The Bard and the Boy
James entered the common room and ran his eyes over each person seated at a table. After about a minute, he spied Daniel sitting alone, eating a plate of vegetables.
There he is, he thought and approached the lad. He watched the teen spear several items from his plate with a knife. Odd, the bard thought. Didn’t the elves teach him how to use a fork?
He sat down at Daniel’s table. “Daniel, I’m James Claymont, the Inn’s bard. Iriel told me you might be here. Pleased to meet you.” James extended his hand.
Daniel looked at it blankly for a minute as he chewed a hunk of potato, then a look of recognition came to his face. He swallowed. “Humans shake hands as a greeting, don’t they?”
“Usually,” replied James with a smirk.
Daniel nodded his head and shook James’s hand.
“How do you like working here?” asked James.
Daniel shrugged. “Am I supposed to like it?” He harpooned a chunk of carrot.
James smiled. “No, I suppose not. In fact, most people don’t like their jobs, but it helps if you do.”
Daniel cocked his head to one side and swallowed. “If most people don’t like their jobs, then why do they do them?”
Daniel nodded his head. “I understand. That is why I work for Mr. Jones. Is that why you are a bard?” He lanced an onion.
“No, I’m a bard because I like to entertain people and learn about them.”
Daniel chewed and swallowed. “Is that why you are here? To learn about me?”
James slid his jaw to one side for a moment and raised his eyebrows. He’s perceptive. I’ll give him that.
“In a manner of speaking, yes. Iriel only told me a little about you and why you are here, but I’d like some more information.”
“Okay,” he said flatly. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, to begin with, did you like living among the elves?”
Daniel shrugged. “I guess, but I didn’t actually live among the elves.” He bit into a large piece of yellow turnip.
“No?” James’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. “Didn’t they raise you?”
Daniel nodded his head as he chewed. After swallowing, he said, “Yes, until I was seven. Then I was selected to learn the Art and went to live in a secluded part of the forest with my master.”
“The Art? You mean Qua’ril?”
James scratched his head and his eyebrows knitted. “How’d you manage to convince the elves to teach you the Art?”
Daniel swallowed the remainder of the turnip, then cocked his head to one side again. “I don’t understand your question.”
“The elves don’t teach their form of martial arts to non-elves. You must’ve had to convince them to do it.”
Daniel shook his head and stabbed at a stalk of celery. “No. My master picked me.”
“Then you were lucky.”
“My master says there is no such thing as luck. Only balance, focus, and control.” He bit into the stalk.
“Those are the fundamentals of Qua’ril?”
Daniel nodded his head and chewed.
“I see. Well, there’s more to life than balance, focus, and control.”
The lad swallowed. “Like what?”
“Fun?” said Daniel. “How does one have fun?”
James paused. I don’t know what the elves taught him, but any teen that doesn’t know how to use a fork or how to have fun needs help. A chill went down his spine at the thought. Maybe that’s what Iriel sensed from talking to him yesterday. No wonder she offered to help. I should have known better than to doubt her this morning.
He wanted to bang himself on the head in the hopes of knocking some sense into his brain, but he saw Daniel staring at him, waiting for an answer.
He cleared his throat. “Well, there are lots of ways to have fun: sitting in a tavern, having a few drinks, listening to stories, or singing songs are some of the more common ways.”
“But there are other ways?” Daniel asked and tossed the rest of the celery into his mouth.
“There are. Basically if you enjoy it, then it is fun.”
Daniel chewed and swallowed. “So work is not fun — for most people.”
“Could helping others be fun?” He chomped another potato.
“It could be.” James raised an eyebrow. “Why do you ask?”
Daniel swallowed. “Because I can’t pay you or Iriel for the help she has offered to give me, and if people only do things that they don’t enjoy for money, then the only way you and Iriel will help me is if it is fun, right?”
“Uh …” James did not even know where to begin with that one. He scratched his head and sighed. The logic is sound, based on what I told him, but it doesn’t take into account a lot of things.
