Castle Roland

Tears of the Dragon Boy

by Ricky


Chapter 1

Published: 18 April 14

Tears of the Dragon Boy

An image

The Stones

"How about this one?" Bimeny asked for the fourth time.

"That one’s got a bug in it, stupid!" Mantu said, losing patience with his little brother.

Picking the stones for your Stormtraub was serious business for a child about to be made a man by the storm. If you don’t have the right combination of stones when the lightning strikes and imbues you with your blessing, it may not be one! You may end up as a manure cultivator or something worse. Mantu wasn’t going to be pushed into doing anything reckless, and certainly not by his nagging brother.

Bimeny, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to get back home. Sitting and waiting while his brother looked through mountains of stones gathered at this market was worse than boring. Bimeny had most of his stones already, and he didn’t go to Stormtraub for nearly two storms yet. He didn’t have too much faith in the store-bought stones anyway. Unless, that is, they jump out at you when you walk by. See, that’s the way it was supposed to happen. You were supposed to go to Stormtraub with stones that caught your attention, or just kind of jumped out at you, when they caught your eye.

This mind-numbing stone examination was not what the Elders had intended. And besides, the storm has a mind of its own. It may not interpret your stones the same way you do. Even with the very best stones, you may still come away with a different blessing than you intended. No record was ever kept, showing the results of the different combinations of stones, and there was much speculation as to whether or not they had any influence at all, over the type of blessing you could receive.

"So," Bimeny said, "Elder Gandoo says that the bug’s energy would be yours too." He then closed his eyes and placed fingers on each temple before reciting mystically, "All within, and all according to the color and intensity." Bimeny gave an impish grin, before adding, "And you’ll have to admit this is really a pretty one."

"Shut up and stop nagging me!" Mantu snapped. "This is my future, not yours, so let me pick the stones. You’re too little anyway. What would you know; you don’t go to Stormtraub for two more seasons."

"But you’ve been looking for hours, and this is our third trip. The market is going to close. If you don’t choose your stones, we won’t have time to purify them before we go to the mountain for Stormtraub," Bimeny pleaded.

"The market is open late all this week because Stormtraub is almost here. What do you mean by we? You’re not going!" Mantu retorted.

To think that his mother, Malageth, would even consider sending his younger brother to help him after the storm was unfathomable. What was she thinking? Had she gone senile like his father, Reentu?

"I am going, Mother said so. She said that I would have to perform the ceremony and then tend to you after the storm. She said Pop can’t make the trip because he is too confused, and might have another one of his episodes. Mom can’t go, because she has to stay and tend to him and the animals," Bimeny said.

"We’ll see about that!" Mantu said, as he headed for the door with a determined stride.

"Wait, you haven’t picked all your stones yet," Bimeny said.

"That will have to wait!" Mantu said, "I have to talk to Mom, she just has to be there. You don’t know how to make the soup, or the strengthening potion. If I’m left in your hands, I’ll never come back down the mountain alive!"

"Yes, you will," said Bimeny, as he rushed after his brother. "She’s been teaching me how to say the rite, and what to do. Mother is going to make the strengthening potion before we go, and even I can make the soup. You’ll be fine."

"No way! You’re not coming. It’s my Stormtraub; I’ll say who does what, and I say you’re not coming!" said Mantu as he stepped up his pace.

It was more of a determined footrace than a walk back home for the two brothers. Mantu was the older of the two, and also larger, but he was not the smarter brother.

Bimeny had fair skin, brown curly hair, deep green eyes, and a cute boyish face that easily made him Malageth’s favorite. Although mothers aren’t supposed to have favorites, he was definitely hers.

She loved Mantu also, but he was much bigger than her younger son, and could easily take care of himself. He was also there first, so he knew there would always be a special connection between himself and his mother. Bimeny, on the other hand, was the baby, and would probably remain so until his mother was gone. Although Mantu would probably never admit it, he loved his little brother, too. But therein lies the rub! Bimeny would always be his "little" brother. How could he entrust his life, during a time of incapacity, to a child that he, himself, always had to care for?

