Onfim rode on his awesome giraffe-horse hybrid across the open plains.
"Fear me!" he cried, "for I am Onfim! I am a mighty warrior, just like my dad!"
For emphasis he waved around his huge awesome sword. It was almost as wide as him and it was all his. He didn't have to share his sword or his horse with anybody, because he was a mighty warrior and everyone feared him.
Everyone sensible, anyway. You couldn't keep up your mighty warrioring without a few people who didn't get the message and run away at the sight of you.
"Fear me!" roared Onfim, but the pathetic foe did not get the message.
He sighed, and looped the rope of his tethered throwing-knife around his left hand. Slaying fools could be so tiresome. With a quick whirl around his head and another whoop of challenge, he sent the tethered knife scything out in the direction of his quarry.
Right in the face, a perfect hit, of course.
"Fear me," he repeated, in case anyone else hadn't got the message.
"Onfim!" called someone, far more strident than anyone had a right to be around the Mighty Warrior. "Onfim, have you finished your lettering yet?"
Onfim sulkily waved his hand in the air, in case he could reel in his rope-knife and deal with this new intruder, but the rope-knife was caught in his foolish enemy and anyway he got in trouble when he threw things at his tutor, even if he told everyone he was practicing his aim for when he got to be a mighty warrior.
He wasn't sure what use a mighty warrior had for letters, but everyone seemed very insistent about it, and he did really like writing his name on things. It made a tiny bit of the world his, really properly his, even if it was only a scrap of birch-bark.
Apparently even mighty warriors had to finish their letters.
Even mighty warriors had to finish their letters - so maybe he wouldn't bother being a mighty warrior.
It seemed like a lot of effort anyway, having to ride the bolshy horses who everyone fawned over and cosseted - apparently they were quite easy to break if you put them away wrong, or something.
Maybe he would be something that certainly never had to finish its letters - a wild beast!
Not just any kind of wild beast, though. Lots of beasts just got hunted by people, or froze to death, or couldn't find enough to eat.
"You've started in the middle of the bark, Onfim," his tutor scolded him. "You're not going to have enough room for everything like that."
Onfim scowled and turned the bark over. He looked at the shape of it, and then started writing in the top right corner.
"Onfim, what are you doing?"
"I'm not gonna run out," he explained, "'cos this way's the longest."
Onfim's tutor smiled, and barely restrained himself from clapping his hands.
"Maybe you will grow up to be a smart lad," he said, proudly.
"Gonna be a mighty warrior," muttered Onfim. But secretly he wasn't, of course. When the tutor wasn't looking he turned the bark back over and gave himself four legs, like a proper wild beast.
But how was he going to survive the winter?
If he didn't have hands he couldn't make fire like the adults did. You needed to be able to grip things really hard to spin them, or bash special things against each other, or carry the fire from somewhere that already had it.
That was it! He'd just have to breathe fire. Then he could set things on fire and keep warm - and cook his food, he didn't like the sound of having to eat everything raw and never having a nice warm dinner again - and all the hunters and the other animals would be frightened of him and stay away.
Every time the tutor looked round, he'd flip the paper over and draw some more letters.
He looked at his work critically. It was good, but he wasn't sure other people would get it. They tend to be pretty stupid, other people. So he wrote 'I am a wild beast' over it, just so they would definitely get the message.
If he scared off all the other beasts he would be lonely though. The tutor seemed happy with his diagonal letters. But really he wanted to show it to someone else who would get it - who would maybe want to come and be a wild beast with him - or at least would need to know he was still friendly.
Obviously he would have to carry a sign, so the people he wanted around would know who he really was.
"Greetings from Onfim to Danilo" he wrote on the sign.
Danilo was also in the class and sometimes they grinned at each other when the tutor wasn't looking, and sometimes they would play-fight but Danilo kept winning. When Onfim was a wild beast or a mighty warrior he would win.
