The Feast of Feats
Section I: Episode 7
August 31, 2014
Asash was one of those who didn't mind talking while he chewed.
"Well," he continued, "I didn't think I'd be able to hang on if I'd stopped to catch my balance, so I just kept going. It worked!"
He didn't mind a lot of that food flying right back out of his mouth, either.
"It sure did," said Javelin. "I predict big things for you next year."
"Maybe. I guess I'm going to have to find a new team, though, eh?"
Before them the table lay covered in the most handsome spread a mate was likely to see all summer. Roasted fruits and vegetables, bread, cheeses, candies, eggs, even some meat. Galavar tried to ignore whenever some of Asash's chewed particles landed on the bowls and platters of pristine food.
"Only if Team Javelin disbands," said the outgoing captain. "I don't think that has to be. You all have a lot to offer next year. Why not continue on…as team captain?"
"Me?" Asash stopped chewing for moment. "Oh, I don't know, Javelin." Then he plowed back into the food. "I'm interested in gymnastics, not leading a team. You know? Besides, the rest of us are good and everything, but you're the real star."
"Without you we don't have the stuff," said Ornithate, who couldn't help being quiet even in such a noisy place as this. She didn't sound like she meant it, though. So why had she said it?
"Aye, we'd just disgrace your name," Asash continued, "and I know you don't like that, hah!"
Javelin wasn't buying it. "Who would say no to team captain?"
"Him, apparently," said Galavar.
"Well, he's a dolt. What about you?"
Galavar was favoring some roasted pebreras slathered in gooey, ripe caldorin. He was really enjoying it, and had to stop eating it if he wanted to talk cleanly. With just a twinge of frustration he put it down.
"Middemate captains rarely do well."
"What if you're exceptional?"
"I don't think I offered anything exceptional, today. Certainly nothing to warrant captain. I used my brute force to carry me through. There was nothing clever about that. You were the one who suggested jamming the water jar into my belly; on the nets all I did was hew to your advice. And I lost first place anyway."
"Any one of us lost first place, Galavar," said Ornithate. "Those few trices could have come from anywhere."
"If I were seniormate next year," he mused, "I might say yes. But as it is I don't think I'm ready."
Javelin looked to be in disbelief, then turned to her last resort.
"Don't even think about it," Ornithate said.
"Come on, Galavar. Reconsider. You don't have to decide right now."
Was she desperate? Or was she just playing the part?
"I'll definitely think it through," he answered, then got back to scarfing his pebrera.
"It'd never be the same without you, Javelin," Asash said. "We've done well. Maybe we've done all we can."
It struck Galavar that Asash was right. Galavar didn't much care for the gymnist. There was something missing from his mind; he was dimmer than the rest of them, and Galavar didn't like it. He certainly had no interest in him as a friend. And though he liked Ornithate well enough, he and she had so little in common that without Javelin and the team there'd be nothing to hold them together.
Galavar made a short, low kind of chuckle, but even in the noise of the party it carried around. The others waited for him to speak, so again he put his food aside.
"The Leader's Illusion, it's called. I learned it in politics section. What can seem like a tightly-knit group in truth only hangs together by the threads of a few people's charisma and commitment. Take away the leader and the group evaporates like a mirage."
"Is that all?" Javelin asked. "It can't be. You don't get to be on one of these teams unless you're that good, and you don't get to be that good unless you want it. You want it, don't you Galavar?"
"I do," said Ornithate.
"Obviously, because I'm here."
"So it's not just me pushing you along. This is something you all want. A winning team. Athletic prowess. The cheer and respect of the whole town. Sex appeal!"
"I guess the point is that we can have those things on other teams," Asash said. "It's not really about us wanting to be here as athletes. It's about whether we carry on the torch of Team Javelin."
Master Veskegen, this year's relay master, chose that moment to call upon them.
"Perhaps you want to be immortal, Captain Javelin," he said, in good humor. "Good evening, Athletes."
