The Feast of Feats
Section I: Episode 10
September 22, 2014
In Ieik, Dawn's Eve was many a mate's favorite day of the year. It came at the peak of summer, when the days were their warmest and the nights still short. It was a day to partake in some of life's most important plenishments—food, sport, music, community…and reverence. Reverence for life, and for the world's maker.
Though not every year, the God Sourros often spoke to the people of Ieik on Dawn's Eve, typically late in the evening, from the Fateful Well. Tonight, though, Sourros had spoken not at the well but before all of Ieik. Had he done so in response to Galavar's question? None but Sourros could have known for sure. It was exciting, regardless. The music played a little louder afterward. Dancers pounded their feet a little harder. People ate a little more, drank a little more, spoke a little more honestly and a little more boldly.
At the Athletes' Tables, Galavar had been asked to stay until word came from the village leaders. That had been two or three hours ago. However, though his preference was to wander around, these tables were hardly a penitentiary. It was a prestige to be able to sit here. Wellwishers and fawners streamed by all evening long. The food kept coming, the chefs outdoing themselves with every platter, and the wine and beer flowed freely. And while Galavar was missing the games, he could hear the music down from the stages, though at this distance the different performances often mingled together.
Indeed, it was as Galavar sat quietly, straining to make out a single, particularly likable song in the midst of others, that the hulking Remedy, surrounded by friends and with a deep red flush on his cheeks, produced a whistle and began to play. This much nearer music overpowered the musics coming from the stages, and attracted a round of cheers and hollers as others nearby began to pound the tables like drums. Everyone knew the words, and most of the athletes began to sing
The Athlete's Conceit
Dare the contender
A triumph to render!
For every pretender
Will challenge and fall!
Be you lissome and lively,
Or mainsome and mighty,
Bear yourself brightly
And stand yourself tall!
Cream your competitors!
Capture the stars!
This is your hour, mates.
Show what you're made of
And prove who you are!
Paste every rival, mates!
You are an athlete.
You know the secret
To make a spark roar!
Galavar joined in too, and at the end they all whooped and hollered and slapped each other in good cheer.
Food and music, dancing and wine, wonder and reverence…but most of all on Dawn's Eve there was the company of friends. Before joining Team Javelin and the life of the sportsmate, Galavar had already been friends with Remedy and a couple of others, but in his seasons of training for the relay he'd made new friends too. It felt good to be here, on this night, with them, at the Athletes' Table, and all together the toast of the town.
Ornithate was next to him on the bench. She'd been singing too, and looked as unbottled as he'd ever seen her.
"That was fun!" she blurted.
"I didn't know he could play the whistle," said Galavar. "He's very good." Galavar raised his voice and cupped his mouth so that Remedy would hear: "Remedy, you're a real bard!"
Remedy smiled and bowed.
Then a profoundly sozzled Asash swaggered up to them and fell onto the bench across the table.
"That's how I like to party!" he shouted, though in the din it didn't seem so loud.
"Do you play any music instruments?" Galavar asked him.
"I play the godly Asash pipes!"
"Asash pipes?" said Galavar.
"What are those?" Ornithate asked.
And so Asash climbed up onto the table and began to shout, as loud as he could, his own, drunk song
Asash's Drunken Song
Night is here!
Let's have some beer!
Best night of the year!
If you fear we're out of beer!
Let's have some more beer!
Which he then proceeded to do, draughting deeply from a deep, broad growler, oblivious to the laughter he had drawn upon himself by many of those around him.
"That was so bad it was almost funny," Ornithate said to Galavar.
"Oh, let's give him his due. Everyone has fun in their own way."
"I don't know if that's fun we just saw, or booze."
"Fair. But alcohol doesn't do anything that isn't already a part of us."
Javelin came up to them carrying something in her hands.
"Look at this! Jarae gave me a piece of honeycomb."
"What's honeycomb?" asked Galavar.
"It comes from bees," she said.
"Well, I know honey comes from bees, but what's honeycomb?"
"Oh, I've heard about this," Ornithate said. "It's the food bees eat, right? And they make it themselves?"
"That doesn't make sense," Galavar said. "You can't make your own food."
