The Merchant Morrow – Chapter 2

fiction(Since chapter 1 of this story leaves you in a bit of a lurch, I decided to go ahead and post chapter 2 as well. Granted, this one ends on a cliffhanger as well, but it does have a bit more of a resolution ingrained. Tune in on Monday for the next episode of The Roanoke Sessions. Enjoy!)

Bailey fidgeted anxiously at the breakfast table, unable to get comfortable on the bench and only picking at her plate. There wasn’t anything wrong with the food, quite on the contrary. The meals provided to the apprentices today were even better than normal, as today was a holiday; the autumnal equinox, a celebration of the harvest. This morning there were roasted apples with cinnamon and brandied cream, thick fresh slices of bread slathered with butter and clover honey, steaming hot mugs of spiced cider, and plump succulent sausages that dripped with their own juices. But how could she eat a single bite with all the butterflies bouncing around inside her?

The hall was full of the chattering voices of excited pupils. While only five of the apprentices would be graduating today, everyone looked forward to the evening festivities. There would be another huge feast at dinner and a big bonfire in the courtyard after dark. All the colorful leaves that had been raked up from the courtyards during the previous week would be set alight. There would be music, but not too much dancing or drinking. After all, the fresh Journeymen were expected to report to their new assignments bright and early come tomorrow morning.

While the other graduating apprentices discussed where they might be headed and what the future would bring, Bailey kept her thoughts to herself. She wasn’t the sort to intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings or try to make her own merits seem superior, but she knew that none of her peers were as qualified as she was. She was positive that they would not be placed in a position anywhere near as impressive as her own.

She did manage a shy smile and a bright blush when the sandy haired Geoffrey asked if she thought that they might be assigned to the same enterprise, or at the very least one within visiting distance. He was an attractive boy, muscular and well groomed, but he was not the brightest star in the sky. And he often reeked of the horses and hay.

Geoffrey spent every free moment outside, helping in the gardens or tending to the horses. He had grown up on a farm and was used to livestock and hard labor. Despite this he was soft spoken and very gentle, if a bit clumsy. Bailey had kissed him once, under the mistletoe last winter. It had been a silly and impulsive thing to do, but she honestly did not see what all the fuss over kissing was anyways. Mostly it had been wet and scratchy. Geoffrey had to shave daily, but his face was coarse again by sunset. Still, the boy had been smitten with her ever since.

Which was flattering to Bailey, but ultimately completely impractical. While those of the laboring class were considered marriageable at the age of thirteen those in the middle class could not marry until they had completed their journeyman work, which would be at the age of eighteen for most of them. Geoffrey wasn’t really the sort of man Bailey planned on marrying anyways. She wanted someone with style and class, brains and money. An older gentleman perhaps, a banker or an exotic spice merchant. If things worked out, she might even marry the master of her new house, if he wasn’t already taken.

Still, she allowed Geoffrey his infatuation. He did give her gifts on occasion, silly little poems and flowers plucked from the academy gardens. It was sweet, and she liked the attention, even though Bailey had not kissed him again since that one time and had absolutely no intention of keeping in contact with him after today’s placement ceremony.

After breakfast Bailey returned to her room to pack up her few meager belongings and prepare the space for whomever would occupy it after her. This was the way of things at the guild academy. In the early years of an apprenticeship here, the younger boys and girls slept in segregated dormitories with many bunk beds and no personal space. The last two years of the apprenticeship allowed a pupil a small private room with a bed, a desk, and a wardrobe. Now that Bailey was moving on, her room would be made available to another pupil approaching the end of their own tenure.

She folded her other two sets of clothes neatly and placed them in the bottom of a small traveling case, with her hairbrush and mirror atop them. All of her writing supplies were property of the guild itself, but she did have a few books of her own that she had acquired over her years here, one of which was a blank journal that she planned on keeping important figures and sums in during her new employment. These too went into the case, along with her small box of makeup pigments and brushes. She then removed her bedding and left it folded neatly by the chair, to be taken down to the laundry by a younger pupil. Her small case, with all of her worldly possessions, she left beside the door. It would be retrieved by a porter later in the day, after her new position was announced.

With several hours remaining till the ceremony, there was plenty of time to spend wandering the grounds and saying her goodbyes. She wasn’t a terribly sentimental sort through, and she saw no value in fond remembrances or pleasant partings. Instead she crept early to the Great Hall and sat down in a pew to wait.

What about friends? Wasn’t there anyone at the academy that she would miss? A classmate, or a favorite tutor perhaps. The honest answer was no. Bailey did not have any friends.

It wasn’t that she was terribly unlikable, she just kept herself carefully walled off from everyone else. When she arrived at the guild hall, she had been much younger than any of the other apprentices. Anyone who had looked fondly on her in those days, as one would look after a younger sister, was long gone by now. After those first few years had passed and others her own age had been admitted, she was well ahead of them in both her familiarity with the daily routine and the mastery of their craft.

She didn’t have a chip on her shoulder per say, but she was aware of the fact that she knew more than her peers, and that was something easily picked up on by the other students. She did not have any friends because there were no shared experiences for her to bond over. She was eternally an outsider, even amongst the those in the same vocation.

A sharp poke in the ribs nudged Bailey awake, and she sat blinking away a fog of bleary confusion. She had not meant to doze off, but the sleepless night combined with the warm air of the guild’s great hall had lulled her into napping. The long nosed Isabelle Gardener stood above her snickering with cruel amusement. “Too good for the ceremony, huh Beanpole? Don’t let us interrupt your beauty sleep. You need it!”

