A few weeks passed, the air grew colder, and the next month’s seventeenth was gradually approaching. To suit him for the occasion, Kelin had provided Va’il with an outfit that would keep him from being embarrassed at the gathering. One of Kelin’s own, it needed to be adjusted to Va’il’s size.
“Right arm now,” Mai’ou said. Va’il obliged and extended his arm. He was standing on a box while Mai’ou circled him making various measurements and sticking pins in the clothes.
Va’il was dressed in a long gown of peach color. It was heavily embroidered with gold and silver threads, forming famous scenes on his chest and back. There were mountains in silver, trees in gold, birds in blue, and clouds in gray. If it were laid out, the learned observer would have noticed that it was a scene from twelve-hundred years ago, “Three times less on the eighth plain,” by Ani Onook, an avian artist of the period. It was a celebration of the land itself, and its magnificence was completely wasted on Va’il.
The gorgeous scene took Mai’ou by surprise, but she could only admire it without knowing any of its deeper meanings or particular heritage.
“Okay Va’il, I think we got it. Arms are a bit shorter than Kelin’s are… but he’s older anyways. Look at yourself!” Mai’ou said, holding up a mirror.
“Wow… amazing!” Va’il said. “So, do I look like a noble boy?”
“Strangely enough, silly child, you do,” Mai’ou said while grinning. “Still, I can’t believe all this. And all because he lost the race, really Va’il? And still, are you sure you want to go? They are nobles after all.”
“Yeah. Why not? It sounds fun. Well, even if it isn’t, at least it’ll be interesting. Besides, how much trouble can it be? I can just pretend to be bossy; I’ll fit right in,” Va’il said. Mai’ou couldn’t help but laugh.
“Silly boy. You’ve been associating with Kelin just a bit too much. But more importantly, from what you’ve said there will probably be quite a few of the more powerful nobles there. It sounds like it will be a pretty big gathering. I’m just worried you’ll run into someone you can’t handle.”
“Ha, well in that case I’ll try to keep from talking. Besides, who couldn’t I handle, especially with Kelin around?”
“Darius,” Mai’ou said, a concerned expression appearing.
“He… do you think he will be there?” Va’il asked, realizing what Mai’ou was getting at.
“He certainly might. A lot of people will be showing, up, right? Why wouldn’t the commander appear? And when he does, there is a chance he could spot you. And he might try talking to you. So, I’m a little worried.”
“Mum, he hasn’t come back since then. I don’t think, even if he did see me, he’d do anything. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad just to meet him again anyways. He’s not going to start revealing things in the midst of all those nobles. Besides, he actually is a nice fellow.”
“Yeah, I know. We can’t attack the messenger after all. Well, you’ll be wearing a hat anyways, so I won’t worry.” When alone together, Mai’ou and Va’il no longer had any troubles speaking about their previous ordeal. Neither believed Va’il would have to take the heavy responsibility that others had tried forcing upon him, so after a while they could say silly things casually. However, Mai’ou still had not told Va’il much about her previous life and marriage to Fidel, and Va’il wasn’t keen on asking, this being one matter his curiosity failed him in. Barring that, they were very open with each other.
“It’s avian,” Va’il said suddenly.
“What is?” Mai’ou asked.
“The artwork. See here? The lines of this mountain give it away. I wonder how old this scene is. Doesn’t look like anything famous I know of.” Va’il looked down and around his gown, while Mai’ou just smiled.
To the casual eye, art is simply art. But Va’il’s schooling, the education of Makeen, the large school at the top of the hill in Rising, encompassed much. Being in the capital, Makeen was mainly for those who would hold positions of authority in the nation, even though commoners made up the majority of the student body. Country commoners wouldn’t need scholarly education, so in a sense, Makeen was unique in the nation. Only in the capital was there a school that most children could attend.
Makeen embraced several ideals by being freely open to commoners and nobles alike. As such, they learned everything from artwork to military tactics starting at a young age. Husbandry, archery, fencing, hunting, and martial arts encompassed the non-intellectual pursuits, requirements that would serve any future guard, soldier, or gallant knight well. Due to time constraints, only a minor amount of time was given to teaching basic blacksmithing and general medical aid, both things that would require years of serious tutelage under a master and wouldn’t serve nobles as well as something like hunting would. Stitching, sewing, dyeing, and weaving were taught as well. Intellectual pursuits included mathematics, art, literature, and other items. No matter whether they were looking to be a soldier or a diplomat, Makeen could provide a foundation. Those who were born into certain trades still generally were taught by masters and parents, but enough still took advantage of the optional and additional schooling provided by this school in the capitol, a very recent addition to the city of Rising.
