Emris threw himself onto the bench hardly pausing his rant as he swung his ale around. “Do you know what they said? Do you?”
The serving wench, Holly, smiled, topping off his mug. “I bet you’re going to tell me.”
“Damned right I am! They said second place was the same as last place. About how my old man always got first place in all the tests and competitions. How Mom got second place once… once! So she locked herself in the library for weeks going over and over and over her mistakes. Am I supposed to be impressed? So what if I’m not first place! At least I placed at all!”
Holly had become familiar with the young Gravels over the past few years. He’d come in the first time on his 19th birthday to celebrate it alone after his parents had tried to make the young man spend it studying. Ever since, he’d been a regular at the Dockside Tavern. With a glance she caught the owner’s eye and tilted her head at their friend. The burly man shrugged, checking on his other two patrons with a practiced eye. They were doing fine, one had a full tankard, and the other was dozing a little as he worked his way through a stew. Neither were Aderyn born, unlike little tenacious Holly. In some ways, the girl had been lucky. She was born on Aderyn and had access to the grand education the country offered; which was only acquired by having family from the country, getting a recommendation from a graduate, or being born on into the system. Her parents were both from Virote, and quite intelligent in their own right. It was interesting how they saw an opportunity to breach the vast libraries by having their child born in Aderyn, and Holly had no problems doing some work for her folks. The young woman had made it clear that she wasn’t sticking around very long.
With a happy micro smile, Holly settled in across from Emris. He gazed at her with caged fire in his eyes. “I’ve done everything I can for them, to make them proud… and it’s never good enough. I don’t think it ever will be,” he said, bitterly.
“What about what you want? Do you really want to give them the satisfaction of breaking you down all the time? And while I love seeing you, what about your friends…?”
“Friends?” Emris echoed. “Friends? Hah! Don’t give me that shit. The only thing that seems to make people reach out for the company of others is when if would further their own rank. I had a couple of idiots come right to me and ask if we could study together when I got my results. However, I’d like you to know I told them where they could put their study session. Which was right when my folks found me. Pleasant day, I’m having, you see.”
Holly took a drink from Emris’ mug, and wiped the foam off her mouth with her trailing sleeve. She had a crazy thought and was at war with herself, debating on whether she should voice it or no. After a long few moments, her mind was made up as Emris’ head thunked onto the rough tabletop.
“What do you want? You know, out of life? Are you really going to spend your days trying to please your parents? Trying to get on the Council with whatever research or studies you do? Does that sound like your future?”
From his vantage Emris glowered up at Holly. “What else is there?” he grumbled.
“Are you kidding? With your education you could leave here and become some big noble’s tutor or adviser. Hell, even I could, and I’m lousy by Aderynian standards. Though, I’d look into something as an agent for intrigue and subterfuge. See?”
“You’re insane. I can’t leave. I’d have to plan and settle all my…”
“You have stuff to settle? Like returning library books? Or your tab here?”
The young man sat up, rubbing his forehead. “Yes. Things like that. What is my tab, by the bye?”
“Pigeon droppings if that’s what’s keeping you in Aderyn. I’ll cover it if I have to.”
“Are you serious?”
Warming up to the topic, Holly leaned across the table and stared at him, nose to nose. “I’m so, very, very, serious. You’re an amazing guy, Em. You sell yourself short because that’s all the people around you give you. Let’s both leave. My folks won’t mind if I head off. They’ll catch up sometime, anyway. I’ve been dying to see Virote and Paxton!”
Taken aback Emris gripped the girl’s shoulders and shoved her back down and out of his personal space. “You’re insane, Miss Holly. You want to just up and catch the next ship out? With only the clothes on our backs? That’s nuts.”
She only stared at Emris with her dark eyes, waiting, showing patience for once in the time he’d known the young woman.
If she wasn’t such an exotic enigma, Emris would have had no trouble waving off her ideas as flights of fancy. Instead her deep olive skin and her blue black hair served as a reminder of the world beyond Aderyn. He felt his resolve waver on its foundations and begin to crumble.
Quietly, as if afraid of what he was saying, Emris spoke. “I can’t leave without telling my folks.”
Knowing victory was in her grasp, Holly pounced on the flurry of half formed ideas churning in her mind. “You leave them a note. Old Guster over there will send them the missive when the courier comes past in the morn. Meanwhile, we are gonna go to my place. You can borrow some of my papa’s old clothes. It won’t be fancy, but we’ll do fine. Then we hit the dock again and find ourselves a ship an’ captain we can trust. Are you with me, my brave friend?”
“A captain we can trust?”
“Well sure! We don’t want to be sold as slaves, do we? And until we get ourselves someplace we want to split up and pursue other interests, you’re gonna be my man.”
“I’m what?” Emris sputtered, sloshing the ale in his mug.
Holly gave the young man a look that would only be described as pitying. “A married couple is safer than a couple of single folk that happen to know each other. Mind?”
His heart was pounding away, threatening to break open his ribs with the very force of his fear and elation. He couldn’t believe he was really going to play along. “Bring me some paper, Holly, my dear. I have a note to write.”