Title: Being Valter
Chapter: To know.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Stiig shifted his weight; the manack under him shook with a rumble but shifted its weight easily and turned up the column of foot soldiers. After a winter spent chasing barbarians through the mountains, the spires and domes on the horizon were a welcome sight.
“Stiig!” His commanding officer hailed him, arm in the air, his own tawny golden manack flicked its tail and eyed Stiigs mount.
The two manacks sidled up to each other, their feline bodies so graceful and powerful. Stiig reached forward and patted the hard, protective plates on his mounts head. “Sir?”
“It’s been a long time since we last saw home, huh?”
Stiig nodded in response. When he first joined the army after graduating from the orphanage school, Piotr had demanded the most of him. Piotr had created him, fostered him, but he was no family. He was Stiigs commanding officer. But he was also his friend during more relaxed circumstances.
The manack shifted with liquid grace under Stiig. “Easy boy.” He reached up and scratched the beasts shoulders. It could be easy to think of it as an overgrown house cat, but the manack had evolved, grown into something much larger and deadlier.
“What will you do with what time they give us home, Stiig?”
Stiig looked off into the distance, through the hills towards farm country. “Nothing.”
“Well I’m going to enjoy myself!” Piotr gave a hearty laugh and slapped his manack on the shoulders.
Stiig nodded but declined to respond.
They rode next to each other, their manacks, litter mates, striding comfortably shoulder to shoulder. It took the better part of the day to winde between the hills. The capitol stood on top of one of the tallest hills the eye could see in a sea of hills. Once long ago a village sat on that very hill. There hadn’t been any Royals back then, only villages like island nations all to themselves. No one was in charge of the land, no one was educated about magic, and everyone did what they wanted to do. For a few years there was a shortage of food. Talent was easy to come by, but the knowledge to use that talent for magic was less common.
There was a common man, a farmer most likely who just had a knack for persuading people and had a bit of talent himself. Hungry people will do many things for food. The man’s name was Qvan. No one named their child Qvan anymore. Qvan gathered as many with magical talent as he could find and taught them a handful of spells, tricks and the like to intimidate people. They went to the neighboring village and bullied the people into giving them their food. When that ran out, they went to another village and then another. People who had talent joined him because Qvan gave them food.
It was so long ago that no one remembered how long Qvan and his army of poor, magic wielding farmers terrorized defenseless villages. The towns had only the most basic defenses. They didn’t even have leaders.
The only place of any formable kind of defenses was the town of Lians. They even had a leader, a man named Valter who was reputed to be the most powerful Kendte; he used magic like most artists used paint. The people who had no food, who had been terrorized by Qvan went to Kendte Valter and begged him to do something. An organized, educated man he gathered all of the displaced people, fed them from his stores and picked the most sturdy to join his own men and went out to fight against Qvan.
It may or may not be true, but it was a long standing tradition that the two forces met on this very hill. Qvan and his rag tag band of tricksters were no match for Kendte Valter, who subdue them and accepted their surrender on the top of the tallest hill as far as the eye could see. The villagers were so thankful and afraid it might happen again that they asked Kendte Valter to become their King; and so they had their first Royal and the Kingdom of Valter became reality.
The stories flooded into Stiigs mind as the city came closer and then welcomed them with open arms. Above them girls leaned out of windows and threw scarves with their House emblem stitched onto it; their invitation to an expensive dinner. Stiig tossed the scarf that fell across his manack’s neck to a nearby foot soldier and glared at the paving stones. He didn’t like the attention. He liked doing his job. The jaunt through the city felt like it took forever. The barracks were a sight for sore eyes! The grounds were thick with the press of bodies unloading and jostling loved ones.
Stiig twisted around in his saddle, brows deeply furrowed. “Where are the Royals?” He asked Piotr.
His commander swung his head towards him and shrugged. “No idea.” Piotr’s head snapped around as two junior solders clung to their manacks who were hissing at each other.
“But they’re supposed to be here when we return,” Stiig muttered to himself, eyes dark as he gazed up at the platform where the Royals had always stood to greet them.
Stiig urged his manack towards the den where they were kept and only released his mount to a more senior handler. Manack could be docile or savage; Stiig preferred his mount to be spirited. He gave the animal a scratch on the jaws and removed his packs before escaping through the back of the den, past the piles of toothy kittens that would grow into their claws some day and the hustle and bustle of the handlers.
Everything would be clogged with people for the next two days, but at least the back of the den let out onto a lesser congested avenue. His own room was a short hike away, but even that was short in comparison to the journey they’d just finished.
He turned around and gave a rough nod to the young man that fell in line next to him.
“Stiig, you headed back to your room? Going to go out tonight with us?”
Stiig shook his head, “Just to my room.”
“You’re no fun,” the young man grinned and hefted his pack higher on his back.
“Any idea why the Royals weren’t out here?” It was gnawing on him. They had always been there for every return of the soldiers.
“Oh I heard that they all took off this morning to the lakefront house. Think they’re going to crown the prince this year?”
“He’s still just a kid.”
“He’s as old as us.”
“It’s not the same.” Stiig looked away from the young man and grimaced. How could he explain that a life spent in the palace, even educated, was different than spending years in the army, fighting with a manack against barbarians.
“Well, we’re going out soon, so if you change your mind you know where to find me.”
Stiig nodded and turned into his own building. He didn’t stay long, even after being gone for almost two years. He dropped his packs and locked the door behind him to retrace his steps back outside. He wanted to know what the Royals were up to. It was obsessive, probably pointless, but Stiig was restless. It was in his nature to know.