Dinner With Horses

 

Before Niander can begin to understand the spectacle he just witnessed, Ryker taps him on the shoulder and points him towards the stage. Malcolm, on his feet and trying hard to hide the redness in his wet eyes, pushes his way past the scribes attempting to help him. As a mark of their friendship, Niander drops his gaze as his friend walks off the stage.

Ryker and gad stand next to each other and hold their hands up for the audience’s attention. The two could not look any different. Ryker, in his Dark robes and gray well groomed beard, stands as tall as his frail body would allow. His eyes ablaze with memories of terrifying battles. Gad, in his fading threadbare and hem tattered robes that fall unfalteringly over his potbelly. His bare toes dance on the stage like an anxious child.

Niander, under the guise of standing more proudly, glances over at the blond boy. Galel is not the strongest or the most handsome looking, but the smile he flashes makes him so. There is a confidence only the ignorant can portray, Galel has it in strides.

“Lords and ladies, allow Gad and myself to introduce the winners of our small competition. Niander and Galel.”

“I thought this one was Michael?” Gad says looking over at Niander suspiciously.

“No, Michael is the one that died,” Ryker says patiently, “as I was saying, your champions have shown themselves worthy of being taught by Gad and I. Allow me to explain what this means more fully. While the rest of the Virin will apply themselves to the teachings of the many capable priests, priestesses and Warriors of our great society, these two will have the opportunity to learn more advanced methods and theories. We expect them to surpass those already in their final year within the next month. In case you are wondering why this opportunity was not given to the older students, the simple answer is that they were not born under the sun of our god Baktu.” Ryker looks to Galel then to Niander, “you two will not have an easy time, you will suffer, you will know fear, you may die, you may even pray for it. Gad and I will allow those things. What we will not allow is disobedience, we will not allow disrespect, we will not allow dishonor.”

“Or beans, I hate beans.” Gad adds.

“Lords and ladies,” Ryker says closing his eyes at Gads comment, “if these two boys survive our mad attempt at teaching, they will have the honor of replacing Gad and I when it comes time. For the past Eight hundred years a Virin has taken the post of Master First Command, and we expect to keep that tradition alive. Lords and ladies, your champions.”

The crowd erupts with cheering and applause. The large Worrier in the back howls loudest of all. Niander Salutes, thanks the masters and turns to face Galel. After a moment’s consideration Niander extends his hand. Smiling warmly Galel takes it, pulls him close and throws his free arm around Niander.

“Shame we couldn’t fight, that bit of Feruh you did with the girly, mighty frightening.”

“Yes, thank you. I was impressed as well. You must teach me that mantra you used.”

“Mantra?” Galel asks raising an eyebrow.

“The words you used to call the flames.” Niander steps away from him.

“I just thought of fire. Isn’t that what you do? Where you going? Did I say something wrong?”

Niander turns away from him. Victoria calls out to him from the crowd, happy to have an excuse he makes his way over to her. The sunlight has faded away completely, but the garden is kept alight with the ethereal glow emanating from the many vine flowers wrapped around tree trunks. He chances a look over to Malcolm, standing with his head bowed as his father whispers something to him. Victoria runs to Niander and leads him towards her parents. Wrapping herself onto his arm she pulls so his ear is closer to her lips. “I’ve been telling them all about you, my father is impressed by your Feruh and my mother thinks you are too handsome to be playing with blades.”

“I think she might have a point.”

“You are so full of yourself. Mother, Father this is Niander Badok. Niander these are my parents, Victor and Angelica Tiger-Lily.”

“Lord and Lady Tiger-Lily,” Niander says bowing graciously. “I am at your families command.”

“We are neither Lord or lady young man.” Victor says waving a dismissive hand at Niander.

“Nor would we want to be,” Angelica says looking over at the Lanker’s many commissaries, “so much work being so powerful.”

“Sir and Madame then,” Niander says bowing again. “Sir if you don’t mind me asking, where does your accent come from?”

“I thought the many years in Weeping Valley rinsed have washed it away by now,” Victor says allowing his R’s to roll freely and more prominently. “It and the rest of me comes from the great City of Magdalena in Ceriono.”

“Thats nearly a Continent away, it must have taken you years.”

“Two, but that was so long ago it feel like it was no more than a day by comparison.”

