This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-sixth part.
You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1
and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 25
The Wanderer Continued…
Tas continued his leisurely stroll down the last of the stairs and into a magnificently adorned dining hall with silver and crystal furnishings that glinted and played with the candlelight. Yao kept his eyes fixed on his cousins, but Tas could help looking around at all of the marvelous paintings and sculptures woven into the fine architecture and decor of this palace.
Tas brought himself back from his imagination at the perfect moment; his feet nearly caught the edge of the final stair which would have sent him tumbling down and embarrassing himself completely in front of Yao’s obviously very important family. He took a deep breath, then looked up towards the table and saw it garnished with a feast of several large and lean meats that he had never seen, poached eggs, raw, and smoked fish, porridge, assortments of cheeses, a few different colors of yogurts, and a vast selection of fruit that was certainly not local to their cold mountains, but very ripe nonetheless.
They were each sat by a butler who then filled Tas’ glasses with three different liquids. One cup was glass and tall with a big bottom and was filled with a velvety dark red liquid; another was shorter, again a glass but this time filled with ice and a golden brown liquid; the final was a brighter yellow with pulp and placed into a coconut shell and then scraped for him by the butler. Tas was open-mouthed at the end of the process. Both of Yao’s cousins laughed easily at Tas’ surprise.
“What has startled you my dear little friend?” The taller and slightly more handsome one said. Tas remembered that his name was Idril? Yeah, that’s it.
“I’ve never seen such a well dressed slave,” Tas said slowly, not sure how it would be received. But he continued, “I’ve never seen a coconut that wasn’t already eaten. What is this orange stuff that’s inside of it. I’ve never seen this much food!” He stood up in exclamation, his eyes wide as he staring at the table. “I can’t believe this exists!”
The other brother laughed, “Well you will see lots of things over the next few days that you have never seen before, Tas. Bahar is very unique, one of a kind in this harsh world.” He winked and spoke as if he’d said it a thousand times. “Consider Iril and I your cousins. You are royalty in this city and peasants will have to obey you and your guard, which you will be assigned.” Adal, who was a bit darker, but shorter, stronger, and a bit uglier. Tas couldn’t say why, except that he was.
“Well thank you…” Tas looked down. He didn’t know what to say. He felt ashamed that he had said Iril name wrong and drooped his forehead towards the floor.
“That’s enough.” Iril said commandingly gathering Tas’ attention, then standing. He was very serious and had dropped his brother’s semi-joking tone. “As our honored guest, you will train and eventually hunt as royalty, as will Yao if he stay” There was no room for negotation, but Yao was fuming. “This is the highest honor we can give to you,” Iril said, looking right at Yao. “Outsiders and the banished are normally enslaved here, consider yourself lucky uncle. But after you are fully trained… let’s say after 40 new moons, Tas will raid with the hunt. 40 moons of hunting will be your payment to Bahar then you may do as you wish Tas.”
Yao smiled at Tas from across the table, as if he had hoped for this. He looked more smug than Tas had ever seen him, just like Tas’ father looked after he correctly guess a dice roll in the local watering hole back home. Tas couldn’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed. He would train to hunt and kill with these snow warrior and… Yao was royalty? Everything was still so fuzzy and unclear. He was confused, Yao was poor, not some royal lord. His head began to hurt and imagination receded to make room for reality and Tas realized he was starving.
Tas saw that Adal had already served himself a full bed of cantaloupe, melon, and pineapple and was eating them leisurely so Tas grabbed a bright red piece of smoked salmon and put it on the plate and began to eat it with his hands before Yao stopped him. Both Adal and Iril roared loudly in racuous laughter as Yao taught Tas to use a fork and knife, much to the surprise of Tas. He couldn’t believe how useful, but hard to wield a fork was! He spent several minutes trying to puncture his salmon until he gave up and snuck bites with his hands while the others weren’t looking.
After another 10 minutes of banter about eating and the proper way to use a fork and knife, Adal spoke in a more serious tone. “We will train you as our kin Tas, because Yao has returned. But you must know why Yao was originally banished from Bahar. It is his home, you know?”
“He told me. I thought he was banished because he refused to hunt? He wanted to live in peace didn’t he?” Tas asked.
“Not exactly,” Iril responded this time, his gaze fixed on Yao as he talked. “But that is the general idea. You see, Yao gave up his family’s name. Our name, when Yao was going to be our advisor and assist us in ruling by taking a head position in the military. He refused us every offer we made.” Yao nodded in the background while Adal scowled.
“Why are you so proud, still uncle? It makes no sense to me how you can not see how your decision had set our entire family back a great deal. Do you care nothing for your family?” Adal was obviously furious, but kept his tone calm and under control.
“I care for my own self more than I care about my family, if you must know nephew. I also care more for certain things than I do for my self, but money, power, advisory roles, applying military strategy, and commanding are not any of those things. There isn’t a single day where I regret my decision. I spend hours in the morning meditating and enjoying the trees, eating small portions of things that I find delicious, and seeing place after place after place. I am sorry if that does not align for your vision of my future, but I do not care. I will not lead your armies to pillage the lands of this world. Ever.” Yao talked slowly and with nearly perfect annunciation. He finished and a solemn and deep silence came over the table. Both of the brothers seemed semi-shocked, but neither spoke. It was almost like a long-standing mystery had just been revealed and they both wanted it to remain a mystery.
Tas didn’t know if it was a good time, but he had stopped caring; he was stuffed so full that he couldn’t eat another bite. He asked loudly, so they could all hear him, “What were you before you left, Yao? Some kind of leader?”
“I was one of the highest respected military generals in the hunting army.” Yao said happily to Tas, as if the other two weren’t directly across the table. “But I’m happy to no longer be a part of this,” Yao waved at the walls around him, then at the food, then at his nephews, who looked back at Yao disgruntled. They were starting to look a bit angry.
“Well uncle, now I remember why you were almost executed,” Adal said shortly. “Although this is quite a bit less embarrassing, I must say.”
“And to think we welcomed you with such a royal flair! What a waste. Even the salmon was cooked perfectly. Did you even eat any meat uncle?” Iril’s face looked somewhat saddened, even though he was obviously joking.
“He never really eats,” Tas said. “I want to get to training though, just because Yao didn’t like living with you doesn’t mean I won’t!” He smiled then had one last cherry. He felt like he wanted to puke, but just suffered through his breathing instead. He was in pain, but supremely satisfied, in a way that he had never been before.
“Tomorrow, Tas.” Adal said. “You’ll see where all this comes from.” He waved his arms grandly at the dining hall and Tas felt a great sense of wonder at all of the huge tapestries and countless antlers and dead animal heads of all shapes and sizes lining the wall. It was truly magnificent. Tas wondered if he could bring himself back here while he dreamt, so he could eat without feeling like he was ready to explode.
Yao left silently, Tas followed. Tas smiled at the brothers and they smiled back, Iril even let a grin fly across his face as Yap and Tas walked from the palace and returned to Yaina’s house further down the mountain in the cold chill and shrieking wind of the dark night.