“Wake up!” Goddard said shaking Neil. “Father is going to be furious if you don’t get up. You needed to leave more than an hour ago!”
“Oh, no,” Neil moaned as he rolled out of bed. His mouth was dry, and his hair was sticking to the side of his face.
“That’s more like it,” Goddard said, “I have to head for the fields. Make sure that you double-check all the deliveries on the cart before you leave.”
Neil rubbed his eyes trying to get the haze from the corners of his vision. He looked up at Goddard who looked nearly identical to him except for his size. Where Neil was thin and agile, Goddard was a behemoth capable of lifting a horse. Goddard’s gray eyes looked down on him judgmentally.
“Alright, I’ve got it,” Neil said as he saw a flit of movement to his left.
“What’re you looking at?” Goddard said following Neil’s gaze.
“Nothing, thought I saw something,” Neil replied when he didn’t see anything further, “I’ll get moving.”
“I’ll see you later,” Goddard said as he left the room.
Neil rose, washed quickly, and ran down the stairs to the kitchen where the smell of fresh cakes still lingered. His mother was furiously washing dishes in a tub.
“Good morning, little bard,” she said with a smile as he stumbled into the room.
“Good morning, Mother,” Neil replied reaching for the single cake that waited on the table.
“You slept late today,” his mother said. “You missed your father.”
“Goddard woke me,” he replied, “I’ve got to get moving with the milk. Credence will not be happy about the time. I suspect neither will the rest of the customers.”
“I don’t know about the others, but Credence should understand. You don’t generally play that late when you do. Next time you should consider staying the night down there if you plan to be gone so long,” she smiled.
Again, something flitted past Neil’s vision. Almost as though he had passed a reflective surface and caught a beam of the sun in his eye. He winced from the sudden brightness but tried to follow it. His mother’s laugh echoed through the kitchen good-natured and melodic as he spun trying to follow the light.
“What has gotten into you?” she asked, “Are we practicing dancing this early in the day now?”
Neil shook his head. “No, I thought…” He trailed off. “I’ll see you later, mother.”
He pecked a kiss on her cheek and burst through the back door. In the yard the cart sat, Willow already in her harness, and the jugs of milk in the back of the cart. A smile spread across Neil’s face as he made a mental note to thank him when he got back. Though Neil was little more than an hour behind, Goddard had saved him an hour’s work. He would have to thank him when he got back.
Neil double-checked the jugs in the back of the cart and pulled himself to the seat.
“Are you ready, Willow?” he asked the horse.
Neil flicked the reins, but Willow shook her head.
“What?” he asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Neil!” his mother said coming out of the house, “you forgot your lyre!”
Neil looked from Willow to his mother in disbelief for a moment before he jumped down to grab the instrument from her.
“Thank you, Mother,” Neil said as he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be back later.”
As soon as he was seated, Willow began moving. The sudden lurch of the cart caught him off guard as a laugh came from his mother.
“Stay safe!” she called after him as the cart picked up speed down the path.
“What has gotten into you?” Neil asked the horse. He wondered how she had known that he had unintentionally left his lyre in the house, or how she understood that they needed to make better time getting to the village. She moved along significantly faster than they usually traveled without any prodding from him.
They arrived at the blacksmith, just at the edge of the little village center to find Sonya, the blacksmith’s daughter, outside looking cross as Neil had ever seen her. She had a milk jug in her hand and a sour expression on her face.
“Running a bit behind today, Neil?” she asked him as she tossed the jug up to him. “Father will be in a foul mood all day thanks to you.”
“Just a bit, Sonya. I’m sorry I’m late, I performed at the inn last night, and it kept me out too late. I won’t let it happen again,” Neil said.
“You’re lucky you’re cute,” she said before she turned and disappeared into the house.
Ninth bell was just sounding as he stopped the cart behind the inn. Fiona appeared for a moment before ducking back inside the building.
“About time you showed up,” Credence boomed as she came through the back door. “We’ve been waiting for two hours so we could make some breakfast. I thought you would be alright after last night, but apparently, you can’t handle playing late and still doing your duties.”
“I’m sorry,” Neil said feeling his cheeks flush in embarrassment.
“Next time I’ll make sure you stay in a room here, and you can make the run in the morning,” she said. “Now get those jugs in here so Jack can begin making breakfast for the travelers.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Neil replied jumping from the cart.
He brought in the jugs, placing the last empty on the cart when his stomach growled angrily at him. He realized that the small breakfast he had eaten that morning was beginning to wear off and he would need to eat more soon.
Neil hitched Willow to the post and got her some grain before he walked around to the front of the building. He hopped up the steps but paused when he reached for the door handle. Memories of Faleth from the night before, the intensity of the wizard’s questions, funneled through his mind and, for a moment, he considered leaving.
“What are you doing?” a small voice asked, startling him.
Neil spun to see Cade sitting on the porch looking as though he couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Neil took a deep breath and shook his head.
“To be totally honest, I’m considering whether or not to risk seeing your wizard friend for some food,” Neil said. “He was a bit intense last night. He was convinced that I used magic while I was playing.”
“Because you did,” Cade said with a wide smile. “You’ll have to forgive him. He can be like that when there is a glimmer of hope in his mind. He constantly seeks out new magic and secrets about that magic. Between the ale and your playing, I fear it may have gone to his head.”
“You think I used magic too?” Neil asked.
“I know you did,” Cade smiled. “It wasn’t anything intentional, or malicious, but I’ve seen that kind of fey magic many times before in Jamestown.”
“It’s hard to explain. Faleth uses magic, sure, but it’s not like bard magic. Fey magic is like nature itself listening to you. It’s something far rarer than what Faleth or a normal bard can do. Like being a sorcerer. You either have it, or you don’t, no harm in it either way.”
