Pain of Love part 1

 A Game of Thrones story

marbrand2

“Can we stop? I want to hear the story,” the boy said, looking up expectantly at his father. The six-year old child looked minuscule compared to the gigantic bear of a man. The boy turned and he saw the look on the man’s face, hidden as it was under a scraggly red beard. It was a look that said that they were in a hurry. He was ready, though, and the happy ear-to-ear smile on his face was enough to shatter his father’s grim demeanor. The big man let out a grunt and with his giant paw tousled the boy’s already messy brown curly hair. “Okay, Grayne, but let’s not diddle-doddle. Your mother is waiting.”

Grayne let out a shriek of happiness, his troubles temporarily forgotten. He ran to sit in the crowd of boys and girls whose mothers stood around the perimeter. He found an open space and before he sat down he took a moment to find his father in the crowd so he could give him another toothy smile. His mother had told him many times, “Let him see all your teeth. He will never tell you no when he can see the back teeth.” Grayne saw the big man waiting. He stood at least a foot taller than the tallest woman in the crowd. With his arms crossed, and a grim countenance on his face, the women gave him extra space. Grayne looked past his father with dread at the horizon, for the grey clouds indicated a storm was coming. The boy was long ago weary of the many storms of a summer that was in its death throes, but had not accepted its own demise. The smell of dampness filled his nose.

Grayne smiled and made himself as comfortable as possible on the hard ground. A tall figure in tattered black robes stood on the flimsy stage. The boy could not determine the shadowy figure’s gender under its dark billowing robes. Even when it spoke, the voice was a whisper that carried on the wind and gave no indication of the gender of the speaker. A blast of cold wind suddenly stormed through the crowd stirring up dirt, dust and dead leaves on the ground and those not strong enough to hold onto the trees. The people collectively pulled their clothing closer against the storm’s windy harbinger that swept through them. The children gasped and shivered in response to the piercing gust. Only the black-robed performer seemed unaffected by the icy chill of the coming storm.

“Who can tell me of The Seven?” the robed, seemingly genderless storyteller asked the gathered throng of youngsters with only a whisper. “Can any of you name even one of the seven new gods who hold our destinies in their merciless hands?” the hooded storyteller asked as it pointed a long bony finger at a boy with blonde hair and a dirt- stained face. The boy let out a gasp and was silent.

Grayne’s father had many times told him of the new gods, and the boy was eager to show off his knowledge. The robed actor continued pointing at various children in the crowd until Grayne shouted, “The Maiden!” His voice wavered and cracked, but he made himself heard over the wind.

“Correct,” whispered the shadowy person. “What are the others?”

Grayne looked back at his father, hoping for some recognition for his correct answer, but instead saw the giant shifting uneasily from foot to foot. Grayne returned his attention to the performer. He listened as the children named each of the gods that made up The Seven. They named them all as the hooded storyteller coaxed the names from them; the Maiden, the Father, the Smith, the Warrior, the Crone, the Stranger, and the Mother. The mention of the Mother-Above caused the boy to think of his own mother. She had fallen ill and had lingered in a state of confusion for almost two weeks. Her body wasted while she seemed to have no concept of her surroundings. A medicine-man had taken her in, but each day she showed no signs of recovering from her mysterious languishing malady. Grayne felt helpless and wished the gods were real and that prayer could save his mother. “The Gods are cruel,” his father had always told him.

Grayne watched with nervous anticipation as the storyteller moved though the field of seated children, telling a story of the Seven. He half-listened, his thoughts were not where he was, but where he was going. Only when the storyteller neared Grayne did he return his attention to the performance. The grim entertainer strode over and around the seated children determinedly until he stood above Grayne. For an instant the cold wind seemed to die. He looked up, but all he saw were black robes of the tall storyteller. Suddenly, the boy was staring into the shadow-filled hood of the figure as it bent down before him. He let out a little squeak like an injured mouse as the hooded figure spoke to him with words that felt like sticky cobwebs, and breath the smelled like wet earth.

Grayne dizzily listened to the grim figure’s words for what seemed like hours, barely hearing the shrieks and screams that erupted from behind him. In a blur of motion and with a crack of bones, the cloaked figure was cast aside as if he had been smashed by a charging bull. His father was beside him and before Grayne could react he was thrown over the man’s massive shoulder. The big man crashed and stomped his way out of the crowd.

Only when they were safely from the crowd and what seemed like miles away did his father gently remove Grayne from his shoulder and set upon his feet. “Are you okay?” his father asked the pale and shaken child as cold raindrops began to fall.

Grayne nodded without a word. The wind had stopped, replaced with a hard rain that chilled them both to the core.

“What happened? What did he say to you!?” his father asked the shaken boy more demandingly than he intended. He closed his eyes and tried to console Grayne by saying, “It’s okay, son. Whenever you’re ready.”

Grayne licked his lips and looked silently at his feet.

“Boy, it’s okay,” his father said calmly. “You don’t have to say anything.”

The two walked in silence, hand in hand for several miles making their way from the small village to the darkening woods, before the boy spoke. “Father, the storyteller…said I was cursed.” Grayne paused to lick his dry lips and he continued. “My curse is my strength. I will outlive everyone I care for, and my true suffering will come not from the pain of my injuries but from my ability to endure them.” The sound of the rain pounding furiously through the trees was the only sound until Grayne asked, “What does that mean?”

His father’s grip tightened on his son’s hand. The man closed his eyes then sucked his lips in over his teeth as he took a deep breath. Quietly, the gargantuan man stopped at a hollow log. He pointed at the log and nodded at it, and the boy crawled inside without further questions.

His father stood outside as the torrent soaked him for many hours. Grayne fell asleep listening to the rain tapping against the bark of the log and dreamed of his mother.

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