Water poured from the bucket smooth as glass, solidifying instantly when it splashed on the lawn. The resulting frozen form, stretching from ground to bucket, formed an impromptu transparent sculpture in the middle of the back yard.
Tyrran observed his aunt chisel carefully at the bucket his uncle was holding until it broke free from the ice sculpture. Then she knelt down and used her chisel to create a small archway through the ice at the bottom, just large enough for a small ball to roll through.
His aunt and uncle continued this routine—he poured the water while she froze it and then chiseled the ice—until the lawn behind Tyrran’s house was dotted with sculptures.
The lawn ball playing field was now ready.
Tyrran was terrified of his severe and demanding Aunt Laria, but he did very much enjoy watching her use her gift. With what seemed like effortless precision, she would always freeze the water at just the right moment—before it finished pouring from the bucket, but after some of it had touched the ground.
Tyrran stretched out in his spot on the edge of the patio, where the stone stopped and the turf began, and watched the players picking up their mallets and balls in preparation for the first game. It was a warm summer day, but he was in the shadow of the giant tree that stood at one side of the patio. He much preferred to spend family gatherings here in the quiet shade watching the adults play lawn ball, than out in the forest with his boisterous, and often cruel, cousins.
His uncle was just about to swing the opening hit when a loud wail from the nearby forest stopped him short. Everyone turned in the direction of the noise, and after a moment’s suspense Tyrran’s cousin Rony came bursting out of the trees, holding his nose and wailing at the top of his lungs.
Rony soon spotted his mother, Tyrran’s Aunt Laria, standing next to one of the frozen lawn ball obstacles and ran to her. The other lawn ball players gathered round as Aunt Laria knelt down and comforted her son. Tyrran joined the crowd, concerned for his cousin, but also a little suspicious. Rony had a reputation for being dramatic.
“Rony dear, tell me what happened.”
Rony dropped his hand to reveal a red and bleeding nose. “Laus Nonio punched me in in the face.”
Aunt Laria scowled and looked up at her husband. “I’ll go find him,” he responded to her unspoken command, and ran off into the forest.
Tyrran squeezed through the adults gathered around Rony and Aunt Laria. He felt bad for his cousin and wanted to comfort him, but he also knew that there was likely more to the story than Rony was telling. Laus Nonio was the son of one of his mother’s servants. He was outspoken and rowdy, but he wasn’t mean-spirited. He treated Tyrran with much more kindness than most of his cousins.
Rony, on the other hand, was hot-headed and spoiled, and more than once had struck Tyrran in a fit of anger.
Tyrran reached his cousin and began to rub his back soothingly. But as soon as Tyrran’s hand made contact, he experienced a strange sensation. Though he had been quite calm just moments before, he was now suddenly overwhelmed with intense feelings. The feelings weren’t his—he knew that—but they felt as real as if they were his own. Almost like another voice inside his head.
Though he couldn’t explain why he knew, he was certain these feelings were his cousin’s. And Rory wasn’t feeling what he was supposed to be feeling. He wasn’t hurt and afraid. He was angry. And happy. In a mean way. Tyrran was disgusted by the cruelty he sensed in his cousin.
He had been right about Rory. He wasn’t really upset. He was trying to get Laus in trouble. And knowing Aunt Laria, it was likely Rory would get his way. Laus would be punished unfairly.
Tyrran yelled his objection almost without thinking. Then he slapped his hand over his mouth, as if he could somehow catch the words before everyone heard them. The entire crowd stared at Tyrran in shock. His face grew warm and flushed. He wanted to run away and hide, but he was too scared and embarrassed to move.
Rony turned to his cousin and glared angrily.
His aunt was furious. “Tyrran! That is a terrible thing to say about someone. How could you know that Rony is lying?”
Tyrran bowed his head and didn’t respond. If he told her what had just happened, she would have smacked him for ‘inventing nonsense.’ He often got in trouble with her for that.
Just then his uncle returned, charging through the crowd and dragging Laus Nonio by the arm. “I found the culprit and he will explain himself,” he announced when they reached Aunt Laria, Tyrran, and Rony.
Aunt Laria looked down at Laus sternly. “Laus, why did you strike Rony?”
Laus didn’t look the least bit frightened of Aunt Laria, and Tyrran had to admire his courage.
