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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

A Child's Home (Solo RP)


WildTaltos
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Eoghann sat in the saddle upon his stout, shaggy Arafellan steed, guiding it in a steady amble, a peculiar brisk walk it could sustain for hours without tiring. Other than the wind howling in the mountains towering around him and the snapping of pine branches high above, a vicious, echoing sound heralding a violent cold gust that did not reach into the gully he was traveling in, there was no noise but the resonant sound of his horse’s hooves against rocky soil, and the jingling the bells made in his red braids with every one of the beast’s steps, forming a peculiar music with the clopping beat. Even though there was no sound of other living creatures other than the tortured trees higher up the mountains, his posture was straight and alert, ready to either take up his club or sword from his sides in a second’s notice. Trollocs or other shadowspawn scarcely passed this way, so far south in Arafel, though there was always a chance, and they were not the only threat – this was a less-common, but still occasionally used pass for traders in these parts, and so there was the threat of outsiders who meant him harm, darkfriends and the unenlightened alike. So far he had met no one in this solitary, mountainous reach, though, leaving him and his red steed to an uneasy peace in their journey.
 

It was a chore, all throughout his journey, not to lose his vigilance, for an excitement that his cold mind rarely experienced had possessed him much of the time, threatening to overwhelm him, much as it did when he was questioning a darkfriend. He was at last on his path to home, after his long time spent in foreign lands, serving as a Child. With what little time he had been allowed for leave up until now, he had not seen a chance to travel home, until he had been promoted to Arbiter, and could be granted a month of leave. It was a blessing from the Ancient Ones, hallowed of the Light, that his unit had stationed itself in Kandor recently – there was no time more opportune to be able to reach home as soon as possible, and so he had asked for his leave from his commanding officer, which had been granted. It had taken him a little over a week to reach this point, and it would not be much longer now until he reached his village.
 

 If it was still there. There was always the fear that he would return and find some catastrophe had befallen his family in this lawless land that scattered them to the wind or utterly destroyed them, but it was almost an invalid fear.They were the true Light of the world, he had been taught in his childhood – they would only fail when the world itself failed, if such a thing were possible, and he had to keep faith in that. They would be there and safe and living as they always had, and it titillated him, imagining his homecoming already, what they would think of his pristine armour, his white tunic with the red-banded arms and his snowy cloak with the brilliant sunburst on it and the red shepherd’s crook. It had gotten slightly soiled in his lonely travels through the wilderness regions, sleeping where he could, and from his sudden seizures, the ones that would suddenly take him without warning, the worst kind, for it sent him toppling dangerously from his mount and there was always the risk that when he regained his senses, his horse would have bolted away, but much of it had been dust he could easily beat out, while the rest he could work out with a bit of scrubbing once he got to his village.

 

Whatever they thought of his clothing, surely they would be proud of the deeds he had done since last he saw them. He had found light in the world of outsiders, amongst the Children, and now he could help bring the Light to all outsiders through them.  He had punished darkfriends, the worst sort of outsiders, had spilled their blood and stretched their limbs and their necks with a noose, noble works all – his family would be proud of him. Perhaps even his father would. But it did not matter to him whether he pleased him, he acknowledged with a sudden jolt of horror though his body, almost breaking his attention entirely - father, but one of those in his life who had tortured him for his ugliness, but more thoroughly than anyone else had ever done - but he recovered with thoughts of Sister, and his two brothers, soothing thoughts, their kindness towards and appreciation of him. They were his home, and he was almost there.

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The sky was blushing a rosy pink, in its preparation for its ravishing of the violet twilight, and the shadows were deepening in the rocky gorge, when at last he came to a place were a small spring gushed out of a secret source from within the misshapen cliff face fast to his right, flooding the path ahead with a handspan of water that meandered off down the sloping path. That was what contributed to this path’s unpopularity amongst merchants, the fact that an icy cold water constantly filled a long portion of the path ahead, ready to take the toes off any who went by foot in it, and it was here he reined his horse in.


