AR 1212-01-03 In Which Yari Reads a Book, and Rissa Cries
Gargoyle’s library was almost always empty. There was something about the type of students who found themselves placed in the Cave that most rarely felt the need to make use of the shelves and shelves of books provided exclusively to them. There were, of course, exceptions to this stereotype, such as Jarl Hastae, who was tucked away at a table in the back of the room, reading through a particular tome one mid-winter morning.
Having read through the night, the boy’s eyes were red and dry, but he didn’t seem to notice. The author – some ancient human sage by the name of Brant Calderson – had filled the pages of the great text with account after account of historic battles from an era before even Yari’s great grandparents were born. What made the stories so interesting, were the ways they all resolved: At the climax of each tale, some god or another would descend from Asgard to set an otherwise-impossible situation right.
Across from him, left open to a random page, lay another large book. This one contained accounts that were less fantastic, and more historically based. By cross-referencing both books, Yari felt he had been able to suss out a relatively accurate interpretation of the real events that had taken place, generations ago.
While his training did not call for such in-depth historic research, Yari felt there was value in his late-night effort all the same. By studying the heroes of the past, he could learn from their actions and make better-informed decisions in the present. As Professor Ulfred was wont to intone: He who does not learn from the past is bound to repeat it. Yari always cringed whenever the professor said that, but it was still good advice.
“Hey, Yari!” came an exclamation, bright and cheerful. Yari jolted up from the pages of his texts, and found his younger brother, Math, beaming at him from across the table. Trying to refocus his eyes into the distance, the older boy squinted at the hour-candle on the other side of the room. Was it really already past breakfast?
“You missed breakfast,” Math said, confirming Yari’s last thought. “I was wondering where you were, since I was sitting next to Sardi, and you weren’t there.”
Math figured it was simply from hours of reading in dim light, but Yari narrowed his eyes and scowled at his sibling. The younger boy was too naïve, too eager to please his exalted big brother to notice the act, and he continued right along, “Anyway, c’mon! We gotta get changed! Dad and Mom’re gonna be here soon!”
Yari’s squint turned into a wide-eyed stare. “What?” Math asked. “Did you forget they were ‘porting over today?”
In fact, Yari had forgotten. The past week, or so, had been a very hectic one for the young cleric, and Yari suddenly realized he had forgotten a lot of things. Things like how he was beginning to feel about Verona recently, despite already having similar feelings for Elsie.
Damn, he thought. There was never any permanent escape from his thoughts, no matter how hard he tried to distract himself. Something always reminded him of his troubles!
Well, that was a thing for later; at the moment, his little brother was looking at him with a worried expression. It wouldn’t do to upset Math, so Yari brought himself fully back into his head, and he clenched his eyes closed, moistening them, while he reestablished contact with the rest of his body.
“Right,” he said finally, taking several long breaths. “This’s the day!”
“Yeah, so c’mon! Headmaster wants us all in our formals when they come through. Guess it’s gonna be a big ceremony, or something.” Math’s face was overflowing with impatience.
“Dad’s gonna love that,” Yari mumbled, pushing himself to his feet. He took one step, and promptly collapsed to the floor, knocking a couple chairs away with loud crashes.
“Yari, are you okay!” exclaimed Math, rushing to his brother’s side.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said, waving off Math’s attempts to help. “I’m fine. Just sat too long, and my legs’ve gone to sleep. Gi’me a second.”
Stretching his legs out in front of him with his hands, Yari waited for the inevitable tingling discomfort as blood circulation was reestablished to his lower extremities. Sure enough, within moments his toes began to itch and ache, and the sensation quickly spread up to his thighs. It was made worse whenever he moved, but Yari knew movement was the quickest way to get his blood flowing again, so he wiggled his toes as much as he could stand, and tried to lift his legs on at a time.
“Come on!” insisted Math, impatiently. “Can’t you just cast a cure spell on yourself, or something? We don’t have a lot of time!”
Yari scowled at his brother again, though for a different reason. Math had looked up to Yari his entire life – if not literally for part of it – but, while he adored his brother, Math had never been able to fully appreciate what it was Yari was doing when his prayers to Odin caused immediate physical healing. Often, the older boy had tried to explain that such answered prayers were literal miracles, not to be taken lightly, but such explanations fell on deaf ears.
To Math, life was black-and-white. Either something was an enemy, or it wasn’t. If it was, it was to be beaten with sharp objects until it stopped moving. If it wasn’t, it was family, and thus it was to be protected with sharp objects from enemies. There was no room for the considerations of gods, or higher powers; while Math could hurt things with his sword, Yari could heal things with his words, and that was the end of it. Yari almost envied his brother’s simplistic outlook.
