My Name is Honor: Chapter 11 (Orin's Tale Part 3)
Jarlath was even more imposing than Orin remembered. He looked up at the man before him, squinting against the sun. A robe of the deepest black, trimmed in what appeared to be pure silver turned to thread, hung from the broad shoulders, the heavy, draping hood pulled back to reveal what was now a stranger's face; pale but not sallow, their father's blunt features and strong jaw, the same dark brown eyes as well, eyes which Orin thought betrayed an underlying ferocity, a sense of savagry he couldn't quite place but which chilled him.
"Hello, little brother." The voice, gravelly and deep, rolled out of the man's throat.
The two who had arrived with him hung back, minding their horses, averting their eyes from the family reunion. Orlagh gave Orin a little shove in his back, toward the long fingered hand outstretching toward him. Orin extended his own hand reluctantly, finding Jarlath's grip not quite as firm as he'd expected.
"Hello" He cursed his young voice silently, coming out like the squeak of a mouse.
Orin had been the last to greet Jarlath, holding back as long as he could, but when his father and brothers were sent off by Orlagh to get washed for supper, he was left standing in plain sight and had no choice. His mother's prodding had not helped the anxiety mounting within him has he stood in awkward silence, wishing he was back in the woods with Rafter.
"Jarlath, darling!" his mother exclaimed yet again, throwing her arms around her eldest son who stood at least a foot taller. "Oh it's so lovely to have you home!"
Jarlath dropped his brother's hand to gently scrape his mother off.
"Easy, Ma. 'Ts only for the night, we have much to do at the Church in the morning and then we must return."
"Return to where?" Orin asked, more loudly than he'd meant to, and though his eyes were focused on the two mysterious men who were still lurking near their horses, he felt Jarlath's gaze upon him immediately.
"Orin!" Orlagh admonished him, but Jarlath quieted her, kneeling before the boy.
"My young brother.." He took Orin by the shoulders gently, his eyes full of Orin took to be pity. "If the place of my return were to be named, would I not have done so?"
Orin drew a slow, purposeful breath, unsure of how exactly to answer. Jarlath began to nod slowly, as if he had just learned some grave truth. He stood abruptly and turned back to their mother as she wrung her hands nervously.
"Jarlath.." The exuberance had gone from her voice. "Your...friends..they will join us for the evening meal, won't they?"
"Of course, Mother!" Jarlath confirmed jovially, outstretched one long arm to encompass her shoulders. "They would not dare intrude on such a private moment as this, especially not that of their superior officer." He explained, leading her away.
Jarlath began the evening meal with a prayer, praising the Gods who created man, and their messengers to The Chosen, The Council. Orin sat sullenly as the firstborn lamb was served, to Jarlath first, and then a smaller portion to each other family member. Jarlath's companions did not partake, sitting in reverent silence as the family at. All except Orin, who could only stare at the small morsel of meat on his plate. Orlagh, sitting beside him, discreetly pinched his leg under the table, hoping he would understand he must eat before his father took note of his refusal. Too late, he found Ronan's eyes upon him sternly, speaking volumes beyond words. Orin realized it was not just his parents but his brothers as well, the entire table mute, waiting for him to finish so that they might move on with their meal. He squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed the lamb, feeling sick. The rest of the meal was served, Ronan launching into a recent local story about a beast killing sheep in the area. Ronan himself had lost two young males from his second pasture already. He swore revenge on the animal that killed them. It went on that way as they ate, the family updating their prodigal son while Jarlath and his companions consumed more food than Orin thought possible. When the meal was done and the men retired to the sitting room with their pipes, Orin offered to stay with his mother and help her clean up, she refused of course, insisting he go with the others.
Jarlath was amidst the telling of a story when Orin entered the room, only the two men whom Jarlath had introduced as Brother Eamon and Brother Bartley, seemed to take notice of his entrance. They were young, newly appointed to the Honor Guard, and under Jarlath's personal tutelage. Orin, under their curious gaze, perched rigidly on the edge of his seat, somewhat removed from the group.
"... And would you believe the blasphemer actually thought he might strike a bargain with me! Traitorous dog!" Jarlath spit vehemently into the fire place, waving away the pipe his father offered him. "No, thank you, Father, I have forsaken all vices to maintain my body in purity." Ronan withdrew, eyes shining proudly, and continued to listen intently as Jarlath continued.
"... Eventually he led us into the woods where his wife hid with the child.." Jarlath displayed an exaggerated, disgusted shudder. "Wretched little thing, ugly and weak, blind too. Eamon here - " He clapped the man to his left on the back -" Had to wrestle the thing away from her, vicious little woman she was. We collected the other two older children from the house and turned them over to the village's church, the parents and their cur were taken to The Council."
