
"Welcome home," Immar said.