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Out of the Darkness
Out of the Darkness
Out of the Darkness
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Out of the Darkness

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When the Realms were still new, and the races emerging, a nameless champion arose. from the blood-filled Arenas.
Raised to be a fighter obedient to his owner in a culture where lives were only a means to gain power, can he
win acceptance and freedom from his dark childhood?

LanguageEnglish
PublisherK Caffee
Release dateAug 21, 2014
ISBN9781310868283
Out of the Darkness
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Author

K Caffee

K. Caffee is a full time graduate student who has bowed to the pressures of her muse to get the stories she likes to tell out into the big world. She has always enjoyed entertaining others with her flights of fancy, and now invites you to come along for the ride. When she is not writing, or studying, she is a willing servant to her two cats who sometimes provide inspiration for her stranger characters. Currently, she is working on her 5 book debut series Followers of Torments. Book 1 "Out of the Darkness" is now available Book 2 "Remember the Shadows" Is now available Book 3 "Into the Sunlits" Winning NaNoWriMo 2014 challenge will release this summer Book 4 "And Keep this in Mind" is being written now Book 5 "I am You while You are I" will be the epic wrap up of the series, is on the table awaiting further developments. If you enjoy delving into the world of the faerie, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

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  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    Katheryn makes it super easy to connect with the characters in her book. She pulls you in starting on page one, and she doesn't even let you go when you are finished!! Great read and I would recommend to anyone, especially those who like dark fantasy

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Out of the Darkness - K Caffee

Followers of Torments: Book 1

Out of the Darkness

K. Caffee

Copyright 2014 K. Caffee

Smashwords edition

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This is a work of dark fantasy fiction not suitable for readers under the eighteen (18) years of age due to fictional violence.

Thank you for downloading this eBook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

Acknowledgements

I want to thank all of the wonderful folks who have helped me simply by being there when I had a flurry of questions during the odd hours. You know who you are. I also wish to acknowledge Tieve, Miraja, and Delicateaslace for their work in helping to develop the main character during our role play sessions. Without you ladies, he never would have become someone to write about.

And, the last, but most important people I wish to thank, and cannot thank enough are Martin Frowd, Christina McMullen and Ryan Lanz for your invaluable work in getting this edited. You took a monstrosity and tamed it into a civilized book.

Table of Contents

A Child is Born

The Child is Collared

Introduction to the Arena

Survival

First Appearance

A Reputation Develops

Changes Start

Gaining Favor

The Rise to Freedom

The Ascendance Trials

The Finals

The First Days of Freedom

Guards

Making A Place

Beginning Anew

First Experiences

This is Mine

Brutal Lessons

Author’s Note

About the Author

Contact Me

Forthcoming Books

Sneak Preview of Book 2: Remember the Shadows

Prologue

Long and long ago when the world was still in its infancy, there was a time when beings walked the earth who are called myths and legends today. Some were beings of good; others evil. Many, like today, were a combination of both.

This is a tale of one who was caught in that eternal battle between the forms of expression. Being born, he was committed to the battle, as is every life that lives. The child arrived into the realm carved out of the world’s living bones, to a people who cherished ambition; there to carve his way into history - either as a Name, or to be lost in the masses of the nameless mediocrities.

Though few remember him any longer, he survived against all odds. Some say he lives even now, others say he died long ago when the newness of the world wore away.

As with all stories, they start somewhere; often beginning with a notable accomplishment. With him, we will start with his first:

He survived.

A Child is Born

The squalling newborn was lifted from his dead mother's delivery bed in the foul smelling cells below the Arena. The midwife scowled at the dead woman, her legs still fouled by birthing fluid and blood. She had been pampered since her recapture, and this is how she repaid the master – dying from her delivery instead of taking care of her brat. With a callous shrug, she gave the newborn the slap to start his breathing. His first cries were drowned out by the roars from the crowd watching a match in the Arena above.

The midwife looked him over, turning him this way and that in her work-roughened hands without care for his comfort or safety. Not seeing any blemish, or cause for his mother's death, she grunted and thrust the infant at another expectant woman who squatted nearby, chained in her corner of the stone-walled birthing cell.

