Noble Quarrels Pt. 1

In the gardens beside Highborn City, Sage twiddled with a leaf between his fingers. He was seated against a tree trunk with his black, woolen cloak wrapped around him. Yawning, he stretched his legs over the tall grass. The tree sagged over him with fiery leaves. They fell like gentle rain into his auburn hair, knotted and tangled as the roots under him. To his left were the city walls with turrets erected at the corners. Sentries stood watch on them, patrolling in boredom. The colors of the city watch were like the hues of autumn. Their tabards bore these colors, the tails of them swaying in the chilled wind under thick leather belts with brass buckles. One guard’s steel armor glared into the corner of Sage’s eye.

    Beyond the grey towers were steep mountains surrounding the city’s valley. They stretched up like snow-dusted spires, cut into by rivers and paths leading to distant cities. The sky was just waking from dawn. Its sun bled into the clouds that pervaded the mountains overshadowing the lush foothills.

    Laughter rippled from out of the meadow to the right of Sage. He glanced up curiously from the decayed leaf in his hand. He recognized his brother Aghiri. On his arm was a girl he had been courting for nearly a year. They strode between brush and into a clearing. Aghiri’s long, black hair was put up into a tidy ponytail that swayed while he walked. A sharp nose complemented his high cheekbones; they wore a smile well beneath crisp, blue eyes. Aghiri made a quiet quip and Astari giggled hysterically behind a hand. Her eyes dazzled as opals. She walked gracefully through the grass, slender legs showing through a silky, blue dress that broke in two at her thighs. 

    Sage wasn’t graced with such beauty. He kept his lips tight as he stared at his brother. Although his eyes did not shine, they did not miss much. He noticed that Astari—aside from her shy smile—had an arrogance in her own beauty. 

    Aghiri caught his eye but pretended not to notice. He wasn’t wearing his mourning garments, and barely a month had passed. Sage was dutifully clad in black for his mother, looking more like a shade than anything. Even his boots, normally maroon-stained leather, were entirely black. They rose up above his shin.

    Sage’s eyes were the color of moss just before decay: a deep green that only proved itself in the light of the sun. When he first met Astari, she remarked they had been brown. His auburn hair matched the dead leaves around him. Seeing them nearing him, Sage shook some leaves from his hair, making the already messy ponytail even more mussed. Thick locks stuck out every which way. It gave him a wild look even with his contemplative features. Pointed ears stuck out of the tangle of hair at his sides, marking him as a sun elf. 

    The couple approached him, not impressed with his appearance. “Sage, you little forest fairy! What are you doing here? Look at you, there’s a pile of leaves in your hair.” The older brother bent down and ruffled the only part of his hair that had some order to it. Aghi had never treated Sage this way, not since he met Astari.    

    He looked up at the two and held back contempt for Astari’s sake, squinting his eyes in the sunlight and suppressing a deep blush. Aghi was three years his senior, making Sage sixteen and he nineteen. Never had Sage been so jealous as now. He fumbled with the leaf in his hand and broke eye contact, not bothering to mumble a word. 

    After a silence, Aghi said, “Well I’ll being seeing you little fairy.” Of all the creatures he could’ve compared him to, ‘fairy’ was the first to come to mind. Sage scowled. His brother motioned for Astari to continue walking with him, and Sage stuck his tongue out as they turned their backs. 

    Before they were out of sight, Astari tossed back a glance just long enough for Sage see out of the corner of his eye; her sly grin nearly stretching to her ear. There was a curious look in her eyes.

    Sage’s contemptuous smile was suddenly affectionate. 

 

    Walking back towards the city on a stone road bordered by thick grass plains, Sage kept his head bent to the ground and his hands tucked into his pockets. 

    Someone drew his attention with a cheerful call. He looked up and sighed in annoyance. It was Eydis “Sage! What a welcome surprise it is to see you!” she exclaimed. In reality, she had seen him enter the forest earlier that morning and had been waiting on the trader’s road since.  

    Then suddenly the girl—a year younger than him, and a sun elf as well—was ashamed at how obvious her excitement was. She looked around in embarrassment at the merchants on the sides of the road who were now distracted from their bartering. Even the archers on top of the turrets at the city gates looked down and chuckled. Her blush was a deeper color than the apples that vendor’s sold. 

    Sage kicked aside a pebble in his way and kept walking. “Gods mark your path with good fortune, Eydis,” he murmured formally, still thinking of Astari. She tried not to look hurt at the standard greeting.

