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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Fantasy · #2319667
A boy with no memory, in a world with no mercy.
Chapter One

Out From the Depths

The wrong blood was shed that night. The boy who should never have lived so long found his way out of the cave, sobbing and alone. Even as he left behind the cave, he lost his name, his parents, his town. He knew nothing of himself and his life. He turned back towards the cave, wondering what he'd forgotten.
Pain seared across his face, fear clutched him about the middle, and he fled.
He wandered the forests, watched by the deer and wolves and the gleaming stars above. He wept at the searing pain across his mouth and cheeks, at the nightmare in the cave that already fell away from memory.

But the pain faded, as did night and memory and strength, and soon he collapsed by the bank of the River Tulni, oblivious to the horrors before, and unprepared for the horrors after.

For he did not die that dawn, but was found.


“What is your name, lad?” The man perched on a stool, well-worn hands cupping a bowl of stew.

A very same bowl sat in the boy's hands. He tried to eat it, but it needed time to cool. Even the steam hurt his face. He sat far from the fire blazing in the hearth to his left.

“I don't know my name, sir.”

Blue eyes regarded the boy. “But you know how to speak. You know your manners and you know to trust me. You are no wild thing. Were you hit?”

“Hit?” He shifted on the soft goose-feather mattress.

“In the head, child. Did somebody hit you?” The man was kindly, with a bald head that gleamed in the orange light, and a brown beard that threatened to drink for itself some of his stew. Threadbare robes covered a body accustomed to both work and food.

Observing the man, the boy thought: no charging horse could knock this man down.

“Sir, I don't know anything. Not my name, not my age, or if anybody hit me. Not who might have, not who wouldn't, or even why.”

The man regarded the boy for a long moment. Yet the boy was not brave enough to break the silence, and so he slurped at his stew.

“You were found shivering, muttering. I could not hear what you said, but it was deep in the morning when I found you. You were frightened.”

Frightened, yes, the boy thought, and when I woke in this room, with darkness outside my window, I was frightened. Have I ever not been frightened?

“What is your name, sir?”

The man smiled then, behind his beard. “I am Yearlitt of the Waybound Water House. It is there you are; or here, I suppose.”

The boy looked around. “I don't see much water.”

“What do you see?”

The boy frowned. “You ask strange questions, sir Yearlitt.”

“Strange questions seek sensible answers, don't you think?”

“I see you,” the boy said after a long moment, “a strange man who seems nice. I see wooden walls and a ceiling of something else--”

“Tiles, young one.”

“....Yes. And shelves filled with books and rolled papers. A desk with strange metal objects and a great book bigger than all the rest.”

“Good...good. You explain it all like a normal boy, if perhaps one older than you seem.”

“How old do I seem, sir?”

Yearlitt brushed at his beard with one hand, cupped his bowl of soup with the other. “Six, perhaps.”

“How old are you?”

“I am nearly forty. Mother willing, I will have another forty before me.”

“Mother….” The boy knew the meaning of the word, but it seemed another meaning hid behind the wall in his mind. The word rang out like a horrible cry from behind that wall.

Something had been caught.


“Yes, lad?”

“Are you my father?”

For the first time, Yearlitt of the Water House looked away. “If I was, you'd be older.”

“Why would I be older?”

Yearlitt shook his bald head. “Some things you will learn in time, boy. Tell me, what do you see out the window? Move the curtain.”

The boy obeyed, set his bowl on a fine clay endtable and slipped off the bed.

His grimy trousers cracked as he made his way around the bed, passing the fire, and came to the red curtain. He pulled it aside and peered out.

“I see a larger house. Clay and wood, with a roof made of...tile?”


“And beside it, beside us, a great water….It reflects the moon. Did I sleep the day away?”

“You did.”

“A smaller building, made of something else…”


The boy turned around. That word brought back memories of a game, played among trees and hills with other children. “Hide? It's too dark. I could get lost.”

One brown eyebrow raised on Yearlitt’s face, then he laughed. He laughed and coughed and wiped a tear from his eye. “No, lad. Different kind of hide. Skins of animals gifted to us by Mother Tearla. We can stretch it and harden it and make buildings of it, and coverings and clothes. Praise be to Tearla for allowing it all.”

