Monday, November 22, 2021

Abyss & Sea 15


Not long after Adven's visit, Sosan, their chamberlain died in his sleep. He had served long, having begun his tenure of office as a young man early in the reign of Rezan, Disan's father.  Disan and Baia attended his funerary rites in his home village. After they were done, Baia returned to Neyat Sor before Disan, who wished to consult with a famous goldsmith in another village nearby. 

Having consulted with the goldsmith and ordered a set of gifts, Disan and his guard began their ride home. One stretch of the road went through a very thick wood, the trees on each side rising like a many-layered wall. Before a bend in the way, they suddenly heard a great deal of shouting; Disan spurred his horse immediately and his guard followed after. The shouting came from two old men, just past the bend in the road, who were in the process of being set upon by a gang of four young men, who were beating and kicking them. They had been intent enough on this action that they were caught off guard by the group of armed men suddenly riding in upon them, and soon rounded up.

According to the old men, they had been traveling to see a friend, down this road that they had traveled many times before, when the four youths had ambushed from the wood, demanding all their gold and silver. As both men traveled very lightly, they did not have enough to satisfy the young men, who had responded by beating them and, when they fell to the ground, kicking them. Disan sent them on their way with a bodyguard.

Disan, dismounting, surveyed the four young men, who seemed in all respects like any other Sorean youths. "What do you have to say for yourselves?" he demanded, but they said nothing.

He drew himself up to his full height, and being tall even by Sorean standards, the king made an imposing impression, since they all quailed before him. "Speak!" he said sharply, "What do you have to say for yourselves? Why were you doing this? Do you have no respect for your elders?"

"What do I care about some old men?" said one sulkily. "They are useless."

There are times in which a part of us winds up very tightly, for whatever reason, and sometimes in the course of a conversation that tightly wound bit will snap like overstrained wire. Disan experienced exactly this at this moment. No doubt some of the winding was from the general stress of kingship, and some from the particular responsibilities he bore; it may be thought that his recurring nightmares perhaps contributed as well. Disan, too, had been raised from his earliest age in the Sorean tradition of respect and friendship toward one's elders. Regardless of the reason, at that moment the wire snapped. What he felt was not rage, exactly; it was not blinding or blind. There was not heated anger to it. It was not hot at all. It was as if a piercing icy cold, a burning cold, began flooding up inside him and at that moment he drew his sword and hit the young man in the face with the flat of the orikhalh blade, forcefully enough to knock the youth sprawling, and surely forcefully enough to bruise. It was the first time in his life that Disan had struck anyone with a weapon outside of battle or weapons practice, and he did not regret it. He slowly and deliberately re-sheathed the sword.

"Those who will not honor their elders," he said coldly, "have chosen to walk the way of the beasts. So that is what they shall do. Tie them by their chests and hands to walk behind us; we will take them to Neyat Sor, where they can spend some time in a dungeon contemplating how useful it is to be civilized people who care about old men."

And so it was. The young men were made to trot along behind, and sometimes were dragged behind, the horses, who went at an ambling gait slightly faster than the comfortable walking speed of a human being, for the hour it took to reach Neyat Sor, and when the party arrived, the young men were summarily thrown into the little-used dungeons, to be tried at some point later in the week.

His explanation to Baia was very short, but later, as they drank a lotus tea in the time between first and second sleep, they talked about it at some length.

Finally, Disan said, "It is what we are told from our very earliest childhood. Civilized life consists simply in this: that kings act like kings, putting the good of their people above their own; that ministers act like ministers, loyal in all things; that parents act like parents, raising their children in right ways; that children act like children, honoring their elders without fail. And everywhere around us, what do we see? Kings do not act like kings; they leave behind the ways of their people. Ministers do not act like ministers; every court is filled with spies. Parents do not act like parents, because their children run wild like beasts. Children do not honor their elders but beat them on the highways. The Orikhalh Tablets are ignored. The pacts and the covenants are not honored. The things no one does are done."

"Yes," said Baia. "Sometimes I feel powerless; it seems to come from all sides. It is as if something has gone wrong in the very fabric of things, and I do not know how to repair it."

"Yes," said Disan. But neither knew what more to say, and after a sigh and a lapse into silence, they turned their discussion to preparations for the upcoming Great Council, and then went to sleep.