"Master Veskegen, hello." The others greeted him likewise, and he sat down on the long bench, next to Galavar and across from Javelin. They'd been receiving well-wishers all evening, but Veskegen was their most prominent visitor yet.
"I already congratulated you at the awards ceremony, but I wanted to pay my more personal compliments. As the obstacles master, my duty to frustrate you is clear. As the relay master, I find it most gratifying to see you all defeat my plans.
"You know," he mused, playing with a half-eaten cookie that someone had abandoned on the table, "when I was your age I wanted to be immortal. I think…I think it comes with the territory of youth."
"I don't want to be immortal," Javelin said. "That's silly."
"Oh, I think it's healthy. You've built a fine team. You've all made a beautiful collaboration together. Ornithate, overcoming your shyness to compete at your best. Asash, doing something constructive with your time and proving your mettle. Galavar, showing the town your will to succeed, and in a forum fit to be noticed." He turned back to Javelin. "All thanks to you. You've built a legacy."
"And now you're going to tell me to let it go," she croaked.
"No," he laughed, "no, this isn't one of those lectures. In fact, on this occasion I think you can afford to explore any of the possibilities without penalty. So, I say go with the one that suits your spark best."
He rose from the bench and turned to face Galavar beside him.
"That was well-done today, Galavar. Those baskets were not intended to be lifted by one-armed brute strength the way you did it. I made such a recourse possible, but so difficult as to encourage different solutions." He patted Galavar on the head. "But subtlety often fails when challenged by brute force. If you can break the test, you pass it. Usually."
"How did Nightlight do it?" he asked. "I haven't gotten the chance to speak with her yet."
"Her solution was very clever. I think you should ask her yourself."
"Word from the crowd is that she lifted the baskets just like I did."
"Yes, that is what it appeared to be. But that is not what really happened."
"Indeed not. She's not strong enough to have done that."
"Oh, I think she is. But nonetheless that's not how she did it. Ask her, and maybe she will tell you."
Veskegen turned to Ornithate.
"Never be afraid to ask for what you want." Then he looked straight at Javelin, kindly but intense. "The same for you. Congratulations once again, Athletes."
And then he was gone, leaving Galavar to observe that Veskegen had all but ignored Asash. No one else seemed to notice.
"Javelin…" he began. But then a gaggle of Javelin's friends came up, already spectacularly drunk and loud, and engulfed her.
Galavar smiled. Ah, to have such coarse friends. No one would catch him like that, that was to be sure.
He picked up the last pebrera from his plate, and stood up.
"Ornithate, let's take a walk and check out the concert stages before the fireworks start."
"Sounds good to me."
"Why are you so shy, anyhow?"
"I wish I weren't," she replied. "It's just how I am."
"You're safe. You have nothing to fear."
"Some part of me just doesn't realize that, I guess."
"If we're going to carry on Team Javelin without her, we'll probably need to become better friends."
"Is that how friendship works?"
"I mean we should spend some time together outside practice. See if there's any point."
They walked through the crowded outdoor aisles together, sifted through on all sides by the throngs—who periodically stopped them to gush and give praise—surrounded by well-lit wagons hawking food and crafts, and periodically passing burning barrels of fire, radiant beacons of warmth in the cold of the evening. It was dark now, but with so many lights it was as though day would last as long as they wanted it to.
"What's your favorite part of Dawn's Eve?" he asked.
"Probably the relay." She thought about it. "Maybe the carousel."
"I don't know who ever thought of painting a bunch of wooden horses and sticking them on a giant turntable, but it's bicking brilliant."
"They're fun to ride, aren't they? I remember being on one when I was just four years old."
"Fun to ride, aye, but what I really like about them is the painting. So intricate, so unbelievably far away from what horses really look like. Jewels, colors, studs…it's perfect."
"Would you paint one of them if they let you?"
"Maybe you could ask the carousels master. I know they repaint a couple of them every year, because a few years ago my favorite one disappeared."
"The pink one with the purple and gold spots and a red mane."
"How did you know?"
