It took four moons to reach the sea, and in that time, Ga’briyel had to battle several Azazil, numerous Daitya, four Dirack, twelve Takosa, eight Sarpa--who did not only live in swamps, it turned out--and hundreds of Luten, Sisuvu, and Idajo. By the time he reached Mahasa, he was exhausted, but there was one bright spot in that long, tedious journey. Adama had lived up to his father’s expectations, and, although he was only fourteen moons old, he was riding Klyar as if he were born to do so. He was also talking as if he were much older than he was, carrying on conversations with his parents as he had done in Ga’briyel’s mind for several moons after his birth.
There were several villages through which they rode where Ga’briyel and Sophyra were given distasteful glares when adults saw the tiny boy riding alone on the large bay, but while Sophyra took each look to heart, Ga’briyel ignored them completely. He could not ignore Adama’s innocent question the first time it happened, however.
“Baba, why is everyone so angry?”
“What do you mean, my son?”
“When we enter a town, people stare at me as if they are angry.”
Ga’briyel smiled. “They are not used to seeing such a small boy riding alone without support. They do not understand that you are not like other boys, Adama, and they disapprove of what they do not understand.”
“I could make them understand, Baba. May I try, please?”
With a shrug, Ga’briyel acquiesced. “You may try, Adama, but I do not believe you will have much success.”
They had stopped at the first inn they had come to, having been in the saddle and sleeping on the ground for the past four days and nights, and Ga’briyel dropped from his saddle, helped Adama and Sophyra from theirs, tied their horses to the hitching post, and held tightly to his son’s hand as they walked into the inn. Sophyra followed them, and Ga’briyel could feel her worry slithering around him.
“Do not worry, my heart, nothing will happen. I will make sure of it.”
She stepped up and took his other hand. “Nevertheless, my love, I do worry. Until Adama is older, people will not understand.”
“Probably not, Sophyra, but I must let him try. Perhaps if he can make people here understand, word will spread, and there will be fewer angry villagers and townspeople.” Ga’briyel put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close as they entered the inn.
As expected, several of the men and women in the main room of the inn turned toward the family with glares. Adama squeezed his father’s hand and asked, “Now, Baba?”
“Yes, Adama, but stay close to me. I do not know if you can feel pain, but I do not want to find out. You are different from other children, and people tend to be scared of things that are different. I do not wish for them to harm you.”
His son smiled up at him, dropped his hand, and stepped forward a pace. “Excuse me, please, everyone,” he said in his small voice, but he was standing straight and confident, and everyone in the inn turned to stare at him, and Ga’briyel could indeed feel the fear flowing off several of them. He could also feel their curiosity surrounding him, and it was so strong, he shuddered. Sophyra noticed and wrapped her arm around his waist.
“My name is Adama Mistri el’Ga’briyel,” Adama continued, his tiny hands clasped in front of his waist. “I am the son of Ga’briyel and Sophyra Mistri, and I am Anmah, like my parents. I started to walk when I was eight moons old, learned to ride a horse at ten moons old, and learned to talk at eleven moons old. I am not a normal boy, but that is because of who my father is.” Ga’briyel stepped forward, placed his hand on his son’s shoulder, and when Adama looked up at him, he shook his head almost imperceptibly. Adama nodded just as subtly and turned back to the people. “If you have any questions or concerns, I would be more than willing to answer them for you, but please do not be angry with my parents for what you see as irresponsible behavior. I have been riding Klyar for four moons, and my horse and I have a connection that allows me to control him easily.” He stepped back until he was against Ga’briyel’s legs and watched the people in the inn.
Their eyes were wide, and several of their mouths had dropped, but one man stood, knelt before the boy, and asked, “Anmah are real, little one?”
“Yes, sir, we are real.” Adama cocked his head. “Is there doubt about that on Duniya?”
The man nodded. “Very much doubt, little one. Is it true that Anmah cannot die?”
