So many people liked yesterday’s snipped that I’m posting a second part. Please ignore errors, it’s unedited.
After growing up the poor son of a drunk Merek rarely stepped foot into a bar. Tonight, was an exception. Only two steps in and he was waved over.
“Hans!” he called. Pushing his way through the crowd he settled on the opposite side of his blond-haired friend.
Hans’s wide smile brightened Merek’s terrible mood. “Merek what are you doing here?”
“I needed a drink.” No sense avoiding the issue. His voice must have held more bitterness than he planned if Hans’s change of expression was anything to go by.
“Ulric happened. He kicked me out.” He waved down the bar maid and gave her some coin for a pint. She quickly returned with a tankard that he drained a third of with a few gulps.
Merek set down the brew and rubbed his eyes. “Nothing out of character. I designed an amazing wedding set for Lord Carvelle. Ulric took complete credit for my hard work. Carvelle called him on it and demanded he turn in my paperwork to declare my Mastery. Ulric waited until we were back then claimed since I wasn’t an apprentice any more I should leave. I doubt Carvelle will follow up in checking if I he turned in my paperwork. Ulric might just wait to see if he checks and screw me over if he doesn’t.” Merek’s shoulder’s hunched as he curled around the flagon. “I don’t know what to do. I worked so hard and I only had six more weeks until the official end of my training. I just know Ulric will ruin my reputation before I even begin.”
“Don’t worry about it now. Let’s have a drink to your Mastery.” Hans tapped his flagon against Merek’s. “The best you can do is hope Ulric doesn’t try to get you blackballed before you even start displaying your own work.”
“I know.” Merek ran a finger along the top of his mug as he tried to convey why it was so hard for him to let go. “I just don’t think this will be the end of it. Ulric is a vindictive bastared.” Frustration had him tugging at his hair.
Hans patted Merek’s hand. “You are an amazing jewel mage. No one can take that away from you. Ulric’s going to suffer more than you. He won’t have access to your skills and power and people will go elsewhere for their pretties.”
“I hope Ulric really does sign off my apprenticeship papers. He can deny me saying I need more training. He has enough of a silver tongue he can probably convince the guild that I am trying to use influence to end my apprentice before time. That will result in me getting no apprenticeship finalized, a wrecked reputation and no place to live.” Voicing his fears out loud magnified them instead of making them fade. He couldn’t meet Hans’s eyes while he spoke his worries.
“Hey.” Hans shook Merek’s shoulder. “If he pulls that bullshit you can go to the jewel league. Isn’t that why they are there? I know that the one for traders keeps things on the straight and narrow.”
“For anyone else it would work but Ulric’s cousin is the head of the local league. I doubt I’ll be able to have the country league listen to me.”
“Don’t borrow trouble. Why don’t you see what happens and if he tries something else I’ll have a message sent by one of the caravans. I doubt you are the first person who had this issue with him. Ulric is the type to pull this on one apprentice after another, especially if he knows he can get away with it.”
“All right. I’ll wait and see.” He took another gulp of ale and looked around. Soldiers and tradesmen filled the pub. The noise overwhelmed each conversation until all they heard was a cloud of sound. He turned back to Hans to find his friend studying him like a particularly difficult puzzle he needed to decipher.
“What do you want to do now that you’ve finished your apprenticeship?”
“I want to travel and learn about different techniques and collect materials to create more.” A dreamy tone entered his voice as he imagined all he could learn and discover if he ever made it out of this town. Merek wanted to have a few adventures before opening a shop of his own. “One day people will know my work by sight.”
“To being famous.”
They clanged they flagons together. It might be forced cheer but talking to Hans eased Merek’s fears. The storm in his chest calmed over his friend’s support. He might not have found any solution to his problems, but he felt a bit better. He brushed away the thought that the mead probably had more to do with his lighter soul than the talk.
He spent the rest of the evening with good company, decent mead and a few bites of the small fare the pub had to offer.
He slipped up the back stairs to a room he hastily rented above the pub.
Merek jolted away his head fuzzy and his mouth dry. A beat pulsed in his head, a tormented drumming sent by the gods to push him over the edge of sanity.
“What!” He shouted.
“Get up. Lord Carvelle had demanded we show up.” Ulric shouted through the door.
Merek stumbled out of bed and yanked the door open. “What do you need me for?” I thought you were done with me.” He held back the sneer trying to escape.
