Down the River Frost
“So what happened in there, exactly?” Gregorim asked Seida.
“We were told to speak to the Oracle. We only have a few hours to prepare before meeting with a ship that’s heading to Khasta.” Seida scanned the sheet of paper in her hands loathingly. Tauren had absolutely no idea what was happening anymore. Just moments ago, she’d been overjoyed. The two had been reunited. Now, she seemed furious, though thankfully not at him.
Gregorim seemed to share in her displeasure. “I hate the Holy City! I can’t take two steps without a guard telling me I’m out of line.”
Despite wanting to ask where they were talking about, Tauren kept quiet. His mother had mentioned the name Khasta once or twice. But she and his father had both been pretty adamant about not talking too much about their life in the Order before they had fled. Wherever it was, at least Seida would be there. He wasn’t even sure why he trusted her so much. She just seemed like the only person so far that seemed to care about his well-being.
They descended the stairs to the ground level, all the while Seida continued to pour over the letter as if to find something she had missed the first time. Once they reached the bottom, she placed a hand gently on both of their backs. They waded through the crowded reception area and stepped outside to the great stone courtyard. There were far more people here now than there had been early that same morning. Seida must have been in a hurry, because she didn’t so much as greet the few people in the crowd that shouted greetings at her.
“Where are we going first?” Tauren asked. He knew nothing beyond the fact that he was now Seida’s apprentice and that they had a boat to catch in a few hours. His head was spinning; there was so much happening all of a sudden and he didn’t have the time to get his thoughts straight.
“First, we’re going to stop at home so Gregorim and I can pack for the journey, then we’ll be stopping by a few shops to get you some more clothes and other things you’ll be needing,” Seida led them into a small fenced off part of the courtyard. At the back, on a raised stone platform, was another waypoint. She hurried them towards it. He had enough time to shut his eyes tight and suck in a quick breath before she made the jump. The ground fell away from his feet, and the noise of the Citadel suddenly ceased.
After a few moments of weightlessness, solid ground found his feet again. The sound of voices and footsteps on cobblestone had been replaced by birds singing and farm animals in the distance. When Seida let go of him, he opened his eyes. They were standing in a very neatly kept garden, on the edge of a small pond with a few colorful fish swimming slowly. A very cozy looking two-story stone cottage sat to their left. He couldn’t help but gape at the beauty of it all.
“Is this where you live?” Tauren asked. He’d never seen such finery in his life. This was much more to his liking than the massive Citadel or the Barracks he had arrived in. His brief time in the city had been far too chaotic for him. This almost reminded him of home.
“It is. You’ll like the neighborhood; it’s much more spread out, and the folks around here are very kind. There’s a bakery just down the road and the lady who runs it has a very big soft spot for young apprentices like yourself. We’ll stop by if we have time to grab a treat before we go.” Seida started towards the open front door. Gregorim had already made his way inside, seeming ready to get their journey over with already. Tauren followed close behind, curious to see if the house was as big on the inside as it was on the outside.
And it definitely was. There was a kitchen with a round dining table and four chairs to their right. To their left was a solid wooden desk and large bookshelf. Two cushioned chairs sat on the opposite wall by a window overlooking the front yard. A hallway cut down the center of the house. There were three doors before the start of the staircase to the upper floor at the end of the hall. The first door on the left was open. Tauren assumed that must be Gregorim’s room. Seida gently ushered him down the hall and opened the door on the right and motioned for him to go inside.
The bedroom was far larger than he was expecting. There was a nearly made bed on the back wall. A brass oil lamp sat in the left corner by another cushioned chair. There was a small desk to the right of the bed, and a nice wooden dresser. Tauren turned in a circle, taking it all in.
“This will be your room. It’s a bit plain, but you’ll be able to decorate it however you like,” Seida said. “Do you like it?”
Tauren ran a hand over the soft linen sheets. Tears began to sting at his eyes. He’d never had a bed to himself before. Last night had been his first time ever sleeping alone in his life. His stomach tightened; that would be his new normal from now on. He furiously wiped away the tears now streaming down his face. The last thing he wanted was to seem ungrateful when he just missed his family.
“It’s perfect,” he said. “Sorry, I just….”
“No need to apologize, Tauren. I know all this must be terribly difficult for you. I can’t imagine the grief you must be feeling right now.” She smiled at him reassuringly. “Would you like a minute alone?”
“No, I’m okay. I’ve just never had a room to myself before, is all. It’s an odd concept.” He knew they were on a time schedule. They didn’t have time for him to be mournful right now. “Thank you for your concern.”
She nodded her head. “My room is up the stairs if you ever need me . Feel free to explore the house and the yard while you wait for us to finish packing. We’ll get going in a few minutes.”
Tauren nodded his head as she left the room. He sat on the bed, trying to collect himself. Why was something as simple as an empty bedroom so upsetting? Under normal circumstances, he’d have been thrilled to have a space all to himself. Instead, it just felt so lonely. After a few deep breaths, he decided a walk around the garden might do him some good. Anything to keep his mind off his family for the moment.
He took a few more breaths as he wandered aimlessly around the yard. There was a small stone well in the side yard. All along the fenceline, neatly pruned white roses grew. There were two large wooden garden beds on the back fence, currently empty and ready for planting. This would roughly be the time his family would start sewing their crops for the year. He had to turn away when he felt tears sting his eyes again. Deciding a drink of water would help calm him down again, he lowered the bucket into the well to fill it. Once he pulled it back up, he dipped his hands in to take a few sips.
“Here, use a cup instead.”
Tauren jumped, almost knocking the bucket back into the well. He turned to find Gregorim standing a few feet away, a glazed porcelain cup painted with flowers and vines in his outstretched hand. After a moment of hesitation, Tauren took the cup and filled it with water. Gregorim asked if he could fill his own cup. Tauren nodded and passed him the bucket.
“Are we going, then?” Tauren asked.
“Nah, I didn’t have the chance to unpack my things before we left to find you, so I didn’t really have to pack anything.” Gregorim shrugged as he took a few sips from his cup. “We’re just waiting on Seida.”
“You’re new here, too then?”
“Yeah, I’ve only been with Seida for a little over a week. She’s been alright so far. You’re lucky to have her; not everyone in the Order is so kind.”
“That’s what my parents said,” Tauren agreed. He absentmindedly fingered the painted handle of the cup. Why was he suddenly so nice? Barely a few minutes ago, he’d seemed as though he didn’t even want him aroun...