Wenn was a happy young man, that day.
Perhaps the happiest young man for many years.
He had been selected by Old Marrat for apprenticeship. He was going to become a wizard. This was good. Wizards made lots of money, and wizards were respected. Most of all, wizards were powerful, and did not have to take guff from anyone.
For now, he was not powerful, nor respected, and certainly had little money. He was cargo, actually. Quite literally. He was wedged in the back of the wagon between a barrel of pickled river cod and a crate of bronze nails. He knew they were bronze, because he could see them as he poked them back into the crate after they poked him. He knew the river cod were pickled, because the barrel seemed to have a small leak.
He also knew, that in a few short years, by his twenty-fifth birthday, he would be one of the most powerful men in all the duchy, perhaps even the entire Western Realms. This kept him happy, despite his current situation, pickled and prodded in a jouncing wagon behind a driver that seemed to time his tobacco spitting at the same moments that gusts of wind would ensure that the finer droplets would blow towards Wenn.
He wondered idly if walking might not have been preferable.
Norboro was not terribly far, only two days by wagon or on foot. But it was farther than Wenn had ever traveled from Morrovale before. It was on the northern border of the Duchy of Morrovale, and it was the intellectual center, if not the social center of the duchy.
It sported the land's only center for higher learning. The vaunted Academy of Norboro, a finishing school for young noblemen and noblewomen. It would be a very interesting town, Wenn had no doubt.
Simon, the driver, sat on the buckboard, driving the wagon, and clucking to the two old nags that pulled the conveyance. Next to him was a priest, a man who had called himself Menlo. He was going to Norboro, too, to become fully ordained, whatever that meant. Naturally, a man of the cloth was given preference to an apprentice wizard, in choice of seating.
The wagon jounced over another rut, and Wenn was poked again in his side by a errant nail from the crate. Pushing it gently back in with a fingertip, he wondered if perhaps another spot in the wagon would be better. Looking around he found none that seemed more comfortable. At least the sack of flour under his rump kept his butt from bouncing off the hardwood floor of the wagon.
Simon clucked at the horses again, differently this time, and they slowed to a stop.
Wenn craned his head around the pickled cod barrel to see what the hold up was. There was a girl standing by the road. She looked to be his own age, or nearly so. She had dirty blonde hair, bound in a loose pony tail, and was wearing a homespun dress that reached down to her ankles.
Wenn scoffed mentally at her lack of style. Girls in Morrovale, these days, mostly dressed 'elven.' That was to say, they wore short skirts that reached just above the knee and left their midriffs open, covering their breasts with half tunic. At first the new look had scandalized the community. But when elven ladies had begun to come through Morrovale regularly, rather than simply the one Lady Hyandai, it had begun to be less frowned upon. Now, it hardly raised an eyebrow, though the boys really appreciated the extra dose of skin they got regularly now.
The girls rather liked the newer style, too. It was easier to move about and do chores in, and not nearly so hot, lacking frills and petticoats and such. Wenn closed his eyes a moment remembering several of the village's prettiest girls in their daring, half-thigh skirts.
His reverie was disturbed by the girl clambering over the tailgate of the wagon and settling into a sitting position opposite him. She had scooted a small crate of dried meat and was folding some canvas atop it. She had managed to make a decent seat for herself when Simon clucked again and the wagon had started moving again.
She smiled over at him and said. "Hello. My name is Crissa."
Wenn gave out with a weak smile. "I am Wenn, apprentice to Marrat."
Crissa seemed unimpressed, but smiled more broadly. "Then it is good that we meet." She said.
"Why is that?" Wenn asked, his voice sounding rather annoyed.
She apparently was not particularly observant, Wenn decided, for she simply smiled the more broadly.
"I am also apprenticed to Marrat." She said happily.
Wenn's face went blank, and his jaw slackened. "What?" He asked after a moment of stunned silence.
"Merrat came to our farmstead and asked me to come and study under his tuteledge." She said, somewhat slowly, as if Wenn were a bit daft. "That means I am his apprentice, as well."
"But, wizards only take one apprentice, don't they?" Wenn protested, his voice rising in pitch in a way that alarmed himself. Stop sounding whiny, he chided himself.
