Monday Fiction – The Making of Talon – Fosterage
The Making of Talon – Fosterage
The day after Ludwig’s mother died, the elves placed the body on a pile of wood and set fire to it, burning the body as was their way. Ludwig attended the ceremony dry-eyed with Boras at his side. Afterwards they talked.
“Boras, how do I get back to Baden?” Ludwig asked.
Boras had dreaded the question even though he knew it would come.
“I’m sorry, Ludwig,” Boras said, “you cannot return to your homeland.”
“Why? Is it because of the manna?”
“Yes,” Boras said, “because of the manna.”
“Because I had the manna-fever and lived, now I can’t go back home.”
“That’s right, I’m sorry.”
“But if I learn to control the manna will I be able to go back?”
Boras was surprised. In his simple childlike understanding, Ludwig knew that if he could use manna correctly, he could go back to his home on Earthside. Never in the history of Heartshorn had anyone picked up the link between the two so quickly.
Boras patted Ludwig’s shoulder and said, “Maybe. But it takes many, many years to learn to control manna. And you wouldn’t be able to even apprentice to a Mage for many years yet. They don’t take children as apprentices.”
“Because children don’t have the mental and physical control needed to work with manna.”
“Well, maybe I will be the first.”
Boras smiled, “Maybe you will. But first we have to find you a home for now.”
“Can’t I stay with you?”
Boras shook his head, “No, you can’t stay with me. I’m going to be at my first apprenticeship near Nornford. I’ll be learning the healing arts. But, there is a family in Nornford who fosters children from Earthside and they’re expecting you.”
“What are they like?”
“Herr Wainwright is a strong man. He has a business making all the wagons for the villagers and he sells some to people who move on. Frau Wainwright is a very good cook and she really loves children. They’re good people.”
Ludwig frowned. “People said Herr Meier was ‘good people’ too. But he was mean and only concerned with making money and getting what he could without paying. If Herr Wainwright is like that, I won’t like him.”
Boras sighed, “Well, endure as best you can. The Wainwrights are the only people who have room right now. And you have no way to support yourself while you go to school.”
“You didn’t say anything about school. What will I learn at school here? I know how to read and I can do sums and subtractions. What more do I need to learn?”
“You need to learn about Heartshorn, the people and creatures who live here. You need to learn how to work with manna. You need to learn what is safe to touch, use and talk to and what to avoid. That’s what you’ll learn. And Herr Wainwright will teach you his trade.”
“I thought I couldn’t apprentice to a magician. That I couldn’t learn how to control manna.”
“You won’t be apprenticing with a magician. Every child has to learn to control manna. Manna has its own laws and not every parent can teach their child. That’s why there is school. Just give it a chance.”
With that, Boras dropped the subject. They spent the rest of the day gathering what few items the Zimmermans had brought with them. In all, it fit in a pack just a little too big for Ludwig. Boras promised the boy that by morning it would be just right.
Early next morning Boras nudged Ludwig where he slept. “Get up, sleepyhead,” he said with a smile, “We have a long way to go to meet your new parents.”
Ludwig sat up and shook his head. “They won’t be my parents. My parents are dead. They are only people I live with until I can apprentice to a Mage.”
Ludwig dressed quickly and went to the common room where Boras had ordered a breakfast as well as a lunch to go with them. They ate quietly each lost in their own thoughts.
When they were done Boras helped Ludwig with his pack. As promised, it fit perfectly now.
“You used manna to make everything fit, didn’t you,” Ludwig asked. “How?”
“It’s something you’ll learn in your second year of schooling. I made the pack stretch and take some of the weight off. It’s a useful trick. And that pack will always fit you. If you grow, it grows.”
“That sounds good,” Ludwig said, “Now, I guess we’d better get going. How far away is town?”
“We’ll walk all morning and half the afternoon before we see the town. Then another bit and we’ll be there. Baring any surprises, we’ll get there just before dinner.”
As they walked a rough road that ran along the Lake, Boras pointed out things unique to Heartshorn, magical plants and, once or twice, the fairies that tended them. In late morning a dragon flew over. Boras called the dragon Ariel and said she was the ruler of the Air Dragons.
After that dragons was the only thing Ludwig could talk about. They stopped for lunch at midday. The bread and cheese, along with water from the river they walked along refreshed Ludwig as nothing ever had on Earth. He started to say as much, then thought of his Muti, now dead and burned. Not even a bone of her to stay with him. Suddenly he was crying, crying as he hadn’t done at her pyre.
Boras pulled the boy to him. He rocked and held the child until the tears stopped and Ludwig was quiet.
“I don’t think I like Heartshorn,” Ludwig said, “It killed my Muti.”
“I know,” Boras said, “but, if you study hard and learn how to control the manna, maybe one day, people can come from Earthside and not have to succumb to the manna fever. Maybe you’ll find the cure.”
Ludwig sat up away from Boras, “Why do you say that? Am I different from others who come from Earthside?”
Boras nodded, “Yes, you are different. You started processing manna as soon as you arrived. Usually everyone, no matter their age, has some fever. If you did, you were over it quickly, before even a day was done.”
“Oh. Then I will control the manna! Come, let’s go. I have to meet the Wainwrights and start learning about manna.”
Ludwig quickly got up, slung his pack on his back and started quickly down the road. Boras had to run a bit to catch the boy.
