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The Tale of the Apprentice #3

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Tarranau himself went back to the docks to continue the task that he had been about before the arrival of the body, for as much as he wanted to sit and think, perhaps back on the those same cliffs that may have claimed the boy, he had been paid for a task, a task that the ship's master wanted complete before they would sail again out on the open ocean. Plus, the mostly mindless tasks that he was about allowed him to keep his thoughts from straying to the boy, and the battered and broken condition the body had been in when it was brought up the open boulevard to the school.

The apprentice stayed there for longer than was necessary, slowing down on the last tasks that were appointed to him in order to delay his return to the school. Out here, the docks had returned more or less to normal, people going about their business as if nothing had happened, while Tarranau knew that back at the school the mood would be sombre and grim, and thus was avoiding returning for as long as possible. Still, he was finally forced to return that day, and found the students all wandering around campus or in their rooms in little groups, talking and muttering to one another. No raised voices, no running, and no teachers were in sight. Normally, no teachers would be cause for a riot out in the open quadrangles between the buildings, but this day, even the other boys were shushing and quieting those acting in an unseemly manner. That seen, Tarranau headed straight for his room, knowing there was nothing that could be done until dinner time, shucking his robes and crawling into bed, hoping sleep would clear the ugly images of limbs sprawling at odd angles, head half there and partially eaten by fish that had nibbled on the body as it lay floating in the water.

Tarranau shuddered as he remembered the events of that day, late in the spring of this year, and turned his feet from the path to the cliffs, heading instead down into the harbour, where, if nothing else, an open bar and a few coins would at least let him forget about Magister Gothren and the work that he had been assigned for an hour or two.

He arrived at the bar to find that he was not the only student from the school there. A few of the rough around the edge lads, ones who had been born into sailor families, had already gotten a start on the day's drinking, although they weren't too far into the cups, given that the school day had been out for only an hour or two. They were swapping stories and talking with the fishermen and other denizens of the docks, people among whom they had been born, and Tarranau could hear their racaous laughter from where he stood near the door to the establishment, looking for a relatively quite table where he could sit and ponder the future, given Magister Gothren's recent threat, a threat that Tarranau knew he had carried out before on several students who had not met his higher than average expectations for those who wished to learn at his august educational facility.

Spotting a booth in the back that looked relatively quiet and not large enough to encourage other people to sit with him, Tarranau went to the barkeep, getting a drink brewed from one of the seaweeds that grew along the harbour and shores of the island. Tossing a coin onto the bar, he moved to the back, sitting in the booth with his back to the door and stretching his legs, finally enjoying a peaceable, if somewhat noisy, moment for the first time today. An image of the grim Gothren swam back into the forefront of his mind, causing him to reach for a drink and to wonder what to do.

Tarranau didn't come from a particularly wealthy family, and for the mussel farmers that his parents were, the dues from the school were onerous, and it was expected that Tarranau would repay the family by becoming a full-fledged ships mage, entitled to good pay, prime choice among the houses and such of the area, and eventually perhaps a position teaching at the school, a cushy job that he might be able to hold onto for life. However, it also required long hours, days, and weeks on ships, travelling from Tregonethra to Miath Mhor, up the coast to Arnich and Massick and the other towns and villages further north, or south and west to Buid, Dulais, Niam Liad, and even round the peninsula and through the islands to Bethra and the other western-most expansion towns. Those were all long trips, some that might take months or more in either direction, especially if the weather was harsh. And, despite being a ship's mage, after the first week or two of the voyage, he would be eating the same salted pork and dried biscuits as the rest of those onboard, living out of a cabin smaller than his room was now, with semi-rancid fresh water and eternal rocking and rolling.

While Tarranau knew many to whom that style of life appealed, he was not among them and was looking much more for a land-based job for a water mage, one where he could own a house and enjoy the comforts of home and fresh food, small things perhaps, but rare enough for those who would set out on the ocean. One of Tarranau's friends, and a young man who had completed his apprenticeship a year before, possessed no home, and simply kept what few things he owned in a crate kept in the storage area of the school, using whatever room was spare on those few times that he spent days in port.

Money was easy for a man who had nothing to pay for, but no house and ho roots was not a life that Tarranau looked for, and so, with the end of his apprenticeship finally within sight, he wondered where he could go. He could work with the crops, as a few of those who washed out did, helping the waters reach the the plants, but this was a wet island and work of that sort was often few and far between, and connected with times of thin food, an unwelcome sight to those who believed in omens or portents. Beyond that, there were many minor tasks that could be done, but none of those would pay as well as a ship's mage, leaving Tarranau in the predicament of turning his back on the poverty of his family, the anchor that kept him firmly attached to the prospect of being a ship's mage, even if it was not what his heart desired.

