The Accidental Apprentice (Wilderlore #1) by Amanda Foody

ONE


Barclay Thorne knew almost all there was to know about mushrooms, and there was a lot to know.

He knew the poisonous ones never grew on trees. He knew the red ones with white spots made warts bubble up between toes, but the white ones with red spots cured warts, welts, and pustules of all kinds. He knew which ones made you drowsy or loopy, or could even knock you right dead, if you weren’t careful.

“You’re supposed to be taking notes,” Barclay hissed at Selby. Both boys were apprentices to their town’s highly esteemed mushroom farmer, but because Barclay was older and smarter, he was the one in charge. And he took his position very seriously.

“I c-can’t write and walk at the same time,” Selby blubbered, clutching his quill with his whole fist. Selby was a very pink boy. He had a pink nose and pink cheeks, like a plucked chicken, a resemblance made all the worse by his buzzed blond hair and stocky frame.

In nearly all ways, Barclay was the opposite. Though three years older, he was so short and skinny that Selby would likely outgrow him before next Spring. His dark eyes looked like ink smudges on his papery white skin, and his shoulder-length black hair was combed harshly to both sides, slick with oil to make it lie flat.

He didn’t see what was so hard about writing and walking. He doubted it was harder than reading and walking, and Barclay rarely walked anywhere without an open book in his hand.

The two apprentices had been assigned an extremely important mission to find a rare mushroom called the Mourningtide Morel, and for this, they had ventured to the edge of the Woods.

The Woods was no average wood. It was so large that no map could fit all of it, so dangerous that no adventurer dared explore it. It loomed to the west of their town like a great shadow.

The trees along the edge were gray and spooky, their trunks twisted like they’d been wrung out, and their branches reached up like claws toward the overcast sky. It was quiet except for the rustle of decayed leaves and the snaps and cracks of brittle twigs beneath boots. This was the only time to find the Mourningtide Morel: that bleak in-between part of the year after the leaves had all fallen but before the first snow.

Selby stumbled over a tree root and bumped into Barclay’s back.

“It would be easier to write and walk if you weren’t always looking over your shoulder,” Barclay grumbled.

“But we’re so close! You know what Master Pilzmann says about—”

“We haven’t gone in. And the town is right there.” Barclay pointed behind them to Dullshire. Their small town crouched on a knobby hill, encircled by a stone wall covered in spears, like a giant thorn bush. The people were about as friendly as thorn bushes as well. They didn’t like laziness—naps were expressly forbidden. They hated visitors—visitors could mean tax collectors, circus performers, or worse, Lore Keepers.

The only things the people of Dullshire loved were rules. But they only had one rule about the Woods.

Never ever, ever stray inside.

Because the Woods would trick you if you let it, leading you too deep within to find your way out.

And deeper in the Woods lurked the Beasts.

But Barclay, being a dutiful apprentice, would never dream of breaking Dullshire’s most important rule—especially because of how often he got in trouble for accidentally breaking so many little ones. He would do exactly what he’d come here to do, and that was to find the Mourningtide Morel. With or without Selby’s help.

Barclay didn’t understand why Master Pilzmann had insisted Selby come along, or why he’d even taken on a second apprentice in the first place. Dullshire didn’t need two mushroom farmers. And when Master Pilzmann retired, it would be Barclay—not Selby—who took over for him.

After all, Barclay made sure he was the perfect apprentice. He took detailed notes in neat cursive handwriting. He had memorized every mushroom species in The Filosopher’s Field Guide to Finding Fungi volumes one through nine. Even Master Pilzmann himself had claimed that Barclay was the hardest-working boy Dullshire had ever seen.

Which was why Barclay refused to leave the mission empty-handed. He needed to prove to Master Pilzmann that he only needed one apprentice.

“I’m not leaving. Not yet,” Barclay declared, and he continued marching along the tree line.

Selby followed but whimpered as they walked.

As the older apprentice, it was Barclay’s responsibility to comfort Selby—not just to teach him. Selby had never been near the Woods before, and even Barclay, as experienced as he was, still thought the twisted trees looked a bit frightening.