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The following day came arrived much as any other for Lucinda. It would have proceeded much like any other too, if not for the weight of the unpleasant task she needed to see to completion. She managed to avoid telling her parents in the morning, quite easily in fact, though she soon regretted it, as her entire day was spent worrying about it instead.

There were simply far too many bad things that could come of it, at least in Lucinda’s mind. The worst of which was being disowned by her parents altogether. She didn’t really think it was possible, yet the unpleasant thought lingered in her mind, distracting her from her work at the temple.

As her duties for the day ended, Lucinda opted to follow her mother home, which required waiting a bit longer than usual thanks to her mother getting caught up chatting with seemingly every other Cleric in the temple. When they finally began the trek home, Lucinda’s mother talked her ear off about the local gossip. None of it was particularly interesting to her, except the news that one of the local militia’s patrols had apparently captured some outsiders that had been intent on setting fire to the town. Thankfully before they could cause any damage.

Back at home, Lucinda helped her mother prepare dinner. It was something she had not done in a while, due to spending her evenings at the library, or off gallivanting outside of town, and she felt suddenly guilty for it. As they sat down to eat, she knew it was time to reveal her secret.

Is Father not joining us?” she asked.

“Not today, there’s a town meeting. He won’t be back 'til late.”

Ahh, maybe that’s a good thing… Well, here goes…

Mother, there’s something I need to tell you.”

What’s that then, Honey?”

I… I don’t want to become a Cleric.”

What!?” her mother replied, mouth agape.

I want to become a Druid instead.”

“…. What you are saying, Lucinda? You’ve been training to become a Cleric for over a year now. Just like your father and I did back when we were young.”

I know… but it’s just not for me. Sorry.”

A silence stretched between them. Lucinda found she couldn’t look her mother in the eye, she knew she’d upset her.

That’s why you’ve been distant lately… High Cleric Chester told me he’d noticed it too. I didn’t want to believe it, but I guess I have to,” Lucinda’s mother said, breaking the lingering silence. “I know you would make a good Cleric; You are suited for it! Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”

No, I’m sorry. I just can’t stand being cramped up in the temple all day, and putting up with all those people, it makes me really uncomfortable.”

Oh Honey, not all Clerics serve in temples. Many spend their time travelling the lands, spreading the word of their God, and assisting those in need. We wanted you to join the temple here, but I’m sure the High Cleric would let you travel after a few years service.”

Lucinda remained silent, her gaze firmly locked on the table in front of her. Her mother likewise sat silently for a time, before releasing a sigh.

Why don’t you talk to the High Cleric about this. I’m sure he can help you decide more easily.”

Lucinda really didn’t want to, she’d already decided after all, but she doubted her mother would let up until she agreed.

Okay…” she reluctantly replied.

Good, let’s keep this from your father for now then.”

The remainder of the day continued uneventfully. Lucinda helped her mother clear up after the meal was finished, before retiring to her room. With some time still left before bed, Lucinda decided to try her luck with one of her favourite house based past times.

She kept a small portion of seeds in her room, stashed away so her mother wouldn’t find them, all for the purposes of attracting some of the local birds. Opening her window wide, she leaned on the sill, cupping a few seeds in her palm. She wasn’t sure if it helped, but as she always did, she tried to project a sense of calmness and warmth as she waited. It was something she’d learned about during her spellcasting lessons at school, which didn’t involve actual spellcasting as no one was of age. But, the state of mind required for spellcasting was something that could be taught, and that was the method she employed, albeit slightly modified for her purposes.

She was lucky enough to have a clear line of sight to the outside of town, enabling her eyes to scan the countryside as she waited. Her thoughts wandered to her upcoming meeting with the High Cleric, which she was sure her mother would try and get scheduled for the next day.

I don’t think he’s going to be happy. He’s allowed me to train there for almost a year, and now I’m quitting all of a sudden… Never mind, what Father will think when he finds out… Why couldn’t they have asked me what I wanted before forcing me into this?

