[Fanfiction] Wind-Whisperer (1st book) - Chapter 1

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[Fanfiction] Wind-Whisperer (1st book) - Chapter 1

Post by Ommariuolo »

Chapter 1 – Lyraine
Spring was at the door. Melted snow dripped from the roofs everywhere, the carriages sank into the thawed mud, and the children enjoyed it so much. They hunted across the courtyard and square, over muddy path fortifications, unturned carts, clung to torn rope connections, jumped over balconies and tried their luck balancing on slippery battles. Their laughter echoed up to the upper floor of the fortress, where Goren crouched on the ledge next to a balcony. For a while he only watched the happy ones below, then he could not hold back. He climbed down the wall in a nimble manner, his little feet easily found their way into cracks and protruding stone edges. His skillful fingers felt the safest way down, clung to dripping, ice-cold rock. Surely he came downstairs, joined the other children and took part in the hunt.
But the children immediately stopped the game when they noticed the intruder.
“What's that about?” exclaimed Zachary, the gang leader, a freckled ten-year-old boy. “Why are you interfering, Goren?”
The dark-haired boy stopped when he realized that the guys gathered around and stare glumly.
“I do not know,” he said. “I just wanted to play with you.”
“Wanna pla-a-ay ‘thyou,” Helim, a little red-haired girl, mimicked him and makes grimaces. The others laughed.
Goren shrugged his shoulders: “I did nothing wrong!”
“But we don't want you!” Zachary said, trudging towards Goren. “When will you finally get it, blockhead? You're not one of us.”
“You’re not!”
“But I'm from here,” Goren insisted.
“And still you’re not like us, long nose!” Zachary hissed and pushed Goren in the chest with both hands. “Get away from here!”
“I can go where I want,” Goren muttered, rubbing his chest. “Lyraine’s a free city and you don’t own the space here!”
“You forget that Darwin Silverhair is my uncle?” Zachary majestically said. “He’s the ruler of the fortress. And you don’t have the right to vote, Goren Fatherless, you’re nobody and you do what we told to do!”
The rest came slowly closer. The circle narrowed. Goren realized that there was nothing to do.
“I'm leaving,” he said. And he went, slowly at first, then faster. Hearing behind him laughters and sarcastic cries, he covered his ears with his hands and ran with all haste.

In those days, Goren ran as out of breath. He ran through the streets and alleys, not paying attention to the road, ran to the wall, and then in the opposite direction until the path wasn’t blocked by the opposite wall. Like a trapped animal that was walking the boundaries of its cage, back and forth, up and down.
Lyraine’s adult residents have become accustomed to these long racings and does not pay attention to the strange boy, brought things to safety in a hurry before they were overrun.
Finally, tired and foamy, Goren was back to the castle. And immediately went to the stables. It was dark, dry and warm, his nose hit the familiar horse smell, mixed with the scent of hay. Goren always felt good in the stables, because here nobody laughed, nobody chased. The horses were not interested in the origin of Goren, they did not ask where it came from and whether he had a father. He rejoiced when he gave them food and drink, cleaning and washing them before putting the saddles. They expressed their gratitude with friendly snorts, sometimes nudging him with velvety soft snouts. They were his friends and patiently listened him, even though they could not answer.
He shuddered hearing his mother's voice. A voice strong, accustomed to giving orders that sometimes became gentle and affectionate. But such moments were very rare. Derata was the Captain of the Guard, feared because of rigor and strength. Goren had never seen his mother laughing.
“Yes, mum.” He saw her coming out of the Goldenbolt’s box and he swallowed dryly. He believed that his mother was the most beautiful woman in Lyraine, perhaps in the whole Highmark: tall, slender, with smooth brown hair long down to the hips, tanned skin, narrow face on which stood huge hazel cat's eyes. She seemed nobler than all the other Lyraine’s women, fair-skinned, snub-nosed and pale eyes. And she was the only warrioress.
Goren knew that Darwin Silverhair liked Derata, because his eyes were often directed at her when he thought no one was watching him. And his eyes glittered at such moments in a special way.
“Where have you been?” his mother asked.
Goren shrugged: “On the streets. I just wanted to... get some fresh air, because the snow melts and the...”
“Well,” his mother interrupted him, “I sometimes forget that you’re only eight years old. Of course, you must go outdoors, you need to move. If you want to play with other children.”
Goren shuddered: “No, they are too childish for me.” He grabbed a pitchfork and began to haul the hay.
“What nonsense are you talking about, son? You're still a child.” Derata took the pitchfork and forced him to look her in the eye. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” assured Goren.
Her eyes narrowed. “Tell the truth,” she ordered in a stern voice.
