The Weaver and the Wind
Chapter 16: Feasts and Feathers Fall
Copyright© 2010 by Sea-Life
The day before Thanksgiving, I went and collected Vic Greene and the Guard and brought them to the Focus. Cor was there waiting.
"Welcome to Arbor," I said. "You all know what a Focus is, and what an important role it can play. Especially you Preci."
I guided them to the edge of the little plateau, letting them gaze out on the valley below and the Tower across the valley.
"What you are seeing is the Valley of the wind, and while the Tower you see there is its heart, this Focus is its soul."
I turned and walked to the pool and the spring that fed it before facing them again.
"Here on Arbor my name is Weaver. This is my fiancé Corycia, who is known on Arbor as Wind, or The Wind, and formally has the title of The Wind of Arbor."
"Welcome to Arbor," Cor said. She was in her full blown Wind mode, and in addition to her leathers, she wore her cloak, the one that seemed to always be fading in and out of existence, like wisps of cloud in the wind.
"You have committed yourselves to our service. Here on Arbor, Magic exists. You can see the sign of it in the waters behind me. Here you will all make your final, formal commitment to us. Are you prepared to do this?"
Vic stood forward first. "I'm ready!" He said.
Cor and I dropped our cloaks and waded into the pool, turning back to face them.
"You must come and receive your uniform, and put it on here in the pool. I know the Preci amongst you are not terribly body conscious. I hope the rest of you are comfortable with it as well," I said.
"When in Arbor," Vic said with what I could sense was feigned casualness. He stripped of his gear and began to wade into the pool with us.
"Bring your staff," I said.
Vic must have sensed the seriousness of what was happening, he didn't make any wisecracks at all about Cor just wanting a chance to check out his ass. He was right, but not so right that I didn't think about that more normal reaction from him.
I waited until he was standing waist deep in the pool before us, then bent down and reached into the pool to grab one of the suits of PFF armor that had been soaking here since the day I got them from Kru.
"Put this on. It should feel familiar," I said.
"I will hold your staff," Cor held out her hand.
Once again not a peep from the usually wise-cracking Victor Greene. He slipped the armor on with practiced familiarity.
"Stand next to Wind and grip your staff," as I motioned to those on the bank for the next one.
Zho was next, and the tall, blond Preci indeed showed no self consciousness as she stripped herself bare and waded into the pool. She handed her staff without asking to Vic, and he held it as I reached down into the pool again and found another of the suits. Zho donned hers quickly as well, though I thought there might have been some small effort to maximize the jiggle factor as she did.
It went quickly from there, as everyone knew what to do, and without being asked they alternated, male and female. Stec, Zania, Pol, Giana Emera, Darid Sembel, Fera, Rete McLamor, Yaro, and then Tem McArat. With the uneven numbers we finished with two men, Vec and finally Aqadu. The tall, beefy fellow reached out and gripped NeedleThorn where I held her out.
We were a circle of fifteen. I pulled Magic out of the pool and combined it with a little of my own and Wind's and some from the Valley itself and made the weaving that was the bond. A charge of Light, and suddenly light and Magic ran round the circle like a bolt of lightning, and when it was done, there we stood, the Weaver and the Wind, and with us stood thirteen Guardians.
The PFF armor they had dressed themselves in had been transformed into something a little more in tune with life on Arbor. It looked for all the world like scale mail shoulder, arm and neck armor up top and leggings below, similar to what Winter wore, but with more gleam and shine to it. The leathers beneath still came with the same Valley of the Wind colors.
Cor and I pulled ourselves away and climbed out of the pool.
"See you back at the Tower," she said as she gave me a kiss.
She wisp-ed away, as if she became wind. I loved the way her jumping ability manifested itself here on Arbor. Magic indeed.
"Vic! Get your troop in order, we have some marching to do. Single file and hands free, we've got stairs to get down."
I didn't go hands free myself of course, I kept NeedleThorn in one hand and raised her up and let her radiate a good amount of light to guide their feet in the dark. We began winding our way down the stairs towards the bottom of the cliff.
"There are two components to the defense of our valley," I said into the air behind me. "You are the Guardians. You will be meeting the Rangers below us. The head of the Rangers is Winter, the Warden of the Valley. He is your commanding officer and you answer to him, as he does to me."
