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The Path of Least Resistance

He already knew everyone in the village called him foul and corrupt. But still he went on with the manners he was taught, good day, good evening, master, mistress, as they walked past and they muttered about demons trying to speak with the tongues of children, but what could you do, he knew how to be respectful, as he was supposed to be, to each and every one of the dozens of villagers poking their noses in to look at him, and muttering, cage up the mages and still it’s never enough, seeing him in the dog run not tall enough for him to stand and clanking at the bars like a beast.

Watching the villagers filing into the house to talk to his parents, he felt as though he was becoming a beast. Head on fire just as raging as the barn had been, the howls behind his teeth. Bursting at the seams to break and run and scream at the world, that these words he could hear them all saying were bothering him. Foul and corrupt, when last week it had been, ah, well, oh, you got to love him, the cheeky grin boy, one to watch out for when he grows up, with the endless tweaking of cheeks gone rosy in the cold, those dry fingers of grandmothers and affectionate cuffs of uncles. In the house now they were talking about what the Chantry would do to him, don’t you have ears, haven’t you heard what happens if you shelter a mage, but he didn’t think much of the shelter, not even a roof over his head, he shivered and hugged his pillow. They would send in templars, just for him, an army of templars telling his parents what to do, didn’t they know about that?

His ears were burning, he was really on fire. He could hear through the walls, the wood and the stone, whispering like leaves on a tree, the templars are already on the way. His parents were being warned the templars would come and storm everyone’s homes, all because of him, did they want that?

There it was, so solid he could almost build a house on it, that fearfulness flaring up in the cold air like a fire from his fingers, hit by the heat inside to out, face slapped by the emotion of his parents. Their fear pulling on his fear like a dragon-kite on a string. They were frightened of the templars, frightened of the Chantry, frightened of what an army of men in their free stakehold would mean, the blood they had all spilled to claim this land without tithes and taces, fighting for freedom on this spine of a mountain, frightened of him and what he could do. He knew they were frightened because he was frightened, too.

But he did not want to be frightened, so he cut the string there and then, let the storm pull his parents one way and himself the other, and he whistled into the wind so he could not hear the people inside, his mother’s voice, but I heard about the abuse, what abuse, my boy my boy, the Chantry would never condone it, our boy our responsibility, it’s the only thing to do, and at least they never said this is the right thing to do, love. But he had cut the string, hadn’t he, so he didn’t care and this boy laughed at nothing in the cold and scrubbed his eyelashes with his dirty gloves so the wet wouldn’t freeze them shut, and punched his pillow. You got to make him go quietly, you got to, and if he runs and comes back you got to flog him, flog him solid as drakeshit, until he learns he’s got to go quietly, it’s the Chantry, it’s the law.

Why were they trying to force him to go? He probably would have gone if they had just asked him. He was a good boy, a polite boy, even if he was cheeky, they could have just asked him and he would have gone. Didn’t he envy his cousin, who got to go to the city to sell what the village made, and then there was his aunt, who was sent away to learn how to do special things with silk, who sometimes send him scraps in the post to rub on his cheek and imagine whole beds covered with the stuff, instead of scratchy old straw and lumpy linen. But they forced him into this cage with sticks and now they were going to force him to go, because an army was coming for him.

The voices were getting louder, until he couldn’t pretend this was some kind of a joke any more or even whistle loud enough to cover up the voices. His parents were responding to argument by screaming, and the fear in everyone’s voices was confirming this was real, and weren’t they really going to hate him when he said was exactly what he thought about the stupid templar army that was coming for him.

The water was freezing on his cheeks so he punched himself in the arm for bravery, commanding himself not to be frightened of any stupid men in metal. If they were bringing an army that meant they wanted to make war and if they wanted to make war he would give them war. He imagined this kite he was now without strings, like the real dragons he could see sometimes whirling around the peak, and flung his arms out just like dragon wings broad and black and bleeding feathers sharp as razors into the storm, and he would dive straight through the air and down, and bang, the cage burst open, tattered bits of metal boiling away from his fury like ribbons, and he was running, barefoot in the snow until he could not feel his steps at all, because he was flying.

What else did he need except the wind behind him, belling out his cloak. Tools? Money? Dreams! He cradled his contempt and went skidding through the bracken, his head hot beneath the mop of hair sticking out like a nest of straw.

He was quiet when they found him dying, this army of men led by his father with the torch and the swords beating back the cold, glittering arcs, as if the landscape were a warrior guarding him with winter’s shield. There is he, this one, skinny boy, rubbish head, lying in the mud and snow and serve him right if he froze solid as the sky, idiot fool, idiot boy, wake up, i don't want you to die. Not his father’s voice any more. He was a dragon and dragons did not have fathers, flying far away, because in the cold of his country the wishing had become his wings and he could see everything from the sky. No one would ever know about the secret he discovered up there, a knowledge of a future where he was unable to find a picture of himself that he could love, the way lost even before they put him in their classrooms with the voices of teachers reverberating through the halls telling him he could not live without their education. Dying in the cold almost thankfully, he had been watching the snow fill in his bloody footsteps, thinking, nobody will ever know I was here, and he pushed away the other thought occurring to him, that he might have gone somewhere.

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