The Dragons of Arbor
Chapter 1: Changes and Celebrations
Copyright© 2011 by Sea-Life
We arrived in the Valley during one of Mom and Dad's increasingly rare absences, a trip to Precipice for some white water rafting adventure with Vic Greene and some other friends and acquaintances from the war there. That timing did give us a chance to get settled in a little, and established into a routine before having to deal with any family-related stresses. It also meant I missed seeing Coral again right away. She was staying with her grandparents on Meadow while Mom and Dad were on Precipice, and would be returning with them in time for Thanksgiving.
Trunk and River were impressed by the Rangers and the Guard, but especially by Winter and Snow. They were actual living legends as far as the both of them were concerned. Fenrim out of legend, so to speak. Even the Yaru came in only a close second.
Master Jo was another matter entirely. There was less wow factor and more worship, because the old master and his quiet philosophy, which they had been exposed to in a diluted and bastardized form from me, they were now getting straight from the source. They loved it, and they loved him. I was right there with them – no one who loved stick work could fail to be.
"You have done an admirable job with these two students." He told me, to my astonishment. "You managed to pass on what you know of the art, both the physical and the mental. You were not ready yet to be a true teacher, but you met the challenge adequately."
From Master Jo, such words were high praise indeed. I had to agree with Dad, nothing makes you feel more accomplished than Master Jo calling your work adequate.
We spent two weeks concentrating on Master Jo, and his lessons. We ran, we trained, we meditated and we explored the valley. River and Trunk's skills with the bow were analyzed and new training begun for both of them. Mine picked up as if I'd never left. We were fully into the new routine when Mom and Dad returned.
Mom was definitely in complete Corycia McKesson mode at first, and that was a good thing. River got to meet the woman instead of the mythological champion of the Spirits first. Their initial days together were beautifully ordinary and human.
One thing those initial days did was introduce my future bride to the wonders of blue jeans and soft sweaters. Mom loved to wear them in the valley, and River soon was similarly garbed. Trunk was taken with the blue jeans, but couldn't understand my devotion to t shirts. The approaching winter season soon had me switching to sweaters myself, and those, especially the heavy cotton style I preferred, were more to Trunk's liking.
The approach of winter brings a sense of peace and serenity with it to the Valley of the Wind. Sometimes, it even brings Serenity, which quickly takes care of the peace.
My aunt Serenity arrived at the tower a week after Mom and Dad, and that complicated things to no end. Well, it should have, but I could see that she was changed somehow. Trunk, as all males did to some degree, immediately fell in lust with her, but that was fleeting, especially when she disappeared for a few hours one afternoon, only to return with Thistle and Starlight Hellerin.
With the Bard of the North and the Bard of Beletara both in residence, River and Trunk had another serious bout of worship and star-struck awe. Trunk had another serious case of lust that lasted a few hours at least.
"Spirits, McKesson! Don't you know any plain women?" He said jokingly. I had to laughingly remind him that Starlight was the only woman he'd met other than River who wasn't older than his mother.
With Thistle here, He and Aunt Serenity were soon absent for long stretches. Those absences seemed to work wonders in her, and in truth, she had needed some kind of miracle when she first arrived.
Serenity looked a little dead in the eyes when I saw her, and Thistle said she looked worse than he had ever known her to get.
"She let the life and humanity that makes her Serenity go, in favor of something else." Thistle Kerwen told me. "The humanity is starting to slowly seep back in though, thank the Spirits."
Mom said that to a great degree, Serenity had often depended on Thistle to connect her to that sense of humanity and self, and – as she put it "Love the hero out of her and leave the woman there to be herself for a while."
Whatever spark Thistle Kerwen was able to generate, it was powerful. Serenity was soon joining us for our runs, and for our workouts with Master Jo. She was completely fascinated with River's throwing knives, and River was soon giving a demonstration of her skills with them.
"Has she fallen through yet?" Serenity asked me privately after one such session.
"No, but she is very close, and she's already close enough to it that she is sending to me without realizing it. Completely a private channel thing at this point though.
"What about the little dynamo?" She asked. "I can tell you're getting him close as well."
"Trunk may fall through first. He doesn't have the Magic of Transformation to get in the way." I said.
That resulted in a family conference between Mom, Dad, Aunt Serenity and I. Dad's perspective on the possibility that Transformation Magic could interfere with the awakening process was that the Magic had to absorb the initial doses of Light exposure and integrate it into itself before it could let the transition to the awakened state take place.
"There is one known and definitely proven example back on Earth of someone who could not be pushed through into the Awakened state, but that had less to do with Magic than it had to do with the brain. The man was perhaps the greatest inventive genius in human history, still is really. He's moved humanity on Earth's facet from being close to earth-bound to being a star-faring culture of some accomplishment, and all within your lifetime Sid." Dad said. "That man couldn't be pushed through the threshold, despite an entire legion unit and a half a dozen guardians dumping Light into him. All it did was give him bad dreams and a little inspiration now and then."
