Flight of the Nighthawks
The boys burst through the door.
Chickens scattered; one moment they had been peacefully pecking the ground, seeking spilled grain and the occasional insect, the next they were squawking in protest and scurrying in all directions as the two boys landed in the village street with loud grunts.
To passersby the boys appeared as a flurry of fists, elbows, and knees rolling on the ground pecked clean by the chickens. As they thrashed about, their blows were ineffective but heartfelt as each boy sought enough leverage to land a winning strike, while at the same time prevent his opponent from punching back effectively. The result appeared to be more of a pointless wrestling match than a serious fight.
The boys appeared to be roughly the same size and age -- about sixteen summers old. The dark-haired youth wore a maroon-colored tunic and leather trousers. He was slightly shorter, but possessed broader shoulders and was arguably the stronger of the two. The boy with dark blond hair was dressed in a blue tunic and leather trousers. He possessed a longer reach, and was arguably faster.
They had been raised as brothers for almost their entire lives and, like brothers everywhere, were prone to conflict in an instant. Both were handsome after a rough fashion: sunburned and possessing the lean strength gained from long hours of hard work and barely adequate food. Neither boy was stupid, but at this moment they were not behaving as if they were particularly bright.
The cause of their current conflict hurried out of the door after them, shouting angrily. "Tad! Zane! Stopthis right now or I won't go to the festival with either of you."
The struggling combatants appeared oblivious to her warning as they rolled in the dust. "He started it!" shouted the dark-haired boy.
"No I didn't!" countered the other.
The girl was the same age as the erstwhile rivals. She had brown hair like Zane, and green eyes like Tad, was smarter than both of them put together, and was arguably the prettiest girl in Stardock Town.
An older woman followed Ellie from the house carrying a bucket of well water and she unceremoniously tipped it over the boys.
Shouting at their sudden drenching, the lads released each other and sat up. "Ma!" shouted the blond boy. "What'd you do that for? I've got mud all over me now."
"Then go clean yourself up, Tad." The woman was tall and regal looking, despite her plain homespun dress. Her light brown hair had some gray, and her face was sunburned and creased, but her expression was youthful. Looking at the darker lad, she added, "You, too, Zane." Her brown eyes were merry though her expression was stern. "Caleb will be here soon and then we're leaving with or without you two hooligans."
The two boys stood up, dusting themselves off as best they could, as the woman threw a large cloth at them. "Get the mud off with this, and then go to the well and rinse it out!" she admonished the two boys. "It's one of my good kitchen rags."
Ellie stood looking at the hesitant brawlers. "You idiots. I said I'd go with both of you."
"But you said it to me, first," said Tad. "That means you'll dance with me first."
"No it doesn't," said Zane, ready to resume the fisticuffs.
"Stop this before it starts again!" shouted the older woman. "Now get out and clean yourselves up!" Grumbling, the two boys complied.
"Marie, why are they always fighting?" asked Ellie.
"They're just bored." Then she looked at the younger girl. "When are you going to tell them?"
"Tell them?" said Ellie, feigning ignorance.
Marie laughed. "You'd better tell them soon, girl. It's a poorly kept secret and they might hear about it at the festival."
The girl's brow creased and her eyebrows raised as she made an expression of exasperation. "We used to be like family, you know?"
"All things change." The older woman looked around the town. "When my family first came here, Stardock Town was still a small place. Now it's twice the size. The Academy was only half finished, now look at it."
Ellie nodded as they both stared at the distant island across the lake. "I see it every day, Marie. Just like you do."
The massive building dominated the island in the middle of the Great Star Lake rose, rising like a massive dark mountain. The village that rested at the academy's edge now engulfed the entire northeastern end of the island. Only those who served in the Academy of Magicians lived there. Stardock Town had grown around the ferry station to the island -- at first just a simple trading stop, but now a bustling center for commerce in the region.
"Well, if Grame Hodover's anything like his pa, he'll start yakkin' as soon as he has some ale in him."
"And Tad and Zane will be throwing punches before anyone can talk sense into them," finished Ellie.
"So, best sooner than later," said Marie as she motioned for Ellie to follow her back into the house. They entered a large, single-roomed building, with room for a hearth, a table, and bedding for three. Once inside she said, "The boys are your best friends, though they don't realize it right now. Each thinks himself in love with you, but that's born from competition rather than for any serious reason I can see."
Ellie nodded. "I do love them, but like brothers. Besides, even if I wished to marry one of them, Father -- "
"I know. Your father is the wealthiest shipper in Stardock Town and Grame's pa is the only miller, so it's a natural match."
"I do love Grame," said Ellie. "At least enough to live with him."
"Love is not the simple romance that the tales make it out to be," cautioned Marie. "Tad's father was a good enough man, but we had our moments. Zane's pa treated . . . Flight of the Nighthawks
. Copyright © by Raymond Feist. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.