So, when I’m supposed to finish my novel, I get a new shiny idea, and decide to spend three hours vomiting it out. Sigh. There’s a bit at the start that is a little NSFW, so if you’re under eighteen you shouldn’t read it. 😉

I’m sorry, it is brain vomit. I have no idea where I’m going with this. If I’m going anywhere…

#

Sometimes Rose came over to stand by the buckets next to the water trough in the hearth, where Father stuck the glowing metal to cool it with a frenzied hiss of the water. She leaned against the dark wood post that held up the white clay roof that covered the kiln and the hearth. Caer found reason to go there and tidy it up when she left, so that he could put his skin against the column and pretend that he felt the warmth of her against it.

She left an empty space when she took her basket and walked down toward the wells and the other women there, and he could glance after her as she walked down there until she was safely behind the corner. Whatever she talked about, always directed at Father out of respect for him, but secretly aimed at Caer.

When he went to the post, Father would give him one of those looks, and grunt with a little smile, as if he could read Caer’s mind and see all the little dirty imaginings and dreams that resided inside the blond skull. But Father didn’t say anything at first, and just found cause to beat out another length of glowing iron with one of his huge hammers.

“It’s too early for you to get a wife,” Father finally said one day after she had gone. “You still have to wait another two years until you’re sixteen. What do you think of that one?”

Caer hadn’t answered. His tongue had stuck in his mouth, and his face had blushed furiously. That had made Father laugh that booming laugh of his, and the baker on the other side of the street had looked up from the drudgery of making the donkey turn the millstone. “My boy is starting to think with his cock,” Father had shouted to the baker, making all the men within earshot laugh. Caer wanted a hole to open in the ground, so that he could dive into it.

But after, Father had just smiled and said. “I think I’m going to have a talk with her father soon.” Then he had winked at Caer.

That night when he lay in his own little room on top of the kitchen and listened to Father and Mother in the other room grunt and groan in the act, he thought about him and Rose like that, and it made the face flush. Those thoughts always made him anxious, agitated, and he had to think of something else.

The other boys talked about the nasty stuff you could do in those situations, when your thing stiffened and grew hard. Their hushed giggles and hurried jokes about the things that came out of it if you just rubbed it long enough told Caer that this was probably something dirty and bad.

However, he must be strange because many times he didn’t have to rub it at all, and what came out wasn’t white and pearly, and it didn’t come out of the cock either. When he was agitated like that, his skin could start to ooze a blue glow; like the syrup that Mother sometimes served when she cooked pancakes. The blue glow came out of his pores of his hands and arms most of the time.

He didn’t think that was what the boys talked about when they spoke of the dirty things, but he didn’t dare ask them about the blue glowing. Somehow, instinctively he knew that the ooze was bad news. That it set him apart, and made him extra bad, and not just for wanting to rub his bits when he thought about Rose in the dark.

#

Each day Father closed down the hearth around noon when the sun made it too hot to work near a fire and the kiln, and he took Caer to the basilica to bathe and to meet other men to speak of business and politics.

At first, when Caer had been initiated into manhood, he had felt immensely proud to be taken along, and he could look at men much older than him that were kept out. He was a free man, and they were not. He was important, and they were not.

Now, though, the visits to the basilica meant that he was expected to sit at his father’s feet and listen and not speak. The men did not want the opinions of a whelp like him, and it would dishonour Father if he spoke out of turn. So, for two hours he had to sit there silent and let his minds wander before the day’s social business was over, and they could go to the bathhouse.

In the bathhouse he could occupy himself with the sensation of becoming clean, and he could lie in the cold water pool with his own friends and let the physical sensations carry him. The friends gathered in a group in one corner of the pool and discussed the goings on in their own lives.

This day was a special day because the son of an Officer had returned. Most of the time, the Officer was in the faraway capitol where he was a Hundredman in the King’s legion.

In the summers the officer sent his son back to his mother when the campaigns ended, and when he came back the rest of the boys flocked to him like moths to a flame to sit at his feet and listen to his glorious tales of the soldiers and the fighting.

