— HONOR —
The mountains loomed up high and all around, the morning sun dividing the world sharply into bars of delicate yellow light and harsh shadow. On one shallow slope, where the boy was kneeling beside a bare field, the rays fell, pale gleaming apple-gold.
Lryn was a tall, slim boy for thirteen, though he had not quite yet caught up to his brother, who was two years the elder. But Berethar had a way of standing with his head flung back and shoulders back and high, so that when people looked at him they thought him even taller than he was.
Lryn pinched the dirt between his finger and thumb. It was good, dark, moistened by the water of rain and the thawing snow. He went into the house, to tell Berethar that they must start the planting soon, but he heard the voices by the door of his mother’s room and stopped.
Berethar was in there, his shoulders silhouetted wide and dark against the light from the window. He stood half-turned towards Lryn, his eyes bright and fierce under his brow, and his jaw jutted out with a look of iron determination. Iloen their mother was braiding her dark, glossy hair with slow fingers, a woven shawl about her shoulders.
“I am fifteen years of age, Ayn,” said Berethar. “I am a man.”
Iloen said nothing, but watched him while her steady fingers slid through the strands of hair.
“I am leaving,” said Berethar after a moment. He said it bluntly, flatly, as though this was something he had thought out for a long time and he would not brook any argument upon it. “I am going to seek out the man who slew my father, for I would know how he met his end. I will take the knife of Mycraí, that was found on his body and returned to us.”
Lryn listened in silence, astounded. Berethar depart them? And leave Lryn to struggle through the work of tending to the farm alone? Was it not hard enough when there were the both of them?
And why – so that he could find the man who killed their father! How did he expect to do that? Cirnac had died five years ago, hundreds of leagues away in the mountains of Rodron, and no-one had seen him meet his end. To Lryn it seemed a desertion of the basest kind, a meaningless break with honor. And he could not understand it, for Berethar had ever seemed to hold strongly to honor. Lryn waited for Iloen to answer no, as of course she must.
Iloen finished the braid and tied the end, and turned to reach up onto a rough shelf on the wall. She took down a knife with carved handle and shining blade. “It is yours,” she said, and gave it to Berethar.
Berethar dropped his head in acknowledgement.
“What is going on?”
Lryn turned, startled, having not noticed his three younger sisters come up behind him as he watched.
“Naught,” he answered Mehyvyd rather brusquely.
“Your brother is leaving,” said Iloen. “He is going on a far journey.”
“Why, Ayn?” asked Lryn, still bewildered that their mother would let Berethar do this.
“Because he must,” said Iloen simply.
And Lryn gave up, and accepted it. For from their mother’s lips, the word “must” was an inviolable command – “must” could not be broken, even when all ordinary pointers turned against it.