For Better or Worse, Pt. 2: Vareth Ahnur
Opening the door to my chamber, I find it completely picked clean of my possessions, no sign of my living here for the last sixteen years. I realize that the attendants have simply moved my things into my new quarters, but I feel an unusual layer of conflicting thoughts. I’m sad to be leaving these chambers when I should be relieved. I should be elated to be moving into my new higher status, having been selected to become and ul’Ahnur. The sudden pang of sadness confuses me. Staying here means eventually being terminated.
But leaving here means facing an unknown that I’ve never technically considered. I honestly have never thought about what would happen if I ever did get chosen. It was not something I could make happen by studying, hoping, praying harder. The drawing is complete chance. I’ve never considered what it would mean to be an ul’Ahnur. Where will I go? What will I have to do? A tidal wave of questions threaten to overwhelm me as I stand in my empty bed chamber, feeling as hollow and useless as the room itself.
I walk to the window overlooking the city and see the grayness of the Waning hours settling over her shops, houses, gardens. To have never physically stepped foot into her streets, I feel strangely at one with Eleraon and her people. I’ve never spoken with them--I’ve never even met them--but I feel like one of them. I reach down to trace my finger of the smooth table top of the writing desk under the window. I have a book--which I hope the attendants did not lose in the moving of my things--which contains all my sketches of the cityscape and the distant horizon. I’ve even captured some of the faces of citizens.
I sigh. This place was my comfort when nothing else felt stable. It was safe. Now they have made it feel barren and uninviting.
“I just knew I was going to get stuck with one of those babies.” The sudden voice makes me jump and I spin around to see who invaded my privacy. Between spinning too quickly and the shock of the awaiting face, I trip on my own feet and crash into the writing table. “Imagine my relief when you were chosen. I clearly don’t have the...talent or...everything else to raise a baby.”
I stare unblinking at Vareth, my Ahnur, the man I will serve for the next...however many years. I can’t even think straight. I close my mouth because I realize it’s been open.
“You can stand, correct? They told me you could walk and talk and such.” He pauses. “Things I haven’t seen you do. Yet. At all.”
I shake my head trying to clear my muddled brain. “I... I, um--”
Vareth grins. “You are shocked by me being here?”
Yes, so much. “Yes!” I say too enthusiastically. I nod to further my point.
“You’ve fallen on your rear because I startled you?”
Yes. But control your reply. “Yes, that’s right.” I nod again.
“You’re speechless because you’re taken aback by my beauty?”
No! “Yes!” He grins again. “Wait, I mean no! I meant no.” I try to stand, mentally ripping myself apart for being so stupid.
He nods once. “Ah, you meant no. So I’m ugly.”
“No, I didn’t say that. I didn’t mean that.”
“I see. Tell me, Elesia ul’Ahnur, are you just going to stand there or can we get on with our events for the day?”
“Yes, sir.” I bow my head. “I apologize, sir. With all due respect, I honestly don’t know what I’m supposed to do next. I figured I would wait here until the attendants came to get me.”
“First of all, don’t call me sir. I’m too young for that, and it makes you look uncomfortable. Secondly, don’t talk to me like that either. Please, speak like a normal person when around me; save the formal stuff for the others. They’re touchy when it comes to that.”
I try not to look like I’m staring at him again. I at least have the wherewithal to keep my mouth from hanging open this time. Is this the same man I saw sitting at the elite table earlier with his look of intense distaste? His bald head still glistens, but his features look soft now compared to then.
“Thirdly,” he continues, “the attendants were supposed to come get you, but I volunteered to come myself. They put up quite a fuss about it. Maybe they wanted to beat me to meeting you or something.” He laughs, and I just stare at him. He looks at me funnily. “That was a joke.”
I manage a smile.
He shakes his head. “Come on, we don’t have all day--the Waning already started.” He leads me outside into the hallway. “You’re going to have to learn to laugh a little bit if this is going to work out.”
I look down, feeling him glance my way. “I’m sorry.”
“And witty. You need to learn to show some wit with me. You can do that, can’t you? You’re one of the smart ones, right? Or are you?”
I actually find myself getting a bit defensive. “I’m sorry, sir. They didn’t exactly train me for this. Forgive my lack of...humor and repartee.”
It comes out far more sarcastic than I plan. He laughs, however. “There you go, girl. That’s more like it.”
I realize I’ve been tensed and holding my breath, so I exhale slowly and steadily.
“I want you to be relaxed around me,” he says. “We’re going to be wasting each other’s time for...a long time actually.”
He mutters something else that I cannot quite understand and proceeds to show me parts of the estate that I’ve never seen. The chambers we just left sit on the second story overlooking the city, but my new quarters--and most everything else pertaining to the Ahnurs--take up a spiraling tower which extends much higher than I’ve ever been. Vareth eventually takes me to the top so that I can see out over the entire island, even the defined coastlines skirting the cloud seas. I file the image in my mind, unsure when I’ll be able to come back to the spot.
The attendants catch us at some point, respectfully telling Vareth that this or that needs to be done. He smiles at me as if we’re sharing some sort of inside joke as he presents them with some excuse as to why he can’t come with them. They also address me with a great deal of respect, something which surprises me. I’m not used to this. They return to their duties without Vareth. I can see on their faces a look unsure of what will happen when they return without him.
“Why didn’t you go with them? It sounded important?”
Vareth shrugs. “I’m not in the mood for something so serious. Besides, it wasn’t that important honestly. Nothing that can’t be done later tonight.”
I yawn, realizing for the first time how tired I am. The drawing room seems days ago, not hours. Vareth sees the weariness in my face and eyes.
“Oh yes, I forget, you do need your beauty sleep after all.”
I swallow another yawn. “What? You don’t?”
“Need my beauty sleep?”
“Sleep.” I cough. “You don’t sleep?”
He raises his eyebrows. “Ah, I remember, because I’m ugly. Of course I don’t need beauty sleep.”
I laugh despite myself, better understanding his quick wit now than earlier. He peppered me with it throughout the day, coaching me in how best to respond in a variety of conversations. I shake my head at him and roll my eyes. I can hardly believe this was the man who almost scared me to death with the intensity in his face. Now, as sleepy as I am, I can hardly hold back my laughter at anything he says or does--even when it’s not funny.
I retire to my chambers in the tower. It isn’t quite as high as the top of the tower, but from this vantage, I almost look directly down on the city below. While leaning against the window seal, I realize just how late into the Waning it is. I need to get to sleep. I start away from the window, but look down and see a figure crossing the courtyard toward the gates to the city. His bald head is unmistakable.
What’s he doing?
Watching him begin to walk the streets of the city, I can’t help but think about the mystery behind his very character. He’s everything I did not expect in an Ahnur. He’s nothing that I’ve ever seen in another person. I watch him stroll down the main thoroughfare toward the gardening sector.
I shake my head and, because it’s so late and I can’t help it, I smile. “Who are you, Vareth Ahnur?”