Little Richard lost his childishness by next spring. The hunting knife at his waist was no longer a decoration, used as he started to join the hunters in the mountains. He wouldn’t venture too deep, nor was he at the frontlines fighting the magical beasts, but he still helped around with tasks like setting up traps and collecting prey. Blacksmith Bobby had grown elated at this, making the child a new knife with strong, tempered steel. He grew joyous whenever Richard used it to kill a magical beast.
There was always some danger associated with a hunter’s life. Countless magical beasts were hidden along the coast and inside the mountains, and some occasionally got lost and headed for Rooseland. Richard once met an ashen devilwolf, a genuine rank 2 magical beast that even the village head had to treat seriously. There were only two other hunters beside Richard at the time, and it took a bitter fight to kill it. All of them suffered heavy injuries, but they still managed to drag the wolf’s corpse back to the village.
Richard’s abnormal calmness in dealing with the battle to the death amazed the villagers, even the best hunter of the village wouldn’t be able to do better. Moreover, if it wasn’t for a clean slice from him at the back claw muscles of the devilwolf, the outcome might have been different.
No matter what, little Richard had calmly faced the many dangers he’d met this year, staying collected as he dealt with the situation. He’d never cowered in the face of danger.
At nine years of age, Richard had learnt courage. It should have been the easiest thing to learn, as mountain youths never lacked guts, but the courage his mother had taught him was extraordinary. With his success Elaine stopped calling him Little Richard.
“My Richard is finally a real man!” she always said, brimming with smiles whenever she looked at him.
One day, Richard puffed his chest out at this statement, “I still need wisdom to be a real man!”
This shocked his mother, who looked seriously at him and asked, “Tell mother who told you that.”
“It was written in a book!”
“Which book was it?” Elaine asked patiently. Even acolytes possessed great knowledge, and Elaine had taught her son many languages that were complex and archaic. Reading wasn’t a problem for the child, and he’d even completed many books on the basics of magic during the uneventful winter. However, Elaine couldn’t recall such a statement in any of them.
“It was that book in the attic. There were a lot of interesting things in it, I didn’t know the world was so big!” Richard replied in excitement.
“That book?” Elaine seemed to remember something, continuing with a smile, “It really is interesting. My Richard… A real man truly can’t lack in wisdom, but tenacity, perseverance, and courage are harder to master. You’re so smart, you definitely won’t lack wisdom when you grow up. Mother just wanted to nurture some more traits in you. Do you understand?”
“You forgot happiness!” Richard added hastily.
Elaine smiled as she caressed Richard’s head and replied, “That’s right, and happiness. Was my Richard happy these past few years?”
Richard shook his head and said gloomily, “I haven’t always been happy. Beirut bullied me, and I hate breadfruit… Anyway, Mother, what kind of person is Father?”
Elaine’s expression changed instantly, before she replied in a gentle manner, “Your father is a true man…”
Richard immediately followed up, “I know! He’s also the worst villain, someone Mother hates the most!”
Elaine chuckled. Her son asked her this question every year, and this was her reply every time. He’d already memorised her answer, but the smart child had frequently heard her light sobbing in the middle of the night. He felt her deep hatred for his father every time the man was mentioned. Children had really simple minds. Their mothers loved and doted on them, and they in turn loved their mothers the most. Richard would hate whoever his mother hated.
Richard asked about his father regularly for two reasons. One was curiosity, as his mother told him more and more every year. On the other hand, he wanted to have a greater understanding of his father so he could avenge his mother once he grew up. As for how, he was naturally clueless, but this matter had already been ingrained into his heart.
However, Elaine stopped telling Richard about his father after this, just saying that she’d only spent a little time with him so she only knew that much.
“You’ll really understand your father one day.” It was unknown why Elaine’s face changed after she tossed out this statement. It was as though something had seized her heart; even she herself didn’t know why she had uttered such words.
Richard sensed his mother’s mood had turned bad, so he secretly stuck his tongue out and said, “I’ll go read something.” He then ran to the back of the house, to Elaine’s study room cum laboratory where she brewed her potions. There weren’t many books here, all about the basics of magic, medicine, the history of the continent, the scenery, and the like that were related to her identity as an acolyte, but Richard loved to read books here at night. There was a dim magic lamp in the study room, able to shine the entire night once Elaine filled it up with magic. With oil as expensive as it was, only Elaine, the village head, Bobby, and some of the best hunters of the village could have light long into the night.
Richard slowly passed his childhood in this rundown but warm little room. He could see a larger more complicated world from these thick books, distant from Rooseland yet fascinating. He’d always dreamt of leaving once he’d become the most outstanding hunter of the village, bringing his mother to the world outside the mountains.
In the living room. Elaine heard the sound of pages rustling from the study. Richard was hard at work reading again. The child already had a stable foundation to practice magic, but he’d never really done so. She’d forbidden him from even meditating, making him miss the optimal age of four or five to become a good mage which would’ve given him the accumulated mental strength to start practicing at his current age. Despite this Richard didn’t think in the slightest that her arrangement was bad, being ignorant and just assuming whatever his mother did was correct.
She sat there quietly, thinking of that one extra sentence she’d spoken. A door opened up in her sealed memories, flooding forth with several events that she couldn’t suppress. She felt a mild headache coming on, gently massaging her temples as she sighed discreetly. Her gaze landed on the calendar, noticing a cross on it indicating Richard’s tenth birthday would be in a couple more days.
Ten years of age was the threshold for a boy to be considered a youth, only three or four years away from adulthood.
‘A decade’s already passed?’ She stared at the flickering flames in the magic lantern, a bright light from the brass lamp illuminating her face. She couldn’t be called pretty, but she still looked decent, making her one of the top beauties in the village. Ten years hadn’t placed a single mark on Elaine’s face, and if it wasn’t for her dressing her age probably none of the villagers would remember. Strangers would think she was still only in her twenties.
Her face in the lamp was an unfamiliar sight even to her. It was too plain, not the same face she’d been born with. Even she wouldn’t have imagined a decade ago that she’d be living such a simple, plain, and difficult life a decade ago, but right now she was just satisfied with watching Richard grow up day after day.
When she entered the study, Elaine saw Richard hugging and reading a thick picture book with great interest. She smiled, “My Richard is going to be ten years old soon. Mother will prepare a special ceremony to celebrate your growth.”
“Yay!” Richard leapt to his feet, “Will there be presents?” These kinds of moments made it clear that he was still a boy.
“Of course! In fact, it’ll follow you for life! But you need to rest well these next few days, understand? It’s late already, you should head to bed.”