Aluredus stood in the centre of a large hall fidgeting slightly. He had barely barely touched the food that had been brought to him at midday. His nails were all chewed and he was now idly scratching at the metal band on his wrist. Facing him was a long table, behind which were seated four representatives from each of the major guilds in Eli Vocis. Behind him stood Farius and the other guardians who had been caring for him here at the refuge, although their presence was little comfort. He had not made any friends.
There had been an awkward silence as the guild members got settled and produced various notes and materials from bags or the arms of attendants. Only one had nothing. Aluredus felt his gaze drawn by the tall man with bright red hair. He felt an icy chill as he met the redhead's eyes, as though he was naked to his very soul.
The first voice to break the silence made him start "Do you have any scrolls?" Aluredus struggled to place the voice. It came from a hook nosed man in his early fifties. He had the look of someone who could smell something unpleasant, and his voice only furthered that impression "Ed-u-cation."
Aluredus' voice shook nervously "You mean like GCSEs?"
"If that is what they call them in your world." Aluredus shook his head meekly. "Then are you a traded apprentice?" He shook his head again feeling thoroughly shamed. "Any job?" No reaction was needed. The youth was still and his head was bowed.
"I suppose combat experience is also out of the question." This time the hook-nosed man was speaking to Farius, who merely shrugged. Aluredus felt an uncomfortable hot prickle across his face as he caught the guardian's expression out of the corner of his eye, and lowered his gaze to stare directly at the floor. Wishing this was over.
The hook nosed man cleared his throat, the youth did not raise his head "Then I am out." There was a flurry of paper sounds as fingers were clicked and a young boy stepped forward to take his master's effects. The hook nosed man flounced out of the room followed by his tottering apprentice, struggling under the weight of far too many books and scrolls for such an occasion.
Aluredus looked up quickly to watch him leave, and once again found the piercing stare of the man with red hair. He quickly averted his gaze.
There was a short pause, before the dark haired woman seated at the end of the table began to ask her questions. Aluredus found her very easy to look at. Her hair was long and curled, swept casually to one side and fastened with a cobalt blue ribbon. Her guild colours were much more obvious than the man who had just left, and contrasted vividly with the pristine white fur of her stole. She ignored the youth completely and instead addressed Farius. "How many languages can he speak?"
"Even with Alia's blessing?" Aluredus frowned, he was following the conversation back and forth with his eyes, half turned so that he could see Farius clearly. The guardian had mentioned this blessing to him before but he didn't fully understand what it meant or why it was.
"That has unfortunately worn off. His native tongue has been replaced."
"How much of the world has he seen?" There was no pause after her questions. Her voice had a musical quality, and Aluredus wished that she would never stop talking and found himself feeling irritated whenever Farius replied.
"Just the inside of the refuge."
"Did you travel much in your homeland?" The youth shook his head, the furthest the had ever been was to the lake district on a school trip. He was suddenly filled with dread that she would not want him either. He hadn't thought to ask the guardians what would happen if he couldn't find a guild. "At all?" He shook his head again. "I cannot take him as he is."
Aluredus' gaze returned to the floor utterly dejected. The woman did not leave the room and sat back in her chair. He did not hear her voice again. There was another deep silence, before the kindly old man with little circular glasses cleared his throat.
"W-what s-sort of lessons d-d-did you enjoy at school?" He had a stammer, and kept looking nervously at the man with red hair who was still staring fixedly at the youth.
"I liked tech." Aluredus smiled as he remembered the only lesson where he was ever praised for anything "We made furniture in year eleven. It was good"
"Y-you like w-working with your hands? W-with w-w-wood?" The old man beamed whilst fumbling for some papers, looking down to quickly flick through a list of names.
"Yeah." The youth looked hopeful that he might actually get to do something he enjoyed, and for the first time completely forgot about the icy sensation that had been constant throughout the interview so far.
"W-w-would you be w-w-willing to become an apprentice?" The old man's finger rested on one name in particular, he was smiling happily as he looked back up at the youth. Aluredus was suddenly filled with anticipation, and just as he opened his mouth to reply; the redhead finally spoke and cut him short.
"I will take him" His voice was deep and cold. Both the youth and the kindly old guild-master started at the sound of it. The redhead stood.
"W-what?" The old man looked crestfallen at the loss of a potential apprentice, he kept his finger in the same place on the list although his hand was trembling.
"Farius, get him ready." The guardian bowed his head and sent an orderly scurrying off to the little room where Aluredus had spent most of his time over the past few months. The thought of leaving with the cold redhead made the youth feel dread in his stomach. The little room wasn't much but it felt safe.
"B-b-but with all due respect, I hardly think that he-d-d be s-suited for your l-line of w-w-w-work!" The youth suddenly felt a great deal of warmth towards the old man for trying to fight his case and was about to open his mouth to join in but was silenced by a filthy glare from Farius.