This woman had no reason to expect a reward for suckling two, and had even less of a desire to. She did not reach for the child held out to her. Not caring much for the attitude, the midwife dropped the child onto the woman’s lap and cuffed her. The woman’s head thudded against the uneven wall, knocking her unconscious. She slumped forward to the limit of her chain and collar. The newborn, of unknown parentage, fell onto the slave’s swollen belly before slipping across her lap.

The baby’s body slid down the bulge after wavering for a heartbeat or two, his soft head rolled across the uneven surface of her legs. He landed on his feet at first, but quickly sank to an assisted sitting position. He sat balanced for a few precarious moments before the weight of his skull toppled him onto his side. He fell close to the slave's scrawny chest where it was bent at an unnatural angle. His still wet body rapidly chilled in the darkness of the cell, causing him to seek out the nearest source of warmth. Blindly flailing his limbs, he squirmed closer to the surrogate mother’s body heat.

The other expectant slaves glanced at him, then looked away. All knew he must survive or not on his own now. None of the others were close enough to term to nurse him, even if they had a desire to risk the displeasure of their master or the midwife. The midwife had already left to report both his birth and his mother's death.

The blood drenched newborn continued to fight for survival. Luck placed him near enough the dangling breast of the unconscious slave that his instinctive heat seeking brushed her nipple across his forehead and cheek. His head turned instinctively to seek comfort from the rough material. After a few failed attempts, he succeeded in latching on and winning his first meal. The first decree of his life was forged: Take what you can, when you can.

In the uncompromising environment of the bearer’s cells, the slaves followed the same routine day after day. Once the selected woman suckled the unwanted child the new pattern was set. She continued to suckle the weakling’s child while her own unborn child grew in her.

Each day, the midwife made a cursory examination of the birthing cells, to see if her skills were needed and to check on the recently born slaves. The pattern of the infant’s life disintegrated during one such visit. Despite being offered a breast to nurse on, he would only suckle for a brief time before he started to wail once more. His hunger could not overcome the upset stomach from the sour milk of his wet nurse.

The midwife, returned to the birthing cell when she heard the unusual sound of the colicky infant. She approached the chained woman and squeezed out a dribble of the refused milk. When she tasted it, her face scrunched into a disapproving grimace, her eyes lit in understanding of the infant’s displeasure. The sickly woman was taken elsewhere for treatment, which left the newborn without a source of life.

Knowing that Gartal, the master, had gone to great trouble to recapture the babe’s mother after her escape, the midwife knew the master would be upset if the child died from lack of care. She picked him up to find another wet nurse. Because none of the other expectant women were able to nurse the infant, she took him into the animal stalls where she remembered an old ewe that had recently birthed a stillborn lamb.

Entering the stall, the midwife knocked the animal over. She lay the infant beside the animal close enough for a teat to brush his cheek and trigger his nursing instinct. The babe eagerly latched to a teat and began suckling. After he had finished the largest meal he had eaten in several months, he curled up as close to the sheep as he could and fell asleep.

Trusting the ewe to feed the unwanted child, the old woman left the stall, closing the Dutch-style door behind her. She sealed the babe into a world of cold darkness. From that day on, his fight to live became more feral. When the ewe allowed the infant close, he cuddled against her for warmth, or suckled from her over-full teats. Within the lunar cycle of his new placement, a small bowl of a grain-based gruel was offered at short intervals. The infant never got a chance to investigate the offering. The old ewe ate it in his stead.

When he grew big enough to push the ewe away, he began sampling from the bowl himself. The ewe was taken away while he slept which made his world even bleaker. He was left in a solitary life where lives meant little, and power was everything. The babe continued to cling to what life he had, and forged a will to live that would not be extinguished. With no one to teach him, he forged the second decree of his life: No one cares.

Though his physical skills developed quickly, he was very slow with developing his speech. He had no one to mimic, nor could he associate words to meanings.

