Memories of a Humble Life

A few years ago

“Vernon, please slow down. You know I’m not as athletic as you” Valter ran to catch up with his friend, fumbling with a bag his mother gave him.
“Yeah, that’s cause you’re always at home with your ma cooking. If you came with any of the gatherers, especially the hunters, I’m sure that’d change real quick”
“There you two are, I was wondering how long everyone was going to wait,” Pasi and Kjeld stood waiting for their friends outside the door to a modest looking cabin.
“I had to convince this one pretty hard to check this out. You know how he worries” Vernon gave a friendly side-hug to Valter, who still seemed nervous about something.
“Yeah, when you said it was some adult thing you heard about, I was with you. Who knows, maybe there’ll be sparing or something” Kjeld punched his fist in excitement.
“F-Fighting? Vernon, you didn’t say anything about that” Vernon sighed.
“I don’t know, they might, but listen. We’ll make sure you don’t get hurt, okay? Right Pasi?”
“Yeah. We’re kinda taking you at your word here, Vernon, but we’re all friends. If something doesn’t feel right, we got each others back” Pasi patted Valter on the back.

They all entered the cabin and were welcomed warmly to this odd group. Members of many clans were there doing things from crafting, eating, some found the ears of other members and were speaking passionately to them, others were sparing in a makeshift fighting ring. Kjeld did pick a couple sparing matches and won about half of them, coming out a bit more bruised than he’d like. Vernon and Pasi were preached to about some pretty obtuse ideas, but some of it made sense to them. Vernon looked for Valter who was seen speaking to another member about his age off in a quite part of the cabin. He smiled as a sense of pride for his friend washed over him.

about 3 months later.

The four were sitting eating a mid-day snack out in the forest together. Since joining this strange group, Valter had started coming more out of his shell and joining the others in the forest.

“I’m excited for our next meeting. I’m hoping I can beat Bjorn this time” Kjeld hopped down onto a log and rummaged through his pack.
“Whenever you two fight, it’s always a bloody mess. I worry one of you isn’t going to make it out alive” Pasi chomped on her trail ration that Vernon’s mom made.
“That’s what Oddi says is the bettering of the soul. Facing your conflicts head on and pushing yourself to the limit” Vernon recalled, shooting a glance at Valter.
“I think that’s supposed to be less literal than what Kjeld does,” Valter mumbled through bites of rations. The others laughed. A smile grew on Valter’s face which then made Vernon smile even more.
“I just hope Hilda doesn’t try and kiss me again. I like talking with her, but she seems to think I want something more. I just like that someone likes doing things at the camp as much as I do” Valter thought out loud, the others listening politely along.
“Yeah, someone just as odd as our Valter” Kjeld ruffled Valter’s hair.
“What, and you’re normal?” Vernon chided.
“For some clans, yes” Kjeld rebutted.
“We’re all a little odd, let’s be honest. That’s what makes us wonderful, though” Pasi intervened.
They all smiled and continued eating their rations.

Present time.

Vernon sat, alone, on a log near a river, reminiscing on these times as he stared into the rushing water. They started creeping back into his mind more and more now as he settled into his new life in Runehiem. He hoped if ever he saw his old friends again, things would be like this again. He had a pit of doubt in his chest that this would not be the case, however.

The Woodsman’s Hope

((Sentences or parts of sentences in all capitals seem to be written by a much more frantic and chaotic hand))

The warm summer sun shone down through the verdant canopy as a woodsman, new to this particular area, trudged on through the underbrush. There was a bit of a reprieve from the hotter-than-normal summer Njordir was having in the cool shade of the forest just outside Runehiem, but the evidence of hard work and exertion showed on this man’s clothes and brow. His pack, filled with materials gathered from the land, weighed on his shoulders, albeit still a burden he could bare. His clan taught him well the value of hard work and respect for the land. He ventured toward the top of a hill deep in the woods in search of a vantage point to get a lay of this new land, as well as a place to sit to enjoy his hand-made trail rations.

