Chapter Two

He sat on a pile of carelessly gathered hay, his hair nearly buried in the straw and his back developing an uncomfortable itch that he didn't bother to scratch. He had gone to the barn for a reason, and he'd stay there until he figured out what he was angry at.

The feeling that made his fingers unknowingly clench and then relax at a constant pace was true and genuine anger. He could easily decipher his emotions, for there was nothing else he could honestly ponder over. Here, there was just the same, persistent routine of waking, eating, training, learning, and sleeping.

And soon, fighting, he added mentally.

The rage that hid itself in his blood surged unexpectedly, and his fist clenched so tight that his knuckles were stretched moon-white and his fingers eagerly snatched the dagger at his belt and flung it at the opposing wall of the barn.

A sharp thud told him that he had hit his target hard, and he smirked out of the delight of such an accomplishment. But his grin faded when he looked at where he was—a barn, sitting in a pile of hay and avoiding work—and then he got up with a growled breath and trudged to the flimsy wooden wall of the barn and searched for his dagger.

Yellow straw poked out of his dark hair and clung to his plain shirt and trousers, seemingly not a nuisance to the boy. However, he could still sense the itch in his back and he forced his mind and eyes to focus on finding his dagger, not scratching his back.

"There you are," he said, grabbing hold of his dirk and pulling it out of the wood with a fierce yank. After looking at it for a few seconds, he dropped it back in its tiny sheath at his belt and then looked around the barn again, loosening his arm to relax the tense muscles that had thrown the blade so savagely at a helpless wall in the process.

Inside, the barn was silent, save for the soft grunts and snorts coming from the sheep, goats and other farm animals housed in the place. But he suddenly became aware of a faint crunching noise outside coming at a light tempo. Footsteps?

He expelled another aggravated sigh and approached the entrance to the barn, knowing that some people would walk through it and find him dodging his duty yet again.

"Hey, Cad!" a voice shouted from outside. It was followed by a few unsuppressed chortles and jeers. "We know you're hiding in there, you coward. Get out or I'll tell Gilles that you've been sleeping with the goats and fraternizing with the pigs!"

Hot air shot out of Cadwgawn's nose and he jerked the door open and faced his companion with a stern expression.

Snow was still falling as he stepped out, his foot stepping into a good four or five inches of crusted cold. He wore no cloak over his shoulders though his comrades did, and they still had not ceased their laughter at him.

"See? I told ye he was sleepin' with the goats and pigs. Look at the straw all over him," whispered the same lad who had called him to the other boys. Of course, his voice was rarely at a whisper, for he wanted Cadwgawn to hear what he had to say.

But his targeted victim continued walking through the snow, hugging himself from the cold and trying his best to keep the building anger in his hot blood from exploding. He had gone to the barn to escape any threats and fists he wanted to set free, and he left his place of seclusion more ready for a punch than before.

"Nothing to say about that, eh?" provoked his aggressor, and he heard the snow behind him crunch at a higher and louder rate. His jaw tensed at their intense desire for a fight and he would not quicken his own pace to elude them. They'd just call him a coward then.

So he slowed his pace and waited for them to come.

His greeting was a push, a shove and an insult, and the greyness in his eyes brightened with the likeness of ice at the invitation.

"Still silent, Cad?" snickered his opponent, readying his hands into solid fists again. Cadwgawn observed his hands and wondered if there was any use in fighting him. Not fighting now, he told himself. Fighting later, much later. And with other men under the code of chivalry, not this. Not—

Something hard smacked his jaw and he stumbled backwards, toppling into the snow and tasting the cold water bite his face. His eyes watered and he wondered if snow had gotten into his eyes and melted, and he hoped that it was not his own tears. And they weren't.

He pushed himself back up and wiped his face with the coarse sleeve of his shirt and glowered at his arrogant foe. After a thought, he decided to leave his arms at his side, to show no anticipation of attack and to just stand dumbly, waiting for another hit as if he was a bag of flesh and bones that enjoyed getting bruised.

His feigned vulnerability drew his enemy all the closer and the boy made another rash swing, pushing forward too much strength too slowly, and Cadwgawn ducked from the blow, moved to the side and rammed his knee straight in the boy's stomach. He then raised his elbow and slammed it smack in the other boy's jaw, sending fresh, red blood spurting out of the boy's mouth and onto the clean, white ground.

Cadwgawn pushed his assailant to the side and the boy doubled over in the snow, blood still leaking out of the corner of his mouth. Bravely, Cadwgawn met the surprised looks of those who had watched and as soon as they saw his chilled grey eyes lock on them, they scattered, crying, "Sir Peder! Aeddan is injured! Cadwgawn's to blame! I seen it with my own eyes!"

Their accusations and shouts for help passed over Cadwgawn's head like a winter wind—ignorable, but leaving a bitterness and shiver to run up his spine. His eyes cast their glance down at Aeddan, who remained in the snow, motionless, his eyes staring out blankly.

He shook his head and was about to turn around and head back to the barn when he paused and leaned over Aeddan to examine him closer. And it was when he was hovering over the poor boy did he realize the drops of red trickling out of his ears.

I didn't hit him that hard, Cadwgawn assured himself. I'd never. It was just a-another blow to the head, just like when he punched me. I didn't. I didn't…

But the relief he felt from finally getting Aeddan off his back was invaded by worry over himself. Sir Peder and the other knights who trained him and the other lads always warned that there would be dire consequences if one of them were to critically wound another. And Cadwgawn just realized that he had put himself in jeopardy—the first real danger since he had left his home at eight to serve Lord de Montfort—and although he had grown wiser over the five years he had been training to be a knight, he still did the only thing he thought was the most reasonable at that time.

He ran.