Here’s an excerpt from The Apprentice Diaries:. The Journey Begins YA/Companion series of the Assassin Chronicles:
Just off of the highway to Narbonne and east of the old Medieval City of Carcassonne, in the southern part of France commonly known as the Languedoc, Armand de Bleu stood behind his Master’s modest cottage of crumbling light blue stucco and stared wistfully into the limbs of a dead thorn tree. Beyond the tree he could see the ancient bastion walls of the old city, but it was not the ancient structure that held his attention, but rather an oddly shaped bird’s nest in the branches of the tree. If the old limbs were not so treacherous, he might have climbed up to take a better look, but no need to injure himself further. He was already sporting a number of bruises, scrapes and scratches from sweeping the chimney, roof and a fall through the rotten shingles on the potting shed. The rake stood idly in his hands and he felt himself drifting mentally to another place and another time. It seemed he could remember someone calling his name. A sweet, melodious voice.
“Armand, mon bonbon!”
It was his mother’s voice from years and years ago. Armand had been only two years old when his mother had kissed him goodbye and left for work one morning. He had never seen her again. His only relative, an older sister had raised him after that or rather he seemed to have raised himself at his sister’s apartment in Paris until one day she had come home and said ‘Good news, little brother! I have a surprise for you!’ The surprise had turned out to be the Order, and still, he had no idea how his sister had gotten him into the elite Academy. Furthermore, he rarely ever heard from his sister after that. She had moved from Paris to somewhere in America. He sometimes received postcards or short notes from her, but they were always very impersonal and never had return addresses on them. Just postmarks from different American cities.
He dragged his attention back to the little walled garden and looked around, sighing once more. The place was a mess. Dried weeds, dead potted flowers, broken down benches, roots, dead leaves, overturned paving stones and piles of unidentifiable debris leftover from storms. Already, he had made headway with the rake. A sizable mound of trash and leaves lay against the west wall where he planned to build a mulch bin. If it weren’t for the presence of Sir Argonne, this would have been a pleasant ‘punishment’. He actually loved gardening and had learned a lot of tricks and useful information from the old gardener, Angelo Gamelli. Angelo was a wealth of information and he was fun to talk to.
Inside an old chest in the work shed, he found a pair of worn work gloves and the roll of wire fencing, his Master had told him about and went to work fencing in the compost heap. The work was good and simple and took his mind off of Christopher and what might be happening back at the Villa. Soon, he was hot and sweaty and in need of a drink of water. He stripped off his shirt and hung it on a dilapidated rose trellis on his way to the well. He loved the little well most of all.
It was made of field stones, had a sturdy framework of solid timber and a little red-tiled roof. The only thing he’d had to repair was the rope, which had rotted away. Again the potting shed had provided a blue nylon water skiing tether that made him wonder when his Master might have ever gone water skiing and with whom? Water skiing implied fun and fun did not mix well with James Argonne, but the tether made a perfect rope for the well’s wooden bucket. He dropped the bucket into the well and heard the splash. He stared at the little nest in the thorn tree as he cranked the bucket back to the top. It seemed like he could see little points of light there, but it had to be the sun shining through the twigs. He shrieked as ice cold water splashed his face, neck and chest.
The bucket hung above the well walls, sloshing back and forth full of water. He pulled the bucket to the top of the wall and set it down. Oddly enough, he thought he heard splashing noises below and checked the wall under the bucket to see if part of it had crumbled away, but the wall was in good shape. He used his cupped hands to drink his fill of the cold, clear water and felt at once invigorated and renewed. A cooling breeze kicked up and he smiled. If Argonne never came back from his ‘quick jaunt’ into the city, he would be happy here.
He splashed more water in his face and sat down on the ground leaning his back against the well. The little overrun garden was a magickal place full possibilities. Behind the garden was an open tract of land where a little elbow grease might result in a decent grapevine. Two old olive trees shaded the west side of the house. The roses, near the root balls, were still alive. They needed mulch, and food, and water, breathing space from the weeds, and he would have a fanciful trellis covered with running roses. There was room on the south side of the potting shed for a kitchen garden and plenty of pottery jars and pots for herbs. Yes, he could do well here. All he would need was a few Euros a month for staples, a bicycle or a donkey to ride to town, a few chickens and maybe a cow, and he would be happy. He leaned his head back and looked up at the bright blue sky. The sun shone on his face and soon his eyelids grew heavy.
His eyes snapped open and he was horrified to find that darkness had fallen around him. He could see nothing.
“Armand! Help me!”
He leapt to his feet and strained to see in the darkness. Numerous colored orbs floated in front of his eyes. The outline of the stone wall was barely visible under the moonless sky. The cottage was a hulking black shadow in front of him. The wind had grown colder and he shivered, wondering where his shirt was.
“Armand! Hurry, Armand!”
The voice he had thought only in his imagination called to him again.
“Christopher?” he whispered as he recognized the American’s voice. “Is that you, mon ami?”
“Help me, Armand!” the voice was hollow and seemed to echo in his ears. One of the colored orbs darted into his face and he closed his eyes instinctively.
“Where are you?” he called when he recovered. “Christopher?! Where are you?!”
“I’m down here!”
Armand turned slowly and gaped at the well in horror. A green light glowed up from below, lighting the little well house in an eerie hue.
“How did you…” he gulped and back up. “How did you get in the well, my friend?” he asked, his eyes wide in the gloom.
“I need your help! Throw down the rope!”
Armand started forward and then stopped. Impossible. This could not be. It had to be a trick, but whom? How?
“Please, Armand! It’s cold down here!”
Armand let out an involuntary screech, leaped forward, knocked the bucket into the well and then jumped back. It seemed the crankshaft spun forever, zinging loudly as the bucket of water descended into the well. He heard a distant splash, more splashes and then nothing.
“Christopher?” he asked tentatively after a few moments, fearing he had hit the owner of the voice on the head. Nothing.
“Christopher?! Are you there?!” Nothing but a few splashes answered him. He edged forward and placed one hand on the handle of the crank.
“Chris?” he whispered and then shouted as the rope suddenly went taut. The well house creaked under the strain and the green glow brightened noticeably. The rope vibrated and moved back and forth slightly as if someone… or something was climbing the rope.
“No!” he shouted suddenly. “No! No! No!”
Armand dashed forward and pulled his knife from his pocket. He grabbed hold of the rope and began to saw on the cord with his pocketknife. The knife slipped and he cut his hand.
“Ow!” he shrieked as blood ran down his wrist. “Ow, Sacre Bleu!”
“What did I tell you about swearing, Armand?!” his Master asked him sternly. “What are you doing?!”
Armand jumped to his feet and looked around. The sun was slanting down behind the garden shed and his Master stood arms akimbo, scowling at him.
“I should have known!” he growled. “Sleeping. I expected more of you.”
“I’m sorry, Sir,” Armand muttered and went after his shirt that was still hanging on the trellis.
“Get inside and get cleaned up,” Argonne ordered gruffly. “I’m hungry. I brought some groceries. Maybe you can peel some potatoes and I’ll cook up some au gratin for us and salad greens with boiled eggs, eh? How about that?” Argonne tried to sound a bit more conciliatory, but Armand knew it was just a ruse. He knew very well that he would peel the potatoes, cook the au gratin, feed most of them to his Master and then his Master would kick back with a book while he scrubbed the kitchen.
Before he went back inside the cottage, he glanced over his shoulder at the well, but saw only darkness inside the well house. The bucket sat where he had left it.
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