“You were requested.” Ulric’s sour expression conveyed his opinion louder than the disdain dripping from his words.
“Don’t ask questions. Get your lazy ass dressed. We don’t want to keep a lord waiting.”
“I’ll be right there.” Merek dressed despite fumbling hands and bleary vision, before presenting himself to Ulric. “Ready.”
“Took you long enough. You look like something the dog dragged around. You won’t last long in this business if you take to drinking at every setback.”
Merek winced. Anyone else and he would snap back, instead he let it slide with only a few internal rants. “I didn’t think I’d be needed today.”
Ulric’s eyes were bloodshot and didn’t look any better than Merek. They were certainly going to make an impression on Lord Carvelle.
To Merek’s surprise Ulric flagged down a carriage to take them to the end of town. Normally Ulric collected each of his coins as if he were starting his own dragon hoard. Brushing of his surprise, he climbed into the carriage before it could take off without him. He settled into his seat across Ulric.
“If he asks about future work tell him you need to consult with me for any custom jobs. If I find you going behind my back I’ll make sure your papers are misfiled.”
Merek pressed his lips together to hold back the brutal words aching to get out. Instead he kept his eyes on the view window. Ulric might be an ass but Merek had learned a lot during his training. Some of which he’d taught himself but there were some tips and tricks that could only be taught from one jeweler to another.
They didn’t speak while the carriage traveled over the cobblestone street. It took twenty minutes to get across town. The carriage’s driver tooled the vehicle through the wrought iron gates before sliding to a smooth stop before the front door.
“This is it!” He announced in a cheery voice. “All out.”
“Come,” Ulric’s sharp command, calling him to heel like a dog jerked Merek’s attention back to the matter at hand.
Why had they been called here? Had there been a problem with the design? Any issues with it would result in Ulric throwing the problem at Merek’s feet and complaining over his lack of skill. Deflection was Ulric’s path to getting out of trouble.
Merek didn’t bother to object to Ulric’s manner. Already, his smooth path to finishing his apprenticeship had turned shard filled and shaky. No sense in adding to the possible problems. Keeping his head down and staying beyond reproach would lead to a better results, or that was the hope at least.
Two guards stood on either side of the doorway, straight and focused on the newcomers. Had he missed increased thievery or political unrest? Why did Lord Carvelle need to see them, he already had his ring?
An officious manservant opened the door when they approached and beckoned them inside. “Good morning gentlemen, his lordship is expecting you in the parlor. If you’d come with me.”
The servant made no motion to take their coats. Ulric puffed up a bit at the slight causing Merek to hide his smile. It would do him good to learn he isn’t top dog in the higher pecking orders. He might keep Merek under his thumb but with a powerful client he had less recourse unless he wished to lose a possible lucrative commission.
Each room they were led through dripped with ostentatious luxury and good taste. The mansion gave Merek an uneasy sensation as if he were sullying the interior with his less than high born birth. Luckily Carvelle had enough manservants to get rid of the blight against his house once they left.
They reached their destination to find two men waiting for them. Besides the known dark-haired lord another sat in an opposing chair. Merek caught his breath. Blackflame, the dragon lord sprawled in a high-backed chair. His silvery blond hair caught the sunlight beaming through the window as if even celestial bodies couldn’t resist his beauty. That was the problem with dangerous things they both lured and repelled. The dragon lord was famous for being as brutal as he was beautiful. Seeing him for the first time, Merek wouldn’t make the same mistake others did. Beneath the elegant sleep facade lived a beast that could rip apart his chest and eat his heart.
“Greetings Master Ulric, apprentice Merek.” Carvelle nodded his head, acknowledging their presence.
“Greetings, Lord Carvelle, Lord Blackflame.” He gave what he hoped was an appropriate bow. Carvelle dipped his head in return, Blackflame scanned his body like he was buying a horse and wanted to put him through his paces.
“Greetings, apprentice Merek,” they spoke together.
“Please be seated.” Lord Carvelle waved to a pair of chairs opposite them.
Merek tried not to die of shame when Ulric just grunted as his greeting.
Merek nervously took a seat. What could this be about? He settled on the edge of the seat, ready to jump up if needed.
No one spoke for a minute until Ulric broke the silence. “What can we help you with? Was there something wrong with your ring, my lord?”
Carvelle smiled. “Oh no. It is amazing, Master Ulric. I was hoping you could design a necklace to match it.”
