Chapter II

Blast Back

[That Which Binds Us]

~ Four Years Later ~

A growing Dylock ran to the kitchen of the cozy townhouse he shared with the aging Din. Din had set a soup to cook in the early hours of the day, and now began pouring the broth, freckled with vegetables and small cuts of meat, into two wooden bowls with his right hand. Dylock came up to the old man’s side, and reached for the ladle in the pot.

“I can help, what do you want me to do?” Dylock asked.

Din brushed the boy’s hand aside, taking the ladle and filling up a bowl. “You can take that bowl with you, and sit.”

Dylock pulled the bowl from the counter, and stood back, waiting for Din. The old man set the ladle back in the pot, and took the remaining bowl in his hand before moving over to the quaint little table that took up much of the kitchen area. Dylock followed behind, waiting as Din settled into a seat at the table. The old man strenuously lifted his left arm, fighting back a grimace of pain as he did so, and rested it on the table next to his bowl. Dylock sat down on the side of the table, to Din’s left.

“How is it?” Dylock asked.

“Hm, same as always…” Din responded, glancing at his left hand.

“…it’s still there,” Dylock said, smiling.

Over the years since Din had saved the boy, his arm had lost some feeling to it, and couldn’t be raised very high without inflicting serious pain that Din would much rather do without. Some days, it hurt more than others.

“Let me know if there is anything I can help you with,” Dylock said.

“As of now, you can enjoy this fine soup I labored over a hot stove all day for, just for you,” Din said to the boy, lifting the spoon from the bowl and scooping up a small pool of steaming broth.

“But you were reading all day.” Dylock pouted.

And sleeping in my armchair. ‘Ey now, don’t push the greens around, scoop them up too,” Din said.

Minutes passed with only the sounds of slurping and the subtle knock of wooden spoons on bowls. It was the boy who hesitantly broke the silence.

“I found a company tag in your coffer…” Dylock muttered.

The old man chuckled. “Hrm…what’s left of it. Sniffing about were you?”

Dylock slowly nodded his head, feeling guilty for rifling through his guardian’s effects.

“It’s okay, son…I’ve never known you to be a child to shy away from secrets,” Din said, smiling as he dipped his spoon into the warm soup. “You’ve yourself an adventurer’s spirit.”

Din opened his left hand, expecting something to be placed in it. Dylock reached into his pocket and dug out a small slab of metal on a thin chain. Dylock set it into the old man’s open palm, letting the chain drape over the back of his hand.

“Were you a knight?” Dylock asked.

Din stared longingly at the small, flat rectangular piece of metal engraved with information regarding the bearer of the tag; name, birthdate, company affiliation. This particular one, however, was badly damaged, half of it was missing completely, and another portion of it was illegible with scorch marks. All that could be made out was part of an indiscernible insignia, and ‘ardin’.

“Something like that,” Din replied wistfully.

Any sort of official combatant was registered with the Unified Realms Guild, who kept a record of those combatants to track company affiliations, movements, performance, and notify next of kin in the case of death. To some, wearing company tags around the neck represented the person’s quality, someone willing to fight for what they believed in, to be a hero to the people. Others, however, felt that company tags were the mark of an early and bloody death, a noose that slowly tightened around the wearer’s neck until their demise. Din, like so many others, started out believing the former, but through a long life of conflict eventually came to agree with the latter. To Din, company tags were to identify the dead, even if they still walked.

“It was quite a time ago, though. It’s a part of me I don’t much care to think about,” Din continued.

“What do you mean?” Dylock asked, choking down a spoonful of soup with a large vegetable in it. “You protected people, didn’t you? Are there no grand stories to tell?”

“There are many stories I could tell, but…not all of them are grand. They’re all just the stories of a survivor,” Din said.

“Surviving is good. It means you live to fight another day,” Dylock said as he smiled, thinking of his heroic days playing in the woods where he’d faced countless imaginary dangers.

“There is a saying: war doesn’t decide who is right, only who is left. The cost of surviving is sometimes steep, young one,” Din replied.

