Chapter 2 - Friends
Sweat ran down Aeowynn’s forehead into her eyes. Tiny wisps of hair had loosened from her long braid and curled around her ears. She could feel the gritty dirt on her cheek that stuck there when she had hit the ground. She wiped away the sweat and squinted at her opponent. A tall girl with hair the color of the sun stood facing her. Her pale blue eyes sparkled as she laughed at Aeowynn.
“Sorry ‘Wynn. You keep turning your left leg in slightly. I couldn’t resist it.”
Beca and Aeowynn had both joined the convent on their sixteenth birthdays, two years earlier, and had become close friends. Beca was from two towns over, to the North. To Aeowynn it seemed like everything came naturally to Beca. At first, she was envious of the outgoing blonde-haired girl but her infectious smiles and laughter melted Aeowynn’s anxiousness away. Beca reminded her a little of her twin brother in how she had an insatiable appetite for adventure and always seemed to be getting into trouble.
They had learned a lot from the Sisters of Tamos, who were very focused on serving others. Tamos was the one true god of purity, and for the Sisters, the acts of preservation, either of self or of others, was the purest way of serving him. People with illnesses and broken limbs would come to be healed and recover. Even farmers with diseased animals would seek their help. The Sisters also taught the ritual prayers which would cleanse them spiritually and keep their hearts pure. They also taught what was called the Dance of Tamos. The Dance was comprised of various hand to hand defensive combat maneuvers called Jayo and a beautiful choreography of sword forms called Juthai. Their land hadn't seen fighting for generations, so brightly colored sticks replaced sharp steel. To Aeowynn's dismay, she often found herself sprawled flat in courtyard’s dust when practicing Jayo, especially against Beca, and much preferred the intricate and beautiful moves of Juthai. The whirling colors were like a rainbow and the sharp clacking of wood on wood created a wonderful staccato rhythm.
Aeowynn clapped the dust off of her hands. “Ugh, I never make that move. Why do I even bother trying anymore?”
“Because you’re getting better at it,” Beca said.
Aeowynn rolled her eyes at this.
“Really! You are. I almost didn’t catch you this time.” She offered a hand to Aeowynn and helped her up.
“Well, it doesn’t feel like it.”
“Don’t give up. I know you’ll get it, eventually. How about you and me sneak into the kitchen and grab a pastry or two. We can eat them by the sea cliff and watch the seals play.”
Aeowynn laughed, “We’re supposed to clean the horse stalls, remember? As punishment for the last time we went on one of your hair-brained adventures.”
“The stalls will still be here when we get back. Besides, aren’t you famished?” Beca pantomimed eating a delicious apple tart.
Aeowynn’s stomach chose that moment to gurgle in response. “Fine! I still don’t understand how I let you talk me into these. I swear you’re as bad as my brother.”
Beca's cheeks flushed at the mention of Bryn. Aeowynn wasn't oblivious to how Beca felt about her brother and she smiled, amused at Beca's sudden discomfort. She also knew how to use this to keep Beca, at least somewhat, in line.
“You know what? Sister Nesta tasked me with delivering some mended garments to the monastery. Why don't we finish the stalls now and then you can come with me. Maybe we'll run into my idiot brother when we're there.”
“He's not an idiot,” Beca said without thinking. “Well, uh, some of the time, anyways. You know what I mean!”
“I guess I shouldn't try skipping out of all of my duties,” Beca said trying hard to change the subject. “Let's go get this over with.”
By the time they had finished with the horse stalls, washed up and grabbed a quick bite to eat, the sun was already sinking below the waves far across the ocean. Aeowynn and Beca had bundled the garments required for the delivery and were making their way up the road towards the neighboring monastery. A cool wind was blowing across the fields causing them to pull their cloaks tighter. The monastery, similar to the convent, was a central stone sanctuary surrounded by wooden barracks, stables, and other outbuildings. The two girls ran up to the Prior of the monastery’s home and knocked on the door. After a minute it opened and an older man appeared with a scowl. His bald head glinted in the firelight coming from inside. Upon seeing the girls his expression softened and his scowl turned into a broad smile.
“Aeowynn and Beca, my favorite Sisters. Blessings of Tamos be upon you both. What brings you two here on this chilly evening?”
“Blessings on you as well Prior Martyn. Sister Nesta has sent us here with these garments.” Aeowynn presented the Prior with their package.
“Ahh yes. Thank you. That is most appreciated. Come in, come in my dears. There is such a wind tonight and I have water boiling. I don't suppose you'd like a cup of hot cocoa? Just don't tell Sister Nesta, eh? I don't need another lecture from her.”
Aeowynn and Beca grinned at each other. “Oh yes. Thank you. We love cocoa.”
The Prior busied himself with the kettle while the girls found places to sit by the fire. He poured their drinks and sat down in a chair covered in a large bearskin.
“I'm glad you stopped by Aeowynn. I had wanted to talk to you about your brother.”
“Oh no,” she said. “What did he do this time?”
“Hah. So quick to assume his disobedience, hmm? Well, it is true that Bryn has found himself in hot water more often than not, I've seen him change over these last two years. It's been hidden behind his troublesome charm and quick tongue, but it's there nonetheless. He came to me earlier today and asked about the travelling monks that we used to send out from here. Then he asked if I was interested in reinstating the practice. I must admit, the request surprised me. Do you know his motives behind this?” Aeowynn felt guilty. It had been her idea for Bryn to join the Brotherhood. It had seemed like the best way for Bryn to realize his dreams of travelling that didn't involve him running away from home. She sighed and told the Prior all about this and the fact that it was her idea.
