Jano - The Journey Begins - Book 1

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CHAPTER SIX - Alone On The Road

Jano had spent the night in a barn after helping a farmer milk his herd. This had happened after he had asked for lodging at a traveller’s inn on the main road but shied away when the landlady told him it would cost him two fen for the bed and breakfast, more than half his available money and would have bought lodgings for a week in the Sou’ Reaches. As luck would have it one of the inn’s customers was a local farmer and he overheard the conversation and offered Jano shelter for some work.

As Jano milked the last of the small herd the farmer came up and patted him on the shoulder. Jano had already decided that the man was running a “retired herd” and didn’t really need help; he supposed it was just a kind act by a kind man.

The farmer had expected Jano to be “like most young’uns these days” and not have any stock skills and was pleasantly surprised when he took control of the herd in the yards, dressed them out with a practised eye, leading the queen milker to the main stall and the rest of the seven strong herd falling in to step behind, then stalling the eight animals, hob tied and washed them all with the practised ease of an experienced farm boy.

“It’s obvious that you are not of these parts” the old man sat beside Jano on an old stool and sipped a pitcher of water he had filled from a rain barrel near the door “people of the inner set are more interested in commerce and trade.” He stressed the words commerce and trade with slight distain.

“Farm crafts are being left behind, after all if merchants they want to be then trade is a must, no good having all you need within a day of your market, better it be bought from far away, betters the price I suppose.”

Jano kept milking, pondering what the old man was saying. Since leaving the docks that afternoon he had noticed that the atmosphere was busier than any he had ever experienced. The main road towards the mountains and the White City at their foot was as wide as any three elsewhere, heavy wagons pulled by colossal teams of bullocks rolled ahead raising dust like a curtain towards the horizon and beyond.

As the old man had said, agriculture seemed at best to be a small share plot affair with most land being left to run to seed over the years. Some was being redeveloped sporting new houses and warehouses, most just Gipseed and Ironweed with fences broken and failing. The farmer had explained that an act of parliament had doubled the sales tax on all farming properties and this had stopped any movement in the rural land market. Most were supporting the owners until they died, most owners had no one to pass the property onto, something that could never be taxed according to Sinterland law and tradition, as the children of these families were employed in the commerce of the Kingdom and understood that there was more profit in trade than hard toil.

The farmer, Old Adelman he was called, relaxed when he saw the way Jano handled his herd and was delighted when Jano offered to tend all the cows while he rested. This had allowed the old man time to talk, something he had less chance to do these days and he spent the time telling Jano about current affairs and airing his opinion on most subjects.

Jano was happy here, the smells and sounds were old friends, the old man was kindly and his talk held a lot of knowledge.

“You know son” the tense was familiar, that used with friends and relatives “things are not as good as they have been, every day the kingdom seems less at ease, I hear soldiers marching past our gate almost every day, taxes have risen twice in as many years and goods are dearer than I can ever remember. The parliament is fighting within itself and there is talk of civil unrest in the capital, the Maker knows if it’s true or not but talk usually knows some truth.”

“I heard from a stone hawker last month that a village high in the mountains had rebelled against a platoon of constables and blood had been spilt, and that’s something that has not happened in our lands for generations; that’s if it’s true mind.”

The old man got up and filled the pitcher again. He offered Jano the vessel which he took and drained, this was the first farm work he had done for a while and he had forgotten how much of a struggle these stubborn old women could be if being in a stall was not what they wanted. Jano had not used the gift. If he had he could have organised the whole affair without raising a finger but he had no intention of doing so, remembering Dannid’s words about turning down the wick.

“This Lord Kelvin is a mean one, he’s the first general of the home guard, hear tell that he’s wishing there was a war to fight and I fear that he is looking for one.” Old Aldeman continued and Jano immediately pondered Dannid’s future to the north past the main lands and into the Kentish Islands, a war didn’t bear thinking about, it had been three generations since there had been any need.