In his young mind, he associated the impression of items by how they affected him. Things to be avoided because they were uncomfortable included the bits of something sharp under his feet before the sticky floor ate them, the harsh stone of the manger when he scraped it along his skin, and the things that tore at his hands when he clawed at the wooden wall to his cell in boredom. He felt the opposite about the irregularly timed bright flashes that announced his ration’s arrival. When he was hungry, the sounds coming from his empty middle became another thing he associated to things he wanted to avoid because when the growling became too loud, it began to hurt.

*****

With insatiable curiosity to drive him to explore his surroundings and his own abilities, he began teaching himself new methods of movement as he strove to fill his senses with new sensations.

One of the things he desired least was the void when nothing was reported from his senses. When the silence became too much for his young mind to handle, he found ways to create noises. He would squirm into the center of his space, listening to the rustling of the bedding under his small body. When he stopped, he would tilt his head to one side or the other while he listened to the soft, almost silent, scuttling of the disturbed vermin who shared his home.

As he grew, he found other ways to amuse himself. He started isolating one of the nearby sounds and attempted to move closer to its source. When his deliberate snake-like movements sent his fellow inmates into hiding, he despaired of ever discovering what caused the scuttling and squeaking noises. One day, he pushed himself into a kneeling position as he moved, which reduced the amount of noise he made on the slowly decomposing bedding. His young, untried eyes caught a black on dark impression of something streaking away from close to where he plopped his hand onto the floor when he overbalanced and started to tumble back to the floor.

The new movement gave his game a new life, and he left behind his wriggling for true crawling. He found that this also let him move faster in response to the painful flash of light that announced the arrival of his food. Before, the vermin had often eaten more than half of his food before he could get to the bowl himself. Now, as he crossed the floor, he discovered the speed and noise was enough to drive the unwanted feasters away before he got there, leaving him almost his full ration at every meal.

This forged the third decree of his life: Be faster than your enemy.

In time his game evolved into regularly creeping up on the rock rats that infested his stall-cell and touching them. He listened to their squeals of surprise and fear when they ran away to hide. He tried to follow, but they always moved faster than he could, so the game became boring and he stopped chasing them.

The one place that the rock rats never abandoned, was overhead in the manger used by the ewe while she lived. Because of his isolation, he did not make the leap between hearing the rats in his bedding and the ones he heard overhead as the same type of creature. He could often distinguish between the rats he stalked along the floor by their squeaks and chirps, a few even by the sound they made while moving.

When he heard one of the familiar squeaks overhead, his curiosity drove him to grip the edge of the manger and pull himself into a standing position. He released one hand to reach for the rock rat he recognized, but his untried legs refused to bear his weight. He toppled backwards into the prickly embrace, a small squeak leaving his lips when his backside hit the ground.

The other rats nearby squeaked in panic, and he could hear the movement of many bodies scurrying for their shelters and safe places. Once again, his eyes picked out the dark-on-black movement as the creatures scuttled across his vision. His curiosity captured his attention enough that he soon forgot his painful experience with the straw ends. He began to watch from where he sat, precariously balanced on his seat with his legs splayed out in front of him, for more movement. He was soon rewarded by the dark-on-black blobs creeping out of the deepest shadows of his stall and returning to their normal activities.

He watched for several glass marks, almost the entire time between his breakfast and lunch rations, following the barely discernable forms as they moved around the floor. When one climbed the end of the manger, and disappeared inside, his mind made the leap between seeing the form, and hearing the squeaking noises when he lay under the manger. He had also heard a litter of babies, though he failed to understand what caused the high piping squeaks.

After he ate, he crawled back once more to the manger, and pulled himself up to peer in to the cavity. There was not enough light to let him see, and he soon gave up with aching eyes and a slight headache.

He turned his attention to watching the other rock rats forage through the floor of his cell for seeds or other grains that might have been left. He thought he saw times when the shape of the rats were distorted. Instead of being shadowy ovals, he thought he could see something sticking out on either side of one end. It took several rats moving purposefully with this material before he realized they were taking his bedding for their own purposes.

