A little late, sorry. This is what happens when I don’t see people until three weeks after Christmas. Consider it a continuation of the fun.
Gratitude to The Voice and to Thomas for influencing the imagery, and to Gilbert, Ian, and Oscar for teaching me descriptive writing. Absolutely no gratitude whatever to the infuriating Christian, who has made a genuine and unmitigated nuisance of himself around the Blue House and very nearly spoiled everything! (Immense gratitude to Obi-Wan for removing him.)
Very far away, there was once a house, built anew around a wooden frame in every place the nomad tribe with which it traveled halted, and covered each time with stitched leather and finely-felted wool. And in the house lived a young woman, the grand-daughter of the nomads’ chief; his only heir. Although all the delicate and cunning furnishings of the traveling house were of the richest and most opulent money or violence could obtain, and although her every whim was met in the instant of its being voiced, the woman was not happy.
Not happy, but beautiful. Her full ceremonial name was longer than the histories of a thousand kingdoms, but her mother and father had called her Siura, and she was tall and graceful, with clear, candid grey eyes that held tantalizing glimpses of untold worlds and ages beyond all imagining, and far beyond her nineteen years. From within a frame of heavy brown hair that moved with the movements of her head, and alternately veiled and revealed her white face, she gazed boldly out upon the dull colors of the natural steppes, and the vivid colors of the artificial splendors showered upon her, and she was never taught fear. Perhaps Siura’s expression could at times be a little haughty, and perhaps she had never been accustomed to be crossed, but these were minor details indeed in the character of an otherwise sincere and compassionate girl.
On the day our story starts in earnest, she stood musing in the curtained doorway of her house, gazing unseeing out over the grey-green grass that stretched away as boundlessly as the sea she had never in her life seen.
“It is on days like this,” Siura said quietly to the silent leaden sky, “that I could wish my father were here, so I would have someone especially to welcome home, when the reconnaissance parties return. My grandfather loves me solely as a symbol of the tribe’s future, for he has learned to hate his son, my father, and methinks I remind him somewhat of his lost son.”
“O my lady,” quoth the bondswoman who had served Siura since her mother’s death many years before, “No heart would beat gladder than mine should thy father come up now through the camp, for he was kind to all, and spoke gently even to the slaves of the tribe.”
“Ay,” replied the lady. With the sigh of a heavy heart, she continued, “Yet were he to return, what would then await him? Only the disdain of my grandfather and the daily remembrance that his wife, my mother, is dead these ten years. He has naught for which to return but me, and in my heart I know I am but little inducement to brave the hatred of his people. My father was banished to wander alone and never return; even if he still lives, nevermore shall he come to me.”
In that instant, the sound of many galloping hooves thundered through the nomads’ camp, and the mighty grey riding-beast of the chieftain’s general reined in before Siura’s house. Swinging from the saddle, the general, bowed to her. Then, this powerful man, a veteran of many battles, whose face and eyes bore the scars and horrors of many a skirmish, fell to his knees before a slender untried girl.
“O my lady,” he gasped, winded from the hard ride. “Thy grandfather is dead, slain by an arrow of the foe. Lady Siura, thou art the chief of our people from this day forth. Let me come first to pledge my sword and my life to thy service.”
And Siura raised her dark head, and cried out; whether in sorrow at the loss of her only remaining relative, or triumph at the fall of the chief who had tolerated her without love, none but she shall ever know.
“Bring me paper and a pen,” she commanded her servant, and when they were brought, she set ink to page and wrote three lines, redacting an order made by her grandfather fifteen years before, an order commanding the banishment of one Baral Favain. She signed her order, and had the general witness her signature.
Then under the hard clouded sky, over the hard earth of the plains that stretched to the mountains and forever, Siura took the paper of her order, saddled her bay riding-beast, packed water and victuals in the saddlebags, and chose a fresh riding-beast from among the chieftain’s stock, to lead at halter. Although the general – her general – and her bondservant tried to discourage the new young chieftain, she would not be swayed, but rode away alone from the camp.
Not in that territory, but nearer, there was a boy – a very strange boy, not of the nomads. They say he wandered very far, very far, over the land, in the company of a friend of his, who people called a wizard, though he was only a warrior and a sage. A little shy, and sad of eye, as one who has suffered sorrows in ages past, but very wise, was he. He spoke to the skies when he was alone, and so they called him a wizard and worse. Nobody could tell, at any rate, where he would be from one hour to the next.
And so it was, that when the boy, Olik Petir, suddenly missed his baby sister Kettetri Saxlar from where she was supposed to be, namely playing in the kitchen, and ran out into the yard just in time to see the infant toddling through the gate and into the path of the bay riding-beast just at that moment cantering toward the farm. Olik Petir thought he recognized the beast, and opened his mouth to give greeting to the slant-eyed girl from the next farm, before he realized that the black-cloaked rider was a stranger; was more than a stranger, was a foreigner; was more than a foreigner, was unknown and familiar at once.
