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Scene: Jebadiah Milford, and his son, Javen, return to their homestead after a busy day at the tournament.
On the way back to the homestead that night, Javen was unusually quiet. Jebadiah tried many times to draw his son out of the shell he had retreated into, asking him questions about the tournament, and commenting in general upon other tilts he had observed from the vantage point of the crowd. To all of his remarks, he received only distracted grunts. He frowned. Javen’s silence was out of character.
It wasn’t until they had tended the horses and were closing the barn doors that Javen spoke, his question catching Jebadiah off guard.
“Papa, why do people hate black men?”
Jebadiah nearly stumbled. “What?”
“Why do people despise them?” So intense was Javen’s stare, his father felt pinned to the closed barn doors behind them.
“Why, I-I don’t rightly know, son. I suppose—”
“You saw the black man, Alcyonne, defeat that boor from Ember Breath?” Javen interrupted.
“Uh, well yes. It was quite a battle.”
“Quite a battle?” Javen was incredulous. “That knight was a cretin. Did you see how he treated Alcyonne? He wouldn’t even acknowledge him as a competitor, let alone a human being. Standing before the king, the knight treated Alcyonne like shit stuck to the bottom of his boot!”
“Who are we to say what the knight was thinking…”
“And when Alcyonne ripped him from his saddle, who was the first person to his aid?”
Jebadiah had witnessed the joust, but Javen answered for him. “Alcyonne, that’s who. After being treated like vermin, Alcyonne was first to offer the fallen knight aid. In fact, I bet his actions saved the ungrateful man’s life.”
Javen turned and walked toward their farmhouse.
Jebadiah stood where he was for a moment, staring after him. He couldn’t recall a time Javen had been so riled up. He had also felt empathy toward the black man during the joust.
He hurried after his son. Catching him up, he placed his large right hand upon Javen’s left shoulder, applying enough pressure to cause Javen to stop and turn to face him, just before the step leading to the homestead’s back porch.
A full moon crested the peak of the barn, illuminating the yard sufficiently for the two men to see each other. Rusty, their sheepdog, came bolting out of the darkness from behind the barn, tail wagging, tongue hanging out, barking and circling around them, eager to go inside.
“Son, I saw what you saw.” He paused, and then added, “Why the sudden concern for someone you don’t know?”
Javen regarded his father for a time. Since his mother’s passing years before, his father had been his mentor, his idol, his disciplinarian, his teacher—his friend. The community of Millsford as a whole said the nut hadn’t fallen far from the Jebadiah tree.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been told, not by you mind, but by others, that black men are savages; that black men are unclean, unlearned, uncouth, immoral creatures that would as soon rip your throat out as look at you. Why would my friends tell me something that wasn’t true? And yet, because of what others have said, although I’d never actually met one, I always thought the same.”
“Those rumors can’t be farther from the truth, Papa. Alcyonne is the kindest, gentlest soul I’ve ever met. All he does is smile and laugh. Even when the knight so blatantly insulted him, Alcyonne simply smiled and went on to repay the discourtesy with kindness.”
“Aye, that he did, my boy. That he did.” With an arm around his shoulder, Jebadiah steered his son onto the porch.
Rusty started barking anew, his claws clicking upon the weathered deck boards of the sagging veranda.
“How then, can people say such things? If more people were half the man Alcyonne is, our world would be a much better place.”
Jebadiah opened the back door with his free hand, and patted his son on the shoulder as Javen entered the darkened interior ahead of him. “Aye son, right you are.”
“Papa?” Javen’s voice sounded from near the unlit fireplace across the room. A spark flared into being as Javen located the flint stone and lit the lantern beside the hearth. “It sure is getting cool outside.”
“’Tis that time of year.” Jebadiah bent down beside him to attend to the barren fire mantle.
“I don’t think Alcyonne has a place to stay tonight.”
“Nor do I think he has any more clothes on his back than what he wore at the tournament.”
Jebadiah, hunched over, smiled inwardly, and nodded to the cold logs. Without looking over, he replied. “Be careful with the horses. We can’t afford to have one turn a leg.”
Javen raced by his father, slowing long enough to hand him the flickering lantern, and bolted outside toward the barn. The cabin door banged noisily behind him; punctuated by Rusty’s calamitous barking as the dog followed Javen into the night.