I was twelve when my ‘life’ began.  Thin, gangly, barely on the path to being a man.  I was also veshe, ‘he who likes men’ in the old language.  Being veshe has never been a crime, but to boys in my small village, trying to impress the girls, to prove their merit and earn a big dowry from their future wife’s family, picking on the veshe proved to others their ‘manhood.’

When my family found out I was veshe, they cast me out.  Later in my life, I learned that among the nobility, the gentry, even the craftsmen, a veshe son was accepted, generally.  Veshe were considered a gift, a treasure among the old religion.  One whose soul had two faces.

My parents were farmers, poor farmers at that.  My mother’s family had little to offer by way of dowry and she was married only because she was so fair.  The meager wealth she brought with her wasn’t enough for the family to buy enough land to subsist so father sold his labor for years to save enough for a bigger plot to till.

In my old village a man with many sons was considered blessed.  He could marry off his sons and if they were handsome and strong, the family could command a high price.  I was the only son.  Two sisters, each as pretty as my mother, were likely to find a wealthy husband to free the family from tapping our meager wealth.  I was counted on to bring in enough so that my parents could live well when they were old.

Once it was clear I would command no dowry, I was a drain on precious resources.  Bitter, and envious, my parents decided a teenage boy ate too much and worked too little.  Without me their savings would increase, maybe enough to compensate for the lack of dowry I would never bring them.

Ashamed at my status as disowned, I left the village that was my only home.  The few belongings I was permitted to take, were barely enough to survive a day.  I knew they meant for me to die, and I expected they’d have their wish soon enough.

The small bridge spanning the little creek marked the edge of my village.  I stopped, crying at the unfairness of life when the other boys of the village found me.  Veshe, they called, taunting me, telling me I was worthless and unloved.  Their words echoed what I felt in my heart, but they stung just the same.

Calling me names was good sport for only so long.  After the first push I decided to die with honor.  I charged my tormentors, seeking to hurt then before they stole my life.  Two I managed to strike, drawing blood, before their numbers overwhelmed me.  Still I struggled, determined to make sure they remembered me when I was gone.

The third blow to face sapped my strength and I would have died, for who would seek punishment for the disowned boy, when I felt the bodies of my attackers flung aside with great force.  Through swollen eyes I saw the hand of my savior, a thick, calloused hand, attached to a  forearm rippling with muscles.

“You have the heart of a lion, even if you are only a cub,” he told me, helping me to my feet.  “Where is your family, I shall take you there myself?”

Words failed me, and I was out of tears. Instead I shook my head, searched to collect my few things and walked away.  I was no one, I had no one.  His was a wasted effort that only turned my death into a slow, painful end.

“Boy!”  The authority in his voice demanded my attention.  “I asked of your family.”

Right hand on the pommel of his sword, he was beautiful.  Tall sinewy, confident, he had to be a Dlgen or Lord of the Sword.  Not that I had ever seen one before, but this had to be what one looked like.

“I have none, good sir, they cast me out.”  I swallowed the lump, trying for an ounce of pride before this revered warrior.  “I am veshe. Worthless and alone.”

I turned away again, certain I did not want to see the disgust in his face.  If my family found me of no worth, how could one such as he think different.  I limped away, feeling every bruise my tormentors gave me.  I didn’t know how far I could make it, but I was not going to let them see me again.

How long he stared at me, I don’t know, but I swore I could feel his eyes peering onto my back.  With nothing but short winter grass on either side of the road for at least a twenty minute walk, I knew I couldn’t hide any time soon.  I doubted the other boys would be back, the Dlgen surely put the fear of the Twins in them.  It was not they I wanted to hide from.

Each painful step brought me closer to a small clump of trees I used to run to when I was younger.  To me it was a forest, in truth it was barely a grove.  Whatever it was, it was ‘my place’ and I would wait their for my end.

Under the warm, but not yet blazing sun, I neared the beckoning coolness of the shade.  My foot slid into the shade and I froze.  He was standing beside a tree waiting for me.  My instincts told me to run, or at least as much as I could.  By letting him save me I disgraced him, and now he would kill me most horribly and display my corpse as a warning to everyone else who dared shame a Dlgen.

I would have run, but he stood in my forest, my final resting place.  No, I intended to die with dignity, even if it was hopeless.

“Boy.”  His voice drifted lazily over the cooler air.  “Did your parent teach you no manners?  You turned your back on me when I was not finished.”

Before I could answer, it struck me; how did he get here without me seeing him go past me?  I felt his eye on me, waiting for an answer.  “M’lord, I only sought to remove my self from your presence so I did not bring further shame to your name.”

