Maron Sepher looked like he belonged somewhere else. He wore clothes that he clearly found comfortable, because there was no other reason anyone would wear what he was wearing. He ate food that he liked, because whatever was in front of him did not appear appetizing at all, and most importantly, he looked like he liked to laugh, with flushed cheeks, a big smile, and a half-emptied glass of mead. He was in the middle of talking to someone that had approached his table when he caught sight of me.
He stood straight up and excused himself from whatever conversation he’d been having, and he marched across the tavern floor with an expression that I can only describe as jolly.
“My goodness,” he said when he reached me. “My boy, you look just like her.”
“I’m sorry?” I asked.
“Your mother,” he replied. “You can see her in your face… not like a mirror copy, of course, but in subtle ways it’s unavoidable. Tell me, do you know anything about her?”
“I was five when I lost them,” I started. The terrible and clear recollection of my mother’s face was still simmering in my mind’s eye from the incident with Kaellax. “I recall only glimpses here and there. She was kind to me. She loved me. She died near Udiria when a Yunai attacked us.”
“I’m so sorry, son,” Maron said, his eyes looking glassy. “Your mom, and your dad, were good people. How about we shake that sorrowful end away and I’ll tell you everything there was to know about the Sepher family, okay?”
I nodded. “That sounds good.”
For the next several hours, Uncle Maron told me everything he knew. He talked about my mother, my father, my grandfather known as the Flamecaller. He talked about the Sepher manor and the life I could have lived if the Yunai had never come to Azirin. He smiled when he talked about them, and he furrowed his brow when it thoughts grew dark. By the time we’d bothered to order some dinner and eat, I felt like I was really beginning to understand my own past… my own identity. I knew what it meant to be Sionis Sepher of Stonehaven and heir to the Bantari manor.
Finally, after hours of talking to me, Maron sat back and turned his attention to Sonea. “So, you two just came in today?” he asked, looking at her with a smile.
“We did,” she replied. “Thankfully the trip was rather uneventful.”
I thought of the storm we had weathered and felt quite different about the trip, but I understood small talk when I heard it, so I quieted down and took the opportunity to eat some food.
“I’m really glad Sionis ended up with you, Sonea,” Maron said as he took another drink. “I mean, what are the odds he’d end up with someone that knew his own mother? Separated all that time and then… boom.”
Despite all the noise in the Inn, I heard an audible gasp from Sonea.
I felt like gasping too.
“Wait,” I spoke up, dropping my knife. “Sonea, you knew my mother?”
Maron squinted as he heard my words and then fired a cruel glance to Sonea. “You didn’t tell him?”
Sonea glowered back at him. “No, I didn’t tell him, not yet.”
“Why wouldn’t you tell—”
“He was young and scared,” Sonea interrupted Maron, her voice was uneven and she expressed a great deal of frustration. She turned to me, and I remained shocked, staring at her. ”Look, Sionis,” she started. “I knew your mother, but we didn’t have the best relationship. I just… when you take on someone so young you fear that you might influence them in whatever ways, and your mother was special to you and I hadn’t seen or talked to her in ages. I just didn’t know how to approach the subject.”
“So you just ignored that you knew her instead?” I asked.
“Obviously I wasn’t ignoring it,” she rebutted. “I was waiting for the right time.”
I stood from the table and slapped down a piece of bread, maintaining eye contact with Sonea. “Uncle Maron. Can I stay at the Sepher manor in Bantari?”
Maron gave a nervous laugh, then nodded. “You don’t have to ask, kid. It’s your manor.”
“Thank you,” I grumbled. “Lady Sonea, I will no longer require your assistance.”
I stormed out of the taven, my mind swimming with childish angst and emotional turmoil. Uncle Maron stayed behind and talked with Sonea for a short time before he joined me outside. When he put on his cloak and cap, he gestured down one of the cobblestone alleys and I followed his lead. The Sepher manor was not close, so we’d need horses to make our way home.
As we were walking along the stone path, I saw that my Uncle was very uncomfortable. It wasn’t his fault. Lady Sonea had brought me to visit with him, but now I was coming to stay at his home. I knew we were related, but that was likely unexpected no matter how much you prepared yourself.
“I’m sorry about my behavior back there,” I said, now that a lot of the anger had drained away, I was feeling incredibly guilty of just running off and leaving Lady Sonea there. She hadn’t meant me any ill will. “Going to the manor could be uncomfortable for everyone, especially unannounced. I have money now, so I could stay at an Inn for a few nights if you aren’t comfortable with my arrival.”
“It’s your home,” Maron said again. “You’re not staying at an inn.”
“You seem uncomfortable,” I said honestly. “I don’t want to barge into your world.”
