The Least of Men, Part 5

Read previous parts here:
1
2
3
4

“The greatest of men is not able to bow low enough to thank the one who saves his child,” Patriarch Kaden announced. “I will never be able to repay the honor you have done me by protecting my only son. I invite you to stay with us as long as you please. Our water is your water, Sword Dancer Arai.”

Isboset stepped into the tent and bowed low to the ground. Kaden said, “Tutor Isboset, take your place next to the prince.”

As Isboset circled around the mound of silk cushions to take his position behind Badani, he glanced at the man shrouded in sand-colored silks. The sword dancer did not appear overly muscled as the servants of fire did, but lithe and quick.

The tutor flanked his charge, mirroring the patriarch’s advisor.

The sword dancer cleared his throat. “You do me much honor, Patriarch Kaden. If it had not been for my faltering dance, I would never have brought destruction to your household.”

Kaden waved away the protest. “Damage has been done. Lives have been lost. We were honored to bleed in the battle against the Patriarch of Lies. One horde less of goblins to terrorize our lands. And it would have been far worse had you not been here. More damage would have been done. More lives lost. You have done us honor!”

Arai bowed his head low to the ground at the outpouring of gratitude.

Kaden leaned forward. “I have a proposal.”

Arai stood to accept the offer.

“You have mentioned that your dance faltered. I see that you are injured. You still limp. Travel with us. Tomorrow we will begin our journey to Daelevin Oasis. Until you are called elsewhere, let our household be your home.”

“You are too generous for me, Patriarch Kaden. Allow me to work for your hospitality.”

Badani noticed Bendaevi smirk.

Kaden paused a moment, as if in thought. “If you wish to labor in my household until the time you have chosen to travel on, we can accommodate you. During the battle you protected my only son, Prince Badani. He was a useless child while the horde attacked.”

Badani felt his ears go red. If only he’d had his saber, he would have been able to help! He glowered at the thought of his tutor standing behind him as if nothing had happened. He wished Isboset had been killed in the attack. Well, maybe not killed. But hurt. Some injury would suffice.

Kaden continued, “It is time for the prince to learn to protect himself. My servants of fire, of course, would be able to train him, but if he could learn under the tutelage of a sword dancer…!”

Isboset cleared his throat. “Pardon me, most generous patriarch, but a word, if I may.”

Kaden paused just a heartbeat longer than he should have. “Tutor Isboset, you will await my leisure. You advise the prince at my discretion. You do not advise me. I have hired Bendaevi for that purpose.”

Isboset blinked before answering, “As you wish, most merciful patriarch.”

Badani could not follow all that was happening, but he knew it was momentous. Why did his father deny Isboset the chance to speak? And whenever Bendaevi smirked like that, it meant he had conquered some imagined foe.

As the tutor spoke his obeisance, Kaden shifted his attention back to Arai.

Arai glanced between Bendaevi and Isboset before answering. “You make a generous offer. I fear I have never trained another, much less one who is inexperienced in the ways of combat or the rhythm of the dance. Yet I am willing to accept this challenge, if you are willing to risk your son to my fumbling steps.”

Kaden smiled as he stood. The smile never touched his eyes. “Sword Dancer Arai, you are now a member of my household. You are welcome to all I have. Choose a tent and it shall be yours for as long as you wish to stay.” He stepped past the cushions and embraced the taller man, kissing him on each cheek. “May you never go thirsty as long as you remain among my tents.”

Arai bowed again.

“Now, go. Advisor Bendaevi will go with you to arrange your stay.”

Bendaevi walked to the entrance and pulled the tent flap aside to allow Arai egress. Both departed.

Kaden reclaimed his place atop the mound of cushions. “Tutor Isboset, appear before me.”

The old man’s fingers twitched as he moved to stand where Arai had been. “I am here to serve my patriarch. As you speak your will, so shall I perform it.”

“Oh?” Kaden’s lips tightened. “You have seen my gratitude for one who saves my son. Why did you attempt to kill him?”

Badani gasped.

“My patriarch!” Isboset caught himself. “I have never sought to harm Prince Badani. He is my student. Let me see my accuser, so I may defend myself from this dubious charge!”

Kaden raised a steady finger toward Badani. “Face your accuser.”

Badani’s eyes shot between his father and his tutor. “Patriarch, what are you talking about? Tutor Isboset shown  only kindness to me.”

No. Badani didn’t really want this. Not really.

Kaden’s eyes remained on Isboset. “Tell me, my only son, did you have your saber, your only protection, when the goblins attacked?”

Badani’s answer stumbled from his lips. “No.”

“Where was your weapon, the only weapon in which you have any training?”

“It was hidden from me.”

“Who hid it?”

Badani closed his eyes. When he opened them, all he could see was Isboset’s horrified expression. “My tutor. He was trying to keep me from going to battle –“

“A tutor has no right to disarm the son of a patriarch.” Kaden’s cold tone caused Badani to shiver. “If it were not for Sword Dancer Arai, my only son would be dead. If he had his saber, he at least would have had a chance against the goblins.”

Isboset’s eyes slid to the ground, lower and lower with each word.

Kaden’s voice remained steady. “I will be merciful to you. You have been faithful until the battle. Your faithfulness will be rewarded.”

Badani smiled. His father would forgive Isboset! He had to!

Isboset’s eyes remained on the ground.

“Tutor Isboset, I reject you from my household. When we leave tomorrow, you will not travel with us. You no longer have the protection of our tents, and our water is not your water.” He paused before spitting, “May you find water.”

“Ada! No!”

“Silence, my only son! For any who would bring harm to my child, this is the most merciful I can be.”

Isboset turned and marched out of the tent even as Bendaevi reentered. As the two passed each other, the former tutor looked at the advisor. He sighed once.

Bendaevi looked from Isboset to Kaden and back again. His smirk vanished as he realized what had happened. “Patriarch Kaden, if I may, I advised punishment. I did not advise banishment!”

Kaden snapped, “I know what you have advised! Take the prince and escort him to his tent. We are done here today!”

Isboset walked out into the heat of the day.

Badani stood and joined Bendaevi as they exited the tent. Badani stumbled at the threshold but caught himself.

Bendaevi breathed deeply once, twice, as they watched the tutor go to his tent. Isboset left a moment later, a small pack on his back. He walked out of the encampment and toward some distant point only he knew.

“Prince Badani, remember what I taught you. The greatest of men is worth less than your honor. Tutor – your former tutor hurt your honor by hiding your saber. The patriarch had to respond to that, since you’re too young to defend your own honor. I did not expect this.” He labored through a breath. “I am sorry.”

Badani shook his head. “No. You are not. But I promise you, when I am patriarch, I will reject you just as my father rejected Tutor Isboset. You will go without water.”

“As the prince wishes,” Bendaevi answered. “As the prince wishes.”

Read part 6 here.  

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8 thoughts on “The Least of Men, Part 5

    1. I’m discovering more and more of the culture as I continue to write this story — I expected harsh, but as I continue to know more about this slice of the world — well, it’s going to have definite effects on one of the main characters in the novel later on!

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