    “And yours,” she mumbled, the happiness melting from her face. Sage kept his eyes down and continued walking. She fell in step beside him. “Where’re you off to in such a hurry? The sun will be setting in a few hours, and tomorrow’s the last day of autumn. Won’t you be there to see Bafimer’s followers do the last rite of the season? Surely you’ll be there, like the rest of the city …”

    Sage was glancing at Eydis as he walked, but all he saw was Astari in her visage instead. The smile she wore, the lustful eyes; he would spill his own blood to see where that would lead. Eydis was nice enough, but there was nothing forbidden about her. And Astari was father’s first pick for Aghi. “I am doubtful,” he started after a long pause. “Bafimer has been good to me all my life. Doubtless, I don't wish to beseech him for anything else,” he lied and broke eye contact with Eydis. She looked sadly at the ground, seeing where his mind was. 

    Hiding a frown, she swept a lock of brown hair behind her ear and nodded. “I understand. Your family indeed has been blessed.” Her cheeks were full and young, though the life of a blush had faltered. Eydis was as kind as Sage’s mother had been, her golden eyes as easily brightened as they were made downtrodden. That saddened look was in her eyes now. “And what of your father?” she asked hesitantly. She fiddled with her fingers as the disappointment ruined her afternoon. 

    Sage slowed his pace with her and tucked his hands behind himself. “Lord Soenis? He’ll be there, I’m sure of it. Along with my brother, too. But I’ll keep to myself in my terrace.” He sighed deeply again, feeling the clasp—a silver owl on a golden branch—poking into his neck. He repositioned the heavy cloak on his shoulders as a sharp gust blew. It was as black as his shadow.

    Eydis nearly stopped Sage cold with surprise when she spoke again. “Perhaps, then, I could join you in your quarters? You’ve been without spell practice for weeks, I’ve noticed. You're skin is ghostly pale, it’s … worrying me. I could help you with it.” His skin was getting pale, though it wasn’t from the spellwork. She only had to look at the color of his clothes to remember why he was so distraught. When Sage shook his head and began walking again, she clutched his arm determinedly. “And your stories! My magister told me I should be reading more fiction to quell my ‘wildness,’ or so he says. But I’ve gone through all that my mother and father have collected. Your Soenis family’s library is much larger than mine, I’m sure I could—”

    Sage interrupted her with a laugh. “And since when do you listen to your magister?” He didn’t want to say no to her. For gods’ sakes she looked on the verge of tears as it was. He looked at her eyes: they were massive, round as the moon and begging like a pup’s at a dinner table. “All right,” he broke. “You can stop by later this evening. But not until Lord Soenis leaves for the last autumn rites. He’s only allowed Astari into our home since mother’s illness and  …” Sage trailed off, distracted himself with a rock at his foot. “Well, I’ll be seeing you then,” he said lowly. Solemnly, he walked between two guards on either side of the city gates. Like mountains of wood and iron, the bronze-clasped gates loomed over the elf. Somewhere above Sage a raven cawed noisily, as if announcing his entrance.

    Eydis looked after him longingly and breathed a wish to the gods.

    “Care for some summer fruit, m’lady?” a nearby merchant asked, coaxing her with a ripe apple from the Moonlands. The Runelands had ample amounts of summer fruits, though nothing matched what came from the winter lands cultivated by the moon elves.

    “I don’t need fruit,” she said, holding back the bitterness in her voice. “I need a way to his heart.”

    “I’m a fruit merchant, m’lady, not an alchemist.” The merchant looked at Sage’s back pensively and caressed his stubbly beard. “You might want to see Rutherford’s shop in the city if you want his services for potions and the like. But I’m just as anyone else in the fact that I can lend words: Don’t get attached to him. The more you do, the less he’ll see you. Ease away, be discreet, be secretive. That will be a potion most intoxicating.” The merchant grasped his flimsy vest and straightened it proudly, satisfied with his own advice.

    Eydis didn’t care much for the advice. She lost sight of Sage in the crowd and rolled her eyes. “Rutherford is a weaver of illusions. He’ll not have a potion worth a single coin,” she mumbled, pretending he hadn't said anything else. 

    The merchant grumbled. “Suit yourself, m’lady. But if not a potion, care for an apple? The moon elves know a thing or two about romance.”

    At that, Eydis was sold. She flipped the merchant a coin and took the apple. She bit into it, though she tasted nothing.

    

    Sage nearly ran into his father as he walked into his mansion. The son bowed his eyes and clasped his hands behind himself respectively. His father wasn’t much taller than Sage, though in his young eyes he seemed like a giant. “Lord Soenis,” Sage offered as he cleared his throat.    

    Lord Soenis had the same pitch black hair as Aghi, though it only fell to his neck. He always swept it backwards into such a way that it looked as if he had been up for the entire night, weighed by stress. “Of all the gods above, Sage, how many times must I tell you? You’re not some servant patrolling the halls. Please, call me father. Or by my name, at the very least.” When he looked down at his son, he saw his late wife in him. It was so obvious it pained him to look into his eyes.

