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Chapter 4: Philion

Renent’s parents often discussed his future. The ultimate goal was for Renent to succeed Tormeten as treasurer, but they wondered if Renent should seek appointment to a Council judgeship beforehand. In Becopton’s history—Tormeten had told Renent—fathers and sons rarely held concurrent seats, so the matter would require delicate handling.

Several steps preceded that point, the most immediate of which was Renent’s education. He could be either a man of numbers or man of letters. Of the few Becoptonites who were either, more were men of numbers. Tormeten and Xzax fell into this category, as did many merchants. They could read and write common words on invoices and contracts of sale. They could buy, sell, inventory, and catalogue, but their medium was the ledger sheet, not the scroll.

Men of letters, on the other hand, were fully literate. Some were priests who wrote poems, discourses, or formal interpretations of the Umanon for the Council. Others were freelance scribes who prepared correspondence or complex documents for the Lord, councilmen, merchants, or anyone who paid. To become a man of letters, one must copy the entire Umanon. This project could take several major moons, depending on a scribal candidate’s acumen, steadiness of hand, and availability.

For years, Renent had known that his father leaned toward him becoming a full man of letters. Now, with Renent reaching fifteen years old, Tormeten made up his mind.

“I would love this house to have its own Umanon copied by my own son,” he told his family. “Very fitting. Very fitting. That’d be a wonderful day.”

Already, Xzax had taught Renent the alphabet, and Tormeten hired a scribe to help with Renent’s reading. His father now bought scroll paper and ink. Both were expensive, but Renent’s hand was ready for writing practice. His literacy was also mature enough to proceed. He was already the best reader in the household.

 

◙ ◙ ◙

 

Rain poured, making a racket on the roof. Ignoring the commotion as best as she could, Farant solicited Lahall’s advice about the shape and color of a vase she was commissioning. Renent sat at the dining table, bored. The storm clouds overshadowed Becopton too thickly for Renent to write. As almost a matter of law, writing and reading only occurred in proper daylight because of eyestrain. As Renent’s tutor told him, a man of letters with ruined vision was a tragedy. When the written word required creation or recitation in an exigency, a man of letters should surround himself with as much firelight as possible. Even then, he must read or write as little as possible. Daylight was an educated man’s best friend; darkness his greatest enemy.

Tormeten burst in, returning from Council Hall. Water flowed from his cloak. Farant pulled it off him as Lahall wiped the floor. Tormeten, though, seemed hardly to notice. He smiled, which was unusual. Renent felt that his father typically returned from a Council session sullen, tired, or even cynical.

“Where’s Renent?” he said. “Oh, there you are. Let’s sit down. Lahall, we’re good here. I’ll wipe up the rest. Don’t worry about it.”

Once the family sat alone at the table, Tormeten leaned back a bit in his chair. Renent was nervous. Something was about to happen.

Tormeten looked at Renent.

“You know the King sends his family to other cities to maintain good relations with them, right?”

“Um, yes, I do. I suppose I do.”

“Our Lord just told me that the King is sending his son here. He’ll continue his education—writing and swordsmanship. He’ll practice with the Lord’s sons, of course. Crailis’s family and the King’s will form closer ties—which benefits us all.”

“All right.”

“But since our Lord’s sons are married, the King was specific: he also wants his son to have a companion.”

Farant inhaled sharply with a look of realization.

Excitement rose in Renent, for he too thought he foresaw his father’s next words.

“Our Lord asked me if you could be that companion.”

“That’s amazing,” was all Renent could muster.

“This is the second son, I’m assuming,” Farant interjected.

“Yes. It is. It’s Philion.”

As Renent well knew, King Grelesten had four children: one daughter and three sons, of whom Philion was the second eldest.

“And how old is he now? Sixteen? Seventeen?” Farant continued.

“Sixteen is my understanding.”

Renent’s mother moved promptly into logistics

“Would he stay here? Would he have a servant?”

“He’ll stay with Crailis, so we needn’t board servants.”

“When would he come? For how long?”

“Once the rains end—well, that’s the King’s present plan. As for length, there wasn’t anything definitive. I’d imagine it would be a year, maybe more. I know that Vaulan spent over two years in Helmralen.”

Tormeten’s last comment referenced the crown prince and another Valley city.

He turned back to Renent.

