Today was a day of preparation. A burden, to be sure, but necessary. It had to be done today. For several of the exceptional 'youth' of the fishing town of Ellymor, the next three days would be the most important of their lives. In their minds, the focus would likely be on tomorrow, the day of celebration, or the day after, the day of departure. But today was the most important day. There was a long journey ahead of them, if they wished to fully experience the Pilgrim's Path. There would be many roads to follow, not all of them paved. They would have each other for aid in their hour of need, but every insight in their preparation could lead to the salvation of life, time, and health. The town was far from wealthy, but far from poor, and to those who would walk the Pilgrim's Path and bring reputation to their town, the goods were cheap and plentiful.
But preparation was not just about belongings. Not every need that drags on the mind can be packed into a bag. Tomorrow was a happy day, and the day after, a new beginning, so today was the day of hard tears. While optimism was high, in the back of every mind weighed the harrowing truth; there are many who never make it back. There was always that good chance that this would be the last good bye. For just as often as there are those who fail to make it back, there are those who come back to empty houses and fresh graves. Regardless of the body, it was almost always the last chance to speak to the person as they were. None walk the Pilgrim's Path, and return untouched and unphased; not even the most stubborn and stoic of the rock sages.
The town of Ellymor was the only trade town for miles. Sitting just off of a major road, it was the natural location for young mages from nearby farming villages to gather. While one would occasionally set off on their own, most chose to wait for others to gather, and make the trip in groups. The proverb that there was safety in numbers could not hold truer than on this trip. Each send off was met with a festival, stimulating morale and the local economy. People have left their farms for a few days for the chance to see fresh young mages perform their tricks, and set off on their journey. Prepare well, plan well; the first steps come soon.
Zhanna walked into Ellymor in the early morning. She had heard that mages were gathering there for a pilgrimage to find the different passions and wisdoms in the world. She had travelled a very long way from her home to attend this pilgrimage after she had heard about it just a few towns away from her own. It was a pretty large town, at least compared to where she grew up, but it smelled of fish. She breathed in heavily to get a whiff of the scent from the fisheries. As she progressed on the main road into the town, she could see more and more people gathering in what seemed to be a market or square. The smell of fish was overtaken by the smell of freshly baked bread and grilled meat and other things as merchants cried out to gain attention to their stalls.
Zhanna walked up to the closest stall and took a look at the goods being sold. The stand was full of salted and grilled meat of different types. She rubbed her chin for a moment before she decided on the salted and dried meat due to it was able to remain edible for a long time. She brought a good amount of jerky and a bit of salted meat and packed it into her backpack in the bottom before she wandered off to the next stall. This stall had some bread. Once again, she looked over the goods before she paid for two baguettes. Due to it being bread, she had to eat it somewhat soon before it would spoil, probably needed to come back and buy some more before she set off.
She continued going between stalls for a few hours and chatted with the stall-keepers about news and other useful information. She found out that there was a library in the town and where she could find cheep lodgings. "First things first. I need to find that inn and rent a room for the days ahead before they fill up." Zhanna left the market for the inn. She found the old building pretty quickly in the northern part of town. It was your standard inn, but it was somewhat old, but that did not matter to Zhanna. She walked into the inn and up to the innkeeper. "Hello. Do you have any rooms available for the nights ahead?" "Yes, we have a few left over. You're in luck, if you had come here in the afternoon, it would have been full. Its a gold per night and food is included in the price, so is drink." "I'll take it" she said and handed over three gold coins before she went up to the room she got the key to.
Once she got into the room, she took a good look around. It was a pretty nice room, it was tidy and well kept. There was a proper and comfortable bed with warm sheets, and not a single rat or spider in sight. She was surprised at the low price for the room due to everything included and the pilgrimage, but she did not dwell on it for long. Zhanna dropped her backpack and walked out of the room before she locked it and left the inn for the library. It was not the biggest library, but it would do for her current needs. She had been without a good book for a long time now, and she was craving for the stimulation and excitement of a good book. She did not want a factual book this time, she wanted a adventure book, full of tales of great deeds and heroes.
