cowered, hands curled into fists like tiny
seashells, his father’s wrath exploding over him
in a crimson tide. “Do you know how much they
his head meekly, dark curls mousy and smooth
around his face. “--- I’m sorry --- I --- I”
big man spat the word as if it tasted fowl, thick
pale hand unconsciously gripping the heavy haft of
the axe which jostled for belt space along with
the bulging belly in it’s heavy doublet.
kind of Lord Adder will you make --- eh?” the boy
mumbled, wide blue eyes intently studying the
assorted dragon and horse dung as if it were some
impregnable castle he would be expected to storm.
beery face of his father clouded and reddened like
clotting blood. “ --- red dragons cost! Money! ---
a month’s! tithing! ---“
sorry I --- didn’t mean to leave the gate open ---
I --- I ---“
stopped, the big heavy fist punctuating his
sentence like a fleshy full stop. There was no
sense of his father’s hand even moving, one second
he was cowering against the stable door, the next
he lay face up, his ears ringing, a bruise
flowering on his pale cheek.
reached down to seize his son’s curls in one
muscular scar-knuckled mitt, dragging his son up
from the dirt of the stable yard.
Crying?” the huge stubbly face creased
with suspicion, bloodshot eyes narrowing like
arrows approaching their targets.
the boy cried, trying to stand and take the weight
off his hair. But he couldn’t lie, he could never
lie. Even as he spoke he felt the familiar pricks
at his eyes, the dull aching heat in his head.
are crying” Lord adder’s voice was deceptively
quiet, but the boy could see the unshaven chin
jutting pugnaciously like the nose of a questing
I’m not.” He
shook his head, blinking rapidly, curls bobbing
like dark trees in a sudden gust of wind.
lie to me! –“
he saw it, saw the thick naked arm with it’s
tracery of battle scars and bloated muscles,
whirling through the still summer air, but even
though he saw it there was nothing he could do.
he was smashed down into the sulphurous dirt of
the stable yard, but this time on his face.
Quickly the boy scrambled to his hands and knees,
his pale face browned with dung, a cut oozing
blood on his temple where a stone had gashed him,
and the big purple bruise of his father’s first
blow flaming across his cheek like an invading
army on a map of campaign.
scrabbled to his feet, his light blue shirt and
hoes smeared with mud and dung. “--- I’m --- sorry
all you can say? Sorry! Sorry! --- why don’t you
stand up like a man?”
weighted breathlessly, but Lord adder’s hands
remained clenched at his sides like huge
menacing stones weighting for the catapult. The
big man’s small piggy eyes flicked over the boy,
as if looking for a weakness in an approaching
battle line. Finally the huge shoulders shrugged,
muscles moving beneath the heavy cloth of the
of my site”
turned gratefully away, hoping his father wouldn’t
see his thin shoulders shaking beneath his blue
shirt. head ringing, his cut and bruised face
thick and smarting with pain, he half staggered
across the stable yard towards the gate that lead
out into the dusty road that ran up the hill past
the main mass of the castle.
–“ the voice boomed behind him, like a volcano
giving a warning rumble. Stavris turned, his
dirty battered face beneath it’s disordered curls
filling with fear like a dark liquid --- what had
he done now. “It’s
all for your own good you know Stavris”
breath held in thin lungs to see if his towering
father would detect the tremble in his voice, but
the volcano remained silent, it’s lava flow capped
turned and walked slowly away from the gate
until he was sure that he was out of his father’s
site --- then he ran.
would have thought, seeing the mud streaked
battered child in his thin summer shirt and dung
stained hoes that he was the sun of a lord, Lord’s
suns didn’t pelt Pell Mel up dust covered
highways, feet flying like frantically freed
birds. Lord’s sons didn’t shed small diamonds of
moisture from their wide blue eyes, that left
strange lines of pale clean skin in the encrusted
dirt on their faces. Lord’s sons never stumbled,
Nor did lord’s sons fall, face first, down into
the rode, sunlight splashing onto their backs in
the hard packed earth of the road gather itself
into a dusty fist and strike him hard in the
stomach, knocking the breath from his chest in a
gasping tear filled rush.
alright young man?” The voice was soft, smooth as
honeyed silk. Stavris felt a long adult hand grasp
him gently by the shoulder and draw him
inexorably upwards, like a gardener uprooting a
plant. Stavris stood slowly, and turned to face
the firm hand’s owner.
thing Stavris saw was the robe. It was red, a deep
rich red like wine, and though the dust of the
rode had settled in patches around the hem, the
robe seemed strangely clean, almost sterile.
second thing he saw were the man’s hands, resting
like patient spiders in his voluminous sleeves,
squat delicate hands, deeply tanned like those of
a farm labourer, but smooth as a noblewoman’s.
looked up and saw the man’s face. Perhaps up
until that moment things could have been
different, perhaps until then the tide of fire
blood and usurping violence could have been
averted, like a roaring river channelled into
another bed, but when he looked up into the
travellers face the wheels of time and fate
clicked into place like iron doors closing.
It was a
strangely unremarkable face, deeply tanned like
the hands, framed in shoulder length brown hair
tipped with sprinkles of grey, the eyes dark,
wise and hooded like an intelligent owl, a
moderately handsome middle-aged face. But There
was something wrong, something indefinably and
horribly wrong. Maybe it was the pattern the
deeply etched lines made in the smooth tanned
skin, maybe it was the slight hint of cruelty
about the full lips. But whatever it was, it made
Stavris feel a strange fascinated fear, as if it
were a site so terrible he could not look away.
in a mess.” the voice
was gentle and kindly --- like a snake.