Din watched as Dylock’s brow rose in childlike confusion.

“Sometimes…to protect others means to make sacrifices, and sometimes…you will sacrifice more than you were ever willing to,” Din said sullenly. “Living to fight another day is no different. Oftentimes, others will die so you may live.”

Dylock nodded slowly, muttering, “I understand” as he scooped up another spoonful of soup. “Like my parents…”

“Correct. In the end, we can only carry on their names and remember them,” Din said.

“Is Din your full name?” Dylock asked.

“No…it’s a name I picked up over time; Reardin. It’s a moniker used by men who commit themselves to greater causes,” Din explained, sipping soup from his spoon.

“What is your real name, then?”

“It’s of little import now. I let go of the name my family gave me a long time ago. The man with that old name made many mistakes in his life, and I would rather distance myself from him. I’m a cowardly old man who runs from old problems…you, Dylock, were the first thing I’ve been proud of in a long while.”

“Do you not miss your family?” Dylock asked.

“Sometimes…but I’ve grieved over them long ago. You’re my family now, Dylock. You’re what is important to me,” Din said, smiling at the boy.

Dylock gulped down another spoonful, and happily smiled back. Din looked at the damaged company tag that sat in his left hand. He struggled to feel the metal against his palm, even when he clenched his fingers around the jagged, worn edges. Din sighed heavily, lost in thought over years gone by.

“Are you done with your meal?” the old man asked. “I’ve got something for you.”

Dylock, hearing there was something waiting for him, picked up his bowl and scooped the last bits of soup into his mouth. Dylock set down his bowl and motioned his head in a large nod, his cheeks still burgeoning with a mouthful of broth. Din chuckled watching the boy.

“Come along now.” The old man rose to his feet, sliding the damaged tag into his pocket with an aching left hand.

Dylock followed closely behind and the old man trudged up the creaky old stairs of their home.

“Dylock, I think it’s time you and I had a talk. I’m not going to be around forever,” the old man said.

“That’s impossible, sir. You’re the strongest man I know!” Dylock said in disbelief.

“Heh…do I look like that man from years ago who took you in?” Din asked, tiredly making his way up the stairs, using the railing heavily for support.

“Well…no…I guess not.”

“A time shall come when I will no longer be here for you, and you’ll have to plot your own course in life,” the old man said, turning at the top of the stairs, looking down at the boy. “My only regret is that I coddled you so.”

“Coddled me? You gave me a nice home. You took care of me. Sir, if not for you, I would have been left on the side of the road with my parents,” Dylock claimed. “You have been a great father to me.”

Din shuffled into his room, and Dylock followed. “Yes…but…I tried so hard to keep you from a life like the one I once lived. Now, in my old age, I understand the error of my ways – I understand now…that some things are just meant to be. You’re an adventurer at heart, Dylock, and it was wrong of me to keep you from that.”

The old man opened his closet door, and reached for a long object wrapped in a red cloth that leaned against the adjacent wall. “I know all about your little excursions in the woods,” he said.

“You know about that?” Dylock asked, slightly embarrassed.

“Of course, I know all too well the scrapes and blisters of venturous ten-year-olds, like yourself. Which is why…I’m gifting you this sword,” the old man said, presenting the wrapped gift to Dylock.

“Sir…I…” Dylock stammered, unwrapping the cloth around the weapon.

“The world is dangerous, this you know…I believe it’s time you had this,” Din stated.

Dylock pulled the blade halfway out of the sheath, admiring the mirror sheen of the steel as he saw the reflection of his own eyes. “Is this…to protect me? In your stead?” the boy asked.

The old man shook his head. “No…my boy. A sword is not for protection – it is for killing. I thought differently once, that a sword was for defending the weak, but inevitably it all leads to death.”

“But knights use swords, and knights protect people,” Dylock said.

“Knights protect people, yes…but their swords are used to fight. Remember, however, that your family was cut down by swords, wielded by bandits who cared nothing of people,” Din explained.

“You are right,” Dylock thought aloud, sheathing the sword.

