Now: The Boy
The small boy sat very still on the ledge, dwarfed by the stone arch of the window, the rock cold and hard under his bottom.
He is a naturally neat child. His auburn hair is short and well combed. His clothes are good quality and well-fitting. The fabrics are thick and sturdy, but drab in colour and style. He looks like a miniature accountant. His only concession to the hour is that he has removed his high, tight collar. Stiff and constricting as it is, you have never seen him dressed without it before. Tonight, it lies folded beside him. Everything about him is orderly and precise, even the faint scars under his left ear.
His face is pale, and his eyes dark and serious - but you cannot see that right now. He is sitting on the ledge outside the window, facing the angry, slate-grey sea.
He looks tiny, younger than his six years, but he has always been small for his age. The waves churn far below his feet.
Once again, the thought strikes you: this child is not normal.
No normal child would sit so still and unafraid in such a precarious place.
You move closer. The steep drop and his stark vulnerability give you a swooping sense of vertigo. When you open your mouth to deliver the news, the wind off the sea snatches the words from your mouth.
“It’s okay,” he says, “I already know.”
How could he?
“She told me.”
He points to an empty expanse of water. He is so completely serious that you find your eyes following his little finger. There is nothing there. You feel almost as you did when you were sitting beside the King, listening to the ravings of a dying man. With a gleam in his eye, he had whispered of strange women who could not exist. Women who could not drown, undulating obscenely around him.
“I can hear them singing,” the boy adds matter-of-factly.
The King’s babble echoes in your mind again, and your sense of unease brims over. You reach out a hand to pat the boy’s shoulder blade, as if he were a skittish horse that needed reassurance. Is it him that needs calming, or is it you? You pull your hand back, because - and it irks you to realise this - you are afraid to touch him.
He is so little, and you so tall - you tower over him. You, one of the last of the Order, afraid of a child? You - well educated in history and languages? Skilled in all manner of conflicts - warfare, weaponry, politics, hand to hand combat? Full-grown men would tremble if you were to unhook your mask and show them your face. It seems impossible that a mere child should frighten you.
Am I frightened, or repulsed?
You try again.
“Child, your fa - King Aerick… he is…. He has…. “
At last, he turns to look at you, dry-eyes and calm, and your voice dries up in your throat.
“I told you. I know.”
Why should he be sad, after all? King Aerick played no great part in his life, apart from claiming it. He had declared the boy should be cared for fitting to his station as the King's ward, and then promptly turned his back on him.
Even so, it takes some self-discipline not to recoil from the sociopathic little urchin. His eyes are blank, like empty holes in his head.
He has gone back to gazing out over the water, with the dark sky lying heavy and restless on it.
You remember the day King Aerick brought him home. A foundling, or so the King claimed. He announced the boy his ward, and under his protection. Gave him to a milk-nurse and refused to look at him. He didn’t even grant him a name. The servants called him Fynn, because it was odd to have a child running about nameless. Servants can be a superstitious lot. Even dogs had names.
As he grew, a resemblance to King Aerick showed in his features. His rich auburn hair must have come from his mother, whoever she was. It looked nothing like the jet black mop the King sported. His bone structure, though - his cheekbones, the shape of his nose and the curve of his chin - he had King Aerick’s profile. People wondered about it in whispers, but you didn’t have to wonder. You were sure. King Aerick had spoken of him to you only once, and he had said one thing: “You are to guard his life like you guard mine.”
Since he had left the arms of his milk-nurse, you have been the closest thing he has to a mother.
And he has never even seen my face.
The kid was too weird to be openly acknowledged. A silent baby who rarely cried, and never cooed or burbled. He was nearly four when he finally spoke at all - and then it was in full, short sentences. More like a terse adult than an infant. He never ran barefoot like the other kids. He never ran at all, and always had proper shoes laced onto his feet, even in the height of summer. He became short of breath if he tried to dash about and play. He was oddly clumsy - unable to dance or catch a ball - and so he did not do those things. He watched the other children, and remained sedate and serious.
“I’m going now.” His voice brings you out of your reverie. He climbs to his feet, fastidiously brushing grit from his palms. Too late you realise his intention - you reach out with shock and urgency to stop him, but the boy has already jumped.
Your fingers are like to bite right into the masonry. Eyes desperately sweep the waves below, a knot of sick dread gripping your belly.
Many men have died under your knife, but you have never harmed a child. Never. Even had you not belonged to the Order, you would never.
In your mind you can already see his broken little body. You scan the froth and spray in spite of yourself, searching for a matching image. There is none.
You think you catch a suggestion of anomalous movement in the waves... the suggestion of tail or tentacle, or an arm…. An animal? The boy? But no. The lad would have sunk like a stone; he could not swim a stroke. Despite living here, he had never learned. He didn’t like to get wet or muddy like other boys his age. His milk nurse, and, later, his tutors (mindful of the way he wheezed when he exerted himself) didn’t push him to try. A large fish, then. You squint, bullying your eyeballs to greater effort by sheer force of will... but the surface is dull and bleak. There are no signs of life at all.
You turn from the window, slipping his collar into your pocket, bracing yourself to raise the castle. You must alert them to the death of the King, and urge them to search for the little boy.
Who knows, they could even find him. He might even be alive.
The tasks in front of you feel heavy. You think of slipping away now in the small hours, while all is quiet, and returning home. Your true home, the one you have not seen in many years. Shed your white robes, and don your old black ones. Slip again into your old life.
How would that look - the King dead, and his closest advisor and his ward both missing?
No. I cannot.
Missive: Better to stay, and salvage this situation - or turn it to our advantage if you can. You are our eyes, our ears and our right hand. We are depending on you. When it is time to return to us, we will send word. Until then, remember: no one can know who you are. None can look on your face and live. Keep your knife clean. Remember the protocol.
Thank you for reading! Please give Part 2 a look:
Minor edit for a typo I've been meaning to fix forever.
Edit again to embed the link properly.
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