The Black Kestrel: A Witcher Tale
Kade is apprenticed to be a Witcher
A/N: Not even remotely the creator of the novels, a game designer for CDProjektRed, or a showrunner over at Netflix, let alone for Hexer or any other property possibly related to the Novels.
A/N 2: I’ll get back to other works soon, I’ve just been out of the writing groove for a while thanks to having no computer. This is helping me get back there.
Kade rubbed his nose. The scent of the tanning and curing was always so strong and he wasn’t a fan of that smell, despite it being present every day of his life. Of course, he helped his father and brothers at work despite being the youngest of four boys. True, that helped basically manifested itself as carrying buckets of water or bringing in fresh straw for the floors, since he was just barely five years old, but he stayed busy trying his best. Market day was coming and some of the traders coming from far and wide might be interested in buying some of the prepared leather they had, as well as things that could be found here near the foot of the Kestrel Mountains. Kade was really proud of his dad because he even made leather good enough for armor use, which fetched decent coin.
Hefting the laden basket higher, Kade moved into the tanning house and over to where his father should be. Taking lunch to his father and brothers was also part of his job, and he was proud of himself that he could carry all that food by himself. While he couldn’t see them, he could certainly hear them, plus one other voice, gruffer than anyone he was familiar with and with little inflection, “…like I said, I wanted to see what there was available before the Market. If the quality is good, we can set up a recurring purchase so you have reliable income.”
Peeking around one of the vats, Kade could see his father standing with his arms crossed, looking over at the mysterious man dressed in all black armor with a strange sort of bird-like medallion dangling on his chest. He was wearing two swords and strong looking leather armor as he stood there, unmoving. What made Kade gasp was the yellow slitted eyes, that flicked his way when he made that noise. His father replied, “I’m not comfortable working with Witchers.”
“And that’s why we always pay in gold,” stated the strange man.
“Are you trying to bribe me?” growled his father, seemingly upset.
With a shrug the man replied, voice calm through it all, “A little. Basically, this is a business venture, we would like five hides a season, prepared as for armor. Someone from the school will come down to pick them up and pay you for the next order. We recognize the value of your skill and are trying to make sure that you have the money to buy the goods and prepare them for us. How is that a bad deal for you?”
As his father was musing this Kade saw no reason to hold back, coming up next to him and lifting the heavy basket, saying, “Da, lunch.”
His father smiled and took the basket from Kade. He had been carrying it with both arms and his Da lifted it with ease. This Witcher, whatever that was, was looking at him curiously. Turning back to the conversation, his father caught the look on the man’s face. “What?”
“Your son, if you wish, he can be apprenticed up at the Aerie. It is an honorable profession after all.” The statement was flat, with little apparent care, as if the statement were nothing so important. But if it weren’t important why would he say it?
With a slight growl, his father turned to face the man, “That’s not for discussion.”
“Fair enough. I wanted to put the option out there because I know you have four boys.” The Witcher shrugged and pulled free a bag of coin. “None the less, like I said I have payment on me right now for the hides and as an advance on another order.”
Putting a hand out, his father took the bag of coins, and looked inside, “Fine. You can have these five here and I’ll be sure to have another five ready for you next season.”
“Thank you, Goodman, it has been an honor working with you.” The man turned and started to walk out, “I have a few more stops to make before I leave. Can you have someone prep them for me?”
With a nod, his father dismissed the man from his thoughts. He opened the basket and grabbed a hardboiled egg, consuming it in two bites. He looked over his shop, his three eldest, and over to the house before looking back down at Kade. “Kade, go be a good lad and fetch your mother.”
“Yes Da!” Kade turned and ran back towards the house, far enough away that the smells of the leather work and tanning were not as potent. He was nearly distracted by a puppy but was able to maintain his focus long enough to reach the house again.
His mother was on the porch, mending shirts when he came back, occasionally rubbing a hand over her belly. Apparently, he was going to be a big brother soon, which sounded exciting. Stopping in front of her, Kade said, “Ma, Da wants to talk.”
