Fiction Friday – 21 December 2007
This Week’s Theme: What happens when your character is dragged to a Solstice celebration?
I love the smells at this time of year. When the nights are cold and still, the air seems so pure, so perfect. There are no clouds to smother us – we can see the heavens in all their glory. I love to gaze at the wonders above, the bright lights that surround us and guide us. And sometimes, when I watch them, I like to think that the gods can see me, and might answer my prayers.
The fires are at their peak, embracing us all with their warmth. I keep my back to it so that the bright embers and the smoke don’t obscure my view of the stars. I can feel the warmth at my back, but still I shiver, and pull my cloak further around me. Tonight we celebrate our victories, and the mighty gods who favour us. Midwinter is upon us, but we celebrate the passing of the shortest day joyously, ignoring the cold, the snow and the dark. For soon will be the springtime. Time for hunting, for war. And love.
“Praxus, my brother, drink with me, come drink with me!” I stiffen at the powerful hands that grab me by the shoulders from behind, but relax on hearing the loud baritone of Triphtus, my blood brother and childhood friend. He wraps his right arm around my shoulders and presses the drinking cup into my hands, half-embracing me and half-supporting himself on me.
“To you Triphtus, victory, glory and the spoils are yours.” I raise the cup and take a sip of the spicy ale. Too powerful for my liking, it catches the back of my throat and I begin to cough. Triphtus laughs, and pats my back. “Oh come now Praxus, more than that, more than that my brother. Take a long sup, for we are warriors.” He turns to others around the fire and roars “We are MEN!” They raise their cups and cheer loudly. “Praxus! Drink Praxus!” I gulp down a mouthful, and manage to keep it down. It burns my throat but begins to warm me.
“You are a warrior Triphtus. I’m not.” I hand the cup back to him and look down at the ground. “I don’t even know what I’m doing here, I don’t belong, the Grundhama is for warriors, not bards. I’m just entertainment.” Triphtus releases me from his bear hug and pulled his plumed helmet off, revealing a dark blue eye, and another milky white, the red lines of a scar above and below showing where a sword had robbed him of the darker hue.
“Praxus, you have always been my friend. I don’t care that you did not become a warrior. Others may have abandoned friends during their transition, but I’m not like that. You know that. Warrior, mage, bard, artisan or serf – a friend is a friend, regardless. Especially tonight.” He put his arm back around my shoulder and looked up. “They would think less of me I am sure, if I turned my back on my friends. Especially those I owe my life to.”
I smile weakly. I know it is not really my caste that has put me ill at ease tonight. Bards are welcome at all celebrations, after all. Who else will recite the tales of past heroes, and create the tales of our present champions? Who else but the bard will sing their praise, and record their name for history? Triphtus knows it too.
“Walk with me Praxus.” We step out together, further from the circle of warmth cast by the fires. Triphtus walks with an assured and steady manner, solid and bold. No staggering, no swaying. “You have sobered up quickly my friend.” He smiles indulgently at me. “You will notice that when I insist that people drink with me, I always pass them the cup first…”
I follow the implication and laugh. “Very sly Triphtus.”
“There is a brain in here as well! You aren’t the only one who is clever brother.”
We both pause, and in the distance I can hear the men singing a lusty rendition of an old ballad. Triphtus softly hums along before the song degenerates into hoots of laughter and shouting.
Triphtus sighs and punches me on the shoulder playfully. “Well my friend, you aren’t singing and you aren’t drinking, so what is troubling you. The Solstice is for all of us. We should enjoy it while we can, for one day we will all be dead.”
“True, but we won’t be forgotten.” I nod my head towards the men dancing around the fire. “They sang of Krolas and Dybrentia there. For how many generations have we sang that song? It was ancient when my grandfather was a boy. We don’t forget Krolas.” I punch his shoulder in return. “Nor will we forget Triphtus, and how he stood against a horde of Mylokan raiders and saw them off. No, we will all die, but some will live forever. In stories, and song.”
“Thanks to bards like you my friend, thanks to you!” His grin and laugh are infectious, but my soul resists.
“Your deeds will never be forgotten, nor will the song. But who remembers the bards? Who will remember me? I’m no-one? Just a teller of tales and a singer of songs. Not strong, not important, and not worthy…”
Triphtus drew his sword. The blade glinted in the moonlight. “With this, I can kill a man. One man at a time. But that is all the sword can do. There will come a time” and at this he sheathed the sword. “When the mages will make swords irrelevant. When the bards will make swords worthless. I see a time coming Praxus when words will win wars before they are declared, when stories will move entire peoples, touch their very hearts, and be more powerful than a thousand swords.” He pointed to the north sky. “When last that star came past, do you recall? It was the Council of the Seven Kings. When seven thousand swords were pointed at the hearts of the seven nations. But what stopped it? You Praxus. Your words, to one king, which passed to another, and another. You have a gift my friend. Some day bards will not just tell stories of the past. They will make the stories of our futures.”
“Perhaps. Someday.” Triphtus cheered me in no small measure, but he could tell my heart was still heavy. He looked back towards the fire. The warriors were still boisterous, but now they had an audience. The ladies had joined the celebrations.
“Perhaps a pretty face will cheer you more Praxus. Prettier than mine eh? Look, look! Agatta has joined the others!” My eyes darted to where his fingers pointed. Agatta. I did not even have the presence of mind to try to hide the smile as I saw her.
Triphtus shook his head. “Bard, will you not talk to her?” I flushed, and thanked the cold night for hiding it. “I would have nothing to say. She is… above me. She wants a warrior, not a bard.”
“And are you a woman now Praxus that you can say what a woman does and does not want? Perhaps Agatta can tell us?”
“You know what I mean Triphtus! She is an Aelythian. How can a bard hope to… she would want someone strong, who can fight, and conquer. Not a dreamer of words. I can offer nothing.”
His eyes narrowed, and Triphtus shook me hard. “Nothing to offer? Praxus, you have your words, your heart, your talent. A warrior might turn a woman’s eye, but a sword cannot turn a heart. Only thought, and words, and soul and passion can do that, and who has more of that than you?”
“I… wouldn’t know what to say to her. I fear it would all come out wrong.”
“Begin with a story, you are good at stories Praxus. Tell here a tale. Of you. Of your deeds. Show her that a bard can be a warrior too. Tell her the true story of how Triphtus lost his eye and gained a scar. Of the ambush that almost killed him. Of the bard who fought to save his friend’s life. Show her strength, not just in body but in mind and heart and soul.” His broad smile broke across his face again. “By the gods just talk to her Praxus, and be happy. For one night, don’t tell the story of others. Create a story for yourself.”
“You could almost be a bard yourself Triphtus.”
“As I said, there is a brain here too. It was only chance, sheer luck in the transition that saw you a bard and I a warrior. We might have traded places, once upon a time. Now go Praxus, while the Solstice is here. The gods favour us all tonight. Go create your own once upon a time.”
With a final slap on the shoulder he turns and walks away, breaking into a swaying swagger as he approaches the fireside once more, roaring his appreciation to the others. I look to one of the other fires, and there, standing amongst the other women, is Agatta. And with my mind whirling with the words I want to tell her, I approach the fire.