“Maker knows why any man would want a war, still I suppose if young men aren’t afarmin’ then you have to have something for them to do. Strange though, they have ruined the farming in the inner set, so they have to import all they want and then as the cost increases, people start grumbling, start coveting what others have and before too long, the young men who should have been providing what the people are coveting are off stealing it from someone else; strange arithmetic indeed.”

The old man was silent, shaking his head in a mild disbelief, Jano nodded, drinking in the old man’s simple analysis of a strange situation, it could almost be said that the whole thing was deliberate.

After milking Jano let the herd out into the yard.

“Father,” Jano was responding in tense to the earlier lead the old man had made using ‘son’, “the third girl is a little lame in left hind.”

The old man nodded and interrupted, “it’s a good eye you have there young Jano”. They walked over to the cow and Jano lifted her leg to study the hoof. A stone was imbedded in the soft flesh under the hard nail and had become quite badly infected. Pus was floating just below the skin of the pad and the cow moved nervously as Jano massaged around the area. The old man shook his head sadly

“What an old fool I am, I check these old girls often, poor old thing must be hurting like mad.”

Jano nodded, the cow was distressed. Jano had known the moment he entered the milking sheds that this man was a caring farmer, fresh straw, clean stalls, clean water, these cows were his friends.

“It’ll take a day or two to get a gifted to tend her, the nearest is in the capital. I don’t know whether I can afford the fee.”

Jano knew that the old man was worried; he had already told him that his income was stripped bare under the burden of heavy taxes but without treatment this cow would soon be sick and would die, simple as that. There was a tear in the old man’s eye, he was furious with himself, “how could I have missed the thing.”

Jano turned to the old man and touched his hand, he looked up.

“Get me some tar soap and a sharpening stone, ask mother to heat some water and make a poultice of Hoch flower and silver salt in a linen bag.”

The old man’s eyes lit up “I knew it son, I can smell it in a man, your Gifted aren’t you, why did you ’restle with the critters.”

Jano nodded and answered his questions.

“I have some power father, not a lot, I’m on my way to the school to seek admission, I’m not sure they will be interested in me, I am a poor Sou’ Lander with a little talent with animals, all you’ve told me today would make me think that a farmer’s Gifted is not a busy man, as for why I wrestled with the old girls, I have never been shown any other way of doing it. Our village gifted was a woman and had little animal powers. She has sent me to see if I can gain entrance, I reckon I will not, only time will tell, still,” Jano hit his legs and straightened up, “even though my powers are limited I can help a bit here if you like.”

The farmer accepted Jano’s explanation, chuckling to himself that he could always pick ’em and hurried of to get what Jano needed. The old cow was becoming a little unnerved. Jano turned and put his arm around her strong neck stroking her forehead.

“Settle mother,” he whispered in the old tongue, “I know it hurts powerfully and I will make it right for you, trust me old girl?” She settled a little and looked into his eyes, mooing lightly and then he felt her relax completely.

“Good, just relax, I won’t hurt you and soon you’ll be right again.”

The farmer came across the yard carrying the bits and pieces Jano had asked for with his wife behind, a bucket of hot water in hand. He turned to his wife as he walked up.

“Told you mother, look at the old girl, happy as a calf, I can smell them you know.” Mother just smiled, Jano took the items and laid them out on his cloak. He sharpened his knife on the stone and made ready the poultice.

The farmer had taken the hoof in his hand and Jano first rubbed the infected area with his index finger. This time she didn’t move, content to chew a little hay the farmer’s wife had just given her, Jano was right, these old animals were friends to these people; not all was lost of the old ways.

He cut the flesh were he had deadened the nerve. Yellow liquid gushed out and the farmer quickly wiped it up, Jano removed the stone and dressed the wound. The whole thing took less than five minutes. Jano discussed the nursing of the wound with the farmer and never once needed to revert to the instructive tense, the old man knew what to do. Afterward they inspected each animal in turn and all were fine. Jano made the suggestion that the farmer’s wife help in future as two pairs of eyes and hands were better than one and such a thing caught early would not be such a problem.

