Apprentice, 3

It’s Important to Make Sure You Stay Connected to the Things that Make You Feel Safe

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Ignatius couldn’t help but be glad they were going south as the winter approached. It was chilly all the time now, and whatever tolerance to the cold he’d developed from being born and sort of raised up north—farther north than this, in fact—had vanished in his years living in Kyaine. He could only wear so much clothing before he started to waddle, and even that didn’t keep the cold away anyway.

But it would be warmer in Hawk’s Roost. Still cold, but warmer. So that was good. Ignatius was wearing the knit hat and gloves that Gus had made for him last year, which were helping, and he was in the process of growing a beard for the winter to keep his face warm, which was going more slowly than Ignatius would like.

Maybe he could devise a spell that would make it go faster.

Anyway, it was getting cold. “Maybe,” Gus said, as they walked, “we should try to stop at a roadside inn tonight instead of camping.”

“I’m not sure if we can afford that, sir,” Ignatius said. They had money, but coin wasn’t endless. Carrying too much money was conspicuous.

“You’re shivering,” Gus said. He smiled as Ignatius tried to stop doing that. “It’s only going to get colder at night.”

“I know, but…” There was no reason to waste money just because Ignatius was a baby. People camped in the winter all the time.

“I’m shivering too.”

Oh. Ignatius nodded. “Okay. There should be one coming up in the next few kilometres. We can stop there.” He should have noticed that, he should have payed more attention to Gus instead of just his own discomfort.

Gus chuckled, rubbing Ignatius’s arm. “Good. A bed would be nice too.”

“Yeah,” Ignatius agreed. He’d be happy to sleep in a bed with Gus. “And a bath.”

Gus nodded, hand sliding up to Ignatius’s neck, fingering his leather collar. Something else he’d made for Ignatius. “Do you want this on or off?” he asked. “If there are people.”

Ignatius was quiet a moment as they walked. He liked wearing his collar. It was comfortable, it was nice. He’d never worn it where anyone but Gus might see him with it on before. He’d never worn it for more than a few hours at a time before. He’d never called Gus ‘sir’ outside of their bedroom unless he could make it seem like a joke and he’d never followed an order of Gus’s in public without pretending he was annoyed by it.

It wasn’t that Ignatius was embarrassed or ashamed of how he was with Gus. But neither of them wanted the assumptions and jokes and confusion that would come from Ignatius wearing a collar in public, and nor did either of them feel like it was fair to everyone else to go around displaying visible evidence of their sex lives where people were forced to see it who might rather not.

Ignatius’s collar was a leather band with a small metal tag on the front with his name engraved on it. It wasn’t huge or garish and he could pretend it was an accessory if he had to, and a shirt or jacket with a high enough collar, like the one he was wearing now, hid it almost entirely. He could wear it like he was now and only he and Gus would know. And those were the only two people who needed to know.

“I think…” Ignatius frowned, cutting himself off. He saw movement ahead of them. “There’s someone coming.”

People had passed them several times on the road, that was what happened on roads. It wasn’t a noteworthy thing in itself, but Ignatius wanted to wait until they were past before continuing the conversation.

It was a family approaching them, two couples, one older than the other by a few decades, a girl Ignatius’s age and two younger boys, one being carried by the younger man. The younger woman was pregnant.

Ignatius and Gus were still a number of days from the Kyainese border, but all of these people were southerners by their skin tone and dress. Northern Kyainese, maybe from the environs of Hawk’s Roost. What were they doing all the way up here, and with a pregnant lady?

“Are you boys headed south?” the older man asked as they drew level. “Can’t say as I’d recommend that.”

“Because of the coup?” Gus responded, stopping.

“That’s right,” the man said, nodding seriously. “It’s not safe—at least not if you’re going to the capital.”

“What’s going on in Hawk’s Roost?” Gus asked him. While he did that, Ignatius looked at the others, and especially at the younger boy in the other man’s arms. He looked half asleep, like he was sick.

“King Stephan’s instituted a curfew,” the older lady explained. “No going out after dark. The guard’s been harsh in arresting anyone who protests his rule. And we hear they’re rounding up dissenters all around the kingdom, anyone still loyal to House DiGorre.”

“So you’re heading north?”

“That’s right. Prince Franz is up north. Until he comes back and rights the whole thing, there’ll be no peace in Kyaine. You two’d best keep your business until after this is over too.”

“We can’t,” Ignatius told her, peering at the little boy now. There was blood in his hair. “What happened to him?”

“Hit his head a couple of days ago. We bandaged it,” the younger man said. “But…”

Ignatius nodded, reaching out to touch the boy’s head. He pulled energy from Fire and the fifth element, a healing spell. “We can’t keep our business,” he said as he healed the child. “We’re apprentices. Our master sent us down south to run an errand for him.”

“And what manner of errand is…” The older man stopped talking, watching as the boy lifted his head. “Rico?”

The boy smiled weakly. “Dad? My head doesn’t hurt anymore.”

“You’ll be okay,” Ignatius told him, and he made one of his little butterflies appear as a gift. The boy was a few years older than Donovan, but he was probably young enough to appreciate magic butterflies all the same.

“You’re wizards,” the girl said, looking at Gus.

“He is,” Gus said. “I’m just his assistant.”

“And what…errand is it that you two have to run right this minute?” the older man asked.

Ignatius smiled, quickly checking the other boy, the pregnant woman, then everyone else. They were all tired and not well fed, but none of them were hurt. They were tired and scared and sad, and they needed more than anything someone to tell them it was going to be okay. Ignatius wanted to tell them it would be okay. Ignatius wanted to tell them it would be okay and they could go back home soon. Ignatius wanted to tell them it would be okay and they could go back home soon, but he couldn’t tell them that, because he didn’t know if it was true. “We can’t tell you that, I’m sorry.”

Ignatius had a feeling that they understood, though, and that was good enough. “Well,” said the older lady. “We’d best not hold you up on your errand. Let us give you something as thanks for healing our son.”

“No,” Ignatius said, shaking his head. He looked at Gus, who reached into his bag, pulled out their money and handed the pregnant woman a few coins. “Buy some food at the town up the road. Your children are hungry.”

“Surely you need…”

“We’ll be fine,” Gus told her. “Take it.”

“If you insist,” the older man said, sighing. “Good luck to you two on your errand.”

“Thank you, sir,” Gus said, nodding. And they parted ways, Gus and Ignatius heading south and the family north.

“They didn’t have anything with them,” Ignatius said quietly as they walked. “No supplies or belongings or anything. They must have left in a hurry.” They must feel so unmoored, so unsafe. At least they had each other, though.

“I hope they find somewhere to stay,” Gus said, and Ignatius nodded.


“What is it?”

“I think…I’d like to keep wearing my collar.”

Gus smiled, putting his arm around Ignatius’s middle. “I’d like that too, Iggy.”

And they kept going. With Gus’s arm around him, Ignatius didn’t feel as cold.

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