Chapter 1:

A curious boy

The Trials of Ilcor

Jasper always loved to watch the festival from a small alleyway. It was always so lively and exciting. It made him feel like he was part of the society he had grown up sheltered from. He dared not however, to dance about the street with the parade like the other children of the city. He dared not try out the different food in the stalls no matter how hungry he might be, nor watch the puppet show displayed for all to see..all but for him. His mother had warned him not to wander further than the shadows could reach. The people’s moods would be ruined if they laid eyes on him.

Despite his limited mobility, he had chosen an alleyway that illuminated much of the main events, he was satisfied. Finally the main event started; the parade of champions. Those who successfully passed the trials, his mother had told him. Jasper was not too sure what trials were but the people seemed to be overjoyed, so he assumed it was a happy thing. He was too young to understand the hollow looks the children who marched down the street had.

Very young children, older than him but still young, were in the start of the procession, carried in open horse carriages to showcase them and the circular, colourful stones in their hands. Each had its own unique design and colour pattern. Some of these children were waving at the crowd proudly, others had the eggs huddled into their chest, not looking at the crowd and others were crying silently. There were not a lot of these kids. Around seven.

Following them were children a lot older than the ones that lead. They looked to be the same age as the kids he had met in the slums who would run around doing errands for the slum’s boss. The ones that had an attitude about them but were too somber in front of those with knives. These ones were fifteen in number. These marched with a little more confidence to their face, their journey here not as grim as the ones the younger ones had faced but not all were spared from this. One of the boys in the back had long, swirling white welts on his face and his eyes remained lowered.

Marching more firmly behind them was a much larger group of teenagers, older and more serious than the fifteen in front of them. Jasper was unable to count these, twenty was his limit but he stared eyes widened as each marched along wielding a weapon by their side or on their backs. Like the boy with the marred face, the amount of them adorning various scars,burns and wounds far exceeded the group before them. Yet Jasper couldn’t help but be lifted by the energy they excluded. Pride, strength and determination. They wore their wounds with pride as if it was a sign of their accomplishment, that it was a gift that it was only to that amount.

The march continued, many more followed the first groups however none of these impressed him enough to recall nor take notice. Instead his eyes wandered around, trying to see unsuccessfully where the more impressive ones went off to. Would they go on to the castle in the east? The one his mother would describe in her stories. She told of her time as a maid in the castle, of the large stone walls and the busy lives of the officials going back and forwards from rooms, the different guests and events and each sitting of the nobles bringing her both joy and fright. Her eyes had always twinklied with longing, until they settled upon him and narrowed with bitterness. “It was so great, until I became pregnant with you” her lips would always twitch upwards in a snarl while her teeth grinded sending chills down his spine. Despite this, they were still stories of a life outside the slums. Even if they were dripping with bitterness they provided a wonder and hope beyond the dirt.

Fueled with this wonder and a false sense of confidence that a young child of five years would have, he made his way along the street, sticking to the shadows and bends and turns and being one with the sidewalk, trying to follow the procession, to see his own dreams proceed. In a way, this wonder and his own, albeit foolish, curiosity did indeed lead to a life of what he could not even dream. It did not, however, seem that way when a hand grabbed his shirt, lifting him to dangle in the air from behind. Jasper shreaked in horror, struggling and flailing, trying to slip off his shirt only to have a second leathered hand clamp tight on his wrist.

Jasper looked up into the face of his capture; a knight tasked with ensuring the safety of the festival and the people within it; which included ensuring no dirty rats ran about being an eyesore. Jasper was very much a boy of the slum, dirty and matted brown, the golden highlights of his hair almost completely coloured by the dirt coating. One could almost see the inspiration of his name, a stone of the same name. If not the hair reminded one of the stone, his hazel eyes might; brown flecked with gold with hints of green. Clothes torn and could be mistaken for a pillowcase with holes for the arms.

Looking down at the boy he had scorned a moment before, the defiant gaze of his changed the knight’s perspective. It could’ve been the determination and will behind the eyes or the wonders one could feel trying to find each speck of gold in them, the knight decided on the boy’s fate.

Jasper felt the shift in mood and he too calmed his body in response. The knight’s grip was less harsh so as he was lowered back onto his feet and led along the sidewalk, he did not argue or fight it off. The boy could easily weasel his way out of the lightened grip and dash for the shadows, but his curiosity silenced his instincts or maybe his basic instincts were that of curiosity. Either way, as they walked towards the new destination, Jasper took in as much as he could of the goings on around him and as if noticing, the knight’s pace seemed to slow to allow the wandering of eyes and the gaucking of face.

The destination was just as wondrous as the festivities that they had walked through. Under a large grove of cherry blossom trees, blooming with soft blush flowers and coating the path to the temple with pink and beauty. They walked down the path leading towards said temple. White stone, or rather marble, was what this building was mostly made up of. Stone steps leading up into a circular building. One large and fast with red tiled roofs surrounding different towers and buildings within it. The white was both subtle and soft and garishly out of place amongst the vibrant pink of the blossoms. Jasper’s curiosity was dancing with joy and wonder, however the teachings of a street boy nudged its head trying to take over. The whole place was surrounded by large white walls. Entering this place ment no leaving through his own devices. He had never before put himself in a situation nor a place where the option of slipping away and running was not there. The knight’s grip tightened again in response to his shallow breathing and he led the boy more firmly forwards and up and up and up some more.

Great circular wooden doors with bronze knuckles occupied the knight’s other hand. Few moments had passed before a smaller, more rectangular door framed by the larger doors opened inwards, revealing a middle aged woman, in loose grey garbs that almost touched the floor with a cloth headpiece of the same colour adorning her bunned hair. Blue eyes travelled from the knight to the boy. Her expression was blank of any tell tale sign of approval or disapproval of what was before her. A knight had presented her with a child to take care of and raise, who was she to question or show doubts. Transferral complete, a thud of the door and the knight gone back to his duty, Jasper was left in a vast adorned hallway and with a strict and firm nun that led him to his new fate and future.