During the afternoon they passed two elves, a mature female and a younger female, heading back where Ludwig and Boras had come from.
Boras introduced them. “Ludwig, this is Misha and Mirin. This is Mirin’s first visit to the hostel. Misha, Mirin, this is Ludwig Zimmerman. He is new here, he just arrived three days ago.”
Misha nodded, “Hello Ludwig Zimmerman. May you find Heartshorn a pleasant place.”
Ludwig scowled but before he could speak Boras said, “Right now he doesn’t like Heartshorn. He lost both his parents.”
“Oh I am so sorry,” Mirin said. “I know I would be heartbroken if I lost my parents. You must be so sad and lonely.”
“Yes,” Ludwig said, “Come on, Boras, we have to go.”
With that Boras and Ludwig moved on toward the town of Nornford.
The road moved away from the river and into a dense wood. Ludwig identified many of the trees as ones he’d seen around Baden.
“Are all the trees the same here and on Earth?” Ludwig asked.
“Most are, but there are a few that are unique to Heartshorn. One of them is the Dentia plant. It grows near dragon caves, so we won’t see any of them, today.”
Shortly after mid-afternoon, they came out of the forest on a small hill. Down below was the town of Nornford. The river they had followed in the morning was still on their right, but another river flowed on their left. Nornford lay between the two rivers.
“It is small,” Ludwig said. “Baden was much larger. Baden would come right up to this hill.”
“Then you should have no trouble getting to know the people of Nornford. Come, it’s time you started.” Boras said.
The town was farther than it seemed. It was almost sunset when they reached the first houses. A few minutes later and Ludwig stood before the house that would be his home for the next ten years.
Boras led the boy to the front door and rapped loudly. A moment later a plump woman stood in the open door way.
“Boras, I see you have made it. And is this the child?” she said.
“Yes, Frau Wainwright, this is Ludwig Zimmerman. He is new to Heartshorn and needs a home.”
“Well, come in, come in,” she said stepping back to let them in, “Ubel will be here soon. I’m just about to put dinner on the table.”
Ludwig stepped inside the house. It was bigger than his house in Baden. This one had two stories. He stood in a large room with a table and eight chairs around it, five set for eating. Frau Wainwright was setting two more places.
Ludwig studied Frau Wainwright. She was taller than his Muti, and bigger around. Frau Wainwright had a round face that seemed to smile constantly and big arms to hold babies. She wore a simple dress of blue with a white apron and her brown hair was tied back with a ribbon of blue. She finished setting the places and disappeared into the next room.
They heard a door open and close and a man’s voice. Soon a large man walked in the room followed by two teen-aged boys. The man sent the boys upstairs to change and came over to meet Boras and Ludwig.
“Good evening, Boras,” he said bowing to the elf, “Is this the boy?”
Boras nodded, “Yes, his name is Ludwig Zimmerman. He arrived three days ago with his parents. They didn’t survive. Be good to him. I like him. Now, I must go. I will be studying with the hedge witch on the other side of town. I’ll return in ten days to see how he’s doing. Oh, and he already uses manna, so be careful.”
With that, Boras hugged Ludwig and left. As the door closed behind him the two boys came downstairs. Ubel nodded the boys toward Ludwig.
“Jurgen, Hans, this is Ludwig. He will be staying with us to learn about Heartshorn. He’s scrawny but we’ll put meat on his bones. I don’t know if he can talk, he just stands there and listens. He’ll be sleeping in your room. Tonight, teach him is place. Tomorrow he will go with you to school.”
“I can speak very well” he said, hands fisted at his side.
Ubel looked down at the boy.
“You have spirit, boy,” he said, “but that will soon be gone. Disobedience and disrespect will earn you no dinner and long hours of work without water. While you’re here, you are mine to do with as I want, is that understood?”
Ludwig stepped back into the two teens who had moved behind him.
Ubel grabbed the boy by his arms and shook him. “Listen here, boy, and listen good. You are alone here and you know nothing. The only reason anyone takes others in is because if we don’t the elves won’t trade with us and if they don’t trade with us, we’ll die. No one comes up here, they always move on. We’ll move on when we’ve paid our debt to them for saving us when we came over. Only we came over long ago. My grandfather came over 200 years ago and I still haven’t worked off the debt.”
At that moment, Frau Wainwright came in carrying a large pot bubbling with stew and set it on the table.
“Luldwig,” she said, “come help me with the rest of dinner.”
She stepped between her husband and the boys and brought Ludwig with her into the kitchen. There she knelt down before the boy.
“Ludwig, my husband can be a rough man, but he’s usually fair. He won’t be kind and you’ll have to work. Don’t talk back to him or to the boys. If you do, the boys will beat you up. When you need to, you can come to me and I’ll try to protect you, but I won’t be able to very often. When you are hurt, I have things that will make you feel better.”
“Is what he said true? Do I owe the elves for saving me?”
“I don’t know. My family came here a long time ago, just like Ubel’s, but we don’t pay the elves. Maybe my family had things the elves needed and that settled the debt. But don’t mind that. Just do as Ubel says and try to stay away from the boys.”
“What do I call you?” Ludwig asked.
“What do you want to call me?”
“Tante? Is that all right?”
“Yes, I am your Tante Katrina”
She handed a plate of rolls to Ludwig and quickly followed with a pitcher of beer into the dining room.