Chapter 3: Lessons
The golden days passed swiftly. Edward spent most of his time in the company of his parents. He saw few other children. None at all lived in 'their' tree, only their wood elf host and Moraelyn's six Companions, an oddly assorted, cheerful lot. Disrespectful, Edward thought. None of the Daggerfall court or servants would dared have addressed his father as these did Moraelyn and Aliera with their constant raillery. But these weren't servants or courtiers. Just Companions. Only one was a Dark Elf. There were a Khajiit woman, two wood elves, brother and sister, a Nordic man, even bigger than Moraelyn and a strange looking lizardlike man, who spoke with such a hissing accent that Edward couldn't understand him at all. The Nord man was called "Slave of Moraelyn" or just "Slave" for short, although Moraelyn usually called him "Mats" of "My-slave." Mats tended the group's weapons and gathered wood for the evening fires. But it wasn't unusual for the others to bring wood; Moraelyn himself often borrowed Mats' axe and fetched and split wood if there was need, or if he just felt like it.
They spent much of their time roaming the woods and fields, hunting and gathering produce, in twos and threes. Usually Moraelyn, Aliera and Edward and Shade went off together. They carried bows for hunting. When Edward asked Moraelyn to teach him to shoot better, he was told to ask his mother, as she was the better shot. And it was Aliera's arrow that brought down a handsome buck, although both arrows had struck, and they quarrelled over who's arrow had killed as they ran toward the buck.
"Bah!" Moraelyn exclaimed as he pulled his black fletched arrow from the hindquarters. "I don't know how I managed to feed myself before I married you."
"You had the Companions."
"Aye. Mats, Mith and I starved together, before we met Beech and Willow." Moraelyn pulled out his black dagger, Tooth, and began to skin the animal's body, calling Edward to come and watch. "You want to learn about animals, don't you?"
"Live ones." Edward said with distaste. His dainty mother was ripping the skin away with enthusiasm.
"Such make tough eating," the dark elf said. "Give me your cloak; I'll make a package for you to carry."
"I am a Prince, not a pack horse!"
"You'll carry your share or you'll be a hungry prince this night." The elf had lost his good humor.
"I won't. I don't want any. You can't make me."
Moraelyn stood erect and appeared to think this over. "Can't I?" he taunted.
"Edward, please..." Aliera appealed to him.
"Tell me, Lord Prince, how then does one get the meat to one's table if one may not carry it. If Princes may not carry meat then certainly Kings and Queens may not, or do Princes grow out of the incapacity when they become Kings?"
"They have servants!"
"Serve ants? What a clever idea. Only a human could think of that! Ants are excellent at carrying, I have noted, although I have not the trick of commanding them. Perhaps you can teach me."
"Servants! Like Mats here," Edward shouted. He hated being teased. Mats and the other companions had come up, having heard their shouts over the kill.
"Mats? You think I cannot make you carry deer meat, yet I could command Mats to do so?" Moraelyn stared up at the blond giant. "Well, one never knows until one tries. Mats, carry the deer."
The blond scratched his head and jaw thoughtfully. "Highness, nothing would please me more but it is a large deer and my old wound is troubling my back, perhaps if you kill a smaller one."
"Well, Prince, what now?"
"You beat him."
"At what? I can outrun him. Mats, if I reach that oak first, will you carry the deer." Mats shook his head slowly.
"You beat him with a stick!" Edward yelled.
"What promise you show as a Healer, my Prince. You will forgive me if I refrain from consulting you until you have further training. It is my judgement that beating with a stick will not improve Mats' back. Of course, I may be in error.
"Silk, you carry the deer."
"Me, milord? I am sorry, but I have just remembered that I am fourth cousin to the fifth house of Dibella, Queen of Heaven. My dignity forbids that I carry anything at all."
Willow and Beech claimed that a mage had forbidden either of them from carrying any part of an animal while the moon Jone was risen.
"Prince, are you truly certain about this rule? It seems to make life most inconvenient. We could bring the wood to the deer, which will take many hours and leave us benighted here. We could consume the meat raw on the spot, but I own my belly is not yet empty enough to make that option attractive. Aliera, can you help us? How do the High Rock folk get meat to table?"
