Werner follows Mistress Elke, caretaker of the Grand Heritage Home for the Children of Karl Franz the Generous and tours the halls while listening to her drone on. Loud chatter echoes throughout the humble wooden structure as the children gather for their noonday meal. The benches quickly fill as children wait impatiently to fill their growling bellies with soup. No doubt the broth remembers meat in a distant past.
Mistress Elke points out likely young boys for the Ulrican; the tallest, broadest, most aggressive among them. As she speaks, Werner watches as a stout, fiery-haired boy takes a place of prominence at the end of the table closest to the soup-pot.
“That’s Ernst. He’s one of our older boys. Quite…assertive.” Mistress Elke says as she places her arm around Werner’s, trying to catch his eye.
But Werner was focused on another sight: before Ernst took his seat, he upended a willowy girl with long brown hair from the bench onto her rump, laughing loudly as she fell. Her eyes lit with rage as Ernst filled his bowl and joked with the other boys. Slowly, the girl stood and glared at the pack as they slurped loudly.
“Poor Henrietta. She is only recently arrived. She has not yet acclimated to the hierarchy the children form among themselves. I hope they will not be too hard on her.” Mistress Elke gazed up at Werner, seeing his attention on the fracas.
Werner shook his head. He knew what would happen next.
He could see Henrietta make a decision and then move quickly to the soup-pot. She grabbed the lade and whipped the hot soup at the faces of the group of boys with Ernst as their focus. As they yelled in shock and pain, she attacked Ernst with the ladle as if it were a sword of fine Tilean steel. The yelling of the children grew louder; they were always excited for a fight. Even their yelling was not enough to drown out the raw screaming from Henrietta’s lungs as she pummeled Ernst off the bench and onto the stone floor. It took four of the boys to pull her off him.
Later, when Werner left the Grand Heritage Home for the Children of Karl Franz the Generous with a thick roll of blankets, a ragged set of spare clothes, and small bundle of bread ends in a bag on his back, he looked down and said “So, what lesson did you learn?”
The girl looked up at Werner with blood on her teeth, a split lip, and one eye swiftly swelling shut, and replied, “Don’t take shit from anyone.” She walked off down the street and Werner smiled as he followed.