Chapter Three- Minstrels and Mallards
Slamming the door behind her, Aluitte darted to her loft where she flung off her hat and pants. After opening her geometry book to the page she had last left off, Aluitte took a brush and brushed her hair clean of tangles and burs while skimming the reading as fast as her eyes would allow. Her father would be back soon, and she needed to give him as few reasons to be mad at her as possible.
Just as Aluitte had finished reading page one hundred and fourteen, she heard the door open slowly and close with a soft thud. She heard her father shuffle to the fireplace where he started a fire. He did not hum to himself, he did not whistle and he did not mumble. He didn't even huff in frustration or in anger. Usually Aluitte's father made some sort of noise, even when he was trying to ignore her or was mourning. Now, he was silent.
Eventually Aluitte had to lean over the edge of the railing and ask her father when dinner would be ready. Even then, Aluitte's father seemed to not respond, only to nod his head and stare into space as if completely absorbed in its absence. Finally though he answered in a weak voice that they would be having potatoes soon.
Aluitte was concerned now that something terrible had happened while she was playing with Donner. He couldn't possibly be so mad at her that he'd go numb, could he? Aluitte decided not to question herself any longer and just go down and ask him for herself. She sat in the chair next to his and smiled. Her father faked a smile back.
"Papa, what's wrong?" she asked. "Are you mad at me?'
Her father snapped awake suddenly. "Mad? Mad for what?"
"For going to play really late before reading my geometry book," she said, surprised that it wasn't the cause of his sudden lapse into nothingness.
"No, I'm not mad," he said in a weak voice as he returned back into a petrified ghost. "Not mad."
"Then what's wrong?" she asked, scared and exasperated of her father's strange behavior.
"It's nothing." He began to explain why she didn't need to know before noticing her concerned eyes. He couldn't keep this sort of thing from his daughter. "It is something," he eventually corrected. "It is a very big something."
"What is something?" Aluitte asked, beginning to get impatient.
"War sweetheart," he answered with a sigh. "A war has started. Remember Prince Kotai from Minstrel and the Mallard?"
Aluitte nodded. Everyone knew the story of Minstrel and the Mallard. Once upon a time a great king died, leaving the kingdom to his three sons, splitting the kingdom in three sections. All was peace until greedy Prince Kotai, the eldest of them all, decided he wanted to rule the entire kingdom. He waged war against his brothers, who fought bravely to stop his tyranny. Only Prince Lockre, the cleverest and youngest of the three, had the wits to defeat Kotai. Lockre asked his best friend, the minstrel, to mimic the call of a mallard duck.
While the two youngest brothers battled the vast armies of Kotai with their own feeble armies of peaceful farmers, the minstrel slowly gained the ability to communicate with the mallard duck, and eventually with all the animals, with his powerful music. The war lasted three years before Lockre called on the minstrel to call on the mallard to call on all of the wild beasts, that they may take Prince Kotai into the air and far away to be destroyed by the paws of a lion. As was asked, a flock of birds, led by the mallard, took Kotai from his saddle one day, and the war of the three brothers ended with Prince Kotai's doom.
Of course Aluitte had no idea what the story had to do with the war.
"Aluitte, listen to me," her father ordered, suddenly grave. "There is no such thing as animal-talking music, but there is such a thing as tyranny. It has happened many times before, and it has just started. A great lord from the east has come with armies to claim Hyelcin for his own. He is a very powerful man whose only goal in life is to become more powerful. He is, as word goes, also very dangerous."
Aluitte couldn't really comprehend what she was hearing, but it made her scared anyway. "Who is he? Will we have a three-year war? Will we have a new king?"
Aluitte's father looked back into the distance, squinting his eyes as he usually did. "No, I'm very certain King Neblour will put up a fight. That's what worries me though. How much of a sacrifice is King Neblour willing to make in order to keep his title and his land?"
"I don't know," Aluitte responded, not realizing that what he had asked was meant to be rhetorical. "What do we do then?"
Her father only shook his head and stared at the ceiling. "We hope the war doesn't touch us." He looked back down to his little girl and saw the fear in her small hazel eyes. He smiled then, and all seriousness was wiped away. "But that won't be for a long time," he reassured. "I said potatoes, didn't I?"