As the farm slowed down for the day and dusk became night the unlikely trio found themselves around the table in the farmhouse next to the hearth. The meal was simple but delicious, stew and flat bread followed by apple cake and hot tea; all eaten with gusto and happy talk.

“It’s a fine gift you have there Jano. Don’t talk yourself down son. You will surely be accepted by the school, mark my words and I should know because I can sniff ’em you know.” They laughed again at the old man’s claim to his own gift and then bid each other good night.

Jano piled some sweet smelling hay into the corner of a stall and laid out the woollen rug the farmer’s wife had given him. He undressed and washed himself by the rain barrel drying himself and them pulling on his cotton tunic and wrapping himself in the warm thick rug. He was asleep in minutes and dreamed good dreams of home and friends left behind.

The sun was barely pushing away the night when he woke, perhaps it was his excitement of being so close to his goal that had awakened him, he lay still for a while listening to the morning stretching itself awake. Then he heard it again, not a voice more a thought, no a voice, he sat up and looked around. No one was there “I know you are there” as plain as day the sentence ran across the damp dawn air to him, not his ears but his mind “when I find you, you will rue the day your mother dropped you on the earth.”

Jano fought any thought in reply, this message or feeling was not directed to him it was directed at him, broadcast more the like.

“Damn the Maker’s name who are you that dares question the power?” Jano jumped to his feet and ran out into the farmyard, he lunged into the rain barrel, pieces of frost-ice breaking and dropping on the stone floor of the barn. The cold burned like fire, and like fire, cleansed his mind, pushing the weakness of sleep from him and encasing him in an armour of conscious thought.

He pushed a wall into his thoughts and immediately the voice stopped, in mid-sentence in fact. Jano stood up and the water ran from his too-long hair like a waterfall. He was close to his goal all right and also very close to the source of his enemy, whoever and whatever it or they may be.

Suddenly the weight of the whole thing hit him. Here he was, a lifetime from home, nothing more than a boy, forced into the world of men, responsible for delivering a message that he didn’t understand to warn of danger he couldn’t identify.

What hope did he have?

* * * * *

The morning grew into a beautiful thing. Any foreboding that the dawn had held melted away quicker than the frost that had covered the fields besides the road as he set out towards the White City.

Jano had never before experienced a thoroughfare like this. Two lanes in both directions and jam-packed with carts, horses, mules, cattle and just about any other thing that could be led, ridden, pushed or pulled to and from market.

By mid-day the heat had become oppressive and the traffic had thinned considerably. Jano had heard talk of the siesta’s the Mid Landers were noted for and often laughed as the hard-working Sou’ Landers referred to it as the “bone-idle” laziness of people with nothing better to do with their time.

Now he understood the wisdom of it all. The heat haze made the world shimmer and this played tricks on his eyes. For a moment it looked like it was just over the next rise and then it would seem a dot on the horizon. He decided that he had better stop before he was exhausted by the heat.

Near a road junction was a stall selling lemon-flavoured water and fresh fruit slices. He purchased his luncheon accordingly and found shelter from the sun under an Ironwood tree in the field to the back of the stall. A few fellow travellers were already there and grunted an acknowledgment to his greeting.

He ate the fruit, a species he had not seen before and was amazed how it tasted like the sweet spice custard his mother used to make when he was a child. The lemon drink was delicious and he had little difficulty falling into a fitful nap thereafter.

He was awoken by the stirring of his fellow travellers and by the look of the sun it was after three in the afternoon when he again set out towards the White City. The road was again packed with travellers and traders and there was an exuberance about everyone and everything.

Jano has walked a while with a gangly youth much his own age. Young Markin was an apprentice chef to the court of the Caldaro Clan and was in the employ of Master Yardsman Caldaro, Jano was still coming to grips with the concept of a second or “sir” name as they called it here in the midlands.

