Aben hadn’t been in a real bed since they’d left Capitol. He had a hard time sleeping. And he couldn’t help thinking about Rigel’s words.
But then it was morning, and Dannel left right after breakfast. Rigel and Dan left for the woods shortly after. It was a nice day, and they took their work outside. Queenie played near them, and Jimmy took breaks to play with her.
Mr. Dyami came a little after noon to pick up his son’s hopper hide. His son immediately saw Queenie, and Jimmy introduced them. Dyami smiled when he saw Aben. “So you made it back.”
“And found a friend,” Seavan said, pointing to Queenie.
Aben touched his belt which had become a reassuring lifeline in the woods. He should give it back, but he’d used the knife continually during his two week journey. And he didn’t know how he’d have started the fires, as he’d forgotten matches from home. He rubbed the belt and then undid the buckle. “Thanks for letting me use it. Helped keep me alive.”
“Hey, you keep it, Aben. I’ve already replaced it.”
Aben peered at his waist, and indeed Dyami had a new tool belt with more small pouches.
“Then I should pay… somehow….”
“No,” Dyami said softly. “You earned it. If Harmon was thinking straight, he’d have given it to you for saving Raven’s life.”
Aben doubted it. The knife was an excellent tool, but it could also kill. Harmon Archer would never trust him with a hunting knife. Surprisingly neither Seavan nor his father had mentioned it. But then his father and Rigel both had hunting knifes hanging from their belts.
“Anything I should tell your parents?”
“I have a job….”
“An apprenticeship,” Seavan corrected. “He’s working his first hide now.” He pointed to it and gave Dyami a wink. “Caught it himself, too.”
“Great. Any message for Cassie?”
Aben stiffened. “What can I do?”
Dyami watched his son with Queenie. “How much will you sell it for? Five hundred gold?”
At first the abrupt change confused him. Then he realized that Dyami wanted to buy Queenie. Aben shook his head, backing away. Queenie was his. Seavan was watching him. Maybe Seavan wanted him to take the gold and get rid of the expense.
“Seven Fifty,” Dyami amended. “You really won’t have time for it here.”
Aben dropped the tool belt to the ground and then bolted to Queenie. She ran with him — ran and flew. Aben ran until he reached the river. He slid down the embankment to hide in the bushes. Always someone would try to take her. No matter what he had, everyone would know he didn’t deserve it, and they’d try to take it. He held Queenie to him, and the little girl seemed to understand that he needed the comfort. She didn’t move.
“Aben,” Seavan said softly a short time later. He slid down the embankment and then sat beside Aben.
“I’m not giving her away.”
“No. I told him you wouldn’t sell at any price. He didn’t mean any harm.”
“Everyone wants her.”
“Of course they do, but you’re the lucky one. She’s yours. Now it’s time to get back to work.” They climbed up the embankment and then walked back to the tannery. As they reached the yard, Seavan said, “Next time just say, ‘Not interested in selling.’ You don’t need to run away.”
“If I sold her, you’d have the gold and there’d be no expense for her care.”
Seavan grabbed the hide he was working and then glared at Aben. “I would never take your gold. And I told you. Her expenses are out of your allowance.”
Last night he’d thought he’d wanted Seavan to get upset so he’d know what he was doing wrong, but now he realized he had thought foolishly. Seavan was angry, and Aben wished he’d cuff him, but instead Aben was left to burn with humiliation. He’d accused his best friend of being a thief. No wonder he was angry. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. He went to his bleater hide, and tried to work, but he couldn’t see it.
“Aben,” Seavan called.
Aben glanced up, and Seavan tossed him the belt.
“Gifts are forever. Don’t keep thinking the world is out to take everything away from you.”
Aben caught it. “But it did,” he couldn’t help protesting. “They took everything. My future, my parents, everything I ever had is gone. Everything! And I’m stuck on this hellhole world.” He stood and stomped over to Seavan, unable to contain his rage and frustration. “And pretty soon you’ll get eaten because that dragon keeps coming for me. It looked me in the eye as it ate Kayne, and it wanted me next. It’ll keep coming back until he eats me whole, just like he did Kayne. He just hung there, and then one jerk, and he disappeared. One jerk and poof. My whole life is gone. Just like when the Corps arrested Mom and Dad. Poof. It’s all gone. Damn it. Hit me! Make me shut up.”
