The Holy City of the Birds was still cloaked in a fog of incense and flour from the beginning of the Festival of Grace. The biannual festival was larger this year as it was the first Festival since the new King's coronation and young King Patrick had not yet been to the Crystal Temple since his Mid-Summer's day inauguration.
Briskly the early November breeze picked up the baking flour and swirled it in the pre-dawn light around the people of the Crystal Temple. Men and Women of the Orders of the Eagle and Hawk lined the sides of Flying Way as it wound up to the Crystal Temple. Trainees and Mudlarks of the temple were placed between the Eagles and Hawks. The Eagle priests in their red and orange robes stood with the Hawk Guards in their black and red garments with no obvious weapons other than the silver staves that each Eagle, Hawk, Trainee and Mudlark held in front of them, burning incense from the top. Each person's staff was a few inches taller than the holder and the smells of Jasmine, ginger, and thyme filled the air.
Trainees pretending to be as serious as their teachers in their more muted versions of the adult's uniforms tried not to fall asleep during the vigil for the King. The rumble of an empty stomach seemed to be a lion's roar in the silence of the street. A Hawk cuffed the shoulder of the young boy whose offending stomach had made the forbidden noise. In the light rose tinted half open jacket and wide pleated bell pants the Mudlark stood shivering.
"Boy, if you don't control that stomach and shivering, you will not only disgrace the Crystal but that stick of burning incense will catch that mop of red you call your hair on fire," said the soft spoken Hawk standing on the boy's left side. The boy mumbled something about the meanness of the cold and inadequate clothing. He felt as if his bare feet had turned to ice and he would be frozen to the cobblestones for the rest of the winter.
The Eagle on the boy's right cleared his throat, "Boy, Hawk Carlson is right. We do not know when the King will be able to come to worship again. We must make a good impression, especially you as a youth of the Temple."
"Why? Whats it matter what the King thinks of me? He'll never see me again 'cause I'm not stay'n here. Ya know Cornwall, I'm not goin' ta put up with this. I'm gonna leave." The Eagle rolled his eyes and smirked as Hawk Carlson's thick calloused hand slapped the back of the boy's head knocking the boy forward and causing the incense to fall from the boy's staff on his copper hair. The boy dropped his staff with a clang against the ground as he batted at his head to get rid of the burning embers. Shaking his head like a dog and finally sure that he was safe again he set his stubborn jaw and looked up through his poorly coal lined eyes to glare at the Hawk.
"What was that for?" The Hawk ignored the question, stepped forward to pick up the boy's staff, set his sandaled foot on the boy's bare foot and gave back the staff. The boy's eyes were wide with pain but he made no sound. Once the boy took back the staff the Hawk stepped back to his place.
Eagle Cornwall pulled out his lantern, a lighting stick and more incense to replace the boy's. The boy looked forward not giving into the urge to crouch and hold his foot he was sure was the size of a watermelon by now. Eagle Cornwall recognizing that Hawk Carlson was taking responsibility of the boy bowed to the Hawk and walked down the street in his rounds to see if other's needed more incense.
After a few minutes Hawk Carlson, spoke softly to the boy, "The smack was for disrespecting the King, the foot was for disrespecting me." He ignored the black streaks that were forming on the boy's cheeks from the tears. They stood in silence as the boy stared defiantly up at the orange sky. "Why do you want to leave?"
The boy didn't respond. The Hawk cuffed his shoulder again nearly causing the incense to topple to the ground but the boy saved it in time and sighed.
"I said, Why do you want to leave?"
"I… I…" the boy's voice trailed away into a sob. The Hawk sighed as he listened to the boy sob, wondering if he had stepped too hard on the boy's foot.
Once the boy's sobs had stopped the Hawk continued, "Cinder Hair, do you have a name?"
"I ain't got a name… but Eagle Cornwell calls me Copper, 'cause my hair…" the boy fought the onset of the hiccups
"Well, I'm going to call you Cinderflame." One corner of the Hawk's mouth twitched up for a moment. "How old are you?"
After a pause Cinderflame responded softly, "Eight."
"Tell me the truth."
"I did." The Hawk was ready to cuff the boy again when he realized that Cinderflame was telling the truth. What did the Eagles think they were doing having the Mudlark boys out on Flying Way for the all night vigil when they had yet to reach the age of ten. It was a relief though, he looked like he was five. "Who were your parents?"
The boy's jaw set again, "What 'bout yours?"
The Hawk curbed his instinct to cuff Cinderflame and laughed silently. "Why do you want to leave the Crystal?"
