Thursday, 4 October 2012

Scene Four - Prentissed

Scene 4 - Prentissing

Caarg was no more pleased on the day that he managed to free himself of his charges then any other day that Wulf could remember..
They had dutifully splashed water upon themselves and each had made some effort to straighten their tatters and rags, and then Caarg had pulled the wide oaken door completely open and led his charges out from the room that had been their home for most of their lives - down the long stone stairway and out onto the Courtyard....

Caarg held his black horse whip in his hand - but there was no need for its use..    Each of the 37 lads knew only too well the pain that whip could inflict - and today was in some ways a change and a holiday. Not one of them really knew what would happen today. Not one of them knew where they would be sleeping that evening, nor what the future would hold...  It seemed to each of the boys that it could not prove worse than the years on the Fostery Hold... they hoped.

As they came to the courtyard, Wulf could see a similar line of young girls being led from the tower on the opposite end of the square. He could see Lyssa who used to play with him some two years before. Before they were separated. She was turning in to a tall lass, deep red hair and a turned up nose. Wulf had always thought her beautiful, even her sharp freckles across her nose. The others had teased him mercilessly when they were first parted. "Spotface" they called her - but Wulf still thought her striking and sometimes dreamt of her at night as he huddled under his blankets. They could have been a Lord and Lady in a fine Castle or Keep, with servants and squires, and ladies in waiting...  Now she was being led out with the other girls into the shade of the leanto against the wall.

Wulf lost sight of her as he was pushed back against another wall and shoved into line with the other lads.
"Get to the back Cripple"  muttered Caarg grabbing some of the other boys and putting them into line..  Wulf hunched a little more and limped to the rear.
"yes - get back Cripple" said Danto, "If I am going to be picked as Smith I don't want anyone seeing you and thinking I could be weak"

Danto had a good chance of being picked to Prentiss with a smith, thought Wulf. He was a good few inches taller than all of the other lads and already strong in arm. He practiced his strength by lifting the benches and beds from the floor in the Hold. He had determined over a year ago that he would have a proper skill and claimed that his father had been a smith before he had died at his forge, killed, he said, by followers of the Nything.
Wulf dutifully stepped further back. He did not want to spoil Danto's chances.  Danto was probably as near to being a friend that Wulf  had in the Hold. Danto's strength had protected him a number of times when others decided to make fun of the Lame kid, who seemed so nimble at meal times....

At last, Caarg was satisfied with the line of boys and presumably his counterpart with the girls was equally content, as the large bell high in the West tower started to toll. THey all looked expectantly towards the Courtyard entrance where two thralls were turning the wheel to open the giant iron Gates. None could remember seeing the gates open before and each knew that if they closed again today while they were still inside, it would mean that no-one had seen fit to take them for Prentissing - and like as not they would end up turning those wheels just like the thralls.

Life outside may be unknown - but for each in the line it was difficult to imagine that it could be worse than life inside the hold.

One last glimpse of the gates before their eyes were turned down to the ground. Caarg had warned that it would be death or maiming to have the affrontry to look a free man or free lady  in the eye when at the Fosterling...  No one fully believed - but no-one wanted to be the one to test the threat.

Wulf chanted his personal mantra in his mind. "Eyes down to the ground. Move into the background. Don't appear too fresh or youthful or you may end up in a brothel with some of the girls. Don't look too strong or you may end with a lifetime of heavy work as thrall, or rowing in the longboat of some trader."

Danto may prove lucky with his ambition. He had a notice around his neck which Caarg had written. Danto thought it told that he was the son of a Smith and good for the trade. Wulf did not know - he did not have his letters. He had never had a chance to learn. All Wulf knew was that there was no card around his neck to show his skills. He did not think he had any really.. other than dissembling... He was quite good at that... But that would not get him prentissed.

Looking at the ground he could see the feet of those who came to look and to prod. Twice he was told to look up and open his mouth as someone examined his teeth. He knew the rules. His eyes were tight shut as he looked up.  He smelled the stink of sweat and leather... He heard the rustle of rich velvets and the sweet aroma of a pommander. He heard voices raised and voices wheedling, and deals being struck all around him.
He heard Caarg's slimy voice saying "They are all like my children ...  of course I must see them prentissed but for years I have paid to keep them strong and healthy so your lordship would have only the best"
There was a jingle of stel and money passing hands as he heard another of his compatriots taken out of the line and taken away...
He could hear everything, sounds highlighted while his eyes were fixed upon the ground.

Slowly he became aware that there was someone in front of him.
 Too far away for feet to be in his line of vision. He could smell nothing in particular except for the bitter hint of the hot sand on the walkway. He could hear nothing .. in fact that was what confused him most, there was someone directly in front of him he felt sure - but he could hear no breathing, no rustle of clothing, as though a statue had walked from the alcoves and was even now standing in front of him...  

