Part Fifteen                                                                   July 30, 2016

He stepped back from the pond as the green haze began to dissipate.  Holding his dagger tightly he moved around the pond, and headed towards the sound of the river’s rapids.  The closer he came, the more the forest roof cleared letting starlight shine through.

As the earth tinted with a sheet of yellow he became aware of a change in the woods to the east.  A row of giant oaks made a wall between the cypress and the land farther north.  He squinted at the oaks.  It seemed to him that there was a path in their midst.

An angry thought occurred to him, what if this did not lead to the campus?  The path turned and twisted for so long he thought it would never end.  By midmorning the path did end and he stood before a wall of thorns that grew between the great oaks.

It was too much! He had a great deal of patience, but now he was desperate.  He looked thoughtfully at the blade of his dagger and put it against one of the strands of thorns.

“Whoa!” shouted a man from the woods.  Bran turned and looked but only saw darkness and tree trunks.

“This is the Bard campus?” he asked.

He heard movement, like wood scraping against wood.  He turned and saw the thorn branches pulling back to reveal an obsidian obelisk in the shape of a pyramid.  Engraved on the obelisk was a message:

“When the birds stop whistling, the dogs stop howling, the Bards too will lose their lutes, their voices.  When this cometh upon the land, the hills will flatten, the trees will decay, and all good things will vaporise into the air.  A gale will toss this air into the celestial planes above the globe of existence into the dark, awaiting Universe.  Come not here to destroy.  Place your hands upon this land in peace and sing of the world in all its wonder, in all its truth.  Do not forget the troubles it abounds in.  Leave if to destroy, for Druids keep this place.”

Beyond the sign was a clearing with a thick carpet of grass dotted with copses of apple and pear trees.  He could see others moving about with lutes strung over their shoulders.  In some places the Bards sat in half-circles their masters standing in front of them.  They all wore light brown pants with hems that ended just below the knee.  Their shirts were of a paler brown, almost beige.  Over the shirts they had on dark green, satin vests.

To his left was a large guardhouse, that could easily hold six men, but with only one person who took up all the room inside.  Bran stared in bewilderment.  A giant!  The giant smiled with amusement. The thick mat of silver hair on his broad cranium, no less as large as half of Bran’s body, held a great beard that rolled onto a chest nearly as broad as the trunks of some of the great oaks. Two massive hands lay on the windowsill with fingers entwined. “Come to be a Bard?” boomed the giant’s voice with a hint of sarcasm.

“Yes,” Bran managed.

“Your parents already paid, I take it?” The giant pulled out some leather bound books and began to leaf through them. “Your name?”

“I was to bring a silver string maker, but I was robbed,” he said hopelessly.

“Uh-huh, and how will you pay?” the giant asked indifferently.

“I am a blacksmith’s son, I can make or fix horseshoes, I even know how to make blades,” he replied desperately.

The giant folded his hands over the book. “What’s your father’s name?”

“Calwind, of the village Darwin.”

The giant sat back thoughtfully. “What does he look like?”  The giant’s blue eyes squinted with suspicion.

“My father is a tall man.  He has grey eyes like the wolf, and many say a voice that matches.”

The giant smiled.  “Yes, and a character like a wolf.  Wait a moment.”

Bran watched with awe as the giant shifted around and departed out a door that took up the entire back wall of the guardhouse.  Through the opening Bran could see the giant thudding along towards a row of oaks.  He heard the giant call out, “Kadar!”

Bran squinted to see who the giant was talking to.  A tiny man, when standing next to the giant, but all muscle came forward.  The man had a blacksmith’s apron on.  Other than the apron Bran could not really see what he looked like.

The giant thudded back to the guardhouse.  “Alright son, go seek out Master Rennell, tell him Ballard sent you.  I believe he is at that chestnut tree.”  Ballard pointed towards a tree to the west. “Tell him you will be working nights with Master Kadar.”

“Aren’t these apple and pear?” Bran asked.

“Mostly son, but the masters teach under chestnut trees.”

“Why–,” he began to ask when the giant waved him away.

