Gift of Gold (The Year of Churning Bloods)

BOOK: Gift of Gold (The Year of Churning Bloods)
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“Gift of Gold”

 

Part I in the Year of Churning Bloods

 

By Hudson Leone

Copyright (c) 2014 All rights reserved

 

Dedicated to Mr. Jonn Nicholson

 

 

 

Table of Contents (Quicklink)

 

 

 


Where
are w
e going?” Samuel asked, squirming in his seat. The wagon hit a pothole and the lamp beside the driver threw spooky shadows as it shook.

 

Gregor, the oldest of us nine boys, grimaced. “Every thirty minutes like clockwork you’ve asked us that question. For five hours we’ve been stuck in here with our legs chained. Are you now expecting a different answer?”

 

Samuel opened his mouth in protest but it was obvious that Gregor didn’t expect a response. “Let me tell you something, scrawny. We know about as much as you, so there’s no reason for you to ask a hundred times.” Even at twelve years old, Gregor carried a forceful presence that seemed to command attention throughout the carriage. His flat and brutish face ended abruptly at his stumpy chin which he absentmindedly picked at. The matted stringy black hair that stuck to his scalp was the best groomed in the wagon, despite looking like a mop that had been left out in the rain for days on end.

 

              “Wherever we’re going though, it’s nowhere good,” Gregor added while examining the rusty rings around his limbs. “If you think these chains are for comfort, you have the smarts of a dead man.”

 

“They wouldn’t just kill us . . . that’s ridiculous!” Samuel smiled uncertainly but couldn’t hide the stark fear in his eyes. Gregor simply shook his head and went back to ignoring everyone. Plump Alexi, sitting in the back, began to cry again. I might have joined him, but being ten years old, I needed to be brave in front of the smallest, most scaredy-cat boy in the cart; Preston.

 

              Even though Preston was eight and I was ten, we’d been best friends since the day we met. We were the best cleaners in the orphanage and we were always told there was no doubt we’d get adopted. That made us proud; and it made us a team. I would start to chop logs for the fire while Preston would gather water. The pot was always really heavy, so we had to put it over the fire together. We would deliver the hot water to the chefs who always said ‘thank you,’ and we would mop the floors until they shone so bright you could make funny faces in them.

 

              I looked at Preston and wondered what he was thinking. He looked glum. I wasn’t really sure how to make it better but I tried anyway, leaning in real close to his ear and whispering what the old people whispered. “There, there Preston. Everything is going to turn out for the better.” Preston looked up at me, his black eyes hidden in a map of dark skin. I smiled brightly and tilted my head to one side. “We’re a team, you know! You can’t be scared in a team, because there’s always someone with you.”

 

Preston considered this. “I’m not worried about me.” His lower lip suddenly trembled. “What happens if we have to go different ways? We can’t be a team if we don’t have both members!”

 

“Oh, but I’m good at finding!” I protested. “I always find you in hide and seek. Even when you hid on the roof that time, I still found you.” Preston smiled for the first time that day, which caused me to smile. “I will always find you Preston. I promise.”

 

The carriage suddenly stopped and the loud voices of impatient adults rumbled through the dark like the crumbling of rocks. A bearded man opened the back doors of the carriage and wrinkled his nose at the smell.

 

“Get out. All of you,” he demanded, forgetting that we were still shackled to our seats. Nobody dared tell him. Nobody dared move. The man sighed impatiently and forcefully grabbed Alexi by the arm. Alexi howled in terror and threw a fat fist at him. The man caught it easily, slapped Alexi across the face, then reached down and undid his locks. Three more men swooped in.

 

              Preston’s scream was cut off as a hooded man suddenly put him into a choke hold. In a fit of panic, I fired a kick at the hooded man’s groin. He dodged it easily and threw Preston over his back before dashing out of the carriage. I sat there thrashing until finally another man undid my lock and threw me out. I quickly scanned my surroundings, but couldn’t see much through the dense fog and rain. “Preston!” I thundered hysterically. I ran to my left but hit another body. I blinked and saw Gregor on the ground with his arms coiled around a long object wrapped in thin leather. A man swooped down and began to pry the object from Gregor’s arms.

 

              I’d never heard Gregor scream before and I hoped I never would again. The sound he made was bone chillingly scary and ear rattlingly loud. Was it even possible to scream that loud? His eyes flashed bright green and to my surprise, the man trying to grab Gregor fell back and began to tremble. Gregor stood very slowly but couldn’t keep himself up. He fell back just as two more elders came out of nowhere and seized him.

 

              “Separate him from the rest,” One of them told the other. “Take the sword too.”

 

              “Sword?” I thought wearily. “Gregor has a sword?” I stumbled forward and continued to look for Preston but my ears were ringing and I felt like I was going to throw up. I moved towards a dark shadow in the distance but froze as I realized the shadow was another man.

 

              He didn’t say anything, but grinned and stepped forward as he saw me. I turned to run, but the man was too quick. He grabbed my neck and pinched me at the artery. Searing pain raced through my body, so intense that my legs gave way. I fell to the ground where everything turned black.

 

 

 

***

 

I woke up with hard rock digging into my soft face. Sitting up straight, I yelped in fright as I brushed up against another human body. I quickly shuffled away but immediately tripped over another. Looking around I realized that there were bodies everywhere. I began to jostle one of the other kids, but I could tell from the way his head rattled around that he wasn’t there.

 

“They’re only passed out,” a cold voice told me from somewhere in the cave-like room. I glanced around and leapt up. A withered old man dolled up in deep red robes was glaring at me from the shadows.