“So, will you do it? This is a great responsibility and a great privilege.”

“Well, yes,” Renent replied, not really knowing what to add. “Uh, what is he like?”

Tormeten laughed, but not particularly at Renent. “Well, he’s a prince. He’ll be like Crailis’s sons, I suppose. He breaths air like anyone else—except he’s preparing to be a very important person.”

A blend of excitement, mystery, and anxiety settled in Renent’s as the conversation turned to more details and particulars. He would have a companion, and that companion would be a prince. Both of these facts were novelties to him.

 

◙ ◙ ◙

 

The two swords clanged. For a moment, Renent thought he could control his, but it flew from his hand. He slowed his horse and began to turn around.

“I think I came close that time. I think I did,” he called out.

“Yeah, I’d say so,” shouted Philion over his shoulder as he too circled his horse. “You had a firmer grip.”

That morning, Renent and Philion had ridden northwestward. Finding an uninhabited field, they began sword practice. Their current exercise was to gallop past each other and strike the other’s sword as forcefully as possible without losing grip of his own weapon.

Renent’s deeper goal was to mitigate, even if not eliminate, his inadequacies. For years, Renent practiced archery and spear throwing, and he knew basic defensive and offensive sword stances. Still, he found a sword unseemly heavy.

When Philion had arrived three major moons ago, Renent learned that combat training would play a predominate role in their relationship. Philion relished it, and Renent went along, knowing that he too must become at least competent. Competency, however, proved difficult. Philion was just a year older but naturally stronger and stockier. Renent—who had never considered himself scrawny before—began to worry he would never be anything but.

Still, Renent thought as he dismounted to reclaim his sword, he was happy to have Philion around. He looked at the prince, who waited on his horse. He still held his sword and had no need to dismount.

When they first met at a banquet in Council Hall, Lord Crailis had personally introduced them.

Renent had said—in retrospect, too formally—“I’ve never officially been a companion before. I hope this works out for you.”

Philion had smiled.

“Oh, I think we just spend time together and have a good go of it.”

That articulation of the arrangement relieved Renent, and they proceeded accordingly.

Renent was grateful that Crailis’s sons were both superb swordsmen, as were the sons of some other Council members. This reduced Renent’s concern that his own shortcomings would stunt the prince’s training. The two could relax, spending much time in the countryside practicing informally.

When indoors, the boys would practice written words. This was Renent’s natural strength, for his Umanon transcription was underway. Tormeten borrowed a copy from the priests, and his son spent part of each day copying the words and learning them. Despite the ache in his hand after each session, he felt his lines become straighter, his characters clearer, and his literacy smoother.

Renent remounted his horse, and the youths galloped at each other again. They swung. Renent’s blade sprang back in his hand, and he shifted sideways to avoid a blow to the head. He overcompensated and wobbled, and although his grip withstood the impact, he had to release the sword to grasp the reins. This slight improvement provided minimal consolation as the sword fell to the grass behind him. They tried again, and his grip remained firm.

Perhaps he was improving, he wondered.

They went through more rounds. Philion typically retained his sword. Renent did so about half the time. He was ever thankful for the prince’s graciousness. Philion complemented Renent’s successes and downplayed his failures.

After a while, they dismounted walked to a boulder. The horses grazed.

“So,” said Renent, broaching a subject he had never raised with Philion, “this practicing we do, is it for war with the South?”

Philion laid back against the stone with arms folded behind his head.

“War with anyone. Peace is the best time to ready for war.”

“Well, I guess,” said Renent, squatting on the rock. “But do we have a specific enemy in mind?”

“I wouldn’t think a specific enemy is necessary.”

“But is the South an enemy?”

Philion leaned up and rested on an elbow.

“Ha! Not yet, but we’ll see.”

“So things could go either way, toward peace or war?”

“Well, if they start a war, there’ll be a war.”

That sounded right to Renent. The six cities in Renliar’s alliance had grown more belligerent. They now denied any guarantee of safety for pilgrims, and Coastal and Valley merchants faced increasing harassment without meaningful recourse to Southern security forces or judges. The debate over deployment of forty or eighty troops was over. Two hundred of the King’s men now watched the road in an intentionally visible show of strength. The allied cities responded with their own troops in nearby villages, purportedly to avoid harassment of locals.

“Would we win?” came Renent’s next question, one that nagged him late at night.

