Chapter 3: Lessons
The golden days passed swiftly. Edward spent
most of his time in the company of his parents. He saw few
other children. None at all lived in 'their' tree, only their
wood elf host and Moraelyn's six Companions, an oddly assorted,
cheerful lot. Disrespectful, Edward thought. None of the Daggerfall
court or servants would dared have addressed his father as
these did Moraelyn and Aliera with their constant raillery.
But these weren't servants or courtiers. Just Companions.
Only one was a Dark Elf. There were a Khajiit woman, two wood
elves, brother and sister, a Nordic man, even bigger than
Moraelyn and a strange looking lizardlike man, who spoke with
such a hissing accent that Edward couldn't understand him
at all. The Nord man was called "Slave of Moraelyn"
or just "Slave" for short, although Moraelyn usually
called him "Mats" of "My-slave." Mats
tended the group's weapons and gathered wood for the evening
fires. But it wasn't unusual for the others to bring wood;
Moraelyn himself often borrowed Mats' axe and fetched and
split wood if there was need, or if he just felt like it.
They spent much of their time roaming the
woods and fields, hunting and gathering produce, in twos and
threes. Usually Moraelyn, Aliera and Edward and Shade went
off together. They carried bows for hunting. When Edward asked
Moraelyn to teach him to shoot better, he was told to ask
his mother, as she was the better shot. And it was Aliera's
arrow that brought down a handsome buck, although both arrows
had struck, and they quarrelled over who's arrow had killed
as they ran toward the buck.
"Bah!" Moraelyn exclaimed as he
pulled his black fletched arrow from the hindquarters. "I
don't know how I managed to feed myself before I married you."
"You had the Companions."
"Aye. Mats, Mith and I starved together,
before we met Beech and Willow." Moraelyn pulled out
his black dagger, Tooth, and began to skin the animal's body,
calling Edward to come and watch. "You want to learn
about animals, don't you?"
"Live ones." Edward said with distaste.
His dainty mother was ripping the skin away with enthusiasm.
"Such make tough eating," the dark
elf said. "Give me your cloak; I'll make a package for
you to carry."
"I am a Prince, not a pack horse!"
"You'll carry your share or you'll be
a hungry prince this night." The elf had lost his good
"I won't. I don't want any. You can't
Moraelyn stood erect and appeared to think
this over. "Can't I?" he taunted.
"Edward, please..." Aliera appealed
"Tell me, Lord Prince, how then does
one get the meat to one's table if one may not carry it. If
Princes may not carry meat then certainly Kings and Queens
may not, or do Princes grow out of the incapacity when they
"They have servants!"
"Serve ants? What a clever idea. Only
a human could think of that! Ants are excellent at carrying,
I have noted, although I have not the trick of commanding
them. Perhaps you can teach me."
"Servants! Like Mats here," Edward
shouted. He hated being teased. Mats and the other companions
had come up, having heard their shouts over the kill.
"Mats? You think I cannot make you carry
deer meat, yet I could command Mats to do so?" Moraelyn
stared up at the blond giant. "Well, one never knows
until one tries. Mats, carry the deer."
The blond scratched his head and jaw thoughtfully.
"Highness, nothing would please me more but it is a large
deer and my old wound is troubling my back, perhaps if you
kill a smaller one."
"Well, Prince, what now?"
"You beat him."
"At what? I can outrun him. Mats, if
I reach that oak first, will you carry the deer." Mats
shook his head slowly.
"You beat him with a stick!" Edward
"What promise you show as a Healer, my
Prince. You will forgive me if I refrain from consulting you
until you have further training. It is my judgement that beating
with a stick will not improve Mats' back. Of course, I may
be in error.
"Silk, you carry the deer."
"Me, milord? I am sorry, but I have just
remembered that I am fourth cousin to the fifth house of Dibella,
Queen of Heaven. My dignity forbids that I carry anything
Willow and Beech claimed that a mage had forbidden
either of them from carrying any part of an animal while the
moon Jone was risen.
"Prince, are you truly certain about
this rule? It seems to make life most inconvenient. We could
bring the wood to the deer, which will take many hours and
leave us benighted here. We could consume the meat raw on
the spot, but I own my belly is not yet empty enough to make
that option attractive. Aliera, can you help us? How do the
High Rock folk get meat to table?"
