It was a perfect family on the move. An older field medic who was traveling the world and selling his skills to caravans, excited to show the world to his young and starry-eyed apprentice who was keen to listen to traveling companions. Always polite, always helpful, always affectionate with one another, they were the very picture of a happy traveler planting healthy wanderlust into his successor.
If there is one thing Ivanthe has always been cynical of, it is how easily others take a family at face value.
Yaren had a good way with people, always able to make them believe exactly what he wanted them to. He could even fool himself into believing the picture he painted, and thought he was genuinely doing his best to take care of his charge. Whenever something went wrong, or when another traveler began feeling something just a bit off, or when a few coins went missing from a companion's purse–––that was always Ivanthe's fault. Such a foolish little boy he could be, and yes, of course he would be punished. The punishments were always real.
Ivanthe has no real sense of where he came from or how he came to be in Yaren's care. Whether or not they were related by blood, Ivanthe was never told, and truthfully that information would have changed nothing; he belonged to Yaren and that was the only thing that mattered. To others, it was simply a master and apprentice; when by themselves, it was exactly as a real family should be. So said Yaren, and he had the most experience in these sorts of things. The parent provided protection and security, and the child helped them do that. Ivanthe wasn't quite sure what Yaren got off to when the time came to set camp or settle in a city, but the boy knew his place like he knew the back of his master's hand. While Yaren was off doing the providing, Ivanthe repaid him by keeping their 'home;' it was Ivanthe's place to pitch the tents when he was strong enough, mind the fire when he was wise enough, feed the horse and unpack the wagon when he was big enough. And then when time came to move, it was his job to pack it all up again, to make sure they had enough food, to make sure the dishes were clean and the herb supplies stocked. He was to make sure Yaren always had food to eat and something to smile about, even if he had to beg from other travelers; Ivanthe's attempts at cooking were sure to land him a bruise or two. And when the dishes were clean and the fire burned low, Ivanthe was to thank Yaren for his guardianship, to say "Good night, I love you," and then wake before sunrise to prepare for the new day. This was what all children did for their parents, Yaren said, and Ivanthe was an idiot for not making every task perfect every time––idiots deserved punishment for failing such "easy" and "simple" things like caring for their parent's wellbeing.
They were both good at hiding Ivanthe's endless mistakes, and the bruises on his body. He was such a clumsy boy after all, always tripping and smacking into things; traveling companions would laugh good-naturedly when Yaren told the story behind one of the few bruises that showed from under the long sleeves, and Ivanthe would grin sheepishly and nod along––of course he had tripped; Yaren was practically his father and would never lay a finger on him. As soon as they were in public, reality was defeated by Yaren's stories, and Ivanthe would always be on the cusp of believing them. Until the next mistake, at least.
Every once in awhile, one or two of their companions would tilt their head oddly. Their gaze would linger on Ivanthe for just a bit too long, their questions for Yaren just a bit sharper and more prying than before. Those tiny changes were always followed by a dark mood falling over Yaren, and soon enough the time would come for the master and apprentice to move on to new grounds.
Things were easier when Yaren was away. Things seemed clearer, though Ivanthe's mind was always filled with questions. Why was he here, why did he stay, why did a loving family hurt so much, why wasn't he allowed to be anything but happy at all times––it all boiled down to an endless hurricane of why, why, why. But then Yaren would return, and sometimes it felt as if he could read Ivanthe's mind and would punish him for merely thinking unwanted thoughts. So Ivanthe learned that his own mind was not safe, and didn't dare let the questions stay more than a moment at a time.
He turned instead to others in their various traveling parties, always maintaining the facade of perfect apprentice as he searched for ways to occupy his time. The scouts and hunters were his favorite; they asked the least questions about Yaren. It started as merely tagging along on supply walks, which would turn into fractured lessons about the world around them; plants and animals, what leaves to eat and avoid, how to find water and shelter.
