Konami owns Suikoden and its characters, Straya owns Ardeth and Jael, MercWanderer owns Rachel, and the rest belong to me.
We walked out to the barn and I got a better look at Jael. He was a few inches taller than me and probably a year or so older. He had dark blond hair and gray-green eyes. His skin was darker than mine, too. He seemed very normal, and maybe a little boring.
Anyway, next to the barn there was a big, covered carriage. Id never seen it before. It was black and looked pretty fancy.
Thats ours, Jael said as I stood on my toes to look inside. It had leather seats. Thats how we got here.
Oh. You didnt ride?
He shook his head. It would be too far for Mother and Lord Rolands lady friend. We came all the way from Vinay del Zexay.
Ive never ridden in a carriage, just a cart. Still, I knew that riding was more fun than just sitting in something that moves so slow. Must have been boring and long.
No, he said with a smile. My father can drive four-in-hand and I got sit up on the bench with him. I got to hold the whip.
I was impressed. Four-in-hand is hard, or at least thats what Ive heard. Lord Salome must be very strong. Can you ride? I had to ask. I wasnt sure if they taught riding to boys in the city, even though I dont remember ever going there.
I sorta felt dumb for asking, but I just wanted to know. I wanted to show him Rhubarb, my pony. I bet he didnt have his own pony. Lets feed the horses. Do you know how to pull flakes of hay?
Jael nodded. We have horses, too.
I opened the side door to the barn. We have twelve stalls but only use four. Ten of them were full now, though. The horses hung their heads over the doors and a few snorted. They were hungry. I saw that Father had taken a bale of hay down from the loft. I guess he planned on sending me out here. I dont mind, though.
I picked off a flake and flung it into the first stall. The horse there was Fathers black charger. He was a very fast horse. I wasnt allowed to ride him. I pointed to him and said to Jael, Thats Mercury.
I know. Your father, Lord Borus, and Lord Roland rode alongside our carriage.
I was pretty annoyed that Jael knew all these things. Oh.
Jael took a flake and tossed it to the horse in the next stall. It was a big chestnut, probably about 16.2 hands. Im getting better at guessing hands. Father told me I that need to learn that so Ive been practicing. This is Ace. Hes one of my fathers carriage horses. He pointed to the three horses in the next three stalls. They all looked like Acebig, brown, and boring. The others are Queen, Joker and Jack. Father bought them as a team to draw the carriage but they ride well, too.
Have you ridden them? I asked. I doubted he had.
Only Queen. The others are too high strung.
I nodded, but I bet he didnt ride that big horse unless he had a lead on.
We fed the carriage horses and then came to a tall bay. It was Lord Rolands horse. Jael said his name was Kireba. I guess thats an elf name or something. Then we took care of Mothers two horses. The first was her horse when she was a knight. Phoenix is her name and shes gray and retired. The other is a chestnut mare named Ladybug. Shes fast but shes calm.
The last horse was Uncle Boruss. His name is Stratus. Father says hes a red chestnut. Hes pretty, but hes not very nice, especially when he sees food. He pinned his ears as I moved closer with the hay. I stood a good distance back and threw it over the door. I didnt want to get bit or anything.
I walked back to the bale and got half a flake. My pony doesnt eat as much as the horses. He cant stick his head over his door, either. I opened the stall and he sneezed at me. It was gross but Im used to it. Jael was still watching Stratus throw his head around like a fool. I called him over since my pony is more interesting than a stupid mean horse. This is Rhubarb. Hes mine.
He looks like a nice pony.
Yeah. Except hes fat. But hes good to me. Hes a bay and his mane is really thick. I gave him a pat on the neck as he grabbed some of the hay out of my arms. Father said because he doesnt have any white socks hell never go lame. I put the rest of the hay down and he started to eat it. I backed out of the stall and closed the door. Mother says its rude to stare at people when they eat.
Jael nodded and we started to walk back the way we came. He didnt seem too impressed with my pony.