As he shifts through the brush, steps over fallen trees and rocks, and skips over small sinkholes, he thinks back on his parents. They were so caring and knowledgeable in their craft and taught him much raising him. HE’S JUST SO DISAPPOINTED THAT THEY HAD TO BREAK THE FAMILY APART. They taught him the best mixture of nuts, berries, flour, honey, and just a bit of animal fat to make these trail rations just the right thing for a hungry gatherer. All he’s learned in life has been from either his parents or his clan, EXCEPT VIOLENCE. He still misses them, EVEN THOUGH THEY DID THE UNTHINKABLE. As the woodsman sits on a fallen log atop the hill to enjoy his trail rations, he looks out into the forest and hopes he continues to make friends in this new village. For the short time he’s been here, it’s felt more and more like home AND WHERE HE BELONGS. He sees new paths forming toward bright futures, and not only the one involving taking a priestly vow. As he’s dwelling on the new friends he’s made, he finishes his trail rations and is ready to venture forth again.

He looks back from where he came, and a small ephemeral bird darts across his sight line. It was so quick, even the trained woodsman couldn’t fully catch it. He looks toward where it went and is met with just the typical sight of the dense foliage with several rays of sun piercing through the canopy for illumination. A voice stirs in his mind, “I HOPE YOU ENJOY YOUR LIFE, EVERY ASPECT OF IT”. He blinks a few times and shakes his head. For good measure, he takes a drink from his water skin, and tries to focus on the voice again. Nothing but the chirping of the birds, the buzzing of insects, and, in the distances, the soft rushing of the river. He says a brief prayer for safety and turns to make his way back to his work and to town. This incident sits uneasy in his mind, BUT AS SOON AS HE LEAVES THE FOREST AND GETS BACK TO TOWN, IT IS OF LITTLE CONCERN TO HIM. He finds peace in his community and the act of helping them with their needs.

Over the next few weeks, during days when he ventures not into the wilderness, the woodsman is found practicing archery in whatever suitable open area is available, mostly out of preparation for the next season’s hunt BUT ALSO YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU NEED TO PROTECT YOURSELF. His thoughts, again, drift back to his parents. His mother was such a dependable hunter and member of the clan, BUT SUCH A DISAPPOINTMENT IN THE END. The clan trusted her with many a folkwise and leaned on her frequently for food and clothing for the winter. WHY DID SHE HAVE TO DO IT? WHY? WHY? WHY? The woodsman, gathering his arrows from his last volley, had tears welling up in his eyes. He wiped his eyes, nocked another arrow, and took just a second to aim. Just before he let the arrow fly, he closed his eyes and let images of hope fill his mind. Next he opened his eyes, he was met with the arrow jutting from the center of the makeshift target. “The light of Benalus is the gateway to hope, the road to salvation. I feel I have hope, so I must be on the right road,” The woodsman mumbles to himself.

Demon of the Rime

This place is more cold and desolate than you could have warned me. I haven’t seen any living foliage other than towering evergreen trees in nearly five months. Snow covers every inch of this hellscape and continues to fall during the nights. Our force has slowly waded our way through spring snow towards the Rime clan front lines, though where they have gone since the initial report has yet to be confirmed. We number nearly forty fire mages accompanying a larger force of troops. I must say, our numbers should easily overwhelm a nomadic force of Njords.

We rose before dawn to signs of a smoking fire over the ridge. Our quarry had been found, and we readied our formations to march upon our enemy.

Even in my months here I have never acclimated to the way my feet drag through the snow on a march. The cold numbs the pain of my thighs dragging me forward up the slope. At the crest of the hill I could finally see them, maybe 200 men around an intentionally dying fire. My breathe slowed as my eyes fell upon him, a creature of immense size towering above his men. His eyes shown red through his skull covered face, large bony spikes protruding from his shoulders. Murmurs among the men started; we had found a Rime clan demon.

Our troops clashed upon the open snow quickly stained red by the carnage of battle. This demon crushed men before us, cleaving them in two with an unnatural ease. My ears rang as my unit repeatedly cast on our enemy. His men slowly fell before us, but as did ours in even greater numbers slowly dwindling to nothing.

He stood there before what was left of us, alone. I could sense it, this impending despair and recognition of our desperation to live.

‘Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia’

Unflinching, his skin crackles and burns away slowly.