“No, sir. Anmah can die, but we will live again at first light of the next day.” Adama frowned. “That is not true for me, though. I cannot die.” He was about to say more, but Ga’briyel’s hand tightened on his shoulder, and he clamped his mouth shut.
“Why can you not die, little one?”
“I do not know why yet. Yisu has not told me.”
The man’s eyes went wide. “Yisu? The Creator speaks to you?”
Adama nodded. “Often.”
“How does He speak to you?”
“In my dreams, usually. Once or twice He has spoken to me while I was awake, but that was when I was much younger.”
The man chuckled. “Much younger? How old are you now?”
“Fourteen moons, sir.”
“Amazing. So young, so intelligent, and so polite. You are a credit to your parents, little one.”
Adama stared at the man for a moment and then asked, “Thank you, sir. Are you scared of me, sir?”
“Scared, no. In awe of you, yes.”
From there, word had in fact spread from that town all the way to the Samudra Sea because of the man who had spoken to Adama. He was a merchant on his way to Mahasa, so there were no more glares, but there were many more questions. By the time Ga’briyel and his family reached Mahasa, the Sainika could feel his son’s frustration, and he pulled Kumar close to Klyar, rested his hand on his son’s head, and whispered, “Such is the life of someone different, Adama. Temper your frustration, and know that it will not change anytime soon.”
“Yes, Baba.” Adama sighed heavily. “I will do my best.”
“That is all I can ask for, my son.”
Ga’briyel led his family into the city, past the guards in red and white checking each and every person entering and leaving the city, and they made their way through the crowded streets, their horses’ hooves ringing on the cobblestones, until they reached the seventh inn on the main road. Ga’briyel had rejected the first six because of the look of the place, the people hanging around outside, or just because of a feeling he had about them. This inn, however, was clean, had no one lounging about in front of it, and the Sainika got no ill sensations from it. He looked up and saw the name on the board creaking in the slight breeze that had picked up: The Weeping Payara. A beautifully rendered painting of a bird sobbing was underneath the pristine white lettering, and Ga’briyel said, “We will stay here for now.”
“For now, my love?” Sophyra asked softly.
Nodding, Ga’briyel dismounted and helped his family down. “I do not wish to stay at any one inn for too long. There are at least three daemons in this city, not to mention the Daitya and Azazil they will undoubtedly have as their retainers, and I will not risk your life, my heart. We will change inns every few days.” He frowned deeply. “Perhaps in that way I can keep you safe, Sophyra.”
She said nothing but only took his hand and leaned against his shoulder. He picked up Adama and held him close. His son’s arms went around his neck, and the boy rested his head on his father’s shoulder. “Do not worry, Baba,” he said softly. “Nothing will happen to us here. We can stay here for our entire stay in Mahasa.”
“How do you know this, Adama?”
The boy shrugged and tightened his grip. “The same way you know things, Baba. I just do.”
With a sigh, Ga’briyel guided his wife through the front door of the inn, and when he saw the innkeeper standing behind the bar, he knew that Adama was right. The man was dressed in all white, from his shirt to his shoes, and he smiled when the Sainika and his family walked into the main room. Ga’briyel smiled back, walked to the bar, let go of Sophyra, and held out his hand.
“May I know your name, Debaduta?” he asked quietly.
“Debaduta, Sainika? You must be mistaken,” the man said, but his smile never faded. He took Ga’briyel’s forearm in his hand, and the two men stared at each other for several moments before releasing each other. “My name is Luija, and you are more than welcome here, Ga’briyel Mistri. I was hoping you would make your way here and not stop at an inn closer to the gates.”
Ga’briyel shrugged, much as Adama had minutes before, and said, “It was the first inn I felt comfortable with. Now I know why.”
