The circular room was large, with a high ceiling that seemed to stretch on forever. In the center of the room was a high wooden table covered in spiderwebs, behind which sat seven wizards.
As Merrick dragged me toward them, I let myself tremble like any proper princess would after finally arriving at a villain's lair.
Merrick stopped within an elegantly carved design of stars on the floor before the table, and I allowed myself a weak attempt at pulling away from his grip.
Merrick offered me a one of his grins, and let go of my arm. I shuffled back, then stopped as something pressed against my back. I turned my head, and saw a wall of glowing green stars that rose from the floor's design and up into that endless ceiling.
I turned back in time to see Merrick bow. The wizards at the table watched him, and occasionally looked at me. Whenever they did, I acted the part of a frightened princess.
“Apprentice Merrick, report.” One of the wizard's said, his voice quite reedy.
Merrick kept bowing as he craned his head back to look at the wizards. “I have traveled away from this tower and captured a princess using the magic I have been taught.”
Another wizard spoke, stroking his red beard. “So we see. Who is she?”
I opened my mouth, but Merrick spoke before I could. “Princess Isidore of the Kingdom of Bellstrum, the second-born of King Leopold and Queen Alicia of Bellstrum.”
I stared at Merrick, unable to hide my surprise. I hadn't told him my name, and he'd never asked for it. Was this some wizard magic, or had he known who I was the entire time? Bellstrum wasn't a large kingdom, so most commoners from other kingdoms couldn't even name my father.
The red-bearded wizard nodded. “And how did you capture her?”
“Through the use of Sandera's sleeping spell.”
The red-bearded wizard gave another nod, and the reedy-voiced wizard spoke. “What is that creature?”
Ah, the troll-rabbit. I was wondering if any of them would notice it. I did nothing to hide my relief as the beast hit the other side of the starry wall, unable to get through it to me.
Merrick glanced toward the creature and gave a shaky laugh. “That was a troll that attacked us on the way back to the tower. I attempted to transfigure it, and only managed a partial transfiguration.”
The reedy-voiced wizard frowned as he leaned back. “That will cost you some marks, but not an outright failure, as the best was rendered harmless.”
Harmless? That beast was still trying to eat me! I wouldn't call that harmless.
The other wizards began asking Merrick technical questions about his exam, and I decided not to listen. I was here as the frightened princess, abducted from her carriage and terrorized by a troll. I would act my part, Merrick would become a full wizard, and we would part company.
Unless of course, I was fed to a dragon.
After a couple of hours, the wizard seated in the center of the table lifted a hand. Merrick stiffened slightly, and the other wizards all turned to look at the central wizard.
“One final question.” The wizard began, his voice an aged whisper that strangely seemed to remind me of the stars. “Did you request Princess Isidore's aid in passing this exam?”
Merrick stared at the wizard, before turning those blue eyes to meet mine. The hint of a smile crossed his face, then Merrick turned back to the wizard.
“Yes. It seemed like the polite thing to do.”
The wizards behind the table looked at one another, and then the central wizard smiled.
“Very good, Prince Merrick. You have passed the final exam.”
“Excuse me?” I said, glancing between the wizards at the table and Merrick. “He cheats by asking for my help, and he passes? and why did you call him a prince?”
The reedy-voiced wizard spoke. “The princess test is usually how we're able to weed out apprentices who would use their magic against innocents. However, sometimes the apprentice does not have the skill necessary to complete the other options for the final exam. Whenever an apprentice chooses the princess test, we are careful to monitor their every action during the test, and then question them on their choices. Their choices, and reasoning for them, matters greatly.”
The red-bearded wizard offered a smile. “You would be surprised by how few apprentices who choose the princess test decide to simply ask the princess for help. It is an acceptable method for completing the exam, as a wizard who would ask a royal for help is one who would likely also ask another wizard for help with a problem.”
The central wizard gave another laugh. “Besides, I would be concerned if the heir to a throne didn't ask for permission before taking a princess anywhere.”
I turned to Merrick. “Heir to a throne?”
Merrick grinned. Could nothing stop him from grinning? “Prince Merrick of the Kingdom of Silvercove, heir to King Erick and unfortunate heir to his many greats grandfather Varrick's magic.”
I shook my head. I'd been willingly abducted by a wizard, avoided being rescued by a prince, saved from a troll by having it become a rabbit, only to learn that the wizard who abducted me was in fact a prince.
Well, it was certainly an adventure.