Part Four July 17, 2016:
“Wake up Bran, my boring songs are done,” his father whispered in his ear. He opened his eyes. His father stood over him grinning, but the grin could not camouflage the sadness in his father’s grey eyes. “Hal and Merrilynn have already left with your mother, so it’s just you and me.” His father’s voice sounded the worries that Bran saw in the grey eyes.
They walked outside into the cool night air. “Full moon,” his father grumbled more to himself than Bran.
“What are you–” he began before his father interrupted.
“So you’re done school,” his father stated. “Done school,” the raspy voice repeated with a choke. “Fourteen this year, very much a young man now.” Bran watched with worry at the confirming nod of his father’s chin. They stopped suddenly. His father turned and looked deep into his brown eyes. “Last year I put a request into the Bard campus. They accepted you. But, your mother and I cannot travel there with you because of harvest.” His father swallowed hard and waited for Bran to reply.
“How will I pay?” Bran asked with downcast eyes; he did not want to leave home.
“I have what you need, but forget it until tomorrow.” He saw his father’s hands tremble.
“When do I leave?” Bran pressed.
His father coughed nervously. “Unfortunately, the carrier pigeon brought the note only today. You’ll need to leave tomorrow to get to classes on time.”
Bran ground his teeth.
His father smiled knowingly, “I went there, remember, but I was never rich. The rich always get told first.”
“What about harvest?” he asked. It didn’t make sense to him to leave at the most important time of the year.
“”Riley Pitch and I talked. He has enough sons to make up for both of us. I’ll keep to the blacksmith shop fixing tools, axles, and horshoes to make up for your absence. Listen, time is short, by dawn your mother will have foodstuffs ready for you, so tonight you should pack your clothing.”
He kicked the earth in frustration, “For how long?”
“Forever perhaps. Four years is the minimum to get all your markings, but you decide. At any time you can return to help me with the blacksmith shop.”
“Than why don’t I stay?!”
A wondrous smile grew across his father’s thin cheeks. The grey eyes stared up into the full moon. “The things you can learn Bran. A Bard can travel over the entire Earth on this continent or the Emperor’s. You can go where you like and you can play for the richest or the poorest of people. You can work at a tavern, maybe buy your own. I will not force you to stay at the Bard campus, but you must go. Sadly, it is by yourself, and the roads are more dangerous now.” The happiness in his father’s face faded. “Do not forget to use your intuition. Never freeze up in the face of any danger. If you remember you are stronger than most because of your blacksmith heritage and that you are smart, you’ve always done well in school, you will be fine. If you have to earn money to buy food don’t forget your strong back or the skills I have taught you. You can get by even if you do not get your markings.”
Bran lowered his head as they continued through the forest. A haze steamed over his eyes, blurring his vision. His homeland that once loomed around him as the centre of all things became a tiny sketch that could fit into any one of his pockets. The trees that guarded him in his youth became no more than shrubs in his mind.
He knew little of the Bard campus except that he would be one of the poorer students. If the Earth was his to explore, could he ever hope to know every nook and cranny of its surface as he did his homeland? Would he ever feel safe again? How many names of places would echo through his ears, how many different peoples would he meet?
Part of him was already beginning to die. The loss of his youth caused a pang in his heart, but as one part of him decayed another wielded an excitement in him he could hardly fathom. All the wonders of the Earth were his to explore if he became a Bard. He pressed his hand against his chest. He could feel the smooth surface of the jewel beneath his shirt. As a Bard he could search for her.