“Fine, lunch is inside.” She put her mending down and headed towards the tannery, leaving Kade to eat. After he was done, he wasn’t sure what to do. His mother usually told him to do something by now but she was apparently still over at the tannery. He shrugged and set to work tidying things inside. It always made his mother smile when he helped out with the house.
It was a short bit later when she came back into the house and saw him, switching out the rushings. Her lips were firm, eyes wet, but he was unsure as to why. Why was his Ma sad? “Kade, you need to bundle up your things. Your Da decided to apprentice you out and you’re leaving today.”
Eyes wide in surprise, Kade weakly questioned, “Ma?”
She came over and hugged her boy, running a hand gently down his hair. “It’s alright son. We knew this was a possibility. You’ll be missed, be sure of that, but I’m sure you’ll make us proud. Now, get your things.”
Kade slowly gathered his extra shirt and trews, his leggings and warmer coat, with his blanket. His mother gave him a set of the wooden utensils his father had carved over the winter and then helped him bundle it all up and bind it with an extra length of leather cord they had lying about. Unsure of what was going on, he kept looking around the house as if it was going to be the last time. She walked him to the tannery, where his brothers were looking solemn and slightly dour. His father knelt by him, “I’ve thought about it and decided you’re going with that Witcher. They are a strange but honorable guild that fights monsters keeping regular folk safe. Apprenticing you has always been the goal, Kade, but nobody has been looking. This way I’ll know you’ll be taken care of.”
Kade felt his heart tighten, but he stayed strong and nodded, “Yes Da.”
“And maybe you’ll come in from time to time, hey. After all, I do have a standing order from them.” The smile his Da gave him was not the strongest but was enough to calm his racing heart.
Kade nodded. He sort of understood what was going on.
“Okay, say goodbye to your brothers and then wait by the leather order, there’s a good lad.”
When the man came back, he spoke with his father for a bit and then hefted the rolled-up hides. “It has been a pleasure Goodman.”
His father grunted and looked over at him, “Go now Kade. May the Gods bless you.”
Kade ran up and hugged his father, who awkwardly removed him from his leg. “Go now son. Be brave.”
With a teary nod, Kade turned and followed the Witcher outside where he had a horse and a pack animal. With deft skill he secured the leather to the pack animal as well as his bundle. He mounted his horse, bent down and picked him up from the ground with little visible effort. Soon they were riding out of the only world Kade had ever known and into the dark forest beyond.
Kade was too scared or nervous to talk and the Witcher seemed disinclined to converse with him. The forested trail leading up into the mountains was mostly quiet, with animal and bird sounds scattered here and there. The trees were tall and thick though as they rode higher the trees thinned and grew shorter. Smaller scrub and rocks predominated and the trail was slightly wider. As the sun began to fade the Witcher made camp in a small copse of trees, not giving him any directions, simply setting everything in order with the ease of long practice.
Once the fire was going, the Witcher set a pot on the fire and began to prepare some food. When he spoke it surprised Kade enough that he jumped, “So boy, wondering what you have been given over to?”
With a bob of his head, Kade answered.
There was a slight grimace, before he said, “Do you know what Witchers are?”
“Not really sir. You fight monsters?”
“Right. There are various groups of us gathered into schools, and like you said, we fight monsters, such as Bruxa, Kikimora, Dragons, Drowners, and the like. We do this for pay, getting money from nobles and village headmen. We are well paid for our services for the most part because we have the knowledge and skill to do this and survive. However, to do this we are changed to be able to fight against such foes. I’m taking you to the School of the Kestrel, which is up deeper in the mountains. I’m from the school of the Griffin, and I have been through… similar processes. They’re not easy and could kill you, but if you make it through you can save many people’s lives.”
That sounded okay, more like a fairy tale than the truth but here was one of them right in front of him and he had those strange eyes despite being human. “Changed?”
