by SD Campbell
Wren, an apothecary with memory problems, is accepted as the apprentice to a great wizard.
A rocking roused Wren from a restless slumber. He hadn’t even been asleep for too long, considering the sun was still gone from the sky when he looked around. He pulled his cloak tighter around him to keep from being too cold and drew his journal to help him remember where he was. The dim light of the small lantern that hung in the middle of the carriage made his eyes strain to read what he’d written.
It had been several weeks, according to the journal, since the letter from Wd. Fineman had arrived. In that time, he’d managed to fulfill all his outstanding orders and earn himself a bar eight. Taken with everything he’d saved over the years, he had twenty-three bars, seventy-nine wholes, and a quarter. After finishing with his customers, he’d quietly packed and left, leaving only a note that the villages needed to travel to North Point for their medicines from then on.
He’d left in the middle of the night, taking a small travel set of apothecary tools and samples of all his ingredients. Two days of walking had brought him to North Point himself, where he stayed in the inn for two nights, spending nineteen wholes and three-quarters on boarding, clothing, and better travel bags. Wren also arranged for a carriage ride to the south, trading away a bar for the comfort.
All told, he had twenty-two, fifty-nine, and a half left. More than enough to find this city his new master hadn’t named near the southern border. His eyes came away from the journal, his face wearing a smile. Soon he’d be learning magic, as his parents had always wanted him to. The smile broadened as it landed on a newcomer to the small cabin, sitting on the bench opposite of him.
The newcomer was his age, maybe a little younger. A woman, he saw. She wore a brown cloak, though, unlike his it had seemed to be purposely dyed that color. The edges were sewn with a silvery thread in an elegant pattern, almost embroidered. Under the cloak, she wore a white blouse with the same silver stitching, and a long, pleated black skirt. Her arms were crossed in front of her.
She looked out the side of the carriage into the moonlit fields they passed by. Ever jostle of the carriage as it rode the road made the thick, curled mess of her copper hair bobble. On the sides, her hair was pulled tight into two braids, snaking their way back to the nape of her neck. There, they joined the two braids from the other side in a short tail.
Wren had never seen hair styled like that before. His eyes focused on her face, but it was utterly ordinary. Her voice startled him. “Eyes to yourself, chum.”
Wren nearly dropped his notebook as he fumbled to tuck it back into his pocket. “I’m sorry. I woke and wanted to know who else was here. I hadn’t written it down, so I suppose you came in while I was-”
“Snoring. Loudly, too,” she said, a practiced measure of disdain in her voice.
“Many apologies for that.” Wren swallowed, looking away for a moment before continuing, “I’ve not had a great deal of sleep since I set out.”
She looked at him briefly, then back to the field, twitching her nose. “It’s all right. I thought you looked a bit tuckered. That’s why I let you sleep all day.”
“Yeah. I got on near Oakfield last night.”
Wren pulled his journal out and a shard of charcoal and scribbled the fact down. “An entire day of sleeping. I haven’t done that before.”
“Why are you writing that down?” the woman asked.
Wren looked at her, then back to the journal. “Uh… um, it’s so I don’t forget it. I have a terrible memory, these days. Worse than an old man’s.” He looked back to his journal, somewhat shameful as to why.
“Born soft in the crown? A blow too many, perhaps?” The woman’s words were playful and bubbly.
“No. I...” Wren’s brow furrowed and he looked out the other side of the carriage, seeing nearly nothing in the dim light of the moon. “Poison. I was poisoned. Often.”
The woman looked back, an eyebrow raised. “You wear an apothecary’s rings, and the smell of dusty old plants hangs over you. Your master took to experimenting on you?” She had jerked her thumb to Wren’s hands as she spoke.
Wren could feel his face reddening. “Something like that,” he muttered. He wanted to full from the carriage to get away from the conversation.
The woman, though, wouldn’t let him. She chuckled, finally figuring out what was making him so uncomfortable. Her hand slapped onto her knee. “Ha! You taught yourself! Had to figure out what did what, didn’t you?” she questioned. “And look at you now. Memory gone like a senile fool. Was it worth it?” She didn’t let him answer, continuing on instead, “Wormwheat? Or ravenberry juice? Deepstalk rot?”
Wren looked across to her again, seeing the joy in her face from badgering him. “Yes, I had to learn,” he began, weight his words carefully. It was one of the few memories that he had aside from that of his family, so he took care in stating what had happened, “My father and mother died when I was young. The folks in the village I was born didn’t think that it would be safe for me to go apprentice under anyone without parents, so I was told to just take up a simple trade. I decided to be an apothecary because that was the closest to being a wizard I was going to get.”
As Wren spoke, her face fell, little by little with every detail. Wren continued, though, “Yes, it was worth it. I think.” He flipped open his journal to the page he’d just written on. “In the last year, I’ve earned almost a king’s piece in selling my service,” he said, looking at the monetary amount at the top of the page. “As for what it was? I don’t know. Wormwheat, carrion powder, beak dew. It happened a lot as I was studying.”
The woman pursed her lips together, sliding her mouth to the side. After looking at Wren for a moment, she deemed, “Well, you’re a right dark cloud,” before turning back to the window.
