77 Zi'da, Arc 715
It’d been over two seasons since Tomé
. A lot had changed. Zarik and his father had finally settled into their new home: a decent-sized house on the edge of a Quacian sector known as the Gleam, bordered along the residences of Shanty. It was larger than the townhome they’d come from, though it reeked of musty old socks and the stone floor had oddly shaped stains. The house had come at a great discount so Zarik found himself wondering what had caused those stains and why the stones in the walls seemed to moan with anguish when wind breezed through them.
Regardless, it was a home and in the city of Quacia. He’d finally made it. He’d spent the morning on a walk and was amazed by how tall the buildings were, how magnificent the Theocratum’s churches looked, and how many different fashions the numerous people bustled about in.
He returned home after mid-trial, to find his father had set out a box on a new dining table and not one, but two
chairs next to it. Zarik’s eyes lit up at the sight of this. He had his own chair now? His father always kept to one chair and that was his chair - never for Zarik to use.
The lanky adolescent fiddled with the new piercing in his ear, the metal hoop still feeling awkward on his sore cartilage where his father had pressed it through. It served as the symbol and reminder of his promise - for moving to Quacia, he would learn his father's growing trade of torture and interrogation, without argument or resistance. That was all his father had asked in exchange for their move from the rural countryside to the southern hub of Quacia.
“Is that…” he pointed at the box. He set down a few items, that he’d gathered from the market, onto the kitchen counter.
“For you? Yes,” confirmed his father, Zalazar. He sat in the chair, then gestured for Zarik to join him at the table.
Zarik walked over, picked up the box, and hesitated. He waited until he saw another nod of approval, then sat down in the other chair and opened the box. Inside, there was a straight dagger. He glanced at his father, whose eyes had a warm glaze to their usual brown, then looked back at the weapon. He picked it up. The leather hilt felt firm and brand-new. He could smell the freshness of it.
“Da… I…” he didn’t know what to say. “I don’t know how to use this.”
“You’ll learn,” said Zalazar. He reached over and pushed on Zarik’s head from the side, then ruffled his blond locks. “You’re sixteen arcs now, son. That there, and this house, are going to be the last gifts you ever get from me. Anything else you want, you get for yourself, with your own nel.”
“Thank you,” said Zarik. He smiled, a bright expression on his youthful features. “It’s more than I could have ever asked for.”
* * *
They sat together for a few peaceful bits. Zarik ran his fingertips over the steel of the blade. He asked, “Do you like Quacia, da?”
“It’s as much of a shithole as the next place,” muttered his father. He pinched the bridge of his nose, then yawned.
Zarik leaned forward, chin rested on the palm of his hand. In his other hand, he played with his new dagger and tilted the blade from one side to the next. “I like it so far. There are so many people!”
Zalazar spat on the floor, then shrugged. “Means more coin, that’s why cities are good for trade.”
“Da, how many cities have you lived in?”
There was a moment’s silence. It didn’t seem that his father had heard him. Zarik cleared his throat and lifted his posture. He tried again.
“Did you hear me? Da? I asked how many cities have you lived in?”
“I heard you,” snapped Zalazar. “Unlike you, I’m not daft.”
“Oh, well… I… you’ve lived in a city before though? Back when, before... I’ve heard you mention it, I thin-”
“You think? How many times you going to make me repeat myself? Stop. Your. Dreaming, boy. I’ve never mentioned any such thing.”
Zarik lowered his gaze. He tucked his foot under his leg as he adjusted his seated position, then holstered his dagger. He sighed, “Sorry, da.”
A long bit passed between them, then Zalazar let out a heavy sigh and said, “A few.”
“Yes, now don’t go asking any more about it.”
“But where have you lived, da? You never talk about it. You never share about your life before ma a-”
“Don’t you dare bring that bitch up now, Zarik. Stupid boy. We were having a pleasant time.”
