The Color Of Sunrise

 

Niander’s body wakes up a whole minute before his mind is fully aware of his surroundings. The wounds that easily healed themselves last night are now moaning. He is content with staying in bed for the rest of the day, but the smell of breakfast makes its way under his door. With every movement his joints pop in protest, even his jaw creaks as he yawns.

Standing from his bed he makes his way offer to the Desk and Dresser across the bed, making sure not to trip over the wolf skin rug like he did last night. Pulling out a pair of trousers and a shirt Niander dresses. After grabbing a book, he walks over to the door leading into the rest of the house. Before opening the door, Niander shakes the remaining grogginess.

The door pulls away from his hand and reveals a tiny man with a Bald head and scruffy beard, “you’re awake, good I don’t like lazy asses.”

“What?”

“Said I don’t like lazy asses.” the little man gives him a once over, “or dumb asses, so watch yourself. Foods nearly done so make yourself usefully and set the table.”

“Who are you?”

“Names Ring-Back.”

“Are you the help?”

“He isn’t much help, more of a burden I deal with” Aaron says making his way to the fireplace and stirring the bubbling contents of the large iron pot. “But I suppose he has his uses when the need arises.”

“If’n you ain’t going to cook it the rest of the way, please leave it alone before you burn the house down,” Ring-Back says stiffly.

“Fair enough,” Aaron says moving away from the pot and walking over to his son. “How are you feeling?”

“Sore,” Niander says rotating his shoulder.

“After breakfast Ring-Back can mend you up. He has a way with oils and balms.”

“If’n it pleases the little master.” Ring-Back bows deeply and blows a raspberry in mock subservience.

“It would please me, servant.” Niander’s anger flares almost immediately. “And I would appreciate less rudeness next time you bow.”

“Lesson number one, lad. You and me ain’t different. One rung above the lowers is still one below High Valley. If’n you think you noble, walk your middle class behind up a ways and see how the pearl vendors treat you.”

Niander turns to his father, expecting an offended reaction like his own. The smile on Aaron’s face throws him off. “He’s right you know. The Abbey doesn’t teach a boy his place in our society, only his place in the world. You might have had Nobles as friends, almost like brothers. But Weeping Valley shows young men like yourself very quickly how little those friendships keep. Ring-Back is worth no more or no less than either of us, or anyone for that matter.”

“But don’t we fight wars against those who aren’t like us?” Niander asks.

“Yes.” Aaron says plainly. “But those people do not oppose us because of rank, no they hate us for more appropriate reasons.”

“Like being ungrateful little gits,” Ring-Back says walking over to the pot and adding a few herbs and spices.

“I’m sorry, I thought servants were supposed to be treated that way.”

“I ain’t no servant.”

“He’s a friend.” Aaron says. “Old and dear.”

“You’ll make me blush like a whore,” Ring-Back says laughing into the pot.

Seeing the uneasiness in his son, Aaron points to the door, “go fetch some water from the pump so we can clean up before we eat.”

Nodding Niander makes his way out the front door. The morning air is cold and fresh, the sounds of Migders sloshing in the mud and birds singing fill his ears. He stops to watch the Migders on his way to the pump. They are two feet tall, shaped like a barrel with thick stumps for legs. Their body is covered in course purple fur, with bright yellow spots all over. The fur is normally sheared close to the skin to help keep them cool and hygienic. The latter is hard to understand when they love to wallow in the mud.

A calf waddles its way to the edge of the enclosure and holds its trunk out for a better smell. Migders have no visible neck, adding to their barrel appearance. What they lack in neck they have in floppy ears and long trunk. This calf, being so young, has not properly grown into his ears or trunk. Niander pets it and allows the little one to wrap its trunk around his arm, it is surprisingly strong. Soon this little thing will be slaughtered and sent to market or dried and used here. The mother will live for another six years producing milk and calves, then she too will be sent to the butchers.

