Another year. More money than most people dream of, for one more year here.
I look at the contract. It is printed on thick, expensive paper and presented in a leather folio embossed with the name of the kind of law firm who will leave no holes, no wiggle room.
The Headmaster is a pointy-bearded little man. Most of the students here call him Mr Tumnus. Not to his face, of course. But the resemblance is striking. Right now, instead of walking through a snowy landscape with too many presents to carry, he is sitting, fingers outstretched- this is the church, this is the steeple- and elbows resting on the large antique desk that was here the first time I was in this office, such a long time ago.
Then, I was confused. I thought I was in some kind of trouble. I guess, in a way, I was. He reassured me then, in a way. Said being special made its own kind of trouble. I was here to help me avoid most of it.
Now I am sitting in a large office chair while he tells me that they’ll support me through the first term. Just get through the first term, he says, and you’re laughing. He said that to me when I first arrived, too.
We’re isolated, out here. The Tower is a local landmark, but one that no local would go near. Students aren’t allowed to leave until and unless they have shown that they can control themselves. And there is no greater frustration, or motivation, than being stuck in a tower on a hill, with only a few staff and other kids like you for company. When we get here, without exception, everyone thinks that ‘special’ means they are the only one. That this will be some kind of training montage. They expect to be unique, completely exceptional. It’s not unreasonable. Until they come here, they have been exactly that. But here- suddenly, the playing field is level again. It’s a hard lesson.
But you learn. First control, obviously. Then you start to focus in- what do you want to be? Which of the many things that could make you really unique fires your passion? You start to choose- the choices made obvious by the strengthening of your abilities in those areas. You get good. Then you get very, very good. And then, work- usually governments, sometimes very wealthy benefactors, and, on extremely rare occasions, the military. The Tower teaches you a lot of things. How to avoid being used by others as a tool is one of the ones that sticks. Most of all, the ‘and then’ is the world beyond The Tower, and the villages surrounding it.
Except for some of us. I’m told that you have to be truly exceptional to be asked to stay. They need the strongest to bring out the strength in the new students, and to control it when they themselves cannot. They never ask us to stay longer than a year. And it’s money. A lot of money. Enough that you never have to work again if you don’t want to, and don’t mind a quiet life. But it’s another year here. All of your friends leave, and a year is a long time with schoolfriends. It’s another year away from the world outside and its comings and goings. Another year of not knowing what your life will be.
So why is it that I take Mr Tumnus’s Mont Blanc and sign? Simple. And not even financial. I’d quite like to work when I leave. See what it’s like. It’s not even that I wasn’t especially close to the others in my class, because even on the level playing field, I was still ahead.
It’s the new kids. Someone has to give them a chance.