“Hail, boy,” the rider cried imperiously, reigning the beast in so hard that it reared up away from Kettetri Saxlar, and Olik Petir heard in the tone of the greeting that the speaker was a woman, a young woman, and a nobly-born one. And so, being well-brought-up though humble, he knelt, drawing his sister closer to him, out of reach of the riding-beast’s sharp hooves.
“Canst tell me where I may find a man I seek?” asked the woman. And her voice was gentle and meek, not the ringing command such as her were wont to use.
“If you tell me what he is like, I might,” replied Olik Petir frankly.
“Ay, I had forgot. Well, he is tall, and a warrior and a wanderer, and mayhap the folk in the place where he is shall call him a sorcerer, or mayhap they shall call him a mercenary, or mayhap a hermit and a mystic – but he is none of these. And he carries a sword whose name is Light.”
“That is my friend Baral Favain!” laughed the boy. He studied Siura, taking in every detail of her. At last, blowing a wisp of hair out of his glowering eyes, he nodded. “I can show you the way. I was taking Kettetri Saxlar to visit him this afternoon anyway. Baral Favain likes her: she reminds him of his daughter.”
“Knowest thou the name of Baral Favain?” said the rider, and she dismounted so rapidly that her cloak remained draped over her saddle. “Know, then, that I am Siura Favain, and I am his daughter. In fifteen years I have heard naught from him, and would fain find him now.”
And Olik Petir spat on the dirt before her feet. “Your people – your chief – sent Baral Favain away to die. He came here, and we love him here. Take that back to your tribe.”
“I am the chief of the Shendi nomads these three months,” replied Siura Favain, her head bowed and her hand still on the halters of her two riding-beasts. “My grandfather ordered Baral Favain to leave. My grandfather was hated, and is dead, and I have come these thousand miles from the farthest border of our territory, that I may tell my father he is free to return – that I may beg him to return and take his birthright as the ruler of our people. We are too many and too divided to be ruled by a girl. Please, where may I find him?”
Although Olik Petir yet scowled, and worried that his friend was to be taken from him, he nodded brusquely. “I’ll show you, I said.”
“Canst thou ride? For then we shall go together, and reach the place sooner.” So Siura Favain helped Olik Petir onto one riding-beast, and swung little Kettetri Saxlar up before her own saddle, and they galloped away from the farm, into the blue shadows of the hills.
Ever since Baral Favain had come to these parts, he had lived alone in a house he had built with his own hands, in the forest. At the time when Siura dismounted, and led her riding-beast and Olik Petir’s through the whispering riyo-tree wood, he was inside his house, busy with the baking of bread. But the travelers’ approach startled the birds, sending them flurrying in frightened spirals up from the trees, and Baral Favain heard the sound, and came to see what had caused it.
From his high perch on the saddle, Olik Petir saw all that came to pass. Through the misty slanting rays of the sun toward the horizon, he saw his old friend, Baral Favain the Shendi prince, cloaked as usual in crimson, looking like a brand of fire in the cool dim wood, and the green gem of his sword-hilt glittering palely. Baral Favain halted when he saw them, and his look changed to one Olik Petir had never before seen. It was astonishment.
For a moment, or perhaps two, the Shendi prince did not speak, and then he whispered one word: “Melea?”
“No, my lord,” Siura replied, her voice shaking in fear or sorrow. “Melea thy wife is dead these ten years. I am Siura. Mayhap thou rememberest me.”
“Thou wert an infant, scarce Kettetri Saxlar’s age. And now thou comest, grown, to tell me the love of my life is dead. What wouldst thou have of me?”
Olik Petir followed very little of this conversation.
But Siura spoke again, saying: “Thy father the chieftain is slain. Thou art his natural heir and successor. I come not to bring thee tidings, but to bring thee home. Our people need thee.”
“Let them need me some little time more, then. I have no love for the cruel and warlike ways of the Shendi, and their choice concerning me is made.”
Siura studied his face, then took one pace toward Baral Favain. “My lord – my father. Dost not thou see thou canst now change these ways of which thou speakest? We need thee, if only to set in order who shall command the people.”
To Olik Petir’s complete and overwhelming shock, so much so that he toppled off Siura Favain’s spare riding-beast, Baral Favain came to meet his daughter, and embraced her, and wept.
“For that and that only,” he said, “I will come. And then I shall return to my home here. I would be glad an thou wert to join me, Siura Favain, for we have left many things unsaid between us.”
Together, they all returned to Olik Petir’s family’s farm, to set Olik Petir and Kettetri Saxlar gently down in the gateway, and then Baral Favain and his daughter Siura rode away together, into the lowering greenish twilight of the east, where the stars already shone, and the line of the land was dark.
Perhaps someday they shall return from thence, and Olik Petir will be glad of their coming.