A small stable holding Ping and Pong stands a few yards away from the pump. Aaron had taken both horses with him to collect Niander from the Rejoining Ceremony. When he tried to coax Pong, the stallion, into allowing him to ride he was nearly kicked. Aaron explained that a warhorse like him doesn’t take kindly to nervousness. Ping, the Mare, on the other hand took no time to coax. Within a minute she was sniffing his neck and licking his pockets for treats. Pong rode straight and true. Ping, though never veering too far, could never seem to keep her gaze forward, she loved to watch things.

Niander eyed a fresh bail of hay and wondered if they had been fed. Taking the now full bucket of water with him he decided to make sure. Ping was already up and nudging the empty feed bucket with her nose. Niander set down the water and walked to the hay bail. It was already on a small cart and it was easy enough to wheel into the stable. Pulling handfuls of hay and stuffing them messily into the bucket hanging from Pings stall door, the horse only needed to wait five minutes before she could start to eat. Niander moved over to Pong’s stall and did the same. The whole while the stallion stood quietly in the corner watching him. When he was finished Pong walked over and sniffed indignantly at the hay, grunted and walked back to his corner.

“What? Its food, she eats it,” Niander says pointing at Ping.

Pong huffs and swishes his tail.

“Oh I’m sorry your Highness, did I forget the first course. How silly of me.” Niander bows at the horse, it bows back with almost as much sarcasm.

“He ain’t never liked strangers, that Pong.” Ring-Back says making his way into the stable. “What you need to do is punch him in the mouth and he’ll respect you.”

Niander looks over to Pong and back at Ring-Back, “will that work with you?”

Barking loudly with laughter Ring-Back pushes him away from the hay. “I like that. And to answer, no. If’n you hit me, you’d best kill me because if I can stand I’d break your legs.” He pulls out a glimmering silver dagger and begins to cut the hay into neat sections. “Ol’ Ping will eat anything you put in her bucket, but Pong here is a finicky little bastard, he likes his meals cut up.”

“Thats a nice dagger, is that Ramos Steel?” Niander says catching a glimmer to the eyes.

“Ramos, how dare you? This is Vintian Steel, mined from the stars in the sky and forged in the fires of the old gods, its edge sharpened only by digging into an enemy’s bones.”

“And you bought it from a Vinti?” Niander says chuckling.

“You don’t buy this metal, you take it.”

“I can’t see little old you taking anything from anyone.”

Ring-Back tightens his grip on the dagger, “when you stab someone in the knees, you tend to be the taller one.”

“Good point.”

 

Washed and seated at the table next to his father, Niander’s mouth waters as Ring-Back ladles thick vegetable stew into bowls and passes them around. The three are quiet as they eat. The eagerness of Niander’s eating brings a smile to Ring-back.”

“That was amazing. What sort of meat was that?” Niander loosens his belt and leans back in his chair after his third helping.

“Not meat, mushrooms. There’s a patch of trees out back where they grow and I like using them while the Migders fatten up.” Ring-Back says, using a hunk of bread to clean his bowl.

“Interesting, how do you know which ones are safe?”

“If’n you don’t die after you eat it, it’s safe.”

Niander eyes his three times emptied bowl, “i wish I had known that before.”

“Ring-Back likes his jokes,” Aaron says draining his cup of wine, “but he could make a fine meal with whatever he finds under a hollow tree trunk.”

“S’right, I could make Brittle Bark Soup, or Tinter in Ale if’n it was early Vall.” He says proudly, knocking back another tumbler of barrel whiskey. “Not hard when you know what color and how much fuzz something has to have to still be safe.”

“I’ll make sure to have paper and a quill ready next time you cook.” Niander says through a yawn.

“Oh that reminds me, a scribe came by while you were getting the water and dropped off two letters for you.” Aaron says pointing to the small table next to the front door.

Niander stands and walks over to the table. The first letter is from Victoria, her elegant and loopy letters always bring a smile. It is a second hand invitation to her father’s library. She apologize in earnest about letting his knack for poetry slip. The second letter, with its very official seal, is from Malcolm. Also an invitation, but to a small gathering for Abbey friends in a few days.

Tucking the two letters in away he turns to his father. “I’ve been invited to the Tiger-Lily home, I suppose Mr. Tiger-Lily really did want to see my writings.”