To his left was a rocky knoll jutting like an unsightly tumour from the larger mountain it was attached to, lumpy and furred in areas with an unnaturally hardy lichen. Almost halfway up the mineral wart, at three meters, was an almost-imperceptible shelf, camouflaged by the mossy growth and many other odd formations mutilating it – that was his destination. He heeled his horse forward a bit, towards the flooded path, and peered ahead with his one good eye, as far as he could see on the path ahead. No one. He then turned the horse about so that he could look back the way he had come, then he looked up, at the fir trees on the mountain slopes all about him, but as far as he could tell, there were none behind him and none on the heights overhead. Good.

 

With gentle taps into his horse’s flanks, he then urged the beast towards the lumpy hill, to a steep pile of rubble and eroded boils. Most who looked at it would fail to realise it was a form of stairs, and with good reason – as his horse placed one hoof on one of the tops of the rocky debris, then another, his careful control of the companion animal and his reassuring speech to keep it calm made it obvious that only a very skilled rider could manoeuvre a mount up the haphazard stair without the animal refusing or misstepping, possibly breaking a leg in such an error, and it was even more a quandary to the unlearned why anyone, on foot much less a horse, would wish to scale the unassuming structure. Several minutes past in this careful progression, his attentions painfully torn between guiding the animal and watching for anyone approaching, before he sighed in relief when the animal scrambled on to the level shelf he had seen from below without incident, and, unnoticed from any observer from the ground, there was yet more to the cleft in the knoll, a haphazard, narrow path jutting from the sides of it, running off into the inhospitable mountains. That was the path to his home, and the reason why his village had rarely ever saw traders in its long existence, or any other disturbance – it took quite an imagination from an outsider to even guess there was anything worth seeing on the shelf if they  looked up and saw it to begin with, and it would take an exceptional motivation for that outsider to want to climb up just to see if their guess might be correct.
 

 Even though there was room for one horse to walk on it, there was no room for error while about it, he speculated, as he heeled his horse into a careful walk out onto the ledge – as he left behind the area of the spring, the relatively shallow drop flanking the open side of the path gradually deepened into a dizzying plunge into depthless crevices, scarcely a stride away from where his horse walked. The most he could hope for if his horse missed a step for whatever reason would be to jump from it in time to throw himself onto the path while his horse plummeted off. It was nigh impossible to attempt the path during the infamous thunder storms in these parts – exposed as the path was, the high winds in the peaks when nature raged thus could rip a man and horse right from the shelf. Fortunately, the sky was entirely clear as it darkened in its evening respite – no threat of a storm, just the usual sighs of the mountains.

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The shelf clinging to the flank of the mountain wended left and right, dipped up and down, sometimes expanded due to the wearing away of the wall it clung to, sometimes narrowing slightly so that his horse was forced to creep along carefully. In this slow progress, he had plenty of time to reflect on a variety of memories, and it was not inappropriate that he should recall when he had walked this path for the first time, going the opposite way he was now, at 17 years of age. He had had no horse then – just his own two feet, unshod unlike now, his belled, dull coloured clothing, and a sword on his back and a club at his side. He still much preferred bare feet to shoes, but apparently in much of the world of outsiders, shoes and boots were a cultural must amongst all but the poor, which he was no longer, ever since joining the Children. He remembered he had a similar sort of excitement as now, to be at last leaving the only world he knew to go see the world of outsiders, an adventure, he imagined, that would be straight out of the old stories. It had turned out more a misadventure than anything else – the sour and disgusted looks he got from others when he had finally meandered his way out of the wilderness into civilisation foretold of the hardships he would experience thereafter from outsiders because of his stunted size and deformed face. A funny thing, he reminisced, that they should look at him in such disgust, when they were much more deformed than he. Their deformity was on the inside, an aspect far more revolting than physical mutation, corrupted by the shadow to some degree, just as he had been told by the wise men back home.

