Baral Favain is back! Again, for Grace, and written on short notice, so… perhaps not as purple or as long as usual. But I’ve slipped in a few more funny Beasts for Rachel who’s having a lousy week to laugh at. (What is wrong with saying milk-beast?)
Baral Favain the Shendi Prince, the friend of T’Narxai, had gained a considerable reputation as a wizard, in the years while he lived quietly in the hills. People were sure that some of the magical things he could do were the cleverness of a deft-fingered trickster, but for other things, there was no possible explanation beyond pure wizardry. And so it happened that although none of the magic that was illusion, or the magic that might not have been, ever harmed anyone, the people were afraid of Baral Favain, for it is in the nature of men to fear that which they comprehend not, be it acting for their benefit or otherwise.
The winter drew on, and even in the southern foothills the wind whistled cruelly cold about the forest, and the wild beasts hid themselves in their burrows and dens to wait out the cold. One night heavy snow fell, a thick robe of white fur draped across the withered leaves of the riyo-trees and heaped in great pale drifts over the plains, where it made the footing treacherous by concealment of hidden hollows and long-eared-beast holes.
Yet, by noon the next day, a line of black boot-prints traversed the plains, crisscrossing with the tiny faded markings left in the snow by migrating herds of horned running-beasts and single or paired cooing-birds digging in the snow to find the bugs that might still be living under the deadly weight of the snow. And at the head of the line of boot-prints tramped Baral Favain. His dark red cloak shone against the snow, vivid as a pool of blood, and his war-sword was slung on his back, the green gem of the pommel glittering coldly in the icy-bright sunlight.
He did not wait this time at the gate of his friend’s farm, but stalked across the yard, his cloak flying over the flat-beaten snow and his passage flurrying the flock of skittish egg-birds into the far corners behind the barn. Raising his hand, Baral Favain beat with his fist at the weathered door of the farmhouse.
“Olik Petir, art thou there?”
“Here I am.” And the boy stepped out of the birds’ coop opposite the barn, with a straw basket of eggs in his hand. “What is the matter?”
“I fear I have brought trouble on thy house, Olik Petir,” said Baral Favain sadly. “For in thinking I am a sorcerer, thy neighbors have come to think thou art also. Methinks they mean to have gone with us once for all.”
“To kill?” The basket fell from Olik Petir’s grasp, and the liquid yellow centers of the eggs leaked out into the snow. “Did the god tell you so?”
“Nay. A woman in the village. I saved her son from drowning in the river once. She said also that thy parents are in the city to the north and thou defenseless here.”
Lifting his chin proudly, Olik Petir asserted, “No. Only weaponless. Have I not your aid, and that of T’Narxai?”
Baral Favain unslung his great sword, and, balancing it in its sheath across his hands, gazed at it as if it were the weapon of a stranger, running his fingertips across the ancient designs tooled in the leather. At length he spoke, but his tone was heavy and his steel gray eyes weary and sorrowful.
“Alas, Olik Petir, against a hundred men even I and my good Nataz here would be as chaff before a hurricane.”
“We can fight,” the boy argued fiercely. “Call on your god… do your magic!”
“I will ask,” said Baral Favain. “But he is not a god such as will come for the calling. There are deeds in aid of others he will allow me to do, but I know not his pleasure regarding lending his aid in deeds of war.”
Yet by the time the darkness had risen from the east and packed away the sun, the time Baral Favain’s informant from the village had said the men were coming, the prince seemed easier in his heart. All that short winter’s afternoon, Olik Petir and his friend had gone quietly about the everyday business of the farm, doing the work that had always been done.
To Olik Petir, it seemed a curious day. For, as ever, he did his small chores: pouring milk for the purring little black hunting-beast that kept down the vermin in the barn; loosing the loud-barking herding-beasts in the yard to run and pretend to fight each other, for with the wool-beasts stalled for the winter there was naught else for them to do; and bringing straw to the various beasts that subsisted thereupon.
And, as ever, Olik Petir knew that there was another also toiling, yet today it was not his father but his friend, and it felt different. Twice he halted in his tasks to listen, for Baral Favain sang as he worked, melodious chants in an unknown tongue, sad and gloomy yet somehow hopeful. And in a small way Olik Petir was comforted.
At the rise of night, as has been said, Baral Favain seemed calm. To Olik Petir he said, “Go to the window of thy room, for thou wilt be safe there and perhaps also shall see what transpireth.”
So Olik Petir went to the top of the house, where was his chamber, and unfastened the shutter of the window over the yard, that he might look out. And what he saw was a scene stepped boldly forth from the epic tales of yore, in the days when heroes and mighty hunters walked the earth in the sight of T’Narxai.
In the yard, between the two tall stone pillars of the gate, Baral Favain stood, and his cloak was black in the twilight against the snow without. Under his hands was the great gem in the pommel of his naked silver war-sword, and its tip rested upon the earth. As Olik Petir watched, swirling clouds flung their ominous veils thickly over the dark sky, and a heavy rain began to fall, pelting the ground with a million tiny hammers and wiping away the chalk-white snow from the dark board of the plains. And from the distance came many twinkling lights of lanterns, as men advanced over the flat easy ground.
Before they came nearer than the eighth part of a league, Baral Favain called out to them in a loud voice that rang through the rain with the suddenness of an avalanche in the mountains, saying, “I warn thee, get thee home in peace, lest thou suffer the consequence of thy folly.”
And a man of the village spoke with great boldness to Baral Favain, and cried in response, “We fear you not, wizard, howsoever many be your familiars!”
At that instant, a great bolt of the fire of heaven shot, white-hot and arrow-straight, to the ground before the farm gate, with the crashing sound of many rolling drums. Although all about was saturated wholly by the rain, the fire grew in a line between the farm and the men of the village, that they might not pass.
In his room, Olik Petir snapped his eyes shut in fear, and whispered to T’Narxai the prayer for courage that Baral Favain had taught him. When he dared open his eyes, he still saw the fire, and the men beyond, and Baral Favain standing with drawn sword, but all along the line of the flame he saw through the pouring rain other men, tall and armed and robed in shining white, and he knew that T’Narxai had sent others of his servants to help Baral Favain.
For some minutes the men of the village stood with mouths gaping and shielded candles guttering for fright, but then the man who had spoken turned homewards, and one by one his fellows followed him, until all had departed back into the night. From the farmyard, Baral Favain called up to Olik Petir.
“Sleep. Thou hast had excitement enough tonight. They will not return.”
And he turned also and walked away into the hills. As he went, the heavenly fire smoldered down to naught, and the warriors sent by the great god slowly paled and vanished, like the dissipating smoke of a burned-out taper. And Olik Petir slept, and feared not.