Summer: 17 years at the Monastery, one week after the duel
Several loudspeakers blared over the general noise of the Space Port. “Boarding call for Passenger Liner Excelsior. All Excelsior passengers holding blue passes, please report to boarding gate three.”
Sunar stood, a little too abruptly, and cringed inwardly at the giggle that came from Thalon’s wife. He turned to find the dwarven woman seated next to – and practically draped over – her husband, twirling one of the braids in her beard with a finger and giving him a mildly sultry look.
“What’s the matter Sunar? You in that big a hurry to get away from the predations of harmless little moi?”
His back straightened and he started to ignore her, but stopped, knowing from experience that it would be a bad idea.
Master Ikthan came to his rescue for once, instead of just standing there looking mildly amused, “Sicilia, don’t you think you’ve had enough fun with the poor boy?”
She turned her attention to Ikthan and gave him a fake pout, “Oh, Ikky-poo, you’re just no fun. What’s the harm in me getting in a little parting shot?”
He simply stood there and gave her a hard look, then raised one eyebrow at her.
She rolled her eyes theatrically and gestured dismissively with her hand. “Fine, fine, have it your way.”
Sunar concentrated on her eyes. ‘Ikky-poo’? Do not look at Master Ikthan. Do not check to see if her comment got to him. Concentrate on her. He found himself thinking over the last few days as she stood and helped Thalon up. Despite her teasing him – regularly – she had been a Godsend. Coping with having to take a sentient life had been harder than he expected. She’d provided him with a ready ear when he needed it, or left him little pastries here and there when she sensed he needed to be alone.
She had not sat silently with him while he worked things out, of course – he had two other monks in the house for that – and both Master Ikthan and Thalon had provided him a silent partner when he needed it. Though I am pretty sure that at least once one of them came in because she went and fetched him. I don’t understand why she seemed so intent on making me uncomfortable so much of the time, but it seems a game she enjoyed, so I suppose I can’t fault her for it. Much. Still, on the whole she has been a great help. Hmmm… I wonder if I could… A memory of something he’d seen in the sappy movies his sister liked so much came to his mind, and he smiled inwardly.
He stepped forward to meet her, and moved so that the front of his robe opened a bit and displayed more of his chest. He then took her hand, locked his eyes onto hers, put one foot forward, cocked his hips just so, swept his other arm outward in an elaborate gesture while he bowed, and brought his head down so that he just barely kept his lock on her eyes through his eyelashes. He then laid a brief kiss on her hand.
With his best imitation of the sort of tone he’d heard in those vids, he spoke, “I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, dear Lady, for the tenderness and support you have given me through these trying days. Your kind affections have warmed my heart and eased my soul. I do hope, one day, that I can find a way in which to repay you that will honor you, your house, your husband, and my home.”
He remained bowed, but brought his head up slightly to give her –he hoped- a somewhat smoky look. “I must leave you now, but the parting is such sorrow. If the fates allow, mayhap one day I will again be able to sigh with contentment when I behold the beautiful braids in your glorious, silky beard. Until that day, may fortune smile upon you and all that you do.”
Her hand dropped and she stepped back.
He straightened, and saw that she had blushed slightly. She can blush? She saw his surprise, threw her head back, and chortled at him. She made such a ruckus that many people stopped to stare.
Master Ikthan looked slightly taken aback by the display, but Thalon had an amused glint in his eye.
Sicilia finished her laugh, took a half-step towards him, ran a finger down his jaw, then pushed his chin down until he faced her directly. “My dear, dear boy. There may be hope for you yet. Now, when you get home, I expect you to make auntie Sicilia proud and give that cute little thing you keep talking about a greeting to match the goodbye you just gave me. If I find out you didn’t, I might travel all the way too you just to box your ears. Or….” She let a sultry look substitute for the threat.
He could practically hear Master Ikthan roll his eyes.
She then gave an almost girlish giggle, hopped up to plant a surprisingly chaste kiss upon his cheek, winked at him mischievously, rather than seductively, and went back to join her husband.
Thalon stepped up to him with laughter dancing in his eyes. They shook hands, then the older man stepped back, put fist to palm, and gave him a formal bow. “You have been a both blessing upon my house, Sunar Dawnsflight, and a fine guest. My door will ever be open to you. As well, if you decide you wish to continue the training we started, I will happily take you on. Go in peace.”