“I’ll become Squadman next year,” the soldier-boy bragged. “In five I can become a Hundredman like Father, if I’m good enough, and I am that.” Soldier-boy was a citizen, and never let anyone forget it. Only citizens could get posts like that. Citizens were more than freemen. They were the elite, and could go on glorious adventures like soldier-boy bragged about.

“We hunted this rogue mage from Khalid City,” the soldier told on in the rapt attention of his audience. Khalid was so far away and exotic and might just as well have been on the moon, and this boy had seen that place. “He had bound some slaves of the town with his magic, and they had become just mindless husks that ran around and caused all sorts of trouble. We cornered the bastard in a ravine, and had to cut our way through all the slaves that just threw themselves at us without care for life and limb. They attacked us with teeth and nails and little else. I killed three of them myself. One of the soldiers fell to them. Stupid bugger stumbled on a rock. He had his face chewed off by five of the things.”

“What did you do?” Caer said.

The other boys stared at the soldier boy whose face was serenely impassive and self-important from being the centre of attention from everyone. With a dismissive gesture over his throat he said: “We killed the bugger. The law is clear. You shall not suffer a witch or mage to live. Except when we got to him, he was all glowing, and had this glowing slime pouring off him. It was so disgusting.”

“Slime?” Caer said.

“Yeah, like this blue-green ooze that was sort of like sweat, but looked like slime instead. It’s the mark of a mage.” Soldier-boy nodded sagely. “Anyone that has that slime has magic and should be killed. You’ll see,” Soldier-boy nodded again. “We found a witch on the way back, and she’ll be in front of the judge as soon as possible. When that mage died, all his magic poured out of him.”

The cold water in the pool was now icy, not cold, and Caer moved away from the other boys. “Where are you going?” They asked.

“I have to go back to Father,” he lied. Then he rushed out of the pool, and headed for the lockers where his tunic and sandals were. His skin had goose bumps, but his skin burned.

It’s the mark of a mage, the soldier boy’s voice echoed in his head. It roared in his head, pushed out everything. He thought of the blue ooze that came out on his arms and palms when he was excited.

Caer had to get away, even though his Father would be angry. He threw on the tunic, and didn’t bother to put on the sandals, and just ran out of the baths and the basilica with them flopping from his hand.

Out on the street he stopped and looked around. If he ran, in any direction, he could be gone from the town. Father and mother would be worried, but at least they would never find out that they had a mage for a son. He could spare them that shame, couldn’t he?

Instead he ran back home, and up to his room, and when Father came home and roared about Caer leaving the basilica, Caer lied. “I almost threw up. I must have eaten something off,” he said. “I didn’t want to dishonour us by retching in public.”

Father lowered the hand he had intended to strike Caer with, grunted, and gave him a look. Then he nodded, and accepted that explanation. “Good thinking, boy. Are you well?”

“A bit wobbly,” Caer said. “I should be fine.” He hoped that he didn’t have to work that day. He needed to think. If Father thought he was still off, he wouldn’t have to work, but he couldn’t pretend to be sick. That was a lie too far.

“All right. Stay here, and get well, son. We have work to do tomorrow, and I need you then.”

“Extra order?”

“Yes, the Lord Judge is coming to town to hold Court in a week. We need to make bars for the bannisters that will welcome him to town. It should be a fine court this year. They caught a witch, and she will be judged then!”

Hearing that, Caer thought he wouldn’t have to pretend to feel sick.

#

The days passed quickly with the work-load, but the things that the soldier-boy had said were never far from Caer’s mind. When Rose came by to stand by the buckets, this time he didn’t go to the place to tidy it up and pretend to feel her warmth. When she spoke, he ignored her, this time.

If he was one of those despicable mages, he could not marry Rose. He could not give any indication that he was enamoured with her. When she stood there and chatted, he kept quiet, and after a while she left him with a confused look. Normally he answered her.

Her words came more and more infrequently out of her mouth, and in the end she stood there with a frown, and then she just bowed to Father and left.

