Chapter 4.5 - Wilderness

The re-lighting restored the smithy to its normal warm self within minutes, Paric carrying Solaris through so that he could be nearer the warmth of the fire – it was already beyond the temperature range that most controlled fires reached, and Arnai pumped on the bellows from the moment his father entered the room, wanting to do something to help. Helena stopped him though, explaining that someone who had gotten cold slowly had to be warmed back up slowly in order to prevent damage to their bodies. Sure enough, Solaris was slowly becoming conscious again, the warmth seeping deep into his blood and warming him from the inside too. As Arnai anxiously waited for his father to wake up, Helena heated up some soup that was left over from the evening before – mostly water with herbal flavourings that had degraded into the water to form a thick slurry that got smoother as it warmed up. The boy numbly accepted the food, still watching his father, and gulped a spoonful of the liquid, starting in pain as it burnt his tongue, and carefully cooling subsequent spoonfuls while they still lay within the wooden spoon before they had a chance to harm him. Helena regarded the boy as he ate. He was quite tall for his age, almost as tall as she was, roughly five foot six, with broad shoulders that were heavy with muscles drawn from years of pulling the handles of the bellow, thick sticks of wood connected to the air sack that expelled air through its nozzle when pulled down, and refilled when drawn back up.

 

Yet despite Arnai’s selection of muscles, he did not appear to anyone as a body builder, more someone who was healthy and fit than a roaring symbol of strength. His cropped dark hair rose up slightly at the front, where he had pushed it back out of his face and it had stayed in that position. Even with his thin face downcast, his ever so slightly square chin showing concern that was mirrored in his eyes, the boy had an aura of determination around him that somehow forced Helena to notice him. It was as if someone had stuck a label on him which shouted as loudly as it could ‘Here I am! Look over here! Pay attention!’ Feeling her eyes on him, Arnai looked up and she smiled weakly as her head told her heart that he wasn’t able to see what lay at the core of every atom at her being. When he looked away again, she frowned. Where had he learnt to look like that – after all only yesterday he was running around with everyone else, and his eyes hadn’t been so scarily piercing then. Aware of Helena’s musings, and feeling the roar of the flames on his skin, Arnai leapt up, his mind clamouring as his eyes and ears fed him information that was more detailed that what Arnai had learnt in his lifetime – the fracture of the soup bowl as it hit the floor, the exact pace that his father was breathing at, the slow hiss of wood drying before it crackled into light, carbon floating upwards on the hectic eddies and currents within the heated air. Footprints outside of the hut, crunching on the slightly frosty ground as they came closer, sounding out details of the walker – shorter than Arnai but about the same weight, sure footed and with a natural stalkers instinct, probably Gregor. Further away, children shouted and brawled, fathers set out to hunt, or to gather wood, their banter carrying on the wind.

 

A sudden blast of noise brought Arnai’s brain to a halt, relieving him of the cacophony of sound. He wasn’t surprised to find his breathing had quickened, and his heart was pounding loudly in his chest, fists clenched by his sides. Helena’s hands found his face and his head was gently twisted until she could see into his eyes. He remained still, all the muscles in his body clenched, as she examined him, worry in both their eyes. She stepped back with pinched lips, a slight frown causing her wrinkles to deepen. Not a word was said as she gathered the silent Paric, who was glaring at him with a mixture of betrayal and surprise, and left the hut, pausing only to hold the door as Gregor stepped in. His brother took one look at him, tensed in the middle of the floor with an expression of fear, glanced at the retreating backs of Helena and Paric as they hurried away, and chased after them, leaving the door to blow shut in his wake. Still unable to move, Arnai didn’t notice Solaris as he woke up fully, only heard the groan as the man sat up, head spinning. Reminded of his duty to his father and to the clan, Arnai began systematically releasing his muscles, tightening and loosening them until they were free to move. The feeling of relief at regaining the power of movement when he finally managed to move his hand was so immense that his heart near instantly slowed, and his shoulders slowly sagged, the rest of his body releasing itself at the same rate. A weak hand touched his leg, providing more support in pulling the boy’s body back under his control, and Arnai looked down into his father’s smiling face, free to move again. Smiling back, he sat beside his father, draping his arms around him in a bear hug. Solaris was still slightly cool to the touch, but he was no longer pale and shivering which reassured Arnai. “What happened?” whispered Solaris. Arnai thought about this for a second. He had no idea what had happened to him. Then he realised that his father was more likely to be asking about his own condition, having barely witnessed Arnai’s own terrifying event.