The boy nodded. Could the same be done of human skin? “Your mother's name is Tearla?”

Yearlitt shook his head. “The Mother of All, lad. The goddess and creator, the ruler of the world, wholly. You thank her for waking in the morning and you thank her for the good in your life and you beg mercy when the bad comes.”

“Did she take my memory?”

Yearlitt went back to drinking his stew.

When he finally spoke, it was slowly. Carefully. “That would seem a punishment. She doesn't often punish a person directly, unless the person was a truly terrible person. I don't think that's you, boy. I think perhaps you're good. It may be that she took your memory because bad things have happened to you, and she does not wish one so young to carry such pain.”

Pain. He touched the tender flesh about his lips and cheeks. They stung as if burned, but felt smooth as the rest of his face.

Yearlitt stood. “You need a name. For one reason or another, you have been reborn, and so you must have a new name, yes?”

“I would like a name. One as good as yours, sir.”

The old man chuckled. “Can you read, lad?”

“I'm not sure.”

Yearlitt stood and pulled the great open tome off his desk. The scrape of wood tome-binding sliding off the wooden desktop sent a shiver through the boy. The man crossed the room with the book, meeting his guest at the window. Nice warm wind crept through the opening, and did nothing to disrupt the pages.

The pages had pictures drawn in fine inks and paints of many colors. The boy saw on just these two pages a brave warrior in flowing green cloak, clad in linking metal and holding a spear high against the sun, while beneath his booted feet, a tusked and horned hog bled across the bottom of the page.

The paper next to it had all the words, and to the boy they looked like nothing more than odd shapes and childish scribbling.

“I suppose I can't read….”

“Ah, that's all right. You can learn. Every child can learn.” Yearlitt set the book on the bed, still opened.

The boy turned to the window. The water gleamed beneath the moon as white lights danced on calm currents. Wind more pleasant than the room's air brushed the boy's face and tugged at his sensitive skin.

“The river where you found me, what do you call it?”


The boy shook his head. “The moon?”

“The moon we call Arasi when full, and Sinti when it hides its face.”

Arasi poised above them that night.

“I remember a forest. Many trees, and all of them reaching for me. Many tried to trip me as...as I ran….”

“Why were you running?”

“I…” Tears came to the boy then. “I don't know.” The tears gushed down his face and stung the skin about his mouth, so that he dabbed about his eyes lest they fall and cause him pain. What terrible thing happened to him? Why did he hurt and why did Tearla take his memory?

A hand patted his shoulder and brought his mind out of that forest. No longer did great horrible eyes watch him flee, but did kindly eyes of a well-meaning man.

The boy still looked at the river. “Your book is about people?”

“Yes, lad. Saints and warriors and blessed folk.”

“Are they real? Or just stories.”

“Hard to say. Some lived thousands of years ago. Some died within the past ten years. The book will never end, so long as good things are done on this world and in Tearla’s name.”

“Are there any like me? Men who have no home, who wander the rivers and seek shelter with good old men?” He sniffled.

“There are two. There is Lord Artorus of Teltsatch, who fought off the marauding Jahgor clans. He and his army protected travelers along the Sea Road, whether they traveled east or west. In his final days he was shot with an arrow and was found by Caernuthal of the Waybound Sea House.”

“No...that's not me.”

“There's Damanul the Clear-eyed, who saw beneath the currents of the rivers and warned his crews of monsters within. His final act was to look beneath the sea and warn Queen Fisrith that krakens waited for her fleet.”

Monsters beneath the currents…. “I'd like to be named Damanul, sir.”

“Ah...he was untrusted, at the last, and Fisrith’s fleet saw the bottom of the ocean instead of turning away.”

“Damanul….I want to be called that.”

“As you wish.” The man picked his book up off the bed, and carefully flipped the pages. “Perhaps you can give that tale a better ending than your namesake got, eh?” He found the page, and showed the boy.