Father looked at him, opened his mouth to say something, but there were many things to do, and there was no time for a talk. The Lord Judge would be here the day after, and they still had to make the hooks that would keep the welcome banners in place.

But until they put out the kiln, and put away the tools, Father just looked at him from time to time with that quizzical look, and they didn’t speak much. Caer’s aching muscles made him escape into the cool of the house after work, and he retreated to his room where he lay down on the bed.

When Father came in, he pretended to sleep, and Father turned in the door and left again. Work was brutal, and there were lots left to do, and they could talk once the back of the Lord Judge headed down the road to the next town on the circuit.

The arrival of the Lord Judge was always a massive affair when all the free men of the city outdid themselves to make the man feel welcome. There were many things in the wake of a successful court; contracts and promotions. The lucky man could rise from being a mere free man to become a citizen, and that man’s sons could then attain the highest offices in the Kingdom. It was a difference between relative obscurity in this province, and the fabulous wealth of the capitol.

#

On the day before the Lord Judge was to arrive, a squad of legionaries came through the town gate, guiding a cart pulled by a donkey. The cart was a cage, and in the cage was a woman. When the wave of attention reached the forge, both Father and Caer put down the tools and headed down along the narrow street to the town gate to see what the fuss was about.

The woman was old, and her grey hair reached down to her arse, but the hair was wild and uncombed. Her plain dress was in tatters, and there was a bruise swelling on her chin as if someone had recently hit her. One legionnaire held the bridle of the donkey and steered the cart, while the other nine surrounded the cart in a neat formation.

Only now did Caer notice that the legionnaire at the donkey was soldier-boy from the bath-house. With the shining bronze helmet and the red plume he was barely recognisable. Still, he looked as arrogant and pompous as ever, preening like a peacock in the admiring attention of the crowd.

When the cart had passed a clump of onlookers, Caer spotted how someone pulled back his hand over his head and let a fruit fly that sailed through the air and exploded against the cart cage. The woman instinctively crouched down, and the Squadman of the troop order the cart to halt and stepped forward his his sword half-drawn out of the scabbard.

“Hold,” he shouted. “Who offends the King’s justice? Step forward, now!” The murmur of the crowd lessened until a deafening silence held. The Squadman took another step forward, and pulled the weapon fully out. “Step forward immediately, or the Lord Judge will be informed of this town’s shame, I swear to the Gods.”

Father rarely cursed, but now Caer heard him mutter darkly. Town shame was a serious matter, and it could lead to dire consequences. Citizenships could be stripped, and military governors could take over from the town’s local rulers. Father was on the city council, and stood to lose his position if this happened.

In the clump, there was a scuffle, and the thrower was pushed out from the crowd. Caer grimaced when he recognised one of his friends, a hothead that never thought before acting. But now, when he was pushed out from the crowd, he fell to his knees in front of the Squadman.

The Squadman gestured, and two of the legionaries grabbed hold of the offender by the armpits. “Take him along. He’ll see the Lord Judge tomorrow.”

“No!” The boy cried. “I didn’t mean it. Please.”

“The King’s justice will not be shamed. No prisoner will be mishandled. You should have thought of this before sinking so low. Take him away.”

The cart started moving again, and soon it passed right by Caer and Father. Caer had a closer look of the woman, who seemed frantic with worry and fear. Her mouth moved, but no words came out, as if she was praying to herself.

The boy was also crying, as he was dragged along with a blade touching his neck so that he wouldn’t think of being more adventurous. As the boy passed, Father grunted. “His pa will be displeased and shamed now.”

“What will happen to him?” Caer asked.

“He’ll be flogged, and his name will be entered in the book of shame, and his name will be read out in the temple. His father must disown him now. It will break his father’s heart. Stupid boy. What a way to throw his life away.”

“What will happen to her?”

“The witch? She will be judged, and if found guilty she will be burned. The law is clear. ‘Do not suffer a witch to live’.”

“Will she be found guilty?”

“How should I know? The Lord Judge will decide, and I can’t think how he will judge.”

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