The counsel of lords had adjourned for the noon meal, and we were now downstairs in the court outside the hall. We had briefly seen father. I had looked into his eyes and saw discouragement, frustration, and fear. Discouragement and frustration, I had seen before; sadly, I had becomes used to them. But I had not seen fear in my father’s eyes before that day. It frightened me.
Leonah was livid. She walked up to me and glared. “Can you believe how disrespectful Lord Melthro was? Can you? To your own father, the king!” She poked her finger into my chest. “That Lord Melthro is a traitor! When you grow up, and become king someday, don’t you dare let him get away with it!”
“Oh? Let him get away with what?” said a voice behind me. I could hear the sneering in it. I groaned. It was Jelran. We both turned to see him leering at us. He was dressed in the same red and black robes as his father, albeit a smaller cut for his half-grown size (which was still a whole head taller than me).
“Go away. Nobody’s talking to you,” said Leonah.
“Just try and make me,” Jelran taunted.
“I’m not afraid of you!” Leonah almost shouted.
I was. Jelran was big and strong. He had pushed me down before. I took Leonah’s arm. “Let’s go,” I said. “We don’t want trouble.”
Jelran sneered at me. “Yes. Go run away from me, coward. Unless you want to try and lord it over me like your father does.”
“Please, leave us alone,” I said.
“Just try and make me,” he said again, laughing harshly.
I glanced over my shoulder a ways to where my mother and Leonah’s mother had been talking. I didn’t see them, or anyone else for that matter. I felt a sense of panic. There was no safety to retreat to.
“Don’t you just wish you could hide behind your mommy’s skirts,” Jelran spat.
Leonah snapped and rushed at Jelran with her fists flying. Jelran laughed again as he easily held her back with one hand. I was afraid he would hurt her, and I rushed between them as he tried to push her down. The result was that Jelran almost tripped and fell over me… and both Leonah and I fell.
Jelran laughed again. “I’ll deal with you later,” he said suddenly, and walked off.
“Edlen! Leonah! Come!” my mother’s voice suddenly called from the other direction. She walked briskly up to us. “Why are you on the floor? And what did Jelran want? I saw him walking away.”
“Nothing,” I said. I was upset.
My mother could see clearly that I was shaken. “You should have come to me,” she said gently.
“Where did you go?” I asked her, trying to hold back tears. “I didn’t see you when he was here.”
“I’m sorry, son. We thought you were with us,” said my mother. “We were on our way back to our quarters.” She sighed and straightened out my clothes. “You need to try and stay away from him. Come, Lady Elenah and Leonah are spending the rest of the day with us.”
I followed my mother. Leonah walked beside me. I could tell she was still angry. “That big lug,” she muttered under her breath. “Some day he’ll get what’s coming to him.” I looked at her. She turned her head to me and said fiercely, “You’re the King’s son, Edlen. You better learn to stand up to that bully and put him in his place. Punish him good!”
That evening, Othniel and I had our music lessons. Our music teacher was a young man named Danlen. He was actually a cousin of Lord Doáno; his father was a trusted advisor to my father, and the younger brother of Lord Doáno’s late father. Which meant Leonah was Danlen’s first cousin once removed… which she used as an excuse to join us in the lesser drawing room. It was like the greater drawing room next door to it, but a bit smaller, spacious enough to feel luxurious yet small enough to be cozy. It had chairs and cushions and a cheerful brick hearth, which that evening had a crackling fire in it.
The music lesson was a welcome relief for me, after my first heavy dose of politics and the fears and insecurity I felt. Now I could get away from it all. I loved playing the lute… or the flute… or any other instrument I could get my hands on. Danlen said I had a gift for playing instruments. Well, he certainly had a gift for teaching them. He and I got along very well.
It was an informal night. Danlen had finished his lesson and now he and Othniel and I were playing some improvised melodies and harmonies.
Leonah interrupted. “Danlen, you should tell us a story.”
Danlen laughed. “Ah, my pretty cousin! You want a story, do you? I am afraid I am not such a good story teller. My stories all sound like this.” He began playing a fast strum on his lute in a different key.
(I wasn’t terribly pleased… it was the key of E. That meant I would have to play a B chord if I wanted to keep up with him, and I wasn’t good at that yet.)
Danlen launched into an impromptu ballad in his tenor voice.
“Oh, hear now the tale of a nightingale,
That flew through the woods one day;
She was looking for her old pinafore
That fell out of her nest last May.
