Chapter 18: To Admire

Once the door was shut Keenin started tossing his clothes in a corner and pulling on the temple robes.

“Seems troublesome,” Clide said from behind him.

“I thought you said that you would wear the clothes.”

For some reason, Clide had insisted on following him to the temple that morning.

“I am,” Clide said.

Keenin straightened out his robe and looked over at his friend. As promised Clide was already wearing the black gown, though no clothes littered the floor. He must have changed his appearance in the same way that he shifted from a dragon into a boy.

“Exactly how do you do that?”

“Do you really want to know how I fit tons of dragon into this tiny shell?”

Clide said it in a way that made the change seem either painful or embarrassing. Keenin also remembered that people were waiting on him.

“Maybe another time.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“But, I defiantly want to know later.”


The chore that day was polishing, which was about the same as dusting except that they were only cleaning the shiny metal pieces. Both Clide and Dia had insisted on helping at the temple that morning. They were now dutifully wearing the clothes and enduring the sulfuric smell wafting from the yellow bars of polish.

“You better hold the ladder,” Clide said to Dia as she placed the wooden ladder under the chandelier.

Keenin had tried not to pay attention, but he was curious about his friend’s change of mood. Dia agreed and let Clide climb while she held it steady.

“Volunteers can’t complain,” Dia retorted.

Clide was obviously being overly cautious with her.

“I only spare you the smell of rotten sulfur eggs,” Clide said grabbing hold of one metal arm of the chandelier and rubbing it with a rag smeared with polish. “I’m sure I’ll be smelling it for a few days.”

Dia watched him work and blinked her eyes at the falling dust, then she smiled.

“Hey, Clide,” Dia teased again in boredom. “Just don’t look down.”

Of course, Clide looked down at her.

“Like a little height is going to–

The bar of polish hit the ground and dented like butter.

“Uug,” Dia said clamping a hand over her nose.

Keenin looked away and reached behind his head to tighten the knot of the handkerchief over his mouth. That done, he looked around for another shiny object. Rupert was already cleaning the metal filigree behind the podium. Beside that was an armored marble statue of a man who rested his hands over the hilt of a standing sword. Keenin walked up beside Rupert for a better view and peered at the marble face that looked out at the world as gently as one could look with stone eyes.

“That’s a statue of the knight Ikabod. The last chosen champion during the dragon wars,” Rupert said at the notice of Keenin’s interest.

It was a name and a history that Keenin had never heard of. He didn’t realize that gods could have champions.

“Why does he look kind?”

These figures of war didn’t seem to reflect the theme.

“You think so too,” Rupert said. “I told the priest it was strange. Nobody else depicts him as kind because he was Diana’s champion, but priest Curtis here said Ikabod was an admirer before anything else. Strange old man, but at least he’s devoted. The statue must have cost him a lifetime. Not to mention the full set of armor.”

Keenin looked from the statue’s face down to the blade of the sword he held in front with the tip to the ground. He touched a finger to the metal and traced the edge. No harm came to him for it was dull. Keenin moved his fingers away before he was noticed and ran over its flat surface with the polish coated cloth. He could see the waves in the metal where the sword had been properly folded instead of poured into a mold. The only detail it seemed to lack was sharpness.

“Is it balanced?” Keenin asked aloud curiously.

“We don’t know. I don’t think the old guy had that much money,” Rupert said upon hearing him. “Of course, I talked about it with the others who worked here, but none of us can prove it since we can’t lift it.”

Keenin put down his polishing rag and reached up to put one hand around the hilt, then the other. He pulled it out of the statue’s hold. The weight of the full-sized sword balanced for a moment on the tip before Keenin adjusted the angle towards himself and it tilted heavily into his hands. Judging that the weight was manageable he rolled his shoulders back and bent his knees in preparation.

“Hey. It’s pretty heavy. You might not actually want to–

In one motion Keenin lifted the sword tip from the ground. His arms shook with the effort, but it felt right. He started to smile as he dared to imagine himself on a distant battlefield. The fighter’s roaring and clashing, himself leading, and the flames at his side.

“Could it be you were–

A loud clang sounded before Rupert’s sentence was finished. Keenin looked at the dropped end of the sword against the stone floor, still in one piece.

“Shit,” Rupert swore.

Keenin looked at Dia as if she had spoken. She looked as startled as he.

“I hope nobody heard that,” Rupert said. Then he turned his head to give Keenin a proud and mischievous smile.

Keenin smiled back. The two of them lifted the sword into place under the knight’s hands and stood back to admire it again.

“Scalion,” Dia said grabbing his attention with his pretend name. He turned.

“Were you taught?” she asked.

Taught, Keenin thought over. What did it matter?

“It’s not like, I practiced,” he honestly said.

He had just happened to read a few stolen books and mocked out stances with a large branch. Besides, Keenin didn’t realize that they were on speaking terms. Dia’s focus shifted.

“Well it’s not like-

She stopped, looked at the rag in her hand and hurried off towards the nearest metal object to continue polishing. Keenin sighed. He supposed the name Scalion was a bit silly. He was going to return to work when this time Clide made a sound.

“Can someone hold the ladder so I can come down now?” Clide asked.

