Never Alone No. 7 – A Departure

The sun rose to find Eirik out of bed and already making preparations to leave. He had decided to leave most of the finery he preferred behind in favor of travelling clothes—brown shirts and trousers, mostly, with an overcoat and a wide-brimmed hat for the inevitable summer storms. Tucked beneath all that at the bottom of the chest, there was a set of formal robes, which Eirik would wear into Jötunberg. You only got one chance to make a good first impression, after all.

The matter of the coach had been a bit more difficult. He would have liked to hire one, along with a driver, but despite his status as a mage and a nobleman’s son he did not have much in the way of personal wealth, and he had forgotten just how much the care and feeding of a team of horses and a driver cost. He’d ended up signing out one of the Guild’s coaches. It would cost him nothing but the hours of attention he’d have to spend driving it. Perhaps the aspirants could bear some of the burden, he mused.

He hoped they wouldn’t mind his tardiness. Keeping a stable in the High Quarter would have been too showy a display of wealth for the Aendemancers’ Guild; Eirik had to walk to the Riverfronts before driving the coach back, and after getting lost along the way, asking Book for directions, and begging the Guild’s stablemaster for horses instead of reindeer, it was already an hour past sunrise when he returned to the Guild hall.

Of course, he had earned the title of Master, and the aspirants hadn’t. It was entirely his prerogative to keep them waiting, but that was bad form, and he figured the trip would be marginally more tolerable if he was on their good side. He left the coach with a servant just inside the front gate, and walked a few minutes to an open field hemmed in by two of the Guild’s outbuildings. In an hour or so it would be busier, filled with masters watching their students train their bodies so to better train their minds; the Assembly was over, and the Guild was falling back into its usual routine.

Now, though, it was empty but for Eirik’s charges. They sat side-by-side on a trunk, chatting to pass the time. Nissa held her arms out to the sides, outlining shoulders much broader than her own, then waved a finger in scolding. She wore an expression of mock gravity, and although Eirik couldn’t hear her words, her voice was deeper. He wondered who was getting aped.

He might have asked, if they hadn’t sprang to attention the moment they saw him coming. Pushing aside the thought that it might have been him, he told them to get their things and come along. They hefted the trunk between them and followed Eirik back to the cart, where servants tied their luggage down next to Eirik’s. The aspirants got in, and Eirik clambered up to the driver’s box. He took the reins, and last look over his shoulder toward the Guild’s main hall and decidedly mixed feelings, steered the coach out onto the road.

It was half an hour to the edge of the High Quarter, and well past midday by the time they made it through the tangled messes that served the Riverfronts for roads. The soldiers at the gate gave the coach a brief inspection and waved Eirik through to the Low Quarter.

Once upon a time it had been a pleasant collection of small towns and villages, and then the war had flooded it with refugees. The towns had grown together, and then the city reached out to overtake them, and now, after the criminals had moved in, it was no longer quite so pleasant a place.

Eventually the buildings grew more widely spaced, and then the Low Quarter faded into the countryside. Eirik was glad to wave to the soldiers at the last guard tower and leave the city behind. A few miles beyond the outskirts there was an inn which would never go out of business. When Eirik pulled the coach into the yard, it was packed as usual with the daily traffic in and out of the city. He handed the reins to a groom and opened the coach’s door to find the aspirants packing away a tafl set, one of the ingenious sets with a system of pegs and holes to permit the game to be played while in motion.

Eirik had them get their things, and went inside to see what he could afford on the Guild’s miserly budget. It turned out to be three beds in a common room.

Later, he laid down, closed his eyes, and tried to sleep through the noises of a dozen other people. He sighed. It was going to be a long trip.

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