ON THEIR WINDING WAYS BETWEEN Here and There, the rammed-earth roads of the Uulian Commonwell often offer mystery – and sometimes, adventure.
Prosatio Silban was driving his galleywagon from Treefall to Kissing Bridge near the many-harbored city of Soharis. It was a fine summer’s morning: bright, not too warm, drowsy with the hum of distant insects, and fragrant from colorful splashes of sun-kissed flowers among a road-bordering light forest of pungentine-trees. The beefy cook clucked encouragement to his quaint lumbering dray-beast, Onward, and sang to himself a traveling-song:
“I wander the throughways and byways
Looking for I know not what.
I know it is out there, somewhere
Because it is nowhere else.
Sing! Through the woods and over the hills
My road-itchy feet take me!
Seeking fortune wherever I go,
Calling on friends far and near,
And making new ones on my trek
Wherever I happen to roam.
Sing! Through the woods and over the hills
My road-itchy feet take me!”
As the galleywagon drew nearer, the boy ceased walking and turned around.
He was about to sing the third verse when he caught sight of a small boy trudging ahead of him, traveling in the same direction with his back to the cook. As the galleywagon drew nearer, the boy ceased walking and turned around. He was dressed in typical village-commoner style; faded white tunic, tan kneebreeches and sandals, with a large burlap bag slung over one shoulder. Seeing Prosatio Silban, he stuck out his thumb to signal his interest in a ride.
“Hail, traveler,” the cook called out, reining his vehicle to a halt. “What can I do for you?”
“You can take me with you,” the youngster said, with all the sincerity that only a confident child can muster.
“Where are you going?”
“I am running away from home.”
The would-be hitchhiker scowled. “My parents do not understand me.”
“Parents rarely do. Mine certainly didn’t. But will they not worry about your sudden disappearance?”
“They don’t care, so why should I?”
Prosatio Silban frowned in sympathy. “It sounds serious.”
“It is. They want me to do chores – milk the goats, pick fruit, run field-errands, and clean the floors. But all I want to do is have adventures.”
“Adventures? Is it not enough for a small person to live in this, the most interesting of all possible worlds?”
“Well, I do not know yet. I just started running away yesterday. And I am not small” – he drew himself up – “I was born eleven ago, in the Year of the Wakeful Cockroach. I am old enough to stand up for myself.”
“That is a fine age to be, and gods-willing, you have the greater part of your life ahead of you. In my opinion, you are making a fine start of it.”
“Thank you! I thought so too.”
“Where are you from?”
The boy’s expression darkened. “If I tell you, you must promise not to take me back there.”
“Let us see where that is first. After all, it might not even be on my way, and I – ”
“No!” the boy shouted, and dropped his shoulder-slung bag.
“No!” the boy shouted, and dropped his shoulder-slung bag. He took off running into the roadside woods and was soon lost to sight.
As if by reflex, Prosatio Silban jumped down from the galleywagon’s driver’s bench and unhitched Onward. “Come, boy!” he cried.
With one fluid motion the chatoyant animal’s outline melted into that of a giant wingless racing-bird. The cook hopped onto its back and clung to its thick neck as the pair dashed into the forest.
Onward-the-bird ducked low branches and leapt over twisted roots as they chased after their diminutive quarry. Soon the pursuers came to a wide clearing, and Prosatio Silban gasped. “What is that?” he exclaimed.
“That” was an enormous moon-bear, all teeth and claws and menacing posture at the cowering, terror-stricken boy. Prosatio Silban bounded off his mount and tackled his charge, shielding him as the metamorph began changing shape once more. It was partway into the overtowering figure of a carnivorous lizard when another party broke into the scene from the clearing’s far side. The quartet was clad in the motley garb of traveling Aydnzmir minstrels, and immediately nocked arrows to their bows and commenced loosing. The silvery ursoid roared and swiped at the air in a futile gesture of defiance, then turned tail and crashed through the tangled woods. The cook regained his feet, as did the boy, and Onward resumed bird-form.
“That was fortuitous,” Prosatio Silban said. “Good folk, we owe you our very lives.”
“Yes,” said the relieved boy. “Thank you.”
The tallest minstrel bowed at the waist. “Aki-shmi and the Melodious Company are at your service,” she said. “And who might you be?”
“My name is Gostis,” the boy said. “I am running away from home, and from this man.”
“Why this man?” a second musician asked with a touch of suspicion.
“He wanted to take me back to my parents.”
“Ah,” said Aki-shmi. “If I may offer an alternative to this interloper, you could travel the Commonwell with us. Would you like to live a life of unbridled adventure? See new places and people? Sing to them for your breakfast, nuncheon and supper?”
“Would I? That is what I want more than anything in the world!”
“We can use a boy like you,” said a third minstrel.
“We can use a boy like you,” said a third minstrel. “Your high voice would draw a crowd, and you could dance for coins, clean the instruments, do the odd chores, carry the equipment…won’t that be wondrous?”
The boy was quiet for a moment, then spoke in a small voice. “But where is the adventure in that?” he asked.
“You have to earn adventure, my lad,” said the fourth minstrel, catching Prosatio Silban’s eye. “Nothing comes easy, but if you start young, it gets easier. Truly, you could be just what we need.”
Prosatio Silban spoke up, suppressing a smile. “Hold a moment. I don’t have to take young Gostis back to his home after all. I too travel the Commonwell in search of opportunity and coin. He could help me sort my cook- and serving- ware, prepare ingredients, gather and press fatberries, groom my dray-beast, wait tables-and-chairs, do the odd chores…the possibilities are endless. Of course, he is now your property through saving him from certain death at the claws of the moon-bear, but I will relieve you of him for say…ten in silver?”
“He is worth twenty at least,” Aki-shmi objected. “Look how sturdy he is! He’ll grow up to be a strong one. We should be asking twenty-five in silver; he seems smart and resourceful, after all.”
“I too am ‘smart and resourceful,’ and I don’t need to argue with a mere fetching-boy over his idea of how to do a thing in the right way. Fifteen is as much as he’s worth, and – ”
“Wait! Wait!” cried the boy. “I don’t want adventure if it means I have to do chores. I might as well go back home, where at least I know what chores I’m doing.”
“Perhaps I could take you there, and discuss with you life’s smaller adventures,” Prosatio Silban said, after a pause. “After all, it is on my way.”