“Hey, dummy! Watch where you are walking!” The angry voice startled him out of his daydream. He had been thinking about the marches, and about the war, and especially about *her*; and he wasn’t paying attention to where he was going. The man that he stumbled into stopped only long enough to issue the insult, then he trudged off to his own business.
But his words stayed behind.
‘Hey dummy, watch where you are going.’
It rang in his mind as he crawled into his bedroll for the night.
He was so tired of hearing that word.
He drifted off to sleep thinking about the time that he had spent with Luthias after he had left the farm. They first went to Pyridain City, then they travelled on to Magnus. It was there that he had taken to exploring the city when he had the time, which, between his training, his schooling, and his chores, wasn’t much. He did, however, discover several places that he liked: the marketplace, the liveries, and the docks. He liked the docks most of all. Coming to the city was the first time he had ever seen that much water in one place, so he was facinated by it: the ships, the sailors, the cargoes, the waves, the smells.
On one such trip, he was walking back to the castle where he was staying when he heard the frightened squeal of a horse. Turning down an alley, he saw the horse rearing back onto its hind legs, eyes wild and nostrils flaring. On the ground in front of the horse was a large snake. He quickly ran down the alley and dispatched the snake with a piece of wood that he found on the ground. He then slowly approached the horse, and carefully reached for the reins. The horse’s eyes were still wide with fright, but his motions were smooth and relaxed, and his manner non-threatening, so he was able to reach the reins without a problem. He stroked the nose of the horse carefully, then worked his way to the neck and shoulders. As the horse quieted, he thought to look for the rider. She lay face down in a pile of refuse, one of the many such piles cluttering the alleyway. Holding the reins of the horse low and tugging gently, he turned it in the narrow passage and guided it back to the trash heap. He carefully rolled the body over. She appeared to be older than he, but smaller in stature. Her long brown hair was woven into a thick braid, which was tied at the bottom with a jet black ribbon. She had a nasty gash on her chin and a bruise under one eye that was already beginning to swell. He picked her up and, as gently as he could, draped her across the horse’s back. As he led the horse back to the keep, he wondered what the she was doing in the alley in the first place; and what a small girl was doing with such a large animal. He stopped several times to check on her; she remained unconscious, although the bleeding from the cut on her chin seemed to be slowing. He reached the compound and walked the horse directly to the stables where Lasran, the stableboy, was busy cleaning the stalls. Lasran, seeing the body draped over the saddle, immediately ran off to find help. Soon two men, guards by their appearance, appeared and lifted the small form from the horse. As they hurried into the main building, he heard one of them say “…gives me the creeps. He must be some kind of dummy, ’cause he never says anything…”
The snake was huge, with six heads and fangs that oozed venom. The horse faced away from him, and it’s young rider was oblivious to the danger.
“Look out!” he screamed, but the voice was only in his head.
The snake slithered closer to the horse and began to raise its head. Even now it was even with the horse rider’s head.
He tried to run toward the horse, but several guards appeared and grabbed his shoulders.
“Call to her, dummy. Tell her that the snake is coming.”
The guards began to laugh. He tried to pull away, but they held him fast. He tried to cry out, but his voice was only a wish. The snake now towered over both horse and rider, and it’s mouth opened as it prepared to strike.
“Come on, dummy! It’s up to you! You’d better say something…” The guards were laughing and poking him. He looked at them. They had no ears!
The snake struck, and the rider tumbled from the horse. Rolling over and over, she came to rest at his feet. As her face came into focus, he recognized the face of his sister! Through her tears, she whispered, “Why didn’t you warn me, you dummy.”
Then she died.
He bolted upright, so drenched in his own sweat that he was chilled instantly in the cold night air. His heart raced and he breathed in short, gasping heaves.
Just a dream. It was all just a dream.
