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Book One of the Silicon Covenant
By Cameron Dayton
Future House PublishingCopyright © 2015 Cameron Dayton
All rights reserved.
And black the clouds of Northland furled,
Red the skies of Babel,
Those who ruled and clove the world
Death's tattered wind did travel.
— Lodoroi song
Enoch tried to hide his smile, lifting his wrist over his mouth and pretending to cough. Once again, the grocer was attempting to wear down Master Gershom's cold demeanor with an onslaught of bad jokes — a siege of off-color comments flung at a pale and unappreciative target. Grinning and joking and shaking his oily carrot mane, Mishael Keddrik slapped the tall soldier on the back and asked if he'd found any more soil under the rocks in his garden.
Stepping around the trader's wares, Enoch found a spot behind a bin of seeds where he could listen — and smile — without being noticed. Master Gershom stared at the grocer, weathering the storm of bad breath and anemic humor like he did every spring, with tight-lipped stoicism.
His voice rising, Master Gershom repeated his request for salve. His glare seemed to fill the shop with ice. Unperturbed, the round little grocer smiled and reached into one of the myriad cupboards behind the counter. With a theatrical gasp of joy, he pulled out a little clay pot full of the sharp-smelling ointment.
"And now, boy," said the trader, calling across the shop toward Enoch, "If good Master Gershom will promise to apply this to his woefully sore humor twice daily then I shall give it to him for free."
Enoch pressed his wrist so hard against his grin that it hurt. Not wanting to ignore the trader, but not wanting to anger his master, he nodded mutely. Master Gershom mumbled something that was partially a growl and then shook his head, his white mane only adding to an already fierce countenance. He then placed a stack of coins on the barrel in front of him — more than enough for the medicine — and stormed out. Enoch followed, past the protesting Mishael Keddrik, and out into the afternoon sun.
Master Gershom strode swiftly across the shallow wagon path that counted as Main Street — or, as Enoch called it, Only Street. A century ago, Rewn's Fork had been a crossroads shared by two shepherd families, and it had grown just barely enough since that time to be considered a village.
Enoch trotted after his master, trying to wipe the smile from his face. The two stood out in this shepherd's town, a pale and scar-crossed scarecrow soldier and his silent, mouse-eyed acolyte. As he walked, Master Gershom placed the ointment in his satchel.
"Wait by the well," he said as Enoch drew near. "I want to see if Shyde has some iron pins at his forge; we need to reinforce the south gate."
Enoch nodded as a nervous feeling twisted through his stomach. He didn't feel good here, in town. He felt like everybody was looking at him, and there were just ... too many eyes. Blue eyes, green eyes, eyes that stared and stared and only looked away a second after Enoch noticed them. It was a second of judgment, disapproval, and even a little fear. The people of Rewn's Fork had never welcomed these strangers into their town — not fully. Enoch and Master Gershom presented a discomfort that could only be tolerated as long as the two didn't stay in town for long.
Enoch frowned and brushed a thick lock of black hair past eyes that were a combination of burnt walnut and amber. He looked at his arm in the sunlight, brown skin that only darkened in the summer instead of turning red. He felt like he was a blemish here, a black smudge of charcoal dragged across the rosy cheek of Rewn's Fork.
I'm a break in the pattern.
Carefully crossing his arms, Enoch leaned back against the potter's shack which butted up against the well. The potter's daughter, Lyse, had just arrived from the other direction to gather water, and Enoch could tell that she was studiously avoiding his gaze.
I guess that's better than staring.
He watched her discomfort curiously and tried to analyze his feelings. Should he feel hurt that this girl with the pretty blue eyes couldn't even say hello to him like she had to the two boys huddled over against the fence only moments ago? He felt like he should be bothered by that. It seemed like a normal person would be. Enoch frowned a bit and shifted against the wall.
Master Gershom had told him that he was a different sort of person than the townsfolk, and that he kept his feelings in a different sort of way. Enoch supposed it was alright, this ability to not be bothered by hurtful things.
Lyse collected her sloshing buckets and walked past Enoch. He watched her go, noticed that her normally pale cheeks were bright red. Was that a sign of her anger or disgust with him? He gave up trying to figure it out, and instead focused on the boys near the fence.
They were about his age, the taller one maybe a year older at seventeen, and already sprouting a thin tuft of red hair from his chin. Jason? Jaron? Enoch never forgot a name, but he realized that he had never actually heard this boy's name spoken clearly. The other was Ben, a broad-shouldered lad who was covered in freckles. Ben had taken to calling Enoch names whenever they crossed paths but had never actually talked with him. Enoch found that odd.
The two were playing some sort of game on a wooden plank. The plank had a series of holes drilled into it in a regular pattern, and the boys were moving various stones from one side of the board to another. In a few short moments, Enoch figured the rules of the game. It was fairly simple: gray stones could only move a distance of three holes, black stones could move seven, and the two white stones seemed to be able to jump across any unbroken line of grays.