The door to the inn opened quickly, making him close his mouth rather than ask another question.
“Neil! Get in here!” Fiona snapped with a big grin, “Dad’s gonna get mad if you let your food get cold.”
“Sorry,” Neil said as he turned to go inside.
“No need to be sorry,” Cade replied shooing him toward the door. “I’m sure things will work out for the best regardless.”
Neil stepped inside and immediately saw Faleth sitting at a table eating a bowl of porridge. He looked up at the movement, and his eyes lit up, though the bags under them suggested that he hadn’t gotten much rest the night before. The fire crackled cheerfully behind him as if to taunt his lack of a good night’s rest.
“Good morning, Neil,” Credence said drawing his attention to the bar where a steaming bowl of porridge waited for him, “eat up.”
Neil turned away from Faleth and approached the bar, his nose pulling in the smell of berries and cream. His stomach growled loud enough that Credence’s eyebrows raised as a smile spread across her face.
“Thank you,” Neil said seeing the blue and red streaks through the meal.
“Good rest and hot meals are the things life is about,” Credence replied with a wink as she grabbed a crate from under the bar and hefted it through the kitchen door.
Neil took a single bite, allowing the berries to pop in his mouth providing just the right amount of sweetness to the rich and creamy porridge.
“Jack is a wonderful cook,” Faleth said as he sat next to him.
Neil nodded, unwilling to meet the wizard’s gaze.
“I’m sorry about last night,” Faleth said, “I get carried away sometimes. New magic intrigues me, and I’ve never seen anything exactly like yours.”
“I wasn’t even aware I was using magic until you said something, but Cade and my mother both seem to think I was based on what Cade saw, and I told my mother,” Neil replied.
“It just adds to the mystery,” Faleth said, “I’ve met many bards, wizards, clerics, paladins, and even a sorcerer once. All of their magic make sense to me, and all of them have to try to use it. You, however, seem to be a rare case, as a sorcerer but something is different.”
Neil resumed his meal as Faleth pulled a pack from the floor and set it on the bar. He rifled through it, searching until he found the parchment case and quill he was looking for.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you some questions. I am a bit of a researcher in these matters,” Faleth said.
“Ask away,” Neil said as he put the last bite of food into his mouth. He felt a pang of sadness as he realized there was no more, and he didn’t feel it would be appropriate to continue eating while being interviewed.
“Is there a history of magic in your family?” Faleth asked.
“My mother told me last night that my grandfather had been a great bard,” Neil said.
“Interesting. Did you know him?”
Neil shook his head, “He died when I was very young. It was news to me when she told me. I knew he played instruments, but never that he was a bard.”
“Interesting,” Faleth said, scratching away on his parchment. Neil looked over and saw that whatever language the wizard was writing was one he had never seen before. “Can you tell me about last night? What was going through your head when you were playing? What did it feel like to use the magic?”
“Honestly, I was just trying to impress everyone,” Neil said reaching up to scratch the back of his head. “As far as the way it felt, I guess it was like being disconnected from my own body. My hands moved on their own, and the magic just sort-of happened.”
“What did you feel like after?”
“I felt tired-worn out, maybe-like I had just spent the day moving hay at the farm,” Neil said.
“Can you think of any other occasions that something similar has happened?” Faleth asked.
“My mother mentioned something, though I don’t remember. Willow hurt her leg last year and wouldn’t hold still while my father went to fetch the healer. My mother had asked me to look after her, so I brought my lyre out to play for her-”
“What made you bring your lyre?” Faleth asked.
“When I ride in the cart I always bring my lyre. I thought it might calm her,” Neil replied.
“What happened when you played for her?”
“She calmed down like I thought she would. Her head swayed with the music for a few minutes. I remember her leg was terribly swollen and looked like it was bent at a weird angle. It made me feel ill to look at it,” Neil said, “Then it just went down. Like someone had drained it of fluid it got smaller. There were a few pops from her leg. I was worried something worse was happening, but then she just stood up as though nothing had happened.”
“Fascinating,” Faleth said, “Can you think of any other weird happenings?”
Neil shook his head again as Faleth scratched more into the parchment.
“How are you boys getting along?” Credence asked, appearing from the kitchen.
“Apparently, your minstrel here is a fledgling bard,” Faleth said raising his eyebrows at her.
“Really?” Credence shot back. “What gives you that impression?”
“Last night he used a small bit of magic inadvertently. Nothing dangerous, but magic nonetheless,” Faleth said.
“I think the town bard may need to get back to his house now,” Credence said as the clock on the wall began chiming, “That is if I know his parents as well as I think.”
Neil looked up at the clock and felt a surge of panic when he saw the time. He shot out of his seat and moved for the door, “Thanks for the meal, Credence, and the conversation Faleth.”
“You should come back later with your lyre,” Faleth said, “There may be some things that I can teach you about controlling your magic a little better.”
“I’ll ask my father, but I’m not sure how long it’ll be.”
“I’m only in town a day or two more at the most. If you want some tutelage, I’d recommend coming sooner rather than later,” Faleth replied. “Unless, of course, you were to travel with us.”
“I’ll see you at some point then,” Neil said as he opened the door. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to leave with you.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Credence said pulling a small coin purse from under the bar.
“Sorry,” Neil said going back to the bar.
“I’ll be needing the same order tomorrow. I’ve put enough in here to cover it, provided you’re not late tomorrow.” Credence said giving him a wink.
“I won’t be late,” Neil promised, making a motion with his hand over his heart.
“If you are, I’ll demand a different delivery person,” Credence said.
“Goddard is the only other person who could make the delivery,” Neil said.
“Exactly. You, me, and him don’t want that,” Credence said, her smile growing wide. “I’m fairly certain if you’re brother got another dose of my charm he may die from shock.”