Monday, August 30, 2010

Tears of Knowing (Part the Second)


Daniel wakes abruptly, his mind bumbling around while his eyes register the contrasting shadows in the candlelight.  Emmanuel, his older brother, sits beside him on the bed.  He shakes Daniel’s arm.
     “Finally,” Daniel hears.  “It’s still dark out.  You haven’t been asleep long, but you’ve got to get up.  Dad just got back.  Come quick!”
     “Boys!”  Entreats the strong call from the kitchen.  His eyes adjusted to the shadows, Daniel sees Emmanuel’s hurried face.
     “Get dressed,” his brother says, “And be fast, I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”  Emmanuel pops off the bed and rushes out the door.
     Daniel takes a quick moment to himself.  The insects are quiet, so it’s definitely late.  Also the dogs aren’t barking, so he’s not in danger.  But Emmanuel was frantic so perhaps he should hurry after all.  He pulls his britches out from under his bed and slides them on.  He’s shorter than his older brother, but not by much.  Actually, a month ago the pants were Emmanuel’s.  The clothes he wears are nothing like what they get in Cochran Green or Campbello.  They work fine enough though, he thinks, pulling dirty cotton sleeves over his arms.
     “Daniel!”  His Dad calls again from the kitchen.  Barefoot, the youngest son reaches for the candle and picks it up.
     “I’m coming,” Daniel says, stumbling a bit from his room into the tiny hall.A torch sticks out up above the hearth.  It’s been alight a while, Emmanuel must not have gone to bed.
     His brother sits at the table watching his Dad rush around from the master bedroom to the door.  There’s a rucksack open near the oak doorway, and his Dad’s short sword lays propped between the green leather bag and the door’s stone archway.  Outside the horses are stomping and huffing.
     “Didn’t you just get back?  Where’re you going?” Daniel asks, still waking up.  His brother takes the candle from him and puts it on the table.  The hearth is likewise blazing.  Emmanuel must have fed it while Daniel was in bed.
     Daniel joins his brother and the two dogs, Hez and Briar, as they watch Richard Alderick fly around the house.
     “Sit with your brother D, I’ll be out in a minute.”  The cool but rushed voice comes from the bedroom.
     “I am,” says Daniel and then looks at his brother. “Were you sleeping when he got in?”
     “No, I just got to bed.  Threw a log on though, seems to have been a good idea.”
     “Yeah, I saw that.”
     “You remember Dad ever this frantic?”
     Daniel doesn’t have to think long.  “Yeah, you remember when the King asked him to be the charge Ferrier for the new cavalry.”
     Emmanuel nods.  “Yes, that’s true.  A fortnight of whirled preparations.”
     “You went with him.  Don’t you remember how bossy he got?”
     “No.  I guess I was too wrapped up in it too.”
     They watch their Dad fly from the bedroom to the doorway.  The door wrenches open with seeming ease.
     “He doesn’t even look tired,” says Emmanuel.  Hez raises an eyebrow.  Briar barks once.  A hand comes around the doorway and picks up the sword.  Both disappear again in to the night.
    Daniel’s heart begins to race.  Even with the King’s request, Daniel doesn’t remember him ever acting this frantic.  In fact, his Dad’s always been peaceful.  Sure, every now and again things got bad at the Smith or hunting was short out in the wood.  But Dad never lost his temper.
    “You think he’s lost his temper?”  Daniel asks his brother.
     “Ok boys – ” Richard steps back into the house.
    “We’re about to find out,” Emmanuel says and pats Daniel’s leg gently.    Richard stands in front of the doorway.  He’s not young but he looks powerful.  His face is warm, his beard not quite as old as his eyes.  Emmanuel has his shoulders and Daniel the long and practiced arms.
     Their father is dressed to travel. His brown leather gloves keep each hand.  His good boots have a few new stains of grass and mud.  Richard hasn’t stopped moving since he got to the house.  Now, He looks at his sons and takes a breath.  The room looses a little of its edge.  The torch and candle relax.  Briar lowers her head.  Only Daniel perks up, he puffs up in his chair.
     “That is the first thing that has to change.  You’re not boys anymore.  You’re men.”  His face is impassive or proud.  It’s difficult to tell.
     Daniel looks to his brother, but Emmanuel is looking straight at his Dad.