Aben sunk to the ground and covered his face with his hands. Seavan had just knelt there beside his hide, watching Aben rage with wide eyes. ‘Hit me. Please make me stop thinking,’ he silently begged.
But the touch when it came was soft — an arm resting across his back as if in comfort. “It’ll be okay, Aben,” Seavan said softly. “Please trust me.” He gave his back a little rub. “Guess you do, a little, don’t you? You felt safe enough to tell me your fears. I guess that’s an honor, isn’t it?”
Aben lifted his head and rubbed his eyes. “You really must be a saint,” he said in a choked whisper. “I can’t believe you’re letting me get away with that.”
Seavan grinned. “We go to church tomorrow. I’ve been praying that you’ll join me in sainthood.”
Aben straightened in surprise. The sun shone behind Seavan, making him a silhouette outlined in radiance. He tried to hide his wonder with a strangled chuckle. “You even look like a saint with the sun like that.”
Seavan laughed. “Saints only have halos in the Roman Catholic church. In Protestantism we’re all saints.”
Aben shook his head. “I don’t know much about church, but how could God let all this happen? How?”
“That I can’t answer easily, Aben. But….”
Seavan shook his head, removing his hand from Aben’s back as he stood. “Just thinking.” He gave a slight smile. “There’s a lot of parts to your learning, and you’re my first apprentice. I don’t have all the details worked out yet. We better get back to those hides. Jimmy will be back soon.”
“Yeah. I sent him up to the store.”
“Thanks,” Aben mumbled again. He certainly hadn’t wanted anyone to witness his breakdown.
Queenie nudged Aben. The little girl was just as confused by Aben’s emotional outburst as he was. Aben rubbed her ears and held her until Jimmy returned. Then he worked on his hide.
Seavan did not mention his lapse again, and he did not change how he treated him. Aben briefly wondered how far he could really go before Seavan hated him. But he didn’t want Seavan to hate him. He was becoming an older brother, father, and best friend all in one person. He wanted Seavan to be proud of him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Seavan watched the sweat bead up on Aben’s forehead as he worked the cow leather. He worked hard and continually except when he needed to care for Queenie. On the last two Sundays, though, Aben had been at a loss. He didn’t know how to take a day of rest. Seavan had brought the conversation to their Sunday service, and later he’d found out more about Aben’s education. Seavan had always considered himself good with numbers, but Aben instantly added mixed fractions when preparing some of the tanning and dying solutions. Also he immediately grasped calculating the area of a poorly cut hide. “You’re good with math,” Seavan had mentioned.
Aben shrugged. “Not that it’ll do much good here.”
“Doing you good now. What did you expect it to do you good as?”
“I was going to be a pilot in the Corps. One who works on the outer edge. Well, that was my hope anyway. The ship itself calculates most stuff, but you have to know the math in case it malfunctions. Physics, too, and a bit of engineering. Sometimes you’re exploring on your own, but mostly you’re helping people. Rescuing them. You have to know a bit of everything.” He took a deep breath. “Of course I never had time to finish all my pre-training, and I was too young for the Academy, so I’m here. Tanning hides.”
Seavan had winced, realizing that all he could offer the boy was a very pale and unexciting life compared to what he’d lost. That was yesterday.
Aben glanced up to see what he was doing and caught Seavan watching him. Then he seemed to work even harder. He was always trying to please him, but thankfully, after that surprising outburst two weeks ago, Aben no longer cringed in his presence. He even began to speak up and ask questions. He still seemed a bit wary around Rigel and Dad, but Seavan guessed it was more because he didn’t want to cause trouble than fear of a beating.
Aben had been shocked when he’d received his first weekly allowance. He really hadn’t believed he’d get paid for the work he did. “But I didn’t do anything useful yet,” he had protested.