"Milord, when I lived there it was my firm belief that it appeared by magic. There were servants, but they were an irritating, lazy lot, more trouble than they were worth. Edward, my son, is it possible that this rule applies only in High Rock?"
"I suppose so..."
Edward carried a share of meat that bent his back, but he did not complain. And so it was settled, and the meal that night was a merry one. But for several days after, if the Companions caught him carrying anything at all they would inquire anxiously as to whether a High Rock Prince might do so.
"If Mats is not a servant, then why do they call him 'Moraelyn's Slave'?" Edward asked one drowsy afternoon.
"Well, he is my slave. I paid gold for him, all that Mith and I had. We came on a man beating him near Reich Parthkeep. He looked near death; when Mith and I tried to stop the beating, the man said Mats was a runaway slave, and he'd do as he liked with him. So I threw down the gold and told him he could take it and leave, else I would kill him out of hand. He chose the latter, so I told Mats to take the gold as his master's heir and go where he would. He chose to come with us, so we buried the gold with his master and Mats has been with us since."
"Could he leave if he wanted to?"
"May I go pick some of those berries over there?" Edward asked, and Moraelyn nodded.
Aliera was sleeping curled on her side. Moraelyn sat next to her, leaning back against a tree, his hand playing with her long dark curls. His eyes and skin were sensitive to the bright sun. Shade slept stretched in the sun nearby, his dark fur glinting with silver in the light. Edward wandered over to the bushes and picked the bright glowberries, so called because they glowed at night, although right now they were a rather dull gray. But they tasted very good. If he ate enough, would he glow at night, he wondered. Or if he smashed them and collected the juice, the bushes caught at him, then he found a sort of tunnel through them and trotted along it, wondering where it led.
It ended in a small clearing before a pile of rocks. There was a hole and something in it. Edward stepped back, making a small noise in his throat. The something heaved and presented a tusky snarling face and hooves that pawed at the earth.
The boy backed away slowly. The beast's head went down, the shoulders heaved and the immense bulk lumbered into a charge. Edward tried to throw himself into the bushes - there was no room - and then, incredibly, Moraelyn was in front of him, between him and the beast. There was a flash and a crash, and the elf seemed to leap backwards for several feet, landing crouched just in front of Edward's face. The air whistled as his blade seemed to jump out of the sheath of its own accord. There was a sparkle in the air around him, and a burnt smell. Silence.
"Get out of here, boy! Now!"
Edward fled, yelling for his mother, who was running toward the bushes and calling him. She clasped him to her, and began shouting for Moraelyn instead. There was no answer, then, somehow the elf was there, unharmed, his blade sheathed again. But he was breathing hard.
"Did you kill it? Are you hurt?"
"No and no. I was shielded. Barely. You disturbed a sow in her den with her litter. Fortunately, she thought she'd had enough after the first impact. I daresay she's unaccustomed to finding her enemies still standing afterwards."
"Why didn't you kill her?" Edward demanded, feeling bloodthirsty after his fright.
"A katana, even the Ebony Blade, is not the weapon I'd choose against a mother sow. A spear, maybe. The longer the better. Besides, if we leave her be, there'll be six pigs here next year, with luck."
"You made a magic shield," Edward said, wide-eyed.
"Aye, barring the shield, she'd have left a few marks even on a tough old dark elf."
"Edward, it would be gracious to thank your rescuer." His mother prompted.
"Thank you," Edward said automatically, his mind busy with more questions. How had the elf known of his danger? How did he get there so quickly?
"There is scarcely need to thank me for saving my son's life. Thank Shade," Moraelyn said. "The cat told me there was trouble."
Edward knelt and hugged the smug purring cat. "Good old Shade. I can always count on him."
"My son". "Our son". The words rang proudly out at the least excuse. Edward puzzled over this for awhile; it wanted an explanation. The one he favored was that Moraelyn simply didn't know him very well yet, and was prone to give the benefit of the doubt to strangers. Eventually, but in the meantime he might as well enjoy it. It was nice. Having a father that was proud of you, that liked being with you, took you places, talked to you, listened to you. And most remarkably of all, let you alone when you needed to be. Moraelyn only really liked being alone when he was composing a ballad.
