"Tell me about your dream, Maladrid. What can we expect today?"
When the smile crept across his face, Palaplia could only imagine what was happening in Maladridís mind. He never knew if the smirk meant he was about to disclose the nightís events or tease Palaplia with them.
"Why donít you tell me about your dream for once?" Maladrid asked.
"You already know what I saw... and heard."
"And the song," Palaplia said.
"At least itís a catchy tune."
"I wish it would stop catching me. It takes days to get out of my head," he replied and when Maladrid started humming the song, Palaplia shoved him off the path.
Maladrid turned quickly and barreled toward his brother with a playful growl. Palaplia evaded him and took off down the street, swerving between the buildings and people of Donent while Maladrid screamed, "When I catch up to you... " and Palaplia warbled back, "If you catch up to me... "
He never did. Maladrid could dream, but Palaplia could run. He could dodge, he could fight, and he could think clearly even when he was losing his lead. His brother lunged forward with his fingers splayed, but Palaplia abruptly fell to all fours and sent Maladrid tumbling over him. He rolled onto his back, panting, and with a grin, Palaplia offered a hand.
"One day Iíll be as fast as you.".
"I have no doubt," Palaplia replied and pulled him to his feet.
"The royal family will be leaving soon. Should we get ready to see them off?"
"We donít have to go, you know. There are plenty of more important things to do."
"Like anything could keep you from saying goodbye to your girlfriend."
"What are you talking about?"
"Princess Yven. Youíve been staring at her the entire time sheís been in town."
"Itís not what you think. Iím just interested in her, in King Lonho too."
"I just hope Samil isnít as observant as I am," Maladrid hooted.
"Spare me, little brother. Besides, why would you want to see the King off?"
"I guess Iím interested too."
"Or somethingís going to happen. Is that it? Did you dream of the Kingís departure?"
"Maybe," he replied coyly.
"Maladrid, just tell me."
"Alright, but you have to promise not to tell anyone."
"Itís really important, Palaplia."
"I promise!" he hollered as he shook his brother, causing him to giggle riotously. "Please, Maladrid, just tell me."
Maladrid drew very close and his voice dropped to an intense whisper. In the moments between guessing and knowing, Palaplia imagined what prophecy might come pouring out of Maladridís mouth. Would there be an attack? Would Lonho make some kind of life-altering announcement? Had Donent won some kind of lottery that would transform it into the new Donir? He leaned forward, anticipating a million things that might change his life forever.
"I dreamt of an ivory ship," Maladrid began. "An ivory ship with billowing sails upon a blue sea that turned black."
Palaplia waited for the rest, but Maladrid was finished. After a hefty silence, Palaplia started shaking him again.
Maladrid howled with laughter, but before Palaplia could tackle him, he darted off toward the woods. Palaplia gave him the lead in the trees, but as soon as they reached the clearing, he wrestled Maladrid to the ground. They rolled across the forest floor, neither one winning or losing the battle or caring about such trivial things.
Solitude was not easily afforded in Donent, so the brothers were accustomed to having spectators to their sport. However, there was a fine art to knowing the difference between the sounds of the usual spectators and those of strangers. It was an art to which Palaplia was quite adept. With a simple twig snap, he clamped his hand onto Maladridís mouth and froze. His eyes darted across the trees and his ears perked. Something was moving just beyond the clearing.
"What is it? What do you see?" Maladrid asked against Palapliaís hand, and when Palaplia didnít answer, he licked his palm.
Palaplia angrily rubbed his hand on his pants. With one eye on Maladrid and the other on the trees, he dug a stone out of the soil. Listening intently to the footsteps in the forest, Palaplia snapped his arm forward and launched the rock through the trees. The stone made contact and Palaplia heard a groan, but he didnít hesitate in pulling up another stone . But when the stranger fell into the clearing, he dropped the rock and fell to his knees, apologetically. The purple knot on the Hohmaraís forehead was swelling so badly that when the man placed the bronze crown back on his head, it sat askew. Palaplia couldnít bear to look up, but when King Lonho started laughing, he cautiously lifted his head.
"That was an impressive shot, my boy. Where did you learn to do that?"
"From my father, your majesty."
"Is he one of my soldiers?"
"No, my lord."
"Perhaps he should be," he replied. "How old are you?"
"You are quite young to have such accuracy. I doubt many of my soldiers could match that display."
"It sounds like they need more training," Palaplia replied and immediately regretted it, but before he could apologize, Maladrid ran up beside him and gawked at the fresh lump on the Kingís head.
"Palaplia, you didnít... "
"Itís quite alright. But I must ask: what prompted you to hurtle the rock in the first place?"
"I thought you were someone else."
"And that person deserves such an attack?"
"Iím not exactly sure. Weíve never met."
"Iím afraid I canít condone that, impressive accuracy or not," King Lonho said.