Bimeny had a streetwise demeanor; which is to say, that he had a mouth, but lacked the bulk to back it up. His thin build and near five foot height didn’t quite measure up in a fight, and, more often than not, Mantu had to come to his rescue.

Mantu was an active, healthy young man, with a good moral upbringing. He always fought for what was right, and often for the underdog, and usually that was his little brother. It was just his nature. He was nearly six foot tall, and had a strong back. He was a hard worker, and his muscular features reflected it nicely in the sun. It gave his well-defined arms and chest a golden brown tone that pleased the girls, and him too. He had blue eyes, and high cheek bones that were accentuated by his thick lips. His hair was long, straight and sun-bleached golden brown. He was the picture of perfection, and although he tried to be humble, he knew it too.

Both Bimeny and Mantu were now intent on arriving home first, each with their own separate goals: Bimeny, to warn Malageth; Mantu, to keep Bimeny from slanting what he was sure was a winnable argument with Malageth.

"Mother," Mantu pleaded, "Are you really going to send me to Stormtraub in Bimeny’s careless hands? I’ll die for sure!"

"Now, Mantu, your brother is quite capable of performing the rite, and I’m making the strengthening potion ahead of time..." Malageth began.

"But he’s a child!" Mantu yelled in anger, cutting into Malageth’s comment.

"He’s not a child; he’s seen only two seasons less than you. He’ll do fine. With you going to the mountain, someone has to tend to Reentu, the farm and the animals." Malageth paused and took a breath. "I can’t just run off; you’ll have to trust me on this. I wouldn’t send him with you unless I was absolutely sure he could handle it."

"Why can’t Bimeny take care of the animals and Reentu?"

"Because, he is too little to help if Reentu has another one of his spells. He couldn’t even lift him, let alone help him to a bed. Mantu, there is really no other way. Now let me see your stones," Malageth said, taking the stonekeep out of Mantu’s hand.

"I only have seven so far, and you’ve seen them already," Mantu said in complete resignation.

He knew that tone of voice, and it said that this conversation was over. He had lost. He loved and respected his mother, and he knew to push it any further would only escalate the conversation to an argument, and would not change the outcome. He had been there before, and had no wish to revisit it.

"You are running out of time," she said. "You won’t have time to purify them before the ceremony if you don’t hurry up and make a decision," she said, giving him the look.

Mantu looked briefly into those hard, green eyes and then said, "I’m just not sure which way to go. I mean, I don’t like healing. I just look at a cut and get light-headed myself; and if I chose government then I may not like the wisdom teachings, and by then it’s too late to change and...."

"Look!" Malageth said, cutting him off. "There is no saying that you will even be chosen this season. No one knows the mind of the storm. If the stones aren’t right for you then the storm has a way of making things right on its own. Elder Gandoo said the storm sees to the needs of the villages in its own way. Do you think you are the first to go there unsure? Just make a decision and stick to it. Now, off you go, and take Bimeny with you."

Mantu headed back out the door and down the walk towards Haven Plat once again. Bimeny joined him at the end of the walk. Not having been the first one to arrive, he had quietly excused himself when he saw Malageth was not going to give an inch on the issue.

"Told you I was going," Bimeny said in that taunting tone that only a smart-alecky little brother can make.

"Shut up. I have five more stones to get," Mantu said as he punched his brother in the arm, knocking him off the path and into the bushes.

The market was small, but had a good selection of stones that had been cleaned and sorted, by color, into piles. There were a lot of dazed teenagers, frantically looking through piles of colored stones everywhere. Some of the more desirably colored piles had more. Several people were searching through the stones, and some were in obvious disagreement over who saw a particular stone first.

Mantu avoided the piles with too many people looking and returned to the mixed pile of less than perfect stones. For Mantu, it was also a matter of economics. He didn’t have the resources that a lot of others had; he was a country boy, and worked hard for the few coins he had in his pocket. He was better off than many, however; some had to dig in the ground and take what they could get. It was a cinch that the path to Stormtraub would be smooth and absolutely stone free.