The ceremony was about to start! Bailey hopped to her feet and looked around, then wiped the drool from her cheek with the back of her hand. The candle in the chandeliers had been lit while she was sleeping, and the Great Hall was crowded with Master Merchants from throughout the city. Not every guild member came, as they had shops and businesses to attend to, but Bailey was surprised at how fast the hall was actually filling up. She slipped to the front row and sat down with her peers, taking care to be on the opposite end of the group from Geoffrey, though that stuck her right next to the annoying Isabelle.

The Doyen of the Academy slowly made his way up to his lectern at the front of the hall and shuffled his notes importantly. He was an old man to Bailey’s reckoning, with spectacles before his tired eyes and wisps of white hair streaming out from under his flat topped cap. He had patchy grey stubble on his chin, and a long curling white moustache sprouted from below his bulbous nose. He towered over the apprentices, floating like a stern spectre of discipline in his long black tutors robes. Today he also wore the gold medal on his chest that marked him as a Master within the guild. In a felt lined box on stand beside him rested the five silver medals that would awarded to the new Journeymen today.

Clearing his throat, he smiled out at the assemblage and glanced over to make sure all five of his graduating pupils were present. Nodding once after seeing that they were, he spoke out in a strong clear voice that echoed through the stone hall. “Very well. Let us begin… Welcome my brothers and sisters of commerce, each of you masters of coin and exchange. Today, five youths of our realm leave the tender tutelage of my nest and look to you to find their wings. They are all well trained in the arts of trade, each having completed seven years of study within these halls. Numbers, qualities, quantities, words, and books. They have conquered them all. Now, it is up to you to take this knowledge and mold it with real world practicality and experience.”

“Each of us has been in their shoes before, though for some it has been a very long time indeed.” He chuckled in a self depreciating manner and reached up to tease a  strand of his silver hair. A murmur of obligatory amusement rippled through the crowd at his rather tired, but favorite, jest. “Remember well my brothers and sisters, what good the guiding hand of a master can bring to these young men and women before us. Be stern, but be encouraging. Be an example, yet give them the freedom to explore new ideas. Welcome the inevitable mistakes for what they are, a challenge to improve. And exult in the discovery of newly honed skills and a true mastery of our craft. Over the next three years, shape these young Journeymen into merchants worthy of being called your equals.

A polite smattering of applause followed the Doyen’s speech as he stepped out from behind the podium with the box of medals in hand. He nodded over to the five apprentices and gave a knowing smirk. “The bidding for your Journeyman service has been fierce, and I trust that each of you has now been assigned to the enterprise to which are you most suited. To those from whom you have the most to learn, and to that which will prepare you most for your future in this worthy endeavor. As I call your name, please step forward to receive your mark and my sincerest congratulations.”

The medal for the Journeyman was a large silver coin with a diamond shaped hole in the center, through which a sterling chain was strung. Symbolically it was payment for their service to the Guild Hall as apprentices, and a promise of the riches that awaited them should they remain dedicated to their craft and conscious of their past studies. Practically speaking, it was equivalent to three days passage on a riverboat. This had come in handy for Journeyman who chose to abandon the guild, either to flee an abusive master or escape the angry father of a unfortunate tryst.

“Isabelle De Fleur, Journeyman to Madam Elinor De Fleur’s Romantic Perfumery.”

Bailey rolled her eyes and groaned silently. But that assignment did make sense, seeing as how Isabelle had grown up around flowers. Of course she was also beautiful and had blond hair which probably helped her achieve such a high placement and this left even greater opportunities for Bailey. If Isabelle had landed a perfumery, she herself was certainly destined for something grander.

“Geoffrey Constable, Journeyman to Master Horace Constable’s Livery and Stables.”

This was rather unexpected, and Bailey actually gasped in surprise at the announcement. Master Horace owned the most respected horse stables in all of New Virgil. His horses were famous even beyond the city, and it was his pure white stallions that pulled the carriages for noble weddings. This was quite an opportunity for Geoffrey which caused the boy to rise a few notches in Bailey’s estimation.

“Melody Chandler, Journeyman to Master Jarrett Chandler and his fine candle shop on High Street.”

That was more like it! Melody was a dull girl, perfectly suited to the selling of candles. It didn’t take much skill to sell something everyone needed and used, and the dim flickering light would probably be best to obscure those horrible moles on her face.

“Gilbert Deadman, Journeyman to Master and Mistress Boris Deadman’s Funerary Services.”

Gross! Bailey winced for poor Gilbert. He was a small and nervous boy, who had an unfortunate tendency to stutter. His midnight black hair and pale skin would probably look fitting with the traditional long coat and top hat though. She did not dwell on pitying the boy as only her assignment was left, and she had no time for the troubles of others at that moment.

“Bailey Carter, Journeyman to the Esteemed Masters Dinkler, Rockswallow, and Curd of Underground Enterprises.”

At first she was confused and looked over her shoulder to see who else might be graduating. Was someone being advanced early? But why would someone be advanced to a Carter of all things? Transporting goods by wagon, was that really so important that the guild would release a student from their apprenticeship early? And who in the world were Masters Dinkler, Rockswallow, and Curd? Then her ears caught up with her brain and the reality of what the Doyen had uttered finally hit home.

Bailey Carter?

Bailey. Carter.

But that wasn’t right!

Her knees went wobbly as panic coursed through her veins. Carter! She wasn’t supposed to be a Carter. Why was it suddenly so hot in here? The world swam fuzzily before her eyes, and then darkness settled in.

“Bailey!” The Doyen cried out in alarm as the red haired girl tumbled forwards. Thankfully Geoffrey was quicker on the uptake than she had ever given him credit for. He swept her up in his sturdy arms before she hit the floor. Bailey was gone to the world. There was nothing now but snicker of fate coursing steadily through her unconscious mind. It had the clicking rhythmic sound… of wagon wheels.

The Merchant Morrow – Chapter 2

Copyright 2015 by Robert A. Turk

All Rights Reserved


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