Topic: First Chapter
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The Knowing by Larriane Wills
Swimming Kangaroo Books, September 2006
Swimming Kangaroo Books
ISBN: MS Reader 1-934041-11-4
[Other formats available: Mobi, PDF, HTML (no ISBN's are assigned)
The Knowing © 2006 Larriane Wills
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or events is purely coincidental. They are productions of the author's imagination and used fictitiously.
The rider was in dark clothes on a dark horse on a dark and rainy night. Not one condition was an accidental circumstance, but each well planned to fit with the other. Even still, he knew a chance of fate could undo him and on seeing the struggling figure ahead he slowed his hasty travel to covertly watch. He was curious but not alarmed until, between flashes of lightning, the figure disappeared. He knew death could come in small packages as well as large, and though he believed the one ahead to be no more than a child who was not aware of him, he proceeded with caution. He dismounted and drew his sword. Crouching to lessen his own bulky size he moved slowly, stopping between each step to peer hard ahead and listen while he waited for the next flash of light before moving again. Rain fell and splattered around him and dripped from the leaves of trees beside the track to distort sound, but he thought he heard a rustling of leaves and drew his knife as well. Nothing came at him. Knowing it may well be a lengthy pursuit he returned to his horse to lead it from the muddy track. He had no desire to be caught by surprise. With a bandana around the mount's nose to prevent it from answering or calling to any horse that might pass by, he returned to remove all signs of his horse leaving the track. Unlike his quarry he also erased the evidence of the trail going into the woods. The rider took the time to do so to prevent any other from following him, not the quarry.
The hunted, for the rider was not sure then that only he followed the slight figure, had collapsed and crawled into the forest. The rider found him under a log, buried in wet leaves, most likely waiting for death to find him. Fever raged through the frail body, and the boy did not stir when examined by match light. His feet were raw from walking without shoes; his hands and knees were scraped, cut, and held both scabs and fresh bleeding from falls and from crawling for an extended time. The worst of the injuries was a large, ugly burn, putrefied and oozing, high on the back over the left shoulder blade.
He was a puzzle, this boy. Long for his age it appeared, for his size suggested an age of thirteen or fourteen years, yet there were no signs of a boy changing to a man. More puzzling, he wore a cassock, and the garment was torn to rags. The man knew what the cassock and the wound on his shoulder meant for the man was of Ives and knew of the Priests of Oldspushner, but it made no sense on one so young. In addition to everything else, the boy looked starved.
While the rider pondered this puzzle, he lifted his head to listen. He could hear the sound of horses being driven hard for the conditions of the night. Now he was being hunted. With a muttered curse he rose to leave. By his personal code any kindness was weakness. To help a dying child would be an act of kindness, and he would not permit himself such weakness. Then a self-serving reason occurred to him. He returned to heft the child to his shoulder.
Who would suspect a man traveling with a sick child to be an assassin? Not the troops he met on the road later.
"I am Lockmer. This be my son Garran," he stated in a voice that sounded like a rake being dragged over gravel. In the saddle in front of him he held the unconscious child, wrapped tightly in a blanket. "I go to the nearest village in search of a healer."
The night was miserable, wet and cold. The small force of Ives troopers had sought shelter under a canopy of trees. The leader did not wish to leave the partial dryness to ask questions, to the assassin's benefit.
"A fever," the assassin continued. He knew even the bravest and strongest of men feared the deadliness of unknown fever. "Came upon him sudden last eve."
As expected, the trooper backed away. "We search for a boy of twelve, with dark hair and eyes. Have you seen such?"
Surprised that it was the boy the troopers searched for, not him, the assassin did well to hide it. "I have seen many boys in my travel with dark hair and eyes. This be Ives. Otherwise would be not common."
"He has a burn on his back shoulder."
"I've seen none without a shirt to know this."
"In cassock and alone?" the trooper retorted angrily.
"Nay, none alone and none in skirt. Why do you search for him?"
"A child?" the assassin asked with his disbelief in his voice.
The trooper did not answer, saying, "If you see such a child, report it to the nearest trooper. A reward is offered. Now pass and stay wide."
It was a night of surprises for the man. The next he did not care for. The boy stirred, having given no indication till then he was awake and aware. He had fooled him, which annoyed the assassin.
"Why did you not give me over?" the boy asked weakly.
The assassin grunted and then said gruffly, "It benefits me at current time for me to be a father with a son. When the time comes it does not, make no mistake, I will leave you quickly behind."
Before the boy was strong enough to sit without assistance, he crawled from the camp into the forest to find plants and herbs to treat himself. Though amazed, the assassin did not show it. The knowledge of plants and herbs was not consistent with the tattered cassock of the priests the boy wore, for the priests scorned the healing teachings of the Sisters of Treach, yet the man made use of the child's knowledge. While the child healed, the assassin taught the boy the arts of disguise, more for his benefit than the boy's. He taught the boy how to lighten his hair, how to darken it by degrees from white to brown, to red, and back to dark till his hair was again as black as it had been the night the man had found him. The man altered his own hair in length and style as well as his beard and mustache. At times he fashioned false hair from a horse's tail or mane and tree gum. Never did a description that may have been given of the two in one village match their appearance when they arrived in the next.
As well as the art of disguise the man taught the boy to avoid detection, the skills of stealth, and how to use a sword and knife. From the boy, the man learned to recognize leaves that relieved pain, plants to heal, herbs that stimulated, flowers to help one sleep, and even plants to bring death.
For two years they held together, the boy often left alone while the man went off in secret. Not one kind word was ever given to the boy by the man, and any gifts he gave to the boy, just as the lessons he taught, were given more to benefit the man than the boy, until the last. The man tossed a small purse to the boy after setting him on the ground at a crossroads.
"We've been together too long," the man grumbled. "You've size enough to pass for ten and six. Go lose yourself by enlisting as apprentice in the army of Amor. Sign yourself as orphan of Ives. They'll not be able to verify even if they've a mind to with all those fleeing from Ives. The killing there will serve well as reason for the hate in your eyes that you care not to disguise."
The man pulled his horse around and trotted off; leading the horse the boy had ridden. No good-bye came from him and no thank you from the boy who was quickly growing into a man. The dark eyes the man had spoken of held no tears, only the anger and hatred that never left them. The boy watched the man until he was out of sight. While he watched, he took two coins from the purse for his pocket. The purse he hid in his boot; then he took up his pack and began to walk.
Because two names were required for enlisting, he became Garran of Lockmer.