“I think I can walk, if you help me,” Yari said. Dutifully, Math moved in to support his beloved brother, helping him off the floor, and draping his arm around his shoulder. Yari had grown considerably in the past several months, but Math, two years his junior, was still at least an inch taller. Instead of feeling insecure about his height, Yari was simply grateful that his little brother was so well suited to the task at hand. The two siblings moved slowly, but purposefully, out of the library and into Cave Gargoyle’s boys’ bunkroom.
By the time they reached their destination, Yari was mostly able to support his own weight, though he still walked with an awkward, loping gate. The other boys were well into their preparations, but with each other’s help, Yari and Math were able to dress quickly and join the main group as folks left for the Great Hall.
Limping along near the back of the crowd, Yari endulged in a moment of familial affection, and ruffled Math’s hair. The younger boy let out a token complaint, and mumbled something about how Yari should know hard it was to get his hair to do what he wanted, but was otherwise complacent. Privately though, Math was grinning ear-to-ear.
“’Smatter with you?” came Sardi’s voice from behind the two brothers.
Yari waited until his friend caught up and was walking beside him before answering. “Sat too long reading, and my legs fell asleep.” Sardi chuckled, satisfied his friend’s discomfort fell within acceptable bounds for humor, and kept the pace in silence.
Just outside the Great Hall – a huge room with an arched ceiling, high above even Ox’s impressive reach – the students were ordered to organize themselves into family groups before entering. Rissa quickly found her way over to Yari and Math, and Wolf was also pulled into their little group before he had too much time to think about the directive. Krunch seemed to just appear beside Yari, and Sparky soon found her way over to stand by her brother. Franziska and her wolf stood near to Zen, all of whom were emphatically motioned over to join the cluster.
“Family, right?” beamed Yari at his friends, and they all agreed in their own ways.
Just before their turn to enter the hall came, Yari looked around and spotted Sardi and his brothers. With just the three of them, Sardi, Geo, and Beckum made for a pathetic-looking group. It was all the more sad, realized Yari, for the fact that no one would be coming out of Professor Trent’s portal to see them. It must be awful, being an orphan, Yari thought!
“Hey!” Yari called over to them. “What’re you guys doing over there? C’mon! We’re almost up!”
The three brothers glanced at each other, then grinned and hurried over to stand with their friends. Numbering ten in total, plus one wolf, the group Yari was claiming as his family was easily the largest group of the lot. As they took their place in the hall, the young boy couldn’t help but feel a surge of pride for his crew. Though, maybe it was just the nerves in his legs continuing to reactivate.
Professor Trent, standing in the center of the Great Hall, intoned a series of arcane syllables, and moved his hands and fingers about in intricate patterns. Rissa mouthed, “Hocus pocus,” at Yari, and pantomimed exaggerated somatic expressions. Try as he might, Yari could not contain his laugh, and he quickly slapped a hand over his mouth in embarrassment. He glared at his sister, but she just winked, and looked away.
A rift in reality opened near Trent, appearing as a vertical shaft of light. The wizard stepped to the side, and after a moment a tiny silhouette emerged from the portal. Yari knew all about the protocols, and procedures, and how this was supposed to be a grand welcoming ceremony, but in that moment he didn’t care.
“Siffles!” the boy cried, dashing out to meet his baby sister.
“Yari!” the little girl answered, rushing to him as well.
As they met, and Yari hoisted his sister into the air as part of a great hug, the rest of Yari’s family emerged from the shaft of light. First came Yari’s youngest brother, Gulbrandr, then immediately both his parents. Behind them came two other small figures, Uncle Scraps and Eliza. Uncle Sindri and Aunt Paleen, each carrying one of their two children, were next, followed by Franziska’s mother and father. Last through were Zen’s mother and his siblings.
Perhaps inspired by Yari’s breech of protocol, the rest of the waiting group rushed the center of the room. What followed was an impassioned free-for-all of greeting, hugging, and handshaking. Even Sardi and his brothers were met as family members, at least by Yari’s parents.
After several minutes had passed, Trent began trying to break up the gathering and clear the way for the next portal. Sven, currently embracing Rissa, looked annoyed and said, “Oh, come on, Trent. I helped save the world, and your sorry ass. The least you can do is wait a minute longer while I hug my daughter.”
As Trent was about to respond, in what was sure to not be anything resembling politeness, Kara gently placed a hand on her husband. A look was shared between them, and Sven said, “Fine!”
He grabbed at Rissa but the girl lithely dodged out of his grasp. She was getting quicker! Good girl, he thought, but she’d have to do better than that to outpace her old man.
Arissa stood behind Gulbrandr, using her youngest brother as a human shield. With a sing-song playfulness in her voice Rissa said, “I’m not a little girl anymore, Daddy! You’re not going to throw me over your shoulder like a sack of potatoes.”
“I will when I catch you,” Sven countered. The girl abandoned the cover of her brother and started to dash away. The chase was on!
