Authors Note:
All characters, scenes and story line are the sole possession of the Author and can not be used or copied for any purposes unless permission in writing is given by the Author, if you are under age for this genre of story you must leave now or not let your mother see you reading it.

It is the year of our Lord 1465, in the Eastern European plains, there are many small farming communities and villages, many being in the outer limits of the country borders, all were subject to many raids by rogues and gangs of thieves as well as outside brigands.

Life on these small farms and in the tiny villages was not easy, nearly all the famers were only tenants and had to answer to the local Lord or Baron for their existence, in the small farming community of Waleseci lived the family of Valsec, the father farmed his small holding aided by his two boys, Paulek, now just turned fourteen, and his brother Milac, a year and a half younger, at the small wooden single room house were the mother and her daughter, the daughter was a year older than Paulek.

Farmer Valsec had been disappointed when he saw that both his sons were a little on the small side, he had hoped for tall, strong boys to help around the farm, instead he had to watch his two boys struggle from day to day on what should have been easy tasks, true they were not ones too give up on any task and would strain themselves to the utmost to finish and help their father.

It was Paulek that the Farmer felt the most sorry for, his future was not a good one and having the looks and build of a young girl only made it harder to digest even though neither boy gave him any trouble and they were always willing to do whatever they were asked, to his eyes, Milac would be little different from Paulek, it was a sad day but it was as God willed, he had more important things to carry in his mind, the tax time was nearing and the Baron Whalacek would want his dues in full by the end of the month.

Life had always been hard for the small communities in this land, their small tenancies were just enough to keep body and soul together after they had paid the land owner his taxes which, it seemed, got steeper and harder to pay each year, this year was no different, Pater Valsec, turned from the bowl of cold water outside the single room house where he had just washed his face and hands to be ready for his lunch of rough bread and goats cheese, as he turned too call his sons for lunch, the Framer saw a cloud of dust approaching at a great speed, forgetting his sons, he lifted his hand to shade his eyes from the glare of the sun, it was a large group of riders, a black banner flying from the lead horse, Brigands, Pater Valsec turned to the house calling out for his wife and daughter, he had completely forgotten the boys out in the field.

Paulek strained his thin arms to lift the heavy wooden pitch fork, with a final heave he threw the tied bundle of hay on top of the stack, it was done at last, his bare thin chest heaved for breath as he straightened up and looked at his younger brother, the boy was almost a younger copy of himself, they had worked hard, as they always did, to please their hard working father, the rough coarse cloth of their knee length breeches, rubbed and chaffed their skin as small pieces of the hay worked their way inside to aggravate their young skin further.

Paulek watched as Milac scratched his groin, it was a common sight for him too see, he remembered the same problem when he was his brothers age, those first burgeoning pubic hairs itched something terrible and his boyhood was hard all the time, that was until he found out how to ease the strain in the rigid muscle.

It had been one night while he was trying to sleep, his mother and father were asleep in one corner of the single room house, divided from the boys only by a thick curtain, his older sister had a place alone in the loft, Paulek and Milac shared the small narrow bed in the corner near the fire place.

Milac was asleep behind him facing the wall, Paulek had reached for his rigid little nail and began to rub it to ease the tension, with a little gasp as the pain of his narrow foreskin slipped over his glans for the first time, Paulek went rigid and shook as though he had an ague, he then felt something wet dribble onto the two fingers wrapped around his nail, Paulek lifted his fingers to his nose to smell and, with a tentative move, he reached out with his tongue to taste the strange white drops, it was a little sweet and a little salty but, too his mind it was the answer to his prayers, Paulek cleaned his fingers off with his tongue before falling into a deep sleep, it was now a regular act for him when given the chance.

As Paulek watched his little brother work on his problem, the sound of a large group of horses could be heard galloping towards their house, lifting his eyes from his brother, he turned and watched in awe and fear as a large band of brigands rushed at his home, without thought, he grabbed Milac by his thin shoulder and pushed him towards the hay stack, with little other thought, Paulek dived into the loose hay pulling Milac behind him.

Clawing and wriggling, he forced a path into the very centre of the new stack, through the dampening of the fresh hay, Paulek could hear the loud voices and the clash of metal weapons as the brigands closed in on the house where his family were trying to hide, it was a wasted effort, within minutes there were loud yells and screams, heavy swearing and hoots of laughter, Paulek was under no illusion as to what was going on, his duty now was to protect his brother, they had to survive so that their family did not disappear from this earth like so many others had.

