With another bow, Naruahn spread his hands wide and began. “Ten summers ago, in a land far away, a shamai lord and a ruahk lady welcomed their fourth son into the world. Their first three boys had each been shamais, but from the moment that the mother looked upon her newborn son, she knew that he would be a ruahk like she. The lady’s name was Eruahna, the daughter of Tiruahk and Leruahna, and the lord was Oshamait, the son of Oshamait and Hashamaila. The babe received the name of Naruahn.”
Naruahn paused. “Did I do that part right, High Guardian Ruahklon?” he asked. “The genealogy bit?”
“Quite proper,” Ruahklon said. “A shamai boy couldn’t have done it better.”
Naruahn beamed. “Thank you, master. Well, then, the real story started about two weeks ago. Or actually, it kind of started last year when I first got my ruahk powers, and before that, it started when my brothers got their shamai abilities. Osh and Nish and Kesh – they’re my brothers, they’re actually Oshamait the younger, Nishamail, and Keshamait, but that’s too long to say every day – anyway, they’d had always ignored me before, but once they got their powers they found that they couldn’t use them on each other very well, but they could use them on me because I couldn’t block them. And they knew that I wasn’t going to be a shamai, so I was different anyway and they didn’t have to do the whole ‘be nice to others in your alignment’ thing that father always taught us.
“So from the time they got their powers, they made me steal food for them from the kitchen, and poured water in the hallway outside my door and froze it so I’d slip, and they’d talk me into climbing up the tallest tower and then they’d lock the door behind me so I’d be out there all night long, and other stuff like that. Worse, I couldn’t tell father what they were doing, because if I did they would know that I had, because they’re all shamais!”
Naruahn let out a long frustrated breath and looked at Ruahklon. The old man wasn’t asleep, which was a good sign, and he didn’t even seem annoyed the way that Osh or Nish or Kesh did when Naruahn tried to tell them something. The old man just made a small motion with his hand for the boy to continue, which he did eagerly.
“I thought that everything would be different after I got my powers. I wouldn’t just be the pre-mage baby anymore; I’d be a mage like them and I’d be able to do things that none of them could. But when I got my powers, they made me swear by the Balance not to pop them anywhere they didn’t want to go or steal their things with my ruahk-touch or else they’d talk me into walking into the Highwater River and drowning myself. They were probably bluffing, now that I think about it, since father would have been real mad if they’d actually hurt me, but I wasn’t sure at the time, so I promised.
“I even tried being nice to them, the way my mother wanted me to. I’d run errands for Osh and pop Kesh’s books over from the library if he forgot them and when any of them wanted to, I’d lift them up five feet over the deep part of the Highwater River then let them go so they could make huge cannonball splashes. But they still hated me. They said I was a stupid chatterbox and that I wasn’t worth their time.”
At the memory, Naruahn’s eyes grew hot with angry tears. “I tried so hard, High Guardian! I really did! But it just made it worse. Even though I had my powers, I still wasn’t able to block out their shamai-touch. I’ve always been bad at it, and having three of them around made it impossible. They kept convincing me to do things that I knew were a bad idea, and then they’d make sure that I got in trouble so they could laugh about it. My father was so happy when my six months at home was over last year.
“I was sure that this year things would be better,” Naruahn continued. “After all, I’m ten now, and I had a year more experience with using my ruahk-touch, and I was sure that I could somehow show my brothers that I’m just as good as they are. But they didn’t seem to think anything had changed.”
Naruahn scowled. “The first thing they did when I got home two weeks ago was to set up a race, no popping allowed. That was fine, because I’ve always been a good runner. I’m not as fast as Nish, but I’ve been able to beat Osh for years. But once we were all running, Kesh pulled water from a nearby horse trough and dumped it on my head! And then Osh made it all freeze so that I couldn’t move until they had all gotten to the finish line! It was so not fair, and I was so mad that I didn’t talk to them at all the next day.”
Ruahklon made a sympathetic noise, then gestured again for Naruahn to continue.
“All I wanted to do was beat them at their own game,” the boy explained. “Win a contest so that they would know that I wasn’t useless, and that I’m just as much of a mage as they are, and that I have just as much right to live in that castle as they do. I wanted to beat them with ruahk powers, and watch their faces as they realized that they can’t do what I can do. I wanted to make them look…” Naruahn stopped, his face growing red as he realized what he had almost said.
“Like fools?” Ruahklon asked.
“Maybe,” Naruahn muttered. He kicked at the dirt at his feet. “I wanted them to see what it felt like, for once. So then maybe they’d stop picking on me.”