"How about this one?" Bimeny asked.

"Don’t be an idiot, that’s a fire opal. First of all, opals bring bad luck unless they are a gift from someone, and second, it’s orange! That’s a color of aggression or action. If I mix that with these stones it could be bad. Look, I am leaning towards being a grower. These are all earth tones. They should make me more adept at making things grow. It is not exactly an aggressive lifestyle, but Hamu will like it better," Mantu said.

"There now, I am at nine; let’s see, I want a red to please the storm..." Mantu mumbled.

"That doesn’t work," Bimeny interjected.

"It does too," Mantu said, and then continued to mumble to himself "...and a deep blue that should give me control of water, and that nice fat pretty yellow one, there..."

Bimeny cut him off sharply, "That’s the one I gave you earlier, and you said I was stupid because it had a bug in it."

"So!" Mantu said, like it was his idea, "Maybe I’ll have power over the bugs too."

Bimeny started to say, "But that’s what...."

Mantu was too fast for him, "Just shut up. I know what I’m doing. There, an even twelve, I’m all set," Mantu said.

"Well, it’s about time. I have to go pay for mine; then I’ll be ready to go," Bimeny said smartly.

"Pay for yours? You don’t go for two seasons yet," Mantu said.

"Yeah, like I want to be here in the last hours still looking for the perfect ones, just like you! No way, I’ve got eleven of mine now, and two seasons to pick the last one."

"So what did you finally decide that you want to be?" Bimeny asked Mantu as he gave the storekeeper his money.

"I’m still not sure," Mantu said, as he also gave the clerk his coins for the stones.

"You can never make up your mind. I want to be a commander in the guard; no root picking for me."

"Let’s see what you have then," Mantu demanded.

"Oh, like I walk around Haven Plat with them all in my pocket. All I have are these four that I just picked out. See, I took the fire opal. Here’s a red carnelian. I’ve never seen one this deep red. And this beautiful tiger eye," Bimeny said proudly.

"Those are powerful stones. You meld those three alone and you could be gifted with the ability to start a war in a knitting circle," Mantu said knowingly.

"If I want to be a commander in the Guard, then it sounds like I’ve got the stones for the job. Besides, I’ve got two seasons to trade them out if I find better ones. You’re supposed to pick the ones that stand out to you; the ones that call out to you; or the ones that come to you naturally in life. The stones are supposed to pick you," Bimeny said.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Mantu said. "I’ve heard it all before, but I’m not taking any chance of coming up short, or ending up with something I don’t like. It would be just my luck to come up with a combination that would make me some kind of mold inspector, or maybe a fertilizer fermentation specialist. I don’t believe that stones can think, let alone be drawn to you."

"But that’s what the elders say, and I believe them."

"You would, you’re just a kid!"

"I may be just a kid, but I’m grown up enough to know that they know more than me, and they don’t lie. If they did, then their standing with the townspeople would disappear pretty quickly."

"Well, what about Prutac?" Mantu fired back at him. "He trusted the stones. Look how he turned out, a corn charmer!"

"Well, so what. The storm could have passed him up altogether, and then where would we be during a famine? We need a corn charmer, and he doesn’t seem to mind. Besides, he looks pretty good in yellow and green," Bimeny said, grinning.

"That’s because he’s not much smarter than the corn he charms," Mantu said.

"You’re just jealous because Halgreth likes him more than you."

"She does not!" Mantu said, grabbing his little brother by the tunic and pulling him up, nose to nose. "She has agreed to accept my promise, not Prutac’s."

"Right. I’ll believe that when I see it. Did her dad agree to it, too?" Bimeny asked.

"Well, no, not yet," Mantu said, letting his brother back down, "But he’s coming over for dinner tonight to talk about it. Oh! That’s today, we gotta go!"