“A sword is a tool, a means to an end. Knights are virtuous because they choose to be, just as bandits choose not to be.”

“Then I choose to be good. To protect people,” Dylock said, holding the sword in his arms, clutched across his chest. “My sword is going to be used for protecting others, just like you did for me.”

“Then the burden of taking or sparing a life is now yours, son,” the old man said, resting a tired hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“What do you mean?” Dylock wondered.

“Dylock…I know that you care deeply about making a difference,” Din began.

The young Dylock nodded hesitantly.

“But, you must remember that no matter what actions you take, lives can be lost. If you act, people can be lost, and if you do not act, they can still be lost. Lives have an intrinsic value to different people, and in time, it will be up to your discretion to decide what lives are more precious. Sometimes making a difference isn’t as important as making sure those you care about stay safe.

“One day, you will come to understand that sometimes the lives you value most are the necessary tender that must be paid for peace and happiness, and it will be up to you to decide whether you want to make that exchange,” Din said, lowering his weary body down onto his bed, glancing at Dylock as he reached for a folded parchment in his jacket pocket. “However, not everything I gift you today is struggle and hardship.”

Din handed the parchment to Dylock, who fumbled around to hold his new sword under his arm. Taking the letter, the boy unfurled it to read the contents.

“Sir…this is…an acceptance letter to the Luna Caeruleum Academy! You enrolled me?” Dylock said excitedly.

A large smile grew underneath Din’s beard. “If you wish, you’ll begin studying there next week.”

“Sir! This is…this is incredible! The academy has created some of the greatest adventure companies in Troima! The Ivory Spears! The Holy Shields! The Wyrm Strikers!” Dylock jubilantly shouted, waving both his sheathed sword and the acceptance letter.

“The Lionhead Corps, the Troubadours of Eidlewine, the Arcanum Shell Heaters,” Din added happily.

“Yes, them too! All of them! Sir…I am forever grateful to you. How can I ever repay you?”

“My boy, all you need to do for me is become the admirable man I know you can,” Din replied.

~

~ Later That Year ~

Chorem plodded through the halls of the academy, his textbooks curled under his left arm, and his training staff dragging behind him on the stone floor from his right hand. He let out a long sigh, watching his feet kick forward in quiet frustration as they carried him around the corner. Dylock clutched a stack of books under his arm, the training saber rattling in the scabbard strapped to his back. A red, cloth scarf wrapped around the young squire’s neck chased behind him as he rushed down the hallway and around the corner.

The two boys crashed into one another as they rounded the hallway corner. Dylock fell back, and Chorem dropped onto his side as his cloak fell up over his head. Textbooks spread around the squire and acolyte, clapping loudly onto the stone floor.

“Watch where you’re galloping, you senseless breadcutter!” Chorem yelled, throwing his overturned cloak off of his head.

“I’m…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Dylock said, climbing to his feet, picking up one of Chorem’s fallen textbook as he did so.

“It matters little, just quit trotting around like you own the place,” Chorem snapped, angrily swiping the book from the squire’s hands.

“C’mon acolyte, I apologized. No need to be like that,” Dylock said, kneeling down to pick up his own books, placing them in one stack at his feet.

The squire grabbed for the last textbook on the floor, but pulled his hand back when the book began to float in the air by itself. Dylock watched it flutter to the acolyte, Chorem, who held his hand out to keep the book levitated.

“Uh…thanks,” Dylock said, reaching out to take the floating book.

Chorem stared coldly at Dylock, and then swiped his hand to the side. The book floating between the boys shot out the open window to Chorem’s right, sailing faraway into the courtyard somewhere.

“Hey! What did you do that for?!” Dylock yelled, grabbing Chorem by the collar of his robe.

Chorem pushed his hands against the chest of Dylock’s tabard and released a blast of telekinetic force to shove the squire away from him. Dylock slid backwards, leaning forward on his toes to keep from falling back, until he slammed into the wall beyond the corner. Chorem held his right hand outward, and his training staff floated up into his grasp.