Daniel rolled up the lettuce leaf at the bottom of the plate and tore off a section.
“Not exactly,” James said at last. “Iriel and I will help you because we like you. We want to help. Money and fun have nothing to do with it.”
The teen swallowed. “I see. You do it out of friendship.”
Daniel blinked. “Huh. I don’t think I’ve had any friends before.” He put the rest of the lettuce in his mouth.
James raised his eyebrows. “None?”
The lad shook his head and swallowed. “Not since I began studying the Art. It was just my master and me.”
“You must have been lonely.”
Daniel cocked his head. “Lonely?” He paused to consider the idea. “No, but I had no friends.”
James sighed. “Well, you do now.” He smiled and Daniel smiled back. It was a weak smile, as if he were unaccustomed to doing it, but it was a smile.
Daniel ate several more carrots and pushed his plate away. “So, how will you help me?”
James raised a hand with his forefinger extended and pointed it at Daniel. “Well, I’ve been thinking about that. Most churches keep a record of births and deaths. We can go to the church in town and see if anyone named Salvatori has ever lived here.”
The lad’s face brightened. “Okay, that would be great. I will finally find some answers.”
“Answers?” repeated James, as grooves appeared along his forehead. “I don’t think so. The chances of finding anything you’re looking for are slim. So don’t expect too much.”
“Even a ‘No’ is an answer,” said Daniel. “When can we go?”
“Right,” James responded slowly. “How’s tomorrow?”
“Okay, I will be ready.”
“I’ll meet you here about this time and we’ll go to the church together.”
Daniel stood up and bowed. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” James said. He stood. “And there’s no need to bow.”
The lad did not seem to hear James. He just picked up his plate and went into the kitchen.
The next day James and Daniel walked across town to the church. It was a large, long, whitewashed wooden building. A set of double doors faced the street and a high steeple towered over them as they approached. James saw stained glass windows along the left side of the church depicting the faces of saints.
The land around the church was flat and covered in short, dry brown grass. James walked across the lawn and paused by the front doors. He turned back to look for Daniel; the bard’s eyes narrowed and he tapped his foot impatiently when he saw the lad had stopped walking about halfway across the lawn to gaze up at the church. James waved at Daniel to hurry up, but the teen did not move.
James sighed and threw up his hands. He walked back toward Daniel. “What’s so fascinating?” snapped the bard.
“Everything,” said Daniel, his eyes round and wide. “The elves don’t have buildings like this.”
“Well, let’s not stand around here all day. You have to get back to work soon and Father O’Malley is waiting for us.”
James started for the front doors again and glanced behind him. Daniel walked a few paces back. The bard pulled open one of the heavy wooden doors and went inside. Daniel followed and closed the door behind him.
The foyer was dark, lit only by a few candles. Another set of double doors led deeper into the church. Two low tables stood on either side of the doors. On the right table was an empty plate; on the left table a wooden box with a small slit cut in the top.
Daniel ran his eyes over the entire area and James saw them grow wide. They appeared nearly ready to jump out of Daniel’s head. James smiled to himself. What’s it like to be so full of wonder? The bard had no idea; he had never been that way — curious perhaps, but not full of wonder.
James opened one of the inner doors and stepped into the sanctuary. The wooden floorboards creaked as the bard walked down the center aisle and passed row after row of benches. Several chandeliers, suspended by long chains and filled with candles, hung from the high ceiling. Light streamed in through the stained glass windows and cast odd shapes against the white plastered walls.
At the far end of the sanctuary, James saw a man dressed in a black shirt and trousers and wearing a high white collar. The man’s hair was white and he was reading from a book. He shifted his gaze at the sound of the floor creaking and saw James coming toward him. A smile came to the man’s face; he closed the book and walked up to meet the bard.
“Yes,” said the man.
“You may not remember me. We met at the Grey Horse Inn a few weeks ago.”
The priest scratched his head. “Oh, yes.” He smiled. “That was the night Frank hosted a meeting for Mayor Bigsbee and the town leaders.”