Cinderflame considered running before the Hawk could catch him but pushed the thought aside. While perhaps mean, the Hawk seemed to actually want to know. "I be a Mudlark. I got no future here." Gaining courage from not getting hit, he puffed out his chest and spoke clearly. "The Fledglings tease me, the staff yell ta me till I leave, the Eagles talk ta me like I be a liked neighborhood dog, and ya," he hesitated before going on glaring at the Hawk, "ya Hawks just beat me, and I aint got nothing."
The Hawk watched as Cinderflame positioned his feet for another blow. "If you think that way boy, you are a fool." The boy glanced up at the Hawk but then looked back straight ahead, they could hear a commotion down the street. The King would actually make it to the Crystal Temple before the sun came up. "I want you to watch who comes up this road with the King. Pay attention to their uniforms."
Cinderflame harrumphed and both looked straight ahead. In the swirling dust and smoke, Cinderflame couldn't help but turn his head and look at the Parade. Two soldiers marched up the street making sure it was secure. Their swords were drawn and their uniforms crisp, if already covered in flour.
Behind them were three Hawks and the King. One Hawk leading and one on each side ensured that the King would be protected. They wore the usual Hawk clothes but the colors were reversed with a red jacket and pants with a black wide belt. Cinderflame stared at them in awe, they were so strong and confident. All three had pony tails to their shoulder blades, and the woman had bangs. They were fit, and sure, calm and powerful, ready for anything and ready for nothing, they were amazing.
But they were all beyond Cinderflame's reach and they continued up the street and disappeared into the flour laden wind as if they had never been. Cinderflame looked back to what was in front of him. Nobles walked past him, some nodded to Hawk Carlson, but most were talking amongst themselves. Laughing, talking, whispering, ladies walked with their faces covered by fans, the men wore swords as signs of their position, not as signs of their skills. Cinderflame realized that he didn't even remember what the King looked like or if anyone was walking behind him before this batch of nobles. One man walked tall and strong amid the throng of rich in their ball gowns and silk suits, again he wore the reversed colors of the Hawks. He carried a dagger on his belt. And before Cinderflame could really take a good look at the man he was gone laughing among the shadows of men in the mists.
In the next group there was another Hawk in reverse colors and in one of the five groups after that, all were in the same uniform. Cinderflame knew he would be finding out more about these men even if it meant he had to ask Hawk Carlson and get smacked again. A few more groups went by and then a solitary couple walked alone. An old Hawk, also in reversed colors, had a woman on his arm, she wore a dress of complementary pattern and a Ruby in her left ear. He wore a matching Ruby in his right ear. They were married. A Hawk and a noble lady were married. That raised even more questions that Cinderflame would have to ask but for now, there were too many people to look at.
The stream of nobles seemed to never end, and Cinderflame only saw three more Hawks most of whom looked to be the old King's age and would probably pass away in the next few years. Once Cinderflame realized that there were no more nobles coming he didn't leave his stance as he normally would have, he stood thee thinking. Those men and women were Hawks, yet they were among the nobles and even protected the King. Maybe, Maybe, Cinderflame too could do something like that when he grew up… Cinderflame's face fell into a snarl as he realized that those Hawks had probably been born to noble families and raised as Trainees at the Crystal Temple, Which meant that he still had no chance to do something with his life.
A smack on the head tipped him forward and the embers of his incense fell on his head. Cinderflame jumped and brushed the cinders out of his now scorched hair then picking back up his staff swung at Hawk Carlson who blocked it with his own staff not even knocking his own incense off and then swiping Cinderflame's feet out from under him with one foot.
"What was that for?" Cinderflame asked indignantly as he tried to push the Hawk's foot from off his chest so he could get up.
"What do you think?" the Hawk had returned to his stance with the exception of stepping on the boy with one foot.
"How'm I suppos'ta know, you're the adult!" Cinderflame was tired and in pain, and confused he wanted to cry, but knew that cry wouldn't get him anywhere, so he got mad. "You're a Hawk, I'm supposed to look up to you, to want to be you, but you are all just noble born brats who grow up to be bullies!" Cinderflame spit into the dirt.
The Hawk considered how to handle this boy, he was full of anger and pain. As a Mudlark he had probably been teased and looked down upon by everyone his entire life. "I am strict, not a bully. The head smack is because you didn't respond when Hawk Hongi looked at you, you just kept staring at him. The tripping was because you attacked me, and the foot is because I know that you wouldn't listen to me while you are in this mood unless you had to. Are you ready to talk sensibly?"
"No." Cinderflame punched the Hawks leg and then waved his hand around to get rid of the pain in his hand. Hawk was actually impressed, the boy had probably left a bruise on his calf.
