Chapter 1 – Trom
The high pitched voice of the young boy cut through the oppressive silence of the small blacksmith’s cottage. Disturbed from his quiet contemplation, Trom raised his eyes from the simple meal of steamed rice and salted fish. His piercing blue gaze slowly scanned his surroundings, taking in the bare furnishings and worn flooring before coming to rest on the child.
With practiced ease he removed the veil of a father’s love from his eyes, staring at the child before him as though a stranger. What was it others saw when they looked at this boy? His son?
The child was remarkably tall for a ten-year-old, or he would have been if it were not for the slightly hunched back and dangling left arm. His hair fell limply across his face, obscuring most of his features. The left side of his mouth hung slack, spittle gathering at the corner.
Trom sighed. It was quite obvious, even without hearing the boy stutter and slur his way through speech, that the blacksmith’s son was simple. A child to be kept home from school, protected from the cruelties of village youth, someone to fetch and carry the tools his father needed to complete his work. Nothing more.
“What is it son?” Trom asked quietly. For it was not often that his introverted child brought himself to the point of speech.
“I w-weh-well, was wondering father,” the boy spoke with his eyes focused on the floor, afraid to look up into the intimidating eyes of the man who had sired him, “Wuh- why do you wo-work me so hard?”
Trom paused. How to answer this child? The question was most certainly a fair one. Training for the boy began well before the sun rose in the East and ended long after it set in the West. Indeed, there were very few breaks to be had between the mental, spiritual, and physical training of the child and his apprentice work in the smithy. It would have been a lot for a normal child, let alone for Caiden.
The child shifted his bulky mass awkwardly as he sat cross-legged at the low wooden dinner table. He was experiencing difficulty sitting still and waiting for his father’s response, wondering if what he had asked was too forward. Yet somehow, he understood that his father was more than he might appear. Trom was a man of thought before action. A deliberate thinker who always made sure to assess the situation fully before choosing a response. Once decided, Trom would convey his response with as few words as possible, wasting nothing.
“Son,” the big man began, then stopped with a tremendous sigh. “Son, do you remember the visits we would take to the village when you were younger?”
Involuntarily, the child mind-stepped back in time. He pictured the dirt roads, the village homes, and he saw the youths. Strong boys and girls, laughing and teasing. He felt himself pushed between them, flinched as stones hit him, and pictured himself falling to the dirt with his face tear streaked. He remembered fleeing time and again, enduring the long wagon ride home to the smithy filled with shame and embarrassment, seeking the solace of his father’s arms at night when the memories threatened to overwhelm him.
“Yes,” he whispered quietly, returning to his present self and the conversation with his father. He remembered those visits only too well, the pain as real now as it had been in the past.
“Son,” Trom continued, his voice solemn, “I wish I could reassure you that this world is one of acceptance, but I cannot. Those children were only the beginning of what you will face as you move forward in your life. You are different, you have always been different, and you will always be different. This is not a world that embraces differences, and so you will always be singled out for what you are, and for what you are not.”
Suddenly, Trom smiled, his eyes turning to the colour of frozen steel. “You ask why I push you, my son. I push you because I believe in you. I push you to be the best you can possibly be, to overcome the obstacles that Cosmos has put in your way. One day you will demonstrate to the people who inhabit this world that you are much more than appearances dictate. As your father I push you in order to provide you with the foundation you need to make your way in an unfriendly and inhospitable world. But mainly, my son, I push you because you are MY SON!”
Reaching out he tousled the boy’s hair in precisely the manner he knew he detested. “Besides boy, you’ve seen nothing yet. Up until now I’ve been taking it fairly easy on you. Now, let’s finish this dinner, I wish to hear your haiku before we move onto forms and your meditation exercises. Then we must turn in, we have a busy day tomorrow.”
The rest of the meal went by in peace, Trom contemplating the words he had spoken to the boy. He desperately hoped that he had not reopened the painful, partially healed wounds and that the night terrors would not return. It was all too easy to recall the sleepless nights when his helpless boy would cry out for him, his young body trembling with fear, clasping his head to ward off the blows and taunts that pursued him even in his sleep. Someday, it would all change and his boy could live the life he was meant to live, but unfortunately today was not that day.
With the meal finished and the dishes cleaned and out of the way, father and son sat down at the table to begin their nightly lessons and discussion. “Now son,” Trom said, in all seriousness, “Your haiku. How have you managed to reflect the weight of your day in the flow of your words?”
The young boy took his time, weighing in his mind whether he should speak the words he was thinking or if he should take the safer, less challenging, path. After all, regardless of whether or not Trom was his father, he was still an intimidating figure this man with eyes that could turn from the beautiful cerulean blue of the ocean to the steely sheen of a finely crafted sword without a moment’s notice. Dare he risk raising his father’s ire?
Quickly, before his father could get angry at what he would perceive as his son’s lack of preparedness, he spoke. It was strange, only when he was speaking poetry with his father did he not stutter. Perhaps that was why his father was so insistent that it be part of their nightly routine? Shaking his head to clear his thoughts he began. His voice ringing clear and true, resonating with power:
“How hard you work me,
Body and Soul scream, Cosmos.
Bring the Freezing Snows!”
Smiling mischievously, the boy raised his eyes to meet those of his father. And Trom had to struggle to hold back his gasp of surprise.
Yes, his son was simple in appearance, not one to raise questions or inspire much deep thought until you met those eyes. Hard, dark, piercing eyes that took in the soul of a man and weighed it accordingly. If Trom’s eyes were the color of the ocean waves, the boy’s were akin to the dark depths of said ocean. Such eyes pulled you in, drowning you in their endlessness, leaving you with the sense that you could barely stay afloat. His eyes both questioned the world yet sparkled mischievously with knowledge, inquisitiveness, and vigor. Those eyes staring up at Trom declared, “I am more than you could ever imagine, I am more than you will ever know, I am Caiden!”
Realizing that his son was staring at him quizzically, Trom forced down his momentary sense of panic, for he knew nobody ever saw Caiden as closely as he did. Few had ever, or would ever, bother to know one of such an obviously simple nature. Reassuring himself that Caiden’s physical exterior hid his true nature completely, Trom turned himself to the obvious impertinence of his son’s nightly haiku, forcing a deeply appreciative laugh.
As the darkness settled outside, father and son sat comfortably around the table, filling the small simple home of the village blacksmith with laughter.