“And so it came to pass that during the seventh year of the reign of King Brad, the County of Egilsay was transferred from house Sall to Count Justin Petersson, as dowry in his marriage to Lady Amigene of Sall. The dowry also included the lady’s handmaidens, seventeen sheep, and six barrels of cider.”
“Boy, it sure is dusty in here!” thought Dale, wiping his watering eyes before turning back to the history his father had told him to transcribe. Cavendish, his father and scribe to Duke Clifton Dargon, had dreams that his fifteen year-old son would one day be accepted into the scribe’s guild, but Dale had other ideas.
He peered out the window of his bedroom, which overlooked the lower half of the city of Dargon. Before him lay all the bustle and ruckus of a city alive with the business of midsummer. Above and between the roofs of the houses he could even see the slow-moving mast of a sailing vessel arriving in the harbor from some faraway land.
Never in his life had Dale been more than a couple hours’ walk from the city, and he longed to explore all the places he’d read about. That was probably the worst part about being a scribe: you could read about all kinds of far-off cities and kingdoms, but you never got to go anywhere!
He often went down to the port to watch the ships coming and going, but he rarely talked to the crewmen. They were usually very serious, and looked kind of dangerous. But he did talk with Simon the stew merchant. Everyone knew Simon — he would often spend a slow afternoon telling the children about the adventures he had heard about when he was a sailor. But Dale knew that he was Simon’s especial friend.
Dale cleaned his quills, grabbed a piece of bread and stepped out into the street, heading downhill toward the docks.
Commercial Street really wasn’t much of a street at all. It was really just a big open area between the wharves where the ships docked, and the warehouses where their cargoes were stored. Low carts, drawn by mule and oxen, labored back and forth between the two: slow-moving islands amidst a sea of people all moving at different speeds in different directions.
Leftwiched between the warehouses were bars, brothels, restaurants, general stores, rug merchants, provisioners, confectioners, furriers, clothiers, and metalworkers. And on a warm summer day, in front of every building, traveling merchants would set up their wares: candles, lamps, hats, leather work, and every imaginable type of food and drink. On Commercial Street, the swindler hawking overpriced glass jewelry had to compete with soapbox philosophers; whores and thieves rubbed elbows with priests and children. And although it probably wasn’t the safest place in the city of Dargon, it certainly was one of the most exciting!
Just short of reaching Commercial Street, Dale ducked into the side entrance of the Harbormaster’s Building. His boots echoed loudly on the varnished wooden floors as he made his way through the hallways to the doors that faced out onto Commercial Street. The Harbormaster’s Building was the only building that faced the wharves that had steps leading up to it, and Dale liked to use this perch to look out over the crowd and see what was going on. Maybe someday he would live in the second or third story of a building that faced the port, so he could watch all the activity from his own room.
Dale stared out over the port. The unfamiliar ship he had seen arriving earlier was tied up at Countryman’s Pier, but he couldn’t make out her name. He scanned the edges of Commercial Street for his friend Simon, the stew merchant. It took a couple minutes, but he finally saw Simon’s monkey, Skeebo. The monk had climbed up on top of the small wooden roof of Simon’s cart to shoo away a seagull that had perched there. Dale left his high ground and plunged into the sea of activity at street level, heading toward the place where he had seen Simon’s cart.
Dale pushed through the crowd and finally caught sight of his friend, Simon Salamagundi. The stew merchant was talking with a man who looked like a sailor, and hadn’t noticed his young visitor yet. Dale stood unobtrusively nearby and listened to the exchange. Simon didn’t notice him, but Skeebo did, and quietly leaped down onto his shoulder.
“… not only lost the bet and had to wear a pink scarf around town,” continued the sailor, “but he lost the rat, as well!” He doubled over in uncontrollable mirth, then slapped Simon’s back and bounded off. Simon shook his head in appreciation, then saw Dale as the young man turned to him.
“Who was that?” the boy nodded in the sailor’s wake.
Simon smiled a little. “He’s a cook on-a ‘Friendly Lion’. His boy’s a headstrong lad. Apparently he favors losing bets in foreign ports!”
Dale gestured toward the newly-arrived ship, sitting quiet and stately a couple piers down. “Is that the ‘Friendly Lion’?”