Oohhhh………. A doo dally dilly dolly day!
“She found a birch and on it perched
And cried to a beetle on the bark,
‘I’ve lost my poor ol’ pinafore,
In these woods so deep and dark!’
Oohhhh………. A doo dally dilly dolly day!
“The beetle replied, ‘that’s the oddest tide,
I’ve heard in all my years!
Won’t it get in your way, when you fly away?’
Which brought our bird to tears!
Oohhhh………. A doo dally dilly dolly day!
“She happened upon a frog in a pond,
Who croaked when she told her woes:
‘A bird with wings shouldn’t have apron strings,
So that’s the way it goes!’
Oohhhh………. A doo dally dilly dolly day!
“Well the nightingale began hard to exhale,
As through the woods she flew;
When she saw an owl who gave her a scowl
And scolded her with a ‘WHOOOO!’
Oohhhh………. A doo dally dilly dolly day!
“ ‘O Owl,’ said she, ‘Now hear my plea,
My pinafore is gone!
I must find it now, somewhere or somehow,
Before this day is done!’
Oohhhh………. A doo dally dilly dolly day!”
Danlen paused his strumming, at just the right moment for me to leave a failed attempt at a B chord hanging in everyone’s ears. I winced. “Sorry,” I said.
Danlen didn’t seem to notice. “Hmmm. I made that whole story up just now, but I’m not sure how the next part should go.”
“You made that up?” Othniel exclaimed with wide eyes. “How do you even do that?”
I laughed out loud at my brother’s surprise. “You should be used to this from him by now,” I said.
Leonah scowled. “That’s a really weird story. It doesn’t even make sense. Why would a nightingale even have a pinafore?”
“Well…” Danlen scratched his chin. “I haven’t figured that part out yet.” He began strumming again.
Leonah sighed. “I actually wanted you to tell us a serious story. Like a story about my grandmother.”
Danlen raised an eyebrow. “The lady Qeterah?”
“Who else?” Leonah said impatiently.
Danlen scratched his chin again. “I barely remember my Aunt Qeterah.”
“Well, I don’t remember her at all! She died long before I was born.”
“True,” said Danlen. “But most of what I know is what I heard from my father. He could tell you a story better than I.”
“But he’s not here,” Leonah pressed. “He’s too busy advising the king in the counsel.”
“Actually, he is here,” came a voice from the doorway. We all looked up to see a middle-aged man with a salt-and-pepper beard, dressed in his familiar grey court jacket with dark blue trimming.
“Uncle Kenthel!” Leonah shouted, and clapped her hands.
“Hullo, father!” grinned Danlen.
“Hullo, son! And greetings to you, Leonah.” Kenthel’s eyes twinkled above his round cheeks, as they always did when he gave a big smile. “How’s my little grand-niece?”
Leonah looked up at her great-uncle disapprovingly. “Uncle Kenthel, do I ever call you great-uncle? You should just say I’m your ‘niece’ and dispense with the ‘grand’. And besides,” she added, “I’m hardly little.”
Kenthel smiled at the eight-year-old girl and chuckled. “Of course, niece. Now, what’s all this? Did you want me to tell a story?”
“She wanted me to tell it, father,” Danlen said in mock sincerity.
“But you said Uncle Kenthel could tell it better,” Leonah pointed out.
Danlen grinned impishly. “Ha! True.”
“And what story do you want me to tell?” Kenthel inquired.
“The story of my grandmother.”
Kenthel’s face turned serious. “Ah,” he said. He sat down. “Is this because your father mentioned her in the counsel this morning?”
“Hmmm.” Kenthel scratched his salt-and-pepper beard. “You have heard this story many times before, I’m sure,” he said.
“Edlen and Othniel haven’t, and I want them to hear about her.”
“You are mighty proud of her, aren’t you?” Kenthel said and smiled.
“Of course I am,” Leonah said.
“Well, where should I begin?” Kenthel said.
Danlen took this as a cue to begin softly playing his lute in the background. I set mine down so I could listen to the story.
“I suppose,” said Kenthel, “I’d better begin with my older brother, who was Lord Doáno’s father. When he was a young man, and I was little — younger than you in fact, master Othniel — there were still those in Galtor who followed Áronyeh. They were few in number, and were under constant threat of death. Many tried to escape. Your grandmother and her family were among these.
