The Boy Who Aspired To Be A Knight
This story started in the Lemmroussell Empire, a large nation in the western regions of the continent of Allfauna. That day, in the Empire’s capital city – Simurgh – in the small inn on the main street called Wandering Bird’s Roost, a five-year-old boy named Wynn Bard was looking out of the window. This was an ordinary place, one frequented by rowdy customers – adventurers, peddlers, and the like – with a first floor that doubled up as a bar, but the scene outside its window was anything, but and the boy was watching it excitedly.
“Woooow… So cool!”
He saw silvery-white armour, steel longswords strapped to the waists, steel shields on the backs. The gallant knights, their breastplates etched with a double-headed lion – the coat of arms of the Knight Order – returned to the Imperial Capital triumphantly after a subjugation mission in a monster-overrun forest on the Empire’s border. Wynn was but a child, so most of that was beyond his comprehension, but he knew for sure that the shining silhouettes he could spot through the gaps in the crowd lining the main street thickly were really, really cool.
“Wynn! Don’t you slack off, boy!” shouted Hannah, the proprietress of the inn, interrupting his thoughts. She was glaring at him from over the ledger she was writing in just a moment ago.
“I-I’m sorry,” he said, getting off the sturdy table, solid enough to carry his weight. He returned to his work – cleaning the used cutlery scattered about the place until his cloth turned thoroughly dirty.
“Tch! Useless freeloader,” scoffed the woman. “Go draw some water once you’re done with this! Don’t you dare slack off, today’s gonna be busy!”
Wynn was an orphan. His parents, peddlers by trade, had entrusted their child to their friend, the innkeeper of the Roost, before setting off for the journey that had cost them their lives at the hand of bandits. None of this was unusual in this day and age. His caretakers had been provided with a significant sum of money for their trouble, so they couldn’t just throw the boy that had just lost his family onto the street. He had been allowed to stay.
But he had been made to work for it.
He had been made to work hard. The five-year-old Wynn had never been spoiled since then. The innkeeper’s wife, Hannah, a terrible miser, would have him help handle the customers and clean the place. She saw the child as little more than an unnecessary financial burden, an extra mouth to feed, a freeloader incapable of useful work.
Still, this treatment was probably better than ending up on the street. Many child orphans simply died after being left to fend for themselves. Or ended up in the hands of slavers. And while his treatment might resemble that of a slave in other people’s eyes, Wynn was nevertheless paid a salary. A sparrow-tear-worth of one, but a salary nonetheless.
“Uhm, Auntie Hannah,” the boy prompted timidly while polishing a spoon, “What do I do to become a knight?” Wynn was scared of the woman, but, on this occasion, fear lost to the impression left behind by the gallant figures he had seen outside the window.
“Hmm? A knight?” she repeated absentmindedly scribbling something in the ledger. “You need knowledge, education, martial arts, and magic. And you got to graduate from the Imperial Knight Academy.”
“How do you enter that school?”
“You pass an exam, and pay an entrance fee.”
“Knight Academy… Hmmm.”
Hannah stopped scribbling in the book and looked up. Wynn was smiling, his eyes positively sparkling. This happy smile of a child was a very unusual visitor on the face of this obedient, outwardly unsociable, kid whose days had been spent on working in silence.
She didn’t give a damn.
“Keep those hands of yours moving, brat! And go draw water from the well once you’re done.”
“And stop daydreaming of knighthood. The Knight Academy fees are steep, you may be working here, but you’ll never have the money or the time to learn what’s required. Because. You. Are. Slacking. All. The. Time! Mark my words – if you don’t finish your job by the evening, there’ll be no food today for you mister.”
Drawing the water from a public well to fill the barrel at the back of the inn was a tall task for a five-year-old child. The bucket was heavy and many round trips were required. Wynn finished polishing the last spoon and left through the back door in silence.
The Wandering Roost’s bar served not only alcohol, but also food to its customers. Because of that, the place tended to be heaving in the evenings. Today was no different and Wynn was busy washing plates in a basin on the kitchen floor. But his head was still full of the knights from the morning parade, and as he pondered over how much money would he have to save to enter the school, his hands slipped.
