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An Apprentice's Adventures

by Mark Friedman

Chapter 2

Ambassador Kroaswell proved to be very apt at taking care of himself. When he asked me one evening as we sat next to a small campfire if I was surprised by that, I laughingly asked him why I was even being brought along at all.

He smiled. "Well, suffice to say, the bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the world. Some people think that I can't survive on my own, being blind and all."

"Sir, if I may ask..."

"You're wondering how it happened, aren't you? How I was blinded."

"Well, yes, sir. I was only told that it was as a result of a tragic incident that happened 15 years ago."

"Oh, is that what they're calling it now?" he said with a bit of a snort. "I suppose you could call it that. It interestingly enough ties in with why I was selected to be the ambassador to Andares. I suppose they told you I got the position because I'm a merchant who used to trade in Andares a lot."

That's right," I replied.

"That is a part of it, I'm sure. But it's not the only reason, or even the main reason. After all, I'm not the only merchant to have traded extensively in Andares, not by a long shot. This 'tragic incident,' as some are apparently so fond of calling it, was when I was involved with what was supposed to be a routine trade mission. Now, it's important to remember that at the time diplomatic relations had already cooled somewhat between Skronina and Andares. It might seem like a shocking thing to most, but things had never really been all that great between the two nations to begin with. Sure, we were never enemies or anything like that, but things were never all that buddy-buddy, to borrow a phrase my son and some of his friends used to use when they were your age, between Skronina and Andares. About 20 years ago, Andares turned a lot of their attention from foreign affairs to internal issues. They have some of the better social programs I've seen in my time, though I digress. Anyway, as I mentioned, 15 years ago I was involved with what was supposed to be a routine trade mission that took me to one of Andares's duchies that is ruled by one of King Osvaldo's favorite cousins."

"Let me guess," I said. "Things didn't go quite as planned."

"Exactly. One of the 'internal issues' that was being addressed was dealing with pirates that had been plaguing Andares's eastern coast for several years, and as you can imagine, the pirates didn't take too kindly to that. The pirates decided to assassinate several notable members of the nobility – and yes, one of their targets was the aforementioned duke – figuring that they'd be an easier target than the more heavily guarded king. They hired an assassin mage to handle the dirty work. The attempted assassination – it turns out that the duke was to have been the first target – took place late one evening. I had been a guest at the palace, as the duke and I knew each other from several other prior engagements. That evening, as fate would have it, I had decided to head down to the stables to check on one of my horses, a mare who was pregnant and was close to delivering. I stumbled across the assassin – almost literally – as he was carrying out his plan. Apparently, it startled him as much as it had startled me, and he dropped something called a flashbang. I don't know if you've heard of those before."

"I have," I said. Flashbangs were very popular with assassins, though hard to come by. They were ceramic balls filed with chemicals, enhanced with magic, that would cause a bright flash and a loud bang (hence the name) when broken and stun anyone nearby (or at least those without certain magical wards over their eyes and ears) long enough for an assassin to carry out his task; looking directly at a flashbang without the aforementioned magical wards over your eyes when it went off could lead to permanent blindness.

"But how'd you survive?" I asked. "I mean, I'm sure the assassin couldn't exactly have been thrilled that you messed up his plans like that."

"Fortunately there were guards near enough to hear the flashbang going off but not so close that they were blinded in the flash or dazed by the noise. And as it turns out, the assassin had not yet had an opportunity to place the needed wards over his own eyes and ears, and was momentarily stunned as well. It made it possible for the guards to discover what was happening, figure out what was going on, and kill the assassin before he was able to kill me or anyone else. The duke was saddened that one of his guests would be injured while under his roof, but also grateful at the same time that I'd saved his life, even though it was unintentional."

"I'm sorry," I said, not knowing what else to say.

"There's nothing for you to be sorry about," he assured me. "As an old saying goes, life is what happens while you're making other plans."

I soon started to learn to appreciate that statement. A part of the supplies that had been sent along were cots for sleeping in, but because of the need for traveling somewhat lightly for speed purposes, there had only been a limited amount sent along, so I politely offered to not use one. As a result, I had been sleeping in the back of the very wagon that I rode in during the day.