 

The mild red had become a deep violet in the sky, and the stars were beginning to flash into existence, when at last, the gorge he had been walking beside the whole time opened wide and abruptly into valley between the legs of the peaks, and he grinned, or his equivalent of it with his distorted upper lip, to look down into it. Amongst a circle of pines were cleared and cultivated fields, green with flourishing heads of hardy sorts of cabbages and the sprouts of bean plants. They would be partly beige if it were the time when winter drew near, when the barley was beginning to flourish, but these were the early summer crops. And amongst the fields, grouped in clusters or standing alone, were the houses particular to his people – the wooden walls were very short, shorter than even him standing, one could tell from this distance, the peaked wooden roofs covered with a green sod that made them almost look like odd hills. One might assume he or she had stumbled into a land of dwarves, but Eoghann knew much of the homes were constructed underground, and it was but the top half of the first levels he looked upon – the soil acted as a natural insulation, a great help in the bone-chilling winters. It had shocked him, and it still did, when he had discovered most outsiders built their homes entirely free-standing and with holes in them other than doors – windows as they were called; it was such a senseless waste of heat, and it seemed somehow pretentious to him, to build something so outstanding from the natural environment. But it was but one of the smaller arrogances of outsiders. The far end of the valley was pastureland for the cattle, as he saw with the vague moving animal shapes on the green hills in the distant, slowly being herded back to the various barns for the night. His home. A beautiful vale of tranquillity, where darkness did not come. His ideal. All as it should be.

 

The only structure of any height was nigh his end of the valley – a tall wooden tower, and he could vaguely make out two people in a pavilion built on the top. This was the only way in to the valley, and so it was the only way that had to be constantly watched, and that was the purpose of it, a sentry post. Surely they had already spotted him, if there busy movements said anything, and so to allay their fears, he halted his mount, and waved his red-banded arms in seven sweeping arcs over his head. All at once the frantic movement in the tower top ceased – they knew as well as any now that he was one of their own, as that was the signal they used whenever the few who went outside returned home, even if they may not be able to tell exactly who he was. As far as he knew, he was the only one who was outside for long periods on end, but that might have changed while he was away, and he knew there was periodically someone who went out to the nearest outsider town in Arafel to trade for goods they did not produce themselves, so it might not be readily apparent to them who he was. Regardless, he acknowledged, as lightly tapped his horse into a continued walk, the whole village would be roused by the news of someone coming in. The path ahead slowly rambled its way down into the valley, and he knew by the time he reached the bottom, everyone in the village who could leave a task suspended would be there to greet him.

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“Welcome home, Eoghann!”


The cry, repeated again and again – it was a barrage of sound that overwhelmed his senses, and it invoked in him such a euphoria that he felt heady, nearly drunk, on the pleasure. His constant vigilance and the guard he kept up always due to his physical condition besides the very conniving nature of outsiders in the world beyond here vanished in the ecstasy that bathed him, palpable in the greetings, whether sombre or breathlessly excited, which encircled him on all sides.

 

His excitement had mounted as he came down the last stretch of the treacherous shelf, descending towards the needle-carpeted valley floor and the pine trees running up to the rocky cliff face that the path hugged. No stench here, unlike where outsiders gathered en masse, the cities and towns he still could not get used to – only clean mountain air fragranced by the resin of evergreens. He had tossed his head back, red braids jingling rigorously, just to breathe deep the air in a risky moment, eyes closed to focus solely on his handicapped olfactory perception.

 

People had begun to gather at the end of the path, dressed in clothing of brown sparsely decorated with a light blue, a dye derived from the blackthorn fruits that grew in the valley, pointing at him and conversing in awed tones, no doubt wondering at his strange clothing, and as he came closer, as he could begin to make out their finer features and they his, their speech became clearly cries of excitement and surprise with his name in it: “Eoghann! Eoghann!”
 

A welcome for him, happiness at his coming. He had heeled his horse into an amble, no longer concerned for the narrowness of the path – he only focused on being amongst those who could rejoice in his arrival all the faster, something he could never experience amongst outsiders.
No sooner did he reach the bottom of the path, a short step down onto a surface
of top soil and cuticle-coated needles, did he jump down from his saddle and
run into the group before him, smiling crookedly, and just as his enthusiasm suddenly reached unrestrained boiling, the group all at once burst into loud waves of hails and laughter, and it was what overwhelmed him now, this celebration solely for him -  the blessings and greetings and the declarations of relief that he was alive, all over the tinkling of bells, the consecutive hugs and endless exchange of kisses on the forehead. His people, the Light of the world, who could do no wrong. Not even his father – what he had done to him…Eoghann turned his thoughts elsewhere before his mood could plummet.