“Your grandfather, when he heard that there were refugees from Galtor who had suffered for their faith, and had lost everything — lands, homes, families — he sent his servants to the border with wagons of supplies for them — food, clothing, blankets, and such. He also sent an invitation for them to come and dwell in his lands. He carved up some of his own personal estate, so that they could have homes.”
“My grandfather was a generous man,” Leonah said with pride.
“Oh yes!” said Kenthel. “A bit feisty, and not very diplomatic… but definitely generous. To a fault, even.” He smiled again, with a distant look in his eyes. “I remember once going with him to visit the refugees after they settled on his estate. And I first noticed your grandmother because Deréno gave her some special attention.”
“Deréno?” said Othniel, puzzled.
“My grandfather’s name,” said Leonah.
“Oh yes, sorry, I didn’t mention his name yet did I? I keep forgetting not all my audience is so closely related to him.” Kenthel smiled again. “Well, I studied this young woman, because I’d never seen my brother interested in anyone that much before. I soon learned that she was an orphan. She lived in a small cottage with an older woman who was also a refugee. They weren’t related, but I think they sort of adopted each other because neither of them had anyone else. But my brother would visit them and bring them food, fix things around their home and personally look after their welfare.”
“I wonder how he found the time to do that. Being the lord of our lands keeps my father quite busy,” said Leonah.
“It does, doesn’t it?” said Kenthel. “But things were a bit more leisurely in those days. Politics hadn’t gotten quite as intense as it is now. And also, your grandfather wasn’t the lord of his lands yet, because your great-grandfather was still alive at the time.”
“Oh!” Leonah sounded surprised. “Somehow, I hadn’t realized that.”
“Probably because he died only a few years after your grandparents married. But let’s see, where was I... oh yes, as I said, I studied this young lady. She was beautiful, and definitely Galtorian in her features. She had long, black, wavy hair, and coppery skin, and deep brown eyes, full of both joy and sorrow. She seemed mighty shy, hardly ever spoke a word that I heard those first few years. But my brother had a way of drawing her out a bit.” Kenthel grinned. “Which surprised me a good deal, I might add. Didn’t know he could do that! And it was quite an accomplishment to. Qeterah had been through hardships and suffering that no one should ever have to go through.” His voice grew somber and quiet, and he slowed his narration. His smile faded. (Danlen also stopped strumming.) “All Qeterah’s family had been followers of Áronyeh. Qeterah’s father was killed by Galtor’s soldiers, before her very eyes. Somehow, she and her mother and her brother managed to escape the city they lived in, and took to the woods and hills, trying to make their way north to Oren. But one day, while her brother was out foraging, they were attacked and her mother was killed. She was held in a prison, and beaten every day until she would bow to Órdeash and worship him. But she wouldn’t do it. Not even when they broke one of her legs. Not even when they poisoned her and almost killed her. Not even… when they cut off one of her fingers.”
Leonah glowered. “Those wicked Galtorians!”
“Yes, it was very evil for them to do those things to her — or to anyone else, for that matter. They would have done a lot worse to her too, but somehow her brother managed to sneak in one night and help her escape.”
I blinked. “How did he do that?” I asked.
“I don’t know all the details,” said Kenthel, “but Deréno told me once that her brother knocked out a soldier and switched his garments with him, then somehow managed to fool the other guards, saying he was taking Qeterah for questioning.”
Wow, I thought to myself. That is a brave man.
“Qeterah’s brother carried her, because she couldn’t walk. He carried her for miles and miles, traveling at night so they wouldn’t be seen. They had almost made it to the border when they were overtaken. Qeterah’s brother hid her where he hoped they wouldn’t find her, and then ran in the other direction to draw them away from her. He wasn’t able to run far before they shot him with many arrows, and he died. Qeterah was crippled and on her own. She spent the next two nights crawling her way to the border, before she was safe.”
I shuddered. What a scary story that was… I didn’t want to imagine what it was like to be Qeterah’s brother, facing the enemy like that, risking my life like that… getting shot with arrows. Or being Qeterah herself, left wounded and alone, hunted by her enemies. “Was she afraid of getting captured again, before she made it?” I asked.
“I’m sure she was,” said Kenthel. “But far more than the fright, was the pain of losing everyone she loved. It affected her greatly. She grieved, a long, long time.” He paused and stroked his beard again.
“Uncle Kenthel, don’t stop,” Leonah said.
“Yes,” I added. “Tell us how she got married.”