Her thoughts spiralled around as she tried to imagine how things would play out, until she was dragged back to reality by a high pitched chirp. Looking down she saw a small bird, about the size of her hand, had flown onto her window sill, and was glancing between her and the food she held.

Hi there little one,” she called out quietly. “Are you hungry?”

Very slowly she extended her hand towards the small bird. It took some time, but eventually the bird overcame its caution and hopped up to her hand, before pecking up some seeds.

Lucinda smiled down as the bird began its feasting. It was one of the prettier birds that sometimes graced her windowsill. Its feathers were a mix of purple and blue, with some white ones around its head. As it ate it kept one eye focussed on her.

It wasn’t long after the food ran out that the bird decided to take off, prompting Lucinda to call it a day.

 


 

As expected Lucinda’s mother wasted little time in arranging a meeting with the High Cleric: lunchtime the next day. Her stomach was somersaulting around the entire morning as she tried to perform her duties in the temple. Wiping down the pews with a damp cloth had never been so difficult, and before she'd even come close to finishing, lunchtime was upon her. She found she had just enough time for another spat of worrying as she and her mother approached the High Cleric's room.

If he takes offence at my change of heart, I could be in real trouble. If anyone can get me outcast from the town it’s the High Cleric. And then what? I live off the land around the town on my own? Maybe that wouldn’t be too bad…

TAP TAP

Come in,” came the High Cleric’s voice through the door, in response to the knocking.

It was Lucinda’s first time seeing the room of the High Cleric; a sparsely decorated space of barely a few metres cubed, with plentiful religious ornaments, and a single portrait of some seemingly important religious figure she didn’t recognise. In the centre of the room, the High Cleric sat behind a plain wooden desk.

Ah, welcome Lucinda. Your mother mentioned you wanted to see me about something important,” said the High Cleric.

Yes…” Lucinda replied in a hushed tone.

Thank you, Chloe, I’ll take things from here,” the High Cleric continued, gesturing to the door.

Of.. of course, High Cleric. Thank you,” Lucinda’s mother replied, before leaving the room.

Lucinda locked eyes with the High Cleric. The old man didn’t look very intimidating, he even had a friendly smile on his face. She’d heard stories though. There was one from only a year or two ago, where the High Cleric had incapacitated a sizeable group of would-be thieves with a casual wave of one arm.

Now then. What was it you wished to speak to me about, my dear?”

…Here goes nothing. Please don’t banish me!

I… Don’t want to become a Cleric. I want to become a Druid,” she admitted.

The High Cleric's eyebrows shot upwards as he leaned back in his chair. Is that so? May I ask what brought about this change of heart?”

I don’t like being stuck indoors, or surrounded by people. I want to be out there, enjoying the open air and nature!”

To her surprise, the High Cleric burst into laughter as she finished, and continued on for several seconds. Lucinda quickly grew irritated in the face of it.

Sorry, Child. I’m not laughing at your expense. Far from it, in fact. We’ve been fools, all of us. Completely oblivious to the desires of one so close to us.”

What do you mean?” Lucinda asked.

I can tell you mean what you say, that this isn’t some idle fancy of yours. Assuming you haven’t hoodwinked me with impressive acting skills, I imagine you would be much better suited as a Druid, or some other class that spends their time with nature.”

You mean, you’re not mad?”

The High Cleric affixed her with a bemused smile. “Of course not. What made you think I would be?”

I thought you might banish me for going against your wishes…”

More laughter echoed through the small room.

That might be the most absurd thing I’ve heard all week. Banishment, indeed. I fear you haven’t been paying attention to how we do things here,” the High Cleric continued with a wide smile. “No matter, I don’t think banishment will be necessary this time.”

Lucinda let a quiet sigh, as the High Cleric’s words sunk in.

Perhaps things are going to be okay after all.