Luija looked at Sophyra, and his smile grew even larger. “Sophyra Mistri, it is indeed a pleasure to meet you as well. There is much talk among us about you and your family.” His gaze turned toward Adama, who had turned his head to look at the man. “And this is Adama Mistri, the first male priest of Yisu in so many years. It is a great pleasure to meet you, Adama,” and to Ga’briyel’s surprise, the innkeeper bowed to the family. “You are all welcome in my inn, and please know that there is protection laid on this place, so you have nothing to fear while you are here.” Luija frowned. “When you leave, however, there is much to fear.” He looked at Ga’briyel. “You know of the daemons?”
“I do. I was told three. Is that still true?”
“It is, but they know you are here, and they will block your ability to sense them. I will do my best to help you find them, but I am at risk if I leave this building, as well. I do not wish to be banished, and so I generally stay here. They know of me, of course, but there is nothing they can do about it.” Luija came around the bar, gestured over his shoulder, and walked toward the hallway that led off to the right of the main room. “I assume you would prefer a ground-level room, Sainika?”
Ga’briyel did not move. “Why would you assume that, Debaduta?”
The man smiled as he turned to face his newest boarders. “Stairs can slow you down if you need to leave the inn quickly, Sainika.”
“Nevertheless, I would prefer a room above ground. Stairs may slow me down a bit, but I do not want anyone to be able to reach our room while we sleep. I will not risk my family like that, Luija. They are my life, and if I lose them, I cannot be responsible for what will happen.”
Luija frowned at that last statement, but he moved toward the stairs. “Very well, Ga’briyel. We have three floors. Would you prefer a room on the top floor?”
Ga’briyel just nodded, and he and his family followed the Debaduta up two flights of stairs. The Sainika went into each room, determined its defensibility, and finally chose a room that faced the back of the inn, situated in the middle of the hallway. “No offense, Luija, but one daemon told me they are immune to magic, and he proved it to me just before I killed him. I do not trust to protection spells against them. I trust to my ability to kill them.”
Luija was leaning against the doorframe, and he bowed his head respectfully. “No offense taken, Ga’briyel. If this is the room you want, you may have it.” The room had two beds, both covered with red and white blankets, a single window between them with red and white striped curtains, and one chest of drawers next to the door with a basin and pitcher on top. “Know, however, that the protection laid on this inn is from Yisu himself. The daemons would never be able to breach it. No Hellspawn can. The protection would burn them to ashes the instant they tried, and they know it. They shun my inn as much as they shun the temples of Yisu.” He gestured down the stairs. “There is a large bathing room at the end of the hallway off the main room, and I will have meals ready for you in about an hour, Sainika.” He bowed again. “Please relax while you are here. I have a feeling you need to do that more.”
With a nod from Ga’briyel, the Debaduta left the room, shutting the door behind him. Sophyra stepped up to her husband, wrapped her arms around him, and rested her head on his chest. “Listen to him, Ga’briyel. You are too tense. Please try to relax knowing that Yisu Himself is protecting us.”
He hugged her tightly and sighed. “I will try, my heart, but it will be difficult knowing that every moment we step foot from this inn, I could lose you. There are things here that can kill you, Sophyra. Kill you so that you will not return.” He caught his breath as the first tear crept down his cheek. “I will not survive if that happens, my heart. You know this.”
“You must survive, Baba,” Adama said, and Ga’briyel looked at his son, who was bouncing on one of the beds. “If you do not, Sayatan wins, and you promised you would not let that happen.” The boy grinned at his father. “May I have this bed, please, Baba? It is soft.”
Nodding, Ga’briyel let go of Sophyra and moved to the door. “I will get the horses settled in the stable and bring our saddlebags inside.” His voice was tight, and he loosened his sword in its scabbard as he exited the room and descended the stairs. Luija was behind the bar again, and the Debaduta stared at Ga’briyel as the Sainika stepped close. “You have a stable, yes?”
“Of course, Sainika. It is at the rear of the inn. Would you like me to show you?”
“No, thank you. I can find it. Thank you, Luija, for everything.”
The man’s brows furrowed. “Be careful, Sainika. The protection only extends to the building itself, not the stables or the road out front.”
