He really should be used to it by now. But seeing the seal in his hands, bearing the standard “We’re sorry, but your apprenticeship testing is not adequate” parchment still stung as much now as it did then. How many was that now? Thirty two?
Hollan scoffed to himself. “Figures. The only thing I can get right is counting the wrongs.”
No matter the task, he just couldn’t seem to make it click in his head like any of the other apprentices. Bookbinding, carpentry, coopering, blacksmithing, fletching, every Master took him in for the three month initiation. And every one just as quickly booted him out once it was over. 20 years old and he still had no calling.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be so hard to take if he could find anything to be good at besides children’s games. Heck, he’d done well at the festival competition. Even placed fourth in the Gauntlet last year. But you’d never know it, because his brother was always one step (or in that case, three steps) ahead. His “Master of ranged combat, two schools of swordsmanship, all three Shaper disciplines, and three time Gauntlet champion” brother, Hero.
Really, what kind of parents name their child “Hero” anyway? You’d think there would be at least some subtlety when having a child you know is in a prophecy. Sure, it makes it easier to deal with certain people on the road, but it also nails a huge target to his chest. Even now he’s out there fulfilling his destiny of “Liberating the free men of Thaentor from the yoke of oppression.” And Hollan could care less. At least while he’s gone Hollan’s inadequacies weren’t nearly as noticible. He could go back to being “The Perpetual Failure.” Somehow it hurt less than “Kraegar’s Other Son.”
He wandered into The Flagon with a heavy sigh, and he was just about to sit at his seat at the bar when he was startled out of his melancholy by some applause. A quick glance didn’t show anyone else standing, but it couldn’t be meant for him. And then he spotted who was clapping. Garelton and his toadies, all sitting at a nearby table, grins on their faces ear to ear.
Guess it was meant for him after all.
Garelton got out of his chair casually and approached him closely, his crew alert, but hanging back. Hollan breathed a minor sigh of relief. There were enough people here this midday that if he was approaching by himself, he only meant to rile Hollan up.
“Hey, second-rater! Heard the good news! Looks like another Master wised up and cleaned the shop of the dirty offal that had been hanging around for months”, said Garelton.
Hollan had to work hard to bite back an insult. He tried to smile, but it was obvious that it was forced. “Seems that way.”
Garelton beamed even more, and then tried to show a sympathetic face. “Well, don’t you worry about us this time. Nobody was stupid enough to bet us that you’d last this time through…say, what were you studying anyway?”
Hollan gripped the rejection letter so hard it broke the wax seal, but kept his face impassive. “Animal husbandry.”
The entire bar erupted in laughter. Even the few friends he’d made in this tavern couldn’t help but crack up. Garelton lost his balance from laughing too hard and collapsed on the flagstones.
“You…mean that you…couldn’t even…by stars, what a simpleton!”
Hollan was prepared for any mocking Garelton might have thrown at him. But listening to every one else do the same brought tears he couldn’t stop. He quickly withdrew to his seat and buried his head in his arms. Even if he couldn’t stop crying, maybe he could keep his body from showing it.
Garelton picked himself off the ground, tears in his eyes as well. As he wiped his eyes, he shook his head. “Hey, don’t fret! I’m sure there’s a pig herder around here somewhere that needs a professional shit-shoveler.” This set off a new gale of laughter.
Then the bartender, a young man with an angry look on his face, came around and stopped halfway between the two. “That’s enough, Garelton. Either clear back to your table and stop bothering our guests, or take it somewhere else.”
Garelton dismissed him with his hand casually and wandered back to his friends. “Whatever you say.”
The bartender walked back behind the bar and laid a hand on Hollan’s shoulder. “Look, don’t let those idiots get you like that. You’re not all bad.”
Hollan didn’t even bother to lift his head. But his voice was still cracked. “Really, Zael? In what way?”
Zael stopped. He started to say something, then stopped again. “Uhm…hmmm…you’re not short…you…have black hair…your nose looks good.”
Hollan lifted up his head only far enough to glare at him.
Zael shrugged. “Hey, I’m sorry, but most of the time we were paying attention to your brother. HE’S the successful one.”
Hollan’s head dropped again. “Yeah. So glad he’s gone now. At least I won’t be hounded all the time for the next profession I’ll choke at.”
Zael looked puzzled. “Uh…what profession ARE you going to apply for now?”
Hollan wiped his eyes with his shirtsleeves and sat up straighter. “Ironically, it’s exactly what Garelton said. Farmer. It’s the only profession left. I don’t make it in that, then that’s it, I have to leave town.”
Zael’s eyes shot up in worry. “I’m sure they could make an exception for you, you are Kraegar’s son, after all.”
“No, they might have made one for Hero. As if he needed it. Me? I’ll have to leave Kanton permanently.”
Zael put his hand on Hollan’s shoulder, and tried to smile. “Then make sure this’ll be the right one!”
A very small smile crept onto Hollan’s face. “Heh. Yeah. To being a farmer.” He brought his glass to his chest in salute and gulped it’s contents all at once. “Can you let them know that I’m applying? I really don’t want to show up at their Master’s like this.”
Zael nodded. “Of course. I’ll get Jannah to cover the bar, and do it right now.”
Hollan stood and put his hand on Zael’s shoulder. “Thanks. Debt to you, sir.”
Zael ran to the back, brought a younger girl out, and jogged out the door.
Just as Zael turned out of sight, a realization hit Hollan, and he started towards the door. “Wait! I forgot to t…wait…uhm…ow?”
His eyes abruptly lost focus and he clenched his head in pain. A low moan came from his mouth and he dropped to his knees.
Garelton looked over and snickered. "What’s wrong, ignoramus?
Suddenly Hollan’s body seized backwards, and he let out a scream that echoed where it wasn’t supposed to. The entire tavern buckled like an earthquake, and the whole room seemed to warp itself. All the glassware started a tinny ringing, the mugs started frothing, and the candles seemed to reform back to before they were lit. Now the only light came from the outside sun and this aurora of rippling color fluctuating about the room. The customers started to panic and some ran desperately out to the street while others hid under the tables for dear life.
Then, all at once…SNAP. Everything seemed to change back to normal.
Well, A normal.
Where there used to be plain pine tables stood finely carved oak instead. Basic glass mugs were replaced with fine, carved pewter ones. The tavern room itself was a marvel of beauty and architecture. Even the clothes of the patrons seemed to change to finer ones. All except Hollan’s, which remained the drab, brown tunic he always wore. And now his unconscious body had blood coming out of every orifice. The patrons started to come out of hiding, and confusedly stared at their surroundings. Only when one woman looked down at Hollan did panic arise again as she screamed.
“We need a Regen-Conduit now! Someone’s been badly hurt!”