by Geraldle

Copyright © 2008


Symin stood in front of the door of the armory. It was his seventh birthday. Yesterday he would have been naked, today for the first in his life he was wearing clothing. The clothing was just a brief pair of short trousers, but now, for the first time, he actually had a belt and could carry a belt knife. He was eager to go into the armory, but he hesitated and looked around, longing for family to be there for him.

Symin let out a sigh of regret and then simply shrugged accepting the reality. When other Ascalon children had reached this important date in their life, they all had had brothers, sisters, and parents to share the moment with. For the first time he realized consciously that, Minna wasn’t his mother and never would be. She had always seemed to be there for him, but Dinni, his cousin, was sick and her attention focused on him. She hadn't forgotten Symin's birthday, after all his first pair of short trousers were beside his bed, so that for the first time since his diaper days he wouldn't be naked, grinning at that thought.

For the first time he had realized that Minna wasn’t always there when he needed her. Her presence in his mind was so solid and real to him that even when she hadn’t been there physically she had seemed to be.

It had hurt, and, at the same time, it hadn’t. He simply accepted the fact that while she loved him, it wasn’t as if she was his mother. She regarded him and the rest of the family much like the Mother-Goddess regarded all thinking beings, as people who needed her care and love. Her responsibility was to all of them, not to one of them, and she would favor one of them at times when they needed her. He had simply needed her more for a time.

Symin knew that it was a special moment. At the same time, he realized that if he had someone to share it with it would have been much more important than it was. Still he pushed the door open with excitement.

Symin didn’t know how long he had been in the armory simply looking. He was so awed by the workmanship that had gone into each and every weapon that he lost track of time. Even the simplest of swords in the armory had a symmetry of beauty, a balance between functionality and craft for those with the eyes to see it.

Symin itched to take them down one at a time and simply look at them, feel them in his hands, not as weapons but as the pinnacle of craftsmanship that they were. Not that he would do so; most of them were displayed in glass cases, carefully oiled to avoid the ravages of time.

Most of the swords on display were made for adults. They were simply too heavy for him to wield, even with two hands. Even the strength he did have, which was equivalent to a sixteen or seventeen year old human boy, wasn’t sufficient to wield most of the weapons. The weapons were crafted to be wielded not simply looked at. The practicality that was also a part of him had forbidden it.

Turning away from the adult swords, Symin had turned his attention to weapons a noble boy his age would wear. Weapons more suitable for his strength and capabilities. Belt knives, and there were many to choose from.

Though Symin wasn't aware of it, the dagger called to him. It was among five other daggers in an unlocked glass case, so low that it was within Symin's reach.

As soon as he touched it, it felt so right to him. True, it was an exquisite dagger with magnificent decorations around seven small gemstones inserted into the hilt and the elegant sheath. Those decorations and stones didn't impress Symin, but the blade did. Made from the finest steel the Lytheans could produce and they had thousands of years of experience as weaponsmiths. Only a Dwarven blade could have bettered it, and it was quite possible that a Dwarven weaponsmith had forged it. The dagger felt so right in his hand, it was almost as if it was attuned to him. He couldn't bear to put it back, and the other weapons seemed to pale in his eyes. His choice was made.

Symin took it to his room and then got out his treasures, half a dozen pieces of wood, a small knife and a whetstone. Sitting on his bed, he looked at them, and he had no doubt that the carvings were good. They simply weren’t good enough to satisfy him.

The knife just wasn’t very good, and Symin had to keep sharpening it and he was wearing the blade down. Oh, he knew that he could have asked for a good knife. To get one he would have to tell whoever it was, probably Minna, what he was doing with it. However, he didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing.

Symin didn’t know how people would react. After all, he was a noble and he didn’t know what his father would do. Normally his father ignored him, but Symin had noticed that he was a petty man, and would often do things just to be vindictive. His father might forbid him to carve. That was an impossible future for Symin even to contemplate. It was safer if nobody, not even Minna, knew.

Symin's large gray eyes were sparkling with glee as he took out the dagger and looked at the fine steel blade. He didn’t even bother to test the blade to see if it was sharp. He knew he’d find out before very long. No matter how careful he was, the carvings he did were so small and so unforgiving of the smallest mistake that to avoid making that mistake meant that his hands tended to collect a lot of cuts.

Luckily, he healed quickly, and a half-hour after the cut he was never sure exactly where it had been since no scar lingered even for a brief space of time.

Symin picked up the tiny carving of his pony Anya. Many people looking at it would have considered it finished. With the knife that Symin used it was, because the detail was as fine as he could manage, with the tool at his disposal.

Symin took a deep breath and then with his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth, he carefully positioned the point of the dagger. He hesitated with a frown on his small face; not because he was worried about ruining the carving, he could always do it again, but because he might be frustrated by the results.

Symin would remember to his dying day the ecstasy he had felt when he had made the first tiny perfect cut. The fact that it had caused him to jerk and destroy the carving he had worked on for some time, cutting himself badly in the process didn’t matter. His feeling of pain and his surprise that the blade had cut through the piece of wood so easily was subsumed with the feeling of bliss that was going through him.

