For moments like these
The greycloaks were laughing. Even Avad, the greenhorn, who joined them only a few days before, grinned shyly.
"Whoa … a great pleasure, Captain! Another one!" clamoring for a new song, Khelgar slammed his half-empty beer mug onto the bruised table board, carrying on the beat of the recent one.
"The seven virgins of Eralwyn, please!"
"The forest-beast and the armorer!"
"Hell of a ride to Griffindell!"
"You're asking for a helluva ride? You'll get it! On the drill field! Right at daybreak!"
Lieutenant Kana stood in the wide open door of the Inn; slender, fair and beautiful, like the blade of her sword - Aloof like the Unreachable East where she came from. Her almond-shaped eyes were sparkling. The cheerful noise in the Phoenix Tail Inn ceased abruptly at her entering. The soldiers, Sal the innkeeper, and even the Captain of Crossroad Keep ducked their heads.
"Kana, ouch!" whispered Torias. "I think this goose is cooked ..." With visible regret, he laid his mandolin aside to greet his adjutant. The young woman answered his salutation with a short nod. Looking over the group that was frozen in embarrassed silence, she snorted, displeased.
"Just a word with you, Captain," she asked curtly, "Outside - Not here in front of the men!" Then she turned on her heel and left the Inn, her flying cape following her like a thundercloud.
"Ouch!" Neeshka giggled and toasted the halfling with her glass of wine. "Good luck, Torias. Think you're gonna need it this time. She looks really … pissed off."
Khelgar followed suit. "You've got my deepest sympathy," he grumbled.
Torias shrugged - smiling. "This had to happen sooner or later," he said airily before giving his men an encouraging wink. "Don't worry, I'll deal with her. But be prepared - It's going to be a tough day tomorrow. You know the drill."
He closed the door and obediently followed Kana into the quiet night.
She was awaiting him under the lantern nearest to the Inn. "Captain, I can't tolerate this behavior any longer!" she burst out angrily.
Torias smiled. "I'm also glad to see you, Lieutenant! What is bothering you, that it can't be discussed while enjoying a fine carafe of wine?"
The small but well-toned woman looked at him frowning. "This is exactly what I'm talking about: a pitcher of wine, two tankards of ale, three jolly songs …We are at war, Captain, and you are with the men celebrating festivals!"
"Oh!" he replied, after seeing his adjutant's thunderous expression. For just a moment there was silence in the courtyard. Torias thoughtfully scratched his bristly chin.
"Hmmm…" Then he nodded. The shadows of the old walnut's branches - gently swayed by the nighttime breeze - hid his smirk. "Right you are," he said. "This is a matter you really can't discuss hidden behind a bottle of … whatever … Let's take a walk." He turned to the large gate and invited Kana with open arms to follow him.
"Good evening Captain …. Lieutenant!" the watch at the gate hailed the nocturnal walkers.
"Good evening … Silas, right?"
"How is …"
"Everything's quiet here, Captain. Nothing to report!"
Torias laughed and then shook his head. "No, Silas - that isn't what I wanted to know. How is Narami? Isn't it about time soon?"
The happy grin on the soldier's face widened. "She's fine, Sir. She's bulky and round - and aglow with happiness. According to the herb-woman … half of the moon is left, at the utmost, and if the child's a boy we will call him …"
"Shush, greycloak! Where I'm from, first of all, the child learns his name - and not till then, his father's Captain will learn it."
Reaching the cobbled way that would lead them into the near fields and out of the guardian's earshot, Kana once again shook her head in disapproval. "Damn, Torias, You're doing it again!"
"Mollycoddling the men!"
Moonlight swept over the land and the wind made waves dancing upon the oat and barley-fields, giving them the shiny appearance of iridescent lakes. Torias climbed the uppermost rail of Orlen's wooden fence, poked around, and then, absentmindedly, started - in Kana's eyes, a way the Crossroad Keep's Captain never should behave - to dangle his feet.
"Oh!" he said once more - sounding sorry like a child, caught by his mother with his hand in the cookie jar. But suddenly his face brightened up. "Hello Squeek!"
A grey-white tomcat carefully walked the roughly cut log of ash-tree on which he was sitting. The cat impetuously rubbed his head against the halfling's hip and with a loud purr enjoyed getting scratched amply on the back of the neck and between his ears.
"No, don't tell me," Torias anticipated Kana, "I'm mollycoddling the cat, too. Am I not?"
Kana gave him an annoyed grumble. "You're trying to get around this!"
"Not at all - I am here and there's no place for me to run. By the way - do you know why this little tiger is called Squeek?"