“He hit me first! We were playin’ find-me-last and he was mad that I found him and he kicked me. So I hit ‘im back.”
“That’s not true!” Rony yelled in denial. “I didn’t do anything!”
Relief flooded Tyrran when he saw his mother approaching, and he ran to her.
“What is happening here?” she demanded. Tyrran was glad that the weekly family gathering was at his mother’s farm this week. If they had been at Aunt Laria’s, she would have been meting out punishments already, not only to Laus, but also to Tyrran for his outburst.
“Your servant’s son struck Rony,” Aunt Laria responded, motioning to Rony, whose black trousers and white blouse were a disheveled, dirty mess, and who was still holding a bloody rag to his nose. “He must be punished.”
“The boy’s defense was that Rony kicked him first. That must be considered.” Tyrran couldn’t see who spoke, but he recognized the voice. His Uncle Phonsus was the only other person besides his mother—and apparently Laus Nonio—who wasn’t afraid of his aunt.
Laria looked at Laus with disgust. While Rony’s clothes were messy at the moment, they were still of good quality. Laus, on the other hand, was wearing very plain breeches and a simple overshirt. They were sturdy, but cheap. The kind of clothes children of servants usually wore.
“I see no reason to consider any such thing,” she said with distaste.
His uncle laughed. “I expected you wouldn’t. But our sister is a fair-minded woman, and she would want to hear both sides. Especially since her son just publicly accused Rony of lying.”
Tyrran’s mother stared down at him questioningly. But before Tyrran could open his mouth, his aunt offered her thoughts.
“Tyrran was not with the boys when all of this occurred. He was here watching us like he usually does, because he’s too afraid to be in the woods and too shy to play with other children. He could have no idea who is lying and who is not. He was obviously jealous of the attention Rony was receiving. He should be reprimanded for his outburst.”
Tyrran heard his uncle snort. “When has Tyrran ever wanted to be the focus of attention?”
“I will handle this,” his mother said in a loud, commanding voice. “Laria, if you take Rony to the kitchen, Thilda will help you clean him up.”
His aunt nodded, but added, “Kara, I won’t stand for any of your reformist coddling. That boy struck one of his betters, and he must suffer the consequences.”
“This is my farm, Laria. I said I will handle the situation.” Tyrran was relieved to hear the irritation in his mother’s voice. She was less likely to be angry at him if she was more annoyed with his aunt.
Aunt Laria marched off angrily with Rony in tow. Tyrran’s mother turned to Laus.
“Laus, go find your mother and bring her to the house. Explain to her what happened. And don’t be concerned; I will provide you ample opportunity to tell your side of the story.”
“Yes, mistress,” Laus replied and ran off. He didn’t seem worried. Laus, like all of his mother’s servants, knew his mother to be fair and just. She would surely come to the right conclusion as to what had happened, and what was to be done about it.
Tyrran’s mother looked down at him with a puzzled smile. “Come with me to my study. I’m quite curious to hear why you would accuse your cousin of lying.”
Tyrran swallowed hard and nodded. How was he supposed to explain what had happened? No matter what he said, and as fair minded and understanding as his mother was, he didn’t think she would believe him.
He followed her through the back entrance of their farmhouse, past the kitchen where Rony was whining as Aunt Laria wiped his face with a wet cloth, through a corridor, and into his mother’s study.
The farmhouse’s large but cozy study was Lara Kens’s sanctuary. Tyrran and his brother Casmir were rarely allowed in it. Even his father would not enter unless his mother was within and invited him.
He looked around with curiosity, trying to soak in every detail. It would probably be some time before he saw the room again. The wood floor was almost entirely covered by a thick red rug. The walls were paneled with strips of light, polished wood and decorated with paintings and candle sconces. Thick, dark green drapes covered three large windows on the wall opposite the door. A large desk dominated one side of the room, facing a giant fireplace on the other side. Two large, stuffed-cushion chairs sat in front of the fireplace, a small side table between them. It was a very warm and homey space.
Tyrran sat on one of the large chairs, feeling very small. His mother closed the study door and then sat beside him on the other chair. Her giant furball of a cat Wispy jumped on her lap and she absentmindedly pet her as she spoke.
“So why would my usually very quiet son suddenly decide to publicly accuse his cousin of lying?”
