As the caravan approaches the garden Niander moves away from the window and looks at his friends. Only Michael allows the mix of excitement and worry to show on his face. Malcolm, stone faced, nodes to himself and adjusts the sword at his hip and staff in his hand. Gregory stands from his chair but stays in his corner. Troy and Londo move towards Malcolm drinking nervously from their cups. Niander smiles and opens his mouth to say something comforting or funny but he is spared when the Caravan comes to a stop.
“Baktu, guide us through the trials that loom over us,” Michael prays. “Allow my friends and I to come out victorious.”
“If prayer worked,” Niander says, “I’d be a monk.”
“It doesn’t hurt,” Londo says.
“You’re right, but it’s a waste of time,” Niander growls.
The horses snort and neigh as their harnesses are removed. They are led away by a group of Monks, allowing a priest full view of the Caravans. Raising a hand to them he breaks their enchantments and guides them off their wheels and onto the ground. With a flick of his wrist the a large crack appearers on the face of the Caravans, and waving his arms out they split and open like over sized doll houses. The Virin young make their way out into what’s left of the corridor all clutching their carved staffs. The first floor merely walks out into the garden, but those in the upper floors have to jump. Niander can hear Troy grown as he readies his feet for a heavy landing.
Safely on the ground the Virin Males join the women at the very edge of the garden. Still a good way away from the stage, Nurse Agatha looks at them all sternly. Her gray hair catches the wind and flies about, giving the impression of smoke from a fire. She walks back and forth inspecting her cargo, growling instructions. Carlo tucks in his shirt, Marietta adjusts herself, Dora tucks away a gaudy necklace and Victoria lets her pearl colored hair down. She even makes Florian button up his shirt.
“Listen here, I raised you all from tiny monsters into larger ones. I used a heavy hand on some and a feather on others. You will show the Abbey respect. You will show your family names honor. You will…” her stern eyes soften, “make me proud.”
“I expect nothing less from the Virins, Born under the Black Sun of Baktu. In your birth you joined a rare few, only four other Virin classes have been born. I taught the last, from whom great men and women emerged. Yes I blame myself for that, and I fully expect to blame myself for you.” She says. “Beyond these shrubs, await your families, your people. Show them what it means, what it truly means to be Virin. They have their assumptions, prove them modest.”
She looks around at them, “Gregory Gold, show them your power over herbs. Dela, use your voice to make the heavens weep. Victoria, surpass the expectations of a Priestess, we all know you can.” Her eyes linger on Niander, “all of you, if you do not live up to what I expect, trust that I will find you and whip you once more.”
Nurse Agatha turns on her heel and walks up the garden path. Hesitating only a moment, the young follow as one. Their foot steps fall into rhythm as they march towards the stage. The manicured trees around them smell sweet, Niander catches sight of humming birds gathered around Coral Vines, Dragon Flies over a pond of colorful fish and bushes in the shape of animals.
The path narrows and the young walk two in two, Niander finds himself next to Victoria Tiger-Lilly. Niander has been friends with her since they were four. She was teased mercilessly for her hair color, which became the most interesting thing about her in recent years. During a practical class with Nurse Dera, Victoria accomplished such a wonderfully difficult piece of Feruh that her reputation as a rich girl changed immediately to that of a future high priestess. Her pearl hair falling over her face, she brushes it away, “this is why I wanted it pulled back.”
“You look better with it down, and the way it curls matches the lace on your dress,” Niander teases.
“That’s what Florian said.” She smiles at his lack of retort. “Thank you, anyhow. You look smart in your tunic, I always liked the way it fit you.”
“Thanks they do seem to fit don’t they.”
“You know what I meant, Niander.” She rolls her eyes at him, “are you excited to meet your father?”
“That’s definitely one of the words I’d use.” He sighs, “frightened to all hell is another.”
“Thats four words, I’d expect a well read boy like you to realize that.”
“You sound like Agatha, expecting too much.”
“I thought the speech was rather sweet.” She looks over at him, frowning she takes his hand, “don’t worry, your father will be very happy to see you.”
“Is it that obvious?” he tries to adjust his face. “Just my luck, we meet and I look like a scared deer.”
“Lamb.” She corrects.
“You’d look like a lamb. You are much too cute to be a silly old deer.”
“You aren’t making me feel any better.”
“Fine be a Deer, your hair stick up enough to be antlers.”
Niander runs a hand through his dark hair making her giggle. “That was a joke, wasn’t it?” he looks away.
“And you fall for it so easily, if I can get to you I can only imagine how sheepish you’re going to be when the ladies come after you.”
“Now I’m a sheep? Honestly woman, make up your mind.”
Malcolm prods their arms, “Nurse Angry is looking over, shut up or she’ll whip you both.”
