A Little Time with the Boys

Simon is lying on his back in the grass near the duck pond, seemingly staring at the bright blue sky above. His hands are tucked under his head, keeping his hair off the dirt.

The sound of singing -- a rich baritone -- precedes the sound of footfalls. The voice sings, "In the tree by the brook there's a songbird who sings/ Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven ..." Heavy footfalls they are, and many, crunching through the summer's dry grass.

Neither singing nor footfalls seem to penetrate the young man's reverie, as he lies there peacefully on the bank of the pond.

The singing tapers off as the footfalls draw close and stutter to a stop. "Would you be Simon Pauls?" says the baritone, from somewhere skyward. At ground level, the sounds of broad, flat teeth tearing grass travel through the packed earth and the bones of Simon's folded hands to vibrate gently against his skull.

Simon's eyes focus back on ground-level, or nearly ground-level, objects. "Uh, yeah?" He looks up, then scrambles to a seated position.

A tall, tall man blocks out the sun as he looks down at the seated Simon. Behind him, a big black drafthorse munches grass. "Paul said you're to show me where this stump is that wants pullin'." The man's mouth curves up ever-so-slightly at one corner.

Simon blinks rapidly. "Uh, sure, sir. I can do that." He hops to his feet with the energy of the young. He grins up at the big man. "You're the Smith, right? Lucas Maker? Dad was talking about you."

"A-yep, that'd be me," the smith agrees, sticking out a huge hand ostensibly to help the young man to his feet, then, seeing as that's unneeded, leaving it there to be shook.

Simon's grin widens as he puts his slender hand in Lucas's larger one. "Pleased to meet you, sir. Dad said maybe you could show me some Smithing stuff, you know, in case I like it. I never got around to it, though, with chores and things. Come on, the stump's this way." Seemingly on springs, the youth heads away from the pond, towards the working fields.

"Mmm," is the smith's reply, the hint of the smile still hovering at his mouth and the corners of his eyes. He resumes humming as he takes the drafter's lead and the pair of them follow.

Simon continues chattering as he leads the way around the first of the fields, to the far edge of the second. "Dad's hoping Smithing'll be what I want to do with my life. I've tried a bunch of things, and they're all interesting, but I get kind of bored of them after a while. Dad's getting kind of impatient." There's no mistaking the glint in his eyes, here's a boy who knows how to get his father's goat.

"Mm-hmm," Lucas responds pleasantly, then, "Ehn, not now, you pig," as he shoulders Campion away from mouthing at some honeysuckle. "So you got any idea what it is you want to be doing?" he queries. "You want something maybe that gets different every couple of weeks or so?"

Simon skirts the second field until he gets to a stump. It's at the edge of what looks like a newly cleared area. "Here's the stump, sir." He scratches the back of his head. "Yeah, that'd be nice. I thought maybe doctoring'd be like that, but it's not really. Mostly everyone gets the same scrapes and bugs and stuff, either all at once or one after the other. And when it does get interesting, it's always sad."

The smith nods. "Mm. Ah can see how that might be the case." He leads the horse around and Simon can see now that it is wearing some kind of harness. The smith drops the lead casually to the newly-cleared ground and steps over to examine the stump with a critical eye. "Can you hand me the pick off Campion's near side, there?" He jerks a thumb at the big horse and, yes, some of the long objects along either side of the beast's withers prove to be tools -- a pick, a shovel, some other assorted implements of destruction.

Simon nods. "Sure, sir!" For all his bodily enthusiasm, he moves smoothly enough not to startle the horse. He has to stretch to get the indicated tool out of the harness, but doesn't seem to have any more trouble with the weight than any fit person of about 125 pounds would.

As Simon has the pick about halfway free of the harness, the horse swings its massive head around in an attempt to knock the youth off his feet.

Simon staggers backwards, managing to retain his grip on the pick. He pulls it free of the harness, but ends up on his backside for his trouble. Through dexterity or blind luck, he manages not to hit either himself or the horse with the business end.

"Campion!" the smith barks sharply, stomping right up and staring the beast in the eye. The horse lays its ears back and snakes its head to one side, but the smith just stands there, nostrils flared, glaring. In a moment, the stallion backs down, lowering its head and edging backwards a nit. "Ah'm real sorry about that," Lucas says to Simon, offering him a hand up. He's quite sincere about it, too. "He'd been getting better about people, so Ah'd not been watching him as close as Ah should." He favors the horse with a withering glare. "You alright?" he asks Simon.

