After dinner and before we retired for the day, we gathered in the large living area with our guests and talked. We sat on the two couches in front of the fireplace. I watched these men from Creid interact with each other. Beau was looking around the house at the various paintings and sculptures we had. The sculptures were displayed all around on tables, shelves and on the large polished mantel. There was a large painting over the mantel done by a very famous artist five hundred years ago in Parasia. Gateau. He was a breakthrough artist. Paintings done before him were rather two dimensional. He had perspective and gave depth. He was also known for being a bit mad. It was a beautiful landscape of a beautiful lake with mountains in the background there were swans and other fowl and you could see. It was sunset as you saw the sun was setting and life was slowing down. It was on a wide elegantly framed canvas. There were other objects such as little statues and figurines he looked at carefully. Arthur and Candor managed to “acquire” some beautiful things. Yes, I knew they were stolen. The picture over the mantel I knew, but we didn't know who the owner was or from where it was being shipped. From where did Candor acquire the others? Who knew?
Someone during Beau's childhood must have told him, “you can look, but don't touch. Put your hands behind your back and hold them.” Because that's what he was doing. I smiled as he peered over one to see the back and he held his hands tighter as he did.
Dennis walked over to him, “Whatcha doin'?” He asked casually.
“Lookin'.” Beau said casually without stopping. Beau looked at Dennis. “This is pretty.” He pointed to a white marble statue of a woman seemed to be on a bluff in strong winds that made her dress and long hair move in the air. It was a good one. The hair looked like it was flowing. She held her left hand over her brow and leaning forward, it was obvious she was looking with anticipation for something or someone. I speculated if it was someone from the look on her face. It was that damned good. The expression told me it was someone she loved very much that was supposed to be there but hadn't gotten there yet and she was worried. The expression was clearly on her face. Such detail. That detail was what made Romano famous as people wondered how he did that with marble. It was rock!? “There are a lot of pretty things here. I like pretty things.” He looked at the statue again. “I like this. I think I like it best.” He looked back at Dennis. “What's your favorite one?”
“Over there.” Dennis pointed to something on the room so Beau couldn't see exactly what Dennis was pointing out.
“Where?” Beau asked.
Dennis took his hand, “Come on, I'll show you.”
I noticed it right then. Dennis and Beau spoke the same language. What I mean is, Beau responded like a child speaking to another child. Despite the size and age difference, they were two little boys just talking. That gave me a warm sensation inside.
Reese was talking to Seth on the couch when Reese saw something in the corner of his eye. He glanced over and saw this little, black, green-eyed cat who decided he needed to come and investigate these new arrivals in his home. His nose was sniffing the air to sniff out dangers and to find out more about them. I liked that Reese didn't react badly as a lot of people do. “Oh, look, a little kitty.” He said nicely and quietly. He held his hand out to Kitty. “Want to say hello? I'm friendly. Come on. Here kitty, kitty.” He sang the high pitched song softly we all know and probably have used. His use of the generic name for a small cat was amusing. He didn't know that “kitty” was Kitty's name.
Kitty knew this one didn't smell wrong and this person knew his name and called him to come to him. He jumped in Reese's lap and began a closer smell and began purring.
“It's certainly a friendly cat,” Reese commented a little surprised as he stroked Kitty gently making Kitty arch his back and want more.
“Yes,” Seth nodded and rubbed Kitty once, but Kitty was staying where he was. “Well, you called his name.” He chuckled lightly and explained. “He was a kitten and a present for Dennis when he was two. Dennis named him. Thus the name Kitty.” He stroked Kitty's head again. “He became a member of the family quickly. He sleeps every night with Dennis. They're best friends.”
Toby had asked Val why he chose to be a soldier. Val was the leanest one of the four but he was also the tallest by an inch or two. Val's biggest difference was his serious personality. The next thing was his mannerisms. He even sat differently than the other three. He sat upright, didn't slouch and never gestured his hands. In fact, his hands stayed in his lap. The others would just sit. He sat comfortably with his legs crossed at the knees.
“There weren't many choices for me,” Val used an even tone with not much emotion in his voice. “I could be a miner or a farmer if I found land and could afford it. I went to school for six years as a child. I loved school.” He sighed. “I wanted more.” He shrugged slightly. “To get more I'd have to pay the few in Creid that had a degree and could teach me. There wasn't a college in Creid then. As much as those men in Creid charged for the education, I might as well move to Blethos' Capitol and I seriously considered it.” Then he did what he almost ever did. He chuckled. It was a short one, but a chuckle. “I would just have to keep where I was from a secret. We Creid weren't liked much anywhere then.”
