It was early in the morning on the twenty-second day of the Second Planting, the beginning of a new week. I was excited. The sun was just barely awake and hiding behind dark clouds, the clouds were hiding behind a heavy rain, the rain was hiding behind a good strong wind, and all of it was discretely wrapping itself in a veil of gloom, but I was excited anyway. I was starting on a new adventure. I was also pretty scared, because I was starting on a new adventure.
Mom and I had spent the day before getting to know our new home. We found where the markets were, which vendors were friendliest and most likely to help a new local, how soft the beach sand was between our toes, that no one cared if you ran around naked on the beach, what the temperature of the water was at this time of the year, and all the things people are supposed to do when moving into a tropical paradise.
Most people who talk about tropical paradises forget that they have to get all lush and green somehow. People don’t usually go on about dry, scrubby, intimidating landscapes as the perfect vacation spot. By our third day there, we had a reminder that the rainy season came a month earlier here. So the month of Flowers was wet, wet and more wet, while the month of The Rains was really pretty dry, not counting the occasional typhoon.
So much for the theory that it was kept a perfect paradise, drenched in greenery, by faeries who snuck out at night with tiny watering cans. Not that anyone ever had that theory, but it would be nicer than what really happens. Instead people talk about tropical paradises with that little bit of “oh, but you don’t want to visit there off season” snuck in at the end. And don’t try to figure out what the off-season is by the month names either.
So I waded through the business end of tropical weather on the way to my first day of work. Maybe there were giant invisible faeries with really big water cans? I hope not. That would lead to asking where the wind came from then. But Ornery had made sure I had proper rain gear. He knew everything had a business end, and if you had to be stuck on the business end of anything, make sure you were well protected from whatever it might throw at you.
As I approached the shop I saw other people all headed toward the same tiny door in the side of the shack. On the other side of the tiny door, which was marked “employees only”, there was a dimly lit set of stairs that spiraled down into the levels under the dock. At the end of the spiral stairs there was a narrow room with little desk built into an arch at the far end that everyone who came in was walking toward and through. The arch looked like it was some sort of gate, though there was no gate attached to it. At the little desk was a bored-looking security guard checking badges as a steady line of people came in. Unlike the desk, he was big, he would have taken up the entire arch walking through it. He sat there with an attitude that said that he was the only one allowed to question whether his job was important. The bored look on his face made it clear how vitally important he thought it was.
When I got up to him, he grunted, “New?”
I nodded. I stepped in close in front of the desk so people could keep moving past me.
He picked up a tiny clipboard in his massive hand and consulted it. “Peri.”
I handed him my ID card. It glowed yellow in his hand. He popped it into a little slot on his desk. It popped back out. He caught it midair and handed it to back to me.
“Follow the sprite.”
A little glowing marble rolled out of a chute in the side of the arch and onto his desk. Before it could roll off the desk and away into a dark corner, it bounced up to float a little above eye level, just ahead of me. It started to move away and I followed, mostly because it was too nifty not to follow. I had never seen one before outside of dancing lights in kids shows. I wondered if I could get one to just keep around as a pet, though Officer Puppy might get jealous. The little sprite weaved in and out of people moving about in the hallways when it had to, but mostly people were moving in the same direction as me.
It led me down a few identical looking halls and into a locker room. I though it was the wrong one for a second before realizing it was unisex. It was the locker room, and break room, for apprentices. There were lockers and showers and toilets and couches. At least the toilets had stalls. Really, for apprentices it was probably like a palace compared to lots of other places on the docks.
The sprite stopped in front of a locker that had “Peri” printed on a little sign. Then it touched the locker. A light on the door lit up and it flew off. I was about to open the locker door when a hand shot past mine and touched the handle. “Lock out! It’s keyed to the first person who touches it.” Then the person attached to the hand laughed. His laugh was interrupted by his getting whacked upside the head by a sprite moving at a pretty good speed for a little glowing marble.
“Ow! When did they teach it to do that?” He rubbed the spot on his head. “You guys are no fun,” he shouted at no one in particular. The sprite touched the locker again and I grabbed the handle before he could again.
“Izako,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Peri,” I said, shaking it cautiously. It was calloused in a way that said he wasn’t new here, and to prove the point, it was marked with grime that it would take a wyrd to get out again. Then I turned away enough to get to know my locker and to get out of my rain gear.