With a bleat he did not remember learning, he stumbled through a turn so his back was pressed against the manger. The rats – both inside the manger, and on the floor – froze at the sound, then once again scurried to safety. He felt one rat bravely use his hip and leg as an escape route from the manger, its sharp claws ripping into his delicate skin as it raced down his body to the floor.

He squeaked his annoyance, and tried to drop to his knees to crawl after it. Instead, he took his first toddled step. Feeling the world sway and move unnaturally by his own movement, he froze in fear while he tried to understand why the world was moving in this new way.

Soon, however, his legs once again gave way, and he collapsed to the floor, rolling back under the manger, and squashing one of the pregnant rats that had not moved fast enough to avoid him. The wiggling, squeaking thing under him frightened him further, and he rolled onto his hands and knees to race across the stall-cell to where his food arrived. He cowered there for the rest of the day, to afraid to uncurl enough to eat. His presence was enough to prevent the rock rats from trying to eat the food for him when it arrived much later. Hungry, and afraid, he finally nodded off into an uneasy sleep.

When he awoke, he found himself back in the center of his stall-cell with no memory of how he had gotten there. He pushed himself into a seated position, remembering with fear, what had happened before he had slept, and afraid he would make the floor wiggle and squeak in panic-struck pain again.

He looked around for the rats, expecting them to still be there in great numbers, but his cell remained frighteningly quiet and still. When the baby rock rats squeaked in hunger from the manger, their first piping squeaks startled him into rustling the new surface of his floor. The sharp sounds drew his attention in the complete silence. He raked his hands through the bedding, finally noticing how it had a dusty, yet slick, texture. He grabbed a handful in a toddler’s ham-fisted grip, and tore it up to hold ahead of his eyes.

To his surprise, he saw the clump of slightly less dark material move. He waved it around, watching it silently, tracking it with his eyes and hearing the slight rustle it gave off as the ends whipped around in his self-made wind.

He played at this new game until his meal arrived. Hungry, he dropped the handful and rapidly crawled to his bowl. When he was mostly through, he once again heard the piping squeaks of the litter of rock rat pinkies. He looked down at the circular darkness that he knew to be his bowl for a moment. Then, he leaned down and licked the bowl clean. The first decree had been honored.

When the bedding in his stall-cell was fresh, the crackling from the breaking stems caused by his crawling movements overpowered the soft scratching from the insects he now isolated to follow instead of the missing rock rats. Often, he would find one by the wall, the sharp feet scratching against the polished surface as it scrambled up beyond where he could reach. One time, when the sound he heard came from the place where his old wet nurse had eaten from, he reached up a small hand to feel through the darkness. The squirming mass of insects scattered from under his fingers, baring the partially stripped corpses of the dead pinkies.

With the change in prey, the infant found tracking his new toys to be more difficult. Because he wanted to hear the insects, he found himself frustrated time after time at the noise he made. When he once again pulled himself up to the edge of the manger, listening intently to the soft hissing noise of the scuttling insects, he gave off a soft chirp of interest. The sound sent the mass skittering into hiding. Once again, he turned on unsteady feet to listen for the soft sounds that seemed to echo from across the empty space. He started to drop down to his knees, and once again took a toddling step. Hearing how much less noise this movement made compared to his crawling, he squealed in delight and tried another step. When the results were the same, his delight grew and an unfamiliar expression crossed his face. He smiled for the first time.

Intrigued at the strange feeling in his face, he worked his face through many different expressions while he stumbled through his first toddling steps. Sometimes, he held his hands up to feel the change in the contours, other times, he used his hands to move his skin around. When he grew bored, or frustrated with this game, he explored other parts of his body. Though he was young, only eight lunars, he took the next steps on his path of self-instruction for skills he would need. As he grew more adept as balancing while he bent over, he began to incorporate the different positions in his attempts to trace the sounds he heard scuttling through the material under his feet.