 “I don’t know – I just woke up and the fire was out, and you were so cold that I thought you were dead, so I ran to Helena, and she… she helped” Arnai gulped, as his memories re-ignited his concern. 

 

Solaris frowned slightly, remembering last night’s odd events, and pushed his son away from him, towards the work bench. “I made you something” he smiled, forcing himself to his feet and ignoring the slight wobble as his body protested. He pulled Arnai to his feet and lead the boy to the workbench, where his dagger and scabbard lay. “I want you to keep it with you. You’re a young man now, and in line to be chief too, so you deserve a decent weapon.” Arnai was barely listening, his eyes fixed on the metal sheath for the dagger, and he picked it up, tracing the etchings with a finger as they flashed in the fire light. He had never seen his father make such ornate carvings and as he slipped the belt round his waist, tying it at the front, he realised that his father must have poured his soul into the piece of metal. His blue gaze met Solaris’s as he promised to the very bottom of his heart that he would always look after and keep the dagger and sheath, no matter what. A proud look appeared in Solaris’s eyes at the declaration from his son, washing away all cold that was left in him from his ordeal. “I would expect no less from you” he chuckled, motioning Arnai to place the dagger in its scabbard, and admiring the way it hung from his left hip. He turned back to the forge, noting the familiar roaring fire. Yet it was lacking something somehow. “you said the fire went out?” he asked, Arnai muttering an incoherent response, still lost in examining his gift. “Pardon?”

Arnai looked up, repeating his reply “Yeah. And I couldn’t get it to relight, so Paric showed me how to use coal cloth, and then I used the fire dust to get the bigger logs going.”

“Didn’t you use the fire song?”

“I... tried, but it wasn’t working, and the fire isn’t supposed to go out…” Arnai trailed off.

 

Solaris held his full attention now, and Arnai was worried at the concern on his face. Solaris strode over to the fire, and began to sing in the old dialect. Arnai followed the familiar words, their soothing tempo running through his veins, feeling where he had missed words, or mispronounced them , ruining the flow of the song, and presumably stopping it from working. As Solaris sang, the flame seemed to change, and dance in time to the beat, weaving within itself. Solaris concluded the song in a tone that seemed almost pleading, something which Arnai had never heard done before, and he felt a prickling sensation pass through him and leap into the flames, encouraging them to leap up high before settling down into a deeper red glow. Somehow Arnai managed not to be surprised at the sudden change of attitude within the flames, which danced behind his father as he turned, sat Arnai down and went over the fire song, syllable by syllable in such meticulous detail that it seemed impossible the words would ever stop bouncing around his head.

                        Inlay’el soura fur beiern hais nour caral

                        Norso fleiar morso harai

                        Kean sofus mela mora

                        Hiet jur dube kos taine scarath fior

And as the words danced within his brain, he picked out a pattern within them, and a new song began to emerge, his ears numb to his father’s repetition, and his mouth effortlessly mimicking Solaris’s, leaving his brain free to work the new song within his head, discarding words that had no meaning nor were needed for the song to exist. As his new song was finalised, the tone and inflection upon each part so precise that he alone could pronounce it, he took back control from that subconscious part of him that had kept Solaris satisfied, and stopped his mimicry.

