The years flew past with a vengeance, Arnai being tended to both by Solaris and by Felda – Meme’s younger sister, who had a child of her own only 2 years later, courtesy of a young wanderer by the name of Olric, who was taken in by the clan. The chief’s happiness when Olric decided to stay, and asked for Fleda’s hand was indescribable, so rare an occasion was it for an outsider to join a clan. And Arnai grew up fast, faster than Gregor. He was only in the world for 9 months when he took his first steps, and by 11 months he was confidently toddling around the forge, causing great worry to Solaris. Fortunately Cormac stepped in at this point and entertained the young boy as Solaris worked the forge – it was near enough time for Cormac to take a back seat anyway, as Solaris had learnt all that needed to be taught by hand, and could now be verbally criticized instead. It came as little surprise, barely a week after Cormac had taken responsibility for the lad, when he spoke his first word – “Cormac”, the old forge master held in great reverence by the dark haired child, with his serious eyes that seemed to pierce a person’s very soul.
By comparison, Gregor was progressing very slowly. This was not a worry however, as he was still developing faster than the average child. Unlike his brother, who had grown tall enough to be a year older than he was, Gregor was the height you would expect an 11 month child to be, and just beginning to walk. His words were still incoherent until he was 15 months old, when his first word, Meme, was uttered. At 17 months, Arnai was speaking fluently, and with some understanding., followed relatively closely by his twin at 20 months. Arnai had got more adventurous and when he was 22 month old, he barely escaped a tragedy. Comrac had dozed off, leaving Arnai with the freedom to wander throughout the forge, and Solaris was busy crafting a bracelet for Meme, at the insistence of Keiran. Fascinated by the glowing heat of the forge, Arnai fixed his bright blue gaze upon the anvil, climbing upon which would give him the vantage point required to see over the stone wall and inside this luminous mouth, captured as it was by the surrounding walls and chimney, his father’s silhouette in its embrace. Climbing the anvil was no easy task however, and the toddler had to resort to a mixture of running and jumping to reach his destination. Finally managing to pull himself up onto the anvil’s flat surface, he peered into the furnace, stoked as it was by fire powder and a good stock of wood and coal. What he saw in the lower pit, dancing within the flames, entertained him and as he drew closer, he laughed. It was his laugh that saved him, alerting the smith to his son’s plight, the danger of being drawn into the blaze as Arran once had. Solaris immediately dropped his work, the gold falling into the flames; lost to all but the hunger of the fire, and firmly drew his son away from the danger, ignoring the child’s howling at the heat that still radiated from his thick leather forging gloves.
He dropped the boy at the door and pulled the gloves off, grabbing a bucket of water – they kept a constant supply to hand in case of emergency – and a cloth and, pulling off the dirty tunic, applied the cool liquid to his small body. Fortunately, the skin had not been damaged by the heat, and the simple act of cooling it prevented any blisters from forming. “Never do that, never.” Solaris simply said, their blue eyes locking together, worry emanating from one pair, innocence from the other. It was fortunate that Felda’s child was born 2 months after this, as Arnai was so enraptured by the frailty of this arrival that he spent little time in the forge, and it was this curiosity that lead the 2 year old to explore more of the keep, careful not to stray too close to the older children, who were mostly around 7 or 8 years old. It was on one of these explorations that he discovered his mother’s house, and Gregor. The first time he came across it, the door was open and he simply wandered in, much to Meme’s surprise. It was Arnai that was most surprised however, to see a child his own age, albeit smaller and more rotund and eyes lees of piercing blue, more grey like their mother’s. As Kieran was out hunting deer, Meme was happy to let the children play together, her sons reunited despite their father’s desperate attempt to keep them apart, to prevent the demonic curse spreading to Gregor. From then on, the boys played together when they could, and when they could not chase each other round the camp, in fear of Kieran, Arnai would go and watch over Laurissa for Felda.
