"Seif. Seif! I need you to gather our new order of plates from the potter. And make sure they're spelled or don't pay a single copper vilne for them!" A plump woman yelled from another room.
Seif sighed. His mother often yelled for him to complete some task or another. As the youngest in his family he was required to find a trade to make a living with or enlist in the Salimut's army. His brother, being the oldest male, was learning the family trade of butchery while his older sister was a handmaiden in the Salimut's court. At the ripe age of fifteen he had yet to find a trade he excelled in. Seif finally stood and dusted off his light cotton britches. He put on his sandals, which laced over his foot just past his ankle. One thing he enjoyed was the springs in Zalai. It was cool enough that he could wear his britches, but not so hot as he had to wear his head wrap when he ventured outside.
Seif gathered a few coins from his families cash box, which they often kept spelled for safety, and set out towards the artisan district of town. This was one of his favorite places, but he would never mention that to his family. Here the potters, glass blowers, tanners, and weavers all worked in the open for tips and sold their finished works for coin to live on. If his mother wouldn't give him a lashing, he would spend all day here watching people work. Coming from a butchers' family, he was seen as coming from a higher group of artisans. His family supplied people with food, unlike potters or glass blowers who only supplied trinkets and decorations.
As Seif passed the stalls of the artisans, he reflect on all the beautiful trades he attempted, to only fail at. He passed a stall where a carpenter was selling doors or all sizes, window shutters, and spare lumber. He stopped to watch a carpenter was working on a fence post. He remembered his attempt to even learn the trade, only to have an entire stock of lumber mysteriously catch on fire. Not wanting to hold on to the memory any longer, Seif quickly picked up his pace and headed towards the potters workshop. He passed a fruit seller stall, remember his attempt at gardening fruit trees, only to remember the hard, brittle shape his fruits took in every basket he picked.
He even resorted to learning the tanners work, since his family often supplied the tanner with their cow and pig hides. When this ended just as miserably, Seif had to wonder if he had purposely sabotaged himself. It was no secret that the tanners were the least favorite of all the artisans. They smelled terrible, and their work was gruesome. He had resigned that in a few months time he would be serving his royal majesty as fodder for when Yanjing decided to invade. Seif shuddered at the thought of his mother having to try to identify what remained of his body after spending any time of the front lines.
Seif smiled as he came upon the potter his family usually got their work from. Of all the people Seif interacted with while helping his parents run the butchery, he loved coming to see Tuma the most. Tuma, the potter, was an older man, his back forming a bit of a hunch from long days spent sitting at his potters wheel. His legs were thick like trunks from pushing the pedal to make the wheel spin. His hands were rough from years of labor, but strong. His hair was cropped close to his head and thin, with his crown visible from beginning to bald. He had the light olive skin of the people from Zalai, but his eyes were a dull hazel.
He couldn't see the man anywhere in the shop, but he knew he was around. He stood admiring the pots, plates, mugs, and other items that were drying on shelves around the shop. He saw pots sitting around the wheel marked with dates. Some of them were wrapped with linen tops, others exposed and half used. Seif had watched Tuma mold things in this shop hundreds of times. Some times he would spend midday with Tuma if he could, watching the man create just about anything out of the moist clay. Seif wondered why he never had asked Tuma to let him try his hand at being a potters apprentice.
Growing tired of waiting, and suddenly full of curiosity at his ability to be a potter, Seif decided to entertain himself a bit and sat at Tuma's potters wheel. He reached into the nearest bucket of clay and pulled out a large handful. The clay was cool and moist in his hand. It felt like it squirmed under his grip, probably because it was too wet. Seif felt the clay running onto the back of his hand, and quickly flung the droopy mess into the middle of the wheel. He started to slowly press the pedal as he had seen Tuma do and put his hands around the clay and tried his best to shape it. The clay quickly became uneven, forming an odd egg shape. Seif tried to even it out, but only succeeded in making it worse, as with everything he tried before. He tried to force the clay up, and it developed a thin stem that blossomed into an uneven awning. Seif sighed, unsure of what he was trying to do with this lump of clay, but knowing he was failing even then.
As if the clay knew what he was thinking, and was offended, it jumped off the wheel and back into the bucket. If he hadn't seen it himself, Seif wouldn't have believed it. It was the single greatest trick he had witnessed. He wondered if Tuma was a mage and had his clay spelled only to obey himself. Smiling and shaking the idea off, Seif stood from the wheel and jumped when he saw Tuma standing at the doorway into the shop.
"Tuma! I was just coming to pick up the plates my father ordered. I - I got bored. I'm sorry." Seif spoke quickly as he wiped his hands off on his clothes. They were surprisingly clean, with very little clay stuck on them.
"Boy, how long have you known you could do that?" Tuma asked, a smile forming over his face and and his dull eyes expressing kindness and mischief.
Seif was confused. How long had he known he could do what? Ruin everything he touched? Push a pedal with his foot? Tuma read the expression on his face. He sighed, understanding starting to develop in his old mind. "I see. Well, it would be remiss of me to ignore this." Tuma turned and took a set of plates off a shelf. They were painted white with different symbols on them. Seif recognized the wards against insects and rot, as well as the symbols for preservation and freshness. They were bundled with a beautiful lavender ribbon. "Take these to your parents, free of charge and tell them to expect two guests this evening after dinner."
Seif took the plates from Tuma and still looked confused. "Tuma, I don't understand. What are you up to?"
Tuma smiled. "You'll find out soon enough. Now get these back to your parents and enjoy your midday."