“Because everyone thought all of you were brutal and savage,” Toby stated the fact and nodded. “I don't think you are. Everyone I've met from Creid has been nice. You're nice.”
Val gave a slight smile nodding once. “Well, thank you.”
“They also said you guys had bad manners and ate like a wild animal,” Tony said. “I watched you eat and you ate like everyone else.”
Val gave the short smile again for a second. “All the previous kings saw the need to protect ourselves. There weren't that many of us in the past. Long ago, a thousand years in the past when we nothing but criminals and those who were trying to evade pursuit. All outcasts. We began to thrive there instead of just hiding. There are times we had to be brutes and savage. Others would come from the other kingdoms, Blethos included, and take what we had. We struck them back giving them the savage, brutal, and barbaric attacks earning us the reputation. Over the centuries we did attack some who may have a doubt about that reputation was true still. We reminded them by striking back very viciously. Over the millennium we had the reputation and kept it for our protection.” He did point if you call lifting his index finger with your hands still clasped and in his lap, pointing. “Your Dad was the one to break the ice.”
“I was little then, but I know,” Toby nodded and looked at Val carefully, “You don't look mean.”
“Oh, but I can,” Val admitted with the tone saying he was very scary when he needed to be.
“You apparently got the education you wanted,” Toby observed. “How'd you get it?”
“There were people with books. I'd borrow the books and I tried to educate myself,” Val said. “Finding someone with a book from which I could learn was difficult. I joined the military.” He did lean a little toward Toby like he was telling something in secret. Toby's deaf, he wouldn't hear anyway. He could have just mouthed it and Toby would get it just the same. It was more for effect. This was giving an air of importance. “I joined because I would have access to the palace and the palace had books,” He gave another short laugh. “I had asked permission and was allowed to use if I didn't damage anything. King Mordor came in for something that he wanted one evening and was surprised I was there. I guess not many of the soldiers did that. The King's Warriors did, as they were usually more educated than soldiers if the soldiers had any at all. Many could barely read. He said what the book was he was looking for and I knew exactly where it was. I got it for him, gave it to him and said I liked it especially this one part. He was rereading it for relaxation. I described the part I mentioned and gave my opinion on it. He ordered a few of those men that taught for money to teach me.” This time he smirked and then it was gone. “One of those men I had asked before I joined the military if he would teach me in exchange for me working for him. His reply was, I was wasting his time and why would he teach a farm animal to read.”
Toby looked surprised at that and frowned. “That was just mean. Why would you turn away someone that wants to learn? Why did he say that?”
Val did smile again that short smile. “He explained later that there were few college-level jobs in Creid and I'd just end up mining or smelting with a college education. I did get the education and King Mordor was going to put me in the King's Warriors,” Val said in pride. “I had to pass the physical part of that and I did. I was one of two that made the Palace Guard and King's Warriors without having done a great deed or proving myself in combat during a campaign. I had the good manners preferred by the Warriors because my mother insisted I learn them.” He did smile a little bigger this time. “I wanted my life to mean something so I can leave something that says I was here. Now I have books to read all the time. Except when I'm away like this.”
“You don't have to be without.” Toby brightened. “We have a library! You can see if there's anything in there you want to read. I've read a lot of them.” He got up. “Come on.”
There were books and we had some, but creating a book took time. Many were handwritten. Only for about one hundred years has it been possible to make books faster using block letters. They could make a hundred pages of the same book at a time and then put them in a leather cover. Thus the price. That's why the Book Lender was so strict about taking care of them and charging so much if damaged.
Val looked uncertainly at Seth and me. “Books are very valuable, won't your Dads mind?”
He must have picked it up at school because he's never used with us. He waved his hand at Seth to brush him off. “Nah,” His saying the word did not quite have the same impact, but he got the dismissal across. Taking Val's hand that hadn't moved from his lap, “I'll show you,” Toby almost pulled Val to his feet and then pulled Val toward our library. Whether Val wanted one or not, he made a friend in Toby. Someone who liked books as much as he did. “There's also the Book Len...” and his voice faded away.
I was talking with Max as we sat on one of the two couches. “Is Yannick sending two of you to A'Dore?”
Max shook his head. “No, instead he's sending the same amount to A'Dore the regular way.” He gave me a sideways glance and smirked again. “He said to tell you, that way you don't have to worry about revealing the doorway/mirror.” He was next to me, but the widening of my eyes and surprised expression on my face told him what he expected. He sort of leaned away from me and cringed a little with a grin. He withdrew in case I would yell or even hit him as he raised his hands slightly to prevent that possibility. He hurried on. “It's not his fault. I figured it out.”
