They had been friends for so long that Paign could not remember a time when he and Anders weren’t best friends. Some people said that it couldn’t have been otherwise, their always being best friends, because Paign’s mother was the older sister of Anders’s mother. But both Paign and Anders knew that their friendship went beyond, far beyond, simply being cousins.
For one thing, they were only three months apart in age. Anders had been born in May, while Paign was born in August. In addition, neither boy got along well with his own older sister, or with the other’s sister. Both boys, now almost thirteen years of age—their upcoming “Age of Becoming” celebration only a few weeks away—had thick hair the color of charcoal and pale blue eyes, like their mothers’. Each boy, regrettably, had lost their fathers to the War of Dominance. Anders’s father, Knute, had died when he was not quite five years old, while Paign’s father, Roald, was killed just two years ago. Even now, it was difficult for Paign and Anders to talk about Roald’s death because Anders took it almost as hard as Paign, since Paign’s father had really become like a surrogate to Anders. Both boys had taken on more and more of the responsibilities of their dead fathers, until at this point in their short lives they were the men of their households. Each was nearly full-grown, strong and skilled in the ways of farming and herding.
Where they differed most was in their temperaments. Paign preferred testing his physical skills against any and all comers. He was often in fights, not always of someone else’s making. Anders was exceptionally smart and loved to read, learning most everything with ease. He didn’t really have much competition intellectually, since he was usually top in their class, with one exception: Freida Skulstad.
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