I have, perhaps, found my lad, though I am not sure how well he will like it. For that matter, I am not sure how well I will like it. His name is Luc Touchard. He's a smaller lad than most in Bertrand's crew, and he is both quick and quick-witted. He may have the Former's Gift; I think he does, but it is too soon to tell.
Two things are necessary to the making of a master former. (I can hear my father's voice echoing in my head as I write. How I used to loath his lectures, and how essential I shall find them now!) Two things are necessary, as I say. The lad must have the Gift, and the lad must have the wit. "A stupid fellow with the Gift might find work at one of His Majesty's shipyards, providing brute strength to a team of formers, but he will never be able to work on his own or to represent the Guild in any way!" So quoth my father to me on many occasions; and he nearly always followed it up with, "Is that what you want for yourself, lad? I won't have it, I tell you! I won't have it!"
Luc has the wit; and he may well have the Gift. Of all the boys here on the island, he alone might have both. I can look farther afield if I must, but one thing at a time.
This morning I found Bertrand in the mess hall (for the boys whose families are down below eat and sleep here on Le Blaireau) and told him to bring his lads to see me in my workshop this afternoon; and that I'd arranged with some of the young men to take over the watch for that period of time.
"Oh, monsieur," he said. "You don't want to do that. They won't keep watch as well as we do." He's a proud lad, is Bertrand; and of course, being captain of the boys gives him considerable prestige.
"Not to worry, Bertrand, it's just for this afternoon. I'm looking for a lad to help me with my work."
His face got pale. " Moi, monsieur? But—"
"You are perfectly well-employed where you are, Bertrand. You're doing excellent work. But one of your lads might have the skills I need. I won't know until I speak with them." Bertrand is a sharp lad, but I have worked with him enough to be quite sure that he hasn't the Gift.
I lunched with Amelie and little Anne-Marie, and when I came out to my workshop, I found Bertrand and his lads in residence. Or, rather, all but one of them. Bertrand was sitting on my workbench with his lieutenant Jean-Marc by his side, and ten or twelve other lads lolled about on the floor, but one was missing.
"Bertrand, where's the other boy?"
"Other boy, monsieur?" Bertrand is skilled at getting in trouble, or at least he was before I put him in harness, but his facial expressions are most transparent.
"Yes, the other boy. I don't know his name, but I have often seen him with you and Jean-Marc."
Bertrand shrugged a little, and continued trying to look blank.
"I saw him sitting next to you at breakfast this morning. Sandy hair? About a head shorter than you?"
At that, Bertrand deflated. "Oui, monsieur." He dropped down from the workbench and straggled out the door and around the corner, returning only a moment later with the boy I remembered. Apparently the lad had been listening from out of sight.
"And what's your name, lad?" I asked.
"Luc Touchard," he said.
"Your father's a farmer?"
"Bon. Now, lads, here's what we're about. I'm looking for a smart young fellow to help me here in my workshop. I'm going to speak to each of you in private, over there; and when I'm done with you, you can go about your business. If you were to be on watch this afternoon, you can take a sled and go to your post; otherwise, you can do whatever you normally do. Do not come back to my workshop to talk with your friends. Got that?"
"Oui, monsieur," they all said, and inwardly I marveled. Authority is a peculiar thing, and somehow I have acquired it! I should never even have attempted to control such a large group of boys when I first came to Armorica.
"Bertrand, I rely on you and Jean-Marc to keep order. As I finish with each boy send the next along. Jean-Marc can come last." Jean-Marc is another boy that I know quite well; he hasn't the gift either, and truthfully I didn't intend to speak to him at all.
Bertrand nodded, but he had a gloomy expression on his face.
I walked across to the avenue to a bench outside the door to my quarters, and we began.
I have never examined candidates for apprenticeship before, and my memories of my own examination are dim; not that there was any chance that a son of my father's line would lack the Gift. But fortunately it is one of the things I was required to write into my grimoire prior to becoming a journeyman (not that I was ever allowed to journey); for a journeyman is on the way to being a master, and a master must know how to examine an apprentice.
The Gift cannot be seen with the naked eye, not quite. There are certain marks to look for: a certain cast to the eyes, a certain set of the chin. Formers tend to have long, thin fingers. These marks I could look for without commenting on them, and I did so. Then there were the questions. What was his earliest memory? Did he ever dream of strange lights? Had he heard voices not his own in the darkness? If so, what did they say? There are a number of these. No man now living knows what they mean, or why formers so often give the same answers to them, so my father said. But they do.
One lad, a dull, thick, fellow, had the chin and fingers I was looking for; and he had often dreamed of lights, among other things, but I could tell he would not do. He was a good lad, stolid and eager to please, but he lacked that spark of wit. In my father's hands he might make a steady but boring living in the shipyards, given a team of brighter formers to work with, but we were not doing that sort of work, nor do two formers make a team. I made a note of his name, though. The time might come when he can be of use, and his future children will be worth watching.
Others had one or two of the marks, or answered a question or two in the desired way, but this, my notes assured me, was not uncommon.
And finally there were three boys sitting across the way: Bertrand, Jean-Marc, and Luc. I waved, and Bertrand gritted his teeth and told Luc to go. Luc looked uncertain, and Bertrand shouted at him, and he came over hanging his head.
I'd feared it would come down to this. Luc had the eyes, and the chin; he had the fingers; and as I spoke with him it became clear that he also had the wit. He answered the questions well. I finished with a question that wasn't on the list.
"Bertrand seems to be a little upset. Can you tell me why?"
He shrugged, his face still downcast. He knew, all right, but he wasn't telling.
"Very well. If your father agrees, Luc, you are going to be working here with me in my shop as my apprentice. I will speak with him. For now, you may go."
"Oui, monsieur." He ran off, his head still down.
I walked over to where Bertrand and Jean-Marc were sitting.
"Thank you for your help, Bertrand," I said. "Luc will be working with me, now, I believe. You may go."
Bertrand was scowling as he went off. I shall have to find out what is behind that.