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It was about 5 years ago when Tree Fingers started to go deaf. All in all, it was quite a gradual and anti-climactic process.

No, he didn't wake up one day and was suddenly unable to hear anything. No, he didn't get hit on the head. Going deaf didn't sneak up on him. He had seen it coming a mile away and was helpless to stop it.

He could wait and watch as gradually sound became fainter, muffled and then disappeared entirely.

Now, he wasn’t going deaf, he just was deaf. At the very least, he wouldn’t be woken up early by the farmers heading out into the fields every morning. Now, he could enjoy his retirement in peace and absolute silence.

However, no matter how much he tried to comfort himself over it, He was deeply scared by the idea of going deaf. At best, it was an inconvenience, at worst… a death sentence.

In the slums outside of Terra, most people couldn’t read or write. They never bothered learning because… what was the point? It’s not like they would be reading books any time soon. That was the sort of thing the immortals did. Not the people of the slums.

If anyone in the slums ever had any free time, which they didn’t, they spent it working or sleeping, maybe if they were feeling very extravagant, they might eat.

Tree Fingers was one of those people. He couldn’t read, he couldn’t write and there was no such thing as sign language.

In essence, he was ship-wrecked on an island of silence. Trapped within his own head and almost completely unable to communicate with anyone about anything.

Since he didn't want to spend the rest of his life doing stupid over-exaggerated hand gestures to explain what he wanted, he only had one option. Learn to read.

This, was easier said than done in the slums. Not many knew how and even fewer had the time to teach.

That was how Tree Fingers ended up as The Fool's babysitter.

Everyone knew Sarah was well educated although nobody knew where she had learned all the things she seemed to know. One thing everyone did know was that if you needed something written or wanted to check the profit of your business, Sarah was who you called.

He had gone to Sarah when he could still hear and begged her to teach him how to read and write. She had agreed on the condition that Tree Fingers watch her son when she was busy.

On the surface, that seemed like a good deal. He could learn to read and all he had to do was watch some brat for a day or two. He never thought it would out like this.

Tree fingers was older than most people in the slums. He had seen more winters come and go than he could reliably count. In all those years, his hair had turned white and fallen out, leaving but a few sparse white bristles on his deeply tanned head.

And, in all those years of life, he had never seen a kid like the Fool.

Right now, he was sweating. He wasn't sure how it had come to this, how he had ended up here. But Tree Fingers, a man who couldn't remember how old he was, was currently having a spelling competition with a child.

Their competition was fairly simple, they would each take turns writing a word or sentence and the other had to read it out loud. If either of them made a mistake then they would have to write that word out 10 times for homework.

This became a problem when, because they had no paper, Tree Fingers was forced to go out in the street and write Cow 10 times in the dirt with a stick while being laughed at by his neighbours.

Not only that, but his opponent never made the same mistake twice.

Currently, Tree Fingers was losing 7-0 to the Fool and what depressed him most about that was that he had been learning to read for two years longer than the kid.

One day, during one of Sarah's lessons, her son had read one of the words from her book and from that day on, Tree Fingers had been learning to read with a 5-year-old.

Every time he had a competition with the Fool, which was a stupid name by the way. Tree Fingers felt this immense pressure not to lose due to his seniority.

It had gotten so bad that he now chose to do extra homework just so that he wouldn't lose too badly anymore.

Tree fingers saw the little boy's face light up and he turned around and greeted Sarah who walked up.

“Thanks for watching him for me,” Sarah scribbled in the dirt with her foot.

“No problem,” wrote beside that, holding up one of his gnarled thumbs up.

“Same time tomorrow?” He asked.

Sarah smiled and nodded before pressing a little bundle into the old man's wrinkled hands.

Tree fingers tried to refuse the bundle, but Sarah pressed it firmly into his hands before taking a big step back and grabbing her son’s hand, leading him off towards their shack with big strides.

The old man watched the pair make their way down the muddy street for a long moment before holding the bundle close to his chest and slowly making his way home.

He was cradling the bundle like a mother holds a child. Food was scarce in the slums, and this was likely all he would eat today.

As they walked home, the little boy launched into conversation, "Why is Tree Fingers so stupid?" He asked innocently

Sarah grinned wolfishly, "Don't say things like that, Tree fingers isn't stupid, he's already smart than most of the people in the slums,"

"Does that make everyone here stupid then?" the Fool asked with wide eyes.

Sarah shook her head.

"But, But Tree Fingers doesn't know anything and he takes so long to learn things," the boy protested.

"Just because someone doesn't know things doesn't mean they aren't smart," Sarah chided.

"You know things, lots of things and you're really smart," the Fool pointed out.

Sarah nodded in agreement, "That's true, I do know many things,"

The boy started to get excited and his eyes widened, "Yeah, You know everything. You even what I'm thinking before I say it," The boy froze and slowly looked up at his mother, "Can you read my mind?" He whispered.

Sarah frowned, “I don’t read your mind, you just make whatever you are thinking very obvious,”

“Really?” asked the boy, his face clearly conveying his disbelief.

“Yes, I bet I can guess what you are thinking right now,” Sarah said smugly, tapping her son on the nose.