Danilo's father thought he was a big shot but he was not a patch on Onfim's dad - that's why he was still here while Onfim's dad was off killing all the bad guys - Danilo's dad just couldn't hack it as a mighty warrior.
Now the tutor wanted them to write something about something, not just the letters!
Getting words out in the right order was difficult enough even when you didn't have to put them into letters first. His tutor suggested that he draw something first, so that he knew what he was writing about and could look at the picture if he lost track of it in the middle of figuring out the letters.
So he draw his mother and his father together.
That didn't happen very often. He liked his mother but he didn't see as much of her these days, not like when he was a little kid and practically attached to her. She had lots of things to do around the house, making sure all the servants were doing the right thing - it was a busy job with Onfim's dad having to be out at the war all the time.
When his father did come home he liked to see him, but his father was often kind of distracted and tired. It was probably hard work killing all those bad people.
Then he would disappear and his mother would disappear too, and his tutor would distract him for a bit.
He didn't want to draw his father looking tired so he drew him looking fierce instead, like a proper mighty warrior ought to, like he probably would when he was out warrior-ing mightily. And he drew his mother looking smaller and kind of nervous, like she was at first whenever his father came back, because it was difficult to tell what he wanted and he'd always been away for so long, and he kept giving the servants the wrong instructions because he hadn't been around for a while.
She seemed to be happier after they had disappeared for a while, though.
Then he had to write about them and it was very difficult to get all the little lines on the letters right, but he tried extra hard because he really wanted to show them when his father came home again, and he wanted it to be super neat.
His tutor was very happy with the letter forms but wondered if he could do something a bit more complicated.
He wasn't sure what he wanted to draw, so he started off with himself, of course. And then he wanted to draw Danilo but he didn't want to draw him beating him up, because losing to Danilo was embarrassing. So he started to draw a tree while he thought about it.
Aha! That was it - Danilo was hiding behind the tree! It would tell everyone that Danilo won because he did sneaky things like hide behind trees and then jump out at people, which wasn't very Mighty Warrior but Danilo's family were more Cunning than Mighty anyway, so it made sense and wasn't too mean. He hoped. He liked Danilo really.
He wanted Danilo to know that he did think he was a good person and was going to be like his father really, so next he drew a whole load of people all arguing - just like the council looked when he'd seen Danilo's dad arguing with them.
He made it clear when he showed him that Danilo was the stern-looking one on the left who was dictating to the others, and they were just starting to agree with him like the happy one in the middle, or give up like the resigned one to the right.
"Thanks," said Danilo, coming over all shy. He never said much in class. Maybe he wasn't going to be a big talker like his dad after all.
Onfim much preferred drawing things to writing.
He drew a big picture with a nice lady in, but then tore it up, because he was embarrassed for some reason he couldn't really understand.
He drew the horse-wrangler wrangling the horses. Horses took a lot of wrangling. He was glad he got to be a mighty warrior and didn't have to be a horse wrangler, although he guessed mighty warriors probably had to wrangle their own horses when they were a long way away from everyone fighting the bad people.
He drew the time he got really angry with the cook and shouted at him, and the cook cowered and begged for his forgiveness. The cook had burnt his favourite meal and it was all icky, but he was kind of worried about how scared he'd looked. Onfim knew he was going to be a mighty warrior, but the cook wasn't a bad person, he just had done something a bit wrong. But he couldn't say sorry to him because it wouldn't be a very warrior-ly thing to do.
And he drew the time he would go off on his horse and stab the bad people right in the face. He would scowl a lot and everyone would look really impressed at him. He would go off with his father and they would catch the bad people and cut them right in half. The other warriors wouldn't be able to keep up with their glorious battle. There would just be a pile of bits of dead bad people when they were done.
Then his dad would come home and they would wear awesome fancy clothes and have fruit. All the fruit they wanted, and nuts, and all the best food, and everyone would love them.
It was going to be great.
Just as soon as he was big enough to lift a proper sword, and learned how to beat up Danilo.