With bulging eyes and his mouth frozen in a breathless scream Jonathon surged upwards. Casting his gaze from shadow to darkened shadow around the room, it took him several minutes to return to the present. As his heartbeat slowed from its feverish cadence to a more sedate pace, the room came more fully into focus. The nightmare faded back to the realm of sleep.
He found himself in a canopied bed constructed more in keeping with the comfort of an old man’s bones than the pretentious opulence commonly associated with the nobility to which he belonged. Scattered around the room are a mass of books partially overflowing the shelves, almost seeming to pool naturally into the piles lying scattered about the floor and the one reading chair.
Taking in the work of many lifetimes represented by just this one room of his house, he was struck again by the irony that it is easier to recall the words of hundreds never met than those of his dead friends and family.
“As if I need the nightmares to remind me how long it’s been,” Jonathon murmured to himself, “let alone a nightly reminder.” Like usual, the fading of the nightmare obscured the painful memories but could not fully banish them from his thoughts. With a sigh and groan, he pushed aside the covers and rose out of bed.
“No help for it, might as well get up.” With almost ritualistic movements he dons the garb of a middle-aged noble, each piece slowly covering the pain of loss that has echoed through the last sixteen years.
Emerging into a well-appointed hallway, Johnathon made his way past the legacy of the Bront family. Portraits and weapons adorned the walls, tangible remnants of ancestors long since reduced to dust. He spared these family artifacts less than a glance, as he was long inured to their empty boasts of undying legacies.
Were it not for his daily walk and the money set aside to care for the family sepulcher outside the city proper, these so-called undying legacies would already have been long forgotten. The parade of faces now dead finally ended at a stretch of empty wall and the doorway to the small kitchen.
His eyes glanced quickly over the gap remaining on the wall. He let free one more sigh that was part remorseful resignation and part stillborn groan. One day his own portrait will rest on the wall, and someday, that of his only son.
Mentally chiding himself for such morbid thoughts, Johnathon pushed them from his mind before stepping into the kitchen. Finally shaking the last ill effects of the nightmare, he saw that Amelia was up cooking a simple breakfast already. A slightly overweight woman, she nonetheless exuded an easy confidence that in her kitchen everything is at her beck and call.
“Good morning Amelia, how are you this morning?”
She looked up briefly from her work, “Good morning sir, just fine once I get this bread baking.” She turned back to the task at hand, not so subtlety hinting her cooking would go smoother without him in her kitchen.
“Well I’ll just leave you to it shall I.” said Jonathon, as he turned to leave the kitchen for the dining hall. The only acknowledgment he received was a noncommittal grunt from his cook of the past sixteen years. If her cooking skills hadn’t been so excellent her behavior would have quickly seen her out of the position, but such has never been a concern for Jonathon, who was more than willing to put up with her idiosyncrasies.
As he reached the doorway Amelia said, “If the plates remain in a pile on the table sir, tell my boy there are more than enough pots in here to keep him busy if he is uninterested in setting them right.”
Turning back towards her, he said “As well as a firm tongue lashing if I don’t miss my guess?”
Pausing to meet his gaze, Amelia flashed a smile, “Of course sir, after all, propriety must be observed.”
Shaking his head at the irony, Johnathon passed into the dining room. It took but a seconds glance to see that the silverware was indeed still piled on the near end of the table. His eyes scanned the rest of the room before briefly landing on a young boy kneeling in the far corner, partially obscured by the chair set aside for the master of the house. Quietly moving forward, Johnathon was curious to see what had snagged the attention of the normally diligent child. Peeking over the boys shoulder revealed small grasping hands trying to guide a spider into an ornate teacup.
“What have you there, George?”
Hearing his name spoken so near behind him, the boy jerked, startled, sending the nearly captured spider flying across the room. With an expression struggling between frustration and contriteness, George turned to make eye contact with the lord of the house before casting his eyes to the floor.
“I was just trying to get the spider in the cup to take him outside. I promise I was going to set the table properly right after.”
Raising his hand to stroke his greying beard, Johnathon said, “Well this presents a problem, as, despite your intentions, the table is not yet set and I promised your mother that I would send you to her if you hadn’t yet completed the task.”
Barely had the words left his mouth before young George let out a groan.
“I bet she mentioned the load of dishes that need to be scrubbed,” said George.
The look on his face was such that Johnathon couldn’t help but add with a grin, “Actually, I do believe she mentioned some pots still dirty from yesterday.” This brought forth yet another, deeper groan from George as he moved to set the dishes. Taking pity on the boy as he set about the silverware, Johnathon offered advice.
“Instead of walking in to the kitchen as if you are ready for punishment, go in and, before she says anything, tell her that you have finished setting the table and were wondering if you could help her with anything else. I guarantee your ‘punishment’ will be far less taxing if she believes you are volunteering to help.”
