I wake up to my warm, wooly bed rising out from beneath me as the flock begins its morning stretch and graze. The sun is only just peeking out from the horizon, and the cool autumn breeze nips and warns of a strong winter to come. I am supposed to be bringing in the mutton I had butchered to the Gold Nugget Inn and Tavern early this afternoon, but otherwise it looks to be an uneventful day. I spend most of the morning simply whittling away at my crook, adding a new design into the hook. Breakfast is a handful of blueberries and some leftover bread, and lunch is some dried mutton strips. After the second meal I lead the flock back to the house which now sits so cold and empty since the passing of my mother. My ashen hair was as pale in comparison to her brown locks as her skin was to my olive flesh, but still treated me as if we were blood.
It is a short walk from the butcher to the Golden Nugget, and thankfully so. Raw meat never meets well with my nose, and it is even more difficult knowing that I had raised the meat in hand from a ewe. I arrive at the backdoor of the inn, and am met by Ronald – the head cook. The two of us have always gotten along swimmingly, mostly because I make a habit of putting some meat to the side for him and he is courteous enough to buy me a drink or two for it. Of course, with this kind of arrangement it isn’t long before I’m leading the whole kitchen in a round of “Two Drunks Counting.”
The noise is short-lived, however. Analyn Winston, the head wench and the owner’s daughter, burst in to check on the crew and we were all, needless to say, quite unprepared for the inspection. For some reason though she doesn’t seem too concerned about my presence. She quickly rattles off something about men with large wigs coming to the inn any minute, and Ronald shoos me out into the main hall. It seems to be perfect timing though. A large group of fancy men in armor and a pair less covered are just entering. Of the two unarmored ones, the female seems to be casting a rather critical, or maybe nervous, eye to the whole room. Analyn approaches the group along with her parents and introduce themselves. More than a small bit drunk, I decide that it is necessary to inform the guests that I am the provider of tonight’s mutton. Perhaps not my wisest decision, but it seems to earn me an invitation to sit with the group for dinner, and I am glad for a free meal and the likelihood of more drink.
Surprisingly, Analyn is also brought to the dinner table. The armored men, who I can only assume must be guards for the other two, sit separate from us and the unarmored ones – the other who I can now tell is a man getting along in years. The early parts of the conversation are a blur, but after the pleasantries the woman, who goes by Ms. Laura, removes a small, circular emblem made of some fine metal from her pocket. She asks me to grab it, and I oblige. I instantly drop the disk though as it begins to vibrate violently as soon as it touches my flesh. Laura and the old man, who calls himself Dr. Claibourne, exchange a knowing glance to each other and make the same request of Analyn. She takes hold of the emblem and keeps it in hand despite the vibration. The two again exchange the look before taking the cursed thing back. They ask us if any strange things have ever happened to us, or if we’ve ever seen or done something odd. Quickly, Analyn reveals that in the mornings she is often sent to start the fires and then a flame ignites from her palms. Though I am taken aback, it is nothing compared to one of the tavern wenches who walks in at that very moment.
The young woman begins to scream and bolts out of the door. Analyn excuses herself from the table and I follow quickly behind. We come upon the wench frantically blathering about the event to her coworkers, but when she spies us she is off again. We ask the girls what they were told, and though they were told the truth they seem skeptical. Analyn lies and tells them that the girl had been hallucinating, and I corroborate by adding that she was likely chewing Redtip – a breed of plant that grows locally and can often cause strange visions. The girls accept this answer and we return to the private dining area set up for these impressive guests.
After we settle back at the table, the pair inquire as to what I can do, already seeming somewhat bored with Analyn’s impressive power. I take a knife from the table and stab my hand with it. However, when the blade should pierce my skin glowing silver lines rush from my shoulder and form a single, mass around the impact site, blocking the blade. The two nod to each other and quickly begin a proposition: that we accompany them to a school for “gifted people” such as ourselves where they learn, as Dr. Claibourne bluntly puts it, magic – complete with wiggling finger accompaniment.
I am almost thrilled by the opportunity. There is little left for me in Split Ford since my mother’s passing, and I believe a change of scenery might do me well. Analyn also jumps at the opportunity, but she first must make sure it is acceptable with her parents. Her mother seems somewhat disheartened by the idea, but her father seems to find the arrangement fine after hearing of how the state is apparently willing to pay for the costs of our learning. Seeing an opportunity though, I strike a quick deal with Analyn’s father not long before we leave. I offer to sell him the whole of my flock and the land it grazes on for a relatively meager sum. It is plenty to see that I am well provided for outside of Split Ford, but it does not make me a rich man by any means.
The trip from Split Ford to Cenaela is only a few short days North, and there is little to do. We, Analyn and I, spend most of the first day trying to find out what the University is like, but the questioning soon devolves into a game of seeing how to differently ask “are we there yet?” and “how much longer until we arrive?” When we are only a few hours away we reach the coast, and the view makes both of us students-to-be stop in our tracks. The ocean – I never really thought I would see anything like in my lifetime. Analyn begs the question on the fron of both of our minds, “can we go down to the shore?” Dr. Claibourne seems impatient to reach our destination, but he consents and we go down to the water with Ms. Laura. For an hour – maybe two – we act like complete children, splashing water and playing in the sand. Ms. Laura is content to simply watch, but she seems to be mildly amused by our antics.
Too soon Dr. Claibourne calls for us to get back on the road and we finish the last leg of our journey. At last, we reach the University of Cenaela. We are promptly shown to the stables to put up our horses then assigned a dorm room to sleep in for the night. We are told that tomorrow is the only day for us to acclimate ourselves before the dean’s commencement address, and the day after starts classes.