    Sage just shook his head numbly and bit his lip. His father was still buttoning up his vest as he spoke. Lord Soenis wore a black vest with a light gold outline that matched the color of his skin. Behind it was a white button up shirt with a necktie hanging messily from it.

    Sage hated calling his father Aghiri. It was the same name of his brother; and as if he hadn’t had enough quarrels with his father to make the name go sour in his mouth. He remained silent, as he had for the past several weeks whenever he saw his father.

    “So I see,” Lord Soenis said after no response. He squeezed Sage’s shoulder encouragingly while pain filled his eyes. The boy didn’t flinch at the cold grip. “I left a few books from the city library I thought you might like. There was one hiding away in the corner about the lineage of the Shadow Syndicate.” Father looked pleased with himself. But Sage only saw an act; him feigning a love for his son that his mother could give genuinely.

    Sage met his eyes, unimpressed. The Syndicate was a band of thieves not proven to have ever existed. Common folk spread rumors about them; they said they were the true rulers of wealth and power, that Netherway wasn’t in the hands of kings, dukes, or lords, rather some thieves with dark sorcery. “Father, that’s ridiculous—“ Sage stopped himself, ashamed that he had given him the satisfaction of calling him that. “Anyone who believes the Syndicate exists is a child,” he said, happily putting scorn into his tone.

    Father shrugged his shoulders, chuckled, and ruffled his son’s hair the way Aghiri did. “Sometimes the tall tales hold more truth than we think. You of all people should know that, Sage.” He must’ve seen the books stacked near his bed.

    Sage’s cheeks became flushed with scarlet. “Why have you been in my chambers? I told you to stay away from them!” he snapped.

    Sweeping back some hair, Lord Soenis sighed and—if only for a moment—Sage saw a reflection of himself in his father.  “All I did was step in for a moment or two,” he explained. “I saw a crow fly in through your terrace thinking to snatch up some of the corn you left on the floor. Why are you telling the servants to bring you corn all the time? I just went in to pick up the kernels. You really shouldn’t be keeping crows in here, Sage. This is a house, not a bird’s nest.”

    “It’s a raven, not a crow,” Sage shot back haughtily. Though he only felt foolish after correcting the trifling difference. But he didn’t let the remark distract him from his anger. “And that’s none of your business anyways. But satyr’s piss, father! Why do you care what books I’m reading? If you don’t like tall tales then don’t bring me a book about a mystical band of cutthroats.”

    Lord Soenis ignored the curse. “Your studies are important, Sage.” Then he looked at Sage the way Eydis did. Concern flashed across his face as he touched his arm lightly. Sage recoiled violently at his father’s touch. “Gods, Sage. Your mother named you after the color of a forest, not the luster of a corpse. If not for me, practice your spellwork for your own sake.” Lord Soenis straightened his son’s hair where he had ruffled it, only making him more enraged. “I’m sorry. I know things have been difficult lately. But how am I supposed to support you if you can’t do a simple healing spell? Put aside the Syndicate’s book for tonight and read some of the others I got you.” Lord Soenis fumbled with his necktie as he strode away. “Don’t be up late,” he called back as he went out the door. “And no more crows!”

    “Ravens,” Sage corrected.

 

    Sage stood dutifully by the front door as he waited for Eydis. His feet were starting to burn under his weight. It was impolite to be sitting when someone arrived. The sun had already begun to set, turning the horizon into an airy mixture of colors like a fire. Behind him, in the center of the entrance room was a statue of Bafimer. On his head was a raven, though this creature was living, and not of stone. Her feathers were as black as Sage’s cape, and ruffled at the neck.

    Bored, Sage called her to him. “Valdis, here,” he said with an extended arm. The raven swooped from the statue to him. Her claws dug into him as she hobbled up to his shoulder, though he hardly noticed it now. She nibbled on his ear lovingly while he reached for corn in his pocket and fed it to her. It had only been a few weeks since the fowl first flew into his room. He had left some venison rotting on his terrace one night on accident and the bird mistook it for carrion. A sneaky smile crept its way up to Sage’s face as he remembered her first hesitant hops to take corn out of his palm. There was an instant connection. 

    The bird cawed noisily several times in succession. Eydis, Eydis! it repeated, mimicking her name as Sage sighed it. Her calls echoed throughout the empty mansion.

    “She’ll be here, Valdis, don’t be so noisy,” he said, feeling lonely. Or so he hoped, though he was losing confidence. As he tapped his foot, he doubted if the girl adored him as much as he suspected …

    Long after Valdis had gone away to find some place to sleep amongst the trees, Sage still stood by the door. But after a great clock in his castle chimed the 7 pm toll, he ambled up to his room feeling defeated.


Continue with part two here.