He looked down at the two pieces of a plate on the floor, a completely predictable outcome of a situation in which a distracted five-year-old tries to wash the dishes.
“What are you doing?!” Hannah was, also completely predictably, angry at this. “Make no mistake, that will come out of your wages!”
Her voice made him twitch as he squatted down to collect the broken pieces.
“Wynn? Are you hurt, son?”
The question was asked by the innkeeper, Randall. He had noticed that the boy was, unlike usual, somewhat absent-minded tonight and had paid attention to his work since.
He considered the boy to be unselfish, diligent, and smart. He found Hannah’s hostile attitude to Wynn regrettable, but the child had become an orphan and such was the way of the world. A bitter work day after day, even when the child wished to play, was better than ending up on the street. And if he didn’t agree to have the boy work, his wife would not find it in herself to grudgingly accept his arbitrary decision to take Wynn under their roof on a permanent basis after Wynn’s parents died. At times, it pained him to treat his best friend’s son this way, but even though the inn prospered, his family finances were strained and didn’t leave much room for another mouth to feed.
“You’re unlike yourself today. Did something happen?”
“Yes, uncle. I saw knights today! And I want to become one! …But Aunt Hannah says money is needed, so…”
“A knight, eh?”
Every boy had that, sometimes secret, phase in his life when he dreamed of becoming one. Randall was no exception.
“Does uncle know… how much money is needed?”
“Hmm, it was… four gold coins, I think? —”
Arithmetic was beyond the boy’s grasp, but he had a vague idea of what a gold coin was. Right now, he was paid a silver coin a month, one gold coin could be exchanged for a silver of those
“— There was a time when I too wanted to be a knight, you know.”
“Uncle as well…?”
“Oh yes. It was so cool after all. I used to pretend I held a sword in my hand all the time.”
Learning this snippet about Randall’s past made Wynn break into a smile again. That sight, a rare thing since the news of the boy’s parents death arrived, made the man unwittingly smile too.
But it wasn’t to be. Hannah, peeking at them from the kitchen door, shouted loudly, “What now! Slacking again I see?! You really want to miss dinner that much, kid?” Then she turned to her husband. “And you get a grip too! Customers are waiting! Orders piling up! A disgrace!”
The man and the boy returned to work, both looking embarrassed.
Later that night, in a small storage shed at the back of the main building, Wynn was laying in his bed, still kept awake by the lingering excitement of what he saw in the morning. His long working day had finally finished just past midnight once he was done cleaning the inn. Usually, he would fall asleep, exhausted by the daily chores, with no strength left to fear being alone in the darkness of his new home since three months past. But not today. Today, as he lay among the crude sheets and blankets in a rickety shed converted to a bedroom, he was thinking of the future.
Knolege, educayshon… Don’t know what’s that, but I should train. Uncle said it’s good to train your body.
His resolve solidified and he suddenly recalled the adventurers that sometimes lodged at the inn. In the mornings, they would run around the courtyard with weights on, or repeatedly swing their swords.
I’ll work hard too, he thought, but in the end, the excitement couldn’t keep the exhaustion at bay forever. Tomorrow…
Overwhelmed by drowsiness, Wynn fell asleep.
From that day on, every morning, Wynn would wake up before the sun rose, before even the inn’s pet rooster crowed. He would run around the neighbourhood. He would treat drawing water as muscle training and the heavy bucket as weights. On the first day, Randall and Hannah were surprised to wake up and see the water barrel filled already, but they soon stopped to care about this. It inconvenienced them in no way and the boy now had time to do other jobs too. His workload increased. His pay did not. He did not complain, though, in every new task he found a new way to train. Take peeling potatoes and carrots as an example – perfect opportunity to learn how to use a kitchen knife and a dagger. In such a way, days, and then months, passed.
Things changed when Wynn was eight years old.