‘Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia’

The wind rips through the battlefield, crackling with the scent of burnt air. I wipe away at my eyes, my sleeves stained with bloody tears.

He crushes Alexi’s skull in his hand and his body falls limp to the ground.

‘Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia. Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia. Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius…..

His hands closed around my throat as he heaves my body off the ground.

Praepotentia.
An inferno engulfs us both. Screams of agony rise as flesh melts away from bone. And then, there is only silence.

Prologue: The Raid on Vissvind

The barracks in Vissvind was warm, almost stuffy from the bodies crammed inside it. The garrison had swelled recently as tales from the north had heralded a renewed war against the Rime Clans. But the tales were distant and muddled. There weren’t enough trainers for the new recruits and Arne found himself running awkward drills for the new blood.

His arms were sore from fresh effort after years of mostly gentle guard duty for King Einsland. He rubbed them absently and stood, stepping outside for some fresh air despite the bitter cold. The days blended into one another. Guard duty at the north gate. Guard duty at the south watchtower. Guard duty at the port. Training in between. Sleep in a hay bed. Bread and occasionally fish to eat. It wasn’t a bad life, but Arne sometimes wished for real battle. The dreams of his youth. Earning a Name.

Arne’s eyes wandered to the horizon where a lazy curl of smoke ascended into a darkening sky. He followed its pattern absently, marveling at the freedom of wisps as they defied the pull of the earth. And then he shook his head. Smoke on the horizon. The guard at the north tower saw it a split second after and the alarm bell rang. Arne was about to get his wish.

*****

Blood spackled Arne’s raven helm as his axe bit deep into the neck of Rimelander before him. Hollow Song, he noted with disgust. The torn faces hanging from the dying man’s belt perfectly exhibited the evil that Arne was fighting. The boy fell, Arne swiftly pivoted to deflect a heavy hammer blow from a raider with filed teeth before that opponent was impaled by spears.

Thirty five years. That’s how long since the Rimelanders broke their oaths. They had been allowed to fester on the fringes for too long. Arne shattered the knee of a bearlike oathbreaker and wrenched his axe free with a sickening crunch. Like chopping wood, he mused with a tinge of dark humor. He stepped over the man as his companions finished him off and surveyed the battlefield. He could see the signs of rout already in the enemy’s movements. Subtle hesitations, a pause too long while they seemingly looked for a new opponent.

And then one of them ran. Arne grinned to himself at the inevitable cascade and joined in the infectious roar of victory with his comrades.

He stopped cheering before the others. Hollow Song this far south was a rarity. Overturner’s report of the Rime Clan Althing was now public knowledge, though it was difficult to tell what was true and what was embellished. Apparently, a new clan called the Sons of Ulfrandr had tried to force others into following their mad, bestial god in the same way the Bearking had united the clans long ago. But the Rime Clans had proven as fractious and treacherous as ever, most abandoning the Althing and their traditions.

With their renewed internal conflict came more raids to the south. This had been one of those and while Arne’s own Frostravens had hurried to the aid of this settlement, the smoldering wreckage of homes and blood on the snow revealed the true danger of the raids- their speed. Arne absently touched the leonem hanging from his neck and offered a prayer to White Benalus to help guide the fallen and protect them from Sveas.

A call from his companions broke his reverie. The glory of battle was over, but the Church taught that was only the beginning of their labor. Now comes the rebuilding. Hefting a fallen beam over his shoulder, Arne rejoined his band and got to work.

Do You Like Honey Tarts?

“Miss Clodagh, what is for dessert at the dinner party?” Rosomon asked in excitement as she watched the woman’s gnarled hands knead dough. She and the other staff had been preparing all week. A guest would be visiting, and the entire estate was in a tizzy.

“‘Tis a secret, little Rose.”

Rosomon’s eyes lit up at the nickname, “Mother said not to call me that…”

“Hah!” The woman laughed, “And do you always do what the Lady says?”

The girl’s lips broke into a full smile, knowing full well that she did not.

“Ach, I won’t be telling ye,” she insisted. Looking at the girl a moment she said, “But I will give ye a hint on somethin’ else.” Clodagh set the dough aside to rise again then turned to pull a quill and parchment from a drawer. Rosomon watched her curiously, wondering what sort of hint it would be.