The boys raced the rest of the way home. Mantu went straight up to his room to get ready. Malageth called to Bimeny to help in the kitchen. He was drained, from the double trip into town, and not really into the task at hand. His mind was on his stones.

"What do I really want to be blessed as?"

"Bimeny, pay attention or you’ll burn the soup!" Malageth shouted. "I’m counting on you to be your brother’s storm partner, and he’s counting on you as well, and if you can’t do something as simple as stirring the soup...."

"Yes, Mother," Bimeny said, as he started stirring the soup again. "I’m sorry, I...I’ll pay more attention. It’s just that I have to wait for so long for my turn. The storm may not pick him anyway. He put stones together that are not in his nature. He picked them for their purpose, instead of picking the ones that called to him. At least I have stones that chose me."

"That belief may not be as sacred to him as it is for you. And there’s no guarantee that they will add up to what he believes anyway. In a way, he did pick them because they called to him. He just didn’t necessarily pick the first ones that called to him," Malageth said in a justifying manner.

"I hope he gets blessed by the storm and comes home a carrot charmer."

"Bimeny!" Malageth said as she continued to set out the silver and the good glasses.

"Well, it would serve him right," Bimeny said, "trying to fool the storm like that, it’s a bad idea; and besides...I like carrots."

"It’s not right to wish something on someone you know they would hate. You know he wants to be a horse charmer."

"That was last week; this week he is talking about a grower’s blessing. He said it will make Halgreth’s father like him more," Bimeny said, looking up at the ceiling and batting his eyes in mock of Mantu.

"It’s still not nice to wish upon him something you know he won’t like," Malageth said, now changing to that motherly tone.

"I know; I’m sorry, it’s just that everything comes to him so easily, and he’s just so tense about it all, he’s getting on my nerves. Why can’t he just trust in the storm, and trust in the stones? I know that when it’s my time to attend the storm, that I’ll be ready no matter what. I’ve already got eleven of my stones, and I’ve still got two seasons to go."

Malageth smiled, "You say that now, but just wait until it’s your turn. You will be just as nervous. Its outcome determines the rest of your life! And some do die, from the blessing itself; not a lot, but some, even so. It’s a very difficult time, and your brother just has high expectations. I just hope he can live with whatever the storm decides for him. It’s been our way for centuries. The storm seems to know what’s best for the community."

"I just hope he likes carrots," Bimeny said under his breath, through his impish grin.

"They will be here any minute," she said. "Finish setting the table and use the good plates. Mantu is going to ask him for permission. Then, if his storm attends him well, he will be set to promise and move into Grandfather’s old house up on the hill. I’ve got to fix my hair."

"What if he turns out to be a carrot charmer?" Bimeny asked with a straight face.

"Bimeny, stop it!" Malageth said. "Oh, look, they’re here; they’re coming up the walk, get Mantu."

"Alright, but he better have a plan," Bimeny said.

"I want you to take your dinner in the kitchen. Your brother is nervous enough without you being there. And after you eat, start a fire in the pit out back, and get some water to start purifying your brother’s stones. You can do yours at the same time."

"Okay, I’ll do it," Bimeny said as he returned to the kitchen. "I don’t really want to sit through all that anyway," Bimeny mumbled. Malageth removed her apron and headed for the front door.

"Hamu, Halgreth, welcome, Stormtraub."

"Thank you and Stormtraub to you and your household. May it bring you the blessings that you desire," Hamu said as he took Malageth’s hand and gently kissed it and smiled.

Halgreth was a pretty girl, with long brown hair; which she kept up in a braid. Her hands showed that she worked hard, but she had a gentle constitution about her that Mantu found irresistible. She was a season younger than Mantu, but a good bit more mature. She had been the woman of the house since her mother died giving birth to her little sister, Mellith.

Hamu was a hard worker and a good father, as well as a good provider. Not just for his family, but for the town as well. He was a corn farmer, and that fact made him favor Prutac for obvious reasons. His build was sufficient to make his word law, and everyone knew it, family and friends alike. He had green stains on his overalls that made him look almost like he was blessed himself, as a corn charmer.