 

“What’s happening?” I asked frantically.

 

“You will all be told when everyone is awake,” he stated, giving me a mean little smile.

 

“Tell me now!”

 

The man’s face puckered up into a frown. “Can you hear?” he asked loudly. “You’ll find out later.”

 

“No!” I stumbled forward. “Where’s Preston? What have you done with him? Who are all of these kids?”

 

The man raised his hand but I ignored it. Just as I was about to reach him, he shot--I mean really shot--a ball of fire from his fingertips. I leapt out of the way and froze, too terrified to think, much less run away. He lowered his arm and gave a great big ‘harumph.’

 

“Sit,” he demanded, so I sat. I kept watching him but I didn’t move and I didn’t ask any more questions. I just sat there with my legs twisting up, thinking about what I had just seen.

 

After a minute or two, another kid woke up. He rubbed his eyes, looked around and started bawling.

 

“Shut up!” The old man roared, but the kid kept on crying. He cracked a whip on the cave wall and the kid went quiet real fast. The elder sniffed loudly and pointed a finger in our direction. “I’ll be back,” he told us, jingling a set of keys. “Don’t try anything funny while I’m gone.”

 

The door closed on his heels and the kid looked at me with wide, tear-filled eyes.

 

“Where are we?” he asked, trying to breath and cry at the same time.

 

“I don’t know,” I said shakily. “I really don’t know.”

 

The kid nodded but didn’t seem to hear me.

 

I glanced round at the bodies nearest me. Some of them were stirring. Some were still passed out. None of them were Preston. I searched each face while crawling forward, growing more desperate by the second. Where was Preston? 

 

After a couple of minutes, nearly everyone was awake. Some kids were wandering around, too confused to cry while others just hugged themselves and rocked on the spot. I was doing neither of those things because I wanted to be brave in front of all of these sad people. Nobody noticed my braveness though because they were too busy wiping their eyes or looking for a way out. It wasn’t long before the old man unclicked the door and stormed back in. Just like before, he smacked his whip and seemed to grow a little taller as all movement stopped.

 

“May I have your attention?” he asked as if he didn’t notice everyone already looking at him. He removed a stubby little scroll from his coat pocket before unraveling it and squinting a little. “Welcome to the Grimlar concentration camp,” he read in a bored voice.

 

“Grimlar? Did he say Grimlar?” I asked myself in disbelief. The Grimlars were those nasty guys with the big suits of armor that patrolled the streets day and night. I had heard from rumors in the orphanage that they could use some kind of magic, but I never saw those guys do anything more than kick stray cats when no one was around.

 

“Think of this area as a training facility,” the man continued, now pulling the paper a little bit closer. “A training facility where we hope to separate the powerful from the weak and make you into men who can fight mages.” he paused for a moment to clear his throat before spitting on the floor. The children closest to him frantically shuffled back as if he might explode. ”A mage is a filthy creature. A mage is a magic user. The goal of a Grimlar is to eliminate all of magekind by using anti-magic.”

 

Anti-magic
. That was the word that I’d heard before. Other kids told me that the Grimlars fought mages by using their magic against them. What was the difference between magic and anti-magic anyhow? Feeling curiosity overtake my fear,  I raised my hand straight into the air like I’d been taught to do when you’ve got a question. The old man ignored me and continued to speak. “You’ve been brought to us so that we can test your anti-magical capabilities.”

 

“What, to see if we’re Grimlars?” A boy a bit older than me asked hesitantly.

 

I glared at the boy and raised my hand even higher.

 

“No,” the elder stated sharply. “If you have anti-magic, all you’ll be is a warlock. It takes years of training to reach the status of a Grimlar. Until then, you won’t be able to work for the kingdom to hunt mages.”

 

“How’s magic different from anti-magic?” I blurted before quickly covering my mouth and shrinking back. The old man rolled his eyes.

 

“Mages take the energy out of their surroundings to shape the world around them. That is magic. Warlocks on the other hand use the energy in their own bodies. That is anti-magic.”

 

I frowned, disappointed. I had asked this question dozens of times and even an actual Grimlar couldn’t tell me what I really wanted to know. Mages sounded very similar to warlocks. Where was the real difference?

 

“At the moment you are all Ickle-bits. This is what we call people without anti-magic,” the old man continued.

 

“Ickle bit,” I whispered to myself apprehensively. The man said the word as if it were dirty.

 

“Ickle-bits live and work in a place called The Clog. If you prove to us that you can use anti-magic, you’ll be rewarded by being moved into the school where you’ll receive training to become a Grimlar. If you are unable to do so, you’ll continue to work until...”

 

“Until?” one of the larger kids asked nervously.

 

The elder grinned and raised both of his robed arms like a fat bird about to take flight. “Until you’ve spent five years here. After five years, everyone—regardless of their anti-magical capabilities—will be subjected to the King’s examinations. Failure in these exams will not be tolerated.”

 

Everyone glanced at each other uneasily.

 

“Survival is easy if you know what to do,” he assured us, holding up a withered hand. “Follow the orders of the elder Grimlars and you will remain safe.” The old man forcefully threw his hand down and folded his face into a scowl. “The fact that we are giving you this opportunity to join the Grimlar ranks is an extraordinary honor. Never forget that.” He strode to the door behind him and unclicked the lock. “Let’s begin, shall we? We’ve got a lot of time ahead of us.”

BOOK: Gift of Gold (The Year of Churning Bloods)
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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