They let go of each other and walk in silence the rest of the way. The path turns left and opens up to the large square where the parents wait. They are all seated in a semicircle around the stage. Happy not to be holding hands anymore, Niander wipes the sweat from his hands on his tunic. Nurse Agatha walks onto the stage and greets the crowd. Her words are lost to the worry building in Niander’s mind.
His father will know all the terrible things he did, he will be ashamed. He may leave the ceremony, and Niander will have to live with the other orphans. Malcolm prods him in the back, just as Victoria makes her way up the stage. He had promised weeks ago he’d wish her luck before her rejoining, and he hadn’t. His father would see that not keeping his word, one of many faults.
He watches as Victoria tries to stand tall and proud. She has known for a long time she would be the first to be called. The richer families normally donate to the Abbey for this honor. Her father, a successful merchant, would be able to have her be first second and third in line if he so pleased. From the letters and gifts Victoria received at the Abbey, Mr. Tiger-Lilly seemed like a loving father who only wished to see his daughter as soon as possible. He had even asked her to thank Niander once when he had helped her with her Herbalist exam not to long ago.
“My name is Victoria Tiger-Lily, Daughter of Victor and Angelica Tiger-Lily, and ancestor of the great priestess Helena Tiger-Lily,” she is able to keep her voice steady, though the staff in her hand trembles a bit. She waits for her parents to receive her, after a minute she gives Niander a nervous glance, he pulls a silly face to try and calm her. A faint curve of her lips shows that it helped some.
Then from the crowd two lavishly dressed people emerge. Her father is dressed in all black under a Midnight blue cloak trimmed in silver. His black hair hands in a braid down his front. His gray eyes, a color he shares with his daughter, look up at the stage.
He holds his wife’s hand at chest height, guiding her up the aisle. Victoria’s mother wears a dark satin band that contrasts perfectly with her white pixie hair. Her deep purple gown flows behind her, she wears a diamond set in the collar of the gown. As she walks she reveals a slit running from the collar down to her navel, making every young man shift for a better look.
They climb the two stem to the stage and bow in greeting. Victoria lifts the staff and raps it hard on the ground. From either side two banners spring out, one with her fathers face and the other with her mothers. The sigils carved masterfully in the staff glow white and a faint sound reaches Niander’s ears. He can not make out what it is, but by the bright smiles of the Tiger-Lily’s he knows it must be delicate and beautiful.
“I Victor Tiger-Lily, accept you Victoria as my daughter,” he says taking an ornate box from inside his cloak and handing it to her. She opens it pulls out a string of pearls that would easily wrap around her waist four times.
Victoria, eyes wet but not streaming, salutes her parents in the same manner that the Guard salutes the caravans. Mrs. Tiger-Lily smiles and touches her daughter’s face, bends down and kisses her on the cheek. Bright red and now streaming, Victoria taps her staff and hurries back next to Niander. He allows her time to compose herself before he looks over and smiles. Sniffling she nods reaches out to hold his still clammy hand.
The ceremony continues in this fashion. A boy or girl is called to the stage and is received by his or her parents. Though when Dedum Burr goes up, two military pages walk up to the stage and hand him a dagger and a scroll, which he opens and reads allowed. “Dericaus and Frimel Burr, Fell Warriors died in battle and are not able to receive their son. The Fell has procured the dagger used to dispatch their murders and present it as a token.” He looks up as twenty warriors stand and salute him from the audience. Dedum does the same.
“Niander Badok, please come up to the stage.” Nurse Agatha calls.
Malcolm pats him on the back and Victoria gives his had a final squeeze. He makes his way up top the stage and as he passes Nurse Agatha she says something inaudible. He stands in the middle of the stage and looks out towards the audience. He searches the group of warriors but with their helm on he can not see their faces. Taking a deep breath he speaks, “My name is Niander Badok, son of Aaron and Abigail Badok, ancestor of Nyx the guardian of Black Rock and Aden the priest of hellfire.”
Aaron Badok stands, the sun hits the gleaming steel of his armor, the obsidian horns on his helm jut forward and swoop back like that of a ram’s. The armor is fitted close to his body, curving around his chest arms and legs, yet he still moves with fluidity towards Niander. The closer he gets the more Niander starts to notice the pattern on the helm, almost like a face, but as his father stops in front him he sees the steel eyes blink, the helm mimics his features.
“I am Aaron Badok,” he says in a deep gravel voice, presenting Niander with a large leather wrap, “and I accept you as my son.”
Niander takes the gift and opens it, it is a sward in a sheath. There is an obsidian stone set in the hilt, as he observes it a heavy hand falls on his shoulder. Niander looks up to see the helm smile at him. “Welcome back.”