Birth of a Philosopher, Part 3
The weather was growing colder. Iskask would be a desolate winter waste come the next month, hidden beneath a dead and silent blanket of white, full of secrets. These were hard winters, frigid and thin for food. Any man worth his salt in that mountain delta would be well bundled and well stocked for sustenance. So, too, would Shyrrik be, as he folded clothes in quiet and hypnotic repetition. There were many things needing preparation. Food needed to be gathered. This process was familiar to him, he’d been tasked with it ever since he’d come of the age of responsibility. Right now, there were clothes to be packed away. He’d already braved the flooded mid-autumn streets brimming with frantic winter worriers and gathered the supplies he would need. Ever since he’d become a young man, he found the jeers and ridicule that normally awaited him on the merchant roads had waned, but on this day he found not a single person that received him poorly. Perhaps the contest had gifted him some form of credence among his peers, or perhaps he was better for it and walked without timidry. Now, it hardly mattered.
Before him on the table was an irregular assortment of things. Tools, food, sheets and clothing, cookware, rope, oil, all cardinal items for life in such a place. Shyrrik had neatly assembled them, and while his father scurried about to take inventory and assess any depreciation in his belongings, the half-elf boy put these purchases in their proper place. Tedious to be certain, but then again, he could think of nothing in this city that did not qualify as such. Besides, it had been quite a long time since they’d been so plentiful, and it provided a measure of happiness to Shyrrik to stow away excess for the first time in as long as he could recall. Into various drawers did he tuck things, and into scattered bins were foods placed with care. His father paid a special mind to neatness, a habit which he had been sure to imbibe in his son. For all their poverty, they could at least have that little pride to satisfy them.
Light had begun to fade in the sky, but the day still had some length to it, and Shyrrik busied himself accordingly. He had these waking hours to accomplish his tasks, looking rather dutiful for them. As he sat things in their rightful place and began to sort various lengths of leather, his father came near and spoke whilst scratching a quill across his parchment. Marking down stock, he was, but his attention was heavily slanted.
“I don’t recall if this old hut ever held such a bounty. Fighting the cold will be a fair fight this go around, I think.” They were hopeful words. But they could not ease the heaviness between father and son. Shyrrik went on with his tasks without distraction.
“There’s enough for three winters here. With this good fortune, it’ll be easy to stay ahead in the coming years.” His tone was dull, very matter of fact. He spoke while smoothing out strips of hide to be hooked and hung for display. His father looked on, somewhat forlorn, somewhat doting.
“Yes, the gods smiled today. Don’t you think?” It was a loaded question, and the both of them knew it.
“I don’t know if the gods ever smile. Or grimace.” He came back, so listless and frank that it couldn’t have been anything but honest. What he was now was a far cry from the half-elf boy that had nearly driven himself to illness at sunrise. He kept his eyes on his work, while his father kept watch. He’d ceased checking his list.
“Shyrrik,” he said after a minute’s worth, “Do you remember when I first told you that you’d been born of another?” That elicited a slight pause, but little more in the busy boy.
“No, honestly. I cannot remember. I think I’ve always felt as if that were the truth.”
“You’ve known all along?” His father asked, curious.
“It’s not that I knew, but I think when you told it to me, everything in my life seemed to make sense. That feeling coming over me, I do remember that.”
“Made sense, in what way?”
Shyrrik let out a sigh, the kind of sigh that was neither frustrated nor flustered, but sounded of one quite so thoughtful. “Living in a place like this, I always felt that something was wrong. This little world beneath the mountains, where all these creatures meet and mingle, it’s not natural. I felt like I wasn’t meant to be in this place, and that whatever good fortune I was spared was put into you, the one person who would protect me from its violence. When you told me that, it must’ve put me at ease for all of it.”
“A good thought, that.” His father chuckled out, grim as it were. “I’ve done the best I could for you. Who can say if it was enough.” As he said this, he walked with his stocky legs toward one particular chest, one that had mostly held no importance in daily matters for either of them. Sliding out the bottom drawer, he pulled from it a long stretch of heavy fabric that flopped with a leathery sound, rolling richly around his arms from where it had been laid and folded neatly. Spanning his outstretched arms, it was enough to call Shyrrik’s attention, and at least for the moment he would set his chores aside. It was a hooded cloak, thick and colored the darkest browns, all fashioned from one piece of hide.