Remembering the incident caused a flood of memories to wash over him as he tried to go back to sleep. He remembered at sneaking out at night; and how he had learned to limit his visits to only an hour or two, since losing more sleep than that made too tired the next morning. Most of the time she would meet him at a place that they had aggreed on the night before. She spent many nights showing him the city…
“Where would you like to go tonight?”
“To the docks? That’s a bad place to be at night.”
“It’s dangerous. There are thieves and ruffians and drunkards there at night.”
I. Afraid. Not.
“I know, but let’s go somewhere else. I know. Some of my friends like to go down to an old, abandoned house and tell scary stories in the dark. Like to go?”
“Ok, follow me.”
As they ran, he thought about how much he liked her, and about how much he wanted to tell her, but “hand speak” didn’t seem to be very romantic.
Once in the old house, he saw a dozen or so people sitting around a lighted candle.
“Hi, all. This is Derrio.” Her voice echoed from the bare walls of the empty room.
“Come in and join us.”
“Yes. We have lots of room.”
“Newbees tell the first story”
“Derrio tells the first tale.”
I. Talk. Not. I. Listen. You.
“What are you doing?”
“He’s a witch casting a spell!”
“Ha ha ha. Look at him, thrashing around like a dummy…
“STOP IT!! He can’t talk! That doesn’t mean that he’s an idiot!”
“Easy, Risa. We didn’t mean any harm. Here, you and Derrio sit over here and I’ll start the first story…”
“Dummy, dummy, dummy.”
The children’s chant echoed over and over, until the voices of the small group sounded like the cries of a mob.
“Dummy, dummy, dummy.”
Louder and louder the voices grew, until the sound was like a physical presence in his head, pounding this way and that, looking for an escape but finding none.
“Dummy, dummy, dummy.”
The pain of the voices was intensifying. His head felt ready to explode. He opened my mouth to scream, to free this monsterous beast from its prison within his brain…
Nothing came out.
“Dummy, dummy, dummy.”
“Dummy, Dummy, Dummy!”
“DUMMY, DUMMY, DUMMY!!”
The sound that he made as he flew from his bedroll was loud enough to wake most of those around him. Luthias and Michiya found themselves standing, swords drawn, before they were conscious enough to realize that there was no danger. Then, realizing that it was only a child’s nightmare, they crawled back into their bedrolls.
But the youth stood still.
The nightmares were getting worse. He had to find some way to clear his mind so that he could get some sleep; but it drifted back to Risa. Her smile. Her face. Her hair. Risa…
His courage was at a peak. It had been a day off from his studies, his sparring with Luthias had gone well, and he had finished his chores early.
Tonight is the night.
He washed and dressed as quickly as he could. Then he ran out of the compound and into the city streets as fast as his feet would go. Only when he approached her house did he slow and stop.
Her parents. How could he reach her without seeing her parents? If they saw him, they would talk to him. What would they think when he didn’t talk back?
The door opened and a lady stepped out, looking straight at him.
“Derrio?” Are you Derrio?”
“Come. Risa is expecting you.”
He moved forward hesitantly.
“Come, now. Don’t be afraid. You needn’t be shy about your not being able to talk. From what Risa has told us, you talk very well; you just use your hands instead of your mouth.”
He froze! They know! Oh no, now what do I do?! They know! “Come on in, son, before I find it necessary to come out there and drag you in. I’ll make you a deal. I won’t mind that you talk with your hands if you don’t mind that I talk with my mouth.”
A hint of a smile snuck onto his face. Some of his confidence returned as he entered the house.
After dinner he found himself sitting in a small room with Risa and her mother.
“So you came here from the farm.”
“And your parents?”
Father. Archer. Army.
Mother. Cook. Army.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
Risa’s face held a look of horror as she tried to stop her mother’s question.
“Oh, dear. I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?!”
Risa jumped in quickly. “Mom, don’t ask him about…”
Wait. No. Fear.
Bad. Man. Far. Army. Kill. Sister.
“Oh. I’m sorry, Derrio.”
