Y'Zark the Apprentice Ch. 1byrexfelis©
In the year 13 of what has since come to be known as the Time of Return, when I was sixteen years of age, I went to market one summer day to sell a portion of the crop we had been harvesting the previous day. It always fell to my shoulders to go to the market and do the selling, since I was the oldest child. It was a task I enjoyed, since it was something different.
Most of my time was spent working on my family's farm, and going to market allowed me to see a change of scenery, meet new people, and discover scarce news about the world around us.
Tarundale was only a few hours away by horse drawn cart, so it was far enough to make it inaccessible to someone as busy as myself, but close enough to be not terribly inconvenient to access if the need did arise. During the harvesting season, I would usually make three or four trips to market over the course of a lunar cycle, which was about how long it took our family as it was to harvest our entire crop. My father and mother and my two younger sisters and myself were the remains of the family that had started out a few members larger, and each of us had to put in some time in the fields each day.
The only exception was mother, who spent her entire day seeing to the needs of the rest of the family in other ways - cooking, cleaning the house, gathering eggs, feeding what livestock we had, and various other chores. Every last one of us was busy the day through.
So it was my pleasure to take these trips to Tarundale each week during harvest, even if I did have to get up and load the cart by myself at an ungodly early hour and then leave before even my father thought of awakening, which was yet a ways ahead of the sun's rise. The early morning air was quiet and still, and there were some pleasant mists here and there along the rutted road that led to the town.
I had heard stories at a younger age that sometimes, those mists hid spirits unable to find peace in their eternal rest, who would seek out the living and in ways unthinkable cause them harm. Such was not my experience at that time, and I was glad to let the mists wash over me, feeling their faint droplets on my skin.
The air was still that morning, I remember well. Interesting that we never know what experiences of a mundane sort will stick with us, and sometimes not even why, but there are always those seemingly innocuous things we live through that do stick with us clearly for decades to come.
The ride was not hurried, the horse I had taken walked at a good pace, and the creaking of the wagon distracted me so that it was easy to daydream in this rare period of otherwise idle existence.
And of what did I daydream? Times of old, as the stories told them, when there were wondrous things in the world. Times before the gods had turned their backs on the world, when magic still flourished, when creatures strange and frightful lurked in deep caves, and conquests for fame and glory still happened with regularity.
I imagined myself alternately a warrior, a knight, a priest, a rogue and a master of wizardry. Of course I knew at best little of each of these, and so my fantastic voyages as each one could be but limited. Still, I reveled in them, for I wished to live a life of adventure myself, some day, instead of being just a farmer, as my father was.
My father, Realgus, had been a wanderer in his youth, and I suspected that he might have been an adventurer, but he would never talk about it, or the limp he had every once in a while when the nights were especially cold and the air was very dry in the dead of winter. My mother told me once that his wound had been gotten defending her, but more than that she would not say.
My father had made rare comment of displeasure when he thought he might have to hunt some wild animal causing our farm trouble. I knew that he kept a sword and dagger and a longbow hidden in the loft, but I never dared search for them. So my rare daydreams sometimes featured him, younger, off doing adventurous wonders, sometimes alone, sometimes with others.
It was a good way to pass the time to market, and instead of seeming to take the two or three hours it actually took, the time was shortened to seem like just a few minutes. I arrived at the town gates, paid my entry fee of two silver pieces, waited for the guard to finish searching my wagon for illegal stuffs, and passed through to the town proper. From there it was a short ways to the market area, where I began to settle up my things. This trip, I was selling corn, as were several other farmers like me, but odd indeed was the sight that awaited my eyes when I shucked a few ears to put out for display.
Instead of being the usual golden color, or even the white that sometimes appeared, and instead even of being the even rarer mixture of the two, my eyes beheld purple and blue streaks of some sort upon the kernels, making the ear look as though it were a flame of those colors! I stared at that first ear for a moment, then covered it up and tried another, and another, and yet another still, but they all were this way. What in the world was this?!
For a long moment, I was entirely uncertain what to do. Was this some sort of blight on the corn? Close examination revealed that indeed it was not; the kernels were each colored in such a way as to produce this undeniably beautiful pattern that so remarkably resembled blue and purple flames, leaving the tips of the ears their usual yellow color. I broke an ear in half, and examined the cob, but it was as usual. Pulling some of the oddly colored kernels from their places, I squeezed them between my fingers to see if perhaps they were some sort of rotten; they were not. Neither did they smell any differently than any other corn I had ever experienced before.
After a moment I got up the courage to taste some of these kernels. The taste of this corn was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Sweet as honey, and yet with another altogether different sort of flavor that was absolutely stunningly delicious!
It being that I had forgotten to eat before leaving the house, I quickly ate the ears I had shucked in my search for yellow corn, and upon observing my actions and the corn I was eating, an old woman inquired as to what was causing these oddities. I replied through a mouthful of crisp sweetness that I was eating breakfast. She laughed, but shucked an ear for her examination, and gasped as she saw it. It was so beautifully colored that it transfixed her for a moment, as it had me, and now I sincerely regretted eating such beautiful corn, but the taste was excellent, and I filled myself with it without the slightest loss of time.