"Let's give her a little time, but if she's not there by Thanksgiving, we should see about doing a little large scale Light work of our own to push her through." Serenity said.
"I see that you are all meditating as part of Master Jo's training. Are you meditating any other times?" Mom asked.
"We haven't been, but there has been some talk of it. The three of us appreciate it for its own sake, and have been talking about having an evening session somewhere."
"How about the top of the tower?" Mom suggested. "I'll make sure it stays relatively warm up there so its not uncomfortable."
"That sounds great, thanks Mom."
"When you are meditating, try linking your mind to hers. A light surface linking can be beneficial. Your Grandma Ginny says that linking like that was a key part of her early exposure to the gifts."
There was a full month before the family's annual Thanksgiving feast. The far-flung family members and friends who planned on attending began to show up early and the further away, the earlier they came. Serenity was here already, and it sounded like Grandma and Grandpa McKesson would be joining us in a few weeks, and perhaps great-grandma and great-grandpa as well.
Thanksgiving was a big deal at the tower and had been, pretty much since the first year it had been raised. Few on Arbor knew of the origins behind it, but others on Arbor were emulating it already. The Shavrom's had one every year now, though they often had someone visiting for ours. Lord Esterhal or someone else from Midhal was usually there as well as someone from Norhal.
Serenity and Thistle announced the day after our family meeting that it was time for a visit to the Red Flag. We would have midday meal there, and Thistle and Starlight would give the Trade Road Theater a once over to make sure it was going to be ready for their Thanksgiving performance. There was quite a crew assembled by the time we were ready to go. Mom and Dad of course, Aunt Serenity and Thistle Kerwen, Starlight Hellerin and her brother Winter, along with his wife Snow, and Plank and Opal Durmiter, and then River, Trunk and me. A dozen people all together.
Spider and Sunshine Swoda ran the Red Flag these days. Trough Farelly ran the theater along with Bug Argyst, who had once been one of the Red Flag's 'boys' – all purpose waiters, baggage handlers, messengers and delivery boys. Bug had proved to be a sharp kid who developed into a smart man, and Trough treated him in many ways like the son he never had. Bug and my dad had some sort of strange relationship based on a feigned mutual disrespect, but I wasn't sure where it came from. Bug had an eye for detail and a sense of timing that was uncanny.
Plank and Opal disappeared immediately into the kitchen to visit with their son Biter, who was now the head cook for the Red Flag. Knifehand Burga had retired while I was at the Academy. Block Harnish was still running the butchery, but she had two assistants now.
All the barmaids and waitresses were new since I'd last been here, and I saw Trunk perk up immediately. One of them I recognized immediately though, it was Spider and Sunshine's daughter, Moonbeam. She was a year older than I was, and one of my early crushes before being shipped off to the Academy. Her eyes crinkled and she smiled sweetly when I introduced River as my intended. They crinkled in a completely different manner when I introduced Trunk as my best friend and partner.
"Trunk, this is Moonbeam Swoda. Her parents run the Red Flag, so be nice."
Of course Trunk's definition of being nice and mine were usually different, but I got my say in, I couldn't be asked to do more, and at least we weren't spending the night at the inn. The introduction let me cross one of the names off my list of people I wanted to show off River to as well.
As usual, Mom and Dad created a stir, just as they did wherever they went. Here at least it was minimal, most of the people were local, and familiarity took the edge off of it. The handful of travelers who were guests of the inn were another story, and it took them a few minutes to greet those folks and get them settled down.
Midday meal at the inn was still a cook's choice arrangement. Biter came out with his parents, freshly washed hands and a clean apron in place to meet the 'nice girl' that I was going to wed. I'm not sure what he thought of the two rows of throwing knives River wore on her leathers.
"If I'd known you were coming, I'd have baked something special." Biter said as we shook hands.
"If I'd known we were coming, I'd have asked." I answered. "River, Biter is the best baker I've ever met, and that includes all those fine cooks at the Kilber's and the ones at Trunk's parents in Demira."
"We do have some fresh spiced sweet rolls coming out of the oven in time for dessert, so save a little room." With that, Biter went back to the kitchen and we prepared to enjoy the meal.
"Winter, wheres Hawk?" I asked, wondering suddenly at the absence of one of my friends.
"Spire Rock." Winter said. "There are three Fenrim in the Hellerin family now."
The offspring of two Fenrim had a minimum twenty five percent chance of becoming Fenrim themselves, so this wasn't a totally unexpected development.
"How long has he been there? Is he staying?" I asked.
"His Transformation was a year ago." Snow said.
"He stayed so that he could learn about the life of the Fenrim and the Imhur." Winter said. "We're not sure how much longer he will stay, or if he will decide to come home or go somewhere else. Few of the Fenrim live outside the Imhur though. People like Snow and I are the rare exception."