"Your highness, what my brother means to say is that someone has been stalking us. For as long as we can remember, someone has been there, watching us when weíre alone," Maladrid explained. "We donít think this person means us harm, but Palaplia---"
"He was just protecting you, and he has the right. But you should really be more certain of your target before casting stones," Lonho said and the brothers bowed obediently, but a voice from the forest lifted their heads.
"Iím over here, Yven," he replied to the call, and from between the trees, a trim girl with fiery hair emerged.
"Father, youíre hurt!" she exclaimed as she stood on her tiptoes to inspect his injury.
"Donít fuss, girl. Iím certain Iíll get plenty of that from your mother," Lonho said. "Boys, this is the Princess of Donir."
She bowed and Palaplia and Maladrid humbly fell to their knees. She had already started conversing with her father when she noticed they were still genuflecting.
"You may stand now," she giggled, but when Maladrid leapt to his feet, he accidentally lurched forward and stumbled into the princessí arms. She grasped Maladridís shoulders and steadied him, but her head jerked as if struck by pain.
"Iím so sorry, milady. Did I hurt you?" he stammered as she released him.
"No, Iím fine. I just get flashes sometimes."
"What did you see?" Lonho asked.
"A white ship on a black sea," she replied and Maladrid elbowed Palapliaís side with a wink. "Does that mean something to you?"
"It was from my dream last night," Maladrid replied.
"Oh, Iím sorry---"
"Thatís alright, milady. Feel free to venture into my dreams whenever youíd like," Maladrid said and Palaplia clapped his hand over his brotherís mouth again.
"I think weíd better go before my dear brother says something heíll regret," Palaplia said. "It was wonderful to meet you, your majesties."
"And you. I look forward to having you both join my army soon," Lonho said and with his arm around his daughter, the king and princess disappeared into the woods.
"You should have told him you have no intention of joining his army," Maladrid said.
"I havenít decided that yet."
"Yes, you have."
Maladrid looked to the sky and chuckled as he tugged on his brotherís sleeve. Palaplia looked up as well to see the clouds moving slowly through the powder blue sky and the differently shaped Cole sailing among them. One Cole in particular was masquerading as a ship with billowing sails, cruising casually through the clouds.
"I thought you said the sky was black," Palaplia said, but when he lowered his eyes, Maladrid had quit the clearing.
He was standing beneath the perimeter canopy, and when the thunder started rolling, Palaplia didnít have to wonder why heíd sought shelter. The rain fell with increasing strength and Maladrid laughed at his brother standing in the drizzle turned downpour. He didnít even stop as Palaplia dragged him out from under the tree. They both became drenched to the bone as they jumped into puddles and hurled fistfuls of mud at each other. Joyful shrieks were the perfect accompaniment to the rainís percussion.
"What are you two doing out here?"
The brothers looked up to see Samil standing over them with a blanket draped over her head.
"Couldnít you hear your mother calling you for supper? I could hear her from my house."
Palaplia knelt at Samilís feet and took her hand as he proclaimed theatrically,
"Milady Samil, I thank you for bringing us tidings of supper. You truly are as generous as you are beautiful."
"Oh, stop it," she giggled as she pushed him back onto the soggy grass, but while she was distracted by Palapliaís antics, Maladrid crept up behind her and ripped her blanket away.
She yelped when the cold rain hit her, but she only paused briefly before grabbing two fistfuls of mud. She heaved them at Maladrid who was wearing her blanket like a cape as he skipped through the rain. But Palaplia was still lying on the ground with his eyes closed. Maladridís dream had come true, but Palapliaís was coming back. The theme he so often heard in sleep was playing there and then, but only he heard it. It was a coaxing song even though the source unnerved him. Actually, it was the mystery of the source that unnerved him. The reason for the strangerís presence made Palaplia feel distanced from those he sought to befriend, mostly because the reason was unclear. Palaplia pondered it more thoroughly than Maladrid. He knew that much of it was age. The gap between their ages was just so that they could both be children, but only Palaplia could be an adult, or would be an adult. Maladrid still saw the stranger as a whimsical thing, a magical man waiting for the right time to unveil a treasure meant only for them. Maladrid was so calm, so fearless. He was shy but cunning and always had a chuckling answer for Palapliaís never-ending questions. Even with the growing darkness in Naveís Bend, Maladrid wasnít afraid. Palaplia wished he could be like that. He wished he could see the future and know that the man watching them from the shadows wasnít at home there. And he wished he wasnít so comforted by the song he sang. It pushed him toward uncertainty, and he wanted it to push him. He wanted to be out there in the world, admired for brawn and bravery, even if it meant taking the frightening stranger with him. In the end, he always gave in to the stranger and let the words roll over him like rain.
Among the downy grasses
Of the Balochena plain,
The little morc is gleeful
For the ending of the rain.
He waited long on weather
To overthrow his frown.