Pausing in the act of setting the final teacup on its saucer, George appeared to mull this over. Seeing that he might need some extra incentive, Johnathon added, “…and if you promise to take care of it, I’ll let you borrow one of my books for the rest of the day after your chores are completed.” At this the boy’s eyes spark and he quickly nods.
Hurrying to finish setting out the last of the napkins, he then almost jogged to the kitchen, only to abruptly stop on the threshold. Turning back to face the master of the house, the boy bowed and in a serious voice, only slightly ruined by the high-pitched break partway through, said, “Breakfast will be ready shortly sir.” He then attempted to retreat while still bowed over, a polished bit of ceremony that ended with his stumbling backwards into the kitchen. Soon after came a loud crash and an equally loud shout from Amelia.
Wryfully grinning, Johnathon shook his head at the folly of youth, and amidst the cacophony in the kitchen settled into his chair at the head of the table.
Barely had he taken his seat before another boy entered the dining room. A raven haired pale-skinned youth with a body quickly approaching the maturity of adulthood, Cedric was the spitting image of his father. Noticing the boy had his nose buried in another one of his books, Johnathon suppressed a smile. Who would of thought a boy so scattered as to be distracted by anything new could suffer to be buried in one book or another for hours on end.
“If you don’t watch your next step you are going to run into your chair.”
Coming to an abrupt halt, Cedric slowly raised his head to fix his green eyes onto to his fathers brown ones. Smiling sheepishly he closed the book, set it aside on the table, and pulled out a chair to sit down.
“Sorry father, it is just that I was getting to one of the best parts of Adrian’s second volume of the Astrias Unification Wars.” As he speaks, Cedric tapped the book in order to show the thin parchment bookmark separating the book neatly in half.
Taking a brief second to recall the work of Adrian, Johnathon quickly guessed the contents most likely marked by his sons bookmark. “The first siege of Malos by the forces of King Albret II? Have you come to the part where the siege is broken following the failed assault of the Astrian forces, that nevertheless insured the eventually triumph of the second siege the following year, as the gate was still under repair?”
The question brought a snort from his son, “No but I imagine I soon will. Is there no book in this house you haven’t memorized?” said Cedric with no small amount of exasperation.
Again smiling at his son, Jonathon said, “If such a book existed in this house it must be well hidden indeed.”
Flashing an equally large smile Cedric said, “For that remark I am half tempted to go look.”
Before Cedric can make good on this, Geoffrey, the butler and last member of the Bront household, stepped into the dining room from the kitchen closely followed by his wife who is carrying the morning meal.
“The meal is served sirs.”
After several silent minutes but for the sounds of eating, Jonathon pushed his empty plate and untouched tea away. He hadn’t forgotten which cup young George had been using to catch the spider earlier.
“I wish you would reconsider your desire to enlist in the legion. With a mind like yours and a good word from me, you could be apprenticed to any practitioner of law in the city.”
Chewing a few more times before answering, Cedric pushes his unfinished plate away. Taking a sip from his cup to clear his throat, he takes a moment to formulate a response.
“Father we have already talked about this; while it is entirely likely I will eventually follow that course I want to experience a bit more of life outside the city before I settle into such a life. The legion is a way for me to do that, and besides, this season’s enlistment sergeant is your friend Gideon. Who better to train under? You could even have him keep an extra eye on me if it would cause you less worry.”
The discussion follows a similar path to those that have gone before until it again comes to the point that saw Cedric the winner each time before.
“There hasn’t been a war in many decades, the rebels that remain against the Duke’s rule dwindle each year and their only remaining stronghold is somewhere beyond Livonston to the south, and the Dworgs haven’t left their mountain kingdoms in force since they were defeated following the Wars of Unification three hundred years ago,” he said ticking each off with his fingers, “I am more likely to suffer harm as a young noble on this city’s streets than if I were a recruit in any of the three legions.” He cracks a smile easing the tension of the discussion turned argument. “And it is only a two year enlistment after all, I’ll be home and trying to get a law apprenticeship before you know it.”
Knowing that he has again lost the argument, Johnathon holds up his hands and lets out a sigh of defeat. “You can’t blame me for trying. Just promise you will be careful?”
“Of course father, I’m always careful. Now if I may be excused I have to go get ready.”
Receiving a nod from his father, Cedric gets up from the table, grabs the second volume of the Unification Wars, and leaves the dining room to get his things.
Walking out of the dining room, Cedric went down the hallway to his bedroom. Finding himself suddenly before his door, he almost forgets to open it before stepping into his room. He can’t quite believe that he soon will be leaving the house he had lived in his whole life. Pushing open the door, he steps into his room.