“Everyone gets an allowance here from the time they’re five years old.”
Aben had nervously put the money away, but then asked, “Should I do something specific with it?”
“Buy Queenie’s feed and whatever else you need. You might want to think about saving up and slowly replacing your clothes. Looks like they’ve seen a bit of wear.”
Aben had agreed and gone with him to the general store to buy Queenie’s feed for the week and a new shirt.
Now Aben glanced up again as he straightened a kink from his back. “Am I doing it right?”
“You’re doing fine. I’m just daydreaming.” Seavan bent to his own work, not wanting to make Aben any more nervous. Aben had ripped across his heart in a way he’d never imagined possible. He cared so much about this teenager who was almost a man — this boy only four years younger than himself. He wanted to restore hope to his life. He wanted to draw out the man he caught glimpses of. He wanted to keep him from the dangers of life, but Aben had already been forced to brave the hardest of dangers. Seavan wondered if this was what it was like to be a father. There was so much he wanted for this boy, and he felt inadequate to the responsibility he’d accepted.
Rigel and Dad were home that night. Everyone gathered in the workshop after dinner. Mom and Shalina mended in the two soft chairs set under the largest light in the corner right beside the door to the main house. The men all worked on hides. Although it was an unspoken agreement now that they worked on small projects at night and that Seavan would tackle the large projects when he had more room during the day. Aben showed signs of relaxing even more with them. He’d responded to one of Shalina’s comments at dinner with a teasing quick comeback, surprising and delighting Shalina, who teased him back. Just another glimpse of the boy Aben used to be and the man he’d become.
“Everyone is asking about us and Tole Tanneries,” Rigel stated as he laced the teasel hide into the stretching frame. He had spent the day at home, or rather in the city, mostly at the general store, admiring the dragon hide products, Seavan suspected. Seavan wouldn’t mind a dragon hide jacket for fall, but one look at the prices told him he didn’t need it.
Rigel continued, “I even had questions about whether we can tan dragon hide. I told them to give me one, and I’d try it.”
“We don’t do dragon hide,” Dad said firmly.
“But why?” Rigel asked. “I mean other than the raw product is pretty difficult to acquire.”
“We’d ruin it.”
Rigel scowled and rolled his eyes. “I can do it. It can’t be that hard.”
“It’s not hard, but if you use the same solution and technique that you use on a hopper you’re going to destroy the color.” His father kept his gaze on his work, and Seavan could tell that Rigel’s questions were irritating him.
“Well then teach me the correct way, so I know if I ever get the chance.”
Dad straightened. “I don’t know the correct chemicals. It was always a secret.”
“From his own son!”
“Don’t call me that man’s son!” Dad roared, but then focused on his teasel hide. “If you’re so anxious to tan dragon hide, I suspect you’ll be heading for Alexandria. Didn’t think you were willing to give up your freedom.”
Rigel hesitated, but then pushed. “Dannel seems to have freedom.”
“Sure he does. Sounds like a wonderful marriage my brother has planned for him. The perfect little seamstress to stitch that hide together so they can keep complete control of all the dragon hide Hans Trapper can provide them with. Maybe your uncle can find another little seamstress for you. Won’t you love to hear a whining fiancée when you come in from hunting? ‘Where have you been? You missed the tea yesterday. And don’t touch me. You need to scrub because the Cahouns will be here for dinner in half an hour.’”
Rigel was silent a moment, glancing at Mom whose sympathetic gaze rested on her husband’s bent form. Then Rigel grinned, “Was she physically compatible?”
“Rigel!” Shalina jumped from her chair.
Mom, though, smiled. Dad met her eyes, and a smile played on his lips also. But then he returned his attention to his son. “Ah, Rigel. You always have been stubborn. Don’t get yourself mixed up with the wrong girl. You don’t have the temperament. You need someone independent and loving who understands your nature. You need someone willing to accept that monetary wealth is not success. You need a woman who understands that you quite possibly might be off hunting when she goes into labor.”
Mom laughed. “That is one time I did lose my patience with you.”