Ulric flashed Merek a panicked glance. Merek didn’t bother hiding his disdain. If Ulric wanted to kick him out, he wouldn’t step in to help him without compensation. Ulric would walk all over Merek if given half the chance.
“I’m sure something can be arranged,” Ulric said, flashing a cautious look at Merek.
Merek refused to give any reassurance.
“Will you be able to match the ring, Master Merek,” Carvelle asked.
“I’m not a Master yet,” he replied without thinking.
“Oh?” Carvelle narrowed his eyes at Ulric. “I was certain you were to put in the paperwork, Ulric.”
“I haven’t had a chance yet.” Ulric didn’t meet Carvelle’s eyes.
“I’m sure we can come to an agreement.” Merek would be a fool to let this opportunity pass by. If it would pressure Ulric to sign off on his apprenticeship he could start off on his own.
“What are you going to do once you get your Masters?” the duke’s question pulled Merek out of his thoughts.
“I’d like to travel to the Dwarven mines and harvest my own materials. I’d like to design custom pieces.”
“Will you open a store?” Carvelle asked.
“Not right away.” There was dedication to having a store open all the time. It would anchor Merek to town and that wasn’t something he desired.
He smiled when Ulric’s shoulder’s relaxed at his words. Maybe his master didn’t have such a poor opinion of his work if he was concerned about competition between their shops. Hans made a good point that Merek wouldn’t have kept him on all these years if he were truly atrocious at his craft.
“I would be honored if the necklace I’m commissioning was your last piece before you became a master. If the ring is a sign of your talents, I’m certain you will craft many fine heirlooms in your career,” Carvelle said.
Heat bloomed across Merek’s cheeks. After years of having to prove himself, an unexpected compliment still sent him off center. “Thank you, my lord,” he managed to stay.
Blackflame’s smirk didn’t help his embarrassment at all.
“When do you think you can have my necklace by?”
Ulric rubbed his chin. “We can draw up a preliminary in a few days. Depending on the final approval and complexity it might take until the end of the month to finish. Do you need it sooner?”
It always helped if the client let you know when they wanted it by. Merek had witnessed too many times when they got a special order and the client returned two days later expecting it to be miraculously done. Customers didn’t understand that jewel magic wasn’t the same as other kinds of magic. Any magic applied to gems or stone has to be given time to settle between applications.
“No. The end of the month will be perfect. I’d like to present them to her for her birthday which is the beginning of next month.”
“Excellent, then unless you have other work for us, we will be on our way.”
Ulric gave a short bow and Merek did the same, not wanting to be left behind with the two powerful men. Blackflame’s beauty unsettled him in ways he dared not ponder. He didn’t plan on ending his career by geting his throat slit for his wandering eyes.
“Thank you for coming, I look forward to seeing what you two come up with.” Carvelle shook each of their hands.
“It was nice seeing you again.” Blackflame ignored Ulric and took Merek’s hand between both of his. Before Merek could do anything Blackflame kissed the back of Merek’s hand.
That damn blush was back. He swiftly retrieved his hand from the dragon lord’s capture. “Good afternoon.” He stepped back and gave a low bow before rushing out after Ulric.
“You’ve caught the dragon’s eyes, boy,” Ulric sneered once they had returned to the carriage.
Merek shivered. “I think it would be better if I hadn’t.”
“Perhaps.” Ulric gave him a long, considering stare. “Perhaps, not. A titled lord could make or break you. If you want to be a society darling while it lasts and a pariah after it ends, feel free to have a fling with the man.”
“I’d say you were over-exaggerating, but I know you’re not. I don’t have time for romance right now anyway, I have a mastery to finish.”
“That you do,” Ulric agreed. “I hate to say it but take the day off from the shop and work on the design. I expect something by tomorrow afternoon. You might be getting your master, but I still have approval of your work.”
Merek braced for the conversation. “I want a magical vow that you will sign off on my apprenticeship after this and let me stay in my old room until it’s done.”
Ulric glared. “Is my word not good enough.”
Merek didn’t say anything, just returned the stare.
Ulric snorted. “You’ve gotten smarter I see. Fine you’ll have your vow, but it better be a fine necklace.”
“It will be.” Merek brushed away his critical inner voice. He could do this. He knew he could. And if his work was admired by a certain icy-eyed dragon lord, well he shoved that in the back of his mind to think about later. He didn’t have time for romance…he didn’t.