By the time we arrived back in the village, the sun had just set and our path back through the ruins was lit by the orange glow from beyond the horizon. Much of the village had come out both to greet us. They were a small crowd, about fifty or so people.
My mother was there. She helped me off my pony and hugged me.
“How’s my brave hunter? Did you catch anything?” she asked.
“I shot a buffalo!” I said. I was almost bouncing up and down, restless from the long journey and giddy to be returning home triumphantly after only a day away.
“You’ll have to tell me all about it later,” she said. She let me go and went to my father, to whom she was more sombre. She hugged him, but spoke more quietly so I couldn’t hear.
“Hey,” my father said. His voice carried more easily. “It’ll be okay, I promise. Come on.” He smiled, but it was a sad smile.
“Maruk!” A voice came from just beyond the crowd. It was Lord Torru. He briefly shook hands with Gamma, one of the men from the hunt, as he made his way through the crowd to my father.
“Lord!” replied my father in greeting. He took my mother’s hand and went over, bowing his head slightly.
“How did it go?” asked Lord Torru. He was of about level height with my father, but his rich clothes made him seem much larger. Indeed, he seemed particularly well dressed, something my father had noticed too.
“Very well. We got four this morning,” he said. “We would probably have come home tomorrow had Vazh not shown up. What’s all this?” he asked, gesturing at Torru’s clothing.
“Ah, you see I’m glad you did well, because I’m going to speak to everyone now,” replied Torru. “May I use your horse?”
“Of course, Lord.”
Torru climbed atop the horse and called to the crowd.
“Your attention, everyone!” He had the horse step forward a few paces. The hubbub of the crowd died down. “Now, as you know, the levy has been called. We will be setting off tomorrow for the King’s muster at Landisi.”
There was some murmuring from the crowd, but Torru continued. “However, our hunters have returned after a brilliantly successful trip, and so I feel it’s only fitting that we should still hold a leaving feast tonight!”
That got a cheer. “We will begin in two hours in my hall. The war can wait until tomorrow!”
He dismounted and the crowd began to disperse in a cheerful mood. “Maruk,” he said to my father, “would you do the honour of dividing the meat?”
“Of course, Lord,” said my father. He called over Jonal the butcher who had been about to leave with his wife and children. They led the horses carrying the meat down the road.
About two hours later, my father, mother and I were walking down to the feast hall. My father and I had washed off the smell of our trip and changed into formal attire, which for me meant normal clothing apart from my smart shoes and an embroidered cloak given to me by Lord Torru for my birthday a few months beforehand. My father wore his pale blue triarch’s sash. The feast hall was a mostly wooden building at the centre of the village, next to the Lord’s manor. It had a roof shaped like an upturned boat with great arching windows, each as tall as a man.
We walked across the plaza outside, joined by more and more people. I was told the plaza had been laid down by the Refugees, and like much of what they made, it seemed to be strangely magical. It was smooth as glass but not at all slippery even in winter or wet weather. The other roads of the village were made of the material dug up from around the ruins, but they didn’t work quite as well.
Outward from the plaza went three roads, two going out to the farmland owned by my father and Dyamma, the other landowning triarch, whilst the third led to the Capital Road. The temple was the only building in the village made entirely of stone, and stood across the road from the feast hall. It belonged to Darro, the village priest and the third triarch. Darro was just leaving the temple as we passed it, the black crown on his head wobbling ridiculously as he struggled over in his long robes.
The hall inside was well lit, with five fires set about the room plus a number of iron chandeliers hanging from the high beams. Two long benches were set out lengthways, whilst Lord Torru and his wife and daughter Selli sat at a table at the head of the room. That was where we too would go.
I didn’t know Selli very well. She was three years younger than me and rarely came to our part of the village; instead spending time being tutored by Darro in the temple. But since we were similar age, I was sat next to her on a tall chair that meant I was at a good height with the table but could only barely touch the ground with my feet when I sat on it. I crossed my legs instead.
The hall filled up and the feast got under way.
“Did you catch this?” Selli asked me, wide-eyed, when the meat came out.
“Yep,” I said, proudly. I noticed my father exchange a smile with my mother and turn away from me, pretending not to listen. “Well,” I said, slightly less boldly, “I shot one of them.”
“Woah,” she said. “I wish I could go hunting.”
“You’d have to learn to shoot a bow first,” interjected Lord Torru through a rather ignobly stuffed mouth. He finished chewing. “From horseback. You have your studies to do, young lady.”
“Speaking of which,” said Darro from the other end of the table, beyond Lord Torru’s seat. He held his crown with one hand to stop it falling off. “Maruk, I’d be more than happy to start giving lessons again to young Jorj if you like. I’ve recently started giving lessons to Selli, and I think it’s better when the children are together.”
“How would that sound, Jorj?” my father asked me. “There won’t be that much work to do now that the planting is over. You could carry on your learning this summer whilst I’m away.”
I couldn’t honestly claim to find Darro’s lessons at all exciting, but it was certainly better than chores back at our house, so I nodded my head.
“Alright then,” said Darro, speaking more directly to me. “How about noon at the temple in two days time? Do be sure to remind him, won’t you Nia,” he added, addressing my mother.
The hubbub of the room erupted into a cheer, drowning out our table’s conversation. One of the men had come out from a side room with a wine barrel over his shoulder.
The evening passed quickly. Selli and I were allowed down from the table after the desserts to mingle with the other children in the village. My father let me have a few drops of wine in my cup, which I drank diluted with water to make it last longer. At some point, someone produced a viyol and drum, and there was dancing until past midnight, by which point, despite my protests to the contrary, I was utterly exhausted and needed sleep. My mother and father took my heavy eyelids as a good point to call it a night, and so we said our goodbyes and left.
The night air was chilly and my clothes weren’t designed to keep the cold out. I looked up, wondering if the star would be there again tonight. I didn’t see it anywhere, so looked to the Western horizon to see whether it would rise from there again.