Chapter 4:

Once Again Alone

The Trials of Ilcor

Blissful sleep was not something he got again after that, for he was introduced to the full schedule the children in the temple must follow every day.

Morning bell rang as the light touched the sky; Laps around the temple. The sounds of shoe-less children filled the crisp morning air. They ran for five laps, took a break, then five more until there was no more night in the sky.

Breakfast of eggs, porridge and fruit juice, bathing and combat classes followed.

Jasper was particularly excited when he found out that he would be learning to swing a sword. Seeing the knight’s stride about with their swords was what he considered cool. He could picture himself grabbing one and swinging it about, showing it off to the street boys who would look up to him for it, of course ignoring the weight of the sword toppling him to his side if he had ever tried. The instructors were not as wet behind the ears, and the children used wooden swords instead, weighted according to their age, to practice their swings.

The instructor was an odd man. He wore dark orange clothing like the other boys there only to his size, and tight breeches to help with smooth movement on the foot. He was odd because he was both a swordmaster and a priest.

“I served as a knight for many years, but decided to dedicate the rest of my life to the temple and to repay the gods for gifting me with the opportunity to become a warrior”

Jasper did not show any particular skill with the sword. One would think that would be fair for his age and how it was his first time holding a sword, wooden or otherwise. The instructor thought otherwise. The moment he laid eyes on him as he did his first set of swings; for the exercise was to hit at the air several times until told otherwise, the instructor had decided he was no good and had no talent for the sword.

“Your hair and face make it obvious you were not bred well. Your body used to nothing will not become of anything just because I hand you a sword”

Jasper furrowed his brow, tightening his fist till white upon the hilt, bringing him more disapproval from the instructor. This only served to motivate a boy of great determination to showcase that, in fact, he was not what this man was saying. He was used to the type of hate he got just for appearing in someone’s view, but thought that here at least he would no longer be a street boy; instead becoming a boy of god just like they wanted.

Trying to earn the approval of one who would never give it to him wore him down more than the calluses he developed on his hands as he worked and worked days after that. Despite the words of the instructor being bitter, Jasper feared that he maybe was not born for such a skill. No matter how much harder he tried than the other boys, they seemed to be improving a lot faster and better than he. Jasper did not know, not until he was much older, that his progress was stumped the most by the fact the instructor found every opportunity to teach him bad swordsmanship habits and bring him down at the same time. Either way, that's how his days had passed in that temple for the next two years.

Mornings like these, then evenings of lunch and lessons and some days off to be with Nash, who had become his only companion in the temple. No other child nor adult bothered with a former street boy. Once a street boy, will still always be a street boy.

At nights he had no time to be blissful, bitterness or anger. All he could do was pass out at the touch of his pillow.

In those two years, other than the endless physical training he went through, there was one more event that was significant enough for him in that time.

A year after his arrival, Nash turned seven. All those of Ilcor turn a year older on the same day before the start of the year. The year officially starts with the end of all the trials, but the month before is known as the month of trials and is when a gap in the year is dedicated to no time of the year at all. Everyone goes about their business in the towns, but for that month the year decided to hold its breath in anticipation for the trials. This month was no month and yet still was the birth month of all in the kingdom. The birthday celebration of all was in the form of a festival, like the one from the start of the year, only this one had a strange clash of tones that Jasper could not explain for himself.

There were the adults, celebrating their children’s birthday and the start of the adventure for them to try to claim their place in the society for the first time as well as the children not partaking in the trials that year just celebrating their birth. The children that were about to go off to do their trials were somber and had a nervous energy that was affecting those around them, forcing their cheers to faken and be forced for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of celebrating that this was not something to be sombre about but rather something of joy. Sending children off to do tasks they must do in order to earn their spot in the kingdom. This was fair and just, they had all done it before and this time too these children will see that it was fine.

Jasper was able to sense but a fraction of these complex emotions, but the ones he could confused him. The Nuns and priests at the temple had taught them for many lessons that these trials were the children and the people paying the gods back for all they had given. It was a way for the children to offer themselves up and once they do, they might be chosen by the gods to be their followers. If you do not show gratitude through these trials, you should not expect yourself to be gifted with the rewards it brings.

Jasper was not against this, he had no other information that would have told him otherwise. He was able to understand the fear the children before him were feeling. Mostly because Nash seemed pale for the first time he had ever seen him. Nash was usually very bubbly and talkative. He could spend a whole day talking happily and he swung his sword during practice to the beat of a tune in his head, that was the type of boy Nash was. Jasper was unaware of anything that could take the joy from the boy’s face, but this here seemed to be the thing he was unaware of. What part of what he was to be faced with did he fear, Jasper wondered. Was it the sometimes unforgiving creatures in their dens, or was it the even more unforgiving people he might face on his return if it happened to be empty handed.

Either way, knights led the children to their respective horse drawn carriage; some of the older ones in a larger travel wagon in anticipation for a longer travel to the north and Nash into an open roofed carriage that led to the east, to the great mountain ranges there and to the Dragon’s Shangri-La to do his trial. The last Jasper saw of him was a final wave goodbye.

This was not the last however, for a month later when the festival of the year started, upon the front carriage Nash rode, clutching to his chest a grey coloured dragon egg. He had been successful. He was one of the sombre kids like he saw the year before. A scar upon his face and many stories to tell, but he would not be able to tell those to Jasper. It was then that it dawned on Jasper that he really was not going to see Nash going forwards. Nash was going on to be a dragon rider, and Jasper remained behind. Once again alone.

N. D. Skordilis