 

The sudden call of his name by unmistakable voices helped distract him from it, and as he turned away from kissing a cousin on the brow, out of the throng came charging his sister, lifting her belled skirts as she came, and his two brothers, all of them taller than he – and certainly more physically attractive – but they shared the same shade of red hair and green eyes, something, however slight, to distinguish them from the other redheads of his village. He scarcely had time to say their names before they bowled into him, his sister first, and, always solid for a woman and at her larger height, she nearly knocked him over – it was the grace of her arms about him, holding him up in embrace, that steadied him enough to save himself from the fall.

 

“Eoghann, we’ve been worried to death for you, you’ve been gone so long!” His sister said.

 

“Needless to say, big bro,” said his brother, next eldest to him, “you need to come home more often.”
 

“What under the Light are you wearing!” His other brother, the youngest of them, said first, staring at him in incredulous amusement. “It certainly is….lightful…”

 

“It is…a long tale,” he said to respond to his youngest sibling first, his normal awkward speech joyful for once instead of passionless and searching. “It is all a… long tale,” he said in response to his other brother. All of it was a long tale, one he would need plenty of time to recount – he would certainly be brought to the village’s meeting hall just to tell it to everyone, as soon as they could be gathered, if not this night then tomorrow, as he always was bidden to do so after his journeys amongst the outsiders, but this would certainly be a more interesting story than his times running dried fruit up from Tear to Andor on trading vessels.  

 

“I…am sorry I worried you…and everyone,” he said in response to his sister, and then adding to those around him, who had settled some since his sibling’s entrance.

 

“Oh come now – you already apologised when you showed up in one piece, boyo,” his sister said with a gentle smile, a familiar vestige of his dark childhood, a source of comfort when he could find none. Comfort where there was none elsewhere – it seemed emblematic of where his people stood in in relation to the shadowy world at large. The playful banter continued awhile longer, his cousins there gathered joining in at times or else interjecting with an insistent question about the nature of his garb or where he had been so long, which some he answered, others he waylaid with, “You will hear all about it…at the meeting...be sure of that,” before at last, his sister, sensible and commanding as usual, raised her large voice and cut through all talk with, “Alright, let him breath, folks! He’s likely as not come a long way – he didn’t spend years absent out in the mountains, I reckon – so let’s stuff him with some hot cider and roast beef, let him settle a bit, then we can let the wise men cook him up for us!”

 

Eoghann grinned at her mild humour and in gratitude for her social adeptness where he had none – only over strict matters, such as dealing with a stranger in bartering or, more recently, questioning
and judging others. So it was – his youngest brother gathered the reins of his
horse for him, declaring he would stable it for him (though Eoghann guessed he wanted to be first to see what was in his traveling pouches and satchels), and between his sister and his brother, they begin dispersing back the way they had come, through the shield of the evergreen forest, many trailing after them, others wandering back in a direction that would return them to their previous occupation faster. His father wasn’t here – he was grateful of that – but his immediate family’s farmhouse was where they were headed he knew, and his father would likely be there. There was not physical or verbal abuse so much anymore – it was the memories that made him most leery of the thought of being near his only living parent. Whatever, in his time here, he had to confront him, and it may as well be sooner than late, he resolved, as he walked with his family under the timeless, tall pines.

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Eoghann sat on one of the long benches at the rough-planked, pinewood table, outwardly relaxed – or so he thought – but inside, his content tottered madly on the brink of a horror generated by unrelieved anxiety, ready to fall and shatter at the slightest disturbance. He had been smiling much of the night, when his joy crested enough so as to make it an appropriate gesture, at any rate, so he assumed he appeared relaxed to others.