“Yes, do, father!” said Danlen, resuming his strumming.
“Ah,” said Kenthel. “Yes. Well, Deréno paid her special attention… besides looking after her and the older lady who stayed with her, he would bring her flowers and other small gifts and such.”
“So my uncle Deréno had a sense of romance?” asked Danlen wryly. (He began strumming the tune to a well-known love song. Leonah shot him a look.)
“Oh, hardly! Hardly… well… yes and no actually. No he didn’t. Until he met Qeterah. Then suddenly he did. And, Qeterah began to warm up to him. Eventually they began going on walks around the estate. And at some point, he must have asked her to marry him, and she must have said yes, because one day they came in and announced their engagement.”
(Danlen transitioned into a wedding march.)
“And then they lived happily ever after,” piped up Othniel.
“Well…” Kenthel’s voice trailed off. “They lived happily, but not ‘ever after’. Qeterah was often in ill health. Much of it was due to how she was treated in Galtor, especially from the beatings and the poisoning. She was able to mostly recover, but not completely.”
Danlen stopped strumming and set his lute down, giving full attention to his father’s story.
“Deréno and Qeterah were married for a good twenty years, and in spite of her sufferings, they were both very happy together. They were only able to have one child, who of course is the Lord Doáno. Then, one day, the Lady Qeterah grew deathly sick, and couldn’t get better. She lay in bed for several days, dying. Lord Deréno never left her side. Then she passed away.
“My brother was heartbroken. He only lived another five years afterward, and then he, too, grew sick and died. And then Lord Doáno became lord of his father’s lands at the young age of twenty-four.”
Kenthel stopped his narration, and the room was silent for a few minutes. I thought about the story I’d just heard. The sufferings the Lady Qeterah had gone through were unthinkable. The pain, the anguish, the sorrow… I could not fathom these things yet in my mind. They were scary. What would I have done, if I had been imprisoned and tortured like Qeterah? Or if I’d been her brother, risking my life, and eventually giving it? What kind of courage did they have, that they were able to do what they did?
“Thank you, Uncle Kenthel,” said Leonah. “I always like to hear you tell that story. Almost every time, there’s some detail that you put in that I haven’t heard before.”
Kenthel smiled. “You’re welcome, niece.”
Leonah suddenly turned to me and gave me a grown-up look. “You see now, Edlen, why the issue of trade with Galtor is so important to my father and me, and why we both get so upset at what Melthro is trying to do?”
I was taken aback by how serious she was. She looked intently at me, as if demanding a response. “Y-yes. It makes a lot of sense,” I managed to say.
“It is a very important matter,” said Kenthel gravely. “I wish children like you didn’t have to be bothered with it. But, times are changing.”
Times are changing. Melthro had said that too; but Melthro had said it as if it were a good thing. Kenthel said it with sadness in his voice.
“Ah, Kenthel, there you are,” came my father’s voice as he entered the room. Lord Doáno was with him.
We all stood up.
“Sire,” said Kenthel. “Is everything alright?”
“Yes...” said my father, hesitating slightly. “I would like your counsel for a moment.”
“Of course.” Kenthel nodded. “And Lord Doáno, good to see you as well.”
“The pleasure’s always mine, uncle,” Lord Doáno said. He turned to Leonah. “Come Leonah, time for bed! Your mother and I are heading back to our quarters for the night.”
Leonah sighed slightly, but got up. “Yes, father.”
“Well, Edlen, Othniel,” said Danlen, as everyone else left the room. “That was a good lesson. You even got a good story at the end to boot!” He grinned and picked up his lute. “One more random melody to play together. But don’t worry, we’ll do it in G this time.”
“Thanks,” I said with a tad of sarcasm. (I really didn’t like how he had played in E earlier.)
Danlen made a pretend frown and put on his fake Orrulian1 accent. “Very well, master Edlen, if you’re going to be putting on attitudes with me, YOU get to make up the melody line, and I will do the harmony.” He scrunched up his nose and sniffed.
“Really?” I said.
“Yes, really,” said Danlen. Then he laughed and switched back to his normal voice. “Besides, it’s fun. You’ll get better at improvising if you do it.”
I sighed and winced. “Alright.”
“It’s good for your self-confidence too.”
I nodded, realizing I wasn’t getting out of this one.
“Othniel, you’re not getting out of this one either!” laughed Danlen. “Pick up your lute and try and pick out the chords you hear.”
“Ok,” Othniel said obediently.
