Gennady’s Tale (Schooled in Magic Novella)

31 Dec

Hi, everyone

Gennady’s Tale is the second Schooled in Magic novella, set roughly ten years before Schooled in Magic itself.  It’s a submission for the Fantastic Schools anthology, so any comments, suggestions, death threats, etc would be warmly welcomed (except the death threats, which will get a frigid reception <grin>)

You can start reading the series itself here – http://chrishanger.net/Published/SIMseries/SIMindex.html

Fantastic Schools – https://www.superversivesf.com/fantasticschools/fantastic-schools-anthology/

Now read on …

Chapter One

“Clubfoot!  Clubfoot!”

Gennady stayed low as he ran into the undergrowth, trying to put as much distance between him and his father as possible.  The man had come home blind drunk, as always, and would beat Gennady to a pulp if he caught him before the drink finally sent him into a drunken stupor.  He’d been drinking more than usual lately, ever since Huckeba – Gennady’s elder brother – had married some poor girl from the neighbouring village and moved into her shack with his in-laws.  Someone had probably reminded him that his son was a cripple, a disabled boy in a world that cared nothing for disabled boys, and he’d gone home to take out his frustrations on his son.

He gritted his teeth as his ankle started to hurt, a grim reminder of why everyone – even his parents – called him Clubfoot.  It wasn’t a real clubfoot, he’d been told, but it was quite bad enough.  Gennady could barely keep up with the women, let alone the men.  He was weak, too weak to handle everything from farming work to late-night drinking and fighting that occupied the men when they weren’t working in the fields.  There was no way he’d ever be allowed to marry, let alone have children of his own.  His father would probably disown him, sooner or later.  There was no way he could pass the family’s tiny shack to a cripple.  Gennady’s younger brother would kick him out even if their father didn’t.  And no one would say anything about it at all.

The bitterness welled up, again, as the shadows grew and lengthened.  It wasn’t fair.  He hadn’t chosen to be a cripple.  He wasn’t one of the idiots who tossed axes around for fun and accidentally cut off their own legs.  He hadn’t done anything to deserve being the runt of the litter, the laughing stock of the village … he hadn’t.  His bones ached as he stumbled to a halt, gasping for breath.  The louts had beaten him yesterday, chasing him from the vegetable gardens and into the forests surrounding the village.  No doubt they’d hoped he wouldn’t come crawling back.  Gennady himself wasn’t sure why he hadn’t simply walked away and allowed the forest to kill him.  No one in their right mind ventured out of the village after dark.  The night belonged to the other folk.

He stumbled to a halt, feeling sweat trickling down his back as he looked around.  His father’s voice was stilled.  Gennady knew what that meant.  The old man had probably gone back to the shack, to take his anger out on his wife instead.  He felt a pang of guilt, mixed with relief that it wasn’t him getting the beating.  He knew he should be ashamed of himself for letting it happen, for doing nothing, but … he couldn’t help it.  He’d been beaten down so often that he knew he had little sympathy to spare for anyone else.

Why should I, he asked himself, when no one has any sympathy for me?

He forced himself to look around, warily.  Few people came this close to the Greenwood, save for the lonely, the lost and the desperate.  The tangled branches and undergrowths up ahead were an impassable barrier, even to a strong man with an axe.  No one in their right mind would try to get in, not if they knew what was waiting for them.  The other folk lived there, in a realm so overgrown the sunlight never shone.  They’d kill anyone foolish enough to enter their world.  Gennady forced himself to start moving again, giving the Greenwood a wide berth.  There were times when he thought he could hear a call, urging him to walk into the alien realm.  He knew if he did, he’d never come out again.

Birds flew through the trees as he kept walking, despite the growing pain in his ankle.  He forced himself to keep looking around, noting the mushrooms growing near the taller trees.  They didn’t look ripe, not yet, but they were edible.  If he was desperate … he promised himself he’d come back later to pick them, to take home for his mother’s stew.  If he could get them home, without having them stolen by one of the village louts, his mother might be pleased with him.  No.  He knew better.  She could never forget what he’d done to her, simply by being born.

It wasn’t my fault, he told himself.  It wasn’t his fault that the village woman had cracked jokes about Gennady’s mother lying with the other folk, before his birth.  It wasn’t his fault that her husband had come very close to kicking her and her cursed child out of the shack, throwing them into the cold to die.  I was just a child.

The thought didn’t comfort him.  How could it?  He was a cripple.  There was no place for him in the village, no place anywhere.  It was only a matter of time until he was exposed to the elements and left to die.  The village couldn’t afford to feed useless mouths.  Gennady knew, all too well, that his father only kept him alive because he was good at scavenging.  He had to be.  There was no way he could kill a wild pig or catch a bird or do anything useful for the village.  The day he stopped bringing home mushrooms or herbs or anything else along those lines was the day he’d die.  He knew it with a certainty that could not be denied.

