“Nice throw, ‘Aim-less’!” Laughter rang out around the clearing, none louder than from the leader. Nel Vaiten was a tall boy, agile, strong, and handsome. Everything you want in a boy of seventeen years old in the eyes of the local girls; what’s more, he was popular amongst the adults too. The sun was beginning to set, its frailty mirrored in the crisp icicles formed off the tree branches. Most townspeople were heading home from a hard day of work, but these particular boys felt that such things could wait. Nel stepped forward, the soft powdery snow crunched beneath his feet as he closed the gap between himself and the boy in front of him. He’d used his typical quip already, playing on the boy’s name as he had; as if to insult the boy by the use of his name along with the impertinent term.
Eamonn stood, waiting and watching as the other boy reached down to the ground, balling up more of the white powder, used his right hand to compound the snow further into a ball.
“You’ve got to be better than that” Nel sneered, hurling the freshly made snowball, following through with his left hand whipping over and then under his body as he stepped forward. The ball hit Eamonn in the chest. Grunting at the impact, Eamonn stared back at the boy in front of him.
“Leave him alone, Nel. We never did anything to you!” cried a distant voice. Nel turned and pointed at the boy cuffed by his ring of followers, held down on his knees as he was, the boy’s arms were pinned behind his back, “You stay out of this or you’ll be next Sam!” Nel threatened.
Surrounded by the Nel’s followers, Eamonn had placed himself in the center of the clearing, allowing Nel to stand over him. Every fiber in Eamonn’s body told him to give in to the childish act and hurl himself at Nel, but he’d realised in the past that doing so would only encourage the other boy and he’d receive much worse than he could do. Instead, he’d learnt to bide his time and wait for Nel to become frustrated and attack him. Nel had his fists clenched by his sides, Eamonn had poked the bear, Nel thought, now it was time to put him back in his place.
“Loni, Pete with me” he called to the two followers currently suppressing Sam. Nodding to Nel’s request, they handed their captive to two of their companions and broke away from the circle to join their leader; Loni on Nel’s left and Pete on his right.
“It were time that ‘Aim-less’ got what was coming to him”, together the three surged forward. Loni cuffed Eamonn by the right shoulder and Pete grabbed his right, holding him, kicking him behind the knees, causing Eamonn to stagger and fall. Pete growled at him, pulling him back up to face Nel. Eamonn felt the other boys’ nails dig into his arm, grimacing he tried to push the pain aside, determined to show no sign of it.
Nel was just a meter in front of Eamonn, watching him, a smug smile on his face, he enjoyed seeing the boy helpless and at his mercy. He nodded curtly to his associates to release him, as they had planned, both boys threw lightning quick punches into Eamonn’s sides, falling forward, Eamonn grunted, double over just as Nel had planned. Reaching forward, Nel pulled him up by the scruff of his neck, holding him in an awkward half crouching position, thrusting a knee into his chest and punched him again, before throwing the boy away to the side.
Falling to the ground, with the covering of snow, Eamonn hit the ground and slid a short distance before coming to stop. The battering he took before the final punch left him no time to try to protect himself and that final hit opened up a large cut just above his eye. His brow began to well with blood, escaping as droplets running down his cheek and staining the pure white of the snowy ground. The boy lay on the ground, stunned and exhausted by the assault. He dully raised his left arm, feeling for the wound and flinched at the pain as his fingers came away with spots of blood. Clumsily, Eamonn attempted to wipe the blood on the snow but the scrabbling motion did nothing to clean his hand. He raised his head and felt the sudden gong-like drumming waves of pain through him again, he let his head rest of the ground again, his breathe coming in ragged gasps, it was all he could do not to pass out.
Nel swaggered his way across to Eamonn, towered over the boy and grunted in satisfaction at his handiwork.
“Looks like ‘Aim-less’ won’t be so bold the next time we come looking for him” he cackled. He flicked his head towards the town square some meters in the distance, “I think it were time we all went home, so ‘Aim-less’ can go home to cry”. Nel smiled scornfully down at the boy, “this is what happens when you don’t follow the rules” and swaggered back with his followers towards the welcoming warm lights of the town.
