“Boy, come closer,” De’un said. Va’il complied without question, once he saw that De’un was avian. “Ah, that’s certainly a… boy, can I ask you if you know what this is?”
“Do you mean the art or the outfit itself, sir?” Va’il asked.
“The art. You’re a… well, lupus is right enough. Is your family so audacious to wear such an item without realizing what it is?” De’un asked with a bit of annoyance. He was just polite enough in case Va’il was someone of great importance who he wouldn’t want to offend.
“No, no. My family is humble enough. I received this robe of avian art from a friend to wear tonight. I don’t know much about avian culture. Did I offend you, sir?” Va’il asked as politely as he could. He had previously realized that the art was avian, and seeing De’un’s reaction had sent his mind racing. His fear this entire party was of offending a noble accidentally, so of course he was somewhat prepared to apologize in case of an accident. But De’un’s expression immediately softened. He smiled warmly at the young Va’il. Ruby saw the smile, and so took a step closer to better hear the conversation.
“I see. No boy, I’m not offended. It’s just, that work reminds me of home. Everything that happened. My life, family, history, culture, it reminded me of all that,” De’un said. His voice was becoming stifled as he held back tears.
“Ah,” Va’il said,” then your life must have been something amazing, sir.”
“No need to flatter me,” De’un said. “I’m just an old Akkun who dwells on things of the past.”
“Akkun? And what past, sir?” Va’il asked. He was becoming curious at the old avian’s manner of speaking.
“Akkun is what I am, lupus boy. One of the avian races. And that piece you’re wearing, that’s our history. Painted by one of the six great Akkun scholars, Ani Onook. Its title is ‘Three times less on the eighth plain.’ It was painted because… wait, am I boring you?” De’un asked.
“Not at all!” Va’il and Teena replied together. The avian had a way of speaking that was full of pride, respect, and nostalgia all at once. The kids were young, but they had spent long enough being relatively bored at this party, and appreciated the story that De’un seemed to want to wholeheartedly tell.
“Very well then, how about this? I have a story which will make the meaning much clearer afterwards. First, the painting was done because of the Akkuns’ arrival at the eighth plain they had come across in their search for a homeland over a thousand years ago. After the Akkun had been forced to flee from seven other places, they thought they would never find a place to settle. But when they managed to keep the eighth plain, they said it took three times less time than expected to find a place to settle down. Okay, well maybe its meaning is clear by itself and my story doesn’t really have much to do with it. But I still enjoy that work. Thank you, boy.”
“Thank you. But you don’t have to stop. I really want to know,” Va’il said. “What’s your story? I have time, and I really want to know.”
“Well, if you insist,” De’un said with a smile. He then began his story. “I guess you could say I have, but have not, changed from when I was a child. It may seem obvious at first glance, but I was born to a family of high status. My father governed and defended the land, and I, in my foolishness, had dreams of being a gallant knight, fighting evil ones and saving my brethren, like the stories, even foolishly wishing I’d been born a few years earlier. I was only a stupid rich boy though, ignorant of how the world really worked at the time, unappreciative of the peace we finally had. I’d hunt, donate to the common folk, effectively just showing off. Until one day when riding along, I came across a farm. I was going to pass it by, as usual, but the daughter of the farm had come out.
“Her eyes, those incredibly deep eyes. They entranced me. Some knight I was. I had to stop, talk to her, be with her. I visited the farm girl more and more often. It seemed she too had an interest in me. Unfortunately, she was my type, but not my status. Our frequent visits didn’t go unnoticed. We had been followed several times. My father had become an unreasonable man. He wouldn’t let his years of hard work be thrown away by having his son marry an unworthy girl. In his own twisted way, he wanted to do something that would force me to give her up, without me turning against him. One day, while me and her had gone playing in the city, despicable ones, villains, raided and killed everyone in the girl’s family. We returned to see the farm was destroyed, burned, her family gone.
