The netmender’s new apprentice sat outside the shop to enjoy the cooling breeze on the balmy spring day. In the two months since Jason had shown up at the door — not begging charity, but asking politely about apprenticeship — Martin had not a bad word to say about the boy. From the outset, he had been diligent, hard working, polite, and a fast learner. He was much older than Martin would normally have thought of taking on, but he was willing and, much more importantly, educated; here was someone who could write down the names of anyone who owed him money, along with the amounts — paying a scribe to formalise debts had seemed an expensive option on occasion in the past, but had proven cheaper than losing the money altogether.
After only two months of having him make new nets, Martin was almost ready to put Jason to work patching rents in the slimy, rotten, filth-ridden ones that the fishers brought back from their trips. Jason’s deft hands had almost recovered from the blisters that working with dry rope brought; now he would need to grow new callus to work with wet. Yet he had never once complained, and asked nothing more than his due: food, lodging and the secrets of a trade in return for work done.
In truth, Jason liked working for the netmender. It was far removed from the work he had previously done trying to work weather-magics in his father’s tower, and working with his hands rather than his mind appealed to him. He could also appreciate the irony of working for a man named “Weaver.” Jason had been lucky to come at a time when the netmaker was without an apprentice, and even luckier to find that the man was prepared to take on an untried and unknown youngster.
The thumb-thick rope ran slowly off the drum behind him. At first, Jason had to concentrate hard on the work, but he was now reaching the stage where he could let his mind wander as he worked on the nets. The edge of this net had already been sealed, and, with the hard part done, he could look at the trading end of the docks as his hands continued their work. His gaze wandered, skipping over the ships and boats, the porters who unloaded bales and pallets, the hawkers — whose claims of superior quality wares almost drowned out the perpetual noise of the gulls — and the fishers who packed the last of their catch in salt-filled, blood-stained crates. Slowly, Jason’s mind detached itself from his surroundings, and his stare became fixed on the waters before him. His hands still moved, and somewhere in the back of his mind, a voice kept repeating, over and over, “… right over left, loop, and through, left over right, loop, through, and pull. Right over left, loop, and through, left over right, loop, through, and pull …”
Reaching the bottom of the net, he doubled the rope along the length of his hand, looped a holed stone onto the rope, and started his way back up again. Right over left, loop, and through, left over right, loop, and through. His face was expressionless; his breathing, shallow. His eyes never moved from the hypnotic surface of the sea before him. Right over left. He knew the weave as he knew himself. Loop and through. A cacophony of purest silence deafened him to all else. Left over right. The water grew darker, drawing him in. Loop. Toward it. Through. Into it. Pull.
“Jason,” came a dim voice from far away. “Jason?” Closer this time. What was the word he spoke? A spark of recognition lit the darkened confines of his mind. A sharp pain made the spark flare.
“Jason!” A grizzled face came into focus above him, a concerned expression upon it. It grunted in satisfaction as the boy returned to reality, and to the discomforting fact that he was soaked through. “By Gow, boy, that’s fast work, but you don’t need to sit here in this kind of downpour to finish it!” Martin looked down at the pile by his feet and frowned at it, before giving up and asking, “Just how much have you done anyway?”
Jason looked down and gasped at the white netting which was piled to his left. He did a quick count of the stones, and doubled the result. “Looks like almost seventy hands.” He reached up to caress the stinging handprint across his cheek. “How long have I been out here?”
Martin peered quizzically at him. “A little over two bells.”
Jason looked at the skies in disbelief, then back at Martin. “I must have been here longer than that, surely? I didn’t expect any bad weather for at least the next two days. There wasn’t even a sniff of rain in the air when I started!” Martin just stared. Jason’s eyes rolled back in his head as he realised what must have happened. “Looks like my father’s in town,” he muttered to himself as a troubled frown creased his brow.
Jason’s guess was close, but not quite right. Kilan was getting nearer, but still had a considerable distance to ride to reach Dargon itself. After being directed to Sharks’ Cove and spending almost two sennights searching, he had come to the conclusion that his informant had been mistaken in seeing Jason go that way. Four sennights of wasted effort, followed by the long journey to Dargon, had taken their toll. Although Kilan had the body of a man in his mid-thirties, he was well past fifty, and not used to sleeping rough. Influencing the weather was simple, but flattening and warming the ground that he spent much of the time sleeping on was beyond him.