"Tell me of this one" The voice that spoke in front of him was rich and deep in tone. A voice that could be both commanding and courteous at the same time. The voice seemed to pour like honey and it was all that Wulf could do not to immediately look up to see the source of that sound.
"Ain't nothing but a cripple this one."answered Caarg, a little confused, as he hardly expected much interest in the quiet lad who scurried around on his bent foot and kept out of his way.
"But I am sure I can give you a good price for him if your lordship is interested.." He sounded doubtful.
"I am no lord" laughed the Voice, with a resonance of bells and echoes, "I am but a traveller with the Guild.. But if he has a bent leg then he can't run far."
"Oh he wouldn't run from your lordship, urr your Sir-ness" exclaimed Caarg quickly, "All my boys are trained from a young age. They know the meaning of the whip and will be pleased to obey - won't you boy?" The last was directed at Wulf who almost forgot himself and started to look up .. As he opened his mouth to answer - he reeled as Caarg cuffed him around the ear "Eyes down boy !!

Wulf remained silent as he stumbled back to his feet - eyes still downcast.
"Can he move ??" asked the Voice quietly..
"Oh Yes" said Caarg, seeing the opportunity to get rid of the one parcel that he thought would remain. He can get around pretty fast - just a limp. Show him Boy" -
Wulf felt that the whip was out again rather than saw any action - but he limped in a small circle - his left shoulder still hunched over... Not too slow, not too fast - just enough to show that you can't do all the heavy work.."

"He'll do " said the Voice.. "How much??"
The voices of Caarg and the stranger drifted away as they walked out into the sunshine and towards the small booth where the Quartermaster sat with his men at arms keeping talley of the day.

Wulf was left standing against the wall wondering what change his life was to take...
It was half an hour later that the Voice returned..
"Follow me boy!" He said and Wulf dutifully fell into step behind. Now he could see the leather boots, used but serviceable, worn down at the heels but without holes or patches. Heavy britches were above those boots with strips of fur and leather wound around to keep loose material from tangling into the boots.  

No word was made as they found their way to the iron Gates. Wulf dearly wished to look up - to see what those Gates really looked like from underneath - a sight that would be glorious to see - but his knees trembled and his leg hurt and his foot cramped as he limped along. Eyes resolutely upon the floor.

Outside the gates it was hotter than before. No shade was here. the uneven stones of the roadway burned his feet and smells of the huts and shacks that formed the outer ring around the hold smelled of sewage and rotten food. A dog charged up and yapped around his feet but the Voice did not seem to notice - just walked steadily onwards at a pace that seemed just the right speed for the limping boy...

Soon the ramshackle buildings were passed and the unlikely pair headed into the woodlands that surrounded the township. After an hour the Voice said "This seems like a reasonable place" and headed into the woods and into a small clearing,
"Look up boy - you are no Fosterling now - you've been prentissed"

Wulf looked up tentatively. Firstly at the clearing. The trees here were tall and straight and had silver on their bark. The ground between the trees was mossy and quite open. The clearing itself was covered in grass and there was clear sign that a fire had been burned in the past. In fact the Voice was even now rummaging in some undergrowth and pulling out some kindling and a small bundle that looked like clothing.

Wulf had his first chance to see the man who had taken him from the hold. He looked to be about six feet tall when he stood. His clothes were not those of a rich man - but they were serviceable and looked to be light, warm and waterproof though the sun shone strongly today - they did not seem to overheat the wearer. A dagger was in a leather sheath at his side - but no other obvious arms.
Something was wrapped in the bundle that he had puled from the undergrowth which could be a sword or axe - but Wulf could not see. A dark green shirt of a fine weave peeped out from above his doublet leading to the face of a man in his forties. A neatly trimmed beard, brown with wisps of grey, a full mouth and dark piercing eyes. Wulf hesitated to look into the eyes. He had been told to look up but did not want to offend his new lord... His quick glance gave him the impression of depth and darkness and almost a hint of humour...

"Please sir ... to what am I prentissed ??" Wulf hardly dared ask the question - but it blurted out of him ..
"Why ...  to the Bard's Guild" laughed the Voice .. "You are now the prentiss to Gwyddgrug the Bard" ..   The Voice started to put the  kindling together for a fire.
"But.. B.B . but I can't sing or anything " stuttered Wulf..
"What ??" Laughed Gwyddgrug?? " You are not prentissed as a Bard !!!  you are prenitssed as a servant to the Guild .. You will be cleaning and  clearing and doing as you are told.. You a Bard !!!" he smothered his laughter .. "Now get on and make this fire up - and then go and fetch water and start laying out a camp .... And make it snappy or you will feel the heel of my boot!

At least he was out of the Fosterling Hold thought Wulf..  It was the start of a new week....
He never liked to think more than 7 days ahead .. and rarely that far ...

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