As Nicolas left the center of Tulin Square, he noticed a group of delivery wagons headed north, toward the castle. From the wagons came the pleasant odor of spices, wines, cheeses, and expensive meat. It must be the king’s latest shipment of food.
Another group of wagons followed the ones carrying the food. These wagons were enclosed, and each had a couple of heavily armored soldiers riding beside them on both sides. “Another shipment of gold for the royal treasury.” Nicolas quietly sighed.
Nicolas followed the delivery wagons, but headed west at the next intersection. Down this road, he saw rows of three story houses. These houses were larger than the standard houses. This, Nicolas knew, were the trade houses.
The trade houses sat in what is known in Tulin as the trade district. Some call this set of buildings “The training center of Tulin”. A variety of trades are learned here, shaping a large portion of Tulin’s commerce. The age of admission to a trade in Tulin was ten years of age, marking the end of childhood.
The tradespeople were in a hierarchy of their own of sorts. The tradespeople, too, were considered peasants, but one notch above the peasants. They were still, however, one notch below the nobles.
Nicolas continued walking down the road, passing boys and tradesmen. He heard numerous voices, tinks, and clanks coming from the trade houses. The noisiest of the sounds came from the blacksmith trade house. Hammers clanged every second, along with the noisy chatter of the blacksmiths. Still holding the notice, Nicolas covered his ears and scuttled, weaving through the throng of tradespeople. As he approached the end of the road, the tradespeople became crowds of girls and tradeswomen, many of which were seamstresses.
Nicolas uncovered his ears and walked to the end of the road. From there, the road went north and south along the inner gate that surrounded Tulin. He turned and headed north, to a four story building that sat in a small field just south of the castle gates.
Nicolas headed east into the field, and then north toward the building.
The building was well adorned, with two marble statues standing on either side of the entrance. The building consisted of white bricks and the windowpanes displayed a stained glass motif of a merchant wheeling a cart. The furthest one down displayed a merchant in fine clothes, standing behind a large building. This was the Merchant’s Guild.
Nicolas entered the guild and walked through the opulently decorated lobby to the front desk. An older burly man sat there, holding a feathered pen. He was dressed in fine clothes and his girth was enormous. He dipped the pen in ink and wrote something on the parchment.
Nicolas slapped the job posting on the front desk. “I came here for the merchant’s apprentice job.”
The man sat his pen in the jar of ink and looked up at Nicolas. “So you did, eh? What’s your name, boy?”
“Nicolas Gillings, sir.” Nicolas politely addressed.
“How old are you?”
“I’m fifteen years and 8 months of age. Almost sixteen…sir.”
“What brought you here to learn this trade?”
“I’m trying to find what I like to do, sir.”
“What do you want to get out of this trade?”
“I want to learn as much as I can from this trade, sir.”
“What trade are you coming from?”
“No trade, sir. This is my first trade.”
The burly man scratched his thin flaky hair and looked at Nicolas sternly. “You don’t need to call me sir. I’m not the king of Tulin. Call me by my name.”
Nicolas gulped. “What…What is your name?”
The burly man stared at him closely. “Call me Wes.”
“O-okay. Wes it is.”
“What are you afraid of, son? We’re just having a little interview. Make yourself at home here. There’s nothing to be nervous about.”
Wes scratched his clump of balding hair. “Almost sixteen years old, eh? And you never worked in a trade before? You’re a little late, son. Why didn’t you come six years ago?”
Nicolas shook his head and balled one of his hands into a fist. “I was going to join some guild when I was twelve,” Nicolas sighed.
Nicolas shook his fist and stomped the floor. “But then the stupid war happened!” he shouted. “Those stupid soldiers from Saris killed my father! What difference does it make to earn a living? I want to kill those stupid maggots and avenge my father’s death!”
The burly man patted Nicolas on the back a few times. “Take it easy, son…” he said.
Nicolas stomped the floor again and swore. “Don’t touch me! No amount of consoling is going to bring my father back. So stop trying to make me feel better!”
“And I’m not your son! Stop calling me son!”
Wes stood up. “Boy then! Sorry about that. It’s just the way I talk. Now boy, do you think you’re the only one who’s lost something? Tell me, do ya?”
Nicolas swung his fist to his side. “No Wes, no.”
Wes pointed his finger firmly at Nicolas. “Well let me tell you boy, I lost someone very close and dear to me. Her name was Cecilia, and she was the catch of the sea!
“I saw it all, boy. When those Saris soldiers came bursting in, I looked for the closest place I could hide. There was an empty delivery wagon so I went in there and hid. Cecilia was in the other room sleeping so I couldn’t warn her or I’d give myself away.”
Nicolas shook his head. “But Saris never invaded Tulin in the war…”
Wes gestured his hand toward Nicolas. “Lies. Didn’t anybody tell you? Saris was going to invade Tulin and they started by invading from the west. They hit all the merchant shops first. Now let me continue with my story. One of the Saris soldiers came into the room where I was. They then barged into the room Cecilia was in. The pleading and the crying was all that I could bear.
“I then hear another soldier enter the room. He alerted the other one and gave him some news. It was an order from their general to withdraw. They both left the room and I emerged from my hiding place. I ran into the other room to find my dear Cecilia naked, all covered in blood on the bed. It was just as I feared. They raped her and they killed her. That filthy cur!” Nicolas was blown away. His balled fist was now opened up and all he could do was gasp. “I’m very sorry to hear that, Wes. If you knew of the invasion, why didn’t you escape with Cecilia?”