One of his other games involved handfuls of composting straw. He twisted the shafts apart while he imagined them to be pieces of the darkness. He broke them into the smallest bits he could. When he could no longer break them into anything smaller, he cast some of the pieces into the air overhead. With the little light that seeped into his life, he would watch the bits scatter. When he felt he understood their pattern, he would repeat with the rest, and scamper after the dark on black hints trying to catch them. He listened intently for the sound of the pieces hitting as they floor with a soft hiss barely louder than the scuttling insects that ran from his presence. When silence surrounded him again, he repeated the game. After he had done this a few times, he would have only a few of the bits in his hands. With a last cast, he would try to see if he could catch all of them. At first, he never managed to do so. As the years went by, his eyes and ears became adept enough so that the game took several tosses to finish.

Other times, he dug up handfuls of the rotting layers and smeared them across the wall. He enjoyed feeling his hands slip along the slickly smooth lower part of the wall. He discovered the concept of growing taller when the transition line between the finished stone of the lower wall approached, then fell below head height on him. At first, he thought the room was getting smaller until he paused to breathe after chasing one of his skittering toys up the wall. When he repeated the chase the next day, the sense of waiting between when the sound started up the wall, and when it ended felt the same. Though he did not have words or concepts to understand that he had been counting the number of breaths it had taken for the sound to start and stop, he understood that he had somehow formed a concept of time between actions.

As he aged, he found himself unable to keep still for long. Knowing the contours of his world from the eight annual cycles he had resided within it allowed him to express his energy in displays of youthful exuberance. He ran and scampered about the space freely. Not knowing yet that the ceiling of his stall-cell was only more of the rough rock which formed the upper half of the walls, he attempted many times to make the darkness above him swallow his small form. He leapt, straining to rise high enough to join that blackness, so that he would never feel boredom again. His attempts always proved to be a failure.

*****

His survival did not go unwatched. Though just barely toddling, he found his familiar meals beginning to change. His meals alternated between an almost flavorless gruel and a much spicier pottage. Though he enjoyed the change from the monotonous bland offering, he became wary of his meals, stooping to sniff the steam coming from the bowl before he tasted. If the scent burned his nose, he would sit back and stare at the bowl until the offering had turned cold and almost solid before he began eating; if it proved to be the bland mush, he would slurp it down without waiting for it to cool.

Once he adapted to the new flavor, he found a third flavor added to the rotation. The mutton flavored gruel proved to be his favorite. The first time the pottage arrived, the child sniffed at it and discovered the steam carried an unfamiliar scent. Tentatively, the child touched his tongue to the stuff filling the bowl, and jerked his head back in surprise. It was neither the spicy gruel that burned his tongue, nor the bland ration he preferred. The flavor of mutton had permeated the mush.

Lapping tentatively at the new flavor, the child’s mind filed the flavor alongside the other two. The impressions that had become bedded in his memory of the bland and spicy flavors were weighed against the new one. With a tilt of his head, he decided that he liked it, and rapidly devoured the rest of the offered meal. He expressed his satisfaction for the flavor with the almost forgotten sound similar to what the ewe had used when she settled to let him nurse – a grunting sigh.

Over the next eight meals of time, the food choices once more resumed their monotonous flavor. The bland and spiced mush vanished, leaving only the delightful meaty flavor for him to enjoy. The new menu lasted for another eight meals, then once again changed.

When the slave’s next ration arrived, the mush included a piece of stewed meat. Accustomed now to the monotonous selection, the child did not stop to sniff the steam. He immediately set about slurping the soupy mass, and soon encountered the smallish piece.

In consternation, he paused to think about how to get the piece of meat into his mouth. He tried to suck it up, but it was too solid. He tried to lap it up, but it was too big. Finally, he grabbed it with his hand in the same ham-fisted manner he used when he picked up his bedding. The gruel he grabbed along with the meat began to trickle down his hand unpleasantly, which prompted him to lick the mucky trail left on his skin.

He dropped the meat, when he started cleaning the trail from his palm. By chance, it landed back in his bowl with a splat. Hearing the sound, he grabbed for it again, and got another handful of meat and gruel. When the gruel started trickling down his arm again as he raised the mess to his mouth, he once more slurped at it to stop the tickling sensation. This led to the development of a new game for him.

