This is part of an ongoing story. Read from the beginning so you won’t be confused.
Zion sat on one of the narrow cots that ran the length of the infirmary, gritting his teeth as he carefully stitched up the thin slices on his arms and legs. One of the first lessons he learned was stitching his own wounds. Brother Garth handed him a bowl filled with a thick brown paste and he smeared the healing ointment over the gashes before stitching them. Brother Garth treated the Brotherhood for serious wounds and illnesses when they arose, though most brothers could equal his skill in healing more minor complaints. Zion wondered if Garth knew of Brother Solas’s penchant for Redheart. It was unlikely. If he knew, he’d be forced to bring it before Mendic and the other Elder Brothers. Garth was silent as he worked with his herbs and salves; the knife that took his tongue left him with no other speech than the sign language of the Brotherhood. Zion finished his stitching and sat for a moment, enjoying the cool quiet of the Infirmary.
The noises of sparring outside were muffled and the smell of fresh herbs and ungents was soothing. Zion had imagined once that the building where assassins trained would be dark and dank, but the sandstone floors were always swept clean and the walls freshly whitewashed each spring. The different training arenas–most of which ran underground–were more suited to his imaginings. He shut his eyes, leaning his head back against the wall and letting his mind empty. It was the first lesson the Brothers taught them–to seek the quietest corner of their own mind and enfold themselves in it. Calm and control were the marks of a focused mind and only with that focus could they perform their duties for the Order. It was difficult to believe five years had passed. Sometimes it felt like only moments, other days he could hardly remember his life before Solas and the Order. The nights when he woke bathed in a cold sweat after dreaming that Rael had found him and planned to gut him like the fish he used to steal from nets at the docks came rarely. Zion couldn’t decide which was worse–the nightmares about Rael or the nights he dreamed about his mother and sisters, dreams that left a strange ache beneath his ribs that no amount of food or distraction could erase. He tried to regain the void, but his mind was filled with his most recent past time–imagining Rael’s face when he killed him. He focused instead on the gentle rustling as Garth sorted herbs and folded bandages.
When he first met Garth, he did not understand how Garth maintained his cheerful silence. Now, he sometimes wondered if he would forget to speak. So many of the interactions between the brothers in the Order were silent–not merely the hand-talk they used almost without thinking, but the body language and facial expressions. They studied these as well. Knowing someone’s thoughts was as easy as reading their face, the way they walked, what they did with their hands. Change your face, your walk, your gestures, and you could become anyone. Zion had learned that lesson more quickly than the other boys in his year–not only because it built on the skills he learned with Rael, but because he soon found that the circumstances in which he came to the Order were unusual and brought a level of notice from the other boys he could have happily gone without. Most boys came to the Order well before their thirteenth years. Zion had been old for a novice. Brother Calver insisted he be placed with the seven and eight year olds and fought against moving him up to train with the older boys for months, despite his quick advancement. Solas finally stepped in one afternoon during Zion’s third month with the order. He was sparring with the younger boys and barely containing his anger. It had been a long day and fighting with boys half his size and age was wearing on him.
“You could have killed them all,” Solas had said after calling a halt to the hand-to-hand fighting.
The younger boys were sprawled, panting, around the training yard. Many were nursing bruises and aching heads and one boy was still cross-eyed from the minutes he spent unconscious.
The next day, he was moved into the room where the fourteen-year-olds lived. Brother Calver’s expression at breakfast when he sat with his new year almost made the three months of humiliation worth it. Training was more challenging but he also endured months of taunts, of finding his clothing stolen or soaked with water or urine, of having his food snatched away from him. He knew fighting them would only make the tormenting increase, and it was no worse than what he had experienced from Rael and the sewer rats in the catacombs. Eventually the pranks ceased as the training drove all else from their minds and they fell into bed too exhausted to even mock one another. In addition to the individual trials, which took place every few months, they began group trials. These pitted all the boys in one age group against each other and were meant to weed out the unfit before the individual trials. In the first few years of training, boys often died in the trials. As they grew older, those who failed but survived were ejected from the Order. When the time came for his first group trial with the older boys, there were only ten including Zion, left in the fourteens. The group trials were less likely to end in death or serious injury, but, as the Brothers always reminded them, the trials were still meant to test them to the breaking point.