Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Winter (the season) (08/13/09)
TITLE: A MAN OF STRENGTH
By mick dawson
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Amid the slanted shadows of a narrow alley in Caliet’s poorer quarter, emerged the scuffed and dented helmet of a member of the king’s elite; the Blue River Guardsmen. The face which followed could not be seen, as it was wrapped in bandages. In fact, all areas of his exposed flesh were covered in wrappings, making him appear like the mummies of northern Kundra.
A long hafted, double-edged guardsman’s axe jutted from his right hand, held by the butt end as he walked. The tattered remains of his deep blue tunic, emblazoned with the orange crest of the snarling dog, fluttered in the winter breeze.
There was a time that he would have felt the cold like any other man, but it seemed that since the death of his family, he grew insensitive to the cold; to pain and to hunger among other things.
The main street was vacant. It seemed that even the thieves had better sense than to be out on such a night.
He was about to move on when he saw movement across the street. As he trudged nearer, he saw the wide eyed features of a Nusallean boy in his early teens, shivering by a fence. He expected the youth to take flight, but he remained where he was, gaping at him.
“The Forgotten One,” the boy whispered.
“Aye, lad, it is I. you will freeze to death here soon enough. Come with me; I will take you home.”
“No,” spat the youth vehemently.
The Forgotten One’s brow furrowed, wondering if he detected an edge of fear to the boy’s voice.
The short horned helmet swiveled in the direction of a collection of barrels, by the side of a tavern that had closed for the night. He marched up to them and swung his axe, hewing into them. The wooden “ribs” collapsed in undignified disarray as his axe fell, only stopping when one of them seeped red wine on the cobbled street.
He swiftly spun the axe-head in his hand and struck the stones. Twice he sent sparks into the damp spot until a fire slowly took root and spread to the scattered timbers.
“Come warm yourself, boy,” he said softly.
The boy was already on his feet and making his way to the flames which had grown to waist height. The head looked down into the flames for several as he warmed his hands.
“You do not have the look of a waif about you,” said The Forgotten One.
The boy raised his head with shocked expression.
“Too clean, and too well fed,” he added. “Not dressed for a winter’s night though. I would say that you have run off from home.”
His bandaged hand cupped the cheek of the youth.
“You do not bare the marks of a bashing, so what would make a well cared for young man leave his home?”
“I am not like my brother.”
“What did you say, lad?”
“My father loves my brother. He is strong and not afraid of anything, but I am nothing like him.”
“And so your father hits you?”
“No!” he cried. “I fear him. Anything I say is met with ridicule. Nothing I do is good enough. It seems that all his praise goes to my brother, but me, he ignores.”
The Forgotten One sighed heavily. He had seen the phenomenon before; two brothers so vastly different, yet of the same father.
“He is forceful then in his ways,” The Forgotten One suggested.
The boy nodded.
“I have found that there are two ways a young man will grow under an oppressive father; he will either become a man of strength, or forever fear his own shadow. It seems he made the error of thinking that his ways would harden you.”
The boy began to sob.
“But I can never hope to be the man of strength that he wishes me to be; I am so puny.”
“You could if you understood what being a “man of strength” is. It is not about standing toe to toe against your enemy and attacking him with greater fury than he bestows on you.
If you can bear malicious words that are flung at you and not feel the need to retaliate, then you become a man of integrity; that is where true strength lies… within. Master this, and your father will respect you, and all who know you. Now come boy, and I will walk you home.”
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