This is another one of the “young Bailar” stories, the next scene after The Voice of the Forest.
The barge crew and porters laughed as Bailar sim Prensin pulled himself out of the muddy water of the river landing, using his staff and the gangplank to steady himself. “An inauspicious beginning,” he muttered, clambering onto the gangplank. On the other hand, he had kept his pack out of the water. His food and belongings were dry and safe.
“Hoy, lad.” One of the crew offered him a hand. “I’d not seen anyone slip off that gangplank before.”
“My balance is a steaming heap of bowgnoash,” said Bailar, letting the poleman haul him aboard. “Always has been.”
“To be rude about it, boy, no need,” the barge master snapped. “Yer pack, under the tarp ya can drop. Settle in, outta the way ya stay.”
“Yes, sir,” Bailar replied, using his new staff to keep his balance. Greased with fat and cured in the chimney, the river water ran off it. The only wet part was its leather boot. He made his way across the barge to the tarp. The crew had their own places staked out already, but there was plenty of open space. He chose a spot near one corner and sat with his pack. His bedroll was wet on one side, but he laid it out and left his pack on the dry side. It would all be dry by nightfall.
With that out of the way, he sat in the sun along the edge of the tarp, watching the porters and crew work. He was alone, but he had said his good-byes. His sisters tried to talk him into staying home, if only so he could mind their children once they chose mates and wed. But sorcery seemed like a good match for him—perhaps he could use magic to go and do without falling on his face so often. He would certainly see more of the wide world than he would staying at home. Even his parents had never been farther than Exidy…
The polemen strained, pushing the barge away from the landing. No turning back now, he thought, letting the early-summer sun dry his clothes. The next two days would be interesting. In the Matriarchy, women ruled from the household to the throne, but barges were a man’s domain.
“Your pardon, notable,” Bailar asked the first person he saw on the Exidy docks. Behind him, the porters offloaded sacks of wheat and rye, likely including some that his parents had grown. “Where might I find the local sorcerer?”
“Old Gilsen?” The woman looked him over. “He dwells across the river.” She pointed to a landing across the Wide; a wide-bottomed craft sat pulled up on shore. “You can hire a boat and paddle across, if you’re in a hurry. If it can wait, Mara can bring him to you even sooner.”
Bailer puzzled at the riddle for a moment. “Are you saying that’s Mara’s boat over there?”
“Indeed. Clever lad, you are. And yonder they come.” She pointed to two figures making their way down the river bank to the landing. “They’ll come ashore at the landing. Follow me.”
They made their way to the landing, Bailar watching his footing to avoid stumbling or worse. At the river’s edge, a sturdy woman pulled her boat ashore while the man sat waiting.
“Hoy, Mara!” Bailar’s guide called. “This boy-sprout wants a word with your passenger.”
The two of them eyed Bailar. The man nodded and clambered onto the damp sand. An old grand, Bailar thought, noticing the white sash draped over one shoulder. The man’s hair was only a slight shade darker than the sash.
“I am Gilsen the White,” the old grand greeted him. “Say your say.”
“My name is Bailar sim Prensin,” said Bailar, putting a hand to his forehead and bowing, the salute to a superior. “I wish to become your apprentice.”
“Indeed?” Gilsen looked surprised. “Son, you know that it takes more than a staff to become a sorcerer. You have to have the Talent.”
“I know, sir. This staff is to help me with my balance. I know I have magic in me, for I heard the Deep Forest speak.”
The two women looked at each other; their smirks said upriver bumpkin. Bailar ignored them.
“If that is true, then you may well be suitable,” said Gilsen, surprising the women.
“Do you have room for another apprentice?”
Gilsen stifled a laugh. “Indeed, son. If you would, come to the market with me. When we finish, we shall return to my home, and I will administer a few tests.”