Edoinne Tull was never really sure why his mother had chosen the Bulwark of Gorum. New Stetven was peppered with churches, temples and shrines. Any one of them would have been a better choice than that stronghold masquerading as a temple to the Lord of Iron.
Edoinne’s mother gave birth to him two weeks after her sixteenth birthday. Born premature and fragile, he never fully outgrew his small frame. Though his health improved (indeed, he was rarely ill after that first year) he would never be strong and rugged like so many of the men in his village. He would often watch them passing by as they headed to the forest, wondering which one was his father. When he would venture to point one out and ask his young mother, “Is that ’im?”, she would only shake her head and go back to whatever task she was currently busy with. It was a subject that she seldom spoke of. Even on those rare occasions when she deemed to speak of it, her words were few and, for the most part, dismissive, and her mood always soured afterward. Edoinne learned to keep his musings on the subject to himself.
His early childhood was largely uneventful under the protective wing of his mother. It wasn’t until his 13th year that things began to turn for the worse. He had heard tales from his friends. Stories of children being sent off to serve the church, possibly because their parents were overly-pious. In Edoinne’s case it was more likely that his mother could simply no longer afford to keep him. He had no real concept of rich or poor. For the most part, his entire village was poor. But, from an early age, Edoinne had a good head for math. He had a fair idea of what his mother took in, doing laundry and other household tasks, and he knew what things in the market cost. And by 13 he knew that things didn’t add up.
It was Eddoine’s first trip to the capital, two days journey from his lifelong home. The vast number of people amazed him, and the grand arcitecture left him staring in awe. As they approached the Bulwark of Gorum, he could not take his eyes from the stone monolith. But from the moment he passed under those steel gates his life began its downward spiral.
The priest that met them in the courtyard listened patiently to his mother’s plea, but waved the offer off after only a momentary appraisal of the meek boy. Edoinne could only gape at the “holy” man’s iron-clad fist and spiked armor. His mother took the man aside, leaving the young boy to look around the stone courtyard, feeling smaller than he ever had before. He watched his mother tug the coin purse from her belt, and he could even here the clink of the meager coins it contained. The two adults disappeared into a stone building near the gate for some time, 20 minutes perhaps, though it felt eternal to the boy. When they emerged, his mother gave him a strained smile and said her farewells. There were, of course, promises to come and see him from time to time. And then, before he could even begin to process his emotions, she was gone.
The next five years were essentially hell on earth for Eddoine. Virtually every other acolyte was twice his size, and, in a world where might was all, he immedietly became the object of their disdain and ridicule. His days were an endless river of tasks that he was in no way cut out for, doomed to constant failure and disciplinary action. His nights were punctuated with abuse and debasement by his fellow attendants.
Though she had promised to visit him, she rarely kept her word. He would often beg her to take him away, devolving into uncontrolled tears and stuttering pleas. But she only remained stoic, offering empty reassurances that it was for the best. And her visits became less frequent, finally ending altogether.
He bore the years as best he could. Though he was never up to any of the physical challenges set before him, he did show an aptitude for tactics. When questioned about this ability, he answered only that he could just see it. “It’s only math, really,” he would say dismissevely. And he could see math. He saw it everywhere. In the buildings. In the swing of a sword, the blocking shield. Even in the magic that the clerics of Goram wove.
At the age of 18, when most of his peers were shedding the padded armor of the acolyte and donning their first steel plates, Edoinne was given the solemn but expected news that he would not be joining them in the next phase of their training. Though he excelled at all of the intellectual studies (history and engineering chief among them), he was simply never going to be strong enough to wield a blade. Instead, he was assigned a place in the columbary, tending the pigeons and thrushes that were employed as messengers for the Bulwark. It was here, sitting amongst the preening birds, that Edoinne first heard the cracking voice. On the sill, the setting sun casting it in silohette, sat a ruffled raven. He had never seen a speaking bird before, though he had heard that some of the thrushes had that ability. But he felt no fear, only mild amusement. They talked through the night, and for many nights to come.
The bird refused to offer a name, asking Edoinne to choose one himself. And so, for no reason that he could ever pinpoint, the raven was named Asner. And, as their “friendship” grew Asner began to share knowledge with the young man. Edionne had already noticed that he could often sense the raven’s emotions, even when they were not together. But, as time went by Asner revealed things even more amazing. And though he had spent his life learning to accept his decided lack of power, he soon realized that there was power other than those of muscle and sinew.
Six months later, Edoinne left the Bulwark and returned to the village of his home. He spent the journey trying to decide if he should even venture it. His mother had not come to see him in nearly two years, and he had no idea what he would say to her. In fact, he had no idea whether he wanted to say anything at all. He arrived just after sunset, and all of the woodcutters had already returned to hearth and home, leaving the streets desserted. Standing in the shadow of the crooked elm that fronted his childhood home, he gazed for a long time at the candle lit curtain. On only one occasion did he see a shadowy form move past the window inside the small house. And, in the end, he turned and walked off into the night, Asner perched on his shoulder.