After the ceremony, I stayed with Elaya. Firstly, I would get to know my betrothed and do her bidding. Secondly, I would need to prepare for the rite of passage, so for six years best warriors of the tribe will be hammering me with their skills and knowledge. Not that I really need it but practice makes perfect. It would be a stroke of luck if I’d get to see my parents or Val’Morn tribesmen.
I got to stay in her house in guards quarters. The houses are mostly made of wood and beast skin. I got to see some houses made by Val’Eris people and they really like to live above the ground in tree houses. Val’Kira people are somewhat more grounded, har har. Their houses are what you would expect of any other tribesman, though royalty have rather sophisticated homes. At least for wild people.
I also heard that Val’Hoona people like to dig into earth and often have houses below ground. It is almost uniform amongst every tribesman, although some still like to live in normal shacks, or even in tree houses, but it is mostly to family’s preference. In some places where different tribes live together, their homes use all space available, below, on and above ground.
Now, I’ll be living amongst men, doing everything I can to become strong. Warriors wake up at dawn, which is common amongst all Val people, so I am used to it by now. With first flicker of light, we rise up just like the sun beyond the horizon, to train and do our duty. One man, amongst the rest stood out, he insisted that I would train with him. Frez is a general and a tactician, he is a guardian of one of the servants, who lives and works for Val’Kira royalty. He entered the tribe over twenty years ago, became a guardian, traveled the world and amassed considerable fortune and fame. Now he wants me to be the best I can be.
He thinks of Elaya as his niece, even if he is not able to show his affection to her. He simply doesn’t have status for that. But now, if I can survive, I’ll be able to give her the life she deserves. He took me as his apprentice to share his numerous experiences and skills with me. And I am very grateful to him for that.
When we first started training, he was pleasantly surprised by my skills. Honestly, if you live as many lifetimes as I did, you get some skills you can use. I know as many different styles as there are grains of sand on the beach, so I use a blend of many styles, utilizing most lethal and powerful attacks. I also have vast knowledge on exercises and training routines, which I was already applying up to now, but with help of Frez I can truly begin my training. What good is a sword if you have no one to strike?
What is holding me back is not my lack of knowledge but my body. While I have skills, my body it not strong enough, and it doesn’t have much muscle memory. It only knows what little things I’ve practiced so far. With a sparring partner I can hone my skills and chisel this body to perfection.
We quickly fall into a routine of exercising and doing jobs. From morning till afternoon we spar together endlessly, improving my reaction times, my stances and abilities. It is at the times like these that I am thankful that I’ve no recollection of my past lives – it would be incredibly dull to remember all those times I spend on mindless repetition of same moves days after days. Like this I can feel excitement and joy of improving oneself and attaining new heights.
I use every bit of mana I have at my disposal to strengthen my body. Even now my body is stronger that of most children my age. I’d do my damn best to survive the Rite in the future.
Elaya spends every free second she has with me. She has to study to be a queen some day, even if she is third in line and has no chance to live past ten. Some teachers don’t want to bother with her, but thanks to whatever influence Frez has, Elaya gets taught most of what she needs. If I get lucky, I can spend the time with her and learn something. Mostly it is useless, unless it is geography or history of this world, but spending time with my cute Elaya is worth it.
When I am not training with Frez, I spend time talking with Elaya while doing various jobs. It is not necessary, but by woodcutting and hunting I can train some more while proving my worth to people of Val. My fiancée also tries to help. With my influence she opened up to other people and overcame her shyness. People took liking to once quiet and seemingly frail little girl, now they gladly entertain her and talk to her. I also try to part some of the wisdom I should’t have at my early age onto her. If at all possible, I’d like to improve her chances in the future, in the unlikely event I do become a fiend and she is forced to fight me.
With my guidance, she learned a bit of swordsmanship. Not enough to be a warrior beyond the woods of our territory, but enough to put up fair resistance if cornered. Of course by the age of ten she would become a formidable opponent.
As we lived together, we grew very close to one another. Her knowing that we are fated to be together made her very open about her feeling. Of course there was the fact that we might not survive beyond ten, so she kind of tried to make up for it. At first there was a lot of hand holding and hugging, later she would often give me her cute little kisses. I eagerly took all of them, hoping not to get her girl cooties, which is not a thing in this world.