He flinched as he heard something moving in the undergrowth, something big.  A wild pig?  A boar?  Hogarth, the strongest lout in the village, wouldn’t dare tangle with a wild boar in the forest.  Even the court who owned the village and the surrounding region of the mountains would hesitate to don his armour and try to hunt a wild boar.  The creature was strong enough to pose a threat to anyone, save perhaps for a sorcerer.  Gennady hadn’t met many sorcerers.  He’d been kept firmly out of their way the last time the roving wizards had visited the village.  He hadn’t really cared.  Sorcerers could be childishly cruel at times.

The sound grew louder.  Gennady forced himself to turn and inch away, resisting the urge to run for his life.  The boar – if it was a boar – would give chase, if it thought he was scared. It was all he could do to casually walk away, despite the sense of unseen eyes studying his back and trying to decide if he’d make a tasty meal.  Gennady had to struggle to force himself to breathe, despite a suicidal impulse to turn and walk towards the boar.  It would be over quickly and then his family could pretend he’d never existed.  He knew what happened, when someone was exposed and left to die.  Their families never mentioned them again.

He sighed inwardly as the sound died away.  He was moving towards one of the paths, towards one of the few safe ways to walk between the villages … as long as one wasn’t a tax collector or someone else who might be quietly murdered a very long way from civilisation.  Gennady had met a couple of tax collectors, overweight men gloating as they skimmed what little they could from the village … one had laughed, openly, as the villages sweated to meet their dues.  He’d insisted he was exacting revenge for everything the villages had done to him, once upon a time.  Gennady wanted to be like him, even though he knew it would never happen.  No one would be scared of him.  He’d just vanish, somewhere in the forests, and no one would give a damn …

… And someone was moving, walking down the paths.

Gennady froze, utterly convinced his father had found him.  His father … or one of the village louts.  It didn’t matter.  He’d get a beating no matter who found him.  He peered through the trees, breathing a sigh of relief as the walker came into view.  Primrose.  A girl who’d smiled at him, once or twice.  The only person who’d ever been nice to him.  He found himself staring, despite himself.  Primrose was beautiful, with brown hair that seemed to glow with light and health.  She wore the simple smock that all village women wore, now she was old enough to wed, but she made it look like a dress.  Gennady was smitten.  He knew he wasn’t the only one.  Every boy in the village – and the surrounding villages – wanted to pay court to her.  He was surprised she was alone, outside the stockade.  The custom of kidnapping brides might be outdated, yet it persisted.  Primrose would have no choice, but to stay with someone brave and bold enough to take her, marry her and bed her before informing her parents.  She would be his …

He found himself turning and following her, shadowing her, as she hurried down the path to a small clearing.  He wanted to call out to her, to tell her he was there, but he couldn’t find the words.  He could never talk to Primrose, not when she was the only village woman not to mock him for an ugly gnome.  The others were cruel, but Primrose … she was sweet and kind and simply wonderful.  He dreamed of impressing her, of convincing her that he was the one, yet … he knew it wasn’t going to happen.  There were boys in the village who owned – or would inherit – entire shacks, tracts of land, even a handful of sheep.  What did he have that could compete?  Nothing.  Primrose’s father would laugh in Gennady’s face if he came courting.  Of course he would.

Primrose didn’t look back as she made her way into the clearing.  Gennady followed, frowning inwardly.  It didn’t look good.  The clearing was small, too small.  It wasn’t a place to rest, when walking through the trees.  It was a place for meetings between lovers … he felt ice shudder down his spine as he saw Hogarth standing beneath the trees, a look of sadistic anticipation on his face.  The brute was waiting for Primrose … Gennady shuddered again, realising that he was looking at an ambush.  Hogarth was waiting for her and … Gennady’s mind shut down.  He couldn’t force himself to face what was coming.  The thought of Primrose being married to Hogarth …

He felt sick.  The village louts were big and bad, but Hogarth was the biggest and baddest of them all.  A walking slab of muscle, too dumb to count past ten without taking off his boots … and sadistic enough to beat up anyone who got in his way, even the older villagers.  Gennady had felt Hogarth’s fists often enough to know the bastard took delight in hurting people, in picking fights with people who couldn’t fight back.  The bitterness threatened to overwhelm him, once again.  It just wasn’t fair.  People like Hogarth had everything.  What did intelligence matter when it could be smashed down at will?  Why …

His stomach churned as Hogarth stepped forward, took Primrose in his arms and kissed her.  The sound was loud, possessive.  Hogarth held her tightly, his arms inching downwards … Gennady fumed with envy and hatred and bitter fear.  Primrose didn’t look happy, from what little he could see, but what could she do?  Hogarth was admired and feared by the entire village.  She didn’t want to marry him, but so what?  If Hogarth asked for her hand in marriage, his father would give Primrose to him.  What else could he do?