“Yessir. She just came in from Westbrook and Dar Althol with quite a haul. Books, news, silver. Rice, nuts, barley. And a bard named Kinwood. From Althol. Apparently very popular…”
Dale wondered about the places. He’d grown up hearing about other lands — Westbrook, Winthrop, Tench, Magnus — places that he’d lived with all his life, but had never seen for himself.
“So…” Seeing that Dale’s mind was elsewhere, Simon changed the topic of conversation. “What have you been up to, this beautiful summer’s day?”
Dale managed a resigned laugh. “Hmph! Dad has me transcribing the history of County Egilsay! It’s so boring!!! I wish I could visit these places, not just read about them!” Dale started to raise his voice. “I’m tired of hearing other people talking about their adventures — I want an adventure of my own. Dargon is so boring — nothing ever happens here!”
Simon knocked the young man on the shoulder. “Come on, I’ve been to plenty of interesting places, and out of all those places, I picked Dargon to live in. Do you know why?”
“Because it’s boring and calm and you were tired of adventuring?” countered Dale.
“No! Because out of all-a the lands I’ve seen, Dargon is one of the most interesting.”
“If Dargon’s so interesting, when was the last time you had an adventure?”
Simon paused a second. “Why, I had an adventure just this morning. I was cutting into a loaf of bread that Madame Nilson had baked for me, and what should I find inside but a silver coin! Apparently it fell outta her bodice and got mixed in when she was kneading the dough! Hah!”
Dale scowled. “Simon — that’s not an adventure! Adventures are heroes saving fair maidens or stopping pirates or saving burning cities.”
Simon shook his head. “Ah, no. Real people can have real adventures, and they don’t have to be as dramatic as all-a that. There’s plenty of adventure right here in Dargon.”
Dale looked down and scuffed his feet. “Not for me. Being locked up at home copying scrolls is about as exciting as… as…” Dale threw his hands in the air. “Shit! I can’t even *think* of anything more boring! I wish Dad would let me go sign on as a sailor…”
“NO!!!” The sudden emotion in Simon’s voice startled Dale. His friend was usually the most even-keeled person Dale knew. Seeing the confusion in his friend’s expression, the stewmaker sighed and shook his head.
“Dale, listen to me, straight? When I was you age I felt the same way. My mama wanted me to be a artist. She even apprenticed me to a sculptor! I thought it was the most boring thing in the world. So I ran away and tried to join a trading ship. I talked to the captain, and-a you know what he told me?” Dale cocked his head to indicate that he didn’t know. Despite his renown as a storyteller, Simon had never really talked about himself very much.
“He said ‘Boy, I’m not going to take you on, but here’s a bit of advice for you. You can go all around the world looking for adventure and never find it, or you can walk the streets of your home town and find adventure around every corner. You know why? Because all adventure is, is doing something that you’ve never done before.’” Simon crossed his arms with a satisfied “Hmpf!” as he mimicked the captain. Then he leaned toward his young listener conspiratorially.
“But I thought he was full of wind, so I went to another ship. This time, I didn’t talk to the captain, but volunteered to help the cook. He took me on, and my life of adventure had begun.
“Or so I thought. It was really the most boring time of my life. When we were at sea, all we did was cook. My legs were bored off! When we were in port, all we did was drink ourselves to sleep. That’s when I got to thinking about the old captain’s words about looking for adventure.” Simon’s faraway eyes returned to Dale.
“And that’s why I’m telling you now — adventure is doing something you’ve never done before. It doesn’t need to be something big. You can find adventure every day, even in Dargon. I do! There’s no need to go running away from home to find it.”
Dale shook his head. “But Dargon’s so *boring*!”
Simon harumphed. “Well… isn’t there anything you’ve always thought you might want to do, that you never did?”
Dale thought about it. Sure, lots of things, but none of them in Dargon! “I dunno. I’ve never had my fortune told, but that’s stupid.”
Dale shrugged. “I dunno. Dad always said it was a waste of money. They’re fakes.”
Simon smiled in victory. “Sure they are. But they’re fun fakes. What’s the difference between paying a bard to play for you and paying a fortune teller to read your future?”
Dale cocked his head again, this time in thought. “I guess you’re right.”
