Authors: David Fredric
Copyright © 201
2 David Fredric
All rights reserved.
I would like to dedicate this book as
a thanks to Mum, Dad, George, Olivia and Charlotte for being the best family I could ever hope to have.
I would like to greatly thank Egan Pashl
ey for the hours of amazing help, editing and ideas.
It was Monday evening and the streets were crowded, despite the thick layer of snow on the ground that would normally put anyone off leaving their houses for anything other than work. I would not have been noticed or known more by the crowds if I had been an invisible spirit, silently passing through the town. No one here cares one bit about small boys and even a glance seems to be too much effort. I don’t really blame anyone; this town’s harvest was lower than last year, food levels are low and many are going hungry. It never crossed my mind that it could be the very last “normal” day of my life.
The carts of leaving
stall owners could barely move in the cramped street, causing my normal straight route between the groceries stands to become a tangled mess of twists and turns around both people and carts. The confusion gave the pickpockets a huge advantage. Just by watching them I was reminded of the stories that I had heard of the Metazilts; the bane of many a traveller, they picked out the weakest target and attacked it with deadly efficiency. I watched a man walk down the street past the new statue of our emperor Cyngen. These statues had appeared in every town and city since he came to the power fifteen summers ago, each more glorified than the last. The man carried an armful of bread rolls and had a large leather bag thrown over his shoulder. He had no idea of what was about to happen.
One of the pick
pockets ran up and barged into the man, almost sending him crashing down onto the cobbled street. The man threw out his arms, and regained his balance but dropped the rolls in the process. He caught the boy and cuffed him round the head, sending him flying into the crowd, before bending down to pick up the rolls. Two more pickpockets snuck up behind the man and skilfully slit open the bag on his back, sending the contents spilling into their waiting hands. The man had no idea and continued picking up his bread rolls. The process was over in seconds; the spoils shared and the culprits dispersed unnoticed into the crowds. Those who did witness it continued on their way clutching their bags tighter; no one dared stop them.
had seen these particular pickpockets previously. They, much like me, had been abandoned on the streets barely weeks old; luckily I had been taken in by a scribe and tutored in the apprentice wing of the Scribe’s Guild. I have been there since, helping scribes, mixing inks and learning to read and write. The pickpockets on the other hand, were forced to scrounge a life from what they steal and taught themselves how to make a living of loot from passers-by.
t them for the first time on the first trip to the market that I could remember. The servant who collected the groceries was sick and I was temporarily replacing him. We had only been ten summers old and an angry shopkeeper had caught them, but I accidentally distracted him by tripping over onto him allowing him to escape. Later the pickpockets thanked me and gave me a piece of meat pie in return, but in fear of being caught, I threw it away when they had gone. We have done no more than respectfully nodded to each other when we pass since then. I watched the boys regroup, before I joined my group by the Beast Wars memorial; A block of stone, exactly three hundred and ninety tree summers old, illegibly engraved with the names of the men from the area who had died in the Beast Wars, some age ago war against mutants from the far east. Once our entire group was together we started back to the Guild.
lked into the Guild’s kitchen; a hall filled with tables on which food was prepared, and open fires with red brick chimneys coming down from the roof that were almost always blocked, leaving the room to fill with smoke. I nodded a greeting to the cooks working on the evening meal and dumped my bag onto one of the tables. I could smell roasting mutton, rotating on a spit.
My hands were cold from the snow outside so I stood by a fire
and warmed them while watching the cook look through my bag. The cook looked pleased, which meant I had brought everything he needed.
A job well done
, I thought to myself
Once feeling returned to my hands I started looking for scraps, as I knew it would be a good hour before any food was ready. Most of the cooks did not like me because, even though I was effectively a servant, they thought I was much more of an apprentice and therefore unfairly dubbed me a snob. One cook however chucked me a green apple; it was slightly sour but helped quench the few hunger pangs I had. I could always steal bread but I am never even close to hungry enough to risk the punishment of cleaning the entire room if caught.
After waiting outside in the corridor for what seemed like a lot mor
e than half an hour, I carried a wooden spoon and a bowl of thick slices of mutton to my master; Master Morrin was one of the many scribes of the Guild and the one to which I was apprenticed. His bowl was full; there was always enough food as the Guild was very well off. If anyone wanted their own manuscript they would pay for days or even weeks of work and concentration and lots of people do pay. Around one hundred years ago a religious faction called the Gomera made all the manuscripts needed but then one day every last follower was imprisoned after apparently trying to make their predictions of the end of the world come true.
uild became very successful and quickly developed into the biggest in the kingdoms with nearly one hundred scribes. As the Guild continued with this work, more and more people wanted manuscripts made, and money flooded in. About fifty years ago the Guild moved here, to the small market town of Almon, where materials and ink ingredients are readily available. A day’s horse ride from the city Risina and a week’s journey from the capital, and Rayne is also not too much of a problem. When I arrived, I knocked and waited at Master Morrin’s door.
me in,” came a muffled call; I opened the door and entered, quickly placed the bowl and the spoon on a table in the corner, shut the room’s window shutters, drew the curtains and then quickly left.
Closing the door behind me, I walked slowly back to the servants
’ end of the guild, not looking forward to the meal as Eric’s gang of bullying brutes would always be there, ready to pounce on me; their favourite target.
g in the doorway to the servants’ dining hall I saw that a large cauldron of soup was hung over a fire at the far end.