A few seconds Goren struggled with myself, and then he couldn’t resist: “They don't want to play with me! They never wanted to play with me, that has always been the case! They say that I’m a stranger and they laugh at me because I look different from them and they say I'm ugly and stupid and lazy and...” His eyes filled with tears. “But I don’t care, I can’t tolerate them!”
“All right.” Derata suddenly pulled Goren to her. “Don’t be sad, Goren, that's life. Common people often don’t suffer like us. They appreciate our military art, but they don’t want to be together with us. Of course, children repeat what adults say. You should not be angry with them. They don’t understand what they’re doing.”
“Why we are different, mum?” Goren murmured, clinging to her. The proximity of his mother consoled him. This only happened in rare moments.
“Goren, I’ve often told you about it.”
“Tell me again, please.” He wanted to prolong these moments of tenderness.
“Well. Come over.” Goren was brought by his mother into the box of Goldenbolt, they sat down on the fresh straw. The horse looked up curiously when he got an unexpected visit and sniffed Goren's hair with puffed nose. Then he whimpered softly and went back to his meal.
“When I arrived in Lyraine, it was the middle of winter, just like a couple of days ago, until the snow began to melt,” Derata beginning her story. “It was a terrible cold, I was soaked to the skin, me and Goldenbolt didn’t eat from several days. The guards at the city gate didn’t want to let me in. I liked to challenge them to fight, but I was already too weak from hunger and fever, and besides, I could already feel you inside me and was worried that you could be injured.”
“They was cruel to reject you!” Goren said resentfully.
Derata patted him on the shoulder: “Goren, there’s a war. Lyraine has not yet been reached, because the city stands aside and doesn’t have great strategic importance. But it was important to protect yourself and the guards have only done their job.”
“And what happened next?” Although Goren knew the story, it was always exciting for him. None of the other children had such a great adventure, and it wasn't even invented.
“Of course I haven't given up, as you can imagine. And they found it increasingly difficult to find good reasons for my rejection.”
“Because you were able to convince them well,” Goren said eagerly. “And because good soldiers are needed everywhere.”
“Yes,” Derata agreed. “You're right. At that point, Darwin Silverhair came, attracted by our loud dispute. Fortunately he was nearby. And so we agreed that he would protect me with shelter and food until you were born. After that I wanted to join him to train and strengthen his guard.”
Worried Goren clasped his hands: “But they laughed at you, right?”
“My son, I myself laughed the first time I looked myself in the mirror after a long break. I was miserable, like the last beggar, and my stomach swelled like when you eat too many apples.” A brief smile flitted across Derata’s finely chiseled outline. “I was emaciated and feverish, nobody had suspected a warrioress in me. Except for Darwin Silverhair, who doesn't protect this city for nothing. He has a smart eye, Goren.”
“And he's always very nice to me,” Goren muttered. It was true that almost all Lyraine’s residents treated them in disbelief and tried to stay away from them. But from the very beginning the governor was very friendly and looked at Goren as his own son. For a single child it was a great consolation.
“I came to regain my strength, and finally you wanted to step into this world tormented by the war, nothing could stop you.” Derata continued. “You were a powerful little boy with a rather loud voice and very hungry.”
“I have to grow fast.” Goren declared.
“It’s advisable at such times, Goren, but I had wished you something else.” Derata's gaze was distant. The sad shine of her brown eyes appeared so familiar to Goren. When his mother thought nobody was watching, she became very sad, immersed in memories, about which she never spoke. But maybe today... “By mid-summer, I got stronger and was able to charge you a nanny, because it was time to pay off Darwin Silverhair. So I called to fight the best guards and the three agreed. After I finished with them...”
“You defeated them? Right?” Goren winced when horse's nose nudged him and snorted into his ear. As if the stallion wanted to confirm what Derata told: he had been there at the time...
Derata said: “My early childhood taught me to be a warrioress, my son, and these men trusted in their vanity and physical strength. They can’t compete to me.”
Goren liked most this part of history, because it allowed him to be proud of his mother. He didn’t understand why other people don’t admired Derata, with such a performance!
Derata added: “After the spring moon they started to learn how to understand the difference between a common braggart and a true warrior.”
Goren could hardly wait. And he stared at his mother.
“After that, they finally began to treat me with the necessary respect,” she continued, “and agreed to study with me. I became the captain of the Guard, and Darwin Silverhair began to trust me. And he never had to regret it.”
“You're always honest and frank, mum.”
“The way you should be, Prince Nosey-Wise. Sometimes the war also has an impact on Lyraine when scattered troops march across the country. But so far we have thrown them all back or destroyed them, and no siege has lasted long. I take my task seriously, Goren. I have made duty and loyalty my top priority; that's the only way i can keep my honor.”
Goren frowned. The following question was not easy to him, “Then why do the others avoid us, mother?”