Simon smiled. “That’s it. Dargon isn’t so boring — there’s lots of things in this city that you haven’t explored! And don’t put it off — go see if the fortune tellers are busy. Here.” Simon threw a paw into his pouch and pulled out a silver coin. “Use it.”
“Oh, okay.” Dale smiled, taking the coin. “As long as this didn’t come from old lady Nilson’s bodice…”
Dale looked across at the fortune teller’s booth. He was feeling a little anxious inside, but what Simon had said did make sense, even if he couldn’t really see the sense in using something as stupid as a fortune teller as an example. If adventure was nothing more than doing something you’d never done before, it made life kind of different. There were lots of things he’d never done, without knowing really why he hadn’t. The idea that you could wake up in the morning and find an adventure just waiting for you certainly held the promise of making life a little more interesting.
Again he looked across at the seer’s booth. No one had entered or left in some time. He glanced up at the sky, as if entreating the gods to have mercy, and stepped across the street.
Dale poked his head through a curtain and into the booth to see an old man in a monk’s-style robe lifting a heavy crate.
“Excuse me…” he began. “Can I help you with that?”
The old man stopped and straightened up. Then he looked the boy over. “Sure, boy. Bring ‘er into the back room.” Dale took the crate by rope handles on the sides and heaved.
“Marabinga’s Girdle, old man! What have you got in this crate?”
The seer let the oath pass. “A shipment of books from my mentor in Magnus. It just arrived this morning on the Friendly Lion!”
Dale was reminded of his father and thought to himself, “Great. Another old man with his nose in a book!”
The old man held aside the black curtain that led into the back room. Dale stepped in, and took in as much of the room as he could in the darkness. There were no windows, and the room was barely large enough to contain the table and the chairs that sat at opposite sides of it. The table was inlaid with a wheel with all kinds of mystic symbols. There was a small bookcase opposite the entrance, filled to overflowing with both books and all manner of mystic apparatus. The room stank of the dirt floor and incense. The walls were decorated with all manner of symbols and images, only a small portion of which Dale had ever seen before.
“Just slide the box under the table, toward the bookcase; I’ll deal with it later,” the old man instructed with a vague wave of his hand. Then, to Dale as he rose, “Now, presumably you came to me for something?”
Dale looked at the floor. “I’d like to have my fortune read, or whatever… Whatever a silver bit will get me.”
The seer seemed satisfied and accepted the coin. “Well, things have been pretty quiet today. I could read your cards, that’s quick and easy. Or we could do a sand-casting, which would take more time. Or we could try the Table — I’ve been having good luck with that lately…”
“That sounds interesting,” Dale interrupted. He didn’t really care, and wasn’t interested in hearing another scholar’s lecture. He got quite enough of that from his father!
“So be it. Let me get ready. By the way, my name is Zavut. Why don’t you sit down?” The old man indicated the smaller of the two chairs, and inched around the table to the other himself. He reached under the table and brought forth a stubby black candle, a cloth, and a piece of fur. He began to clean the surface of the table with the white cloth. When he was done, Dale could see the symbols in its surface much more clearly. It featured a wheel with many spokes, each inlaid with a different colored stone. Each spoke’s stones were darker at the edge of the table, and brilliant at the center, making several clearly-defined concentric circles.
“KARK!” The tone of command in Zavut’ voice startled Dale. The candle was now burning, and Dale wondered how the seer had done that so quickly. Clearly, he was supposed to think it was magic, by the way the old man was smirking. Of course, Dale knew better — he just didn’t have an explanation right at hand.
Zavut took up the piece of orange and white fur and very carefully rubbed it on the table, following the contours of the wheel. Then he also rubbed it on the candle, and repeated the whole procedure.
Zavut then stood up, took up the lit candle, and walked over to Dale. “Please stand up.” He then pulled the chair aside.
“This candle is made of beeswax and the blood of a bull. You will hold it in your off hand, at shoulder height, and drip wax onto the table. Try as hard as you can to keep the wax in the very center of the wheel. I will tell you when to begin and when to stop. Do you understand?”