The family farmhouse – he was in the dining chamber now, seated about the communal eating table with his three siblings, a sparse population for a furniture piece designed to comfortably accommodate ten people and their banqueting wares, several more if those assembled did not mind jostling elbows, as they surely wouldn’t on festive occasions, merry on mead from drinking horns. Small wooden plates lacquered by beeswax served both to be the simple thrones of lumpy, yellow candlesticks that cast a frugal, orange-tinted flamelight across the table, and for their trenchers to hold the remains of the food they had eaten earlier – a peppering of red beans, debris of almost entirely devoured baked potatoes, the gristle of a portion of red meat, crumbs of bread, such edible odds and ends. The table was still set with the large platters, also crafted of wood, from which they had served themselves, with still a good amount of food left in them – a bowl of fire-roasted potatoes, another of beans and cabbage and onions tossed with vinegar, a half-devoured leg of some roasted, red-meated beast on a wide platter in the center, with the carving knife stabbed into the fleshy portion still on the bone, and another platter of small barley loaves, baked only hours before. As the honoured individual, within reach on the table before him were the drinking bowls of mead and cider, his to fill his drinking horn first with. Right now, he held the hollowed curve of bone absently in one hand, partially filled with cider – never once had he dipped it in the mead, because he feared he may have sore need of his wits even at so jovial a dinner.


There was not much to observe about the rest of the room – the floor was a packed dirt overlaid with mats of woven grass for comfort, the walls were thick wood timbers filled in between and plastered over with dark mud, dimly seen with dancing shapes by the greater light of the fireplace which was at his back, a cavernous mouth of cobbled stones hosting a high and healthy fire, by which a pile of pine and the scarcer blackthorn sat ready to fuel the blaze. The ceiling was the part of the roof that supported the sods of the roof, the wooden undersides barely seen in the shadows. No windows, as in on all his people’s houses. The only ornamentation to the room were the heavy tapestries of wool draped on the far wall, dyed with the familiar light blue dye forming an abundance of spirals and what might best be described as fingerprint whorls on the white wool, and between them, strange charms of dried sinew intertwined with a variety of bones from diverse animals, charms to protect the household. Nothing near the decadence he saw in much of the world of outsiders.


This earthen room of fluctuating firelight, and the others similar to it adjoining it or else connected to it through an adjacent chamber – the kitchen, the vestibule, the family gathering room, and, in the level even deeper in the ground, four bedrooms and a storage area – they were all a part of the structure he had been born and raised in up until early adulthood, set amongst fields he had toiled almost all of his waking day in throughout childhood and adolescence, replenishing the earth of the crops that were the lifeblood of his people. He did not have many good memories that were created here – he did not have many good memories at all, but the bulk of them had been made in places elsewhere in the valley  than here – but there was some nostalgia that gave it some attraction to him now. The fact that he had grown up here alongside his siblings, that this was the environment they all had first come to know after leaving the womb of their mother – that this in a way was their shared womb ever since their mother had died.


He could not forget the bad memories, he couldn’t ever forget – such as when his father had picked him up bodily as a boy and threatened to throw him in the fireplace behind him now over him growling in anger under his breath,  or how his father had entered the dining chamber ragingly drunk, how he had dragged him from the bench and proceeded to kick him viciously in the guts and back, ranting about uncompleted chores, how his boot toe had struck some vital nerve and his bowels had drained out uncontrollably, at which the man had begun to slap him in the face for dirtying himself. But their father was not here, thank the Light, and his siblings were, they who he loved more than all else, and so things were mostly good. He only worried about when his father might intrude, and he awaited it with dread – their father had gone out to drink with “the lads,” his sister had told him, meaning he had went to get smashed with the small group of other drunkards, and possibly play a game of inebriated hurling while they were about it. He hoped his father would be too drunk and tired from it to return this night, which was a possibility, but there was still the chance he would be stumbling in at any minute, keeping him on edge.


The meal they had supped on was nothing special – his youngest brother, the apparent chef since their mother had died, had of course not known he was coming, and so this was typical fare for the farmhouse, besides the bowl of mead, which they had tapped from a barrel just for the occasion. Upon entering the house, Eoghann had immediately taken off his breastplate and gauntlets and the conical helm he had hanging by a cord at his back, his sword and club, and lain them carefully in the vestibule, and hung his white cloak where brown and blue coats and cloaks were hung, so that he could sit down comfortably at one of the benches, and move lightly to assist his siblings in bringing the food out when it was ready. He almost did not realise he was wearing the red-banded tunic as they began their meal, his thoughts of all to do with the outside obliterated in the all-encompassing atmosphere of home and the familiar rituals, of blessing the food before consuming it, of eating everything by hand, no utensils but the knife used to carve the meat, of constantly replenishing his drinking horn by dipping it in the bowl of cider, until they had slowed enough in the progress of their feasting to begin to talk in earnest. And one of the first topics had been his youngest brother asking with an affable grin, “So what is with the fancy clothing? You suddenly become a prince, Eoghann?”


