Work, Worry and Gates

 

The sun hangs low in the sky, casting long shadows over the caravans. Nurse Agatha had stormed the halls less than an hour ago making sure everyone knew they would be arriving in Weeping Valley before night fell completely. Looking out the window Niander can see the steep incline of the mountain road, but to the forty seven Druin horses pulling each caravan this meant nothing. He watches the horses pulling the woman’s caravan canter along as easily as they would off the harness. Some still have wildflowers decorating their manes, but after a week’s journey the petals have lost most of their luster.

Malcolm, now asleep in his bed, had told Niander in secret that he worried meeting his parents. His father, Lord of StarFell, is a proud man and easy to anger. Malcolm fears disappointing him in the trials that lie ahead. He assured Niander that even if he died his father would find away to discipline him, possibly going to the lengths of taking away his allowance in the afterlife.

Niander teased that a prissy little lord like him would no doubt have his opponent kneel before him rather than risk a beating for bruising Lord Lanker’s son. This did seem to make Malcolm feel well enough to risk a nap before arriving. Leaving Niander time to catch up on some needed work, which he still has not gotten to.

Dragging himself away from the window, Niander walks over to a desk littered with small chisels and a wood cutters knives. Propped on the wall next to it is a staff half engraved with the sigils of his family name. This work is tedious, and like most tedious work it is designed to build focus and character. Like some of the other young, Niander could easily use Feruh and finish within a minutes time. Nurse Dera, the resident Ferian at the Abbey, informed them that they would be tested at the rejoining ceremony and any short cuts would be revealed. This meant that she or another competent Ferian would strike the staff with a braking mantra, if done correctly the magic will fade but the engravings will stay. Of course if the engravings themselves are carved with Feruh, they would fall away just as easily.

Nearly an hour and near a dozen blisters later, Niander sets aside a completed staff. It is rough and sloppy, but all of the necessary markings are there. He stands and a stretches, his joints pop blissfully. Walking over to Malcolm’s bedside he prods his friend in the back. Malcolm rolls over and snores loudly. Shaking his head Niander takes a full water goblet and empties it onto Malcolm’s open mouth.

Coughing and gasping Malcolm falls out of bed “what… who the… why water?”

“I couldn’t bring myself to waste book or wine on you.” Niander tosses a pillow at him and makes his way to his trunk. “It shouldn’t be long now, you should make yourself pretty.”

“Well at least I can say I bathed for the occasion.” He says pushing his sopping hair out of his eyes. “Can you smell the smoke yet?” he moves to the window and throws it open. “If we could that would mean we are about half a mile out.”

“Earlier I thought I smelled something but I think it’s the food up top.” Niander pulls out a fresh set of clothes and begins to undress. “I think we still have a twenty miles before we get to the Black Gates seeing as the road hasn’t leveled out.”

Malcolm watches as his friend bares all, a slight redness warms his cheeks. “I suppose you are right.” He slowly makes his way towards his trunk and does the same. “Do you think it will be chill enough to need a cloak, the sun wasn’t warm for too long this afternoon.”

“I would take one. Less our opponents confuse the chattering of our teeth with deepest fear.” Niander smiles, struggling with the lash on his trousers.

“Such fanciful talk for a soldier’s boy, what hast thou been doing whilst I napped? Reading Lady Lauren’s Light possibly?”

“More like Warring with Wehl wood. I finally finished that staff.” Niander nods towards his desk. “How you managed to finish four days ago, I’ll never know.”

“It only takes an hour.”

“But it’s so bleeding boring.” Niander holds his trousers up in triumph, blistered fingers are no tools for pesky knots. “Tell you what, next time we need to carve something you can do it for me.”

The caravan shakes, sending a few of the chisels to the floor. The two friends looks at each other. Both look as startled as the other feels. Niander walks over to the window and jumps back as soon as he looks out. “The wheel is off the road! Its just hanging over the drop.”

“What?” Malcolm moves towards the door, but with another shake they both know the wheel has found sure footing.

“I wasn’t frightened.” Niander lies.

“Neither was I.”