“No matter how careful I am, Debaduta, I still attract evil. It is my destiny.” Ga’briyel turned toward the door. “Hopefully I will have several days before that happens, though. You were right before; I do need to rest. I do not know if I will relax, but I need to rest.” He left the inn, took all three reins in his left hand, rested his right hand on his sword’s hilt, and led the horses around the inn to the stable. It was empty, and Ga’briyel spent the next half an hour tending to the horses before grabbing all three saddlebags and walking around the inn, his hand still on his sword. Nothing accosted him, however, and he entered the inn with a small smile. Perhaps he would be able to rest after all. He nodded to Luija, climbed the stairs, and dropped the bags before the chest of drawers.
Sophyra closed the distance between them and clung to him. “Nothing happened, my love?”
“No, nothing, but it will not remain so. Someday soon I will have to fight and kill again, and you and Adama will stay here as I do.”
With a smile, his wife said, “But not today, husband. Today we will bathe, eat, and rest. Hopefully for several days that is all we will do.”
“Hopefully,” Ga’briyel agreed as he pulled their last pieces of clean clothing from the bags. He held out his hand to his son, who climbed down from the bed and took it. “Come, my loves, we need to bathe before we eat.” He led them down the stairs, down the hallway that Luija had indicated, and entered the bathing room. A fire was roaring, and there was hot water already boiling over it. Ga’briyel took the thick cloth hanging next to the fire, picked up the first of the four kettles simmering over the flames, and poured it into one of four copper tubs.
“Do I get my own bath, Baba? I promise to be careful,” Adama asked, his hands clasped behind him. He rocked back and forth from toes to heels and back again as he awaited his father’s response.
“Very well, Adama,” Ga’briyel said as he added half a kettle to a second tub. “But your mama will help you to make sure you get clean.”
“Yes, Baba,” Adama said as he started to undress.
Ga’briyel poured the second half of the kettle into a third tub, added a third full kettle, stripped himself of his clothing and sword belt, and settled into the hot water with a contented sigh. It was almost too hot, but he did not care. He lowered himself underneath the water until he needed to breathe, and then he slowly raised himself up, took the soap and linen cloth that were beside the tub, and cleaned off the dirt and grime of the road from his body. When he was finished, he leaned on the edge of the tub and watched his wife and son, his chin on his forearms. Sophyra had not redressed after cleaning herself, but she had wrapped a towel around herself, and now she was kneeling beside Adama’s tub, cleaning his back and other places he could not reach. His son was splashing the water, and Ga’briyel smiled, thinking to himself that at times his boy acted just like the child he was. Sophyra finished cleaning Adama, looked up, and saw Ga’briyel watching them.
“Enjoying the view, my love?”
“Very much, my heart. Although I think I may ask Luija to watch Adama for a little while later. I would like to have you to myself for a few hours tonight.”
The boy’s head snapped up, and violet gaze met violet gaze. “Why, Baba?”
With a laugh, Ga’briyel stepped from his tub, grabbed a towel, and wrapped it around his hips. “That is a discussion for when you are much older, my son. Perhaps when you are thirty.” He took another towel, dried himself off, and then took a third and plucked his child from the tub and dried him off as well. His eyes locked on Sophyra’s, and the heat coming from her almost had him sending his son from the bathing room immediately, but he knew that they all needed to eat, and he did not want to impose on Luija too much.
After they were all dressed, Ga’briyel in a green silk coat and black breeches, Sophyra in a matching green silk dress, and Adama in a white shirt and black breeches, they left the bathing room, but Ga’briyel let their son walk in front of them, and he pulled Sophyra close. “Stop, my heart, or I will not be responsible when I carry you to our room halfway through the meal.”
“I am not doing anything, Ga’briyel,” Sophyra said with a chuckle.
