Updated: June 19, 2009
Tom yawned as he scrubbed the common room floor. It was very early in the morning and he was already in the middle of performing the third of the various tasks assigned to him for that day by Lardo, the proprietor of the Stolen Goose inn. Tom worked for discarded bits of clothing and food leftovers, as befitted a boy who was too old to be nursed at home and too young to do a grown man's work. Most of the tasks he was required to do were cleaning chores that had been done by the serving maids before he'd been hired.
Ever since Tom's father had died two years before, it was up to Tom to help out his mother by not being much of a burden. So, he happily worked at the Stolen Goose, spending entire days and evenings at the inn, daydreaming himself into the different tales the patrons told and imagining glorious and dangerous adventures as far from his hometown as possible.
He was on his hands and knees, scrubbing the dirty floor with an even dirtier rag, when he heard the footsteps of a patron entering. Tom didn't even bother looking up. Even before he heard Lardo approach, he knew the owner of the inn would be there in a blink of an eye. Lardo wasn't the only inn owner in Pula, but he was probably the greediest and had never let a single patron slip away. Tom continued his cleaning, imagining the taste of the pastries he'd seen being prepared in the kitchen.
"A room for the night." He heard an ordinary voice speak the usual words.
"Of course. It will be two silvers and five coppers." Lardo squeaked.
At that Tom froze. The price was more than thrice what Lardo would charge even the wealthiest of merchants. Tom raised his head to look at the guest. He was very tall and dressed like a part-hunter and part-soldier. He had thin, long, brown hair that reached his shoulders and he wore an eye patch over his left eye. There were two big scars on his face, one running from his forehead to his cheek, partially covered by the eye-patch and another, thick one, on his right cheek. The man carried an assortment of weapons, and most striking of them was the huge sword hung behind his back. Tom was sure it was taller than him by at least two hands. He was also sure the stranger would refuse the high rate. He studied the man's face until his stare was suddenly returned. Tom looked away immediately, pretending to be engrossed in his work.
"Agreed." He heard the man say, and thought that despite his rough appearance, the stranger was undoubtedly a dupe.
"Good. Good." Lardo chimed, sounding all too pleased. "Please, let me show you to your room." He started walking towards the stairwell and from the corner of his eye Tom could see the stranger's boots following Lardo's.
After he'd finished washing the floors, he cleaned some rooms and helped the stable boy muck the stables. It was late afternoon, long after lunch had been prepared and served, when Lardo instructed Tom to go to the kitchen and fetch lunch to the stranger's room. Tom didn't understand. It was the serving maids' task to carry food, whether it was to the common room patrons, or up to their rooms. Clearly it showed on his face, because Lardo barked, "They won't do it." So, Tom had no choice but to go to the kitchen where the food had already gotten cold on a small tray. He took the tray and headed upstairs. As he passed through the common room, he caught the eye of one of the serving maids. She gave him an apologetic look that confused him. He didn't see any reason for her to be sorry for. If not this, it would be another, grubbier task.
He reached the traveler's room and knocked softly on the door. When no answer came he tried to open it. It wasn't locked, so he slowly opened it and peered inside. The guest was reclining on the bed with his eyes closed.
Without opening his eyes, the man motioned towards the table with the tiniest flick of his hand. Tom gawked at the thin scar on the man's face. It skimmed over the eye area, missing the eyelid entirely. Remembering to unload his wares, he took the tray and put it on the table, noticing the man's eye-patch lying there, inner side up.
It looked different. From the outside it had looked like any other eye-patch, rough and leathery, but the inner side was shiny and smooth. Tom stole a glance at the traveler. He seemed asleep. So, Tom gently picked up the eye-patch and touched the inner side. It felt like glass, and when it caught the light, it reflected it. Tom held it in both hands in the direction of the window and tried to look through it.
"What do you see?" The man's voice made Tom jump and drop the thing.
"I'm sorry" Tom mumbled, as the man got up from the bed and came to retrieve the eye-patch off the floor.
