“Fear the bull from the front, the horse from the rear, and the man from all sides.”
-- Dei's legendary warning to Gyerus, first king of Old Gyersheld
A shimmer of dust floated through the stables, illuminated into motes of gold by the grasping fingers of the sun. Cracks and holes in the wood of the walls allowed the frail fingers to extend in, reaching warmly to caress all that passed through them.
Nolfavrael paid no attention to the shafts of light, his mind roaming in and about and without the stable. His hands clutched a slippery rag, soaked in oils and ointments. He rubbed it across the leather of Gleimir’s saddle, wrist moving in subtle circles. It was a job soon to be reserved for Fen, but he was absent, his appointment as squire not yet in effect. The knight didn’t mind; the menial task was relaxing, comforting, and reminded him of the times when he was in Fen’s place: squire to a knight.
A gentle breeze blew into the stable, playfully plucking bits of straw and dust from the ground, sending both pin wheeling through the shining stripes of sunlight. The wind also lifted the tight curls atop Nolfavrael’s head and tugged at those huddling at his neck.
The knight heaved a sigh.
Scents from the stable tickled at his nose and his memories, memories stirred further by the sights and sounds and sensations about him.
“Nolfavrael,” he whispered to me, his voice an echo of the invisible winds dancing about him. He smiled as the syllables spilled from his lips, savouring each one.
“You can call me Nolf, Vaun,” I interrupted, my brow beaded with sweat and hands glistening with the shine of oils and lacquers. “There are few else who can.”
“No, I have enough privileges piled up from you, Nolfavrael.” Vaun once again pronounced my name with intense purpose. I gave him only a sigh as a response, though I knew by the smile cracking his stoic façade that he was enjoying his part as the tease: verbally and physically.
The breeze continued its journey through the stable, slowing only to whisper through Nolfavrael’s hair, into his clothing, and beside his ears. The wind spoke to him, saying a thousand things that words could never express.
“I’ve told you how it works, Nolfavrael, and you’ve been instructed in the basis of its use at the Academy,” Vaun laughed, though he never tired of telling me the source of his own strengths. I knew this, so I implored further.
“I know, but I’m still curious.”
“You’re curious about everything you can’t control,” he snickered back before answering. “Well as you know, magic stems from strong emotions, and is a display of those emotions made almost material. Some of us draw from hatred, fervour, narcissism or depression.”
“Or love,” I tossed in, casually.
The breeze picked up a little, swirling about the stable in a circular fashion.
“Yes,” Vaun nodded, still pensive. “Love is another strong emotion that we can draw from.” His eyes seemed to wander about the stable at that point, looking everywhere but at me.
So I took a risk, I took a few steps closer to him. His eyes trailed down from the rafters, attention caught by my slow movements and musky scent.
“Do draw from,” I blurted, rather bluntly.
“Love is another strong emotion that you do draw from, Vaun.”
I left it at that, our silence sustained by the renewing of the swirling wind, us at the epicentre.
Roxe whinnied from the pen beside Gleimir’s, Fen’s horse wanting attention. With a grunt, Nolfavrael raised himself from the low stool, usually reserved for those without the needed height to mount their horse.
“If you can’t mount it, why try and ride it?” the knight muttered. “There’re asses about for a reason.”
He picked up a brush from a small rack nailed to the wall as he sauntered towards Roxe, Gleimir’s saddle having been finished long ago. The worn wood felt right in his hand, like the hilt of a trusted weapon. A quick glance to his side confirmed that his scabbard was strapped about his waist, though only the dagger lay sheathed. Its companion, the sword, was still in Nolfavrael’s quarters, unnecessary for a simple trip to the stables.
But with the prior attempt at a royal assassination, the dagger still rode at the knight’s hip.
The chestnut gelding whinnied again, louder than before.
“Shuttup, Roxe,” Nolfavrael groaned. “You could learn to exercise silence, and Fen, too.”
The horse did cease its low whines, though the cause was more likely the relieving scratches from Nolfavrael’s fingers than his words. His fingers traced invisible patterns across the gelding’s coat, moving from behind the ears to the sides of his neck and eventually the expansive flank, a field of warm brown.
Nolfavrael’s eyes closed, his hands moving on whims of their own, in ways that felt somehow right.
“It’s just that gut feeling, Vaun,” I said softly, surprised at the magician’s questions. “There are few things in the world that feel right, and I think I’ve found one of them.”
“But how can you be sure that your right is the same as my right, or someone else’s right?” he asked, sending me spinning into deeper confusion.
I was speechless.
“And I still don’t have an answer to your question, old friend,” Nolfavrael whispered under his breath, speaking to no-one but himself.
A third soft whinny erupted from Roxe’s lungs, the knight’s fingers now replaced by the firm bristles of the brush. With smooth strokes, Nolfavrael dragged the brush down the hide of the horse, shaking off dust and hairs when the fine bristles became chocked.
Footfalls echoed from outside the stable, followed closely by the clip of hooves across the packed earth. Nolfavrael looked up, catching sight of a troupe of guards marching outside the stable doors. The knight was ready to return to his task, as marching guards were no real cause for alarm, before another sight caught his eyes: Guardmaidens.
A pair of them passed by the door, with the Queen on a horse behind them. Another pair marched behind her, followed by yet another set of guards.
“She’s gotten nowhere on her own two feet,” Nolfavrael spat, knowing that only the steeds in the stable could hear him.
The steady pounding of the booted feet of the guards and Guardmaidens as well as the shod hooves of the horse faded out of earshot, leaving Nolfavrael completely alone at the stables once more. He remained silent with his task, keeping himself busy with those jobs he would never have to complete again. Their passing to Fen would be bittersweet, though their absence might help bury some memories.
Nolfavrael closed his eyes again: a knight forbidding himself the comforts of shed tears.