The Cyneweard

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Part II - Our Common Grave :: 30

Singing. He heard singing.

She was singing again.

It had been a rough day. Cyrus leaned his head against the garden wall, closed his eyes, and tried to let the past few weeks wash away in the waning sunlight.

He was only a few turns of the moon away from the crucible, the first major hurdle in his quest to become a Cyneweard. The thirty five eligible noble boys would spend three weeks in the fields outside of Mouth Hewn, competing in various athletic and mental contests. The top twelve would be allowed to move forward in their training. The rest would be sent back home, disgraces to their family names.

Parton was ensuring that Cyrus was ready. Daily hikes between the Capitol City and the farming villages, sword training, slugthrower practice, history revision, and what Parton called his "common sense" initiative. This involved waking Cyrus at odd hours of the night, pulling a burlap sack over his head, and taking him to an unfamiliar location in the capital city and leaving him.

"Half of the crucible tests your mental and physical ability to adapt and survive. I speak from experience when I say that doing this is the most difficult task someone can face when on their own. You're going to get first hand experience before you face it in the crucible."

This was his lecture every time he was left somewhere, bag on his head, hands tied. Cyrus had failed to even get the rope off of his wrists the first time and was found by a begging feline a half day after his drop off.

Now he could shake just about any non-metal restraint from his hands. He had also learned how to ask the right questions without raising suspicion. Had anyone known he was a noble child lost in an unfamiliar section of the Capitol City, Parton and his parents could be fined or worse. On this most recent journey, he had been dropped and left in the poorest section of the Market district, right in the shadow of the Machine.

He had held up twice by dagger-holding brigands, having been sliced at by one and actually sliced across the cheek by the other. In both situations, he had decided to run. He was not armed and did not need to draw attention to himself. Running was not an issue for him; neither was climbing, swimming, or jumping. Parton had made sure the last two years had been full of heavy body training. Wiry muscle had replaced his youthful softness and his features hardening earlier than most boys his age.

He sucked air in as if it were cool nourishing water. Upon making it back into the walls of the Palace Complex, he had bolted at his peak speed to his home. He got many odd looks, as he usually did on the return from one of these "common sense" exercises; he never stopped to explain. Now, he was home, his eyes closed, his heart slowing its pounding against his rib cage, his ears warming as the her sorrowful song filled him with yearning.

How long had it been since she sang last? A month? Two? His tasks at hand kept him from his former daily dalliances to the garden to hear her perform. Despite being hungry, tired, and mentally and physically exhausted, he was determined to finally hear her song through to its end.

The song had become his drive and ambition. It played in his head whenever he was starting to doubt himself as he studied, trained, and sharpened his common sense skills. It linked him to a time before the harshness of crucible prep, to a time when climbing a tree was something he wanted to do rather than something he had to do.

Just as he was about to drift off to a somber slumber, the singing abruptly stopped. He opened his eyes and stared up at the darkening sky. Alchemical lighting, a recent technology produced at the machine, was already lit around the garden and along the wall.

With an audible grunt he stood up from the bench and turned around, staring at the wall. He leaned forward and listened but only heard his now steady heartbeat.

"Are you over there?" came a soft, tuneful voice from the opposite side of the wall.

Cyrus' eyes went wide and he moved closer. "Hello?" he asked the stones.

"Hello," they replied, punctuating it with a giggle.

He tried to find something to say, something funny or smart, but found himself lacking in words. This was not a life or death situation; he had not a clue on how to approach this.

"How are you?"

"Tired," he replied in reflex, not minding his own hammering heart.

"What's your name?"

"Cyrus," he whispered, nose almost touching the wall.

"Say again?" she asked, voice louder.

"Cyrus," he repeated.

"Ah. I'm Brisa."

"Beautiful name," he responded. It was a name with history, one he had studied in his training. Brisa, the first priest and warrior of Chamatri, the mother god of all.

"My mother named me," she replied.

"Smart lady," he said.

She laughed. "I agree. Who named you?"

"My father," he replied, a frown pulling at his lips. "One of our great ancestors from battles long ago."

"Ah," replied Brisa. "Tradition is strong in your family?"

"It's the only thing that seems to matter," he replied with a sigh.

She returned the sigh. "I understand that. I wish tradition would go away. We need new ones."

It was his turn to laugh. "I'm completely agree."

"It's getting dark," she said.

"Yeah."

"I should be reutrning to my nanny. She will be worried."

It was now or never. "Can I come over the wall?"

Silence.

"Are you still there?"

"Y-yes," she replied. "I cannot advise you to do that."

"Why?" he asked, a hand already searching for a grip on the side of the large tree.

"You'd get in trouble. As would I."

"Ah," he said, hand dropping. "And if I come over anyway?"

"You better be quick."

He grinned and began climbing the tree.

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