Finarvi — The Wrath Of Humble Things
Richpoint, Seven Foals Vale, in the Grazelands
The wooden bucket rang dully as it hit the lip of the stone trough. Cold well-water slopped, splashing Finarvi’s face and chest. He sucked in a breath, braced the bucket against the trough and shifted his grip so he could tip the rest of the water in.
Refilling the water troughs was considered a simple enough chore for a six year old, but Finarvi was small for his age and nothing made him more conscious of the fact than being faced with a water trough that came up to his waist.
He sighed and set the bucket down to rest his aching arms. It was early morning in Richpoint, the vendref trading post where his family had brought the herd’s culls. The ponies were still penned for the night, the grass slick with dew, and beyond the corral lay the scattered buildings of the town, just beginning to steam with the rising sun.
Richpoint was the first town Finarvi had seen in his young life, the first place his father Benetin had agreed to bring him, rather than leaving him behind with uncle Verars or his cousins’ family. Of course, that was likely because Verars and most of the rest of the clan had come too. It was harvest season for the vendref, which was tribute season for the Pure Horse People, and everyone wanted their pick of the goods on offer.
Finarvi wasn’t interested in blankets or shiny trinkets. Richpoint held other treasures. A priestess of Ernalda tended a small temple there, little more than a local shrine, but she seemed to have endless patience with the town’s children and she told stories of gods and heroes and monsters Fin had never heard of before. A wide new world beckoned, if he could finish his chores and slip away before uncle Verars noticed he was gone.
Reaching for his bucket, a flash of colour caught his eye. At first he thought someone had dropped a coral necklace in the grass, then he realised it was a little bracelet snake. Gently, he picked it up to admire it. It was banded like its namesake with rings of ivory, carnelian and jet. It tried to escape, but he just put his other hand in front of it so it flowed across his hands like a ribbon and, sensing no animosity from him, it calmed. Bright, round eyes stared at him, a tiny tongue flickering to taste the air. He smiled at it.
“Ernalda’s Bracelet,” he named it, because the priestess had said the Earth Goddess liked snakes and he liked the priestess. “I’ll take you somewhere safe,” he told it reassuringly. “If you stay here you might get stepped on when the ponies are let out.”
He still had the bucket to return, so he slipped the little snake into a pocket to have his hands free. He headed back to the well with a skip in his step, happily imagining the priestess’s delight when he showed her what he’d found.
He was trotting back towards the town when he ran into Yanspolti.
At nine years old, Yanspolti was three years Finarvi’s senior and nearly twice his bulk. He was also ten times more Pure Horse than Fin, at least according to Yanspolti. Another of the clan’s orphans, he was no stranger to being passed between hearths either, but for some reason he didn’t like it when Fin was the one being left with Loric or Giland. It was as if he felt if Fin had to be an orphan, he should have the decency to have both parents dead. A dead mother and a father who spent most of the year off trading was not an acceptable substitute.
But this morning it was another failing that had attracted Yanspolti’s disapproval. “Running off to play with the vendref again, Finarvi?”
He hadn’t been playing yesterday. He’d been learning, but he didn’t see why he had to explain himself to Yanspolti. He tried to duck around the older boy, but Yanspolti planted a hand on his chest and shoved him back.
He glared at Yanspolti for that. “I’ve got chores.” He tried again to get past.
“Not that way, you don’t.” Again, Yanspolti caught him and pushed him back, away from Richpoint. “You’re supposed to be Pure Horse. Learn to act like it.” He gestured with his chin towards the corralled ponies. “Come on.”
Fin gave the corral a dubious look. “I’m not supposed to…”
“Since when did you care what you’re supposed to do?” Yanspolti said contemptuously. He rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re scared of horses.”
Finarvi turned towards the corral, then dashed wide, out of Yanspolti’s reach. The older boy hollered at him and came pounding in pursuit. The dozing ponies threw their heads up in alarm and Finarvi flinched away from the corral, putting on a burst of speed to outflank Yanspolti, but he wasn’t as fast as the taller boy. Yanspolti’s hand grabbed his shoulder, his feet slipped in the dew and the next thing he knew he was sprawling in the wet grass.
Yanspolti halted above him, huffing in frustration. “Why can’t you ever just-” he cut off, staring. “What’s that in your pocket?”
Fin froze, overcome with dismay. He tried stammering a protest as Yanspolti reached down and snatched something up from the ground beside him. It was the tiny bracelet snake, somehow not squashed in the tumble. It writhed in Yanspolti’s grip.
“Hah!” Yanspolti sounded triumphant. “I knew you were up to mischief. Where were you going to put this, heh? In someone’s bedroll?”
Finarvi knew no excuse would ever satisfy him. “Please, don’t hurt it.”
Even as he said it, he realised his mistake. Yanspolti wasn’t afraid of the tiny animal. Everyone knew bracelet snakes’ mouths were too small to bite a man. But he wanted to punish Finarvi, and he realised held the means to do so in his fist. Fin saw Yanspolti consider the idea and decide that he liked it.
Fin closed his eyes to deny him that little satisfaction.
Yanspolti swore. Finarvi opened his eyes.
The Grazelander people did not think highly of serpents. Snakes were not warriors; faced with danger, they’d flee if they could, bluff and bluster if they could not, and only when all else failed would they fight. Bracelet snakes were doubly scorned, for being pretty and docile and too small to hurt anyone.
This bracelet snake could not flee, and did not bluster. It had sunk its tiny fangs into Yanspolti’s hand, proving the lie to the idea that small things could not bite.
This revelation clearly surprised Yanspolti too, for he stared at it in disbelief before the pain registered. He swore again, more foully this time, and shook his hand violently, dislodging the little snake. Finarvi didn’t see where it landed. Snakelike, he considered running away while the older boy was distracted, then he saw the bruise spreading quickly underneath the bite, which was bleeding freely. Too much blood for such a little bite.
“Fetch Loric,” Yanspolti said. He sounded calm, if a little strained. He sat down quickly, hand gripped tightly around his wrist. “Run,” he suggested.
Finarvi jumped to his feet and ran to fetch the healer.