“Because we come from a far country where people differ from the people here,” Derata said. “We have a small but proud nation, Goren. We are used to being unpopular. We don't mind. We were never part of them anyway, even if we tried.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You're too young. One day you'll understand.”
Goren bit his lower lip. He would have liked to ask his mother why she never wore the coat of arms shirt when the difference was so clear anyway.
Once playing, he accidentally discovered it in the trunk of clothes, at the bottom, neatly folded. A shirt made of finely woven linen that was worn over the armour. A golden dragon head on a red background. Goren had never seen such a sign in Lyraine, because all know that dragons are almost extinct in Fiara and the remaining live very far away in the most inaccessible places. So, this emblem means something special, it’s certainly an interesting story...
But if he asks his mother became very angry; she didn't like when Goren rummaged around asking questions about her people's past. But if she didn't want to have anything to do with it anymore, why did she pick up the shirt?
No, it’s better not to ask, Goren decided, not today. However, another question slipped out of his head that kept him busy because he wore the nickname "Fatherless" as a mockery: “And what about my father?”
“We have agreed not to mention it,” Derata said strictly.
“I know” Goren timidly whispered, “but they always laugh at me and they whisper all sorts of evil things...”
“Listen,” Derata grabbed his son by the narrow shoulders and turned him to her, “your father it’s nobody's business. He's not here, you see? And he will never come.”
“But doesn't he want me?” After all, he didn't appear to be dead.
“No, he doesn't want you, neither does he want me.” Derata said. “The war is more important than family for him, he wanted the honor and glory of his house, the battlefield. So forget about him, Goren!”
The boy cringed. And timidly asked: “You hate me?”
Derata jumped. He saw stunned expression on her face. “Why do you think so?”
“Sometimes you look at me so bad...” he whispered. “I definitely saw...”
For a second his mother was silent. She looked shocked. Then she pulled him into her arms. “No, Goren, I don’t hate you,” she said with broken voice. “I know sometimes I'm too hard on you, but that's just the way when you come from a large warrior family. And when I look at you angry, then only... in some moments, you know, you look so similar to your father... you have his thick black hair with this slight set of curls and this high forehead and the strong-willed chin. And you have a way to move your head...”
“So you're angry with my father?”
“Yes, Goren, unfortunately, I have to admit it. Sorry, but I have bad memories about him. But this has nothing to do with you. Because when I look into your lovely hazel eyes, and in them so many questions, so much curiosity and love, I'm just very happy that I have you. And I will always be there for you, my child, and protect you.” She kissed him on the forehead, stood up and shook straw off the clothes. “And now, Goren, it's time for work, it's too late. Prepare Goldenbolt, I would like to ride around Lyraine to see if it’s all right.”
Goren jumped. “Yes, mum,” he said fervently. At that moment all the dark thoughts were forgotten, and the boy went to work.

As usual, that evening Derata came to the governor with the report. And not in the large hall, as was customary for everyone else, but in Darwin Silverhair's private study room. The interaction between the two was familiar, the time of special formalities long gone.
“In the near future it’s not expected any trouble.” Derata beginning, “I've heard from observers in Highmark and Nortander. They argue that the main fighting is not here, but in the lands of the Orcs. But I still would advise to increase the number of people on the walls and finally think of the ditch in front of it to prevent ladders from being laid. There are still too many possibilities to take the city by assault because we can’t protect all sides equally.”
“We will definitely do it this spring,” promised the governor. He was not a warrior, but an academic, and he didn’t like to strengthen the city and, above all, strictly guarding it. He didn’t like the locked gate, he wanted to trade with all Fiara, communicate with other scientists and be sure to expand the city. But apparently, these times are over, at least until the Convocation. Nobody wanted to imagine what might be afterwards. The outlook was more than bleak.
“I’m glad, sir. In past years, we had to defend only by small detachments, but the situation could change, particularly if we consider the approach of a dangerous choice.”
Derata stood on the desk, behind which sat Darwin Silverhair. It was a modest-looking man of middle height, but his words never went unheard. He was loved by the people, guard was faithful to him and was ready to follow him to the death. His face was open and friendly, he had thick hair turned white, for which he received the appropriate nickname.
“I know, Derata, you would be willing to do more,” he said. “Basically, as a warrioress of such high quality, you’re completely underwhelmed here. We have to thank Niethalf, the Battle Master, every day in prayer to have you with us.”
“On the contrary, sir,” Derata replied quietly. “What luck for me to find such an accomodation here. I'm just paying my debt.”
“I know that you’re hiding here, and that you carry a dark mystery with you,” said Darwin frankly. “We never talked about it...”
“And please don’t start this conversation now”, Derata quickly interrupted. “You have to understand: I can’t discuss it.”
