The snow came down on the Academy's roof, the tin shingles creaking under the considerable accumulation's weight. Samuel sighed and went back to shelving history books. The Academy was quiet, only a few scholars and visiting monks perusing the shelves, their footsteps swallowed up by the shelves of books and tomes gone unread in the freezing weather. He sighed again as the front door creaked open, a gust of damp, frigid wind blowing in as the hinge opened and closed. He heard squishy footsteps on the tile, squeaking and dirtying his immaculate marble floor, echoing throughout the quiet building. He set his stack of books aside and made his way from the history section of the library to the front desk.
A tall, thin youth stood trembling in a ratty traveling cloak and cheap boots, soaked with slush and dusted in fine, white snow. His face was pale and chapped from the cold wind, his nose and cheeks an angry shade of red and his lips blue.
"Blessed index cards!" Samuel cried. The youth smiled weakly, shuddering as if some unseen force was shaking him. Samuel rushed to his side to divest him of his cloak. The boy's clothes were soaked underneath it, his pack dusted with snow, ice clotting his dark blonde hair.
"I-I th-th-think it-s a b-bliz-blizzard out th-there," the boy stuttered.
"Come, lad, let's get you into some dry clothes." The boy followed him to his office without question, stiffly shuffling behind him and studiously ignoring the stares he was garnering from the few patrons. His already thin face looked pinched with hunger, the state of his clothes and pack left much to be desired, and he had obviously been on the road for quite some time if the dark splatters of mud and road dust were any indication.
Upon ushering the boy into his office, Samuel threw additional logs onto the fire and made himself busy looking for something dry for the boy to change into. The boy stood in front of the fire, dripping o the hearth as he tried to warm his hands and face. Samuel had no fresh clothes to offer him, save his own cloak and a waistcoat he'd stained with ink several days prior and had been meaning to bring home.
"Here," he said, handing the clothes to the boy. "Put those on while I try to find you proper clothes to wear."
"Thank you, sir," the youth said, taking the clothes. He dropped his pack to the floor and sat down to remove his boots. The soles were almost completely worn away, and one had a small hole in the toe. Samuel sincerely hoped that the boy hadn't caught frostbite or pneumonia while out in the snowstorm. He left the boy to undress in privacy.
There was a small group of monks visiting from the Temple of Light staying in one of the dormitory wings, and one was quite tall if Samuel remembered correctly. Hopefully he had a spare robe he could part with for the evening to lend to the youth. Fortunately, that particular monk was browsing the autobiographies near the front desk.
"Brother Gregory." The monk looked away from the shelf he was examining and smiled.
"Master Samuel," the monk said. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm in need of a long robe," Samuel explained. "Have you one I could borrow?"
"Yes, though I daresay it won't fit you," the monk said. "May I ask why you need it?"
Samuel explained about the youth in his office's desperate need for dry clothes. The monk was more than happy to help, though he seemed displeased that the robe he was loaning was in need of a washing.
"Seems like a dodgy bit of charity," Brother Gregory mused. "Though I suppose he shan't be too fussy about it, all things considered."
The youth was sitting on an ottoman when Samuel returned, wearing the waistcoat with the cloak wrapped around his waist. He was still in the throes of adolescence, though less a child than a young man. While not emaciated, he was quite thin, with lean muscles that accentuated his angular frame. There was a relatively fresh looking gash on his side, what looked like contact burns of some sort on his hands, bite marks on his forearms, and a healing bruise on his collarbone.
"I found you some robes for you to wear," Samuel said. He tried to not stare at what looked like an old gunshot wound on the boy's left bicep.
"Thank you, sir," the youth said as he took the folded linen from him.
"Shall I step outside?"
The boy shrugged. "If you prefer. Makes no difference to me."
Samuel did step out to give the youth his privacy while he changed yet again. This was the time of year when Brightwall experienced wolf sightings on a regular basis on the outskirts of town, and the boy appeared to have been unfortunate enough to have come across one. The librarian frowned, wondering why a young man would venture through Brightwood without proper arms to defend himself with. The wolves were the last of the problems out there; there were mercenaries and highwaymen, bandits and balverines. Though, the boy's clothes and small pack wouldn't make him a target by the human monsters out there, it made him very vulnerable to the wild animals that inhabited the forest.
