My eyes swept the place for lurking danger, even as I stood in awe of the majestic fortune before me. Marble floors that must have cost as much as a small house themselves; walls covered in murals depicting many sunsets, peoples, and species; domed ceilings painted to resemble a night sky with stars and multi hued galaxies which cannot be seen by eye alone. The extravagant, yet somehow homey beauty made me long for a cool cave and a warm fire. I'd be more likely to knock something over than give this place the proper respect it deserved.
It was a home for a man. A man who invited me to find my place in the world with him after I saved his life from a momma bear. He offered me a home as long as I could get along with his family... and as long as he could convince his wife. The second part I'm not too sure of. For that matter, I'm not too sure about any of it. I’m more of a lone wolf.
I fully expected to leave after meeting the young boys of the family. The father explained they would be entertaining themselves on the ground floor and he expected me to make a good impression.
I almost scoffed in his face. He did not know who I was and yet he offered me a home? What was he: an idiot?
A scuffle drew my attention to two young boys fighting with wooden swords. One boy looked nought but eight full seasons, while the other was a couple years older.
“Take that, you Kursk Scum!” The younger boy swung his sword in a clumsy overhand strike easily blocked by the bigger boy.
The thwack as they met reverberated in my ears. I inched closer, gaining a smell of cookies, sweet ink, and fresh tilled dirt from the two little pups. I crouched behind a thick piano in the middle of the room, hidden from the boys. A small smile—the likes of which I hadn’t felt in ages—tightened my face.
The youngster snuck a kick in on the older, causing him to roar in anger. They swung and parried, greater force behind every blow. Both of their fair faces tightened as the battle thickened.
“Oh, yeah?” the older boy retorted, jabbing a finger at the young one's face.
I knew this was quickly escalating into more than a practice session. They had slowly come my way until they were on the other side of the piano.
His face a rictus of rage because of a stout blow from the younger pup, the older boy struck out with a quick, brutal jab to the face.
Time slowed as I considered. My Masters would have let the blow land; pain is an excellent teacher, so they would say. The younger would be more likely to dodge the fist during the next fight.
I caught his fist. I am not the Masters. A squeak came from the younger brother as the elder's jaw dropped. His wits returned. He abruptly jerked his hand from my grasp as if I'd stung him.
I backed away and put both hands behind my back, as if I were addressing a high officer in the guild. I released my shoulders abruptly and almost rubbed my tired eyes. Old habits die hard.
“That would have broken his nose.” I nodded to the younger brother, whose innocent blue eyes went wide.
The boy dropped his sword and backpedaled as quickly as his short legs could carry him, almost tripping over his own feet. The elder brother’s green eyes narrowed. He backed to cover his brother, the wooden sword between us.
He swiped sweaty, straw-blond hair from his forehead, backing away with a shaking sword before him. “Who a-are you? What are you doing in my h-home? How did you get in here? I-If you attack I'll c-call the guards.” His voice shook with fear, but my respect for the pup went up as he faced me to defend his brother.
His eyes darted to the front door, as if he could will a guard to come with his mind, or perhaps he was thinking of running.
I smiled at the paltry defense he was trying to give. His sense of battle was good, if only he could hone it a bit. "You never drop a sword; you always mind your surroundings," I said, gentle and unthreatening, as if I were dealing with a spooked colt. I put my hands up to show I was unarmed. "I do not mean any harm."
I picked up the wooden sword, pretending to examine the hilt and wood, even as I studied the two boys from the corner of my eye. “A fine specimen to protect this lowly Kursk from two Knights of the High Order. En garde.”
I held my sword out and waited.
Sure enough, the boys glanced at each other as if questioning this crazy Kursk’s sanity. Then the older shrugged his shoulders and came in, hesitant in his attack. I figured there were a couple of things I could do. Gain their trust; teach them some skills; or... I figured I might just have some fun. A sly grin crossed my face that caused the siblings to waver.
"Not afraid of this Kursk, are you?" I taunted.
