With my eyes closed, I let myself hear the sounds of the quarter. The hum of talk, the rattle of carts, the clopping of hooves. It was all part of the background noise; always there, but almost never heard, never concentrated on.
I liked to use it to focus myself. I’d tune into it, in a sense, close my eyes, breathe deeply, and be calm. We were all taught calming techniques in the early years, but I’d varied it.
Today, I had need of it. Apprenticeship Day was never easy for any who’d just turned eighteen. In this quarter, my quarter, it was harder and tougher than most. Spots were rare, reserved for those with true talent.
Those who were true performers.
We had a uniform of sorts, us future apprentices. There was the wood bracelet around our wrists, something worn by everyone throughout the land, except for royalty. Some had it in metal, a mark of rank and wealth. Mine was simple, fairly pale, not the dark woody colour that was so common. To a trained eye, one glance would show my qualifications. My training years, my gender, my age. Soon, it would also show my master’s name.
The rest of the uniform varied. I pulled on the worn clothes, a daily ritual, not paying much mind to them. They would be replaced soon anyway. By the time this day ended, all I’d have left would be my essentials, and my bracelet.
The bell dinged, a musical chime, ringing out over the quarter. I brushed loose bits of hair off my face, sending a quick prayer to the gods hoping that it wouldn’t break free of its braid. Today of all days, I had to look presentable.
As performers, we liked to stand out, to be special, and to attract attention. It was a requirement. As a person, I didn’t. Especially on days like today. Society didn’t reward it.
My feet skipped down the wood stairs, my shoes skidding slightly on the dirt at the bottom, a cloud of dust forming around me. I didn’t give it time to settle; already I was off towards the quarter square.
Each quarter of our kingdom had a ‘square’, a central place to gather for important occasions like Apprenticeship Day. Each quarter had their own assigned day, none of them overlapped. The puppet masters up in the Eye had it worked out well.
My head flicked to the left, my braid whacking down on my shoulder as I did so.
“Yes,” I said deftly, marching with determination as Beth joined me.
Beth snorted at that, and I glanced sideways at her. She looked nervous, she could never hide her emotions as I could. Whilst pretty, with blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin that would no doubt help her to secure a place of some degree of importance, she was not a natural talent. She was a legacy, born into this trade. We all were, to a degree, but most of us had nurtured our skills.
Beth had preferred to go off chasing knaves.
I didn’t comfort her, there was no point. We had no control.
The dirt settled on us, around us, stirred up by the feet of my heorþgenéat.
“Welcome, learners of Quarter Musiq. Roles will-“
The speech began, the same as always. I’d heard it before, many times, but never before had it applied to me. Still, I found myself drifting, observing my fellows instead. It was easy to spot those who had a handle on their emotions, those who were sure to secure rich apprenticeships.
Gabe, from two lanes over, was standing to my left, and back a few steps, his face carefully schooled.