“Good.” The seer handed him the candle and guided Dale’s extended left arm over the center of the table. “Concentrate on the flame — see nothing else.” Dale let his vision be drawn into the dancing light. He’d thought the candle black, but near the flame it glowed a deep, rich red. But the candle soon disappeared from his vision as the bright flame swallowed up all less brilliant images. The flame danced with the boy’s every breath and flickered hypnotically as Zavut removed his hands from Dale’s arm.
After a few moments, Dale could feel his arm beginning to wobble with fatigue and saw the result in the flickering of the candle. But Zavut’ voice came from beside him. “Continue to concentrate on the flame. You may begin.”
Dale slowly turned his wrist, but he couldn’t tell whether any wax was dripping from the candle. He saw the flame flicker crazily. He noticed that he had turned the candle enough that the flame was touching the wax itself. He smelled the pungent odor of burning wax. His arm was beginning to ache, and he felt sure that he must have covered half of the table by now, when he heard Zavut’ voice again.
“Now, turn the candle back upright, bring it away from the table, and blow it out.” Dale complied. But after staring at the flame for so long, his eyes weren’t able to make out anything of the seer’s chamber. Zavut guided him back into his seat. “Now, you sit and let your eyes recover, while I look at this casting and try to interpret it.”
Dale sat for a while. He was able to see things on the edges of his vision, but he couldn’t see anything if he looked at it directly. And closing his eyes wasn’t any better, because of the dancing spots left by the candle’s intense light. Dale was annoyed and frustrated. And it didn’t help that Zavut kept making odd noises. First he’d grunt, then he’d hmm, then he’d tsk, then he’d hunh…
Although Dale’s vision gradually cleared, his understanding didn’t. Droplets of burgundy-colored wax were scattered around the table, but mostly in the center. There were a couple very large blotches just off-center. Dale tried to figure out what the symbols meant for the spokes with the biggest blotches of wax, but they didn’t seem to have any inherent meaning. At least, none he felt comfortable guessing at.
Zavut sat back with a dissatisfied “Hunph!” Dale gave him a quizzical look, but the only response he got was a curt “Be patient.” The seer continued to contemplate the Table for a moment, then addressed his customer.
“Well, this is an interesting cast, young man! I usually don’t bother explaining the Table to customers, but I think you might need the knowledge in order to fully understand this casting and maybe add your own thoughts to the interpretation.
“The most basic concept is that how far the wax falls from the center is extremely important.” Dale congratulated himself on guessing that, while Zavut continued to explain. “In the grossest terms, blobs in the middle represent long-term predictions and droplets at the edges of the Wheel represent your immediate future. This is because in the long term, it’s easy to predict that you’ll experience a balance of just about everything. That’s why the middle is so blotchy. The center usually doesn’t tell us much, so we look at the outermost droplets to get an idea about what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week.”
Dale quickly tossed aside his previous guesses and reassessed the wheel. There were only a couple spots at the edge of the table, with no apparent meaning or connection.
“About the only thing the middle tells us about your life as a whole is that you’ll be well-liked and are of a literary bent.” Dale immediately suspected that Zavut had recognized him as the scribe’s son, but Zavut continued, apparently having discarded the comment as irrelevant.
“But there are some very definite things we can see in the coming days. Look. These four are the only spots outside the fourth circle — that should make matters very clear,” he pointed out each one in turn. “And although they’re in different quadrants, their interpretations might be very complementary.
“See this spot?” Dale looked where Zavut pointed. “This sign represents a new approach — a new way of meeting old challenges.” Dale was taken aback; this sounded an awful lot like Simon’s philosophy about adventure. The seer looked up at his customer. “Does that make sense to you?” Dale nodded, but remained silent. After a moment, the seer went on.
“And this spot over here is similar.” Dale looked at the spot, which was right next to a glyph of an ornately-decorated cup. “It represents new friends and new relationships.
“The third spot,” continued Zavut, “fell in a sign that is interpreted as overindulgence or excess. And the fourth spot, here, represents resolution of conflict by a dramatic, permanent change. Mind you, I’ve put these in an order that makes sense to me, but that may not be how you experience them…”
Dale sat back and pondered Zavut’ words. The first spot had been surprisingly on target, but he had no idea about the next two. What were they? New friends, and overindulgence. And then a resolution. It didn’t sound like the rest of that applied, but the bit about new ways of looking at things was right on.