“They wouldn’t have,” Ruahklon said softly. “You would have just made them angry, and the tricks they played on you would have worsened.”
“How do you know that?” Naruahn asked.
Ruahklon didn’t answer, but gave a sad smile and motioned with a long finger. “Go on,” he said.
“Well, I spent days thinking about how to solve my problems, and then it hit me, the way that they say that Haesh’s Trace hits aeshes, only I guess it wasn’t really the way to solve my problems in the end, so it wouldn’t have been Haesh’s Trace even if I was an aesh. But anyway,” Naruahn said, taking a deep breath, “I challenged my brothers to a pig-catching contest.”
“A…pig-catching contest,” Ruahklon repeated slowly, as if he was making sure he had heard right.
Naruahn nodded. “I heard about them from Maretziv, Guardian Ritaretz’s apprentice. Apparently, in his family’s holdings, they have them every year to mark the beginning of summer. You take a pig and pour oil on it and let it loose in a big yard, and the first person to catch it wins! But since there were four of us, I decided to use five pigs, and the person who caught the most would win. All powers would be allowed for pig-catching, but not for keeping other people from trying to win. I asked my father’s steward, Master Lishmav – he’s a white-sash shamai, and I think that’s probably why his name’s a bit weird, because he didn’t know any better when he got his powers –”
“The contest, Naruahn,” Ruahklon interrupted.
“Oh, right. The contest. So Master Lishmav agreed to arbitrate and make sure no one cheated. We got down to the pigpen, and I used my ruahk-touch to make the containers of oil that I’d brought with me fly right over the pigs, and I doused them all from snout to tail before they noticed anything was happening.
“But when I started to unlock the gate, Osh refused to go any further. He said it was ‘unbefitting for the firstborn son of a shamai nobleman to run through the muck of a pigpen after swine.’ Or something like that. That’s how he always talks, like he thinks he’s Prince Tirhan or Prince Relnar or something. The others agreed with him, of course, and I asked them where in Cadaeren they had thought the contest was going to happen when they’d agreed to it. Osh said in the training grounds on the far side of the castle, where other contests of strength and magic and arcane trivia knowledge and poetry reciting always happen.”
Naruahn wrinkled his nose. “Father loves poetry. He thinks we should all have books of it memorized by the time we leave home. Which would be now, for me, I guess, but he gave up on me a long time ago. The only poems I’ve memorized are the epics, like the Deeds of Tirhan and–”
“I understand. The contest, Naruahn. Please continue.”
“Yes sir. So I agreed to get the pigs to the training grounds, but the training grounds are inside the outer walls of Castle Oshamait and it’s sort of impossible to get there without going through gardens or through the rooms of the castle, and I knew father would have a fit if I tried to send a herd of oiled pigs through his gardens or through the castle corridors. My brothers knew that, of course. I think they wanted me to either get in trouble by taking the pigs through the castle, or to have to give up on the whole contest. But I wouldn’t. I was a ruahk, I told myself, and there was an easy solution to my problem. I’d just have to move the pigs from their pen to the training ground by magic.”
“And which method of transportation did you select?” Ruahklon asked, steepling his fingers against his mouth, his demeanor suddenly changed to that of a tutor quizzing his student.
“Flight, High Guardian,” Naruahn said. “Because if I had wanted to pop the pigs to the training ground, I would have either needed to get close enough to touch each one, and then make five trips, or I would have had to use horrible amounts of power to pop them all to the training ground at the same time from a distance, and I probably wouldn’t have been strong enough to walk for the rest of the day. Is that right?”
“Theoretically, yes,” Ruahklon said. “You remember my teaching well.”
Naruahn brightened. “Thank you, High Guardian! But I’m afraid it didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. I meant to fly the pigs the shortest distance possible, which was just to the front gate, over it, and straight to the other side of the castle, going around the towers in the middle. And it all started so well! I think my brothers were even impressed, as I held out my hand and with a deep voice declared, ‘Pigs! Arise!’”
Naruahn gestured as he spoke, recreating the dramatic moment.
Ruahklon burst out laughing.
“Forgive me, Naruahn,” the old man finally said, wiping away a tear from the corner of one eye. “Please do continue.”
“You think it’s funny?” Naruahn asked.
“It is a unique mental picture.”
Naruahn thought for a moment, then he grinned as well. “I suppose it is. Not as unique as what happened after, though. As I was saying, I got the pigs into the air real easy, and they were squealing their squealers off and trying to run, but my wind had them fast so they just stayed there in midair with their legs moving a mile a minute, spraying oil in every direction. I guess it was pretty funny, now that I think about it. We actually attracted quite a crowd – the cook, several maids, the gardener and his two sons, and a number of father’s other servants. I don’t think any of them had ever seen a flying herd of pigs before.”