“Derata,” he said softly, “I'm talking about something else. You seriously believe that I don’t know that you’re a Shaikan? I recognized you the first time the blizzard brought you to us. You couldn't hide who and what you are. And I'm sure everyone else knows who you are. This may be the main reason for your rejection.”
Derata swallowed. “Please, don’t say anything to Goran,” she said dryly. “He’s in difficult. I don't want him to be branded as Shaikan, he should grow up like a normal person, and I don't give up hope that he will one day be recognized...”
“People don’t like to talk openly about what they fear,” Darwin said. “And I really like Goren, I would never hurt him. But I would like to do more for him.”
“More?” Derata repeated with astonishment.
“Derata,” he said in a low voice, “don’t you know how I feel about you?”
She raised her hand: “I beg you, stop, don’t talk about it.” She went around the table and dropped to one knee in front of Darwin. She took his right hand and kissed it, then pressed it against her bowed forehead. “You’re my master,” she started. “And believe me, I revere you with every fiber of my heart and serve you faithfully, although this is not typical for a Shaikan. But I’m a breakaway and I have my own code of honor. I know that there’s between us... a special connection, thank you for the sympathy with which you treat me. But forgive me, I'm ready for a single man in proximity to me, and this is my son. The night I left my people, I vowed, and I can’t break it... and I don’t want.”
“I dream to make you happy,” he said sadly. “You are a worthy woman and deserve a better life. I would like to hear your laughter and the laughter of your son, it’s too serious for his age. I know that he’s no longer young, but you and your son made my life so much joyful. On your part it would be a tiny little step, it would bring you respect and honor and it could secure the future. You would make me very happy and you would not regret it.”
“You’re a man of peace, and I’m a warrioress,” she said. “And one day the inheritance in my son will drive him away from here, and that wouldn't be a misfortune for Lyraine. My story is different from yours, my lord. Let me continue to serve you as before, only for the sake of your peace of mind.”
Darwin Silverhair pulled his hand back. “It's your decision, Derata. But you couldn’t run away and hide forever, and your oath certainly arose from an illness for which you must not punish yourself for life. You’re a healthy young woman, beautiful and educated, you’ve your life before, not behind you.”
Derata rose up: “My life ended much earlier, noble lord. And my son shouldn’t be the same.” She bowed slightly. “With your permission, I’ll go.”
“Of course, Captain. It’s already late. See you tomorrow.” Darwin Silverhair bent over a scroll and began to read, as if nothing had happened.

Spring was now unstoppable. The sun melted the remnants of snow, on the trees appeared first leaves, the birds began to sing in different voices, tired of the silence.
Derata started with Goren’s apprenticeship, and he was naturally quite clever. At the races he has already overtaken the best riders. Goldpfeil, who otherwise had only tolerated Derata on his back, whizzed faster than the wind across the meadows with the boy. And the demands for races were very high here because Lyraine was in the forest. The free flat ones were not as big as outside towards the north, like the vast steppes of the Truth at the bottom. Derata, in order to complicate the task, found not just a clearing, but land with obstacles. To keep the speed cornering, the horses had to demonstrate extraordinary skill and pitch definition.
Goren had an advantage over the older men: he was smaller and lighter than them, and in addition he seemed born in the saddle. And Goldenbolt was well trained in this practice shortly after he was a foal in Shaikur's close training. In the sunlight he became a shimmering beam of gold on a fiery course, while he swept his way through the trees with his little rider, turned on his hind legs and hurried back in a long gallop on the narrow alley. Nobody could compete with the two.
Here Goren experienced a lot of envy from some bad losers, but also something like recognition for the first time. Someone of the others patted him on the shoulder, laughing, when a race was over and the sweat-soaked Goldenbolt rush for apples and carrots.
“Such horses are a rarity in the world,” Mugdar, Derata’s deputy, stated. “I say that every rider can do it with Goldenbolt.”
“It’s possible,” Derata said. “I raised Goldenbolt by hand and trained it myself. He clearly knows what to do. That's what I’m talking about: you have to grow together with a horse, so he quietly carried you on the battlefield, and did not fly forward at a breakneck pace. So keep practicing.”
“What could get the one who beats Goldenbolt?” the man asked with a lurking undertone.
Derata considered: “I'll talk with Darwin Silverhair. But make no mistake, Mugdar, you’ll not succeed until Goldenbolt’s young and strong.”
But the desire to achieve more would be a great incentive, and Derata knew it. That's why she spoke to the governor, and he actually offered a reward, a whole golden Eagle! One could buy a good armour or even a small piece of land, so it was a tremendous incentive to perform well.
“But we can't win anything, mother”, Goren critically noticed.
“However,” she replied, “much more, Prince Nosey-Wise, than all Fiara’s gold can give us.”