     “What?  Just like that?  What about festival?”
     “No time.” He walks to them and sits across from the boys.  The large chair groans with satisfaction.  “When I’m done talking, you both run to your rooms and gather what things you can.  Tonight is your festival.”
     They both nod.
     “Our wonderful King Cassius--”
     “If I can’t piss on his feet, I’ll piss on his grave.”
     Richard doesn’t even smile.  “Emmanuel, No interruptions, and careful where you say that now, eh?”  Richard reaches over to his older son and pats him on the hand.
    “He’s out for blood, the King is.  Which we knew would happen eventually.  I don’t know what exactly he’s learned from his smaller friends, the dwarfs I mean.  It’s been years since the dwarf war; before you were born.  Anyway, I don’t know.  Maybe them, maybe not.  But whatever’s changed his mind, Cassius is on the move.  On this ride home from Cherry Grove, I passed a good few score of men.  Beasts too, huge grey things with two thick legs each.”  
     Daniel’s mind is back to racing again.  Where too?  The North Kingdom has been peaceful since its establishment after the war.  There’s no need for further conquest.  No need unless, perhaps, he’s after the Western lands.  That must be it.  The Duke of Yarbrough was not so keen to suffer under Cassius’s royal scepter.  He was the only one who fought.  Also, he won.  
     “War again?” Asks Emmanuel, always a step ahead of his brother.
    “Yes, but perhaps not as bad as the one before.  Thankfully you were not around for that one.  Though it seems that is how these things go.  Here’s the plan” Richard continues, “I stopped by the Rookery outside of Moeltown.  Paul Trident thinks this march is real; more and more soldier-like folk have been to the tavern this past year.  Not just regular grunts, some odd ones too, he says.  He told me to meet up with an old acquaintance in Cochran Green.  Paul said he’d come over to you two and tell you what was up, but I wanted to be the one who told you myself.”
    “Tell us what?”  Daniel asks.
    “Well," He says, trying to stall and buy time he doesn't have.  "That was well asked or I might not have said it.  Boys, tonight’s your festival night.  You are men now because we’re splitting up.”
     Daniel can hardly breathe.
     Richard looks deeply at his sons.  Emmanuel’s chest swells evenly, but it’s swelling full.  Daniel’s eyes dodge from his father and brother to the dogs on the floor.  Briar perks up.
    “What does that mean, Dad?”  Emmanuel asks.  
     “I have to meet this old friend.”  
     “That, Emmanuel, I can’t tell you.”
     “But Dad!” Daniel’s older brother raises his voice.  Hez rights up on his hind legs barks loudly in protest.  He howls away until Emmanuel call him over.  Finally, the animal pads over to Emmanuel, licks the boy's hand and sits proudly on the floor.
     “Emmanuel.  Please.  You’ll find out sooner or later, but for now, I cannot say.  Trident will give you a bed while I’m away.  Andrew has something for you there as well.”  Richard looks at his younger son, “And Daniel, you’re going to head to Aunt Caroline’s in Chester; and you’re going to ride by yourself.  It is not wise for either of you two to stay here.”
     Ride by himself?  That is odd.  Daniel’s ridden down to Moeltown on his own but not all the way to Chester.  That’s halfway to Yarbrough and Yarbrough’s never even ridden to.
     “Daniel’s never ridden that far alone.” Emmanuel says plainly.  His hand protectively stopped on his brother’s shoulder.  
     “I know, but I think the ride up to Caroline’s and Al’s place will be safer than the shorter ride of yours.  And listen Daniel, just like Andrew has something for Emmanuel, Aunt Caroline has something for you.”  
     “What is it?” Daniel asks.  His mouth dry with excitement.  There’s fear too, like a balled pit, caught in his gut.  epushes the pit down.    “I can’t tell you.”
     “Why?” asks Daniel.
     “In case you don’t make it.”
     Silence hangs in the air like death.  Like death, thinks Daniel.  And Daniel knows that Emmanuel’s thinking the same.
     “I hope you do,” Richard says.  “I believe you will.  But there’s a chance that you won’t.”
     Briar stands up and snorts, together she and Hez walk out through the open door and into the night.
Daniel watches them leave.
“What are we going to do about the dogs?” Emmanuel asks.