Clodagh returned and handed her a paper, “Here ye are.”

Rosomon looked at the paper:

Hares & Boars
Nuts & Berries
Ye’ll Not Know
What We’re Makin
Til You Figure
Out The Writin

Her eyebrows furrowed, “This is not a hint!”

“Ah, everythin in this life is a hint – ye just need t’ solve the puzzle.” With that, the woman turned back to her craft.

Rosomon hopped off the counter and moved to a stool in the corner as another cook came in to assist Clodagh. She stared at the poem, rereading it over and over. Eventually she went through the side door into the garden. As she paced she noticed the misplaced punctuation makes. At first he had thought them ink droplets, but now they began to seem intentional. Dots, letters, dots, letters – her mind worked to make the connection. How could dots give her a hint?

“Ah ha!” Rosomon ran back into the kitchens to find Clodagh alone again. “Honey Tart!”

She turned to look at the girl, excited eyes and breathing heavily as if she had just run across an entire field. “Aye.” With that, she moved to an oven to pull out a tray. Dishing out the fresh pastries onto a plate before moving back to the girl still standing in the doorway, she bent to kiss the child’s head, “Happy Birthday, little Rose.”

The girl hugged her again for a minute.

“Now, get goin – I’ve got a lot to do and not a lot of time,” Clodagh shoos her out.

Rosomon takes the plate runs back out of the door. She ran across the bailey, hoping to find a cozy place to enjoy the tarts. Not looking where she was going, Rosomon ran into a pair of legs. She followed them up to see a tall man covered by a dark fur mantle. Everything he wore was dark, except for the grey peppered at his temples. His hair was pulled back, and she could not tell how long it was.

“Pardon me,” she said with a smile, still excited about her treat and solving the puzzle.

The man looked down at her curiously but did not look away. She was small, but he thought she may be older than he had initially thought. Flying through the bailey without a care as she had, the man figured she was probably not as demur as her father would have liked.

“Do you like honey tarts?” she queried.

“Pardon?” he replied in a deep voice.

“Honey tarts – do you like them?”

“Indeed – who would not?”

The girl held up her plate to him and said very seriously, “As an apology, sir, I would split them with you. I can assure you, they will be the best you have had.”

His lip tweaked. Sir? What an interesting child. “Apology accepted,” he said as he reached to grab his tart.

She watched him expectantly as he took the first bite, “Well?”

He simply nodded to her.

“Are you visiting? I can show you around.”

“I am, but exploring will have to wait. Can you direct me to the Baron?”

He watched the girl deflate a little, “Of course.” She grabbed his hand and started pulling him along. “Mr. Hayworth, will you please stable this man’s horse?” She did not notice to look in the man’s eyes as he froze watching them pass. “I am Rosomon, by the way.”

They ascended the steps. He opened the door for her, “It is a pleasure, Rosomon. I’m – “

The Baron’s hurried footsteps sounded through the entry. “Count!”

Ribbons & Dresses

Port Melandir
~
“Nana!” Rosomon exclaimed as she ran into Lady Faulkner’s arms.

“Ah, my little Rosomon,” she said, holding the girl tightly. “What have you been up to of late?”

The girl’s nose scrunched as she looked at her grandmother, “Studying, mostly.”

The older woman laughed, “Ah, well best not show your father this, then.” She pulled a wrapped gift from a nearby shelf.

“Thank you,” the girl said before running off to the other side of the sitting room to show Maegi her gift.

“Mother,” Isamina chastised.

“Oh hush now, girl, neither you nor that husband of yours is going to prevent me from spoiling my grandchild.” Sitting down primly on the settee she continued, “I still cannot believe, after all these years, that you were able to convince your father marry you off to that man.”

“Love, mother. Love is how I convinced him.”

She harrumphed, “Money is more like it.”

“Have you heard of this day’s Parliament yet?” Isamina attempted to change the topic.

“Nay,” she said. “But I suspect we will at the Gale’s party tonight. Hah! We are not even in North Pass and they were able to put together an event!”