Mantu was a hard worker and was well built. Much more so than Prutac, whose father was the innkeeper. Prutac’s waistline showed that he spent too much time in the dining room. For Halgreth, there was no contest. She was head over heels in love with Mantu. All she could see were his high cheekbones, and those massive blue eyes and dark brown hair on top of what she plainly found to be a most exciting frame.

The trouble was to make Hamu think past the corn, to the grandchildren.

Mantu entered the room and saw Halgreth; he felt a lurch in his heart as he sized her up. She was wearing a beautiful patchwork dress that her grandmother had made for her. She filled it very nicely, too. She placed her right hand on top of his left; he placed his right hand behind his back, and walked her to the chair next to where her father was to be seated and then he pulled out her chair for her. He was the perfect gentleman.

"Please, Hamu, take the seat here at the head of the table. Reentu has eaten and is taking his nap. Perhaps he will join us after dinner. He is not himself, and we ask your pardon for his absence," Malageth said as she pulled his chair out, and then prepared to sit to his left.

"There is no need to ask my pardon, Malageth. We all know he is not as sharp as he once was. No fault there, it’s times way of making us alright with our infirmities. I guess it doesn’t hurt quite as much today, if you can’t remember it hurting yesterday, too. Besides, it’s not like this is a formal dinner asking for my permission to promise, right?" Hamu asked.

Malageth choked politely as she sipped her drink with the last words. As she did, Hamu looked down and saw the good plates, and it suddenly registered with him that it is exactly what he was there for. He looked at Halgreth and then to Mantu. With disgust in his eyes over the lack of propriety, he started to rise from the table. Halgreth looked pleadingly at him.

Mantu reached inside himself for the courage to speak. "Wait!" Mantu said. "I’m sorry; we didn’t give it a lot of thought. Reentu would normally have spoken to you ahead of time, but in his condition.... Please sit and sup with us. I’ll try to explain my intentions, and then, if you want to leave, I will say nothing but thank you for listening. You would normally be expected to make a decision before the evening ended, but in light of the fact that you had no time to think about it, then we will not expect an answer until next week after the storm. Fair enough?" And he held out his hand.

Hamu saw the pleading in his daughter’s eyes. He looked at Mantu’s extended hand. Slowly he took it in his and shook it firmly; Mantu’s hand almost disappearing in Hamu’s massive fist. And Hamu said, "Fair enough," as he sat back down.

Halgreth exhaled deeply, a slight smile appearing on her face as she placed her hand gently on her father’s.

Malageth wasted no time in serving the soup; a vegetable stock with rabbit that Mantu shot with his bow. Mantu was pretty good with a bow. Reentu was a renowned hunter and marksman. He raised his sons to hit what they aimed at. Halgreth would never go hungry with Mantu, and would always be protected. Malageth was hoping that this would be another point in Mantu’s favor. After all, it was widely known that Prutac couldn’t even kill a chicken in the kitchen.

"Mantu shot the rabbits with his bow this morning," Malageth said.

Hamu’s eyes met hers and he smiled and said, "Hunting rabbit with a bow is challenging, but Mantu has won just about every match he has ever entered, hasn’t he?"

"Uhm.... Actually, I have won every one of them, I’ve never lost." Mantu said firmly and yet quietly.

"Yes, well, I am sure that food and protection would always be assured with you."

Halgreth beamed at this. Her father paid Mantu a compliment and smiled. "This is a positive sign," she thought.