It was not long before the loud popping of burning wood reached their ears although muffled by the thick layer of hay, soon the first hint of smoke worked its way into the depths, this was the final signal to Paulek that all was lost, all he could hope for now was that they were not discovered or worse yet, that the stack was not also set afire.

Paulek heard loud talking close to the stack, there were men walking around the stack, by the sound of the language, the brigands were the ever feared Cossacks of the Don River, a fierce and war like people who had little thought for any others but themselves, Paulek felt Milac shaking beside him, with a careful movement he slipped one hand over the boys mouth to stop any whimpers that may be let out.

Paulek listened to the men outside the hay stack, while he didn’t know their language completely, he did, like many, understand enough to get the gist of what they were saying.

“Pavel, shall we burnt it, these peasants won’t need it anymore?”

“No, leave it be, we can feed our horse, this is a good fresh stack, no need to waste it, lets go back and get the others, we can rest here and feed and water the horses, there are a lot more farms like this one to go too today.”

Paulek was not about to be uncovered by feeding horses, whispering in Milac’s ear, he began a slow and careful withdrawal from the stack, ever mindful of keeping it between them and the house, it would only be a short crawl to the nearby woods where they could both hide more effectively, for the next few minutes, any sound at all would make both boys jump in anticipation of having a sword swoop down and take their heads, that is if they were lucky enough for a quick death they had no illusions as to what could happen to two young farm boys in the hands of Cossacks filled with the blood lust.

Finally they were in the cover of the trees, they had made the short journey slowly and stealthily, just as they had been taught by their father when out hunting for meat in the forest, once he had found a good sized bush, Paulek guided Milac deep inside and they both huddled down in each others arms, neither boy was expectant of having a family to return to, Paulek could feel the silent tears running from Milac’s eyes as the days tragic events caught up with the younger boy, all Paulek could do was hold him close and rub his thin back.

Slowly the sun began to sink, Paulek now had no choice, he had to find them some shelter for the night as well as some food, they had eaten nothing since the morning and both their thin stomachs were rumbling, Paulek took Milac by the hand and led him back towards the house, or, as he saw, where the house used to be, now there was nothing but the stone fire place and a burnt pile of timber still smoking in the dusk light.

The hay stack that had saved their lives was now no more, it was just a smattering a loose hay lying on the ground in a circle, by the look of it, Paulek guessed that they had carried away what their horses had not eaten, quickly he and Milac scooped up some loose hay and carried it in their hands as they closed with the burnt out house.

A sudden cry split the dusk light, Paulek immediately straightened up ready to run, dragging Milac behind him, then he saw what Milac had spied first, his father was suspended by numerous arrows through his body and was hanging dead on the apple tree beside the house, his mother and sister were splayed out on the ground beneath him, they too were dead, their heads a little way off to the side, it took no imagination to know how they had been treated before they were killed, the large loss of blood from between their sisters legs told the story.

Paulek stiffened and swallowed his anger, for now he had a brother to look after, of their home there was little left, the four goats had been slaughtered and carried off as had their cow, all the was left were the five heads and skins along with the tail of the cow, the guts had cooled and were left for the wild creatures of the forest to clean up during the night.

Paulek looked around, he had to have a fire and find some food, then he could think of what they would have to do next, there was nothing here for them anymore so they would have to move on, the Baron would just shrug his shoulders and rue the loss of his taxes, two orphan boys were of no concern to him.

Paulek went to the fire place and cleaned a space, at the back he found his mothers second cooking pot, it was smaller than the family one and usually only used for water heating, Paulek pulled it out and wiped it clean with his rough smock that he had gathered from the now broken fence where he had left it while doing the hay.

After scrabbling around in the detritus of the house, he came up with a small sharp knife, first Paulek lay the dry hay that he and Milac had carried back, into the hearth, quickly searching the smouldering timbers that remained of their house, he found one that still had live embers, with a few puffs of breath, a small flame rose, this he placed in the pile of hay, next he sent Milac out to find any dry wood as he scrabbled some of what was left of their furniture and the house to begin the fire.

Milac returned with his small arms loaded with wood, the fire was built up just a little higher, at least now they had warmth, next was food, Paulek looked around, there was little of anything, his eyes settled on the tail of the cow, with practiced ease he began to remove the skin until he had only the meat and bones of the cow tail, it would make a good stew, now all he needed were some vegetables.