At that very moment a man stepped forward from the crowd. He was dressed in a fine gold linen waistcoat with white fur trim, his beard a similar straw color tinged with white. He held out a hand as if to greet Sven. “Later, Ulfred,” Sven said, rushing after his eldest daughter. The onetime Voice of Odin tapped Sven on the shoulder. Suddenly the two men were alone in a sunlit meadow, surrounded by myriad wildflowers in every possible hue. Songbirds chirped a soothing melody in the distance. The scene lasted a second at most and then Sven and Ulfred were back in the Dwarf Hall some distance away from where they stood previously. Rissa ran straight into her father, a look of momentary confusion on her face as she looked back to where she had last seen him. Sven scooped up his distracted daughter and flung her over his shoulder. Amid a hail of protests from Rissa, Sven said, “Thanks for the lift, Ulfred.”
Without even realizing it, the older human replied in High Elven with the perfect inflection of a native speaker. “Anything for an old friend.”
“Say, Ulfred, is there a room around here where I can talk to this sack of potatoes in private?” Sven asked trying to hold flailing legs from kicking him.
“You can use my classroom” Ulfred said, speaking Common again. With a wry smile he added, “We’ll have to walk though; it’s a little too far for a teleport.”
By the time they reached the history classroom, Rissa had given up her struggle and hung over her father’s back quietly watching the flagstone go by. “You’ve gotten to be quite a handful,” Sven said as he set Rissa on her feet. Rissa for her part stood there with folded arms, clearly acting out the role of Pouty Young Girl.
Ulfred patted Arissa on the back. “Your daughter is my star pupil, Sven. You should be very proud of her.”
A subtle nod from Sven said what words did not: I am. Rissa dropped her act and smiled at the praise. Sven tussled her hair and smiled back.
Ulfred was smiling too. “Yes, she is a pretty special kid. Reminds me of my own daughter.”
Sven craned his neck in surprise. “You have a daughter!?”
Ulfred looked off toward the wall full of butterflies, perplexed. He spoke slowly, his eyes distant as if in a trance. “I guess I do.” Just as dazed, he walked out of the room.
Rissa looked up at her father. “Is he okay?”
“Sure.” Sven said reassuringly, “He’s just being our Butterfly. That’s normal.” Sven looked around the room. “Which desk is yours?”
Rissa took her father’s hand and walked him down the center aisle, between the rows of student desks, towards the front of the classroom. “Right here, Daddy,” she said, pointing.
Sven walked a few steps away to the teacher’s desk. He pushed some papers aside to make room, and sat down on top of it with his long legs dangling off the edge. “So. How y’doin’?”
Although lectures from Dad were rare, Rissa knew a lecture was coming. So she relished a few minutes of small talk, telling him about each class she was taking. Rissa made sure to stress how well she was doing academically. Her father quietly listened to all of it, nodding occasionally as was typical for him.
Rissa was mentioning that she and Franziska had become good friends when Sven broke his silence. “What about boys?”
Rissa looked at the floor. “I don’t want to talk about boys.”
“Good,” Sven said with a measure of relief, and spoke no more of it, hoping he could let the matter drop for another ten years.
After a moment, Sven spoke, “I got a Sending from Professor Ulfred recently. He said you came to him about something troubling you?”
Rissa bit at her lip and thought, I don’t want to talk to you about that either!
Tough, young lady, this one we’re talking about, Sven thought back instinctively.
What? Rissa thought, did he just say something? I didn’t see his lips move.
Sven eyes grew wide. Oh, no. No, you can’t have my daughter! You said we were done! he thought desperately. Flashes of Odin, seated at the head of the feasting table in a great longhouse came into Rissa’s mind, as though her father had ceased thinking in words specifically. Chained to the Allfather’s throne stood her father, fully armored and wielding his spear, though in all other respects appearing as a barely-trained pet hound, struggling at his bonds. Then, the chains were loosed, and Sven bolted out of the longhouse, never looking back.
Rissa jumped back in fright. “What’s going on? Daddy, I’m scared.” A blast of emotions hit Sven like a splash of ice cold water to the face.
Sven wrapped his arms around his trembling daughter, “It’s okay sweetheart.” It’s okay.
Still holding her tightly he rocked side to side slightly, and gently kissed the top of her head. Rissa saw an image in her mind of her father holding a newborn infant, kissing her head in the same manner. Then it was a smiling, chubby baby taking wobbly steps from her seated mother into his outstretched arms, rewarded with a kiss on the head. And then there was a small girl sitting on his lap as he turned the pages of a picture book, and leaned over to give yet another such kiss. And an eight year old tomboy, fallen out of a tree, breaking her arm. And on, and on the images came including one odd scene. The image was faded, as though from long, long ago in her father’s memory, but it was clearly of her being walked down her wedding aisle by her father. Rissa was no longer scared. It was ok.
The pair remained in that room, in that same embrace, for easily an hour. Not another word was uttered out loud.