His sister and his other brother chimed encouragement for him to tell, and Eoghann had smiled in his haphazard manner in excitement. Now to tell them what he had been up to in his time away, and surely they would be proud, that he was now enlightening outsiders. “No …better even,” he answered. “Long story short, I was working as a deckhand on a trading vessel…when once we were in port in Andor, I met some outsiders…who dressed somewhat like this…”He gestured at himself, at the tunic he wore. “I heard them speaking…trying to convince others to join them. They called themselves Children of the Light…and what they said, I think, rang mostly true to what we believe. Not exact…but close, in that they are entirely dedicated to the Light, and they know the evil and dishonour amongst outsiders. I was…astonished to find such enlightened folk outside, and so…I decided to join them.”


Their reaction had made his heart plummet, and an uncertain fear creased his mind – all of them were scowling, brows raised in questioning, and they exchanged glances amongst each other, as if sending hidden communications through looks alone. Did they disapprove? Their initial responses certainly seemed that way, but why, Eoghann could not imagine, until his second eldest brother said in slow incredulity, “So you joined a group of outsiders who say outsiders are evil…when they are outsiders as well?”


“They are different,” Eoghann had begun in a voice bordering a desperate plea, but his sister interrupted him.


“What’s different about them? Outsiders are still outsiders, no matter how many shiny light sigils they slap on themselves and how much they claim they are not rot,” she had said sourly.

 

“Not to mention, all this time you’ve apparently been fooling around with these outsiders,” added his youngest brother crossly, “when you could have been back here helping us with the crops and actually punishing outsiders.”

Eoghann had known if he did not end their bitter critique then and there, they would soon be bullying him and shaming him into giving up his endeavour with the Children altogether, and so he had said quickly before anyone else could interject their opinion, “But that is what I am doing…punishing outsiders. They are different because they want to as well…maybe not punish them, but enlighten them, yet I get to punish them while about it, more often than I would be able to do here. What I have done, it would surely make any of you proud…and so long as I am with them, I can keep doing it. It is more worthy than what I was doing, loading crates onto boats and the like, while outside.”

Again, his siblings had exchanged looks, but these were not so disapproving as uncertain, which began to alleviate his tension, and then at last his sister said, “Well…that does seem better than what you were doing.” She grew giddy then, and said eagerly, “Tell us what you have done to the outsiders then.” And immediately his younger brothers had echoed, “Yes, tell us!”

 

It had relieved him, that his family accepted this new role he filled, and it only reinforced their acceptance to tell them in minute detail the torturings he had partaken in, to see the much-treasured approval in their eyes and share in their gleeful laughter over a particularly explicit part of his narration. It did not bode well for tomorrow, when the whole village gathered together and he would explain his tale to them – he imagined now the reactions would be similar – but probably with the same justifications he could win most of them over to his case. From there, the conversation had traversed over a number of topics – from how the harvests had fared since he had been away, to what places he had been deployed since joining the Children, to the family gossip that they all could laugh raucously over, to a description of Amador and the Fortress of the Light which his siblings awed at. The while, his pleasantness managed to overpower an ever-present fear as the hours grew late, but the fear was there still, waiting…

Edited by WildTaltos
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When everyone heard the door in the vestibule creak open, followed shortly by the clanging of metal and a slurred curse – “Bloody, dung-eating piece of…!” – they all fell silent, and Eoghann immediately tasted chyme in the back of his mouth. He knew that voice very well, especially drunken as it was now. He thought about getting up and fleeing into the kitchen to hide in his sudden panic, but he knew his father had probably stumbled into his armour, and would be demanding an explanation for it, and he could not expect his siblings to lie about it. “Father’s back,” said his youngest brother with a nervous, little smile, which faded when he saw that none of them could make light of it with the same grin, both his sister and his other bother staring at the table grimly. Eoghann imagined he himself looked mortified – his face was cold, seeming to tell that the blood had evacuated from his flesh there, and he had to remind himself to breathe, as he noticed this natural rhythm had momentarily halted with the opening of the door. There was little reason to fear, he tried to tell himself – his father rarely ever harmed him since becoming an adult. Though all the memories he carried from childhood gave him ample, though perhaps irrational, reason to fear, and he knew the drunkenness would increase the risk of a violent altercation…