I wasn't angry. I was just surprised. It was understood we didn't tell anyone we didn't need to. Why would he even hint about the mirror with Max? “I can't believe he told you about that!” I said.
He chuckled. “I told you it wasn't his fault,” Max sat up slowly and that grin never went away.
I was still in shock but asked him. “How'd you figure it out without him telling you?”
“Well, he didn't at first in so many words,” Alex said still chuckling. “You need to understand something about Yannick and me.” He relaxed and got a little more serious. “I've known Yannick for almost twenty years.” He explained. “Almost my whole life.” He smiled remembering something. “I was ten and orphaned, skinny and well...Yannick saw me as he passed by one day.” Max shrugged. “I was pitiful and cold. He was just beginning his warrior service and every knight needs a page. He asked if I wanted to do that. I did! I was with him almost every day until I was eligible to join myself. He liked having me around. I make him laugh, he says. I think he liked that I didn't care if he was the Crowned Prince, which I didn't know when he asked me to be his page. The only thing I knew was he was someone important. I came to really care about him. Hero-worship or love, I would do anything for him. He trusted me and he began to talk to me. Telling me some things and then it became more personal things. I realized, he was confiding in me. He could tell me what he was afraid of, his hopes and dreams. I will never betray Yannick. I would never betray his confidence and he knew that. He kept doing it even after I became a soldier. He told me everything.” Max smiled. “I say all that to tell you I trust what Yannick would tell me without question.” He settled more smiling at me. “He told me about you. He told me about Seth and the vineyard. He told me so much I felt like we'd already met and were friends already. He also told me about this house and the work you had done to get those little warriors. I found the clues in his stories.” He threw his hands up a little and asked me. “I mean, how could a man do so much in A'Dore and Blethos. They're a thousand miles apart and he couldn't have gone back and forth as he said did.” He chuckled as he shook his head. “I never doubted he did. So, I asked him how.” Max shrugged. “So, he told me.”
I had begun smiling when began this explanation.
In the end, I was liking Max even more. “And never once doubted it?”
“Not once,” then he gave a shrugging nod. “Okay, I considered maybe he hallucinated it or he was drugged at first.” He gestured and had animation in his voice. He was very charming and fun. I only imagine what he did as Yannick's page. I could see why Yannick said Max made him laugh. He was making me smile! He was entertaining. Max continued. “I knew those little warriors were in King Christian and you came here to get them out. Yannick had the serum. We're talking about a month he was gone.” He gestured with both hands to the left of him, to the right of him and back to the left for the journey back and forth. “Two thousand miles in a month and he still finds the time to bring home a girl he could marry from Royal Valley? That was impossible without help from magic or something. I asked about that something.”
I couldn't help but say, “You are me.”
Max' brow wrinkled a second or two. “Huh?” He asked confused.
I laughed lightly. “You are to Yannick as I am to Christian. A little brother.” I watched Max grin at that. “I try to make my brother laugh all the time. He would confide in me and tell me his dreams and fears. Christian would use me as a means to complain or ask advice. He could yell and had an audience. A soundboard. Me. I have his trust and confidence. Just as you do with Yannick.”
Max nodded, “Yep, that's right.” He chuckled. “He told me to be myself with you and we'd get along fine. You'd like me better this way. Are we doing that?”
“Yep, we are.” I shook my head. “You and a close friend of mine would get along great together. He's delightedly wacky, too.”
Max's grin was a little sly now. “A wacky close magical friend that goes by the name Demetrius?”
I knew my eyes had grown, I felt it. “He told you that, too!?”
“And the others. Don't worry. I won't tell anyone,” Max grinned. “Who'd believe me if I did?” He chuckled.
“Is there nothing secret!?” I asked.
“Nope.” Max gave a one-sided shrug. “Not with Yannick and me.”
“I can see what Yannick saw in you, now,” I said.
“So, we get the Royal Valley's Royal Approval?” Max asked now grinning very big.
I narrowed an eye. “You know, I don't know if Harlan has any rooms left at the Inn. You may have to see if any of the men will let you bunk with them.” I growled.
Max wasn't bothered at all. In fact, he laughed a little harder. He knew I wasn't serious because of the smile on my face when I said it.
“I don't get it,” I shook my head again. These men were hard to figure out. “I knew the Creid were nice people. Forgive me, but with the job you do... You're a very happy person. How can you be this happy?”