Ruahklon chuckled. “I imagine not.”
“Anyway, we were heading toward the castle, I had a perfectly fine grip on the pigs, and everything seemed to be going well. We approached the castle’s front gate, and I blew the wind a bit harder from underneath the pigs to get them up and over the wall. But…”
Naruahn paused, his face turning red. “I kind of didn’t notice that the torches in front of the castle’s gate were lit. They shouldn’t have been lit! They never get lit until the evening, and they get put out at dawn, and it was mid-afternoon! I guess I should have remembered that father was out hunting that day and that it’s customary to keep the welcome torches lit until the lord of the castle returns, but it’s a stupid rule and the torches shouldn’t have been lit and I don’t know why my brothers wouldn’t even use their shamai powers to help when the pigs caught on fire!”
Ruahklon’s eyes widened. “When the pigs…” he repeated, then pursed his lips. “I see.”
Naruahn looked down and kicked viciously at the dirt. “It was all because of that stupid oil,” he said. “The fire flared when I blew the pigs up and over the gate, but as soon as I saw the fires flare I knew what was happening and I tried to blow it out, and it would have worked, except that it had caught on the oil and so my blowing on it just made it worse and the pigs…ended up… fried.”
“And what happened then?” Ruahklon prompted, after Naruahn had stood for several seconds in silence.
“I had my wind set the cooked pigs down on the road in front of the gate. Our cook was there – I told you that, right? – and he sent for his servants to come help him butcher the pigs. They were only cooked on the outside, so they had to go and take all the meat and get it salted or put on ice pretty quick. And just then, of course, my father came back. And naturally, Kesh had to run up to him and say, ‘Father, you don’t like bacon, do you?’
“And father says, ‘Not particularly, why?’
“‘Because you’re going to have to learn to like it real fast.’
“‘And why would that be?’
“‘Naruahn fried five of our pigs just now. With the torches from the front gate. I think he was trying to show off, and the cook says that we’ll be eating bacon for a week.’ Things went downhill from there. They always do when Kesh gets to father first.”
“And that’s the whole story?” Ruahklon said.
“Almost,” Naruahn said. “Father made me stay in my room for the next week to ‘keep me from burning down the whole castle,’ and he sent you a missive asking if we could come back early, and now here we are.”
Naruahn took a step forward. “So that’s the whole story, High Guardian, like you wanted. Will you let me stay? Please let me stay! I can’t go back to Castle Oshamait for the whole summer. I’d die!”
“Hmm.” Ruahklon stroked his beard a few times, then gestured to the seat next to him. “You’re ten years old, Naruahn?”
“Yes sir,” Naruahn said. He took his seat, unsure of where this conversation was headed.
“I remember when I was ten years old,” Ruahklon began, then shook his head. “Let’s just say I got into more trouble than you did.”
“Really?” Naruahn found that hard to believe.
Ruahklon smiled. “My two brothers and my father were aeshes,” he said. “But you, Naruahn – you’re sure you’re ready to live at the temple for the rest of your apprenticeship? If you take your permanent vows, you won’t be allowed to leave the temple without permission until you become a guardian yourself.”
“I know, High Guardian. I’ll serve you with my life or my death until I reach my sixteenth birthday. And then after that, too.”
Ruahklon chuckled, then patted Naruahn on the shoulder with a touch as light as the breeze. “Good lad. I’ll try not to send you to your death too frequently.” He stood, and Naruahn rose again as well. “I shall go write your father that you’ll be staying. You can get yourself settled in the ruahk quadrant, and then tomorrow you’ll report at first light to help the aretzes and aeshes in the cooking facilities. Understood?”
“Yes sir, but…” Naruahn cocked his head in confusion. “The kitchens? I’ve never worked in the kitchens before.”
“Mmm.” Ruahklon started down the path, his steps slow and careful.
“Is there some particular reason you want me to work in the kitchens?” Naruahn asked, running to catch up.
Ruahklon gave him a sideways look. “It is traditional to bring a gift to the temple when one requests a favor of the high guardian. Your father is a traditional man.”
Naruahn stared at his master for a moment in confusion. Then it dawned on him. “What’s the temple having for breakfast tomorrow?” the boy asked slowly.
A smile twitched on Ruahklon’s lips and his eyes twinkled. “Eggs…”
Naruahn sighed ruefully, then finished the answer in unison with his master.
Copyright A.L. Phillips, 2013