By this point, his agility was clearly superior to other children his age. He couldn’t know this, of course, because he had nobody to compare himself to. Over the last three years his daily quota of work grew steadily – unlike his pay that remained flat – and he had no time to play. Those scant moments not taken by Hannah’s demands were spent training. Thus, he had no playmates of his age, and he didn’t even have many chances to meet Randall’s two sons, aged nine and eleven, who had always been spoiled by their mother.
He would wake up early, run to finish drawing water from the well – with two bucket at a time now, he could manage the weight – and then swing a wooden sword until his caretakers woke up. The time it would take him to fill the barrel was half of what he had needed when he was five, well below what a person with common sense would expect from a child his age.
His swings weren’t all that bad either. Roughly a year ago, an adventurer, that had booked into The Wandering Bird’s Roost for a month, had woken up to a surprising sight of a boy training his body at an even earlier hour than the adventurer himself. They had exchanged words, When they exchanged words, the adventurer learned of Wynn;s dream of becoming a knight. Moved, the adventurer not only had gifted Wynn with a practice blade, but also demonstrated how to use it. A whole month of such tutelage was a godsend Wynn had never even hoped for.
Once Hanna woke up, he would be assigned his morning chores – cleaning mostly. He would invariably finish that by the time the sun rose fully, gaining a modicum of free time. Free time he always spent on swinging the sword some more.
One of those days, Wynn suddenly felt someone’s gaze on his back during one of those practice sessions. He looked behind him, and saw a small girl watching him from behind a neighboring building. She wore a lovely set of white clothes made from high-class cloth, but what was more striking was her eyes, shining with unabashed curiosity. He could almost read the girl’s thoughts
What is that boy there doing? Is it any fun?
As soon as he stopped swinging his sword and looked at her, the girl ran out from her shadowy corner and approached him.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Is that interesting?”
“Dunno. I enjoy it.”
“May Leti try?”
From this question, Wynn figured that Leti must have been the girl’s name. He watched her pick up a stick, stand next to him, and start to mimic his swings. He didn’t mind, since she wasn’t a particular bother either, so he resumed his practice. At the end she asked what time he would begin tomorrow so that she could join him from the start.
The following day, she was there when he came out to train, and she insisted to help him carry the buckets of water. He, as usual, carried two of those in his hand. Looking behind him, he could see the girl struggling, as she followed him unsteadily with one.
“Big Brother… it’s heavy,” she said, seeing him watch her.
“It’s okay, you can just leave it here. I’ll come back for it later.”
She shook her head, continuing to walk slowly with face bright-red from exertion.
“…Leti will do her best.”
From that day onwards, the little girl would come by every day and swing her stick at his side. Every time, she wore different clothes, all of them high-class. It was clear she was a child of a wealthy family. Judging by her dirty knees, she was also most likely sneaking out of her home to join him. Wynn occasionally wondered whether her family was worried about her disappearances. He was also convinced she wouldn’t last long. There was no real pleasure to be had from training, he was able to persevere because he had a clear goal and wasn’t bothered by the feeling of fatigue after the practice sessions. Any normal child would have given up long ago. In fact, the innkeeper’s sons had actually tried to emulate him once and had snatched the sword from him. On the second day, bored, they had tossed the blade away and had gone back to their usual games. He was sure the girl calling herself Leti would too eventually stop coming, leaving him to train alone. She was two years younger than him, and this was his first experience of playing with kids his age. That thought made him feel a little lonely.
To Wynn’s great surprise, half a year had passed, and Leti was still coming. And she had even somehow procured a wooden sword appropriate for her size. She would show up whenever it was time for his warm-up exercises. They would do those, and then go for a run. Initially, they would do few circles around the neighborhood of the inn, just like Wynn had been doing aged five when he had started to train regularly, since he would ease off the pace to allow Leti to keep up. But after several months, that was no longer necessary, the girl was able to match his pace without any trouble.
Anybody else would find that odd. At the age of eight, Wynn’s physical capabilities well surpassed those of his peers. For a barely six-year-old girl to match him? That would make her a prodigy. But the boy lacked proper comparison, so it didn’t strike him as particularly odd. He was happy she caught up to him, and he considered that to be a natural outcome of the exercise.