“Two summers ago, I made this. I remember you fussing about a missing stretch of material, and you thought I’d gone right mad for playing it off so calmly. You’ve been a good son to me, I take it as a favor that I’ve hopefully paid in kind by being a good father.” He smiled as he said it, a sad sort of smile that weighted his next words. “I knew that, someday, you would put this town at your back. We’ve all said it of ourselves, but I think I’ve always known you’d do it. You’re right, Shyrrik, you should not be here. I can’t say where it is you do belong, but not here.”
He settled the cloak into Shyrrik’s accepting arms. “I do wish you would’ve used the gold on yourself, I don’t need a lick of it. Take this, if nothing else, and know it is my finest work. That cloak will last you a lifetime, with care of course.”
Shyrrik took the garment as it was laid over his hands. It was weighty, but not terribly so, and as he pulled it whirling around him, it enveloped his all and fell off his shoulders to a perfect height. A jeweled clasp held it drawn at his collar, a great green stone inlaid into brass that shined attractively off of its slightly swollen surface. And as the half-elf boy tested the hood upon his long-eared head, it cast a shadow over him that pulled him into an obscure method of being. He became dark, almost ghostly, a thing camouflaged by the all the world’s features.
Father patted Shyrrik’s shoulders with his calloused hands, and smiled in a moment of pride.
“Now you look like a ranger, son.”
Darkness came later that evening. Diedrick’s party would set out on the morn, but while his father slept in peace, Shyrrik waited by candlelight. All his chores were done. The floor could’ve been swept, but he’d get to that. It was a moment of significance for him, and appropriately it dragged on his shoulders. There was one thing that he’d purchased with his earnings. A small book of empty pages, and a quill with which to write. He was not terribly fluent in written word as of yet, but he would learn. Oddly, that was his only enumerated goal as of now. He pondered long on this, but it seemed that freedom of this flavor was lacking in inspiration. It was just as well, this void of mind, as he would discover many things on his journey worth contemplation, in that he trusted. He thought to pen this, his first significant thoughts as a liberated young man.
There was a rustling near the doorway.
“We’re in for the night.” Said Shyrrik, dismissing them without raising his head. “Please come back in the morning.”
“When you’ve left, you hedge-born varlet?”
A familiar voice, sweet and stern, quickly put a little more propriety into him. He turned, spotting his only friend and fellow half-elf standing at his door, having granted herself permission to enter by virtue of nothing more than her force of personality. But they were familiar enough, and he didn’t mind it so much. In his subdued state, he offered her no resistance.
“It’s late, you know,” he said chidingly, “I know you have work waiting in the morning.”
“And you, all the glory and adventure of an eagle flying freely,” she bit back, “forgive me for finding this all a bit hard to swallow.”
“It was a fair competition, Laelia.” He said as amicably as he could.
“You stole my chance to leave from here.” She said, nearly cutting him short with her typically raised tone. “You’re the best of us, yet you weaseled a girl out of a winning spot? What a noble boy you are, Shyrrik.”
He knew her well enough to see through her volcanic voice, and it was envy that he heard on her lips. “You’re not a girl, you’re a monster.” He said, proving that at least he’d maintained some sense of humor from which she could pull a modicum of comfort. Laying his new book flat on the table before, he stood, and met her proper while she draped herself against a vertical beam.
“Hnh!” She cracked the smallest smile for the most fleeting moment.
They took a moment, seeming to give each other the down-and-up with their eyes. He noticed, curiously enough, that she wore clean clothes, and seemed to be just freshly bathed. There was even a floral scent about her, rather unusual for a girl who never sought to impress anyone. On her own part, she narrowed her eyes at him hiding within his coat.
“Tis a fine cloak you have, there. If your father didn’t trim hides, I’d think you a thief.” She jested, trying to rouse a spark of emotion from him.
“It wouldn’t be the first time for either of us, now would it?” Responded Shyrrik, he himself acting a bit strangely this night, which did not go unnoticed by a pair of squinting eyes.
“You’re different, Shyrrik. I can sense it.” She said, suddenly serious, and lifted herself from her lazy posture. “I saw what happened on the range. I put you in a mad dance with that shot, I was proud of that shot, and then…” She tapered off, unsure. Her emerald eyes narrowed, and she crept closer to him, disregarding his personal space entirely in her prurience. “Something happened. And I want to know what.”
Shyrrik knew her capricious games, but this incessance was not one of them. He averted his eyes, showing that even he had a poor account of things, and took to slowly pacing.
“Do you remember when the blacksmith, Cartwright, passed while he slept? I watched them drag his body from in the house. His eyes were still open, and I remember comparing them to the color of his skin. They let his head rake in the gravel as they threw him onto a cart and took him out to the burial yard. There are no liths, there. I’m sure I couldn’t even find his grave now, if I wished. He had no wife, no children. No one wept for him, I’m surprised they even spared the effort to bury him.” He looked at her. “He was a kind-hearted man. But now, no one speaks of him. They may have drank away his memory already. I know that if I stay here in this derelict city, I’ll rot right next to him. And no one will notice.”