She also would get some “advanced” knowledge from her sisters or through observation of adults, and tried to apply that knowledge. If it was innocent enough I allowed it, but otherwise I stopped it. There is just something disturbing about a prepubescent girl trying to French kiss. First she complained about it, but once I said that we can do it as many times as we want when we are married, which happened once we turn 16, she agreed.
Also there was the issue of nudity. At some point after a little spar I had with Elaya, Frez thought we were both too sweaty, so he picked us both up, placed us on his shoulders like two sacks of flour and carried us to a spring. There he just undressed us and threw us in. She was ok being nude around Frez, he was like an uncle to her and they often bathed together before when adults and children came to spring to wash up. It was me she had a problem with, I was an outsider. She just covered herself with her arms and sat in the water. I almost bolted out of there, but she surprised me.
“We will be married someday, so it’s ok…”
It was more a justification to herself than anything else. Who knew that a previously shy girl would be so brave. She just stood up straight, turned to me with red flush all over her face and stood there for a moment. Then she took her arms away and put them behind her. So bold. I was shocked at her action as this was way out of character for her. But I had to give her credit, such action couldn’t be done easily.
After a few moments of me staring at her unusual behaviour, I did the same. It was only fair. So for a bit, we just stood there, two naked kids barely looking at each other. She has seen naked people of both genders before, but I was a special existence, we were fated to be, so I was not like any other boy. I can only say that talking about anatomy was awkward. But we overcame the obstacle and after a bit were able to bath together in peace.
After that we always took baths together, and never stopped all the way to the night of our union. We did take them afterwards, but then it wasn’t only the two of us. Wink wink.
I think her behaviour that time was a combination of wanting to make up time before the 10th birthday, teasing from Lilith, some “advice” from Frez and her affection for me. Despite any of this, we learned to enjoy each other’s company no matter how embarrassing or awkward we felt. We only grew closer together after that.
As we grew up, we rarely interacted with other princesses. Of course Meriden often came to spar with the only kid capable of going against her. Aedim also enjoyed talking to me. But these were not common occurrences, because even though royalty lived somewhat close together, tribes rarely mingled together outside of some celebrations. Lilith and Leah had plenty of kids who were less perceptive than me and who gave them greater satisfaction. Eleanor was a royal pain in the butt who totally despised me for total disregard of her majestic existence. Feeling wasn’t mutual, she was just a kid who didn’t know better, but I didn’t enjoy spending my time while having to bear her hateful looks.
My training bore fruit of course. I was strong, fast, agile. I was a warrior in the making, capable of hunting efficiently and need be fighting for my life. Free was very glad that he took me in as his apprentice. He had his own children, but seeing me close to his beloved Elaya, he thought me somewhat like of his own. Of course he never openly admitted it, but I felt the admiration he had for me. He was an uncle to both of us.
Elaya was also prepared for the Rite. We taught her how to wield daggers and swords, sho she might be able to defend herself well. She could soar with kids our age rather successfully. My style was somewhat superior to other tribesmen. Meriden also enjoyed learning from me, but she never admitted to listen to my teachings. She had some pride and she just wanted to be my superior, not the other way around.
With the time closing in to our rite of passage, I was somewhat worried about my chances, so I looked into any records that could tell me what I would have to face. There were few writings about fiends, but some elders took their time to talk to me. Apparently, the transformation had two sides, the body and the mind. The beast would fight whatever power was in the body, and then transform the body accordingly. If beast was weak, the transformation was very slight. This is why most modern guardians didn’t turn into fiends, they were produced from diluted blood. If blood was undiluted, the beast would be much stronger, making the changes greatly noticeable.
However, the drawback of using strong beast was the fact that the mind couldn’t withstand the corruption. The first Val guardians were powerful and disciplined, as well as they knew no fear of transformation. They took the blood and became strong. Nowadays, people were somewhat weaker, unfocused and they were afraid of becoming the fiend. Perhaps it is that fear that defeated them during the transformation, making them into aberrations.
Knowing this I calmed down a lot. As far as I knew, I was immune to corruption or magic, so I was likely to remain unscathed. Of course it wasn’t a sure thing, but it brought me peace. I thought that if I wasn’t able to control the beast completely, I would slow it down enough for Elaya to kill me. That would be her Rite, to survive after her guardian would transform into a fiend.