Today though, he could enjoy the sunshine on his back. It was warm, but not overly hot, and a gentle breeze shushed through the trees on either side of him. Only the sounds of the horse, the birds, and a nearby stream broke the silence. For the first time in days, Kilan felt almost good about the world.
Of a sudden, he looked sharply upward, his eyes darting about as if the heavens hid assassins who bayed for his blood. A slight breeze had come up, and clouds had started to show in the skies ahead of him. Although summer storms could be quick to arise, experience told him that something was far from normal. A glance down the road behind him confirmed this. Clouds were scudding in from that direction too, and while his view was blocked by the trees, he would have staked his liver on the fact that the weather was closing in from all quarters.
Grimly, he made a rough approximation of the distance to Dargon. Around ninety leagues. Four days’ travel. Four days of not knowing if this was his son at work. Four days too many.
Kilan thought briefly about trying to clear his path of the rain which he knew would follow, but quickly discarded the idea. Trying to create a change in the weather would take time and energy, and the results were never (to his great annoyance) guaranteed. Pulling his cloak tighter around his shoulders, Kilan set his gaze on the road ahead, and dug in his heels.
As the dawn bell announced the arrival of the first of Firil, Jason arose to the sight of clearing skies. The freak clouds of two days ago had dumped their contents over land, sea, and Jason’s bed, but to Jason’s trained eye, no strange weather portents remained. His attic room over the netmender’s shop was cramped, and he had to concentrate to avoid touching the damp wooden ceiling as he dressed. Finally, he checked again the state of sky and sea, and, seeing no indication of further rain, left the shutters open to let his room dry out.
After setting a fire in the kitchen, Jason cooked a quick breakfast of fish and eggs. Since there were plenty of new nets available should anyone lose one, he knew that he would be moved on to other areas this day. On finishing his food, he scrubbed his plate with clean sand and water, then took a second helping of the dish up to Martin, leaving it beside his bed as the man struggled to reach the waking world.
Next, he opened the outside door and took a broom from the back of the shop. He proceeded to brush all the lint, salt, dirt and bits of frayed rope out of the door. The work served to wake him up fully in the mornings as the cool sea breeze swept stale air from the shop and the morning mugginess from his head.
That done, he stood on the step and looked out over the dock area of Dargon, leaning easily on his broom. The town was only just beginning to wake up, though most of the small fishing fleet had already left. The remainder were on their return trip, hoping to catch the fishmongers who came down early to buy stock freshly landed that morning. At this time of day, only two or three voices announced their wares, and only half-heartedly, having no din to compete against. The sun once more glinted off rippling waters. Only a slight swell showed that this was a sea in front of him rather than a calm, inland lake. A scattering of white, feathered clouds moving slowly across the sky above him promised that this would be a fine day.
The weather was probably a major influence on Jason’s mood, but he was content. He had expected to see his father turn up after the unexpected weather some days back, but there was no sign of him, and the weather had returned to a balmy normality. Jason’s wariness of the past few days had faded with the last of the blustery weather, and he now felt secure in the knowledge that he would retain the simple pleasures that his work brought him. A cooling breeze brought fresh air in from the sea, invigorating the senses and clearing the mind on an otherwise hot day. Little sound disturbed the tranquility; the lap of the tide against the side of the dock in front of him only added to the perfection of the morning. This was a day for feeling good.
Kilan got his first glimpse of Dargon in the early afternoon of the third day of Firil as he exited a thin patch of woodland. The land in front of him was green and brown, interspersed with low, rocky tors of grass-covered granite. It was nearing summer, yet something about the feel and smell of the air told him that it should have been raining.
The granite of the keep shone silver in the sunshine. Kilan had to squint to block the sun’s wavering reflection in one of the keep’s glass windows. A number of fishing smacks could be seen against the glimmering backdrop of the Valenfaer ocean at the mouth of the Coldwell, and a centre of traffic showed the probable location of the market square. Drawing his horse to a halt, he looked to the sky. The few visible clouds had been dragged different ways by the winds — something was far from ordinary. Dismounting, he moved to an open space to practice his arts, free from the obstructions and interruptions which would hinder him in town.
Some time later, Kilan staggered back toward his horse, his face pale from the effort of spellcasting. “Ol’s piss, that boy must be strong!” This would not just be a simple case of wresting control as he had expected.
