I’d felt calm and collected as I’d handed the list back to the messenger, but as I walked away from the square a pace behind Kellan my heart was racing, and I couldn’t keep my hands from shaking. It wasn’t fear I was feeling, I told myself, I was just excited, and if I was a bit nervous alongside that, well, that was only natural. After all, I’d never been away from home before.
Kellan looked less nervous than I felt, but he’d decided to walk to the workshop with me instead of heading right back to the inn. He was also making chitchat in the same way he did when he’d done something that was going to get him in trouble. “I was glad to see Hamund and Munder there, they’re solid folk. Not sure about Gil, though, as a warrior. Good grip, of course, and thumbs like iron, but not sure about his ability to swing a sword.” He mimed a couple of sword swings for emphasis.
I gave him a playful shove from behind, trying to find an outlet for my nervous energy. “Says the one who sits indoors and brings drinks to patrons all day.”
“Drinks are heavier than you’d think,” Kellan said. He grabbed my arm, pulling me around him and forward. I had to take a few steps forward to catch my balance, and he took the opportunity to rush up behind me and grab me around the neck with one arm, locking his other arm around the wrist. “Besides, I’m not just a brute like you, Col, I’m a cunning strategist with an eye for tactics. I’ll be leading our team in a week, just you wait and see.”
I grabbed hold of Kellan’s arm with both hands and bent forward, lifting his feet off of the ground. He was a few months younger than me, and nearly half a foot shorter. I started bucking left and right, throwing Kellan from side to side. “Your tactics can’t save you from brutes! Like! Me!”
I heaved forward and dropped to one knee. Kellan went up over my shoulders, hitting the ground on his back. He grimaced and wheezed, and then held his hands up in surrender. “Ok,” he said, coughing a few times, “I take your point.” He pushed himself up with his elbows, to a sitting position. The back of his shirt was wet with the snow melt that trickled slowly between the cobbles. “But there’s two things that I know that you don’t.”
“Oh?” I asked, extending him my hand. He took it, and I pulled him to his feet.
He nodded, brushing off the back of his trousers. “The first is that the back door of the bakery is just down that alley,” he said, pointing to the side of the street, “and I’m going to go break the news to Merey about my going away.”
“I’m sure she’ll be heartbroken,” I said, deadpan. “And the second?”
“The second is that you’re going to have to get your tools from the square before you go back to the workshop, or Vardon is going to lock you in the gravel bin again.”
I looked down at my empty hands. Of course. My tools. I shook my head. “I didn’t even notice.”
“I did,” Kellan said, as he strolled off toward the alleyway, “before we even left the square.”
“And you couldn’t remind me then?”
“Could have, but didn’t. Thanks for the escort!” He ducked into the alley before I could find anything to throw at him. I shook my head. At least my nerves had calmed down and my hands weren’t shaking any more. Not quite so much, anyway.
By the time I’d got back to the square and packed up my tools, the time was nearly noon. Finishing the well would have been out of the question, with all of the people who were still milling around the square or who had arrived late to speak with the messenger about the recruitment or other matters. I stacked up the stones on the curb next to it and lowered the wooden cover back over the top. It would keep until Master Vardon got to it.
I made my way back to the workshop, tool roll and mallet in hand this time. The streets were quieter than was usual for this time of day, but not much less busy; fewer stood out on the streets having conversations, but it seemed like half the town was out and about on errands of one kind or another.
The workshop was a two-story building, with an open lot full of supplies beside it. The sides of the ground floor that faced the street and the lot had no walls, just a series of log pillars with stone footings holding up the floor above and a gutter and low stone threshold between and around the pillars to keep the water from running in. In winter we’d strung up simple tarps of canvas to keep out the chill wind, but a few had been rolled up and tied to the posts to let the early spring sun warm the space within.
Vardon nodded to me as I ducked in under the canvas. From the look of things he’d finished drawing up the plans for a new project, I wasn’t sure what, and was hanging them up on the wooden wall opposite the street with thin copper nails and a small hammer. “Oskar just paid us a visit,” he said. “He only left a few minutes ago, you might have run into him on the street.”
It wasn’t phrased as a question, but I knew he was looking for a response. “I didn’t see him out there, I had some things I had to finish up with Kellan before I could leave.”
He looked me up and down. “Which explains the muddy knee.” He chuckled to himself and said another Euphentine saying, one I was less familiar with. It sounded like something along the lines of ‘the nature of the child is to be childlike’.
I set my tool roll down on one of the low workbenches that sat in the middle of the workshop. “I assume he had a reason.”
Vardon finished tapping in the last nail. “He did, in fact. He said he’d been asked to invite us to dine with your family tonight.”
“I’m not interested,” I said quickly, “I have a lot to do tonight to prepare to leave.”
“I would imagine Oskar does, too. He said he’s leaving with you and the others tomorrow.”
I picked up the tool roll again, moved it to my worktable, a move that served to put my back toward the old man. I tried to think of a better excuse, a more concrete reason, and couldn’t. “Still, I can’t. You can go if you want to, but I have too much to do here. They’ll have to accept my apologies.” I unrolled the tools, started slotting the chisels back into their slots in the table.
“It’s just dinner, boy. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that. They just want to see you before you leave.” Vardon sat down on one of the benches. “Oskar said your mother, in particular, wanted to talk to you before you go.”
I stopped, a toothed chisel still in my hand. My mother… I knew she’d tried to stop what had happened from happening, knew she’d argued against my father’s decision. I remembered being twelve years old and hearing their shouts through the door that separated our living space from the smithy. It was the only time I’d ever heard them raise their voices to each other. In the end, though, it hadn’t been enough.
I turned around. “There was a pretty big fight, the last time I was there.” I stared down at the chisel in my hands, turning it over. “I got into a fight, I mean. With Galvyn. With my father.”
Vardon nodded slowly. “Before the Cat’s Night festival, last year. I remember. I imagine half the town remembers. You were not quiet, either of you.”
“I just don’t want that to happen again.”
“So, don’t get in a fight. Stay quiet, or talk about nothing of import.” He shrugged at me. “You don’t have to like a man to share a meal with him. Saera knows I’ve sat through my fair share of suppers with men I’d rather have punched.”
Vardon stood, and walked over to me. He brushed something off the arm of my tunic. “All you have to do is sit still, have a nice meal and give them a chance to say goodbye. Your mother, at least, she deserves that, yes?”
I looked away for a moment, and then rolled my eyes and gave him a slight nod. “All right, fine, I’ll go. I’ll sit in the same room as my father for an hour and try not to shout at him.”
Vardon gave me a firm pat on the head, and smiled. “I’ll elbow you before you get to the crockery-throwing stage.” He turned to head upstairs. “For now, though, if you’re going to be leaving tomorrow, I’m going to need all these benches filled. I am an old man, boy, and those are large stones. I can’t get them in here by myself, but a great mass of a boy like you? A soldier? You should have no trouble, I’m sure.” He pointed to the plans on the wall. “Figure out what I need to start with and make it happen!”
I suppressed a groan as he clomped up the stairs. At least some things would never change.