O'rian learns about his future at a bitter price, and he'd rather not have known.
By Jeffrey Landale & Eric McDonald
The sounds of merrymaking were loud in O’rian’s ears, penetrating his silence. Even here, in his secret place, it seemed there was no escape from the noise that to him was taunting, intruding upon his solitary thoughts. All his life, O’rian had welcomed aloneness. That was the way he had been born, and that was the way it had been ever since. It was how his parents had left him, and even though he had never known them, he would not like to defy their wishes, so he accepted what they had given him: aloneness. His foster parents had always told him that his parents hadn’t meant for it to happen this way, that his parents had wanted him to love and be loved, but O’rian never believed them. He loved his foster parents, but he believed that his parents had left him alone for a reason, and whether or not they did it out of love for him or not, they had been his parents, and O’rian liked to think he was honoring their wishes. So mostly, he hid himself away, no matter how tempted he was to join in and be just another one of the boys. His friends were the only ones who understood, and his foster parents were the only other ones who tried, and so they were the only ones O’rian would talk to. Tonight, he had come dangerously close to forsaking everything he had known and left to take part in the celebration of the year half past. The people’s voices sounded so happy, so joyous, the way O’rian had forbidden himself to feel. He wished it would go away, leave him be. He wanted to rest.
Perhaps he should just leave and join the fun. It was midsummer’s eve, after all, and his friends, the few that he had, would be shoving their faces with the juciest roast boar in Ragnoth and all the other wonderful foods that were most likely at table. And they would be dancing, everyone would be dancing, keeping pace with Rayem the minstrel’s fast music, changing parteners here and there. O’rian was sure his friends would be dancing with all the girls they knew, though he did not envy them much for that. He did not particularly like any of the girls, despite Theran’s laughable stories of how beautiful his so called beloved, Deneth Farmeer’s youngest daughter, was. The girls were competitive, though, which was one of the reasons O’rian did not like them, and because of their competetiveness, he was a prize to be won. They all clamored over him, much to the envy of his friends. He ignored them always, but they pushed on relentlessly. O’rian had taken to covering his face whenever a girl walked by, though that hadn’t done much good, since O’rian and his friends were known to travel in a pack, and he was easily picked out by the company he was with. His friends sympathised with him, however, despite their opposite views, and even though they loved the attention O’rian got them, they learned with him to sneak about, finding alternate routes all over town, so that O’rian may travel in peace. He appreciated and loved his friends, and he was as close to them as anyone could be. But the absence of his true parents was a hole inside of him that could never be filled.
O’rian sat with his arms around his scrunched knees, trying to block the noises out of his head. He felt angry and sad at the same time, for this was his secret place, and nothing was supposed to be able to penetrate it. But listening to those noises, when he shut his eyes, he could almost picture himself taking part in the celebration, and it made him smile, forget for a moment that he was alone. Before, coming here had taken those thoughts from his head. His secret place was beautiful, and it almost made him happy. When he looked around, he was glad that he was alone. Other people would only disturb the serenity of the pool, make the trees sway, annoyed at being awakened. But tonight, when he looked around, all he could see were pictures of laughing faces, and the happy sounds grew even louder.
A single tear found its way onto O’rian’s cheek. Angrily, he kicked the water. The ripples expanded, spreading all around the small pool. He thought, for a moment, that he felt the ripples passing through him, as if they had left the water unseen and were spreading throughout the entire clearing. He cursed himself for breaking the stillness. He sat quietly once again. Instantly, the sounds returned, and he realized that he had forgotten all about the celebration for a moment. He kicked the water again, and again. In moments, he was on his feet, wading into the small pool and sending water splashing all around him. O’rian focused entirely on the water. Nothing was there except for splashing water.
With a jolt, O’rian came back to reality. Turning, he looked back, standing soaking wet in the middle of the pool, breathing heavily from exertion.
“Theran! What are you doing here? How did you find me?” Theran tried to stifle it, but could not keep from laughing.
“Well as for how I found you, you’re making enough noise to wake Karna himself! What are you doing?”
O’rian was torn. He did not know whether to be angry or relieved, a feeling he had come to know well recently. He was happy Theran was here, he needed somebody to cheer him up, and he appreciated the jokes, even though they were aimed at him. But his secret place was not a secret anymore, and although he was sure Theran wouldn’t tell anyone if O’rian told him not to, the secrecy seemed shattered to him.