Do you have a pony?
See. I knew it. He was jealous. Rhubarb is my most precious possession. Whats yours?
He stopped and looked at me and he didnt seem too happy. I guess I was sorta being a brat. He reached into his shirt and pulled out a medallion on a necklace. It was gold and had an H carved into it. There were two deer heads on either side of the H and at the bottom it said something strange. I couldnt read it.
Jael must have known that because he spoke. It says discere est vincere. Its my familys motto in some old language. It means to learn is to conquer.
Oh, I said. I didnt think we had a motto. Whats a motto?
Its a saying that you live by.
I guess ours would be Dont hassle people. My parents say that to me an awful lot.
He smiled and tucked it back under his shirt. My father gave me that on my last birthday. He said that it has been in our family for generations and its always passed down to the oldest boy.
Right then I decided Jael was a nice kid, even if I wasnt being nice. Even when I was being snotty he was polite. Im sorry for being a brat, I said.
Its all right. I get bratty, too. He held his hand out to me. Lets be friends, Ryan.
I shook his hand and smiled. All right.
We went back to the house and ate lunch and then went out to the street and down to the square. People from the town all waved to me and one of the old ladies asked me if my father was home yet. I nodded to her and she gave me a piece of chocolate. She gave one to Jael, too.
Do you know everyone here? he asked me as he ate the candy.
Yeah. My fathers famous.
Jael just smiled. Where I live, Im not allowed to walk on the streets alone.
Well thats because its a big city, I said matter-of-factly.
So whats this Festival for? he asked as we made our way to the area where the buskers were. I always like to watch them when they come for Harvest.
I stared at him for a moment. I thought city kids got to go to a real school and learn important things. Maybe they didnt study that yet. Its to celebrate the blessings of the goddess Sadie.
I thought he was fooling with me, but he sounded too serious. I pulled his sleeve and dragged him out of the crowd and next to Charlottes house. (Why did it have to be Charlottes house!) You dont know who Sadie is? How can you not? Are you a Zexen? I asked, probably rather rudely. But he did have darker skin, so maybe he was really a Karayan in disguise.
Yes, he replied. But where Im from we dont celebrate the Harvest, and we pray to Loa.
Oh, I said. I probably should have apologized. But I didnt. Mother talks about Loa sometimes.
Knights swear an oath to her and on the Zexen Crest, Jael said. I guess hes smarter than I thought.
You know about that?
Of course, he said, but he wasnt annoyed with me.
Well, I guess you would, I said as I scratched the back of my neck. Since your father is the Captain of the Knights.
Yes, and I read.
I just never heard of this Festival or of Sadie. My father just came home a few nights ago and said we were going on a trip. I didnt ask too many questions. He looked very tired and went right to bed after dinner.
I nodded to him and led him back towards the crowd around the musicians. It seemed we had a lot in common. I know how you feel. I want my father to tell me stories about the war, but he wont.
Mine either. He never wants to talk about it.
A few minutes later we stood in front of the stage that had been built just for the Festival. A new group of performers was starting to play. It was a sorta fast song that goes to some traditional dance. Father does it very well, but Mother always looks dizzy when she tries. I moved away to let the people form their circles, because its one of those strange dances you do in big circles, but then Charlotte showed up.
Hello Ryan, she said trying to sound sweet as her curly blonde hair bounced annoyingly.
Hi Charlotte, I replied. I needed to get Jael out of there before she started to make a bother of herself.
Lets dance, Ryan, she said.
I scowled at her. Not even a minute and shes being a pest. I dont want to dance.
Ill dance with you, Jael said.
Who are you? She asked.
He introduced himself and took her hand like a gentleman. Then they joined the dance. I guess he knew it because he followed the steps perfectly. He even made Charlotte look good, and she always steps on my toes.
When they were done with the danceI think its called a Reelshe even curtseyed to him. She never curtseys to me, even when Father makes me dance with her. They walked back over to me and she smarted off again. I cant believe that you have friends like Jael! Friends that know how to dance with a lady.
