Gaeren sat in his small office at the fort. He didn’t have enough room to put Vordakai’s head in it, so it was on a pole out in the training yard, where it served as both eyesore and a constant source of cleaning duty punishments. He frowned at the book in his hand, willing it to say things less offensive and more entertaining. The tome’s failure to do so meant that the opening door was a welcome relief. Gaeren looked up over his reading glasses hopefully, though his expression fell a little at the sight of his companion.
Tangsen was packed for travel, making slight adjustments to the straps of his Haversack. “I think the riders are going to go without me in not too much longer.” The halfling glanced at the book, “What’s that one?”
Gaeren looked at the book with a sour face. “_Subjugation of Lesser Peoples_, by Alexandros Chammady. It’s odious, filled with elitist and racist screeds of every stripe. It’s also got one of the best explanations of troop training written, according to Kesten. I’m reading through it to see what I could paraphrase into some general regulations.”
“Do you think anyone in Absalom will believe me if I tell them that the last thing I saw you doing was trying to write military policy?” The two of them shared a grin.
“Gods…” Gaeren shook his head. “Married, militarized…how the mighty have fallen, eh?” He stood and walked over to Tangsen. “And look at you. Bound for adventure.”
Tangsen grimaced. “Bound for school is more like it.”
Gaeren waved his hand. “Pish-tosh. You’ll pass the basic tests in no time flat and be off to far-flung lands, meeting new and exotic peoples, making friends with half of them and plundering the other half.”
The halfling cocked an eyebrow. “Isn’t that the sort of promise that got me into this situation?”
Gaeren made an expansive gesture as the two of them began walking down a flight of stairs towards the barracks entrance. “And other than risk of death, a few psychic traumas, and a trip in an airless pocket dimension, look how that turned out.”
Tangsen rolled his eyes. “If you apologize for that again…”
Gaeren waved his hand and opened the door. “No, you’ve made it quite clear you’ve heard enough of my groveling. I shall have to settle for seeing you off to bigger and better things.” He stopped and stared at the horses and ponies gathered at the gate of the Fort. “Now that it comes to it, though. I find I’m not looking forward to that much at all.”
Tangsen swatted his friend. “No no no. You don’t get to be maudlin now. This was your idea, after all.”
Gaeren blinked a few times, then nodded vigorously. “True enough.”
Tangsen hitched his haversack to the side of his pony’s saddle and climbed a small stepstool to mount the animal. “You never took me anywhere that I did not go willingly and you always got us both home. Not too shabby, for a human, though I don’t envy you figuring out what you’re going to do about the island.”
Gaeren laughed ruefully, “Well, we do our best. Don’t waste your time worrying over problems no longer yours. Trust me – Absalom will keep you more than occupied.”
The two friends nodded to one another and the horses turned and rode out of the gate and down the winding road from the mountain heights. Gaeren climbed to the rickety battlement of the wooden fort wall and watched until the caravan was well out onto the plain. He felt his new wife’s presence a few times, looking up at him, but he didn’t move until the travelers were indistinct points on the horizon. Then he turned, looked at the barracks, and strode back in.