"I think you mentioned it once, actually."
Galavar did not remember doing so, and he was pretty good at remembering things. Or…had he mentioned it after all and simply not noticed Ornithate was there? He'd been guilty of ignoring her before.
"I think you should ask if you can paint one of them. It's Dawn's Eve!"
She looked at him and smiled.
"That would be pretty nice."
"Do it! Do it, do it."
"All right. I will, then."
"Let's head over there."
And so they continued their walk.
"I don't think there's going to be a Team Javelin next year."
"I think you're right. But I figure I owe it to her to at least try."
"That's thoughtful. But if you're just here with me because of that, there's really no need."
He looked at her quizzically, and then it snapped together.
"That's why you agreed with Asash earlier."
"You said without Javelin we don't have the stuff to make a team. I couldn't figure out why you said that, because I could tell you didn't mean it. He had offended you."
She was quiet for a minute.
"I'm a good jogger."
"And I offended you by implying that I'm just here spending time with you because I care about Javelin's legacy."
"You didn't imply it. You said it."
"So I did. But I didn't mean it that way. People get together for all sorts of artificial reasons, but that doesn't preclude them from becoming friends in earnest. It's true that I didn't think of spending more time with you before now, but, hey. Now I've thought of it. Let's give it a shot. Ieik's not a very big place. We can't afford to waste prospective friends."
She hung her head and laughed softly.
"You are a good jogger. You almost made up for my deficit."
Someone ran past them carrying live streamers, squealing with glee as her streamers sparkled furiously. Three more people came barreling after her, yelling with comparable panache.
"What's one of the weirdest things about you? Something I'd never think to ask?"
"Weird?" said Ornithate. "I guess all of me is weird. I don't like attention. Is that weird enough?"
"I spend most of my extra money on fabric and yarn to make more clothes than I need. Is that weird enough?"
"I spend a lot of time thinking about sex, a lot of time, even though I'd be embarrassed to death if someone asked me for it. Is that weird enough?"
"I like to talk to the weather, and to the sand and palisades, and the rocks, and the plants, and the houses and beams and carts and horses. Even though they never talk back. Is that weird enough?"
"So, my weirdness isn't impressive enough for you?"
"None of it is really all that weird."
"What does 'weird' mean to you?"
"Weird is when I can't see a reason for what people do. All that stuff you mentioned is easy to explain. What's something about you that's hard to explain?"
"My talking to rocks is easy to explain?"
"Supremely easy! It's animistic. I learned about that in philosophy section two years ago."
"I suppose. But…it seems superficial to dismiss my relationship to the world with a simple 'That's animism.'"
"The viutari mind craves mystique, but the unfortunate truth of logic is that most of our thinking has a simple explanation. The complexity is mostly an illusion."
"That's the second time you've mentioned illusions this evening."
"I suppose a lot of what people take seriously comes down to illusions."
"Hrm. Okay, here's one: I'm shy. That's no illusion."
Galavar thought it over, and smiled.
"I think you've got me. That's weird. There probably is some easy explanation, though, that I just don't know yet."
"And when you know everything, there'll be nothing weird to you anymore, and no illusions. That sounds boring."
"I've never heard anyone call wisdom boring."
"Do you think we'll hear from Sourros tonight?"
Galavar figured they would.
"We usually do. After the fireworks."
"He didn't speak to us at last year's feast. Or the one before that."
"Speaking of weird, I for sure don't understand why Sourros isn't more accessible to us. We're his people after all, right? We're here in Ieik to be closest to him among all the Kindred. Usually he doesn't speak to us. Why not, I wonder?"
"I suppose we could ask him," Ornithate suggested. "I haven't been to the Fateful Well since spring, but we could go tomorrow. It might be fun."
"God can hear us from anywhere. If he's inclined to answer, we don't need to go to the Well. We can ask right now." Galavar lifted his voice. "Why not, Sourros?"
Then, drowning out all the din of the carnival, the God of Logic and Wisdom spoke.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!