Part Twenty-Eight                                                     August 19, 2016


It was two days before Bran returned to the chestnut tree of his new master.  “Look at this,” Jordan said with pride.  On his right forearm, just below the underside of his elbow was a thick purple scar.  “I am officially a Bard apprentice of the second year.  You get one too.”

“You must be Bran,” he heard a nasally voice say.  The new master walked over to him.  “You work at night with Master Kadar, I understand.  Well tonight you will have to be late.  Go to the testing area.  That is go tonight, in case you did not understand me.”

Bran glared at the new master.  He was tired from the two long days of working, and now he had to listen to an obnoxious master.  He walked towards Cleansing and headed for the old chestnut tree where the testing had taken place.  A Mistress Lady Bard stood waiting by the tree.

In her hand she held an iron.  Occasionally, she dipped it into a small cauldron that sat over the coals of a former fire.  As he came nearer she must have heard him for she looked in his direction.  “Bran of Darwin?” she asked impatiently.

“Yes,” he replied rolling up the sleeve of his left forearm.  The Mistress Lady Bard dipped the iron rod into the cauldron then into a small vase.  The end of the iron rod was now purple.  With her other hand she grabbed a long knife.

“Put your left arm out, and don’t move.”  He did as he was told.  In one swift movement she sliced open his forearm near his elbow and sealed the wound with the dye on the iron.  Bran could smell his flesh burning.  He wondered how Sheen fared with this.  “You’re done,” the Mistress Lady Bard said.  “Now go to Cleansing and wash your arm.”

“Thank you,” Bran said through gritted teeth.

“I don’t hear that very often,” the Mistress Lady Bard said.  “Perhaps you’ll be a charmer.”  She smiled warmly at him.

He went to Cleansing, where he stripped and soaked his whole body along with his arm.  A broad, uncontrollable smile crossed his face.  He was becoming a Bard!

As the days wore on Bran began to dislike the new master even more.  His distaste for the Master grew worse once the lessons began.  The Master ‘tched’ by sucking the back of his upper teeth with his tongue whenever Bran or the others sang a verse in the wrong note.  The Master’s eyes gleamed sadistically whenever Bran could not reach the higher notes.  “Again!” the Master would demand.

The morning lessons continued on from the first year’s singing lessons.  The Master expected them to practice humming up and down the scales.  At the end of each lesson they were given three verses of a lore to remember.

Two full moons passed and the Master continued to grow more irritable.  It was late and the Master called for an end to the day’s lessons.    Bran glared at him, however, he decided not to start a scene with the Master.  “You have a lot of catching up to do,” the Master said to Bran with a sardonic grin.   “I suggest you get up early and ask one of your friends to teach you the verses of the lores you continuously skewer with your pathetic voice.  Perhaps you should ask Sheen to help you with your high notes.”  He nonchalantly lifted his right arm into the air and flicked his wrist in dismissal.  Bran riled in anger.  Sheen, who had become more amicable with Bran, looked at Bran and shrugged sympathetically.  Bran understood Sheen was the Master’s favourite, all of his comrades did.  Unfortunately, Bran was his kicking tree.

In the second half of the year the Master took them into the woods where he pointed out copse of yellow cedar trees.  “The Druids have told me we can use one of these trees to make the necks of the lutes.” The Master keenly looked over the selection of cedars.  “This one has too many curves in its trunk.  This one,” the Master complained, “is so old it is rotting.  Look, here,” he shouted moving towards one of the cedars, “this tree is straight enough.  The bark looks healthy.  I will ask the Druids to cut down this tree.”  The Master took out a knife from one of his pant pockets.  Diligently he removed some bark from the tree.

“Now we need to find a pine tree for the soundboard.”  Peter pointed out a healthy looking pine.  “No, no, a fine-grain pine, not a gnarly looking one like this!”

Jordan yawned with boredom.  “Why don’t we just cut it down now?” he asked dryly.

The Master eyed him and made his usual tching sound.  “The Druids know how to cut the tree down yet keep its stump alive so saplings can sprout out of it.”

The Master led them back to the chestnut tree.  “Tomorrow,” he said, “we will return to the forest and cut out the necks for the lutes.  Hopefully, a fortnight from now the dark rosewood will arrive and we can make the ribs.”  The Master cupped his chin with his left hand and placed his right foot thoughtfully forward.  “Master Kadar should have the frets and keys done.  Well, if Bran didn’t mess them up.”

Bran looked wearily across the field in the direction of Ballard’s guard post.  “I’ll see you bright and early,” he said to the others as he headed off to the blacksmith shop.

“Looking forward to tomorrow when we start working on the lute?”  Peter asked as he got out his cot.

“Yes,” Bran yelled back, with a glint in his eyes.  He wanted to construct his own lute, and learn all its intricate parts.  Someday, maybe he would take up woodworking along with continuing his blacksmithing.

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