“A war with the South? We outnumber them thirteen cities to eight. We’d have no problem. Besides, what’ll they do? We’d just blockade the Great Ford. Even if they could cross, we’d either break their supply lines to withstand their sieges or just beat them hand-to-hand out here in fields like this.”

This reassured Renent. He raised a new subject.

“May I ask about your plans?”

“Plans? Sure.”

“What, if you don’t mind,” Renent queried, “will be your role when the Crown Prince becomes king?”

“Vaulan? Oh, that’s long away. Father isn’t going anywhere soon. But, I’d be around at that point to help out.”

“Do you and he make plans?”

Renent said “he” instead of “Vaulan.” The boy remained uncomfortable referring the Philion’s relatives by their actual names since, in public, such casualness would be disrespectful.

“Vaulan?” Philion asked for clarity.

“Yes.”

“Not really, to be honest. I figure that when he’s king, he’ll set things up the way he likes and give me something to do.”

“The King’s brother aids him now, right?”

“Uncle Kalten? Oh, yes, they do everything together. They even look alike, which is funny. Yeah, he runs the army, pretty much.”

“Would you do that?”

“Who knows?” Philion said after a pause. “Still, maybe this’ll all work out nicely someday. I’ll be Uncle Kalten, and you can be the vizier.”

This notion surprised Renent. He had not thought of himself as anything but a future Becoptonite official. The role of vizier—the highest-ranking non-royal member of the King’s court—seemed farfetched.

Renent diplomatically laughed a bit.

“Of course, I’m not offering it to you,” Philion said jovially but with a touch of seriousness. “But, who knows. It could happen someday.”

The prince leaned back again with his knuckles buffering his head from the rock. They discussed other topics, and Philion proposed they practice spear throwing. The boys walked to the equipment they had cast down at their arrival. Each threw a spear simultaneously, competing to see whose flew straighter and farther. Philion, as Renent anticipated, typically won. As the sun descended in late afternoon, they packed and started for Becopton.

 

◙ ◙ ◙

 

Soon, Philion and Renent reached the road leading down to the northern gate. They came upon a commotion. A wagon was coming from the city as a group stood in an agitated huddle. The boys approached to see two bloodied men lying on the ground as a third sat nearby, clasping his leg and rocking in pain. Some bystanders wrapped the wounds or beckoned the wagon as it pulled up. A few surrounded the third man, listening to him.

“I’ve no idea what happened,” he panted. “None. We went along, and then suddenly off she went. We went a tumbling.”

The accent was unmistakable to Renent. He was a Southerner.

Philion stopped alongside a middle-aged man standing nearby.

“What’s going on here?” asked the prince.

“These men had some sort of accident,” he offered. “They were coming from Baldenac”—one of the Valley cities northward—“and their horse bolted from the wagon. Sent them flying. We want to get them into the city.”

Renent stopped his horse behind Philion as the prince said, “need help?”

“Don’t know. We found them lying around their wagon, which is shattered behind those trees,” he said, pointing up the road. “We carried them, but they’re too much with our other luggage,” he added, nodding to parcels laid nearby. “So we sent that guy in to fetch his wagon.”

As the man spoke, the driver got out. People began hoisting the victims on board.

“Are you Becoptonites?” Renent called out to the man.

“I am. Don’t know about everyone.”

The man squinted.

“Ah, wait, you’re the councilman’s son, aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“Very good. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise. By Qualiae, you’re a good man for this.”

Renent’s last comment seemed odd to say to an older person, but he could think of nothing better.

The man grunted humbly.

Soon the wagon rolled toward the city, and everyone gathered their belongings and disbursed. The boys rode past the wagon to the northern gate, and Renent told the gate guards in his father’s name to find a doctor for the incoming injured. The two proceeded into the city.

“There’s mercy on the highways,” Philion commented. “That’s good. That could’ve turned into something much worse for everyone.”
Renent agreed. Jaipnites still crossed the Liantin, and Lord Crailis’s policy was to protect them. However, some acted otherwise, and Renent understood that the Southern lords complained bitterly about this. He remembered his episode at Gray Stone, which, thankfully, never caused a riot. He had not spoken of it, even to his father. This silence panged his conscience, but he had learned his lesson. Times were too tense for his own contribution to the conflict.
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