Disclaimer: I do not own Hollow Kingdom.
Marak Sixfinger sat in his workroom, a large space enclosed by stone walls that were barely visible behind the floor-to-ceiling bookcases and documents magically stuck to the walls. Despite all the magical items and volumes that lined the shelves and adorned the table, and large tomes in haphazard piles scattered around the floor, it was all still relatively neat—an organized mess, if one will. In the center of it all was Marak, who leaned against his worktable rifling through a large book, the corners of his lips slanted downward in a frown. His unruly hair hung in front of his face, blocking it from view. Underneath the hair, his bi-colored eyes moved steadily across and down the page of the book, lingering longer on the words that he did not immediately comprehend.
"Come in," Marak called out, and a moment later the door to his workroom swung inward to allow a young boy of about seven years into the space. He had jet black hair that framed his pale face in loose curls, dark eyes that were always somber, and a face so beautiful that the boy had never made a single friend.
"How did you know I was outside?" The boy asked curiously. He hadn't even knocked, after all.
Marak chuckled, his eyes never leaving the page. "I heard you walking down the hall."
"But I—" the boy wanted to protest that his footsteps were not so loud that they could be heard from so far away, behind closed doors and stone walls, but paused, uncertain if this could be interpreted as doubting his King.
At last, Marak closed the text that had held his attention for the last two hours and looked up at the child before him. "I have good ears. Let's just leave it at that."
The boy nodded glumly. "Okay." Then, with a bit more interest, he asked, "What is it you're reading?" Perhaps if it was good, his ruler would allow him to read it next.
Marak smiled at his pupil's enthusiasm. "Seylin, did you know the amount of conditions humans can suffer from? There's agoraphobia, the fear of being in crowds or public places; technophobia, the fear of advanced technology; astraphobia, the fear of thunder and lightning—thunder and lightning! Can you imagine being afraid of something as natural as that? And those are just a few of the irrational fears that plague humans."
Young Seylin soaked up this new information like a sponge; his face glowed with pride that the King would share all this knowledge with him. Seylin still had not gotten over the fact that Marak had chosen to take him on as a protégé, to teach him magic personally. Not one of the other—real—goblins, but him. It had been such an honor and Seylin's keen interest and hard work in everything, magical or not, had quickly shown Marak that he had made the right choice. Seylin himself immensely enjoyed the lessons, and all the knowledge the King taught him had given him a profound respect for the goblin, beyond the mere respect that a subject held for his ruler.
"You're always so knowledgeable about everything," Seylin said with the innocence of a child who believed in the most prominent adult figure in his life absolutely—his mentor, his King. At this comment, Seylin noticed that his King's face and neck had turned a dark red. It rather resembled what humans called sunburn, which—fortunately—was not something that affected goblins, since they didn't often wander outside the kingdom during the hours the sun shined. If it was necessary for goblins to be outside during the day, such as to travel and trade with humans, or keep tabs on the locals, they always wore dark, heavy cloaks that would mask their appearances and protect them from the sun's rays and curious eyes. It was just as well, because on Marak, the color clashed quite horribly with the goblin's gray skin, the boy thought, his elfin sensibilities slightly offended.
Marak cleared his throat, ran his hand through his hair, and basically fidgeted until he could thankfully feel the horrible red blush slowly recede. Not very kingly behavior, to be sure, but he had only blushed at all because the compliment had been so unexpected. His subjects knew that flattery would not curry them favor, and so they never bothered, but Seylin had expressed his honest thoughts, which touched Marak.
"Thank you, but I am still an amateur in this subject area."
"Are you researching a cure for the King's Wife?" Seyling blurted, then immediately covered his mouth with both hands, shocked, afraid he had just crossed the line.
Everyone in the kingdom knew about Marak Sixfinger's wife. Normally a King's Wife would be adored by the goblin subjects, and if she was in any way kind or beautiful—or more importantly, sane—it wasn't hard to win the love of the goblins. The current King's Wife, however, was anything but. It was a solemn time for the goblins, and it weighed heaviest on their King, who had researched human diseases tirelessly, fruitlessly, for a cure to her madness. That, along with the added stress of governing a kingdom, had caused Marak to lose some of his customary good humor, his love of jokes, and maybe—Seylin feared—his kindness as well.
"It's okay," Marak told Seylin, aware that the child, though he did not look like a goblin, still spoke with the frankness of one. "I was indeed trying to find a clue in these human books about mental illnesses when I stumbled across this section on irrational fears," Marak explained.
Seylin nodded, relieved that his King had not gotten angry at him, had not yelled at him, or worse—sent him away. His fears were laid to rest, but there was now a sad expression on his ruler's face accompanied by a faraway look in his eyes, and Seylin felt responsible. Thinking that a change in subject would lighten the mood, Seylin cheerily asked, "So what kinds of spells are you going to teach me today?"
Marak broke out of his thoughts about his wife. Now, he studied the boy standing before him. He saw the elegant features that had ostracized the child from all the other goblin children, and although there was an eager smile on those lips now, Marak knew that outside this room, there was usually a melancholy expression that marred that otherwise perfect appearance. There was the smooth skin that Seylin possessed—no feathers, scales, or fur; the five fingers on each hand and—Marak knew—the same number of toes on each foot underneath the black boots—no talons or claws in sight. To everyone else, that face, and the utter normality of the child's body, was seen as an abomination of his goblin blood. To Seylin, it was all an unfair draw of genetics that gave him the short end of the stick. He knew the boy sometimes thought of himself as completely worthless, not even a real goblin. However, Marak saw what everyone else failed to notice. He knew that the completely elfin appearance meant the almost pure elf blood within the boy. As the purest elf cross in the kingdom, Seylin would no doubt be—with the proper training—one of the strongest magicians in the kingdom, and he certainly was very talented when it came to magic.
Of course, his own musings aside, that still left the question of what to teach the boy today. After a moment of contemplation, with a sly smile, Marak said, "Let's practice elf magic today."