“Well, I must excuse myself. There are lots of chores to be done tonight. I’ll leave you to yourselves.”
“No, Derrio. I can handle them. You sit and visit.” The woman got up and walked quickly out of the room.
I. Ask. You. Question.
Risa smiled. “Of course you can ask me a question.”
He rose from his chair and knelt before her.
She smiled and spoke his language.
They embraced for a long moment. Her long brown hair smelled of smoke from the fireplace as he ran his fingers through it. Finally she broke the embrace and spoke. “I must tell my mother. I’ll return in a moment…” Then she ran out of the room.
Yes. She said ‘yes!’ Just wait until I tell everyone! She said that she would marry me! She said…
“NO!!! I WILL NOT ALLOW IT!!!” Risa’s mother’s voice pierced the silence. “RISA, I SAID NO!! I WILL NOT HAVE YOU MARRYING HIM!! YOU KNOW WHAT HE IS!! HOW CAN YOU EVEN thINK IT!! I WILL NOT HAVE MY DAUGHTER MARRYING A…”
The rest was lost to him as he burst from the house. But he had heard enough to be able to fill in the missing word.
‘I will not have my daughter marrying a dummy.’
He ran as fast as he could through the streets by the docks. It was late and the normal dock traffic was missing. There were only a few drunks to witness his flight. Tears streamed from his eyes and he ran blindly on, navigating by instinct more than sight.
Dummy, dummy, dummy.
‘He must be some kind of dummy ’cause he never says anything…’
‘Ha ha ha. Look at him, thrashing around like a dummy…’
‘I will not have my daughter marrying a dummy…’
Dummy, Dummy, Dummy…
WHAM! The impact made his head spin. He tumbled to the rough cobblestones and slid to a halt.
“HEY!! You should watch where you’re going, lad. There are some who would see your head roll for such an act.” He looked up to see a man dressed in a dark cloak sitting beside him on the road. The man reached over and took him by the arm. “Now, would you like to tell me what you are running from?”
“Are you running from the town guard, perhaps?”
“Is someone chasing you, then?”
“Well, next time you wish to run from no one, try not to run into anyone, OK.”
“Why don’t you talk?”
He looked into the eyes of the stranger, and for the first time the man could see the tears within.
“Can I help you?” The man’s voice was soft and filled with compassion and gentleness, but Derrio heard it as pity. He pulled away violently from the man’s grasp and ran away, leaving the man sitting there, shaking his head.
“Aw, poor little dummy. What’s the matter, dummy? Why do you run? Are you being chased?”
He turns from the cloaked man to look behind him. From everywhere on the docks, people approach. People without ears.
Their words are mere whispers, but the meaning tears into his soul.
They come from everywhere, young and old, men and women and children. All without ears. All murmuring the same thing…
“Dummy, dummy, dummy…”
The cloaked man still holds his arm, and he can’t seem to pull away.
Here come the guards, earless and chanting…
“Dummy, dummy, dummy…”
Behind him are Risa’s friends, laughing…
“Dummy, Dummy, Dummy…”
Risa’s mother is before him now…
“DUMMY, DUMMY, DUMMY…”
He looks to his captor, who looks with pity and says “Poor little dummy. Who will help you? Where can you turn? Can there be any place to hide for a dummy…?”
“Dummy, Dummy, Dummy…”
“DUMMY, DUMMY, DUMMY…”
He wakes with a start and cries out, but the sound resembles the wail of a beast more than the cry of a man.
The voice of a dummy.
He sits there and weeps.
Between the memories and the nightmares, the night had not been a restful one for the squire. The morning brought the remembrance of the previous day’s marches, and the realization that this day would bring more. Derrio was finishing his morning chores when the man from the night before walked by. He noticed Derrio and smiled, “I see the dummy has mastered the art of standing still, now if he could only…AWK!
The man suddenly found the point of Derrio’s sword at his throat! With his free hand, Derrio signed violently.
