‘‘Too soon.’’ Tao grumbled.
‘‘Too soon.’’ Tao grumbled.
”Thank you, friend.” Halatir made a twisting motion with his fingers in the direction of the Niirai, fluttering his hand to one side. ”I am sorry.”
As Halatir went outside, Tao had a sigh of relief.
’‘I thought he’d never leave…’’ he thought, and smirked. ‘‘Blissful solitude at last.’’
A few days later, the escorted caravan did arrive in Senji. A single elderly, short, and somewhat chubby priest with greyed hair, a bald cap, and a grey beard with an escort of warrior-monks atop a handful of carriages arrived. The priest wore a long red robe, just like his comrade in the temple here.
The old priest dismounted the carriage, and firstly, barged in to the temple with intent and came up to Tao, who was stood at the door and expecting a visit. You could see Tao’s cynical expression fall from bemused to outright irritated, as the old priest outstretched his arms and greeted him as an old friend, with a hug.
‘‘Its been too long!’’ laughed the old priest as Tao rolled his eyes.
’‘Oh hello… Ayro…’’ Tao sighed, and accompanied his companion inside. ‘‘How come they always send you through here?’’ he asked.
’‘You know i always insist on passing through here to see you again! Senji does not produce a lot, so we rarely need to send collectors, and… 6 months is such a long time!’’ Ayro replied, with a wide smile on his face.
’‘Right…’’ Tao smirked.
’‘Come, lets have a sit down. Have you got any tea? …’’ asked Ayro as he dragged Tao along, who awkwardly resisted Ayro holding him the entire way.
From his position in the garden, where he was busy dealing with an overturned pot of flowers, knocked over by the wind, Halatir saw the caravan arrive. With one eye on the small procession, he finished his small task, and moved towards the two Niirai priests. He did not catch either Tao’s hostility towards himself or Ayro, his youth and inexperience telling against him.
As he walked, he tripped over the trimming that lined the garden, resisting the urge to curse loudly. Quickly righting the overturned stone, he once again hurried after the pair.
Just barely entering the temple, Ayro stopped and turned around to notice Halatir who had nearly fallen over himself when he rushed to follow them. He raised his eyebrows in thought for a second, and after a brief moment, the thoughtful face turned to a smile.
‘‘Who’s this then, Tao! Your new apprentice, i presume?’’ Ayro exclaimed enthusiastically.
’‘Actually, he’s been my…’’
’‘About time you decided to pass on your wisdom to the younger of our blood, Tao!’’ Ayro cut him off mid sentence, and bowed to Halatir from the waste. ‘‘My name is Ayro-Mushi, a pleasure!’’
’‘He’s not Niirai, Ayro.’’ Tao interrupted to point out, just by the way.
Ayro stared at Halatir, blinking twice with his lips sealed shut.
”Suilad Ayro-Mushi. I am Halatir.” He moved his closed fist to his chest, letting it then fall to his side. ”And no, I am not his apprentice.” Ayro’s declaration had been rather loud.
Ayro was baffled by what he just saw, ‘‘But, tending to the temple is a sacred task, which is only done by its faithful servants!’’ Ayro explained, ‘‘If you aren’t his apprentice, then what?’’ he asked. Tao, who was standing right behind Ayro, started getting uncomfortable. He readjusted his robe’s collar, and awkwardly coughed as he did so. Ayro turned around to face Tao, and for the first time in ages, was greeted by him with a wide (and fake) smile, at which Ayro frowned, lifted an eyebrow, and narrowed his eyes.
“I spent some time here, learning your language, helping Tao-Shel as he saw fit in return.” Halatir had carefully rehearsed his little speech. “I would do the same for you in return for passage.” He was unnerved. The explosion from Ayro was something he had not considered. What if the priest didn’t accept his offer? Halatir would be stranded in a Xia jungle with no means of egress. Aside from retracing his steps to the port, and then attempting the daunting task of finding a ship willing to take him, a stranger, to the farthest reaches of the north, he saw no other course.
‘‘Oh, so he WAS teaching you, something.’’ Ayro pointed out, ‘‘Did he also teach you about or ways and faith?’’ he asked.
