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“Mushrooms.” Lanis stepped up to the vender's stall and set down a damp package. The vender pulled it toward him without looking up.
“And…,” the vender paused and glanced up, curious, “flowers.” Lanis handed him part of the bunch of flowers he'd found on the hills.
“For…Joan,” the vender smiled. “These will be perfect. Here you are.” The vender fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins, adding two coppers. “For the flowers,” he said, winking.
Lanis smiled, but only said, “Keep them in water,” and nodded goodbye.
“I can always count on you, Lanis,” the vender yelled after him.
Lanis headed down the narrow street, away from the busy market place, his hands in his pockets to keep the coins from jingling. A small smile showed on his distant face and his eyes passed over the homes on either side without really seeing them. He nodded to the people he knew as they crossed his path, but never spoke or really looked at them for more then a few seconds.
He was a very unremarkable young man and most eyes slid right over him. He was neither short nor tall for fourteen; he was lean but showed promise of muscles. His skin was tanned from his many hours spent outside. His sandy hair was in need of a cut and kept straying into his dim gray eyes. His gardening apron, which he wore constantly, had a recent smudge on the front and the pockets held several half empty seed packets.
The only thing people took notice of, was Lanis' talent with plants. Even though he was young, he could answer any problem involving plants. His own small garden was always blooming, even in the cold season. The money he earned as well as his parent's meager wages kept them in a middle class position. Although no one could argue that he could us the money, Lanis asked for far less money for his services then usual.
As he turned down the last street, his eyes locked on his garden and his smiled widened. The garden was small as there was little room in front of the house. It contained the vegetables that were the main source of the family's food, as well as basic healing plants and a few flowers that were sold easily.
Their home was also small and simple. A wooden front door, one large main room and a smaller one for sleeping, a large hearth, a small window with hand carves shutters overlooking the garden.
Lanis' posture automatically relaxed when his feet met the well trodden earth and he bent down concernedly to feel a patch.
“Ma,” he called out, knowing his voice would carry through the thin walls. “Ma, I'm home. Sorry it took longer then normal, but I brought fresh flowers.” When no one answered he opened the door and peered in.
“Ma? Da? What…”
He stood in the doorway, gaping at the disheveled room. The three chairs were overturned, the small table had broken legs and ashes from the hearth were strewn everywhere, a few coals still faintly glowing in the pit.
He looked into the other room and saw that it was a mess as well, but when he moved forward to examine the rooms closer, he stepped in something sticky and looked down at the floor where blood pooled around two bodies.
He dropped the flowers and knelt down heavily between his parents, pushing back tears that threatened to escape.
Hesitantly, he placed a hand on his dad's chest, willing it to rise and fall, for him to speak. For a second, Lanis' wish seemed to be fulfilled and he opened his eyes to see a hand placed lightly over his own. He blinked, but the hand remained, though neither of his parents had moved. He looked closer at the hand and saw that it was dirty-not his mothers, and only slightly calloused- not his father's.
“Lanis…” The voice was low and gentle. A second hand was placed lightly on his back.
Lanis sagged to the floor between his parents, covering his face with his hands, smearing his face with his father's still warm blood. He curled into a tighter ball, unwilling to touch the bodies again.
The hand on his back stayed and Lanis forced his breathing to slow and his eyes to clear.
“I don't know, lad,” his neighbor sighed apologetically. “I just got home. I saw you hesitate to enter and heard your cries. Let's…let's get you cleaned up.” The neighbor kneeled beside him, one hand rubbing his back, another trying to wipe the blood from his face. Lanis looked up to see him pull his parents' cloaks over their faces and then he felt another being wrapped around him.
“Lanis.” He was being tugged up, then he collapsed, unable to hold his own weight.
“Leave me alone.”
Lanis crawled back between his parents and curled up again, hands over his face to hide the tears that were beginning to spill over.
The man sighed. “I'll be outside,” he said gently.
Lanis heard hesitant, retreating footsteps, then the door closed. He could hear low whispers from outside, surprised gasps, sympathetic sobs, but he blocked it all out.
His tears flowed freely now that he was left alone to mourn. He cried until he couldn't stand it anymore, and lay staring up at the ceiling.
Workers came by with a cart early the next day and picked up the bodies. Lanis had propped them up against the wall by the garden so he could watch them while he worked, but he turned away while they were loaded and slowly taken away. He'd put the house back in order as best he could, but none of his neighbors expected him to stay there.
People were always whispering from doorways or offering their help, watching him constantly. Lanis tried to ignore them and almost succeeded. He'd never been close to any of them and their sympathetic hovering got in the way of his gardening.
He tried to keep busy, pushing himself to use every ray of light for work and selling the extra plants for less money then he usually did, wanting to have to work more. He filled his time, instead of talking with his parents and dreaming of his mother's cooking, by mulling over the same questions that constantly bothered him.
One in particular worried him more then any other, though he tried to avoid it What would happen to him now?
His mind was constantly pounding with anxiety and he was left with no peace.
Lanis jumped when he felt something touch his shoulder, splashing water from his open flask down his front. He turned to see a boy about his age standing behind him, wearing the colors of the royal messenger.
“Sir? Sorry- you weren't answering me. Are you Lanis? The one who's parents recently died?”
“Yes,” Lanis replied cautiously, eyeing him and wiping his dirt smudged hands on his apron.
“Sorry to be curt, but we must hurry. The king wants to see you.”
“The king? He…wants to see…me?”
“Yes, hurry and gather your things.”
“My…things? Right, just give me a moment.”
Lanis went inside to the bucket of water and thoroughly washed his face and hands. He wondered what to take, not understanding why, but knowing he wouldn't be coming back. He quickly settled on filling his apron pockets with more seeds and grabbing his cloak. On an impulse, he picked a flower from the bunch he'd brought his mother and fitted it onto his apron strap.
The messenger set off toward the castle with quick strides, and Lanis didn't have time to look back or even think about what he was leaving or what he was going to. His neighbors stared silently as they passed, but a few managed to call hurried goodbyes.
Goodbye, Lanis whispered inside, unable to speak for fear that his words would come true.