Remembering Kindness Published
Remembering Kindness, the short story I wrote about Commander Vyrdin's childhood, is going to be published in a fantasy anthology at the end of next month! Here is another small preview of the piece:
Piling the bricks in the field, Vyrdin was silent, rapt in rumination, remarking his work without being conscious of it, wondering why all his entreaties and faithfulness to the Gods had gone unanswered. Many asked for wealth and distinction, but all he asked for were the simple comforts of a satiating stew, a tepid bath, and the amber warmth of a lighted hearth. Family and acceptance no longer bore a strong hold on his heart; all his aspiration was now for finishing his work and finding a tolerable shelter before the coming snows should appear. He enjoyed being out while the snow made its drifting descent, the delicate white with its pearlescent sheen furnishing the northern countryside. He loved the soundlessness of the neighbouring hills under the authority of the quieting flakes, gloried in their tickling sensations as they tumbled over his face, but the dampness that came before the breaking of the skies was difficult for his broken and frail frame to bear. Everything around him was dull and grey, the ground was frozen through, the tilth was fraught with thick frost, and behind him in the near distance was the house, a beacon of ocher warmth, sharing its vivacity and brilliance with the barren garden beside, amidst the pale wreck of a prospect that was now become a mere imitation of its more vibrant time of life. Strange, he thought, that the warmest place on the farm was where its most unaffectionate resident resided, but he was unworthy of aspersions and checked them though he felt such hatred earned. His heart was sore, his body was bleeding and broken, and he was only bitter that those who suffered least seemed to attain life’s more gracious rewards. He had little idea whether the conversation passing over a table garnished with roasted meats and steamed roots promised any semblance of attachment: he heard no festivity, no merriment, no song, no carousing, no unbridled mirth, but there was food, there was fire, and as he piled the last bricks on the top of the kiln, he would have gladly accepted his master’s remonstrances and vicious conduct if only to be allowed to share in all the succour and revived constitution that a good meal could merit.
The kiln nearly finished, Vyrdin had only to seal the remaining cracks and collect some wood and kindle. There was enough clay to use on the crevices, and he was fortunate that the air was not past freezing that he could spread it over the bricks without having to race against the frost, but once the clay that had stuck to his fingers began to harden, he found it increasingly more difficult to continue and even went so far as to contemplate lighting the kiln before the holes were sealed if only to warm his hands. An hour more saw the end of the kiln’s construction, but his fingers, slathered over with hardened clay, were immovable, and the cold had finally defeated him: the bleeding cracks in his skin began to sting, his timbre frame crumbled under the anguish of undying hunger, and all his misery at being made to suffer under the burden of grueling labour prevailed him. What had he done to warrant such punishment? Was he never allowed one moment’s reprieve from his pain and penance? He searched his gloomy remembrance, endeavouring to recall a mistake, a transgression, an evil done in the impudence of youth that was owing to his present wretchedness, but there was nothing. Why did the Gods allow his master a home and a family, regardless of how small a house and how unfeeling the connection might be, and deny him these simple joys? What could he have done at five years old to warrant being abandoned, and what crime could he have committed whilst at the orphanage to merit such a cruel master? There was no answer. Tears welled in his eyes, and while his hands remained motionless, his heart moved between all the alternations of aggrievement and ruefulness.
He roused from his pitying strain when a voice called to him from the side gate. At first, he thought it might be Mr. Carrighan, coming to inspect his progress with all the vindication of an adjudicator as he often did, but when he went toward the gate and descried Gearrog the brickmaker calling him over, his consternation gave way to suspicion. What was he doing there, and on the eve of a holiday? Had not he a family to visit and a meal to eat?
“Came about the bricks, lad,” said Gearrog as Vyrdin approached. “Ol’ Carrighan’s tellin’ me today aft’ that you’s makin’ a kiln. I says you don’t got enough brick for that, is what I told him. Came to see if you needed ‘nymore.” His affable smile slowly began to fade into a frown of concern. “Where’d you get that there cut, lad?”
He was pointing to Vyrdin’s forearm, and in his ceaseless exertion, Vyrdin had forgot about the large gash he had acquired from cutting the turf a few days ago. He glanced momentarily at his arm and said, “From the slane,” with a level of unconcern which astonished the brickmaker.
“How long since you’s had that, lad?”
Vyrdin shrugged. “Since Gods’ Day.”
“Oughtta give it here and lemme see it.”
Gearrog moved to grab Vyrdin’s arm, but Vyrdin moved quickly away and stared at the brickmaker in sudden alarm.
“I ain’t gonna hurt you, lad,” said Gearrog, with grave suspicion. The tensing of his shoulders, the terror in the boy’s face, his hiding his arm behind him recommended a mind ill at ease, and Gearrog began to worry. “That cut’s lookin’ a-might bad, lad. Oughtta have that looked after ‘fore you finish your kiln.”
“It’s already done,” Vyrdin murmured, looking at his feet.
Gearrog’s eyes flared, his features half horror and half astonishment. “Done? Never did! Frannach aheon,” he swore, “in this here weather? With an arm like that? Lad, you’s off the cleric.”
He moved to take Vyrdin’s arm, but Vyrdin recoiled and said a solemn, “It doesn’t hurt.”
“Don’t matter if it don’t hurt, lad. I seen that colour ‘fore. That’s infection. You don’t get that right away cared for, you ain’t gonna have no arm to work with soon ‘nough.”
Vyrdin could be under no mistake that the wound was severe; the slane had cut so far into his arm that he feared he might have shaved the bone. He bled enough for it, but he had cleaned the gash and tied it off, thinking that it should heal on its own with time. He was wrong, however, and the lesion now exposed and riddled with infection had no hope of healing without a cleric’s attention. He wished he had been allowed to go to the infirmary the day the injury occurred, but Mr. Carrighan, with all his superior intellect and misguided understanding, had assured him that there was hardly any occasion to go to the cleric and forbad him from leaving the property. The roars of Vyrdin’s stomach overpowered the conversation, and Vyrdin said a quiet apology when the grumbling ceased.
“You’s had ‘nythin’ to eat today, lad? Gettin’ dark outside. Better to do the kiln after you’s ate a supper.”
Vyrdin said nothing; he only furrowed his brow and refused to look at the brickmaker.
“I ain’t leavin’ till you get that arm seen, lad,” Gearrog firmly insisted. “Don’t wanna come back here in two day time and find you without an arm from the elbow down.”
A quick glance at the house behind him, and Vyrdin’s sense of obedience was beginning to wane. Would that the brickmaker go away and take his wretched concern with him. He was gratified to be fussed over in any respect, but not now, not when his master had already caught him once in the midst of tarrying. His master should never allow him to leave until the tiles were baked, and to disturb him in the middle of his holiday meal while his family was visiting must be begging for punishment. He looked back at the house: he might go and return without his master’s notice, he might have his arm healed and be back to light the kiln in mere minutes, and he might spare himself the tirade and brutality by leaving his master to finish his meal without any interruptions. After a few moments spent in agonizing deliberation, Vyrdin yielded to the brickmaker’s demands and followed him down the road to the infirmary, his mind beleaguered by notions of insubordination and penalty, and his heart besieged by the terrific elation of enforced defiance.