    “We’ll leave them.  I think it best to move quickly, I need to leave tonight.  The stars have some light yet and morning’s not too far away.  The Trident’s promised fresh horses along the run, so I think I can be to Cochran Green and back in just over a fortnight.”
    “Fresh horses?”  Asks Emmanuel.  “What do you mean, ‘fresh horses’?”
    “Yes.  This is an expensive venture.  It’s a messenger’s run, Emmanuel.  Paul’s been expecting this, and it’s good that he has or we’d not have this chance.  I’ve certainly never been to the coast and back that quickly.  See what I mean, the time of talk is over?  Our little crowd of dissenters has been growing for years. Tensions are high, most loyalties are tight.  We're a touch better organized than the King would like a mob to be.”  
    “Is he headed West?  To Yarbrough?”  
    “Perhaps.  Maybe further.  He might be making a grab for the Old Powers themselves.  Bedtime stories I used to tell you, remember?"  
    Emmanuel nods.  Daniel does too.  Bedtime stories used to be about a kid named Jonathon Jesse.  They were silly rhymes, always taking place near the Forest of Mist and Dream.
     Dad goes on, "Anyway, I don’t know where the men are heading, but I know that them heading anywhere is not good.  West makes sense, but south does too.  The beasts with the company I passed looked like desert creatures."
     With a long standing reach, he scruffs Daniel's hair, "Now go get your things.  Pack what you need and decide whether you want to leave with me tonight or when morning breaks.”
    Daniel stands up.  For the first time the news really sinks in.  Goodbye house, goodbye room, goodbye dogs, goodbye—
    “Are your horses rested?” Richard asks.  Daniel picks up his candle and walks to his room.
    “Yes,” Daniel hears Emmanuel say.  “We’ve been house bound for a few days, Dad.  Not much is new.  We finished all the shoes and hilts you wanted.  Did all the planting and hunting and such.  Someone came about the mill from Drake’s property.”    “Good boy,” Richard says, but the rest of their conversation is lost when Daniel gets to his room.
    Daniel’s breath is short.  He pulls his own satchel out from under his bed and opens his wood drawers.  There’s not much to put away.  Most of the money in the house isn’t in the form of coins, it’s in the metal they smith with.  Well there’s that and the mill hat Dad’s trying to build a league or so south of the main well.
    But none of that matters now.  Daniel can feel it.
     He picks up another set of pants and his leather jerkin.  Unlike Emmanuel, he doesn’t own any boots yet so there’s nothing else to take but some wool socks and the one book he owns on metallurgy.  That book might be good to have, even for only a few days up with Aunt Caroline and Uncle Ray.
     Suddenly Daniel stops.  Something’s not right.  The ride north to Chester will take almost a full moon cycle.  That’s over fourteen days.  But Dad can get to Cochran Green and back in a fortnight! Daniel tosses the book in the bag and runs back to the hearthroom.  
     Richard’s facing the fire, his back leaning against the chair.
    “Dad,” asks Daniel.  “Why are you sending me to Aunt Caroline’s?  You’ll be back before I get there.”
    His Dad’s hands grip the back wood.  Daniel let’s the words soak in slowly, even as his Dad turns around to face him.  “Daniel, I may not be coming back.  That’s why.  Caroline’s got something to give to you, something I gave her a long time ago.  She’s expecting you, you know.  Well, you didn’t know that, but she is.  You can wait with her for a while until I get back.  It should only be two weeks, but I’m guessing it will be much longer.  Now I promise to send for you when I return home.  I’ll probably even ride up myself.  But I have to get to Cochran Green, and I have to leave tonight.  Right now, that’s all I know.”              "Can't we come with you?" asks Daniel.  
     Richard shakes his head.  
     “But why not?”
     For that, his father has no answer.
     Daniel stands still across from him.  His heart flutters.  Perhaps Emmanuel’s wouldn’t.  Maybe Emmanuel even expected something like this.  But Daniel didn’t, not like this.  “Does Emmanuel know?”  
     “Yes, I do.” Says Emmanuel, peeking out from his bedroom doorway.