I kept my head bowed as I spoke, who was I to speak to him as an equal.

“Come with me.”  I could not deny his command.

Moving as best I could, I tried to keep up, but my legs wouldn’t answer my call.  We were thirty paces from the trees when he turned.  I had no desire to anger him, but my body wouldn’t aid me.

Four strides brought him so close I could almost touch the wondrous cloth, a Haske, that served as his armor.  Silky smooth and loose, the blue material was nearly impenetrable.  Only the Dlgen knew the secret of its origin, but all knew of it’s amazing power.

He pulled a small lump from the pouch on his belt.  I tried to see what it was without staring, but had never seen its like before.  Pinching off a small wad, he held the bit between his fingers, offering it to me.

“Take this boy, it will heal your wounds.”

Heal my wounds?  Did he mean to make me whole so he could hunt me down?  The throbbing in my side directed my hand to take the offered… I didn’t know what it was, or even what to do with it.

Perhaps he sensed my ignorance.  “Put it on your tongue and wait for a count of three, then swallow it.”

Tentatively, I held what looked like a clod of moist dirt in my hand.  I wondered if it was as he said or if he meant to kill me.  Either was acceptable at that point so I did as told.

Even before I swallowed, I could feel my pain abate.  It was the most amazing sensation, a cool wave of tingling energy raced through my slender frame, infusing me with new energy, and a new life.

“You name?”  His question was less demand than query, almost like he cared.

“Harlin, M’lord.”

The strong hand reached out for mine, requiring I accept.  When he clasped my forearm, just below my elbow, he nodded slightly.  “An honor to meet you, Harlin.  I am Telg, Dlgen of the Fifth Order.  I wish you to take me to your parents.”

Dlgen of the Fifth order?  The traveling bards spoke of the Fifth Order as existing only in legends and myths.  A warrior status every boy in training dreamt of, but would never achieve.  But he wanted to meet my parents….  I remembered my place and dropped to my knees to honor this Prince of Warriors.  “I have no parents, M’lord.  I am cast out.”

“Still, I would meet them.”  Without a word, he turned back toward my home.  Healed and infused with new found energy, I trotted behind, moving to catch up.  Though he asked me to guide him, he seemed to know the way, never once checking with me for guidance.

In half the time it took to leave, I found myself standing before my old home.  Telg’s presence had attracted a crowd, with several of the boys who attacked me glaring at us, nursing unhealed wounds.

Scared to stand no longer welcome in front of my home, Telg put a hand on my shoulder to tell me to stay put.  Rapping his knuckles to the wood frame of the small hut I used to live in, he stepped back.

My parents came to the door, took one look at me and scowled.

“Sir,” my father said, never taking his glare off me for more than a moment.  “I apologize if this boy has done you wrong, but he is no son of mine.  We cast him out for being veshe.”

Nodding, a look of understanding on his face, Telg waited for the man who once was my father to finish.  “So the boy was not lying when he said you disowned him.”

“No, my lord, in that at least he was honest.”  There was a tiny sense of relief in my father’s face.  He probably thought I claimed kinship and Telg was there to demand money.

“So he may lay no claim to you, nor you to him?”

“Both are accurate.  May I ask what he did?”

“No.”  His voice turned cold and harsh.  “Since you cast him out, I claim him.  I, Telg, Dlgen of the Fifth Order, do claim Harlin as my son.  He shall never burden you again.”

In that moment my parents suddenly saw some worth in my person.  Here was an important man, a legend among peasants, a man whom kings bowed to and he wanted their child.  Telg was a man who could pay for what he wanted.  Their greed hurt me almost as much as their original rejection.

“M’lord.”  My father licked his lips anxiously.  Once he must have been a handsome man, but his bitterness and sour disposition gave him a pinched expression like a miser, hoarding his valuables.  “My son….”

“He is not your son. You acknowledged he was cast out and you had no claim to him anymore.”  Telg’s gaze dared them to nay say him.  “Now he belongs to me, hence forth he shall be Harlin son of Telg with all the honors and privileges that accompany his new name.  You, on the other hand, shall remain bitter, envious, cold hearted and receive nothing for what you freely cast aside.  You sent him off with nothing and nothing is what you shall receive in return.  May you choke on the few meager coins you saved by your actions.”

Telg said nothing more until we reach the copse where he had waited for me earlier.  Back under the cool shade of the tall oaks around us he said, “I did not ask your permission before I took you as my son.  Here I shall give you a say.  If you wish it, you may come with me, either as my son or as my valet.  I shall not force you, but it would please me to call you son.  If it is your desire to make you way in the world apart from me, I have coins I shall give you and invoke the Blessings of The Twins upon you and your travels.