“No, it’s not you, it’s that little fight that just happened,” Maron admitted, his honest words flowed out. “Sonea’s a wonderful person. She’s the one that took the time to set all this up and get you back home. She and your mother… they didn’t get along. I dare say they viewed one another as enemies. In the aftermath of the Yunai, not a lot of that petty stuff mattered, but I always forget how some things take a long time to heal.”
“So what?” I grumbled. “She just pretends my mother didn’t exist?”
“I don’t know,” Maron said with a shrug. “I know a few people I don’t get along with and I see what she means about painting the wrong picture. If I told you about one of the southern field farmers I work with, well, you’d hate his guts too, but that probably wouldn’t be fair to the farmer.”
“Was my mother a bad person?”
My uncle laughed heartily. “No, she was wonderful,” he assured me. “The truth of the matter is, so is the farmer of the southern fields. That doesn’t mean he and I get along, and it doesn’t mean I paint the best picture of him in my mind.”
“So you think she was worried she’d make me think negatively of my mom?”
“If you don’t have anything nice to say,” Maron said with a nod. “Sometimes saying nothing is the best option.”
“I’m still mad at her,” I said.
“Fair enough,” he replied with a slight grin. “We’ll head to the manor and you can have the night off, but it’s best to put these issues to bed as soon as possible. You’ll want to come talk to her again in the morning.”
I nodded, absorbing Maron’s advice. In less than one day, my Uncle was already instilling me with fatherly advice, and I was so happy for it.
When we reached the stables I found several beautiful horses waiting in stalls that were ornately decorated with the Sepher name. I also caught sight of a certain young black stallion that I immediately recognized as the one from Udiria. As Maron was taking the horses from their stalls, he noticed that I was looking over the young one.
“Is that yours?” he asked.
“No,” I replied. “The stable master in Udiria said there is something wrong with it.”
“I see,” Maron replied. “That’s unfortunate.”
“Come along, Sepher,” Maron said. “We should be getting home.”
I did as I was told and jumped up on the horse that Maron offered to me. It was taller than Ghost, but more slender too. I felt like a knight upon its back. We left the stables and made our way out of Stonehaven’s eastern gate. That road would take us along the northern edge of Eldeir Forest and into Bantari.
We rode in silence for a long way before Maron spoke again.
“So, what do you know about your grandfather?”
“Nothing really,” I said. “Only that he was a Flamecaller.”
“He was a powerful magic user, and he was a clever man too. I used to listen to him tell me stories of his grand adventures all the time. Your father never cared for any of it, mind you, but I was captivated.”
“He was in the Academy of Magic Users?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yeah he was,” Maron replied. “He hated when he had to go to Udiria to help with magical business. Most of the time he was working his spells in ways the Udirian Academy would have frowned upon..”
I thought of the woman in the old tavern with the Yunai and my mind raced to terrible conclusions. “Was he a Shadowspeaker?”
“Oh, no, none of that dark stuff. He was a Flamecaller,” Maron said. “The title of Flamecaller is almost unheard of, as only a few magical users have been powerful enough to control the magic. He was one of the best I’ve ever seen. I’m probably a bit biased, of course, but I stand by my statement. Your grandpa could heat a furnace from stone cold to red hot in a second. He could light a candle from a hundred yards away without flinching. He was, in short, amazing.”
“Heating furnaces and lighting candles sounds like beginners stuff,” I said. “Could he call down pillars of fire or perform the magical flourishes that they have in the Udiria summer festivals?”
Maron laughed. “You have it backwards with fire, kid. Fire is an angry and powerful element. Any magic user can burn down a village with fire magic, but it takes a truly skilled Flamecaller to burn through one enemy in a straw house without setting anything else ablaze.”
“I guess so.”
“Of course, he could also do the Dragon’s Breath flourish, if he wanted to be showy.”
I smiled. I liked being showy too.
“It takes a lot to let the Udirian Academy approve you for fire magic lessons. You have to become a skilled student of other arts first and even then I doubt they let you start without some hard lessons in aetherial studies.”
“I can’t use magic yet,” I said. “I did it once, but I haven’t since then.”
“Your grandfather didn’t perform his first spell until he was fifteen,” Maron said with a grin. “You’ve got a head start on him.”
“What about dad or you? Did you guys use magic?”
“Oh no,” Maron said. “That’s not my thing. Your dad, I think, had some level of ability. He was a damned good gambler and his luck was uncanny. I suspect he had some kind of secret connection that maybe he didn’t know about!”
Maron gave a deep laugh and I couldn’t help but laugh with him.
The rest of the way home we shared stories of the past few years and with each new tale I grew more comfortable in a way that I had not thought possible. It was a feeling that would carry forward for a great many years.