     His brother walks forward and Daniel leans into one of two strong hands as Richard pulls his sons as close to him as he can; something not as easy as it once was.  Emmanuel's broader than he used to be, and Daniel, given just one more year, would be looking into Richard’s eyes.  A little brother not so little, thinks Richard.  Hugging them he realizes that his sons are young, too young.  Shamefully he satisfies himself knowing they are at least built like men.  Well, Daniel is close enough.  They are men with a love of family in their hearts.  They are closely bonded kin.  Maybe that will be enough.
     Richard kisses them each on the head and speaks softly, still keeping them close.  “If things turn sour, for either one of you, head far north to the west side of the great Tooth Mountains.  Go up past Chester and just east, barely east of the great Hollow.”
    “Edgewater,” says Emmanuel.
     “Yes, to the beaches of sapphire and gold.  It’s a far ride.  Perhaps even farther than necessary.  But there are friends along that route who will not be surprised to see you.  Besides, I have always said that things begin and end with the sea.”  
     “Old legends always say stupid things like that,” Daniel says quietly.  And they’re never true, he thinks to himself.  
     In the following silence the torch flickers.  Briar barks again from outside in the starlit night.  Guided by her call, the cool air whispers in through the door.  There are some chirps too from the few bewitched insects curious enough to brave the loneliness of a summer night.  Daniel feels the stillness of the hug, the sounds of the house and the outside dark that awaits them.  He breathes it in deeply and tries to think it into his mind.  He tries to think it in so hard that he will never forget it.
    Emmanuel’s the first to let go.  Quiet and strong he looks up at his Dad.  Richard looks into his eyes and smiles.  “I’m proud of you Emmanuel Praetor Alderick, and I hope to be fortunate enough to see the man you will yet become.”  Emmanuel steps back, giving room for his father to bless the other brother.  “And you, Daniel Shenir Alderick, I am proud of you as well.  From this night forth, the earth will never again recognize the feel of your feet on her.  You are my sons re-born! The weight of your manhood will move the mountains of the earth. The passions of women and men alike will fire under the grace of your hearts.  Push when you can but endure only what you must, for all things, good and evil, have their end.”
    Richard rises and places a hand on each head.  He does not shuffle their hair.  “You are my princes of wisdom, I love you and I believe in you.”
     “Father, you'll see me in the Rookery,” says Emmanuel, too stubborn to cry.  “I’ll wait there for your return.  I’ll be there with Trident and Andrew.  We will see you on your way back here.”
Richard Alderick smiles one last time at his eldest son.  “Maybe on my way back, but you won’t be able to catch up with me tonight.  And perhaps instead I will see you both back here.  Daniel, you are ready.  You have been born for this, even if you never thought it.  Remember my sons, no one is your master.”
And those are the last words Daniel hears from his father’s voice before the man slips out of the door, onto his horse, and into the mysterious night.
     Briar makes some noise as the horse starts it's gallop, but not much.  After the small fuss, both dogs make their way inside.  They are more used to departures than the boys, but undeniably, something is different this time. Agitated, they walk up to Emmanuel and Daniel excitedly and circle around and around and around and around.  Emmanuel has to tell them to sit by the hearth.
     Daniel looks up at his brother. “He said we could leave with him tonight.”
     “Yes,” Emmanuel lends a nod. “But apparently he didn’t mean ride with him.”
     “What are you going to do?” asks Daniel.
     “You have your things?”
     “Yes, do you?”
     “Ok, one moment.” Emmanuel rushes back to his room and comes back with a short leather scabbard.  “You might need this.”
     The eyes in Daniel’s head nearly fall to the floor.  “I’m not supposed to have that yet.”
     “No, you’re not.” Emmanuel agrees.  He takes out the blade and twirls it around gently in the firelight and then slides it back.  “But now you do.  Besides, Dad just did the stupid ceremony, so we're men now.”
     Daniel’s fingers clasp the warm leather bound handle.  “It’s not stupid Emmanuel, thank you.”  He hugs his brother quickly and bites his teeth hard.  His eyes feel thick and large, not out of surprise, but a pregnant couplet of excitement and sadness.
     “You’re welcome.  Now I don’t think we should rush out of here without a little thought, but we should leave before morning.  If Dad was in that big of a rush, then we should hurry too.  Thankfully there will be some starlight left for our night ride.”
     Emmanuel sits by the fire and the dogs, “Go get your bag D.”
