He spent the rest of the afternoon in relaxation and found it tremendously boring, not to mention frustrating. His mind kept alternating between wondering if the kits were okay and wondering whether Della was close enough for him to catch her any time soon. From time to time he could taste something subtly sinister on the air, strong enough to keep him aware of his surroundings, but nothing happened.

  He received messages, one after the other, asking if he would like to meet with an increasingly long list of distinguished guests. Since none of them were asking if they could adopt Garbi in any sort of non-suspicious manner, he declined them all. For her part, Garbi said nothing further, even though every so often Wolfscar would stop playing with his spear and try to get her attention.

  Androkles had just managed to slip into a nap when Gotzone approached to summon him personally, announcing, “Master Androkles, your evening meal is prepared. If you would like to eat in the common room, I am certain my guests would eagerly hear more of your stories.”

  He stood and stretched. Why did sitting around always make a man feel tired?

  “I think dinner would be lovely, Master Gotzone. Come on, Wolfscar. It’s time we make an appearance. Is your spear clean, or did you manage to ruin it already?” he said light-heartedly.

  The fairy was slightly offended. “No! It’s not ruined! I only own two things in the entire world, so I’m being careful! And I didn’t get my robe dirty, either, except right here, and that’s only a little bit.”

  Androkles and Gotzone gave each other droll smirks as they made their way to the common room. The crowd was already starting to get merry. When the doors opened, they gave a cheer, and Androkles raised his spear to greet them. Garbi shrunk back, clutching Androkles’s tunic, and muttered something that he couldn’t hear.

  Wolfscar did, however, and he urgently patted Androkles on the cheek to get his attention. “She talked! She talked! Wait! Look, she said something! I heard it!”

  “Gods, little one, back off a bit. What did she say?”

  “She said, ‘It’s too noisy in here,’” said the fairy. He flew down to try to catch her eyes, but she didn’t react.

  Androkles thought about it for a moment. “Master Gotzone, have one of your girls take her somewhere peaceful and keep her company. Her spirit might be broken, but it might be like a bone and mend if it isn’t shaken again.”

  “Of course, Master Androkles. Right away,” she said. She took Garbi’s hand and led her away.

  “You come with me, fairy,” said Androkles when Wolfscar started to follow her.

  “Why?” he asked.

  “Because if Garbi gets better and finds out you’ve been eaten, she’ll cry. Now come on,” said Androkles. They made their way to the increasingly familiar couch, where a large, steaming platter of delicate meat and vegetables was waiting for them, along with a large pot of beer and another of wine.

  The enormous crowd overfilled the room, many of them standing almost shoulder to shoulder, with only the best-dressed people seated. Androkles decided those were probably the nobles. Several of them had even moved their chairs closer to the couch, almost crowding him in. Almost as soon as he took his place on the couch, the nobles began talking over each other and the crowd as they tried to catch his attention. He soon found his table covered in gifts; fine cloth, golden jewelry, silver plates and cups, and two iron knives, both with finely-carved and inlaid handles. The knives Androkles picked up and admired.

  The nobles continued to speak over each other, each insisting they had been the one to place the knives on the table. Androkles lost his temper at that. That was too far. He shot to his feet, and calling up just enough of a killing intent to get their attention and slamming the butt of his spear into the floor, he shouted, “Be silent!”

  It had the desired effect. Immediately the crowd fell still. The nobles stared, slack-jawed, and shied back in their chairs. After quieting down his killing intent, just in case it got away from him, he scowled at the nobles and said, “You pathetic rabble. If you had a shred of honor, you’d be too ashamed to show your faces in public. You think to sway me from my word with bribes? And then lie to improve your chances?”

  Some of the nobles blustered, others looked embarrassed, and others annoyed; the rest of the crowd, however, cheered Androkles with enthusiasm. The poor always love to see the rich torn down, after all. It had been the same way in the Glories before they discovered the republican polity. Now that he knew the crowd was with him, he could push a bit further, and hopefully never have to deal with them again. “All of you nobles, give up your seats for the children. Let them come forward, and I will teach them about honor, since you cannot. You may take your bribes back, if you wish.”

  Most of the treasure disappeared from the table, but both of the knives remained. The nobles slipped from the room, jostling their way through their inferiors. A surprising number of children made their way to the front to take their place. Some of them had to be passed overhead where the crowd was too thick to let them through.

  An old man with good clothing and a gentle demeanor leaned over to Androkles and said, “The daggers are a gift for your boys. Not all of us nobles are so base as the others, great master. Most, but not all.”

  Androkles gave the man careful scrutiny, but he could see nothing amiss; how had he known about the kits? Was that even what he meant? “Please come to me tomorrow in the late morning,” Androkles asked. “I’ll make sure they let you in.”

  The old man nodded, then returned to his seat a few feet to the side of the couch. He found two knee-highs had taken it, so he picked them both up with a smile and sat down, placing them on his knees. They didn’t seem to mind, and neither did anyone else.