Once the had been done running, they would take out their swords and start trading blows. This had been something they learned by imitating the sparring adventurers. Wynn had restricted himself to blocking her strikes at first, but, as time passed, Wynn started to also go on the offense. Recently, their blades started to move quite rapidly, well beyond capability of a normal child, and the sounds of impacts turned into an uninterrupted staccato. This did not go unnoticed by the usual assortment of adventurers, but none of them said a thing, their wounded pride not allowing them to admit they might have been surpassed by a couple of kids.
First time they had woken Hannah up with the noise, she had shouted at them certain the boy had been loafing around. But then she had noticed that the morning tasks had all been done, and the girl had not only looked lovely, but had also been dressed in high quality clothes. She had been certain the unexpected guest had been a noble daughter of some sort, one that would surely grow into a beautiful woman, and she had selfishly decided to have her sons keep close to her. Mark and Abel did indeed pay unusual amount of attention to the girl, but she didn’t really want to talk to them and kept sticking to Wynn for some reason, even helping him work. This made it hard for the brothers, who tended to play around more often than not, to befriend Leti.
And so it was today. The brothers, together with a group of local children, called out to Leti inviting her to play with them. She refused saying she was going to read a book with Big Brother instead, and then, restlessly, she ran to Wynn holding said book behind her back. It had been taken away from her before, but she had been fast enough to successfully chase down the offending boys, with tears in her eyes.
Leti would come around twice a day, these days, before noon and once again before the sunset. Wynn’s work was usually done by the lunchtime and he was free to spend time with her. The two of them would sit down somewhere to read attentively.
(Illustration by Mitemin) (Editor: This is pretty, but horribly mismatched to the actual story. In the chapter they read in Wynn’s room / shed >.>)
Hannah had, at first, seen this new routine as a nuisance, but eventually stopped objecting, and Leti ended up brazenly staying in his room in the shed when it was time to read. She had just started taking reading and writing lessons from a private tutor employed by her family, however, for some reason, the lessons seemed to be in alien language until she got to work through them together with Wynn. The boy, on the other hand, had never gone to school. His caretakers taught him enough letters and numbers to allow him to work on the inn’s ledger, but nothing beyond this. Therefore, when it came to reading books Leti brought over, they had to do it together. Wynn warmly welcomed those afternoon visits. Having no acquaintances among his peers, he had grown to see the girl as his best, and only, friend.
Now, they were in Wynn’s room, as usual, sitting next to each other on a pair of chairs. She would usually bring a tome about history or mythos of the world. Sometimes it would be something more valuable, like a magic grimoire. Today’s book described the world they lived in.
“The land we live our lives on is called the Continent of Allfauna.”
“Its northern part is denied to humans. That land swarms with monsters and demons under the hegemony of the Demon King… Big Brother, what is a Demon King?”
“The strongest of all the monsters, the number one demon.”
“Is he stronger than Big Brother?”
“Isn’t that a given?”
“Even stronger than a knight-person?”
“Ah… No way! Knights are definitely stronger!”
Wynn yearned to be a knight. For him, their strength was absolute and something to aspire to.
“Big Brother, if the knights are stronger, why won’t they smite the Demon King?”
“Come to think of it… Hmm…”
The two of them might be reading serious books, but they were still a pair of naive children. In reality, not only the Demon King but even a single high ranking demon would easily crush any given knight order.
One day, Leti again brought over a grimoire and the two of them were practicing magic it contained.
“O fire, bend to my will: Light up!”
A small flame, the size you’d see on a candle, alighted on Wynn’s fingertip.
“Big Brother, you did it! Leti will do it too!”
“Concentrate on your fingertip deeply. Concentrate, Leti. Concentrate.”
The girl stared at her fingertip motionlessly under Wynn’s watchful gaze—
“O fire, bend to my will: Light up!”
—and with a fwoosh a roaring pillar of flame formed there reaching for the sky.
“Wow!” she exclaimed, before fully realizing what had happened. In full panic, she started to wave her hands to put out the fire and then kneeled in front of Wynn, who ended up on his bottom out of shock.
