The Feast of Feats
Section I: Episode 9
September 15, 2014
When Galavar and Ornithate returned to their place at the Athletes' Tables, they found that a gaggle of others had shown up to congratulate Team Second Place, some from the other relay teams, some from outside the sport, and all of them having since gone agog over Sourros.
The bodybuilder Nightlight, who had taken Galavar's first-place lead in the relay and probably cost Team Javelin the race, was the first to spot them.
"There they are," she said.
"Galavar! Ornithate! Wasn't that amazing?!" Javelin yelled as soon as she caught sight of where Nightlight was pointing. "The God, right here at our very own party!"
"It's been years," said Remedy. "Everybody's trying to figure out what he meant. Galavar, I bet you've got some ideas. You love puzzles."
"He's right about that," said Javelin.
"I've certainly been trying to figure it out," Galavar admitted.
"Galavar's the one who did it!" Ornithate blurted.
"Ornithate! I don't think we should—"
"He asked Sourros a question and Sourros answered him straight off."
"You did what?" said Javelin.
"He asked Sourros, he asked why Sourros doesn't speak to us more often."
That certainly got everyone's attention.
"Really?" said Nightlight.
"Really?" Remedy echoed.
Tarierse, a friend of Javelin's, offered another view.
"You think you did this? Isn't that self-centered?"
"It could certainly have been a coincidence," Galavar allowed.
Javelin laughed, rose to her feet, and jumped over the table. She landed next to Galavar in perfect form, put her arm around him, and punched him in the chest playfully.
"If anyone could get the God's attention, it'd be my mate Galavar," Javelin insisted. "I wouldn't be the least bit surprised that it was you."
"The odds that he was the only one thinking of a question at that—"
"He specifically asked Sourros, out loud," Ornithate said, "We've just been over to see the River—"
"Not actually the River himself—" Galavar began.
"—and besides, I can tell all by myself that Sourros was answering Galavar. Sometimes you just know this stuff."
"That's not very rational," said Tarierse.
"It does seem far-fetched," said Nightlight.
"You know what I mean. Sometimes you can feel God's attention on you."
"Did you feel it too?" Nightlight asked her. "Even though Galavar was the one who asked the question?"
"Yes! I was right there next to him, and it was my question."
Ornithate was more animated almost than Galavar had ever seen her. Apparently when that shell of hers managed to burst a seam there was plenty of passion inside waiting to get out.
"What about you, Galavar?" Nightlight asked. "What do you think?"
"I'm honestly not sure. But…oh, I don't know!" he snapped. "It was either a response to me that I don't understand, or a very neat coincidence."
"You asked him why he doesn't talk to us more often," Asash said. "If he really was answering you, then maybe he was making a joke."
"When have you ever heard of Sourros joking about anything?" Ornithate asked.
"How do we know when he's joking or not?" Tarierse.
"You're just being argumentative. You don't actually think he was joking."
"Easy," Javelin said, walking to Ornithate and putting her arm around her. "I believe you, but it's good to be skeptical."
From there a broader conversation broke out, with various splinters of conversation.
"Nightlight!" said Galavar. "Forget all this for a moment." He bowed slightly. "Congratulations on a really wonderful performance in the relay. You beat me handily."
She smiled, her inquisitional stance from the argument melting into something warmer.
"Thank you," she said.
"How did you do it?"
"Ever curious, you. No special trick. On the net I held the jar against my breast. I took your idea, actually."
"But you were so much faster."
"I could see your horrible gait and exactly what you were doing wrong. It was easy to correct. I suppose you owe some of your congratulations to yourself."
"What about the rock baskets?"
"Oh, that was easy."
"Not for me."
"I suppose I didn't see what you did," she said. "Did you end up trying to lift the baskets with just one arm?"
"That's silly. Where do you put something like a small jar when you need to hold it and don't have either hand free?"
"I put it on the ground, ordinarily."
"You've got good thighs."
She pointed at them. "They're bigger than mine. Very fleshy. You could have held the jar there easily. That's what I did. I positioned myself so that I wouldn't need to take any steps, then I put the jar between my legs and lifted the baskets with both arms."
"Without squatting?" Galavar had trouble imagining it. "You'd have tipped the jar if you'd squatted."
"Not true. I squatted. Try it. Just be careful. It isn't hard."
"How about that…"
"You look surprised."
"It's just that I'm twenty years old★ and still learning completely new things about my body."
"I hope that won't end anytime soon."
He raised an eyebrow.
"That's a good way of looking at it."
"Galavar!" It was Javelin, butting in from her argument with Tarierse. "What's a birr?"
"I don't know."
"Sourros said we should let the Tolgal come alive in our birr."
"I remember, but I don't know what it means."
"You're so smart, and the one time I need you to be smart you fail me! Useless!"
"Maybe you should ask Sourros," Tarierse suggested.
"Don't be rude," Javelin said, and they went back to arguing.
Galavar turned back to Nightlight. Master Veskegen had called her solution clever, and he couldn't bring himself to share that choice of words, but he had just enough sense not to say it. A year ago, he wouldn't have been so prudent. Still, clever or not, it had worked. It had been cleverer than his solution.
"You know," he said instead, "I was fourteen years old when Sourros last spoke to me, at the Fateful Well. It was perfectly easy to understand him then."
"What did he say?"
"He praised me for being curious, told me to keep on asking questions. I guess the question before me now is not whether Sourros spoke tonight in reply to me, but what his words mean if they are a reply to me."
"He said that most of Relance we have never trod. That isn't true in the literal sense. Could it be true as an answer to my question?"
He walked over to a big ceramic bowl of fruit wine, and ladled himself a cup.
"He called the years 'late.'"
"Aye, that part sounded ominous."
"There's no reason it has to be, though. 'Late' could be relative to anything. He could even have been using the word in a way we don't recognize."
"Would you like some punch?"
"And he mentioned 'the Relance once thought.' What do you suppose that is, in relation to the question of why he doesn't talk to us more often?"
"I really have no idea."
"It isn't logical to speak in riddles," Galavar said. "Not if one seeks to be understood."
"Perhaps he had some different purpose, then."
"Like you say, I have no idea." And he didn't. "But, then again, a couple of hours ago I couldn't figure out to stick a jar of water between my thighs."
"Sometimes the obvious solutions escape us, especially when we're under pressure," she said to him. "There's nothing pressing, here. We can take our time to figure out what Sourros meant."
Over from the concert stages, music had resumed, and was beginning to grow lively. In Ieik, a townwide proclamation like the one Sourros had just made was grounds for celebration. Assuredly people were still debating their God's cryptic words, but conviviality was the real power here tonight.
"You're right," he said.
★ Galavar's Age
Galavar is 20 years old on Relance, but Relancii years are 72 percent as long as Terran ones. Going by our own count, Galavar is just about 15 years old.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!