The boy didn't find that at all, and he struggled with himself for a few days because he also wanted to win a golden Eagle. But how should he do that? Above all, he was now forced to do his best so that Goldenbolt didn’t lose in the end. For he didn’t grant anyone victory, and even less the precious coin.
Never let yourself be overreached and make sure that you are always one step ahead of the others, one day he suddenly hears a voice whispering.
He turned around. Mmm? he thought.
Ah, finally you're listening. I've been talking to you for a while, but you didn't pay attention.
I thought this was just imagination.
No imagination. I’m a help for you, you’ll notice that. You’ll hear me again if you need me.
Hi there?
exclaimed Gorens thoughts, but only silence answered to him. He frowned in confusion and a little fear. Now he heard voices! Probably because he was alone so much and started talking to himself. Like strange old people whom he had already seen on the street. He had thought they were crazy, but now he could understand them because they talked to themselves because they had no one else.
He again won the race. But this time he was not praised. It seems that there were one envious. Everyone wanted to get the gold and deliberately looked away as soon as Goren appeared.
He was alone again. “In any case, I've lost a lot, mother.” He muttered furiously as he rubbed Goldenbolt dry.
You'll get ten times more, the voice whispered, returned unexpectedly and uninvited. Although it could just be his own answer, because he was so anxious to one day everything changed for the better.
Goldenbolt unceremoniously forced him back to reality, when he pinched his arm, making clear to him that he felt neglected. Goren sighed and concentrated on the stallion's grooming.

However: Goren no longer had much time to feel lonely. Either he had to work or his mother practiced something new with him. He now got to know different weapons. Of course, at first everything was only made of wood, because now the main thing was that the boy learned to use his body correctly. He had to be quick and agile, learn step sequences and also drag weights. One hot summer day Derata demanded that Goren carried two full buckets of water from the fountain to the horse trough, which he should only hold with the first phalanx. It wasn’t allowed to drop the load on the ground, not spilling a drop, otherwise he supposed to turn and start all over again.
That exercise pushed Goren to the limit of suffering. The longer it took, the more often he spilled water, had to turn around, scoop new water. Derata’s order was unequivocal: the exercise can be considered complete if it’s done perfectly, then he can eat and above all to sleep.
Goren had initially thought that it was an easy exercise that he would do the first time. But his fingers were still childish, the tendons wasn’t strong enough despite the many climbing over the walls. Trying to shift the weight was wrong, that was his first lesson. When one finger of his right hand was tired, he wanted to grasp the handle more tightly with the other fingers, but the bucket started to rock, and the first drops were already splashed.
“Uniformity,” Derata warned him standing there, arms crossed. “That's exactly what matters here. Each finger should be able to do as much as the others. If you start to swing and focus on the distribution of weight, the water immediately begins to move. Any attempt to align it would only worsen the situation. So watch out for the fact that the movements were smooth and uniform: scoop water, crook your fingers, take the handles, lift the buckets and take quick, but not too energetic steps. Then you are at the trough in no time, can pour out the water and have the rest of the day off.”
Steps were twenty-five. Goren counted them in advance. Funny distance, so it seemed at the beginning.
Now trough moved an insurmountable distance. Make more than twelve steps he didn’t succeed. Each time, distance and despair grew.
When his mother came back from her usual exploration at noon and he had just spilled half a bucket of water, he looked at her imploringly. “I'm still small and weak,” he burst out. “I tried, tried at least a hundred times, mum, I just can’t make it!”
“Then grow up,” she replied calmly, “and try another nine hundred times. Until you make it.”
“But it’s becoming more difficult each time!”
“So, a few things you’ve already learned, my child. Go on.” At this moment Goren hated his mother. A lot. He dragged himself to the well, took a bucket of water and poured it over. And then he began to drink greedily. After all, he had enough to drink, but his stomach was long empty and growled pitifully. His mother went to dine with the governor. Goren usually ate in the barn what she brought him. But today, Goren had already suspected, he would go away empty-handed. First he has to accomplish his task.
But the task was difficult. Impracticable.
You could take the buckets halfway with your hand, same now familiar voice whispered inside Goren. He came and went when he wanted, there was no way to influence him. Most often, the boy was not listening to him, because he did not want to look like a strange old man.
But what he heard sounded tempting after all the drag and he continued to listen. You've made it this so far, it's not even cheating. Besides, nobody is watching. And then you do it properly the rest of the way and you did it!
Goren was willing to accept. Surely nobody will notice, besides, it's still just a lesson. The next time he had more strength and would do better.
But then Goren saw his mother's eyes resting on himself and sighed heavily.
“No,” he said quietly to himself. “She realizes that immediately. She never miss anything, never. She’s the best and I don’t want to disappoint her.”