"Milord, when I lived there it was my
firm belief that it appeared by magic. There were servants,
but they were an irritating, lazy lot, more trouble than they
were worth. Edward, my son, is it possible that this rule
applies only in High Rock?"
"I suppose so..."
Edward carried a share of meat that bent his
back, but he did not complain. And so it was settled, and
the meal that night was a merry one. But for several days
after, if the Companions caught him carrying anything at all
they would inquire anxiously as to whether a High Rock Prince
might do so.
"If Mats is not a servant, then why do
they call him 'Moraelyn's Slave'?" Edward asked one drowsy
"Well, he is my slave. I paid gold for
him, all that Mith and I had. We came on a man beating him
near Reich Parthkeep. He looked near death; when Mith and
I tried to stop the beating, the man said Mats was a runaway
slave, and he'd do as he liked with him. So I threw down the
gold and told him he could take it and leave, else I would
kill him out of hand. He chose the latter, so I told Mats
to take the gold as his master's heir and go where he would.
He chose to come with us, so we buried the gold with his master
and Mats has been with us since."
"Could he leave if he wanted to?"
"May I go pick some of those berries
over there?" Edward asked, and Moraelyn nodded.
Aliera was sleeping curled on her side. Moraelyn
sat next to her, leaning back against a tree, his hand playing
with her long dark curls. His eyes and skin were sensitive
to the bright sun. Shade slept stretched in the sun nearby,
his dark fur glinting with silver in the light. Edward wandered
over to the bushes and picked the bright glowberries, so called
because they glowed at night, although right now they were
a rather dull gray. But they tasted very good. If he ate enough,
would he glow at night, he wondered. Or if he smashed them
and collected the juice, the bushes caught at him, then he
found a sort of tunnel through them and trotted along it,
wondering where it led.
It ended in a small clearing before a pile
of rocks. There was a hole and something in it. Edward stepped
back, making a small noise in his throat. The something heaved
and presented a tusky snarling face and hooves that pawed
at the earth.
The boy backed away slowly. The beast's head
went down, the shoulders heaved and the immense bulk lumbered
into a charge. Edward tried to throw himself into the bushes
- there was no room - and then, incredibly, Moraelyn was in
front of him, between him and the beast. There was a flash
and a crash, and the elf seemed to leap backwards for several
feet, landing crouched just in front of Edward's face. The
air whistled as his blade seemed to jump out of the sheath
of its own accord. There was a sparkle in the air around him,
and a burnt smell. Silence.
"Get out of here, boy! Now!"
Edward fled, yelling for his mother, who was
running toward the bushes and calling him. She clasped him
to her, and began shouting for Moraelyn instead. There was
no answer, then, somehow the elf was there, unharmed, his
blade sheathed again. But he was breathing hard.
"Did you kill it? Are you hurt?"
"No and no. I was shielded. Barely. You
disturbed a sow in her den with her litter. Fortunately, she
thought she'd had enough after the first impact. I daresay
she's unaccustomed to finding her enemies still standing afterwards."
"Why didn't you kill her?" Edward
demanded, feeling bloodthirsty after his fright.
"A katana, even the Ebony Blade, is not
the weapon I'd choose against a mother sow. A spear, maybe.
The longer the better. Besides, if we leave her be, there'll
be six pigs here next year, with luck."
"You made a magic shield," Edward
"Aye, barring the shield, she'd have
left a few marks even on a tough old dark elf."
"Edward, it would be gracious to thank
your rescuer." His mother prompted.
"Thank you," Edward said automatically,
his mind busy with more questions. How had the elf known of
his danger? How did he get there so quickly?
"There is scarcely need to thank me for
saving my son's life. Thank Shade," Moraelyn said. "The
cat told me there was trouble."
Edward knelt and hugged the smug purring cat.
"Good old Shade. I can always count on him."
"My son". "Our son". The
words rang proudly out at the least excuse. Edward puzzled
over this for awhile; it wanted an explanation. The one he
favored was that Moraelyn simply didn't know him very well
yet, and was prone to give the benefit of the doubt to strangers.
Eventually, but in the meantime he might as well enjoy it.