“What’s your problem, you highborn dazzler?!” Dylock pushed off the wall and unsheathed his training saber. Despite its completely dull edge and rounded tip, it could still leave a mark or two, and that’s what Dylock was counting on.

The squire ran straight for Chorem with his saber held behind him, the tip nearly scraping the ground. The acolyte wound back his staff, channeling a small amount of aethereal energy into its top. As the two boys swung their weapons forward at each other, they rose awkwardly into the air, dangling inches from the ground by their weapons.

“What’s all this then?!” The boys turned their attention to the doorway opposite the open window in the hall, where a mage stood, his hands outstretched from his robe. “You know the rules of this establishment! No sparring or spell-casting outside of designated practice hours, and not outside of designated practice areas!”

The mage was a martinet – disciplinarians who wander the academy grounds ensuring students and teachers alike are following the rules. They specialized in affliction magic that quelled actions, to prevent the most unruly of offenders from doing any real harm.

“But sir! He shot my book into the courtyard!” Dylock let go of his sword, and dropped to the floor, attempting to justify his brash actions.

“And he–” Chorem started, releasing his grip on his staff.

“–I’ll hear none of it!” the martinet interrupted. “You both know the rules. Detention after final hour.”

“But!” Dylock exclaimed, watching his sword, along with Chorem’s staff, float above the martinet’s head as he began walking down the hall.

“In the bell tower after classes. You can retrieve your training equipment in detention,” the martinet interjected. “Now to class with you both!”

Chorem’s shoulders sank, and he glared at the squire across the hall. Dylock watched the acolyte in confusion, completely unsure of what to say, and then moved up to the open window to see if he could find where his book had landed. Chorem sighed and moved past the squire, trying to put the event out of his mind.

~

Professor Jawnal strolled between the students’ desks, dropping papers on each as he passed. Chorem’s seat was situated in the middle of the class, so it was entirely noticeable when the teacher passed his desk and left nothing behind. Some of the other students looked over, giving the young acolyte sour glances. The combination of looks from his classmates and the teacher ignoring him sent an odd chill down Chorem’s spine.

“Many of you performed well, and I hope you’ll take that to heart,” Jawnal proclaimed loudly. “When you pay attention in class, you learn more than a few things.”

The teacher returned to his seat behind the desk as the students murmured about their grades. A bell’s chime echoed in through the open windows, carried on warm summer air. The students immediately and unanimously slapped their books shut and rose from their desks.

“You still have your assignments on chapter eighteen due at the end of next week. Please do not forget about them,” the teacher stated over the ramblings of the departing students. “And Chorem…if I may speak to you for a moment.”

Students walked past with pleased smiles on their faces, while Chorem, sitting in his desk, simply sighed. As the students left the classroom, he rose slowly from his seat and trudged up to the teacher’s desk. Professor Jawnal set down a piece of paper, marred by red ink, down on the top of the desk. Chorem’s eyes fell on the paper, and his shoulders sank deeper than they had been when he received detention.

“This is your test on the First Tongue…do you see all these marks?” the teacher asked.

Chorem nodded. “Yessir…”

“Why are you doing this?” Jawnal inquired, leaning his elbows on his desk.

“Being…stupid, sir?” Chorem asked hesitantly.

“Intentionally answering incorrectly.”

“Maybe I don’t know it as well as we think I do?” Chorem answered.

“I know with unwavering certainty that you would have passed this test. Your aptitude for the Initium Verborum is excellent, so why would you choose to fail?” Jawnal pressed.

Chorem shrugged, but otherwise remained silent.

“Chorem…do you really wish to learn the aethereal arts?” the teacher asked.

“Well…my parents thought it was best for me,” the boy answered.

“And do you feel it is?”

Chorem nodded again.

“You are here at these halls on scholarship; you were given a chance by this academy where your family could not afford one. Your scholarship requires that you retain a certain average, lest you be sent home. Intentionally failing will lower your grades, and put you further at risk of rescindment of your scholarship – you understand this, don’t you?” the professor explained, standing up from his chair.

Chorem nodded slowly, the heat of shame bubbled over the back of his neck.