"Don't worry about it." The man said. "Did you see anything?" He asked again.
Tom looked at him, puzzled, and noticed that the man's left eye was perfectly normal and wondered what sort of a man would wear an eye-patch over a normal eye.
"I didn't see anything." He eventually said. "It's just black glass."
The man took a moment to think this over and then offered the eye-patch to Tom.
Tom took it gingerly and walked towards the window. He raised it to eye level and peered through. Again, he couldn't see anything, so he brought it closer to his own left eye and squinted with his right. To his surprise, Tom could make out the outlines of something on the other side. It was as if he were looking through a key hole into another room. Only, he was seeing blue, snow capped mountains and snow flurries, and high in the mountains he could see a castle
"What do you see?" The stranger asked him a third time.
"I see mountains. There's snow everywhere. And there's a castle." Tom paused and after a moment he added. "It's on fire." He lowered the eye-patch and looked at the stranger, who didn't betray a single emotion.
"How many turrets did the castle have?" He asked Tom.
Tom rolled his eyes, trying to remember that detail. "Three, I think."
"On fire, you say?" Again, there was no surprise or amazement on the man's face. As if it was perfectly normal to see another world through a small piece of glass.
"Yes." Tom mumbled and placed the eye-patch into the stranger's outstretched hand.
The man was looking at the wall. Probably thinking, Tom guessed.
"Thank you. You may go." The traveler said eventually, then went to the food tray and started sorting through the fare. Tom obeyed and headed for the door. As he grabbed the doorknob, the man added, "Please, speak of this to no one."
Tom nodded and left the room. When he reached the stairs he paused. He couldn't imagine telling anyone about what had happened. No one would believe him, and worse, people would probably laugh at him. He'd be dubbed Pula's idiot and Tom didn't want that. He wasn't going to tell anyone.
He walked into the kitchen and plopped onto a stool in the corner. The cook gave him a long stare and then went back to work.
"You just make sure Lardo doesn't see you like that." She suggested, not looking away from whatever she was preparing. Tom just slumped his head and breathed in the smells of cooking.
"Well, don't just sit there." Cook pointed her oversized wooden spoon in the direction of a bag of spuds. "Peel those."
Tom took a knife from the counter, got a pail of water for the peeled spuds and one for the rind and got down to business.
For a while, Tom worked in silence and Cook didn't bother him, leaving him to his own thoughts. Tom recalled his encounter with the unusual guest. The memory of seeing that castle in the mountains was as vivid as if he were seeing it again. Why had the man insisted Tom look through the eye-patch? If the black glass in it was magical, why didn't he just look at it himself?
After he'd finished the peeling, Cook directed him to a small mountain of dirty pots and pans and again, left him to work in peace. Hours passed without interruptions and in his mind, Tom relived those odd moments upstairs a hundred times and envisioned countless alternate scenarios in which he saw mountains and cities and forests he wished he would someday visit.
On his way home, Tom felt more anxious than usual. As usual, his mother was still up, waiting for him, even though it was very late and they both had to wake up very early the next day. Tom felt insulted by her worries. In his own eyes, he had stopped being a child much before his father's death, but it seemed to him that he would forever stay a baby to her.
When he entered the house, his mother ran to him and hugged him, despite his attempts to get away.
"You are such a mess!" She exclaimed, studying his face and clothes. "What happened?"
"Nothin'..." He mumbled and weaseled out of her embrace.
A look of concern appeared on his mother's face, but she broke into her usual smile and kissed his forehead. As she drew away, he glimpsed another frown, which she quickly masked by concentrating on straightening her already straight apron. She took a few steps away from him, spun on her heels and finally leaned against the kitchen wall.
"Tom, I had a visitor today." She told him with her eyes closed. Her voice trembled slightly, but Tom was too tired and too preoccupied with his own thoughts to notice.
"He is a guest at the Stolen Goose The man with the eye-patch."