“I was hiding,” he said meekly to Theran. He was not angry, he knew Theran would have stayed away if he had thought O’rian didn’t want him there, he was only sad.
“As usual, eh?” Theran asked cheerfully. “Well, that’s your own choice and I respect it. We brought you some food.” His bright face quirked in a smile.
“Hullo, O’rian.” The voice was Rolard’s, another of O’rian’s friends. He stepped out from the shadows behind Theran, carrying a heaping tray filled with wild boar and sweet potatoes, followed by Gareth and Rane. All O’rian’s friends had left the celebration to be with him. He was touched.
Rolard dumped the tray down.
“Well, are you gonna come out of that pool and eat?” His friends laughed as they watched him wade his way to shore, and when he plopped down beside them, he joined in. For a while, they just sat there, laughing and stuffing their faces. Then Gareth, swallowing a big mouthful of sweet potatoes, cleared his throat and asked O’rian a question they had all heard the answer to many times.
“O’rian, why don’t you like other people?”
O’rian looked at his friends, who were all, for some reason, looking at him very intently, though they all knew what he would say. His smile faded. Biting off a piece of boar, he chewed vigorously without answering. His friends did not forget about the comment, as he had hoped they would. They did not ask again, they just stared. Finally, O’rian grew restless.
“It’s because of my parents, you all know that! I do like other people, I just can’t stand to be around them.”
“Well that doesn’t make much sense,” Theran commented. O’rian lowered his gaze.
“Why did you all come out here, anyway? Just to ask me the question you’ve asked me so many times? The one question I refuse to answer?”
“Well that, and her.” Rane motioned towards something behind O’rian. He turned around and looked. Sitting at the edge of the clearing, completely silent, chin on knees, was a girl. A pretty one, too, though O’rian tried not to think about that. With rage, he turned back to his friends.
“A girl? A girl! You came out to find me just so you could fit me with a girl! I thought we understood each other, that I didn’t like girls!” O’rian stood up and started to stomp off, thinking that from now on he would be even more solitary than he had been before, but his friends jumped up and grabbed hold of him, tried to push him back down to a sitting position. O’rian fought, and he fought well. He was by far the strongest of the five, having four years as a blacksmith’s apprentice under his belt. But his friends out numbered him and bullied him back to a sitting position. Fuming, O’rian let them talk. Theran started.
“Look. We didn’t come out here to fit you with her. We are your friends, and we respect you. There was another reason we brought her.”
“ I lost my parents, too.” It was the first time the girl had spoken. O’rian turned, and for the first time he really looke at her. It was Loren Padmey. The girl that always stood at the back of the crowd, blushing when the girls swarmed over O’rian. She was blushing now harder than he had ever seen her do so before. His friends must have done some coaxing to get her to leave her chair in the corner. O’rian had always thought of her as a kindred spirit, which was now confirmed, but he had been too caught up in avoiding any girl, he hadn’t paid much attention to her, and whenever he thought to, he reminded himself that he was supposed to be alone.
He took a good look at her, and realised she was crying. Embarrased, he looked toward his friends, but they simply looked at him, communicating the way they had learned to do together, with looks. They were saying, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” O’rian already knew.
“I never lost my parents. I never had them.”
“Luckier for you,” Loren countered. “At least you didn’t have to know that you would never hear the loving song of a mother, feel the loving gaze a father, again.”
“At least you got to hear them at all.”
“O’rian,” Theran finally decided to say something. “Loren agreed to come here to talk to you. Don’t shove it in her face.”
“I don’t want to talk,” O’rian answered sulkily.
“Yes you do,” Gareth’s voice betrayed that he was worried for his friend. “It’s what you need. Even if you never let go of the fact that you don’t have parents, you at least need to accept it and get on with your life. We’ve thought this for a long time, O’rian. About how to bring it up to you. All your life you’ve been denying the fact that people love you. You think that since your parents left you, they never loved you, and that if they didn’t love you, no one will. But you have to realize that there are people who love you. We love you.”
O’rian was still mad, but he felt a little warmer towards the four of them. At least they hadn’t brought her to kiss him. He would have never forgiven them for that. With a sigh, O’rian turned back to Loren.