Finally relinquished of his grapple, Sam ran forward to the lone figure of Eamonn, “I’m fine, Sam” Eamonn advised, albeit groggily. Sam crouched down, turned his friend onto his back and rested the other boy’s head on his legs, “I need to look” he instructed. There was the shallow wound above his right eye where the blood flow had slowed now to only a trickle. He checked Eamonn over where he’d been hit, but upon inspection, Sam judged that there was no permanent damage to Eamonn, there would be bruising at his sides and perhaps in his right shoulder where Pete had delivered a final hit, but there was nothing serious there. He looked at the gash again at his brow and the few splattered drops on the lining of Eamonn’s shirtfront; he figured it should be looked at.
“We should see the surgeon” Sam suggested, glancing back towards the town, but Eamonn waved the suggestion aside, “I’m ok, it’s not as bad as it looks, just a few drops of blood, nothing I haven’t experienced before with Nel” he told Sam. Shaking his head in bewilderment, Sam directed his friend along the path, “I can’t understand why he needed to do that” he phrased it as a statement. Nonetheless, Eamonn felt obligated to answer, “He always feels threatened, he thinks he’s better than us because he’s bigger and stronger than us and he’s done it all before”.
In truth, Nel was older but he was what many considered ‘a late bloomer’. Sixteen was the traditional age for townspeople to attend a meeting with the local castle lord where they were sorted into one of the respective clans. Each year people from all over were called to their nearby castle grounds to meet with such people, once their accomplishments with their schooling and their own preferences were taken into account, a decision would be made and that was where they spent the next lengthy period of time. However, almost one year ago, Maddox of Faraday, the same Baron Sam and Eamonn would be visiting, had deemed Nel too immature and not yet ready for the next step in his life. Instead, Nel had returned home, undergoing another year of tutelage in the local school house before making he returned again.
In most cases, the extra year brought about better results, and a greater sense of dedication to one’s work, Nel though, had used his extra year as a tool to bring others into line. He wasted little time in establishing the pecking order with the younger ones. By using his strength of character, he asserted his dominance by bringing any potential leaders down a peg. It helped further his own reputation, whilst dwindling that of his rivals.
Sam looked dejectedly at the town, watching as the farmers return to their homes, meeting with their loved ones and nestling safely within the warmth they provided. “What do we do now?” Sam asked. Eamonn sighed, his breathing was more or less under control now. Sam checked the wound for further signs of blood, decided that he was fine and wiped his blood stained hand on a patch of snow. “I’d say we go home” Eamonn announced.
Quietly, Sam helped Eamonn walked the short distance back through the town, stopping momentarily for an bustling horse and cart, before continuing on to the house belonging to Darcey, Sam’s mother. It was late winter in Wildwood; it was a thriving town in the east of Aylesbury, roughly half a morning’s journey south from the castle grounds of Faraday, the ruling post for the province. Wildwood was nestled next to the vast expanses of the Wallaran forest, known for its rich sources of timber, many of the townspeople dedicated their lives to the chopping and workmanship of the materials sourced from in and around the forest. A mill was situated to the northern side, used extensively for all their needs ranging from a simple timber saw to the more complex paper and scroll manufacturer. The town had built up from a small dwelling into one of the busier settlements in the region in the recent years.
Along with providing a prosperous supply of wood, the forest was also home to many species of fauna; most common were the deer, rabbits and wild fowl. Eamonn and Sam often hunted in the early hours of summer mornings, before the forest began to stir. However, as they looked on now at the bleak and colourless foliage of the trees they thought it was hardly an inviting place in the dead of winter. Once the thaw arrived though, they knew the hunters would begin to return. In all, it wasn’t uncommon for young people like Sam and Eamonn to decline the invitation to meet with Baron Maddox. Life in Wildwood was good for hard working people, the community would continue to expand, and the locals usually held them in high regard for putting aside their own desires for the sake of furthering the wealth of the town.
Eamonn and Sam had never been in that mind. Their parents had been influential people in Aylesbury, and both boys had plans for pursuing something more than the life of the simple townsfolk. Eamonn stepped onto the verandah, it was a simple timber structure sourced, as expected, from the Wallaran forest. The boy stepped towards the door, removing his boots and placing them on the inside of the door upon entering, Darcey had few rules and one that she upheld time after time was there were to be no muddy boot prints throughout her house. In spite of the stiffening wound on his brow and constant pounding of his headache, Eamonn smiled and took the time to take his boots off. He pulled the latch on the door and pushed the door open, entering into the main room.
