The scowl seemed etched onto his face. He still muttered under his breath as he worked on the drawstring of his bag. Tied tightly, it would not relent, daring him to continue looking like a fool.
The mule brayed below, but the merchant’s apprentice was focused on the task at hand. The straw on the second floor of the barn would serve well enough as bedding, but a blanket he kept in his bag would make it all the more comfortable. He worked on the knot with his teeth, the leather drawstring too tightly bound to unravel. With that plan going unwell for a few moments, he took it in his hands once more, growling away his displeasure.
A loud snap delivered the news before he even realized what had happened. The knot was released, but only because it ripped fully from the bag. Its contents spilled out, rolling off the platform to the floor of the barn below.
“The gods hate me,” the apprentice bemoaned.
When he crept to the edge to see how his belongings fared, he was surprised to see the mule pulling away, the cart in tow. The farmer’s lad was there too, urging the beast of burden on.
“Hey, what are you doing? Those are my things.”
Once again, the boy only offered silence in return. He stopped following the mule and the wagon, though, averting his gaze as the apprentice fumed on the second floor. Hands and feet thumped against the rungs of the old wooden ladder, and the boy was face to face with the merchant’s companion.
“I’ve had enough of you,” he seethed. “Just leave me alone.”
With his head bowed, the boy stood his ground. “Leave,” he said meekly.
“Don’t worry, I don’t plan on staying long,” the apprentice returned. “I know where I’m not wanted.”
When the boy lifted his head and made eye contact, the apprentice felt the muscles in his body tense. He clenched his fingers into fists, ready for another altercation.
“Leave… now,” the boy pressed.
“It’s the middle of the night. Do you see how dark it is out there?” As he spoke those words, he considered how quickly time had passed. Even he thought it was early evening at worst.
In no mood to be argued with, the farmer’s son grabbed his arm. The apprentice pushed the lad away, ready to be pounced upon like before.
“Don’t try that again. I’m warning you.”
“Listen,” the boy said.
One of the shutters on the second floor burst open, and a furious gust of wind roared through the barn. The farmer’s son hadn’t severed eye contact in all that time, sending a shiver up the apprentice’s spine.
“Need to leave.”
A plaintive nod was set to the sound of the wind shrieking into the barn. “Fine. I’ll just go and get my—”
Before he could offer up any more thought, the farmer’s son had bent low and picked up the blanket. The apprentice reached for it, but the boy spun away and stepped toward the door.
“What are you doing?” the apprentice asked. “That’s mine. Don’t you dare do anything to that!”
The boy’s small, fleeting steps grew larger as the older lad grabbed for his prized possession. In a moment, he burst into a sprint the apprentice couldn’t hope to match. But with the blanket dangling behind as the farmer’s son ran, he charged after, despite the odds of catching the thief.
Wind roared out in the field, and beneath that rumble, the apprentice could hear another call. He looked toward the farmhouse, where his master frantically waved his arms and called his name. Undeterred, he continued after the farmer’s son.
“Get back here, you contemptible little—”
Before he could even finish his thought, a loud snap resonated across the area. He spun on his heel and noticed one of the barn’s shutters rip from its hinges, flung from the building into the crops on the end of the field. He understood, then, what was happening. The towering grey funnel advanced on the barn like an angry titan. With debris already swirling inside it, the apprentice knew how formidable the storm had become.
“Come!” he heard, a soft yet stern voice breaking out over the wind.
The farmer’s lad was by the old stone well, still clutching the blanket. Needing no further coercing, the apprentice sprinted in that direction.
The tornado tore through the barn like a shear through a sheep’s wool. Wooden panels, shutters, and the rear doors flung through the air, some inhaled by the behemoth, others cast aside like playthings. In moments, the barn could no longer support its structure, collapsing under the weight of so powerful a disaster.
Without wasting a moment, the farmer’s lad climbed onto the well, offering up a hand as the apprentice reached him.
“What are we doing?” he asked.
The boy answered with a nod, clutching the rope in one hand. With that, he leapt into the well, disappearing within, taking the blanket with him. As the twister barreled toward him, the apprentice knew there was only one way to go. He grasped the rope and slid down as fast as he could, until his feet landed on the old wooden bucket.
“Down,” he heard.
The moment he hopped from the bucket, it was ripped up out of the well. All was bright as the eye of the storm peered down at them, casting its sinister gaze their way.
Snatching the blanket away, the apprentice lifted it high over his head. “Come on then, help me!” he bade. The farmer’s lad did as instructed. No sooner did they have the blanket above them did the rocks fall down. Caught above their covering, though, they were safe from the storm’s wrath.
The roar went on for some time, deafening in their small sanctuary. The farmer’s son tightly closed his eyes, rocking where he stood. Even after the tumultuous funnel had moved on, the echo remained. They could feel in the air, though, they were no longer in peril. The apprentice lowered the blanket and saw the sky had grown bright again. The farmer’s lad averted his gaze once more as that light filled the well.
“Hey,” the apprentice said, clapping the boy on his shoulder. “Hey. Thank you.” He kept his eyes locked to the boy’s until he had his focus again. For the first time in a long while, he allowed a smile to stretch across his face.
“You boys all right?” they heard.
When they looked up, they saw the farmer and the merchant peering down at them.
“No worse for wear,” the apprentice said. “Thanks to your son, that is.”
* * * * *
The autumn air was crisp and cool, but the quartet worked to a sweat. It required some backbreaking labors, but not one of them complained, considering the luck they shared.
As he reached the top of the loft, the farmer looked out of the open side of the barn. The farmhouse stood strong in spite of the disaster that had swirled through the area weeks before. A scar had been left upon the field that would not mend for some time, but his home remained, and that was cause for celebration. A shrill whistle left his lips, and the three folk below lifted the final side of the barn. He aided them with a strong length of rope—the same one that had pulled the two younger lads from the well as the twister moved on.
Wiping his brow with his wrist, the merchant leaned against the wooden wall while the farmer lined up the joists. He looked to Tess, who grazed the grass outside the fence without concern. The cart was on that nearby dirt path, empty of many of the goods he and his apprentice had arrived with. A grin stretched his lips, for he knew they had gone to good use, assisting those in Sungarden affected by the tornado. Those provisions had not sold at an ideal price, but the merchant was never happier with barter than with those.
Though the twister had ripped through the farm and the barn, not one of them saw it for the disaster it was. The apprentice was filled with an abundance of mirth since his encounter with that deadly funnel, wearing a smile his master had not seen so prominently displayed in some time. He leaned against the final side of the unfinished barn, looking at his new friend, who stood just beside him.
The farmer’s son stared off to the north, the same way he did whenever he painted. He lent his weight to the crew, and as his father hammered the joists into place, the barn supported him rather than the boy holding up that side. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and though he didn’t spin on his heel to acknowledge the apprentice, he did turn his head just enough to declare, in his way, he was present and aware.
“All done,” the apprentice said.