As you can imagine, it was not long before word got out about this strangeness, and it was not long thereafter that I was having a hard time taking the money fast enough. The last couple of bushels, though, people began bidding on, and soon it seemed as though I would be rich before the day was through!
It was not long before the entire market was present, and the mob drew the guard, who tried to break up their congregation, but there was to be none of that. In short order, the situation had gone completely out of control, and there ensued a riot, with people grabbing desperately for the corn and fighting tooth and nail for every ear! It was the best I could to to hide under the cart, and naturally the horse was frightened and ran off, but not too far, so that when the madness was over I could still see her aways off.
The scene was a strange one indeed. People had crushed and trampled many vendors' booths, and there were a few people too who had been trampled in the madness. Here and there were people nursing a black eye, or a bloody lip, and some worse than that. Corn husks littered the ground all around, along with cobs smeared with blue and purple. The baskets had been crushed underfoot. More and more guards were arriving, along with healers and the curious from other parts of the town, to ask the inevitable questions. And the crowd of people responsible for this madness stood as a group around the town well, seemingly without the slightest clue what was going on otherwise.
Order, such as it was, was restored when the Captain of the Guard arrived and demanded from a lieutenant some explanation. The lieutenant had to ask a sergeant to explain, and the sergeant demanded that a corporal explain. The corporal had in turn to defer to one of the foot guards who had witnessed the entire thing, and it wasn't too long before I was surrounded by these men in their armor and carrying steel weapons, asking very pointed questions of me. I was oddly unable to come to words, and they decided I was trafficking in some form of magic and arrested me.
It was not long before this very strange story was running wild in the rumor mils, and even the other prisoners were abuzz with it. They did not realize it was me of whom they spoke, and I was asked if I had heard various versions of the story. In this one, I was an assassin sent with poisoned corn to bring madness to the people of Tarundale; in that one, I was a wizard who's secret experiment had gone awry and I was trying to make a profit on the results. It was these wild stories that worried me the most, for either of those offenses would have my head removed.
In short order, I was brought before the Town Council and told to explain myself. I did my best to explain the situation as it had happened, but the council beset me with accusations based on the rumors I had heard and even some that I had not. Refuting these claims seemed hopeless, as the council members, who seemed to consist of many of the business owners in the town, were in an uproar as to what had happened, and understandably so: their peaceful town had been turned into a crazed mob who had destroyed hundreds of gold pieces worth of merchandise and killed three people, as well as injuring several more. Events like this simply did not happen in the walls of Tarundale, and they wanted to blame someone for this disturbance: me.
The next twenty or thirty minutes saw not so much of an interest in whether I was to blame or not, but how to punish this unbelievably heinous act of "unprovoked and sordid sorcery". Before long, everyone in the chamber was engaged in this dialogue, and I was the only one who had even the thought that perhaps I was not guilty. So intense was the debate as to what should be my punishment that I was able to slip out of the room and leave the building unnoticed. But outside, I was to bump into a man who would change my life forever.
To say I was startled would be an understatement; I thought I would die of it. And to say I bumped into him is not entirely accurate, either, since it was his Staff that I walked into. I had been looking to see if anyone was coming from the side of the building and did not see him standing right in front of me. Then again, perhaps that is how he wanted it.
"And just who might you be?" asked this man, who was a good sight taller than myself, and who wore what I recognized as the robes that wizards of old were supposed to have worn.
I could no more have remembered my name at that moment than I could have flapped my arms and flown. My mouth opened and closed, my lips moved, but there was nothing to say. He leaned down a bit and examined my face for a moment, eventually wiping something away from my chin, looking at it, and then asked me another question.
"Blue flame corn? Is that what you were eating? Indeed... and you do fit the rest of the descriptions as well, don't you?"
"B-b-b-blueflamecorn?" I blurted. Each second, there was a mob of prosecutors coming closer and closer to noticing my absence, and I wanted to be as far away as possible when they did. In an instant of realization, I concurred that such would be an appropriate name for what I had brought with me to market. He half laughed and half chuckled at my state of being. Then he asked me again, what was my name?
"Y-Y'Zark, sir," my mouth finally said before I could think.
"Y'Zark?" he asked, quizzically. "Are you sure?"
"Yes!" I cried, as I looked behind me. "They'll be after me! I must escape! I didn't do anything!" I cried in desperation.
"Hmmm, blue flame corn, and you fit the description, but your name seems to be a bit off," he casually contemplated. "Are you known by any other names, perhaps, child?"
My panic was growing by leaps and bounds, and my heart was pounding in my head and leaping into my throat. Again without thinking, I blurted out my mother's secret pet name for me when I was a bit younger. My focus was not even on him anymore, but on the door at the end of the hall I was trying to exit.
"Aha!" he cried. "It is indeed you! Well, then, Y'Zark, take my hand and we shall be off."
At that moment, the sound of the discovery that I was not in the council chamber burst forth as the doors at the end of the hall spilled open with people looking for me.
"There he is! Get him!" came the cry, and the rush was on.