His shortbow was a gift from one of the more perceptive hunters when Ivanthe was eight arcs of age, although he soon began asking the sharp questions that meant it was time to leave. Ivanthe kept the bow, and mindless practice became his best way to avoid committing thought-crimes. It was mere chance that he brought the bow along with the next party's scout, but she noticed his alertness immediately. With her gentle coaxing and encouragement, Ivanthe was able to shoot a squirrel out of the trees above them and bring it home to Yaren.
It was the first time Ivanthe had ever seen real pride on Yaren's face. Now, medicine wasn't the only skill they could peddle; Ivanthe could hunt, and every good traveling party needed a huntsman. Never mind that he struggled to pull the full weight of his bow, or that his arrows were half as tall as he was; he could hunt anything anyone could need. That Ivanthe dared to ever come back empty-handed only spoke more of how ungrateful and incompetent he was, and how fundamentally flawed of a child he was––as if the skill could somehow be punished into him.
He was eight when Rhiena joined them. She was more girl than woman, but mature enough not to raise eyebrows when Yaren introduced her as his wife. Ivanthe was never told what deal Yaren struck for her, nor did it really matter; she simply came back with Yaren one day and Ivathe was told she was staying. He wasn't thrilled about having to adjust his routine around a whole new person, but knew better than to argue.
Rheina turned out to be just as much a prisoner as Ivanthe was, but she was different. She had once had freedom and tasted its loss bitterly, and she strained against the subtle ways Yaren kept them both leashed. It was always hard to say no when he was physically with them, but when he was gone was when Rheina began speaking her mind. At first she hated them both, but that passed quickly when she realized how tightly woven Ivanthe was to his master. Her anger turned immediately to pity, and pity to kindness––the first unselfish kindness Ivanthe had ever known, made all the heavier by the fact that she truly knew what his life felt like. When Yaren was away and their seemingly endless jobs finished for a moment, Rheina would coax him into letting her touch his hair, not with violent fists like Yaren but with smooth, gentle fingers and soft words that made the rest of the world disappear for just a small while. She spoke of her home in Rynemere, of kings and adventurers at first and then of her family––a loving mother and father and a litter of siblings crawling over their farmstead. It was the first time anyone but Yaren had told Ivanthe anything about family, and it disturbed him greatly. When the boy finally mustered the courage to ask, Rheina kissed his forehead and whispered, No, Ivanthe, this is not how a family is supposed to be.
It was only a few months before Yaren stopped trusting the way Ivanthe relaxed around his "wife." When he finally decreed that they were to stay away from each other, Rheina's defiance enraged him so greatly that she was left bedridden for two days after.
A nasty fall from the wagon, Yaren said to those who asked.
That was when Ivanthe actually began learning Yaren's craft of medicine. The old man had things to do, he said, and Ivanthe could obviously manage something as easy as nursing a patient. Ivanthe first learned how to care from the bedside, mostly picked up from snide comments thrown around whenever Yaren was present to criticize him. As soon as Rheina was back on her feet, however, Ivanthe was quick to pick up basic first aid and wound care; Yaren's way with words would only sway his 'wife' for as long as he was physically present, and as soon as he was away she would unthink all of his thoughts and be ready to challenge him again when he returned. Cuts and bruises never kept her down for long; she barely seemed to feel them. Ivanthe almost admired her stupidity, but never dared comment or take either side. He would simply become a shadow and think of other things until the fight was over, then creep over to tend Rheina's injuries.
When Ivanthe was nine, Yaren was at his wit's end but still refusing to let Rheina go free. He decided that the solution was to create a second helper––a real apprentice.
The explanation was long and thorough, peppered with phrases like "You should be grateful," and "I expect you to repay me." They had stopped in a village for a brief time, and were safe enough for master and apprentice to spend the entire night across from each other. For all his history, Yaren was a deftly gentle threadworker, and he sewed his Spark into Ivanthe's soul with utmost care. It was almost tender, Ivanthe thought. Perhaps it wasn't Yaren's first time.