“How did you lose your parents?” he asked. His friends smiled, mostly with relief. Loren did not relent her tears. If anything, she cried harder. O’rian felt he uderstood her sorrow.
“You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to. I understand the way you feel.”
“I do, too. I don’t think I really thought about it before. You can talk to me, if I can talk to you.”
O’rian motioned for her to come eat, wishing he didn’t feel such sudden compassion for a girl. Loren wiped her eyes as best she could, though O’rian could see she still wanted to cry, and made her way towards the circle of boys. They ate in silence for a little while, neither O’rian nor Loren wanting to start a conversation, and the rest of the boys thinking it better to stay out of it from here on.
Loren took a small bite of sweet potatoe and looked over at O’rian meakly. She saw that he had been watching her. He wasn’t looking at her like was attracted to her, just as if he was waiting for something.
“My parents were killed by a theif when they tried to stop him. He cut my mothers throat and stabbed my father seven times in the heart with his dagger.”
O’rian nodded his satisfaction.
“You saw it?” he asked.
“No, I was asleep.”
Theran, who had been looking at Loren with a look of horror and sympathy on his face, spoke up.
“Well at least you didn’t have to watch your parents die,” he said, meaning it warmly, but O’rian and Loren turned on him with identical looks of hot indignation so fierce that Theran cowered beneath their gaze.
“I wish I had,” Loren retorted. “At least I would have been there with them.” Her tone moved from anger to sorrow, and a single tear began to follow the path that all the previous ones had followed. “I could have told them that I loved them, helped them die in peace. Instead, the last face they ever saw was that of their cold blooded killer.”
Loren looked at O’rian and saw understanding in his face, the first person ever to understand, and she knew she had found a friend for life. Though he may not be willing to admit it yet, they had to be friends. They were the only ones who could comfort each other.
The scorching heat was almost unbearable, and O’rian was ready to strip down to his undergarments to escape it, though that wouldn’t have done much good. The forge’s fire leaped up at him, gleefully engulfing the sweat that continuously dripped from his forehead, and the sun ravaged his back through the open window. He shifted, trying to find a cooler position, but to no avail. Turning to the barrel that lay beside him, he dipped his hand in. The water was warm, but compared to the burning atmosphere of the forge, it felt cool enough. O’rian splashed his face and the back of his neck with it and drank ravenously, trying desperately to cool himself. He wished that he could just go home to his foster-parents, the Tametheons, and leave the hot forge behind.
Four years ago, when O’rian’s foster parents had first put him into apprenticeship with Daarien, the local blacksmith, he had been very excited, hoping to be making all kinds of exciting things. But Daarien had put him right to work making nails, horseshoes, and all kinds of everyday items that were so boring to construct. It seemed that was all that ever got done in Daarien’s forge. O’rian had no idea where the array of swords that always hung from the sales shelf had come from, but he doubted that Daarien had made them. And the intense heat of the fire that greeted O’rian everyday just made it all worse. But he never said a word to the Tametheons, for he knew how much they cared for him, and he did not want to dash their hopes for him. He had resolved to endure the torture as long as he had to, and however much it frustrated him, for their sake. And he was not ungrateful to Daarien, either. As much as he hated the craft, and however hard the craftsman had worked him, Daarien had been kind to him, and had given him at least some purpose in his puzzling life-for his life was truly a puzzle. No one knew much about his heritage. His mother had been a stranger, turning up once in the middle of the night, far into labor. The local midwife had delivered O’rian safely, but his mother had been too far gone. She had obviously ran a good deal, though no one could figure out why. The mysteriousness of it all made O’rian a very unnatractive child, but the Tametheons did not think twice about taking him in-Daarien had been a little bit like a second father to O’rian, helping him when he needed it, and always giving him good advice. And O’rian could not deny that the work kept him physically fit. He had the biggest muscles of any boy his age he had ever met, and he could work for hours without getting the least bit tired.
O’rian’s green eyes squinted into the fire, trying to make out the batch of nails he had placed there only minutes before. Using the tongs that lay on the tool shelf above him, he removed them one by one and dunked them into the rain barrel until they hardened, and their color faded from red to gray. Picking up his small spike and chisel, he began hammering lightly, putting the final touches on his work.