“Sweetheart you speak as if though you are ancient.” Angelica kisses her husband softly on the cheek,and smiles wickedly “can you imagine how that makes me feel.”

“Nonsense my love, I stole you away from your father when you were but a girl just out of the Abbey.” He kisses her on the lips.

Niander avoids looking at them. He looks down at the blissful gaze Victoria has on her face. As though she has never heard or seen anything more romantic in her life. She looks up at him and smiles sweetly, crinkling her nose at him. He sticks out his tongue and smiles, making him look like he masks sold by the Yamiko vendors. She snorts into his shoulder.

“Young love is magnificent,” Angelica sighs.

“Completely, my love.” Victor agrees. Niander flushes and laughs nervously, but is saved by the arrival of his father.

“Glad to see my son has found his heart with the most intelligent and beautiful girl in all of Avenlore. Hello Victor, hello Angelica.”

“Aaron, how are you good man? I haven’t seen you in a season.” Victor shakes his hands vigorously.

“Our daughter found her male equivalent, from what she tells us.” Angelica says holding out her hand for Aaron to kiss.

Victoria hides her smile in Niander’s shoulder, he gives her the smallest teasing nudge. With a final squeeze she releases him curtsies, “Commander Badok, I and my family are at your service.”

“You’re a sweet girl, but all of the times your father has come through for me I think it’s my family that is at your service.” Aaron says bowing deeply and kissing her on the hand.

“Your son did marvelously Aaron,” Angelica says.

“He did.” He puts a hand on Niander’s shoulder. “I am very proud to know my boy will one day become Master First Command.”

“Come now, with a father like you and being born under the black sun, did anyone have a doubt, really?”

“You should have seen him in school,” Victoria says touching his arm. “I think it only took him a day to wilt a flower using Feruh.”

“Yes but didn’t I land myself in the infirmary for a week as a result.”

“Poor lamb, you must not have created a Strong enough link with the matter you were trying to degrade. Or possibly you took on the idea as a form of destruction and attempted to dismantle the essence of the flower. A task even the best Ferian seek to master. Yes I think thats what happened.” Angelica looks at Niander with kindness and understanding.

“Yeah, thats what Nurse Dera said. I tried to much on my first ever attempt and nearly died.” Niander says.

“From what I heard, young Victoria is on her way to becoming one of our best Ferian Priestesses.” Aaron says, making Victoria blush.

Victor straightens his back and gives a knowing look at Aaron. “Watch yourself friend.” The five of them turn to see Lord Lanker and Malcolm making their way towards them.

“My Lord.” Aaron salutes.

“Lord Lanker.” Victor does the same.

Victoria and Angelica bow their heads solemnly and step away slightly. Niander salutes without saying anything. Malcolm, still red around the eyes does not meet their gaze but stands proudly, as any noble should. Lord Lanker extends a hand towards Niander, his face set in a pleasant smile. Niander takes it, not knowing what to do. Victor, as if fixing a loose strand of hair, stares intently at Niander and kisses his own ring. Understanding Niander bows and does as expected.

“Aaron, I commend you in having spawned a good son.” Lord Lanker says, Malcolm hides a tight lipped grimace. “As everything else you do, well done.”

“Thank you My Lord,” Aaron bows. “I am very proud of my son.”

“Lord, young Malcolm did was spectacular with his blade.” Victor says smiling in his direction.

“I thought so myself until my advisers mentioned how the other child ran himself with the blade, and that arrogant business of wiping it clean did not sit well with me.”

“He is young my Lord, arrogant is what he should be.” Victor tries again to smile at Malcolm, but the young noble refuses to look up.

“I hope not.” Lord Lanker says turning away to leave, “come Malcolm, I have more people to apologize to.”

 

“Wont you stay a little longer old man? I hear the Goya Minstrels will be making an appearance.” Victor says holding another goblet of wine for Aaron to take.

“Thank you but I have Guard tomorrow. And I think Niander needs a rest.”

“You don’t need any rest do you?” Victoria says sheepishly to Niander, “you can’t leave me here with no one to talk to.”

“There are plenty of people to talk to, and those boys over there have been eying you all night.” Niander says nodding to a group of young men near a rose bush.

“Oh, have they?” she bats her eyes in their direction and lets go of his hand, “maybe i should have a few words with them.”

“I was kidding.”

“But now that you pointed them out, I don’t think I will be able to keep my eyes off of them.” She bites her lip, “a girl can’t help herself you know.”

