Author's Note:

I have to say I'm more than surprised at the amount of alerts for three chapters, honestly, wow, I was blown away.

Thanks so much for the kind reviews; I'm glad you guys liked it. I was just doing my own thing here for my amusement; I didn't know it would get so popular.

Longer chapter to make up for the last ^ ^


Pebble in the Pond

Chapter 4:

|| Companions ||

xxx


The barking was becoming annoying, Will decided.

Mist leapt and bounded around her small spot, her heavy tail wagging eagerly as he trudged towards her.

"Honestly, you need to calm down." Will grumbled to his dog.

The boy of twelve patted his side where his protective brown satchel was secured against him. In it he held precious bundles of expensive herbs ready to be traded on Harvest Day.

The usual supplies had gone to Wensley Village, but his mother knew that the best offers would come on the day when the villagers were allowed to celebrate after a month of farming and collecting.

Herbs didn't last long unless preserved, so Redmont's healer loved collecting them on Harvest Day, because after, it was unlikely he'd get a good batch for a few months.

The last few years, Will remembered, his mother had personally walked him to the grounds outside the Castle to celebrate and enjoy the festivities that Baron Arald offered.

But today she was sick again, bed ridden and unable to walk. The only thing that had kept him from staying with her was the reassurance within the herbs.

The more money he had, the more he could pay to heal her, he thought naively.

He came to the crest of the hill and shaded his eyes against the rising sun, smiling when he saw the amount of people gathered and setting up for Harvest Day.

His limbs renewed with new energy, he glanced at Mist and laughed.

"Comon, what are we waiting for?"


"Right, there you go boy." Hanson said, handing over a jingling bag of coins in exchange for the herbs.

Will accepted it with thanks, smiling at the kindly old man.

Hanson had taken care of his mother since as far as he could remember. Despite the fact that Will knew the amount he was supposed to be given for his product, he trusted Hanson to deal with him fairly.

"Oh, and another thing," Hanson announced, as if he suddenly remembered. With a sly grin, he placed a silver crown in Will's hand. "I can tell you're worried about your mother again. Go buy yourself something to eat and I will see to her later."

Will felt his cheeks go red, he wasn't used to such generosity. Eager to find some food and escape the healer's humorous gaze, he went off to find a stall selling some fresh pies.

"One beef pie please." He asked the tender, handing over Hanson's silver crown. The man serving nodded and went about putting the pie into a bag.

"Not a bad choice." A voice piped up from his right.

Curiously, Will turned to find a smaller, bright looking girl watching him. "Oh?"

"But the pork and apple is delicious." She went on, her deep blue eyes sparkling.

Will accepted his food from the man and turned to the girl. "Um, you are?" He asked intelligently.

"Jennifer Dalby. Jenny is better though." She replied, even rocking on the balls of her feet eagerly, smiling widely at him. "And you're...?"

"Will, Will Thorne." He answered, unconsciously tearing off a corner of his food, to drop it into the waiting jaws of his dog.

"Are you alone?" She made a gesture to neglect the dog sitting by his side.

"Yes..."

"Oh, I haven't seen you before. You aren't a Ward child, are you?"

Will's head swam under the barrage of questions. She's enthusiastic. He thought.

"A Ward child?" He repeated and seeing that she was about to explain, he went on, "No, I live near Wensley Village."

Jenny smiled. "Oh that's good, there's so many of us Ward children, it's good that you still have parents."

"You don't?" He asked incredulously.

She shook her head, her smile ever present. He began to realise that she wasn't just eager; she was naturally happy and bright.

"So who raised you?"

"Baron Arald." Jenny replied tersely. "We're given Harvest Day off from studies to have fun. I love seeing all the foods they make." She glanced wistfully at the baker next to the pie stall, who was diligently rolling out dough.

Her head snapped up and she seemed to realise she was being rude. "So where are you off to?"

Not that he thought it was much of her business, he answered her anyway. "Well I was either going to look around or go home."

Her eyes widened and she reached forward to grasp his arm. "Don't go, this day is to celebrate. Come with me, I'll show you to my friends."

He didn't really have a choice, she had an iron grip and he found himself led away to a table less populated by the general public.

"Hi guys!" She announced, coming to a halt and dragging Will to her side.

Silence fell as three pairs of eyes turned from the pretty young girl, to the small boy kept firmly in her hands. He wished his dog was nearby, but she had wandered off some minutes ago.

"Hello Jenny."

The first person to break the silence was another girl, tall for her age and sporting long, blonde hair. She had a small smile on her face and Will thought she was rather pretty.

"We've been waiting for you, you know. Where on earth have you been?"