With a delighted screech, he repeated the process, stopping only when his fingers raked along the almost empty bowl and picked up the meat. Puzzled, he leaned down to sniff the bowl, placing the hand holding the meat on the floor to support his body. More liquid squeezed out of the meat, tickling through his fingers. He immediately stopped to lick at the new source of tickles to make it stop. His first taste of meat flavored compost caused him to wrinkle his nose and mouth the flavor trying to dislodge it. When he finally tried to rake it off his tongue, he used the hand with the meat in it. This left the stewed meat smeared on his tongue.

Surprised at the pure meat flavor, he mouthed at the mass, rolling the stewed meat around. When his mouth had filled with spit, he was finally forced to swallow. This cleared both flavors from his mouth, leaving behind a pleasant aftertaste. Desiring more, he licked at his palm, cleaning off the remaining mix of gruel and meat strands with enjoyment.

When he could no longer taste the meat, he whimpered and turned to where the bowl lay forgotten. He leaned down, and sniffed at the drying remains of his meal. Smelling the meat, he began licking the bowl, seeking more of the new flavor. The bowl was quickly polished clean leaving only the lack of flavor to inform him that nothing else remained.

His eating education continued over the course of the following eight-day week. Each day, the child waited for the flash meal’s arrival. Before his eyes had quit tearing from the flash, he would be at the bowl, sniffing and lapping to find the included meat chunks.

When he found one, he played his new game, dropping the meat into the gruel, and cleaning his arm where the wetness trickled down. On the eighth day, when he only received meat, he gave a chirp of excitement. He thought that the bowl would fill itself with his familiar food once he picked up the meat. When he grabbed the almost scentless chunk, he fell silent. The jerked meat was dry and hard – jabbing into his partially calloused palm, not soft and stewed like it had been in the potage.

He rolled the piece around in his hand, trying to discover how to squeeze it so he could play his game. When it proved to be dry throughout, he snapped at it in anger. Though it was a piece of the preserved fighter’s meat, it had been tenderized some beforehand. His untried jaws bit off a mouthful for his effort. He choked on the first bite when he tried to swallow without chewing. He coughed the piece out, and heard it fall to the bowl with the sound of a solid mass hitting wood.

Curious, he leaned down to sniff at the thing which had just left his mouth. When it did not smell like bile, he tentatively licked it. It tasted like the meat he had grown to enjoy, which agreed with the faint smell his nose reported. He chased the small piece around the bowl for a while before he managed to finally get it back into his mouth, the larger piece in his hand forgotten. When he managed to finally suction the bite sized piece of meat up, he bit down on it to keep it safe while he wondered how to swallow it without choking. Before he had thought for long, he noticed that his teeth had sliced through it, and he tried to reposition the smaller pieces in his teeth again. In this way, he learned to chew his food.

When he had swallowed the first bite, he leaned over the bowl, searching for the soft food he was used to. The bowl remained empty. He felt the odd lump in his hand, which reminded him about the rest of the meat he held. He bit off another piece experimentally, and tried the new method for making it small enough to swallow. When it worked again, he practiced biting and chewing his way through the rest of the small ration.

After he finished the meat, he encountered a second surprise. When the child returned to the bowl after finishing off the meat to look for more, his nose told him something else was present.

The unknown scent was not the expected scent of gruel, however. It smelled less appetizing, and wetter. He repeated the sniff and taste test with unexpected results. When his tongue encountered the watered-down salty, green ale, he jerked his head back in surprise. Once more he mouthed at the flavor, not sure if he liked it or not. However, the combination of the salt and herbs in the preserved meat along with his own thirst soon sent him back to the bowl for another sample.

He tried to rake his fingers through the fluid, but only managed to upset the bowl. As if this were expected a partially full mug arrived with a blinding flash of light. The boy jerked back in painful surprise when the light flashed a second time. He eased back to where the food arrived, sniffing carefully to discover what had arrived. When he scented the strange liquid again, he followed his nose to where a mug sat on the dampened floor. Carefully, he tested the air with his tongue, easing his way down to where the fluid level was. This time, when his tongue touched the liquid, the rim of the mug prevented him from being able to lap it.