“Yes old Victor always had a soft spot for inkers, tinkers, and Virtuosos.” Aaron says filling another glass. “What time are you expected?”

“Sundown, it says you and I should stay for dinner.”

“That Mrs. Tiger-Lily has some petals on her, I’ll tell you.” Ring-Back says, his eyes far away in fond memory.

Aaron shakes his head and chuckles. “I wont be making it, I have guard, but you should stay. You’ll need a new set of clothes.”

“Its only Dinner?”

Ring-back stands and bows deep, “the young master will need to dress smartly if’n he wishes to mix with that sort of people. And the young Victoria shouldn’t be holding the arm of a man dressed like a Migder with a hole in its gold purse. Ruffles and lace, long stocking and hobnail boots the shade of sunrise, me thinks.”

Aaron bangs on the table and chokes on his drink, tears of laughter streaming down his face, “candle wax in his hair for an elegant shaping and powder scented with lavender for a finer complexion.”

“Oh, oh what about a satin blouse, the ones already missing the top four buttons, showing your chest is very manly these days.” Ring-Back is now on all fours.

“Where are you going?” Aaron asks, wiping his eyes.

Who me?” Niander asks coolly entering his room. “Just looking for my sword so I can kill both of you.”

Ring-Back lets himself fall breathing heavily. Aaron, still wiping his eyes, tries to calm his laughter. Niander comes back out brandishing his sword. “Any other suggestions, quaint ideas?”

“Hold on their, we were only teasing,” Aaron says standing up and handing his son a cup of wine. “Man has to look good when he visits a lady friend.”

“I’m meeting her father.” Niander says sipping his wine.

“Even more reason. Victor is a wealthy man, you need to look the part, less his court thinks you’re a charity case.”

“I see, well I suppose.”

“Good. Ring-Back, take a set to Riktus and have him sheer something appropriate and tell him we’ll be down in a few hours for the final fitting.”

“Course, I still say he needs new boots, the ones he has on are his nice pair.” Ring-back says pointing at Niander’s feet. “Might take his other to Bilta for nice hobnails.”

“Good thinking. Also go to the lenders after and tell them I’ll need a chest sent up.”

“Got it,” Ring-Back walks into his room clangs a few things around and returns with a satchel and a cloak in his arms, “anything else?”

“Yeah, do you mind getting me some Lintius oil or wicker bark from an apothecary. I’m still sore from last night.”

Ring-Back raises a wicked eyebrow, “in front of all those people? Mighty brave of you little lad.”

“What, no! I was fighting.”

“S’what it’s like isn’t it.” Ring back says tying off his cloak and tapping his nose knowingly. “I’ll be seeing you two later then.”

“I hate him, so much.” Niander says to the closing door.

“He wouldn’t be such a horse shit if he didn’t like you. Trust me.”

“I should have gone, I think he really is going to get me boots the color of, what was it, sunrise.”

“Thats a possibility, but since you already have your sword out how about some early morning training?”

 

Niander hits the ground hard after a thunderous strike to his shield. Aaron, unrelenting, brings both handaxes down onto his son’s head. Niander only just puts the shield between himself and the sharp edges of the axes. Arms weak and throbbing in pain, he can not stop it from crashing into his head and ripping into his skin. Blinded by blood and undoubtedly concussed the young Virin kicks desperately and connects with his father’s legs. He climbs to his feet faster than he should but attacks with a sword and shield combination that pushes his father back a few paces.

Both the shield and sword spark off Aaron’s armor, the strikes becoming more and more vicious. Two quick stabs to the inner thigh send Aaron running back a few yards away. Niander thrusts the blade at his father’s torso but has it parried by an ax. Instinctively Aaron kicks his son in the stomach. Niander drops his weapons and spills the undigested breakfast.

“Niander, I’m sorry,” Aaron exclaims, dropping his own weapons and running over to his son. “I didn’t mean too… I just… Trajkuta, I’m an idiot.”

“I’m… fine.” Niander struggles to say.

“Maybe, but we’ll end it for today.”

“I had you… just where I wanted you.” Niander’s says with another retch.