Damanul the Clear-eyed sat atop the prow of a ship, at his side a stern looking woman in a green dress who scowled at him even as he pointed into the sea. Four tentacles reached up from the bottom of the page, and all the while a lone man held to the wheel, smiling all the while, unaware of their doom.

“You're sure, then?” Yearlitt asked.

The boy nodded.

“Then perhaps you'll learn to read with this story? Learn the life of your namesake? Take his honors to heart and learn from his mistakes.”

Damanul the boy nodded, and yawned. “But I think I need more sleep, sir.”

“It is quite late, yes. Arasi is near the top of its path!” Yearlitt set the book back on the desk, so that Damanul Clear-eyed pointed past the tentacles and at the room.

Damanul the boy looked at Yearlitt. “Will you be here when I wake up tomorrow?”

“I will, and so will this place. And so will you, Damanul, for if you wish it, you may stay here until your memory comes back or your parents come looking for you.”

“And if they don't?”

“Then I will happily teach you to be a Wayfare Brother, so that you may grow up to help other travelers lost on the road or river.”

“I...I would like that.”

Yearlitt smiled. “Good. Then you go to sleep, and I'll be in that house you spied earlier. Should you need anything, come find me, yes?”

“Yes, sir!”

He fell asleep soon after Yearlitt left. He dreamed of tentacles reaching up out of the river and wrapping about the houses, and dragging them into the depths.

First he could not breathe, then he could not see. Deeper he sank, the room atumble about him, until then he could see again, and wished that he could not.

For there at the bottom of the River Tulni, at the end of four horrid tentacles, a great mouth waited. Above it, piercing green eyes that glowed in the depths.

Stabbing teeth gleamed in the ghostly light and more tentacles reached out from the mouth to grab the boy Damanul and pull him into that Never-ending throat that reached down all the way through the center of the world and the deeper darkness beyond.

When Damanul woke, he was shuddering. His body shook and his teeth cracked. Blood filled his mouth where cheek and tongue were bit, and the air stung him all over, but more so about his mouth.

He scrambled out from beneath the covers. “Just a dream!”

And yes there he was in that same room. It had never been destroyed, never been dropped to the bottom of the river. And yet the fire in the hearth had died and the blue light pouring through the open window looked much the color of water. Even the air turned white as sea foam where his breath went.

Damanul rolled out of bed and slipped into his sandals. The door creaked open beneath his shaking hand and the light of morning beckoned him out even as air that hurt to breath pushed him back.

But he wanted to find Yearlitt and so he rushed out into the yard.

The grass, green and well tended by goats that bleated in their open pens, crunched beneath Damanul’s feet as he circled the house and ran to the bigger one.

But Yearlitt was already stomping away from the big house, with an older man at his back. His hair was as white as Damanul’s breath and as long as Damanul was tall. He and Yearlitt were shouting to each other, but could not be heard for the clattering of the boy's teeth.

“Yearlitt!” Damanul cried. His voice trembled, whether from fear or from the pain that burrowed into his bones he did not know. “Why does it hurt?”

“Everything is well, Damanul,” Yearlitt said, though his voice trembled too and his skin was horribly red.

“Oh, no!” The older man shook his head. “Tell the boy the truth!”

Yearlitt snapped back, “We don't know the truth! Not yet!”

The old man laughed. “Optimistic fool! A thousand years does not bury the truth! A thousand years of good does not forget the bad, you know that! Boy, would you like to know why the air hurts, why your body shudders, why the ground cracks beneath you?”

Damanul nodded, even as Yearlitt wrapped an arm around him and said, “Go inside, quick.”

“The goddess is angry with us,” the old man hollered, as if to the sky. “Angry with the whole world for some sin committed somewhere! And so after a thousand years she has brought back the frozen days. The Mother has gifted us with winter!”


Chapter Two

Millennium Frost

Damanul followed Yearlitt and the old man into the high house. The slanted roof and thick walls of wood gave cover against the winter wind, but the pain--the cold, Yearlitt called it--did not vanish entirely.

A young boy piled logs into the hearth on the far end of the room beside a climbing staircase, while two young girls prepared tea for boiling.

The right hand wall was nothing but shelves and shelves of books, while the left wall watched over a space dominated by a large round table of polished wood ringed by a dozen chairs. Two tapestries looked down on the table.