Hamu wasn’t blind to the affections of his daughter; over all, he liked Mantu. Mantu was always well mannered, and respectful, and whenever he saw him working, he was giving it his all. Hamu remained at odds with his father, however. Reentu favored livestock over farming, and being next door to each other over the seasons had its problems. Hamu thought it was a waste of land to pasture instead of farming it, and when Reentu’s livestock broke through the fence, they damaged his crops. During the summer, when the wind shifted just right, Reentu’s pig pen was also very noticeable at Hamu’s house. For this, he had held some resentment against Reentu. Reentu was always quick to make it right, but it irritated Hamu nonetheless. He had been invited over for dinner only a few times over the seasons, and that was usually tied to some unpleasant event; like Reentu’s cattle getting out and trampling an acre of corn, or something similar.

Hamu ate the soup heartily. His daughter was an excellent cook, but he missed his wife’s dinner skills. The skills that came with age, and Malageth had that touch. Although she was Reentu’s wife, and had two boys on the verge of manhood, she had retained her beauty longer than most. Her beauty was accentuated by her maturity, and regardless of his decision, he would be grateful for the dinner and for the company that he was having this evening. Although he had no intentions that were not completely honorable, he didn’t mind having supper with Mantu’s mother. Had Reentu passed on, it might have been a completely different evening. But his honor and respect would not allow him to entertain such thoughts, for more than a moment.

Mantu saw that Hamu was full and quite satisfied. He seized the opportunity to start his pitch.

"Hamu, my feelings for Halgreth run deep and true. I go to storm next week and my wish is to...ah, charm...horses. I have chosen stones that I think will give me what I desire. If the storm is willing, then I would take over Reentu’s land. If you granted permission then we would be family. I would like to join with you, and pasture my livestock on your land." At this Hamu’s eye’s grew large and his nostrils started to flare. Mantu saw it and continued. "In return, I would help you sow crops on our land. The livestock have fertilized our land well. You could grow anything there, and it would give your land a rest, and my livestock would fertilize your land in return. If we rotated every few seasons then we would both prosper."

At that, Hamu relaxed. This young man had a good proposition, one that Hamu had not even considered. And Reentu’s land was slightly larger than his. It was not only richly fertilized, but it was bigger too. Hamu had always wanted Reentu to plant crops, but this was a very interesting idea. And the livestock grazing on his land would fertilize his fields as well. And as family, he was sure to have meat at butchering season.

"What if the storm has other ideas for you?" Hamu asked. "What then?"

"No one knows for sure what blessings, if any, the storm may give, but even if it passes me over, my offer stands, and I can hunt and I can plant. I will make your daughter happy and provide for her, I swear," Mantu said, looking Hamu directly in the eyes.

Hamu didn’t really need the time to think it over, but waiting would cost him nothing.

"I believe you," Hamu said. "I will give you my answer when you come down from the mountain. I am not worried about if or how the mountain blesses you; I know you work hard and can provide for my daughter. The storm passed me over and I have done well enough for myself and my family. I don’t place as much belief in the storm as others. But you have given me a great deal to think about. It should be considered carefully and completely. There is a lot involved. But know that I am thinking favorably about you. It took courage to continue when you saw I had no idea why I was here, and you handled yourself well, and your proposition is both generous and honorable."

"Why don’t you go walk with my daughter? I can see she is waiting to get you alone. I will have tea with your mother and speak to her for a while. Just keep in mind, I have not yet said yes," Hamu said, taking a sip of tea from his cup and giving a little wink to his daughter.

At that, Mantu and Halgreth stood, and hand in hand, left the room for the front porch.

Hamu looked at Malageth. "You knew about this?"

"The dinner? Yes. The plan? A surprise to me. Quite a good idea, if you ask me," replied Malageth. "I’m rather proud of him. I think I sat down to sup with my young son and stood from my dinner to find he had grown into a man right in front of me."

"And how do you feel about it?" Hamu asked.

"I think it will benefit both of us. Mellith can spend some time with her sister and me while you’re planting and tending. The real question is; can you live with my cooking when you are here."

"The food is something to look forward to, dear lady. This was a spectacular meal. And how do you think Reentu will feel about it? He does still have lucid moments, doesn’t he?" Hamu asked discretely.

