He knew he was too young for this but when his momma'd died when he'd been seventeen, there’d been no other option for him but to carry on her work.
He knew he was too young to … to hear it and and to listen to it and and to see it, but he had no other choice but to man up and do what his momma had taught him since he'd been old enough to walk. She’d always took him with her whenever she went on her ‘visits’, she always made him put his chubby – and later thin – hand where she put hers and she always made him listen. Made him listen and try to say whatever it’d been that he heard. He tried so badly to make her proud then, to say exactly what it was he heard, but it’d been so hard. Everything was a mumbled mess of incoherent jabbering, nothing concrete that he’d be able to tell his mommy and make her proud. But she’d been proud of him anyway, if her gentle caress on his chubby cheek and ‘I love you so much my darlin’’ was anything to go by. She’d been proud of him, loved him, took care of him and tried to teach him all that she knew and more. Tried to wake up in him what'd been dormant – until her passing – tried to pull out of him all the things he’d been born to do. But she couldn’t; no matter how much she tried, he couldn’t hear anything. See anything. All was a mess of incoherent words and images that were so bright they were hard to look at and so he saw nothing.
She couldn’t awake in him his gift, but she could teach him all her secrets.
But he’d still been too young when the affairs of the court; the secrecy and deceiving of the Lady of the Castle, caught up with her. His momma’d just been a tad too slow reaching for her dagger, too slow in turning and twisting. Just a tiny bit too slow, and that had cost her her life.
He’d mourned. He was probably still mourning, five years weren’t exactly enough to get over seeing your mother be stabbed in the heart by a Knight. But he grew up. Gathered all the knowledge his momma all but imprinted into him through the years, stopped crying and sobbing and screaming at how life was unfair and grew up.
And started doing what his momma had always wanted him to do. Wanted him to be.
Continue her legacy and be a Teller.
He knew the court, knew the Princess and Princesses, the Lords and the Ladies, the Queen and the King. Knew the paupers, knew the peasants, knew the Knights and the Squires. He knew his Land and its people better than anyone, and he knew that only knowledge could get him to grow old and not die at the end of a dagger or a sword.
With knowledge there came power and power he had a limitless supply off. His soul was practically vibrating with the power of his ability, his blood rushing through his veins making him feel like his whole body was alive simply because of what he was and could do. His mind was full of facts and information, simply because people talked.
People always loved to talk and if not directly to him, then they’d gossip all around the village or town squares. It was easy eavesdropping when you were buying apples or chickens, as no one paid much mind to you.
And somewhere along the way, sometime between cleaning up the cottage he’d lived in since birth and doing his second Telling all on his own, he heard. He listened and he finally heard and it'd been as if the whole world become brighter, colorful, the nights always filled with silver moonlight even if there was no moon, the sun always warmer than it actually was, the feel of any kind of plants under his fingers was like touching a heartbeat, the sound of animals like the sweetest lullaby, the feel of their soft, coarse or rough fur on his skin like the caress his momma always gave him.
Everything exploded in his mind; words, feelings, colors, sounds, smells, taste, it all became much more pronounced, almost touchable. Even the smell of cabbage broth was something he could almost touch and bring to his nose.
If that'd been how his mother had always felt, then he knew why she’d always been so happy, why she’d always loved to dance naked in the rain, walked barefoot in the dewy grass and why she always cooked the most delicious things.
If that'd been how his mother always felt, he wondered how it had felt when she'd had him.
Had she felt him? How she felt him while he’d still been in her womb? Was that why she’d loved him so much that it hurt sometimes?
She never told him and he never asked.
But since that second Telling, the awkward, awkward, so very awkward second Telling – and he really didn’t want to talk about his first Telling – he understood everything with better clarity. It'd been as if his eyes had opened up to a world behind this one, a world hidden to ordinary people and it'd been glorious.
And he’d been paid a lot of dinars for his Telling; so much in fact that he’d been able to buy some new blank pages for his journal.
But all that had been some time ago now.
Now his mother had been in the grave for five years and was getting stronger and stronger. Not just in his Telling’s, he had those down to an art form, but in his body strength too. While his momma had taught him how to wield a sword and fight with nothing but bare hands and bare feet, he had to teach himself a lot of fighting skills too. The life of a Teller was not an easy one. Danger peeked from every corner, one never knew when the Lord or the Lady would order him dead. In secrecy of course, must not the commoners know he'd been ordered to be killed.
