Chapter 4 – En Exercise in Disappointment (1)

“He’s weird, isn’t he?”

“Indeed, he’s weird.”

“He’s not that weird, is he?”

Hamelin lazily opened his eyes and looked up at the three figures standing above him. “Who…?”

“Hey, Sleepyhead, what do you think you’re doing?” The oldest of them, Wayne, said.

Groggily, Hamelin shook his head from side to side. “I’m sleeping… what else?”

“It’s in the middle of the bloody day, you idiot,” said the second-oldest, Heston, “You were supposed to be training your swordsmanship with us.”

“Can’t do it,” Hamelin mumbled and closed his eyes again. Someone grabbed his head from behind and forced his eyes open, probably Heston, which gave Hamelin a clear view of his third brother.

“Father is quite cross with you, Hamelin,” the quiet Mosel said, “You’ll be punished.”

Hamelin snorted, but said nothing. He was the youngest of the four brothers, and the one no one expected anything from. Whatever this ‘punishment’ was, Hamelin suspected it was barely a slap on the wrist. Humans had such strange idea about what constituted punishment. No torture of either the body or mind, no forced starvation or hard physical labor. At worst, he would have to recite some old text a hundred times or so — barely an inconvenience.

“We shouldn’t be too hard on him,” said Wayne, fixing the position of his glasses, “It’s not his fault he’s like this.”

“It’s exactly his fault,” Heston argued, “He’s the one who dumped himself in dung, back then.”

“But he didn’t know any better,” Mosel said, shaking his head, “He shouldn’t have to pay all of his life for a mistake he did when he could barely speak.”

“I can hear you, you know,” Hamelin said, shaking himself out of Heston’s grip and gaining his feet. He had found a nice damp corner to sleep in, but now that he had been found, this place was ruined. Looking out of a nearby window, he could see the abominable sun stretching its rays across the landscape.

The idea that he had once wished to bathe in that light seemed foolish, now that he could stand in the light as much as he wanted. Indeed, it was only now that he knew how exhausting the sun could be that he fully appreciated how he belonged in the dark.

“Even if you can hear us, what can you do about it?” Heston said, stepping into Hamelin’s line of sight, “You’re the family’s disgrace; better you know that, than think you are like us.”

“Heston! That’s too harsh,” Wayne reprimanded, although Hamelin suspected the oldest Whitter sibling did not fundamentally disagree with the sentiment. Mosel reached out and patted on Hamelin on the shoulder, saying, “Don’t listen to Heston too much. He rarely think before he speaks, and often says what he shouldn’t”

While you, on the other hand, Hamelin thought, studying the boy who was only a few years older than himself, Think entirely too much, and rarely says what you truly believe.

Mosel’s cunning mind was familiar to Hamelin, as it reminded him of the deceptions he had played part in during his vexen days. “I don’t mind,” Hamelin said, truthfully, “I’m just an idiot, after all.”

Heston snickered, but Wayne frowned and said, “Don’t speak like that about yourself, Hamelin. It is bad enough that the servants gossip, but if you yourself admit it, the family’s standing will falter.”

There it was; the honest priorities of the oldest son, who would inherit all of the Whitter estate in the future. Wayne was already given responsibility over large parts of the upkeep and duties, and had, at the age of fifteen, contributed by increasing farm-yield and expanding the family businesses. A true, administrative genius, the Whitter family stood to raise itself out of mediocrity with him at the helm.

“At least he knows his place,” Heston said, slapping Hamelin on the back, “You can deal with the gossip, can’t you, dear brother?”

Hamelin had to fake being thrown off balance from the force Heston used. The second son of the family was obsessed with with military and martial arts, and had trained since young to enter the army. At twelve years old, the boy was built like an ox, and had the temper of one as well.

While he might be able to earn an officer’s commission on his own in a few years, with the yields that Wayne was bringing in, he could look forward to one being bought for him — meaning he would be on the fast-track to becoming general within a decade of signing up.

Stumbling forward, it was Mosel who caught him. The third brother of the Whitter family was a quiet sort, but equally as impressive as his two older brothers. Where one excelled in the administrative arts, and the other in martial arts, the third had found his expertise what these humans referred to as magic.

It was an unfamiliar subject to Hamelin, and he had taken little interest in it so far. The mutagenic practices of the vexen had always been superior to the bloodlines of the humans, except, of course, for the hereditary skill of the saintess, who was said to be a universal panacea for all ills — the natural enemy of all vexen.

“You alright, Hamelin?” Mosel asked, his large eyes somewhat worried. He had always been the one most concerned for Hamelin’s welfare. “You shouldn’t be so rough with him, Heston. He doesn’t have your strength, and you know how easily he succumbs to sickness.”

And then there was Hamelin. At five years, Hamelin was scrawny, sickly, and known for sleeping most of the day. As far as the family knew, Hamelin had none of the gifts his brothers displayed, nor any true prospects.

The sickness that had overtaken him after his descent into the dung-pile had left lasting effects, making him more likely to end up sick, often spending weeks in a fevered state. Or, at least, that was the impression that the Whitter family had.

It was an impression that Hamelin deliberately neglected to correct.