Continued from Chapter Six: Part One
All the booze had run out. For the last couple of years, their travels had been accompanied with beer, or wine, or hard alcohol. The night at the edge of the desert were the first completely sober nights of their adventures in a long time. Jarvela found the experience thoughtful and calm. He didn’t miss the alcohol. Although he found that he wondered with a greater urgency than ever what Kyouki had in mind for the future.
“I think that your fiddle needs new strings,” Kyouki said to Jarvela on the second night, when they had camped in a gravely patch surrounded by rocks and thorny bushes. Kyouki lay on his blanket, the stars reflected in his eyes. Jarvela sat on a log across the campfire from him. At Kyouki’s suggestion, Jarvela fetched his fiddle from one of the packs. He had taken up fiddle at some point during their travels. Kyouki encouraged it, seeming to think it calmed Jarvela.
It did, Jarvela hesitated to admit. He had always thought music seemed a prissy pastime. Admitting he quite liked it came hard. But he did admit it.
Gently adjusting the delicate wood, Jarvela removed some of the old strings from his fiddle. He had new strings in his bag, but before he started putting them on he checked everything else about the fiddle to be certain it stayed in good shape. He worked quietly, keeping his main attention on his task while allowing his imagination to wander freely, thinking through old ponderings. He began wondering about Kyouki, his past and motivations. Jarvela knew very little about Kyouki, really. Kyouki had money and Kyouki had prestige, though why he did never seemed to come up in conversation. On their travels, Kyouki would often be treated with an almost religious respect by the few who recognized his name—usually historians or the very religious. They called him “consort”—Consort no Uma. Though consort to whom they never mentioned. Kyouki never brought it up. It seemed that Kyouki had no allegiance to any kingdom. He seemed neutral to both Engelkind’s new regime and to the old king exiled in the north. One thing he had told Jarvela was there were no lands that belonged to the name no Uma. Kyouki conducted himself like an errant knight, allied to no one.
The only distinct point of character that Jarvela had gleaned of Kyouki was a profound religious respect. Many people chose a god or two, sometimes, three, to hold in most reverence, directing the bulk of their prayers and sacrifices to that god. Jarvela himself had always held Ythig, the lord of chaos and first mover, in most reverence, though he had a strong respect for Ellen Róf, the shield maiden and courageous cousin to Ythig. People would remember and revere all the other gods. They were gods. They all deserved reverence. Each god had a different philosophy, though, and healthy folk would decide on the one that suited them best and live most by that philosophy. No one followed all the gods at once. That would imply far too much discipline.
Kyouki did, though. Kyouki would make daily references to all seven of the gods. He would talk in the morning of Ythig’s excitement of new movement, throughout the day Kyouki would talk of Gróesn and the value of being aware of the still things, and at dusk he would tell sometimes unsettling stories of Ferryman and his often peculiar place in history. Kyouki would talk of Gróesn’s wife, the lady Wendy, when they rode through leafy woods, and on the crossing of rivers and when they walked on the tops of cliffs overlooking the sea Kyouki would laugh and shout to Ellen Róf, Ythig’s wife. The other two, Uncle Spircan and Mama Boom-Boom, known sometimes as the grandparents of the gods, Kyouki would mention less often, but with as much respect. Uncle Spircan often came up when they lit campfires, and he would mention Mama Boom-Boom often when he would sing songs or tell old tales. Kyouki rarely spoke of Kunig, the new god, but when he did he was thoughtful, as if he had made no certain decision about him.
Dedicated allegiance to the entire pantheon was unheard of in Jarvela’s memory. Men who tried became confused and flighty, never sure what they believed. Jarvela knew a few historian monks who claimed to be non-denominational, following all gods the same. They mumbled rather than spoke and were perpetually lost in study, never aware of anything but their books.
Somehow, Kyouki seemed functioning enough. And when he told stories of the gods the stories sounded less like old legends, heard from childhood up, than like anecdotes. Some of Kyouki’s tales almost seemed to feature him. Jarvela had long suspected Kyouki was more than human, though not a god himself. Kyouki never confirmed it. It hardly mattered. Many strange things lived in the world. Jarvela knew Kyouki no Uma the person, and that contented him till Kyouki cared to explain himself.
Jarvela finished stringing his fiddle. He began tuning it. Probably Kyouki guessed Jarvela’s thoughts. Kyouki had an uncanny talent to do that. When he did he would address Jarvela’s concerns, but in a sideways way that made Jarvela think about what the problem had been at the first.
“Are you concerned that I have no idea what I’m doing, Jarvela?” Kyouki asked. The question surprised Jarvela. He shook his head and muttered, “Of course not,” before he really thought about it. Doubting Kyouki’s self-assurance had never occurred to Jarvela. Now that the question had been posed, though, Jarvela began to realize that Kyouki seemed completely confused. He got routinely drunk, started fights almost nightly, and wandered without clear purpose. It made sense to think of Kyouki as befuddled. He always seemed so wise and in control, never a hair on his head out of place, never a question set to him without an immediate answer on his lips. It inspired Jarvela to just go along with Kyouki’s idiosyncrasies. It suddenly seemed idiotic to Jarvela that he had failed to question Kyouki’s state of control sooner.
Kyouki smiled. “And his world comes crashing down around his ears,” he said. “You have the tools to doubt me. Rightly you should. My world has been devastated since the War. Since the exile of the gods I have been attempting to rebuild my world. I have not been making too fine a job of it either. There’s been progress, though.”
Jarvela thought of a question. He hesitated to ask it.
“Ask it, Jarvela,” Kyouki said.
“What was your place, master?” Jarvela asked.
“What do you think it was?”
Jarvela thought about it. Kyouki was more than a man, that much seemed clear. He told stories he could not know about things in the shadows of the past, and he seemed on first-name terms with all the gods at once. Some old stories featured strengthy beings, more than men and less than gods, who served the gods as their close consorts.
“I’d warrant you’re Oswemend,” Jarvela said. “A god herald.”
“And that does not frighten you?” Kyouki asked, smiling still. “Men are usually awed to know that.”
“They have not drunk with you, perhaps,” Jarvela said. He raised his now strung fiddle to his shoulder and drew a few notes from it. He continued pondering. Oswemend--god herald. A servant of the gods, made by the gods to work with them, and all the gods but one exiled to none knew where. The one left had been the power exiling the others. Here was Kyouki left behind.
“I have nothing left to do in this world,” Kyouki said. Jarvela could see that. “Or I had no possible mission. As I have said, I have been rebuilding.”
“There are other Oswemend, I presume,” Jarvela said.
“Yes. We are a closer-knit bunch for the fall of our lords,” Kyouki said. “Our world looks far different than any we had ever anticipated for ourselves. We have been forced to grow.”
“You are boozing rapscallions?”
“Come now, you know me better than that,” Kyouki said. Jarvela wanted to believe that he did. Keeping his mind on the sweeps of his bow across the fiddle strings Jarvela quieted his rising anger at Kyouki. Before his anger could quite take root, Jarvela thought over the past couple years, finding if there was anything aside from the boozing and the fighting that unified their travels.
Continued on January 31...