Have you taken steps towards becoming a Druid?” the High Cleric asked.

Yes, Saseligan said he would find someone to help guide me.”

Ah, is that so. I’m sure he will succeed in that case then. Now, I’m sure you’re eager to leave your tiresome duties here behind, but I must ask you to continue for a few days. That should give me enough time to adjust the schedules to make up for you leaving us. Is that alright with you?”

Of course, High Cleric. I’m sorry to burden you so.”

Well, then. I sincerely hope you become a wonderful Druid. I know you could have become a great Cleric had you the desire, so I’m sure you will do just fine. Please feel free to visit us at any time. If you can endure the stuffy temple and crowds that is.” the High Cleric said, with a light chuckle. “Is there anything else I can do for you before we part ways?”

“Umm, I’m sorry to ask more of you, I know you are really busy, but is there any chance you could talk to my parents? I don’t think they will be as understanding as you were.”

“Oh my, this is a marvellous coincidence. Why, I was just thinking the other day that it was about time I dropped by for dinner with your family, where I’m sure we will discuss all sorts of topics. Would that be acceptable for you, Lucinda?”

“Yes! Thank you so much, High Cleric,” Lucinda replied, bowing deeply.

“You are most welcome. Now, I think it best we both get back to work, don’t you?”

The rest of the day passed by quickly, with Lucinda feeling better than she had in weeks. In just a few short days her problems had melted away. She was sure the High Cleric would convince her parents, and then she would have all the time she needed to meet a Druid and unlock the class she wanted. Delaying one's class selection a few days after coming of age wasn't exactly unheard of.

True to his word, the High Cleric dropped by for dinner that same day. Her parents couldn’t have refused such a request even if they’d known his true purpose. With little time to prepare, dinner wasn’t anything extravagant, but her mother did make her set out the good dinnerware.

After talking about various temple related topics, the High Cleric finally steered the conversation towards Lucinda.

“Your daughter came to see me today,” said the High Cleric, directing his voice towards her father.

“She’s not in any trouble is she?” her father replied.

“Not at all. No, she just wanted to let me know that she would no longer be continuing with her Cleric training.”

“She what!?” her father roared, standing up quickly and snapping his gaze to Lucinda.

“Now now, Baldor. Please, sit down,” the High Cleric instructed, forcing Lucinda’s father to reluctantly do as he was told. “I’ve already given her my blessing. She made it clear to me that she would be much happier pursuing a different class, and I don’t doubt her judgement.”

“But, why? You’ve been working so hard for all this time. Why stop now?” her father asked her.

“I’m sorry, Father. I couldn’t bring myself to tell you sooner, I knew you would be upset…”

“What do you intend to become instead?” he demanded.

“A Druid.”

“A Druid!? One of those unclean wild men, that spend all their time frolicking in the wilderness? How do you expect to support yourself? Or raise a family?”

“Baldor, please. You do your daughter a disservice with your words,” the High Cleric admonished.

Her father hesitated at the chastisement, his mask of rage rapidly diminishing to an unhappy frown. “You’re right High Cleric. I apologise. This has come as a bit of a shock.”

“Indeed, I wish I’d realised something was amiss sooner. I must be getting old,” the High Cleric added. “Well, I best be getting back, I’m sure you have lots to discuss. Thank you ever so much for the meal. Would you see me to the door, Lucinda?”

“Of course, High Cleric.”

Lucinda guided the High Cleric out of the kitchen where they had eaten, and down the corridor to the front door.

“How was that then, Child? Good enough?” the High Cleric asked her in a quiet voice.

“Yes, thank you so much. I don’t think I could have convinced Father on my own. How can I ever repay your kindness?”

“That is well within your power.” the High Cleric replied with a friendly smile. “I know you no longer wish to be a Cleric, but I would be eternally grateful if you kept the tenets of Hefnopt close to your heart. Sharing is caring, as the old saying goes.”