Vic had already heard from me that Winter was young and untrained as far as military matters go. He was ready to offer whatever guidance the young man needed.
We finally reached the bottom of the stairway and I led them through the face of feather falls to the valley beyond. Of course the fact that there were four Yaru waiting there for them set them all into major chaos mode, even Vic. To his credit he recovered quickly and got his troops in formation and at attention.
"Winter, you will forgive them for that," I said. "I intentionally kept them in the dark as to the nature of the Rangers. These warriors have recently served in a war in which they were each teamed with a Yaru as their partner."
"We can't let a little thing like military discipline stand in the way of a Wizard and his practical jokes, now can we?" Winter said with a loud booming laugh.
"I am Winter, and I am your commander. I am Fenrim," he watched for their reactions and saw none. He gave a hand signal and the four Yaru spread out moving away on either side of him.
"You have been told that there is Magic here, and perhaps you have already seen some evidence of that, judging by your armor and weapons. But you have to understand just how deeply the Magic effects every aspect of life here."
With that, Winter shifted into his Wood King form. He stood before them, all nine feet of him, with his claws flexing at the end of his outstretched arms and his sharp toothed muzzle wide open, and then he shifted back. He stood briefly, letting the silence speak for him.
"Just weeks ago, I was just a hard working Arborian lad of fourteen. A cut above some might have said. Certainly Weaver thought so. He hired me into this position while I was still just that boy. The Magic only touched me later. The Magic touches us all, who live here. It will touch you in some way eventually, minor like most or major like mine. In the meantime, you each have more military training and knowledge in your little finger than I have in all of me. We will be busy training each other."
Vic introduced himself and then presented the rest of the Guard. I let the presentation happen and a little mingling with the Yaru after, and then let NeedleThorn send out a little spark of noise and light to get their attention.
"You all have recently been busy getting back into shape, so I'm sure it won't bother you at all to hear that we have a little five mile run between us and our midday meal. Lets get moving."
Winter, to his credit ran the entire five miles in his human form, otherwise he would have had as easy a trot across the valley as the Yaru did. Still, they were all in good shape, and with their armor assisting a little, as it was supposed to, it was an easy run. We were met at the base of the Tower by Fleet and Plank.
"Welcome to the Tower of the Wind," I said.
"This is Fleet Arral, my Chief Engineer. In two days, he will begin building your Guard Tower. Guess who he will have as his labor force?"
Vic let them get in a good groan before he cut them off. Soldiers needed to be able to gripe a little, it was the only inalienable right they had.
"Learn well, because the true building season starts in the spring, and we already have a major project planned for the nearby town of Red Flag. You will find that on Arbor, at least in this part of it, people just chip in and get things done. That will be including us from now on."
"Until the Guard tower is completed and ready for you to live in, you will be staying in the Tower." I told them waving at its looming presence behind me. "This man is Plank Durmiter. He is chamberlain of the Tower of the Wind. He will be showing you to your quarters and showing you the basics you'll need to know about life in the Tower. In addition to being the Tower's chamberlain, he and his wife Opal are among our closest friends on Arbor."
"Oh yes!" I said, as they had begun to turn their attention to Plank. "Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day back on Earth. We will be having a traditional Earth Thanksgiving dinner in the Tower tomorrow afternoon. You are all invited."
I jumped myself directly to the kitchen, where I knew Cor would be. Even with the modern amenities our kitchen included, Cor, Opal and Iris were struggling with getting dinner for 50 ready. The biggest problem was that we had four turkeys to cook and not enough oven space.
"How would they cook those birds at the Red Flag?" I asked.
"They would probably roast them on spits over their central fire," Opal said. "I'm sure that's how they did that Elkaphant roast."
"Then that's what you should do. You've got space on the spit for at least four turkeys. You can use the ovens for the sweet potatoes and stuff."
Cor blushed. "Opal suggested that yesterday, but I wanted to do it the way Mom did it back home."
"This is our first Thanksgiving and we're feeding fifty. Imagine what it will be like once the rest of the kids and the Legion families find us."
"Oh Spirits!" Cor yelled in mock anger. "Get out of my kitchen! Go be useful somewhere else!"
I felt like I had been living with far too many irons in the fire in recent days. It felt good to finally be pulling some of them out. Getting Vic and the Guard here was a big one. Getting tomorrow's dinner behind us, as well as the examination of the probe would be a couple more.
