As the rain tapered off and the sun started to brighten the sky, meadow larks began their joyous songs to welcome another new day. Swallows and sparrows darted through the twilight under the forest canopy, both playing and searching for food. Every now and again, whole flocks of them would burst through the canopy to enjoy the rapidly lightening sky before darting back to cover. The triumphal calls of several eagles and falcons indicated that not all of the sun-starved birds made it back under the protective barrier. In the distance, a single wolf called out; David recognized the call as one of found prey. Soon, several wolves were calling out to each other, hoping to unnerve their target into running straight into the silent ones awaiting such a foolish maneuver.
Through it all, David kept focus. He had been on this rooftop for eight hours of rain, lightning, and chilling night. Eight long hours of meditating. Eight long hours of making sure that the eggs in his hands didn't fall and break. Most acolytes were not able to maintain their focus all night even after many attempts; they would fall asleep while the eggs would just fall. This was not David's first attempt, either.
He felt a tremor in the floor beneath him; that would be Master Giovanni, his mentor. He waited until Master Giovanni climbed the final staircase, opened the trap door, and came up onto the rain-slicked roof of the Tower of Silence. (The tower had been so named by an acolyte who had since been asked to leave. It was a clever play on the nearby Tower of Whispers and the Masters' propensity to admonish that particular acolyte on his habit of nervous speech.) Still, David waited. As the first rays of sunlight finally touched the mountain behind him, Master Giovanni nodded. In a quick, smooth motion, David stood. As he opened his hands to show that the eggs were still unbroken, Master Giovanni nodded again. David suppressed a wave of pride; an appreciative nod from Master Giovanni was akin to a standing ovation from an average person. Even for the Brothers here at Kriesch, Master Giovanni was renowned for his iron grip over his emotions. Master Ioan often said that Master Giovanni took things too far and urged David not to take on that aspect of his mentor.
David brought his mind back to the man in front of him. At a flick of Master Giovanni's eyes, David was dismissed from the rooftop down to the cafeteria. That was another advantage to passing this test; the eggs were part of his breakfast. Failing the test meant going without as much food as normal. This was going to be a good day.
"David, are you eating enough? You look so thin!"
After the hugs and kisses, those were the first words out of his Mother's mouth. Master Ioan gave a hearty laugh.
"Yes, Goody Abira. He eats more than most of us here do. He pushes himself hard; harder since that visit to the Enclave a couple years ago."
Sis nodded resignedly. "His father didn't start to gain weight and look healthy until he thought his days on the road were over. I shouldn't suppose that this one would be any different."
David smiled; this was the first time he had heard Mother talk about Father without tears forming. Even after all these years, she was still grieving. He looked over at Alana. She was really starting to grow up. It looked like she had grown half a foot since he had seen her last. She appeared to be as studious and reserved as ever. Some things never changed, it seemed. Growing up in a town that had been attacked almost every night for over a year seemed to have made a mark on young Alana. He had heard that she taught herself how to read during that time, intending to be able to do what her daddy did in defense of the town.
As Mother continued to talk with Master Ioan, she didn't let David far from her grasp. He had grown used to this when she was permitted to visit; she needed to get in several months' worth of contact in a very short time. Not for the first time, David wondered how she would take it when he left the monastery and went out on the road. Inwardly, he shrugged. Master Giovanni was a big proponent of letting emotions roll off your person, especially if they were negative emotions about something you could not change. This would be a bridge to cross at the proper time; that time had not yet come.
"Recite the 21 Tactical Principles." As David rattled them off, his mind started to wander. He truly did love this instructional time with Sergeant. The monks had found Keynevan Harkes in the middle of the Lamordian wilds one day. He was so tired and hungry that he had been delusional. They took him in, only gaining his story after almost a week of convalescence. He was a minor officer in the Rivalin army who protested working with the Falkovnians in the Civil War. After the majority of his unit was captured and executed, 'Van' fled to Lamordia. Once nursed back to health, he insisted upon assisting the monks. He offered to teach anyone who would learn about the principles of tactics and command. David was the only one who took him up. Knowing that he would be called upon to take the place of his father as a champion of the Core, he saw much to gain in this teaching. In addition, Sergeant was very willing to train David to face warriors who looked upon melee weapons as their main option in combat. It was much different than fighting other monks; the soldier mindset was much more structured and rigid, viewing himself to be nigh defenseless if their weapon was removed.
"Good. You have learned these principles well. I don't think I have much of anything left to teach you. David, I'll be going with the next caravan out to Leudendorf as a guard. I plan to stay in Leudendorf and hire myself out as a guard to whomever will have me. If you ever come to the big city, stop in to see me."
With a serious nod, David acknowledged the honor that Sergeant was offering to him. "Thank you, sir. When it is my time to leave this place, I shall seek you out at my first chance."
"Yes, this piece will do fine." David had to resist the impulse to puff out his chest. His first acceptable piece for sale; a well-shaped but very plain lute with a single plain rose. Up until recently, he hadn't quite figured out the fine details of the soundboard and the belly of the lute. He had finally figured out his method for making sure that the belly of the lute was providing a good, rich tune. Yes, the type of wood was important; more important than that, though, was how much wood and how it was adjusted. This was where he had struggled previously. All his other lutes looked nice, but none had a sound that anyone with experience would find even close to acceptable. Now that he had figured out the trick to making a good lute, he could once again begin to make some of the very ornate pieces he had been trying so hard to create. Exotic woods, beautiful etchings, triple roses, more ornate roses. So many options; his imagination was the limit.
While he knew that he was welcome and accepted at the monastery, David had never before felt useful. He was given a place to stay, food to eat, and chores to do. Never before had he been able to contribute to the monastery's financial existence, though. He now felt that he really had a place here, that he had finally earned the right to be here. If he wasn't who he was, David felt sure that he could spend the rest of his life carving and crafting these instruments. Even with who he was, David felt sure that he'd be able to keep crafting these on his adventures with the diverse group that was the children of the Goblinslayers. Only time would tell, though.
Night fell once again. This time, though, David sat preparing for meditation knowing that he had attained something that many of the people who entered and left these walls would never attain - the title of Brother. Many months had passed since that night on top of the Tower of Silence, and many other tests had been passed. That one test, though; almost everyone who managed to pass that test of endurance made it to this point. David had just made it faster than most. Once again suppressing a wave of pride, David still felt satisfaction. His father, Morgan, would have been proud. He also had a quick thought of grandfather, Basil, nodding in approval. He was almost ready to take his place at the side of some of the greatest heroes this world would ever see. When the time came, he would be ready.
With that thought, David slipped into the restful wakefulness of meditation. Yes, he would be ready.