Mewling, he tried to stick his tongue out further. He tasted the flavor in the air, but remained unable to reach the liquid. As he wrestled with the problem, the mug began to tip. Finally, it tilted enough he could begin to lap up the liquid. His efforts soon drained the mug enough that this method no longer worked.

He tried tipping the mug further, which caused the rim of the mug to fall between his teeth and dig into the corners of his mouth. Startled, he clamped his mouth shut, trying to break up the obstruction and relive the discomfort. When this failed, he lifted his head, and poured ale into his mouth through his teeth. He choked on the sudden influx of fluid, then gulped to clear his throat. He finally reached up with his hands to pull the mug away from his face, to clear his mouth in order to breathe. The remaining quarter mug of small ale poured down his chest as he took the still tipped tankard from his lips. As the runnels of cool liquid tapered off, he felt it begin itching as it dried. This sent him into odd contortions to find and stop the sensation with his tongue. When he failed to stop it, he tried to run away from it. He ran as fast as he could around and around his cell-stall, the mug clamped in his hand forgotten. The air flowing over his body finished drying the streamlets of ale into sticky threads which no longer bothered him.

*****

As the child grew, he developed an interesting habit after he ate. The boy’s excess energy drove him to exercise vigorously. He often ran, jumped, walked on his hands and feet quadruped style, or climbed the rough-worked walls to reach the stone ceiling. While this activity was accepted, injuring himself was not.

Any time he scraped or bruised himself during his play, the following day his rations would be diminished. The boy child responded to these restrictions with whimpers. At first, the complaints seemed to be tolerated, then the rations began to shrink again each day he whimpered about them. After two weeks of continually shrinking rations, the child grasped the concept that he was not to complain over his ration size. Though his stomach continued to complain at the reductions he taught himself to ignore it.

Though the boy learned not to complain about how much his rations were reduced, it took much longer for him to grasp the reason for the restrictions in the first place.

The incident that sparked his understanding between the ration size and personal injury was almost a lightning bolt event. Already on restricted rations due to the large tender area which covered him from hip to shoulder from the day before, the child felt his feet tangle in the moldering floor cover and upset his balance. Stumbling, the boy cried out wordlessly. He windmilled his arms, trying to regain his balance, yet his momentum sent him careening into the wall. Luck was with him this time – his hand hit the wall first, allowing him to slam to a halt.

The following day, he received the small chunk of meat along with an even smaller piece of bread and his normal allotment of small ale. He puzzled over this while he worked his way through the reward, his mind picking at what had occurred in the recent past. When he recalled the various injuries and following reduced rations along with his recovery on the stumble with this increased ration, his understanding snapped into place.

With his new understanding, he became very concerned with ensuring he never received another injury. The child drilled himself out of his incorrect fall response. He developed his own unique tumbling style with the help of his available materials. Using the bedding to keep his feet from moving, the child practiced his balance recoveries after leaning too far in any direction. When he overbalanced the child learned to tumble without injuring himself so that he rolled back to his feet without a pause.

The Child is Collared

Though time had no meaning for him, it did for his master.

His isolation came to a crashing end when the top half of the stall door flew open with a headache-inducing crash. Before the child could recover from the first shock, his eyes were assaulted by light as a green-flamed torch was thrust into his cell and wedged into the small space between the stone of the wall and the wooden doorframe. The sharp scent of burning pitch and mineral laden silk tore at the sensitive nose of the filthy wraith. In shock, pain and fear, he scurried to the darkest corner of the stall behind the manger. There he waited, uncertain of the change that had come so unexpectedly. He crouched in the darkness not knowing if he should continue to hide, or charge the thing that frightened him.

When the light did not leave, he shot a look directly at it suspiciously. His tear filled eyes erupted into a new level of pain in retaliation. He cringed away from the source, fearing that he had done something that would cause him to have nothing

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