And it's not super short (currently working with LA Knight to get part 1 chapter 7 a little bit longer) so ENJOY!!!
The War Resumes
While most of Kaleb’s pain from the fall into the oubliette faded as he fell asleep, the pain in his right arm only intensified, pulling him back to the dark world that he’d spend the rest of his life in. The hole really was dark, but it wasn’t pitch black as he’d originally thought. In the dungeon above there were torches, though none were at the oubliette’s maw. The faint glow bounced off the opening above him, just enough so Kaleb could tell the floor from the wall, and a rock from the floor.
And he could also tell that something short and smelly was standing right next to him. As whatever it was realized Kaleb could see it, it ran at him and grabbed at his clothes. Kaleb attempted to throw it back with his right arm, and ended up dizzy as stars exploded across his vision. The creature squalled and tried to run off, but Kaleb managed to grasp it before it could escape.
“AH! MERCY! MERCY!!” Whatever he held shook in fear
“Please, Blunk not steal! Blunk trade! Rat for bread! Good deal, yes?”
Kaleb tossed Blunk away from him. “Ugh, you’re that smuggler!”
“Businessman!” Blunk corrected. Blunk was a Passling, short, green, toad-like creatures who managed to find the tiniest holes in the Veil that shielded Kandrokar from the rest of the universe. While only the Guardians could pass through the Veil at will, Passlings could smell the tiny holes that appeared every once in a while that they’d squeeze through. The rebels could really use that skill, if the Passlings managed to bring anything back other than the trash and junk they tried to trade or sell. Blunk must’ve gotten on the wrong side of Phobos himself to end up in the oubliette.
Kaleb glared at the little ball of black that moved around easily over the broken ground. He knew where…Blunk, was, mostly from the smell. How something could stink so much and still be alive was beyond him.
“I don’t have any bread,” Kaleb told him.
“Lies! I smell. Yummy, yummy bread! But traded for rat; good deal!”
Blunk began eating the bread he’d found in Kaleb’s jacket. Kaleb shook his head.
“Go ahead,” Kaleb said. “I’ve worked too hard for freedom to perish in a hole with a talking pickle!”
“Pickle, heh heh—HEY!”
“I’m getting out of here,” Kaleb said to himself, ignoring Blunk’s muttering.
“Too high, never make it.”
Kaleb scoffed and began climbing. “Have you ever even tri—”
His right foot slipped and he tumbled down to the floor, right on top of a skeleton. Horrified and embarrassed, Kaleb scrambled back, trying not to groan at his arm’s pain.
“Thirty-seven-hundred times,” Blunk replied, then spat something out. “Ow! Nasty, hard bread!”
Kaleb froze, staring in the dim light at what Blunk had spat onto the ground. It was a key. Kaleb had been chained to the walls of the oubliette before being dropped down. The man Kaleb had landed on still wore his chains, but perhaps with free hands…
He tried over and over, each fall making the ache in his arm worse and worse. The fifth or so time, Kaleb landed on it. An electric shock of pain raced through him, pulling him down into the black abyss of unconsciousness.
He could hear the screaming, smell the smoke.
“Run, Kaleb!” His father roared at him while his older brother Karn used his scythe to block a Quelthar guardsman. “Run to the forest, quick now!”
Kaleb ran. At nine, he could barely shoot a bow, least of all fight the fifty or so guards raiding his family’s small farm. They’d barely survived on their own food, selling just enough to buy what they couldn’t grow or hunt. Why the guards were there, Kaleb didn’t know. So he ran deep into the woods, crouching among an old tree’s roots until the noises in the distance stopped. But he was too frightened, too afraid of the silence to venture back out into the night, so he spent the night in that hole with the spiders and worms until dawn’s light awakened him.
He crept out of his hiding spot that always served him when he played hide-and-seek with his older brother during a lazy spring day. Half crawling across the cool ground, Kaleb hesitated when he reached open ground. Steeling himself to run again, Kaleb sprinting into the fields across from his house. At first he wasn’t sure what he was seeing, but as he drew closer, he saw, and he froze.
His house was gone. Gone. Only blackened boards stood, leaning against the remnants of his life. And there, on the tree beside their home, hanging beside the very swing his father had crafted for him and his brother and his baby sister, were the bodies of his mother and brother.
Kaleb fell to the ground and screamed.
He was ten now, and months in the woods had hardened him. Now he’d reached a village he didn’t know, one very different from the mostly human one his father had often visited. This village was smaller, with walls about it guarded by eagle-eyed Quelthar, Guldons, Humans, and even a Lurden. The only way Kaleb had managed to get in was by sliding inside a covered wagon full of potatoes and other, thin, lank vegetables.
