The boy’s eyes fly open and he sits up. The sky is purple. On the edge of the horizon, the sun is rising. It casts long ribbons of orange over the foothills, lighting up the young, bright green leaves of new spring.
“Must be morning,” he says, touching his face. The surface of his skin is warm now that the sun has emerged. His glacial eyes stare off into space, rarely following along with the movement of his head.
“Chirrup,” agrees a nearby frog.
“What does it look like?” asks the boy. He leans back in the grass, letting his platinum-blonde hair trickle down his neck.
“Chi-i-i-i-rrup,” says the frog. He hops closer, his throat filling with air as he describes the flavors of the sunrise. To the frog, morning is made up mainly of sleepy mosquitoes and newborn gnats.
Food is all that frogs are concerned with, after all.
Unsatisfied, the boy thanks the frog and turns to a great weed growing nearby. “Weed,” he says. “Would you be so kind as to describe the scenery to me?”
Since weeds are rarely spoken to, it ignores the boy at first. The weed is busy toughening up her roots and sprouting new leaves to soak up the spring sun. As soon as she realizes he’s speaking to her and nobody else, the weed perks up.
“Why would you need me to do that?” asks the weed. “It’s right there in front of you.”
The boy pauses. His ice-blue eyes look off into nowhere.
“I can’t see a thing,” he replies.
Glad for some company besides the croaking frog, the weed stretches out her leaves and begins to describe the sunrise. She has learned much from listening to the scribes and poets and troupers passing on their way to the Capitol, and a garden of beautiful words fill the boy’s head with a rising sun.
He thanks the weed for her time and gathers his things. He sets off with only a single sack wrapped around his right shoulder, filled with a cloak, an apple, and some stale bread. His shoes are riddled with holes. He walks on the grass instead of the gravel road.
Priests and bards aren’t the only ones heading inland. Word spreads quickly among the small rocks on the path that horses are coming.
“What kind of horses?” asks the boy, moving even further from the road.
“Big horses,” say the rocks, speaking with a dozen tiny voices. “With big men riding on them.”
The boy straightens his shoulders and tilts his chin up, keeping his eyes wide open and alert. The horses come like thunder. He hears rattling metal—swords, armor, finery.
“Ho there,” calls a man’s voice. The horses halt. One of them dances impatiently, and his rider whips him. There are three altogether. It’s early, but the horses are grimy and sweating. From the smell of them, the boy figures it’s been more than a day since the soldiers took a break.
He stops walking, and turns towards them.
“Ho, what’s your name?” says another voice. They both sound old enough to be fathers.
“Calean,” says the boy obediently.
“Calean what?” The third voice is young. Impatient.
“I have no other name.”
The third soldier snorts. “Liar. Everyone has two names.”
Calean hears a metal click—a sword being drawn just an inch from the scabbard.
“Come now, Mr. Joss,” says the first voice, chastising. “He’s just a boy.”
“Young boys shouldn’t travel alone,” growls the young soldier.
Joss, is it? That’s a fine second name, someone whispers, using Calean’s own voice. He jumps, and his hand darts to the dagger hidden under his shirt. I’d like to take a name like that for myself.
The boy hears the clatter of horseshoes as the three mercenaries take sight of his weapon.
“He’s armed!” one shouts. Three swords are drawn. “Under the king’s orders, no one is allowed arms within the border of the Capitol, unless you have a license.”
“He doesn’t have a goddamned license,” mutters the young soldier.
“Do you have a license, boy?”
We have a name, says that someone again—that someone pretending to be him. Invisible velvet lips whisper in Calean’s ear. He grits his teeth, trying to ignore it. We told them our name. It’s only polite that they use it.
“No.” Calean tucks in his shirt, attempting to hide his small dagger. “I don’t have a license.”
“Then we’re going to have to arrest you.”
Then I guess you’re going to have to become dead, chuckles the voice from the mirror.
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Read part III.