She looked over at her granddaughter who was in the middle of sorting the gifts and heard her say softly, “Look at this ribbon, Maegi! Here, it matched your eyes!”

~

Rosomon looked around the room crowded with imposing, well-dressed figures.

She felt a hand at her back. “Don’t wander off tonight,” came her father’s voice. They made their way to Viscount Gerald and his family. “Gerald, I was pleased to see you did not yield to Lord Bradford’s demands this time.”

“The man simply does not know when enough is enough,” he replied.

As the men talked, their wives caught up on the day’s ventures. Lady Peronell had found a lovely shop by the harbor with all of the latest imports from Hestralia.

Rosomon’s mind drifted off her gaze wandered. She spotted several other children around, most her age or older. She saw one girl with long brown hair and a pretty red dress. She looked down at hers – her family’s colors – and wondered why none of her dresses were red.

“There you are,” she turned at the familiar voice. “Kirk, you remember Rosomon,” Gunter told him.

“Of course, how could I forget your little thing.”

Gunter chuckled. “How have your lessons been going?”

“Very well. I have been studying the history of Rogalia.” She did not mention that she was mostly learning about where everything was located and other basics.

“Oh? Seems a heavy topic for a girl, especially one so young. What are you now, five?”

“Nearly seven,” Rosomon straightened. “Pardon me.” She turned around and walked a table with an assortment of treats on it with Maegi in toe.

“Those boys do not seem very nice.”

Rosomon looked up to see the girl in the red dress. “You are not entirely wrong,” she said, glancing behind her.

“I am Lady Alexandra Gale,” the other girl said.

“A pleasure to meet you, I am Lady Rosomon,” she replied. She paused for a moment, but could not hold back, “I love your dress!”

The End is Red

Rosomon, all of six years old, started her day as she had for nearly three years, sitting in the solar, focusing intently on the paper before her.

A A A a a a B B B…

At least, she tried to focus. The window kept drawing her attention. It was a beautiful, sunny day. She wanted to go outside and run around – maybe find someone to play with.

Sighing, she turned back to the letters and numbers before her. No fun was to be had here. Still, she wrote and wrote, methodically dipping her quill in the ink before returning it to the parchment.

“Morning!” A hand that was suddenly on her shoulder startled her, and the quill scratched across the paper leaving a large line. She knew she would have to start over, as her father would never accept such a thing.

She straightened address the older boy before her, “Good morning, Gunter. You startled me.” She looked pointedly at the mark on her paper.

“No matter – you can write just fine, so do it again.”

“Indeed, I certainly shall.” She pulled a blank sheet before her and picked up the quill.

A A A a a a B B B…

“You will never believe what I did today,” he said prodingly.

H H H h h h…

“Oh?” she replied without looking up.

M M M m m m…

“Yes…” Gunter went on to tell his story.

Z Z…

“Rosomon!” He grabbed her wrist to jerk her to face him, causing a mark to mar this paper as well. “Were you listening to a word I said?”

“You bested Marcus Olson at swordplay. Then the two of you went to the lake and found a boy catching frogs… and you threw stones at him,” she finished disapprovingly.

He pulled back to look at her a moment. “That’s right. ‘Bested’ is stating it lightly, though. I doubt he will even have the courage to challenge me again.”

Silence grew for a moment. “Ah! I nearly forgot! I have a gift for you,” he said proudly.

Her head canted to the side. “Truly?”

“I do.” Gunter took a step back to stand tall before her. He reached behind him, then bowed with a dramatic flourish. “My Lady,” he said holding a large rose in full bloom before her.

Her eyes lit up. “It is beautiful!”

“Of course – it is the first of the season.” He straightened and said kindly, “And it is for you.”

She smiled at him as he held it up to her. It was fragrant, and the petals looked soft to the touch. Gunter looked at her expectantly, so she reached her small hand to take the rose.

“Ouch!” She exclaimed as her hand closed around the stem.

A laugh cut through the air.

When she made to let go of the flower, his hands came up to caress hers. The move looked kind, but it exerted pressure to keep her hand closed around the stem and thorns. “Now, Rosomon, you do not want to drop your present.”

Her chin trembled and she felt tears behind her eyes, but Rosomon refused to cry. “Let go,” she said.