Their small house garden had been trampled but Paulek and Milac went to work with their hands to dig into the trampled earth, after some little time they had two potatoes and three beets along with a single onion, the boys returned to the fire and set about making their stew.

Two hours later and the two young orphans had a feast, once fed they could only lay down in front of their open fire and try to sleep, there was little they could do until the morning, Paulek lay with his back to the fire and Milac snuggled into his belly, curling up like a small baby, Paulek wrapped his thin arms around his sole remaining family and drifted off into a light sleep, there was much to do in the morning.

As the chill of the morning seeped into Paulek’s bones, he stirred and opened his eyes, the sudden sight of what lay before him brought back in a flash of clarity, what had happened the day before, the warm bundle in his arms also stirred as the chill got to him, both boys lifted their heads and looked at the destruction around them, in the light of dawn it looked even worse than the night before.

Paulek rose and brushed aside the dying ashes, spying s few still live embers, he threw a little more hay on and watched as it caught, adding some of the wood collected by Milac, he placed the half empty pot of stew on to warm, Paulek looked around for something to hold water so they could drink, but there was nothing left in one piece, they would have to walk to the stream behind the house after they had eaten.

After breaking their fast and drinking the chilled water from the small pool, the boys turned and looked around, they would have to bury their family first, then they would have to find a way to leave this place and venture forth on their own to find a place to live and work, in the far reaches of his mind, Paulek suppressed the need for revenge, two small boys against the might of the Don Cossacks was not a good idea, not yet, maybe not ever.

Paulek took one last look into the pool, his reflection came back at him, what was he going to do, he looked again at the image that looked back at him, a small teen, no more than 5’5” tall, thin but wiry, dark green eyes below long jet black, straight hair, a thin face with a small thin nose topped by dark eye brows, a nice looking boy although some might say a little too girlish in appearance, a slightly taller version of the younger boy beside him.

Paulek huffed in disgust and turned from the pool followed immediately by his mirror image, the boys went towards where the small barn had been, the Cossacks had also burnt that to the ground but, the walls had been partly stone up to the height of a man, while everything inside had been burnt, there were still some metal implements left, although without handles, as an after thought, Paulek walked to around to the back of the barn, at first he thought it was hopeless, he could see that their large farm cart, used to carry produce to market, had also been taken, then, he spied the small dog cart, one side still up on a block waiting for the new wheel, it was untouched, the new wheel still leaning up against it waiting for the time to work on it.

As he looked at the small cart, Paulek heard a faint whinny behind him, much to his surprise, their small pony, an indulgence for his sons by their father, they did not have much but their father had saved a few coins for two years and bought the small pony from some passing Roma, it was for the boys hard work, they had ridden it and used it too pull the cart when collecting fire wood for the house, now all they had to do was fix the wheel, gather what they could from the burnt remains of their home, and start their journey, first though, they had to see their family respectfully buried.

Paulek, after tying up the pony, returned to the barn where Milac had already found the burnt shovel head, the two boys set too work to make a rough handle, next they found the hoe that was used to till the ground, this also took a while to make a handle for but, by early afternoon they had finished, with a great effort, they managed to lower their dead father from the tree and, by late afternoon, the three bodies were lying in shallow graves, neither boy knew what to say, instead they let their tears tell the story, with a heavy heart, both boys began to fill in the open graves, for tonight, they had just a little stew left, tomorrow they would begin their journey.

When the first rays of the morning sun hit their tired eyes, the boys rose and looked around, they had the wheel to fit and a quick hunt for some food, as his stomach rumbled along with Milac’s, Paulek jumped, he suddenly remembered the cellar, with Milac close behind him, he began to scrabble through the burnt remains on the dirt floor, it was the act of nearly falling through the destroyed door of the cellar that helped Paulek find it, once down inside the small earthen cellar, he saw that the Cossacks had also gotten in there and taken everything of smashed what they did not want, there was one last place to look, partially buried in the darkest corner, was a small wooden box, his mother had called it her “famine box” with quick hands he tugged and pulled at the half buried box, with Milac’s help it finally came away from its earthen hole, carefully, Paulek lifted the hinged lid, inside everything was intact, they had enough food for a few days, with the wheel on the dog cart and some scrabbling around in the paddock for loose hay for the pony, they would be able to make it some distance before looking for more.