Two days after the conversation I had with Ambassador Kroaswell, we reached the foot of the Kanant Mountains (which the Anxion Pass went through at the top). That night I was awoken by some sort of commotion. Groggily I sat up.

"What's going on?" I murmured, rubbing sleep out of my eyes. I dropped my hands just in time to see a fist coming right at me. It slammed into my face, and all went dark...

I slowly came to, groaning. I tried to sit up, but immediately flopped back down as the world spun around me.

"Shhhh," someone – a woman – said at the same time a hand was placed gently on my chest. "You've had a rough night."

"What happened?" I moaned out. "Where am I?"

The hand was removed from my chest, and someone helped me sit up, and once the room stopped spinning, I looked around. I was in a small room, with several people near me. A mug was pressed into my hands, and I was directed to drink.

"You're in the settlement of Klodia," one woman told me as I drank some sort of tea, and I recognized her voice as the one who'd spoken earlier. I remembered hearing about Klodia; it was a settlement not too far from the route we were taking. It was one of several settlements in the area founded a couple of hundred years before by a group of people looking to maintain their belief system away from the persecution that existed at the time; while such persecutions had long since ended as people learned that different beliefs weren't necessarily bad, the descendents of those settlers remained where they'd been raised, and still remained the dominant belief system in the area.

"Your caravan was attacked last night by a group of bandits," the woman continued. "One of our scouting parties happened upon the scene just after the attack started, and was able to kill several of the bandits and chase off the rest. Oh, and sorry about Pacey," and she jerked her head towards a wiry fellow, "slugging you like that. When you sat up, it surprised him, and he thought you were a bandit."

"Yes, my apologies," Pacey rumbled in a voice deeper than I'd thought would come out of someone his size.

"Is everybody all right?" I asked.

"A few cuts and scrapes," she said. "You were the worst off in most ways. Several of your wagons were damaged. You'll be stuck here a while waiting for them to be fixed." I finished the tea, and she took the mug from me. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "Where are my manners? I'm Kala Yoanda, Klodia's healer."

"Aidan Marsatal, apprentice archivist in the palace at Toskel and current ambassadorial aide," I said.

"Nice to meet you," Kala said. "I only wish it was under better circumstances."

"So, can I see the others from my group?" I asked. "I'd like to let them know I'm all right."

"Of course," Kala said.

I hopped off the bed, but had to stop as the room spun around me once again. Kala placed a supporting hand at my elbow until the room stopped spinning. I took a deep breath and nodded at her when I was ready.

We headed out of the room, and I was taken to some sort of communal room, where I saw quite a few other people, including Ambassador Kroaswell and several other members of our party, were seated at tables. The smell of food was in the air, and my stomach rumbled.

"About time you rejoined us, sleepyhead," Shemar, the driver of the wagon Ambassador Kroaswell and I rode in, said with a grin.

"So Aidan is finally with us again, I take it," said Ambassador Kroaswell.

"Yes, sir," I replied.

"Please, come sit down with me," he directed, and I came over and took a vacant spot on the bench he was seated on. "Now," he continued, gesturing in the general direction of three girls, around Kavon's age, who were seated across from him, "I hope I may be permitted to introduce my three dining companions. These are Jovana Ainsley, Deyanira Jabari, and Adamaris Maliah." Each girl raised her hand as she was named. "Ladies, this is Aidan Marsatal, my aide."

"Hello," I said, waving somewhat shyly at them, and each of the three girls returned the greeting, as strange, conflicting feelings washed over me. I'd been having what I suppose are the "usual" feelings towards girls since hitting puberty, and while my father had told me about it when we'd had "the talk" years ago (and I thus knew to expect it), I'd also been having those feelings about boys as well, and I didn't quite know what to make of it. While pa had mentioned that there were those who also held those feelings for their own gender (either just for their own gender or for both genders), he seemed to imply that it was something I shouldn't expect.

A while after I'd started having these feelings, I'd read up in the archives about it. I learned that all three categories were considered socially acceptable, and it was even possible for two members, whether of the opposite gender or same gender, to become lifebonded to each other (a somewhat rare occurrence no one really seemed to understand, in which two people more than just fell in love with each other, but also had some sort of deep bond between each other that was unbreakable for the life of the two partners).