“Daarien!” he called as he put his tools back in their proper place. The bulky man poked his head through the door of the forge. “I finished this batch of nails you needed. May I finish for the day?” he asked in his fully matured seventeen year old voice.
Daarien strolled over to the tray where O’rian had left his nails, and began examining them. O’rian watched him patiently until he gave the nod of approval that had become so familiar to O’rian over the years.
“You’ve improved so much, O’rian. You’ll be a fine blacksmith someday.”
O’rian smiled, secretly thinking that he would never become a blacksmith.
“Well?” he asked.
Daarien picked up the nails and looked O’rian up and down for a moment.
“No, don’t go home yet. I want you to make a sword,” came the gruff reply. O’rian’s hand, which had started to move toward the bow knot holding his apron strings together, froze. His eyes went wide with astonishment.
“A sword?” he asked. Daarien nodded. “A...a real sword?” O’rian stammered.
“That’s right, now get to it.” Without another word, Daarien turned and began walking toward the door from whence he came.
“But...but Daarien...I’ve never made a real sword before.”
“Well you know how, don’t you? It’s not much different from those toys you take such pleasure in making, O’rian, and you’ve been working towards this quite a bit, I’ve noticed.”
It was true. Almost everyday, before work, O’rian would take down one of the many swords that hung from the sales rack and examine it. He examined every little detail. The length, the sharpness, the balance, the material; every possible aspect you could think of. He had mapped out in his mind every step of the construction process. Then, he had taken his hammer and practiced, time after time, imagining the dull iron he was hammering was cold steel and crystal, the only materials that O’rian wasn’t allowed to use. The materials for sword making. Daarien had made sure that the tips of O’rian’s makeshift weapons were always blunt, and that every one was always ended up back as the chunk of scrap metal it had started from. O’rian knew he could make the sword, but he still felt scared for some reason. He didn’t know why, but he was. All of a sudden, the burning heat had left him, and he was feeling cold as ice. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. So he simply nodded to Daarien. It was enough for the wise blacksmith, and he left.
O’rian set about picking his tools. At first, by force of habit, he started towards the small, copperhead chipping hammer that he could almost call his own now, he used it so much. But then he stopped, and looked up at the set of Daarien’s main work hammers, the heads made out of gold. Taking the smallest one, which was still a good deal bigger than O’rian’s hammer, he hefted it. Holding the glorious thing seemed to banish all the nerves he had felt only moments before. They were replaced with awe and excitement. The heat came back in a great, sweaty wave, and O’rian went to gather his metals and restart the forge fire, smiling in anticipation.
* * * * * * * *
O’rian’s hammer rose and fell, mercilessly pounding at the metal, flattening it, shaping the sword. Already on his back, one sword and three daggers hung by a shoulder strap that O’rian had made only an hour ago using his abandoned sweat rag, and yet he continued to hammer away. He had let the fire die hours ago, for he didn’t have the patience that was required when using the flames to make weapons. Instead, he used his brute strength and the seemingly unbreakable hammer, beating the piece into shape. His eyes glinted with a strange light, and he curled up his lip in concentration.
His muscles rippled, the anvil was dented. But the impossibly powerful sword metal did not break. Not even O’rian had known he was capable of such a feat of strength. In fact, he knew he wasn’t. He doubted any mortal being that walked the earth could forge a sword with their bare hands. And yet there it lay before him, nearly completed.
With a triumphant shout, O’rian brought his hammer down one last time. A mighty crash resounded through the air, and the hammer shattered into a hundred pieces, leaving the sword ringing like a bell. O’rian’s shout turned to a gasp, and, he stared at the remains of the broken hammer, which he was still holding in his numbed hands.
Just then, the coldness returned, worse then ever. The sweat continued to drip down O’rian’s forehead, but there was no more heat.
The ringing in the sword slowly subsided, and was replaced with a low rumbling.
O’rian stared as the white steel of the blade began to change its color.
The rumbling grew.
The sword had changed to yellow.
The rumbling continued to grow.
O’rian covered his ears.
Now red...Blood red, like O’rian’s hair.
Suddenly, there was an explosion, and O’rian screamed as a great ball of fire burst from nowhere, engulfing the entire building. O’rian screamed...the fire was cold. He could feel it searing his skin, feel it tearing him open. It was leaking into him. It seemed to have a prescence of its own, like the will of another being was forcing itself inside him.
