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25
Firebug

Written for Day One of B2MEM 2009:

The prompt was "learning to make a fire".


~~~

Report had come that autumn of a rogue boar ravening in the hills of Belfalas. It was a huge, canny beast that had evaded the attempts of the local huntsmen and farmers to bring it to bay, and had seriously injured one man. So at his father's behest, the Heir of Dol Amroth summoned his oath brother, his sons, the royal huntsman and his hounds, and for the first time since his wife's death, rode out of the city to the chase.

Amrothos, who was ten, was deemed barely old enough to come along, to his great joy. The next week was a series of revelations to the young boy.

The first-that sometimes it was simply nice to be in the company of men without the complications that women tended to bring with them. Even if the men included his pesky older brothers.

The second-that Uncle Andrahar could wear something other than Swan Knight livery and actually looked very handsome in hunting leathers.

The third-that the stars were much brighter, and the sky more vast, away from the lights of the City, even better than the view from the top of the Swan Tower.

The fourth concerned his father. It started when they were afoot, forcing their way through some tangled brush and the very boar they had been seeking charged them unexpectedly from the side, the same side his father was on. Imrahil, ahead a little of the rest of them, had met the boar alone. Amrothos, also on that side, was well back out of danger, but had a perfect view of what followed. The expression on his father's face as bristled death bore down upon him was frightening, and one Amrothos had never seen before-dreamy, rapt, almost welcoming. Then there was the meaty thunk as the Prince's boar spear struck true, a desperate scuffling among leaves and twigs as Imrahil sought to ground it, the creak of wood strained to its limits as he succeeded and the stave and steel and single-handed human muscle sought to hold firm against hundreds of pounds of feral malice. Belling boar hounds leapt in to grip the animal and above their cries, the shouts of the other huntsmen rushing to the rescue and the furious grunts of the boar, his father's voice called, strangely gay and unworried, "Any time now, Andra!"

Andrahar darted in, swift as the serpent on his former country's standard and severed the spine, the royal huntsman a heartbeat behind him. The boar downed, the dogs called off, he then confronted his liege lord, furious as the boar had been.

"Are you out of your mind?!"

Imrahil looked down at him, and though he was panting from the exertion, his expression was calm. "It wasn't intentional, Andra. He surprised me. I'm all right, really I am." His voice was oddly gentle. Amrothos got the distinct idea that they were talking about things other than the boar. It was confirmed in the next instant when the captain stared into his father's clear grey eyes for a long moment and some fear or tension seemed to drain out of him.

"I suppose you are at that." His father then grinned his familiar pirate's grin, hooked a blood-spattered arm around Andrahar's neck, drew him close and dropped a kiss upon his sleek black head.

"Indubitably."

The fifth revelation was the best one of all and it happened later that afternoon, as camp was being set. His brothers had been tasked to clear a space for the fire and gather wood. Imrahil found Amrothos deep in enraptured examination of the boar's entrails as the huntsmen dressed it. They were politely answering his questions about the various organs.

"Come, 'Rothos, 'tis time. You're old enough."

"Old enough for what?"

"To learn to build a fire, and to keep it under control."

"Really?"

"Yes."

And so he went with his father to be initiated into the brotherhood of fire builders, a fraternity he had long wished to join. Fire broadened the scope of his possible experiments greatly, and his brothers were not unaware of the way his thoughts were tending as he gazed into the flames over dinner.

"Did you have to teach him, Father?" Elphir complained. "He'll burn the palace down, just you watch!"

"I don't want him on any ship I ever captain," Erchirion agreed. "Firebug! Did you see the way he was feeding it?"

Amrothos snorted. "It's a natural force. I always respect natural forces," he said loftily. "Besides, Father told me all the rules, and you know I always remember perfectly everything I've been told." But that night, as he lay in his bedroll and stared up at the autumn sky, his mind patterned flowers of fire against the darkness between the stars.

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