“I will try my best, High Cleric.”

“Excellent, I’m sure you will succeed with that attitude. Well, then. Best of luck with becoming a Druid, I hope it works out for you. Good evening.”

“Thank you so much. Good evening.”

Lucinda watched the High Cleric wander away from the house, before closing the door and heading upstairs to her room. She knew she should be downstairs helping to clear away after the meal, but she couldn’t bring herself to face her father just yet. His harsh words had had an effect on her.

Instead, she went to her window to try and coax more birds down to feed, but her inner turmoil was preventing her from reaching the same state of mind she usually employed, that or the birds were simply busy. Eventually, she went to bed.

 


 

The next few days flew by as Lucinda worked harder and more diligently than ever before. The actions of the High Cleric had really left an impression on her, and as happy as she was that her true calling was slowly coming into view, she still felt bad about letting him down.

With her evenings no longer taken up with a frantic search for answers, Lucinda was free to begin spending her time walking around the outskirts of town. She couldn’t travel far in the short time between finishing work and the darkening of the sky, but she enjoyed it none the less.

It was not until the evening of the third day after the High Cleric had dropped by for dinner that she received news from Saseligan. It came in the form of a letter, which her mother brought to her attention as she returned home from her walk around the lake just near her home.

Lucinda, there’s a letter for you on the table,” said her mother.

Thanks!” she cried as she rushed to it.

It was a perfectly normal-looking envelope made from slightly rough paper. On the front in a stylish flowing script was her name. Wasting little time, she ripped it open, eager to see the contents inside.

Dear Lucinda,
My search for a Druid to help you pick your desired class has been successful.
After a bit of back and forth between the two of us we have agreed upon the next steps.
Waflaw, the Druid in question, is willing to instruct you as long as you can prove that you are a suitable candidate.
His words follow:
If you wish to learn the way of the Druid you must pass my test.
I will be waiting in the forest just north from town. Come find me.
You have five days, after which I will depart.
Trust your instincts.
I hope that’s to your liking. It’s a bit vague I know, but I’m sure you will manage.
Best of luck,
Saseligan
P.S. I’d love to know how you get on. Feel free to come see me again.

Lucinda read slowly through the letter twice, wanting to be sure she’d understood every detail. Her reading skills were decent, a pre-requisite of becoming a Cleric, but the Wizard’s handwriting wasn’t particularly clear.

A test in the northern forest… It’s quite a big place, but five days should be plenty of time. Ah, but I still have two more days of temple work.

Despite her penchant for wandering, Lucinda hadn’t delved deeply into the northern forest. The closest part of it from the town wasn’t dangerous, as the militia patrols ensured the animals didn’t get any funny ideas about preying upon the townsfolk; however, further in was a different story altogether.

From what she knew of the animals she’d read about in books – the only type of book she really enjoyed reading – and her own experiences, she was certain there could be wild dogs, boar, wolves, perhaps a bear or two, and maybe even a mountain lion. Although, those were just the larger animals that might pose a threat to her, there would be plenty of smaller or simply less hostile kinds, and birds too naturally.

Lucinda pondered all this as she ate the meal her mother had left for her.

I have most things I’ll need already, but a quality staff might be prudent. I’ll need something to fend off the more dangerous animals, if I can’t manage to sneak my way past them.

She knew of a good shop that would likely have what she wanted. It was the same shop she’d purchased some trousers and walking boots from less than a year ago. A smile crossed her lips as she remembered how scandalised her mother had been when she’d asked her for some trousers. Lucinda didn’t care if they made her look boyish, skirts were simply impractical for traipsing about the wilderness. Not that there was much chance of her being mistaken for a boy anymore, not since her chest had filled out so noticeably. Something Lucinda blamed her mother for, as she had clearly inherited them from her.

After finishing her meal, Lucinda tidied up the kitchen and headed straight for bed as she had another long day of temple work ahead of her. It took a while for sleep to find her, with her thoughts racing about trying to come up with a plan to find the hiding Druid.