Sunar matched his bow, and went a little deeper, “I thank you for your hospitality, and all that you and your household have done for me. If ever I can provide either of you with aid, please let me know. I look forward to the day when our paths shall cross again. Peace and long life to you both.”
With that they all turned and went their separate ways.
As they walked the long ramp to the ship, Master Ikthan spoke: “It was good to see you finally give as good as you got with Sicilia. I must admit that I have rarely seen a man manage to put her back on her heels, and the way you kept letting her fluster you was starting to give me a tiny bit of concern.”
Sunar smiled slightly. “I still do not understand why she persisted. I know that some out here have relationships which are …. different … than how they usually work in the temple, but for her to persist like that… I found it strange that she was so much a help to me so much of the time, but then kept pushing at me for her own amusement.”
Master Ikthan stopped abruptly and gave him a hard stare. “That will be the last time I expect to hear you speak so of Lady Sicilia Hammerstar-Waterclimber. She deserves better from you, after all she did to aid you. I will also have you know that she and her husband have no such arrangement as you are alluding to, and that her playing with you was not done for her own amusement.” His severe look broke at that, and the barest smile pushed its way through on one side of his mouth, “Well, not only for her amusement, nor even mostly. Think, Sunar. Every time she turned her wiles on you, every single time, what was your mindset? What were you thinking? How were you feeling? Then, how long did she continue to push?”
The realization of what had happened hit him with such force that he took an actual step back from Master Ikthan. Yes. Every time she acted that way, except for just now, I was beginning to fall into depression, or my thoughts had begun to swirl around what I did. And, she kept at me until the pattern broke, then abruptly disappeared to let me back to my thoughts.
He hung his head. “I am ashamed, Master, and need to find a way to make recompense. She put herself entirely on the line for my benefit, and I resented her for it. I….”
Ikthan waved him to silence and they began to walk again, “Owe her nothing further. She is a good woman, and she did get her enjoyment out of the game: both from her amusement at your discomfort, and the fact that you couldn’t help but respond to her teasing. She is – for all her brashness – a kind soul who likes to help people, particularly good people. She also understood your feelings, and was hardly offended by it, and wished me to tell you – when you realized everything and tried to apologize – that you are to, quote: ‘think nothing of it, and pay the favor forward instead. Particularly towards that pretty girl.’
They allowed themselves a small chuckle as they boarded the ship.
Two days later Sunar sat, alone, on the deck of a stellar observation lounge and stared into the emptiness of space. He’d been there most of the day, staring into the emptiness and working to become One With The Void. The exercise held an odd attraction for him: as he allowed his mind to empty like the unbroken space on the other side of the view port, all of creation seemed to both slip away from and flow through him, at the same time.
Someone came and sat beside him, but he barely even registered their presence. At length, the other person stood and spoke: “You have barely moved from this spot since we boarded this vessel, Sunar. While there is value in contemplating the void this way, you are wasting an opportunity.”
He brought himself back from the mindless abyss and looked up to find the lights in the hall had dimmed into ship-time night. Master Ikthan stood over him expectantly.
He raised an eyebrow in inquiry, and was met with a stern look from his teacher. “You have never been further from home than the ski town in the Valley, and now you sit and stare at stars. This may not be a luxury liner, but we are hardly traveling as cargo either. There is much to experience in this place, many people to learn about, and a number of diversions which involve skills you have never attempted.”
Sunar smiled. “I have never been out beyond the atmosphere, either, and the quiet contemplation has been interesting.” Master Ikthan crossed his arms and the corners of his lips tightened, and Sunar allowed his grin to broaden, “Still, I understand your point. I did want to try out that null-grav gym. Flying in there should be quite the experience.”
A look of reproach started to show on the teacher’s face, then he smiled and shook his head. “Go on with you, then. You are a young man, and have always been eager to both test yourself and learn. You may have thought this ship had few opportunities for either, but that is because you didn’t bother to look.”
Sunar nodded, stood, and went through the door. He did want to try that gym, but first he wanted to try the laser-combat area that he’d heard some youths talking about at breakfast.
Behind him Master Ikthan nodded, but a sad look chased across his features for the briefest moment.