The boy sits on the branch, leaning against the trunk of the tree, listening to the bard spin his tales of the outside world. Stories about great warriors, princesses, even dragons. Sometimes, like now, he'll even talk of the King, voice low and conspiratorial.
"It is said that the King and his wife were polar opposites. Whereas the King has greasy hair the color of horsedung, his wife's hair, it was said, was the embodiment of the Spring's first rain: silver as the buckles on the King's boots, ignorant of her age. The King's eyes, we all know, are a watery brown color that reminds me of mud puddles in May. His wife's? I am told they were the blue of Cobalt, shining with good humor and love. Complexion-wise, the King's face is pasty white, covered in blemishes, and altogether not pleasant. Selena, for that is what I'm told his wife's name was, had the face of an angel: skin the color of a newborn calf, olive and pure."
The description reminds the boy of his mother, the woman he takes after with his olive skin and electric blue eyes. However, where the King's wife, Selena, had silver hair, the boy's hair is black as coal, as was his mother's.
"Now, during the King's reign as one of the Eight Kings, it is said that he dabbled a bit in the sciences. This made him quite the fearsome General, as most of his army was mutated in some way. Some men had wings, some had the strength of an ox, and some were almost completely animals! But then, one day, under the pretense of a Peace treaty, he assembled all the Kings. In the room where they gathered, they were all slaughtered brutally, leaving one powerful King to rule the world." The storyteller pauses so that they could eat while he spoke. Food is handed out, and hearing the sound of their repast, the boy is reminded of his poverty and starvation when his stomach growls and he scrambles to muffle the sound. He gets into a more comfortable position as the man continues. "After he had been the undisputed King for two years, he started a family with a woman from one of the Wiccan tribes. Within a year, they were already expecting. His wife had many troubles with her pregnancy; horrible sickness overcame her. The King created a concoction to help the Queen with her pain, and when she was only six month into her pregnancy, she suddenly got better. The nurses taking care of Selena and her baby were astonished, but also wary, as they had no idea what the woman had been injected with. All the King would tell them was, 'I did what was best. If my wife hadn't survived, the child would only be stronger.' They assume he had made it so that the son would absorb whatever strength the mother had and survive long after her death. Many people have tried to figure out what the King had done."
Once again, they take a break. This time, they clean up the dishes and bring out sleeping bags from inside the caravan. While everyone is getting comfortable, the boy pulls the hood of his cloak over his head, feeling the beginnings of an autumn drizzle. "The young Selena's son looked so much like her, it was amazing. Much to her surprise, her child was born with the ears and tail of a fox. It was taken as proof of the King's 'superior skill' with science. In my opinion, it was proof of his twistedness. When you genetically alter your unborn sun while he's in the womb, you definitely shouldn't be thought of as a hero by anyone, let alone the child's mother! But as I was saying, the boy was a genius, and a virtuoso. By the time he was three, he could play the piano and violin quite well. He was at the second grade level, and could ride a horse and fight like the noblest of warriors. The boy started training to become the King when he was four, and he took to it very well. He also took well to more experimentation. His father had injected him with the DNA of a raven, and he went through weeks of agonizing pain when wings sprouted from his back. Well, 'sprout' isn't the word I should use. When the wings tore through the skin of his shoulders, the walls of the castle infirmary were splattered with blood. The King, not wanting his son to lose out on any of his education, forced his son to continue with his training while the wings tore him from the inside out. However, before his training could be completed, the Rebellion attacked.
“They slaughtered everyone they could find, but as the King had hidden himself away and sent his wife and only son to a poor town to stay safe, they escaped harm with a select few guards. The entire force of the Rebellion stayed in the castle for a month, waiting and hoping to either starve the King out, or have him reveal himself. However, that did not happen. One night, when everyone was asleep, the King sent out some of his guards, who killed the leader of the Rebellion in his sleep. As the leader had been one of the most powerful mages to oppose the King, the rest of the Rebellion fled, only to eventually all be killed off by the King’s allies. For weeks after the siege, the King had his mages channel the life energy of the guards he had sent with his wife and son, but they could not be reached. That was when the King found out that they had been killed. He refused to mourn, though all signs pointed to their death. He is still searching for his lost family.”
There’s a few seconds of silence, then one of the younger women coughed. “So, the King’s family could still be out there somewhere?”
The storyteller smiles ruefully. “If they are, they obviously don’t want to go back to life at the castle. But do you know what? One of the King’s storytellers told me that he had seen someone matching the King’s description of his wife in this very city about three years ago. However, not many people would have seen the son. He must have quite the disguise to hide the supposed wings, fox ears, and fox tail.”
“So, the son must have died.”
“Most likely. However, I have seen a boy in the city who could be the son.”
The woman's eyes widen. “Really? How can you tell?”
“The boy was said to have the bluest of eyes, and skin as olive as his mother’s.” The man pauses. “I have seen a young boy recently that I believe could be him. The only problem is, the boy I saw was a hunchbacked beggar.”
The boy in the tree gasps slightly, knowing the man is talking about him and stands up on the tree branch to leave. As he stands up, the branch shakes, causing leaves to fall into the fire and onto the bards in the camp.
“Hey!” The boy freezes. “Who’s there?” The boy closes his eyes, holding his breath. Slowly, he reaches into his tattered shirt and unwinds the bandage wrapped around his torso and hunch. He glances behind him and sees the people in the camp squinting into the trees, then pulls the bandage off and the wings he had bound to his back unfurl as the boy pulls the back of his shirt down to release them. Seeing the movement, the storyteller whirls towards the sound of fluttering wings. The winged boy knows he has been spotted when he hears the entire camp gasp. He turns to face them, smiling ruefully, then pushes off the branch, flying over the camp and heading back to the city where he serves no one, living in poverty as a hunchbacked beggar.