 

It took Solaris a moment to realise Arnai had fallen silent, then he looked up, starting at the look in the boy’s eyes. “Father” he said, “You’re doing it the long way round.” Then out of his mouth came a short melody that lasted only a few seconds but which ranged in tones from the highest pitch to the most demanding and harsh sounds that Solaris had ever heard. At the conclusion of his song, the air within the smithy roared, and the fire leapt up, soaring out of the chimney, a rush of heat melting the frost on the tiled roof and nearly baking the two humans inside. The core of the fire glowed white hot, illuminating Arnai’s face and reflecting from his crystal blue eyes as the heat rose to temperatures that Solaris had only dreamed of. Solaris felt himself begin to sweat, but the moisture was licked away before it could do any good, and he threw himself into the furthest corner of the room, dragging Arnai with him. The flames licked out of the stone mouthed furnace and tried to reach anything burnable. Luckily, there was nothing within catching distance and the flames died back a little, the fire returning to its normal size, although it was still white rather than the orange red that Solaris was used to. The danger having passed, he pulled himself off the ground, and glared at Arnai, who was now looking very small on the floor.  “What was that?!” he roared, quivering with rage. Arnai pulled himself further into a ball, wondering what he had done wrong – after all, he had only picked out the words and phrases which meant something and strung them together in a song that had made sense. There came the sound of pounding feet from outside, then the door burst open to reveal Kieran’s form, along with the slightly slower Gregor and Helena. Solaris didn’t react, his face still a picture of anger and betrayal, as Kieran dragged Arnai out from under his feet and frogmarched him outside.

 

Arnai couldn’t see, his eyes full of tears as he was dragged outside, sobbing at the heart wrenching pain that disappointing his father had caused. Kieran’s hands gripped his arms like iron, pinching flesh against bone. There were whispered voices on all sides as he was hauled across the ground with no idea what direction he was headed in. Kieran kept yanking him upwards, trying to get him to walk by himself, disgusted at the boy’s pitiful crying. When the world finally stopped moving, and he was released, falling onto the ground, he curled up into as tight a ball as he could, wishing that the world would leave him alone. Back in the smithy, Solaris sighed and sat back against the wall, his head in his hands. Arnai had obviously meant well, but the power that was in the song was not something that should be messed around with. Cormac had told the young Solaris that magic was involved, and he guessed he should have warned Arnai off of it in a similar way, but he hadn’t expected the boy to have so much magical ability. It was true that the best smiths were able to use magic to imbue their weapons with protective spells, and that Solaris himself was one of these, but the kind of power Arnai had wielded, and at such a young age, was almost unheard of. Solaris presumed that Kieran would have dragged him to Ronan’s hut, and that the chief would judge him. A chill ran down his back as he realised that it was possible Kieran would persuade Ronan that Arnai was a Tanoi, although how it could be possible, Solaris had no idea – he certainly wasn’t a Tanoi himself, and neither was Meme.  His fury having cooled off, he began to worry for Arnai, and hurried out of the smithy, leaving the white glow of the new fire behind closed doors.

 

Once outside, he saw why Kieran had reacted so quickly – there was a huge difference in temperature and an area two metres outside of the smithy had been completely de-iced, with a further five metres of slurry before the normal frosty flagstones resumed. Solaris quickened his pace, marvelling at how the heat wave had been large enough to set a small pile of thatch alight, it was still smouldering. He began to wonder, if it had been this hot outside of the smithy, how had it been so comparatively cool within? After all, everything within the forge should have been baked to a crisp.  A crowd had formed around Ronan’s hut, and by the time he reached it there were already raised voices arguing inside. He pushed through to the door, feeling people’s eyes lancing into his back and he stepped though the door and into the interior. The chief and Kieran stopped arguing at his entrance, Kieran straightening his clothes as he did so, his face red with anger, and Olric relaxed slightly. Ronan looked grimly at Solaris, who was pointedly ignoring the heap that was curled up on the brightly coloured mats. “Perhaps you could give your version of events?” he asked, and Solaris obediently recounted his view, of how the boy had innocently tried to make the spell more effective. This was the first Kieran had heard of the fire magic that smiths controlled, and his eyes widened in surprise, softening slightly as he discovered the reason behind Arnai’s magic use. Ronan simply nodded at the end of Solaris’s tale. “And, honestly, do you think that this level of magic is a danger to the clan?” he asked, holding Solaris’s gaze. The smith winced, knowing that his answer would affect Arnai’s position, possibly even lead to his death. “Yes.” He whispered softly, dropping his eyes and swallowing a lump in his throat.