"He has good days and bad days. I will speak to him on the next occasion when he is most like himself, but I am sure he will be in favor. He knows how much the children are in love," Malageth said reassuringly.

Hamu and Malageth continued to sit and drink their tea, giving the kids time to be alone.

"I have always admired you, and Reentu of course, for being good people and raising good children. You have been very good neighbors. When our children are promised to each other, we will be family. If I can ever be of assistance, I will be there...for you," Hamu said quietly, looking from his tea cup to her eyes and back to his tea cup.

"Thank you," Malageth said, placing her hand on his arm and smiling, "I may just take you up on that someday. Reentu has fewer good days now than bad. I fear his time with us is not long. You and I each have one more child to raise. I think we will be working closely as our families come together. It’s good to know we are of the same mind," Malageth finished quietly.

"Very well, then," Hamu said as he stood to leave. "Dear woman, I thank you for the wonderful dinner, as well as your company. You know, even in school, he was always the luckier of the two of us. It is most unfortunate that Reentu has fallen into this condition," Hamu said, giving her a glance and smiling. She returned the smile and took his upper arm with her two hands and started to walk him to the door.

At that moment they were interrupted.

"What’s he doing here? Did the cattle get out again? I told Mantu to fix that fence," said Reentu querulously.

He apparently woke up from his nap. She released Hamu’s arm immediately.

"No, Reentu, we invited him here to discuss Mantu and Halgreth. Remember Reentu?" Malageth said with a slight smile.

"Oh yes, yes, I remember now. Hamu, I would like to invite you to sup with us. You probably haven’t noticed it, but our kids are pretty fond of each other. Will you come?"

Hamu looked to Malageth and then back to Reentu and smiled. "Sure, sure I will. You just send for me when it’s time, old friend," He turned and walked out the door.

Halgreth and Mantu were standing in the shadow of the porch. They were looking deeply into each other’s eyes.

"It’s time to go," Hamu said, after clearing his throat, "If you’re going to kiss him, you’d better get on with it. It’s late and we have to be up with the corn," and he walked to the end of the walkway to give them some final moments of privacy.

Being the dutiful daughter, Halgreth took great pleasure in finishing the evening with great zeal, until her father cleared his throat loudly again and threw her a backward glance, as if to say, "let’s not overdo it." She left Mantu’s embrace and skipped down the stairs, taking her father’s arm, as Malageth had, and then she leaned her head against his shoulder and they strolled out of sight.

Mantu went into the house; Malageth had just returned from helping Reentu.

"What do you think?" Mantu asked.

"I think it was brilliant. You addressed your needs and desires, took away any concern that Prutac may have caused, and made an impressive pitch that I think he will take. In short, I think you did great, and I think Reentu will be proud." Malageth said with a smile.

"Not only will he have more land to sow crops on, but now we don’t have to pay when the livestock get out and trample them. It will make Hamu help watch the livestock as they are closer to his house, so we will in effect have another hand to keep an eye on things. Let’s just hope he sees the value of the fertilizer before he smells it," Mantu said as he rolled his eyes.

They both laughed as Malageth cleared the table and started washing the dishes.

"I’ll dry," Mantu said sweetly. "Thanks for making that wonderful dinner. I think it softened him up quite a bit. Reentu always told me that a man with a full belly seldom wants to fight, and your soup was very disarming."

"Oh, Mantu stop, you’re embarrassing me. And besides, your little brother made the soup," Malageth quipped.

"Not possible, that little twerp," snapped Mantu.

"It’s true enough. I’ve been teaching him for some time now, so he can go with you to Stormtraub. He will do you right when the time comes. You could be a little more appreciative and a lot less nasty to him. You know as well as I do, that it is no fun waiting, and a lot of work afterwards. And he doesn’t have to do it, you know," Malageth said pointedly.

"I know; it’s just...I have to fight for everything, and to him, it all comes so easily. It’s just not right," Mantu said in despair.

"That’s funny. I seem to have had a very similar conversation with him, not long ago. Have you started your purification yet?" Malageth asked.