  As the crowd began to settle down, Androkles reached for a few morsels of food. Wolfscar had taken a small bite from every single one without being noticed, somehow. Lovely. The fairy was currently hopping along the row of little heads that had assembled in front of the table, causing a lot of squirming and giggling, much of it from himself.

  Androkles took a long swallow of the beer, then said in a loud voice, “Listen well, little ones! Honor!” He brandished his spear. “Honor is these two things: To do good to your friends, and to do harm to your enemies. But there is something more than this, that if a man lacks it, he can never earn any honor at all. That is justice, which is to give every man what is owed him. Some are owed mercy, and others the sword. It is justice that gives order to the demands of honor. Justice! To give every man his due. To give balance in every transaction.

  “To be just is to return things that have been lost, and to punish those who have stolen. To be just is to kill murderers. To be just is to protect inferiors who depend on you. To be just is to keep your oaths forever! If a man breaks an oath, even if it helps his friends and hurts his enemies, he can never earn honor. And if by deceit and lying, by breaking trust and brutalizing the weak, he wins fortune and glory and fools the City into thinking he has honor, the gods will grind him to paste. He will be thrown down to the bottom of the seas, and all his works forgotten, and his household destroyed.”

  He was more or less reciting lectures from the army, but none of them needed to know that. The words were good, and they’d all think he was well-spoken. He continued for several minutes on the value of being honorable and just, and what the gods thought about such things, until he finished the lecture. Then, to demonstrate the point, he gave them the story of the first rebellion he had put down, when Samothripetus had built walls and withdrew their representatives and divorced themselves from the Glories, making treaty with the Pesars and giving harbor to a fleet of their ships.

  He made it clear that the City’s aristocrats had become oligarchs and overrun the City government, breaking their oaths of law, both internally and with the rest of the Glories. He depicted the battle and the bloody siege, and the destruction of the City entirely once its defenses fell. After the war was won, the army had slain every seventh man, every fourth animal, and taken half the wheat. Hundreds were taken as slaves when they gave themselves, along with their wives and children, to the mercy of the General. The gods withheld their blessing from the crops and animals, leaving the land in famine. Samothripetus lost fully two thirds of its population before the rest dispersed.

  Androkles then gave a very pointed explanation that the graves of their fathers were left untended, their city laid waste, and all their honor forgotten forever, because they had broken their oaths.

  The crowd was pleased by his story, although some of them looked a bit uncomfortable with the morality that Androkles was teaching their children. That was nothing but an indication of how badly it was needed, however. The children, for their part, did a fairly good job of listening, nodding where they agreed and learned something. The knee-highs didn’t pay much attention, and Wolfscar kept those ones entertained. The fairy was good for something after all.

  He paused for a moment to eat more of his dinner. Someone asked to hear the story of the cyclops again, since they hadn’t been there last night. Others expressed their agreement and the crowd seemed eager to hear it, so he told the entire tale again, starting with the road northward.

  After he finished, people asked him questions about life in the Glories, all of which he answered with pride. They asked about his travels among the Rivermen, the Pesars, and so on, wondering about their clothing and customs. The conversation went long into the night, after many of the children had fallen asleep.

  Several times throughout the evening, he considered asking again for someone to take Garbi in, but when he thought about it, he felt that perhaps he should wait to see if she’d recover. If he promised she would recover, they might doubt him and it would lessen him in their eyes. Perhaps in a day or two, she could ask them herself. And besides, if she was going to recover, he wanted to see it once more before he left. She really had been a sweet little thing.

  Wolfscar had fallen asleep atop Androkles’s head, so he left him where he was. Gotzone led them to his room personally, since she wanted to tuck the fairy in again, one of the young men following close behind.

  Garbi lay sleeping in the bed, and the female servant kept watch on her while placidly doing needlework on a handkerchief. She nodded when Androkles entered and rose to get his side of the bed ready.

  Androkles carefully ducked down so Gotzone could reach the little fairy. Wolfscar stayed asleep as the master of the inn changed him out of his little robe and tenderly placed him into his doll-bed, nodding in satisfaction. After the male servant changed Androkles’s clothes, they slipped out without a sound so as not to wake Garbi.

  Once they had gone, Androkles quietly shook the girl awake, watching her eyes for a sign of awareness. At first her face was blank, but then she seemed to focus. She looked at him said, “Tired …” and rolled over and fell back asleep. Androkles’s eyes misted over just a bit, which surprised him; chances seemed good that she would recover soon. He opened the chest and placed the knives inside, thinking about how pleased the boys would have been with them, if they ever saw them. They never would, but still, they would have been thrilled. And immediately found a way to cut themselves.

  He climbed into bed and drifted to sleep, thinking about Gotzone’s words and wondering what he truly wanted.

A note from Ryan English

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About the author

Ryan English

  • Brigham City, Utah


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