“You owe it to yourself, and to your family, to live up to your potential. Make use of this wonderful opportunity you’ve been gifted, something normally reserved for those born with silver spoons in their mouths. Be proud of your intelligence,” Jawnal said.

“Sir…being proud of my intelligence sees me hated by my schoolmates,” Chorem finally spoke up.

The teacher nodded slightly in understanding.

“I know that I shouldn’t concern myself with what my peers think of me, but I most certainly do care what my peers think of me, because…they’re my peers, and I want to be accepted by them,” Chorem rambled.

“Chorem…I understand that being a child can be difficult at times – I was young once.”

“Back when the First Tongue was the primary language?” Chorem tried to hide a smirk.

The teacher sighed.

“Apologies,” Chorem muttered.

“There are many pressures that a child must deal with, but when it comes to your peers, who would you rather respect the opinions of: those who support you, or those who would belittle you?”

Chorem processed the teacher’s question. “Do you want me to answer that now, or on the next test?”

“Just reflect upon it. You can go,” the teacher said, motioning a hand at the door.

“Thank you sir,” Chorem said, nodding as he walked for the exit.

“I’ll see you here tomorrow morning, for the make-up test,” the teacher called.

Chorem’s head bent back on his shoulders, and he let out an aggravated sigh. “Must I, sir? It’s the weekend, and I already have detention at the end of the day.”

“If you wanted a free weekend, mayhap you should not have intentionally failed the test. You can even use the extra time in detention today to study up. See you tomorrow, Chorem,” the professor said, turning to the classroom windows.

“Yes sir…” Chorem muttered, exiting the room with disappointment, mourning the loss of his weekend.

~

Dylock and Chorem arrived at the detention room together. They exchanged a scornful, yet equally abashed look with each other as they passed through the threshold of the bell tower. Inside was a small room with a stairwell in the back, leading up to the belfry. An old desk rested in the corner of the room, opposite the only door in or out. Two long tables stretched the length of the bottom floor, leaving only two feet of space on either side where they met the wall. The bell tower was a dank place, perfect for punishing students over their school-time transgressions.

The martinet who had given the boys detention sat behind the desk, leafing through a leather-bound book until he noticed the two arrive.

“Ah, there you are. Quite punctual for delinquents,” the martinet announced, standing up from his chair. “Please, both of you take a seat at the table in the center.”

“What about our equipment?” Dylock asked, plopping down at the end of the long table.

“You will receive them at the end of detention, as I said,” the martinet explained.

Chorem sat down at the table, on the opposite end from Dylock. The teacher sighed and raised both of his hands up, slowly motioning them together, which caused the squire and acolyte to slide in their seats, bumping shoulders as they reached the center of the table.

“Part of your detention is to learn how to get along with your peers. Such distance should not exist between you,” the martinet expounded.

Chorem shuffled over to his left to put at least a little space between him and the squire, and threw one of his textbooks open in frustration. Dylock did the same, trying to bury his gaze in a book on centuries-old wars. The martinet took his seat again, turning his attention back to his own book. Silence quickly filled the room, save for the sounds of the afternoon bustle making its way through the sole window in the bell tower’s lower level.

Time often seemed to pass slowly in the bell tower. Many students theorized that one of the teachers had cast a chronomantic spell on the tower itself several years ago to reinforce the penalties of misbehaving. Boredom crept up on both Dylock and Chorem; the words in their textbooks became simple black lines on the page, as all meaning escaped their minds. Dylock’s eyes burned when he blinked, and Chorem’s head could no longer retain the knowledge of what he was reading.

“Alright boys, your time is up,” the martinet claimed, breaking the boys from their dullness-induced trance.

The martinet stood up and hastily made for the door. He swiped his hand across the boys’ table as he passed, and shafts of light appeared in front of the acolyte and squire. The light quickly faded, leaving behind a training saber and a training staff. Dylock recognized the numerous nicks in his saber’s blade, and Chorem traced his fingertips over the small star-shaped carving he had etched into the base of the staff’s top.

“I do hope you boys will behave from now on,” the martinet said at the door. “You are dismissed.”