I shrugged at her as she started with the whole lady thing again. Hes here visiting from Vinay del Zexay.
They dance like this there? she asked.
He nodded to her. Yes, but usually its inside and at a ball. I have to go to them with my parents a lot. Its more fun to dance than to just sit around and watch adults talk.
Charlotte stared at him. Tell me about the balls! Do the ladies dress like princesses?
He smiled. Some even wear tiaras.
Whats a tiara?
Its like a crown. My mother has one. She looks beautiful when she puts on her gowns. So does my Aunt Rachel.
Your family must be rich, Charlotte said.
His father is the Captain of the Knights, I said.
She stared at him and then shook her head at me. Whys he hanging around with you, then?
I wanted to throw something at her, but Jael just smiled. I wish hed stop doing that. Its just letting her win. He said, Our parents are very good friends.
Oh, she said. My daddy says that Ryans mother is a traitor.
Shes not a trader, I said. She doesnt even own a store.
Jael whispered into my ear. He told me that Charlotte mean a different kind of tradera really bad kind. Now I really wish I had a mouses tail or a piece of dirt to throw at her.
Thats not true! I yelled.
Daddy says it is, she spat.
Jael held his hands up. Its not true, Charlotte.
She listened to him for some reason. Then my father called us to go back to the house, so we could get away before she made him dance again. But then, he probably would have liked it.
We went back to the house and had some juice and the adults sat around and talked and talked and talked. Finally they stopped talking long enough to go out to the Festival. Charlotte was still there, and she kept hassling Jael, but he didnt get ugly with her like I usually did. Uncle Borus laughed and said something that made Lord Salome scowl, but I couldnt hear what it was.
All the adults danced. Mother doesnt like to dance, but she still didwith all of the men in our group. She was smiling. I think they had some wine while Jael and I were out. A lot of them were laughing. Im not allowed to have wine, but I know it makes people laugh. Although sometimes when Father and Uncle Borus drink wine, they argue. Mother doesnt let them in the house when they do that.
After awhile, an unusual looking man approached us. He was really, really skinny and had a nose that looked like you could hang a rope on it. His clothes were really colorful, and he carried a violin. I figured he was a minstrel. He bowed to the group but he didnt start to play like musicians usually did when they came up to you.
Instead, he started talking to the lady elf very quietly. The other adults started to move on, except Lord Roland. I wanted to stay and hear them, but Father pulled my hand. I looked back and the three of them were talking. Father jerked my arm and I turned around. I guess that was one of those adult discussions I wasnt supposed to be interested in, but I wanted to know who the man was and what Lord Roland and his lady friend wanted with him.
We walked on and visited some of the craftsmen who were selling their wares. Lady Ardeth bought a blanket from one of them. It looked like a Calerian blanket. Traders from all over come to the Festival, even from as far away as that.
A little later I saw Nei up on stage with the strange man from earlier. She was playing an instrument with strings that she held on her lap. She was pretty good at it. The man looked very happy and they had a lot of people dancing. Lord Roland just stood and watched, but he didnt look mad. He looked peaceful. Im glad whatever they were talking about earlier wasnt a problem.
Our group got a lot of attention as we wandered around the Festival. Mother didnt seem to mind for a change. Maybe because there were others there to share it this time. We ate some of the food the people were serving and it was a nice supper. Then Dorothy, one of the ladies of the village, reminded my mother that she was supposed to have some corn ready for tomorrow. Mother smiled. Im sure she remembered. She did the corn on the Second Day of Harvest every year.
Just after supper, Mother told me to get my pillow and pajamas out of my room. She said Jael, Geoff and I were going to sleep in the keeping room. I was excited. We could build a fort! I grabbed my things and got the biggest blanket I could find to make the fort.