Zhanna walked up to the librarian and asked if she could sit and read for a while. The librarian nodded and Zhanna walked deep into the library to find the book she wanted. After a few minutes of searching, she finally found it. She had been recommended this book by a librarian in a town close to this one, so she had to read it. She sat down at a table and opened the book and started reading. The book was about the heroics of a local hero and adventurer and his exploits many years ago on his own pilgrimage. It did not take long until she was absorbed in the book and she zoned out the rest of the world.
Paolo scrubbed his hand through his ginger shock, tugged on the locks, and stared at the brick wall before him. All around, the sounds of the town preparing for the festivities echoed, rebounded, and scrabbled. For all of the adventurers, this was to be the beginning of the new and the death of the old. From this point onward, those fresh faces walking from the town would find various degrees of change. Some would return before the year was out, some never returned at all. And some, some would only return on the breath of tales.
The brick wall, however, had little to say to him and Paolo grimaced at it. His back hurt where the switch had been laid and he wanted to twist, make his shirt resettle, not glue itself to the few small breaks in his skin. They weren't anything like real damage, but they were bound to annoy.
"Tonight," a small voice hissed, drifted past him from behind. He could hear the school master directing them to leave for music lessons. The voice hadn't been loud enough for overhearing, yet it hadn't been alien to him. Paolo knew his sister's promise and he felt his gut twist. Aina had her own thoughts on what was acceptable for a pair of fosterling futures. If not for her, he wouldn't have been facing the brick in the first place, but neither would he have been so certain of the roads leading out of town. No doubt, without her, he'd have felt certain that the only future he could have was one filled in through figures pages from behind a master accountant's work desk. A good job, no doubt, though not one which would ever lead out of the poor house.
Aina would steal food that night. She would carefully put fresh cheese and bread into their travel sack and she would steal him out of the boy's wing just before the first hour bell, in the midst of full on dark. She thought to find them a group to travel with and Paolo was certain she'd manage it. She was a bright creature, friendly with all. Him - he was the barely seen shadow to her constant shine. Despite his red hair, he just didn't show half so well. He hadn't any of her spark for life.
That, of course, wasn't true. Bartholomew promised him it truly wasn't true and it was solely because of the other boy that Paolo dreamt of his sister's traveling spirit giving up sooner rather than later. Bartholomew was to be apprenticed to the blacksmith come spring. He was tall enough and broad enough for it. He was bright too, like Paolo's sister, but very much unlike Paolo's sister. Of all the few he cared most about, Bartholomew's friendship was to be the one draw to return. If only he could have given word to his friend, perhaps his best companion would have seen his way to joining them. But no - Aina had said if any knew, they'd be caught and she was, oddly enough, astute enough with others to know such things. Even Bartholomew would fear their loss and would tell the Schoolmaster.
The brick was dark red, cornered by pale white at all edges, and wholly uninteresting. Paolo heard the calls outside, the fervor of interest in the traveling groups of the greatest of the great, and he felt certain that this newest adventure of Aina's was not going to go as planned, despite her care of it. He took in a deep breath and closed his eyes. The others would be preparing, would be meeting with leaders, with their families, with loved ones, and their send-off would be a grand one. They'd have full sacks of all things anyone could ever need. For he and Aina, the pair of fosterlings would be attempting to somehow meld into a group just as it was leaving and, he thought, more than likely would be forced to rely on the kindness of strangers. It seemed ill-fated to the extreme.
Night, however, would see.
“Oh, don’t you be getting your hair all grey ‘fore its time, Ma. I’m well old enough t’be looking after mysel’ and you’ve the rest of your brood t’see to.”
The woman who spoke laughed as her mother chucked her on the cheek and tsked about her own daughter pestering her to look after the children. As though she didn’t know how to raise them right, why, just look at the terror in front of her. Surely that bespoke her talent. The others laughed then, and Dayen scowled mocking before pulling her mother in close and giving her a bear of a hug. The older woman gave back as good as she got, and they would have likely squeezed the air from each others’ lungs had they the opportunity, as it was, one of the aforementioned brood snuck in between them to give Dayen’s legs a hug too. And then all the rest piled on, from 8 to 23 and then right up to her mother’s 57. She was covered in family, and it took her breath away better than any blow to the gut.
