The Least of Men, Part 9

Read previous parts here:
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8

“Patriarch Kaden,” Isboset intoned as he knelt on the ground before his former master. “I present myself as the least of men to you, the greatest.”

They had reconvened within Badani’s father’s tent. Kaden reclined on the cushions, Bendaevi standing behind him. Badani stood near, with Arai hovering nearby. Servants of fire flanked Badani’s former tutor.

No one spoke. Badani watched his father, trying to read his eyes. Surely his father had forgiven the tutor by now. Surely. Badani swung to see the face of the visitor. He looked healthy. Something was different about him. Was he content?

Finally Kaden licked his lips. “To see you again is water on a hot day.”

Isboset stood and grinned. “And to once again stand in your presence is a fine rain.”

Yes, he was content in a way he hadn’t been before. Badani tried to read his expression, the way Bendaevi had taught him. And then he stopped. He didn’t want to use Isboset’s enemy’s methods. Badani refused to use what that man taught him. Not here. Not now.

Kaden waved his hand. “We can stop these lies. I expected you to be carrion long ago.”

Isboset nodded his bearded head. “Indeed. But Patriarch Galaten had sent riders to watch for goblins. Instead, they found me and took me in. And now I am his advisor, even as Advisor Bendaevi stands at your side.”

Badani’s father motioned. “And what have you advised him?”

“That his daughter, though a jewel in his eyes, may not shine with the same brilliance when presented to another father. That despite your rejection, he should not challenge you. Yet. That you are a good man, untouched by Garethen’s taint, and should be given another chance to consider.” Isboset turned his eyes to his former pupil. “That Prince Badani is a young man worthy of a second effort to gain as a husband to his shining jewel of a daughter.”

Badani shifted his stance. Arai’s hand on his shoulder reminded him to keep his footing. He was not dancing; there was no need to move his feet.

Bendaevi cleared his throat.

“Speak, my advisor.”

“Patriarch, Isboset left our tents in disgrace. While it is welcome to see his face again, may I suggest that we allow him time in the visitor’s tents outside of camp as we discuss this.”

Kaden’s impassive face looked down on Isboset. “Yes. Let it be so. Tutor Isboset, please follow the servants of fire to your tent. We will summon you when we are ready to speak again.”

Isboset bowed to the ground. “Gracious patriarch, I thank you for your generosity. I would ask, though I am the least of men, that you call me by my title. I am advisor now. And, if I may have just one word more,” he looked up to his former charge. “It is good to see that one I taught so much has continued to grow in knowledge and stature. Prince Badani, may you continue to be graced with cool waters and friendly sands.” He smiled again and exited the tent.

Badani’s mouth twitched into a smile. Isboset was proud of him. He wanted to talk with his former tutor. He wanted to hear those words of wisdom again. He did not speak, though. No one spoke for a few moments.

Kaden rolled his eyes. “Advisor Bendaevi, address us before your words cause your head to burst.”

The shorter man rushed to stand before the patriarch. “This stratagem is unexpected. I think it is best that we wait a few days and then hear what he has to offer. To send someone who left us in disgrace is,” he shook his head, “it is an affront to honor that is not an affront.”

Arai raised a hand. “If I may, noble benefactor?”

Kaden gestured to the sword dancer to speak.

“Though the dance between patriarchs is not a song I have learned, it does appear this to be a subtle affront to your honor. Ganaten is not a foolish man. If he truly wished your alliance, he would have sent a friendlier face to you. However, if he wished to woo your son to his side, a trusted former tutor may do the job. I do not think you are the target of this envoy.”

Badani watched Arai, struggling to keep silent.

Bendaevi nodded. “It is very possible that this is the goal of our visitor. If he could convince Badani of his ‘noble intentions,’ the prince might agree to something without your approval.”

“No!” Badani sucked his breath in, trying to pull the word from the air and back into his lungs.

He did not succeed.

Kaden raised his eyebrows. “Would the prince wish to speak?”

Badani bobbed his head. “My father, if I may.”

Arai pushed his lips together in the way he usually did when he tried not to laugh at Badani’s fumbling efforts to dance.

Kaden nodded.

Badani’s words stumbled out of his mouth. “Tutor. No, Advisor Isboset took my weapons from me. He should not have been sent into the sands.” He glanced toward Bendaevi but tried not to be obvious with it. “Even with that, he is still important to my heart. Yes. But if he tried to turn me against you, father, he would fail. You are my father and my patriarch. I would never dishonor our family name by being a false well.”

His father smiled. “I know, my only son. I know you would never willingly betray me. But Isboset is wise. If it was his intent to marry you to that girl, he might find a way to convince you it would be the best way to serve me.” He sighed. “Badani, you are released from my presence. Do not speak to your former tutor.”

Badani opened his mouth to speak back, but closed it quickly. His father had spoken. There was no point in attempting to change his mind.

And so Badani stepped out into the cooling evening air. Around the camp, servants of earth lit torches. A dust of sand blew off the dunes. Badani circled around the tents until he reached the edge of camp.

Isboset had betrayed him. He’d hidden weapons.

But he’d been trying to help. He’d been trying to protect Badani.

The guest tents stood a hundred yards away. A servant of fire stood at each former of the opulent stretches of canvas.

All the old struggles came back. Since Arai had begun tutoring the young man, he had buried these thoughts in the sands of memory. Now, though.

Now…

He hadn’t wanted to send Isboset out into the sun. It was his fault, though. He’d been the one to condemn him.

He needed to tell Isboset that. He needed his tutor to know that even if his father had been cruel, even if Bendaevi had goaded the punishment out of him, Badani had never wished ill to the tutor.

So, it was decided. Badani would do the right thing and ask for forgiveness. He knew that the right thing, sometimes, is punished. He had learned that lesson long ago. He was willing to take that punishment if need be, though.

Badani set out for the tents.

A servant of fire blocked his path as he drew near. “Prince, these tents are not for you.”

“Do you presume to stop the son of your patriarch?” Badani pursed his lips as he had seen his father do. Bendaevi had taught him that as long as he spoke with confidence, few would stand up to a patriarch. He would use the advisor’s own methods to aid the one the advisor had meant to die.

“No, prince. I merely wish to serve.” The servant backed away.

“See that we are not disturbed.” Bendaevi counted his paces, forcing them to be slow. He flew the flap aside.

Inside Isboset awaited.

Part 10 will be posted next Tuesday or Wednesday.

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