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This Is Not Where It Starts

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A fish head lay on the steps of the home.

Its bulged eye pierced through me, its jaw open as if in a silent horror of a nightmare where no matter how much you screamed no sound would come out of your mouth.

My foot had halted over the mess of blood and guts beside it. Something grew in my throat, threatening to spill out, and I squeaked and tried to step aside, and tumbled over instead.

The greenery fluttered around me. It tilted over my head as if forming a cocoon, similar to the one I had found the previous week in the attic. It had been soft upon the touch and I had to resist an urge to squeeze it in my hand.

Blades of grass didn’t look soft. There was something tense in the way they arched around me, a readiness to cut like a paper anyone careless enough while reading.

I squeezed my eyes. They stung. For a moment I wanted to give in, to cry and shout out words others wouldn’t understand.

You have to be smart about it, my beautiful baby boy , I heard Mum’s voice in my head.  They are a bunch of scared people lashing out at the unknown.

Think, Matt. Take a deep breath.

I couldn’t blast it away, to turn it into dust and then use it in the garden - Mum used the remains of food to nourish the soil - like I wanted. 

Even if I saw no movement in the corner of my eyes. A bush of wild cabbage rose swayed softly in the morning breeze, and a sparrow chirped loudly above it.

No villager lurking to point out a finger at me and accuse me of working for the usurper. 

But I couldn’t be sure.

And that wasn't according to the rules.

When in doubt, don't bring attention to yourself. Don't murmur anything in a different language. Or better yet, don't murmur at all. Speak plainly and clearly. Don’t try to be funny about it. Don't make flourish gestures. Don't look sheep or cows in the eye - you never know when their milk would happen to turn sour. Or into the fire. Water too?

 Sometimes there was a new rule every day. Something that made other villagers take a double look at me and scowl. I stopped making a list once they started talking about my hair - how it standing up at the back had to do anything with the Vile One? 

 What would they say if the mole on my neck would have caught their attention? Was it a sign of a rotten soul and sun detesting my sole presence?

 The Mole Ending It All.

 I snickered at the thought. Arek would be the worst of the worst then - something about his complexion, his mum had said - and that was just hilarious.

Feeling lightheaded, I returned to the matter at hand, how our villager chief would have said.

 If Mum found out about it, she would ask neighbours about it, and they would shrug and say something about their cat being careless while playing with its prey. Mum would say nothing and would try to smile at me as if it was funny that we caught adults lying, but afterwards, she would look pale and would go to sleep early.

And I couldn’t throw it into the neighbours' garden and blame it on their cat as well. 

I had to be a picture-perfect, not threatening anyone. peasant boy.

For Mum. And for the possibility to go mostly peacefully through the village (and maybe meet Arek).

I let out a slow breath and the grass stopped crowding around me. The dense atmosphere around me dissipated and I didn't miss how it had wrapped around me like a cape, warm and buzzing, ready to lunge at any moment for me. 

( I wasn't a very good liar, even to myself.)

Ignoring the remaining twinkling in my hands, I tore off a big leaf of waybread and stood up. Through it, I grabbed the fish's head. I bet I could still use it as bait to catch more fish. 

 

It turned out that I could both fish and read at the same time. Sitting above the splashing river, I could place the fishing rod between the branches. It would hum lowly when -

“Wow, amazing!” Arek’s shout snapped me from my thoughts. “When you said you wanted me to show something, I thought it was a book or a stone, not a  treehouse ! “ His voice pitched in the end in delight. 

I looked sideways at the path below. Sun got caught in Arek's hair and for a moment he looked like a forest spirit in the body of a ten-year-old boy with mud smeared on his face.

I stared at him. Arek beamed at me.

Heat wandered up my neck and I ducked my head. Suddenly I felt kinda weird. My mouth was dry and I didn't know what to say. 

 Besides my mum, no one was ever particularly happy upon seeing me.

And then there was Arek. His all face would lighten up every time he saw me, and he would bounce on his heels, or throw an arm around me, as if barely containing a glee.

It was still a new experience to have such focused attention on me.

“I do have books here but I guess I’m not showing them to you now,” I muttered at last.

“Show mee,“ Arek drawled out the words dramatically. “ Matt, my comrade, my bestest friend, you can’t be so cruel. " Then he added in a different voice, perfectly impersonating his uncle, "It's unbecoming of you, young man." 

I couldn’t help but snicker at that. “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth, son?" 

I motioned him in another direction. "The ladder is on the other side of the tree, you doofus.”   Bestest?  My cheeks burnt while I tugged away the spell from the fishing rod.

There was the sound of scraping and creaking, and then Arek's head popped above the wooden plattform.

"You are doofus that you didn't let me help you with this." He half-grinned, half-pouted at me in the form of greetings. Then interior of the treehouse caught his eye. "Is that -Spirits, it's so pretty!" 

Before I knew it, he scrambled inside past me and crouched below fragments of glass strapped to the ceiling. They swung lightly in the breeze casting colourful lights across the space, painting his face in blue-red, fleeting shades.

I looked down and brushed away dirt from my tunic. Yes. "That was Mum's idea. We found them buried while planting beetroots." 

 I still couldn't believe it. The glass was rare, beyond the means of many villagers, and the colourful glass

"What do you think it was? " Arek asked in a quiet voice, as if this unexpected finding, a glimpse into a different life, demanded nothing but respectfull awe. " A plate for a fancy dish? A glass chest with a treasure? A favourite vase of some nobleman who got it shattered in a quarrel?"

I looked up at him." Did he carry it around in the field? To be sure to always be surrounded by nice things?" 

I was mostly teasing him but to be honest, I knew nothing about nobles' life. Maybe they did carry vases with flowers while taking afternoon strolls.

Arek smiled cheekily. "Yes, and the other servant would hang his favourite painting on a tree." 

I couldn't help but laugh at the image. As it often happened in Arek's presence, my next words spilt out of my mouth on their own. "Maybe it was a potion bottle of some village mage."

Then I fell silent, my insides twisting.

Because that was something I imagined just before falling asleep, in the quiet of a night. 

 A mage before me who could afford to choose eye-catching bottles for their potions.

Respected. 

Living peacefully, helping out other villagers. Having one cabinet full of books and receipts of potions, and the other filled with scrolls and parchments with long-forgotten spells.

Arek's eyes glistened. " What potion could it be?" 

A feeling of something big and choked up washed over me.

Arek was a lot of things I wasn't used to.

I turned away to check on the fishing rod.

After we both unanimously decided that yes, the best potion would be the one giving you the ability to fly, we perched on the edge of the deck, his shoulder warm against mine, mine against his.

Arek didn't question how I managed to build it. Even though he knew Mum couldn't lift many heavy things before she would feel queasy. 

( Sometimes he could be very oblivious.)

( It suited me fine.)

"Wow, it's like a castle tower where you can see far away into another kingdom. "

Or the one where you could read books about magic without looking over your shoulder.

I swung my legs in the air, water droplets cold against my skin.

"Don't you think?" He peered at me curiously.

I smiled at him. 

It could be both. As long as there was a place for both of us.