Both Dia and Keenin moved to help. They paused when they saw the other going to support the ladder, but each mentally decided it was ridiculous to avoid each other and they ended up on opposite sides of the ladder looking over at one another. Clide made his way down and leaned towards Keenin.

“I hope you’re feeling better because I really don’t like these clothes.”

Jeez. That dragon didn’t know how to just come out and say it. It would have been nice to get a sorry. Dia watched him between the ladder’s peak.

“I’ll take the ladder,” she said.

Keenin let go of it and without another word Dia carried it off into the back of the temple. Clide found himself a tall candlestick holder to occupy his time.

“Scalion, come help,” Rupert called out from beside the statue.

There was nowhere else for him to go. He had to face the statue of Ikabod a second time. He worked around the edges of the wrist guards feeling more like a tailor than a simple cleaner.

“Sorry,” Keenin said sheepishly apologizing for the awkwardness.

“You’re feeling better right,” Rupert noted.


“Then that’s all that matters. You know, I’ve been meaning to ask what it’s like to travel.”

“What for?”

“For a pilgrimage. I don’t just want to look at these idols for the rest of my life. One day I want to see more.”

Now that was an idea Keenin thought, going to see the gods.

“I’m not sure if it works that way,” Keenin said.

“Tell me anyway.”

Rupert watched Keenin with a patient resolution. Keenin thought about it. He thought about all the things he could never say, he sorted through the quiet lonely times, and reminisced on unexpected good luck. Then when Keenin spoke he started to weave the story of how he set out with his siblings to find their parents who had years before left them with a distant relative during the war. He explained that on the way back home they heard old news from places their parents had passed through and received tales of the battle. How they had recently been unable to secure a ride and had traveled their first time in the wilds.

“…And then I learned how to kill something for food,” Keenin told him.

“Where does your confidence come from?”

“I-I’ve never thought about it.”

“Well, you really are the most interesting person I’ve met. Hey, if you want to stay, I think I could work something out for you. You know, if you decide not to go home. Your parents are sure to forgive you for finding a place to settle down,” Rupert let him know.

That statement made Keenin pause. Rupert was the first person who had offered him charity since he left his hometown. Since he couldn’t return home yet anyway, what was the difference between here and Behoden. But then Keenin also thought of Alaban sitting alone in his house as it grew cold. If he stayed this far away he might never make it back.

“I’m sorry. There’s also someone else I need to get back to,” Keenin confessed.

“Then you are welcome as long as you want and any time after that,” Rupert told him.


That night, when they returned to their spot behind the store and dragged their blankets out from inside the boxes which they had bought from the sale of the heavy furs, Keenin felt lonely. He wished that for once, instead of settling down, his companions would dare to keep him talking. But they didn’t and he found his place against the brick wall. Not feeling tired and having no one to talk to he sat looking up at the stars.

They didn’t glitter the way he remembered, but with his mood that was expected. Besides, stars needed breaks too. He remembered the first time as a child that the stars started to look dull. He hadn’t been seeing straight that time either. That very first day Lester had punched him and he had fallen right down, flat on the ground, dirt on his back, tears stuck in his eyes, and pain bruising his cheekbone. Then the stars above him had felt like cooling drips of water to his tired eyes.

He blinked and was aware of the dark city night around him. Dia had left her spot and moved over to her salt circle. She was taking more handfuls of salt from the bag at her side and drawing even more symbols.

“What are you doing?” Keenin asked her.

He wanted to know her connection to the ghost. She had already claimed to be able to see Tess following him.

“You’re still awake?”

“Can’t I be?”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you,” she apologized.

“You weren’t.”

Clide gave a snort and a cold breeze drafted by.

“If anyone is bothering me it’s that dragon,” Keenin said getting up and moving to the boxes.

After rummaging around, he found a familiar oversized shirt and pulled it over the clothes he already wore.

“You kept that.”

“I thought a spare something would be good. Did you want me to get rid of it?”

“No,” she said simply.

Keenin sighed. “Gods you’re annoying.”

“Me. What about you and not sleeping. You know you have to work tomorrow.”

“I’m thinking about how to get to Behoden,” Keenin said.

“Really. I saw you getting along with Rupert today.”


“Telling him about your entire-

“Dia,” Keenin said, snapping her out of it. “I didn’t leave on this adventure because I wanted to and I’m not staying here. All I told Rupert were some fabricated lies.”

Dia stood with a handful of salt slowly spilling from between her fingers.

“Well…good. Then we can leave like we said we would.”

She scattered her last handful across the flagstones as though the dirt required an extra something.

“We can leave when you finally make up for lost pay,” Keenin reminded her.

“Actually, we were thinking of leaving tomorrow night,” Dia told him.

She pulled tight the drawstrings on the salt bag.

“There isn’t enough money to take us,” Keenin said.

“Still dull-witted,” Dia chided him as she put the bag down by her blanket.” Clide prepared some animal skins to sell. We have our share covered.”

Dia remained standing to see his expression.

“But then you-,” Keenin started, “You helped at the church.”

She sat to rearrange her sleeping spot. Dia looked up to give him a smile like a mother who had waited for him to find out the answer, before she lay down and pulled the blanket over her curled form.

“We said we were sorry didn’t we,” she mumbled. “Stop worrying and go to sleep.”


Chapter 17: Not My Friends

Chapter 19: Betrayal of the Mind