Fool, inner voice laughed.
Leave me alone, Goren thought. I can do it. I'll prove it to you. Or me, if I'm talking to myself. I'll prove it to whoever.

It was late afternoon. The sun made its way into its bed behind the horizon, far behind the forest and Sevenkeeps, to the coastline of the mainland, where the Timeless Sea began to finally plunge into the Misty Coast and blur the line between sea and sky in blood red stripes until later that night it would spread its black dress over Fiara.
Goren didn't want to take that long. He reached the limit of his strength, his face smeared with dust and tears. He stumbled more and more frequently, his leg muscles trembled, his fingers were snow-white, the inside was torn and bloody. But he was no longer willing to give up. He preferred to die.
His mother came again, examining the footprints in the dust. And she left without saying a word. Goren could read no emotion on her face. She was probably disappointed by her son, who was now nine years old, two years old when she passed the exam.
Soon you'll broke, the voice in him rejoiced.
The boy gritted his teeth. Never. He refilled the buckets and set off..
Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen.
And then suddenly he literally fell into a trance, it seemed to him that he was like a bird hovering in the air. He felt no longer arms or legs. A sinking giant fireball poured a fiery aureole over him, a light evening breeze gave him fresh air, even seemed to push him slightly.
Eighteen. Nineteen. Twenty.
Here the floor was still pure, with no traces of shuffling small steps and dark water stains. The water trough emerged like a divine beacon, a shining target in the soft light of dawn.
I can do it, Goren realized. It was time. He no longer thought, he only acted, did what he was told, there was only the goal, nothing else. Everything was one, his body, the buckets, the water in it. He would probably get there almost slipping on his knees, but that didn't matter unless he stopped or even spilled a drop. And he didn't, not anymore.
Twenty two. Twenty three.
Goren's eyes were wet with happiness. It was done in a moment.
And at that moment he was pushed to the side.

First Goren didn’t even realize what happened. It flew through the air, the bucket fell, all the water poured out, and he fell into the mud, rolled a little bit more and stopped, ceasing to breathe.
He was paralyzed. Not able to think, he straightened up and saw above him Zachary. Behind him stood the whole gang, cheering and smirking.
“Whoops”, the governor's nephew said, grinning widely. His mouth was missing several teeth.
“Goren Fatherless is sooo awkward!” another boy called. “He always stumbles over his own feet, how stupid! Just see how he looks now! Rather put it in the pigsty, because it fits better!”
Goren got up slowly. He lacked the words. In the crowd he noticed the small Helim with her long fiery red braids. He thought that her bright voice is about to override all the rest, but, oddly enough, it didn’t happen.
She didn’t even smile, just stood there and watched.
Goren grabbed the handles of the buckets, turned around and went to the well.
You can't just put up with it, the inner voice whispered.
But he wasn’t interested. Everything in him seemed dead, he couldn't feel anything at all. He would go to the fountain and fill the buckets and get back on the trough, and if it was going to last all night, until the end of his day. He had come this far now, he could do it again. He would prove it to everyone, precisely because they didn’t believe in him.
“You don't get it, Goren Fatherless, don't you?” Zachary came up and lightly kicked him in the ribs. “Your mother doesn’t give you these tasks to make you tall and strong, but because she wants you out of the way so that she can jump to bed in peace!”
“She doesn't”, Goren said through clenched teeth.
“Surely she does, everyone knows it!” the older boy scorned. “Why do you think you will be tolerated here? You aren’t good for anything else -”
Enough. All the years of humiliation, rejection and mockery gathered in Goren and contracted into a single hot lump of rage in his empty stomach. He put the two buckets down and turned to Zachary.
The elder boy, who was still about to say something nasty, shut his mouth. And he took a step back. He obviously read it right on Goren’s face. But he had not time to escape far. Goren's arms jerked forward, his bloody fingers closed around Zachary's neck and squeezed. He pressed the boy down into the dust, who was trying to free himself from the stranglehold, coughing and struggling, but Goren sat down on him and continued to press until Zachary's face turned blue and he only hit aimlessly.
Kill him, the inner voice whispered. Yes, well, just see how he twists, now he’s only wax in your hands, he’ll never humiliate you again! Come on!
The other children realized that it was getting serious because they started screaming and ran not towards the two boys, but ahead of other people.
Goren suddenly felt someone grabbing his arms with a firm grip and pulling him back. He was hurled around and stared straight into his mother's stunned, furious face.
“Goren!” she cried.
Zachary gasped for breath, coughing and wheezing. Two friends helped him to his feet.
Goren's face was blank, it was empty, and inside him the anger accumulated in the stomach dissipates. He looked past his mother. “He insulted you,” he said quietly. “He says that you aren’t a decent woman. He didn't deserve it any other way.”