When I'd gone to invite Skydrift Rambol to dinner, I'd had time to check in with Wick and Cap, and they said they had candidates standing by to be interviewed for the position of Arms Master. Talking to the Shavroms got me feeling guilty, So I invited the two of them with their wives. That was how the guest list hit 49.
I met with both men they had waiting to interview, and they were both fine men, but primarily swordsmen. One of them seemed adequate with the bow, but the other insisted the bow was outmoded and that the crossbow was replacing it in all modern armies. Since I wasn't raising an army, I thanked him, and said no thanks. In the end I didn't feel satisfied with either man.
Ren in the meantime said she had a line on someone who could teach the staff and bow if we needed it, but that the instructor she had in mind wouldn't or couldn't do the sword instruction. I felt sword instruction was a minor matter given the weapon of choice for the Guard. I went with her that same day to visit a facet she called Temple. She gave me the language on the way.
My first impression was that these people were living every Shao Lin kung fu movie I'd ever seen. Red robed people with oriental features, living in temples and high mountain retreats and studying martial arts their entire lives. The similarities ended when they spoke. The language reminded me of Spanish more than anything else.
"Weaver, this is Master Jo," Ren said, bowing as she introduced me to an elderly gentleman sitting with legs folded on a meditation rug in the center of a beautiful room with raw cedar walls and open windows. I bowed as I saw Ren doing but otherwise remained silent.
Ren slipped her cloak off and went to sit beside Master Jo on the rug. I took my cloak off as well, setting NeedleThorn gently atop it, and joined them, sitting on the other side of the master.
We meditated for a while. I was comfortable with it. I let myself soak up a sense of this place and these people, just an opening of my senses, not a probe of any kind. I found my calm center very quickly.
"It is true then, that you are used to the contemplative state," he said, addressing neither of us specifically.
"It is something we learned as small children and we have made it a part of us," I answered, sensing that Ren was going to wait for me to reply. "Not all among us are the same."
"Show me how well you have learned the lessons of the staff." He said, jumping up and running to a staff sitting on a rack behind him. As he ran I stood and held out my hand. NeedleThorn was there almost instantly. The little man came at me quickly and his attack was a blur! I found myself defending desperately for several long minutes, barely holding my own I felt.
Finally I began to see the pattern to the attack. It was like a practice form, only incredibly complex. I felt for the rhythm of it, and once I felt I had it I broke the pattern with a quick attack of my own. Once I was on the offensive I struggled to remain there. I gave him everything I had, and the little bastard took it, smiling the entire time. Until finally he picked his moment. Moving where I thought he couldn't go, when I didn't expect him to be going, and with a feint that wasn't, followed by a sweep that was, I was on my back with his stick at my throat. I tapped the floor with the flat of my hand, and he stepped back, still smiling.
"Good! You have been instructed in the basics very thoroughly. You have good discipline and have the beginnings of an idea of what it takes to fight with creativity. I agree to take you on as my pupil."
I looked at Ren. She shrugged back at me.
"I would be happy to be your pupil, but you must come live with me, and teach my men, whose stick work is lacking."
"Yes. I will teach your men the way of the Staff and the Art of the Bow. You will be my pupil and I shall come live with you. In exchange for this you will kill my demon. Yes?"
<Demon?> I thought to Ren.
<He has a tumor. It is killing him. It will be an easy thing to cure him of.>
"Yes. But we must leave here as soon as we have done so."
Master Jo clapped his hands and two young boys with shaved heads came scurrying out carrying a bag each which they set beside the old man. They both gave the old man a deep bow before scurrying off again.
"Please lay down on your back and get comfortable." I asked.
I got my cloak back on and with NeedleThorn in my left hand went to stand on one side of him where he lay. Ren followed suit and came to stand on the other side of him. I joined her in the Light and we fused our minds. She was right. The tumor was benign and easily removed. It would have been difficult to do surgically though, even on Earth. With the gifts and the Light, it was simple. We even gave him a thorough going over generally, cleaning up a lot of minor wear and tear. We finished with a boost of Rejuvenating Light, and for the benefit of the dozen or so unseen watchers who were peeking in through the walls, I let a golden light wash over him for a brief second.
"It is done." I announced. "Grab your bags."