One was a woman, green of skin and blue of hair, that spread arms wide as if blessing the table. About the borders of this yellowing tapestry were painted flowers and vines and bleeding thorns.

The second tapestry showed a man with a pointed silver beard, hands gripping a slender spear and huddling beneath an onslaught of black hands ending in sharp fingers. They reached from all borders of the canvas, but none could touch him.

Damanul looked away from the tapestries, shivering, even as Yearlitt laid a hand on his arm and guided him toward the table. The old man grabbed a book off one of the dozens of shelves and brought it over, hissing commands at the children. His voice carried high up into the wooden rafters above.

Damanul crossed his arms and hid his hands, his teeth still clattering. The fear on Yearlitt’s face…

“Sir, are we truly being punished?”

The old man lay the book down on the table and flipped through the pages with studious blue eyes.

Yearlitt tried to smile. His lips cracked and bled, instead. “Hard to say, my boy. Tearla does not whisper into our ears, not paint the sky with her will.”

A fire climbed its way into life, and the boy rushed toward the table, settling into a chair. He wore his hair close to his head, and his big ears burned red about the edges. His breath turned white before his pudgy face. The girls set their cauldron in the hearth and hurried over.

“Everybody? Good.” The old man tapped the page. Damanul could make no sense of the runes. “Children, this is Damanul. Damanul, I am Headmaster Raptra of this Waybound Water House. In case any of you do not know, this means I've spent my life reading and writing the stories told by travelers along the River Tulni. It isn't just children who wash ashore, sometimes it is adults who lose their way or their homes and seek respite from the road or the water.” The words rambled out of Raptra’s mouth, practiced and honed, impatient. “So you should trust me when I say that in my seventy living years, it has never been so cold.”

The children looked on, gawking and shivering. Damanul considered them. Did they have holes in their memory as well? They seemed well fed, and they obeyed quickly. Out of fear? They did not speak, they only listened. And every now and then, they would look at Damanul like some odd creature. One of the girls kept touching about her mouth and cheeks.

Raptra went on. “Looking at this old book, Mother Tearla banished winter a thousand years ago, seeing how we and the crops and animals suffered for it. She took mercy on us mortals, and pulled the frosts away. The sun never hid again, save for when it gives way to the moon each night. Even the sun must sleep.” One of the little girls, the blonde one, giggled. “So. Why has winter come again?” Raptra seemed to address the room, but his blue eyes fell only on Yearlitt.

The Wayfare Brother scratched at his beard. The rasping could not cut through the chattering of teeth. “It's like you said, Tearla must be angry with us. Some sin has been committed.”

“I said that in anger and fear, sir.” Raptra looked at Damanul. “I am sorry for it. I never thought to experience true frost in my life, and I had quite wished to spend my final years warm beneath the sun.”

“Does winter end?” Damanul asked.

Raptra glanced down at the book. “The tales are old, lad. Some doubt winter was ever a true thing. What demented imagination could dream it up, I do not know, so I always took it as true. But they are old, and can not agree. Some say winter came in cycles that could be predicted and measured. Others say that winter came by the whims of Tearla, and when the sin done to Her was righted, She would pull the frost away.”

He turned the page, and sighed. “Sadly, this book has not survived the passing of time. A fire before my time claimed the first Water House, and the page was damaged. Nobody ever saw fit to repair the book, and I am not innocent in this failure.”

“How can you repair a burned book?”

A sad smile crept across Raptra’s face. “By seeking copies and rewriting the missing portions.”

“So,” Yearlitt asked. “Who has copies of this book?”

“This book? Nobody.” Raptra tapped the blackened page. “This story? I believe the Queen has this story in her library. It was to Trecathog that the volume should have been sent.”

“Well,” Yearlitt leaned back in his creaking chair. “I suppose it's no use kicking ourselves about it now. If Tearla wishes us to die beneath frost, then who are we to stop Her?”

Raptra laughed, then. “Do you so wish for death, Yearlitt? At least don't express it in front of the children.” He shivered even as he jested. “Stop Tearla? Of course not. Understand Her and the situation She has put us in? Perhaps. So let us take your advice and stop kicking ourselves. Let us instead put our feet to better use and go to Trecathog.”