His mother let him go. “Bring Zachary at the castle,” she said to the two boys, who supported Zachary on both sides. “Take him to his uncle and notify the healer. I'll be right there.”
The scared children obeyed. Most of the gang had long since fled.
Derata opened her mouth, but Goren turned away. He grabbed two buckets and headed to the well.
“We will speak later,” said Derata with difficulty, then followed the children to the castle.

While Goren filled a bucket of water, Helim suddenly came up to him. He ignored her.
“What Zachary did was mean,” she said. “He should try it all day instead of just knocking.”
Goren silently filled the second bucket.
But Helim hadn’t yet finish: “He’s jealous because his uncle loves you, that's why he says such ugly things. And what he said about your mom, it's not true. Everyone knows that. He can’t say that.”
Goren put the second full bucket on the ground. And then he looked at Helim: “I need to fill the trough,” he said.
He saw that she was looking at his battered hands. The rest of him probably didn't look better. he was ashamed of it, but that didn't change his job. He took the handles, shoved them into the first phalanx, lifted them and set off.
Helim was close. “Goren,” she whispered, “look.”
He involuntarily glanced at her. She bent her knees slightly, straightened her back and fluently went in her feet without moving her upper body, keeping her arms stiff.
He repeated it after her, and it helped. He certainly couldn't walk a mile this way, but he managed twenty-five steps to the trough.
“Well,” Helim said, “Better go, now.”
Goren poured the two buckets in the trough. While the water was flowing, he burst into tears and let them flow into the goal he had finally reached.

Hearing his mother's footsteps, Goren hid in the straw. But her search for him took no more time than a falcon to catch a pigeon. She grabbed his shirt and pulled him out of the straw.
“You did it,” she said. It was a statement, not a question.
Goren nodded. The street was dark, and the soft night air reduced the raging heat. He almost couldn’t move his burned palm. Somehow he brought clothes in order, but felt sick and miserable. And he didn’t feel joy from the goal.
“Today you learned a lot”, his mother continued. “You had discover that you have a will. You found out where your limits are. And you realized that if you want to overcome yourself, you need to listen to other people's advice. You now know that when you’re given a task, you have to listen carefully, what you’ve to refrain from doing, and what you can achieve with cunning without being deceiving.”
Goren looked up. His eyes were red and swollen from dust and tears.
Derata placed a basket next to him, from which came a delicious smell of fried chicken, fresh bread and apples. “I’m incredibly proud of you, my son. You can rest tomorrow.”
Goren’s throat was dry. If he had said a word, he would have roared. He was dead tired, so he couldn’t fully enjoy the first mother's praise.
Above all, he knew that something would follow, because there was still the issue with Zachary.
And there it came.
“Assuming,” Derata continued, “that Darwin Silverhair allows it and doesn't chase us out of the town like rabid dogs because you attacked his nephew. After hearing about it, Zachary’s father was indignant and demanded for you the most severe punishment.”
“Which will not happens,” the governor's voice sounded behind her at that moment, and Goren made himself as small as possible. His eyes widened when he saw that Zachary was there, who was held by the neck by Darwin Silverhair and pushed in front of him.
“Go on,” he told. “Apologize.”
Goren sat up confused. He heard Derata taking a deep breath, and her stance stiffened. “Sir, my son...”
“I'm not talking about Goren,” Darwin Silverhair impatiently interrupted her. “Zachary!” He pinched his nephew on the cheek, and his eyes filled with tears of pain. It was clear to see how humiliated he felt. With trembling lips he squeezed out: “I... I'm sorry, Goren Fa-... I mean, Goren. I didn't intend it that way, and... and... I also apologize to you, Captain. What I said...” his voice dried to a cawing, half-sobbed whisper, “was... disgusting...”
“So,” said the governor. “Now get out to your father and cry on his shoulder, but if I catch you mocking Goren again, I'll tell his mother to don’t stop him next time, got it?” He glared at Zachary, who suddenly no longer seemed cocky and arrogant.
“Yes, sir,” he whispered, and started to run. Darwin Silverhair turned to mother and son: “Derata, I don’t want that you punish your son because he stood up for your honor. Of course, it was inappropriate for him to react, and I will devise an appropriate punishment which will divert his energies in other ways. But we want to leave it at that.”
Derata slightly tilted her head: “As you wish, sir.”
“Totally right.” He went to Goren and leaned over him. “Show me your hands.”
Goren hesitantly glanced at his mother and raised his hands. And he winced when Darwin Silverhair turned them over, palms up.
“It looks bad,” he said. “I'll send a healer, it will lubricate them with ointment and bandage. For two days, you’re freed from the work in the stable, until you can really grab again. One day these hands will be able to do great things, so don’t ruin them prematurely.”