Ive built a lot of forts, but this one had to be big enough for three of us. So I got four chairs from the kitchen and set them up in a square. Then I threw the blanket over them. Then I got the cushions off the sofa and put them inside to sit on. When I was done, the three of us crawled under the blanket and put our pillows down. Jael was impressed. I guess they dont make forts in the city.
Mother was not impressed. She took the chairs back and said wed have to wait until bedtime. She also said Uncle Borus was going to sleep on the couch in there so we couldnt have the cushions. He should be a fun roommate. I bet he has a lot of stories to tell.
The adults sat around and talked for awhile, and Jael and I had to stay with them because it was dark outside and I couldnt have the chairs to make the fort yet. It was pretty boring. Im not really sure what they were talking about, but the more wine they had, the funnier everything got to them.
Some of the things I did understand, though. They talked about us kids, but mostly about Geoff and how he got sick two years ago. That was really boring. They talked about a man named Louis who couldnt come because he was too busy pushing paper against the corruption and slaying the dragons of deceit according to Lord Roland. Everyone mumbled things, but I guess they all like Louis. He had to be a knight if he was slaying dragons. I sort of remember meeting him, but I think I was really little then.
Then they talked about two people called Romeo and Juliet. Mother looked really embarrassed, and Lord Salome said, It was horrible, but was still the best performance we could have given at the time, milady, especially since neither of us were meant for the stage. Everyone laughed at that. Then they had more wineespecially Uncle Borus. I think he drank a bottle by himself.
Then they laughed some more. They talked a lot about silly things. I was hoping they would tell knight stories. I want to be a knight when Im big, so I like to hear knight stories. But they didnt talk about anything good like that.
Finally everyone decided to go to bed. Jael helped me move the chairs again and we built our fort. Uncle Borus gave us the cushions off the couch. He said he didnt need them. He looked very tired. I asked if he was ok and he said, Im fine, just three sheets to the wind. There was no wind and I only had one blanket, so I dont know what he was talking about.
I asked him if hed tell us a story because he always tells good stories. He smiled at me and said he would, so I told Jael and Geoff to come out of the fort. Jael did, but Geoffrey didnt. He was already asleep with his hand stuck in his mouth. Its so gross. I wish he would grow up and stop acting like a baby.
After the two of us sat down, Uncle Borus asked, What kind of story do you want?
No kissing, I said. I hate kissing stories.
Jael smiled. Adventure!
Uncle Borus scratched the back of his head. All right then uhh lets see Once upon a time
I smiled. All good stories start with Once upon a time. I just hoped thered be no kissing.
My uncle kept talking, and his words were really sloppy. It sounded like he had something in his mouth. there lived a dragon. He was a good dragon for the most part, and only killed what he needed tojust for food. He never bothered people, and he made friends with people.
A dragon story! I was so excited! I scooted closer to him to listen better. He smelled a little fruity. Like wine. But I didnt care. This was going to be a great story.
And one day, he met a beautiful princess. She heard he was a good dragon so she went to talk to him. They met many times after that and every time they would have nice chats because even though he was a dragon, he was a rather smart dragon and knew what kind of things to say to a lady.
Then one day, a witch put a spell on the dragon and he went crazy. He started killing people of the kingdom with his fire breath and fangs. When the spell broke, the princess went to him and asked why he did it. He couldnt give her an answer. It just happened, he said. Besides, Im a wolf. And wolves kill people.
I thought it was a dragon that went crazy? Jael asked.
Uncle Borus rubbed his face. Oh, right. A dragon. The dragon said that to the princess, but she didnt believe it. She knew the dragon too well and she knew that he would never be capable of such an atrocious act by himself
Atrocious? I asked.
It means really horrible, Jael said.
Uncle Borus nodded and continued. He looked really sad for some reason. So, the princess went back to her castle and told the men that had gathered not to go kill the dragon. They didnt want to listen to her, but one of them, her best knight agreed with her because he knew the dragon, too.
How? Jael asked. How did he know the dragon, too?
Because everyone in the kingdom knew the dragon, my uncle said. He was a good dragon and the knight would go talk to him.