Max smiled. “I am happy! One of the first things we do when training is learning to segment our mind. A good while ago, there was this Native Shaman who taught us how to do that.” He recognized the confusion in my eyes. He gave a quick, short breath and thought about how to explain it. He began to tell me slower as he was thinking as he spoke, “The person that you see right now, is the real me.” He thought more. “The person who is the warrior is me, but not the real me.” He looked at me, “Understand?” He turned slightly and propped his elbow on the back of the couch. “I bring that me out when doing battle.” He grimaced. “In the past, we had so many warriors were affected by what they did. Even the savage is bothered by what he's done sometimes.” He shook his head looking at me. “We were too few to allow our warriors to commit suicide. The king at that time wanted to find a solution. That's when he brought us the Shaman. He taught us to put our memories and feelings somewhere and not to dwell on them.”
I was impressed. “It obviously works. Here you are. Does it take long to learn?”
Max shook his head. “The techniques I can teach pretty quickly. To have it work well takes practice. I was taught it at twelve and have done it nearly every day since then. I can bring that part of me up in seconds. What's better, I can put him back in seconds.”
“Would it help at first,” I asked. “If you teach us how to use it, how long until we can use it? Put it somewhere? Where? It's still in your head.”
“It will help immediately,” Max said. “It will take time to use it well. Think of it as building a junk closet in your house. The bad things are still in your head, but you don't think about it. Even I get the occasional unwanted memory come back in my head. I just put it back in that closet. As they get better at it, those we soon teach can learn to put memories they have after they get them in any battle or conflict and put them in there.”
I had read where there are people influenced to do or not do something. “That sounds like hypnosis.”
Max shrugged. “Maybe, but we do it ourselves It even works for old memories that lurk around.”
“But some memories need to be dealt with,” I said.
I looked at Seth who was laughing at something with Reese. “Maybe start with him.”
Sam nodded. “Yannick told me what those people did to Seth. That was awful, but he seems to be handling it well now.” He smiled at me compassionately. “It won't hurt to try it.”
“Is it hard to learn to use?”
“No, it just takes practice.” He looked over to Beau who was still talking with Dennis. He smiled affectionately at Beau. “It took him a little longer, but he got it.” Dennis gave long "no" of disbelief at something he was told by Beau who was chuckling telling it was true, whatever it was. “He's a special guy.” It was genuine affection.
“What's his story if I can know?” I smiled as Beau and Dennis were getting along so well.
Max turned and hesitantly said, “I guess you noti...”
I interrupted him, “that he is a happy man who is gentle and kind. He sees the world in child-like appreciation?” I nodded with a smile. “I noticed.”
Max smiled back and pointed at me. “That was good! I'll have to remember that.” He settled back and relaxed. “When he was a little boy he would come and watch the warriors as they exercised and trained. He wanted to be one of them. When he reached the age to become a page he went to join. They said no.” He chuckled. “He begged to do something with them. They let him clean up. He imitated what was taught from the instructors that were wanting the trainees to do.” Max smiled even more with a chuckle. “That little boy proved he had the fastest reflexes. He was up equal to the level of those about to go in the warriors in their twenties with their training completed! He was only eleven!! They did train him after seeing that!! He blossomed. He was a natural. He even began to beat the trainers occasionally at only fourteen. He was let in the warriors and rose in the ranks.”
I was really getting positive feelings about that and what he accomplished. “Again forgive me but, an officer is more than brute force. Can he come up with strategies? Come up with tactics in new situations?”
“Not well,” Max admitted. “What strategies he uses he learned and that was hard. He can read well enough, but not well. The other trainees and some of the instructors themselves helped him. He makes up for it determination and effort. He worked hard to get in the warriors. He earned his rank.” He grinned again. “And I chose him personally for this battalion. No one works harder than Beau.”
They all loved him. They loved each other. They were a unit and solid.
“I can't wait to see him in action.” And I truly meant that. What he lacked he made up for in his heart and by being a prodigy at being a warrior. He was a sweet, lovable man.
Yes, the Creid Reputation was still dying. Even for me.
We did visit a few minutes later when Seth suggested the boys get ready for bed. There was the usual groans of reluctant agreement and Seth's assurance they'd all be here in the morning and they left grudgingly. Kitty, who had been lying contently in Reese's lap suddenly hurried after them making Reese chuckle watching him leave.
Beau sat down beside Val who had returned with a book.
Beau pointed at the boys. “I like Dennis. He's funny.”
I chuckled. “He gets that from me.”
“And smart!” Beau has been impressed.
“He gets that from me.” Seth grinned at me.