 

Shuffling footsteps marked the man’s progress through the vestibule, and Eoghann stared at the doorway leading into the dining chamber in wide-eyed anticipation as the sound grew closer, but then he immediately dropped his eyes when he saw his father enter, when their eyes for a hair of a second had met. He had been beaten enough times to know that he was never allowed to look his father in the eye, knowing that his inherent ugliness sorely offended his sire. But just at that brief instance he was able to take the look of his father, almost entirely the same as he remembered him last – a sturdily-built, tall man, a farmer down to his calloused palms and sun-reddened, freckled skin, his eyes the same shade of green as his own, his hair the same red and braided in the characteristic twin, belled braids, his clothing a dull brown with a vest of blue. A handsome man – a strong man, if one excluded his bane of excessive drinking – a man who somehow had unbelievably fathered a son as short and twisted as he.

 

“Hello, father,” “Hey, da,” “Welcome home,” his siblings said with forced enthusiasm – they had very little love for their father on account of what they had seen him do to him and their mother, but some small love there was still.

 

Judging by their father’s refusal to reply, Eoghann knew his attentions had to be fixed entirely on him, and he swallowed the shallow vomit in the back of his throat down nervously, trying his best not to tremble, when his father began walking around the other side of the table towards him. Eoghann tried to remain staring at the table before him, but when he saw his father’s legs appear in his periphery at the end of the table by him, and the reek of alcohol filled the air densely, and the man’s hand pressed deliberately down on the table in front of him, Eoghann forced himself to look up, and saw his father leaning over him, watery eyes filled with questioning and his mouth a deep scowl. “Hello,” he decided to say uncertainly, lowering his eyes to his father’s chest, always remembering the ban on him for eye-contact established in childhood but also unnerved by his sire’s silence, which lasted a moment longer.

 

“You have been away a long while, lad,” his father said finally, fumbling some of the syllables drunkenly.

 

“Yes…I have,” Eoghann muttered, unsure of what else to say to such an obvious statement.


“What useless things have you been up to this time?” His father asked. “Cuddling up with outsider chits? Helping those people plant seeds when you can be doing that just as easy here?”


 

“No…”Eoghann began, but then his father shouted, and he cringed, shrinking at the sudden belligerence, the threat of violence that had always hung over him in youth.

 

“Then where in the bloody Light have you been?!” In a freak of moods, the man laughed, and suddenly, Eoghann found one of his father’s fingers shoved up under his deformed top lip and pulling painfully at it. “Let me guess – you finally found a traveling show to join to make money off of this thing?” Just as Eoghann was about to pull his head away, his father released him, and, in line with his intrusive behaviour, he began picking at Eoghann’s tunic instead. “What’s this now? Seems a bit high-end for you, rabbit boy, don’t you think?”


Eoghann felt his face flush with blood, in embarrassment and anger, but he held his temper, out of the terrified awe he held for his sire, as he answered in the same begrudging tone, “It is part of my uniform…I joined the Children of the Light – they are a group fighting to bring the Light to the whole world…”


 

“A group…” His father said slowly, his voice menacingly quiet. “A group of outsiders?”

 

“Yes, but…” Eoghann began, trying to advert the impending conflict, but it was too late, if he might have stopped it at all.

 

“So that’s what you’ve been doing!” His father cried in an accentually loud voice, as if making a case in front of an observing audience. “You’ve been kissing the feet of outsiders, helping them, instead of staying back here, where you belong, with your family, doing sensible business!”


“These people are different, though…!” Eoghann started to protest, but again his father ran over him, his voice now a snarl that felt like needles inserted in his spine, so abrasive it was to his ears.
 

“Bullocks, boyo – bullocks and you should bloody know it! But you have always been beyond slow, so maybe I am giving too much credit! They are outsiders – they are all the same! Treacherous and dishonourable to the bone! You understand that, or is it bouncing off that thick skull of yours, you mangled-faced fool?!”
 