Anyway, the princess and the knight went to see the dragon and warned him that the villagers were mad because he killed the people. She told him to hide because she was afraid they wouldnt listen to her and try to hurt him anyway.
He told her to let them come, because he deserved to pay for his sins, but she wouldnt hear it. Her best knight said the same, and the dragon started to listen. After the people talked to him, the dragon followed them back to the kingdom and apologized to all the townspeople. Some took his apology, but many didnt, so he went back to his cave and pondered what he could do to atone for his actions.
He looked at his gold and decided to give it to the townspeople. He didnt need it, and it could help fix their homes he had burned. So he called the princess to him and told her to take his gold. She smiled at him and he realized after all this time that he loved that princess. She had been so kind to him, and for years had been his closest friend.
Where did he get the gold? I asked.
My uncle scratched the back of his neck. Umm all dragons guard gold. Anyway, then the dragon told the princess how he felt, but princesses cant love dragonsthey can only love knights and princes. She told him that she would always be his friend, but she was betrothed to her best knight. The dragon was sad, but he knew it was for the best.
So in the end, the townspeople mostly forgave the dragon, and used his gold to rebuild their village. The princess married her best knight, but the dragon visits them from time to time and keeps his promise to the knight to look after the princess.
When did he make the promise? I asked.
Uncle Borus yawned as he kicked his feet up onto the sofa. When he went to the wedding.
That was a really fast ending, Jael said in a quiet voice. And the story didnt make much sense.
Im tired, kids. Go to sleep.
I knew it. Thats why the story had such a boring ending. Before going back into the fort, I said, Good night, Uncle Borus. Thanks for the story.
Once in the fort, the two of us started to lie down. Geoffrey was already asleep. I nudged Jael. Lets scare him.
Because its funny. Watch this.
I got out of the fort and stood behind it, but in front of the fireplace. It made my shadow look huge on the blanket. I made some dragon noises and made my hands into claws. Geoffrey! Geoffrey! Ive come to eat you! I growled.
Jael came out and helped. We both were very good dragons until Geoff finally woke up. He saw the shadows and ran out of the tent. Well, he doesnt really run, he sort of teeters around because hes not all that good at walking. Then he started shrieking and crying as he tried to make his way up the stairs. It was a lot of noise, but Uncle Borus didnt open his eyes. He must have been very tired!
Mother heard him, though. She came running down the stairs and Father was right behind her. They didnt look too happy. Then Lord Salome came out of my room. He just raised an eyebrow at Jael, who disappeared into the fort. I wasnt smart enough to hide.
Mother picked up Geoff who whined in his baby talk about how we scared him. Father gave me a tongue-lashing and promised Id pay for this tomorrow. Geoff didnt want to sleep with us in the fort anymore. Father fussed at me some more and I apologized to Geoff.
Then Lord Salome came down stairs and lifted up the blanket to the fort. He looked really upset. No wonder Jael hid from him. Im afraid of him as it is, and Ive never seen him mad before. He didnt say a word to his son, but Jael still crawled out and apologized, too.
Lady Ardeth appeared at the top of the stairs. Whats going on?
Her husband called up to her. It seems that our son is causing little Geoffrey grief.
Im sure he was just following Ryans lead, Mother said as she put Geoff back on his feet. Hes always finding new ways to terrorize his brother.
Lord Salome glared down at my new friend. Then hell get the same punishment as Ryan.
Fair enough, Father said with a grin. Ill think of something fitting for them. He looked over on the sofa at Uncle Borus. I cant believe he slept through this.
Lord Salome said in a happier voice, I think the wine helped.
Mother laughed and then they went back upstairs.
A few minutes passed, and my brother went back to sleep. Once we were sure he was out, Jael asked, What kind of punishments do you get?
Corn, I said as I shook my head, dreading it already. Shucking corn. And since Mothers doing the corn for the feast tomorrow, that what well be doing. Im sure of it.