Markin was returning to the court from his yearly trip home to his family as was the law of the apprentice. He had spent five years under the tutelage of Teacher Ulona Cransma, the head chef of the Caldaro court and was within two years of his fulfilment. He was a happy person; Jano envied him his satisfaction with his lot.

Markin spent the trip telling Jano of the wonders and mysteries of the city and court and answered many questions without asking any in return, a combination that Jano felt most comfortable with given his reticence to enter into the web of untruths he had had to weave since he left the Southlands all those weeks ago.

The boys walked on and the city got closer.

Markin offered Jano a bed at his lodgings for that evening and Jano happily accepted and nothing of much importance happened further prior to their cresting the final hill on the main road just prior to sun-set.

Nothing could have prepared Jano for the sight that lay ahead.

* * * * *

In a depression that was formed between the hill they were standing on and the mountain ranges on the distant horizon stretched the White City. White it was with roofs as red as the setting summer sun. For as far as the eye could see in all directions stretched the buildings that made this great expanse of humanity. Nearest the low set buildings of simple folk that lived to serve the enterprise that was the city itself. Further on the two story buildings of the trade and industrial sections. Further still and appearing in the middle distance taller buildings that Markin instructed formed the commercial districts and finally in the centre of the expanse were structures that Jano could not imagine existed without seeing them.

Buildings that, although small to view from here must have been six or seven stories in height. Markin, enjoying his new role of teacher to this ragged Out Lan’s boy delighted in pointing out the various landmarks; the central palace, the presidium which housed the parliament, the museum, the art galleries, and so it went on. Jano nodded, comprehending nothing. His senses assailed with the scale of everything.

Markin shook him from his reveres of this sight.

“Come on, miles to go yet” and they started off again. Down the road and into this city that Jano would never quite get over seeing each time during his life he crested this hill.

The walk was tiring yet invigorating. Jano has completely given up trying to take in anything. He just decided to follow, be part of it. The boys walked for a ways; past the outlying precincts of private dwellings and on through the commercial and industrial parts towards the city proper.

Markin suggested that they might try and catch the last of the buses. This was a concept that was foreign to Jano. These vehicles were horse-drawn and consisted of covered wagons with seats and their only function was to move people. Jano could not have imagined it; nothing like this could ever exist in the reaches.

They ran to the group of people herding themselves on to the carriage and paid the driver their fare. The boys remained standing as the vehicle was filled to overflowing. The journey into the city proper was uneventful and Jano marvelled at the plain common sense of this idea.

About twenty minutes later a trip that would have taken two hours walking was complete. They alighted and stepped into the White City Centre. Everywhere Jano looked there were people. Dressed in what would be bests in the reaches, things only worn for weddings or funerals. Food stalls, stores and the like; buildings standing many stories high; the sounds and smells intimidating his simple tastes.

Markin laughed at his new friend, took him by the arm and led him along the road. Presently the arrived at gates set in a wall at least fifteen feet high; as far as the eye could see in either direction this wall stretched. Guards fitted out in the best armour and finery stood at the gates, looking fierce and proud.

Markin approached and shouted the greetings of a friend to the men. Immediately they relaxed and bid the boy welcome. Jano was introduced and the guards laughed at Markin’s comments regarding Jano’s awe of the white city. The boys were let through and they entered the outer courtyards of the Caldaro Clan’s castle.

The Caldaro were one of the oldest, richest and most honourable of the thirty-seven tribes. The head of the family was Master Yardman Caldaro, a noted artist, courtier and tribunal magistrate. His family spreading across ninety-eight trees and controlling many and varied enterprises. The spender and grace of this place made Jano feel inferior but the ease with which Markin accepted it buoyed his spirits and he ran along trying to keep up with his friend.

As they went Jano saw that the castle proper must have been contained in an area of at least two miles square and Markin remarked that he was not a numbers person but believed the size to be in that order.