He hauled himself ungraciously into the saddle and kicked his horse weakly in the ribs. The docile animal set off at its usual plodding walk, giving Kilan plenty of time to think in weary appreciation on the strength of his runaway child. Strength like that could only come from the powder that he had added to the rising bread mixture the night before the boy left. Kilan wheezed a weak laugh to himself as his strength returned and he made his way toward the town, knowing that the culmination of the research that he had started on his wife had worked in his son.
Jason looked contentedly at the skies outside. This was the third day of near perfect weather. It seemed like it picked up whenever he started to weave another net, or even if he touched a rope, but that had to be coincidence. He knew that even if the power he supposedly had was to manifest, he would have to be concentrating intently on it, and that he would have to force the patterns to his will by incantation or through a focus. He still could not *see* or *sense* the weather as his father could, but after so much study, he did know that the weather of the last three days was no natural occurrence. It no longer greatly concerned him. There must be other sages nearby, and it could be one of them who was the cause of this enjoyable blight.
Martin was off on a trip to the market for some food and talk. There was normally plenty of fish available free to a netmender, but many of the fishers were quietly worried about the strangely good weather, to the extent that they stayed in port rather than risk becalming in such conditions. Besides, they could hardly sail without wind, and a lack of wind was an anomaly if ever one existed in Dargon.
This had, however, kept the shop fairly busy over the last few days, with the fishers taking advantage of the lay up in port to get their nets repaired or replaced. Now though, most of the work that he could do alone had been done, and he had time to sort out the ropes, stones and bladders into some semblance of order. Lighting a torch from the fire in the kitchen, he returned to the shop area, now able to see what he was doing in the dim recesses of the rear of the shop.
Planting his torch in a wall sconce, he bent to the task of clearing up the mess of rope, sorting it into drums by size and approximate length, and then stacking it on the wide shelves in the rear of the shop. He then bent to the task of sorting the stones into buckets and matching the bladders beside them. Eventually, he stood up, task complete, as a figure appeared, silhouetted, in the doorway. A leather bag hung at hip level from a strap around its shoulder.
“My my, haven’t you grown?” came the man’s voice, his words seeming to ooze both mirth and hidden meanings. Jason jumped, wide eyed, and felt the blood drain from his face.
“Father!” His eyes darted about, looking for an escape which he knew did not exist. “What are you …” he started, then realised that it was a stupid question. “How did you find me?” His heart hammered in his chest, and while the shock of discovery lent him energy, there was nowhere to run.
“I figured that your faith in Cirrangill would force you to stick with a coastal town. After Sharks’ Cove, this was the next obvious choice. Besides, anyone with the sense to see it could hardly fail to notice where you were.” Kilan sounded like he was about to burst into joyous laughter.
Jason rocked back in confusion. “What do you mean? I haven’t told anyone who I am! Or who you are. I’ve kept to myself since I got here, and haven’t done anything but get myself a job that I’m good at.”
“Ah, but the weather *has* turned … how shall I say it … unusual around here, don’t you think?”
“If I had known you could find me so easily, I would have moved on further,” Jason replied miserably. “It’s not as if I had any way of checking where *you* were.” He shifted his feet nervously, disgruntled at being tracked down. His father’s grin was suddenly made visible as the sun dimmed behind him.
“That almost sounds like you haven’t tried practicing any magic since you got here.” Only the tremor of a chuckle betrayed the fact that Kilan believed he already knew the answer.
“Why should I? It didn’t work when I was trying. Why should it work when I give it up? I think I proved that I have no talent in that area. That’s why I left in the first place and told you to get another apprentice. I certainly didn’t expect you to come looking for me.” Though still breathing hard from the shock of discovery, he was now starting to sulk.
Kilan’s eyes narrowed slightly. “You never tried any magic? What have you been doing then, mending nets?”
Jason ignored the sarcasm. “Yes, strangely enough. And cooking, cleaning, washing and fetching. You know, normal apprentice stuff.” He gestured around at the buckets of stones and ropes. Taking a similarly flippant approach, he asked, “How have you been?”
“Culchanan’s ghost, boy! How do you think I’ve been?” The joyous exclamation seemed to echo around the room, causing Jason to jump in surprise. “Worried sick and looking for you!” Expressions of concern and relief battled plainly on his father’s face. “Do you realise what you could have done, running off when you did? Do you know just how close to realising your powers you were? Didn’t you know how dangerous it was running off when you did? And then you end up learning a trade in a place like this?” He gestured around at the clutter of nets and baskets which littered the floor as the shop slowly darkened. The torch now provided much of the light.
