Many Years Ago, When the World Seemed New

Astrid choked on tears flavored with her own blood. She wouldn’t let Marvin see her cry, so she had waited until he walked away. It seemed like the punch had startled him as much as it did her. The anger behind it seemed to come from nowhere.

She couldn’t tell if he was more scared by the fact that his punch didn’t knock her down or that she punched him back. She didn’t do much damage, but it was enough to make him stop.

In the end, he decided Ken’s toy just wasn’t worth it.

Astrid was just six. Marvin was seven, but they were both the same size. He had no right to take Ken’s toy. Ken was a year younger than Astrid and much smaller. Ken didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was her friend.

Marvin, on the other hand, seemed to be made entirely of mean bones. His fist was so hard.

Ken sat there in the dust where the shove had sent him, both scrawny arms wrapped around the toy soldier he tried to preserve against all reason. Why didn’t he just let it go?

He was stupid.

The pain and fear confused her. Why was she angry at Ken? Some wordless presence inside her told her that this was not right. It was not his fault. This was a bad thing.

“Are you alright?” Astrid gasped through sobs that made her voice hitch.

“You’re bleeding!” Ken exclaimed, tears welling up in his eyes.

Astrid wiped her nose with the back of her hand and winced. Her face didn’t feel like her own as it began to swell.

Heavy footsteps came up behind her and Ken’s eyes, already wide, grew impossibly large. His mouth hung open. A long shadow fell across them.

“What are you children doing in the training yard?” the Master Knight asked. He carried with him the smell of sweat and worn leather.

Astrid couldn’t take her eyes off the longsword hanging at his side. The silver scabbard was etched with lyrical scenes of rivers, lakes, and rain—all symbols of the Wellspring.

The large man allowed his face to soften and the long scar across his left cheek decreased its angle relative to his square jawline. He sank down to one knee, placed one hand on Astrid’s shoulder and reached out to Ken with the other.

The Master Knight’s hand felt hard as a rock, but it was somehow warm and gentle. Ken pulled himself up by grabbing two of the Knight’s fingers. He still clutched the soldier doll under his free arm.

“Don’t be frightened, children,” he said as he lifted Astrid’s chin with his thumb and forefinger. “What have you gotten into?” He smiled and shook his head. “Were you playing rough?”

Astrid turned away and tried to hide her tears.

“Ah,” the Master Knight said. “I see. Who did this to you, Astrid?” When she didn’t answer, he told her, “You must tell me, Astrid, if we are to make things right.”

“It was Marvin!” Ken exclaimed. “He tried to take my toy! Astrid stopped him.”

“Ah, Marvin,” the Master Knight sighed. The boy was well known for his behavior. “I will speak to him.”

“Why is he so mean?” Astrid pleaded.

“This world is still new to you children,” the knight explained. “Some people have more trouble than others dealing with the pain of this life. They hurt others. When they’re young, they don’t know what they’re doing. But when they are older…” he trailed off. “We are all of the same house. We must not fight each other. We must not harbor hatred within these walls.”

The strange words had Astrid transfixed. She didn’t understand.

“I will instruct Marvin. He will come to you with an apology. He will mean it. For your own sake, you will accept it and put your differences aside.”

“I hate him,” Astrid sobbed.

The Knight guided Astrid’s face back to him with two calloused fingers on her cheek. “Look at me,” he nearly whispered. She locked eyes with him for a moment. “You need to let that go. Now close your eyes.” The pain disappeared instantly as his other hand, smelling of earth and rain, covered her face like a mask.

Astrid gasped when a soft, blue light filled her vision. She felt the hand leave her, and the light was gone.

“Very good,” the Master Knight said.

“You…fixed me?” Astrid stammered, pressing her fingers to her nose and cheeks. The swelling was gone.

“No, dear,” the Knight said. “I just asked the Well to rise up in you. You did the rest.”

The master knight produced a rag by sleight-of-hand and wiped the blood and tears from her face.

Ken thrust the soldier doll at her. “You can have this,” he said. “You deserve it.”

Astrid accepted the toy with her heart restored. “OK!” she replied. “Come to my house. I’ll give you my favorite horse.”

“I like that one,” Ken replied as they walked across the training yard together. “It has spots just like the horse your mother rides.”

“That’s why it’s my favorite,” Astrid replied. “You want to play hide-and-seek later?”

The battle for the soldier doll felt far behind them already.

From Tales of the Wellspring Knight, A Kurtherian Gambit Series in the Age of Magic

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New Worlds Await

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