Chapter Twelve

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Trees towered over the small opening, creating a makeshift training area carved out of the forest. The forest had been beaten back, but it would creep its way forward once more. I followed my cousin to this space that lay at least four leagues from our modest home. I was to begin the Virenti on this day, the day of my ninth nameday. Mother told me stories about it, the sacred training of the Uthari, though I must admit that I only half listened. She had warned me how demanding it was, but I was ready to begin formal training. Liras had already taught me how to hold a sabre, which was harder than I had imagined. Clumsy weapons, the sabres were, but fast and sharp and deadly they also proved to be. They were much harder to wield than the dirks and small daggers that Liras had already taught me to use. The weight felt awkward, backwards even, as I tried to swing it. Liras started me with only one. He said that I must earn my blades. All Uthari started similarly, save for the Promera, which I would not be doing. The Promera is the student’s first taste of combat. They pit each boy against another and are made to fight. Needless to say, there were no students to challenge me.

Liras stopped in the middle of the clearing and turned to me. Varo stood near him, swords crossed behind his back, arms crossed in front. They both looked at me with relentless eyes. Liras was younger than Varo, but stood inches taller than him. One would not have called Liras tall at five and ten, though. Both of the armsmen were wiry and lightly muscled, but hard as stone and agile as a prowler. I watched them spar many a times. The two men moved as the wind, their sabres an extension of their arms, and rarely a fight ended before hours had passed and the chill of the night threatened to carry them off.

“The Virenti is a possession of one’s mind and all that is in it. You must control every emotion. A warrior is more than his weapons, his armor. The Uthari must first control the mind, and then body, before they can hope to defeat another.” Liras stood clad in his Uthari battle dress, sabres sheathed behind his back. He tugged on one of his leather vambraces. “Your mother destroyed her own kingdom to be bedded by a tyrant king. One might call that whorish behavior, especially for a Queen.”

I was taken aback. I had never heard Liras speak a negative word in regards to my mother. Rage filled my head and I felt my hands begin to shake. “What?”

“Your mother is the reason our people were killed.” No emotion betrayed the young Uthari’s face. “She was weak, and so are you. The seed is not strong with this one, this bastard son of a whore.”

I lost control, screamed and flailed. I tried to hit him, this man who was supposed to be my cousin, my teacher. I swung with all of my strength, but my face caught the back of his hand instead. I slipped from consciousness before my head hit the ground. It must have only been moments, though I cannot be sure. Liras stood over me, his face blank and his eyes intent.

“Your emotions control you.” He looked over at Varo. The older, browner Uthari was cleaning dirt from under his nails with a small dagger. “The boy will dig,” Liras stated.

Varo only nodded as Liras left without another word. I was lost as I attempted to understand what was happening. I pushed myself up from the ground and felt at my swollen lip. Blood and dirt greeted me. Varo dropped a spade in front of me. “Dig a hole,” the only words I heard for a week.

I dug. The first day I accomplished a hole big enough to bury myself in. The walls were chopped and filled with dead roots, but the hole was only as deep as my shoulders. Somehow, I knew it would not be big enough. Varo came just before night’s first. He looked in the hole and tossed me a skin of water, and then he was gone again.

I threw my spade down and sat. I am a prince! I thought to yell, but it would have done no good. No one knew better of who I was than Liras and Varo. I leaned my head against the dirt wall and drifted off into a fitful sleep. I woke just as first light began to peak its head through the trees. Varo was standing over me once more, his face blank, his eyes unreadable. He dropped a small piece of bread into the hole and was gone before I could loose a word. My belly rumbled at the sight of the bread. I ate it in two bites and sat covered in mud and filth, wishing for more.

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