Jason stood silent for a while, then started to laugh weakly. “At least this is something that I can do. I said in the note that you should get yourself a decent apprentice. You should have tried, rather than coming to look for me.” Jason sighed, knowing how much inconvenience he had caused. Soon though, he remembered his time in the tower, and his resolve hardened. “You know, I haven’t failed at *one* task here yet. I don’t know if you noticed, but there was a certain point that I just could not get past when I was trying to become a weatherweaver. Here, I’m by the sea, I can let my thoughts drift, and yet I still manage to get the work done. I happen to like it here. Even my master sticks to things which he can accomplish — unlike some people I could mention.”
A wry smile appeared on Kilan’s face. “You may be wrong there, son. About accomplishments, I mean. I take it that you have noticed the unusual weather that Dargon is experiencing presently?”
“Yes. I thought that might have been your doing.”
“Well, in a way, but I only arrived here today. Now how do you think I found you so quickly?” The weatherweaver paused, but Jason chose not to answer. “These are your weaves causing this. Quite impressive really, even if I say so myself. I knew you were strong, but I didn’t realise that you would advance so far, so fast.”
“What do you mean? I haven’t even tried any magic, and now you tell me I’m at the root of the strange weather we’ve been having here?” A note of concern entered Jason’s voice at his father’s words, and he longed for Martin to return, though that was unlikely for some time.
“What do I mean?” Kilan asked. “Well, I mean that the bread which you took with you from the tower was more than just eggs, flour, water, yeast and salt. And seed, in that particular case.”
Jason was near to panic. “You put something in that?” His voice had increased in both volume and pitch, stopping just short of a shout. “What have you done?” Something flashed over the seas. “What have you done to me?” His distress must have been plain as he looked, aghast, towards his father.
Kilan refused to take offense. He knew the boy was just unsure of what had been done. Once he knew, his attitude would change. All the same, Kilan jumped slightly when the thunder rolled in from behind, but it was not enough to raze the smirk of pride from his face. “Well, what all did I have in there? Some powders to enhance your concentration, some of the brine that Corambis concocted for me some years back from lichens and moss extract around the forest here — that should help you align your mind to magic more effectively. What else? A smokeweed extract that should stop your emotions getting in the way of your magic, a miniscule chip of chrysoline to protect you from any hostile magics … There are a number of other ingredients, mostly ones you won’t have studied yet, but all made to work on different flaws in the human mind and body. All bonded together with amaranth and a weave of my own so that there should be no problem with effects fading or any of the constituents working against each other.” He paused for effect. “You are unique, my boy …”
Kilan would have continued, but the sight of his son thudding down heavily into a chair and covering his eyes with his forearm stopped him. Kilan burst once more into a grin. “I know. Fantastic, isn’t it?”
Jason felt physically pained by his father’s betrayal. By the sound of things, it was too late to reverse any changes that the spell had effected. His lips stretched in a rictus across his teeth, and he keened softly, mourning his loss of self. Outside, a soft drizzle leaked in sympathy from leaden skies — skies clear only menes before — into a choppy, grey sea. In the distance, lightnings flashed across the clouds as they moved low over the sea. The low growl of thunder was becoming a constant distraction.
Kilan frowned, unsure of himself, and annoyed at the lack of gratitude his son showed. Then he came to the shocked realisation that there had been no focus, no incantation, and not even any concentrated effort on his son’s part to cause this change in weather. It should still have taken *some* work at least to turn sun into rain. He stepped closer, reaching a tentative hand toward his son’s head, patting it gently then holding it to him. The boy sat limp, hardly seeming to breathe as sobs racked his chest and shoulders.
Tears soaked unnoticed into Kilan’s tunic as he reached further, surpassing physical boundaries, and reaching into his son’s mind, exploring the changes made. The corners of his mouth turned slightly upward at the ease with which he achieved his goal, but the satisfied smile turned to a look of concern, then outright horror at what he found.
Breaking his contact, he staggered backward into a table, sending items flying from the bag which hung at his hip. The boy flopped back in his chair, still keening silently to himself. Kilan turned, and made a drunken lunge for the support of the wall. His mouth gaped wide in the knowledge of his failure. Somehow, he managed to haul himself outside into the rain, and lurched down the street, unable to come to terms with the gravity of his mistake.