Ricky was tending his pigs. He did this every morning. Many people would find this dull work, but not Ricky. He loved his pigs and got more satisfaction from tending them than anything else he could imagine. Sure, in the long run, he would have to eat them, but he made certain they had a happy life until that day.
In many ways, Ricky resembled his pigs. He was pink skinned and had an upturned, porcine nose. Also, years of living on a pig farm with his Aunt and Uncle had left him large. Much, much larger than most boys his age, both in height and girth.
On that fine midsummer morning, a stranger was walking down the road to Happy Home Pig Farm. A mysterious old man in a long cloak and a pointed hat. Ricky looked at him and thought to himself, “Well, I’ll be. A wizard coming to our little farm. How strange.”
The stranger walked up to Ricky and said “I’m looking for Richard Coursemiere. Do you know where I could find him?”
“I know where you could find him.”
Ricky kept looking at the stranger. Clearly, he was stupid. Here he was asking about Ricky by that stupid name, and he was looking right at him.
“So, where can I find him?”
“I’m him, or rather, he’s me.”
The stranger stared for a moment before saying, “Okay… not quite what I was expecting. So, you’re Richard Coursemiere then. Okay. Well, I guess it is what it is. I’m Talen the Dark. I need you to come with me.”
“Pigs need tending. Can’t just expect a man to up and leave his pigs can you?”
“Well, yes actually. Look, if you come with me you will find a wonderful world full of adventure and wealth. There will be deeds of daring, and women of course.”
“Well, I’m really not interested, but you can come in and meet Aunt June and Uncle John. They’ll give you some food I’m sure. It’s almost tea time anyway.”
“Look, I’m in a hurry. I need you to”
“Nope. Not interested. Either come in for tea or get out. Up to you.”
Talen followed Ricky into the quaint little farm cottage just past the pig pens. The cottage was a small building with cob walls and a thatched roof. It was in good repair, tidy, organized, and full of good smells. Ricky said, “Aunt June, some wizards come to take me off. I suspect I’m the chosen one for something or other. Anyway, is tea ready?”
“Oh, yes, I thought his might happen,” said Aunt June, a portly, cheerful woman of middle years, “Your parents were royalty of course, like most orphan children in the kingdom. I believe you are the rightful heir to the barony of Strangeleaf. A productive area once upon a time. It’s fallen into disrepute since the usurper took over. His people are sure to be looking for you. We’ve tried to hide you as best we could, but if this gentleman can find you it’s certain that the usurper is close behind. Might be best for all involved if you got out of here now before we get raided and you have to go and get vengeance or something. You know how these things go.”
“But it’s closing in on harvest, and the pigs need me.”
“Well, yes, but this way we get to keep our heads. Well, maybe. Look, John’ll be back in a minute and we can discuss it with him. You know your uncle is a sensible man. Plus he can give you the backstory on your parents and all that.”
They sat, the three of them, in awkward silence. Ricky was thinking how unfair it all was. Why did he have to be an orphan? If he only had proper parents he could have stayed and raised pigs. Other boys longed for the city life, but for Ricky this was the only life that appealed. What use were riches and towers really? Here on the farm he had all the food he could ever eat, warmth, practical people who loved him. Sure, they weren’t demonstrative. Practical farm people, they showed their love with third helpings of dessert and warm clothing in winter, even if it was well patched.
After a few minutes of silence John walked in. John was a very, very large man. His shoulders filled the door and he had to stoop to enter. He was enormously strong due to a lifetime of farm work, and enormously fat due to a lifetime of farm eating. His hair was a dark black and his skin swarthy. His face was framed by a dark black beard, cropped short. “Right then, who’s this?”
“Says his names Talen. He’s a wizard. Came to take our Ricky off to his destiny.”
“Right then. Look lad, we’ll be sorry to see you go, no question, but we don’t want to get caught up in the crossfire. Plus, it always works out better when the chosen one embraces his heritage.”
“But uncle, I don’t want to go. I like it here.”
“Yeah, fair enough, but if you don’t what are the odds that armed men come and burn our farm to the ground eh? You know that’s how it always goes, and your usurper is a nasty git.”
Talen was staring at them, lip curled under his wispy grey mustache. “What is wrong with you people? The boy is the chosen lord of Strangeleaf and his people need him. The usurper is killing people by the hundreds and you don’t care?”
“Look man, I know you can probably turn me into a toad or some such, but right now I’m talking to the boy about his future, and your input isn’t helping, so please just shut it until we get this settled.”
Talen shut it, wilting under John’s gaze. John turned back to Ricky and said, “I guess I should tell you the story. First, we ain’t really blood related. Your dad was me best mate. A good sort, but full of dreams. I lived in the city back then, trying to make my mark on the world, idiot that I was. Anyway, Benjamin, that was his name, was the rightful heir to the barony. Not quite so grand as a king or anything, which is probably why he hung out with lowlives like myself. His father’s chief adviser was a nasty little man named Kent. Kent wanted the power for himself, and also your mum. She was a fine looking lass, noble herself. They were cousins, Ben and Karen – that’s your mum. She had the nicest…”
“John, the boy doesn’t need to know that bit.”
“Right. Anyway, so Kent came up with a plan to make it look like Benjamin had betrayed the high king. The plan worked, and Kent got given the barony as a reward. Thing is, by then you were a bun in the oven. There was even a secret wedding and the like. Look, you know I’m no good at stories. Point is, the barony would have gone to you if anyone had known about you, not to Kent. Even with the supposed treason the lineage would have still prevailed through the crime, with only your father having to die. Your mum died in childbirth, probably mostly because we were hiding in a crappy sewer tunnel with Kent’s men searching for us. Was a bit of a do really. Me and June here took you in. I promised your mum on her death bed. Really, I’ve loved you like a son, and it turns out that June’s barren as the north field, so you’re all we get for a kid. On the other hand neither one of us really wants to get burned alive, something that Kent likes to do. So, would be better for everyone if you took off. We’ll send the soldiers in the wrong direction of course, but it won’t take them too long to figure out where you went I reckon.”
“Can I talk yet?” said Talen, “this is all nonsense. We need to go, and we need to go now. Kent will kill you, and he has a diabolical plan to raise a demon to ensure his immortality. We need to stop him and install you on the throne before this comes to pass. If not he will rule the earth for a thousand years while all below him are crushed under his boots. There isn’t a choice here, it’s destiny. Hell, it’s even been written about. I have the tome here,” Talen pulled a giant book out of his satchel. It was bound in the most delicate, supple leather Ricky had ever seen. “Wait. Is that human skin?”
“Yes, of course it is. What else would the book of destinies be bound in?”
“Cowhide? I don’t know. Just, really, human skin? That’s awful.”
“Sorry the Book of Destinies doesn’t live up to your morality farm boy. It’s only a five thousand year old book steeped in the grandest magics ever created, but don’t worry – I’m sure your mundane mind is completely fit to judge the ancients.”
Part 2 is now up.