For my mates and me and everyone near our age a shuttle race is a lot more important than the Twysog’s discoveries. Daffyd and two others, Marchant of Caerwyn and Aurin of Ellis, have challenged one another to a daylong race. My companions and I whisper that someone else added a challenge. He is a scion of House Tarren and a real enemy. Not a make-believe enemy like Marchant and Aurin, who are really Daffyd’s friends. Race day comes one full month after Spring Stormtime. I wake when Nana shakes me. “Garreth, Garreth, wake up. Today is race day.” I pull on a jumpsuit and rush through breakfast. I will watch the start of the race from the battlements and then sit with Father in the War Room.
The sun is breaking the horizon when Father and I reach the battlements. Through a crenel I see four shuttles on the greensward. Four pilots walk from the gate to their shuttles. I see Daffyd, in his orange, black, and gold flight suit, and wave. He wears his helmet and doesn’t see me. One of my companion-guards holds a radio tuned to the link between shuttle control and the pilots. I hear each pilot signal readiness. On command, they lift from the ground and dart southward. I barely have time to blink before they are out of sight.
Father leads me to the War Room and tells me to sit beside him. The main screen shows the four shuttles and a map of the Equatorial Continent. Father gestures, and a controller zooms in. “Follow at that resolution where possible,” Father orders.
“How are we seeing them?” I ask.
“Our radar will cover them for the first leg. As they go around the continent, we will switch to other houses’ radar – Merrick, Caerwyn, Dolffin, and Hynafol. The shuttles will be out of radar range when they cross the top of the continent. We do not have allies there, and the volcanoes block most radar. Marredudd will pick them up when they approach the northeastern corner of the continent, and our radar on Sehwa will paint them before they cross the equator. Satellites will watch them when they are out of radar range.”
Father allows me to operate his console. Thinking about what he said, I switch displays and watch the shuttles speed to the west. They are still very close to one another. I tell this to Father.
“They will likely stay close until the final turn around our eastern islands and the run back to Fortress,” Father says. “They will separate on the turns, depending on who cuts the turn closest.”
The race will last most of the day. By midmorning, I decide I am bored. Then, the shuttles reach the islands of House Dolffin. The display now shows a map of their course – a zigzag among the islands with mandatory turn points. I watch Daffyd gain the lead in a tight turn. I cheer, until Marchant gains at the next turn. Aurin and Cynwrig are close to one another and a little behind the others. A red number flares beside Daffyd’s shuttle – a minus one. “What does that mean?”
“Daffyd cut a turn too short. The referees penalized him one second. Nothing to worry about,” Father says. I watched as numbers, red and green, flicker beside the shuttle icons. Father is right; the lead changes minute by minute until they break from Dolffin’s islands and speed toward the Free Islands where another zigzag awaits them.
“Will they be in danger from the pirates?” I ask.
Father chuckles before he answers. “No, we are very careful not to allow the pirates surface-to-air missiles.”
When they pass the Free Islands, Daffyd is ahead by six seconds; Cynwrig and Aurin are next, tied at zero seconds; Marchant is behind at minus four seconds. “Only ten seconds separate them. It’s still anyone’s race,” a controller says.
Father pretends not to notice coins change hands among the controllers.
Now, I am really bored. They have left the coverage of Hynafol’s radar and fly eastward. The only image comes from a satellite. The numbers disappear with the loss of radar, and I can’t tell who is ahead.
“They’re in the Rock Island pass,” Telor announces. “We’ll lose contact until they come out.” His voice goes to every televisor in Fortress, and is relayed to Fortresses Caerwyn, Ellis, and Tarren. “They’ll slow, and will lose time. They will spend perhaps a tenth-hour in the pass.”
A shuttle pops out of the pass. Without radar, it’s impossible to know--
“Where are the others?” A controller gasps. A moment later, a second shuttle appears. It’s about fifteen seconds behind the first. A third appears about 50 seconds behind the second. The fourth appears, more than 500 seconds behind the leader.