All we get is soup! We had soup yesterday and the day before!
My only problem was the servants crowded into the room and around the only table who, as I said automatically dubbed Apprentices as snobs.
At least Eric’s gang isn’t here.
As I stepped through the door I instantly attracted a few annoying glances but I kept looking forward trying to ignore them. As I reached the cauldron I grabbed a spare bowl from a nearby stool and spooned in some soup.
There was of course no room to sit at the table so I stood by a wall and ate quickly.
Looking around cautiously I was relieved to see that Eric’s gang where still not there.
they’re still not here. I'd better get out before they come.
I went for the door; quickly dumping my bowl into the washing tubs and stepped through the door.
To my horror, walking down corridor towards the dining room just happened to be the Eric’s gang
, led of course by Eric himself, who enjoyed making my life miserable at every chance possible. I turned and jumped back into the hall, and jogged as slowly as possible to avoid other unwanted attention, towards second doorway on the far side of the hall, hoping they had not seen me. In two seconds I had reached the other doorway but I glanced back to see Eric had seen me
reached the other doors and instantly our eyes met.
He grinned in the terrifying way that he always does and started chasing. I turned and sprinted through the doorwa
y and down the corridor, going left into another corridor then right into a third, ducking around servants.
, weakling!” sneered Eric from behind me. I rushed past a scribe carrying pots of ink, and narrowly avoided him. But there was no way I was stopping. I could hear Eric running only few metres behind me, his larger size allowing him to run faster and I cringed with fear.
I risked a glance backward and there was my mistake; I ran straight into one of Eric’s friends who pushed me straight to the ground. I was surrounded and on the floor in an instant and at once they set about with painful kicks and pounds to my stomach. I thrashed about trying to get away but they pinned me down all the more.
I was kicked again and again,
each time I cried out, but no one passing by lifted a finger. I simply lay there, as I knew struggling would only make it worse. The kicking stopped but Eric jumped on me, which hurt my ribs and winded me badly. He threw a punch made my nose bleed on contact and I yelled in pain. He then threw another punch that split my lip, and drops of blood slipped down my chin.
y tasted the saltiness of my own blood on my tongue as I writhed in pain and waited for the next punch but the boys just laughed and walked away.
I lay on the floor for a few minutes holding my lip and groaning. I eventually stood up and slowly walked to Master Morrin’s room.
I stumbled into Master Morrin’s room a minute later, cringing at the bruises that were forming on my arms and legs. To make it worse I had a splitting headache. Master Morrin did not even glance up from his work copying out a book that I saw was on poisonous mushrooms. I opened the door for Master Morrin’s washroom that had been the Guilds pantry when his room was the guilds kitchen back when the Guild had just started.
I wandered into the washroom and over to a
washing tub that was on the table filling the tiny room.
The water was cold
yet refreshing, as I wiped off the blood, careful not to get water onto the floor. I walked back into the main room and dumped myself on the blankets that I have to sleep on, the same way I had for as long as could remember.
“It should soon stop
you know.” Said Master Morrin, absent-mindedly.
looked over, to see him looking at me from behind his desk.
What does he mean?
“Sorry?” I replied.
“They won’t be after you much longer” he said. He has no idea. “You can read if you want to.” Now reading always cheered me up and it was a privilege I enjoyed, knowing that only a few people can read.
“I can?” I said and jumped out of bed. I walked to the small bookcase that boasted five large books.
“You can, but write in the book first.” That was bad news. I had to do it every day in my neatest handwriting.
the key from its hiding place in a small pouch on the bottom of the table, walked to the matching small chest in the corner, and unlocked it. The book inside was only just bigger than the size of my hand. The cover had a thin strip of metal down the middle with a small red gem sunk into it.
I took a seat at the desk opposite Master M
orrin and opened up the book on the next blank page. Master Morrin passed me a quill and a pot of black ink and I placed them next to me. I dipped the quill into the ink and started writing the events of the day down in the book. It was hard work writing in my neatest handwriting and it took me about a minute to write just a few words. After what seemed like ages I finally finished, left the book open for the ink to dry and went over to the bookcase for a book to read. I had read all five of the books.
Law and Order’ detailed how our current Emperor Cyngen came to the throne under suspicious circumstances and how tax rates instantly doubled, and lands were snatched for government buildings. It also detailed the new laws Emperor Cyngen had imposed such as making wizardry punishable by death. This had led to the thousand or so mages in the kingdom being publicly executed. You would think that using their rare gift would be of help to build buildings, craft objects, banish bad spirits as well as many other things. The book had been banned and all copies destroyed except this one.
he next book contained many maps of the Empire and explained them in detail. The third described, with illustrations, edible plants that I had spent many nights reading about. I could now provide an armful of food a day through foraging alone. I do this sometimes on ink ingredients-finding trips, going to the forest to find various flowers growing in the area. These are used for ink making and are very expensive to buy.
The next trip is the day after tomorrow
urth book, ‘Wild Creatures’
was about the creatures living in the thousands of miles of forest that dominate the kingdom on the other side of the town’s skirting walls and that we need to keep out. Many creatures detailed in the book are deadly but they very rarely come close to the town clearings when we go on ingredient travelling trips.
he fifth book was about creatures of the sea; these had become more common in recent times and had obliterated the odd ship from time to time. Most of the time this would happen miles from anywhere in the middle of the seas, but other times a boat would be smashed or dragged to the deeps by the creatures just metres from a harbour mouth.