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Author’s Note: This is just the first of four stories in this DestinyVerse anthology, with Eduor’s tale first, and Sir Zeilas being the second, and in the second you meet the next tale’s main character, and the next…
“Would you like to wash away the dirt of your travels ?” Chanson asked, gesturing at the entrance to the bathing hall.
“Yes. I must see to the care of my Steed first, of course,” Sir Zeilas added, gesturing at the small stable placed on the opposite side of the courtyard from the bathing hall. He glanced at Eduor, then added, “I would also like to buy a set of clothes for my companion. Something clean for him to wear while his own are washed and dried.”
Chanson eyed Eduor, but more in a thoughtful way than a disdainful one. “We don’t have much to spare, since this is not a wealthy village, but…I think someone can sell you a thawa, and a couple cloths for your head and your loins at the very least. Both of you, if you like. That armor must be very hot.”
The Arbran Knight smiled wryly. “Actually, it’s enchanted for comfort in all weather, from very hot to very cold. I do get tired of wearing it, but I have my own Sundaran-style robes to wear, thank you.”
“Good. As for footwear…our last guest left behind a pair of sandals, one with a broken lacing. A bit of rope should make them comfortable enough for now, and I think your feet will be about the right size,” Chanson added, looking at Eduor. She gave him a skeptical look. “Though with such pale skin, you should probably keep even your toes out of the reach of the sun. I’ll go look for those clothes.”
Eduor exchanged an amused look with his fellow foreigner. Both of them had browned quite a bit on their faces and hands in the weeks it had taken them to travel this far north. Natallians and Mandarites were born with light golden brown skin, and Arbrans weren’t exactly pale either, but neither of them were the rich dark brown of the locals. Since his mother had been half Draconan, lending him his blond hair and blue eyes, Eduor had been born a little pale for a Mandarite, but he was still capable of tanning dark enough to be taken for a Natallian laborer.
At least, on the parts he had exposed to the hot summer sun. Of course, if she wants to see really pale skin…
Pulling his thoughts away from that, Eduor focused on helping the Knight with his Steed. Mostly that consisted of taking the bedroll, travel pack, saddlebags and saddle once Sir Zeilas removed them, and fetching water from the nearest cistern to the stone-carved trough. It did not consist of helping to groom and care for the huge stallion personally. An Arbran Steed permitted no other person’s touch without direct orders from his Knight. Though the animal could have carried them both, Eduor hadn’t asked and Sir Zeilas hadn’t offered. He didn’t fill the manger with hay either, but only because Zeilas had done so while he was bringing up buckets of water from the nearest cistern.
“Thank you for the clothes,” Eduor murmured as he rubbed a lightly dampened cloth along the underside of the saddle, cleaning it of the sweat and dust accumulated in the day’s journey. “It seems I keep owing you more and more for your kindness and generosity.”
Zeilas, now brushing the dust from his Steed’s sorrel and cream hide, glanced over his shoulder at the younger man. “I helped you because it was the right thing to do. Whether or not you deserved it. But…you seem to be worthy of it.”
“Worthy or not, I do owe you,” Eduor pointed out. “And I’ll owe you further for whatever lessons in farming you can give me.”
“You can pay me back by paying close attention. I can spare only two weeks at absolute most before I must be on my way again,” the Knight warned him. “My term in the court of our envoys to southern Sundara may be done, but His Majesty will undoubtedly want to reassign me elsewhere. He might even want to make me an envoy myself, now that I’ve had some experience under Sir Willem and Sir Helosia. Either here in Sundara, or in one of the small kingdoms dredging themselves out of the shattered remains of Mekhana—I’d love to be assigned to Fortuna, but I only learned Sundaran and Mekhanan well enough to converse.”
“I’ll pay close attention,” Eduor promised him. “If I could find paper and ink, I could even take notes.”
“I’ll see what our hostess can provide—here, take the saddle soap and give it a better cleaning than just a wipe down,” Sir Zeilas directed him. “I can tell you’ve cared well for saddles before. I’ll trust you to do a good job.”
