Paign Macy had never liked school much. It seemed like a huge waste of time to him; he’d rather be doing than sitting. He was often in trouble with his defensive skills teacher, Alistair Murdoch. “You are not—once again—PAYING ATTENTION!” Professor Murdoch would bellow. Although when his teacher called out like this, he pronounced it in such a way that it sounded more like “pain” instead of “paying.” So there was never a question of which student, in the class of eight, the good professor was annoyed with. Nevertheless, Paign excelled at the art of defense, even if he didn’t often remember the details surrounding the history of it. What did it matter? He was very, very good in archery and excelled in sword fighting.
His best friend, Anders Knutson, knew everything about the history of defense. In fact, Anders knew everything about everything. It had always been so. 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. Although she was a year older than the boys, the three spent most of their time together after school and on the weekends, after they all finished their chores. Anders and Paign, each in his own way, were quite smitten with Freida, with her bright grey eyes, easygoing personality and wavy, rust-colored hair. Anders worked very hard all the time at impressing her with all the things he knew. Paign, of course, attempted to impress her with his strength and agility. Freida, being very smart herself, knew this about both boys and pretended not to notice. It wouldn’t do to let either boy think he was winning her over.
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