Wes sat back down and scratched his hair clump. “I didn’t know. I found out about it after it happened. My other friends told me everything. They said that the invasion was stopped before they reached Tulin Square or the castle. Half of Tulin was affected. You were lucky.”
“I live east of the square.”
“Then you weren’t affected. Now listen, son….”
“Stop calling me that.”
“I can call you son if I want! Now son, I know that you lost your father. Anger and revenge isn’t going to solve anything. I lost Cecilia. We both lost something. The only thing you can do is move on. Be strong for him. He’s a part of you and he’ll always be there. I’m strong for my Cecilia. You be strong for your father, you hear?”
“I’ll be strong, sir.”
Wes cracked a smile. “Now let me finish. You may be a little late…but you’re never too late to learn a trade. Welcome aboard, son.”
Nicolas shook his head in disbelief. “Just like that?”
Wes nodded. “Just like that. Give me a firm one!”
Wes held out his hand and Nicolas firmly shook it. He then got out a new piece of parchment. It had some writing on it and looked like some form of contract. “You’re going to be learning from Stephen Penzington: the master merchant of this guild. All I need you to do is sign your name here.”
“What am I signing?”
“Just some legal stuff. You’re basically agreeing that our guild will not be liable for any accident leading to injury or death. You’re also agreeing to serve a full term of apprenticeship with us and all other terms outlined in the contract.”
“Don’t worry about it, son. This isn’t a deal with the devil. You have my word.”
“Okay. I’ll sign.”
Nicolas took the pen, dunked it in the ink jar, and signed his name.
Wes took the pen back and sat it in the ink jar. “You will be staying in Master Penzington’s master suite on the top floor. Oh, and one other thing.”
“What is it, sir?” Nicolas asked.
“Do you know how to drive a delivery wagon?”
“I’ve done it a couple of times a few years ago. My uncle was a merchant and he let me steer the wagon. Other than that, I’ve had no real experience.”
“Don’t worry about it, son. We have a journeyman for you that’s very skilled at driving a delivery wagon. He’ll guide you and will be supervising you tomorrow. You’re going to be delivering fresh produce from the farms we’re buying from in the farming district. You’ll be delivering that fresh produce to our vendor in Tulin Square. Am I clear, son?”
“Penzington does this with all the ones starting fresh. You’ll be starting tomorrow. Get some good rest, son. You’re gonna need it.”
Nicolas said good-bye to Wes and left the Merchant’s Guild. It was time to go home. He took the east road through the trade district and remained eastward until he passed the king’s road, the one that went north to the castle and to the far south out of Tulin. He proceeded eastward until the road ended. From there, the road went north and south. To the north, the road bordered the farm district. To the south, the road went through a dense neighborhood of houses and ran through more farms further south.
Nicolas headed south on this road, toward his house. He kept heading southward until he reached the northeastern edge of Tulin Square.
When Nicolas reached Tulin Square, he had to stop walking because his feet were getting sore. With that, he sat down and took a short break from walking. Nearby, he saw a couple of young girls sitting outside the house. They were wearing nice dresses with bonnets over their heads. The girls just sat there, clapping their hands back and forth. While they played their game, they said their chant:
Pat one, pat two,
Now I pat one back to you!
Pat three, pat four,
Now I pat you even more!
Pat five, pat six,
Now I pat you with some tricks!
Pat seven, pat eight,
Now your patting’s getting great!
Pat nine, pat ten,
Now we pat and start again!
As the girls clapped away, Nicolas smiled and then sighed. Nicolas never played that game as a kid, as that game was only played by little girls. The boys always played the rougher games. With childhood being a distant memory, he knew of the far more important things in life. There were chores to be done and a job to find. The Copian scriptures had to be read. In the distant future, he would need to court with a Copian woman, buy a house, and start a family.
The girls, on the other hand, were deep in their childhood. Totally carefree and blissfully unaware of the world. The only thing they worried about was nap time and playtime. They would play their games all day without having to worry about adulthood. It would be a few more years before they enter the adult world.
With his feet feeling better, Nicolas stood up and continued his way home. He continued south and passed through two intersections. At the next intersection, he turned east and walked past two more intersections.
His house was right ahead. Nicolas approached the door and knocked. No answer. Nicolas shrugged and entered.
Nicolas walked through all the rooms of the house. His mother wasn’t there. She must be shopping in Tulin Square or something…
Nicolas entered his room and his face lit up. The sheathed sword lay on the table, waiting for him. He grabbed it. I’m sure she won’t mind me training when she knows I found a job.
Time to train. Nicolas put on his shoulder belt and fed the loop from the scabbard around the belt so it hung down his back.
Nicolas left his house and headed westward, all the way to Tulin Square. He then went south, down the king’s road. After a while, the stone road became a grassy field. He looked back and saw a castle in the far distance, surrounded by a gate. He looked up at the sky. The sun was past its zenith, but the sky was still bright.
Nicolas looked back at the castle gate. That walled area is what separates me from the rich, he thought. King Tulin gets to have it all. So do the nobles…
Nicolas didn’t let that bother him all that much. At least he could read and write. Most Tulinites aren’t fortunate enough to have this privilege. Of course Tulinites could farm well. But their low-income status makes it difficult to buy the books the nobles read. Most of these books would cost them a year’s wages. With that, Nicolas considered himself lucky to be able to even read at all.
Nicolas finally stopped walking to find himself surrounded by a vast valley. Facing south, the valley seemed to go on forever.
“Finally here…” Nicolas pleasantly sighed. “Tulin valley.”
©2011 K. L. Walker