“I will. I used to have a fine Mandarosa gelding—that’s what we call a spotted grey with dark mane and tail,” Eduor explained. “The Earldom has probably reverted to the care of one of my uncles by now, since my father and older brother are long gone, and with it, my belongings. Gelding included.”
“If you returned home, would you regain your family lands from your uncle?” Zeilas asked him.
“If I returned home and stayed there for a full year, I’d be declared the next Earl by right of succession, since my father and brother would be considered casualties of war after three years of absence. But I’ve had my fill of being a slave, and no more taste left for owning one, either.”
“And that’s why I chose to help you,” Zeilas said. “I’ll be leaving in two weeks, but there will be others entering your life in the future. They’ll need the things you can do for them, or teach them. Help them as I am helping you, and I’ll consider my own efforts repaid.”
“That’s a strange way to put it,” Eduor murmured. “Where do you get the benefit, if I help someone else?”
“Life is a cycle. When the nut is planted, it grows into a tree that makes more nuts. Some of those nuts are carried far away by squirrels and birds and other things, only to drop forgotten and sprout into more trees. And some trees may fall down, rot, and provide nutrients for yet more young saplings to grow. The more nuts are spread around, the more trees grow to make yet more nuts. Trees provide shade for our comfort, nuts for our dinner, and wood for houses, hearth fires, and furniture.
“The more trees there are, the more we can enjoy the finer things in life,” the Knight told him. “Similarly, the kinder I am to you, the more it encourages you to be kind to others, and the more that encourages them to be kind in turn to an increasing number of people. And who knows, one of these years, one of the people you were kind to will be able to do a kindness to me in turn. Even if it is so indirect as a hundred payments forward, well, that’s still a hundred people whose lives will have been improved, making the world that much better overall.”
“I think I’d want to live in a world with a hundred people happier than before,” Eduor agreed, carefully applying just the right amount of cleansing oil to the leather to get the dirt off without ruining the material by making it too damp. “I’ll see what I can do, here.”
“At least you can fell two trees with one axe stroke. By helping others as a way to repay my own aid, it will include tending the farm of that missing warrior, Falkon, which in turn will earn you something of an income,” the Knight pointed out.
“Yes, but what kind of an income?” Eduor returned. “Food and shelter, maybe, but since the man won’t be here to barter my wages… I suppose I can always invoke laborer’s rights, and claim a percentage of the after-tax harvest based on how much of the overall labor I put into creating it. But that presumes this Falkon will be gone for most of the planting and growing seasons.”
“Ask for a silver a day or a percentage of the harvest-value, whichever is greater when the rightful owner returns,” Zeilas advised him, lifting his Steed’s hooves one at a time to check their soft centers for stones or thorns. “A silver a day isn’t bad for a laborer’s wages, considering you don’t have all of the necessary skills just yet.”
“No, it’s not—don’t forget to scoop that into the village composting bin,” Eduor added as the Steed did what horses liked to do after munching their way through a selection of grain and hay. “Sundarans don’t waste a single dropping if they can help it. The soil’s too poor not to fertilize it any way they can.”
Zeilas chuckled. “Maybe I should make you do the scooping, and myself the saddle-cleaning.”
“And deny you the pleasure of being the first one to bathe? This’ll take me a lot longer than it’ll take you to use a pitchfork and barrow,” Eduor countered lightly. “I know about farming practices. Western Marches is one of the bigger farm holdings in Mandare, and I was trained to help govern it. I just haven’t done certain things, like actually hitching and guiding a plow. I spent more of my time practicing to be a warrior. But I think,” he said as he carefully wiped off the saddle soap with another damp cloth, “I would rather learn to be a farmer, now.”
“Let’s hope you learn quickly,” Zeilas told him. “The autumn rains are due soon, and the ground needs to be broken, dampened, and planted before they begin, so the seedlings have enough time to take root—I learned that much of Sundaran-style farming in my three years here.”