“Thank you, sir,” Derata said, in place of Goren.
“Oh, he won't be lazy,” Darwin said. “Tomorrow morning, boy, go to Master Altar. He asked me for help to bring order his study chamber and sort out the writings.” He turned to Derata: “The boy has great abilities. Take care of him! I’ll find a use for them when he grows up.”

When the governor went away, Goren quietly asked: “Mum, why do people say such things? Why do they avoid us?”
“What do they say, apart from the nonsense that Zachary had make up?” Derata’s voice was surprisingly tired.
“That we’re hiding here,” Goren said. “That you hide a secret related to me. Do I have to find out for myself?”
Derata looked at him. “You're still not old enough for such things,” she said sharply. “Enjoy your childhood, it ends very quickly, and don’t pay attention to silly rumors. It doesn't always have to be something mysterious. I always tell you the most important things, that’s enough.” She pointed to the basket. “Eat and go to bed. I'll see where’s the healer.”
Goren didn’t know what was worse: pain or hunger. He grabbed the chicken and fell upon the meat like a wolf, tearing it so the bones flew in different directions and greedily swallowed the pieces.
And then, well-fed, he leaned on the straw; he could hardly keep his eyes open. One last thought was in him before he fell asleep.
All right, then. His mother was still not ready to talk about the past. So he wasn't going to tell her about the whispering voice that was clearly not his own.

When Goren woke up, the sun had long since risen and his hands were bandaged. A small, thin man in a robe was just waddling into the stable and standing up in front of Goren, with his hands on his sides.
“No words!” he said grumpy. “Sleeping in broad daylight, like a bat! Did you forget that you should come to me today?”
“Should I?” Goren asked in confusion. He shook his head, so the straw flew away in all directions.
“Of course! I’m Master Altar, right? Alchemist and teacher, and I'm too busy to spend time on all sorts of everyday problems. I was promised that from today I got an assistant who would take care of a good order and cleanliness.”
“Oh,” Goren was upset. “I'm sorry.”
“No idea how you fooled Darwin Silverhair, that he chose you for it,” the old man chattered. His shoulder-length gray hair tangled around his head. On his narrow hooked nose he wore glasses, over which his eyes, which laid under bushy gray brows, sparkled blue and wide awake. “But I should be fine as long as I don't have to pay a wage for it. Come on, right?”
Goren got up. He was supposed to wash himself, and he also liked to have something to eat. But he didn’t dare to contradict the little man, who apparently got out of his head rather quickly. “Yes, sir.”
“Yes, Master!” Master Altar grumbled. “Of course, the first thing you’ll do is to put everything in order with me and remove all dust, yes, there has been a lot of accumulation, right? As long as you’re good and decent and do everything I say, never contradict, hardworking and orderly, we'll both get along fine, right?”
So Goren dared to ask a question: “And how long will it take, Master?”
“Well, cleaning and so on.”
“Oh, boy, let's say, a long-term job, you'll see.” The old man chuckled. “By the time you grow up, I'm afraid, and probably more, because I think your hops and malt are lost, so that you can get a good-foaming mug of beer from it, as they say, right? That’s, I don’t consider you suitable for this challenge. But I should be fine as long as I get a good servant who costs me nothing, right?”
Thus, Goren Fatherless got even more work, and from now on he had to divide his day very well between stable duties, training and the service of Master Altar.
And he actually had a long task ahead of him, he guessed when he saw the “study room”, which turned out to be a multi-storey tower at the end of the castle’s cloister, for the first time. Meters of dust and dirt everywhere, leftovers, waste, crumbling stones, damaged furniture, half-decayed tapestries. And scrolls, rune boards, books on every floor, stacked under the ceiling. In between tables with strange chatter that served alchemy, glasses, bottles, jugs, kettles; everything jumbled together. Goren haven’t ever seen such disorder in his life. He didn’t understand how Master Altar generally can work here, and even engage in magical arts. And above all, it was unclear why suddenly the court alchemist even think to start cleaning right now. (What he soon found out, however, because apparently Darwin Silverhair had set a deadline for his court chemist: if he didn't get things sorted out soon, he would be released from his services.)
Master Altar watched Goren’s horror with the greatest pleasure. “Well, young boy, will you make it?”
“Of course,” Goren said. “But if I have to sort your writings, I must learn to read.”
The old man snorted indignantly and his eyes seemed to spread blue sparks. “Make it yourself!” he yelled, then clutched his magic stick decorated with an intricate pattern and brought it down on Goren’s shoulder. “Start, impertinent brat!”
Let's hope that the years will pass quickly, Goren thought, sighed and picked up the broom. His shoulder was sore and he felt it swell. He's a moody old billy goat, that's right!
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