I started forming chords on my lute and plucking the notes. First a G chord — three notes, going up the chord, and then adding a finger with my left hand to change the last note, then letting it go. I did that twice. Then I did the same thing with a C chord, and then a D chord, and then back to a G chord.
“Ya da dee dee da, ya da dee dee da, ya da dee dee da, ya da dee dee da…” Danlen started “singing” along. Great, I thought. I kept going.
Danlen stopped singing and started playing a harmony with his skilled fingers. He looked up at Othniel. “These chords are nice and easy, Othniel. See if you can figure them out.”
Othniel started strumming along. He got a couple of chords wrong at first, but then figured it out. G. C. D. G.
Danlen started humming again in his tenor voice. Now it was a slow, peaceful tune, rising up above the notes I was playing, even while his fingers were strumming a harmony below. There was something almost haunting about it. I closed my eyes and began imagining beautiful things: woods, mountains, lakes, and oceans; a cloudless night sky, strewn with stars and a full moon; the sound of the wind blowing, the sound of an owl hooting; all the beauty that one could find in the night. Suddenly, I realized I felt comfortable with the chords and notes I was playing, and that the moment was right to change the chords. I played the notes twice over a C chord, then went back to a G, and then back to a C chord, and then a D. Danlen followed me seamlessly with his voice and his fingers. He crescendoed, and then we played though the original chords again, and his voice gently faded out.
I plucked my last note, and listened to its dying echo.
“Aw, I didn’t want to stop! That sounded good,” said Othniel.
“That was well-done!” said Danlen. “You even changed the chords up at just the right moment!”
“You made me play the wrong chords when you did that,” Othniel said reproachfully.
“I don’t even know how I did it,” I said. “I couldn’t tell you what the right chord was for that moment… I just sort of felt it.”
“That means,” said Danlen, “that I am successfully ingraining music into your brain.” He grinned. “But in all seriousness, I like what you came up with. I could write a song based on it.”
“It kind of sounds like you already have!” said Kenthel, coming back into the room.
“So you heard all that, father? I thought you were busy giving counsel.”
“Well, it didn’t take as long as it might have; and also your strumming went longer than you thought!”
“Ah,” said Danlen. “Such is the way with us musicians!”
“Yes. You get into it and lose all track of time!” Kenthel laughed.
“Oh, speaking of which... Othniel,” said Kenthel, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your mother told me to tell you it was your bedtime.”
“Ok,” said Othniel. “Sounds like a good idea. I’m tired.” He obediently left the room and headed for bed.
“I think I shall be off to bed as well,” said Danlen, also yawning. He stood up to leave.
“Alright son,” said Kenthel. “Tell your mother I’ll be there soon.”
“Will do, daddy-o!” Danlen played a few strums, bowed, and left, humming a lullaby.
Kenthel chuckled. “That son of mine. Always has a tune in his head and his heart.”
I smiled. “It’s great having him for a music teacher.”
“I’m glad,” said Kenthel, sitting back down. He looked at me for a moment, then spoke. “Edlen, can we talk?”
“Yes… what about?”
“Are you alright, after what you saw in the counsel today?”
“I… I guess,” I said.
“Are you sure?” said Kenthel. He looked me in the eyes.
I thought back on the counsel. On Melthro’s words and his subversive tone. On the fear I had seen in my father’s eyes. How Melthro had cornered him. And then how Jelran had ganged up on me afterwards.
“No, I guess I’m not sure.” I looked at Kenthel. There was sympathy in his eyes. The kind of sympathy that would listen. The kind of sympathy that came with a wisdom that could help. I knew I could trust him.
“What did you feel when you heard Melthro speak?” Kenthel asked.
I swallowed. “I felt afraid.”
Kenthel placed a hand on my shoulder. “Why is that?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m just afraid of him. I don’t know exactly why. But I don’t trust him and it seems like he wants bad things.”
Kenthel sighed. “I wish that you didn’t have to grow up so fast.” He sat down on the chair he’d been sitting in earlier. “Edlen, you are right. Be careful of saying out loud where the wrong ears will hear you, what you’ve told me and what I’m about to tell you. But you are right. Melthro is not someone who should be trusted. He is confused about what’s really important in life, and so he wants bad things… and the problem is the bad things he wants will affect many other people.”
I felt afraid. “Many other people?” That could mean me, at least.