Hogarth looked up.  Their eyes met.

Gennady froze, suddenly unable to move.  He was too scared to try, too scared to even think as Hogarth pushed Primrose to one side and bounded towards the undergrowth.  Hogarth was the kind of person who’d make it hurt all the more, if Gennady tried to run … not that he could run.  Hogarth could run like the wind.  Gennady would start limping within a few seconds if he tried to run.  He heard Primrose say something, but it was too late.  He hoped she’d have the sense to run herself.  Hogarth would beat her for interfering with his fun.

“Clubfoot,” Hogarth snarled.  “You little …”

Gennady whimpered, trying to raise his hands to protect himself.  But they felt as if they were too heavy to move.  Hogarth was too close, his face a mask of hatred.  Gennady stumbled backwards, too late.  Hogarth punched him in the chest, the pain making him retch as he doubled over.  A second blow – a fist, a knee, he didn’t know – smashed into his face.  He thought he felt his teeth coming lose as he hit the muddy ground, instinctively trying to crawl into it.  But it was impossible.  A hand grasped his neck and yanked him upwards.  He found himself staring at Hogarth’s face.  He knew, with a certainty he couldn’t deny, that it was going to be the last thing he saw.

“Little filthy spy,” Hogarth said.  He drew back his fist.  “You wretch …”

Gennady barely heard him.  The pain was all-consuming.  He would have curled into a ball if he wasn’t being held upright, dangling from Hogarth’s hand like a cat might carry a mouse. It wasn’t fair.  It really wasn’t fair.  The thought pounded through his head, bringing stabs of pain and grief and something with it.  He couldn’t think.  He felt as though he was far too close to the Greenwood, to the other folk.  Blue sparks flashed at the corner of his eyes as Hogarth tightened his grip.  The world seemed to blur …

“This is it,” Hogarth said.  Gennady believed him.  He was going to die.  He was finally going to die.  And it wasn’t fair.  “Goodbye.”

His fist started to move.  Blue sparks flashed, a surge of twisted power flowing through Gennady and into Hogarth.  The bully screamed, his face contorted with pain.  Gennady stared, unsure what was happening as the blue light grew stronger.  His awareness came in fits and starts.  There was a blinding flash of light.  He was flying through the air.  Pain, pain, pain … and a sense of power that almost overwhelmed him.  Primrose screamed, the sound dragging him back to himself an instant before the darkness swallowed him.  Gennady opened his mouth …

… And the world went black.

He tried to think, but it felt as if he was trapped in mud.  Darkness crawled around him, as if he was on the very edge of going to sleep but somehow unable to shut down completely.  He heard voices mumbling, their words growing louder and louder … he heard his father’s voice, the shock yanking him out of the unnatural slumber.  The real world crashed around him as he sat upright, realising in horror that he was lying on a blanket in the hovel.  His mother was staring down at him, her stern face unreadable.  For a moment, Gennady thought he’d dreamed everything.  But the throbbing power within him was undeniable.

A face came into view.  A man, a stranger … short black hair, clean-shaven … Gennady winced inwardly, fearing the mockery that would be directed at someone unable or unwilling to grow a beard.  And dressed from head to toe in black … sorcerer’s black.  Gennady started, trying to sit up but unable to do even that.  Cold terror washed down his spine, mocking him.  He had to show proper respect or … he’d wind up being cursed or … or something.  And yet, his body refused to obey.  The dull pain was threatening to drag him back into the darkness.  He felt as if his body had been turned to mush.  Maybe it had. There was a sorcerer standing over him.

He felt his heart twist as his father stepped into view.  The man looked as if he’d sobered up the hard way, his hands twitching as if he was in desperate need of a drink.  Or to work off his frustrations by hitting someone.  Gennady frowned, inwardly, at the look in his father’s eyes as the old man peered at his son.  Fear.  Real fear.  It attracted and repelled Gennady in equal measure.  It felt good to have someone be scared of him, for once.  It felt good to have someone grant him respect, even though fear.  It felt good …

… And yet, it didn’t.

The sorcerer removed a gourd from his belt and held it to Gennady’s lips.  Gennady didn’t want to sip, but he had a feeling he didn’t have a choice.  The liquid tasted unpleasant, worse than the brackish water he’d been forced to drink over the winters, yet … he felt an odd surge of energy flowing through him.  His body tingled, jerking uneasily as he sat upright.  The discomfort would pass.  He knew it would.  He was far too used to pain.