The made their way past the servants quarters where Markin lived while in the castle. Past the barracks where a number of guards and soldiers were sitting, playing Barra, a card game; or idling the time away by any number of means. A number of the guards noted Markin’s passing with friendly calls, Jano had long before assessed that his new friend was a simple soul set on making life easy for himself and his friends; the ease with which he had befriended Jano an example, the good-natured greetings of so many others, further proof.

The inner section of the castle housed the main buildings consisting of the domicile of the families, the large hall and the synod that was the abbey for the clan. Sinterland had a strong belief in the power of God. Its religion was neither firm nor denominated. In the Reaches life’s passing paid homage to the Maker and little or no formal religion existed. The rules and ethics of the land said to be the atonement of God.

In this higher society, removed from the simple ways of living the Maker’s path, more esoteric badges needed to be plied. Markin noted that formal gatherings were held in the abbey with masters of the inner set performing ceremony and leading devotions. Jano shook his head. There would not be time for this in the reaches. For the first time he had an inclining of an understanding of wealth.

They walked around the inner wall that separated the service or utility buildings from the inner court and finally reached a door set low with steps leading down to it. They had passed many such doors and Jano had ascertained that they were service doors for the various rooms and functions within the main hall. Markin opened the door and entered, Jano followed. Within was a place that Jano could never have imagined.

The room was gigantic; filled with hundreds of people engaged in all the enterprises of the kitchen to the largest hall in the kingdom. Although the Caldaro were not the power brokers of the current political profile of the Sinterland’s, they were the wealthiest and they did everything in their power to show it.

The Caldaro Hall was the largest in the land and most coveted by the upstart groups endeavouring to wrest control of the nation. Jano stood mouth agape at the sight. The room was rectangle. Down the northern wall were the ovens, each appearing to belong to a specialized preparation area. The Eastern wall housed the cooking fires but not open as in the reaches but contained within metal cabinets which Markin called “stoves”, a word Jano had never heard.

Each oven and stove belonged to a master chef and under the master, assistant chefs and apprentices. Markin explained that there were a number of main areas; soup, entree, meat, game, fowl, vegetables. Then by the end ovens, bread, cake, dessert; each self-contained and charged with the preparation of their particular specialty.

The west wall was pitted with doorways which Markin explained allowed the waiting staff to come and go to the various smaller rooms and main banquet hall.

Finally to the south were large heavy doors that when opened breathed a fog out into the warm room; the ice rooms. Markin explained that large blocks of ice were bought to the castle weekly in ten bullock drays and slid into these rooms from the trapdoors they had walked over outside. This ice was mined at the Glaspar Ranges about sixty miles to the south. The phenomenon that was the Glaspar Ice Mines had long been the subject of much talk and lore.

The caves fell back into the earth a mile deep and hit a vein of solid ice whose geo-form was not really understood. Some say it was a sliver of polar ice that had found its way through many thousands of miles of inclined flaw in the rock; this was the popular educated view. Others, that it was the work of the original Mages of the thirty-seven tribes, a less popular idea in the new enlightened times.

Whatever, modern engineers had found that by diverting the waters of the many high streams through a series of man-made tunnels they could fill large reservoirs cut into the ice stream and freeze the water by conduction. In this way ice could be mined and sold to all the people of the White City. Needless to say the Caldaro’s owned the mine.

Markin went on to explain that the foods kept in these rooms could keep for months and there were special parts of the cool rooms that were cold enough to freeze meat solid making it almost indefinite in its life.

Jano had never seen such chaos, yet everything seemed to be following a plan. The noise and bustle was overpowering. Markin found a seat for his friend and excused himself for a few minutes, not before managing to produce a few oven hot honey cakes and a mug of cider the likes of which Jano had never tasted.

