“A test? A test of what?”
Mirium listened in vain for the sounds of the conversation in the next room, but she could only hear Evelos’ voice filtering through the thick walls of the cottage.
“But how are they going to test that? I’ve never—“
“I don’t know. I’ve never—“
“I’m sorry, Dad! I just never—“
By the Light, let him speak, Mirium thought, but she trusted Keelath was saying what was needed. He had always been the sort to stand up front of a crowd and rouse their hearts to great deeds with his inspiring words. In the same way he led his troops, and in the same way he had won her heart, she reflected.
“I’ll try.” Evelos now sounded choked up, and Mirium repressed the urge to go into the room to comfort him. He would have to stand on his own two feet for the Trials. Instead, Mirium prayed to the Light that he would know just how much his parents believed in him.
Keelath’s voice, muffled as it was, seemed to be conveying the same message; she could hear it in his warm tone.
“Will he be there?” Evelos asked after a few more murmured words exchanged between them. Then, “I understand.”
Finally, the door opened, and Keelath smiled at Mirium as he closed it again behind him.
“How did he take the news?” Mirium asked.
“He’s nervous, as might well be expected,” answered Keelath.
“And you?” Mirium plied with a knowing smile, inviting him to sit beside her, and Keelath did so. He didn’t answer though; what words they had to exchange on the subject had already been exchanged earlier that day. Instead she kissed him, and he her.
“I will go with him to Silvermoon, but they explicitly say in their rules that I can’t stick around,” said Keelath once they settled down again.
“Don’t be long,” said Mirium with a coy grin.
Keelath tickled her cheek with a finger. “I’ll be back soon enough. With whatever is left of him in tow.”
“Don’t jest,” Mirium said softly. “The Trials can be lethal.”
“Only for those not of pure heart and strong will.”
“And you believe he has that?” Mirium watched for his answer closely.
“Of course I do. What sort of question is that?”
Mirium leaned her head onto his shoulder. “Only that you seemed so worried he might not become a paladin.”
She had struck his exposed nerve. Keelath’s face fell. “The lifestyle is not for everyone,” he admitted.
“Just love him, whatever he becomes, Keel.”
Keelath looked back at her, smiling hesitantly when she did.
“It’s natural to worry,” she added in a soft whisper as she nuzzled his ear.
Still Keelath made no answer, except to turn to intercept her with another a kiss.
The moon was riding into the sky as they readied their horses for their own journey. Keelath ran the rasp over his mount’s horn, sharpening it into readiness.
“Are you expecting to meet trouble on the road?” Evelos asked, watching him.
“It never hurts to be prepared,” Keelath answered. He paused in his work, looking up at the sky. “They used to say a full moon was a bad omen.”
“You’ve told me that story.”
“And I’ll tell it again if I have a mind to.” Keelath blew the dust from the charger’s horn, and it bobbed its head with a soft whuff. He then tossed the rasp into his saddlebag and closed the drawstrings with a jerk.
“I’m sorry,” said Evelos, misreading the gesture.
“I’m not angry,” said Keelath. He swung himself into the saddle, and Evelos followed suit. “Feel like a canter?”
“Shouldn’t we warm them up first?”
Keelath grunted, but the boy was right. He waved to Mirium in the window of the cottage, then urged his mount into a brisk walk onto the road. The soft thumps turned into sharp clips as the horses’ hooves struck the paving stones.
“I just feel like you are sometimes,” Evelos said some minutes later, after they had passed the last building making up the small village they called home. Keelath had to think a bit before he realized what Evelos was talking about—the boy could sure hold onto notions for a long time. Much like his mother.
“Anger is not the same as a wish for you to do well, son.”
“Sometimes…” Evelos hesitated, and Keelath wondered if his impatience had been audible, but then Evelos went into something different. “Sometimes I don’t think we’re the same kind of person, Dad.”
Keelath chewed that over before answering. Mirium had hinted much the same thing. He looked back at Evelos. It was hard to believe sometimes. Evelos looked a great deal like his uncle, Tyrdan, but his mannerisms had always been more like his mother’s. Keelath used that notion to encourage the boy.
“You take after Mirium. She has a quiet strength to her. It is like…the moon and the sun. Some light is bright and makes its presence known hours before it even arrives. The other chooses carefully when to shine, and that is no weakness.”
“If it ever does shine,” Evelos said gloomily.
“Evelos! Such thoughts are not becoming.” When his son seemed to clam up, Keelath added, “You’ll find your strength, son. It is like working with the horses. You just have to believe it will happen.”
“And if I don’t?”
“That’s not how it works. It will happen.”
Evelos gave him a funny look, but he didn’t say anymore.
They passed into a meadow, and even so long after the sun had gone down, the light wind brought them sweet scents of flowers and ripening fruits from the nearby orchards. Keelath eyed Evelos, hoping this would lend strength to his earlier metaphor, but his son just stared at his charger’s neck with a frown.
“Let’s race,” Keelath said abruptly, thinking the motion might snap him out of whatever gloomy reverie the boy was having.
“Okay,” said Evelos, his voice reluctant.
“Draw up beside me, then we go on your third breath.” Keelath pulled his horse short, waiting for Evelos to get in position. Then silently, he let the reins out and kicked his charger into a brisk gallop.
The horses flew over the ground together, their clacking hooves turning back to muffled thumps as they left the road and continued onto a smoothly grassed path through the meadow. Evelos’ horse pulled ahead for a bit, then dropped back as they came to a brook; Keelath leaned forward, going into a crouch in the stirrups and urging his mount to leap it. His charger touched down gracefully on the other side, and Keelath sat with a firm seat as the animal gracefully spun about in place, nickering to its companion.
Evelos was eyeing the brook uneasily, as his charger doggedly plodded through the reeds at a walk.
“Here now!” cried Keelath. “At least make him pick up his feet if he’s going to be lazy!”
Evelos tightened his legs. At first the charger ignored it, then trotted through the deepest part of the brook with a splash. Evelos flinched as he got wet up to his knees.
“It’ll dry,” said Keelath.
Evelos didn’t say anything, kicking one foot out of the stirrup, then the other, to vainly try to shake them dry.
“I don’t like you doing that,” said Keelath. “You have less control over your movements that way.”
“I know,” said Evelos, but kept riding with his feet out of the stirrups.
“How do you expect to be able to shoot a bow or brace a lance like that?”
“I don’t have either of those right now.”
“Not the point.” But Keelath let it go. He was enjoying the night too much to argue, and if Evelos got sore between the legs from a bad seat, that was his own problem.
But if he did, Evelos didn’t complain. He seemed more comfortable even, by the time Keelath drew his mount to a stop and declared they’d pitch camp here for the rest of the night. Evelos was quiet as he hauled the water and helped get a fire started. After toasting a few of the travel rations to better flavor, Keelath watched him from across the fire. Evelos’ eyes were glowing gently as he nibbled a piece of dried pinefruit, looking out into the distance.
“Whatever happens, I am proud of you, Evelos, and I love you.” The words seemed to be needed.
But his son surprised him when he glanced back, smiling.“I know,” he said softly. “And I love you too.”
The confirmation wasn’t needed, not on Keelath’s behalf at least, but he still smiled and settled back, feeling a warm glow suffuse his chest.
Full moon or not, it would be a good evening.