     After a quick sprint, Daniel has his satchel on the table with some clothes, a book and a sword.  “What should I put in it?”
     "Take this," Emmanuel tosses him a small clay pot from near the hearth.
     "I don't need this." Daniel says.
     "What?  Are you going to take the iron cauldron?  I know I don't need it, but you've got a much longer trip.  Take it just in case.  You’ll need to cook your food.  But not during the day, only at night."
     “I knew that,” Daniel puts it into the satchel.  "Anything else?"
     The dogs follow Emmanuel to the table.  The fire’s been put out, only the torch on the wall and the candle give any light to the room.  Emmanuel sorts through Daniel's odd assortment of things with ease.
     “That looks fine.  You’ll probably need some of these too.”  Emmanuel walks over to the torch and picks it off of the wall.  He turns the metal hook that the torch was hanging from and pulls out a stone the size of a fist.
     “Take this please," he says, gifting the torch to his brother.  Daniel takes it and watches as Emmanuel reaches into the wall and removes a small burlap purse.
     “Silver?” Asks Daniel.
     “Mhhmm.” Emmanuel tosses it to the table where it lands with a hard jingle.After he replaces the hook, Emmanuel takes the torch from his brother and remounts it on the wall.  “This is it.  We’ll need it all.”
     Daniel stares at the purse with disbelief, and when he's done looking at the brown burlap, he looks up at the wall.  Emmanuel's already talking again.
     “The book is good.  The sword is good.  You’ll probably need both.  But both are also dangerous.  Don't let anyone catch you with either of these.  You could be killed for either one of them if you run into the wrong thieves, or you could be handed over to the Guard if you’re caught by the right ones.
     “Now this, this money will buy you time.  But it will buy attention too.  I really don’t think we’ll be coming back after we leave tonight and if Paul Trident's going to gift him a crazy horse ride than Dad won't need any leftovers.  So, we take it all, you get more than me.”
     Daniel understands.  He and his brother have grown up well.  They can read and write, they smith and can fight.  They both ride horses, Emmanuel's better only because he's older and in control of his body.  Right now, Daniel's too big for his own skin.
     But he also understands that no one expects a child to have a book and a sword.  No one would ever see a young man in a tavern who had a purse filled with silver coins.  He’ll have to be careful and extremely discreet.
     “Do you have a sword too?” Asks Daniel.
     “Yeah, I’m taking Dad’s spadroon from his old riding and fighting days.” Emmanuel opens the change purse and takes out a small handful of silver pieces.  He gives the rest to Daniel after he pulls the tie tight.
     “Thanks brother,” Daniel says, putting the small brown moneybag into his larger sack.  The sword within is much smaller, though a little thicker than Dad’s old weapon.  That sword is still too difficult for Daniel’s bumbling limbs to handle.  Emmanuel will manage it well though.  He’s two years up in years and practice.
     “You ready? Let’s go saddle the horses.”  Emmanuel leads the way out of the door, picking his own satchel up on the way out.  The dogs follow them eagerly, Briar is particularly tail-happy but Hez’s tail is down.  Something’s wrong with the pair.  Usually they wag in tandem.
     “Gah!” vents Emmanuel to himself, “Too dark yet under this stable.  I don’t know how he did this.  D, will you get the torch?”
     Daniel goes inside to get it, leaving his brother in the quiet night.  Dad managed it because he had just then rode in, barely a moment to collect things before he sprinted off again.  He shakes his head in marvel while he picks off the torch and heads outside.
     “Great.” says Emmanuel.  His older brother thanks him.  Daniel watches as he puts saddles on and readies the horses.  Mulberry’s already alert.  Emmanuel will probably take him.  His brother walks into Toby’s larger hay stall and watches him pat her up and awake.  It doesn’t take much.  They’re just as alert as the dogs.  Soon both horses will be ready to ride.  Daniel remembers his satchel and bolts to the house.
     It’s darker.  Only the candle light from the bedsides fogs its way into the hearthroom.  Daniel picks up his satchel.  It’s definitely heavier with the sword in it.  He looks to his room briefly but finds nothing useful.  The house seems empty, almost dead.
     He hurries back outside.
     Outside the horses are ready.  The night seems warmer than his home.
     “Well, you look all ready."