Simon shifts the pick to his left hand, grabbing the Smith's hand with his right. "Yeah, just startled, mostly. He doesn't like people much? He's real handsome. Do you use him for breeding? I guess you must, huh?, or you'd've gelded him by now. I haven't been around horses his size much."

Lucas chuckles, exchanging a glance with the sulking drafter. "Ain't you heard, kid?" he says. "Campion here's Kin. Ah know Paul's taught you what that means." He shakes his head, reaching for the pick.

Simon blinks, then looks down. He'd probably be blushing if his skin weren't so dark. "I'm awful sorry, sir. I didn't mean to..." He holds out the pick as if dodging.

The smith snorts, a very horsey sound. "No offense taken, son," he assures the youth. "Though Ah reckon your Pa may be right about things not sticking when you learn 'em." There's no sting to the comment, just simple observation. He takes the pick, leans it against the stump, and shucks off his hempen shirt. "What sorts of things *do* take your fancy?" he queries, spitting on his palms and taking up the pick. "If it ain't the stuff your Pa wants?" He begins to hack at the earth around the roots of the stump.

Simon tries to make up with Campion, holding out his palm, flat, so that the horse can sniff, or lick the sweat salt from them. "Dad said that?" He looks mildly put out. "Oh, just things. Like what things were like before, well, you know. But I tried helping Lonnie with the books, and, well, they didn't say much. Or what things might be like in the future. But Dad says those're just air castles, not something to Do. I like fixing things, though. There's not much call for that here, though. Things mostly work just fine."

Campion lays his ears back a bit and resolutely does not investigate the hand. He doesn't try to bite it, either, though.

"Might want to let him be. He ain't the friendliest sort even on a good day," Lucas cautions. Every third or fourth word ends in a grunt as he swings the pick at the ground. "Well there's other ways to learn stories than just *books*. You any good at *telling* stories, once you learn 'em?" The smith pauses to survey the stump and its tangle of roots.

Simon drops his hand, apparently smart enough to heed good advice, at least occasionally. "Um, I've never really tried, sir. I like imagining stories, but... they're just silly things for me. Air castles, you know?" He hovers, out of range of the pick and at an angle likely to avoid flying rootchips. "That's an awful tangle, there. Are you going to be able to dig it out? Dad says they really want to extend the field these few meters. Something about extra drainage or something."

Lucas grins. The back side of the pick flattens out into a hoe, and the smith uses that to clear some of the loosened earth, the better to see what remains to be done. "There're some folks put higher store in 'air castles' than maybe your Pa does," he says. "But don't you tell him *Ah* told you that." He flips the pick back around and takes a couple more swings around a particularly thick knot. "'Course you might find stories can get to be as boring and repetitive as anything else if you start thinking of 'em as a job or a chore," he continues between whacks. "Anyways, Ah can give you some names of folks to talk to if you want," he offers. "At worst, you'll get to hear some damned fine tales."

Simon grins. "Really, sir? That'd be great! I love hearing tales. That's a really neat pick. Do you make your tools yourself? Dad said he didn't know if you mostly did fine work or not. I asked him, because I was curious." He edges slightly to one side to get a better look at the tangle. "I think that root there's holding it in, sir."

"Ah didn't make this one, no," Lucas replies, pausing to eye the tool critically. "Though Ah could if Ah needed another one. Ah make what needs makin'," he says with a shrug. "If there's nothing needs making, then Ah make what *wants* making." He doesn't explain. "Some of it's 'fine', Ah reckon, but mostly folks need good, solid, plain things, like this pick." He peers at the root. At this point, there are plenty of roots still in place. Many of the smaller surface ones have been broken, but most are still intact. Lucas seems to have been focusing his exertions on lossening their hold on the earth, rather than trying to sever them outright.

Lucas sets down the pick and moves over to the horse, fiddling with a length of chain attached to the harness.

Lucas backs the drafter over to the stump and begins wrapping lengths of chain around and under it. "Could you grab that?" he says to Simon, his arm buried almost to the shoulder under the stump. A bit of chain just pokes out of the dirt on the other side.

Simon hops to it, grabbing the chain with careful fingers. "Yes, sir!" He wriggles the chain a little farther through the hole. "Have you ever made a radio? I wanted to take ours apart, to see how it worked, but Dad said we only had the one, and couldn't risk me breaking it, and Grandma said he was right, and of course, that meant there was no chance..."

