The prince stood over his tutor’s unmoving form. Torches lit the tent in a flickering light. Servants of fire crowded the entrance but did not intrude. This was not their place. Not until they were called.
From the carpeted floor, in a spreading scarlet stain, Arai chuckled.
Badani spun. “You’re alive?”
The sword dancer grimaced as he lay on the ground. Crimson marred half his face. “For now. If you’d get a healer in here, I might live longer.”
Badani’s eyes shot to the servants of fire. One raced out of the tent. The second moved to stab the dead garethspawn a few more times. The third knelt at Arai’s side, staunching the flow of blood from the chest wound.
“You gave up your sword.” Badani realized he still held it. His hand wouldn’t let it go.
“It wasn’t my dance. I heard no music.” Arai grimaced at the pressure. “I can ignore pain in battle, but I was always terrible at what happened after.”
“You knew you wouldn’t die.”
“No. I knew it wasn’t my dance, but you needed someone to start the music for you. I think it was worth the risk. If the healer gets here in time.”
“It’ll take a little bit for the healer to gather her phials. You taught me patience.”
“I didn’t teach it while I was dying.” Arai tensed and gritted his teeth. He focused on the servant of fire. “And you don’t have to press down so hard, do you?”
“If you wish keep your blood within you, Dancer Arai,” came the answer.
“I suppose I should.” Arai let his head rest on the darkening carpet. “Badani. That blade is yours now. You won it in battle.” He gasped. The remaining words rushed out of his mouth. “If you take it to the sand pits, if you present it to Dikedi, he will finish your training.”
“You’ll finish my training.”
More shouting outside the tent. Someone was running from the camp. Several someones.
“I don’t think so.” Arai closed his eyes. “I think we’re through.”
“Yeah. That’d be good.”
Finally the tent flap pulled aside and Radah entered. The old woman knelt at Arai’s side, blood squelching out of the carpet at her weight. “Sheh!” She waved the servant of fire away. “Get out of here! Prince Badani, you as well, if you wish to see him live.”
The servant of fire stood and exited.
Badani looked at Arai’s pale face. “You’ll live.” He turned and walked into the cool night air.
Two lines of torches greeted him. Servants of fire stood flanked
a path from the guest tent to Prince Kaden.
The patriarch’s regal voice called out, “Prince Badani, step forth.”
One step. The heat from the torches seemed to reach out and burn him. Another step. Another. His hand still hurt. He couldn’t move his fingers from the hilt. But the song was ended, the dance had ceased.
His father awaited. Closer, closer. Badani could not read the patriarch’s face.
Finally, the end. He attempted to bow. His legs would not listen. They remained stiff. With a grunt, he forced one knee to bend enough. He lowered his head, his eyes finding only the rocky ground.
“Prince Badani, I understand that you fought garethspawn tonight. That you faced the enemy and overcame.” His voice remained guarded and cold. “Prince Badani,. you have disobeyed me. You sought out your old tutor against my command. You never should have been in that tent, my only son. A man cannot gain honor through dishonor. A well cannot gain water through losing it.”
The wind had no rhythm for Badani. He heard no music, and his hand ached. He wished he could release the blade.
“My only son, you must be punished for dishonoring me.” Kaden’s voice thickened. “I cannot allow this rebellion against me. Even a prince must obey his patriarch.”
Advisor Bendaevi’s old words came back to Badani. A patriarch will treat his own household with honor. Sometimes a man will be punished for doing the right thing. Badani had only wanted to see his old tutor. He had disobeyed, but in doing so he had found a paranai and slain it. He had done the right thing, but he’d dishonored his father. Honor was more important than anything. His father would act on that. And the only way to respond to dishonor, to direct disobedience, was to cause the offender’s family grief.
Badani wanted to bring honor to his father. But his dance… his dance did not lead him here. He turned his eyes away, to the west. He could hear distant drums. He knew that no one else would be able to feel their rhythm. These drums were for him.
Badani stood. “I am no longer your son,” he spoke.
Kaden stopped talking.
Badani continued, “I wish to train at the sand pits. I will become a sword dancer. I will battle Garethen with my heartbeat and struggle against him with my song.”
Kaden’s lips tightened. His eyes shone. The breeze through the torches whipped flames. The bright stars in the sky shone down. Kaden licked his lips and answered, “Then you are no longer of our household.”
“Tonight was my first dance. I slew a paranai in your camp.”
The patriarch looked away from his son. “Then you cannot be punished.” His voice was hushed. “You must be honored for this great service you have done, before you leave for the sand pits.”
Badani’s hand finally relaxed. He did not drop the sword, but he no longer clenched it. It was done. He and the blade were partners, now and for the rest of his life.
Kaden stepped forward. “We will celebrate you with such a feast.”
And they did. The servants of water served such food as had never been eaten at Patriarch Kaden’s table. Every servant of fire bowed before Badani as a man who had slain one of Garethen’s twisted creatures. Bendaevi congratulated him on surviving. “Though, you know, now that you have used that stratagem of belonging to another household, you can never do it again.”
Several hours into the feast, Radah the healer stood close to Badani. “The sword dancer will live, but he will never dance again.”
Kaden, sitting close, heard. “Then he will be our honored guest as long as he lives.”
The night brightened to dawn and the feast continued. The celebration continued all that day and well into the next night. Badani prepared to leave the next morning.
“You cannot leave when a feast is held in your name,” Kaden told his son.
Badani nodded. “I know. I know that you do not want to lose me, but it is too late. Release me, so I may follow where the music leads.”
Kaden shook his head and turned away, quickly.
“I cannot be patriarch after you. Not any more.”
Kaden nodded, but he did not turn back to his son.
“You dishonor and honor me in the same choice, my son. My only son. The son of my first wife. And now you leave me alone. You leave me to dance. You leave me.”
“Yes, my only father.”
Kaden nodded once more and turned to face Badani. “Forgive an old man. A man who does not wish to act with honor. I will entrap you no longer. Take whatever you would of my household. It is yours. Go with the blessing of your patriarch. With… with the blessing of your father.”
“You have made your father the least of men. I lost my beloved wife many years ago, and now I lose my only son. But I am the greatest of men. I have a son of whom I am proud. I have a son who has battled Garethen and won. Go, my son. My only son. May you find cool water.”
Badani bowed. “May you find cool water.”
He departed that very day, guided by a pathfinder. He never again saw his father. He never again saw the man who trained him, Sword Dancer Arai. He did once more see Advisor Bendaevi, but that is a story for another time. How Badani came to the sand pits and trained under Dikedi, how he met Abani, the woman who matched his dance, and how they fought to the gates of Sin Durai itself, are tales for another time.
But know this: The least of men is worth more than anything Garethen can promise, but it takes the greatest of men to stand against the Patriarch of Lies. Badani was among the greatest of men, and his story was just beginning.