Part II - Our Common Grave :: 29
Singing. He heard singing.
She was singing again.
Cyrus Ferweard, the youngest offspring and only son of Master Heald Ferweard, crept closer to the sound he was hearing. The melodious song was calling to him and he was obeying.
The tree was old and sturdy, much like his father, and budged not when interfered with. Heald Ferweard's strong, persistent nature had netted him the top position in the Cyneweard, the Emperor's personal family guard. He and his wife Nevelle were close to the Emperor's families, both the public and private ones.
Up Cyrus climbed, side-glancing every few branches to see if he was high enough to see over the large stone wall that separated his family's garden from the one next to theirs. Slowly, inch by inch, the song grew louder, the wall lower.
He caught glimpse of flowing auburn hair, small triangular ears, and a smooth pale brow. Large hazel eyes. Dainty, thin nose. Full lips. Narrow chin. She was beautiful, twirling and singing in a blue and white dress, the hem blooming out like a flower in mid-spring. He felt a smile turning up the corners of his mouth.
The song was low and sorrowful and it tugged at him in ways he had never felt music do to him before. There was meaning behind this song. A yearning. It made him want to jump the wall and go to her. To help her get over what sadness could be troubling her. But he couldn't. She was beautiful. She was radiant. She was a half breed.
Half breeds were about as welcome in the Capitol City as a marauding army of Northern tribal warriors. What she was doing in a nobles garden should have made him feel more nervous. Instead, he was further entranced by her presence. He had never seen a half breed before, a Hume and Animas mix. Who could this young girl be? She looked only a few months younger than himself.
Should he? Should he jump the wall and find out? He could make that jump. He knew how to land from a tall height. His father had taught him that ages ago after a particularly nasty fall from the roof of their home had required two Chamatri healers to correct.
Cyrus jerked his head to the side. His mother was standing at the patio entrance, calling him.
"Cyrus, are you out here?"
He frowned and did not answer. Today was his ninth birthday, the day when he would be paired with a Manipulator from one of the noble's families to begin his formal Cyneweard preparation. He had no choice in the matter. As his father had told him the day previous, "You are a Ferweard, born to give your life for your Emperor."
Cyrus liked the Manipulators enough, he guessed. He didn't really understand what they did or what their rank meant in the big picture for the Cyneweard. Some of them could be quite entertaining, especially for young boys. Emmet Burk, his favorite Manipulator to be around, always joked that all Manipulator's did was sit around and listen and drink ale. He really hoped Emmet would be his mentor.
Other Manipulators were a bit more serious. The Manipulator for the Emperor was one such ninny. He was known as Uncle Lott to the Emperor's children but Cyrus always called him by his surname.
"Cyrus, dear, please come in. Your mentor is here!"
The singing had stopped. Cyrus pivoted his head, trying to get a look at the girl again, but saw an empty garden instead. He growled and called out to his mother.
"Here, in the tree. I'm coming down."
"What were you doing in there?"
She laughed at him. The laugh never reached her eyes and her lack of reflexive eyes always unnerved him. They were dark brown and never seemed to catch the sunlight like his father's. He always asked her where the sparkle was and she'd always reply that she had given it to him the day he was born. Cyrus wanted to probe deeper but he was always shut down.
"One day," she always promised him. "Perhaps one day I will tell you my war story."
After this exchange he had made a habit of asking everyone about their war story and got nothing but cold looks and sideways glances. Adults were weird. Why couldn't they ever answer any questions?
"Come my sweet, he is waiting in the parlor."
She took him by the hand and walked him into the large kitchen, through the velvet-floored dining area, and into the lounging area. Uncle Lott sat waiting for him, his father standing beside the easy chair beside the Manipulator.
"Cyrus," began his father in a deep, commanding voice. "Today, you are nine and must begin your preparation for the Cyneweard crucible."
Cyrus nodded. His father was dressed in full Cyneweard uniform. Red overcoat with wide, square shoulders, black crossed belt, gold-buckled black leather waistbelt, black slacks, and glistening leather boots. He was only missing the slouching black beret, complete with Imperial seal in purple and gold. That was tucked under his left arm.
"This is a great responsibility and honor. Your mentor will be this man sitting here."
"Uncle Lott," Cyrus said, nodding to the man. He was a little older than his own father, blond but graying hair slicked back, square jaw and thin lips. His blue eyes bulged at the name he had been called. He stood quickly, his black tunic and gray pants rustling violently against the plush fabric of the chair.
"That is not my name to you, boy."
Cyrus looked to his father, whose handsome features were starting to distort with anger. "He is your mentor now, Cyrus. You must call him by his proper rank and name."
Lott nodded. "You must never call me Uncle Lott again, young Ferweard. From this day forth, you will call me Master Parton."
Cyrus nodded and swallowed.