“Don’t know why,” he heard as he walked towards the trees.

Bran gained his second wind as he neared the chestnut tree.  He saw a man in his twenties sitting with some youths his own age.  Bran wondered if that was the Master, he seemed young and full of life.   Auburn hair on the verge of being fully brown grew thickly on the Master’s head.  The short man seemed full of vibrancy, waving his hands passionately as he explained something to his apprentices.  As for the apprentices, Bran wasn’t so sure about their disposition.

He did not want to interrupt the Master’s lesson so he went and sat with the others.  The Master turned immediately to him.  “Hello,” his voice sang out.  Bran nodded in reply.  Baby blue eyes smiled back at him.  “Don’t tell me, Ballard sent you,” the Master said trying to imitate the giant’s booming voice.

“Yes,” Bran replied.

“I’m Master Rennell.”  He shook the Master’s hand. “And these are your new comrades.  Peter,” he pointed to a tall youth with a crop of red hair.  “Jordon.”  He could tell this one was mischievous. Jordan’s short, blond hair swirled into a cowlick, and a crooked smile greeted Bran.  “Algin.”  Algin’s jet black hair hung short except at the back.  Steely eyes that could be brown one moment and black the next stared coolly at him.  “And finally, Sheen.”  Sheen was a typical kid—at least he looked like a kid, short and chunky with lots of baby fat.  Sheen’s head seemed too big for the thin layer of blond hair that covered it.  “And who are you, sir?” the Master asked kindly.

“Bran, of the village Darwin,” he replied quietly.

“Bran, isn’t that horse feed,” Algin snickered.

“Smells like it’s been kept in a damp place,” Jordan added.

“Leave him be Jordan, he’s new,” Peter said protectively.

The Master looked at the others with a frown.  “Algin, why don’t you take Bran for a tour of the campus and to Cleansing, so he can smell like fresh horse feed?”

Algin cursed under his breath but stood up anyway.  “Hurry up, my parents didn’t pay for me to be a babysitter.”  Bran got up and followed Algin.

Algin walked with a very straight back. He seemed fairly athletic to Bran, but he was also as thin as a sheet of papyrus.  Without saying another word Algin led him to a small hill.  “To the north is Cleansing,” Algin said, before abruptly turning east and pointing at a low cliff that sloped inward with what looked like a stream running under it. “That way will take you to the Excretatory.”

“What about food?” Bran asked.  He was starving.

“Wait, like the rest of us,” Algin snarled.  “Come back to chestnut tree when you’re done,” Algin said as he walked away.

Bran felt like hitting his new comrade, but he knew better.  This was a world much better than the one he had just travelled through.  He felt safe here, no monsters, or strange green women living in the water.  He headed for the large pond.  Some older Bard apprentices were in the water, and something better stirred on the other side.  He stopped at the edge of the water and gazed across.  Girls were in the water splashing each other and laughing.  He started stripping off his clothes, when he felt a wet hand on his back.

“Take it to the run for cleaning, boy,” an older Bard apprentice said.

Bran smiled crudely at the sarcasm, “Where?” he asked gruffly.  The older Bard seemed taken-back by Bran‘s tone.  The older boy pointed towards a miniature canal-like structure to the south.

The run ran alongside the south side of the pool.  It was U-shaped.  A natural waterfall spewed into the most eastern section of the U.  He guessed that the force of the waterfall moved the clothes from the fareast section around the elbow of the U to the canal nearest him.  He couldn’t get to the waterfall because a wide strip of junipers and an assortment of thorny plants blocked his path.  He guessed that the junipers stopped Bards and Lady Bards from visiting each other. He put his right hand above his eyes so he could examine the waterfall.  It poured off a ridge that was too high to see over.  Disappointed he couldn’t get closer he threw his clothes into the run and watched as they washed into a basin.

The basin curved like a scoop with two long handles on either side.  At the bottom of the basin there appeared to be a horizontal cylinder so it could be rolled towards the water or away from it.  He didn’t bother going to the Excretatory, there was nothing in him to get rid of.  Instead he slipped into the cool water of the pond.

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