It was a couple of days before I could figure out how to ask pa why he hadn't really talked a lot about it without mentioning that I'd been experiencing bisexual feelings myself (and a part of what had been particularly freaky about having those feelings was that, as of late, I was sometimes finding them directed at guys like my friend Camryn – and not just basic kissing stuff, but sometimes more...explicit thoughts; I'd also read more about masturbation, which pa had referred to in passing during "the talk," during that time, and after a bit of hesitant exploration of my body, I now played with myself on what the writings indicated as being a fairly regular, though perfectly normal for someone of my age, basis).

He admitted that it was because that he and ma hadn't ever really thought about it – nobody they knew well had such feelings, and there hadn't seemed to be any real reason to go into any depth on it with any of us kids. Apparently I hadn't done as good a job as I'd thought in disguising the reason why I'd asked, because he then asked if I was having such feelings myself. I wanted to deny it, but looking into his eyes I felt I could tell him anything.

"I...I think so," I'd admitted. "I don't know. I'm kinda confused."

He told me that sometimes it took a while for an individual to sort out their feelings about which of the three orientations they were, and he assured me that no matter what, he and my ma would always love me.

Back in the present, Ambassador Kroaswell said, "Aidan, we'll have to stay here for several days. I don't know how much you've been told about what happened last night, but several wagons were damaged, and while these good people have offered to help us fix them, it will take a little while."

"How long will it be before we can get going again?" I asked.

"I've been told it will take about two days to get the wagons fixed," Ambassador Kroaswell said.

"If we can leave within three days, according to Mage Landyn," added Driton, the convoy master, indicating a man sitting nearby, who waved at the introduction, who was coming along to be the embassy mage, "we should be able to beat out the storm, or at least the worst of it. We should also arrive in Jaana and reasonably set up before their religious festival starts."

"What's the importance of getting set up before this festival starts, anyway?" someone asked, whom I recognized as one of the wagon drivers. "I mean, I've heard about this since we left Toskel, but not as to the reason behind it."

"It should be mentioned that it's not so much the entire festival itself, per se, that is what makes the issue of setting up the embassy quickly such a pressing issue," Ambassador Kroaswell explained, "A part of this particular festival is that the first two days involves a rather complex ceremony that it somewhat limits what kind of activities can go on during that time. And while I'm sure that our hosts wouldn't expect us to observe their religious beliefs – there are, after all, other religions in Andares whose followers aren't expected to observe the protocols in question – it's felt it would be polite to not do anything obvious that goes on against their faith's teachings. It's especially important to remember when one considers that most of the support staff for the embassy, and who will be helping us get set up in the first place, will be coming from the local population, and as such most will be followers of this particular religion."

"So we'll need to leave almost as soon as the wagons are fixed," Driton added. "Everybody will need to stay close by, because we won't be able to afford to wait for you if you aren't. If you don't leave with us, you'll be on your own to catch up."

"Hey, you ever seen a griffin up close before?" Adamaris asked me suddenly.

"No, I haven't," I said. "Not real ones, anyway. Just in drawings and carvings and such."

"C'mon," Deyanira said. "We've actually got three in residence here."

"Yeah, if you think they're great in drawings and carvings," Deyanira added, "wait until you see 'em in person!"

The three girls hopped up, as did I, and they practically dragged me along. I admit I was a somewhat nervous and a somewhat excited at the same time (there went those mixed feelings again!). Griffins were not sentient, like humans, though they were supposed to be very intelligent, as far as creatures went.

We headed outside, and for the first time I managed to get a good look at the building we'd been in. It was one of several buildings built close together. While the internal walls had been boards, the outsides looked like logs had been stacked one upon the other. I'd read somewhere once that such a construction method was often used in certain areas (like the mountains) for durability purposes – the logs on the outside offered protection from the elements better than most other readily available materials, while the boards that lined the inside kept the weather from going through the cracks between the logs.

"Come on, hurry!" Adamaris urged. "This is a good time to see them. They've been up long enough so that they're not still waking up, but not so late that they're restless and ready to be given their daily workouts or allowed to go out and hunt."