“Something happened in the pass,” Father says. “Get me radar. Hack Hywel, Cythrual if you have to. I want to know more.”
In moments, a controller replies. “Radar is up, sir. We have transponder codes from all four shuttles.”
The images on the main screen bear out Father’s concern. Daffyd leads, Marchant is next, then Aurin. Cynwrig of Tarren is far behind.
“What happened to make such a change?” Telor asks. It is a rhetorical question, one only the pilots will be able to answer.
I am no longer excited to watch the race from the War Room, so I wait on the battlements for the shuttles to return. The western sky is like a purple-gray but still bright when three shuttles cross the finish line – the walls of Fortress Bleddyn. Daffyd, in the lead, makes a victory roll – dangerous, since he loses anti-gravity support when he rolls. It’s the same with floaters. Telor explained that to me and made me promise never to try. Aurin is second. I expected that, and for Marchant to be third. No one sees Cynwrig’s shuttle. We do not learn until later that Cynwrig radioed his intention to fly directly home. Good. He was no fun at supper yesterday. Sour looking. I’m glad he won’t be at the barchedig, tomorrow night.
An hour later, I am waiting in Father’s den when the three pilots report to him. I rush to Daffyd, and stop just short of hugging him. He sees my reluctance, and grabs me tightly for a moment. But there’s something wrong. “What is it?” I whisper. “You don’t act like you won—”
“I didn’t win,” Daffyd says. “And you must never tell anyone.” He takes me with him when he and the others bow to Father, who invites then to the informal seating area near the huge bay windows. Telor pours glasses of dŵr y bywyd – and a thimble-full for me. Father raises his glass. “To Aurin, the victory, to Marchant, a contest well fought, to Daffyd the defeat of Cynwrig.”
The others raise their glasses. I do, too, but I’m confused. Daffyd tells me what the others already know. “Aurin and I flew one another’s shuttles. It was part of the challenge between us – to fly the race in an unfamiliar shuttle. There are people who would think this to be cheating, dishonorable, but the challenge was between Marchant, Aurin, and me, and we three agreed to this.”
Father asks, “What happened in the pass?”
“Cynwrig thought I was Aurin and tried to ram my shuttle and push me into the rocks,” Daffyd says. “I rolled and pointed my portside AG pod at his starboard pod. That tumbled his shuttle. He lost altitude and ended up in the sea mist. I tumbled, too, since my pods were asymmetric, but I planned for that and recovered. I caught Cynwrig unaware. He lost a lot of time.”
Aurin and Marchant’s families flew in for the race and the barchedig held the day after. No one misses Cynwrig or his family. With two additional Gens and the three pilots, the head table has no room for surrogates. Marchant’s oldest brother, the heir of Caerwyn, attends with my Sister-plus-fifteen, now his wife. It is her first visit since she married. Telor requires me to sit with Brother-minus-six, Macca, who is the youngest. I bring toys, ’cause I know he will not be still for three hours. Alaw, Sister-minus-three, is proud to be on her own, but I see her glancing often at her surrogate, seated below. Banners in the racers’ colors – Aurin’s brown, white, and gold; orange, black, and gold for Daffyd; and Marchant’s red and purple decorate the Great Hall.
Father salutes the three pilots and compliments them all on a hard-fought race. He says nothing about winners and losers. Gens Caerwyn and Tylluan say much the same thing. The three pilots respond with salutes to their host and Gens. Caerwyn’s heir adds a salute to his father-in-law, my father. Macca chooses that moment to decide peas should be flat, and pounds his plate with his fist. I manage to stop him and promise to help him smash peas if he will just be quiet for a while. Father rescues me, noting that Macca in the old language means hammer. “I suppose his behavior is not unexpected.”
This is the first time I have heard Father make a joke.
The Story of Camalos
“You will never do anything in this world
It is the greatest quality of the mind
next to honor.”