To say, "Itís time for you to play
And knock your boredom down".
He wants to wander far beyond
The borders of a boy,
To think of only levity
And things that bring him joy.
But joy is not eternal,
And the lesson to never squander
Is: never wander here or yonder,
Unless you have some time to ponder.
The only thing that could tear him away was Samil. He could feel her rapid footsteps, and when she ran by, Palaplia leapt up and pulled her down beside him.
"Close your eyes," he said as he squeezed her hand. "This is what it could be like. A thousand nights of us and the sky."
"I could do without the rain," she said.
"I could try to convince Paertyle to stop."
"Youíd do that for me?" she beamed.
"Iíd do anything for you," he said and dried her cheek before kissing her so she could feel him unobstructed.
Maladrid fell beside them and laid his head on his brotherís shoulder. Before long, they stopped feeling the rain. As the downpour dropped to a trickle, a voice broke through the drum of rain to lift them from the ground.
"I told you your mother was calling," Samil said.
"Do you know if sheís making morc stew? Iíll only leave for morc stew." Palaplia said, but with a groan, he allowed Maladrid to tow him back through the forest.
Altdis was waiting at the door when the sodden trio strolled up. Her sons apologized for their truancy, but Altdis pointed them inside and pointed Samil back to her house. Palaplia attempted to sneak a kiss before she dashed away, but his mother grabbed his shirt and tugged him inside. Washed and changed into dry clothes, Palaplia and Maladrid joined their parents at the table.
"You boys know what time supper starts," their father Walyn said sternly, but when his sons meekly lowered their heads, he added, "I bet there were some nice puddles out there."
"There were," Maladrid chirped.
"Samil was there too," Altdis commented and Palaplia groaned.
"Sheís always going to be there. I told you: weíre not going to stop seeing each other," he said.
"Palaplia, you know I donít want that either, but her parents made it very clear what they want for her."
"Not me. I know," Palaplia said.
"Not us," Walyn commented. "Itís our fault her family doesnít approve, and I apologize for that, Palaplia. I canít say I wish my beliefs were different, but I do wish Samilís parents could be more accepting of them, for your sake," he said and then scoffed, "Militia families."
"Walyn, please donít start this again," Altdis whispered as if she could stop him.
Palaplia had already heard his fatherís opinion so many times, and although he agreed, he was tired of arguments that didnít change anything. Walyn was one of the best soldiers in Donent, and it was well known that while he agreed with Lonhoís intent, he didnít approve of his methods and made no secret of it. Samilís family, on the other hand, had served in Donirís army for generations, and being a skilled soldier herself, her father fully expected her to join the royal infantry when she was old enough. The last thing he wanted for his daughter was for her to fall in with a boy who idealized a renegade life. However, the die had long ago been cast. Palaplia and Samil, young as they were, loved each other absolutely, and Palaplia had no intention of letting something as trivial as politics come between them.
"At least the King has finally declared war on Lochydor," Altdis said.
"Words. Just words," Walyn grumbled.
"Yes, but theyíre the right ones."
"Weíve been at war with Lochydor for ages. Declaring it in front of a crowd doesnít make the danger any graver. Itís plenty grave as is. The last attack on Donent was the worst yet."
"The Kingís soldiers did come to our aid," Altdis said.
"Too little, too late. I would hardly call it a victory."
"Still, we owe him our lives," Altdis said more to her sons than Walyn; it was her way of trying to keep them impartial long enough to make their own decisions.
"I donít want to owe my life to anyone but Yaliwe. I want my survival to be in my hands, not in the hands of some King Iíve hardly seen. Thatís why Iíve trained you boys so diligently. You can use your great talent to fight for your destiny."
"Shouldnít destiny come without a fight?" Maladrid asked.
"Nothing comes without a fight, my son."
"So you do understand why Samil and I will continue to see each other," he said.
"Of course we understand," his mother replied, but the look she exchanged with her husband troubled Palaplia.
"Whatís going on?"
"Itís nothing, son. Nothing you need to worry about yet."
"Yet? What does that mean? Do you know something?"
"Samilís parents are going to take her away," Maladrid said flatly.
"What? You knew about this?" Palaplia exclaimed.
"Nothing is certain yet. They merely mentioned the possibility of moving to Birne," Altdis replied.
"It sounded more like a threat to me," Walyn said.
"The point is that they still havenít made a definite decision."
"Yes they have," Maladrid said. "Iím sorry, Palaplia, but I didnít only dream of rain."
Altdis shifted the conversation, but Palaplia didnít hear anything after "rain". He waited patiently until he was excused, and as soon as the house was silent, he slipped outside. As he made his way to their tree, he wasnít sure whether she would be there, but when a stretching shadow jumped around the corner, he knew it belonged to her. Samil crashed into his arms, sobbing and holding onto Palaplia as if no embrace could be tight enough.