     “Emmanuel, I’m a little scared.” Daniel says.
     “Ah well, there is that, isn’t there.  I am too.  But this is a far better journey to manhood than  festival, don’t you think?”
     “Oh come on!  Yes it is.  We're not a usual family Daniel.  Dad started the Underground.  We're part of it.  Do you know anyone else who's part of the Underground?  Any other entire family?”
     Daniel thinks for a moment.  Even Paul Trident's kids don't know.  “Just ours.”
     “That’s right.  How many other kids from up north in Chester speak out against the King?”
     “Well, up in Chester there are a few.”
     “Yes, there are.  Exactly.  And that’s why you’re taking the road west to Aunt Caroline and Uncle Ray.  There are people like us there.”
     “Emmanuel, I don’t think it’s fair that you get to go to Trident’s Tavern.  Everyone there is family.  Even if they’re not, they are.  I’m sure even Sophie will be glad to see you.”
Emmanuel doesn't smile back.  Even if Dad said the ride for him would be harder, it sounds much more rewarding.
     They sit in silence for a while.  Daniel’s breath slows.  Emmanuel looks up through the patchy clouds at the stars that shine brightly enough to overcome the moonlight.  The horses whinny.  They will not stand as scenery forever.  If they’ve been woken, they expect to work.
Emmanuel takes Mulberry's reins and tosses his satchel across the saddle.  With a similar gesture, Daniel does the same.
     “And you’ve never ridden at night before.  This is exciting!”
     “Maybe," Daniel says.  “Emmanuel, what are we going to do with the dogs?”Emmanuel thinks for a moment.  Daniel watches him, his skin emitting a pale glow.  His face is older and prepared.  His eyes are focused and clean.  Daniel sees in him the fire of adventure instead of the small cold pit of loss that he feels in his own throat.
     “That is a good question.  Dad wants us to leave them here--”
     “We can’t do that!” Daniel interrupts.  “If trouble’s coming they’ll be killed.”
     “That may be true.  But Hez and Brair are tough mutts, I don’t think even a dragoon would risk a fight with one of our two friends.  Isn’t that right?”  Emmanuel calls to the house.  A single bark of reply comes from within.  “Well, Hez anyway.  Do you want them both to follow you?  You’ll ride slower with their company.”
     Daniel doesn’t care if he rides slower.  Briar’s getting old, but Hez is still young.  Age doesn’t matter though, Daniel loves them both.  They can help him hunt, and they’ll make Daniel’s long ride more bareable.  Besides, a boy with dogs is less suspicious than a wondering child without them.  “I’ll take them both, we can catch rabbits with them on our way west.”
     “You have your sling just in case,” Emmanuel says.
     Of course, Daniel doesn’t have it.  He runs inside and takes the sling off of the mantle above the fireplace.  “Ok, come on boys.” He says to the dogs.  Hez barks a few times as they all line out to the stables once more.  “All set.”
      “Listen, the torch will die on it's own.  Even if it didn't, we probably don’t have to worry about fire anyway.  Come here.”  It's a bear hug.  His brother wraps around him and holds him.  It's not often that Emmanuel gives him such a large hug.  It's over too soon.
     “Don’t you think we’ll be back?”  Asks Daniel.
     “I do,” Emmanuel quickly answers.  “But I do not think it will matter if the stable is standing when we return.  Daniel, brother, Up north.  Remember?  West the Tooth mountains, East of the hollow, just north of Chester.  Say it back.”
     He struggles, but not because he can't remember.
     "That's good.  Come on now.  You are ready."
     His young age getting the best of him, Daniel cries a little, but proudly.  “Where do I go from Caroline’s?”
     “My brother.” Emmanuel says, his hunger for adventure getting the best of him, “You will know.  You are wise, and like Dad said, strong too.  The dogs will keep you company, and when Uncle Ray gives you that thing, whatever it is, you will know what to do.”
     “You promise?”
     “I promise,” says Emmanuel with full confidence.  “This is a night none of us will forget.”
     Daniel nods.
     "But, I'll see you again soon."
     Daniel doesn't nod at that one.  He's not sure that it's true.
    “So mount up.  I’ll ride with you a little while and then double back.  No need for me to hurry I don’t think, I’ve got the shorter path.  But we should go.  Mount up, I'll finish things up.”