A long time ago, when wishes came true and animals could talk, a boy of the Seventh Rank of House Dolffin was elevated as Kefin, which means “Little One” in the language of that age. His home was a farm on Songbaek Island, at the foot of the mesa where House Dolffin built its fortress. When Kefin was twelve years old, his father entrusted him to lead a string of mules to the fortress. The mules bore panniers – pairs of baskets – filled with produce.
“Why didn’t they just fly up there?” Ceirois asks.
“This was before humans knew how to fly, and the birds weren’t telling their secrets.” Sani says.
The path to the mesa was barely wide enough for the mules to walk single file and it crossed three chasms before reaching the top. Planks, strung together by rope tied to bollards on each side, bridged the chasms.
“What’s a bollard?” Elfyn asks.
“They’re the short, thick posts on docks where ships tie up,” Sani replies.
After helping the seneschal’s people unload the panniers and accepting payment, Kefin took the mules to the stable to drink. There he met a stable boy of the Third Rank, named March. March in the old language means “Horse.” Kefin wasn’t sure it was the boy’s real name or a nickname because he was a stable boy.
One day, March learned Kefin had forgotten the lunch his mother packed. March took Kefin to the kitchen and asked the cooks to feed him. On his next trip to the fortress, Kefin thanked March for his kindness with a basket of strawberries.
In the middle of the second summer of their friendship, March told Kefin this was the last time they would meet. “I will be fostered to House Bleddyn. Like Dolffin, Bleddyn is an island house – fishers, not traders. They are at the end of the earth! I will become a drudge and waste my life cleaning fish. I will never see my horses or you again. This will not happen! I will run away. I will stow away on one of Dolffin’s ships. Once it reaches the port on the mainland, I will escape and…”
March paused and Kefin saw his friend was puzzled.
“And what? What will you do?” Kefin asked.
“I don’t know, but will you come with me?”
“I am sorry, March, but I’m afraid. I don’t know how to stow away on a ship. I’ve never seen the sea or a ship except from the top of this mesa and they’re so far away. I’m just a farm boy.”
March’s pleas went unanswered, but before Kefin led the mules away, the boys swore blood oath never to forget one another.
The mules knew their way down the path. On the trip home Kefin had nothing to occupy himself except his thoughts. When he reached the bottom of the mesa, he released the mules to find the way home and began the long trek up the path. The sun was setting and the sky became like a purple-gray. The path was treacherous in the darkness, but he continued. He held his hand against the wall of the mesa to guide him. When he reached the stable, he found March wrapping spare trousers and jerkins in a blanket. Curfew had rung and the boys risked punishment if they were caught. Kefin agreed to join March, and led him down the path in the dim light of the stars and a gibbous moon.
Their journey to the port took them through farmland where Kefin gathered windfall fruit and vegetables to feed March and himself.
March’s plan to stow away was foiled when an old sailor grabbed the backs of the boys’ shirts and hauled them from the hold onto the deck. “Running away to sea, are you?”
March was paralyzed with fear and Kefin answered for both of them. “No sir, just running away.”
“Where were you going in the hold of a ship, if not the sea?”
“We don’t know.”
The man released the boys’ shirts and pointed to a spot on the deck. “Sit, and tell me your names.” Then, he sat atop a capstan with his hands on his thighs. “My name is Dylan. I am the senior crewman on the Llew Du. I’ve been at sea since I was your age.”
The boys’ fear disappeared when Dylan chuckled. “When I signed on, my captain asked me what I wanted to become. When I told him I didn’t know, he told me a story of a child lost in the woods. Some say the child’s name was Alicia. Alicia came to a crossroads where she saw a cat sitting in a tree.
“This was a time when animals had voices, so Alicia asked the cat, ‘Which road should I take?’
“The cat replied, ‘Where do you want to go?’
“‘I don’t know,’ The girl said.
“The cat told her, ‘If you don’t know where you want to go, any path will do.’”
The old sailor chuckled at his story. “Where are you running, boys? And what will you do when you get there?”
Neither boy could answer.
“Then, any path is as good as any other,” Dylan said. “Would you like to become sailors?”
Encouraged by the man’s story and his smile, Kefin agreed and March followed his friend’s lead.