That caught Tom's full attention and he fixed his gaze on his mother. She was upset. He could see it clearly now.
"I could hardly believe my eyes After all these years" She looked directly at Tom. Both her hands were in the pocket of her apron, fidgeting with something.
Tom didn't understand any of it. The man had asked him to keep quiet, but had come all the way to his house to speak with his mother. It didn't make sense.
"Tom. Sit down." Tom's mother asked and motioned towards one of the stools in the kitchen. After he was seated, she took a bizarre looking monocle on a short silver chain out of her apron and placed it on the table before Tom. Instead of the usual, transparent lens, the glass was the same shiny black he had seen inside the stranger's eye-patch. Tom shot a quick look at his mother. She was staring at the monocle and shaking her head.
"It was your father's." She said eventually, sitting down in front of him.
Tom reached for the monocle, but paused to look at his mother. After she had nodded her approval, he took it and looked through it. Just like before, at first all he could see was a hazy blur. Then, as the mist thinned he managed to make out a small and dingy room.
"I can see two men sitting at a table. They both have hoods over their faces. The man sitting on the left has a gold signet ring on his left hand." Tom put the monocle back on the table. He looked at his mother, his eyes burning with questions.
"Your father and I didn't always live here, in Pula." She began. "Once, when we were very young, we used to live in the great city of Asalene."
Tom aahed. He had heard stories of Asalene at the Stolen Goose. It was said to be the biggest city in the world where all sorts of people lived and all sort of trading took place. The merchants who were going there were always hopeful. The ones retuning were always satisfied. To Tom, Asalene was the stuff of legends. He had no idea his parents had actually lived there. They had never even hinted at it.
"Your father was training to be one of the Seers."
"The Seers?" Tom interrupted.
"The Seers of Fate. People who have the gift to see the future through black glass." She pointed at the lens of the monocle. "Your father was going to be one of them. Skye, the man who came here today, was also a Seer-in-training and once upon a time, he was a good friend to your father." She smiled to herself. "He didn't have all those scars back then. In fact, he was almost as handsome as your father and just as good-hearted.
"You see, my son, Seers are not allowed to marry or have children. There's some foolish notion among them that this divides their loyalty between their calling and their family. Your father never believed that. He used to say that if Fate wished him to fall in love, no Seer could dare to object.
"The Seers disagreed and tried to have me removed. First by arguments, then through bribes, and eventually by trying to have me assassinated." She paused when Tom gasped, but he couldn't help it. It was all new to him. The complicated life of Asalene was nowhere near the simple day-to-day survival struggles in Pula. And it didn't sound as glamorous as described by merchants.
"What did you do?" Tom asked.
"We ran away. We decided that Fate brought us together for a reason, and being servants of Fate, we knew better than to fight it. Skye helped us and threw the pursuers off our tracks long enough for us to disappear. I remember being so afraid that the Seers would use their gift to find us. But, your father was right, Fate wouldn't let them, and the black glass remained dark, protecting us."
"So how did Skye find you?"
"He wasn't looking for me, or for your father. He was looking for a child with the Seers' gift. It's how they keep replenishing their numbers. They search the land for the gifted and take them to train at the Seer's citadel in Asalene. And Fate brought him here, to you. A boy who can See."
"What does that mean?" Tom had a tingling sensation at the back of his head, as he suspected what his mother would say next.
"He is going to take you to Asalene with him and to train you as a Seer."
"He is?! You agreed?!" Tom was surprised. All his life he wanted to leave Pula and to go to all the amazing places he had only heard about. He had always imagined that after his twentieth birthday he would be able to fulfill his dream. He had never imagined that it could happen before, especially since the death of his father. After all, he was expected to help his widowed mother and support her, as a good son should.
"I didn't have a choice, Tom." His mother sighed, smiling. "He asked very politely, of course. And I'd like to think that he even bothered to ask because he was your father's friend once. But, I'm not in a position to question Fate. I had many happy years with your father, possibly cheating Fate of a great Seer. So, I knew you'd be leaving with Skye the moment I recognized him."