“Yes,” said Kenthel. “Oren is blessed to have your father as king; he is a righteous man. And if you follow in his footsteps, and are loyal to Áronyeh, Oren will also be blessed to have you as king someday. But…” his voice trailed off.
“But what?” I asked.
“Your father isn’t the only one who rules the land, and he might not always get his way.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“I mean, the power of the king is limited,” said Kenthel.
“Yes,” I said, glummly. “I noticed that this morning.”
Kenthel sighed and nodded. “Yes. You noticed. It’s not always been so noticeable because there hasn’t been such disagreement between the king and so many of his lords before. Edlen, the lords hold much of the power in Oren. For most of our history, that’s been a good thing. After our ancestor Oren died, the leaders of the various clans agreed that one of them should be king, to keep us united as a people; but the lords also needed to retain power of their own, and be able to keep the king accountable. And so they set up the system we have today; Oren’s oldest son — your ancestor — was chosen to be king, and the lords agreed to meet every other year (or more often when required), and vote on the counsels of the land. The king presides over the counsel, but it’s the total votes of all the lords that truly matters.”
“So, does my father have any power at all?” I asked.
“He has some,” said Kenthel. “His vote counts as five votes in the counsel. He has the power to call a special counsel when he believes there’s need for one; He’s also the one who will lead in war, if things ever come to that. He appoints diplomats and ambassadors to other kingdoms, and is in charge of dealing with all foreign affairs. And he also has tremendous influence, as the people look up to him. Or at least, that has been true in the past.”
“You mean, it’s not true now?”
Kenthel sighed. “It’s less true than it used to be. Especially in the south.”
I was silent a moment as I processed this. “Why is it less true than it used to be? And why the south?”
“That’s hard to answer, Edlen,” Kenthel said. “Your father is a righteous man, as I’ve said. I think it comes down to people are starting to turn away from Áronyeh in their hearts, and so they want unrighteous things, and your father, as their king, is standing in their way. And although we are blessed to have your father as king, he’s not the only ruler, or the only man of influence.”
“You’re going to talk about Melthro now,” I said, and shuddered.
“I was referring to him, yes,” said Kenthel.
I burst out in frustration. “Why does he have to disrespect my father the way he does, Kenthel? Why does he get away with it? And why is he here half the time instead of in his own land? And why does he always bring…” I huffed.
I nodded. “I hate it when Jelran’s around. I wish Lord Melthro would leave him behind. Whenever they’re here, Jelran acts like he owns the place. He pushes me around and I hate it!”
“I know he does, Edlen.” I looked up and saw compassion in his eyes.
“How did you know?”
“I have eyes and ears, Edlen. I notice things. That, and your mother noticed the incident today — or at least, you and Leonah on the floor while Jelran walked away. And also my grand-niece talks.” He smiled wryly.
“Well, can’t you or any of the grown-ups do something about it? He shouldn’t be able to treat me, or Leonah, or Othniel, or anyone like this and get away with it!” I felt myself getting really worked up.
“If only he were anyone else,” sighed Kenthel. “We could shame him for how he treats you, and ban him from the palace. But he’s Lord Melthro’s son, and that makes this matter hard to deal with. Edlen, my counsel is to avoid him when you can, and avoid being alone away from grown-ups when he’s staying here.”
The idea didn’t settle well with me. “That’s not very comforting.”
“I know it isn’t,” said Kenthel. “But I can tell, Edlen, as much a trial as Jelran is to you, that something bothers you more deeply.”
“Really?” I said. “What’s that?”
“You don’t know the future, and you’re afraid of it. Come,” he said, and motioned me out to the balcony . I followed him. The air outside was crisp and cool, and there was a slight breeze. I began to feel a bit calmer. We leaned against the railing and gazed out into the night.
“Look up at the stars, Edlen.”
I looked up and took them in. It was a sight I had seen many times. There were thousands and thousands of stars, some brighter and some dimmer, some standing alone and some forming constellations.
“Do you know,” said Kenthel, “that even after hundreds of years of watching the stars, and tracking the ones that wander, and how the sun and moon move through the ones that are fixed, and being able to predict what star will be where at any given time or date, that there is still so much we don’t know, and perhaps never will know?”
“Like what?” I was curious now.
“Well, for example,” said Kenthel, pointing at the sky with his hand, “we don’t know how far away they all are. For all we know, a dimmer star may actually be brighter than a bright star, but it could be so much further away that we don’t see it as brightly. Or, it could be closer and just happens to be much smaller, or much less bright. Or, perhaps they are the same distance from us. We really don’t know how far they are. In fact, we really don’t know what they are.”