 


 

Another day of temple work passed by uneventfully. Lucinda had continued pondering her options as she worked, especially during some of the more mundane tasks. One thought that had struck her was a need to find out more about the landscape of the forest, which might give her some clues as to where she should start searching. In the end, she decided she would need to visit the library again, in the hope that Patricia could help her. But, before that, she decided to buy the staff she wanted.

Finishing up her work at the temple and saying her goodbyes, she set off in the direction of the shop. It was only a short walk to the south-west from the town centre to the building, whose front was adorned with various animal trophies that the owner used to lure in customers.

Upon entering the shop Lucinda met the familiar face of the proprietor behind the counter, Tom, a middle-aged stocky man with a small potbelly, who was in the middle of fletching some arrows near the back of the room.

Hi, Tom!” Lucinda called out with a smile.

Ah, Lucinda! How is my favourite young wanderer on this fine afternoon?” he replied, dropping his tools and coming over to greet her.

I’m well, thank you. And you?”

Oh, so so. Business isn’t exactly booming, but I’m sure it will pick up soon. But enough of that, what can I help you with today?”

I’ve come to buy a staff.”

A staff you say. I’m sure we can manage that. Got a new adventure planned have we?”

Yes, I’m heading into the northern forest.”

Oooh, my my. She’s grown up before my very eyes,” Tom replied with a chuckle. “Now I don’t want to quench your adventurous spirit, but you be careful in there, okay? Plenty of feisty beasties lurking in there, let me tell you!”

I’ll be careful, I promise.”

Glad to hear it. Now, let’s see what we can do about this staff.”

Tom moved over to a barrel of sticks, all of which were of varying size and length.

Hmm, these might be a bit too flimsy for defence in that forest. Give us a moment, I’ll check in the back.”

Lucinda let her eyes wander the store, while she waited for Tom to return. The shop provided almost everything anyone with an eye for adventure could need. Backpacks, portable bedding, cloaks, and cooking equipment. There were also weapons, though they were limited to bows, knives and staves for the most part. People seeking more serious weaponry were instead directed to the local blacksmith, which also ran a small weapons and armour shop.

Tom also sold leather armour, but as the town lacked a dedicated leatherworker, the selection was quite limited. It was unlikely he’d have something that fit her, not that she could afford it even if there had been.

I just hope the staff isn’t too expensive. My wages from the temple don’t amount to much…

Ah-ha, here we go.” she heard Tom call out.

Tom himself emerged back into the store moments later with a very large stick in hand, though it was really more of a branch. It looked to be at least one and a half times her own height, and was easily as thick as her arm.

Ha-ha! Quite intimidating isn’t it,” Tom said, upon seeing her concerned expression. “But, fear not, I’ll have this thing trimmed down to something a bit more appropriate. Why don’t you swing by tomorrow evening? I should have it ready by then.”

I thought something so large might take longer…” Lucinda replied.

Mmm, well as I said, business isn’t so hot at the moment. So, plenty of time to work on it.”

Ah, I see. How about payment then?”

Right, payment. Let’s see…” Tom continued, counting with his fingers as he did so. “Okay, the total works out at 1 silver and 90 copper.”

Ahhh, expensive!

There’s quite a bit of work involved you see. It will be well worth it though, I promise you. Why a staff like this will last you a lifetime if you treat it well. My skills combined with this quality oak wood will produce something quite exceptional after all.”

Is it okay, if I bring the money tomorrow?”

Certainly, how could I not trust the word of my youngest and prettiest customer?”

Thank you,” Lucinda replied, unable to keep a blush from forming on her cheeks at the compliment.

Well, have a good night then,” Tom said.

You too, bye!”