Gunter looked at her curiously, “Why would I do that?” The pressure increased slightly.

Knowing it would cut her hand more, Rosomon tore herself free of his grip. With one last glare she moved to leave the room.

“What? You don’t like it? Is it not enough? I can get you more!” He laughed behind her. “Come back.” When she did not follow his bidding, he stormed after her. “Rosomon. Come back. Agh! It was a joke!”

Finally reaching the door, she rounded on him, “There is nothing funny about using thorns or stones to hurt people!”

He froze, aghast, but before he could speak she was out the door. “You are no fun,” echoed after her.

Rosomon’s steps grew more hurried. She did not bother going to her parents – she would find no comfort there. So, instead of the rooms, she headed to the door leading to the garden. It was there she found her solace.

Bent over pulling carrots from the soft soil was Clodagh. The old Dunnick woman was always there for her.

Clodagh turned when she heard footsteps racing toward her; she barely had time to catch the child that flew into her arms.

“Miss Clodagh,” came a tearful voice, slightly muffled from her skirts.

“What ‘tis it then, little lady?” Clodagh stroked the girl’s soft curls.

She held up her hand, realizing that the rose was still clutched in it and little streams of blood trickled down her wrist.

“Ach! Whatever happened?” she asked, pulling Rosomon to a bucket of clean water nearby. She took the flower and set it aside, then began cleaning the cuts that looked too big on the girl’s little hand.

“Gunter played a trick,” she sniffed. Clodagh could see the girl was near tears but trying to keep them at bay.

“Hold fast, Rosomon,” she said encouragingly. “Life is uncertain. One day you get a rose, the next you feel the thorns – but the end result is red.”

Herding Sheep

“Rosomon,” Baron Renauld said sternly, “I have had enough of you running off to Banalis knows where! How many times must I tell you not to go off on your own?”

The young girl before him stood biting her lip and looking up with innocent eyes. She appeared sincere enough when she said, “I am sorry, Father,” but the effect was a bit dampened as she was covered head to toe in mud.

The man rubbed his hand across his face in exasperation and sighed, “Yes, I know you are – you always are. Run along and get cleaned up now, Rosomon.” The girl wasted no time in leaving. He opened his eyes and met his wife’s gaze across the room, “Fine.”

Isamina smiled, “The servant girl has herded sheep her whole life – she can easily herd a girl half her age.”

The Baroness had been trying to convince her husband for months to let her bring in someone to watch over their wayward daughter, who had a penchant for mischief. Isamina had spoken with her mother on the matter; the Faulkner Lady had laughed at her expense saying she ought to find a shepherd.

After thinking more on it, she knew her mother was right. She had heard mention of a girl – Maegi – who was nearing thirteen. The girl was an orphan with no family to speak of, meaning there would be no interference. Isamina had heard the girl was maybe not the brightest, but was humble and biddable. ‘Twould be perfect.

Do You See It?

A warm breeze brushed through the trees scattering freshly picked flowers. It was not strong enough to blow away the ones knotted together, though, as little Rosomon had been set about her task for the better part of the afternoon.

She looked up at the happy sounds coming from the other side of the bushes hiding her. She had been so focused that she did not realize the other children had gathered their flower crowns and are now ready to leave. “Maybe next time,” she said quietly, watching them go.

So badly did she want to join them – but she knew better. The last time she attempted as much they ran away before she could even say, “Hello, I am…” Had she scared them? Sometimes children are scared of silly things. She was afraid of that painting in the hall and Mother’s cat and even the pudding that Miss Cladogh loves to make. It was truly terrifying how the candlelight casts a jiggling shadow on the dining room wall! She did not think she was particularly frightening, but maybe they did… Regardless, she would rather learn to make their flower crowns than anything Mother would make her do – so behind the bushes she stayed.

At last, her crown was done. She placed it on her golden curls and scooped up the remaining flowers in her little hands. Making her way up the path toward home, she hummed a song the children like to sing. It was a lively tune, and she began to skip along.

As the house came into view, she noticed the sky beginning to change color. Perhaps she had been away too long?

Ascending the steps, her wrist was yanked on from below sending her stumbling back down. “How many times must I call your name!?”