Both laugh at themselves and each other. They finish dressing and begin to throw their scattered belongings into their trunks. Niander marvels at the mess the two of them have generated in the span of a week. He is ashamed at the state of a pair of socks he finds under Malcolm’s bed, they almost jump out and attack. Placing the divider in its place he gingerly stacks his book in age and alphabetical order in the trunk. Art, An Adventure, seven centuries. Zurithia Zyle, two seasons old.

The thought of meeting his father had lingered in the back of his mind. Now, standing over a packed trunk, a wash of worry runs through him. Living at the Abbey was tedious work. He made friends and they found their shortcuts. Would his father, a Fell Conquerer, be able to wipe them away and see how little they resembled each other. Memories that were blissfully carefree a night ago seem so reckless and idiotic now. Had he not snuck out of the Abbey with Gregory to find ingredients for Wilt Water. Or the time he and Michael stole sweets from a cart vendor while Malcolm haggled the price of sweetened beans. Not to mention the time he used Feruh to hold down another young boy while Troy retrieved his Fate winnings.

What would his father see then? Would he leave him to the orphanage? To the mercy of the monastery?

“Are you alright?” Malcolm’s voice rings from miles away. Niander looks over at him, shaking the murky waters of his mind.

“I’m fine.” He lies. “I was thinking about the girls that await.” The words are awkward in his mouth.

“If you say so.” Malcolm gives his friend the courtesy of changing the subject. “How about we go find the others and try to peek into the other caravan?”

 

The sound of warhorses and war men reach the caravans. Niander throws open a window to find four riders guarding the gates to Weeping valley. The Black Gates, sixty feet tall, dark as iron. Set by the first Draco Ferian Alister more than four ages ago to ward off demons and foes alike from the newly established city. Only the gates stand, to its flanks and circling the five hundred square miles of Weeping Valley, lie The Rings of EverCoal. Alister used his immense power to set fire to the ground. Anything foolish enough to cross would turn to ash almost instantly. Six smaller gates bridge the gap from wild forest and the city.

Weeping valley sits in the shadow of two twin peeks. Once a single mountain, the peaks were formed when the dragon god Baktu sent a boulder from the sky to clear a home for those he would make in his image. From the black fire and rubble the first vampires were born. Legend says that Damina, the first Priestess, spoke the first words. ‘Draj mon frih, Baktu frih’anko’, we have been birthed, Baktu has given birth. Damina then spoke a second time. ‘Draj nirji vil yaji, Ahn’dra yaji drej frih’, we will live in Weeping Valley, for we weep our birth.

With the sound of thunder the gates open, Niander watches as the guards salute. Right fist over the left chest, open palm over the right. Strength of heat, flow of knowledge. They Virin young are home.

 

Two of the guards ride ahead and the caravans keep pace. The sinking sun halos the horizon, sending brilliant rays across the city. In the distance Niander can make out Valley High, the section of the city where the Lord and his council live. Below that is The Brink, where soldiers and Second class priests and priestesses live. And below that, The Lowers, where peasants and the Monastery Monks live. Somewhere a horn cries and like a tidal wave the buildings along the main road flood with people. Music and shouting erupt, accompanied by the deep ring of the monastery bells.

Slowly the towering caravans make their way towards High Valley. The parade follows, from his window Niander can see children as young as five and men as old as sixty dancing alongside the horses. Only children of The Brink and High Valley are taught at the Abbey.

“What a welcome, even for peasants.” Troy croaks behind Niander.

“They see us as gods. Well at least rich enough to buy into the ranks.” Gregory snides from his chair.

 As the caravan approaches the monastery Niander can make out two paths running on either side of it. His caravan takes the one to the right and the woman’s takes the one to the left. The parade follows no further, the lower class stays in The Lowers. One guard stays with Niander’s caravan, leading the way up the steep hill. Not in The Brink, the homes are further apart and in better condition. One or two priests poke their heads out of their windows. All in all this is a lonely level. Niander assumes they are all at the rejoining ceremony. A shabby looking man stands on his roof, shaking a fist at the caravan and the guard. He lifts his robe, flashing his rear end. Even the guard laughs at his bravado.

After a minute or so the road opens up, large enough for both caravans to ride side by side. High Valley is littered with expensive shops and high end homes. The buildings form a ring around a large garden. Ahead sits the Lord’s Mansion, a Building of many turrets and balconies. And in the center of the garden, surrounding a sort of stage, are the parents waiting to be rejoined.

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