When Lovegood's circus disappeared, they left behind only one thing: the baby. A squirming, bleating child swathed in dirty linen, left on the half-frozen ground in the middle of the clearing where the circus had once been. It was hours, in fact, before he was noticed by anyone. If Toothless Jim Lawton, the town drunk, hadn't been wandering by on that early November morning, who knows might would have happened to the child.
Toothless Jim was wandering around that November morning, though, attempting to rid himself of his newest hangover by taking a walk in the forest. Still fairly drunk, Toothless Jim happened upon a moving mass of yellowed cloth and scooped up the bundle. Had he been sober - which he never really was - Jim might have passed over the baby, thinking that it was better for the thing to die before it had a chance to live and suffer. This morning, however, alcohol still numbed him, so, in a curious daze, Jim picked up the baby and headed straight for the town's only inn.
In later years, the child would regard this as his first miracle.
Toothless Jim left the baby with the innkeeper's wife. She was the only woman in the entire mining town, situated at the base of the snow-capped mountain range - unless one counted the prostitutes (and one never counted the prostitutes) - and therefore, the only one fit to take the child. However, the innkeeper's wife, Laura, already had seven babies of her own, and refused to take the baby, whose tiny face was twisted into a desperate plea for food. Not being a completely heartless woman, Laura coaxed some goat's milk into the squirming thing. It wasn't mother's milk, but eventually the twisted face took on a calmer demeanor. By the time the other townsfolk had filed in to the Golden Rose Inn, the child was sleeping restlessly on the inn's counter.
"He's an ugly lil thing, ain't he?" asked Tom Richards, the town's silver-haired patriarch. All the others, around Tom's age or younger, mumbled their agreement. Truth be told, the child wasn't beautiful. His face was blotchy, his eyes screwed up. His skin was darker than normal, and there were strange tufts of black hair growing haphazardly on his almost oval-shaped little head. The others, chewing their tobacco and drinking their whiskey, took turns scrutinizing the baby, adding their voice to Tom's. He was an ugly child, and nobody wanted the burden.
Richard Lee came in after the others. He was a well-respected man of the group but, being a man of few words, was mostly left alone by the others in town. Usually those in the inn would give Rich a nod of the head as he made his way to get his own drink and then leave him alone to nurse his beverage. He'd come out west after all the others, and had never told anyone where he'd come from. No one even knew if Richard Lee was his real name. The only thing that mattered was that he did good work down in the mines.
As he walked towards his usual table in the back corner, Rich gave a passing glance to the baby. To the others in the room, it seemed that Rich had deemed the baby unworthy of his attention.
When Laura brought Rich his whiskey, the older man put his hand to Laura's elbow. The innkeeper's wife, having said no more than a few words to the man, was surprised by his gesture but nevertheless turned back to the man. "What're you plannin' on doin' with the babe, Laura?" Rich asked, his voice gravely.
"If no one takes him by the end of the day, I suppose I'll send him off with Bud tomorrow when he goes to town. He'll probably leave 'im at the orphanage." Laura didn't bother asking why Rich was curious, but she did realize that this was the first time Rich had ever called her by her name.
Rich nodded once, and Laura took that as her cue to leave the man alone. As the late afternoon wore into the evening, Laura's eyes kept returning to the older man sitting in the corner. He'd hardly touched his drink, and his eyes seemed glassy - far away. She noticed him giving glances to the fitfully sleeping bundle that still sat on the inn's counter. A few others had turned their curious eyes onto the baby, but no one seemed interested in taking him.
Long after all the other townspeople had left, Rich still sat in his corner, a finger of drink left in his glass. His eyebrows were pulled together in deep thought, his worn and leathery skin stretched over his thinning bones. Laura's steady gaze traveled often to the man as she closed up the inn. The child still lay in a whimpering half-sleep on the counter, but Laura had spent enough time with babes to know that he would be all right for awhile longer. Before she went to turn down all the lamps, she approached the old man in the corner. "Rich, s'about time to close up and go on off to bed now."
Rich was quiet, but then turned his face to Laura. "I'll take 'em." Laura's face was confused. "The babe. I will take him."
Laura's lips pursed. "Rich, now you know I think you're a real good man n'all. But d'you know how to take care of a child?"
Now Rich stood, and his aging feet took him towards the baby, still squirming in his dirty swaddling. Laura followed, and the pair looked to the child's unhappy face and his dark skin and his eyes firmly shut. "Had two babes of my own once. When they were just lads, their mama took 'em to New York. Never came back." This was as much as anyone had ever learned of Rich's past. Laura looked on to the man and saw that his eyes were glazed by tears. Staring at the ugly beast in the blankets, Laura's heart and stomach churned within her. She couldn't fathom never seeing her children ever again. Still, she felt honored to be allowed to know a tiny part of Richard Lee.
Finding that her throat felt heavy, Laura swallowed. "Well, then I'm sure you'll know what to do with 'im. Not that he'll need much rearin', I s'pose. He looks like he could tear the head off any other wee one who come a mile within his grasp."
A rumble of laughter sounded deep within Rich's chest. "Yes ma'am, I s'pose you're right." His already wrinkled hands came and clutched the dirty towling, and Laura winced - but Rich surprised her. His touch was tender, and he picked up the baby with ease. Laura watched, in awe, as the man held the squirming baby against his chest, as a mother might, and rocked his knees back and forth. Soon, the dirty bundle was still. The innkeeper's wife approached Richard, who pulled the child away from him and cradled the babe in his arms.
The transformation was astounding. No longer was the child brutish and ugly. His skin was still muddled with tears, but now the long, dark eyelashes lay peacefully against his olive skin. His tiny lips parted peacefully in the center. His little fingers twitched dreamily on his chest. Rich put a hand to his head, smoothing down the newborn's tufts of hair. "What will you call 'im, Rich?" asked Laura in a hushed voice - for she knew that once a babe was asleep, it was best to keep him that way for as long as possible.
A rare thing happened then. A smile - the tiniest, most fragile of occurances - bloomed across Richard Lee's face. No one had ever seen the man do such a thing. "He'll need a good, strong name. A name that he can conquer, but also the name of kings and princes."
"And what name'll that be?" Questioned Laura. She had never heard Richard talk like this.
Rich's smile only grew. "William. The boy'll be called William."
Neither Richard Lee nor Laura could have ever understood what Rich had begun by taking that child and giving him a name. They couldn't have known that this child was not quite a child at all. They hadn't seen the bizarre color of his eyes; and they couldn't have known that strange things would happen to him throughout his life. On that night, however, the abandoned babe became a boy, and someday, that boy would become a man, and that man would do extraordinary things.
Richard Lee could never have known that under his feet, the gears of the earth began to tick as he christened the boy. And for eighteen years, they turned and turned, waiting for the baby William to become a man.