"Mmm, no," Lucas says, grunting a bit as he shimmies back out from half-under the stump. When he stands, he's now got dirt all down one side of him. He brushes it off his trousers and hair, but it mostly sticks to the slight sheen of sweat on his arm and torso. "Ah tend to be strictly solid-state," he grins. "Radios don't much care for either fire or hammers." He takes the end of the chain from Simon and hauls it through under the stump with a muffled grinding noise. "Though if you've a technological leanin', there's another person Ah could send you to talk to." He hooks each of the chain ends to large hooks on the back of the harness, careful to get the lengths and tension even.

"Really? That's so keen." The smith's humor seems to pass directly over the boy's hair without mussing his hair. Not that his hair is the type to muss easily anyway. "I don't know if I've got a techno-leaning, but it's something I haven't tried yet." He backs up to a safe distance from Smith, stump, and stallion.

After double checking everything, Lucas clucks to the drafter, which obediently leans into the traces. The ground around the stump begins to swell, and there is the muffled sound of groaning wood.

There is twisting and more groaning. The drafthorse's massive hooves bite deeply into the cleared ground as it strains against the harness. Finally, with a minor explosion of dirt and several muffled snaps and pops, the taproot breaks and the stump lurches halfway out of the ground, trailing broken roots and clods of earth. A little more pulling, and the remaining roots give way, leaving an enormous open wound in the level field. Campion drags the unearthed stump another few yards and stops. Taking up his humming again, Lucas directs the horse to drag the stump a little ways off into the trees, before he sets about unhooking the chains. "A hand?" the smith calls to Simon.

Simon ducks, blocking his face with an arm as the stump comes out of the ground. "Sure, sir!" he says, just about bouncing over to help Lucas.

The smith directs Simon in unhooking and stowing the chains. "Well, reckon that's about that," Lucas says when the pick as well has been returned to its place. "Paul told me not to worry about the hole, that he'd fill it in later. Thanks for your help, Simon." The smith's grin is warm and genuine. "You want to talk to any of those people Ah told you about, you know where t'find me."

Simon grins. "Yes, sir! Thanks, sir!"

Lucas takes up the lead, and his hum, and makes his way back across the field the way they came.

Simon wanders towards the duckpond in the Front Circle from the direction of the working fields, brushing a bit of dirt from his clothes. He seems rather very cheerful.

Miklos is sitting on a bale of hay outside the forge, thoughtfully turning a small bright object over and over in his hands.

Rex trots up the road from town with a handful of string bags tucked into his belt. He whistles and hums and periodically pounces after bugs as they fly by. His hair is damp, so perhaps he has come from an early swim, or perhaps Miss Anita made him shower so he didn't reek of lakewater anymore.

Simon doesn't notice Miklos at first, since the Forge is set back a ways from the Front Circle. Rex, he does notice. His eyes light up. Perhaps because he's never been allowed off the Farm without a guide, he doesn't seem to have the wary caution that marks so many of the Farm adults. "Hi!"

Miki looks up as the distant whistling reaches him, his eyes noting the two figures. For the moment, he doesn't move from his seat, although he raises a hand in a hesitant greeting.

"HowwwwwwwwwdyGoodMornin'!" Rex yodels, skip-hopping over the last twenty yards of road between him and Simon. "Great day, ain't it?" He grins. "Hi to you too, Miki!" He waves. He bounces up and down on the balls of his feet. Who fed this boy caffeine, anyway?

Simon grins, wrinkling up his nose. "It's not morning, silly. It's nearly supper time. Are you Rex? Miz Sunshine described Rex once, talking to my Dad, and what she said sounded an awful lot like you." He turns to look in the direction of Rex's wave. "Hi!" he calls to Miklos. Lowering his voice again, he asks quietly, "Is that a boy of a girl?"

"I'm DEFinitely a Rex, yep, yessiree. Rex, that's me." The thick Southern drawl is having issues with the speed of his babbling. "Is it that late already? Maybe I need food 'r somethin'. Who're you?" He glances aside at Miki, smiles, and says, "That's Miklos. Miki fer short. He's a he, eyep eyep." Maybe not caffeine. Maybe amphetamines?

Simon laughs. "I'm Simon," he says by way of introduction. "I'm sure you can have some of the food up at the House, if you want." He looks at Miklos. "He's awful pretty. D'you think he wants something to eat, too?"

The bright object in Miki's hands-- a slender stem of silver about eight inches long, and thus probably a flute?-- flashes once more in the sun as he leans over to put it away in the small bag which is resting at his feet. He stands up, slings the bag over his shoulder, and starts to walk towards the two young men standing by the road.

Rex sticks out his hand to Simon. "Goodt'meetcha. And yeah, he's really pretty, ain't he?"