Yearlitt’s eyes widened. “But that's a ways away! And in this weather?”

Raptra spread his hands. “Or we freeze in our Water House and wonder till our last cold breath what we died for. And I agree with you, it is a long way to Trecathog. I am too old for such a journey. The children are too young. So the task rests on you, Yearlitt. I won't force it on you, but I'm sure you know the importance.”

Yearlitt tapped his finger on the table. The sound reminded Damanul of the grass crunching beneath his feet in the early morning. As the sun rose to peer through the high windows, and the fire in the hearth built to a raging pocket, it seemed that some of the cold slipped away.

Was this how people survived the winters a thousand years ago? Fire? Did they set the world ablaze and live between the flames? That can't have made Tearla very happy….

Damanul raised his hand. “Master Yearlitt, I want to know the story of the past. I want to know of the old winters and Tearla. If you go to Trecathog, can I go with you? Please?”

Yearlitt looked from Damanul to Raptra. “It is something that needs doing, isn't it?”

Raptra nodded. “Always has been.”

Damanul followed Yearlitt back to the small house.

“The place is mine, truly,” Yearlitt said as they crossed the doorway. “I lent it to you for your recovery. I wasn't sure you were ready to walk the stairs. How do you feel?”

“I'm cold, sir. I'm cold and I don't remember anything and I want to sleep.”

“But you're coming with me instead?” The man reached under the bed and pulled out a wicker basket filled with clothes,

“I'd like to,” Damanul said. He knew nothing about the world outside the House. His memory had not returned, and he knew only the vague images of trees and water and...stone. The word was stone, but it seemed somehow a bad word.

Yearlitt pulled a leather satchel from under the bed and packed several shirts and leggings from the basket. “I think we'd better carry blankets with us. I don't know when the cold will abate or how bad it will get.”

From under his brown robes he pulled out a long curved knife. “Hold the end of the quilt taut, will you, boy?”

Damanul obeyed, and Yearlitt sawed off a section of the brown and red quilt. He dropped the knife and pulled the smaller piece up. “This should cover you well. We can use travel pins to keep them wrapped about us on our journey.”

“Travel pins?”

“We Brothers wear them when we go places so we can be recognized, and protected.”

“Protected?” Damanul took the offered quilt and wrapped it about his shoulders. It did seem to fend off the cold, if only some. His feet were still cold in his sandals. “Are there people who would hurt us?”

Yearlitt cocked his head in an unsure nod and rolled up the bigger quilt to drape it over his shoulders. “There are bad people in the deep forests. They won't care for our pins and we'll be staying out of their territory. I'm more concerned with reaching Trecathog or any of the towns between. Some folk try to scam pilgrims and make them pay more than they should for food and room.”

“Have you been to Trecathog?”

Yearlitt slipped the knife back under his robe and pulled the satchel over his head. “Twice before. Queen Kwennet is a kind woman. Though her Huntmaster Sternic can be cruel and arrogant. Still, I was treated well both times and was given all I needed. Like Raptra used to say, ‘if it happens twice, third odds are nice.’”

“He doesn't say that any more?”

“Well, no.” Yearlitt cleared his throat. “Next is ‘not four, no more. ‘“

“Why not?” Damanul followed the man out into the cold air. At least the wind had died down, and the chill didn't seem so bad.

“Because four,” Yearlitt said, “is an unlucky number.”

Damanul thought back to the four kraken tentacles reaching up toward the Clear-eyed. “Why's that?”

“You'll have to ask Tearla. Pray about it one night, and perhaps the answer will come to your dreams.”

It would be a better dream than last night’s.

Raptra and the other children stood before the high house. One girl held a wicker basket with two arm straps on the front, while the other held a leather satchel just like Yearlitt’s own. The boy held a broad headed spear proudly as if he would wield it himself, and Raptra clutched a belt and scabbard in one hand, while his other hand gripped something unseen.

The old man spread his arms. “Do you have your kit ready, sir?”