It was not until Arnai was five that he became fascinated with the forge again, taking refuge in it on his birthday and finding, much to his delight, that Cormac still haunted the space, with a friend – Paric, the old healer’s bondman, and the clan’s history keeper. It was from him that he learned most of the ancient folklore, tales of clan leaders bathing in the blood of those who dared oppose them, standing true to their clan and seeking control over rich lands. Of course this deference to the forge was not without reason – Gregor had also began to hear folk stories, told to him by his father, one of which was the tale of the Tanoi – from this and the story of their birth, also acting against the favour that Meme seemed to hold for the tall young boy, Gregor began a campaign of hostility, no longer friends with his brother. And as Gregor was the clan chief’s heir and grandson many of the children, both younger and older, followed his example. Arnai found himself ostracised from the group and sought solace by the ever-warm, comforting fire, in his father’s workshop. His curiosity at the ill treatment he was receiving lead him to ask the old men about the Tanoi, and with great eagerness they launched into tale.
“The Tanoi were here before the Imperials, lad, they were a warlike group yet kept themselves much to themselves; the old stories tell us that they were friendly and happy to trade with us. But then the imperials came and exposed the foul creatures for what they were. The blue eyed strangers that had once been like kin to us were truly the most foul of demons, for they were the reason that pestilence stalker our land, killing our children and livestock, flattening our fields and reducing them to rot. Our ancestors did not believe these wild speculations at first, so used were they to the outward kindness that they had always been shown. However the imperial said he would show them proof, and so set out with the clan chief and the wisest man in the keep. He took them high onto the Toris hill..”
“Which hill is Toris hill?” Arnai interjected
“Why the one that this keep is named after!” The old man exclaimed, and took him outside to point to the hill, covered in pine forest. “Of course it wasn’t covered in those things back then – there was a watchtower built right at the top, the grandest stone building that you would ever see if the tales are to believed” He ushered the boy back into the forge. “Now, they went up Toris hill and waited, the chief in the tower and the wise old man in the bushes by its base. Sure enough, as the night closed in and the moon shone down from high in the clouds, a winged beast tore from the sky, so fast that had they not been waiting for just this, they would surely have missed it. They kept their eyes on the spot where it had landed, and to their incredulity, they saw a figure step from its back and smite several bulls with powerful magic, the sort that only the Tanoi could use. Having done this, the beast lifted the carcasses and flew off, rider now firmly seated upon its back. Angered by such a betrayal, the chief signed a scrap of paper that bound him to aid the imperials in their righteous quest to rid the land of the fiends.” Here he paused for a second, a look of sadness on his face, barely seeing the boy sat enraptured before him with the fire warming his back. Solaris too had come to listen, keeping one eye on the forge that was roaring in the background.
The old man smiled, and leapt back into his story. “The war lasted for a long time, but eventually the Tanoi had been all but wiped out. The few that remained were without steeds, as they could not keep them and their lives at the same time, so the imperials began a great hunt, any person whom they suspected to be in league with the devils they took away, or sometimes merely killed on the spot.”
Once more, Arnai interjected, “But how could they tell who was a baddie and who wasn’t?” his young voice holding such innocence that Paric did not truly wish to answer, but the boy had a right to know, so with a sigh, he continued.
“The Tanoi had control over great magic, so a spell could be used to determine the magical strength of the person. Of course this had its flaws, as many people had magic without being evil, but the Tanoi had two weaknesses – their clan tattoos were made with a special paint, which caused them to glow in the moonlight, and also they were all covered in shapes; swords and spears, bows, arrows and knives. You name a weapon or a tool of use and it would be there. Any born with such a mark was killed, for fear that the race would return and enslave them all.”
He glanced meaningfully at Arnai, who gazed back with worried eyes, a hand rising to his back. “Yes, their marks were just like yours is. But many who were killed were not Tanoi – they had no magic beating in their heart, and it has been an age since they were last seen. Also you were born of a clan chief’s son and another’s daughter. There is no reason that you could be a demon. Even so, you were lucky that Solaris stepped in when he did, so just remember that.” The old man concluded his tale and motioned for the lad to leave him be, pulling his felt cap over his dark eyes.