All she could see are Gunter’s familiar blue eyes bent close to her face. “I am sorry, Cousin,” she replied kindly, already used to his moods.

The eyes narrowed for a moment before he leaned back to stare down at her, still holding her wrist too tightly. A charming smile came to life on his face, “Very well, then. Come… I have something to show you.”

The taller boy charged up the stairs, towing the girl along, headless of her having to nearly run to keep up and clutching flowers to her chest. He continued on, starting and stopping abruptly to vier through the people before reaching another set of stairs. The girl had never gone up the spiraling staircase before – Father had forbade her. She tried to tug away, but the boy simply tightened his grip and hauled her forward.

She did not understand why he insisted upon dragging her everywhere, for she would follow him if he would but ask. But, no, this was always how it was no matter how old they were. She could not remember a time when he did not tow her about. Sometimes he would show her interesting things, but she knew that when he finally let her be her wrists would be sore for the next two days.

They reached the top, and she froze there, forgetting to breathe because of the beauty before her. Everything was coated in red with the setting sun – the leaves, the grass, the stones, the people…

The boy took her closer to the edge and stood beside her, “Look at it all… Do you see it?”

Of course she saw it. What did he mean? He was surely a confusing boy.

She must have not been paying him enough attention, because he grabbed her chin and grinds, “Do you see it?”

Her eyes widen, “Yes.” It was the same as she had seen her whole life. What does he want her to see?

Seemingly satisfied, he let her go and turns to the view, “Did you hear? I will be leaving soon.”

“Oh?” she was having a hard time following his thoughts.

“‘Tis an honor, really. I will train more, and I will fight. I will show those in defiance that they will never win.” The boy stepped closer to the edge. “Do you see it?”

The girl did not like this anymore, but he tugged her to the edge with him before she could step back. “Do you see it?” All she saw was the fever in his eyes as his gaze met hers. “Since you are clearly too simple, I shall tell you. It is mine – everything my eyes land upon. The mountains. You. The trees. That horse. Everything.”

The boys chest puffed out in pride, but his eyes narrowed once again when she did not immediately concur. “Fine – you can just stand here until you can see it…”

At last he let her go and stepped back, but her arms flashed out to balance her trembling frame. In her effort, the crumpled flowers fell from her fist. As she watched them sink to the ground below she thought, This is not silly.

A Thing of Duty

“I expect you will teach him well,” Viscount Gerald told his friend.

“Of course,” Renaurd responded, clasping the young boy on his shoulder.

Gunter was but five years of age. His blue eyes sparkled in excitement as his father attached a wooden sword at his side.

“Take heed and listen well. You are becoming a man – it is your responsibility to learn to protect this domain,” Gerald told him firmly before stepping back.

The men stood talking for a time, and though the boy listened intently, he could not truly follow the conversation at hand.

“Go say goodbye to your mother, Gunter.”

The boy nodded, excited to be able to move. He was not entirely sure what was going on, but he knew that his father and mother would be leaving him here for a time. And he knew his father deemed it important.

He went to join his mother and Lady Isamina who were clustered near the well looking at whatever the lady was holding. They seemed transfixed, cooing at the thing.

“What are you looking at? I want to see,” he said indignantly upon approach.

“Here you are,” Isamina said. She turned the bundle to face him.

“What is that?”

“Tis a babe. Her name is Rosomon.”

The boy moved closer, “It’s hideous!”

Peronell gasped, “Gunter!” She could not believe the child had said that.

“It’s quite alright,” Isamina said as she laughed gently. “She may not suit you now, but one day she will.”

The boy hummed doubtfully.

“Trust my, little Lord, she will. It is her duty. After all, she will be your wife.”

He thought on her words as he stared at the babe wrapped in a blanket. She yawned and shifted, just waking up. “You mean she is mine?”

The women looked at one another and shrugged delicately. “You could say that,” Isamina replied.

“Well then,” he said, pointing at the babe’s face, “you had best do your duty well! I am doing mine.” He was not entirely sure what “duty” was, but the grown ups sure liked to talk about it a lot.

The babe just cooed happily at him and reached for the finger before her, not knowing in the slightest who the boy would become.