Trough Farelly finally joined us about halfway through the meal, apologizing for his absence, but insisting he had a few details at the theater that he wouldn't trust to anyone else. I introduced him to River, and his response was a classic.
"Bear crap and the Spirits take me, but its as I always suspected. You McKesson men seem intent on gathering all the beautiful women for yourselves!"
That earned him a kiss on the cheek from River and a slug on the shoulder from Moonbeam.
"Hey! What about me?" She said.
"Well, when you are sporting a dozen throwing knives, I'll flatter you as well." He offered as defense.
"Moonbeam, where's your Aunt Rose these days?" I asked, another missing face finally registering.
"Oh, didn't you hear?" Moonbeam said with glee. "King Olmorn and Queen Spire of Norhal came for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, and the captain of their guard fell for Rose like a bag of rocks off a dock."
"Bag of rocks off a dock?" Trunk asked.
"Yes!" Moonbeam said with a blush. "Well, I heard it somewhere." Trunk earned one of those punches in the shoulder for that one.
"Anyway, Rose packed up and moved off to Norhal, and as far as we've heard, is deliriously happy. She's even got children now, like she always wanted."
"Children?" I asked. "I thought she couldn't?"
"Well Captain Inmor was a widower, with three daughters. Rose has her hands full, they are all just getting to the boy crazy stage, I hear."
I had to shake my head, imaging dour Rose Farelly primping and preening with three girls. Stranger things were known to happen I guess.
I spotted Blush and Ash Vanoc by the door and I went over to see them. They had word from Chimer via Wizard's Tube that he had seen me, but I wanted to let them know how he was, and how well treated I felt I had been while I was with him.
"I don't think he is very far from having his own ship." I told them.
I invited them over to meet River and Trunk, and they were just in time for a platter piled high with the spiced sweet rolls that Biter had promised for dessert to come rolling out on a cart. A few more chairs were squeezed in and soon everyone was enjoying the melt-in-your-mouth goodness of Biter's artistry.
"No doubt about it Ash said. "That man is just plain gifted."
Meditation on the top of the Tower of the Wind became an interesting ritual, and with Mom, Dad and Serenity joining us, it was not going to take long to see if we could tip River off the edge to fall through the threshold into awakened status. Trunk fell first, and as much a revelation as it was for him to suddenly have access to the gifts of the awakened, it was the chore of a lifetime to reconcile his suddenly altered world view in a way that he could handle.
Three days after Trunk fell through, River followed. People nearby at the time, and it was late evening, so there weren't many, swore that the Wind river stopped flowing in its course for a long second. The waters went completely still, like glass, for just a moment. I couldn't confirm it, I was too darned busy at the time. My love had fallen through alright, straight into my mind!
Wrapped in two compete sets of thoughts and feelings, and swimming in two complete set of memories, River Dambro almost drowned in it, but I became an anchor, as much a rock as I had ever been through Transformation, and pulled her up, metaphorically at least, to where she could regain a little breathing room.
<Oh Mat!> She sent, without realizing she was.
<Yes my little Sparrow. The world is more wonderful than you could have guessed, because there is more than one!>
Trunk had the benefit of a little foreknowledge to keep him on an even keel, and we adjourned to my parent's quarters and talked into the wee hours about the history, recent and ancient, of places other than Arbor. Dad discussed the true mystery that was Magic on Arbor compared to the other facets.
"There are many, many facets which seem to share a common geology, and a common planetary development. Their continents are all identically formed, and the plants and animals are identical. Some have developed human societies of varying degrees of advancement, and some have no humans at all." Aunt Serenity explained.
"Then there are those facets, like Arbor, where the planetary development is completely different than those we know. Where the flora and fauna are either completely different, or an interesting mix of the familiar and the new, like Arbor." Mom added.
"Arbor's Magic is something completely unexpected though, and we are still trying to understand the source of it." Dad added. "You have seen the concept we call the Light, the energy that lies beneath and behind the facets. You have learned that some people, and particularly, Andy's Grandfather, and the group of adventurers and guardians he founded that referred to itself as The Legion of Light, are capable of manipulating the Light."
"That group of people had children, Andy and I, among others." Serenity said. "We were raised within the Light, and we were even more sensitive to the Light, more adept at its use, than our parents ever dreamed of being. We called ourselves The Children of the Light, and it was our fate to move beyond the Light to something new, something we called the Dream World."
"The Dream World is a very different place, a different energy. Completely not of the Light, but just as pervasive." Dad said. "Much, much harder to manipulate, but once you succeed, the effects can be global."
"And while we can use the Gifts, what has awakened in you both tonight, and the Light to manipulate our reality, and move between them, The Dream Stuff can actually alter it." Serenity said.
"Are we talking actual miracles here?" Trunk said.
"I would have said so, before I came to know the Spirits." Mom said.