"Mothers make milk," said Ornithate.
"But they have to eat something else to make that milk."
"I don't know all the details," Javelin confessed, "but it does come from bees. That means somebody must have brought it in from the Empire."
"I wonder whom."
"Does it matter?" she said. "Let's eat this!"
Ornithate's eyes lit up. "You're sharing it with us?"
"Of course I am!" She turned toward Asash, who was looking fairly insensate nearby. "Asash! Want some honeycomb?"
"It's the stuff honey comes from."
She broke it up into fourths, and passed it around.
"Do you eat the whole thing?" Galavar asked.
"I was hoping one of you knows."
"Let's try it!" Asash said, and put the whole thing in his mouth. He started chewing heavily.
"It's sweet!" he said, through a full mouth. "Waxy, too."
He kept chewing.
"It doesn't break up." The comb's persistence seemed to flummox him. "Nope. It's like ganderbark. You could chew it all night."
The others tried theirs. Ornithate took a small, tentative bite. Javelin bit off half of her piece. And Galavar followed Javelin's lead. It tasted amazing. The honey was incredibly, cloyingly sweet, and the comb was as chewy as Asash said. Galavar imagined a bunch of bees flying around, building their honeycomb. He didn't know what bees looked like, but he imagined them as small birds.
Ornithate swallowed her little bite and asked "Why don't we have honeycomb?"
"I guess, like everything else, the bees can't live up this high," said Javelin.
"Or maybe it's the cold weather," Galavar added. "Or maybe it's just too much trouble to keep them." He'd had enough of chewing. "This is okay to swallow?"
"Seems so," said Ornithate.
As they smacked their honeycomb, Galavar noticed Javelin watching him from across the table. She looked away immediately. She was thinking something, but she didn't say anything. Galavar was a big proponent of the straightforward interrogative, and ordinarily he would have just asked what was on her mind. This time, though, something niggled at him to let it go, and it puzzled him because he didn't know what that little niggling was or where it came from. So he turned to Ornithate instead.
"What quality of character do you think people overrate the most?" he asked.
"Say that again?"
"We admire a lot of character traits. Which one do you think we overrate the most?"
He could tell she was thinking it over, because her face contorted into a dumb, open-mouthed smile and furrowed brows.
"I don't think I have an answer," she finally said.
"I think it's intuition," he said immediately. "I don't trust what I don't understand."
"Is intuition so popular? They're always telling us in school not to trust something blindly, even if it's ourselves."
"Oh, we glorify it here, even though we claim not to. And from what I've learned in geography section, it's worse in other countries."
"Are you still wondering about Sourros' message?"
There was his out. He didn't like to lie, but this seemed like one of those pragmatic ones.
"I guess so."
"Don't worry about it," she told him. "Enjoy yourself. They'll be along to scoop us up soon. We can worry about it then."
Two tables away, Remedy had been kytled into playing another song on his whistle, and the romping started up again. This time, though, another humor struck him, and in short order everybody nearby realized that he was playing the anthem of Ieik, and they stopped what they were doing, rose to their feet, and sang along.
Then an amazing thing happened, then. The song carried down the Athletes' Tables, down through the wagon carts of food, over the musical stages, across the games arena, and out to every soul at the Feast of Feats, until, by the time the anthem was done, nearly everyone in Ieik was singing in unison
Should We Not Grasp That Golden Fire?
Our voices rise, cantorial,
Over the ancient palisades
That since time immemorial
Have seen our plights and our parades.
Should we not grasp that golden fire
And forge upon it our greatest dreams?
That pleasing form of nude desire
Gives shape to our most kindred schemes.
And we should be no more than dust
As the relance beneath our feet,
But that we are the curious:
In life our God we go to greet.
And when our tower finds an end,
Topped by an arjor tree in bloom,
We hope to breathe our last and then,
Smiling, embrace our mortal doom.
A fleeting moment of silence followed. Then an upwelling, a roar, of cheering.
Just as Galavar was sitting back down, one of the River's attendants arrived, caught Galavar's attention with a hand on his shoulder.
"Galavar, Ornithate. The River would like to see you, now."
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!