Chapter Four

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Part II

Best Laid Plans

Chapter Four

Wood had no recollection of falling asleep, nor did he remember walking to his bed, yet that was where he found himself the next day when he awoke.  The house was quiet and there were no lingering smells from breakfast.  Ma and Meri must have risen and gone to market or perhaps they were at the pub doing some cleaning for extra money.  Or perhaps they had just left to give Wood some time to himself to get over his jilting by the king’s retinue.

Wood got out of bed and changed out of the sweat-stained clothes from the trials.  He washed his body with a cloth, scrubbing the dirt and tearstains from his cheeks and washed the dried sweat from his scalp, letting the water soak his hair and run down his back.  He dressed in his other pair of pants and a shirt of soft fabric that Meri had made from leftover cloth she’d used to make a shirt for one of the merchants.

Wood walked out of the house and down the alley to the market street.  The sun was already overhead and the sky was blue.  The temperature was climbing and the street was full of bustling people.  It was a typical summer day in Port Lathur.  The air smelled the same, thick with the salty sea wind.  There was nothing out of the ordinary about the day, yet everything felt different. 

To Wood, there seemed like there was no hope, no future.  All he saw was an endless stream of unchanging days.  He was not a Longrider.  He would live out his days a hard-working citizen of Port Lathur and that was that.  The sooner he learned to accept it, the better it would be.

Wood looked around for Kata or William, but did not see either of them.  He did see Marcus walking by himself at the south end of the market street, his head down and hair hanging over his eyes.  Wood found himself walking north, back toward the meadows.  The encampment was gone.  There were impressions in the grass where the tents had been erected, but the fields were empty and Wood couldn’t even see a banner on the horizon.  They had been gone since just after sun-up, probably.  Wood walked out to the field where the mage’s tent had been and stood in the painted circle.  The memories of the magic still burned on his skin, but he felt no pain.  His eyes followed the tracks the wagons made through the field and followed the path to the horizon.  He stood staring at the horizon for some time.  The sound of shuffling footsteps in the grass broke him from his reverie and he glanced back over his shoulder.

William was walking toward him.  The boy’s face looked slack and sad.  Wood nodded at him.  William nodded back.  They looked at the wagon tracks.  They listened to the gentle summer wind ripple the trees watched the wavy heat lines rise from the field.  William finally broke the silence. 

“I didn’t last very long.  The fire the mage cast at me came back black in an instant.  The mage said black meant I didn’t have any magical gifts whatsoever.”

That should have made Wood feel better.  The lights that pierced him had colors.  They said he was almost a Longrider.  It didn’t change the fact that he was still in Port Lathur, not riding away with the retinue.

“Cried like a baby when I got home,” said William.

“Me too.”

“Didn’t know not making it was going to hurt so much.  I knew the odds were against me.  I still didn’t think it would be so painful.  It was worse than when my gran'mum died.”

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