Stavris’s voice was defiant, Lord’s sons didn’t
go crying to total strangers, especially ones that
were so ---- (wrong) --- unusual.
course ---” the thin lips smiled like shadows.
“--- It must make you feel so angry --- so
helpless, --- falling.”
started in spite of himself. Around them the
summer fields were totally deserted, small copses
and woods ranging the horizon like fences to keep
out the sky. “--- who are you?”
shook himself as if shaking off sleep, and
shoved his hands into the pockets of his hoes.
“--- ah --- I haven’t introduced myself. My name
waited politely for the stranger to state his
profession or village of origin, Horgrim of
Lichfield perhaps, or Horgrim the mage, or Horgrim
son of --- but nothing came, just Horgrim.
Stavris --- Lord Adder’s son.”
Horgrim bowed, his long red robe sweeping the
ground and sending up little puffs of dust like
the smoke from tiny fires. The boy’s face broke
into a wide smile, his eyes flashing and blazing
like sapphires. It was good to see someone bowing
to him, especially someone who seemed so “Wrong”
– powerful as horgrim.
skipped quickly across the road to seat himself
on a pile of sun warmed rocks, a Lord should sit,
while his inferiors stood. “What
are you doing hear?”
The Man in
red turned to face him, his hands folded
respectfully at his waist. “I
am a seeker after knowledge”
felt faintly disappointed, surely someone as
(Wrong), strange, as this man would be more than a
boring old mage.
smiled, raising both arms so that his heavy red
robe billowed out around him like clouds of
smoke. Then he swept his hands downwards
fingers pointed like claws.
side of Horgrim a warrior appeared, eclipsing
the dusty surface of the rode and the fields
behind like suddenly shut curtains.
warrior was dressed in thick brown leather, his
stubbly unshaven face sweating and grimacing from
beneath his rust splotched helm. In one thick mitt
he held a plain dull axe with a heavy shaft, it’s
edge notched and scarred, matching the scars on
the warrior’s bared arms.
was a huge roaring figure, it’s armour a vibrant
bloody red, it’s hands clutching an axe that
looked as though it had been forged from the sun
itself. The blade was gold, but not soft pliable
metal, a rich hard gold like burnished steel mixed
with diamond. Along the Axe’s double edged head
and across the slim haft, were carved a forest of
entwined figures like serpents dancing.
was brief. The leather clad fighter had no
chance, sweeping course clumsy blows at his
magnificent opponent’s head and body, which the
red knight seemed to dodge as lightly as a
feather. Then the death blow.
watched with interest as the gleaming axe blade
berried itself in the brown fighter’s thick
squashy belly, his eyes widening in pleasure as
blood spurted from the dying man’s mouth in a
spluttering red sheet. The boy’s battered dirty
face grew sharp and hard and full of joy, his lips
draw ring back from his teeth in a shark like
snarl, his whole body tense as a bowstring.
every second of the brown warrior’s bloody death
had been played out, Horgrim lowered his hands and
the figures vanished slowly into summer air.
Stavris leaned back, rubbing his dung caked hands
on his thin muddy shirt.
was just an illusion.”
glowered accusingly at Horgrim, --- it had been
good but he’d been expecting something ---. “Yes,
an Illusion –do they teach you of Magic, at the
question came so suddenly out of the flow of honey
that Stavris had answered before he could stop
himself. “yes. --- but not real magic. Just
illusion, and elements and stuff.”
that disconcerting smile again, beaming across the
air between them like visual poison.
fixed Stavris with a piercing stare from his dark
you mean by ‘real’ magic my lord?"
--- err --- stuff about death --- and err –“
one podgy childish hand and started counting the
points on his grubby fingers. “--- How to make
people do what I want, --- and --- err daemons ---"
raised an eyebrow. “--- Like this one? Erroch!!!”
The creature that
settled on Horgrim’s finger was small winged and
pointy, it’s skin scaly and greenish black like
something that had decayed. It’s wings ware a
large fowl shadow in the summer air.
--- that’s? ---“
eyes grew round and sparkling like crystals, a
childish smile playing across his face.
“--- yes. Erroch is ---"
hesitated, as if seeking for the least offensive
term. “--- a walker of the lower path”
repeated, leaning forward to get a better look at
the creature. Horgrim leaned forward too, his dark
eyes gazing into the child’s, lips twisted and
smiling, his (Wrong) face full of generosity.
can command him if you like my lord. --- Surely
there’s someone you’d like –“
Horgrim hesitated again, like a
merchant making a delicate offer. Around them the
summer fields were still in their haze like calm
rippling water. “--- Somebody you’d like --- hurt?
– some pain you’d like done to someone"
reached a hand unconsciously up to his face,
feeling the hard warm smarting bruise on his
cheek, the oily crust of blood on his forehead,
remembering trembling and cowering and hidden
townspeople agreed, that Lord Adder’s death hadn’t
been too soon. True, he had always charged taxes
that were slightly too high, and true, he did tend
to spend more money on fine hunting dragons and
rich food than on bettering his town but you had
to feel sorry for him. All poor lord Adder had had
to cope with in the last three years, riding
accidents, broken bones, infections and a
seemingly constant state of illness, the
townspeople agreed unanimously that for a man
who was plainly so unlucky, death was probably a
kindness. True that left poor young Stavris ---
only eleven, to take over, but the townspeople
felt sure that the boy would be fine. After all,
he had that nice (Wrong), tutor of his; the one in
the red cloak with the dark (wrong), eyes and soft
his name ---- Horgrim! That was it, a good man
they were sure, even if he was a little ----