When it was over, the two were linked in a way Ivanthe couldn't explain. He had power now, real power, but he was bound to Yaren more tightly than ever before. That he now knew how Yaren manipulated did not make the manipulations any less real; his Tangle was still at the old man's command, and he commanded Ivanthe to command Rheina. It was never anything grand or obvious; the art of Empathy lay in carefully chosen words and careful observation. Working together, they were able to slowly tame Rheina's wildness––Yaren through intimidation when he was present, Ivanthe through soft pleas when he was not. Ivanthe was new to magical hunger, and Yaren was diligent in fanning it to a compulsion.
Of course, Empathy was one more thing Ivanthe was expected to be perfect at. Rheina would always fight her way back to anger at one point or another, and it was always a failing on Ivanthe's part when that happened. If anything, Yaren's anger towards his apprentice only increased after the initiation, as did the anger toward Rheina.
Once season before his tenth birthday, Rheina took a knife and attacked Yaren the moment he came back to camp in the hope he wouldn't be able to convince her otherwise. That was when their facade of the perfect family finally broke.
The merchant caravan couldn't move on the next day when they learned of Rheina's condition. It was Yaren who told them, wrapping it in a story of a wild animal attack that even his own powers of persuasion could not quite make compelling. But they were deep in the wilderness, trials from the nearest village, and Rheina could not travel. Yaren was forced to turn all his attention to keeping her alive and getting her back on her feet, demanding Ivanthe convince their companions of the story. Ivanthe didn't dare say that the suspicions were too strong, the disbelief to rampant for him to do anything about––all he could do was slow things down and pray it was long enough to reach a town and move on to another group.
It took a day for Rheina to come around, and one more for her to begin moving again––enough to sit on a wagon at least, which was good enough for Yaren; he left Ivanthe in charge of packing things up while he went to tell the caravan leader the good news. The moment he was out of sight, there was a blinding pain in the back of Ivanthe's head and then darkness. When he woke up, his ankle was broken and Rheina was gone.
But his shortbow had also been placed into his hands.
It all felt somehow inevitable, now that the facade was cracking to pieces and falling down around them. Ivanthe knew that the other caravaners would never believe the stories Yaren would try to weave. And because there was no alternative, no other group in the wilderness they could join, there was nowhere they could hide from their own truths.
Yaren came back with two other caravaners in tow, perhaps intending to have Rheina back up his story of wild animals. Ivanthe was hidden by then, bracing against the wagon with one leg where he had enough time to prepare. Yaren and the caravaners went to Rheina's tent and found it empty.
One deep breath, one moment of complete emptiness, and one arrow was released into the air. Yaren's throat was torn open before he had the chance to attempt an explanation.
All three saw him then, but it was Yaren he couldn't look away from. His master survived a few moments after the shot, grasping his neck and trying to say something––perhaps even reaching for his magic in some vain hope that it could change what had happened. But it was only a moment; the old man fell to the ground in his time and died twitching, blood pooling in the dirt around him.
The caravaners said nothing; they simply turned away as if nothing had happened and returned to the rest of the caravan.
Ivanthe already knew the ritual of travel by heart. The wagon was packed just as it was every morning, the supplies and equipment all stored perfectly in their places and the horse connected to the back of another wagon. As for Yaren's body, it was left untouched exactly where it had fallen.
The rest of the trip would have felt unreal, if not for the pain. Ivanthe was able to clean his ankle and bind it, at least for the three trials it took to reach the next village where a real healer could properly look after it. The other caravaners had said little to nothing until that point, when their leader offered to take Ivanthe along on the journey away from Etzos. Ivanthe refused, partly knowing that he needed rest and partly unwilling to owe anyone anything.
His story begins here, Cylus 718, among the villages of Etzos as he steps alone into newfound freedom and premature adulthood. Scarred inside and out, he seeks first to find his footing in a world without a master; what follows next remains to be seen.