A Dlgen, of the Fifth Order, was asking me if he could call me his child?  “Yes,” I stammered.  I knew, ‘yes’ wasn’t a proper answer, but my emotions whipsawed back again, making me light headed.  When the ground started to spin, I felt his hand on my shoulder, steady and calm.

His eyes stared at me with concern and more love than I’d felt in years.  “You do not need to decide right away, you can ….”

I reached over, slamming my face into his chest, hugging this near total stranger will all my strength.  Sobbing, the words stuck in my throat, but somehow, I knew he understood.   He stoked my hair tenderly, not as a lover, but as a parent and kissed my head.

“Then son of mine you shall be.”  He gently pushed me back so we could see eye to eye.  “We should get moving, my son. Our destination is not close.”

“Yes. . . Father.”  For the first time in my young life, I felt the man who heard those words was pleased.

***

I scanned my room, wondering what I had missed.  Father told me my gift was in my room, I only needed to ‘see’ to find it.  Eighteenth year, or at least we were celebrating as if it were.  I didn’t remember what day I was born, only that it was in the spring during planting season.  Though I always wondered if it is correct, Father and I selected a day and called it official.

My frustration grew at my empty search, when I realized the truth.  My gift was not some object Father hid in my room.  He would not have told me I needed to see, if it were.  I stepped toward a mirror and wondered what he was up to.  Every year, by the Gates of Feldar, every day, the man taught me something new.  Today would be no different.

Staring in the mirror all I saw was my reflection, me.  Father was telling me something.  Something important.  I smiled, it was so like him.

“So you see, do you?”

He stood in the doorway, a good inch shorter than me now, smiling proudly.

“Your gift to me, is me.  I am a man today because of you, Father.”  I couldn’t hold my place, and moved to embrace him.  Stern, tough, demanding, deadly, these are all word I used to describe Telg, Dlgen of the Fifth Order, the man who trained me.   Compassion and loving were the words I preferred to use as I saw those in everything he did.  “Thank you, Father.  I love you.”

“And I love you, my son.”  When we broke the embrace, his eyes were the closest I’d ever seen to teary.  “Never in the six years you have called me, ‘Father’ have you given me cause to regret my decision.  Now come, you real gift is waiting.”

“This was my real gift, Father.  I would have died that day had you not taken me.  Nothing you can give me will be greater than the love I have received.”  I teared up, though I tried not to.

“That is not a gift, it is a privilege.”  He cupped the back of my head, shaking me gently.  “This is something I have waited years to give you.”

Intrigued, I let him lead me from the main house, to the courtyard.  I wanted for nothing so this gift he’d waited to give me had me on edge.  Only Father could tease me like that and not make me angry.  Everything he did was an expression of his love.  He chose me above all others and yet he acted like it was I who chose him.

The practice yard I had spent so many hours training on, left so much sweat and more than a bit of blood upon, was empty.  No retainers, no equipment, just a practice body.  The wooden block carved to resemble a man had been charmed so it could never be damaged.   Someone placed it in the center of the field, standing a lonely watch.

Another step and I froze.  He couldn’t have.

“How?”  It was all I could ask.

“They were mine when I made First Order.  I’ve waited a bit longer than I needed to, you more than earned them months ago, but I felt this was the proper day.  Had there been a need, I would have done this sooner, but we are at peace so I can indulge in a bit of sentimental fatherly pride.”  He gestured to the field as if we were going to inspect a new bolt of cloth, not the green Haske of a newly minted Dlgen.

My fingers traced over the cool material, stunned at its beauty and strength.

“You are a finger span taller than I, but your build it much like mine back when I was younger.”  He slowly unwrapped the cloth in the way I’d seen him do with his own.  “Your Haske, like all Haske, is adjustable within reason.  This one will fit perfectly.”

I never doubted him for a minute.  My mind still grappled with my new status.  When had I passed from student to Dlgen?  Playing over every possible scenario, I woke from my revelry to realize my father had dressed my in his first Haske.

“Wear the pants only when you travel or plan to go to battle.”  He explained.  “Worn together they form a seal that can make you warm.”

I stretched my arms and tired to see how I looked, but it was impossible.  My father laughed and rubbed the top of my head.

“It fits you, and you fit it.”  He beamed at me.  “This is a proud moment for me, Harlin.  Though I have had many students in my life, you are my only son and the only Dlgen.  You are my proudest moment and my greatest treasurer.  May these Greens serve you as well as they did me and may the Twins grant you the strength, courage, wisdom and heart to bring honor to what they represent.”