Mulling over the seeming finality of this thought, he steps over to his dresser next to his bed, fumbles once before pulling the top drawer open. Inside is a pristine Book of the Dawn, an old coin on a fine silver chain, and a simple gold ring. Pushing the book to the back corner, he pulls out the other two items. Since he had been young Cedric hadn’t given much time to religion, and now that he was joining the legion he would have even less.
Walking to the mirror, he undoes the clasp of the silver chain to hang around his neck. The coin depicts Desideratus the first Duke of Engova, and since given to him by his father for his twelfth birthday it had been his lucky charm.
Chain affixed, he then slides the simple gold band onto left forefinger. Another gift from his father, it was one of the few things in the house that directly belonged to his dead mother. When Cedric had asked why the ring was so large, his father had broken out in guffaws for several minutes before finally explaining. His mother had thicker fingers than most women as a result of her hobbies, so when he had proposed he had presented her with a simple gold band, as most of the money he was going to use went towards a nicer wedding ring instead.
Smiling at the memories, Cedric went to his armoire to put the simplest clothing he had into a leather bag he had bought last week for the purpose. Still smiling he began placing clothes in the bag. The memories having lightened his melancholy, he realized that if all went well he would be home after two years, so this wasn’t a final goodbye. This thought improving his mood still further, he finished packing before leaving. Lightly pulling the door shut, he left his room for the last time.
Walking back down the hall, he passes the dining room to continue on to the front door. Coming to what had originally been a sitting room to receive visitors, Cedric notices no one has come to see him off apart from all the books casually stacked on the tables and chairs around the room. Before he can feel dejected, however, he hears hurried steps behind him. Turning around he sees a slightly disheveled Geoffrey rushing down the hall.
“I’m glad I found you, sir. When I saw your room empty I was afraid you had snuck out!”
“No, but I’m just about to leave.”
“It is good that I caught you then. I have a favor to ask sir.” Seeing Cedrics quizzical look he continues, “George, while a bright boy, continually gets distracted especially in the kitchen and it is causing my wife no small amount of grief that he is going to get badly injured one day. Frankly I agree with her sir.”
Thinking for a minute, Cedric scans the sitting room, overflowing as it is with books. Suddenly an idea forms. “The house isn’t a library,” he mumbles.
“Sir?” said the butler with a quizzical look, abruptly nonplussed by the change in topic.
“Just noticing the state of the room, overflowing as it is with books, it looks like a disorganized library,” Cedric raises his hand and smiles to cut off the protests coming from the butler, “I know this isn’t a fault of yours but the absentminded way my father handles his books. It does present a way from me to help with your problem however.”
“Any help would be greatly appreciated sir.”
“Then lets go outside and talk to my father,” seeing the look of surprise on his face, Cedric chuckles, “Since he isn’t here reading and he didn’t pass my room to go to his own that is the only place he could be.”
Still smiling he heads outside, Geoffrey following closely on his heels.
Outside, his father, Amelia and George are standing by the now opened gate separating the house and courtyard from the busy streets beyond. Stepping forward he hugs first George, then Amelia, but when he reaches his father he stops him with an outstretched hand.
“Before you go, I would like to give you one last gift that I hope will serve you well,” pulling his other arm out from behind his back, he reveals a sword. “It has been in our family for generations, since the time of the first Duke, and when my brother died I inherited in. I have never been a warrior however, so I give it to you. May you use it well.” He handed the sword over to Cedric.
Examining the sword that now belonged to him, he saw a worn black lacquered sheath with silver trimming. Pulling free the blade, he found it unornamented apart from the hilt, which was shaped like a bird with small eyes of jet, stretching its wings for flight. Testing the edge he finds it still sharp. Quickly tying it to his belt, he embraces his father.
“Thanks father, it is a magnificent gift.” Stepping back he looks his father in the eye, “There is one more thing I’d like to ask before I go.”
“Promise me you will organize your books, preferably in the library itself rather than all over the house.” His father opened his mouth to defend his system of organization, but his son cuts him off. “The house is not a library, if you need help I’m sure George will prove an avid helper in exchange for the chance to learn under a man as knowledgeable as yourself.” At this the boy standing near his mother and father audibly sucked in his breath.
At this last, his fathers protests all died away, “Very well, I daresay he will prove to be a better assistant than you ever were.” Sharing a chuckle, they embraced again, only to laugh still louder when George ran over with a cry of joy to join in. Cedric then embraced Amelia and shook Geoffrey’s hand one more time, both of whom whispered thanks.
While he was going to miss them all, Cedric had only a slight hesitation when he stepped through the gate and left his home behind. Though he did turn several times to wave.