Exiting Tom’s shop, Lucinda made her way towards the library. She was concerned about the money she would have to spend on the staff, as it was almost all of her savings, but she wanted the best chance she could to find Waflaw in the forest. Failure wasn’t really an option, becoming a Cleric now, especially after the upset her decision to become a Druid had caused, would be extremely bothersome.

Arriving at the library a few short minutes later, she entered to find Patricia sitting in her usual spot, clearly enthralled by the thick book in front of her.

Hello,” Lucinda called out.

Oh, hello, Dear. Back again I see. Did Saseligan help you find what you were after?”

“He did!” Lucinda replied. Suddenly realising that she’d completely forgotten about Patricia’s part in it. “Thank you, he was really very helpful.”

I’m glad to hear it. Is there something else I can help you with today?”

Do you happen to know if there is a map of the northern forest here?”

The northern forest… hmm…” Patricia replied as a pensive look crossed her face. “We do have various maps here, but I’m not sure if there’s a detailed one of that particular area. Let’s have a look shall we.”

Patricia lead her over to a table that was covered in scrolls, each bound with twine.

Unfortunately, these haven’t been sorted in a while. I’ve really been meaning to get to it, but there’s always so many other things to take care of,” Patricia said, with a sigh. “And speaking of which, I really need to track down a particular book for tomorrow. Is it okay if I leave you to it?”

Yes, that’s fine. I don’t mind,” Lucinda responded.

In truth, she did mind a little. She only had an hour or so before closing by her best guess, and there were a lot of scrolls. With a quiet sigh of her own, she began searching.

The first few scrolls she opened weren’t maps, one was a rather poor painting of a dog, another a list of locations from the surrounding area and beyond. With another sigh, she began placing the opened scrolls into loose piles based on their contents, with the number of piles rapidly increasing as she opened more scrolls and took note of their strange depictions.

Finally, after 20 or so scrolls, she found a map. Her spirits rose as she unfurled the large scroll and scanned its surface. Her eyes soon found her town, sitting in the south-east of the area marked as the Kingdom of Prilemia. North of which she sort of found what she was after.

Oh, come on! Who represents an entire forest with a single badly drawn tree?

Lucinda continued searching through the remainder of the scrolls. After the first map, she found many others depicting a variety of different places; some close by she knew of, and plenty more places she’d never heard of. She even found one that seemed to be a map of some extensive cave network, though she had no idea where it could be, or what such a map was doing in the library of her small town.

She was about three-quarters of the way through the pile of scrolls when she finally found another map with her town on it, and to her relief, she found it was quite a bit more focussed than the previous one.

Ah ha, at last! This one shows the forest. Now, let’s see…

Lucinda spread the map out flat on the table she’d been stacking the scrolls and began examining the map.

The first thing she noticed was that the forest was quite a bit bigger than she had thought. Stretching from just short of the northern part of town, all the way to the foot of the mountain range to the north-west. A faint sense of despair took root in Lucinda’s chest as she thought about just how much ground there was to cover to finish her quest.

…I just need to approach this sensibly. Waflaw’s note said to trust my instincts… He must be hiding somewhere of note, not just any old patch of forest.

Lucinda’s eyes carefully examined the details of the forest on the map before her once more.

There’s a river running from the north, through to the centre and then out west. That might be a start… Or is that too obvious? Hmm… There also might be some caves along the mountain, maybe he’s there?

As detailed as the map was, Lucinda couldn’t glean any further information from it. However, with two ideas for where to start looking for the Druid in the forest, and a general idea of its size and shape, she was reasonably confident. Wrapping the map in its twine binding once more, she made her way outside of the library.

Back at home, she ate a small supper, tidied up the kitchen, and then went to bed.

 


 

The following day was Lucinda’s last day ever at the temple, or so she fervently hoped. She carried out her duties with careful determination, all the way up until the last hour of her shift. Afterwards, there was no great event involving her and the other temple staff, for she was just a trainee Cleric after all. That many of the Clerics she had come to know, and even the High Cleric himself, took the time to bid her farewell was a pleasant experience, however.