By midday they had the wheel on the dog cart and had gathered enough hay to make three bundles for their pony, water was going to be a problem but they would have to just stop at streams and pools as they went, for their midday meal they opened one of the small earthen bottles of preserved fruit while Paulek worked half the flour into a dough for flat bread, a flat stone sat on the small flames heating as he worked, there was enough dough so they would have bread for two days, he could then make the last of the flour into one more loaf.

The years of being too small to help their father and had to spend time at their mothers side in the house, was now paying off, while they could not cook like her, they had picked up enough that they would not starve as long as they had something to put on a fire.

Although tempted to leave that day, Paulek changed his mind and decided on an early start in the morning, it had been a busy day and they would need the extra rest and then get a fresh start, for the rest of the day they collected what they could and set it in the cart ready, the pony was well fed and watered and was tied to what was left of the door post, of the farms possessions, there was the old hoe and spade now with new rough handles, an old blanket found in the cellar and their mothers small pot, as an after thought, Paulek added the thin slate they had used to cook the bread on, of their clothes, they had only what they stood in, their rough breeches and thin cotton smocks, their feet were bare and had never seen sandals let alone boots of any kind, Paulek looked at the pitifully small pile, that was all they had in the world, it was not much to start a new life but it was all they had, they would survive, Paulek would see to that.

At sunrise they left the only place they called home, there had not been one single person come to see what had happened, perhaps their one time neighbours were also now dead, they did not have the time to find out, there future now lay to the west and south, well away from this land blighted by greedy Lords and Barons and raided by any gang of brigands that felt the desire, Paulek was sure that too the south or west, where the big towns were, they would find a place of their own.

As though needing the exercise, the pony set of with light steps, the small dog cart barely registering as weight even though the two boys sat on it, one on each side with their feet dangling over the track, Paulek held the thin rope reins loosely and let the pony have its head to a certain extent, as long as it headed west or south he was happy, the quickly disappearing familiarity of their home fading behind them, there was now nothing there to pull them back, Paulek heard the small sniffle from his brother but did not turn or mention it, he felt the boy would not want to be seen as a baby, not now they were all alone.

When they stopped at midday for a little bread and water by a stream, they had travelled further than they had ever been, the land ahead was rolling and grassed, in the distance they could see the outline of small farm holdings, much like they had once had, Paulek had no intention of stopping at any of them, they had enough to keep going for a number of days yet and he had no need to have to be asked questions by strangers.

For the next six days they avoided all other contact, even hiding in the forest at times to avoid people, on the evening of the sixth day, Paulek tied the pony and set the cart while Milac gathered fire wood, Paulek had been making snares while they had been travelling, while not of the quality they had been used to, he hoped that at least one of them would work, they had eaten the last of the smoked and dried meat for breakfast, they now had only a quarter of the last flat loaf of bread and a half a jar of preserved fruit left, it was now time to start to hunt for food, the two boys worked well together neither one trying to lord it over the other, even as young as Milac was, he knew that they had to be together on everything for them to survive in future.

It was a thin meal for them but, in the morning, everything looked better, much to Paulek’s surprise, a number of the snares he had laid were full, his bag for the night was two plump hares, three pigeons, a water fowl and, even better, a very small piglet, it took him no time at all to dress down the new meat, they were in a dense thicket and he saw no reason to move on today and so, he set about preserving the new meat as best he could, some he cooked and then pressed into gathered leaves and grasses, the rest he left over the fire which he had added green braches to make dense smoke, by morning the smoked meat would be well dried and preserved, it would last for many days, all they had to do now was find some form of vegetable, the hunt began for fungi and other wild berries or roots, by nightfall they had quite a large larder to keep them going.

The next morning they were ready too move on, their little dog cart had been checked and was tied to the well rested pony, both boys took their places on the side of the cart and the pony began a new day, they were now well south of their home land, the surrounding land had changed and was now filled with large forests with small open glades interspersed along the way, finding water was easy, it seemed that every corner opened onto another small pool or stream, they followed no track but kept to the open spaces where possible.

On the fifteenth day of leaving their destroyed home, they saw in the distance a large town, heavy smoke hung over the many houses and tall buildings, some even as high as three houses, around the town was a tall wall of wooden stakes and, at the gate was an armed guard, slowly they made their way towards the town, it was time to find some work, their clothes would not last much longer and they needed a few things to continue their travels.

