“Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.”
Keynan was a summer birth, born in the hot and thick air of Vexalan’s monsoon season in the year 1275. His parents were overjoyed to have a son, especially one shining with such promise, for even as a baby he had bright eyes and a cheerful smile. No one could look at him without being happy, because he exuded a natural aura that lifted weight from shoulders, left smiles on faces, and cleared clouds from minds.
The little town he was born in was not an hour’s travel by horseback from Kore, a much larger and important merchant city that was responsible for establishing Vexalan’s domination over the Corryna Sea. Every weekend, as soon as he could be swaddled up in blankets and safely carried in his mother’s arms, Keynan travelled from his sleepy little town to Kore, where his parents sold their wares. They largely traded in small trinkets, but occasionally their woodwork would pick up the attention of someone with greater coin and they’d be commissioned for anything from chairs to tables to elaborate gifts with no practical use, but beautiful designs.
It wasn’t until Keynan was eight that he was taught by his father the proper way to whittle a piece of wood — so unassuming and simple — into something beautiful. Keynan liked to think about those times even as an adult, piecing together the memories of his father sitting next to him and demonstrating each cut, each slice. And slowly what was once nothing could turn into a small toy, a useful tool, or a part of a greater whole.
“Remember, son, everything can become something else. You just have to have the right tools and the dedication to see it through,” his father liked to say.
And Keynan listened, because he knew that no one could surpass the wisdom of his father. Except, perhaps, the intelligence of his mother.
She was not a woodcarver by trade and, while she had learnt many of the skills, her main talent lay in speech. Keynan would sit on an old but soft blanket and watch while his mother haggled, bringing prices up or convincing people to buy more than they had intended. She could part even the most miserly of folk with their gold and their stall always was almost out of goods as long as she was able to speak.
One day, when Keynan was perhaps six or so — it was so hard to remember the early years when one was so old — he was sitting on that ragged blanket when his mother caught a thief.
“Aha!” His mother, Mara, exclaimed as she twisted the thief’s arm behind his back. “You thought you could sneak away just because my eyes are elsewhere, hm? Well, you were incorrect.” Mara quickly took back the trinket — it was a six-pointed star, a symbol of a god that Keynan didn’t really know anything about.
“P-Please don’t call the guards,” the thief begged.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Mara asked, raising an eyebrow. She hadn’t let go of the thief and a few of the stall’s neighbors were glancing over, curious about the source of the commotion. Keynan’s eyes were wide as he watched, for the first time in his life scared of his mother.
“I have a family, a little sister — please, ma’am, I only steal so we can eat.” The thief let out a sigh of relief as Mara loosened her grip, but she tugged the thief back when he tried to run off. She spun him around so they were facing each other, Mara directly in the way of his escape. “Ow — Please, ma’am, you have a boy of your own—”
“Do not bring my son into this,” Mara hissed, releasing the thief’s wrist only to grab at the collar of his tunic. “Your sister — what is her name?”
“My sister — her name is Rai’ell,” the thief replied. “My name is Tormod. Our parents died when we were very young — we’ve lived in the city our whole life.”
Keynan dared not speak as he watched his mother look into Tormod’s eyes, her bright gold unflinching as they stared down Tormod’s green. The little stall seemed almost silent, except Keynan could still hear the noise around them. He could hear Yasha selling fruit and vegetables and he could hear Argo trying to convince passer-bys to stop and taste his fresh honey. It was just their little stall, with its wooden trinkets and a practical goods, that had ceased to exist in that moment.
“Fine.” Mara let Tormod go. “Take this.” She reached to her pocket and handed Tormod a gold coin. “Think about getting a different occupation, naravari.”
Tormod nodded and took off, not even glancing back. Keynan watched him run, the little doll in his hands forgotten. Mara brushed her hands off and adjusted her apron. She glanced over the stall, ensuring everything was in order, before her eyes landed on Keynan.
“Are you all right, my little prince?” She asked, kneeling down next to him. Keynan nodded slowly. “Do not worry about silly thieves. They think they are faster and more clever than your mother.”
“No one is faster or cleverer,” Keynan promised.
“That’s right.” Mara booped Keynan on the nose and Keynan giggled. “And I am always going to protect you.”
“I know,” Keynan said, “An’ one day I’m gonna get big and grown and protect you!” He clapped his hands together, grinning ear to ear.
Mara laughed and squeezed his cheek before returning to her duties at the stall. It wasn’t until they were packing up, Keynan’s father with the cart to drive them back to their little village, that Keynan realized he had a question.
“Mama,” he said, tugging on her trousers. She glanced down at him, her hands holding a box of leftover carvings and tools that hadn’t been sold.
“Yes, my little prince?”
“What was it you called that thief?” Keynan asked.
“Hm?” Mara frowned before remembering. “Oh, you mean when I called him a naravari?” She clarified. Keynan nodded. “Well,” Mara said, setting the box in the back of the cart, “I told you about how there are different races, remember?”
“Uh-huh. Like how Mr. Bragardhur is a dwarf and Ms. Lily is a tea-ling.”
“Tiefling,” Mara corrected, swooping down and picking her son up in her arms.
“Mama, put me down!” Keynan shouted. “I’m big, I can walk,” he complained.
“But we’re talking about very important things,” she told him, sitting in the back of the cart and not letting go. She made eye contact with her husband and gave him a smile. Keynan saw and stuck his tongue out. His father laughed and continued packing up the stall. “So, there are many different kinds of people on Duzakh, right?”
“Right. An’ we’re humans, the normal people.”
“No, the most common people. That doesn’t mean we’re normal.”
“I don’t get it.” Keynan yawned.
“You will someday,” Mara promised. “But what is important today is for you to know that everyone has different languages. So the dwarves speak Dwarvish, humans speak Common, and elves speak Elvish.”
“Oh.” Keynan nodded slowly. “So, was the thief an elf?”
“Yes. And I called him naravari, which is a specific kind of elf.” Mara set Keynan down on the cart next to her, both of their legs dangling off the back. At the front of the cart, the horse snorted and shook his mane. “What you need to remember, my little prince, is that there are many different kinds of people on Duzakh. But just because there are different people, does not make any of them better or worse. They all are unique, and that is what makes Duzakh such a good place.”
To Keynan, this information was less important than finding out what supper was and whether or not he had behaved well enough to get a sweetmeat afterwards. But he did have one question for the most intelligent woman in his life.
“Mama?” He asked.
Mara smiled wide at him. “Yes, my little prince?”
“Why do you know Elvish?”
A soft chuckle escaped Mara and she ruffled Kenyan’s hair. “That is a story for another day. Now come, we should help Papa finish his work.”