The redhead spoke again "Rest assured master smith. If we cannot train him we will send him to you." his voice was no less cold, but his intent was crystal clear. He turned to leave.
"S-s-surely the boy should have a choice!" Aluredus smiled at the old man but accepted his fate. He had a horrible sinking feeling that no matter what his choice he would be headed to the same place eventually. The redhead seemed like the kind of man who you didn't second guess, and whom you definitely didn't refuse.
"You will not receive a better offer than this." Farius' voice also sounded cold in contrast to the old man, but his comment was not necessary. The youth had already made up his mind.
"I will go with him" the youth nodded towards the redhead, afraid to point, and as surprised as Farius at how meek and small he sounded. The old man sighed.
"W-w-w-well if y-you change your mind then the Craftsman's Guild is on the market square." He tottered over to Aluredus and pressed a flat wooden seal into his hand. It bore the device of two intertwined willow stems between a hammer and a chisel. At the same time and almost as if summoned from thin air, the orderly returned with a small box containing the youth's few possessions and offered it forward with the lid raised.
Inside were the tracksuit and the trainers. The boxers had probably been destroyed. Aluredus wasn't really sorry to see them go. He smiled at the orderly and accepted the box. Closing the lid, he turned to find that the redhead was already walking off towards the door forcing the youth to break into a trot to keep step.
The hall was apparently one of the main entrances to the Refuge. Their ride was already waiting in the carriage porch. The redhead stood by its open door for Aluredus to alight. The youth quickly scurried past, and his new master entered the vehicle behind him closing the door with a firm clap. There was an unfamiliar lurch as the driver pulled away and out into the rain.
The carriage was covered and although they were dry, the rain pattered loudly off the windows and roof. Aluredus moved closer to the window as they came to the end of the driveway and rejoined the main road. The carriage swung round towards the city and he saw the exterior of the refuge for the first time. It was a seemingly haphazard collection of circular towers and turrets arranged over a steep hill and surrounded by a low wall. The hall they had just been stood in, was the only part of the building with recognisable corners.
The refuge stood nestled at the feet of a great mountain. A quick glance out of the other window confirmed that they were travelling across the steep plain between the mountains and the sea. Aluredus returned to watching the refuge slide away to be replaced by wooded hills with barren peaks stripped clean by the wind. His companion merely sat staring out towards the ocean.
Now that he was no longer under the piercing gaze, the youth felt some of his courage returning. He tried to break the silence "Why did you take me?"
The redhead did not answer and continued to look out of the window.
The youth cleared his throat and tried again. "What is the guild called?"
"The Guild of Dragons" The redhead's voice was still deep though here in the carriage it was a lot less cold.
The youth fidgeted slightly, before asking "Are they-?"
"Real? No." More silence. Now that the refuge was out of sight, Aluredus studied the redhead's features properly for the first time. He realised that his new master's eyes were the same violent shade of crimson as his hair and found it odd that he hadn't noticed it in the hall. He had also never seen hair that long or that particular shade, it was tied at the back of his neck with a simple black ribbon. He was neither feminine nor masculine in his looks, and his skin was a the kind of coffee shade that comes with working outdoors. From his posture and the way his dark coloured robes sat on his frame, Aluredus could see that whatever it was that his new master did for the guild it was probably quite physical.
He was also definitely giving off the unmistakable air of a man who did not want to talk at length, but the youth's mind was buzzing with uncertainty, and he found himself unable to keep quiet "So why me?"
To his surprise, the redhead answered almost immediately "Those bands you wear. They are not merely a precaution given to every out-lander in the refuge. They are only given to those touched by Jadus."
Aluredus frowned and scratched his head and was momentarily disgusted at the length of his hair "I don't understand" The carriage jolted over a pothole bumping the youth uncomfortably into it's wooden sides. His new master was unmoved and answered coolly.
"You have magic. We shall train you. Protect you. In return you will work with us."
"What? Why?" The redhead fixed him with a casual stare. Once again Aluredus felt an icy chill as though he were being seen through to the very core "I mean, 'not why should I work wiv you'. Why do I have magic?"
Again the answer was not far behind the question, the youth still fixed under his new master's gaze "You probably always have. It just doesn't manifest in your world."
The redhead looked away back out into the rain towards the sea. "Peace."
"Because of peace?" Aluredus was even more confused now than he was before the road jostled them again, but it did not shake the frown as he tried to figure things through. If he didn't know better he would have sworn he saw a flicker of a smile from the other side of the carriage. The red eyes were looking back in his direction although the chilly sensation was not present this time.
"Peace means; be quiet."
"Oh. Ok." He gave one last furtive glance to the man from the Guild of Dragons, who was again gazing out of the window "Sorry"
The rest of the carriage ride was silent. With only the sound of driven rain and the clatter of hoof and wheel to fill the long drive from Refuge Rock to the city walls of Eli Vocis. Somehow though Aluredus was no longer nervous in the slightest.