As much as she disliked the job, a part of her was still sad to leave it all behind. She had been there for almost a year, and become used to sharing the news of the town with the Clerics that worked there. But, as she finally departed for Tom's shop at the end of the working day, her excitement for her future as a Shifter soon pushed all thoughts of the temple aside.

Hi, Tom!” she called out as she entered the shop.

Ah-ha, there you are! Right on time too. I just finished work on your staff some minutes ago,” the shop owner replied. “I’ll go fetch it.”

Great!” Lucinda replied with barely contained excitement.

Lucinda’s thoughts drifted to fantasies of her fending off the wild denizens of the forest with her brand new staff in hand as she waited. Like many of the children at school, she had received some basic martial training. It was something that benefited nearly every class, as the world they lived in was a dangerous place, where even a craftsman could easily find themself in a situation where basic weapon handling knowledge could save their life.

For Clerics, in particular, there were usually two specialisations, as far as Lucinda was aware at least. One that focussed on using spells to bolster their own martial prowess, and the other that focussed more on using spells to heal allies and smite foes directly. Her father was an example of the former, as were a few other Clerics at the temple. But, at the local temple at least, they were outnumbered by the latter sort, which also included her mother, and the High Cleric.

It was for that reason that those wishing to become Clerics usually underwent some basic weapon training as well as spell work, allowing them to easily move into whichever specialisation they decided upon later down the line, and for Lucinda, the basic weapon training had been with staves.

Here we are,” Tom said, returning from the depths of the store with her staff in hand.

Oh, wow!” Lucinda replied as she took in the sight of it.

The staff looked very different from the day before. The huge bark-covered branch that had seemed so unsuitable for her had been masterfully transformed into a stunning piece of weaponry.

Lucinda took the staff from Tom’s outstretched hand to better examine it up close. It was just slightly taller than her, and of a diameter where she could comfortably wrap her hand around most of it, while the pale wood surface has been polished down to a smooth finish. There was no mistaking which end was which, for the top was still reminiscent of the branching fork it had once been a part of, as well as thanks to the rather intricate pattern the woodworker had carved upon it just below.

As she hefted it between her hands, she realised it was quite heavy, something she would have to get used to.

What do you think?” Tom finally asked.

It’s incredible,” she replied. “Thank you. You must have worked hard to have it finished for me so soon.”

It was no bother really. To tell the truth, I was eager to turn that hunk of wood into something wondrous, and I think I really succeeded. If you’ll pardon a craftsman's boast. Now, I hate to ruin the mood with business talk, but could I trouble you for my payment?”

Of course, here you are. One silver and ninety copper as we agreed on," Lucinda said producing the money from her purse, and trying her best to keep the pain at losing so much of her savings from her voice as she did so.

Perfect! A pleasure doing business with my favourite young explorer once again!” Tom replied with a wink. “By the by, once you're done with this latest adventure of yours, I’d love to hear about it. We could discuss it over dinner perhaps? I’ve got plenty of stories of my own to share too!”

Oh… is he asking me on a date? He’s older than my father…

Umm, thank you for the kind offer, Tom. But, I must pass, sorry.”

Not a problem, not a problem! Well then, take care now. Wouldn’t want to hear you’d been eaten by a bear or something. It would be terrible for business!” Tom replied with a booming laugh, as he waved her out of the store.

As Lucinda started her way back home, she sighed in relief. She’d never been very good at dealing with the unwanted advances of men. It wasn’t something she thought of too often, especially as being known as a Cleric in training had likely prevented many from broaching the subject. With a sudden feeling of mild alarm, she realised she’d have to be prepared for a lot of similar encounters.

Maybe I should ask one of the older women in town for advice… Though Tom seemed to take it well, maybe I’m not as bad as I think…

Her thoughts soon drifted back to the more familiar territory of how she was going to complete Waflaw’s task. She’d already packed a small bag with things she thought she would need: a waterskin, a small amount of dried food, and a knife she’d borrowed from the kitchen. Combined with her other travelling gear she was sure it would do.