I turned my attention to the three girls who were with me. Adamaris was tall (She beat me by a good five inches) and slender, somewhat fair skinned, but with dark, almost raven-black hair going down to the middle of her back, with icy blue eyes. She seemed like the type of person who was accustomed to being, if not the center of attention, then at least near it; she reminded me of the types of folks back home who'd be right in the middle of a group at a party, talking and giggling away.

Jovana was about my height (all right, maybe she was a bit taller than me, but not by much), with shoulder-length flaming bushy red hair, and blue eyes. Her tan skin looked like she spent no small amount of her time out-of-doors, and her lean body spoke of an active lifestyle, the kind of person who was constantly on the move.

Deyanira was about two inches shorter than I was, and, while not exactly fat, was on the stocky side. She had pale skin, auburn hair going to just past her shoulders, and brown eyes that gave her an almost wise look. I could imagine her easily working in the archives.

We quickly arrived at a large building, and I was led inside. I stopped as I took in the interior of the building. It was set up somewhat like the stables I'd seen in Toskel. But that wasn't what caught my attention. There were three griffins standing in there, and they were more amazing that I'd ever imagined.

"Beautiful, aren't they?" Adamaris asked in a somewhat hushed voice.

"They're...amazing," I replied, in an almost equally hushed voice.

One griffin squawked at me, giving a short hop in my direction.

"That's Dore," Deyanira said. "He's the one male of the group. The other two are Cedilla and Tirana." She indicated the two others, staring calmly at us.

The three girls moved closer to Dore, but I hung back. The griffins were a lot bigger than I'd imagined, and my mind was filled with images of them ripping me apart with those long claws of theirs, or snapping through an arm or leg with their beaks.

Jovana noticed that I was hanging back, and called out, "Come on. It's all right. They won't hurt you. Their squawk is much worse than their bite."

"Yeah, it's just Dore's way of saying he's excited to see us," Adamaris added.

I slowly started taking steps towards them, ready to bolt towards the door at the first sign that the griffins considered me breakfast. I was almost to Dore when I nearly jumped out of my skin as a voice called out, "Well, I see you've brought a new friend."

I looked over to see an old woman coming in. She was a little shorter than I was, with silver-gray hair that flowed down to her waist, and a worn face with more than a few wrinkles.

"Aidan, this is Odalys Quialis," Jovana said. "She helps take care of the griffins. Odalys, this is Aidan Marsatal. He's a part of that caravan we're helping out."

"Hello," I said.

"Hello there, young man," she replied. "Well, you're certainly a handsome one, aren't you? I'll bet these ladies are already fighting over you."

I felt my face go warm, and the girls giggled. I'd certainly never considered myself handsome, and wondered what had prompted Odalys to say that.

"Oh Odalys, don't be silly," Adamaris said in a stern voice, though the smile on her face said that she wasn't really feeling that way. "We just met him. We wouldn't start fighting over him for at least a week, if he was staying that long."

"At least," Deyanira agreed. "We might be able to hold out for two weeks, if he stayed out of sight."

My face grew even warmer, which only served to send the girls back to their giggling. Even Odalys laughed, a raspy, dry-sounding laugh.

"But you're not here to talk about your social lives, are you?" Odalys said. "I'll bet you're here to see the griffins. Come on over, young man."

I hesitantly went over to Dore, and slowly reached out a hand. When my hand touched his side, I stroked his golden feathers. I heard him squawk, and I turned to find that he had turned back to look at me, blinking his large eyes.

"Don't worry," Odalys said. "He's just checking you out."

"Uh, hi," I said to Dore.

After a few minutes, I felt that Dore wasn't going to eat me, and I relaxed a little. At one point, I scratched his crest, and he actually leaned into it. We soon headed back inside, and I was able to sit down and enjoy breakfast. I was ravenous, and everyone seemed to get a chuckle out of how much I ate.

"Now, you've got to remember he's a growing boy," Ambassador Kroaswell said with a smile at one point.

"Boy?!" Kala said sternly.

