The Boy

The boy checked his surroundings one more time, the blue in his eyes flickering in the lambent light of the oil lamps hanging around the village. Obfuscated, he slid behind a bush on the outskirts of town, headed for the less taken trailhead that mirrored the road for some time before diverging into a clearing of trees where the village elders would sacrifice pourberries and animal pelts to the gods for protection against the wildings. He knew where this was, and would take it. Tonight. 

It would stretch on enough for him to slink out of town and attach himself to the main cobblestone road that wound through the forests and out into the plains, which would take him to Irlingshon, the nearest city. Still, the roads were treacherous, especially at night when the wildings roamed. But it was this darkness, lit only by faint oil light, his own shuttered lantern, and the large, eye-like moon that watched him from above with its pale, ghostly light.

He would leave soon.

He crept along the dimmed bushes for a while, sliding behind the blacksmith’s forge, then the butcher’s shop. Nobody was out at this time of night. This was good. His shoes scuffed at the dirt and crunched on some leaves, but he was unafraid now. He wouldn’t be caught, he was sure. It was too late, his parents would be slumbering now, and they couldn’t stop him this time. Nothing could.

Finally, in the dim, starlit night, he reached the trailhead. A sign at its entrance read, “Enter not those who know not the ritual.” Fine by him, he wasn’t headed there anyway. He took in a deep breath, and recounted his victuals in the sack slung over his back. Enough dried meat and pemmican to last him to Irlingshon, with a wineskin full of well water that he could fill along the way at the small creeks and rivers that regularly crisscrossed the road in shushing babbles. A dagger by his side, given to him by his aunt on his fifteenth birthday, he felt ready.

About to take his first step, he took a deep, deep breath, and…

“And you’re going where, lad?” came a soft voice behind him. He froze and spun around, panic in his eyes, as he scanned the darkness for his approacher. He couldn’t see very well, but a figure in the shade appeared from one of the alleyways of the village. Long black hair, sharp features, large in muscle but slim in stature… it was his aunt Ingrid. The very same who gave him the dagger at his hip but a year ago.

He breathed a small sigh of relief and let his shoulders slump.

“I’m leaving,” was all he said.

She examined him for a moment, coming closer, until he could see her substantially better in the dim shadows. The scar on her eye was clear in the darkness, a wound from the wildings, a trophy from her travels. 

“Your mother is going to throw a fit if she catches you trying to slip out again,” she remarked, shrugging. There was a hint of something there, some wit, some wry, but he couldn’t place it.

He frowned. “I’m sixteen. I can’t stay here forever. I love my parents and I love you but I’m a man now, auntie. I have to go out there and find out what that means.”

A laugh spiced the air gently, like little sweeps of a feather duster, quiet and subdued but mirthful. “And yet you still call me auntie.”

He could feel his cheeks heat up as his fists clenched and unclenched. Opening his mouth to speak, he found he had no words to rebut this. Still, the indignation made him grit his teeth and turn away.

A hand landed on his shoulder softly and gave it a squeeze. Ingrid smiled at him and leaned closer, as though to whisper. “But your aunt is not your mom. And I’m not here to stop you.”

The breeze picked up briefly, rustling the trees in a gentle shushing manner. Ingrid reached in her pocket and pulled out a small piece of thick parchment, folded and worn, but still in surprisingly good condition for it’s apparent age. 

“What’s this?” he asked, taking it from her, and going to unfold it.

She stopped him, laying a hand on his, and said, “When you get to the city, go to the Surly Bardess and give this to a man named Jalcobs. He’ll take good care of you, get you set up for your journey, give you some direction. Tell him Ingrid said hi, ok?”

He looked at the paper one more time, and then nodded, and said, “Thank you auntie…”

They shared a moment of silence. Some gentle connection before a goodbye. The moment was tender, sweet, and familial, but all too soon over, and Ingrid clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Well, off with you boy! No, off with you, man.”

A smile lit up his face as he nodded and stuffed the paper in his pocket. He spun around and faced the darkness one more time, steeling his resolve, glaring at it as though it were something to be conquered, and then took his first step. 

Ingrid watched him for a time, as he took step after step on his new journey, just like she had. A soft smile graced her lips as the light of his forward facing lantern grew dimmer as he walked up the hill and away from her. Thoughts raced through her mind, and yet she found she was content with what she’d done. Worry was present, but fear was not. He would be alright.

A hand slid down her back, startling her. She jerked around, only to find his mother, Julia, standing there with tears in her eyes, looking almost through her at her son as he departed into the night. They locked eyes, and for a moment, stared at each other, muted.

Then, Julia said, quietly, “He’ll be alright, right?”

Ingrid felt her lips curl upward. “He’ll be just fine.”

They turned to both watch the boy as his light shrunk further and further.

“He’s my boy,” Julia said, wiping her eyes. “What if the wildlings get him?”

“He’s not your boy anymore,” Ingrid said. She rested a hand on Julia’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “He’s your son, but he’s not your boy. He’s a man now. He’ll be alright. You couldn’t hold him here forever, you know.”

“I know… I know.” Julia sniffled, but Ingrid could tell she was regaining composure. She pulled out a small handkerchief and gave it to Julia. 


“Thank you,” she said, taking it and wiping her eyes.

They watched him walk away for some time, before the light suddenly stopped. Julia clenched the bosom of her shirt and stopped breathing, despite Ingrid, with her hands on her hips and a proud smile on her face, being relaxed.

Then, the light turned around, and in the darkness, just barely, they could see that he could see them. Time stood still. This was goodbye. The figure, the boy, the man waved in the dark, enthusiastically and proudly, and both Ingrid and Julia waved back.

“Yeah,” Ingrid said. “He’ll be alright.”

Julia nodded and offered a sad chuckle. “Yeah, he will be. That’s my boy. That’s my son.”

“That’s a good man.”

The figure turned away, and crested the hill, disappearing into the darkness. 

“C’mon Julia, it’s late. You need sleep.”

She cast Ingrid a sidelong glance. “And you?”

“I… think I’ll stay here a little longer. Just to enjoy the night.”

Julia paused. “Reminds you of you, doesn’t he?”

Ingrid laughed, this time loudly, raucously, and boldly. “Yes, yes he does. And that’s why I know he’ll be alright. I know he’ll be just fine.”


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