About 16, if you had to guess and had your guessing shoes on, this young man is wiry, neither tall nor short for his age, and the color of bittersweet chocolate. His hair is tightly curled and rather very short, no more than a centimeter of soft 'wool' covering his scalp. His eyes are even darker than his skin, verging on black.
Simon is dressed in simple denim jeans, a woven shirt (short-sleeved), and a leather vest that looks like it might have been handed down from before the Long Night. He wears sandals on his feet, when he bothers wearing shoes at all.

He moves with the ungulate grace which is too often compared to deer, but unlike a deer he usually does not make a sound, this slender young man with a waterfall of perfectly white hair-- not blond, but white and fine as Queen Anne's lace-- which has been rather carelessly confined in a burgundy ribbon at the nape of his neck. His eyes at first appear to be dark rather than the blue that is their color, as they are so saturated with color that they absorb rather than reflect, like the evening sky. The planes of his perfectly symmetrical face reflect a beauty so delicate and finely drawn as to be almost inhuman, an impression furthered by the translucent pallor of his skin. Yet the lovely lines of his collarbones and his wrists showing delicately through that transparency paradoxically reinforce his humanity by suggesting his fragility.
His worn, although originally good black shoes are a little citified for the region, as are his well-tailored black pants. The matching, close-fitting black jacket with the mandarin collar and the long sleeves is currently worn open, showing the expensive white collarless shirt underneath. The heat, no doubt, has caused him to open the jacket and unbutton the top three buttons of the shirt.
At rest, he sits quite still, not even fidgeting with his long and capable hands. His face tends to assume a clear, icy expression which is a first cousin to sorrow.

Miklos reaches the two other boys and drifts to a stop a few paces away. He nods a shy greeting to the both of them before speaking. "Um, hello..."

Simon takes Rex's hand, suddenly less cocky than a moment before, though still clearly in a good mood. "My pleasure," he says. The wariness lasts only a heartbeat, though. "That's really keen armor you've got. I've never seen anything like it." Without waiting for an answer, he grins at Miklos. "Hi! I'm Simon."

Miklos nods. "I am called Majlath Miklos, but generally Miki," he replies. Only the ghost of a smile tugs at the corner of his mouth.

Rex shakes Simon's hand firmly. "Thanks! Found it on a dead hero dude. With my sword! I like your vest." He grins at Miki, then looks thoughtful. "So, like, is your family name first, like the Japanese people do it?"

Apparently even the few pretty boys on the Farm have been enough to convince Simon that telling Miki how pretty he is wouldn't be the wisest of ideas. Instead he rattles on, "Isn't Rex's armor keen? I don't have anything near it. This vest? It was my dad's, and before him, his dad's, for a few more generations. It's old, but not much more than that."

Miklos turns his blue gaze from Rex to Simon and back to Rex in mute astonishment for a moment. Then he recovers his voice, and says, "It certainly has an interesting history," while looking Rex's outfit up and down. Then he looks up at Rex and smiles and says, "Oh, the family name always comes first in the Magyar tradition."

Simon blinks, "Magyar? That's, in Europe, right? Somewhere in the mountains there? Are you from there?"

Miklos nods. "Yes, it's east of what people are calling Europa these days. The Duchies, we call them, since the Kingdom fell. That was before I was born."

Rex blinks a moment, and then goes, "Oh, *yeah*. Magyar. That's the language -- no, wait, that's the people, and their language -- your language? -- is where the word Oroszlan comes from. Right. Cool!" He grins at Simon, then Miki. "At least you know the history of your vest. My armor -- I don't know anythin' about the poor fella who was wearin' it. He was usin' the sword to try to dig his way outta this room when he died, by the looks of it." He stretches, arms behind his head, and sort of wiggles his shoulders until his lower back cracks audibly. Then he sighs and relaxes, hooking his thumbs in his belt.

He is a youth verging upon manhood and his lean frame is just filling out with muscle. A shining ebony mane trails in a loose ponytail down the smooth line of his spine and a lock of it drops into one dark eye. His skin is as flawless as the bronze it resembles and shows not the least inclination toward hirsuteness. Leather leggings provide the base for ancient armor plates to protect his lower body: black plastic thigh and shinguards, and a black plastic and metal codpiece. His upper body is usually shirtless, except in the most extreme weather or temperatures, but when he does wear something, it is an ancient, battered black leather jacket.
His prized possession, worn either across his back or at his right hip: a shining sword with golden hilt clad in a tooled leather scabbard.

Simon nods to Miklos. "The books I read all called it Europe, because they're mostly all from this side of the ocean." His eyes widen at Rex, both at the story of the armor and sword and the back-cracking. "Had he been dead long when you found him and his stuff? Are you sure he was a hero and not, well, a villain?"