"Young man," Ambassador Kroaswell corrected himself. "Sorry, Aidan."

"It's all right," I replied, though it came out rather muffled, as I had a roll in my mouth.

Several men came inside at that point and sat down at the table nearest us. They were handed the food dishes, and were quick to dig in. I noticed that they were dressed in work clothes, which were covered in wood shavings, sweat, and soot.

One said, "It looks like we'll be able to get the wagons repaired in time."

"That's good," Ambassador Kroaswell said.

As Ambassador Kroaswell talked with the man over a few things, I noticed that one of the group that had come in wasn't a man at all, but a youth about my age, probably a year or two older than I was. He was kind of good-looking. He noticed me looking at him, and he held up a hand in greeting. I somewhat shyly returned the greeting.

When I finished eating, Ambassador Kroaswell said, "Aidan, perhaps you'd like to take a bath – they do have bathing facilities available here."

I was about to politely decline, but taking a quiet sniff, I decided that it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to accept. After all, I'd last bathed well in Toskel.

"All right," I said, "if it's not too much trouble."

"Oh, not at all," Kala said. "Here, I'll show you where the baths are."

We got up, and I followed her down the hall, past the room where I'd been taken the night before. "This will be your room while you stay with us," Kala commented. "Your things have already been put in there."

The baths were at the end of the hall, which was two doors down from the room I'd been assigned. I was surprised to find that it was a communal bath, this one being for the guys, while another one nearby was for the ladies. Kala quickly explained how to get water (including hot water, which surprised me; if I had time later, I decided I'd have to ask how they'd managed that) into and out of the tub, and provided me with a towel and soap. I thanked Kala, and when she left, I headed back to my room.

As I grabbing a set of clean clothes, I started realizing that I hadn't played with myself since I'd left Toskel, and having been around the girls with their casual flirtations had left me a bit horny. Quietly I pulled down my pants and underpants and sat down on the bed. I ran a couple of fingers along the side of my already-hard 5 inch dick...and promptly came. I flopped back onto the bed, groaning out in pleasure, as my semen exploded out of the end of my dick.

Once I recovered from the ejaculation, I sat up from where I'd flopped back onto the bed. Feeling a bit sheepish for some reason, I pulled my underpants and pants back up, grabbed my clothes, the towel, and the soap, and returned to the bathing room. Shutting the door, I started filling a tub, and stripped my clothes off. Getting into the tub, I started washing off.

After scrubbing myself for a while, I laid back, allowing the warm water to soothe me. One of the things that never seemed to get mentioned in all those adventure stories was how sore you could get.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when the door suddenly opened. I glanced over to see one of the men who'd been working on the wagon. He nodded a greeting, and I nodded back, feeling self-conscious as he started filling another one of the tubs. There ought to be no reason for me to be embarrassed (we were both guys, and it wasn't like he was standing there gawking at me), so I didn't really know why I was feeling self-conscious. – after all, it wasn't the first time I'd ever been naked around another guy, and it wasn't like either of us had anything the other didn't.

Once he was in the bath (facing away from me, I noticed; whether this was accidental or if he was purposely giving me as much privacy as the situation allowed I didn't know), I got out of my tub as casually as I could, releasing the plug to allow the water out. Grabbing the towel, I quickly dried off and pulled the clean clothes on. Tossing the towel into the bin Tala had indicated earlier, I grabbed my dirty clothes and headed back into my room, where I stashed the dirty clothes. Heading out, I bumped into the same boy I'd seen earlier.

"Oh, uh, hi," I said. "I'm Aidan Marsatal."

"Hi, I'm Perrin Tussah," he replied, similarly shifting the clothes he was carrying to his own left hand before taking my hand in a firm handshake.

"So, I hope you left some hot water for me," he said with a grin on his face.

"I didn't use it all up, but I'm not so sure about the guy who came in after I did," I said, grinning back.

"Figures," he muttered. "With my luck, it's probably Tamin. He always did hog the hot water."

"Well, I'd better let you go," I said quickly, then mentally cringed, wondering why I'd said it the way I had – it made it seem like I was eager to get away from Perrin.

"All right. See you later," Perrin said.

"Yeah, see you," I replied.

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