Article by Christopher G. Nuttall
Whitehall sits within a valley on the northern edge of the Craggy Mountains, on the border between the Allied Lands and the Blighted Lands. To the north, a road leads down the mountains to Dragon’s Den – the only nearby town of any significance; to the south, there are a handful of rocky paths that lead into necromantic territory. The mountains are regarded as impassable, at least for a sizable army. Whitehall is, in effect, the cork keeping the necromancers from flooding into the Allied Lands. As such, it is a fortress and military garrison as much as it is a school.
Whitehall’s history is something of a mystery, at least outside a handful of people who know the truth. The generally-accepted version of the story is that Lord Whitehall and his Commune stumbled across an abandoned castle and, eventually, turned it into the first true school of magic. There are, however, too many question marks over the story for it to be taken entirely seriously. For one thing, it is clear that the castle itself predates the school by at least two hundred years … so who built it? And how did they manage to tame the nexus point when all other attempts had failed? And why were a number of records destroyed during the Faerie Wars? All that can really be said for sure is that the school has existed in its current form for the last five hundred years.
The weather surrounding the valley is utterly unpredictable, thanks to the nexus point under the school and the currents of magic flowing around it. It isn’t uncommon for the school to be half-buried in snow during summer or swelteringly hot during winter. Students are advised to beware of sudden changes in the weather, as they can be savage. Most students who go walking in the lower reaches of the mountains – a common activity on weekends – make sure to take coats with them.
Whitehall itself is a blocky castle, topped with a number of shimmering towers. The school glows white, although it is unclear if the castle itself is white or if it’s a side effect of the wards. There are only three entrances: the Main Gate, the Servants Gate and the Arena Gate. Students will enter through the Main Gate when they first arrive at the school, but afterwards will use the other two gates until the end of term.
Outside, the front of the school is dominated by the lawn, while the rear holds the Arena, training grounds and zoo. Whitehall is well-known for having the largest collection of dangerous animals in the Allied Lands, including centaurs, unicorns and, until recently, a mimic. The Herbal Garden, positioned to the west, allows the staff and students to grow potions ingredients for harvesting. Whitehall grows almost all common potions ingredients on site.
Inside, Whitehall is considerably larger than it seems. The interior of the school is mutable, with classrooms often being summoned into existence and then allowed to slip away again once the term is over. It is difficult for anyone to explore the unused reaches of the school, as some of the abandoned sections – which have been shuffled away from the inhabited sections – can be quite dangerous. Most students learn very quickly how to use their magic to navigate around the school. Below Whitehall lie the catacombs, which are sealed off and forbidden to all students. Rumours persist of dangerous monsters lurking below the school.
Whitehall is ruled by the Grandmaster, who answers to the School Board, and operated by the tutors. Each subject is headed by a Senior Tutor, who normally has a small staff of Junior Tutors. All tutors are expected to teach practical classes, which ensures that frauds are rapidly sniffed out and unceremoniously removed. Technically, the housefathers and housemothers are not tutors, but wise tutors listen to them anyway. They often know more about what’s going on with the students than the formal teaching staff.
Below the tutors is the Head Pupil (Head Boy or Head Girl, depending on who gets picked) who is nominated and elected by the tutors. Other upper-year students are expected to serve as prefects from time to time, supervising detentions, running clubs and other tasks that would otherwise have to be handled by the teaching staff. The posts are not worthless, not in Whitehall. Running a school club actually looks impressive on one’s CV.
The vast majority of Whitehall’s students are either from magical families or newborn magicians (i.e. the first person in their families to have magic), although there are a number of exceptions. Whitehall plays host to enough students from feuding families – or kingdoms – that the Grandmaster enforces a strict ban on allowing the feuds to grow out of control. A student who persists in feuding, after a stern warning has been issued, may be expelled without further ado. Whitehall values its political neutrality.
Upon arriving at the school for the first time, students are assigned to dorms where they meet their roommates for the first time. Two first-years will generally be paired with a second-year student, particularly if one or both of them is newborn and unprepared for a magical environment; the second-year will be responsible for showing them the basics and teaching them how to fit into the school. Students from magical homes find the accommodations bland and basic; students from elsewhere find them incredibly luxurious. Showers, for example, are not common in the Nameless World.
All first-year students take basic classes, although some students may already be familiar with magical theory, charms and alchemy. First-year students can take their qualifying exams at any time, although it is normal for them to be held near the end of the school year (and a student who fails badly enough, when tested, is likely to be denied the right to take the exams again until the end of term). Once they have mastered the basics, their names will be put down for second year, where they can pick a handful of classes as well as the compulsory ones. It’s uncommon for any first-year student to be jumped into second-year; normally, the tutors prefer everyone to enter at the same time.
There are a handful of exams at the end of each year, mainly to confirm that a student can pass into the next year without needing extra tuition, but the most important exams come at the end of fourth and sixth year. The fourth-year exams give a student the right to leave the school and seek employment elsewhere, while the sixth-year exams prepare a student for apprenticeship if they wish to seek a mastery. A student who fails his or her exams may be expected to retake the year.
Outside classes, students are expected to do private research … but there are plenty of ways to have fun. Whitehall prides itself on a number of Ken teams, who battle constantly for dominance; it isn’t uncommon for victorious students to compete against other schools in the global league. There are also a number of other clubs, from Kingmaker (a version of chess) and Freeze Tag to debate and mountain climbing. Students are encouraged to take part in clubs, as they see fit, but advised to put their schooling first. Whitehall’s staff will be very unsympathetic if they believe a student failed his exams because he was playing too hard.
That said, Whitehall’s approach to discipline is both alarmingly lax and terrifyingly strict. Tutors do not, as a general rule, bother to force students to study outside class; their general feeling is that someone who doesn’t study, and doesn’t master the background, is likely to fail their exams … and it is their own stupid fault. At the same time, they come down like a ton of bricks on anyone who keeps someone else from studying. If Jim turns Jill into a toad – and Jill couldn’t study or missed classes – Jim will be in hot water. Even talking in the library can get a student in serious trouble, particularly during exam season.
Students are warned, during their introductory sessions, what not to do. Some rules make sense – defying a tutor is a guaranteed trip to the Warden – while others are more specific to Whitehall. Casting spells on younger students and servants is forbidden (casting spells on older students is permissible, but older students are permitted to retaliate if younger students start something). It is also forbidden for first-year students to receive any courtship or marriage proposals, not least because half of them are too unaware of the forms to understand what they’re getting into. Students are permitted to have relationships, and contraception potions are freely available, but there must be no more than a year between the two parties.
Punishments are severe, ranging from straight corporal punishment (administered by the Warden) to writing lines, essays and long cross-country runs. Most punishments are devised to help teach lessons; a student who failed to hand in an essay on time might be charged with writing an essay explaining why the first essay was important. A student who made a mistake – as opposed to deliberate malice – might be invited to research the mistake instead of facing a sharper punishment.
Whitehall is not a specialist school, unlike either Stronghold or Laughter, although a number of tutors carry out research programs in their spare time. It isn’t uncommon for a student who leaves Whitehall to spend a year at a more specialised school before taking on an apprenticeship. But students who attend Whitehall can expect to make contacts, meet potential allies, rub shoulders with the rich and powerful …
… And forge friendships that can last a lifetime.