Those words stung for a long time. The fact was he hadn’t gone hungry, not much anyway. His mother had a beautiful voice. She’d joined a new company of players and they’d traveled from city to city. When that one went under, they’d joined another. But a singer’s voice doesn’t last forever or her looks.
Five years later, she’d led him back one more time after she caught him cutting a purse to buy food, and she slapped him so hard his ears rang. This time they really had gone hungry.
He'd wandered around the study and admired the tapestries, the sheen of the polished furniture, and then the tall cabinet with beautiful silver pieces on the shelves, his eyes drawn to that medal.
His father didn’t even say a word. He stood at the door while two of his men grabbed Wrai and his mother and dragged them out the door. The two of them landed on the gravel walkway in front of the stone steps. The door slammed and the bar thudded into place.
He hadn’t meant to go back. If he’d been a little older— But a fourteen-year-old boy... He’d been riding in horse races and had already taken to gambling. He lifted what he could get his hands on. It was never enough. Not enough so his mother ever had enough to eat or an apothecary when she got sick, coughing up blood. After she died, a panicked run from an inn when someone spotted him cheating left him with a black eye, a broken rib and everything he owned left behind.
He arrived in Krelton two days later, dirty, hurting and desperate. And there was his father’s house, so he went to the door and knocked. What had he expected? Not hugs and a welcome, but maybe a meal and a place to sleep for the night in the stable. He told the doorman who he was, and the man went to get the master. Wrai combed his hair with his fingers, tried to slick it back and straightened his torn shirt. His heart hammered with nerves.
He looked up to see his father step into the doorway with a hound at his heels, running a quirt through his fingers. An ugly smile curved his lips.
"I told you and that whore mother of yours not to come back," his father said.
Anger flushed through him like fire, but he stamped on it. "She’s dead. Listen, if you’d just help me get a start. Not much and I won’t bother you again. I promise." He cursed himself when he heard the pleading in his voice.
"This is all you’ll get and worse if you ever come here again." His father lunged and the quirt flicked at Wrai’s face.
Wrai yelped as the lash cut his eyelid, and he stumbled back. The gash burned. He ducked his head and brought up his arm so the next blow slashed across his hand. His father cursed and swung again but Wrai ran.
He had run as far and fast as he could, the sound of barking coming behind. He’d never told the tale to anyone. He still woke up in a cold sweat sometimes trying to figure out why it haunted him so. He rubbed the scar at the corner of his eye.
Shrugging away the memory, he opened his eyes and eased through the hallway, one hand on a wall. His soft soles were silent on floorboards. The next door was the study. The house was near black but he’d been in the dark long enough that he could make out faint shapes.
Inside the room, he slipped along the wall, feeling his way so as not to stumble over anything. Even after these years, the layout of the room hadn’t changed. He put his hand on the cabinet.
He knew what he’d take. He’d known from the second the innkeeper read the notice. That medal etched in the shape of a rune. He’d never seen a rune like it. His mother had drummed his letters into him. This was something different. There had been times in those first days after seeing it when it had spun through his dreams.
For a second his hand trembled, tempted to grab the whole lot. He owed the piece of dung—for his mother choking on her own blood as she died, for the scar beside his eye, for the old lady he’d knocked over for her few pence in the next town. And for the years he’d woken, sweating, wondering what was wrong with him that his father hated him. He shrugged. He’d take the one piece. It might not even be noticed for a while.
He ran his hand over the cabinet, searching for the medal in the dark. Not the platter, heavy silver. Not the vase, or the spoons, or the wine flagon. Where was it? Surely, it was still here. He sighed with relief when his hand fell on the stand that held it, pushed behind a tall vase. He ran a finger over the deeply incised marking. Yes, that was it. He tucked it into a pocket.
Every muscle in his body was tense from feeling his way in the dark. He slipped back the way he came. The sky in the east was lighter by the time he refastened the latch. He smiled and pictured his father’s fury when he discovered his loss.
Laying the Odds, co-authored with C. R. Daems, is my new fantasy adventure available at Smashwords and Amazon. It is reduced from $2.99 to 99 Cents for June only in honor of Reader Appreciation Month.
Also please check out my historical novels set in medieval Scotland. Freedom's Sword is available on Amazon and Smashwords. A Kingdom's Cost is also available on Amazon and Smashwords.