Wren looked at her for a moment, then down to his journal. He started writing the conversation down, then stopped. Looking back to her, he said, “My name is Wren. Wren Davos.”
She didn’t even glance back. “Poppy.”
Wren scratched it into the journal. His hand entered the pouch on his belt for the letter, slowly at first. At last it closed around it and he brought it out, checking if he could see the details of the stamp in the dim light. When he was sure that he could, he offered the paper to Poppy. “We’re headed in the same direction. I wonder if you’ve seen this seal before.”
Poppy glanced at it, then back out the window. “What business do you have with Fineman?” she asked, absently.
Wren, having read the letter enough time for the name to stick, perked up at the mention. “So you know him?” he asked, his voice fast and high.
Poppy held up her hand, palm away from him, and splayed her fingers. On the middle one was a pewter ring, displaying the same seal. “I asked you a question,” she said with a sigh.
Wren stared, dumbfounded at his luck. He stammered for a moment before launch fully into a rapid speech, “Since I was a boy, I always wanted to be a wizard. And my father, well, he died before he could pay for an apprenticeship to one. But I’m tenacious. I’ve been writing every wizard that I could find for the past decade or so, trying to find one that would take me on as an apprentice. At first, no one wanted me because I couldn’t afford to pay for the tutelage. But, then, after I started saving up money to pay, they started saying that my memory issues excluded me from consideration.
“I’d almost given up hope, or I think I had- it’s hard to tell when you only have the vaguest of memories of the past few days and you can’t really remember things that you don’t do often enough. Where was I?” Wren took a deep breath, pausing for a moment. “Oh, yes! Wd. Fineman’s letter. I don’t even know when I originally petitioned him, truth be told. But he got back to me and said that he’d be willing to take me on as an apprentice, as it would prove to other wizards that he was better than them because he took a sub-par student and made them a master, whereas they only take the best and only make them as good as their masters.”
Wren paused for a moment, darting his eyes from right to up to left, trying to find anything that he might have left out. Poppy, on the other hand, looked at him with one eyebrow raised and a corner of her mouth twisted. She’d had a hard time following the explosion of information that the man had provided, but what she had gathered confused her. “So, you are to be an apprentice to Fineman?” She chose her words carefully, making sure not to mutter under her breath. Sometimes, she hated the older wizard’s decisions. Wren nodded, a floppy smile crossing his face. She had further questions. “And how old are you?”
“Twenty-four. Unless I forgot a year. That happens sometimes, but I usually keep a fairly good tally on it-”
Poppy raised her hand to silence him, then dropped it back into her lap. After a long, measured sigh, she whispered, “I am going to kill Walter when I get home.” Her eyes closed and she dropped her head into a hand, rubbing at the furrowed crease on her brow. “How green are you?” Wren’s head dropped to the side, and his eyes narrowed. The woman looked up. “How much knowledge do you have regarding the principles of aether?”
“What’s the aether?”
“Bloody hell of a shit bag crazy old bastard of a son of a bitch,” she muttered as her head dropped back down. “I couldn’t get you to drop the apprenticeship, could I? I mean, what is there about being a wizard that interests you so?”
“I don’t know. I’m not going to drop out of this apprenticeship, but as to why being a wizard fascinates me so, I really don’t know. It’s just been something I’ve been drawn to all my life.” Wren stopped for a moment, looking over Poppy again. “Are you… Fineman’s wife?”
Poppy recoiled, pushing herself back. Her face twisted and it seemed as though she was going to gag. “No!” Her voice boomed, far louder than Wren thought was possible. “Why in the bloody hell would you think that?”
“His daughter then? You showed me the ring with his seal. And you don’t very much seem like a Walter, Ms...” he glanced down at his journal, then back to her, “Poppy.”
The sun had begun to rise to the right of the carriage, and the sky over Wren’s view began to turn a deep purple. The woman dropped her hand to the side, looking intently at Wren and trying to weigh all things about him as quickly as possible. “No, I’m not his daughter. I’m his junior.” She took a breath, moving her left hand to her right wrist and unbinding the leather wrap around it. “And before you ask, that means that I’m a full wizard in his employ.” Poppy’s wrist rose, revealing the clear brand crossing the veins.
She shook her head, unsure of what it was about Wren, or more correctly, his letter, Walter had seen. Wren didn’t waste the opportunity to ask, “So, you would be able to take me there? He never told me the city, just said that it was near the southern border.”
Poppy rolled her eyes and settled into her seat. “Guess I don’t have a choice, do I?” Her eyelids sank and Wren noticed that she was putting herself to sleep through sheer force of will. He decided to let her be. In the meanwhile, he had to record everything in his journal.
His fingers worked tirelessly, scribbling down every detail he’d learned. He hoped that he would remember them, knowing that his memory had improved slightly since leaving home. There was permanent damage, to be sure, but he was hopeful that he would at least regain enough to excel at the instruction. His thoughts briefly lingered on whether Poppy would be tasked to instruct him at any point.
It didn’t fill him with a lot of hope, considering her rudeness. But he would manage. He knew that. He always seem to manage. Leaning back in his seat, he smiled, looking to his left to watch the sunrise. Soon, he thought, all he’d hoped for since he was a boy would come true.