Pick struggled to lift himself off the ground, the most recent blow stinging like a sunspot on the side of his face. As he got his arms under him and lifted himself to his knees, a booted foot came flying out of the side of his vision and connected with his midriff. Pick began vomiting uncontrollably as he grabbed his abdomen, trying to quell the pain. A second too late he realized his mistake, as he fell face first into the contents of his stomach.
Pick heard three voices laughing as he rolled onto his side. He noticed a shadow getting closer to him, and a face swam into his pain-clouded vision.
“We told you what would happen to you if we saw you again, runt. This is our town, and we don’t want anyone like you here. You’re a freak, and you don’t belong.”
Pick could hear the group walking away as he crawled into the brush and began to cry.
Several hours later, Pick arrived home after stopping at the river to wash the dirt, blood and vomit from his skin. He walked in the front door, intent on avoiding his mother. Halfway to his room, his mother came in from the garden. With a cry, she dropped her basket of vegetables and herbs and ran across the room to grab him by the shoulders.
“Who did this to you?!?” she cried as she inspected his multiple scrapes and bruises in the dying sunlight.
“I don’t know, I didn’t get a good look at them,” he told her, looking her in the eye.
“Pickory Baldwin Jendryng, don’t you lie to me. I know you’re not telling me the truth. Now out with it. Who did this to you?”
For the millionth time, Pick wondered how his mother always knew when he was being even mildly dishonest.
With his head hung low, Pick told his mother the story. This wasn’t the first time that Agatha Mallowburne had caught Pick unawares, but it was the first time she had gotten truly physical with him. He watched as his mother's face turned first to shock, then anger as he described the beating Agatha had laid out for him. He showed her the marks on his body, and by the time he was done, his mother was shaking with rage.
“She mustn't be allowed to get away with this!” she cried. “I’m going to march right over to her parents’ house and demand they do something!” She stood up and stomped towards the door, grabbing her shawl off a chair. Pick stood in the middle of the room, not moving.
“Pickory, why aren’t you moving?” Gathering up her skirts in one hand and Pick’s in the other, she marched them out of the door and into the main part of town.
Pickory Jendryng, a lanky boy of ten, followed reluctantly behind his mother, his dirty blonde hair blowing in the early evening breeze. A part of him was glad his mother was standing up for him, but he knew it would only make things worse. Agatha’s parents were wealthy, they wouldn’t appreciate a commoner like his mother telling them how to raise their child. And Agatha would only take it out on him the next time she caught him.
His mother, so angry she didn’t care about the noise she was making, stormed right up to the Mallowburne household and started banging on the door. After a few hard knocks, the door opened to reveal a servant, who blinked at the intrusion.
“How may I assist you, madam?” the servant asked with a condescending look at Pick’s mother.
“I am Josephina Jendryng, and I demand to see the master of this house! His daughter has assaulted my son and I demand something be done about it!”
“Very well, madam. One moment and I will fetch the Master,” the servant closed the door in their faces, and they heard his footsteps retreat into the house. Moments later, a different man opened the door. He was dressed sensibly, but expensively. Linen breeches, with a silk tunic suitable for the spring weather. Leather boots came up to his calf, and in his hand he carried a black cane, with a carved dragon for a handle. He looked Josephina up and down, a dark glint in his eye. Pickory spotted Agatha behind her father, a smug look on her face.
“Madam, what is the meaning of this noise? Do you not know where you are?”
“I know that your daughter assaulted my son, and I demand a punishment appropriate to the gravity of her actions!”
“Lower your voice, or I will have no excuse but to call the Watch. Step into the foyer, lest the neighbors start getting nosy.” Pick and his mother crossed the threshold, and he marveled at the inside. His own home was just one large central room, with a bedroom they shared. This house had a hallway, which led to a sitting room. There were multiple doors branching off the hallway, but Pick couldn’t see where any of them led. Beautiful paintings lined the walls, and Pickory could see that some of the people looked like Agatha. “These must be her relatives,” he thought to himself.
“Now, boy” - “His name is Pickory” - “...Pickory, please tell me what happened, as this is the first I’m hearing about any of this.”
Pickory retold his story, of Agatha and her cronies, Amphelice Hawtrey and Eustace Browne jumping him as he rounded a corner just outside of town. How Amphelice and Eustace held him down while Agatha beat him up. As he spoke, he lifted his shirt to show Mr. Mallowburne his bruises.
Once Pickory was finished, Mr. Mallowburne turned to his daughter, “Agatha, is what the boy says true?”
“No, father, it’s not. I wasn’t outside of town all day.”
“-She lies. I know she lies. Tell your father the truth, girl.”
Pickory stiffened at this. He’d never heard his mother speak to anyone in that tone of voice before. Agatha’s father heard it too, he stood up and towered over Pick’s mother.
“How dare you call my daughter a liar! Get out of this house before I teach you a lesson you won’t soon forget!”
“I’ll leave once your daughter admits to what she’s done, and not a minute sooner!” Josephina cried as she too stood up and stepped towards Mr. Mallowburne. “She attacked my son!”
Pickory stood there, frozen, not entirely sure what to do. He’d never seen his mother so angry before, but something about Mr. Mallowburne scared him. He looked like he was about to snap, his hands shaking with rage at having a woman speak to him in such a tone. Suddenly, it happened.
Pickory watched as if in slow motion. Mr. Mallowburne raised his cane and went to strike Josephina. As the cane swung down, his mother moved faster than he could follow. She reached up and grabbed the cane, attempting to wrench it from Mr. Mallowburne’s grasp. Mallowburne, rather than fight, twisted the handle on the cane and pulled, revealing a narrow blade, which he swung right at her neck.
Pickory saw this and screamed, feeling something snap within him. A sensation unlike anything he’d ever felt before ripped violently through him, consuming him. Not knowing what to do, he threw his hands out at Mallowburne, and felt this, this pulse leave his body. Pick watched the air distort for a second, and right before his blade connected with her neck, the distortion struck Mallowburne square in the chest, sending him flying. Mallowburne struck the opposite wall with an sickening thud, and crumpled to the floor, unconscious.
Pickory, still feeling the flames raging within him, turned towards Agatha, and raised his arms again. He felt a sharp jab at his side, and with his concentration broken, lost his grip on the fire. As his vision returned to normal, he felt, more so than saw, his mother grab his arm and drag him to the door. He followed her and they ran all the way back to their cottage.
Once inside, Josephina grabbed a knapsack and began shoving clothes, as well as Pick’s spare shoes inside it. She walked over to the pantry, grabbing a loaf of bread and several pieces of cheese and dried meat, stuffing it all in the bag as well.
“Ma... what... how... I...” a million thoughts spilled out of Pick’s mouth simultaneously. “What just happened?” he finally spit out.
“Something I thought I’d have the time to prepare for,” she replied.
“Ma, what is going on?”
“Pickory, I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to explain. I need you to take this bag and I need you to run to your grandfathers, run like your life depends on it. You just used magic on a member of the wealthy. It won’t take them long to recover and come after you. Once you get there, I need you to hide until I come for you. Your grandfather will be able to answer your questions. I’m going to distract them to give you a head start. I love you, and I’ll see you soon? Be brave, and don’t be afraid to use your magic in order to stay alive. Now go.