“Yes,” said James. “That’s right. I was the entertainment.”
“I remember,” said Father O’Malley. “You’re … James Claymont.” They shook hands.
The bard smiled. “Right again.”
“Good to see you again. You performed quite well that night. You even managed to tell some stories I had never heard before.”
“Oh? Which ones?”
“The elven stories. In all my travels as a young man, I never had a chance to visit Oldarmare or learn much about their culture.”
“How unfortunate. They are a very interesting people. I spent a summer there just prior to training as a bard.”
“In Kaimin’s name …” whispered Daniel as he stared up at the stained glass windows.
Father O’Malley peered around James to see who had spoken. The bard turned and saw the lad was still standing by the entrance.
“Daniel,” James hissed. “Come meet Father O’Malley.” He gestured for the teen to come forward.
The lad ignored the bard and glanced around the room once more before finally walking down the aisle. As he stepped up next to James, Daniel bowed before Father O’Malley. “The windows are very beautiful.”
“Thank you,” the priest said. His brow furrowed and his eyes caught James’s. “A friend of yours?”
The bard sighed. “Yes. This is Daniel. He’s a Qua’ril master and was raised by elves.”
Father O’Malley raised an eyebrow. “Was he?” He turned back to Daniel and, bending from the middle of his torso, he bowed. “Pleased to meet you. You are most fortunate. At so young an age to have done something I always wanted to do.”
“What’s that?” asked Daniel.
“Studying among the elves,” he said and smiled. He turned back to James. “How can I help you?”
“Daniel is an orphan looking for members of his family. I thought we could peruse the records of births and deaths and see if anyone from his family has ever lived in Clearbrook.”
“All right. We have records that go back three hundred years, when the town was first settled. Searching them may take a while.”
“No problem,” said James. “I can spare a few hours.”
“I can’t,” said Daniel. “Mr. Jones is expecting me back in the kitchen in about an hour.”
“You work for Frank?” Father O’Malley asked Daniel.
“Yes, as a dishwasher.”
“Good honest work for a boy your age, I’m sure.”
Daniel frowned. “What does my age have to do with my work?”
James rolled his eyes. Why does he have to be so literal?
Father O’Malley smiled weakly. “I only meant it is good that you have steady work.”
“Where are the records?” asked James hastily.
“In the church’s library. Come with me. I’ll show you.”
“Good,” said James. “Daniel, why don’t you go back to the Inn so you don’t get into trouble? I’ll search the records to see what I can find. We can talk more about it tomorrow.”
Daniel shrugged. “All right.”
“It was good to meet you,” said Father O’Malley as Daniel turned away.
In response, Daniel turned back and bowed again. Then he walked up the aisle and out of the church.
Father O’Malley gestured with his left hand. “This way.”
James inclined his head in acknowledgment and followed the priest through a side door into the library.
James was waiting for Daniel in the common room the following day when the lad came out of the kitchen with a plate of vegetables for lunch. Daniel saw the bard, walked over to his table, and sat down. He smiled at James.
“I looked for you last night after my shift was over,” said Daniel. “But you were on stage performing. I was going to wait for you to take a break, but Iriel told me not to.”
“I know. She told me. And it was just as well. There’s not much to tell.”
“You didn’t find anything?” Daniel’s smile faded and his eyes darkened.
“I didn’t find any of your relatives, no.”
“I thought … You said …” James felt his cheeks redden. Daniel paused, then asked, “So now what do we do?”
“Let me think about it. There may be a wizard in town who can help.”
“All right,” Daniel said and speared some vegetables with his knife.
James sat there with his right hand over his mouth and deep in thought. Why do I feel so bad? It’s as if I’ve let him down, but that’s nonsense. It was unlikely at best to find any of Daniel’s relatives in the church records, the bard told himself. And I told him that.
He sighed. So what now? A trip to Wrightwood? Maybe. He wanted to think about that and make certain there were no other options to pursue in town.
He wanted a drink. Iriel might have some ideas too. He would be certain to ask her.