She giggled. "I guess they can take more, if they've a mind to." She replied. "Who's to stop them?"
It took a moment for him to digest this, but then Wenn said. "I suppose you are correct."
She nodded. "Merrat knows what he is doing." She said solemnly. "He's the most powerful wizard in the duchy."
"I know that." Snapped Wenn. "Everyone knows that."
Crissa was finally taken aback, and her eyes took on a slightly harder cast of blue. "Well, excuse me for making conversation." She snapped back and gave him a rather withering glare.
Wenn looked away instinctively and watched the passing trees and farmsteads, the latter becoming more and more infrequent as they got farther from Morrovale. Luckily, the weather today was pleasant, a typical midsummer morning, though it did promise heat later.
"Ay, you two, simmer down back there, I'll not have my passengers yelling and making a ruckus." Simon shouted over his shoulder, startling the priest who had been dozing. That worthy had nearly fallen off his perch upon the buckboard when he half jumped at the loud yell.
Both of the young passengers giggled at his predicament as he flailed about for the handholds on the dash of the wagon. They chuckled a long moment before their eyes met again.
"I'm sorry to sound upset." Wenn finally said. "I simply didn't expect Marrat to choose another apprentice. Especially at the same time as his choosing me."
Crissa smiled again, but this one wasn't nearly as warm as her earlier ones had been, Wenn noticed, and was somewhat saddened by.
"It's okay." Crissa said. "Not many people expect a girl to be chosen, either." She looked at him, again piercing him with those blue eyes. "And I wouldn't have been, except my abilities were beginning to manifest on their own, and it frightened my parents enough to pay to have Marrat come see to me."
Suddenly, Wenn was extemely interested. "Your abilities were manifesting by themselves?" He asked, a bit incredulous.
She nodded. "Well, one was, anyway." She replied.
"How? What?" Wenn asked, very interested now.
She blushed slightly. "I suppose you'll find out when we get to Marrat's home anyway." She murmured, her expression becoming somewhat secretive.
"I imagine so." Wenn said, coaxing her to speak more with widened green eyes.
She leaned closer to him, close enough that he smelled honeysuckle coming from her. "I'm a bit of a mentalist." She stage whispered.
"A mentalist?" Wenn said. "As in control minds?"
She nodded. "I can only do one thing yet, but it does work almost every time." She said.
"What's that, then?" Wenn asked, beginning to suspect her power would be very trivial and unimpressive.
She gave him another look. "This means nothing, so get no ideas." She said, grinning.
"Okay, I'll keep that in mind." Wenn responded, now a bit confused.
She stared at him a long moment, her eyes becoming almost all he could see. He found he could not look away from her. A slight feeling of alarm began to seep into his thoughts, wondering what she was doing to him, and to his mind.
Then, like a snapping of a whip, the worry was gone. He looked at her again and he wondered how he could have ever been annoyed at such a beautiful young woman.
He swallowed on a parched throat and his mouth gaped open slightly. "So pretty." He murmured as he gazed upon her gleaming golden hair and icy blue eyes. Even her faint freckles were appealing beyond description, forming a lightly-brushed row of dots atop her high cheekbones and the bridge of her slender nose. The tilt of the nose drew his eyes down to her lips, full, pink, and inviting him to kiss her.
Wenn felt his heart pounding in his chest, like a bass drum sending out the marching cadence to an army. His breath was short, too, he noted, and tried to breathe more deeply. There was one other, very noticeable, affect she was having upon him - His trousers were very snug against his groin now.
"By the one, you're gorgeous." He whispered to her, and started to sit up to lean toward her.
She smiled and the entire universe contracted for Wenn, the only thing now in it was her, and her smile. The bronze nail in his hip was nothing, the smell of pickled codfish was a paltry distraction. All that mattered in the world was her, and that inviting smile. The smile was formed by those luscious lips, and he had to kiss them.
He leaned forward farther and then fell back as the world came crashing down around his head. He landed hard on his rump and the nail bit into his bottom as he landed. He blinked a couple of times, and saw Crissa sitting before him, still smiling slightly, and also coated with a thin sheen of perspiration on her face and arms.
.... There is more of this story ...