The village may have been small, but it was packed with all the races of Kandrokar, some from far across the seas away from Meridian. Kaleb saw a few he didn’t recognize at all. But he did his best not to stare, and focused on chewing the yellow celery and tiny purple carrots he’d taken. He’d lived off roots, berries and mushrooms in the forest, as well as a few animals he’d managed to trap. What he really missed, though, was a full meal; soup with gloriously soft bread and a cup of milk with a fresh pie for dessert. He could see his mother smiling at him as he attempted to eat as much as his father and brother…
Stop it! He snapped as himself, refusing to acknowledge the tears in his eyes. Enough. They’re gone, thanks to the King’s guardsmen…
Then Kaleb looked up and saw an old Quelthar woman slowly walking the market on her cane, a basket on her arm with fresh bread in it. His father and mother had taught him to never steal, that it was wrong, but his father was gone and his mother was dead. So he shoved their voices from his mind, started to run and grabbed the bread as he raced by. He ignored his guilt, his fear, and the woman’s cries as he sped through the busy market and headed down first one alley, then another. Eventually he came to an older, abandoned building. The door was locked, but it was nothing for him to climb up the wall and through a window with broken shutters. It was only a small gap, but Kaleb had become so skinny that it was easy.
The outside may have appeared to be a closed, broken-down building, but the inside was stacked with crates and barrels. Kaleb wandered a bit, looking for a good spot to sit down and enjoy his bread…
He turned a corner and froze, completely shocked. There, against the wall were dozens of spears, staves, halberds and pikes. Weapons were illegal, everyone knew that. No serf or commoner could bear them without express permission from the king. Sure, guardsmen could bear a bow or sword, but there were only about a dozen or so per village. But this, this was an armory. This was dangerous.
I’ve got to get out of here!
Kaleb spun to head for his window—
And smacked into a tall, male Quelthar’s chest.
He tried to run away, but the man held him fast. Kaleb tried to fight him but a sharp shake put an end to that.
“Well, looks like I found Miss Dorla’s thief, eh, boy?”
Kaleb didn’t fight when they took the bread he hadn’t tasted away, along with his vegetables.
“And Farmer Larlin too?”
He only hung his head as the man’s grip tightened enough to bruise, and didn’t struggle as the man dragged him out to a larger room where the old woman, Miss Dorla, was speaking with several other Quelthar and a few Guldons.
“Is this the boy, Dorla?” The man forced Kaleb to look up at her as she took her bread back.
“Yes, he is,” the woman snapped. She wagged a finger in his face. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, young man. How dare you steal from me, or anyone else in this village! What would your mother say?”
Kaleb refused to think of the answer to that. If he did, then he’d cry. They were going to beat him anyway, at least the hunters who’d caught him before had beaten him, so he refused to cry at all. Only made the beating worse. His father had taught him to take his punishments like a man—he’d also taught him to never steal, but that was a mute point when you were starving—and that’s what he was going to do.
When Kaleb didn’t appear apologetic, the Quelthar shook him again. “Where’s your mother anyway, boy?”
“Dead.” He didn’t mean to say it, but he did. He stared at the lady’s shoes, refusing to show them the tears that had sprung into his eyes as the image of her body popped into his head again.
“What of your father, then, or siblings?” The woman’s voice had lost its sharpness, but somehow it only made things worse.
“Gone and dead.”
There was an uncomfortable silence that Kaleb couldn’t bear. But he didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything.
The man walked him over to stool and Kaleb’s heart began to drum. Whenever his father had led him to a stool it meant he was going to be on his father’s lap while being whipped. But this time the man pushed him onto it instead of taking it. Kaleb couldn’t help staring as the man knelt before him.
“Son, what’s your name?”
“Kaleb, son of Lei.” He was stunned. He wasn’t getting a beating. But they always beat him when they caught him, with either a strap or switch, every time.
“Lei of Gordahn?” The man asked, looking surprised.
“I think so…yes, that’s the town we sold our stuff at.”
Everyone in the room moved, and began muttering.
“Lei’s dead, though,” Miss Dorla said, her tone sharp again.
Kaleb looked at the ground, and this time a tear escaped. A warm hand rubbed his head.
“You’re his second boy, aren’t you?”
He could only nod. The tears wouldn’t stop. After months and months of cold and hunger and fear, this was too much. He’d rather they whipped him and sent him off. The memories of his father and his love broke down all the walls he’d made in the woods, killing his first rabbits, gathering food to cook, being sick when it didn’t go right. He’d starved and stolen, broken promises to his father and mother and brother over and over again when he’d been so hungry and reached that first village. He’d begged, and instead of receiving any kindness, everything he’d owned, even his boots, had been taken from him. Everything he’d taught became hollow, their voices and memories no longer a comfort, only a constant haunting that brought that last night and morning to his mind over and over.
And now, when he thought he’d be hungry and beaten and broken again, this man placed his hand on Kaleb’s head like his father had done every single day. It was too much.
When Kaleb began to sob, Dorla pulled him into her arms and held him as he cried. She told the Quelthar, Aldurin, that he was not to harm the boy, and instead gave him the bread he’d taken, and few other things besides. After he ate a few bites, Aldurin put his hand on his head again and said softly, “I knew your father, Kaleb. And I’m not letting his son starve or steal again. Tonight, you’re staying with me.”
That man was Aldurin, Aldarn’s father, the current leader of the rebellion.