A nervous smile finds its way onto Aaron’s face, “yes, I’m sure you did, but for now lets call it a draw.”

“Well thats horse shit,” Ring-Back calls out from the back door. “Little lad had you right frightened. If’n you hadn’t ran like a Migder in the cold, he would have broken your femur.”

“You’re right, I’ll concede.”

“Thats more like it. Now get in here so I can mend you tow up.” Ring-Back turns and heads back inside.

Aaron reaches out a hand and lifts his son up off the ground. “You sure you’re alright?”

“Never better,” Niander says unsteadily. “Still have all my bingers and foes?”

“Ha, yes you do.”

“Good, I’ll be needing them to beat you again.”

“Get in the house before I stab you.”

When Niander walks through the door Ring-Back pulls in into a chair and starts a thorough examination. “Take off your clothes.”

“What?”

“If’n you want me to miss a cut or protruding bone keep ‘em on. Otherwise strip.”

Niander looks over to his father taking off his own armor and does what the half-man says. Ring-Back goes over every inch of him, rubbing balms and oils where needed. After making sure nothing is broken he examines the almost fully healed cut on Niander’s forehead. “You vampires heal quickly, ‘specially when you’re young.”

“What do you mean?”

“You never noticed?” Ring-Back says taken aback.

“What did you mean by you vampires? Aren’t you one?”

“No I ain’t, I’m what you call a Sramgi, or common folk.”

“Really?” Niander says more surprised than he had intended, “I’m sorry, i didn’t mean to offend, it’s just your kind are rare.”

“You’re telling me little lad. We had the unfortunate tendency to kill each other and be highly delicious to most things with sharp teeth.” He winks at Niander, adding, “this includes your ancestors. Nearly wiped us out in the first era.”

“Wow, were the Sramgi all as small as you… Ah!” Niander pulls away from Ring-Back.

“Beggin’ your pardon Little lad, fingers slipped.”

“Sorry, I just don’t know much about the Sramgi.”

“I can tell, If’n you like I have a book I stole from an old man back in my Bard days.”

“You were a Bard?” Niander says with a chuckle.

“S’right, I am an Eldonine. Largest company in all seven realms. And I only say Bard for your benefit. I was a performer. I acted, played interments, juggled, and had the raunchiest puppet show this side of Ceriono.” Ring-Back kisses an ivory ring on his right hand. “I was born into it and learned more than the average fellow because of it.”

“Thats amazing, I’ve heard of the Eldonine,” Niander says, making Ring-Back swell with pride. “Favian Writ, the Elven Pen I think they called him, wrote some of the best Faerie stories. I’ve read essays saying that some might even be actual accounts of dragons and ancient wars.”

“Thats true, Favian did write stories and some may not be as fictional as they seem. I was honored to ride with his great-great grandson Fint Rhy for a span of years. Sang the most astounding songs if’n you got him drunk enough. My father, Frederick of Rudalna always picked up the best when we traveled the crossroads.”

“Your father… Frederick…” Niander gapes open mouthed, “hold on.”

Naked, Niander runs into his room and returns several minutes later with a large leather bound book in his hands. Thrusting it into Ring-Backs hands Niander sits back down and taps the cover with the back of his hands in a self-satisfied way.

Ring-Back looks at the title, Plays of Sorrow Sky By Frederick of Rudalna shines in gold lettering. “Thanks little lad but I have a copy, there are barrels full of them all over. My Father was rather famous.”

“Not like this one.”

“Why, does this one have the sex scene between Lord Grey and Damsel Fortuna,” Ring-Back opens the book to find not neat press quality print, but the heist smeared looping of his father’s writing. “Where did you find this!”

“I… acquired it from an illiterate Cart vendor who was using it as a block for the Cart.” Niander watches as Ring-Back fights back the wetness in his eyes. “You can have, but I want something in return.”

Ring-Back closes the book and eyes Niander suspiciously, “What’s that, then?”

“Never, and I mean never, buy me a pair of hobnail boots the color of sunrise.”

“In that case.” Ring-Back puts the book down, grabs one of the packages he brought and heads out the door. Returning an hour later with a pair of fine black boots.

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