Zarik, however, had gotten his mind set on the topic. He stood in a sudden rush, lightly knocking his head on an overhead beam due to his forgetfulness that he’d grown a couple inches more in the past season. The blond rubbed at his scalp and said, “You never tell me anything about… about… anything! I have to stay on this stupid island, with these stupid jungles, and stupid people, because you won’t let me near a damn boat and I want to know what else is out there. Why only Quacia? I've heard there are lots of places! Lots of cities!”
“This isn’t an island,” scoffed Zalazar with a roll of his eyes. “We just got here and you already want to go elsewhere? Sit back down.”
“No!” Zarik’s face flushed silvery-blue. His fingers curled into fists. “Not until you… tell me something
“What?” His father stood then and though Zalazar was a good head shorter, Zarik immediately took a step back and cowered even in his insolence. “We’re having a nice time, I give you a new dagger and a nice new home in a city like you wanted, and you act like this toward me? This is why I don’t spoil you! You get too cocky for your own good. C’mere.”
Zarik, however, dodged when his father tried to grab his ear. He went around to the kitchen-side and shook his head. The two faced each other, and he glanced at the door.
“Don’t you dare try running,” snarled Zalazar.
The young biqaj licked his lips, glancing between the door and his father. Could he make it?
He sprinted, jumped over Zalazar’s attempt to trip him, then made it to the door. Zarik opened it, and took off down the street with a glance over his shoulder.
His father didn’t follow.
Zarik slowed down, then paused and stared.
Why wasn’t he following?
That was unusual. After such spiteful outbursts of his, usually his father chased him down and gave him a few corrective smacks for the trouble.
Zarik felt guilty, knowing that his father hadn’t followed this time. He knew he shouldn’t have acted that way. He was being ungrateful. Fidgeting with his sleeves, he glanced around at the people walking to and fro. A sharp-nosed woman peered at him from a window above in the neighboring house. He stared at her for a long moment until a thickly bearded man joined her and brought her away.
The biqaj scratched his head, then he slowly walked back to the new house he could call home. The door had been left open and at the threshold, his father stood there.
“Da… a-are you… okay?” He asked, noticing a blurry look in his father’s eyes.
Zalazar’s gaze kept flickering from side to side and then up at the sky and then down at the cobblestones in front of him. No answer, otherwise.
Zarik sighed, then gathered an arm around his father’s shoulders and led back into the house while he shut the front door behind him. He guided his father to the dining chair and sat him down. Kneeling in front of him, concern gnawed away at any indignation he’d felt before. “Da? What’s the matter? Can't you hear me?”
“I’m not daft,” answered his father, though in a slow tone as if remembering the words. He blinked a few times, his eyes flashed gold, and then he looked at Zarik as if just realizing his son was there in front of him. A trill passed of his recognition, then he smacked Zarik across the cheek. “Look at what you’ve made of things. Now, go prepare for tomorrow. We have five clients that need to be spoken with about possible contracts. I need you to itemize their requests for estimates before then.”
Zarik’s cheek burned, but he accepted the backhand as something he deserved. He nodded and said, “I’ll make tea first, then yes. I will, father.”
He lifted and pressed a small kiss to his father’s balding forehead. Every trial, it seemed as if the aging man was losing more and more hair from the top of his scalp. Zarik went to the kitchen area, to gather some of the water he’d collected earlier that trial.
As he tended to the hearth, Zarik kept an eye on his father. The man seemed out of it still, even after the recognition and slap. He was simply staring at the window, as if expecting something to come through it.
“Did you want me to get some curtains?” asked Zarik while the water boiled. “I could tomorrow.”
“Boards would work better,” answered Zalazar, then he stood and said, “I’m going to bed.”
“But you haven’t had any tea!”
“Good night, son.”
“It’s not even dusk yet,” murmured Zarik. He watched as the old biqaj shuffled past the doorframe and out of sight. Sitting next to the fireplace, he lowly groaned. He took out his dagger, looking over the new weapon again. Another groan and he ran a hand through his hair, then lightly rapped on his forehead.
Zarik would spend the rest of the trial, into the night, focused on drafting the contracts for their potential clients: the first of the city they would have. It'd take many copies over, his apprentice penmanship still jagged and improper, before he finally had estimates worthy of his father's acceptance.