Torin sighed and thought for a moment. “I think the best time to do this teaching will be when the last of the Star House returns from the trails. Varin of the Timber Wolf clan will return two weeks before the autumnal equinox, barring any problems.” He looked up, curious. “What moved you to visit the caves?”
Fors shrugged. “Curiosity. As a Star Man I know much more about the world outside the Eyrie than I do the inside. I thought it would be…useful knowledge.”
Torin eyed him expectantly. “And…?”
Fors sighed. “Jarl has instructed me to educate myself on the inner workings of the tribe. For what purpose I do not know.”
The room was silent. Torin gazed at the wall, his lips pursed and very deep in thought. After a time, he asked, “What else did Jarl share with you?
Fors retold the conversation with Jarl. As he spoke, the Star Captain continued to stare at the wall, nodding from time to time. Completing his recollection, Fors asked, “Has Jarl discussed any of this with you?”
Focus returned to Torin’s eyes and his gaze returned to Fors. “The Guardian and I had a long discussion in the days prior to your return. To me has he also given…instructions. I cannot share with you all he told me as he has taken me into his confidence.” Noting Fors’ look of frustration, he leaned forward and continued. “Fors, you will be called upon to make some momentous decisions in the months ahead, decisions that carry with them the future of the Eyrie. As daunting as this must sound to you, know that others have come to trust your wisdom and your courage. You must trust them as well.” He hesitated. “I can say no more of this…for now.”
• * * * * *
Several days later, Fors was busily engaged training novices in the art of sword fighting. The current collection of novices were typical, some gifted, some not, some eager, some stubborn. The training was hard work, but Fors was enjoying himself immensely all the same. The problem with school, he mused, was finding usefulness in the subjects taught. For these novices, their skill with a blade and bow would put meat on their fires and keep them alive in the inevitable combat awaiting them on the trails.
Critically, he observed two of the novices somewhat clumsily sparring with training swords, carrying the same heft as the real thing, but without the razor-sharp edges on the blade and tip. “Demas, you cannot thrust in that manner. If you fail to turn your shoulders, you open up your belly to a counter-thrust. Never give your enemy a wide target.” The youngster nodded and began to apply Fors’ instruction. They sparred for a few moments, then Fors leaped forward, catching Demas’ opponent by surprise. Grasping the boy’s shoulders, Fors easily spun him to the ground, the sword clattering to the ground beside him.
The boy looked up at the Star Man in shocked surprise and quick anger. With the novices attention riveted upon him, Fors delivered the lesson:
“Star Men almost always fight alone. Your enemies almost always do not. If you allow your attention to be buried by the fight, you will never see the killing thrust that enters your back.” He paused for effect. “Always know your surroundings.”
Looking carefully at their faces, he saw comprehension come to their eyes. Lesson embraced.
Fors glanced at the sun briefly and announced, “Please return to the Star House for your mapping class.”
He watched as the youngsters, obviously fatigued, filed out of the meadow. Fors stayed to ensure nothing had been left behind, then followed the students back to the Star House. The sun was just past its zenith but despite the clear sky, the day was noticeably cooler than when he had returned to the Eyrie. He loved the autumn season and his spirit was buoyed by what was certainly a harbinger of that time. As he walked, he remained deep in thought, planning his lesson for the next day. So preoccupied was he that he very nearly walked right past Wenna, who was waiting alongside the path.
Smiling, she remarked, “First you teach them to know their surroundings, then you almost walk right past me, so deep in thought. What if I had been a Beast Thing?”
Fors grinned, embarrassed, then reached out to give her a welcoming embrace, which she returned with warmth. “You are far lovelier than a Beast Thing.”
Her eyebrows raised, “I should hope so.” They walked silently for a time, then she asked, “Fors, can you come to my house for dinner this night?”
Fors looked at her somewhat surprised. “I would enjoy that very much. Is your son ready for this?”
“Funny you should ask. It was his idea. You were right in one sense. Kreston does have concern for his mother’s happiness.” She slowed and put a cautionary hand on his arm. “But know that you will be measured this night. Stephen remains a hero to him and no man, not even another Star Man will ever replace that.”
Once his duties had been discharged, Fors returned to his house and prepared himself. In all his years of diplomacy, he had often had to prepare himself for conferences and ceremonies where even a piece of clothing out of place could cause great offense. But as he dressed, he found himself affected by a strong sense of apprehension. He repeatedly counseled himself that Kreston was only a boy, not a tribal chief or warrior. But even with that attempt at self-assurance, he found himself surprising nervous as he strode down the Main Path to the Hawk Clan circle. In no time at all, he found himself at the front door. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door. After a moment, the door opened. Standing before Fors was a young man, perhaps 15 or so. His dark brown hair was close-cropped and topped a face that was square-shaped with a strong chin. He was the living reflection of his father, the same resolute set to the jaw, and eyes glowing with intelligence. He was thin, in the way of adolescents, but Fors could see that the boy’s shoulders were already beginning to broaden. Remembering Kreston’s status in this house, Fors stood straight, almost at attention. “Greetings to you and the members of this house. I have come in response to your gracious and generous invitation.”
The boy’s eyes widened ever so slightly, but he responded in a steady voice according to tradition. “Welcome. To you we extend the warmth of the hearth and the bounty of our table. Enter in peace.”
Fors nodded in response. Once the door was closed, Fors was engulfed with the aromas of good food. Putting that distraction firmly aside, he extended his hand to Kreston, who extended his in turn, after only a small hesitation. Rather than a regular handshake, Fors gripped the young boy with the warrior’s clasp, gripping his forearm just below the elbow. That took him by surprise, Fors noted, but he returned the gesture with just a hint of a pleased smile.
Careful to keep even a hint of condescension from his tone, Fors said, “I am honored to meet the man of this house.”
This time, a genuine smile. “The honor is mine, Star Man.”
Quick, familiar steps, then a woman’s voice: “All right, you two; enough ceremony. This is not the Star House.”
Fors smiled, “Good evening! It is good to see you again.”
She smiled, a sunburst in the gathering dusk. “And you as well.” She motioned with her arm. “Come sit by the fire. I still have a few tasks to finish.”
The furnishings were old, but extremely well-made. Fors remembered Stephen had been a skilled craftsman, a magician with his hands. He picked out a seat, not the biggest or smallest, and sat. Kreston lowered himself to a well-worn spot on the hearth, Fors sensing that it was his favorite spot in that room. After a few awkward moments of silence, Kreston asked, “Are your wounds healing?”
“Yes, thanks in large part to the skills of your mother. The Eyrie is very fortunate to have someone as skilled as she.”
The boy hesitated, then spoke, the words pouring out in a rush. “My father spoke of you. He said that at first, he did not like you. But as time went on, he said he gained great respect for you. He called you, “a Star Man of great vision.”
Fors bowed his head slightly. “Stephen was a good man, a skilled and wise explorer. I always valued his insight; and his friendship.”
Silence ensued as the two regarded each other. After a moment, Fors asked, “What is your desire for the future?”
Kreston’s head came up, his eyes glowing with pride. “Like you, I am a Star Man’s son. I wish to follow my father’s legacy.”