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«Well of Sorrows», Benjamin Tate

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Benjamin Tate

 

Part I Colin

 

1

Colin saw Walter’s foot a moment before it connected with his stomach. Air gushed from his lungs as the kick landed and he folded in upon himself in the hard-packed dirt of the alley, his arms cradling his gut. Pain exploded from his abdomen, radiating outward into his legs, smothering the aches and pains from all the other blows Walter and his gang had landed earlier. Colin rocked back and forth, tried not to cry out, the pain in his stomach spreading to his thighs, sending tentative spikes into his lower back And then, with a sickening sensation-a loose, queasy, tingling sensation-his bladder gave.

Colin’s eyes flew wide in horror and he gasped, spittle flecked with blood from where he’d bitten his inner cheek flying from his lips. He felt warmth spread through his underlinen and breeches, and he squeezed his eyes closed tight. Hot tears burned his cheeks; tears he’d managed not to shed as the gang cornered him and began beating him, tears he’d vowed he wouldn’t shed again after the last time they’d found him. He fought them as he pulled his knees in even tighter, as he tried to hide the blotch of wetness that now covered the front of his breeches. But he couldn’t hide the sharp, pungent stench.

“Diermani’s balls,” Walter swore, stepping back from Colin with a lurch, one hand covering his mouth as he faked gagging. “The little squatter pissed his pants!”

Walter’s three cohorts roared with laughter. One of them stepped forward, planted his feet to either side of Colin’s head, and spat onto Colin’s face. Colin flinched as it struck his cheek, tightened the ball he’d made himself into, the tears of shame and pain and ineffectual anger he’d held back now slipping down his nose into the dirt. His breath came in short, hitching gasps. His side cramped with a sudden sharp spasm, and he cried out.

“Stupid shit,” the older boy said from above him. It sounded like Brunt, the largest of the gang, Walter’s heavy. “Don’t you know how to hold your water? You take your breeches down before you piss!”

“Damn refugee,” Gregor said from farther away. “Go back to Andover, where you came from. We were here first!”

“Yeah, go back west, back across the Arduon Ocean, back to the Bontari Family and the Court and their goddamned war.”

Colin began sobbing. He couldn’t stop it, no matter how hard he clenched his teeth. Keeping his eyes tight, he listened as the gang shuffled around, Brunt withdrawing, his feet scuffing the dirt of the alley, kicking it up into Colin’s face. Snot clogged Colin’s nose, and he began breathing through his mouth in harsh exhalations. He listened to the gang chuckling, listened to see if they were going to kick him more, or punch him, or pinch him as they’d done before. They seemed to have withdrawn.

But they hadn’t left.

Someone’s foot stamped down hard into the dirt close to Colin’s head, and he jerked and cried out. Another burst of laughter, and then a hand clamped onto Colin’s upper arm, fingers bruising the skin through his shirt, and wrenched him upright. Colin’s eyes flew open as new pain flared in his shoulder, and he found himself inches from Walter’s thin face. The thug’s gray-green eyes blazed with hatred beneath his dirty, blond hair. His mouth was twisted into a grimace, as if he could barely stand touching Colin.

“Listen, pissant,” he hissed. “Portstown belongs to us, to the Carrente Family. We were here first. Our grandfathers crossed the Arduon and settled the damn town, and we don’t want any of you refugees here screwing the place up, especially Bontari refugees.” He twisted the Bontari Family name with derision, with cold hatred. “So crawl back to your pissant parents in that hovel you refugees have built over in Lean-to and tell them to get the hell out of our town. ”

He shook Colin to emphasize his words, Colin limp in his grip. He thought Walter was going to kick him again, or knee him in the groin, as he’d done once before-Colin could see the intent in the sudden tightening of the corners of Walter’s eyes-but Walter merely snorted in disgust and thrust him to the ground, one of the other thugs giggling. Colin scrambled up onto his elbows, but the gang had retreated to the far end of the alley and now sauntered out into the greater sunlight of the main street. None of them looked back. Rick, the smallest of the bunch but still bigger than Colin, punched Brunt in the arm. Brunt grabbed him around the neck and hauled him down into a chokehold as they rounded the corner, ignoring Rick’s shouted, “Hey!”

Once they were gone, Colin sank back and lay flat, wincing at another spasm in his side. He wiped the snot and spit from his face, felt the grit that had stuck to his skin, and let his arm flop back down to his side. He stared up at the blue sky overhead between the edges of the two warehouses to either side and tried to think of nothing.

Instead, he thought of home. Not the makeshift shed in the section of town that locals called Lean-to-no more than a single closed-off room with a dirt floor, a blanket for a door, a crude stone cook pit, and some pallets. He thought of Trent, in Andover, the city across the ocean that he’d called home his entire life. He thought about the house they’d lived in-a real house, with stone floors, a wooden door, and a patch of land enclosed by a low stone wall. When he’d been younger, he’d helped his mother plant gardens while his father was away working for the Family and the carpenter’s guild. Tomatoes and peppers and all of the herbs: parsley and oregano and basil. Until age five, when he’d been sent to the school to learn of writing and mathematics and the Codex of Holy Diermani. At nine, he’d begun his apprenticeship in his father’s carpenter’s guild, even though many of the boys his age had decided to enter the Armory, to serve in the Family’s army.

But then his father had come home one day and told them he’d found them room on one of the refugee ships heading to the east, to the New World. Because of the rumblings of a war within the Court, a Feud among the Families.

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