"Oh! Gosh, no, I have to get on it now," Mantu said.

"Go, I’ll finish up here," Malageth said with a wry smile. "I had Bimeny start a fire for you and he was kind enough to fetch some water for you too. He’s out back tending it."

"I guess I have been a little hard on him; still..." and Mantu was out the door with his stonekeep in hand.

He walked out back and saw Bimeny stoking a fire under a small kettle of water. The sun was down already and the first of the two moons were just barely visible behind Bimeny. His silhouette made him look like he had a rather large halo. Mantu stopped for a moment to take in the evening, and all its events, and to think how he had treated his little brother, especially over the last few days.

"Hey, Bimeny," Mantu said casually.

"Hey, how did it go? Did he grant permission?" Bimeny asked quickly.

"No, but just as well. He will, when I come back after Stormtraub," Mantu replied.

"What if you’re a radish charmer when you come down?" Bimeny asked.

"I won’t be, and he said it didn’t matter. The storm passed him up completely both seasons," Mantu said, grinning, and quietly looking over his shoulder to make sure he wasn’t overheard.

"NO WAY! He’s unblessed! I thought for sure he was a corn charmer too. I just figured that since they made another one, Hamu was going to croak this season or they just wanted to store extra crops," Bimeny said in a loud whisper.

"Bimeny! That’s a thoughtless and horrible thing to say," Mantu chided.

"Well, he is old," Bimeny said matter of factly.

"Not very! He has a lot of good seasons left in him, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Hey, uh...thanks for making the fire and stuff. And I reckon I owe you. Malageth says you made the soup. I think it really helped soften him up. It was really good soup, too. Maybe you’ll get blessed as a great cook," Mantu said.

"You’re right, you owe me and, thanks, but no offense, I can cook pretty well, now. If I am going for a blessing, then let it be something I don’t know how to do already. That seems like it would be a wasted blessing. It would be like you getting a bowman’s blessing. You’re already the best bowman anyone around here has ever seen. What would you gain?" Bimeny said.

"I see your point. What do you want for your blessing?" Mantu asked.

"I don’t know. I am sorta leaning towards letting the stones decide." Bimeny said casually.

"What! You mean, just pick up any old rock that catches your eye funny?" Mantu asked.

"Yep," Bimeny replied as he stuffed more wood on the fire.

"What if you end up as a toad blesser?" Mantu asked with a frown on his face.

"Then I’ll know that the community is going to need warts, and I’d start raising them the next day," Bimeny said with an evil grin. "Besides, you don’t really have a choice. The storm can bless you however it wants, regardless of the stones you choose."

"Seriously, you could be happy as a toad farmer?" Mantu asked with a serious look on his face.

"No, but there are worse things than just raising toads," Bimeny said.

"Like what?" Mantu asked.

"Well, for me, a vegetable blessing would not make me happy in the least. I want to work with things that move. At least it would be interesting. I mean, walking around being able to produce okra from your fingertips might be a good trick for a day or two, but not for a lifetime. Being a guard would be kinda cool, or even a horse charmer," Bimeny explained.

"Wow, you’ve really thought about this, haven’t you?" Mantu said, as he was wondering if maybe he had missed a step someplace.

"Well, watching you suffer through this has really brought it to light for me. I mean, I don’t want to be sitting there the night before I leave for Stormtraub, purifying my stones," Bimeny said, with just a hint of condescension in his voice.

"Uh, yeah, speaking of that, I better get to it. Thanks for the fire," Mantu said.

Bimeny took the opportunity to purify his stones, as well. "They can’t be too purified," he said, as he tossed his stonekeep in the pot to be boiled with Mantu’s, even though his Day of Stormtraub was still two seasons away.

The boys joked around until the stones had been boiled and buried in black cloth in the ground. Such was the purification rite.

But neither will sleep well tonight. They leave for Stormtraub tomorrow. And regardless of what happens, life will be different. And Mantu could die.

Next Chapter