“I was useless. I gave her the gold on me, told her to stay safe for the night, and then I rushed home thinking I could ask my father to help catch the villains. If I was smart, I would have stayed with her. But it’s fortunate I didn’t, because that was exactly what my father was expecting. I arrived at home without anyone noticing. My father, expecting me gone, was there celebrating, congratulating the so-called villains. With the girl’s means of livelihood gone, he expected that the girl would have no choice but to fall further into despair. He thought I would give up when I saw what the girl would eventually become.
“I rushed back, but not before being seen by a guard on duty. Taking my precious horse, I found the girl exactly where I had left her. She hadn’t moved, only cried. How could I have just left her there? It was stupid, yet it still saved us. I grabbed her and galloped away. I told her of my father’s plan to make her a lowly beggar or worse, since a girl in those areas had no chance of living alone. Another mistake, I should have told her later and spared some of the trauma. Though my father’s men followed, we managed to get away. But the world that awaited us was harsh and cruel. We met a sneaky old couple who swindled our gold from us. We narrowly escaped death when some corrupt knights thought we were simple beggars they could just kill at random for fun. And I’ll never forget… well I shouldn’t talk about that one, too frightening to even remember. But we lived through it all. For year after year, running from one spot to another. My father had never given up, and it seemed like there was always someone one step behind us, always catching up at the last second to give us more grief.
“At first, when we first ran away together, even through the loss of her family, we were happy to be together. Well, I was. She pretended to be. But year after year wore on her after all. The suffering she bore always brought me to tears. But she wasn’t a farm girl for nothing, and had a resilience about her that I couldn’t help but admire. Still, she became paler day by day, and she was becoming thinner all the time. After a few years, I had reached the edge of despair. I feared that she wouldn’t last another year at that rate.
“It was at that point that my father’s pursuer caught up to us yet again. We ran and ran, until we fell down a grassy hill. We rolled and skidded until we reached the bottom. Dazed, I looked up. There, sitting on an unmistakable red horse, was my father. He looked down at me with his icy eyes. I couldn’t speak, but I could try to stand. As I did, he jumped down from his horse. The man I had feared so much came face to face with me. He had lost all the feathers on his arms, and the ones on his head had lost their luster. Wrinkles covered his face, and I realized just how much older he appeared. But those eyes, they hadn’t changed at all.
“He walked up to me. To my great surprise, he held out his arms, walked forward, and hugged me. It was a strong, affectionate hug. One I hadn’t received from him before. It was refreshing, and puzzling. I noticed something wet; he was crying. His arms didn’t loosen, but the strength of the embrace gradually diminished. It got to the point that his arms fell off me, and I felt his weight fall into my chest. The surprises in life come without end. My father had died there.
“I don’t know if he was planning to forgive me, ask me back, or not. All I know is that he had spent years stressing over me. Mother had passed away in the meantime, only adding to his pain. He had rambled on to his spies that he wanted my farm girl dead, so that I would have to return to his side. Maybe he went mad. But the sane part of him had already prepared everything for me. Upon his death, I inherited it all. Fortune and prestige greater than what I remembered awaited. As you can see of me now, I did get quite a bit back, things that I thought I had lost forever. As the men led me back to my father’s estate, my wife with me, I couldn’t help but think of all the adventures we had gone on together.
“As I entered the mansion, the one I grew up in, I was expecting to see the same things I had seen in the past. But in the greeting room, the first one you enter, all the various items that had been there before were removed and changed. Two wooden chairs faced a single wall. On that wall hangs the painting that you now wear on your robe. As I remembered its title, its meaning, how couldn’t I cry? My father must have thought he lost me forever. He sat for night after night in one of the chairs, imagining the day I would sit at his side and enjoy the art with him. My return would be his three less, the mansion our eighth plain. Certainly, since I had never expected to come back, to say it took only a third the time as expected for me to reach the eighth plain with my wife, the painting had meaning for me as well. That, young boy, is the emotion that is conveyed by that work. Thank you.”