Will's gaze flicked to the next speaker, a gangly boy who looked more like a stick between the two figures seated beside him. His eyes flitted to Will's nervously, but then he too smiled shyly in welcome.

The other boy scoffed. "Like you have to guess. She's been hanging around the cooks again."

The boy that spoke was large, despite the fact that he looked to be Will's age. His dark hair was longer than most, set with brilliant blue eyes that seemed to pierce through Will's flesh. But despite his tough appearance, he was grinning with warmth as he looked at Will's companion.

"Everyone, this is Will Thorne, I found him." Jenny went on.

"Nice to meet you Will." The tall girl spoke softly; her voice levelled and melodic as she extended a hand for him to shake. "I'm Alyss Mainwaring."

"Utterly like you to 'find' a person." The gangly boy concluded, directing his words to Jenny, and then he too offered his hand to Will. "George Carter, pleasure to meet you."

The larger boy was eyeing him critically, his gaze thoughtful. Will glanced to Jenny for reassurance, but she was happily taking a seat opposite Alyss. Without glancing, she hauled him down next to her.

"Will, huh?"

Will nodded slowly. "Yeah, you?"

The boy didn't answer immediately; instead he tapped his finger thoughtfully. "Horace Altman," he replied at length. "You're awfully small, aren't you?"

Will inwardly bristled but made a point to remain unbothered by the comment. "Everyone says that."

"So what do you do?"

Will began to see that Horace was quite a blunt person. Obviously a no-nonsense kind of guy, he was straight to the point with his questions.

"I help my mother farm herbs. She's too sick to do it on her own." He explained, straightening without realising it.

Horace seemed to realise he had hit a soft spot, but didn't press the point.

Unknown to the two boys, who were obliviously involved in their own interaction, the girls and George had tuned in to their conversation.

"It must be hard taking care of her." Alyss noted compassionately.

Horace and Will glanced at her in surprise; just realising the others were listening.

Will shrugged. "Sometimes." He admitted. "But she's still there, so that's all that matters."

He hadn't meant to be so outright with the others, who were really, total strangers. But Alyss and Jenny had warm smiles and George and Horace were nodding, as if seriously taking his words in. For a moment, he felt at home amongst the others.

"We're all Ward children, Will. None of us have living parents." Jenny told him, smiling.

Not a face flickered with sadness, and Will realised they must have grown with it and learnt to accept their fate. It was a brave thing, he realised.

"So what do you do after the Ward?" He asked curiously.

"Well the Baron offers us the chance to try and get into one of the Crafting Schools." Alyss told him.

"It's a marvellous thing he does; otherwise most of us would be farmers." George put in eagerly. Jenny nudged him violently in the shin with her foot and the boy realised what he had said. "Err not that it's a bad thing, it's just this way we're given opportunities that others don't get."

"Oh." Will voiced, uncertain on how felt on the matter. "So what will you guys do?"

"I'm still considering my options; we have two years left to decide." Alyss said.

"Cooking School." Jenny voiced, grinning.

"Scribeschool." George replied.

"Horace?" Will asked, seeing as the other boy hadn't answered.

"Battleschool." He answered eventually. "I'm going to be a warrior."

Will couldn't fault the boy's determination and nodded.

"And what about you Will?" Alyss asked.

"Me?"

"Surely you have dreams or ideas for yourself."Jenny added brightly.

Will glanced down to the table, his hand reaching down to grasp his dog's ears and ruffle her affectionately, seeing as she had returned to his side.

"As long as my mother needs me, I'll be there to help her."

The group seemed content with his answer.

The rest of the afternoon was enjoyable.

Horace he learnt was quiet and solemn, but not that scary as first thought. Alyss was charming and diplomatic, adding an air of authority and quiet control to the conversations. George stuttered and sauntered his vocabulary, talking as much as Jenny, who of course was pure happiness embodied.

Will thought, that if he spent more time around these children, he'd come to think of them as friends. He hoped so.

But as he left to walk back to his home, Mist padding loyally by his side, he couldn't help but think on their conversation.

Each of the Ward children had dreams and ambitions, sparked by childhoods or aspirations.

Will had never thought of those.

Because he had spoken truthfully, as long as his mother needed him, he didn't really have a future for himself.

And he wasn't too sure how he felt about that.


A/N:

I wanted to show the difference between Will and Horace's mind frames in an alternate reality. Will's animosity with Horace was due to his warrior-wanting complex and his heritage. I've made it a point to recognise the friendship between Jenny and Horace. Even before he was nice, Horace was always kind to her compared to Will :3

First Book, Will is totally dominated by his dreams, but this time he's angsting over any future he might not get.

Anyway, I hope you liked it.

- Love Mae.