The little boy grinned excitedly and scrunched up his face, hiding his eyes from his mother’s piercing gaze.

Sarah stared intently at the boy and after a moment, she smirked confidently, “You were thinking, ‘I know you can read my mind,’”

The little boy gasped and clapped his hands appreciatively, “I knew you could read my mind,” he exclaimed excitedly, unable to hide his giggles from his mother.

When the pair arrived back in the rickety shack they called home, The Fool finally worked up the courage to ask what they would be eating for dinner… or, more accurately, whether they would be eating anything at all.

Just as he was about to speak up, Sarah, as if she had read his mind yet again, spoke a cursed word. A word so foul that even the devil would not dare utter it lest he invokes its wrath.

“Gruel,” she said grimly. Pursing her lips like she didn't even like the taste the word left in her mouth.

The Fool froze in place, his little legs shaking slightly. “Gruel with meat?” He pleaded, his voice quavering slightly.

Sarah shook her head sadly, “No meat, we can’t afford that sort of thing,”

Looking down at his dirty feet glumly, the Fool sighed. “We can’t afford shoes either,” he said matter of factly.

“Shoes!” Sarah exclaimed, “Who needs those? When have you ever even seen a pair of those?”

“The collectors wear them, all shiny and black. I bet their feet are soft and clean… not like mine” The boy muttered while staring at his dusty feet that were covered in scratches and scabs.

Sarah froze for a moment at the mention of the collectors but regained her composure quickly. “What were you doing near the collectors?” She asked, trying to make her question seem as casual as possible.

“They smell good, not like here, not like the slums. I could smell them from really far away, they were so warm and sweet, like a flower so I wanted to get closer.” The little boy said with a shrug.

Sarah wasn’t stupid. She knew her son was bright. He could almost read and right already and maths came to him as easily as walking had. Which was no mean feat because her son learned to walk at 4 months old.

But perhaps the thing that stood out the most to her about her son was his sense of smell. She wasn’t sure how it worked, but he seemed to be able to sense things that others couldn’t.

“What do I smell like?” she asked curiously.

The Fool frowned and sniffed around her for a few moments. Finally, he seemed satisfied, and he stepped back. “You… smell kind of bland. Better than anyone else in the slums but not as sweet as the collectors,”

Sarah sniffed her armpits self-consciously before shaking her head. “Of course, they smell better, they have perfumes and servants to wash them every day,”

The boy shook his head firmly, “It’s not that sort of smell.”

“Well, what is it then?” Sarah asked in confusion.

He raised his hands helplessly and shrugged.

“Ah whatever, just eat your gruel and be grateful we are eating anything at all,” Sarah said, thoroughly shutting down any conversation about smells that was making her self-conscious.

The pair were sat on a rough woollen blanket laid out on hard wooden floorboards. The only light in the little shack came from a single beam of red sunlight that streamed through a particularly large crack in the ceiling.

For the most part, the shack was bare. The only adornments to the rough wooden walls were the occasional nail that jutted out at joints in the boards.

Atop the stone fireplace that the Mason and Blacksmith had helped install, hung a large black iron pot, its contents were empty, all the gruel having been meticulously scraped from it into the little wooden bowls they ate from.

After eating quietly for a while, The Fool started asking questions. The questions he asked were random and seemingly unconnected, driven only by his curiosity. This had become a sort of dinner tradition for them.

“Why does the sun set?” He asked.

“Because it’s tired,” Sarah said nonchalantly.

The boy narrowed his blue eyes suspiciously, “That’s not what you said yesterday,”

Sarah froze, “What did I say yesterday?” She asked.

“You said the sun doesn’t set, it just changes colour to be really dark,” the Fool said angrily.

“Ah well… Yesterday was a different sun you see…” Sarah replied half-heartedly.

“I don’t believe you,” The boy said angrily.

He set his empty bowl beside the fireplace. There was no need to clean it. Any morsel of food left uneaten was seen as blasphemy.

Sarah frowned, recently, the questions she was asked had become more complex to explain and sometimes, she couldn’t be bothered explaining the complicated concepts to a child. Thus, she started making shit up.

Apparently, he had grown suspicious of her and set a trap.

“Well, you see…” Sarah began to speak.

“No, it’s too late, I will never trust you again,” the boy said stubbornly, standing up and walking to the corner of the shack where a meagre pile of blankets was stacked against the wall. He grabbed two and returned to his original position by the fireplace, thrusting one of them into his mother’s hands.

He lay down beside the glowing embers of the fire they had used to heat the gruel and covered his small body with the blanket, curling up into a ball like a cat.

Sarah wriggled beside him, similarly, wrapped up in a blanket and the two lay quietly together for a long moment.

“I can tell you a story,” she whispered.

“Boring. I’ve heard all your stories.” The boy refused, still pouting about the lie.

Sarah smiled slightly before speaking again. “Not this one,”

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A note from aldur9090

Hi, Author here, I would just like to clarify that this story will have quite a slow start but I hope you can stick with it, flaws and all. So far, I am really enjoying writing it and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Thanks :)


About the author

aldur9090

  • Nunya
  • Struggler

Bio: I have read 4000 chapters of Martial Peak and lived to tell the tale.

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