With a cry of victory, Ben jumped his white stone into a hole occupied by a black one. The other boy — Jason, as it turned out — grumbled as his friend took the black stone from its spot and placed it in line with several other black and gray stones on the left side of the board. Ben then moved the white stone forward two holes.
Enoch recognized what was happening here — it was a tangible metaphor for a duel. Each of the stones represented an action: a thrust, a parry, a dodge, or a feint. Gray stones were quick actions, and four of them could be moved per turn, or two black stones could be moved per turn, or one black and two grays. The white stone was a finishing move, a coup de grâce that ended each turn. If the duelist had been able to string together a series of actions that landed the white stone on an occupied hole, he got to keep the stone and take another turn.
But it was obvious that Ben was going to lose. In six more steps, Jason would be able to trap his white stone between four blacks and easily take the rest. Enoch was stunned when the tall boy instead chose to timidly move four grays into a line in front of his own white. It didn't make any sense. Didn't he know that his opponent could jump past that supposed "defense" with at least five of the black stones arrayed around the table?
Without thinking, Enoch stepped forward and pointed to the board.
"You shouldn't waste your advantage like that."
Jason looked up at Enoch, his eyes going wide when he saw who had addressed him.
Enoch knelt down next to the board, tracing his finger along the four gray stones. "You are leaving yourself wide open for —"
Jason's expression went from a look of surprise to a scowl. He smacked Enoch's hand away from the board.
"Don't touch my toads, orphan. Who asked you?"
Enoch held his hands up, surprised by Jason's anger.
"Toads? I ... I'm just trying to show you where to put your guard so you can turn your opponent's stroke."
"You have no idea what you're talking about, idiot." Jason rolled his eyes and nodded to his friend. "Hey, look at the runt — he couldn't talk until he was five, and suddenly he's an expert at jedrez?"
Ben had an amused smirk on his face. He seemed to be glad Enoch had joined the conversation. He swatted at Enoch's shoulder with a freckled fist, chuckling. Enoch frowned. He was not as tall as any of the boys — or girls — his age in town, but he wasn't that much smaller.
"This is a man's game," said Ben. "It's complicated. These stones are part of an army from the Rain Age — venom toads, coldmen, and Alaphim. The board is a battlefield. And it's none of your pitmilking business."
Now Ben hit his shoulder again, only hard. Enoch fell back on the gravel, instinctively bending his legs as he fell so that he rolled to his feet a second later. He had been so focused on the patterns in the game that he hadn't noticed the other boys who had gathered around as Ben spoke. There were three more of them, Jason's older brother and two of Ben's cousins.
"Well, Scales, that was a pretty little dance," said Ben, eyebrow raised. "Maybe the orphan's albino uncle has been teaching him how to spin and twirl like the girls down at Cavernsway?"
The other boys laughed at this while Enoch rubbed his sore shoulder. He looked over at Jason for some understanding.
"I was just trying to help you win."
Jason stood up to his full height.
"I don't need your help. I don't want your help. Nobody asked for your advice, you little —"
He swung at Enoch, his fist whistling through the air. Enoch ducked under the blow, now understanding that this conversation had turned into a fight. Somehow. He took a quick step back, turning aside into the semprelisto. This was the best stance for unexpected attacks, and Enoch felt it most appropriate. Master Gershom had been drilling Enoch on stances just this morning.
"You did need my help," continued Enoch, trying to help them understand.
Why are they so angry about this?
"You had just set yourself up for five easy attacks, something that would've guaranteed a loss."
Jason swung at him again — only this time Enoch's dodge brought him up against Ben's sturdy frame. The thicker boy had snuck up behind Enoch, and now he wrapped his arms around Enoch's and lifted him into the air.
"See if you can hit the runt now, Jason. You need me to piss an X on his face?"
The taller boy cussed and swung, his heavy farm-boy fist slamming into Enoch's ribs with a thud. All the breath went from his lungs with a gasp. Enoch looked around, frantically searching for his master. He didn't understand why they were doing this. It hurt.
"Don't ... I was just ..."
The next hit cracked across his jaw, and Enoch tasted blood. He struggled to get free, but Ben only tightened his grip.
"Scales! Wiggly little weasel, aren't you?"
And then Enoch saw Master Gershom. He had just come out of the blacksmith's shop across the road and — and he was just standing there. Doing nothing.
Enoch tried to call out to him, but his voice was weak and there was no air in his lungs.
Another blow to the side of his face, and Enoch's vision went black for a moment. For a moment it felt quiet, and Enoch instinctively fell into that quiet. He paused. Everything slowed around him.