“Gennady.”  The sorcerer sounded odd, as if he’d learned the language by rote.  It was very clear he’d been born and raised somewhere very far from the Cairngorms.  “Can you hear me?”

“Yes.”  Gennady saw his father pale.  He’d forgotten the honorific.  The entire family would be cursed if he didn’t fix it, quickly.  “Yes, My Lord.”

The sorcerer nodded, sternly.  “How much do you remember?”

Gennady forced himself to think.  He’d been in the forest.  He’d seen Primrose.  Hogarth had attacked him.  Hogarth had nearly killed him.  He’d …

“Power,” he said.  Blue sparks seemed to dance in the shadows as he remembered Hogarth screaming.  The brute had deserved it.  And worse.  Gennady liked the thought of making Hogarth suffer.  He’d done it.  Yes, he’d done it.  “I remember power.”

“Yes.”  The sorcerer smiled, very briefly.  “Power.”

Gennady swallowed, hard.  “What happened?”

“Magic,” the sorcerer said.  Behind him, Gennady saw his father flinch.  “Gennady, you’re a magician.”

19 Responses to “Gennady’s Tale (Schooled in Magic Novella)”

  1. Jared December 31, 2019 at 12:48 pm #

    I kinda like that! Lol

  2. Peter Sleet December 31, 2019 at 2:09 pm #

    When can we have more?

    • chrishanger February 1, 2020 at 3:54 pm #

      When ‘Fantastic Schools’ is published

      Chris

  3. Joe T December 31, 2019 at 3:31 pm #

    Looks good, reads well and makes me eager to read more.

  4. georgephillies December 31, 2019 at 3:37 pm #

    You asked for honest comments. The amount of ‘everything is terrible’ was true for the poor kid, but it went on a bit long for my taste. Except that I know who the author is, I might well have quit part way in. How did they manage to find a sorcerer so quickly? ‘just happened to be passing through stretches things a bit.

  5. Reghunathan December 31, 2019 at 4:07 pm #

    An interesting start, I believe, to a new storyline.

  6. someone January 1, 2020 at 12:26 am #

    And here I’d thought Huckeba was Frieda’s mother, not father.

    Was there previous reference to her having had a magical relative?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 1, 2020 at 12:32 am #

      This book takes place before the first Schooled In Magic book so these characters likely aren’t related to Frieda.

      Mind you, Chris should change that name.

      • Knuddelmon January 1, 2020 at 6:28 am #

        Well, only roughly ten years before Emily’s arrival in the Nameless World. So I’d dare say we just got a glimpse of Frieda’s uncle. Whether Frieda (or even Huckeba) ever learned of Gennady being a magician, well, only Chris knows (yet).

      • chrishanger January 1, 2020 at 3:17 pm #

        Yes, Gennady is Frieda’s uncle. She doesn’t know it.

        Chris

        Sent from my iPad

  7. Jacqueline harris January 1, 2020 at 3:35 pm #

    I feel like we need to know who gennady will become. We haven’t heard anything about him before. Not any grest deeds or anything.

    • someone January 2, 2020 at 4:38 pm #

      That’s probably the payoff. I suspect he’ll be the next necro-villain.

    • G January 7, 2020 at 3:22 am #

      This reads like Shadeye’s backstory–should be a fun read!

  8. Rick Stuckwisch January 1, 2020 at 6:22 pm #

    So, where can we read the whole novella?

  9. G January 2, 2020 at 10:42 pm #

    Yeah!! More SIM! Thank you! (I need more to feed my addiction…)

  10. georgephillies January 4, 2020 at 12:42 am #

    Riddle: What is the specialty of Laughter? (That’s a school, by the way.)

  11. chanceloricco January 7, 2020 at 9:10 pm #

    This is the second novella? What was the first? And where can we find more of this one?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 7, 2020 at 9:44 pm #

      The first one is Alassa’s Tale.

  12. Guy Marc GAGNÉ January 10, 2020 at 11:31 pm #

    Seems unlikely that folks from the Frieda’s family or even village, would not be making hay about having a wizard in the wings! Granted, they are regarded with trepidation, yet it is a mesure of some standing/class/good blood!?!
    Although, few, if any, according to previous tomes, are ever likely to return home.
    Still – Magic matters!
    Any way, maybe ease off a little on the plight of the unfortunately afflicted in that time and place, we get (previously established) their lot is unenviable!
    The opening provided may allow you to proceed in any direction, from indentured servitude to academic achievement at a reputable school for magic!

    What say ye?

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