The martinet vanished from the threshold as the bell high over their heads rang. An hour had indeed passed, marked by the thick chimes of the bell, which echoed down the tower and shook the hearts in the boys’ chests. Chorem and Dylock covered their ears for the remaining chimes that barraged them. They looked at each other, exchanging an astonished gaze over just how loud the chimes were. When the tolling subsided, the boys lowered their hands.

“I do believe that’s the reason he left so quickly,” Dylock said, taking his saber from the table and sheathing it on his back.

“I don’t blame him,” Chorem muttered, pulling his staff onto his lap.

“Hey, lowborn!” an angry voice yelled from the doorway.

Both Dylock and Chorem turned their heads in response to the call. Four acolytes filed into the room, and Dylock stood up to address them.

“What is it?” Dylock asked.

The tallest and palest of the four set a gangly hand on the squire’s chest and pushed him aside. “This doesn’t concern you, breadcutter,” he said, moving further into the room to address Chorem.

“What can I help you with, Volnen?” Chorem asked, his gaze low as he stood up from his seat.

“I heard you failed the First Tongue test. What is your aim, flunk out of the academy? Do you think you are just too good for us?”

Chorem’s shoulders dropped again. “I don’t get you lot. First you yell at me for ruining the curve with my good grades, and now you yell at me for failing. If you’re wont to bully me, at least be consistent.”

The lanky acolyte Volnen swung his closed right hand into Chorem’s cheek, and Chorem toppled backward onto the floor.

“Learn your place, lowborn! You can’t speak to me like that,” Volnen yelled.

Dylock immediately slid in between Chorem and his assaulter, with his red scarf trailing his swift movement.

“What’s your problem? Stop!” Dylock growled, grabbing Volnen’s robes.

Dylock could already feel the adrenaline exploding forth in his veins like a tidal wave. Volnen’s friends reached around him, pushing Dylock back.

“We said this didn’t concern you, breadcutter,” one of them snapped.

“I think it does concern me, when people are getting punched,” the squire declared.

Chorem was slightly taken aback by the actions of a squire he had only known as someone he had shoved into a wall. The acolyte sighed listening to Dylock’s contestations.

“No, it’s okay…” Chorem said, rubbing his bottom as he rose to his feet. “…you know what, Volnen? I believe I’m done with you.”

Chorem’s stare met with Volnen’s. The bully’s face crinkled in skepticism, and one of his friends chuckled.

“Tough talk when you are standing behind a squire to protect you,” Volnen challenged, crossing his arms.

Chorem shrugged, and then stepped around in front of Dylock, who shuffled back to give the acolyte some room. Chorem tapped his staff on the floor while taking a deep breath.

“I’m still done Volnen, and there’s nothing between us but your puffed-out chest,” Chorem said. “Do what you will, but I’m done. I’ll not jeopardize my own education to appease a disrespectful spoonsucker’s want for an easy ride.”

Volnen scowled. “Low-bred farmer’s boy,” he spoke lowly.

“Come now, Volnen…for someone who lazes about as much as you, I would believe you had thought up better insults in the meantime,” Chorem quipped, doing little to hide a smirk.

“Fucking lowborn scum!” Volnen screamed.

“Those words are just sounds, and sounds are merely air, Volnen. No more harmful to me than a drunk’s belches,” Chorem said calmly, ignoring the rapid beating in his chest. “Find someone else to intimidate, or maybe simply grow up.”

Volnen was at a loss for words, and all he could think to do was fire angry glances at Chorem. However, Chorem merely stared back with calm, green eyes.

“Vol…I’m bored, forget this dazzler,” one of Volnen’s friends said.

“Yeah, let’s go to the café; I’m hungry,” said another, more portly of Volnen’s followers.

Volnen thought for a moment, and then slid up to Chorem, leaving only a few inches between them. Chorem inhaled deeply, expecting another punch to follow. Instead, however, Volnen sneered.

“Don’t you ever forget your place,” the lanky acolyte snarled.