The elder's face pinched, and he swiped at my calf with a weighted slash. I blocked and deliberately cut at his open side. His eyes widened, and he blocked with jerky motions. Blocks and parries went back and forth for a time, while I kept a tight rein on my power and speed, waiting. Then... there. He used his brain and struck out with a low kick to my knee. Well, I said knee—it was truly more like my calf; the poor shorty was trying his daggum best, gotta give credit where credit's due.
I granted the solid blow. My leg collapsed out from under me, and I winced as I went down hard enough to complete my theatrics. The boy struck my sword—I allowed it to fly from my hand.
“Argh. The mighty Knight has wounded the Kursk. Finish me, mate, but do it quickly as an end to our honorable duel,” I groveled in my best pirate imitation.
The boy smiled, showing a dimple in his right cheek. “Nay, you s-shall go to the highest c-courts to await your trial, you Kursk Scum!” he said, waving his sword in triumph.
His little brother tackled me from behind.
A laugh escaped me.
“What’s this? A hungry bear cub come to take down the Kursk?” I tickled him and his laugh reverberated through the ceiling, the joy in the simple sound called my heart to soar.
“I’ll save you, Barry!” His older brother dropped his sword and joined the pile. We wrestled and rolled, my childhood returning as if I’d never lost it.
If my forced pack could’ve seen me then, I would’ve lost all respect. Yet, for some reason, I couldn't bring myself to care. Barry pinned down my hands and settled on my chest.
“Whatcha gonna do now, Kursk?” he breathed into my face with a full smile, and I smelled stolen cookies and sweet mints upon his toddler breath. I laughed so hard I ended up knocking him off my chest.
“Does your momma know you steal her cookies?” I asked innocently.
His eyes widened, and the smile disappeared. “Don’t tell her, pleeeeeassse?”
I held a hand to my heart. “Your secret is safe with me,” I vowed as I bowed.
He nodded morosely, and I pounced, tickling the little booger. His brother got me in a headlock from behind and we all went down.
The end to end all endings; I was socked in the solar plexus, knocking the wind from my lungs. I wheezed, trying to get my breath back, huffing in amusement. If they only knew who I was—but I'm thankful they never did.
Both boys scrambled back as though unsure if I would retaliate.
A wheezing laugh escaped me. “Good on ya, mates. The mighty Knights win the day!” I said with a lazy salute.
Both joined in my laughter as the elder sibling helped me up. I ruffled their skewed, straw-like hair.
Barry smiled, his blue eyes shining with joy. “That was fun! Can we do it again, Mighty Kursk? Can we? Can we? Pleeeeaaasssee?”
Their father and mother came down the steps from the upstairs balcony, where they were watching. “I’m sure the Mighty Kursk has seen enough adventure for the time being. We should let him rest so that he may endure to fight another day,” Dan said. His eyes took in his sons with pride and joy. I only wished to have someone look at me like that someday.
I dropped my gaze as their mother came over to hug the two rascals with all her might.
“What were you thinking, playing with a Kursak like that?” she asked.
With my head hung, I slunk away. I was wrong. I’m a monster. No one should ever look at me with pride after what I have done. I will never belong with a genuine family—not like this. The time had come for me to go.
“Not all Kursaks are as kind as Roland.” My head shot up to meet her gaze. Frida's eyes contained some wariness yet, but still she graced me with a genuine smile. A pure smile that lit up her blue eyes and revealed a dimple in her right cheek, like her youngest. The first smile she had ever given me. She held out her hand. “Won’t you join us for dinner, Roland?”
I glanced at her hand in awe. No one had ever graced me with such kindness. I looked over at Dan, and the fatherly pride that shone from his eyes transferred from his blood boys to... me. “You better take the offer, son. She'll never forgive you if you don’t,” he said with a light chuckle.
Something smarted at the back of my eyes at being called son. I blinked, and something trailed down my face. I swiped my cheek and was surprised to find one lonely tear there, twinkling in the light. The first I could remember.
“That’s called a tear. You cry when you are really happy or really sad. I mostly cry when I’m sad. Which are you?” young Barry asked.
I smiled down at the little tyke as I took his mother’s hand. She gave my fingers a slight, welcoming squeeze. “Definitely happy.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish