The Training of Vinal
As Told By Mandrake of Rhiassa
There was a sickly "thud" as a man dressed in white with the red Rhiassan tabard fell to the ground, twisting to avoid getting his shield beneath him and causing his shoulder to pop out of joint. He skidded a few inches in the practice yard, the dust clogging his mouth and nostrils. His practice sword came away from his hand, clattering a few feet to his right. He had lost count of how many times Lord Duncan had trounced him that day and the taste of dirt was becoming common on his tongue. His name was Vinal, and he was in training.
"Dead!" he called as he slowly picked himself up from the ground. Most of Rhiassa was in the Practice Yard that day. He raised his head and saw Cedric fighting with Lucas, Oberon's Squire, who had made his way to Rhiassa last winter. They too were fighting sword and shield, Cedric with the Rhiassan kite shield and Lucas with his black "coffin lid" shield. Cedric is having about as good of a day as I am, Vinal thought dimly. As if on cue, Lucas' pell work got through Cedric's defenses and Lucas knocked Cedric to the ground with a swift blow to Cedric's head. He may be the new Champion of Rhiassa, Vinal thought as he brushed roughly at his tunic to get some of the dust off, but compared to a one hundred and fifty year old warrior of the Fay court, he had a few things to learn. He turned to meet Duncan's gaze.
"What happened?" asked Duncan in an even tone. He stood like a stone, his shield even then in a ready defensive position. He made no motion to help Vinal up; getting knocked in the dirt was part of training. If you don't learn to get up on your own, you may not get up when you really have to. He waited patiently as Vinal thought about the last maneuver.
"Did I over-extend on my thrust?" Duncan smiled and nodded his head. He's learning very quickly, thought Lord Duncan.
"Remember not to get too over-eager in a defensive position. It leaves you open in both the back and the front. Your pell work will protect your head and the shield will protect your body." Lord Duncan looked up into the sky to check the time. The sun was in the third quarter and dinner would be soon. "That's all for today, Vinal. But I have a question for you to think on and I want an answer by the end of dinner."
Vinal stooped to pick up his wooden practice sword. He was used to Duncan's questions; his Lord believed that in order to fight, you must have a fit body, a keen mind and a ready spirit, which meant training was much more than getting pounded into the sand.
"Yes, Lord Duncan?"
"You have not been a Rhiassan long and are probably still wondering about our ways. For tonight I wish you to ponder on what it means to be a part of Rhiassa and what it is we strive for here. Talk to the other members about what they think. I am sure they will have some interesting views." This is going to be a tough one, thought Vinal as he bowed.
"Yes, Lord Duncan. Shall we see you at dinner?" Duncan began to walk from the Practice Yard, but stopped at Vinal's question.
"You will; we have much to celebrate after our victory at the North/South War this past weekend." He left Vinal to ponder his new task.
Where do I start, thought Vinal as the heavy sound of Cedric hitting the ground came from behind him.
"Hold your shield higher," encouraged Lucas, who was standing over Cedric. "You won't die as fast."
Vinal strode into the kitchens in the heart of the Rhiassan Keep, his mind filled with pondering the quest Lord Duncan had set him on; to find out what it means to be Rhiassan. The servants paid him no heed as they dashed around, preparing the evening meal. He stood in the center of the kitchen for a moment, letting himself get lost in the smells and sounds of the making of dinner. It was a busy, but happy sound as the metal pots clashed and the small swishes of the servants' skirts would rustle by. There was an occasional belch of fire from the fire pit as the bellows would be blown to heat the flame, the smell of the fresh bread from the hearth. If I am going to learn what is means to be Rhiassan, here seems a good place to start, he thought as he slowly strolled over to where the water was being drawn for the stew. There was a separate well sunk for the kitchens, to make the care of the meal and of the dishes and laundry easier on the help. There was a metal pipe running into the well below and the "pump" as Junior called it pulled water right into a basin! Wonderous magic he knows, thought Vinal.
Without thinking, without even knowing he was doing it, Vinal ducked. A tomato whizzed over his head and landed against the wall with a "splat!" Several more came flying by and he dodged and rolled to behind Junior's contraption.
"What..." was all he could say before he saw a large and fast-moving form speed past him. Mandrake muttered "Excuse me..." as he gleefully weaved around the tomatoes being hurled at him. Vinal peered over the basin to see Kethrellen and Damona sending the tomatoes at Mandrake as fast as they could throw them.
"I'll show you a magic missile!" cried Damona as she threw one with deadly aim to hit Mandrake square in the back of the head, making him falter slightly. He was in the back door, almost at the point of escape, but the tomato had enough force to sned his head crashing into the stone doorway. Vinal watched as Mandrake tried to gain composure and running speed. Two more tomatoes from Kethrellen sent Mandrake spinning into the yard. Vinal stood up, his hands raised.
"What was that all about?" he asked Damona and Kethrellen as he slowly came from around the water basin. They were both still angry, but not so as to not let out occasional chuckles. Kethrellen had one of the servants help him in getting the "mess" cleaned up.
"Well," said Kethrellen, scrubbing the red mess from the wall, "Mandrake has gone a little loopy with his new spell. He's been trying to find the littlest excuse to send his magic missiles flying. So when the pit fire was accidentally squelched by some water, he jumped at the chance to re-ignite it. The explosion from the missile knocked the soup over and set the cat on fire. So banishing him from the kitchen seemed the best thing to do before we had exploding turkey for our meal." A small grin never left Kethrellen's lips as he told his tale. Vinal helped to clean up a bit of the mess and when it was done, he turned to Damona and Kethrellen and told them of his quest.
"So what do you two think it means to be a Rhiassan?" Kethrellen declined to answer, not being a full member yet. Damona stood for a moment, her head cocked to one side pondering the question.
"I would say... it means to keep Mandrake as far from the Kitchen as possible." Satisfied with her answer, she returned to getting the cooking done. Vinal shook his head and walked out into the inner gardens. This is going to be MUCH harder than I thought, he said to himself.
The inner gardens of Rhiassa were simple in their beauty. Several lazy paths wandered through the many varieties of plants, bushes and flowers. It was here Vinal chanced upon an odd sight during his quest for what it was to be a Rhiassan; Myrrh was gleefully walking slowly up a path, followed very closely by Lady Fallon, whose face was drawn in fear and anxiety. Worrying for the Lady Fallon, he edged closer behind her.
"What is going on?" asked Vinal. Myrrh turned her head and said with a wild grin: "I'm playing Stomp!"
Lady Fallon winced at these words, fingering her spellbook for some comfort.
"Yeah," said Fallon. "She hunts down caterpillars and stomps on them. I don't know why." Vinal shook his head.
"Perhaps you two can help me. Lord Duncan has asked a questions of me and I am seeking a proper response. What does it mean to you to be a Rhiassan?" Lady Fallon stood up and smiled at Vinal.
"I can't answer that, you'll have to ask someone else... I'm over- qualified." They had all ceased their creeping about. He asked the same of Myrrh.
She immediately piped up. "Don't let Mandrake in the kitchen!" she said with perfect happiness.
"Umm.." stammered Vinal, "I already got that answer."
"And with good reason," said Myrrh, returning to Stomp. "Did you see the mess he made at breakfast? Damona is never going to let him make scrambled eggs again. If he keeps it up, we're gonna starve. Or duck a lot."
"Why don't you ask Cedric?" prompted Lady Fallon, pointing to the far end of the garden at Lucas and Cedric, both obviously just returning from the practice yard from the amount of dust and blood on their clothes and armor. Both stopped as Vinal came to greet them and ask his question. Lucas, who also had not been inducted yet, puzzled over the question for a bit.
"I must admit," Lucas said with a sternness in his voice that did not seem to fit with his youthful looks, "Being here in Rhiassa is very different from the Fay courts. Not as much killing or political trickery among your friends. But I will have to think about this, for I am sure, if I am allowed to stay here, I will soon have to answer the question myself."
"And how about you, Cedric?" said Vinal, turning to Duncan's Squire, who was fixing the strap on his kite shield. Cedric pondered it for a moment.
"Well," he said, scratching his beard, "Being Lord Duncan's Squire I have a little insight into why he asked you that question. He and I have fought and laughed together many a time and usually, for him, the truth is simple, not a complex series of criteria."
"So what is the truth about being a Rhiassan?"
"Well, for today it is keeping Mandrake out of the kitchen, so we might have a dinner to eat. I'm starved!" They began to head to their rooms when a wail came from within the garden, followed by hysterical chuckles. Both Cedric and Lucas dashed off into the gardens, but Vinal headed to the apartments.
"I think Myrrh found one," murmured Vinal.
"You might as well ask someone else," said Mandrake. Vinal was in Mandrake's apartment, still on his quest to find out what it meant to be a Rhiassan. Mandrake was in the corner of his room at a writing table, a bunch of parchment strewn about and a pen and inkwell sat amidst the mountain of papers. "But don't ask Dugal," Mandrake advised, returning to his writing, "He'll just say it's to poke things with his spear... no double entendre meant."
Vinal stood his ground in the room. "But why can't I ask you?"
Mandrake looked up from his manuscripts. "Because you already have the answer. That and I have to finish this story... Aderyn has been bugging me to write something about her and the new Royal Archer's Guild, and I need to finish it soon so she doesn't run me through." They both knew Aderyn would do no such thing, but her ferocity as a fighter and as the leader of the Royal Archer's Guild meant very few wanted to cross her, just to be safe.
"What do you mean, I already know the answer? All I've gotten are polite rejections and the advice to keep you out of the kitchens." Mandrake smiled at this.
"The answer lies not in what they say, but in how they say it. Lord Duncan wants you to look around. Don't worry, the answer will come to you in one way or another."