It was nice. Having a father that was proud of you, that liked
being with you, took you places, talked to you, listened to
you. And most remarkably of all, let you alone when you needed
to be. Moraelyn only really liked being alone when he was
composing a ballad.
Edward told Beech and Willow about the mother
pig. "I ran when he told me to. Would you? Because he
said to. I couldn't think of any way to help, but..."
Willow and Beech listened carefully, exchanged glances, and
said they'd think about the problem.
After supper around the evening fire, Willow
took up her small harp and began to sing about the joys of
an autumn afternoon and berries...except that Moraelyn sent
the boy off to pick berries. They'd got that part wrong. Moraelyn
sat up sharply and looked around, but the others had slipped
away into the darkness and Willow wasn't looking at him.
Mith strolled into the firelight, taking mincing
steps, picking pantomime berries and eating them noisily.
Moraelyn put his head down and groaned. Mith pantomimed finding
something then skipped along in delight. Mats' head and shoulders
lurched into the firelight. Mith reached a hand to pat him,
then leapt back with a squeal as Mats tried to rip him with
a tusk. Huge tusks and a pig nose adorned his face. Mith crouched,
hands to his face in exaggerated horror. And Silk, clad in
black, leaped between Mith and Mats with a shower of sparks,
jerkin backwards, hose about its knees, shoeless. It reached
for its sword, but Mats charged and knocked it flying; it
spun out of sight. Mats, scrambling on all fours, missed Mith,
but tore his hose. Mith scampered around the fire with Mats
after him. Silk, sword in one hand, the other tugging at the
hose chased after Mats, beating him with the sword.
Another figure appeared, clad in Aliera's
blue gown with Beech's head sticking out above wearing a long
dark wig. Mith cowered behind her skirts. She glared at Mats
and he froze. Silk tripped and sprawled behind him. Beech
tossed his hair back, patted Mith reassuringly on the head,
wet one finger and smoothed an eyebrow, then leisurely picked
up his bow, aimed and twanged.
Mats leaped backwards, collapsing on top of
Silk with a very realistic death rattle. Beech and Mith embraced,
ignoring Silk, still flat beneath Mats.
Moraelyn had begun laughing when Silk first
leaped out. Aliera had waited for Beech's appearance. Now
tears were running down her cheeks. Moraelyn was doubled over,
pounding his fist against a tree. Ripples and giggles of silvery
laughter sounded all around and showers of gold coins fell
into the circle. The Companions gathered themselves together
and bowed, as humans did.
"Again, do it again!"
"Nooooo!" Moraelyn gasped, still
laughing. "Ah, you came nearer killing me than the sow
did! I beg mercy!"
"Another night, gentle persons...our
king has had a very long day. We thank you all."
"Gods, had the entire town seen?"
Edward stared behind him, but they were all melting away into
the dark. "That's not what happened." he yelled.
"You were a hero. They made fun of you."
"Yes, yes and yes. Especially the last.
By Jephre himself, that was funny!"
"They all saw that! And you're going
to let them do it again?" Edward was scandalized. They
had all looked ridiculous.
"Let them? It'll be done all over Tamriel
for centuries to come, I doubt not. But never again so well."
"But it didn't happen like that at all."
"It would have if Mats...I mean the sow
had charged again. Ariana's bow would have been far more effective
than my poor blade. And she'd have seen Moraelyn leap like
a khajiit!" His finger smoothed an eyebrow in a gesture
typical of Aliera and he went off again into a long laugh.
"Aye, she'd have slain the beast with a look, if she
couldn't find an arrow. Mats, you were more like the sow than
she like herself. Bigger, too, I swear! Mith, you old rogue,
only you could look so innocent."
"Buuut, it's not true!" Edward protested.
"Boy, you think there's only one truth?
Was what you saw today truth? Did you see all the truth? Even
of what did happen? What you saw here tonight will light up
truths unseen, if you allow it, you could spend a lifetime
reflecting on it and yet not see it whole, for it goes ever
further and deeper, spreading like ripples in a pool, beyond
us all and out into the deep stillness of forever. What happens
is only a tiny part of truth...maybe the least part. And what
you see is smaller yet."
Edward still thought that a king really ought
to have more dignity. But he didn't say so.
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