Even a basic foundation in all things was more than what some nobles had, so the commoner children that made up the majority of the school’s populace could appreciate what they’d been given. They could recognize that it could make even a commoner eventually useful to a noble family. And with such a special education, they couldn’t complain about the incomplete, hidden, and missing parts.
True, Va’il had been lax in his absolute concentration on the various studies Makeen had given to him over the years, but he was still at the same level as his peers, until recently. For the past few months, Va’il had paid extra attention to every lesson, lecture, and instruction given to him. He retained information well once he decided on learning something, so month by month his rankings in the school rose. Not by much, but enough to place him around the middle of his peers, most of which were really a year older.
The reason for Va’il’s increased studies and concentration was a deep secret, one that Va’il didn’t fully think of. After his encounter with Darius, and rejecting the kingship, a small nag developed in the back of his mind. Anytime at school when he felt like not doing something or not listening to each important word, the nag would appear and ask, “What kind of knowledge should a king have?” With such a small but significant doubt appearing in his mind every so often, Va’il almost unconsciously started paying attention to things he would have passed on in times past. Though consciously he didn’t want to be king, the feeling that a king would need to be knowledgeable and educated forced him to take account of himself. One could even say he was trying to live up to a parent’s expectations. Of course, with all this extra knowledge and attention, Va’il could at least notice something like the style of another species’ artwork.
“So Va’il, my little prince, your order?” Mai’ou asked playfully, after hearing Va’il’s scholarly thoughts about the work he was wearing.
“Hmm, well, first, it’s time we discuss that marriage agreement with Eason Ar Raign,” Va’il said in a haughty manner, pleased to play along with Mai’ou. Both had touched on subjects that others might consider sore, but for Va’il and Mai’ou they were now both topics for jokes.
“Ah, how I pine for him,” Mai’ou said in a dramatic voice, “but woe keeps me from him. A wife, a wife. Three clawed and two talon’d; how could I commit such a crime?”
“Ha! Mum, you do know some theatre after all,” Va’il said, surprised at Mai’ou’s exact quote of a famous foreign drama. “But it’s kind of interesting, thinking about Eason.”
“Ah, is it now? He hasn’t caused anymore proposal troubles, has he?” Mai’ou asked, smiling.
“Not proposal, adoptions. Part of the reason it’ll be fine that I go to the party is because of him. I have to thank him for this. It turns out that he is the one who adopted this lupus girl I met in Tendal. She will be at the gathering too, so we can stick together while Kelin does noble stuff.”
“Oh really? Just the two of you running around together? A lupus girl you met several months ago? And you seem friendly with her! So, have you just been hiding this from me since then?” Mai’ou asked, her grin showing several teeth.
“Ah, I just forgot. She’s a pretty girl, sure, with long brown hair. She’s been hanging out with us for a while now. Teena, Teena Fen, daughter of Alen. That’s how she introduces herself, always, because her deceased father always said to introduce herself like that,” Va’il explained thoughtfully and devoid of hidden meanings. Mai’ou though, had scrunched her face into a frown.
“Did she really say her father’s name is Alen?” Mai’ou asked.
“Yeah, A-l-e-n. Although, I’ve never heard about her mother. But she doesn’t talk about her parents more than her introduction, and that they are deceased. It’s a sad topic,” Va’il said.
“Renshia,” Mai’ou said quietly.
“What was that Mum?” Va’il asked.
“Oh, nothing. I think we’re almost ready with this outfit. What do you think? Since the gown itself is peach, how about either red or green underneath, and let’s go with either the blue or black pants that Kelin gave. My suggestion is black,” Mai’ou said.
They finished planning the adjustments that needed to be made to Va’il’s noble outfit, and then ate before sleeping. Va’il slept soundly soon after Mai’ou laid him down. She closed the door of her own room behind her, and lit a single candle-torch by blowing on it softly. As the air stirred it to action, the single light illuminated Mai’ou’s sleek form as she looked out her window. She looked at the moon and castle she had gazed at many times before.
“Alen, Renshia Fen, are you really gone? Is it my fault?” she asked the cold night air. A tear leisurely strolled down her left cheek.