"We have been discussing the men, Captain!" Her temper was barely under control. "And you want to... play with an ally cat!"
The animal intently looked the Lieutenant over for a while; his eyes glowing green, the pupils big and round like a pair of black moons. But suddenly something grabbed his attention - a sound, intended for his ears only. He purred shortly, almost as if he wanted to apologize for his hasty departure, and then without a sound, he vanished into the nightly shadows. Shortly after there was a sad squeaking sound coming from the fields.
The following words Torias spoke with an earnestness Kana never would have believed him capable of; "That's why," the halfling explained. "Believe me - He is one of Faerûn's best mousers, just as you are the best trainer the men will ever have. For the sake of all the gods you gorgeous women of Shou-Lung refuse to believe in, I would trade you for no one; Not Nevalle nor any of the other Nine!"
Just like the cat before, the Captain gave her a steady look. Kana was amazed to find herself at eye level with him; And not only because he had chosen his seat on top on the fence. The man sitting in front of her wasn't any longer the gray-haired, devil-my-care bard, who would sing juicy songs for the men and give the women a wolf whistle. In front of her sat the Captain of Crossroad Keep. The man who - as rumor had it - was able to kill a demon with his sword as well as with his song; the man who, according to Scalesinger the local merchant, sold his most precious lute to fund the reconstruction of the battered fortification; the man about whom Nevalle warned her half kidding-half seriously: 'Don't sell him short. Master Tahvi …. Torias … is a sly old fox. He loves to be underestimated. It's his way to win battles …'
"You teach the men to handle shield and sword like nobody else could teach them. They are strong, persevering, clever, and tough. The best of them fight far better than me by now," Torias continued. "No, there is no fault I could find with your work. You indeed teach the men how to fight well."
"But …" Kana raised an eyebrow. It did not escape her notice that the Captain left this sentence open.
"What do you think they are fighting for?"
"What a question! For Neverwinter, for Lord Nasher, for glory!"
The bard slightly shook his head. "No, Kana - this is what you stand for - With every fiber of your being. This is your way. Do you think the likes of Avad or Silas would take up your cause?"
"Of course not. It took me years to see it and years again to master it. The Way is a manner of looking at the world even your western scholars fail to see. So how should common countrymen …" Embarrassed she bit her tongue. "Excuse me. I didn't want to offend you and the men."
But Torias didn't seem offended at all. "You did not - How could the truth ever be insulting? You are right: they are common people: farmers, basket-makers, linen-weavers. And deep within they always will be what they are - even if we call them soldiers or greycloaks"
"They need other things to fight for," Kana pursued the line of thought. "Simple things, like … like …"
The Captain smiled kindly at the young woman's thoughtfully furrowed brow.
"a mug of ale at a hard day's end, the summer's harvest, the life of an unborn child,?" he suggested gently. "The Way is not at odds with the common man," he concluded.
Kana's eyes widened in astonishment. "Yes," she whispered, surprised. "Yes - Now I understand, what you're doing; You show them what's worth fighting for." She bowed respectfully to him according to the tradition of the eastern people." And now, I begin to understand why some call you Master."
When she straightened up, she saw the Captain stretching his hands towards the keep. Lost in thought, looking over his fingertips, he watched the newly rebuilt stone parapet overlooking his perch.
"What are you doing?" she asked, puzzled.
"It has been a long and hot summer-day. And although the sun has set long ago the walls still warm the land. Do you feel it, too?"
He invitingly pointed at the empty space beside him and Kana sighed with resignation. She looked around, assuring herself that no one was watching her. Then she swung herself up beside him and stretched her palms toward the mighty walls. The Captain was right: The Ki flowing towards her breathed summer, sun, and light.
"Earlier - Did you know, the tom would catch a mouse?" she asked after a little while.
"No... I didn't," Torias confessed...
"I 've watched him catch mice here every night. He's a hunter - It's his nature. And I trusted him not to fail me this time - As I now ask you to trust me not to fail you and the men," he added frankly.
A few more moments of silence passed, before Kana put forth another question:
"What about you? What are you fighting for, Torias?"
The halfling closed his eyes, smiling. "For moments like these…" he gently replied, hoping she would finally understand.
The young woman nodded. Then Nevalle's words came to her mind again: 'Master Tahvi is a sly old fox … It's his way to win battles - and hearts.' No, she would not give in that easily! With an angry growl, she slipped off the fence and headed for the main gate. "I want to see the men on the drill field at daybreak," she snarled, looking back over her shoulder at him. "The men and you, Master Tahvi!"