Day 1: VI

It’s amusing that the man with the most cause never called me little. Crick preferred simpler titles: the Firstprince (my brother) he called ‘Jacque’ and the king he anointed ‘sir’. My father, whose pride ran infinite, rankled at the address but what was he to do? For his part, I think Crick rather enjoyed this advantage granted by his size.

“How are you, Crick?” I delighted in conversation with him, first because of the gift I would receive—a pastry stolen from Master Rushon or a glass marble pilfered from the town’s glassblower—and second because I would lose my stutter. Perhaps my brain, so preoccupied with the task of comprehending Crick (how often does one see a Goliath?), could not waste its time tripping over trivial language.

“Good. I’m preparing for the revelers’ entrance. Would you like a preview?” Crick spoke in the voice you would assign to him: deep and strong. Only in its quick speed did it deviate from expectations.

“What is your act? Juggling?” I ventured the guess based on the torches he held by his side.

He smiled at that, his teeth as bloodless as his skin. “A good guess but no. Allow me to demonstrate.” He eyed me for a moment. “Perhaps you should move away. I have not yet perfected the technique.”

Hardly had I scuttled backwards when I first smelled the sulfur and lime. In a single motion, Crick brought one of the torches to his mouth and blew. A stream of fire exploded upwards in a roar of color and sound, the flame’s turquoise undoubtedly created by some clever chemical addition.

No such thought whirled through my mind at that time, of course. Blinded, I attempted to clap my hands in wonder and wipe my eyes in pain—and so failed at both. My hearing, less affected, registered clearly the gasps and muttered curses from the corners of the hall where the other performers—acrobats, funambulists and harpists alike—practiced their crafts.

When my vision returned, what it saw beggared belief: blue flamelets dancing across Crick’s arms and chest. More than a few among them reaching for his face. That calling for aid struck me not only as unnecessary but inappropriate should serve as a testament to the degree I imbued Crick with miraculous powers. I waited only to see what he would do next.

With hands large enough for three-year-old me to sit upon (yes, I base this on personal experience), he extinguished each flame with almost casual disdain. Each slap rang across the great hall.

“You aren’t burned!” I said. And he wasn’t. I saw white skin in place of charred flesh and could not reconcile the disagreement between my expectation and his reality without resorting to fantastic explanation. Perhaps the blood of some ancient god really did course through Crick’s veins. Or perhaps his mother, surely a fire spirit from the south, blessed him with elemental protection.

You may laugh but do not forget I was of the age where my imagination was met, not only by acceptance, but by encouragement. With the application of some basic logic, it follows from this that adulthood, that mythical finding of purpose and coming of age, comes not from within but without. One grows up when instructed to.

I anticipate Crick’s easy nature resulted then from the fact that no one had told him to grow up. Who would dare, other than madmen? And their words, if one stops to listen at all, are easily disregarded.

After quenching the last flamelet, a stubborn thing that required a double slap, Crick turned around. “Anything?” he said.

It took me a moment to realize he directed the question to me—and another to know what he wanted. “No,” I said after surveying his back. Corded muscles stretched against its surface and, with each breath, waxed and waned around the broad plain of his spine. It was only then it dawned upon me that the sheen I saw earlier, which I observed now in greater detail, came not from sweat but from something he had spread across his skin.

I found myself facing him again. For such a vast man, Crick possessed quick feet. “The gel did its job then,” he said with an appreciative nod. “Pity I forgot about my face the first time around.” He wiggled his brows at me for emphasis.

His brows. There were none. Without their little color to offset his pale complexion and pale eyes, Crick mimicked an ill-finished bust topped with an absurd wig. Laughter welled inside me, and before I could suppress it, burst through my closed lips with a howl. For the second time in as many minutes, my eyes watered—but this time in ecstasy. Each time I tried to control myself, my mutinous sight would drift to Crick’s forehead and the cycle would begin again. Only when the lines of his jaw clenched did I receive a reason to stay my good humor. I’ve never witnessed Crick’s anger; for that I give thanks.

“I’m sorry,” I said, my remorse at odds with the smile I kept trying to suppress. “Did it hurt?”

“What?”

“Did it hurt? When you…” I motioned vaguely to my face. “When the fire burned you there. The first time.”

“Oh. No, it didn’t hurt. I smelled the burning hair before I realized what had happened. Let it be a lesson, Kadon. Don’t play with fire,” he said in his best stern tone, which was rather good. I think I could have dangled from the finger he pointed at me in warning, such was its size.

“But you do, even after you hurt yourself.”

Crick’s eyes widened at my answer and if he had any brows, I’m sure they would have risen in surprise. “Yes,” he said in thoughtful agreement before the rebuttal occurred to him, “but I’m not a prince.”

“Second prince,” I protested.

“Yet nonetheless a prince. Don’t let Sir hear you say such things. He would not be pleased.”

I laughed at Crick’s naïveté. “I don’t think I could please father if I tried. He doesn’t like me.”

“A father loves his son. Always.” Crick’s voice was somber and as he shook his great head, tasseled hair fell before his face like stalks of shorn wheat.

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