Vinal walked over to where Mandrake was sitting. He read a little and let out a small gasp. "You're writing down this conversation, not Aderyn's story at all!"
"Well," said Mandrake "I WAS hoping to keep this a secret and give it to you later, but I overheard the conversation between you and Lord Duncan and have been keeping notes. That's why Kethrellen and Damona pelted me; I shouldn't have followed you into the kitchen." Vinal felt a little honored with this, being included so prominently in one of Mandrake's stories. Immediately a question bubbled to the surface for him, one he had wanted to ask for a while.
"Mandrake, why do you write about us in such an exaggerated way? I mean, for example, Lord Duncan is not as obsessive or aloof as he seems sometimes in your stories, although I'll admit that the tent thing was a bit overboard..."
Mandrake started to arrange the papers on his desk. "Well, mainly it's for humor's sake. It's part of the craft and no real harm is meant to anybody I write about. The purpose of my writing is to entertain. But mostly it is to show how well we work together and are still able to be close friends, whether we are serious or off the wall." A bell could be heard outside the chamber; dinner was to be served. Mandrake got up from his table and followed Vinal to the door. Vinal stopped short and turned to Mandrake with a small wry grin. "You had better keep your spellbook here, else this may turn into a fight rather than a feast."
Mandrake shrugged and put his arm around Vinal. "At least I won't be in the kitchens."
Vinal paused outside the feasting hall, still grappling with today's question from Lord Duncan. He had spent the past few hours trying to find the answer to what it means to be a Rhiassan, and to his mind had not turned up much of anything. He knew Lord Duncan would expect an answer as soon as he saw him enter the great hall, and as with all of his studies he wanted to give it his best try. Unfortunate for him, his mind wasn't working well that day. One too many shots to the head in practice, thought Vinal, trying to think through the confusing answers he had received.
All of the others who were not inducted couldn't answer, Lady Fallon and Mandrake declined to. All the other answers had something to do with making sure there was food on the table tonight, not exploding turkeys via Mandrake's magic missiles. He couldn't understand what that had to do with being a Rhiassan. He pictured Mandrake being chained in a tower somewhere, like some Gothic Tale's "Monster" that the House Rhiassa had to restrain else all would fall to ruin. Somehow he did not think that a literal translation of their answers was the key.
"Boo!" said Aderyn and Vinal jumped. He had not heard her approach, so completely had he been engrossed in his problem. She looked pleased at his reaction and smiled. "Why are you just standing out here, unless you are afraid Mandrake is going to pull something..."
"No, Aderyn, it's just... well, Lord Duncan has had my head reeling." Vinal told her about his afternoon and about the quest. She listened intently, only stopping now and again for clarification on the situation. When he was done, her face was calm, a small smirk on her face. She patted him on the shoulder and turned him toward the Great Hall's large oaken doors.
"Mandrake was right," she said, edging him forward. "You do have the answer. You just have to see the forest through the trees. What has everyone you met today been doing and saying, and how does it all fit to the question? Remember what Cedric said; it's the simplicity you must look for in your answer. Go on, I'm sure he's waiting for you."
The Great Hall was a combination of tall stone walls supported by high, strong wooden beams for the ceiling. Everyone was seated at the table, munching away. As Aderyn predicted, Lord Duncan motioned for Vinal to sit by him for the meal. Vinal walked slowly to the empty chair by Lord Duncan. He sat down at his place, ready for the worst.
"So, Vinal, do you have your answer?" said Lord Duncan, his eyes patient for Vinal's words.
What exactly was the question again?" said Vinal, quickly adding, "...I just want to make sure my answer is accurate."
Lord Duncan's eyebrows raised slightly. "What does it mean to be a Rhiassan and what do we strive for here?"
Vinal was about to answer that he had no idea when the pie in front of Mandrake erupted with light and fire, covering Mandrake with hot lemon and crust. The table began to roar with laughter except for Damona, who had a look that all was now made right in the world. Looking around the table a thought entered Vinal's head; the answer was here in front of him. It was so simple; he had been searching for some lofty, philosophical credo, but the antics of Mandrake and the others made him understand one thing. And that one thing was that no matter how Rhiassa might be seen by others, what was important was how they were and who they were when they were together. He turned to Lord Duncan with a look of triumph.
"To be Rhiassan means to be yourself, to be honest to yourself and to respect honestly in others. We strive to better ourselves and to teach others how to be better. But most of all, we follow rule #1: Have fun." Lord Duncan smiled at Vinal.
"Well done; you have learned to see the forest and the trees. You are coming along well in your training, Vinal." They ate in silence for a while, listening to the chatter around the room. The recent darkness and the Drow were forgotten and their tales of this year's North/South War were the most active topics.
It's going to be a great year, thought Vinal as he reached under the table to grab the arm of Myrrh, who was trying to tie his bootlaces together.
"Rats!" she said, scurrying away under the table to another victim..