The next few weeks were tougher than ever for the slave boy known as Krampel. As the weeks turned into months, the people of Cassimina began to warm to his presence—especially the young ladies of the town, who seemed to enjoy his company once he was cleaned up and properly fed. After a few weeks, Krampel gained a little weight, helping to fill out his underfed body, and the girls certainly took notice. Once he started to work on the farms, his body began to develop—even if still on the lean side—which made the girls giggle and blush at the sight of it.
Of course, the girls’ attention to the young newcomer meant that several of the lads became jealous of him. Some remained friendly with the boy, but that was only so they could stick a knife in his back at the opportune time. They tried to mock him for his background, but once they realized the girls paid no attention to their snide remarks, they needed to come up with a new plan for attacking the boy.
The one who did come up with a plan was Piety Crassnick, the leader of the gang.
Piety was Krampel’s age, and quickly turned in his fiercest nemesis. As the son of Danith Crassnick, many of the locals gave him a wide berth and a certain respect—the Crassnicks were bullies, and no one wanted to cross them.
Piety was slightly taller than Krampel, with blond hair that came down past his ears. His eyes were so gray they actually looked like dwarven pure silver, and his nose was thin to a point. His jaw, however, was his prominent feature—it resembled his father’s so much that people said Piety would turn out to be just as much the bully as Danith was.
The son of Crassnick wanted to bring the newcomer down a few notches. He wanted to show him who really controlled the town, and to whom he should pay his allegiance.
He executed his plan while Krampel ran a few errands for the old man.
Krampel’s hands were full of meat and bread—the baker didn’t even want to look at him, but took Vossler’s money without complaint—and he walked with Rosaline, a neighbor girl. They passed the village green when Piety leapt out of a tree and landed right on top of the boy, sending the goods flying and Krampel sprawling to the ground. Rosaline shrieked as Piety started to pound on the lad, then turned and ran to find help for Krampel.
But Piety Crassnick failed to realize that Krampel’s constitution was much stronger than he believed. Krampel quickly rolled over, even with Piety’s weight resting on his lower back, and fired a punch around Piety’s flying fists. His punch landed along Piety’s jaw line, sending the bully flying off him.
“So you want to fight, huh?” Krampel asked.
He didn’t wait for an answer, as he leapt on Piety and let the blows fall upon the now whimpering bully. A fist landed on the nose, breaking it, and one powerful punch landed near the kidneys, making Piety gasp for air. Krampel did not relent for even a second, and soon the other boy was crying for his mother. Piety’s mates stood aghast, having rushed to witness his intended bullying as soon as he leapt at Krampel from the tree. They looked worriedly to each other to see who would eventually tear Krampel away from their friend.
Not one of them moved; they didn’t want to be caught up in the maelstrom of whirling fists that seemed to attack Piety with mindless abandon.
The fire inside Krampel ignited, and there was no chance of extinguishing it any time soon. Piety Crassnick’s attack was the worst type, and he paid for his actions with his blood. The force of Krampel’s fists led to bleeding from Piety’s nose and mouth; after his punches left Piety moaning, Krampel grabbed the boy’s blond tresses and rubbed his face in the dirt, just to embarrass him even more.
“Krampel!” yelled a voice from behind the brawl. “Get off of him!”
Krampel turned and saw Vossler coming out of his home—the home Krampel was welcomed in to—limping as the walking stick pounded hard on the dirt. He was striding fast, so fast that it appeared the old man was running toward them.
Reluctantly, Krampel got off the young boy, who immediately got up and ran home, his friends trailing him. Normally, Piety would have ripped off a scathing comment, denouncing his rival. But this time, Piety didn’t even say a word to him; he wanted to get away from his adversary in case Krampel decided to dish out more punishment.
“Get home right now before Danith Crassnick comes looking for you,” Vossler warned. “You never should have turned the tables on him like you did.”
“You wanted me to let him beat me up?” Krampel said, looking incredulously at his master.
Vossler whacked him off the side of the head.
“Don’t you see? By beating upon Danith Crassnick’s boy, you’re putting yourself in his sights. He’ll ride day and night, looking for the caravan—or he’ll kill you himself,” Vossler said.
Krampel’s face fell. His complexion turned pale.
“Oh,” he simply said. “I didn’t think about that.”
“I can see that. Now get home; I’ll cut Danith off. Rosaline, you rush off, too.”
Neither Krampel nor Rosaline said another word to each other. He simply rushed off for the old man’s home and closed the door behind him, while Rosaline went the other way.
Vossler looked down at the mess on the ground. He shook his head as he bent down to grab the two loaves of bread that spilled out of the sack Krampel carried. He stuffed them back inside the sack and turned to return to his home.
Within reach of his front door, the booming voice of Danith Crassnick filled his ears.
“Here we go,” Vossler whispered before he turned around to find Crassnick practically in his face.
“Where is the slave? I’ll teach him for touching my boy!”
“You won’t teach him anything, Danith. The lad was protecting himself from your son, who jumped him with his back turned. If anything, you should teach your son to fight fairer,” Vossler admonished.
That only steamed Crassnick even more. He was ready to push him aside and enter Vossler’s home uninvited, but Vossler shoved his cane into his chest, pushing him backward.
“You are sadly mistaken, Danith. You will not go near the boy, nor will you even think about getting even with him. What’s done is done; you can’t get involved in their quarrels.”
“I have my family’s honor to uphold!” Crassnick bellowed. “I can’t have a slave beating up a boy with our lineage!”
“You have a stubborn streak in you that I never thought to be possible. Your supposed ‘family honor’ is nothing more than a group of bullies with an heir that will now be afraid of his own shadow. You can take your family honor and tell it to someone who cares about such things. I, for one, do not. Now leave my doorstep before I really show you stubborn!”
Vossler’s eyes grew hot as he spoke, as if he could bore holes with them into Danith Crassnick’s head. The bigger man’s lip twitched, but he knew a lost cause. He wished not to hit the old man, for his already sullied reputation in Cassimina would go down even further.
He decided to take the high road. He turned and, even though his anger hadn’t even begun to ebb, walked away from the old man.
As soon as Crassnick was away, Vossler let out a long, deep breath and wiped a layer of sweat that suddenly appeared on his brow. He shook his head, then turned and entered his house.
Krampel sat by the fire, his heaving back to the door. He didn’t even turn around when Vossler entered. He stared into the fire, deep in his thoughts. The flames of the hearth reflected strangely in his eyes—it was not the flames, but something from deep inside him showing through his crystal-like orbs, reflecting the pure hate he felt for Piety Crassnick.
Vossler’s cane echoed through the small room as it rapped on the wooden floor. The old man walked toward the hearth to look at the lad. Krampel, ignoring him, did not turn his head.
The old man grimaced, then left to let the boy stew in his own thoughts. He brought the meat and bread to the kitchen, where he wiped the sand from the pack and the two loaves that fell from it. Vossler then lit a small fire and cooked their evening meal, which they enjoyed in complete silence.
The pair did not speak another word that day, or the next.
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