 

Silence descended in the hut, broken only by Arnai’s snivelling on the floor, as the four men let their thoughts collect for a second. Olric spoke first “His actions were in innocence, and no one has been harmed. I say we give him a chance, and send him out into the land, with supplies. Let him be judged by nature, I can assure you she is a harsh mistress.” Kieran shook his head;

“He is aTanoi, I am sure of it. We should give him to the imperials and have done with it.” At this, Gregor who had been silently sitting in the corner, spoke up.

“No, father, you cannot be sure he is a Tanoi. And even if he was, he is my brother. If you send him to the imperials, I will never forgive you.” The boy’s voice carried a powerful effect through the room, and Ronan nodded, motioning to him to stay quiet. He looked next at Solaris, inviting his view.

“I…” Solaris paused. “His heart is pure, and he does as he is told. If Helena can teach him some control over magic then I’d like for him to stay. He just needs to know the consequences of his actions.”

Again, Ronan nodded, this time with a slight frown on his face. He was not as impulsive as he had been twelve years ago, more ready to change his mind. But he had two more people to hear before making his judgement. Bending down, he placed a hand on Arnai’s back. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Arnai’s sobbing stopped, comforted by the old man’s hand, but he had nothing to say that would help, so he simply shook his head, prompting another nod from the chief, who strode out of the door, signalling everyone but Gregor to stay put. He found both Helena and Meme just outside of the door and spoke to them in quiet tones that only the four of them could hear. Discovering the truth of who Arnai was – born of Meme and Solaris, and hearing that Helena was unable to teach such a powerful mage, Ronan made his decision, and stalked back into the tent, Gregor following with slumped shoulders. Once inside, Gregor went over to his brothers side, and pulled him to his feet, embracing him in a hug. He said nothing however, just waited by Arnai’s side for Ronan to give his judgement. “Arnai” Ronan’s voice was soft, yet final, “you must leave the village, and you must not come back. You will be dead to us, and if we see you, we will treat you as a threat. You have until dusk to leave.”

Not much was said as Arnai was equipped for his banishment. He already had his dagger, but was given a thick fur coat and a short bow, along with a dozen arrows. Solaris gave him a whetstone, and Olric, always fond of his nephew, gave him a flint and steel. No one else would even look at him, already classing him among the dead, but Meme came to see him before he left, with Gregor. “Be careful out there, Arnai” she warned “And take this.” She gave him a small metal chain, a runic pendant dangling from it. “Solaris gave it to me when we were younger. It’s supposed to protect you and bring you luck. I love you.” She smiled, and walked away, leaving Arnai and Gregor alone. They stood in mutual companionship for a short time, before Gregor burst out angrily “When I’m chief, you can come back.” Arnai looked at him in surprise, remembering Gregor’s hatred of him when they were smaller. “All this stuff is nonsense about you being a Tanoi, or a threat to the village” He looked like he was going to say more, but Arnai stopped him.

“I’ll come back when you’re chief, I promise. Don’t worry about me ok? But dad… Solaris… will need help in the forge so see if you can find someone to help him. And… I made this for you.” Arnai pulled a dagger out from behind him, identical to the one he wore at his waist.

“Get da…Solaris to make you a scabbard for it” he smiled, “Happy birthday, brother”

Gregor grinned at Arnai, who beamed right back at him, and both boys knew that they would see each other again. Gregor walked Arnai to the gate, where he was met by Solaris, then disappeared into the village again to show Meme his present. Solaris looked sadly at his twelve year old son, all ready to go out into the world and realised that he would never have clan markings. As he hadn’t properly come of age, Helena hadn’t thought to tattoo the Nocci marking onto his forehead that would have distinguished him as an outlaw. This meant he should have a better chance to survive, as the imperials were less likely to try and kill him. With a final hug from his father, Arnai clasped the lucky rune around his neck and set out into the dark.

The End

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