“Ahh, that makes sense. Although I wonder if it wasn't more than that?” He smiled at her.
“More? I don't think I understand.”
“There is a bond between you two. Twins tend to share this and I think your idea was to keep him close by. Even if you didn't consciously think it.”
“Really?” she said. “You think I manipulated him just to stay close by me?”
“It's entirely possible and quite plausible, my dear. But don't feel guilt over it. You presented the choice to him, yes, but it was his decision to join the Brotherhood, not yours. And like I said before, he has changed, and for the better too. I think his request, even if it was your idea originally, is Tamos leading him towards his destiny.”
“You're considering allowing him to travel?” Aeowynn felt happy that this might fulfill her brother’s dreams; but then she realized the reality that he would be leaving while she stayed behind. She grimaced at the idea of losing her brother.
“Travel?” Beca asked. “What do you mean by that?”
Prior Martyn settled back into the chair. “A long time ago, when the truth of Tamos was brought into these lands, and this monastery was first built, the Brotherhood sent out missionaries to surrounding villages and remote hamlets to spread the word of our god. After a few generations, the need for them diminished as the local parishes were set up. We stopped sending out travelling monks altogether.”
Beca looked puzzled. “Then why send Bryn now? What would he be doing out there?”
“To strengthen the teachings of Tamos. The parishes are too independent and interpretations of the holy scripts are too broad. I fear if we continue down this path for too many years we may end up spiritually weak. I will need young Bryn to visit these parishes, create stronger relationships with them and ultimately bring back information so we can formulate what to do next.” The Prior chuckled. “I’m not sure how adventurous this will be for him though. If he seeks to find glory and thrill I fear he may only find parchment and long tedious deliberations. This is important work, though, and he will be doing great service for Tamos.”
“Will he know enough? I mean, has he had enough training here to go?”
“He knows enough. And besides, it’s the relationships that he will form that is the most important.”
The Prior continued to talk about the various issues Bryn would be dealing with as the girls sipped the cocoa and the embers of the fire died down.
The next day Aeowynn and Beca were down at the bottom of the sea cliffs collecting clams for their evening meal. They were on their knees, digging in the sandy muck of the low tide, both lost in thought at what the Prior had revealed to them the previous night. They didn’t see Bryn climbing down the last step onto the sandy beach behind them.
“Heyo sister dear, you two praying to the fish now?” He couldn't move fast enough as Beca whirled around and threw a clump of muddy seaweed at his head, hitting him squarely in the face.
“Oh Bryn! I'm sorry. You startled me. I didn't know it was you,” Beca rushed over and wiped the mud off his cheek. Realizing what she was doing she turned bright red and took a step back.
“Uh, that's okay Beca. I was asking for it, sneaking up on you like that,” he said, taken aback himself.
“Yes you were, brother.” Aeowynn said with affection. Beca's actions didn't go unnoticed to her either, and that made Aeowynn smile even more. “We heard you were asking for all sorts of things as of late. We talked with Prior Martyn last night.”
“Yes, he told me about your visit. You know us Brothers hardly ever get hot cocoa? Apparently you told him why I joined the monastery in the first place.”
“I'm sorry Bryn, it felt like the right thing to do. The Prior said he might send you out though?”
With that Bryn took a step back, flashed a huge grin and bowed low to the two girls, flourishing an imaginary cape, “May I introduce you to the newest travelling brother of Tamos. Bringer of unity, purity and peace amongst all those who follow his most holy order.”
Aeowynn squealed in delight, while Beca, who had regained her composure, curtsied with a laugh.
“Oh Bryn, I'm so happy for you.” Aeowynn hugged her brother. “I suppose you leave after the winter? Or do you need a few more years of study before they will send you off?”
Bryn's smile faded and his tone became serious. “Actually, I'm leaving tomorrow, for Granford and then around the coast to Belhal.”
Beca’s heart skipped. “Belhal? But that's, that's at least five months away by horse!”
“You can't be serious, Bryn. Tomorrow?”
Aeowynn felt a cold lump form in the bottom of her stomach.
“I know, I know. I'm going to miss you, but I am to return next year if all goes well.”
“You can't leave yet. Who will patch you up when you break another bone or twist another ankle?”
“It will be ok, sis. I’ll be fine. I need to do this. You know I need to.”
“Yeah, I know.” Deep down she knew he had to go. He would never be happy unless he saw the outside world. It was true they had a connection, but they weren’t the same people. She didn’t understand his drive but she acknowledged it. She glanced over to her best friend and saw a mask of angst on her face. Bryn was too oblivious to see that Beca loved him and would miss him as much as she would, if in a different way. Forcing her own feelings down for the moment, she reached down and grabbed Beca’s and her own pails of clams and then said, “I expect you to come by tonight, to say goodbye. Now you and Beca need to talk. Bryn, you need to listen to her. And don’t you dare use your leaving as an excuse.” With that she strode off towards the sea cliff leaving Bryn sputtering and turning a deep shade of red. Beca mouthed the words ‘thank you’ to her as she gave her best encouraging smile.
That evening Bryn and Beca strode into the courtyard holding hands, beaming. Others soon joined the three of them, including a few of Bryn’s friends from the monastery. Even Prior Martyn and Sister Nesta dropped in to bid a formal farewell. They talked long into the night, reminiscing about all the adventures they had and about the adventures yet to come.