Miki smiles up at Rex and then glances across at Simon, as though to include him in the mischief. "They say the Perunka came from our lands, as well," he says casually. "But that was a long time ago."

"Well, my momma checked the sword over and told me that it wasn't tainted, and the place was a Corruptor hole, so we figure he was some poor fella who got caught by the folk there and trapped." Rex's head slews around to Miki. "The Perunka came from there? Really? So *that's* where all those great hero stories come from." His chest puffs up somewhat, apparently unconsciously. "So the Oroszlan and Perunka have, like, a history and stuff."

Simon grins, clearly amused by both of the other young men. "Yeah, it's still not as old as human history," he teases. "Good that you had it checked out, though. There're some Perunka here at the Farm," he says, flipflopping topics with abandon. "Mr. Lucas's one, and there's another, I heard, that visits sometimes, and talks to Miz Sunshine and Mr. Lucas. And, of course, there's Lumia, but she hasn't been around for a bit."

Miklos nods, interested. "Perunka get along well with people," he says. He looks sideways at Rex and adds gravely, "Oroszlan not always quite so well." Is he suppressing a grin?

"Mr. Maker's so cool," Rex says with a sigh. Then he shrugs and grins sheepishly. "Yeah, nah, the meat-eating shifters have had their problems, no lie. But, y'know, I'm Kin. I can ignore all the bad stuff, 'cause my kind never got et. No offense to them who ain't Kin, o' course," he adds hurriedly, ducking his head a bit.

Simon shrugs vaguely, dismissing the concern. "Hey, even Shifters aren't leeches," he says, casually naming the terrors that kept his ancestors on the run for generations. "Mr. Lucas's awesome and awful nice," he agrees.

Miki's shoulders move in an inaudible sigh. He tilts his head to one side and says, in his light voice, "Forgive me, I was just teasing. After all, humans can be just as dangerous as any shifter." One hand reaches up to his shoulder and rests there for a moment before absently pushing a lock of silver hair back.

Rex nods cheerfully enough. "So, Miki, what've you been doin' today? You been into town?"

Miklos nods, glancing a little ruefully at the road into town. "Yes, I went into town and asked everyone who would talk with me. It seems you have little in the way of ghosts here, but much in the way of rumors. Everyone has heard of someone else's ghost story, and no one is willing to tell it."

Simon tucks his hands into the pockets in his vest. "What do you usually do in Town? I'm not often allowed there, leastwise, not alone."

Rex cocks his head to the side and looks up at the clouds thoughtfully. "Well, mostly I help out Miss Anita and Old Man Collins with errands and such. I come out here when I can and Mr. Maker teaches me about usin' my sword." He looks down and lays a fond hand on the golden hilt. "Miki here's just lookin' for work. I asked Miss Anita about ghosts, an' she told me not to be a fool." He chews his lower lip a moment. "I heard a while ago that there's sometimes a ghost dance at Samhain. But no one really seems to want to get rid of it. An' I don't know much about other houses and such in town."

"I don't think my brother and I can wait until Samhain for work," says Miki diplomatically.

Simon volunteers, "There're supposed to be some ghosts on the Farm, but I think Grandma'd have a fit if someone suggested getting rid of them. I think she talks to them, sometimes."

Miklos nods. "No, it's really only the, um, troublesome ones that we usually deal with," he replies.

Rex bangs his fist on his chin and frowns. "I'm rememberin' *someone* havin' ghosts they didn't like. I wish I could remember who it was. I thought I remembered someone... Dusty! I think it was Dusty, talkin' 'bout unhappy ghosts up the way a bit. Or... or somethin'. Course, he was a little kid, so maybe he was just makin' it up r' somethin'."

Miki watches Rex expectantly, but when no actual information is forthcoming, he sighs again.

Simon pats Miki on the shoulder. "You'll find something," he says confidently. "Meanwhile, I'm hungry. You staying for supper? Either of you?"

"Oh, yeah!" Rex replies enthusiastically. "Has Nanny Mountain made any more of her dumplin' soup? It's the closest thing to home up here." He turns to Miki with a big grin. "Y'gotta come eat, man. The food here's t'die for."

Miki smiles shyly. "I would be very grateful, if it's not too much trouble. It's been a very long day."

Simon grins. "Nah! Tomato soup, Rex. With little cornballs. Even bettter than dumplings. Race you to the kitchen!"

"You bet!" Rex shouts, and launches himself into a sprint.