He knew of no other of his kind, but that didn’t grant him any protection on the King’s land, the Castle or the Houses. All he had was his skills, his horse and his cottage. He kept his head down, kept himself private and away from everyone, but if summoned he’d come, Tell and try to leave as quickly as he’d come. He didn’t want any trouble, didn’t want to draw attention to himself, but if that was the case, he knew how to handle it very well.
His momma did not raise a fool.
But he was just a twenty-two year old boy, who knew something about a lot of somethings but all in all, he was just a boy.
“C’mon Jared you hit like a girl.”
“No, I don’t … I hit like … like ‘m hitting you.”
He pushed Gen on her thin arm, nearly made her crash into a passing cart full of potatoes, but he caught her in the nick of time and pulled her against his side.
“Sorry Sir, sorry.”
He waved to the bald man pushing the cart and pushed Gen further away, towards the vegetable stands. He needed carrots and parsley. And perhaps a new chicken to finally make his rooster happy. God knew, the old champ was grumpy lately.
“So, you gonna cook me dinner, kind Sir?”
He looked at Gen as she slid her slim finger down a carrot and grinned. She was a classy gal, but not someone he wanted to … be with. And he knew without a doubt he wasn’t who she wanted to be with either. But the teasing was fun, and made them both laugh. Made their minds relax and stop thinking about who they were. What their lives were.
“Why kind Miss, if you’ll be as good to me as you will be to my dishes, then perhaps.”
“Idiot, ‘m not gonna do your dishes. They’re clogging up the sink and my delicate hands just can’t handle that much gross.”
Rolling his eyes, he nudged her again, but this time more softly, so that she wouldn’t overturn any tables and let any vegetables loose. He didn’t have time to pick ‘em up.
“But seriously, though, can I come to dinner? I don’t wanna …”
He said yes, before she could even finish her sentence. Her family was … nice, but her mom was a witch and her dad a warlock and their dinners often included experiments. Which were absolutely disgusting and he’d never again go there and eat, no matter how sweetly Gen’s mother would ask. While Gen’s parents were great folk, they were really lousy cooks. Perfect witches, but seriously lousy cooks.
“Would that be all?”
The voice of the woman tending to the table they were buying from brought him back and he nodded to the small chicken coop: “Two of the white ones. I’ve got two dinars, ‘m not paying more.”
He thought the woman was just happy to sell, because two dinars for two chickens was a price lower than standard.
“How you gonna carry all that home?”
“You want dinner, you carry the veggies.”
“Sure, I’ll just turn myself into a pack mule.”
Leaning closer to Gen’s ear, he whispered: “You can do that?” and cracked a smile when she rolled her eyes: “Idiot.”
Well that ended that discussion. And the fact that the two white chickens he purchased were half way to the chopping board before he noticed.
“No, kind Miss, I want them alive.”
“Oh, well, uh,” he snickered when he saw the woman look at him then to the chickens she was holding by the necks and to the bloody axe she was holding in her other hand, and back to him, “uh, fine then.”
Before he knew it he was down two dinars in some nickels and up two chickens and some vegetables. He hoped the rooster would be happy now and stop crowing at damn four in the morning.
“Okay, I gotta stop by old man Iggorson’s, heard he has a new shipment of cider.”
“Jared, this stuff is really heavy, can’t we just go home?”
“You don’t want any cider with your dinner? Who are you and where’s Gen?”
“Shut up,” she looked down at the ground, “yeah I want cider.”
“Sorry, what? Didn’t really hear you there.”
“Yes, I want cider, okay. God, you’re impossible.”
“Naw, you like me.”
“No, I don’t. I just use you to get away from my crazy family.”
“Ah, same thing.”
“Keep telling yourself that. But really this is heavy.”
“I’ll just buy a bottle, we’ll be quick, I promise.”
Old man Iggorson was a strange man. Hair the color of wheat and a beard as thick as a bush, not something you saw often this side of the Castle. But he had the best cider in the village and as soon as Jared heard that a new shipment arrived, he penciled the stop at old man Iggorson’s cabin into his journal. And Gen really liked that stuff, and Gods knew after all the weird tasting and smelling concoctions her parents made her drink, she deserved a few glasses of the finest cider north of the Castle.
A small bell ringed as he pushed the heavy oak door open to the small cabin old man Iggorson lived in and did all his trading in. It smelled sweet and acidic in the small room, making them both gag a little and the chickens in his arms start flapping their wings.