His siblings were beseeching their father to calm himself, but Eoghann scarcely noticed, buried in his mind as he was, enveloped by memories called forth by this moment. His father yelling at him, his father demeaning his intelligence and his deformity, everything he ever achieved being stomped on by his father, never good enough for him. Worthless…hideous…freak…disgusting…fool…idiot…rabbit-face…runt disgrace...shame… Many more explicit things besides. The verbal abuse had in some ways been worse than the physical abuse, the countless whippings and the punches and kicks and the more peculiar cruelties, like the brandings and the times of hunger, being beaten whenever he tried to take from the larder when his father in wrath had forbidden him to eat – those had left scars and had stunted him, but it was little next to the mental damage that continued to do its work even when he wasn’t in his father’s presence, the damage that was cracking him inside now, making him feel like the powerless, disturbed child he used to be. “It is not what you think, da,” he said weakly. “It is a good thing I am doing…”


 

He was not sure what happened next – the last moment he had been staring at his father’s shirt and vest, speaking, then he noticed his father’s hand lift from the table fast, and now he was lying on the floor, his legs elevated above him, strewn over the bench he had been sitting on, his vision clearing from spots and his right cheekbone throbbing in pain. He could taste blood in his mouth, which he spat out on the floor by him, before he then realised what had happened – his father had struck him in the face. And his sire was about to inflict more violence, he noticed, when he saw the man lunging down at him, a snarl possessing his mouth but a sadistic gleam in his eyes. He could probably fight his father off with relative ease – though his father was much taller than him, Eoghann had learned many more martial fighting techniques while training with the Children than he had ever learned growing up, things which could overpower a larger foe. But he didn’t – he did not fight at all, his mind all at once reverting to childhood, and the solid belief that father was all-powerful, one that could not be broken save in that one intense and violent moment in his wild youth. All he did instead was cover his head in his arms and draw his knees up, protecting the vital organs his father always went for, and in his mute mindlessness he waited for it to be over, scarcely hearing his sibling’s shouts of anger and alarm over his father’s enveloping presence and voice.

 

“See that?! That’s your blood, boyo!” His father yelled at him, partially kneeling down and pointing insistently at the blood Eoghann had just spat out, before he yanked at the third braid pinned to the top of his head while with the other he pulled with his all his might at one of Eoghann’s arms, momentarily exposing his head so that his father could deal a few clobbering blows to his face before Eoghann could cover it again. “All that, that’s your blood!” The man said as he struck him. “That’s your blood, your family – our family – and there aren’t any outsiders – none! – who have that!”


Eoghann merely grunted with each blow – though it was painful, he had been dealt worse than punches and with such frequency as a child that it could not provoke from him a shout. Two more blows his father inflicted on him, on his poorly protected abdomen, before at last his brothers were there, pulling their father away from him and shouting at their enraged parent to calm down, his father swinging a kick at him that missed by virtue of him being carried backwards. “Nothing else matters but your family!” His father was roaring over his brothers’ appeals for peace. “You know it, so you stop with your silly, horse-dung, slack-jawed tomfoolery and set that ugly head of yours straight! They are outsiders – they are worthless – they are all evil! We’re your blood and NOTHING matters more than that! You hear me, boyo?!”



His cries grew more distant, signalling his brothers had dragged their father out of the room and were likely taking him to the subterranean bed chambers. His sister had come to his side as fast as his brothers had pulled their father away, saying almost-frantic words of comfort, but whatever she said and despite how she tugged at his arms, trying to at least sit him up from his foetal position, Eoghann did not move or respond, his entire animation suspended, eyes staring blankly and his deformed mouth clenching his crooked teeth together tightly. She would try to rouse him for a little while longer, and then would give up, knowing it was impossible to stir him in this state, but she always went through the ritual of attempting to help him. It was a reaction developed in his youth to any physical attack by his father, as if his mind had never accepted the astonishing fact that his father, the one who created him, harmed and tried to unmake him, and its only response to such an overwhelming stimulus was to withdraw until it could make some sense out of it. The split skin in his mouth, his bleeding, painful nose, and the bruises on his face he scarcely felt next to the excruciating shame over his failure to please his father once more. Whatever he did, he would always be a failure in his sire’s eyes. Everything he did was fruitless. Forever a disappointment.

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