I thought about that for a moment.
“You know,” continued Kenthel, “From the lowness of the beach at the tolgen sea, to the heights of the Vale and the fountain from which the seven rivers flow (which is much, much higher), the stars look the same. No matter how high we go, they don’t appear to be closer.”
I looked at him oddly. “Kenthel? Have you been to the Vale?”
He smiled at me. “Perhaps.” (That meant he had.)
“Is it true that elves live there?”
Kenthel chuckled. “Yes, elves live there, Edlen. And you’re changing the subject. Back to the stars. There is something we do know about them. Do you know what that is?”
“What?” I asked.
“We know the One who created them.”
“Oh,” I said. Of course.
“Think about that, Edlen. He created Arah, and all the heaven above it. All that is and was, and ever will be, was created by Áronyeh. He holds all of it in His hand. And the great host of heaven above, of which we know so little… we at least know this. He created it to show us something of Himself.”
“What does He want to show us?” I asked.
“A lot of things,” said Kenthel. “But try this for starters. He has set the heavens in their course. Nothing save Áronyeh Himself can shake them. The sun and moon will rise and set just as He has set them too. Think even of the precision of it, Edlen… the sun travels its year through the stars in exactly 360 days; the moon goes through its cycle exactly once every 30 days, exactly 12 times in the sun’s year; it never fails.2 Meanwhile, the wandering stars follow their patterns; nothing can change their paths.
“The heavens above are a reflection of the Creator Himself. He can’t be shaken; He can’t be changed, no matter what the schemes of men, whether they be misguided lords like Lord Melthro, or an entire evil nation like Galtor. Men shake their fists at the heavens and scream in defiance against Áronyeh, and the heavens continue to move in their paths, and our Creator remains firm and unshaken, and causes everything that happens — even the bad things — to work to His will and His purposes for us. Elden, look at me.”
I looked at Kenthel.
“Edlen, when you’re frightened by the things you see around you, remember your Creator. Trust Him, and don’t fear what men can do to you.”
I nodded, and sighed. I didn’t feel totally reassured. Áronyeh seemed so far off. And yet at the same time, I knew Kenthel was right, and it made me feel a little better. But I still had a lot on my mind. “Kenthel?”
“Will Lord Melthro get his way?”
“That depends on what you mean,” said Kenthel.
“I mean, will he get trade opened with Galtor?”
Kenthel sighed. “I hope not.” He shifted his weight on the railing and looked out at the starts again. “I’m sure that this time he won’t. There are forty-eight lords, and he and the lords sympathetic to his side are only twenty in number.”
I counted in my head. “Then he needs only five more to get his vote.”
Kenthel chuckled slightly. “He needs more than that. Remember, your father’s vote counts as five.”
“Oh.” I counted again. “Seven more.”
“That’s right,” said Kenthel, smiling. But then his smile faded. “He could get his way on that one in a few years, if enough lords can be swayed between now and then. And at any rate, he’ll get his way this time on the other matter.”
“What other matter?”
“Your father and Lord Doáno and Lord Benthrop, and a few other lords from the North, want a vote to enforce the existing law against trade,” said Kenthel. “That vote will likely fail. There seem to be a dozen lords who are not yet in favor of changing the law to open trade, and yet at the same time are not willing to enforce the existing law.”
“That’s odd,” I said.
“It is,” said Kenthel. “Politics is odd.” He turned to me. “But enough of this for tonight, Edlen. You should go join your brother! It’s late and you need your sleep.”
He was right. I was tired. “Alright,” I said. “Thank you, Kenthel. You give good advice.”
He smiled warmly. “That’s my calling,” he laughed.
Kenthel and I walked back into the room, and I bid him goodnight as he headed out to the hall to his family’s quarters. I took a candle and headed to the room Othniel and I shared. Othniel was sound asleep. I got ready for bed, blew out the candle, and lay on my bed for a while, thinking of the things Kenthel had talked about, before I drifted off to sleep, dreaming of stars and music and the story of Lord Deréno and Lady Qeterah.
1. Orrulia is a small island kingdom in the Tolgen Sea, with a culture of scholarship and education, and a somewhat unfair reputation for being snobbish.
2. In Arah, unlike our own world, the cycles of day, month, and year follow an exact precise 30-12-360 pattern.