She was tempted to start straight away using the hour or so of daylight that remained, but she knew she wouldn’t get far in that time. Instead she decided to contain her eagerness and get an early night, then set out at first light the next day.

After eating her fill and tidying up the kitchen she went to inform her mother of her plans for the next day. She found her mother seated in the study, working on something for the temple, or so Lucinda imagined.

Hello, Mother.”

Hello Honey, been visiting the library again?” her mother replied, looking up from her work.

Not today. I bought a staff from Tom.”

A staff? I hope it wasn’t too expensive, you should really be saving your money now that you no longer have the temple to rely on. Your father and I can’t support you forever you know.”

Umm, no, it wasn’t too expensive.” Lucinda lied, forcing her voice to remain steady.

Her mother fixed her with a piercing gaze, clearly unconvinced.

Ah, I wanted to let you know, I'll be out tomorrow.” Lucinda hastily added. “I’m heading into the northern forest.”

Must you be so reckless, Honey? The northern forest is fraught with danger, you know this.”

I know, Mother. But, I must! It’s part of my test to become a Druid.”

"Getting eaten by wolves is part of becoming a Druid? I find that hard to believe."

"I have my staff… I promise I'll be careful!" Seeing her mother's continuing frown, Lucinda hurried to add more assurances. "There's a Druid in the forest. I'm sure I won't come to any harm…"

Her mother persisted in frowning at her for several seconds more, before finally relenting.

"If you must, then I suppose you must." A quiet sigh escaped her mother's lips. “I'll have to trust this Druid isn't prone to letting potential students perish. And no mention of this to your Father; he has enough to worry about just now.”

Another meeting?”

Her mother nodded. “I think they're trying to decide what to do with those two arsonists still." She turned to look out the window before continuing. "I can't say what's taking so long. Usually, they'd be sent back across the border and told never to return. I suppose there is some complication this time." Turning back to Lucinda, she smiled wryly. "Something for us old folk to worry about."

You’re not old, Mother,” said Lucinda, beaming a smile at her mother.

“Aren't I? With my own daughter heading off into the forest alone, so she can unlock a class of her own choosing?"

I’m sorry, Mother. Becoming a Cleric just wasn’t for me.”

I know… It’s okay, Honey. I’m not upset really. It just hit your father and me so suddenly. Our daughter became her own person before we’d realised what had happened. But, no matter what, we’ll always love you.”

I love you too, Mother. And Father.”

Then promise me you'll come back safely, and that you'll tell me all about being a Druid when you pass this test.”

I promise… again.”

Daughter,” her mother began, eyes narrowing to slits. “You may be old enough to decide your own path in life, but don’t think for a minute you’ll ever be old enough to give me snark.”

Yes, Mother. Sorry, Mother,” Lucinda said, grinning at her mother’s mock seriousness.

Now, off to bed with you.”

Okay, goodnight.”

Lucinda took her staff from the hall upstairs with her, unwilling to leave her newest prized possession out of sight for the night. Following her mother’s suggestion, she wasted no time getting ready for bed. Her excitement for her upcoming forest exploration kept her awake for a time, and even when she fell asleep it was fitfully, with thoughts of what awaited her on the next day racing through her mind.

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Kurast

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Comments(17)
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Luxmes ago

Another good shapter, if a bit slow ^^ I like the elegant simplicity of your style ^^

BO0KW0RM ago

Hmm i just thought...i wouldn't be surprised if those shifter assassins were actually being held against their will and being used as exotic hunting animals. After all nobility tend to think like that and the winners are the ones who write history. Aaannyways don't mind me I'm just binging.

haikuotiankong ago

Looks like a very wholesome story so far. Some might call it boring but I find it cute and engaging.

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