And that was where we got our fiftieth for Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving morning threatened to become known forevermore as the Morning of Panic. Cor and Opal began to stress over every little thing. They intended to have Plank, Ketch, Fleet, Iris and I act as servers. I got removed from the list as soon as someone realized one of us was going to have to play the part of host, particularly now that we knew we would be having the King and his family as guests.
I did a quick check in with Trough and we suddenly had the temporary loan of every runner the Red Flag Inn had. I would pick them up early, to give Cor and Opal time to work with them, and drop them off again when I made my return trip to the Red Flag after dinner.
We skipped our usual morning meal. We were going to eat a light brunch with our parents and the rest of the Meadow bunch when we picked them up. Mom and Dad had offered to bring it. Everyone was meeting there and I was picking them up. Cor's folks had even spent the night on Meadow, getting to have a 'future in-laws' dinner and get together. I'm sure the conversations that night were much different than the ones they had in the Mediterranean during our Aegean adventure.
I popped into the house and found everyone there and ready. Dad had two big hampers waiting and with everyone gathered together and a few hugs exchanged, I gave them the final warning.
"Regardless of whatever else happens today, you are all family and you should feel free to make yourselves at home. You are not allowed to help in the kitchen unless asked, you are not allowed to serve the meal, you are not allowed to complain about those simple little rules. Got it?"
A chorus of laughter and agreement followed, and with a wave of NeedleThorn, we stood atop the Tower of the Wind.
"Welcome to Arbor." I said. I kept quiet after that, letting the view sink in. After a few minutes Dad thought to ask
"Why is there no wind up here?"
"Some introductions first." I said. "I am Weaver, sometimes called 'The Weaver'. That is how I was Named when I came to Arbor. We are working hard to avoid a situation where you are Named while you are here. It is a Magical act of some significance. This is NeedleThorn." I said, holding her up for everyone to see. "It is my Wizard's Staff. I am a Wizard here on Arbor and a powerful one, though I am somewhat self taught."
"Now let me introduce you to someone who is more than a Wizard, she is a being of Magic, a Named entity of legend on Arbor."
On cue, the wind began to swirl and spin, raising a spot behind us into a little spout of snow and debris. I turned just in time to see Cor materialize in her way, her leathers and cloak in full display.
I present to you The Wind of Arbor."
"Welcome to the Tower of the Wind," Cor gave greeting. "Welcome to our home."
"That was quite an entrance dear," Lottie said.
"Yeah, it was a bit over the top, wasn't it?" Cor asked. "We wanted to make sure that we really hammered home the point immediately that this is not home. Magic is real here and Weaver and I are Magical beings."
"Mom, Dad, you are the most adept here in the Gifts," I said. "You know that what you just saw was not just another kind of Light trick, don't you."
"Yes, I couldn't find more than a trace of Light use in what I just saw," Dad said. Mom nodded in agreement.
"You will meet other Wizards and Magical beings here. But everyone you meet today is a good friend or close acquaintance of ours," Cor added.
"So, the bare bones of it revealed, lets get downstairs. Cor's got turkeys to check on and we've got Mom and Dad's brunch to eat!"
Cor motioned and the gazebo/entryway to the tower appeared. We led everyone down into our apartment, but held off on the grand tour. We piled everyone's outerwear in the main room by the fireplace.
"Language time," I said. We stopped everyone for a moment and with a wash of Light and Gift we dumped Arborian into everyone's heads.
"This is Arborian. Its a very serviceable language, and everyone else here today will be speaking it," Of course I said it in Arborian.
I grinned at everyone and headed downstairs. Of course we completely bypassed several levels, including Ren and Thistle's floor, but I wasn't about to stop and explain the sophisticated bits of Magic around every corner of the Tower. They would get a good sense of it later when we went back up the stairs to the Banquet level, which we were also bypassing.
We walked out into the commons, and I led us all quickly to the main room. It was carefully outfitted today with comfortable furniture that would make everyone feel at home. Long leather couches and overstuffed chairs and a huge roaring fireplace.
"Please make yourselves at home." Cor said. "Will we need any guidance in getting the food in those hampers ready?"
"No, it will be pretty easy to figure out." Mom said.
Both hampers contained a simple brunch indeed. Chili and cornbread in the 'hot' hamper and strawberries and cream in the 'cold' hamper.