"I'm finished," the youth said. Samuel reentered the room and found the boy was again seated on the ottoman, facing the fire with Samuel's cloak around his shoulders. The borrowed robe was long on him, but also loose, his hands covered by the sleeves; he looked very small in them, and very lost. His hair had started to dry as well, turning from dirty blonde to sandy gold. All of his soaked clothes were laid out on the hearth to dry, his pack at his feet. An old pellet gun was sitting on top of it, scratched and dented from years of use, beside it the hilt of a dagger.
"What brought you to Brightwall in this Avo-forsaken weather?" Samuel asked. The boy shrugged. "And without any proper weapons?"
He snorted. "What? You mean the knife and toy gun won't slay any balverines? Why wasn't I told?" He laughed bitterly and resumed watching the fire with his back to Samuel, sighing heavily. "I'm sorry, sir. I've had a very trying week."
"Have you been on the road that long?"
"I'm not entirely sure," the boy admitted, pulling the borrowed cloak tighter around himself. "I left home on the fourteenth, and I lost track of how many days I was in Brightwood, and I was lost in Silverpines for a day or two."
Samuel stared at the boy. It was the last day, or rather night, of February. The youth had been traveling for two weeks through some of the most dangerous forests in Albion to get to Brightwall. No wonder he looked so haggard; he clearly prepared for several days on the road at most.
"Tomorrow is the first of Hlýda," Samuel told him. The boy stared at him blankly, and Samuel realized he'd used the recently antiquated term for the month. "Tomorrow is the first of March."
"Oh, bollocks," he murmured, not terribly upset or surprised. "That's unfortunate. I was hoping I'd be on my way to Bowerstone by now."
"You're in the opposite direction from Bowerstone."
"I know," he said. "Brightwall was much closer and offered a better chance of finding work to earn the gold for my trip."
Samuel frowned. He spoke like he came from the west, closer to the sea and further from the mountains, though he was too well-spoken to be from Rookridge or Westcliff. "Whence came you, lad?"
It was the youth's turn to frown, his handsome mouth turning sharply down at the corners. "Does it matter? I've nothing to go back to, and no reason to."
"Haven't you a family worrying about you?"
"No," the boy said dully. "I don't." He drew his knees to his chest and hugged them. "Thank you. For helping me. No one else did, even when I was running scared through Brightwood with bandits on my tail and wolves chased me through Silverpines. You'd think folks would want to help a kid in need, but no. Not these days. You can't even trust children not to rob you blind anymore." He sounded as though he spoke from experience, in a matter-of-fact and tired way.
"Things haven't been the same since Logan took the throne," Samuel admitted.
The youth winced, shifting uncomfortably. "No," he half-whispered, "they haven't."
Samuel watched the youth struggle to remain composed, and felt pity for him. He couldn't have been much older than the young king, if at all, and yet he already seemed jaded.
"Why do you want to go to Bowerstone?" Samuel asked, changing the subject.
The boy laughed bitterly. "Why not?"
"Surely there must be some reason?"
"I've always wanted to see the world. Misfortune gave me the opportunity to do so, and here I am, on the first leg of my grand adventure, but I haven't any money. I came here looking for work to fund my trip to Bowerstone." He frowned again, but it did little to distract from his handsome face, and turned back to the fire sullenly.
Samuel resisted the urge to pat the youth's shoulder reassuringly, and instead moved to tend the fire.
"You know," he said casually. "I could stand to hire someone to shelve books." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the boy's head snap up. "Not that the Academy has excess funds to spare-" the boy deflated visibly, "-but I'm sure the budget could cover a modest salary for a few weeks' time."
He glanced over at the boy and smiled. "Can you think of anyone who might be interested, lad?"
"I haven't the foggiest, sir," he said. His mouth curved into a winning grin, complete with straight white teeth and dimples. "If I find someone who is, I shall inform you post-haste. I'd hate to see you go on without such needed assistance."
"I would appreciate that," Samuel chuckled. He extended his hand to the boy. "Samuel Beecher, head librarian."
"Ben Finn," the youth responded, shaking his hand firmly. "Aspiring adventurer."
This is what I've been doing instead of working on Chosen One (now Léasspell). It wasn't entirely unrelated, though, and you'll see why once I update Léasspell again, and that should be by the end of the week if I can resist working on this again. It's most likely going to be vignettes or drabbles until I decide how I'm going to flesh it out better. I just couldn't resist posting it, though; I'm officially outting myself as a Ben fangirl. I AM NOT ASHAMED. XD