His long-winded critique of Iskask living seemed to fascinate the half-elf girl, who waited on him, still as death itself.
“I needed to get out. If my aim was untrue, I knew I would die here. But when I drew my bow on that last target, I needed it so badly that I became more frightened of what would happen if I missed, than driven to success. I thought of a million reasons to drop my hands and go back home, rather than face the disappointment of losing.”
“And then, all of a sudden, something happened. I realized, in that splinter of a moment, that there was no way for me to succeed when I was clawing myself apart with worry. So I did the only thing that would get me through. I forfeited all my concern, and my investment. I cared no longer. It didn’t matter to me anymore whether I achieved my goal or not, and I felt every last stress sink down and leave from my toes. Then I connected with the shot, I saw the angle, I felt the arc. Landing my arrow in that target was as elementary as anything.”
He hadn’t merely connected, back on the range. He’d driven his bolt so dead center that Diedrick himself rode out to the target to confirm it with his own bewildered eyes.
Shyrrik flattened his brow, adding to this story a strange addendum. “But, that cannot be the right way. Solving great riddles through apathy, it’s inconceivable.” He looked as though there was a thought to finish there, but instead he pursed his lips and quieted.
Laelia was silent for a time, as well, nibbling on her lower lip. Shyrrik looked in her direction once again.
“But you want out too, don’t you.” The rhetorical question was much more a statement. “I hope you find your way. Gods willing, it won’t be as I have done.”
“Hear you, now, such a philosopher.” She said, pridefully bratty. “You’re nothing but a quailing wretch. I should hope that no one would follow in your hell-headed ways!”
He knew this little act well, and snorted out his nostrils in sedated amusement. It was her contrived method of showing affection.
“You’ll rue the day you left me behind, Shyrrik the half-elf.” She stepped across him, and shot him a fiery look with her head craned. As she walked out, presumably from his very life, or at least for a time, she threatened with a smooth and female trill in her tone. “I’ll put you on your back for what you did to me.”
Shyrrik followed her out with his eyes.
“I have no doubt.”
On the morrow, Shyrrik rose to the sun’s first columns of light over the mountains. He dressed, gathered any possessions he needed, and gave his father a rousing, whom had been snoring the night away. In his head, Shyrrik thought he might miss that noise a bit, if only that it would give him a small pining. They both walked together, winding into the town square, where Diedrick and his men had assembled themselves. Entered into their ranks were the two winning men, and Shyrrik completed the troupe. He was given a horse and a bedroll, and upon learning that they would shortly depart, turned to his father. They exchanged love, promises, memories and kindness. His father kissed his cheek, spoke good tidings to him, and sent him on his way. Shyrrik pulled himself atop his horse much more confidently than in the field, and looked on with a soft and forlorn eye as he bid farewell to the home that shaped him. He left behind everything that ever mattered to him, and if he were truthful with himself, none of it mattered now.
His father watched as the group was gradually absorbed into the treeline. They disappeared from sight, leaving only a few standing at the city’s edge to ponder their fate. Once he’d spent enough time in contemplation, the heavyset man sighed long, and walked back with a slightly lighter step than he’d departed with. Near his shop, stopped in front of the tailor’s home, was an assortment of fellows, traders of fur and fine fabrics that scuttled about busily and chatted amongst themselves. Sporting a lighthearted smile, he saluted them with a wave.
“Ho there, sirs! Where do you hail from?”
The four of them stared at each other, confused at the sudden accosting by this lone man. “Frichosia.” Said simply a one, a bearded man donning heavy leatherwear with metal leafings.
“Is that where you are going?”
“Ah-hah,” he said, reaching into a pocket as if he were about to perform a trick, “well now, I’ll pay you lads sixty gold and any leather workings in my shop if you’ll let this grizzled old bear take a ride along with you.” He produced a pouch, one that jingled tantalizingly, and tossed it from one hand to the other in a tease. The men were clearly taken aback by such a proposition.
“Sir, you mean to abandon your livelihood? Surely you jest!”
“I jest not, my friends!” He said in a friendly mocking manner. “My livelihood has left with the wind, and I think I can tolerate this place not a minute longer.”
The men collectively shrugged, and nodded off. “The path is dangerous, but another body is always welcome. We’ll shop your store, and see what we fancy.”
“Excellent.” The father smiled. “Let us be quick. I have a world to see.”