“You also need a very patient and forgiving wife,” Dad added, still smiling. “Don’t let anyone else choose her.”
Rigel sat back. “That’s what I need, do I? What about Seav, here? He’s old enough.”
Dad let his gaze rest on Seavan. “Seavan could have a fairly good marriage with just about anyone. He’s got that in him. He’d probably love the little seamstress, just like Ulan loved Margot.”
Rigel’s eyes widened. “That isn’t the same girl that… Dannel’s father took your fiancée?”
Dan shook his head. “Same girl, but he didn’t take her. I came home and found them talking a couple times, but it was always chaste stuff. I confronted him, and he was horrified at the thought. But he couldn’t hide that he cared for her. Then I asked him to take my place. He wouldn’t dare take my girl. Father wouldn’t let me out of the commitment either. So I left. I’m just guessing that Ulan married Margot, but he probably did because it was good for business. And like I say, he was probably happy.”
He shrugged. “So now you know it all. My father and I had a big fight when I told him I refused to marry Margot, and I was told not to return.”
“Did Mom know? She said she didn’t.”
Dad smiled. “Some.”
“It wasn’t my place to tell you boys.”
“You boys,” Shalina mumbled, cutting the thread from the shirt she’d mended. “Bet you never thought about my husband.”
Dad grinned. “Nope. You’re staying home to become an old maid.”
Shalina threw the shirt at him. “So you wish,” she teased. “And will Jimmy be an old maid?”
Dad looked Jimmy over. “He’s too young to know yet.”
“What about Aben?”
Dad studied Aben for a long while, his humor leaving. Seavan felt Aben’s nervousness increase. He bent over his hide and rubbed it with renewed vigor.
“Aben needs to grow up a bit more and adjust to the planet before he’ll know what kind of wife is right for him. You need to grow up some more also, Shalina. Why don’t you both wait another four years?”
“I’m old enough,” Shalina protested. “Both Katie and Tina were married this year, and Tina’s younger than me.”
“But Tina’s not as sassy as you are,” Rigel teased.
Rigel teased some more, but then Dad announced that it was time to sleep.
Upstairs Aben sat on his bed and pulled out his pack. He drew out some papers and then folded his clothes back into it. Seavan became uneasy. The kid was planning something. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m not going to marry your sister.”
“Your dad thinks I’m after her just because I talked to her earlier. I’m not. I was just being friendly. Can’t say anything on this planet.”
“Whoa. That is not what he thought. You’re jumping to conclusions. Although,” he couldn’t help teasing, “maybe you could keep up with her saucy tongue.”
“This planet has barbaric women’s rights. Is it true what Dyami said? Does Cassie’s uncle really have a right to beat her and his wife here?”
Seavan hesitated. “It isn’t exactly that he has a right, but that we don’t have a right to stop him unless he kills her.”
“Oh, that helps. Is it possible for me to get some kind of text on the laws here? They’re so strange, I could get myself convicted to the pit trying to save someone’s life.”
Seavan didn’t want to admit that it was very much possible. He wished Aben was a native, because he would have made a great police officer. A sheriff or police officer could intercede, but the ordinary person had no such right. “I’ll ask around and see what I can find.”
Aben stood and threw his pack over his shoulder.
“Wait a minute. Where are you going?”
“I’m taking Frank back his clothes. I’ll be back before dawn, and I won’t have trouble working tomorrow.”
“But that dragon. Aben, it’s too risky.”
“Are you ordering me not to go see my parents? If you order me, I won’t. If it’s my discretion, I’m going.”
“I can’t order you away from your parents,” he whispered, his throat so tight it choked him. As Aben left the room, Seavan wished he could command him to stay. The flame red dragon had killed two more people in the last two weeks, people he’d known most of his life. Most dragons just bothered the careless, but this one was stalking and ambushing. It happened that way sometimes. Once there was one death, there were many. As if once the beast had a taste of human flesh it wouldn’t stop. How many more would die before this dragon had his fill and moved on? Seavan prayed that he wouldn’t regret his inability to be firmer with his apprentice.
Go to Chapter 14
© 2013, 2000 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.