Symin had been so high with the ecstasy of finding the perfect tool that he did something extremely dumb. Taking the point of the blade in his hand, he threw the dagger at the stone wall of his bedroom.

Then with horror and terror that he had found the perfect tool and was now going to lose it because of stupidity, Symin closed his eyes and began crying.

It was the most memorable moment of his life. One moment he was at the peak of joy and the next moment in the depths of despair.

By the time, Symin realized that he had heard only one sound, the horror of what he thought he had done would be part of him for the rest of his life. He would never react that way again. Oh he would seem impulsive to people who didn’t know him and weren’t aware of how fast his mind worked, but from that day on he always thought things out before he did them. It’s just the thinking and the action or reaction that followed happened so quickly that no time seemed to have passed for most people. That didn’t mean he always chose wisely. He didn’t, but it wasn’t due to lack of forethought.

Suddenly, Symin's large tear-filled eyes flicked open as he realized that he had heard only one sound. He had heard the dagger hit the wall, but he should have heard at least one more sound when it hit the floor and he hadn’t.

Symin brushed his tears away with his arm, unaware of the blood dripping onto the covers of his cot from the cut in his hand. He stared at the wall and took a deep breath in wonderment; joy beginning to take him again. The hilt still quivering the blade was sticking into the wall up to the guard.

Which was impossible, the blade of the dagger was six inches long, and couldn’t penetrate that deeply into stone, or at least he thought it shouldn’t. Without thinking, Symin wiped the palm of his left hand, the one with the cut in it down his bare chest and getting up he went over to the wall.

Taking hold of the hilt of the dagger, he braced himself to exert his full strength. That was one of the lesser mistakes Symin thought through before acting. Well he certainly expected to need it; the only thing he had ever used that had penetrated that deeply into something was a crossbow bolt into a bale of straw. He had certainly needed his full strength to pull the bolt out.

However, the dagger came out so easily, that he had fallen backward landing on the floor and then he had watched it fly though the air as he inadvertently let go of it. However Symin wasn’t worried this time, if it could survive one trip into the wall it could survive a second one into the floor or wall.

Symin heard the thunk of the dagger hitting and then Minna was inside his room. By the time Minna was through with him, he was treated, bathed and then whipped and put to bed for giving her such a fright and he said good-bye to his short trousers for a couple more weeks.

She had whipped him herself and she had only done that a couple of times, and she had given him a dozen lashes, which was more than double what he normally got. It was certainly harder than Sivvin had ever whipped him.

Symin felt he deserved it, though it had been totally accidental, the cut, the blood on his chest and being on his back when Minna came into the room. The fact that he was still alive to go to bed after she was through with him had surprised him, that and the fact that despite her fear and anger she had let him keep the dagger. That was more important to him than losing his short trousers for an additional two weeks.


Maxim looked at the work he had done and then looked at what his nephew had done and blew out his breath with exasperation. The boy was four years younger than he was at eight and a half, yet had done almost three times the work.

Maxim dug at the dirt with his toes of his bare foot, the earth damp with its daily drink from the irrigation canal. It wasn’t that he wasn’t willing to work hard. He was a determined worker, and he loved the pleasantly tired way his muscles and body felt after a long day working in the fields.

Yet he was always frustrated at the amount of work he was able to do, always much less than his brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. Luckily, they didn't really need Maxim's labor. Even with the section that his oldest brother Dunn had gotten when he was twenty-five, there were enough hands, both small and large, that the labor was easy, and there was always time for play and fun.

As High Peasants, they owned their own land and though they tithed to Baron Ascalon, they didn’t owe labor to him, as Low Peasants would have done.

Dende stood looking up at his young uncle, said earnestly, “The crops you tend, they grow much better than mine, or any of us. Only grand-da can give as much magic to them as you can,” trying to comfort his sad uncle.

Maxim ruffled Dende’s brown hair and smiled at the boy. “I thank you, little one, but we all know that I’ll never make a good farmer. What good is farming magic if I can’t release it in the right way?”

They turned and started to walk towards the houses, Maxim continuing to talk with some sadness, “I love farming. I love planting a seed and watching it grow into stalks of grain or ears of corn, and I know what I plant will grow tall and healthy.”

Dende grinned up at him, “Da says that’s your main problem. Your magic is too good. You seem to know exactly how much magic each plant needs, and you give it. You aren’t ruthless enough to leave it before it has everything it needs. You can’t leave part of it to the Gods the way the rest of us can. He says our way is riskier but it produces much more crops than your way.”

Maxim nodded ruefully, “I think Dunn’s right, and Da has offered to apprentice me in Bremen if I want.” He threw his arms into the air, “But I can’t think of anything that I want to do other than farming.”

He grinned and then shrugged as his usual good humor returned though it had been shadowed with somberness over the last few months. He mock scowled at Dende, “Now I’ve got a bone to pick with you. Did you take the bag of marbles?”

Dende edged away from the older boy, his guilt clearly showing on his small face, and Maxim shook his head, “I said you could have them if you asked for them, but you didn’t ask. You need to be punished for that.” and Dende took off, though he knew it was futile, Maxim was much taller and just as tireless.