Darcey was by the fireplace, off to the left hand side of the room. Without having to look, Eamonn knew that her focus was on her book. He had no doubt it would be one of her favourite stories that she was almost always reading. Darcey, while in her mid-thirties, had married Sam’s father, Tristan, at a young age, almost fifteen years had passed now since his untimely death had left both Sam and Eamonn as toddlers in her care. She wasn’t overly tall, her slender shape and face suggested that she was younger than she really was; the burden of looking after two young people had had little impact on her looks. Many a man in the town fancied her, and the curly strawberry blonde hair that hung loosely down to just below her shoulders framed her near perfect face with brilliant blue eyes that seemed to light up her features.
The house was mostly an open space, the door opened up into a large central room; an eating table was positioned in the middle with ample space for eight seats around it. To the left of that was the fireplace with three cushioned chairs placed in a half circle in front of it along with the rocking chair that Darcey was currently occupying. Furthermore, there were two bedrooms down that side, one belonging to each of the boys.
To the right of the room was the kitchen area, a stove with an attached wood barrel they could place the wood to fuel the fire when needed. Next to that was a bench and sink and beyond it were Darcey’s room and a wash room containing another sink system that linked to the one in the kitchen. Before his death, Sam’s father was something of an inventor, he’d built the house with his two hands; he always found ways of improving the household and the bench with the accompanying sink was his greatest idea.
More and more commonly, houses had installed a simple water mill, inside or outside the house, with a lever connected through a spout where the water would come through. They were simple in their function, however they were either open or closed, cutting off the lines or leaving them completely open for vast amounts of water to come through. Sam’s father had taken it one step further, he’d put a locking system in the pump. Ultimately, it achieved the same results, but with some major improvements; they no longer required having a large container inside the house to store their water, nor did they have to worry about the water spigot building up too much pressure and spurting water everywhere leading to another journey outside to river to fetch water.
Instead, there was a storage mill up against the wall of the house, it was well covered, and lined in such a way that ice rarely formed and the motion of drawing water prevented rust or mold forming. The pipe led through to the bench with a turning handle in much the same way that the latches found on a door worked. When turned, the locking system would slowly shift, allowing for different levels of water to pass through the system. The only thing needed to keep it running, was to fill the mill outside with fresh water from one of the streams nearby.
Darcey heard the boys enter the room, they were later home than usual. She’d arrived home expecting to see them carrying out the daily chores when she found the house empty. She stood and swiftly strode across the room, hands on her hips, her book still in hand. “Where have you been?” she demanded.
Both boys looked guiltily back at her, neither wanting to answer her, it was at this moment, that Darcey noticed the blood on Eamonn’s shirtfront and the cut above his eye.
“My god!” she exclaimed, she ran forward to the boy practically throwing her book onto the table, she maneuvered him like Sam had done earlier. The cut had dried, but now the action of her inspection set a trickle of blood flowing again and unwelcome surges of pain as the lips of the wound protested.
“What happened to you?” she requested. Looking from one boy to the other, Eamonn pushed her hands away, but she kept on, grabbing a clean rag to clean his wound.
“Darcey, I’m fine” Eamonn told her.
The woman took one look at him, displeasure written on her face and the message was clear to Eamonn: she was having none of that. She turned the tap on, dampening the cloth in her hand and returned to the boy, placing the cool soothing linen to his neck, she looked up at him again, repeating her previous question, “What happened to you?”
Eamonn sighed, took a hold of her hand with his left, keeping the cloth pressed against his head, “we had a slight disagreement with Nel earlier on, it was nothing serious, can we please just let this go?” he directed his final words to Sam as well as Darcey, Nel had been a thorn in his side for a while now and it was something he didn’t want to dwell on it. Better that they leave things to pass than worry about them, he thought. Darcey’s eyes slipped away from Eamonn’s, she moved to embrace her son.
“Make sure you clean yourself up” she told Eamonn, “dinner shall be ready shortly and I’ll need to soak your shirt tonight if I’m to remove that stain.”