He watched his friend wend his way through the crowd to the centre section of the room where the master chef was located. This section was raised and the centre of attention. Markin had told Jano that there was a minor feast being staged this evening in honour of a Nor’ Reaches governor so the kitchen was working at about half its capacity, a concept Jano had difficulty coming to grips with, how could any more people work in this room. He mused the conundrum while eating the delights Markin had proffered.

In the middle of the Master Chef’s section was a man that would have given Dannid a run for his money in height although nowhere as solid in frame. Dresses in white and sporting a flowing dark beard he yelled and shouted orders that seemed to rise above the room and strike the intended victim like an arrow from a long bow.

He conducted the enterprise like some supreme troubadour. The movement and activities frenzied yet with a grace so gently it reminded Jano of the May dancing to celebrate the harvest festival. Markin made his way to the man and when he saw him he yelled his delights and shook the boy, a pang of recollection hit Jano as he recognized the love this man had for Markin, the way Dannid felt for him.

Markin spoke with the Master who continued to yell orders and observe everything that was happening as well as listening intently to his apprentice. The big man looked up at Jano, frowned a little and then nodded. Markin ran back across the room dogging expertly as people moved to and fro.

“Master Cransma has said you are welcome to stay until you have organized your entrance to the school. I still have a day before I must be back at work and will help you find it tomorrow.”

Jano was not surprised that he had been afforded the accommodation. It was Sinterland lore that Gifted’s were welcomed; even an aspiring trainee deserved this privilege given that to be on the way to the school at all meant that talents and power had been recognized.

Markin led Jano through the kitchen passed each section piling two plates on a timber trolley with various tit-bits for each of them. They retired to a servants quarters off to the left of the north wall and sat by a large open fire eating their meals. Jano felt no guilt with this friendship, as he was not using falsehoods. He was in fact a low-level gifted seeking admittance to the school of the right.

Markin talked for hours, sharing with Jano the various goings and comings of court and popular opinion of the inner set. Jano was tired and a lot of it just went over his head and, as night set in, the boys made their way to the sleeping quarters. The beds were one on the other and Markin found Jano some fresh blankets. This was the first bed Jano had slept on since the inn. He was asleep in minutes; Markin continued to talk into the night, Jano slept.

* * * * *

Jano rose at dawn which had been his habit since he could remember. He counted that he must have had eight hours sleep, about the most since leaving the village. Quietly he got out of his bed, observing that the others were now occupied by a number of young men all dead to the world.

He made his way to the side door that Markin had shown him the night before and let himself out into the small courtyard and stables by the kitchen. The washing facilities were at the back of the stable and he made use of them noting that a supply of soap and towels were neatly stacked on the shelves above the trough.

There was a copper set for a fire and Jano reckoned that this would provide hot water. He tested the temperature and felt it lukewarm. He lit the fire considering that the occupants of the other beds and the beds of the other rooms would soon be wakening and his head start would guarantee them warm water.

Walking back into the small courtyard he took a deep breath and welcomed the morning.

There was a slight fog and the smells were a mixture of stables and cooking spells. A milking cow was tethered in the first stall and a small menagerie of animals filled the others. A chicken coop was at the far end of the space and a large draught horse looked out at him from the end stall. Jano found some hay and gave it to the horse, rubbing his nose and sensing that these animals were well cared for.

He removed his shirt and set about his morning exercises. Most of the techniques he was using required little or no noise so he worked at them with vigour, feeling his body stretch and loosen as he did so.

He practiced his kicks and punches, blocks and parries and using a broomstick he found in the stable worked on his sword and staff routines.

Just as he finished a number of young boys started to appear wiping the sleep from their eyes. One young fellow no more than nine or ten thanked Jano for lighting the copper and Jano introduced himself to the rest. They seemed a happy bunch and all were first year apprentices to the chefs. Jano finished his bathing just as Markin arrived and welcomed his new friend.

“Good morning Markin, I trust you slept well?” Jano said to Markin as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

“Aye I did Jano and could have had more”, he said with the quite resolve of a person who never got enough sleep. Jano smiled and waited while his friend bathed and continued to become more awake.