“Yes, but you aren’t a girl.”

“What!”

“Not what I meant… that came out very wrong.” Niander recoils at her raised eyebrow, “what I was saying was— the thing is— please tell me you aren’t going to kill me.”

“I’m considering it,” she says dangerously.

“I don’t see you as a girl, because girls are…”

“Yes, use that head of yours.”

Sighing Niander says, “a girl is someone who needs others to look after her. She can not figure out the simplest task without specific instruction, a girl sits like an empty shell while those around her talk of things she couldn’t be bothered to understand. A woman on the other hand, is the exact opposite.”

“So you’re calling me a woman?”

“A young lady, perhaps?” Niander looks around desperately.

“You are just too easy.” Her laughter brings a breath of relief to Niander. “Really, I have you wrapped around my little finger.”

“If you were a man I’d punch you. Since you aren’t—”

“A kiss goodbye would suffice.” She says turning her cheek towards him.

“I… alright.” Niander, with his hands flat on his sides, leans in and kisses her cheek.

“Young Love, how it warms me,” Angelica says.

“Like a ray of sunlight on a cold day.” Victor says.

Victoria takes Niander’s reddening face in her hands and kisses his forehead. “He writes poetry, too.”

“My Love, when was the last time I wrote you poetry?” Victor asks, kissing his wife’s hand.

“This morning.”

“It has been too long then. Niander you will bring this old romantic some of your writing,” Victor says not taking his eyes off of his wife. “Young visions of bliss are a great inspiration to an old man.”

“Yes sir,” he says out of breath.

“Victor, Angelica, thank you for your company.” Aaron bows, “Young Victoria, thank you for embarrassing my son, it makes me terribly happy to know I can count on you to keep him humble.”

“Any time Commander Badok,” she says with a curtsy.

“Thank you all for the company,” Niander says.

Following his father, the two Badoks make their way down the path the Virin young took from the caravans. Niander walks silently beside his father, all of the things he had thought of asking were nowhere to be found. The thick greenery around them stifles the sound of the ongoing celebration and brings an uncomfortable silence down on them.

“So, you write poetry?” Aaron asks looking sideways at his son.

“I try. There wasn’t much to do at the Abbey when classes were over so I read a lot.”

“Whats your favorite book?”

“I don’t think I have one. There were just too many to ever reread any.” Niander looks over at his father. “It almost felt like they were all part of the same, larger story, and I was reading them out of order. If I read enough, maybe I would be able to organize them.”

Aaron stops walking and turns to face his son. His brow furrows as he speaks, “i never thought about it that way.” A younger man’s smile breaks across his face, “shines a whole new light on everything.”

“Thats what I thought, too.” Niander looks towards the end of the path, “will the caravans be taking us?”

“What, no. They are probably already on their way back to the Abbey. I brought horses with me. You do know how to ride, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good. This way then.”

Aaron leads him down the rest of the path and over to a stable tucked out of the way. The stable hands finishing the nights clean and feed bow as Niander and Aaron make their way to the back of the stable. There were only a few horses chewing on straw or licking at blocks of salt, their elaborate saddles hanging from the gates of their stall. Gad could be heard talking somewhere in the last stable.

“Look, if you’re going to act like that, maybe I should be on my way.” His voice sounds strained, “I don’t understand why we keep this up, maybe I am loosing it.”

“Master Gad, is everything alright?” Aaron opens the stall to find the Draco Ferian sitting on one side of a small table. He looks up smiling from his dinner for two, the horse he is eating with continues to chew on its carrots.

“Oh, hello Aaron Badok, how are you?” Gad smiles and stands to shake his hand elaborately.

“Has Ping been good company?” Aaron steps in and rubs the black horse nose.

“She talks too much about nothing, but so do I.” Gad stands and clears the table. “I also don’t agree with her way of thinking when it comes to the Nonlinear Decay when Feruh is not properly focused on objects bigger than the Ferian by one percent.”

“I am sorry to hear that, but please don’t judge her to harshly seeing as her stage hand is nothing more than a worrier.”

“Your job is no excuse not to read to her, I hope this one gives her an education,” Gad says pointing a thumb at Niander. “Which reminds me, in two weeks we will have our first lesson.”

“Yes Master.” Niander bows.

“Your boy has back problems, get him to see Ferry Diver.”

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