She blinked her eyes quickly while no one was looking, and then disentangled herself and set them all aside one by one, with a kiss and a word for each. She’d miss them something sore, but she’d have reminders of them all across the spread of the land. Everywhere she set foot; her family would once have set foot also. And that made it easier to bear. Besides which, she had another reason to take off on her own. Her family had no reason to wander where she would. Sometimes they might even avoid a place of magic. But she’d outgrown what they could give her, and her curiousity had grown along with her power. A little late, perhaps, given her own advancing years, but she’d somehow never managed to tie herself to a man or any children, and that, in and of itself, told her she might as well stop waiting.
She’d find a new family to travel with at this town, and maybe she’d meet the old again, but wherever she went, she’d make sure they could be proud of her. That was for sure. So, smiling again and helping her mother back onto the wagon, she lifted the youngest of her brothers onto the bed and stood watching them continue on down the road. They had a field to set up for the night. But she had an inn to find, and the town of Ellymor to settle into. For a day or two, anyway. She didn’t know how long it usually took for parties to form, given as she’d never gone out of her way to look for one. She’d been born to the travelling life, wasn’t often something you thought about when you were already on the road…
Still, despite her optimism and firm belief that this was for her own good. Something she would have regretted not doing for the rest of her life, the woman had to take a deep breath and wipe her welling eyes before she could square her shoulders beneath their burden and set off perpendicular to the way her parents had just gone. Ruts in the road, made her wobble now and again, but she kept mostly to the middle, and there wasn’t much traffic to force her to the side either. Seemed a quiet day for all she’d heard about this town. But maybe she just came at the wrong time, it was well past sun up. Likely if they were having a market everyone was already done getting there. And if they weren’t, wasn’t any reason for anyone to be travelling to the town in droves, anyway.
It took Dayen a little over half a day of nonstop walking at a well set pace to reach the outskirts, and then she was happy to stroll along at her ease, taking in the sights and sounds and smells of civilisation. There was a little more excitement than she’d been expecting, but the hustle and bustle only spun her around for a little while before she set to looking for a place to sleep. There was no sleeping in roadside ditches here. No setting up in open fields and sleeping under the stars. Proper folk only set out beneath an open sky when they were drunk, which was hardly proper, or for a romantic evening. Dayen wasn’t looking for anything particularly romantic just then. And she certainly wasn’t planning on getting drunk. So she’d be finding an inn, she supposed, and spending some hardwon coin for a room. She couldn’t remember the last time any of her family had slept in an inn, and she hoped the prices hadn’t gone up from what her father remembered, she was not a rich woman. And would be growing poorer every time she slept with a roof over her head or filled her belly.
Slipping inside the nearest building with a likely looking sign and a friendly, if run down exterior, she hoped her choice of a less pretentious establishment might mean the cost was less. Turned out it wasn’t, but a smile and a tap on her lute case made a world of difference to a bargaining man, and she won her place by the fire and a meal and a bed for one gold a night and some songs to lighten the mood. They didn’t have their own resident minstrel, just her luck. And while her clothes were worn and the case a little battered, the innkeeper was a smart fellow who knew a player from their hands alone, and Dayen took a liking to him before ever they shook on it. And since it was late enough for some patrons to be gathering and she didn’t think she had anything to buy from the stalls that wasn’t already in her bag, the woman slipped up to her attic room, appreciating the set up the man had planned and thinking it would have done well enough to stay around a month or two for a bed like what she was getting, but she didn’t have the coin for that. Then she stuck her goods under the bed, took up her lute and went back down the stairs.
She settled by the fire and plucked out a pleasant, background tune. No one was near to drunk enough for rousing songs, and most folks weren’t there for entertainment yet. So she figured she’d just warm up her hands and pass the time away. And maybe if she sat there long enough, the innkeeper would fetch her some dinner without her needing to ask.