Edward told Beech and Willow about the mother pig. "I ran when he told me to. Would you? Because he said to. I couldn't think of any way to help, but..." Willow and Beech listened carefully, exchanged glances, and said they'd think about the problem.
After supper around the evening fire, Willow took up her small harp and began to sing about the joys of an autumn afternoon and berries...except that Moraelyn sent the boy off to pick berries. They'd got that part wrong. Moraelyn sat up sharply and looked around, but the others had slipped away into the darkness and Willow wasn't looking at him.
Mith strolled into the firelight, taking mincing steps, picking pantomime berries and eating them noisily. Moraelyn put his head down and groaned. Mith pantomimed finding something then skipped along in delight. Mats' head and shoulders lurched into the firelight. Mith reached a hand to pat him, then leapt back with a squeal as Mats tried to rip him with a tusk. Huge tusks and a pig nose adorned his face. Mith crouched, hands to his face in exaggerated horror. And Silk, clad in black, leaped between Mith and Mats with a shower of sparks, jerkin backwards, hose about its knees, shoeless. It reached for its sword, but Mats charged and knocked it flying; it spun out of sight. Mats, scrambling on all fours, missed Mith, but tore his hose. Mith scampered around the fire with Mats after him. Silk, sword in one hand, the other tugging at the hose chased after Mats, beating him with the sword.
Another figure appeared, clad in Aliera's blue gown with Beech's head sticking out above wearing a long dark wig. Mith cowered behind her skirts. She glared at Mats and he froze. Silk tripped and sprawled behind him. Beech tossed his hair back, patted Mith reassuringly on the head, wet one finger and smoothed an eyebrow, then leisurely picked up his bow, aimed and twanged.
Mats leaped backwards, collapsing on top of Silk with a very realistic death rattle. Beech and Mith embraced, ignoring Silk, still flat beneath Mats.
Moraelyn had begun laughing when Silk first leaped out. Aliera had waited for Beech's appearance. Now tears were running down her cheeks. Moraelyn was doubled over, pounding his fist against a tree. Ripples and giggles of silvery laughter sounded all around and showers of gold coins fell into the circle. The Companions gathered themselves together and bowed, as humans did.
"Again, do it again!"
"Nooooo!" Moraelyn gasped, still laughing. "Ah, you came nearer killing me than the sow did! I beg mercy!"
"Another night, gentle persons...our king has had a very long day. We thank you all."
"Gods, had the entire town seen?" Edward stared behind him, but they were all melting away into the dark. "That's not what happened." he yelled. "You were a hero. They made fun of you."
"Yes, yes and yes. Especially the last. By Jephre himself, that was funny!"
"They all saw that! And you're going to let them do it again?" Edward was scandalized. They had all looked ridiculous.
"Let them? It'll be done all over Tamriel for centuries to come, I doubt not. But never again so well."
"But it didn't happen like that at all."
"It would have if Mats...I mean the sow had charged again. Ariana's bow would have been far more effective than my poor blade. And she'd have seen Moraelyn leap like a khajiit!" His finger smoothed an eyebrow in a gesture typical of Aliera and he went off again into a long laugh. "Aye, she'd have slain the beast with a look, if she couldn't find an arrow. Mats, you were more like the sow than she like herself. Bigger, too, I swear! Mith, you old rogue, only you could look so innocent."
"Buuut, it's not true!" Edward protested.
"Boy, you think there's only one truth? Was what you saw today truth? Did you see all the truth? Even of what did happen? What you saw here tonight will light up truths unseen, if you allow it, you could spend a lifetime reflecting on it and yet not see it whole, for it goes ever further and deeper, spreading like ripples in a pool, beyond us all and out into the deep stillness of forever. What happens is only a tiny part of truth...maybe the least part. And what you see is smaller yet."
Edward still thought that a king really ought to have more dignity. But he didn't say so.