Orin's eyes were wide with disbelief, how Jarlath and, in fact, all the men seemed proud of having broken a family in the name of The Council. Feeling the familiar sickness which had come with slaughtering the lamb rise in him again, he slipped quietly from the room, unable to listen to more as Ultan asked Jarlath directly if he had ever "done one in?"
Stepping into the embrace of the shadows just outside the door, Orin heard the flat, simple answer.
Later, as Orin listened from his bed to the men dispersing to their sleeping quarters, he thought of the family Jarlath had spoken of, wondering what had become of them. An involuntary chill ran down his back as it occurred to him that perhaps Jarlath had edited the tale for his young ears, that most likely they had been slain where they were found, just like the poor souls Aengus and Hazel. Another sleepless night passed slowly, Orin's mind speculating on all the brutalities of The Council and their minions, a thousand unanswered questions plaguing him. He was always told sickly babies, the deformed or weak, were taken to The Council honorably, to be "returned to the Gods" to be reformed and become whole so that it's soul might be sent back to it's parents in a new body, complete.
Such a nice way of saying they kill them.. he thought bitterly, the hot anger in his belly spreading throughout his whole body.
When the first birds began to sing, just before sunrise, Orin still lay wide awake, staring up at the ceiling. He heard his parents rise, then the bustle of his brothers. He reluctantly threw off the blanket, donned yesterday's clothes, and went to join them as was expected before his mother came to fetch him. He found Orlagh just where he expected, laying out a lavish breakfast. Orin guessed she had depleted the store of salted fatback on this meal alone. The men of the house were nowhere to be seen.
"Orry, they're gone out to the fields." She told him, not looking up from arranging the table. "Your father said you should join them when you get up."
He wanted to groan, protest, flat out refuse... but he knew not only would it only earn him perhaps the worst beating the world had ever known but it would break his mother's heart. She wanted so badly for all her boys to get along. He hung his head and shuffled out the door without a word, his mother calling after him to bring everyone in soon to eat.
After breakfast, Jarlath's companions left quietly to prepare their mounts. Orlagh at once became teary-eyed, facing the fact she did not know when she would see her son again,knowing it might not be until she and Ronan's last meal, when her other sons' children were born. As they stood outside the house, Jarlath went to each of them individually, saying goodbye. When finally it was Orin's turn, Jarlath knelt before him, taking him firmly by the shoulders.
"You have been troubled, little brother. You must stay on the path and honor our family now, you are becoming a man..." He hesitated, the slightest hint of a grin forming. "I don't want to be sending Hunters to find you one day" He winked and tousled Orin's hair as if it were all a joke.
Orin's heart pounded in his chest as he fought the sudden urge to strike out. Feeling the eyes of his family upon him, he only nodded as Jarlath stood and reached out to shake his hand. Jarlath smiled down at him, grasping the outstretched hand firmly.
"Good boy. Perhaps the next time we meet you will have learned enough from that old hermit that I might present you to The Council to track for them." His smile widened encouragingly as if Orin should be thrilled at the prospect.
Orin heard his mother's sharp gasp at the very mention of another of her sons going into the service of The Council. He stared up at his brother unwaveringly, a thousand responses playing through his young mind in an instant, most of which included telling Jarlath exactly where he could stick "tracking for The Council", possibly spitting at him. When he caught his mother's gaze, however, seeing such hope and pride in her eyes broke him of all his conviction and he only uttered a meager "Yes, thank you."
Final words said, Jarlath and the others mounted their horses, and in a swirl of dust and thundering hooves, disappeared down the dirt path. Ronan was the first to turn away, the twins soon following, with Orin in tow. There was work to be done. Orlagh watched until they were out of sight, her eyes wet with tears. That evening as Orin followed his father out to check on the last set of ewes to deliver, he found his mother sitting at the table. Ronan took no notice of her, but as Orin passed her, she caught him by the sleeve, drawing him into an unexpected hug.
"My son." she whispered, barely audible. He could feel the wet trail down her cheek from crying. "Learn everything you can from your mentor, become the best hunter in all the land, take a wife, raise children..." She paused, taking Orin by the shoulders and holding him out at arm's length. Her eyes were puffy, face streaked with tears.
The realization that two of her five beloved children, who she loved more than anything, she may never see again, had hit Orlagh hard. She would never truly see what sort of men they were to become; should they die or be ill or injured, there would be nothing for her to do but receive a scroll from a Council messenger. When they had left for service, the pride of having her sons serve the Gods was overwhelming, but now, seeing Jarlath, how much he had grown and changed, how much he had seen, it wrenched her heart to think of all the time they had missed as a family, and the fact that she would never see children born to him or Kane. She looked Orin in the eye intensely.
"But promise me you will not be taken from me as well. Promise me you will not use your learned skills to follow your brothers into service."
In spite of his mother's obvious pain, Orin's heart soared. He suppressed his smile and returned Orlagh's gaze gravely.
"I promise, Mamma."