Tom had to think this over. His thoughts were rushing, the past day's fatigue fading away under a tidal wave of excitement, worry and apprehension.
"Will you be coming with us?" Tom asked his mother. Again, guessing what she was about to say.
"No. I will not interfere this time." She answered, but she smiled and added. "However, I will go to Asalene, on my own. I'll sell the house and with the money I get I will make my way back there see the rest of my family again."
"Your family?!" Tom could hardly believe his ears. His head was spinning. All of a sudden, he had a magical gift, a family in Asalene and he was about to embark on an amazing adventure. He doubted he'd be able to sleep that night.
"Yes. I have a family there. They will be glad to see me again. And you, of course, whenever your training permits."
Tom gaped at his mother. His life had been turned upside down in moments. He reached for his father's monocle again, touching the black lens with sweating fingers.
"Keep it on your person and out of sight at all times, unless Skye tells you otherwise."
"Yes, mother." Tom whispered, taking the monocle and putting it in his pocket.
"Come on, Tom. You really have to get some sleep. I wouldn't want you to fall off your feet tomorrow. Skye may be a friend, but I doubt he will be lenient with you if you do."
"Tomorrow?" Tom stammered.
"Yes." She said. "Tomorrow." She turned away from him to hide her sorrow and went to prepare the bed for the night.
Later that night, the sleepless Tom crawled into her bed and allowed her to embrace him. He didn't know how to make the monocle show him that part of the future when he would meet his mother again. So, he decided to spend as much time as possible close to her that night.
The next morning his mother still held tightly to him as he opened his eyes. She awoke before him and was cradling him like a baby.
It was just before dawn and Tom's time to leave was drawing closer. He pulled away from his mother's arms and stood up looking at her helplessly. He was torn between the urge to leave and the need not to abandon his mother.
"Don't look at me like that" His mother chided. "You look just like your father did whenever he wasn't sure he was doing the right thing." She sat up and took his hands in hers. "You're doing the right thing."
Tom pulled away. He understood. His mother had no choice, and he had no choice either. Even Skye had no choice. Everything was up to Fate and Tom hoped that Fate would look after his mother now that he was leaving.
His mother got out of bed and started rummaging in the clothing chest, digging out some of his clothes and shoving them into a backpack. "I wouldn't want you to get cold." She said as she offered him the bag. "Promise me you will look after yourself and don't do anything foolish." She hugged him fiercely and kissed the top of his head again. It was time.
Skye was standing beside two horses in front of the Stolen Goose. When he saw Tom and his mother coming up the street, he nodded in acknowledgment and got onto one of the horses. The second horse was obviously meant for Tom.
Tom's heart started beating like a drum at the sight of the horses. He was prepared for his adventure, but couldn't stop the lump of anxiety from forming in his throat. His mother patted him on his head and kissed his cheek. She looked him in the eye and said, "Be brave, but not reckless. Be strong, but not stubborn And be careful."
"I will." He got his foot in the stirrup and managed to get into the saddle in one swing. The small victory made him grin brightly at his mother, and she smiled in return.
Skye nudged his horse into motion and Tom had no choice but to follow. He waved at his mother as she stood there, in the empty street, waiving back at him. Then, he turned forward to look at the Seer's back.
After a quiet two-hour ride he dared a question. "Is this the road to Asalene?" He asked.
"Do you believe in fate?" The man answered with a question of his own.
"I don't know. Probably." Tom mumbled, stealing a brief glance in the direction they had come from, hoping to get a glimpse of Pula. His hometown was obscured by hills and trees. Gone.
"Interesting." The man said. "In that case, pick a direction."
Tom considered this for a moment. "Can we go north?" Tom had heard that there were many adventures to be had in the North and he had always thought that the northerners staying at the Stolen Goose told more interesting tales than everyone else.
"North." Skye said, turning in the saddle slightly to look at Tom through his magical eye-patch. "Yes, we will go north."