He didn’t get ten yards, before Maxim had him down on the ground. After swatting his naked nephew half a dozen times on his bare bottom he began tickling him vigorously, until the younger boy was shrieking for mercy between bouts of giggling.


Tenay popped an okun leaf into his mouth and began chewing it, looking searchingly at his youngest child. You would never know it from his actions, he treated all of his children the same, but still Maxim was his favorite.

Over the last couple of months, Maxim’s usual sunny nature had become somewhat darker, and to see a smile on his face now was rare. Tenay reached out and ruffled his hair, and was rewarded by one of those rare smiles.

Tenay said, “You’ve begun thinking too much, Maxim, and it’s getting you down.”

Maxim thought about it for a moment seriously before shaking his head and answering, “No, Da. It’s not thinking I been doing, its feeling. The rest of the family fit where we are, but I no longer feel that I do. Yet I can’t think of anything else I want to do. I love farming, but I’m no good at it, and I feel no urge to take care of animals. My brothers, Dunn and Syrel and my nephew Dende are much better with the horses and cows than the rest of us are, so we leave it to them, only chipping in when they ask for help.”

Tenay rubbed his chin, before asking, “What about children, you’ve always been very good at taking care of them.”

Maxim looked astonished, “But that’s not a job, is it Da?”

Tenay chuckled, “Oh it can be a job, Maxim, and certainly it can be a chore at times taking care of children. As many hands lighten labor so many hands around here, make raising children easier. Sivvin was visiting his Da yesterday, and we were talking over lunch and he said, that the Baron was looking for a servant and companion for one of his grandsons.”

Maxim, after thinking it over for a few minutes, looked at his father and his large brown eyes showed his eager curiosity, “That sounds interesting, Da, and I’d get to live in the castle, and that sounds even more interesting.”

Tenay grinned, “I sent a message by Sivvin saying that I have a son who is interested in the job, and I got an answer today, saying that you’re hired.” His face became serious and he reached out, lifted Maxim’s small chin, and looked him in the eyes. “We’ve known for years that your path wasn’t our path, and Marin and I long since made up our minds to let you go when the time came. Reluctantly, mind, since like all of our children and grandchildren we would prefer to have you close.”

Maxim’s large brown eyes were soft as he said, “Thank you, Da for giving me this chance. I’ll miss you and Ma and all of the others, yet for the first time that I can remember I’m excited to be going away.”


Maxim was awed to be in the presence of the legendary Minna. She was only a couple of inches taller than he was at five feet tall, but she was huge. She must have weighed close to three hundred pounds, yet she moved easily and gracefully despite her bulk.

Minna looked Maxim’s skinny four foot ten inch frame up and down, and she approved of the solemn faced boy. She said, “You’ll be the servant and companion for Symin Ascalon. He’s ten years old, though he’s very small for his age and looks more like a seven year old.” and she grinned, thinking about Symin.

“He’s a little scamp at times, but he seldom gets into trouble deliberately.” she said dryly, “he doesn’t need to, he gets into enough trouble accidentally, and he probably gets whipped more often than most of the other Ascalon children do together.”

Maxim gave a grin at that, as she continued, “Though his beatings aren’t particularly hard, more a gesture of disapproval by us as adults than serious punishment. That disapproval hurts him more than a dozen lashes would when he feels he deserves it, and when he doesn’t no amount of punishment would make him feel sorry for what he’s done.”

Minna hesitated for a moment and then she raised her finger and shook it at him, “What I’m going to tell you remains a secret between you and I.” and Maxim nodded seriously.

She said with a scowl on her face, “I don’t like criticizing my employers, but I highly disapprove of the way Symin is treated by the rest of the Ascalons. His mother died when he was born and his father ignores him completely, and the rest of the family isn’t much better. I’ve talked to the Baron about it on several occasions and he seems sympathetic at the time, but nothing seems to get better.”

“While his cousins don’t seem to ignore him like the adults do, he’s very unlike them. Symin's much more intelligent than they are. Once he could read the tutor who teaches the Ascalon children became almost unnecessary in his case. In one day of formal instruction he learns as much or more than the rest of the children who spend three hours a day five days a week being tutored.”

Minna sighed and shook her head with regret, “He needs a better teacher who can attract his interest, but unfortunately Symin has never gotten one. He likes his cousins but he doesn't need their company, and prefers to be on his own. Soon after his sixth birthday, he began spending most of his time wandering the estate."


Maxim looked at the younger boy. As Minna had said, Symin was very small for his age. He had large gray eyes with delicate features under blond bangs. Symin was looking at him warily, and instinctively he said the right thing, “Don’t worry young Master Symin, I’m not here to cage you, I’m just here to be your companion. Mistress Minna said they don’t want to steal your freedom.”

“I have many young nieces and nephews and I know how much mischief they can get into when they’re all alone. I’m simply here to try to keep you out of trouble when I can.” He grinned, “I’m sure I won’t be able to keep you out of all of it.”

Symin looked at him intently for a moment and then a slow smile appeared on his small face.

END of Prologue


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