Izako was a little shorter than average, trim and muscular, with a bit of a slouch that made him look shorter than he was. He had black hair and brown eyes with a triangular face that held a smile easily. He looked like he was from the Eastern Kingdoms. There was a way he pronounced things that made it clear he was.
“Welcome to Club Ares. Where you from?”
“Farport? On the mainland? I didn’t even know they had a school there.”
I looked at him funny. “A school?” He went right on without answering my question.
“I’m from Ira. Just starting my third year here, so if there is anything you need, let me know.”
He hurried out of the room, trying hard to look like he was in no hurry at all and failing. Others were coming and going, dropping things off, getting changed. No one else went out of their way to say hi, but I could feel eyes on me. Not threatening ones, just people wondering who I was and too busy to ask, or people who were not morning people and not motivated to ask anyone anything before noon.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next, but there was a note taped to the inside of my locker that said, “Be down in a bit. Stay put. -R.” I guessed it was from the younger Rimares. I hadn’t met him yet and didn’t know anything about him.
The rest of the apprentices wandered in and out. I said hi to a few of them and learned a few names, though no one seemed very chatty. I got a few funny looks because the rest of the first year apprentices weren’t supposed to come on for another month. After all, the winter session of school had just ended or was ending for most places that followed the imperial schedule. People needed time to get here and get settled and didn’t have a small army of pirates to help them move. That meant I didn’t have a group of other confused and lost apprentices my age to hang out with while waiting.
The apprentices I did meet were from all over the world and came in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. About one third of us were girls. Each year, Ares brought on twelve new apprentices, who stayed for four years. At the end of four years, if they hadn’t given up by then, they were either brought on as journeyman or given good recommendations and sent on their way to ply their trade elsewhere. If people made it up to master as Ares they could pretty much name their price anywhere if they wanted to move on, but most didn’t.
This year was an exception. There were thirteen new apprentices, not twelve. That thirteenth one was me. I didn’t know that yet. I wouldn’t understand the significance of it anyway, at least not in my first hours there.
Rimares, Jr., showed up for me about ten minutes after everyone else had trickled out to go off and do the things they did.
He was younger than I expected, looking like he had just finished his own apprenticeship. He was dark skinned, with dark hair and eyes that clearly said he was a southern Freelander from somewhere in the Archipelagos. It must have been from his mom’s side, since his grandfather didn’t look like that at all. But like his grandfather, he looked like someone who worked in a repair shop—except in his eyes. He had that dark energy behind his eyes that his grandfather had and that Ornery had. It could wither people with just a glance if the timing was right.
Neither of the Rimares’ was as good as Ornery at withering glances. They could looked annoyed, distant, distant and annoyed, distant, icy and annoyed, and a few other combinations. But I am pretty sure Ornery could kill small animals just by glaring at them. Either Rimares might make people think twice with a dark glare, or even question everything you had done with your life up to that point, but only Ornery could make those people decide that maybe they should take a few steps back to that pub that was just a few steps behind them so they could drink until they could no longer remember what they had seen in those eyes. If there was no pub behind them, turning and walking or running very far away, or at least to the next nearest pub, was also an option. And really, Rimares, Jr. couldn’t even harrumph as well as me.
Rimares leaned against the doorway, looking me over for a minute. I wasn’t really sure if I should be running across the room to shake his hand or what. I got up out of the comfy couch I had found and stood there feeling a little uncomfortable at his silence.
“C’mon,” he said. Then he turned and walked away. I had to hurry to catch up. As I chased after him, he gave me a quick rundown on the things I needed to know.
“You’re the oddball here,” he said, “starting early with no one but me for a boss and no idea of what you’re getting into. You’ve got one month to get up to speed. For questions, ask me, one of the floor managers, or one of the older apprentices, in that order. The bad news is you start off like everyone else, learning how to keep a clean shop. The only favor you get from me or my grand is being here. Got it?”
I nodded quietly, even though he couldn’t see me.
He stopped and turned to look at me. “I like your choice of words. Let’s try to keep it that way.” Then he continued on, walking a bit faster.
“Every single one of those new kids coming on next month is going to spend their first months whining about being handed a broom and not wrench. Drives me nuts.”
And with that we burst through a big door and on to the shop floor.
The Pirate Apprentice by Mootly Obviate is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.