He whispered and the chickens settled down and fell asleep in his arms again.
“I always love it when you do that.”
He shrugged. Animals were easy. It was everything else that was hard.
“Hold ya horses, ‘m comin’!”
If old man Iggorson’s appearance was different, his accent was different too. Hard, but melodic, feeling as if the man was threatening you while singing you a song.
“Umm, we’d like a bottle of your finest.”
“Sure, sure. Got the money for it, boy?”
“Yes. One dinar. I have it.”
As old man Iggorson turned around and reached a hand to a shelf behind him, his back stiffened.
“You heard about Lord Ackles’ husband?”
Well that came out of the blue.
“No, why? Should we?
“Lord Ackles’ husband.”
He had no idea where this was going and he knew Gen didn’t either. Now, old man Iggorson was a strange man, but mostly in appearance only, even if the villagers accepted him as their own, but this was stranger than what they were used to. The man usually didn’t speak much, but all right, maybe he just wanted to gossip. Or was in need of company.
Jared understood that; living alone even if in the middle of a lively village, was hard. There were days when it was lonely. There were days when all was quiet. Maybe the old man just needed to stretch his tongue after a few days of no company.
“Yup, he died. Left Lord Ackles all alone up in the big House.”
He felt Gen’s arm press against his and couldn’t be more thankful. If old man Iggorson would try to do anything – attack them or turn them in – he’d throw the chickens at him and reach for his dagger that was safely tucked behind his belt.
He was ready, but he really didn’t want to harm the old man. Iggorson was harmless; a teddy bear with a gruff exterior. The rumors around the village were, that he just needed the right woman to polish all that gruff off.
“Left Lord Ackles,” the pause and the way old man Iggorson placed the bottle on the counter and leaned over it directly into his face, made him reach a hand to the dagger’s handle, “all alone and pregnant,” he gripped the handle tight, and the chickens tighter, making them squawk, “Teller.”
He tried to keep himself hidden, tried to not draw any attention to himself, tried to go where he’d been summoned, do his Telling and come back as quickly as he’d left. He didn’t want any trouble, he didn’t want anyone looking at him with stink eyes, didn’t want any nasty words being said behind his back or to his face, didn’t want anyone to attack him and try to kill him. He didn’t want any trouble. A lot of people were poor, faithful to the old religion, but some were faithful to the new one and all that had been left from the old one was wrong, nasty, devil’s work.
He and Gen and everyone else had to keep their heads down and not draw any attention.
But that didn’t mean that they weren’t still needed. The new order that came out of nowhere it seemed, couldn’t heal all that plagued the common people. Couldn’t give them as much solace as the old ways could.
The times were divided; no one knew which way they’d go.
“Yes, I know what you are, Teller. Don’t worry, I’ll not tell. You’re as close to magic as she is,” he watched as old man Iggorson’s beady eyes looked at Gen, “and from where I come, magic is worshiped more than the God people around here do.”
He gulped; thick glob of saliva rolling down his throat like fear he hadn't felt in a long time. But he released his dagger, lifting his hand back up to grab hold of the chickens a bit better.
“Don’t worry, I’d never tell. Not even under torture. I know people seek you out, young boy, and I know they do so and deny it later, as I’ve seen what magic is around here. Feared,” the man shook his head, his eyes filling up with tears and his beard shaking as his lips were, “misunderstood, chased away, mistreated, and young boy, I am sorry for that.”
“We should go, Jared, c’mon, we should go.”
The tug on his shirt was strong, pulling him towards the door, away from the man whose eyes looked pitch black in the damn dim light of the room.
“It is all right, Teller. Don’t be scared.”
He wanted to scream that he wasn’t afraid, he wasn’t scared. People knew who he was, people asked for his help whenever they needed it, the people would never … the King himself had called upon his mother many times and he tagged along – of course he’d gotten a lot of looks from everyone at the Castle.
But then again, the King’s Knight had killed his momma. Cold blooded. Stopped her heart with a dagger, made him watch life slip out of her eyes, watch how her blood spilled from her mouth, a red stream of life just … leaving her, right before his eyes, as the Knight’s Squire held his arms and his body and a hand over his mouth. He hadn’t even been able to tell his momma that he loved her.
He knew it hadn’t been the magic that had killed his momma, but the secret she’d been Told.