Birds scattered as the old morning bell began to toll. Its deep echoes rang throughout the city of Pastrino. The noise was met by stirrings as the city below began to awaken, and the people rose from slumber to begin their day’s work. All except one: Trey Sted. He was still fast asleep like most mornings.
People were amazed how he could sleep through the morning bell since his house stood in the shadow of the bell tower on the wide hill that marked the centre of the city. It left any who were that close to the tower with ringing ears when it chimed, but Trey never stirred from his sleep.
“Trey, wake up! Trey, get out of bed!” his mother called from the doorway. Trey didn’t move. His cover was wrapped tightly around him like a cocoon even though it was the middle of summer. His mother called again. “Trey, get up now or you’ll be sorry.” Still he lay motionless. “I warned you, Trey.”
She went down stairs and left the house. A large aqueduct snaked its way across the city overhead, from which a pipe led down into the Sted’s garden, like similar pipes did for every other house in the city. You were always under the shadow of the aqueduct in Pastrino.
Sarah Sted had a way of waking up her son. She grabbed a wooden bucket and turned on the tap. A steady flow of water poured into the container. Once it was full she staggered back upstairs. She reached Trey’s bed and managed to lift the bucket just above his head. In one big movement she tipped it upside down. Water cascaded over him, and much of the room around it.
Trey’s eyes opened but his body barely moved. The remnants of water weaved through his long, dark brown hair, then soaked into his thin mattress. His green eyes looked tired, but they always had a shine deep within them.
“Morning, Mum,” he said, moving his dripping hair from his eyes. He’d gotten used to his unusual wake up but could never go back to sleep because his mattress was soaked. He yawned again and rubbed his eyes.
“It’s almost time for school so I want you dressed and downstairs in five minutes.” Sarah instructed him briskly.
“Yes, Mum,” muttered Trey as he eyed the soaked bed longingly.
Sarah left his room to carry on with her jobs, leaving Trey alone to get dressed. Getting up, he glanced around the narrow room. Between his bed, a chest, and a small bookshelf, there was little space left to move. He walked over to the chest where his school uniform was and just stared at the dull grey trousers and jumper.
Trey didn’t like school; that was, he didn’t like getting up at first light, he didn’t like crowds, and he didn’t like the uniform. The actual subjects were enjoyable enough, other than languages with Mr Xion.
Motivation was a hard thing to find for someone like Trey. Day after day he was forced to learn things that he would never need, all under the premise of future success. This meant little to Trey though since he had no grand ambition for fame or fortune. All he wanted from life was to live a quiet existence with enough money in his pocket to allow his mum the peace that she deserved. Learning a language from a country he would never visit just seemed a waste.
He got dressed then had a quick glance through his window at the city around him. That was what he liked most about his room; since his house was on a hill at the centre of the city, he could see nearly all of Pastrino. Not that there was a great deal of beauty to be found in the gloom of the aqueduct.
He could see the squat school off to his right and the tall shape of the old Sprite church to his left. He could also see the farmers’ fields in the distance, just past the city’s crumbling, once white walls. The winding aqueduct disappeared beyond the horizon to join up with a distant river that provided the city’s water supply. A crowded mass of grime coated white stone buildings lay below him like sea foam washing up on a beach.
With a yawn, he hopped down the stairs into the kitchen to get his breakfast. Trey loved his food and the thought of breakfast was the only thing that encouraged him to stay awake. The only time he could really eat until he was full though was at big events when he didn’t need to pay for the food. His mother had to look after him and the house by herself. She did other people’s odd jobs to get by.
His father had disappeared just before Trey was born and no one knew where or why. Some thought he was dead while others believed that he had just run away from his responsibilities. Trey had even heard some people call him a murderer, pinning the death of a young girl on him. Trey didn’t know the answer, and he never asked too much about it as he knew how much it hurt his mother to talk about it.
Trey grabbed some food and began to eat. Sarah had just finished wiping up the water that had fallen through the floorboards from Trey’s room and stopped to look at her son. His mother couldn’t work out why Trey was treated like he was. He just didn’t seem to fit in. He was distant, always in a dream, wandering through life without a direction or purpose. It was like Trey had his own little bubble and just couldn’t connect with the world beyond it.
He did have one friend though, Billy Delb. They had been friends all of their lives, even though Billy was more popular than Trey. They spent most of their school time together but didn’t see each other much outside. Billy had lots of clubs to go to and Trey enjoyed staring out of the window for hours on end just relaxing. Billy’s parents had been in the same class as Sarah during their school days and the friendship had been passed down to the next generation.
There was a series of knocks upon the front door. Sarah opened it and Billy stood just beyond. His short, light brown hair shone in the light of the sun and his brown eyes looked bored. He had a well-built upper body because of the hours of archery practice he did every day. His father was the school’s archery instructor after all.
“Are you ready, Trey?” he asked. “I’m really looking forward to school today.” Sarcasm dripped from his every word. He rolled his shoulders absently. Unlike Trey, Billy was never happy unless he was moving.
“Why?” Trey asked, thinking over the day’s schedule. “Oh.” He sighed. He remembered he had a language test first lesson with Mr Xion and then no good subjects afterwards.
If only he’d been born sooner, Trey thought. Back when his mum had been at school they had still taken practical subjects like swordsmanship. Then the former lord of Pastrino had passed away and was replaced with a man involved with the Neototes. They were a group that saw the past as nothing more than a hindrance to the evolution of society and tried to cut all ties to the more ‘barbaric’ ages.
“Come on then,” Trey said wearily, dispelling his sour thoughts as he pulled his school bag onto his shoulder. “Bye Mum. See you later.”
“Bye Mrs Sted,” said Billy.
“Bye,” she replied with a smile. “Be careful.”
“I’ll try,” Trey answered as he closed the door behind him. Trey had a strange feeling about today. He got this feeling whenever something was going to happen. Was it something good or bad, he pondered to himself as they walked to school along the same path they had used since their first day there. Maybe he would pass Language, that would be a strange miracle, he mused cynically.