Yearlitt bobbed his bald head. “I do, Headmaster. If we may take what you have prepared for us, we will be on our way by water as far east as it will take us.”

The girl with the basket came forward and offered it to Yearlitt. He fit his arms through the straps and wore it on his back. Damanul glimpsed food through the wicker; cuts of cabbage and potatoes, biscuits and dried meats.

The second satchel went to Damanul, who huffed as the weight hung from his shoulder.

“In there,” Raptra said, “you'll find maps and rope and medical supplies, should you need any, as well as fish hook and string. Perhaps Yearlitt can teach you to fish, and you can eat warm meat. Gaurd that satchel well lad, and guard it with this.” He then offered the belt and knife, which Damanul took carefully with both hands, gently gripping the fine polished leather scabbard.

Raptra opened his other hand to show two pieces of glinting metal. They were of the same make: an open palm over wavy lines,all worked into a small disk the size of Yearlitt’s finger tip.

The younger man took one of the pins and fastened it to his quilt, holding it about his shoulders. Then he knelt down and did the same for Damanul.

The blonde girl giggled once more. “You look like proper Queen's Huntmasters.”

Then the boy stepped forward and offered the spear to Yearlitt. He took the rough shaft and gave it a look of disdain, but rested it on his shoulder all the same.

Damanul shivered beneath his quilt as the adults spoke quietly among themselves. The old man passed the younger a small leather sack that clicked, and a small smile passed between them.

The young boy approached Damanul. “Why does your face look like that?”

Damanul glared at the boy. “What?”

“You know. Glowing.”

Damanul shook his head. He'd yet to see his face in any reflection. He turned from the boy, from all the others, and set off down the hill toward the water.

“Well the boy is ready to go,” Yearlitt laughed, “take care of the children, master. Stay warm and fit. And if you can't do that, they can go downriver to Tulern.”

“I know, be gone!”

Damanul barely registered the laugh in the old man's tone, and heard nothing else that might have been said after as he came to the reed-cropped banks of the River Tulni.

Careful not to let his quilt or satchel dip into the gentle drifting water, he peered down. The riverbed looked up at him, but between bed and water, a face peered back.

His skin, like the others’ was tanned by sun and contrasted with shaggy blonde hair. He couldn't tell his eye color, but he saw now why his mouth and cheeks hurt.

Bone white blotches of glowing flesh speckled his lips and his cheeks.

Damanul bent low to study his reflection. His breath came heavier to his chest, and his hands curled into fists in the cold mud.

Splashed across the face glowing light, that's what it was. Like a piece of the sun had fallen and he'd tried to catch it in his mouth. Did he do such things before? Was it why he remembered nothing? And by the Mother why did the marks hurt? Why did they glow?

I've been burned and I don't know why.

“Thirsty already boy? You can drink from the skins, you know.”

Damanul flinched at the voice; tears fell and disturbed his reflection. He looked up at Yearitt, saw the smile fall from the man's face.

“Why do I look this way?” Damanul demanded. “What happened to me?”

Yearlitt stepped closer, his voice low. “I don't know,lad. I know as much as you do about your past. I found you on the river, a day to the west. I took you in, as I would any traveler I found. And if you'd like, I can take you back. There are villages on the High Lake where you might be recognized. We can carry the boat upwater, and I'll drop you off in one of the villages. But I can't stay to help you and a boy might run into trouble if he knows nobody around. I must get to Trecathog, or we all may die beneath ice. It's the way of the day, lad.”

Damanul looked west, upriver. He remembered only feelings from the moments before he passed out by the water. Running, all night. Terrified of what might be on his heels.

And a thought.

“Did he know it was there?”

That thought, twisted and bent beneath hours of examination.

No, he couldn't go back. There was something waiting for him in the west. Something he'd run all through the night for, and something, perhaps, that had expected him.

“I want to follow you to Trecathog.” The words almost had no sound.

Yearlitt nodded. “You're sure? Then let's get going.”

A single tear fell down Damanul’s face and stung where his skin glowed.

And he obeyed. He followed Yearlitt down a ways until they found a small boat crossed with oars, and set off onto the River Tulni.


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