    Emmanuel closes down the house and rushes out into the darkness to take a drink from the well.  He fills his own leather water pouch and makes sure Daniel does too.  When they're done, it's obvious that Emmanuel will be fine on his own.  Daniel, not so much.
    In the light from the cloudy moonlit night, Daniel looks back at the house.  It's big.  Dad never would have been a Duke, but he could have served in the court.  There's a lot of land.  So much, that the smith out back is too far away to see.  In the light, the house glows a very pale cream.  Cicadas whistle with cackled wings and the wind whispers as it always has; every summer night since Daniel can remember, the wind rustles the leaves.
    “Not too bad a night for a first night ride,”  Emmanuel says.  His older brother is up and the torch burning on the closest stable pillar is the only strong light around.  “Don’t worry, it’s not going to burn.  Come.  I tied a lot of spare shoes to your saddle.  I'm going to take some tools."
    As they head out on the dark night road to Chester, the dogs stay close.  It's not quite a burden to have to ride slowly.  It’s obvious right away why Dad told them not to take the dogs.  Hez and Briar slow them down.
    Emmanuel must have sensed Daniel's tension. He says,  “It’s probably better to travel at night than day, especially when you hit the woods near the river.  Go slow, and be quiet.  If there are footpads about, the dogs will smell them, and you can walk during the daylight.  Or you can find a hideaway and rest.”    Daniel looks over his shoulder.  The moonlight will help a lot.  Even if the torchlight weren’t keeping the stable a dull yellow, the house would still be visible.
    “Keep the money close too,” Emmanuel adds.  “You don’t want to have to steal food.”
“I can hunt it.  Just because you're older doesn't mean I'm stupid.”    “Sorry Daniel.  I know.  I'm just so excited!  I've waited for this moment.  You knew it was coming too.  Someday this had to happen.  It just had to.  We're going to have to deal with people now who view us as children.  Even though we're big, we don't want to be seen as children traveling alone.  Maybe Dad’s friends always treated us equals, but we're not.  Don't forget that.  No one expects a boy to be traveling about on horse with money.  It’s more than suspicious.”  
It's pointless to say anything else.  Emmanuel right, of course, which is good.  Because through his tears, it would be hard to speak.  How Emmanuel could be ready for this, Daniel will never know.
    “Dry your tears little brother, I can still see you.”
    After that, there's nothing else even Emmanuel can say.

    When they’re much past the house and only white-topped grass stands on either side, Emmanuel slows.  The moonlight bathes the field in its night song.  The hooves and pants of the animals out match any noise from the summer wind.  There are a few lights nearby, ghosts in distant country homes scattered like seeds in a field.  When the sun’s up, it’s a more joyful than solemn place.  Daniel and Emmanuel have both ridden the road before.    “Brother, it’s time I turn back.  I’m tempted to ride with you all the way to Aunt Caroline's, but I’ve a place to go too.”
    Daniel pulls Toby short and she stops quickly—the dogs dodge briefly off the road.  Mulberry walks Emmanuel up so that Daniel sees his brother fully in the moonlight.
    Emmanuel is dressed for this night.  His clothes are tight and dark.  His face sits tall and proud in the pale light. His eyes, the palest blue in the sun, are deep ocean blue.   They're almost black.  His satchel is wrapped around his back like the most experienced traveler.  Emmanuel looks almost magical, like he's being blessed by the power that guides the stars.  In this moment, his brother seems a small king.
    Mulberry stomps.
    “My brother, you look young.  I cannot deny that.  But you are not overly so in here,” Emmanuel puts two fingers over Daniel's heart.  “And I will see you again, probably not at home, but definitely at Edgewater.  It is a place for reunions, where the land keeps back the raging sea.”
    “You know I have never been.”
    “And you know I have only heard of it.  Uncle Ray will tell you.  Others in our family will lead you there.”  Emmanuel leans over, an awkward thing to do on horseback, and hugs his brother once more.  This time light and brief.  “I love you Daniel.  It won't be long before we tell stories of our own together again.  Can you imagine what Dad will have to say?”
    “No.  I can’t.” Daniel says softly.
    “Kongerei, Emmanuel.”
    Emmanuel, eager to leave, says the same.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.