Tyrran stared down at his lap. “I was so surprised, and it wasn’t fair that Laus would get in trouble, so I just blurted it out.”
“What was it that surprised you?” Her voice was curious, not angry. Tyrran decided he might as well tell the truth and see what happened.
Tyrran explained what he had felt when he had rubbed Rony’s back, then looked up at his mother’s face expecting to see disbelief, anger, or disappointment. Or even just bewilderment. But instead, he saw… a smile?
“Tyrran, this is wonderful! It seems my suspicions were correct.”
Tyrran could not have been more confused by that response, which his mother immediately noticed.
“I am sorry, my son. All of this must be very concerning to you. Do not worry. What happened with Rony was very natural.”
“You mean everyone experiences other people’s feelings sometimes?” Tyrran found this hard to believe.
She laughed in response. It was a loving, yet also teasing, laugh—the kind of laugh adults often made when Tyrran accidentally said something silly, even though he was trying to be serious.
“No, Tyrran.” She was still chuckling. “Not everyone. Only Empaths.”
Once again, Tyrran didn’t understand. “But I’m not an Empath. Only girls have gifts.” He looked down at the rotund Wispy, who yawned at him. His mother was a Faunan, meaning her gift was the ability to understand and even communicate with animals.
The scolding glance he received in response was the same look his governor gave him when he answered a question incorrectly. “You’re forgetting about Favoreds, my son.”
“But in all the stories I read, Favoreds are brave and bold. I’m… I’m not either of those. I’m always afraid of things. And too shy. Like Aunt Laria said.”
A look of irritation crossed her face. “Pay no attention to your aunt. She all too often says what she shouldn’t.”
She lifted Wispy off her lap and reached over to grab Tyrran’s hand.
“Tyrran, it’s alright to be afraid of things. Many children are. It’s a very big world, and you are very small. You will learn bravery as you grow. And men don’t become Favored by being brave or talented. Favored men are born with a gift, just like women are. And because they are gifted, Favoreds have a responsibility to live as an example and inspiration to all other men. That’s why they work extra hard to become brave and develop their talents.”
She pulled at Tyrran’s hand and motioned him to approach. He jumped off the large chair and stood in front of his mother. She grasped his arms and looked at him intently.
“Tyrran, you were born a Favored. That is a great blessing from the Creator. As an Empath, you have remarkable abilities that you will develop over time. But being Favored also comes with responsibilities. You must learn to use your abilities for the betterment of others. And to protect the Sovereignty.”
Her face suddenly clouded with concern and worry. “I fear that our nation will face troubled times ahead. It has been centuries since the last ghoulad war, and their numbers in the Great Mountains have been increasing of late. It’s possible that your gifts will be very much needed in the coming years.”
Tyrran shivered in sudden terror, and his eyes began to fill with tears.
“I don’t want to fight ghoulad, mother. They’re so horrible. I don’t think I’m brave enough. I don’t think I want to… to be Favored.”
She smiled at him and caressed his hair gently. “My dear son, I should not have spoken of such things. Do not worry. It is not completely certain that war will come. And if it does, it won’t be for a while yet. You have plenty of time to learn bravery.”
Tyrran looked up, feeling relieved. “Really?”
His mother wiped away the few tears that had escaped his eyes. “Indeed. And as you get older you will learn how to use your gift and grow in confidence.”
Tyrran grabbed on to this thought as if it were a precious treasure. He might not be brave now, but he would learn how to be. The future no longer looked so dark and fearful, and he felt he could now be excited about being Favored.
He gave her a hug and then pulled back. “Can I go tell Casmir and Da?”
She beamed at him with a wide smile. “Of course. Off you go. Your father will want to ask me about it; tell him I will be along shortly. I must first settle this matter between Laus and Rony.”
Tyrran paused before leaving. “Laus won’t get in trouble, will he? It really was all Rony’s fault.”
He received a warm smile for his concern. “I would have believed Laus over Rony even if you hadn’t exposed Rony’s true feelings. I will be very fair.”
“Thank you, mother.” Tyrran said, smiling, and then walked as quickly as he could out of the study—running in the house was forbidden—to go find his brother, not even remembering to take one last look at the room that had so fascinated him only moments earlier.