Dale stood up. “Thank you, seer. When I came here, I had no idea what to expect. But your wheel has given me some things to think about. Perhaps I’ll be back again sometime.”
Zavut stood and parted the curtain for Dale. “Good. People try to make something mystical about it, but that’s really all that sagacity is: giving people something to think about.” He patted Dale on the shoulder and stopped at the threshold of his booth.
Dale stood blinking in the afternoon sun. He’d actually enjoyed the reading. But he wondered if he could call it an adventure. It certainly was something he’d never done before, and it was kind of exciting, too. He found that he wanted to tell someone about it. It really did feel like a little adventure. Simon’s philosophy seemed pretty useful, after all.
Dale was curious as he thought forward to when his next opportunity to put Simon’s philosophy to work might occur.
He stood in the bright sunlight for a moment, wondering where he should go next. Across the street, a handful of people stood around the booth where Jenzun, the local instrument-maker, sold his wares. Jenzun was entertaining the people by demonstrating his skill with the dulcimer, and Dale made his way across the street so that he could listen. As he approached, he noticed that one of the people who was also listening was a young woman he knew named Erica. Dale admired her quietly, as he had so many times before: burgundy hair that perfectly framed her dark brown eyes and friendly smile. He picked his way through the people and stood beside her.
As Jenzun began a new, lively trotto, he was joined by another musician playing one of Jenzun’s wooden box drums, and another on the rauschpfeiffe. The audience started clapping their hands at the appropriate points in the song, and Dale joined in. Noticing the sound, Erica turned and saw Dale for the first time. Her eyes, deep and mesmerizing, met his, and she smiled warmly.
Dale smiled, then looked down at his feet in embarrassment. He wasn’t any good at talking to girls, especially girls that he liked. Fortunately, she turned back to the musicians, although that left Dale to stand next to her, feeling as if his feet were twice normal size. She was expecting him to say something. Dale felt each moment of silence pass like an accusation.
Dale thought back to Simon’s words about doing things he’d always wanted to do. But this was Erica! This was *important*! But Zavut, too, had said something about new friendships. And approaching Erica would certainly be something he’d never done before!
More moments passed as he tried to formulate something to say. He suddenly realized that the tune was coming to an end, and that if he wanted to talk to her at all, he’d have to do so now.
“Erica?” As she turned, she was looking downward. Then she raised her gaze to meet Dale’s, and he felt like he was falling into those deep, dark eyes of hers. He was completely in awe of her beauty. But he had something he was going to say…
“Umm… You be interested in coming out to the archery butts or anything?”
Damn! It wasn’t very eloquent, but he’d run out of time. And she just stood there, looking at him and smiling in a faintly preoccupied manner, as if musing about his ineptitude. Then she seemed to come to some sort of decision, and took his hand up in hers and patted it.
“Dale… I’m glad I ran into you today. Later this afternoon, a bunch of us are going swimming out at the quarry, and I’d like you to come, too.”
The quarry? “But the quarry’s off limits, isn’t it? It’s dangerous!”
Erica’s eyes gleamed. She brought her face closer to his and whispered to him conspiratorially. “That’s just what they say to keep the kids away. We’ve been there dozens of times, and no one has gotten hurt. It’s really lots of fun!”
Dale couldn’t argue about something he really knew nothing about, which gave him pause. How did he know it was dangerous if he’d never even been to the quarry? If his father had been wrong about fortune tellers, he could be wrong about the quarry, too, right? And Erica said it was fun… And the prospect of spending an afternoon with Erica was worth the risk. After all, if he went and discovered that it really *was* dangerous, he didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to. And this certainly would qualify as an adventure, by Simon’s definition. It was something he’d never done, just because his father had always said it was wrong. So it was pretty easy to come to a decision with Erica looking at him like that!
Erica rewarded him with a smile. “Meet me at the quarry at six bells? I’ve got to go pick up some things at home. Straight?”
“Straight. See you then.”
She flashed him a final smile over her shoulder. “Bye!”
Dale watched as Erica walked away, then turned and looked at Zavut’ booth accusingly. “Yes!!!” he exclaimed, and ran off toward his home.