Enoch had learned this — this pausing — all by himself over the past couple of weeks. He could turn his mind inside and still the motion of the world around him. He couldn't actually stop the world, or even slow it, but he could affect his pace through it — allow his mind to quietly take his time to think. To plan.
Now seems like a good time.
From his pause, Enoch slipped into the afilia nubla.
Dodge, direct, divide. The three simple mind commands that freed his body into instinct.
Leaning back into Ben as though to avoid Jason's next swing, Enoch suddenly lunged forward and brought his captor's face in front of the blow. Jason's fist smashed into a freckled nose with a crack, and Enoch felt his arms suddenly free. Using his forward momentum, he grabbed one of the arms that had held him, twisting it as he swung around Ben's falling body. Ben fell limp to the ground, and his own weight pulled his arm from its socket. Enoch stepped away from the body and faced Jason, bending his knees back into the semprelisto.
Jason stared down at his fallen friend with his mouth open.
"Ben! I'm ... I didn't mean to —"
Enoch's kick swept his left leg out from under him, and the taller boy landed with a cry. The others backed away, having never seen anybody move like Enoch. What was more frightening was the emptiness on his face. The detachment. This wasn't how boys fought.
Enoch stayed in his fighting stance, eyes dead, until they had all slunk away. He looked at the two boys on the ground, calculating. He delivered another vicious kick into Jason's side, and one to Ben. Only one of the boys groaned.
This was not vindictive; it was how he had been trained, to make sure your opponent was not only beaten, but broken. Master Gershom nodded and waved Enoch over to leave.
By this time, several townsfolk had gathered. They whispered among each other and stared. Here stood that scrawny orphan boy from the other end of the valley, thin and wiry and silent. And at his feet lay two much larger boys — seventeen and eighteen years old. One whimpering, and the other out cold.
They were still murmuring as Master Gershom led his charge out of Rewn's Fork.
Enoch rose out of his trance state and into afilia lumin slowly, hesitant to enter back into the confusion of what had just happened.
Why did they attack me?
Master Gershom was silent, as usual, but as soon as they were out of sight of the town he motioned for Enoch to stop. He then brought out the pot of salve, handed it to his charge, and proceeded to apply the ointment to Enoch's side and bloodied lip.
"You will need to learn how to better read coming violence, Enoch. Not just in a telegraphed blow, but in your opponent's words. His expressions."
Enoch was angry, and not just because his master had stood and watched his beating.
"I wouldn't have had to fight them if we came to town more often. Then I could talk to them and ... maybe figure out why they treat us like we're strangers!"
Enoch wasn't angry at the boys who had attacked him. He was angry at his master, angry with an intensity that surprised him as it all came spilling out.
"I don't know why they did this," he grumbled, "or why nobody will talk to me, or why Lyse can't even look at me!"
Gershom's hands had gone still, and he looked down at Enoch with those winter eyes.
"You aren't upset because they avoid you, Enoch. Or even because they hate you. That is what you may think you are feeling, but it is not what is truly troubling you."
Enoch met his master's eyes, waiting.
"You are upset because you can't understand their reactions. Their emotions. You are upset because this is a pattern you cannot understand."
Pulling a clean rag from his satchel, Master Gershom dabbed at the salve on Enoch's lip. Enoch wanted to pull away, wanted to shout, wanted to call his master wrong. But he felt the truth of those words.
"That is why I have to keep you isolated from the others, Enoch. Because you do not feel as they do. Or see as they do. You were not meant to."
Enoch had learned that he could not always depend on his master for clarity, or for help. Eight years ago, Enoch had climbed too far up into the ironwood tree behind the stable. Master Gershom had come out at Enoch's pleading and then stood under that tree all night, quietly. Eventually Enoch had fallen, hands numb from keeping such a frightened grip on that branch, and Master Gershom had let him fall. He then picked up the sobbing boy from the ground, carried him inside, and bound his broken arm. Enoch remembered the only words his master had for him that night:
"You found your way down."
The shadows lengthened as the two neared home, the dark trees seeming to absorb the night as it soaked down from the mountainside. Enoch went to check on the sheep as his master took the iron he had purchased into the tool shed.
They had a silent dinner of stew and toasted bread, sweetened with a dollop of red berry preserves that Master Gershom kept at the top of the pantry. Enoch supposed that the rare treat was some sort of unspoken sympathy for the earlier trauma. It certainly wasn't an apology.
Enoch went to his bed near the stove, tired and aching. Sadly, his mind would not let him sleep, replaying too-clear images and sounds and memories of hard fists against his jaw. Enoch decided these thoughts wouldn't take him anywhere, so he pushed his thoughts back to the game he had seen Ben and Jason playing. It was a simple pattern, but it held so much potential for complexity.
Excerpted from Etherwalker by Cameron Dayton. Copyright © 2015 Cameron Dayton. Excerpted by permission of Future House Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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