Sipping at the dregs of his cup, he put his feet up on the bench across from him and waved at the bartender to bring another one of the same over, making sure the man noticed by placing two coins on the table in front of him, quickly swept up and replaced by a filled mug and a nod from barkeep, an experienced server who had seen many a person disappear into thoughts and mugs. Tarranau ignored the rumbling in his stomach and sank back into himself, seeing his face many years down the road, creased and weather beaten from salt and spray and wind, still alone and unmarried for he spent too much time on the sea to have a wife and child, parents dead from old age, siblings gone their separate ways, and wealthy. However, no other option presented itself to Tarranau as he sat there, morosely staring into the fast emptying mug before him, thinking empty thoughts of wished for employment.

A few more mugs of that drink later left Tarranau with a muddled head, and he began the slow process of crawling back through the evening twilight to the school. Too late for dinner, he simply made his way into the room where he slept, fumbling with the latch as his uncoordinated hands tried to remember how to open the lock. Working it open, he stumbled to the bed, not bothering to undress or perform his evening ablutions before simply collapsing on it in a partially drunken stupor, sleep quickly enfolding a dark, thick blanket over him.

He awoke the next morning with a parched mouth and a throbbing head, quickly reminding him of the morose and downbeat state of mind that he had been in at the bar the evening before. Struggling to the desk, he washed his face and drank some water, feeling slightly better already, although his stomach was complaining bitterly about missing dinner the night before, and so Tarranau went quickly to the food chamber, still dressed in the robes required, although they were crumpled and rather worn after a night's sleep in them. Grabbing at whatever seemed appropriate or edible, he soon had a plate full of large food, stuffing it down in order to make it to his class on time.

The bell rang while he was only half way done, and Tarranau scampered off, blue robes swishing around him as he walked quickly to his class room, a baked roll still in his hand., idly munching on it as he made his way across the campus. Sitting down on the bench where he normally was located, off to the side so he had a wall to lean against, Tarranau looked around, wondering where the rest of the students were, and why Magister Holbenth hadn't filled the board with writing and assignments, as was usually his wont for the early morning classes. Shrugging and leaning against the wall for support, Tarranau waited there, trying to remember if he had missed an announcement that today would be a day spent studying water on the ocean. Unable to remember any such event, waited a few more minutes, napping a little against the wall, before deciding that wherever the class was, he had missed it anyway. Grabbing his things and straightening his robes slightly, the student walked out of the class building, back towards his dormitory. He had at least another half an hour before his next class, so he might as well freshen up some more.

“Oh blast, I forgot, today is Rest day.” It was the one day a week where the students were not required to be learning, and could be the young, or older, boys that they were. Glancing around showed Tarranau a few other students sitting around in normal clothes, laughing and chatting with one another, having only recently made their way out of their cocoons into the bright sunshine of the morning. Smiling to himself at the realization that he had free time, the apprentice's step lightened, a bounce coming into his stride as made his way back to his room, changing into rougher, more sturdy outdoor clothes, putting together a few pieces of food and drink to go with them, appropriate gear for climbing and hiking along the cliffs and seashore outside of the city. A grinning smile took him south out of the city, along the well worn road that branched into a dirt track as it left the urban sprawl behind and up to the cliffs, glowing walls of stone constantly sprayed and battered with water, the roaring of the surf making a throbbing background noise, a low contrast to the high-pitched squawks of the seabirds as they flee along the cliff front, nesting in the crevices and little nooks all along the face of the stone.

Tarranau continued walking though, heading to a little spot that he knew about and that was rarely bothered by other people. It was a small cove set between the cliffs, where they sloped down, forming a little inlet that had stone walls but a sandy floor, protected by sand dunes that marked the high tide line. Here, he would often spend his rest days, sunning himself as he lay on the beach, freed from the often stifling robes, still required to be worn even in the heat of the summer months. Now he stood on the top of the path down, curving from one of the two points that protected the bay back down to the rear of the sandy beach. Laughing and looking, Tarranau saw no one on his beach, and jogged quickly down the path, eager to enjoy the rushing water and welcoming sand. Piling his food and clothes in a dent in the beach, he lay down, eyes entranced by the natural beauty of the surroundings, lit by brilliant sunshine reflected off of the blue waters of the sea.However, he had too much energy for contemplation this day and he dove into the waters, swimming out into the waves, enjoying the cooling feel of the water on his skin, a boy at play in a warm and welcoming sea.

He spent the rest of the day out there, alternately sunning himself in the warmth of the blue sky and swimming in the blue sea that flowed beneath, riding waves as they came up the little inlet onto the beach. Finally, the sun rolled down the horizon, deepening into the red as it touched the waves, and Tarranau gathered his things, squeezing what water he could out of his damp clothes. The remains of his food packed away, he headed back up the path, watching the sun set over the water as he strode along the path, free of the nagging worries that had haunted him the day before in the bar. With little but idle thoughts on his mind, the student made it back to the school, grabbing some quick food to eat from the dining hall as he went back to his room, sluicing himself down with water and cleaning off the salt of the ocean. Refreshed, exercised, and full, Tarranau collapsed into bed, dreams quickly snuffed out as deep sleep overcame him.


The Tale of the Apprentice #3 © Stratovarius

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