“I could never, not with how much you’ve reminded me,” Chorem quipped. “It was above you in the class rank, right?”

Volnen shoved Chorem back, and Dylock was there to brace against him to prevent the acolyte from falling again. Volnen turned and angrily motioned his friends to the door. Chorem sighed heavily as the small group left the bell tower, and Dylock pushed Chorem upright onto his feet.

“Well, that was interesting,” Dylock joked.

Chorem shuffled back to the table, retrieving his books. “Hey…I’m…I’m sorry about what I did to you before.”

“Damn right you’re sorry.” Dylock crossed his arms.

“Volnen and his entourage have been harassing me for some time now, and I suppose in my frustration, I took it out on you,” Chorem explained, turning to the squire.

“I can see that now. While I think it’s wrong to have taken it out on me, I don’t fault you for it. Everyone has a breaking point,” Dylock said. “Apology accepted.”

“Did you find your…uh…book?” Chorem asked sheepishly.

“Yeah…I found it in the bushes near the east wall,” Dylock replied. “Your magic is rather strong, why don’t you use it to protect yourself from those spoonsuckers?”

Chorem shrugged. “I don’t usually think of my magic as something for hurting others. I’d rather use it to help people. If I used my magic as they would, I’d be no different from them…”

Dylock reflected upon Chorem’s words, nodding slowly.

“I’m sorry I raised my sword to you. I’m usually not like that, I guess I was just offended that you thought so little of me so quickly,” Dylock said.

“It’s okay. But you, you defended me, even though I was mean to you. I treated you poorly and you still thought more of me. Why?”

Dylock shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe I could see you were frustrated. What I do know is that people don’t instantly deserve being punched in the face, especially for what sounded like standing up for yourself,” Dylock explained.

“Heh…so, what is the name of my protector, anyway?”

Dylock held out his hand. “Dylock, lowly breadcutter, at your service.”

Chorem clasped the squire’s hand with his own, smiling. “I’m Chorem, the farmer’s boy. I am most certainly, however, not a dazzler.”

~

Dylock slowly pushed open the front door to his quaint home, the hinges squeaking as they always did. In the den, Din sat reading from a faded book that seemed as old as he.

“You’re a little late, aren’t you boy?” Din said, not taking his eyes off his book.

“Uhm…yessir. I…had detention.”

The old man raised his eyes from the book, and slowly clamped it shut. “I see. And are you going to introduce your new friend, or let him stand out on the stoop all day?”

Chorem poked his head into the doorway, smiling uneasily at the old man.

“Uh…come on in, Chorem,” Dylock said, waving his hand.

Chorem shuffled into the townhouse, gently closing the door behind him. Dylock leaned in and whispered, “How do you do that?” to Din.

Din leaned over the arm of his chair toward Dylock. “I’m an old man, I know everything there is to know,” he replied with a smirk.

“This is Chorem, we met at school today. We bumped into each other in the halls.”

Din scanned the acolyte as he pushed himself arduously from his armchair. “Hrm, and by the looks of you, you must be a great wizard,” Din said.

Chorem smirked. “Not just yet; I’ve a ways to go before I’m ready for that kind of fame. For now, I’ll settle for being a wizard better than most.”

Din reached out with a wrinkled left hand, and the young acolyte shook it vigorously. “Welcome to our humble home, young Chorem. I trust you’ll stay for dinner, I’ve got soup cooking.”

“I’d love to, thank you, sir” Chorem replied.

“Please, call me Din.” Din’s smile widened as he clenched Chorem’s hand, ignoring the pain pulsing in his shoulder in doing so.

The old man’s eyes beamed as he looked at Chorem’s face. Dylock hadn’t ever quite seen his guardian this happy, and he supposed it meant a lot to him that Dylock could find friends.

“Come boys, let’s get ready to eat. You can tell me all about why you had detention,” Din said, sweeping his hand towards the kitchen.

“Well…uh…it’s a long story,” Dylock said, scratching the back of his head nervously.

“I’ll bet it is,” the old man said with a chuckle.

Last Chapter ~ Next Chapter

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