The pain subsided.
* * * * * * * *
O’rian lay upon the ashes of the forge, his charred clothes camaflouging him perfectly. The pain had returned, but overpowering it was the cold. It was...cold, and O’rian hated it, more than he had ever hated anything in his life.
Finally, O’rian forced himself to move. He stood up, and when he did, he realized that he was still holding the hilt of the sword, which was still discolored. He felt it was the horrible blade, which he had waited so long to make, that was causing the terrible coldness. He tried to hurl it from him, but his arm would not move. Wide eyed, he flexed the arm. It was working fine. Again he tried to toss the sword, and again his arm would not obey. His mind a maze of confusion, he tried to stand, and, miraculously, the pain disappeared. But the dreadful curse of the cold continued to haunt O’rian.
He heard a groan and a cough to his right, and he swung around. There lay Daarien’s scorched body. His skin was blackened and his hair burned off, but he lived.
O’rian rushed to his side, the tears already running down his cheeks.
“It was me!” he howled. “I did it! I made the fire! It’s all my fault!”
Daarien’s eyes, the only part of his body that moved, came to rest on the red sword for a moment, then moved back and met with O’rian’s.
“I...forgive you,” Daarien gave one last hacking cough, then settled in for his final, unending sleep.
O’rian leaped up, lifted the sword, and with a howl of anger and grief that was heard by all for miles, he brought it down upon the only part of the building that still stood; the anvil, cleaving it in two. Then he fell to his knees and cried. He cried and cried, all the time thinking back on his earlier life, and the role Daarien had played in it. He knew that, even with the foster parents he loved, his life would never be the same without Daarien and the forge. Only now did O’rian see how important the man and his home had actually been to him.
O’rian made one more futile attempt to toss the sword, then, being careful not to impale Daarien’s body on the blade, he lifted it and began carrying it to the only place he could think of to go...home.
* * * * * * * *
O’rian was on his knees, staring. Just staring, his eyes riveted to the spot before him where three bodies lay. One of them was Daarien’s, the other two were his foster parents. Their throats were cut. They were gone, and O’rian had not even been there to say goodbye. He had not been there to thank them for all that they had given over the years, especially the love. He had not been there to kiss their foreheads and comfort them.
O’rian didn’t know what to do. With no one to turn to, and nowhere to go, he was lost. A boy alone among men.
A jolting sob brought him back to reality.
“Why?” he asked himself quietly. “Who would want to kill them, the two most loving people in all of Ragnoth?” Another sob stole his voice, and with all his heart, he cried. He cried and cried until his eyes were dry. It was then that he noticed the unnatural cold had not yet left his body. He looked to his side and found that he still held the red sword. With a howl of rage, he swung his arm as hard as he could, and finally, the sword obeyed. It spun across the floor, coming to rest only when it found the puddle of blood that had seeped from O’rian’s foster mother’s throat.
“Why me!” O’rian screamed at the gods. “What have I done to deserve this!” The sword began to glow. O’rian kicked it. A chill wind blew in from the door O’rian had not bothered to shut, bringing with it laughter. Maniacal, hateful laughter. But O’rian did not notice it. He was too busy crying.
That was the way the villagers found him, lying by the bodies of his loved ones, the remainder of his clthes charred, and a sword lying close to him, in a puddle of blood. The throats of the Tametheon’s were cut, Daarien’s body was burned...The villagers jumped to conclusions.
* * * * * * * *
The land was vast, desert like, nothing moved as far as O’rian could see. The wind was strong, howling as it lifted his cloak, sending it swirling around his body.
Cloak? O’rian did not remember wearing a cloak. Actually, he did not remember much of anything, except the cold. The horrible, terrifying cold. He remembered it all too well, as if it were still there, embedded into his body, lingering on the edge of his soul even here, where the temperature was hot enough to sear any brow.
O’rian wracked his brain, looking for memories, but none came, until he looked down. Even then, all he remembered was fire, burning fire and...pain, and...and cold. The sword had brought back those memories. He tried to fit pictures with the emotions, but he soon relized that it was futile. And then, like a rush of water, a new emotion seeped into him. Fear.