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Chapter 15: Wherein The King Talks In Circles

One grey and wet morning Marning came to look in on the boy, who was sitting by the window, watching the rain. He was so deeply engrossed by the raindrops that he did not seem to notice that anyone had walked into the room. Or perhaps he was still fortified within his own dark inner abyss, still ignoring everyone and everything around him.

The Grand Master felt a wave of disappointment. At this rate, he couldn't help but begin to worry, was this boy too far-gone? Had he been too late finding him? If only he had known of his existence, if only he had known how to look for such a person, maybe he could have gotten to him on time.

"Good morning, boy," he said casually, without expecting any answer.

For the first in several weeks, the boy turned his head and looked directly at Marning. "Good morning, old man," he said with a steady voice. Yesterday's vacant indifference was replaced by a smirk and a mischievous spark in his eyes.

"I see you're back with us." The Grand Master helped himself to a grin.

"Dunno what you mean." He carelessly shrugged one shoulder, peeked at the rain for one last time, as if looking back on the shadowy world he had just exited, and then turned from the window and leaned against the wall. "Anyway, old man, you wanted me to be your student or something, right?"

Marning blinked carefully at him.

"Right, then teach me." One more glance at the rain, "I've decided I'll be staying about for a while."

What was this rascal up to? Unable to keep the suspicion out of his voice, he asked, "Why the sudden change of heart, boy?"

"Have you any idea," he said, "how wet the streets can get?"

Marning's frown deepened, he was certain that this boy had some ulterior motive, something he would not share with the Grand Master. He looked at the boy for a long time before he decided that for now the best thing to do would be to disregard the matter and make the most of what he had. Whatever it was would be known to him sooner or later."I haven't time to spare for you today," he said finally, "but I'll have books sent down here so you can begin on your reading."

"So, I'll get to learn how to read?" the boy asked excitedly, the first time that he looked eager about anything.

Marning winced. "You don't know..." he shook his head. "Never mind, I'll send a reading tutor."

***

Six years before, there had been a particularly harsh winter. In one week, the temperature had dropped so low that Lake Frachior in the Gorwar valley, a deep and wild lake sustained in part by hot springs rising up from the belly of the earth, froze overnight. In recorded history, it was the first time Lake Franchior had ever frozen over, thus it was estimated that that winter was the coldest winter ever to occur in Auranora.

Marning remembered that winter quite well. He remembered the way his breath frosted as he sat by the blazing hearth in his private chamber covered like an onion in layers of robes and fleeces. He also remembered the devastating death-toll of that winter; bodies were driven to the graveyards and cemeteries by the cartload and were left there in rows on the earth that was too hard to dig into. The dead of that winter were interred only after the earth had thawed. All the magicians of the country were busy with weather spells and curing spells, trying their best to keep the terrible cold at bay. The people, on the other hand, worshiped the gods with greater fervour since then, believing that the cold was punishment for having offended some god – no one knew which – and hoping to appease whichever one it was.

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