Mom had included butter and honey in the hamper as well, but after a quick inspection Opal substituted the local versions. The brick of aged sharp jack cheese was another story. Cheese was a bit of an iffy product on Arbor. Mostly soft and cream cheeses. There was a grater in the hamper as well, and I used it to shred the cheese. We gathered up a good number of bowls and plates and got everyone sat down at the dining table in the commons. There were twenty of us.
Winter, Master Jo and the Guard had had a normal breakfast and were off enjoying what Master Jo referred to as an introduction to the fine art of bruising. He had giggled with glee when I had gifted him with a Moonstone staff to match that of his students.
The twenty of us dug into the chili and cornbread with gusto. We showed the Arborian s how to sprinkle the shredded cheese onto the hot chili. They needed no introduction to Cornbread. Cornmeal was a staple on Arbor and cornbreads and cornmeal mushes of various kinds were common meal items. The chili spices themselves were uncommon. I'd had a few dishes in Beletara, with its access to the southern trade goods, that hinted at the peppers and other spices, but they were not often seen in the north.
The strawberries were an even bigger hit, given the season. They were almost a miracle to the Arborian adults. Ketch and Biter were thrilled and didn't care about the oddity of a summer fruit appearing on the table at winter. The two of them had more than their share, which none of us minded. It was merely the taste of summer that made us happy, not the sweetness of the fruit nor the richness of the cream.
With the quick and delicious meal out of the way, Opal, Cor, Iris and Ketch headed back to the kitchen. Ketch's bread baking duties were about to get serious, as he had dough rising, and more kneading and rising cycles to go. He already had his bread ovens on, slowly bringing them up to the perfect temperature. Ketch was not content with producing simple loaves either, not today. He was treating this like a command performance, and he was braiding and knotting the bread into complex patterns. Some I was told had special significance, including one called the 'Royal Braid' that was always served when the king was visiting.
With the cooks returned to the kitchen, Plank, Fleet, Thistle and I got busy clearing off the dining table. Once we had it cleared we wiped it down and folded it into the wall out of the way. I silently sent the command and we watched as the wall separating the dining area with the rest of the common room slid silently into the floor.
I jumped a few more chairs and sofas from the other floors and we rearranged the furniture to make one large sitting room.
The entire time we had been at our labors, Starlight had sat quietly in a corner playing the Cuesta and singing some traditional Arborian songs.
"She is quite talented," Ben said. As I passed near him and Lottie.
"Wait until you hear her and Thistle playing together. They are amazing. Thistle's talent is so pure that his Music was able to call forth NeedleThorn as a gift from the Spirits for me. His Music was the foundation on which we formed the Magic that built this Tower."
I checked the time. I still had an hour before I would need to leave to collect the first of the guests. That meant the Guard and the Rangers needed to start getting cleaned up soon though. I wanted them all shiny, sharp and on display when the Shavroms and the Esterhals arrived. I reached out with my senses and found them where I expected, practicing under the broad spreading limbs of an ancient oak that grew near the river a couple miles downstream on the Western side of the Valley.
"Be back in a bit." I said to Ben and Lottie just before I jumped.
Master Jo had his students sitting cross legged in a semicircle in front of him, and I appeared to his left and slightly behind him.
" ... Simplicity is achieved then in the end, not because you act simply, or do things simply, but because you do them without thought. Need translated into action without conscious intervention of the will. Simplicity." He paused there for a moment.
"Shall we show them Weaver?"
"If it please you Master." I answered.
"Very well, get rid of that cloak for now. I know you are versed in fighting while wearing it, but we don't want to distract the eyes of my students."
I dropped the cloak and stood, holding NeedleThorn at the ready.
"Show me the first form you learned." Master Jo ordered.
I thought about it for a second then closed my eyes and slipped into it. It was a smooth, flowing form. My feet never left the ground and NeedleThorn remained close and spun in simple circles around me, high and low.
"Ah!" Master Jo said as I reached the halfway point. "This is very much like the first form you will learn, called 'Leaves Falling on the Still Pond. It will teach you about keeping yourself centered, and about making the stick do the work for you. It is a good basic form."
I finished the form a minute later, it was not a long form, but its finishing move led easily into its beginning, so could be easily repeated over and over again.
"Now give them something from the middle of your training, something that taught you something new.