The Least of Men, Part 7

Read previous parts here:

“No. She is not good enough for my son.” Patriarch Kaden waved a hand in front of his face. “She is not good enough for the least of men.”

The envoy’s face jaw and fists trembled. “This is the daughter of the Patriarch Ganaten! She is the most beautiful fruit of Parvia!”

Badani disagreed. Under her form-fitting silks, he could see a shape that, well, he certainly wouldn’t mind it. But there was something wrong with her nose.

And she kept smiling at him. What did that mean?

Kaden grunted.

Advisor Bendaevi stepped forward. “Your audience has ended. You may return to the guest tents.”

Two servants of fire moved forward from the edges of the tent to escort the envoy and the girl out. Before leaving, the envoy spat, “Patriarch Ganaten will remember this! You have insulted his honor!”

As soon as the two had left the tent, Kaden muttered, “He never had much honor.”

Bendaevi rushed to the flap and then turned back. “Patriarch Kaden, please, it would not do well for Envoy Nedan to hear that. Ganaten is a powerful patriarch. Why did you reject his offer for an alliance?”

The patriarch sighed. “Did you see that girl? That is no woman for a first wife for my only son.” He wrinkled his nose before turning to Badani. “What do you think, prince? Did she appear beautiful to you? Would she have been the water that sustained you until your old age, or was she a dry well?”

Badani looked for words. “She was not unpleasant.” He was content his voice didn’t crack. It hadn’t for quite some time now.

Kaden’s eyes shot to Bendaevi. “You’ve trained him too well.”

The advisor gave a shallow bow. “I teach him only what will serve him in the future.”

Kaden shook his head. “My only son, you deserve someone who will sustain you, and not simply make a quick alliance. You always remember your first wife. You remember them far longer than any other.”

Badani nodded. He remembered his mother’s restored tent, still sitting outside the camp.

Bendaevi’s face remained impassive.

The patriarch stood. “Very well. I dismiss you both. This evening, advisor, we should speak to plan out who my only son will marry. And she won’t be someone like that servant of earth masquerading as a patriarch’s daughter!”

Badani fled the tent before the advisor could catch him and attempt to teach him anything. Every time an envoy came, he pointed out this maneuver or that stratagem in dealing with others of his caste.

Badani hated it.

It was as pointless as carrying water from a well in a cracked jar. No, put it out of his mind. It did not do to dwell on useless matters.

Arai lay beneath his canvass. As Badani approached, he opened one eye. “The marriage isn’t going well?”

Badani attempted a chuckle. He still had not grown used to making the sound. “I won’t be married today, and not to that girl.”

Arai sat up and crossed his legs. “It’s for the best. I saw her leave the tent with the envoy. She moved with no grace. A patriarch’s daughter without grace is like water without wet. Remember that. Whoever you marry, make sure she moves with grace.”

“I didn’t notice.”

Arai barked a laugh. “No, of course you didn’t. And what did you notice, oh prince?”

Badani looked down.

Arai nodded, a glimmer in his eye. “Of course. You noticed what every boy and far too many men notice. But those things do not remain with a woman after marriage. Well, after children, at least. You must seek something greater if you wish to be happy with her. You must seek something that will not vanish.” Arai stood. “Come with me.”

Badani followed as the sword dancer led around the edge of the camp until they came into view of the lone tent. “Tell me. Why is that there?”

Badani did not move his eyes from the canvass edifice. “My father the patriarch mourns for his wife.”

“And how long has it been there?”

“Since I was born. Fifteen summers ago.”

“And do you think that tent is there because your father saw only what you noticed of that girl?”

Badani looked down, ashamed.

“No, no, young prince. What you are learning is what every man must learn, though many learn the truth only after they have married for the wrong reasons. Your father still mourns and refuses to marry because the woman who birthed you matched his dance. They were perfect partners. When the dancers are so matched, a new partner is not easily found.” Arai smiled. “No matter what advisors may say.”

“How do you find someone like that?”

“You can’t until you learn your own dance.” Arai pointed. “Take off your slippers. Feel the sand between your toes.”

Badani obeyed. The sand burned but no longer pained him.

“I have taught you to dance for nearly a year. You have been a good student. You have listened with both your heart and your head. Now, I think, you shall reach the next lesson. In the sand pits, we must train for five years before we even touch a blade.”

Badani finished, “But we are not in the sand pits.”

Arai barked a laugh. He waved his hand and a blade seemed to appear from nowhere.

He held a falchion. The brightness of the sun danced along the length of the curved blade. He turned it, offering the hilt to Badani.

“What music do you hear?” the sword dancer whispered.

As the young man stretched out his hand, he breathed his answer, “Deep drums. Fast.”

“You are thinking of the girl.”

Badani’s hand backed away from the hilt.

“Think of her, if it is the song you hear. For now. Take the blade.”

His fingers wrapped around the cold hilt. He lifted its weight, feeling the heft.

“The music changed.”

“A new instrument has joined your song. If it did not, you would not be meant to wield it.” Arai stood and backed away, step by step. He continued to whisper, “Now, dance.”

Badani lifted the blade before him, pointing it to the sky. It fell, the tip grazing the very edge of the ground as he spun. Grains of sand scattered as he pivoted, kicking one leg behind him. The falchion twirled, grazing the sand again as he spun. The blade sliced through the air at shoulder level, forming a complete circle. He drew the blade close to his side.

Then he fell over.

Arai roared laughter as he clapped. “Well danced! Well danced! Your first duet with a blade raised a short but elegant song.” The sword dancer offered his hand to help Badani stand.

“But I fell.”

“Of course you did. Everyone falls.” Arai’s eyes shone in merriment. “But not everyone dances.”

Read Part 8 here.


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