“You are, and you know it, wife.” He kissed her temple and released her. She laughed, caught up with their son, and he smiled as he watched them enter the main room, choose a table, and sit. She crooked her finger at him, and he slowly walked toward them, his eyes glowing brightly. They matched hers, and Adama looked between his parents, a frown on his little face.
“What is happening, Baba? I do not understand.”
“Nor should you, my child.” Ga’briyel looked at his son, forced his eyes to dim, and smiled. He sat down next to Sophyra on the bench she had chosen, pulled her close, and kissed her softly. “Later, my heart.” He groaned softly when her heat almost smothered him. “Please, Sophyra, stop. Not now.”
She rested her hand on his thigh and began to trace small circles on it. “I will try, my love, but it will be difficult knowing what you have planned for later.” She smiled coyly at him as Luija entered the room with a platter full of food. He set it on the table, smiled at Ga’briyel, and spoke softly.
“I would love to speak with your son later on, Sainika. I think we could speak together for several hours. You and your wife could retire early to your room, I think, if you would like that.”
Grinning and letting his eyes flare once, Ga’briyel answered, “I would like that very much, Luija, thank you. I was going to ask you if you would watch him for a while.”
“Watch him? There would be no watching, Ga’briyel. I truly want to speak with him. He is the first male priest of Yisu in thirty thousand years.” The Debaduta smiled. “Carlas and his family made it to Yisu, by the way, and he had nothing to say but praise for you.”
“I am pleased to hear that, Luija. And thank you again for offering to sit with our son.”
The Debaduta just smiled and disappeared behind a door which Ga’briyel assumed led to the kitchen. The Sainika and his family devoured the food over the next hour, and then Sophyra went to the door and knocked. Luija opened it, his eyebrows raised, and she said something quietly to him. The Debaduta smiled, nodded, and answered her just as quietly. When she returned to the table, she simply took Adama’s hand and led him up the stairs.
“He needs to rest, my love. And we need to get our clothes cleaned. Luija has told me of a laundry not far from here. He has promised to watch over our son.” She glanced over her shoulder at her husband with a grin, and he let his eyes flare once. He rested his hands behind his head, adjusted his sword belt slightly, and waited. He could feel the heat coming from his wife even from two stories above him, and he just smiled at her when she slipped down the stairs a few minutes later and disappeared down the hallway toward the bathing room. She emerged later with one of their saddlebags filled to almost bursting, dragging it behind her, and he leaped to his feet, strode toward her, picked it up, and slung it over his left shoulder.
“Where is this laundry, Sophyra?”
“I will show you, husband. I want to go with you.”
Brows furrowing and right hand straying toward his sword, Ga’briyel said, “No, Sophyra. I told you I will not risk your life like that.”
“Do not do this, Ga’briyel! I will not be cooped up in this inn for the entirety of our stay here! I am going with you!”
The heat of her passion had turned into the fire of anger, and he sighed. “Fine, but please stay close.” He cupped her cheek with his right hand, and he frowned. “I cannot lose you, my heart. I cannot.”
“I know, my love, and you will not. I will stay close to you, and if there is any danger, I will run back to the inn, I promise.” She raised up onto her tiptoes and kissed him, her anger turning abruptly back to passion. “But let us hurry, Ga’briyel. Luija said he would talk with Adama as soon as he wakes, and as soon as we return.”
Still uneasy with his wife accompanying him out of the inn, Ga’briyel was nevertheless pleased when she hooked her right arm through his left, and he grudgingly led her outside. The sky was already darkening, and she spoke softly the directions that Luija had given her. They reached the laundry ten minutes later, and Ga’briyel saw that it was still open. He stepped up to the proprietor, gave him the saddlebag after negotiating a fair price, and quickly made his way back to the inn, Sophyra clinging to him the entire way, and his right hand on his sword the entire way. When they entered, he gave a sigh of relief, and then he frowned, knowing that the peace he was feeling would not last. They climbed the stairs, entered their room, and waited for their son to wake as they sat on the second bed, Sophyra sitting between Ga’briyel’s legs and his arms around her.