”I’ve lived here for several months. It is difficult to not learn a few of your customs. As for your faith, he is behind you. Ask him.” The passive-aggressive cross examination of himself and Tao was not helping Halatir’s mood. He attempted to focus on breathing deeply and quietly.
Ayro looked at Tao once again, who only nodded enthusiastically.
’‘Oh yes. I’ve told him stories.’’ Tao explained.
’’… stories?’’ asked Ayro.
’‘Legends.’’ Tao corrected himself.
Ayro smiled and gently tapped Tao on his shoulder supportingly.
’‘That basically makes him your apprentice.’’ Ayro stated, ‘‘Now, where is that tea?’’ he continued, and they proceeded to enter the temple to a otherwise empty room, except for a low table in the middle of it, and a few cushions set around it on the floor, serving as seats. On the low table, there was a pot and a couple of small clay jars.
Before anyone had sat down, Ayro turned to Halatir, who obviously followed them in, still not recieving his reply for the question he had asked.
’‘Did he teach you how to make tea?’’
“He did not, though I have seen him and others do so on several occasions. I have also tasted this drink, but did not find it to my liking.” Halatir’s tension subsided, slightly. Apparently things were no longer on a knife edge.
‘‘Whaaaaaa…’’ Ayro gawked, ‘‘You… do not like tea?!’’
’‘Calm down Ayro, its just tea.’’ Tao commented passively as he sat himself down.
’‘JUST TEA!?’’ Ayro exclaimed, devastated by the insolence surrounding him. He continued,
’‘Oh no, no no no, my boy. Whom ever’s tea you must have had must have failed miserably! Come, I shall serve you REAL tea! Sit!’’
And as such, Ayro dashed to the table as if he were no feeble old man, throwing around herbs, bashing them to tiny little bits both swiftly and gracefully at the same time, boiling water on the fire stand atop the tea table. He then dropped the before mentioned pummelled herbs in to the water, where he left them for a while as he stirred. He then poured the now nearly complete tea in to a separate tea pot, slowly and gently, only leaving a small portion of the delicious liquid within the cooking pot to keep the majority of the herbal leafs out of their drinks. He then proceeded to pour each three of them a cup of their own, and set the tea pot down on top of an apron. Afterwards, he picked up and opened one of the remaining clay jars and looked at Halatir.
‘‘Sugar?’’ he asked.
”No, thank you.” Halatir gave up. Might as well stomach whatever brew the old man has cooked up if it meant he might get to the mountains.
Ayro gave him a gaze of disappointment, and gave shugar only to himself and Tao. Then he too sat down, and they peacefully sipped their tea.
‘‘Oh, one moment!’’ Ayro remembered.
He got up, and pushed opened one of the room’s double paper dours to reveal the sunny outside, and the temple garden. It was delightfully cheery, with birds singing pleasantly. Ayro then returned to his tea.
The three sat in utter silence, drinking tea.
Tea, as Halatir had said, did not agree with him. It lacked the punch of beer or ale, and had none of the fire of warmed wine. Even without sugar, it was still sweet, and tasted somewhat of flowers. The calming effect of the aroma was not enjoyable either. It made his head feel feverish.
But as a guest, he drank it anyway. To do any less would be rude. It did make him homesick for the rough fare he to which he was used, the meat and bread, the ale, the luxury of a few greens whenever his father had managed to procure some from a wandering trader who dared to brave the woodlands.
After the three have finished their tea in their entirety, they placed their cups on the table.
Ayro looked at Halatir curiously.
’‘So, how was the tea?’’ he asked, with an expectant smile.
Drinking the tea was one thing. Being honest was another.
“It was well made, but nothing can compare with the drinks of one’s own home.”
‘‘I guess that’s reasonable.’’ thought Ayro, ‘‘So, what is it you seek in the mountains?’’ he asked.
Wiping a hand across his forehead, Halatir replied. ”I do not know what I seek in the mountains, I merely seek the mountains. Where I come from it snows all year round, and it has been more than half a year since I felt winter’s touch. The mountains call me, like all my kin.”