Kefin and March had been sailors for only a few months when pirates attacked the Llew Du. When the alarm sounded, the boys ran to Dylan. He held two daggers. “There is no time to give you these in ritual. Do not jump into the fight but use them only to defend yourselves.”
At that moment, grapples from the pirate ship seized the Llew Du. Ropes from the grapples were hauled in by capstans on the pirate ship. Before the two ships were pressed tightly together, pirates jumped over the gunwales, swords in hand. The two boys obeyed Dylan, and ran to the opposite side of the ship where they turned to face the fighting, but they kept their daggers in hand.
The crew of the Llew Du was stronger and more disciplined than the pirates. That turned the fight in their favor. It was clear the Llew Du had defeated the pirates. Then the boys saw Dylan fall. A pirate with a broadsword stood over Dylan and raised the sword for what would surely be a fatal blow. The boys ran across the deck and, one boy on each side, shoved their daggers into the pirate’s kidneys. Kefin grabbed the dying pirate’s hand and diverted the broadsword. The pirate fell to the deck.
The boys, flush with their victory, looked around for other pirates, but the battle was over. Dylan stood and gave orders to search the pirate ship and kill any who resisted. Then, he turned to the boys who were still standing near him.
“You disobeyed an order.”
The boys were frightened until Dylan said, “There are orders that must always be obeyed, and orders that may be disobeyed. Your disobedience saved me but put you at risk. A hero is someone who puts himself at risk to do something good. You are both heroes. Thank you.”
The boys’ next adventure came when the Llew Du docked at Port Hynafol with a shipment of flour from mills at Port Dolffin. The boys were now fourteen years old. Two years of hauling lines and toting cargo had hardened their muscles. They helped load the sacks of flour into carts.
After filling the last cart, the boys leaned against it, waiting for the driver to return. A youngster about their age came to them. “My name is Arthus. It must be wonderful to be a sailor.”
The boys had no companions their age on the ship, and were eager to talk to Arthus. He was an appreciative audience for their stories – quite exaggerated, of course – of fighting pirates, visiting new places, and sailing through storms.
“What is your next port?” Arthus asked.
“We will load with cloth from Hynafol’s looms, and deliver it to Port Caerwyn,” March said.
Arthus showed the boys a ceramic jar sealed with wax. “The publican at the café, The Rose and Thorn, at Port Caerwyn will pay you two crowns if you deliver this to him. You must not tell anyone.”
“Why?” Kefin asked. “What is in that jar?”
Arthus smiled. “We are friends, are we not? You trust me, of course. All I may say is that it will not harm you or your ship.”
Kefin saw something dark in Arthus’s face. “No, we are not friends and there is no trust between us. It takes longer than a few stories to become friends, and trust must be earned. We will not deliver your jar. Come, March. Back to the ship.”
Arthus was disappointed, but he stayed on the dock.
That evening, the boys learned that Arthus had made the same offer to one of the ship’s officers, who had taken the jar and cracked it open. It held a poison favored by assassins. The poison was very valuable, but also very deadly. The boys told Dylan what Arthus had said to them, and Dylan praised them. “I did not tell you this, but you are never to accept any cargo or message, no matter how small or how innocent it seems. You did the right thing.”
The captain of the Llew Du watched Dylan train the boys in the duties of junior crewmen. He was careful they did not see him smile, but he was pleased at the energy and spirit they showed. Both boys learned the names of the nineteen sails and the actions of the scores of lines that controlled the sails. Kefin had walked the narrow path to the mesa many times and was fearless climbing even the tallest masts. March had helped the House Dolffin farrier care for horses and was handy with tools. He was apprenticed to the ship’s carpenter. Over time, the boys made a place for themselves on the ship and among the crew.
The day after the battle with pirates, Dylan introduced the boys to a marine who taught them how to fight with their daggers and also the unarmed combat known as “self-training-way,” or Jaryeondo.