I! NOT! DUMMY!
The man tried to step sideways to avoid the sword tip, but Derrio rapped him on the side of the head with the flat of the sword, cutting his scalp slightly.
I! NOT! DUMMY!
“Hey… Look, kid. I don’t know what has you so mad, but whatever it is, I’m sorry. Ok?”
I! NOT! DUMMY!
The boy froze at his Knight’s voice, but did not remove the sword. He heard Sir Luthias’ footsteps approach, but did not turn.
“Put down the sword, Derrio,” Sir Luthias said, his voice deathly stern. “I don’t care what he said–” The Knight Captain glared at the cloaked man. “–but a Knight *never* draws steel on someone who is unarmed.” Derrio’s hand wavered. “Am I clear, Derrio?”
Slowly, so slowly, Derrio lowered and sheathed his sword.
He. Speak. I. Dummy. He. Laugh.
Sir Luthias frowned. “I see.” He turned to the cloaked man. “Who the hell are you, anyway?”
The cloaked man mumbled something.
“Isn’t Beinison enough for you? Do you have to make enemies of your commander’s squire?” Sir Luthias asked in that death-calm voice.
“Your squire, Sir Captain? But he’s–”
“Well trained. I agree. His draw has gotten amazingly quick, lately, and if I hadn’t said something, you would be dead right now.”
“Honorable, too. Like any honorable man, he does not like to be insulted.”
“But he’s a dummy!” the man finally got out. “An idiot, Sir Captain!”
“He is *silent*!” Sir Luthias roared. “My father used to say there was wisdom in silence. Dismissed.”
The cloaked man slunk away.
Sir Luthias smiled. “It is one of my duties as your Knight, Derrio, to protect you. That man was a mage, and he could have killed you.”
He. Say. I. Dummy.
“I know.” Sir Luthias paused. “Now, about drawing your blade on him–”
“I know,” Sir Luthias said again. “But that doesn’t excuse you. You can’t control what you feel–nobody can–but you’ve got to control how you act. Your action was wrong, Derrio.”
The boy hung his head.
“When I drew steel on an unarmed man, Sir Lucan took my sword for a month.”
Derrio’s eyes panicked. Then: You. Draw. Sword?
Sir Luthias smiled, then sobered quickly. “Now, I can’t do that to you in a war zone. But what I am going to do is give you additional chores to do. We’ll talk further about this later.”
Sadly, Derrio nodded.
Shortly after the midday meal, a small group of horsemen approached. Luthias and Derrio stood as the horsemen rode to a stop and dismounted.
“Sir Luthias, this needs your immediate attention.” The leader of the group handed Luthias a sealed letter. Luthias accepted it. As he opened it, another of the horsemen approached Derrio.
“A young lady asked if I would give this to the squire of Sir Luthias of Connall. Are you said squire?” He held out a small package.
Derrio took the package and looked it over. Attached was a letter, which he opened and tried to read. He could only understand a few of the words. As patiently as possible, he waited until Luthias finished reading his letter and spoke a few commands to the horsemen. As they turned and rode away, Derrio handed his letter to Luthias.
Please forgive my mother for saying those terrible things. We have spoken long about this, and I understand her fear. My father was a member of the militia. He died at Oron’s Crossroads. My mother didn’t want me to have to know the same kind of pain that she has known. She said ‘I will not have my daughter marry a warrior’, but I asked her if she would keep her daughter from marrying a knight! You will be a knight someday, Derrio. I know it in the bottom of my heart. When you return, I will marry you, with or without my mother’s blessing!
I wait for thee, my knight to be. Be safe and be well.
He carefully opened the package. Inside he found a thick braid of dark brown hair, carefully woven into a small loop and decorated with a jet black ribbon. He gingerly removed it from it’s wrappings and, with trembling fingers, placed it in the small pouch which he carried at his side; the pouch which contained his only other treasure in the world.
A small harp.