At the gate, the guard barely glanced in their direction, two small boys on a cart was of no surprise to him, there were far more dangerous beings than small boys, if they caused any trouble then the town marshals would tend to them, the guard yawned and shuffled his feet as the two boys disappeared into the depths of the town.

Paulek steered the small cart through the narrow cobbled streets until he came to what appeared to be the central square, its throng of people going about their daily business was completely new to the two boys, they had never in all their short lives, seen so many people in one place, shop keepers mixed with tradesmen and shoppers, among them all were children of all ages, some playing, others were going about their own business and some, only a few, looked to be of the streets.

The sun was sinking rapidly towards dusk as Paulek steered the cart towards the central park with its few trees and small circle of brown grass, to one side sat the well for the town’s water, rough seats had been set under the few trees where people of the town could rest from their labours.

Paulek stopped the cart under the biggest of the trees; at least here they would have some cover in the darkness of their first night in this bustling town, as Paulek and Milac jumped from the cart to tend to the pony, a young boy no older than Paulek, appeared from the shadow of the tree, Paulek had not seen him sitting there when they had arrived.

The boys dress was not much better condition than their own worn farm cloths although he was a little dirtier than they were as they had taken every opportunity to wash in the many streams and pools they came across in their journey, the boy slowly walked over to them, there was a hunger in his young eyes as he looked at the two new comers.

“Hi, my names Wolenski, my friends call me Wol or Hawk, what you doing here, don’t you know the nights coming?”

Paulek looked at the boy, he was taller than either of them but also less well fed.

“Uh, hi, I’m Paulek and this is my brother Milac, we just got here, our farm was destroyed by Cossacks some time ago, why can’t we stay here the night, we will probably move on in the morning?”

“Aha, country bumpkin’s; that explains it, well my country cousins, there’s a curfew in effect after dark, once the sun goes down, this is not a safe place to be, lots of animals with long teeth out there at night.”

“But what about the town Marshals, don’t they look out for the town at night?” Paulek asked.

“No way, they’re the first one inside at dusk; they don’t want to get their nice fat asses bit by some dog or something.”

“Well we have no where to stay and no coins to buy anywhere, we have been camping out on the road for a long time now, we will be fine right here under the tree, besides, I have some tools to fight with if I need them.”

“Well, country boy, I hope you know how to fight, don’t say I didn’t warn you, not all the bad things in this dukedom are animals.”

The boy slowly walked away but only after giving Paulek and Milac one last look of pity, he slowly disappeared into the lowering gloom of dusk, Paulek and Milac went into a familiar pattern they had taught themselves for setting up camp, in the morning they would have to decide whether to stay and find work, or move on and live off the land until they found a better town, for now they had enough for one meal and both boys were tired.

Later in the darkness, having finished their meagre meal, Milac, as usual, cuddled his slightly smaller frame back into Paulek’s so he could be held by his brothers arms as he slept, for this night, instead of sleeping on the ground, Paulek had insisted they sleep in the small wagon and at least be a little above the ground, the boys drifted off to sleep as the last lights went out in the many houses and businesses of the strange town.

During the night, something disturbed Paulek but not enough to fully wake him, he drifted back to sleep, his last though was of fire burning through a small house on the edge of rolling farm land.

Paulek awoke into the first light of morning to the feeling of something wrong, his body was hot and felt fevered but, worst of all, his arms were empty, of his brother Milac there was no sign, instead there was just a large pool of drying blood on the bottom of the cart, Paulek tried to sit up and look around but he was suddenly hit by a dizziness that made his eyes unfocused, the hot fevered sensation increased as he tried to scream out Milac’s name, somewhere in the back of his swirling mind he heard a boys voice.

“Oh fuck, now what, I can’t leave him here for the Marshals or that fat assed Mayor, think Hawk, think, what would Pavlik have done.”

Somewhere, in his haze of fever, Paulek felt thin arms wrap around him and try to drag him from the cart, it was easier than it should have been, but it was made easier by the slick blood that covered the floor boards and had soaked into the thread bare clothes of Paulek, as the sun rose higher in the sky, Paulek felt weaker and his fever increased, it was only a few minutes when he felt the coolness of shade but in that short time he felt as though he was dying, how he got the fever so quick he had no idea but, for now all he wanted to do was rest, even the loss of his brother could not overrule his need to close his eyes and recover from his illness.



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