Val nodded, “You're son Toby might be a genius.” He said seriously. “He read some of those books and he is a child.” And then he added, “And he finished them. He was telling me what they were about and one I had read and we had a discussion about the book's subject matter. So, I know he's a genius.”
Seth and I nodded and said at the same time, “We know.”
Reese tried to stop a yawn and shook his head quickly to clear it. “I'm tired, do you mind if I go to bed?”
Max rose from the couch, “I will, too.”
We all decided to call it a day.
As Seth and I were taking our boots off before our nightly bath. There was a knock on our door which was open a crack. Toby's dark head peered around the door.
“May I speak to you two?” Toby asked cracking the door open further.
Seth looked up and waved him in. “Sure, we were just getting ready for our bath.”
I looked at Toby. He was bathed and clean, wearing his nightshirt that would soon be too small. He had an expression that said he was thinking about something heavily. “Is anything wrong?” Seth stretched across it to hear.
“I was just wondering...” Toby began.
“We could see that when you walked in the room,” Seth smiled. “You can't hide many things from us.”
“Except for when you learned to talk,” I added.
Toby laughed and nodded. “Not from either of you.” He looked more directly at us. “What can I do when I grow up?”
I smiled getting out of the chair I sat in to take my boots off. “You're very, very smart, son. I don't think there's anything you can't do if you put your mind to it.”
Seth grinned, “And there's always the vineyard and winery. That's part of you. You'll have a job here if you want, but I think you're capable of doing whatever you desire.”
“You have a while to decide that,” I said. “You're just ten.”
Toby gave a sideways grin. “About to be eleven.” He joked as he always did near his birthday.
“Don't rush it,” Seth moaned. “The older you get, I do, too.” He smiled propping up on an elbow.
“Is it due to your conversation with Val that started this?” I saw Toby's eye widen not understanding how I knew that. I assured him, “Hey, you're the one with great eyesight with that amazing vision! With your peripheral vision, you can practically see behind yourself. I have good hearing and I overheard you. Okay?”
Toby grinned shaking his head. “Yes, it does something to do with that, but only partly.” He narrowed his eyes at me and then to Seth. “You two are what brought it on.”
“We did?” I sat back a bit. “How'd we do that?”
Toby nodded, “Yes, you.” He sighed. “You are both so smart and can do any job you want. Dad was king...”
“Now that's not something you achieve with being smart or stupid,” I said.
“I know, it's something you are born to be usually.” Toby was nodding quickly to say he got it. “But Dad was born to it. It was that nasty Thorne guy that messed things up for him.” He looked at Seth. “That vineyard is growing because of you, that's smart. You came up with the way to keep the frost off the grapes. I saw you map out the irrigation.” He looked at me. “He was a good king, wasn't he?”
I nodded smiling, “Yes, he was.”
“If Thorne hadn't done what he did, I know Daddy would have been a great king. You and he are practically kings now in Royal Valley.” Toby still looked at me. “And I don't think there anything you can't do, Dad. Uncle Ryan is begging you to become a doctor. I knew what you two did to get the little warriors and you were the ones that started new fields in medicine...and you haven't even gone to medical school yet, Dad.” He shook his head. “The world is open for you. It's not for me. I can't hear. I can't be a doctor."
“How do you know that?” Seth asked surprised.
Toby frowned. “I've seen Uncle Ryan examine a few patients here. There was a man with pain in his chest and Uncle Ryan used this odd cone-shaped metal thing on the man's chest, the wide side on the man's chest and Uncle Ryan put his ear on the small end. I saw him tell the man he was listening to his heart. He did the same with the man's stomach to listen to him digesting something. The man had gas.” Toby explained. “I wouldn't be able to do that.”
“Diagnosing patients is only one part of medicine,” I said. “Medical Science has many sides.” I touched his face. “I bet looking through Seer you'd see more and more accurately than anyone. I didn't know you were interested in medicine.”
Toby gave another smirk. “You know me. I'm interested in everything,” he looked at us. “There are some jobs I can't do. For instance, if I wanted to be a soldier and do what you did the other day with Uncle Darrin. Can I do that?”
“I don't know,” I admitted. Then smiled at him. “You won't know until you try. You weren't supposed to talk and yet you're talking with us now.”
Seth was smiling now. “I agree with your Dad. If there's something you want to do, you'll find a way to do it.” He rolled over backward on the bed so he was sitting next to Toby. “You will be a gift at whatever you choose to do.”
“Life gives us challenges,” I said. “You were given another challenge and you're doing extraordinarily with that.” I shook him by the shoulder lightly. “You are in a position people rarely get. Most people have to find work, any work available to stay alive. You can choose. I know you'll do things that will change the world.”