In the autumn of the boys’ fourth year on the Llew Du, while en route from Songbaek Island to Bleddyn’s Namhae Island, a powerful storm struck the ship. The captain did not wait for the sky to turn black before ordering the crew aloft to furl the sails, leaving only the spanker to catch enough wind to provide steerageway.
Despite the crew’s best efforts, a wave from the starboard beam caused the ship to founder. The Llew Du lay on its port side in the ocean, taking on water and sinking. The captain gave orders to free the lifeboats on the starboard rails and to abandon ship.
It was too late for Kefin and March, who were thrown into the sea. They fought the tangle of lines to reach safety but in the darkness, swam away from the ship and the lifeboats. March became tired, and Kefin supported him until a plank from the ship struck Kefin’s head. He lost his hold on March who sank into the sea. Kefin grabbed the beam and held tightly while searching frantically for his friend. He could not find March. His tears mixed with the salt water until the storm drove him to shore on an island.
Fishermen found Kefin on the beach of Soando Island. After hearing his story, they took him to Fortress Bleddyn on Namhae Island. The seneschal agreed that Kefin might live there until the next ship bound for Songbaek.
After a few days of doing nothing but sleeping and taking meals in the soldiers’ mess hall, Kefin found a quiet place to practice the kata of Jaryeondo. A sergeant saw him and invited him to join the guard at their training. Kefin was still sad because he had not saved March, but agreed.
A ship of House Bleddyn arrived from Port Caerwyn with more survivors of the shipwreck. March was among them, but Dylan was not. Kefin and March were sad for Dylan, but happy to be together. They were offered a ride home, but Kefin had found a place in the Home Guard. He begged March to stay. March agreed and was given a place in the stables.
Both Kefin and March learned House Bleddyn was honorable and life was not the drudgery they had feared. They were adopted into House Bleddyn. Kefin was adopted as Camalos because there was already a Kefin in the House.
Years later, Camalos, once known as Kefin, became commander of Bleddyn’s Home Guard and led the guard in defense of the fortress against an attack by House Tarren. He was wounded, but survived, and lived to be an old man. When he died, he was cremated on the battlements of Fortress Bleddyn and his Remembrance was conducted by the Gens.
Millennia ago, when the Res Publica believed in supernatural beings whom they called gods, King Triumph Tarren, then the most powerful man on World, asked the sage, Geraint, who was the happiest man Geraint knew. Geraint told of a man of modest but adequate means who lived in a good city, who saw his children grow to adulthood and have children of their own, who died in battle defending his city, and who was cremated at public expense.
This was not the answer Tarren expected, nor the one he wanted. Hoping that Geraint would name Tarren, himself to be a happy man, the king asked Geraint who was the second happiest man.
Geraint told of two young men who, lacking oxen to pull a cart to take their mother to the temple for a festival honoring Aveta, the Goddess of Women, hitched themselves to the cart and pulled it 100 stadia to the temple. Those who saw this feat praised and honored the young men for their devotion to their mother and for their prowess.
The mother asked the goddess to grant her sons the greatest gift the goddess could give. The goddess invited the young men into the temple, to lie down, and to sleep. She then caused them to die while they were asleep. The goddess had granted them her greatest gift: to die peacefully at the peak of their vitality and honor.
Geraint told us by this story we cannot know if someone is happy until after he is dead, for no matter how happy a person might be or seem to be, his fortunes can change without warning.
This story is intended to follow the pattern of the Hero’s Journey, especially the model created by Joseph Campbell. The story of the despot, King Triumph Tarren, and the sage was transmogrified from the writings of Herodotus. The story of the girl and the cat at the crossroads was borrowed from Lewis Carrol’s “Alice” stories
Telor has gathered my playmates and me in the classroom. He sits close to the fire and reads from a huge book.
“In a time before time,” he says, “long before the Conquest of the South, long before the houses united to form the Res Publica, a son was born to a noble and powerful house. The son, like most children, would rather play outdoors than sit at his studies.”
Telor looks up from the book and smiles at us. He ignores the few who are bold enough to giggle. “The boy’s father was wise and made sure the boy had ample time to play in the gardens and the forest.