The morning rituals fell into place. The boys went about the tasks that assail new apprentices everywhere; the cleaning, the clearing, the making ready for the day. Fire boxes to be emptied and reset, lit for the morning’s needs.

Markin offered to prepare breakfast for his friend and Jano, although not one big on a hearty breakfast, agreed so as to not sound uncaring for his friend’s desire to please.

Markin went from gangling youth to artist. Jano had to admit to himself that a lesson was being constructed before his eyes, again amazed that life’s best teacher was life. He realized that each man has his skill, each man is a master, all that changes are the tasks at hand.

Markin worked at the breakfast range in a manner Jano applauded for its precision and depth of purpose. The fare was beyond anything Jano had tasted. Fruit juices squeezed from plants Jano had no name for, omelettes so light they appears to float off the table, pancakes filled with berries and covered in thick cream freshly beaten. Finally thick black syrup that Jano vaguely remembered seeing Dannid drink with the knife hawker, cofe or coofee or something it was called. Not a Sou’ Land drink for any but the richest or the most solemn of occasions.

The kitchen started to purr with the beginning of the new day. Markin and Jano bid Master Cransma a good morning and set off. They walked through the centre of the city. The crowds and activity were nothing Jano had ever seen before. Nothing could have prepared him for the sheer press of humanity.

The morning was maturing to a warm and humid day and Jano wished his clothes were less heavy, of the cotton serge that was practically popular here.

At the outskirts of the city precinct they caught another of the carts and allowed it to wend its way down the various major roads away from the city. Markin kept his normal light-hearted banter up for the entire trip. Jano realised that he had been in error thinking that the school would be in the city centre. Of course it would be where it was always. After all it was many hundreds of years old. The city would have spread away from it. Still he was surprised when they finally alighted to find themselves in a very old part of the city and in need of such repair that Jano couldn’t imagine anyone living here. Markin did use a word that was foreign to Jano; he referred to the area as the Slums.

Urchin children played in the side streets and Jano soon adjusted his thinking to the realisation that folk did in fact live here. It was just so old; so badly repaired.

On the way out of the city Markin had pointed out a palatial building in the shadows of the Senate. It was the School Of Mystical Powers Of The Inner Set. Jano had heard about this group; a breakaway of the old ways. Men of Science joining forces with gifted that had left the way.

Because of his need to cloak his powers Jano had kept his self-hidden at that point but he could ascertain uneasiness about the place. Still, not important now; his goal was near, and he realised for the first time since leaving all those weeks ago, very soon he would be able to become a student again and have decisions made for him.

For the first time in a long while he felt he could survive this ordeal.

Those feelings lasted only until they arrived at the school. They turned a corner of a street that was lined with old tenement housing the likes of which Jano had never seen before. The school lay before him.

As seemed to be the fashion of important buildings here in the inner set, the place was surrounded by a huge wall. Whereas the wall of the Caldaro Clan’s castle was beautifully even, crisply white and capped with ochre red tiles, this wall was brown with age, the white wash a ghost of its former self. Tiles were missing and broken and writing adorned the wall.

Slogans attesting the unsuitability of the old ways and supporting those of the new age, posters advertising events and things of little or no real important, weeds growing through the pavement which was a gravel affair that had been rolled and pressed flat; sadness sat heavily on everything.

They walked along the path, passed rubbish piled high, past urchins playing games that required no expensive equipment. Passed old men sleeping under the trees drinking what appeared to be meed or cider but drunk and in their oblivion. The buildings on the other side of the street were even sadder than the tenements. Old warehouses long since abandoned for the new industrial suburbs closer to the city.

As they circumnavigated the wall they saw more squalor and neglect. Jano was heart weary. He had no idea what he expected. All he expected was not this. The foreboding increased and the dark humour reasserted itself on him. The school was for all intents and purposes the same as the gift; weak and neglected.

Once again Jano felt alone.

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