Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring in Wermspittle (IV)

School of Hard Knocks
For the first few weeks of Spring, professors and other scholars and academics tend to stay off the streets unless accompanied by bodyguards. Lots of bodyguards. Preferably big, scary ones. Wherever they go, the scholars and instructors are mobbed by scores of arrogant, earnest, precious, desperate applicants seeking entry into the Academy, the Colleges, the Schools or Clinics. Every expert, adept and master has their pick of the surfeit of fresh young things vying for some sort of a chance to prove themselves, any kind of opportunity to better themselves. Apothecaries and academics, surgeons and sorcerers all post their requirements and conditions for acceptance as an apprentice only to face an onslaught of applicants. Many hire extra staff just to handle all the eager young would-be apprentices. The majority of the legitimate opportunities are filled and spoken for within the first two weeks. Then the scammers, frauds, and agents of the Corruption Trade descend upon the disappointed and desperate remnants and left-overs before they fully realize that the parties are all over.

There are scholarships, of course, but qualifying for those is even more difficult than fighting one's way through the bureaucratic gauntlet and the impromptu extracurricular arenas. Those who fail the admissions tests, get passed-over or drop-out in the midst of the mad rush of would-be new students entering academia still have a shot at becoming an apprentice, intern or unpaid assistant. Not all professions require a degree or a diploma. Many can only be entered, legitimately, via an apprenticeship or period of scholastic indenturement. In some cases this is a real fast-track to power or fame, in others it is as much a dead end as delivering questionable meat to the Goules of Latterkamp in Winter.

A Bitter After-Taste
Quite a number of young people wake up to a harsh reality come the last two weeks of April. Those who have been admitted to the colleges, institutes and learning clinics have left them behind. The dancers have gone back to their regular jobs, the liquor is no longer flowing quite so freely and the landlords want to be paid. All those wagon-loads of provisions sent along with young Johan or Elsbeth by their parents are empty, picked clean by revelers. The teamsters have already headed out of town carrying loads of salvage or handicrafts to the trading camps of the few merchant caravans worth rendezvousing with before the onset of Summer.

Piper's Wages
For many young people it is a harsh way to wake-up. Dunners and debt-collectors seem to come out of the wood-work. Doors get locked and windows barred. The Patrols start making the rounds again. Things that were tolerated, even gleefully encouraged during the Revels get punished, often summarily and harshly. Vices that were freely catered to before are hard to find and expensive when the once-friendly peddlers are finally found. All that was free now comes at a stiff price. Loud noises attract unwanted attention. Even a smile can start a fight among strangers. But few such scuffles last for very long before the Patrol descends upon them and sorts it all out. Those with money can walk, those who are destitute can either take their chances in the pits or ask for the Low Court to assign them some municipal service. Most just get auctioned off to debt-collectors and usurers who like to invest in the futures of trouble-makers who show promise as fighters, gladiators, or other types of servants. The Dusk Bells ring once more and the old contraband water clocks start to keep track of the hours again. Order is to be restored. Time matters again. There is much work to do and only a short time left in which to get it all done before the frost comes back and the hard times descend like a shroud over the city.

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