Snippets of Destiny
By Leoni Venter
Based on Oblivion by Bethesda Softworks
Part 1: Misbegotten Martin
The cave mouth gaped ominously.
The boy, out of breath from running, gave the matter little thought, and disappeared into the depths before the gang of youths chasing him could see where he had gone. He stumbled over rocks in the darkness but kept going until he was sure that no-one was following him. Then he collapsed, sobbing, onto a patch of sand.
"I am Martin, son of Beran Retienne," he finally gasped. "How could they say otherwise?"
All his life he had lived on his father's farm south of Chorrol, secure in the safety of his family and his roots. Yesterday had been his eighth birthday, and today his father had allowed him to take the mule laden with cans of milk to town by himself for the first time. The trip there - about ten miles - had gone smoothly, and he had delivered the milk to the shopkeeper without trouble. The man had paid him and he had carefully stowed the coins in the pouch on his belt.
When he had left the city gate, leading the mule, he had suddenly found himself surrounded by a crowd of jeering boys. He knew some of them slightly, having seen them in town on previous trips with his father. One, a 14-year-old named Jamal, had bullied him before, until his father had gotten Jamal's father to put a stop to it. Martin suddenly felt afraid because he was all alone.
"What do you want?" he asked, trying to look unconcerned.
Jamal swaggered to the front. "Look what we caught, boys. A rabbit, by the Nine!" The boys laughed. Jamal grabbed Martin by the collar of his shirt and half-lifted him off the ground. "A tale-telling rabbit, boys. Couldn't take a bit of friendly sport, he couldn't. So he ran to Daddy. Well I have news for you, you little bastard. Daddy ain't going to help you today. Will he, boys?"
Martin struggled to no avail as the boys laughed. He knew it would do no good to explain that it had not been him who had told his father. Jamal's little sister had told. She was six and was Martin's friend. He didn't want her to get hurt so he kept quiet.
Jamal started patting at Martin's pockets. "So you're going to give me those coins you got for the milk, and in return I'm going to give you a thrashing, rabbit." He found the pouch. "Ah, just the thing," he said as he extracted the money.
Martin couldn't stand for that. "That money belongs to my father," he yelled. "You have no right to take it!"
"Your father?" Jamal asked, an evil smile growing on his face. "And who would that be, rabbit?"
"You know as well as I do," Martin said, confused. "Beran Retienne."
To his surprise all the boys started laughing, and Jamal suddenly put a companionable arm around his shoulders. "Ah no, little rabbit. He sure ain't your Daddy."
"What do you mean?"
"Anyone can see you're no Breton, boy," Jamal told him. "You look like Imperial blood to me. I wonder who your Daddy was. The milkman?"
"Beran is the milkman, Jamal," another boy yelled.
"True," Jamal grinned. "I know, a bandit, lonely for company."
"A travelling merchant..."
"A big fat rabbit! Look at him, Jamal! Look how red his ears are!"
"It's not true, it's not true," Martin was muttering under his breath. Suddenly he wrenched himself free. "It's not true!" he screamed, and dashed through the throng and down the road; forgetting the mule, forgetting everything except to get away from his tormentors.
They ran after him, chanting "Misbegotten Martin, misbegotten Martin" until he heard himself repeating it syllable by syllable to the rhythm of his pounding feet. Then he turned a corner in the road, slipped off into the forest and disappeared into the cave before they saw him. The darkness and the silence did nothing to erase the horrible words in his mind.
If it was true, what would that mean? Would anything change in his life? Did it matter? He did not know and could not focus on the problem while he was so upset. With a maturity beyond his years he decided to put the matter aside until he could think about it calmly, and finally looked at his surroundings.
He could see nothing at all. His rush into the cave had taken him down a corridor that curved away from what little light penetrated from the outside, and he could not even be sure which way that was. Far from making him panic, this setback seemed to calm him even further, and he quickly recalled the spell the monk had taught him to make light. It was not a very powerful spell and he had mastered it more than a year ago. The monk had told him it was good to know because you never knew when you might need it.
Martin quietly said the invocation and a softly glowing nimbus of light surrounded him. He regretted not having had something useful to show those bullies a thing or two, and resolved to learn all he could about magic when the chance presented itself.
In the light he could see his footprints in the sand, leading to the exit, but he had no wish to go outside and meet the band of roving bullies once more, so he turned and made his way deeper into the cave. The corridor lead downwards at a gentle slope, and was surprisingly smooth. Twice it made sharp turns, before going fairly straight for a while. Then, after another turn, he came to a pile of rocks that obstructed the way.
Thinking he would have to turn back, he noticed a crack in the wall, just large enough for an eight-year-old boy to squeeze through. Even so, he got stuck halfway and lost some buttons and some skin before he managed to get through, although by then he would have been happy to get back out if only he could move.
Once through, he stared in wonder. His light revealed a chamber comfortably furnished with wall hangings, screens and carpets. A bed stood along one wall and some crates and cupboards along another. There was a writing desk and a shelf filled with strange objects. For all the comfort, it looked as if it had not been lived in for a long time, since everything was covered with dust and cobwebs.
Martin carefully looked around without touching anything, wondering who had lived there and where he had gone. He found the door to the chamber and followed the corridor back to the opposite side of the rock fall that had blocked his way before.
There, sticking out from under the rocks, he discovered some old bones still dressed in the remains of a black robe. Martin felt no revulsion or fear when he saw the bones. His father had taught him never to be afraid of things he could see and touch. Satisfied that he had found the previous inhabitant of the cave, he decided to see what he could find in the chamber.
When he emerged from the cave, hours later, he was carrying a bundle containing some books, a few strange crystals, a glowing dagger and quite a bit of gold. There was still a lot of loot in the cave but he knew he would have to come back for it another time.
He hoped the gold would placate his father for losing the mule, but to his delight he found the mule making its leisurely way home along the road, and the catastrophe abruptly shrunk to just a philosophical problem.
He arrived home hours late and had to endure a scolding from his mother, Sathna Retienne. He accepted it because he knew he had lingered longer than necessary in the cave. When his father came in to dinner, Martin gave him the bundle with the gold, books, crystals and dagger.
"I found this in a cave along the road," he said.
His father was delighted about the gold, less so about the crystals ("One could sell them, I suppose") and downright negative about the books.
"These are evil books, Martin," he explained as he burned them in the hearth. "Books about dark magic bring no good to anyone, least of all little boys. I won't have them in my house."
Martin accepted that too, trusting his father's greater experience, but decided not to bring the rest of the books in the cave home. He wanted to know about magic, and if his father did not see them, he could not tell Martin that they were evil.
After dinner he finally asked his father the question burning in his heart. "The boys in town said I don't look like a Breton," he started. "They said you can't be my father."
He watched as Beran's face turned slowly red. "Which boys said that?" he finally asked.
"Just some boys," Martin replied. "Is it true, Dad?"
Beran sighed. "It's true, son." He regarded Martin gravely. "Eight years ago a man begged lodging here one night, and he was carrying you wrapped in a bundle. He was wounded, had been attacked in the wilderness by a pack of wolves. I don't know how he managed to protect you. When Sathna saw you she was smitten. She'd wished for a child for so long. The man asked us to raise you, to protect you, as he wasn't sure he could do it, and we gladly accepted." He placed his hands on Martin's shoulders. "I don't know if he was your father or not, but for your Mother and I, you are our son and no-one can say otherwise."
"Then nothing will change?" Martin asked, relief making his voice tremble.
Beran embraced him. "Nothing will change, son."
To be continued...
Disclaimer: All of Oblivion belongs to Bethesda Softworks. I'm just letting my mind wander through time a bit...