Huddled in the corner of the schoolyard, the boy watched the other children as they played their games of hopscotch, tag and boules. From behind his platinum mane his eyes stung from fighting back tears. They didn’t let him play with them. He was a reject, a dud, a creep. And lonely. But he would not give his classmates the satisfaction of seeing him cry again. At least they didn’t torment him quite as much these days which was good – it gave him time to observe, think, scheme.
A select few afforded him the occasional sneer; others deliberately ignored him, considering him as something lower than a maggot. Others still, who had been nice to him in the beginning now pretended he did not exist for they had underwent scurrilous reprimands from those who, for some reason, hated him with a passion.
He had cried plenty when he’d started at the Junior School on Providence Lane three years ago. Initially, it was just because he didn’t want to be parted from his favourite housemaid, Brigitte. She was so patient and kind with him. She was funny, snuck him treats, covered up for him if he had an “accident”. It was also she who told him wonderful stories and thus taught him to read and write so he could discover more such marvellous tales for himself. Sadly, she was gone now – where he didn’t know, but her teachings had placed him ahead of his peers at school.
He showed an aptitude for nearly every subject the teacher taught them; history, geography, numeracy, language. He loved learning and was always asking questions. This seemed to annoy a certain group in his class and he wondered then if that was why they loathed him.
Through time however, he heard words like “halfbreed”, “elf-puke”, “monster” and “freak”. They even made fun of his name, Nightflame, calling him “Nightmare” and saying he had no right to be out during the day, he was a creature of the dark; a vile, hideous little half-elf.
He was pushed, knocked down, tripped up. Stones and mud-cakes had been thrown at him, though some of the culprits always attempted to remain unseen. Cowards they were, targeting him from behind walls, doors, carts and then ducking out of sight; their snickering carrying on the air.
Heading home was no fun either as he’d been hounded by a regular band of youngsters who hurled the names and missiles at him as he ran along the cobbled streets trying to dodge into alleys and narrow closes in a bid to lose them.
Reaching home was almost as daunting as it was getting there for he wondered how he was going to face the head housekeeper, Mrs Dalton when she saw him all mud and torn clothes, again. She was a severe woman and just as scary if not more so than the mobs whose life ambition seemed to be to make his very existence a misery.
The bullies’ parents had often turned a blind eye, or worse, encouraged their children in their detestable behaviour.
Quite why, they hated him he knew not, then. But, two years later, one boy stood up for him and he soon learned about the prejudice of some of the city folk.
Having fallen foul of the bullies once more, the Nightflame boy had taken another beating. His attire was muddied, a sleeve torn and his face cut in two places from a sharp piece of flint the head boy had used as a weapon.
The torment was interrupted by a tall, mousy-haired lad who was carrying two large buckets of charcoal, each balanced on either end of a shoulder-yoke. He asked what was going on and he was promptly told to git. “This is none of your concern.” He was told.
He caught a glimpse of the young boy on the ground; he’d taken a fair punishment but there was a determination in his eyes, a hidden agenda perhaps.
The main antagonist snorted. “You’re obviously new here. What’s your name?”
“Benjamin Morley,” the leader replied eyeing Don suspiciously.
“Well then Benjamin,” Don said, lowering the shoulder yolk carefully, sliding the bucket handles from the grooves. “Is he that scary it takes five of you to beat him?”
“Scary?” Benjamin laughed. “He is filth, a freak.”
The newcomer leaned forward for a better view. The victim chanced a peek at him through the matted curtain of platinum hair, the tails of which were tipped in blood from his cheek. A look of expectancy rippled through his mahogany eyes. “Seems perfectly normal to me,” Don said.
“Normal? He’s half-elf,” Benjamin spat.
“So?” Benjamin echoed, incredulous. “He’s shit. Worthless.”
Don took another step forward, his hands still gripping the shoulder-yolk. “Don’t look so worthless to me going by his clothes. He’s better dressed than any of us, even though his jacket’s ripped and muddy.”
“Fuck off!” one of the other bullies shouted. Don cocked an eyebrow. He wasn’t used to little girls using such profanity.
His hands tightened around the shoulder-yolk. “Why don’t you all fuck off?”
“What did you say?” Benjamin moved forward, his tone menacing.
Don glanced down at the boy with platinum hair and with the subtlest of nods, gestured for him to move out the way. Minute though it was, it didn’t go unnoticed by the bullies’ leader and he spun to grab the half-elf.
At that same moment Don swung the shoulder-yolk up using it like a staff. He knocked the feet from Benjamin and he fell to the side, landing with a crunch on his left shoulder and hip. He cried out and writhed on the cobbles. The remaining four were stunned at first then the two other boys ran at Don.
He stood his ground until they were almost upon him then pushed forward holding the yoke straight out in front. It connected with both boys chins and they fell in a heap, cracking their skulls together. Groaning, they sat, legs akimbo, massaging their bruised heads.
The taller of the two girls came forward, fingers curled like claws. Don ducked and pulled the yolk along her shins. She cried out as the hardened wood smacked against the bone. Stumbling and whimpering, she fled the scene, swearing they would get him back.
Now only the girl who cussed was left standing. Her little fists flexed and she bounced, agitated, on her toes. “You wouldn’t dare!” she hissed.
Don grinned, stepped forward and whacked her backside with the tip of the yolk. She clasped her behind, shocked that he hit her. Rendered speechless, she scampered after the other girl.
The three boys were still gasping and groaning on the muddy cobbles. Don moved over to where their victim had shifted during the fight. For a moment, the half-elf just stared, measuring him up. Don smiled. “Hi,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”
The half-elf smiled and pushed himself up, dusting off his now scruffy attire.
Don was surprised to see the boy whom he had assumed to be about ages with the pestiferous little viper whose bottom he had just whacked, was slightly taller than himself, but spindle thin. He offered his hand in greeting. “My name’s Don. How old are you by the way?”
“Hello, Don. I am Sauren and I am eight.”
“You’re tall for eight!”
The boy’s mouth twitched at the corners. “And you are strong for...?”
“Oh, I’m ten. I help my dad out...”
The bullies grumbled again as they started to rise from the ground. Don once more tightened his grip on the shoulder-yolk and faced them. All three held out placating hands and limped and shuffled their way past the human and the half-elf. Before they disappeared from sight, the one called Benjamin turned and faced them again. He said nothing, but the darkness in his eyes screamed his loathing for the both of them. Then he turned and left.
Don relaxed and picking up the buckets with the use of the shoulder yolk he led the way towards his father’s workshop. “I don’t like bullies any more than you do. I like to see them get their just deserts,” he said as they walked.
“Thank you, for helping me.”
“Pleasure. You should mention this to your parents though.”
“My mother is dead and my father is often away on business.”
Don stopped in his tracks. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
The half-elf shook his head and gestured they move on. “It’s alright. My father and I are close for all he is gone a lot of the time. But, I will not tell him of these – incidents.”
“This happens regularly?”
“Yes.” Sauren halted this time. “But, I will deal with them – in my own way. Eventually. They will pay.” A flare of fortitude rippled in the half-elf’s eyes again and something else – an equanimity seldom seen in one so young and even more unusual in one who suffered countless beatings.
Don was quietly impressed by the tall and lanky half-elf. He smirked. “Oh, I’m sure you will, Sauren and - well, if you want some help...”
“Thank you. I consider it an honour to have made your acquaintance.”
“You don’t half speak all grown up,” Don laughed.
Sauren smiled. “I believe it may be part of my charm which earns me such popularity.”
The two boys laughed as they continued along the narrow streets.