“The only child in the house near the boy’s age was a scullery, the son of servants.”
Telor looks up again when Ceirois asks, “Was the boy a thrall?”
“Remember, this was before the Conquest, and we didn’t know about the thralls. No, the scullery was just like us.
“Because they were the same age and because they were children who didn’t know there was supposed to be separation between master and servant, they played together and became friends. One day, when the boys were five years old, the scullery found a rock in a stream. It was a crystal, with streaks of red and purple running through it. The boy coveted the rock and begged the scullery to give it to him.
“The scullery didn’t want to give away the rock, but offered to trade the boy for it. ‘What will you offer me?’ the scullery asked.
“‘When I reach my twelfth birthday and receive a dagger from my father, I will swear brotherhood with you,’ the boy replied. The scullery agreed and gave the rock to the boy.
“As they got older, the boy’s schooling and the scullery’s duties took more and more of their time, and they no longer played together. The rock lay forgotten in the bottom of a box of trinkets in the boy’s bedroom. The boy’s twelfth birthday came and went. He wore proudly the dagger his father had given him, but forgot his promise to the scullery.
“Two months passed before the scullery begged audience with the boy’s father. The seneschal brought the scullery, washed and dressed in his best clothes – although they were none too good – to the lord’s audience chamber where the man sat, surrounded by family and courtiers.
“‘My lord, I wish to leave your service and seek my fortune in the world,’ the scullery said. The father asked why the scullery wanted this. The scullery’s answers were vague and evasive. The father demanded more. The scullery did not want to embarrass the boy who had been his friend, and refused to answer.
“‘You must not be afraid,’ the father said. ‘Why do you wish to leave my service? I promise no harm will come to you.’
“‘A promise made long ago was not kept, and I was dishonored. How do I know your promise is true?’ the scullery asked, even though he feared for his life.
“‘Who made the promise?’ the father demanded.
“When the boy heard the scullery insult his father, he touched his dagger with anger in his heart. Instantly, a long-ago memory flooded his mind. ‘It was I, Father,’ he said. ‘I dishonored this boy. I made a promise to him when we were five years old. I promised him we would swear brotherhood on my twelfth birthday. I forgot my promise.’
“The boy turned to the scullery. ‘If you will agree, I will fulfill my promise.’
“‘It is not right to hold you to your promise,’ the scullery said. ‘It was made because of a pretty rock I found and which you wanted. Brotherhood is much too important to rest on a rock.’
“The boy turned to his father. ‘If brotherhood is not strong as a rock, it is too weak to endure. If you will allow, the rock will become the symbol of brotherhood with my childhood friend and a constant reminder that honor is not something that can be forgotten.’
“The boy’s father understood his son’s honor was more important than the separation between master and servant. He also saw the scullery’s courage and wisdom. The rock was cut and set in the pommels of the two daggers the boy and the scullery blooded and exchanged with their oaths. Honor was fulfilled. When the boy’s father died, the boy became Gens of the house. He named the scullery his chancellor. In the years that followed, the children of the boy and the children of the chancellor swore brotherhood and, if legend is true, their descendants continue to do so today.”
“Is it a true story?” Elfyn asks.
“Like many stories, it is based on legend. Since it was preserved for hundreds of millennia, it likely has some element of truth,” Telor replies. “The sun is out, and the wind has died. If there are no more questions, you are dismissed to play in the gardens.”
Red and purple, I think while joining my friends in a game of hide-and-find. The colors of House Caerwyn. I wonder…
It is cold and blustery again the next morning and I seek the warmth of the kitchen. I thank the thrall who serves me a bowl of porridge sweetened with honey.
Telor’s voice startles me. “I should have known I would find you here.” He sits at the wooden table beside me. “What did you learn from the story of the boys and the rock?”
I swallow a bite of porridge. “That honor is too important to be traded for a rock.”
Telor frowns until I add, “And a promise made, even for a rock, must be kept. It is one part of honor.”