“Big Brother, Big Brother! are you okay?!”
Wynn was fine, even if his bangs were now shorter after getting singed by the flames.
“Ah, that was surprising! You have much stronger magic power than I do. Leti will surely become an amazing magician!”
Seeing a much bigger talent reveal itself before him, the boy did not react with jealousy. He felt shyness and admiration.
“But magicians must study hard, right? Leti hates studying…”
“You are already able to read so many difficult words. I think Leti is clever, you know?”
“But, but! When I study with the tutor, he always gets mad—”
Seeing her drop her head, dejected, Wynn patted and stroked her hair.
“—but when I read the books together with Big Brother, I understand everything very well.”
“In that case, let’s read together again.”
“Okay!” said the girl, nodding cheerfully. And in such a manner, the two of them continued to spend their days training and studying together. Though for Leti the training was more of a playtime.
The time went on in this manner for another four years. Wynn was now 12, Leti had just turned 10. The day everything changed started as usual, it was before sunrise and he was waiting for her to arrive. And arrive she did, running and in tears. Before he understood what was going on she was hugging him tightly and sobbing into his chest. Being embraced by a similar-aged member of the opposite sex was a novel feeling for the boy, but, since he had treated the girl like a younger sister, not an entirely pleasurable one. He trembled slightly, but Leti was in no state to pay him any kind of close attention.
“Uu… Big Brother,” she managed to stammer in between the tears.
“W-what happened, Leti?”
“What if… What if I suddenly… leave far away?”
Still slightly stunned by the girl’s fragrance and the completely unexpected softness, Wynn finally managed to extricate himself from Leti’s embrace, and looked into her eyes.
“Far? Fow far? Klenad?”
Klenad was the city nearest to Simurg. Nevertheless, for Wynn, that was pretty far.
“Even… Even farther…”
“Really… How long will you be away?”
“I… don’t… know…” she answered, erupting into full-blown cry and hugging him again. Wynn patted her head gently waiting patiently for her tears to subside.
“We won’t be able to train together again, Big Brother. Leti is sorry.”
“Don’t cry. It was going to happen one day. I almost saved enough money for the Knight Academy’s enrollment fee. Once I went to school, training together wouldn’t be possible, you know.”
“I know… but…” she paused, then her face brightened up and she added, “Big Brother, I’ll do my best to return as quickly as I can!”
It wasn’t hard to figure out that Leti was a daughter of a high-ranked house, and Wynn had guessed that too. He couldn’t really understand why would that family let their daughter slip out all the time for all those years, but he expected the girl’s fate to be the same as that of others of her kind – an early political marriage. He thought that this must have been what this whole affair was about, she was about to marry someone in a foreign country. So her saying she would be back as quickly as possible suggested a divorce. And that would be a very bad thing, for her and her family. So he attempted to dissuade her from that train of thought.
“You know, Leti, returning very quickly… That might not be so good.”
She looked to be on the verge of tears again, so he capitulated instantly.
“Ah… I would be very happy though.”
“Then, I will! Soon!”
She locked her hand into a fist firing herself up.
“Alright, alright. Shall we immediately have a match today, after the warm-up?”
This was different from their usual training schedule, but Leti looked to be more fired up than usual. Appreciating the effort this had taken her, and suspecting she might be stressed by being forced to go somewhere she didn’t want to, Wynn decided to accompany her in a spar to take her mind off the future. During the ensuing bout, her sword reached speed unlike anything she had been capable of before. He was defending patiently, and waiting for a chance to counter, but it never came. In the end, he fell for one of her feints, and, for the first time ever, Leti bested Wynn.
She didn’t come the next day.
Or the following one.
Or the one after that.
That fateful day truly had been the last day before her departure and Wynn would be again training alone for the first time in years. He didn’t cry though. She had set off on her path, and he had one of his own to follow. He, as always, dreamed to be a knight. That demanded a bit more money and a lot more power, so he threw himself into training again, tormenting his body to temper it further and distract his mind from newly discovered loneliness.