Almost an entire year passed there in the palace. Cren grew hard and lean. By the age of 7 he could fight as well as any foot soldier. One thing never changed though. In all those months of almost entirely meat dishes, not a single morsel of it would pass the boy's lips. Every meal, meat would be served and every time the boy would go retch in the small garden he had found. He grew thin, and thanks to Rannon's merciless drilling in the art of combat, strong. June would steal him food from the kitchens when she could, but Rannon was wise to her tricks. After awhile, they began to keep the vegetable pasties and other meatless foods under lock and key. Cren began to scour the garden for anything edible. He found a fruit tree with some kind of ripe fruit hanging from its' bows and stripped it clean. He kept the fruits hidden in his room and those kept him for about a week. The next time, he found a small berry bush. Unfortunately, the berries gave him a very violent case of diarrhea. He was so dehydrated that Rannon relented enough that he was given vegetable broth until he was better.
"Well, at least he's stubborn. That's always a good personality trait." He said sarcastically. "Didn't think you would actually last 6 months on little more than pasties and Oubergine fruit."
Cren lay in his too-large bed and simply looked at Rannon. For once the man actually looked pleased with this turn of events in a weird angry kind of way. "I won't eat meat."
"Why?" Rannon pressed.
"It's disgusting. How can you eat something that was just as alive as you are? Then when you do eat it, it's like you get to relive the animal dying until it's out of your system."
"...I never seen any other animal's death throes aside from the ones I kill myself."
"When I eat meat, I don't see anything. Think on that boy." Rannon rose from his seat at the boy's bedside and left without another word. Cren lay there but he didn't think. He simply dwelled on the mild pain in his bowels until he fell asleep.
The next morning Cren awoke to found June standing at his bedside. In her hands she carried a tray of food. He was expecting the loathsome stink of cooked flesh but was met with a most agreeable smell. Cren sat up in bed and craned his neck in an attempt to see what June was holding but she kept it playfully out of reach.
"Good job, Cren. You won."
"My Ama's respect. And a tray full of stuff you can eat."
June finally let him see what was on the tray and his mouth watered. The vegetable pasties he had grown so fond of since his arrival here were piled 3 high on a small plate. In the middle of the large tray sat a deep bowl of some kind of bean soup. June sat the tray in his lap and handed him a spoon.
"Eat slowly. Ama says if you eat fast it'll come out the other end just as quickly."
Wincing at that particular mental image, Cren took cautious sips of his soup as June sat on the edge of his bed. She stared at him for some reason. Her big green eyes showed no sign of what she was thinking. Cren found it rather creepy to be watched so intently. Did he have a booger up his nose or something?
"Nothing." June replied. But she kept staring anyway.
"Then stop staring, please." Cren snapped as he finished the last of his soup.
"Well.." june started.
"I don't know, you'll get mad."
"How can I get mad if I don't know what it is? I don't always get mad you know." Cren picked up a pasty and nibbled at the thick crumbly crust. June fidgeted as Cren stared at her. Unlike a wolven, Eastlanders could go a very long time without blinking. The effect of his cat yellow eyes boring into her was too much for the small girl to bear. She rose from her perch at the end of his bed and hopped up and down with pent up excitement.
"Mages are coming! They're gonna test the entire palace."
"What? Why would I get mad at that?" Cren snorted and rolled his eyes.
"Well..." June scuffed her feet through the carpet. "You're being tested first."
"That means they'll take you away to Mage School if you pass."
" Doubtful. I have a kingdom to rule," Cren devoured the rest of his vegetable pasty in one bite and moved onto the next. "They can't take a prince who isn't willing."
"Well actually. They can. See, if you've got the gift, you've got to be trained. Or else," June made a swift cutting motion across her throat. "Ya die."
"No." Cren stared at her, mouth open, half-chewed pasty displayed to the world.
"Yeah," June said. "That's what Hiulfger told me. He's smart. He knows everything!"
"My big brother. Ya haven't met him. He just came home today," June said. "He's training to be a blacksmith with some dragons."
"You're lying." Cren finally closed his mouth and swallowed.
"No I'm not. Why would I lie?"
"I don't know. I still think you're lying though." June shrugged in a ‘good enough' kind of way and sat cross-legged on Cren's bed. Cren put his last pasty aside for later and climbed out of bed.
"So these mages, what do they look like?"
"I don't know, I bet they smell real bad though." June pinched her nostrils closed in a highly dramatic fashion and swooned as if she was faced with a truly horrible stench. Cren, still careless about the differences between girls and boys, dressed himself in the training clothes the maid had made for him his first month there. Obviously, the voluminous pants of his homeland would just hamper him while he ran. And Cren had a feeling today was going to be a day for a lot of running.
"So if we douse ‘em in water, you think they will melt?" The children looked at each other with twin gleams of mischief in their eyes. It was a defining moment in their history together and would set the standard for many of their adventures as they grew older. That day would forever be known simply as ‘The flood'.
"I'll go get some buckets, meet me in the main courtyard in 5." June held out her hand and the two shook on it, solemn as any members of a secret brotherhood or holy order. Cren watched her leave. Satisfied that she was well down the hallway, Cren allowed himself a small smile that was purely devilish.
Let's see how well these magic men swim he thought wickedly.