Chapter 3 Scene 3

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 12 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Preparations of a different sort were underway in Guardian Village. A quint earlier, the streets were filled with youths, enjoying the last idle days of summer. Now, the streets were awash with supply wagons, and rang with the clamor of construction as the market square was built out with temporary booths and stalls for display of harvest wares. Fronek’s news had brought the harvest early, and every able body was hard at work preparing for the Bazaar. Devon was no exception.

Even Fronek had pitched in as a temporary ranch hand to help Geoff with his herd. He and Devon were strolling across the west flank of the grazing land, chivvying the milling goats toward a break in the eastern fence where Geoff stood judging which animals to cull. As each animal approached the gate, he would stand to one side or the other. He sent the dams, most of the kids, and the healthiest bucks to the north, where handlers wrangled them into large grazing pens built for ten animals each. He sent older billies, some older doe, and a few of the kids through a chute to the south. Handlers put these animals into smaller pens to be sold at the Bazaar.

Knowing the fate of the animals sent south as he did, this was one of Devon’s least favorite harvest jobs. Although he hid his reservations well, Fronek was not fooled. But he said nothing until later that evening at Mabel’s Inn.

“If you don’t mind my prying Devon, why do you work the cull out at Geoff’s ranch if it bothers you so?”

Devon colored imperceptibly in the dim light of the common room. “Am I that obvious?”

“You wouldn’t be to most people, don’t worry.”

Devon ducked his head, holding his breath a long moment before letting it out in a sigh. “Geoff pays better than I could earn as a picker at the orchards and vineyards.”

Fronek’s eyes narrowed, but he had suspected as much. “You seem powerful worried about golds for a boy of only fourteen ‘turns.”

“Most boys of fourteen ‘turns have a family holding to look forward to, or parents to help pay their apprenticeship fees. What do I have?” He raised his head to look Fronek directly in the eye, daring him to contradict.

Fronek weighed his response carefully. This was the moment Mabel had warned him about, the one he had simultaneously hoped for and dreaded since he had first met Devon as a child. “You have Mabel. I’m sure she would take you on as an apprentice Innkeeper here if you asked for it.”

Devon shook his head. “No. If I did as you suggest, what would happen to Elspeth? This will be her Inn one day, and she deserves it. Nobody works harder for this place than she does.” Devon shook his head firmly once more. “I won’t take that away from her.”

Fronek asked the next question as delicately as he could, but knew it could not be avoided. “What about your mother’s stead?”

“I can’t go back there. There’s nothing left of it now. Nothing but their graves.” Devon’s eyes glazed over, remembering a long buried pain.

“I’m sorry lad. The dust plague took a great toll on this town. But in the last ten turns, it has rebuilt. And faster than flame at that.”

A single tear streaked Devon’s dusty face. “I can’t even remember her face anymore. Not even her face. It’s almost as if she never existed.”

“Oh Devon, I’m so sorry.” There was nothing more he could say. He briefly squeezed the boy’s shoulder, and then left him to his thoughts while he got two mugs of ale from Elspeth at the bar. When he returned to the table, Devon was more composed.

Fronek held one mug and slid the other across the table to Devon. “Well Devon, what are your plans then?”

Devon tipped his own mug, but nearly choked on it when he realized it was ale and not water. It was the first time he and Fronek had shared strong drink, and the gesture was not lost on the boy. He mustered as much bravado as he could find. “I intend to apprentice at a guild school in the Fertile Plains, if I can find one that will take me.”

Fronek nodded. “The beginning of a sound plan. How will you get to the Fertile Plains?”

“I’ll join one of the southbound wagon trains leaving the Harvest Bazaar. I have been saving my golds to buy passage.”

Fronek raised his eyebrows fractionally. “Have you now? Good then, which guild did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know yet, but I will.”

Fronek nodded again, agreeing with Devon’s determination, if nothing else. “I’m sure you will. What city?” This question drew a blank stare.

“And I’m sure you have considered the apprentice fee?” Devon’s blank stare turned to a frown of dismay. Fronek watched the bright flame of determination in Devon’s eyes dwindle to a mere spark. He was pleased to see that although that light was much diminished by these obstacles, it did not gutter out. The boy was ready.

“I have a proposition for you Devon.”

Devon looked intently at the older man. “I’ll always listen to you Fronek.”

Fronek chuckled. “Careful or I may hold you to that one day, lad. Buying passage south will cost you golds that you should be saving for your apprentice fees. And you don’t know enough about the land south of the Barriers to choose a destination, let alone a guild.”

Devon swallowed. “I know you’re right.”

“You need to travel a bit, see the land and its people, without paying for it, or better yet, to do all of that and get paid for it at the same time. This is the proposition so listen well. Sign on with me as guard assistant with a wagon train. You’ll do as I say without question until I think you’re able to make it on your own.”

“In return, you get training in basic defense, offence, strategy, and history. You’ll receive a fifth part of my wage for each job we complete. If you still want an apprenticeship when the time comes, my training will help you get into the Soldier’s Guild. Or if you prefer a different guild, I can help you pick the best city to test in.”

With each sentence, Devon’s face lit up, until his eager expression brightened the whole room. “Fronek, I don’t know what to say…I never thought…”

Fronek held up his hand to stop Devon’s stammering. “Before you leap into this lad, I must warn you. You won’t have an easy time of it. You’re already a strong guide, so I’ll expect you to track, scout, and forage for me. You’ll have to take care of our gear, our stock, and our camp. You may be expected to defend caravans against animals, or possibly even bandit raids. If it comes to it, you may have to kill.”

“In addition to those duties, you will be expected to attend to your training. I will accept no excuses. And I will not release you from your bond until I am certain that you are ready. This is no short term job that you take for a quint and then leave. You must consider this carefully before accepting my offer. Take the night to mull it over. If you want the job, you’ll have to come find me tomorrow. Then we’ll start your training. Agreed?”

Devon swallowed the lump in his throat, but his eyes were bright. “Yes sir.”

“Good.” Fronek pitched his voice to carry to the rest of the dinner crowd in the common room. “Now I think it’s high time for a tale of adventure, what say you Guardians?” The roar of approval from the rest of the patrons was answer enough. After draining his ale mug and setting it on the table, he nodded briefly to Devon before wading across the room toward his place near the hearth.

Pausing only to sip from the mug of cider previously set aside for him, Fronek launched into the rowdy tale of a young merchant’s apprentice who passed himself off as a soldier’s apprentice to impress a lady. Unfortunately, his masquerade was so successful that he became embroiled in a series of adventures in an attempt to prevent a bloody border war between the lady’s arrogant suitors. It was a favorite at the Inn, and Devon knew it almost by heart. But tonight he barely heard a word of it, and his eyes were lit by a fire from within as he considered Fronek’s proposal.

On the other side of the common room, Mabel’s eyes were bright for different reasons. She didn’t overhear what Fronek and Devon had talked about so earnestly, but she didn’t really have to after seeing Devon’s face. She knew what his choice would be even if the boy did not. She shared his joy, and knew that Fronek would watch over Devon as she had asked. But that knowledge was bittersweet. By the time this ‘turn’s Harvest Bazaar was over, Devon would be leaving Guardian Village.

Comments are closed.