“Aye, changed.” The Witcher looked right at him with those yellow eyes. “Surely you’ve noticed my eyes?” Kade nodded. “That’s just one of the changes. I’ll let them tell you about it, because Kestrel is not the same school as mine, so there are some major differences.”
“But… afterwards I can fight monsters?” Kade’s voice shook a little as he asked that.
“Oh yes, you can most certainly fight monsters. Now sit and I’ll tell you about some of my hunts, so you can have an idea about what life on the Path is like.”
Kade did as he was told and sat with wide eyes as the man spoke of hunts he had been on, villages saved, lives changed, even about once fighting a dragon. As the flames died out, sleep claimed him and his dreams were filled with heroic acts out of legends.
A few days later those dreams seemed like mist. They crested a ridge and castle came into view. The Aerie was a foreboding castle built on the slopes of the Grand Kestral, the peak which the range was named after. The keep had strong walls and only a narrow pass up to the gates that looked easily defensible. It was also the first castle Kade had ever seen. If he hadn’t been seated in front of the Witcher on the man’s horse it’s likely he would have stood there all day just trying to take it in. Once across the drawbridge, it reminded him a little of his village which made him frown. Weren’t knights and stuff supposed to be in castles, not just regular people?
“Jerome! You’re back.”
Kade looked over at the voice and the largest and strongest looking woman Kade had ever seen was standing inside the gate. She had black hair up in a braid, wearing armor and had a single sword strapped across her back with a dark wood recurve bow in her hand. There was a faint scar across one cheek and some on her arms. She was the most impressive woman Kade had ever seen. No one in the village even remotely looked like that.
“Greetings Margarethe, I got you set up with the local Tanner, and a few of the farmers. There are some miners who have made some interesting finds but they wanted some time to think it over before providing ore. I have the leather and food you requested,” replied Jerome with a smile. “They weren’t happy with making the deals but they did agree.”
With a nod, Margarethe looked over at the boy and asked, “And who is this?”
“Kade, the Tanner’s fourth son. He’s here to be apprenticed.”
Her eyes cut from the boy to Jerome, “Is he now.”
“Yes, the charm you gave me indicated that he had whatever it was your school looks for. When I get back to mine, I’ll pass that idea along, as it might help with recruitment. And if he’s strong enough you can see if any of my father’s formulae are workable with your system.” Jermone slid from the saddle and took the reins. He walked the horses closer as he spoke.
“Yes, well… we’ll see what Trimaeus thinks. Thank you for this.”
“Well, I owed you for putting me up over winter.” Jerome shrugged as if it were no issue, then helped Kade down from the saddle, moving him so he stood in front of the woman.
Margarethe nodded and looked down at Kade, who shifted uncomfortably under her yellow eyes, “Well, you’re not the only boy here to try his luck. Let me take you to the others.”
The lower area of this castle was filled with different wooden buildings. He spotted an armor maker, a weaponsmith who seemed to double as a general smith as well, and a few other tradesmen. The castle seemed well fortified as well, though there were a few spots of rubble and wear. Moving up a ramp to an inner gate, Margarethe took Kade from the lower courtyard to the lower bailey. In a smaller but more open space there was a group of young boys, no more than four of them, running in a circle, being watched over by a tall thin man with dark black hair, similar to Margarethe’s and a wicked scar crossing his face. He wore twin swords and armor, like the other Witchers he had seen. Margarethe stopped an called out, “Varnir! Got another one.” She then turned to Kade, “Go on over to them, they’ll take care of you.”
Kade clutched his bedroll to him safely as he walked over to the others, who had been called to a stop and were panting on the ground. Varnir stood over the small boy and appraised him for a long few minutes, “You shall do. Put your things down and join us.”
Varnir ran them hard, so hard Kade actually started throwing up. Since the man didn’t tell him to stop, he kept trying, wanting to make his family proud of him. If he was going to be a hero he had to start somewhere.
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