"Are you ready now?" Cinderflame punched his leg again. "Then we can stay like this till after the King and his people have passed back through." They were silent. Hawk Carlson glanced at the boy's foot to see how much damage he may have done and was surprised to see that the foot was purple and the big toe was out of joint. A twinge of guilt went through the Hawk.
"Does your foot still hurt?"
"What do ya think?"
"Don't move." Hawk Carlson looked the poor boy over and seeing no tense muscles in the boys body lifted his foot and gently picked up the ankle of the bruised foot. The boy sat up and bit his lip as the Hawk bent over his foot and started touching it. "Stop biting your lip," the boy obeyed and clenched his teeth as the Hawk twisted the toe back into place. "Stay exactly where you are." Cinderflame watched as the Hawk got up and walked away into the mist.
Cinderflame let the tears flow again and sobbed for the second time that morning. He had been up since dawn the day before, had worked his normal chores all day yesterday, then been forced to stand barefoot in his summer uniform all night long. His hair had been burned, his foot smashed, hit on the shoulder and pinned to the ground. Cinderflame couldn't decide if he hated the Hawks now, or if he wanted to be one because then he would be stronger than those around him. He lay back down on the cold cobblestones too tired to even disobey the Hawk and leave.
When Hawk Carlson came back the boy was asleep on the street. The Hawk looked him over to see what he had to work with. The boy obviously had a lot of spirit, but he was a bit of a runt. The charcoal that had clumsily been drawn around his eyes had made channels for his tears down his cheeks. The boy's hand was bruised from hitting his shin. The Hawk whispered to himself, "a lot of spirit…" before kneeling next to the boy.
Gently he was able to wrap the boy's knuckles with a black cotton ribbon without waking him. He didn't expect that kind of luck with the boy's foot as he strategically placed his back to the boy and he knelt by the his foot. Using a red ribbon this time the Hawk studied the boy's toes before wrapping the middle three, all the time expecting a rain of little fists on his back.
When he was done the Hawk turned to see the boy laying there eyes wide open, and hands clenched in little fists, his bandaged right one in front of his face staring at the black ribbon.
"Get up." Cinderflame stood trying to place as little weight as possible on the sore foot. the boy picked up his staff and went back to attention. "Good. You are learning." They stood in silence, each thinking over what the other had done. "Boy do you know all that a Hawk can become?"
"No," came the soft reply.
"A Hawk guards whatever he is told to guard. The Temple, the youth by training them, the King either directly or by training the palace guard, a noble assigned to you either by the Crystal or the King. A Hawk is to the strongest degree, the King's man. He may be called to war, or to build villages, to guard the border or the royal tombs. A Hawk is a force to be reckoned with."
"I should cuff you for that, but I won't. A Hawk is a man or woman of control and rank. He leads where others would just follow. He has goals and he follows through with them. Usually a Hawk comes to the Crystal as a fledgling…"
"Usually?" Cinderflame chanced a glance up at the Hawk who pretended not to notice or hear and continued to stare ahead. After a few minutes the Hawk responded.
"When you address a Hawk you will call him 'Hawk', if there are more than one in the area, you will address the one you are looking for or speaking to as 'Hawk So-and-so' you use their last name. Do you understand boy?"
"You will work on your speaking, a Hawk always speaks properly. Now, what was your question, boy?" the sun was fully out and made patterns of light on the street with the wind as the boy thought about his question.
"Hawk, Ya said a Hawk usually comes to the Crystal as a Fledgling."
"You said." He corrected. "I did say that, but that is not a question."
"Who else can become a Hawk?" Carlson didn't answer. "Hawk," the boy added to the end of his question.
"Only two types of people can ever be Hawks. A Fledgling whose parents can afford it, and every few years, a generation or so, a Mudlark, who is a ward of the temple, will make it into and then through Hawk training." They stood in silence again. "Two such men passed us in the Parade."
"Near the beginning, do you remember the Hawk in the middle of a group of nobles, he was leading a conversation on what kind of dance made a man's partner look more graceful."
The boy corrected himself, "What Hawk?"
"I know you saw Hawk Tailor because you stared at him as he passed, he was the first Hawk after the King's immediate guard. He is the pride of the Hawks now. He was a Mudlark, and is now a sought after bachelor at court, let alone on the King's council. He is responsible of ensure the safety of his court when they travel."
Silence filled the air, "Hawk, Who was the other person?"
A genuine smile crossed the older Hawk's face, "The man who convinced me to become a Hawk, Hawk Hongi. He was the man who walked with just his wife, the Dutchess of Tionary, he helped me throughout my training." Silence again, "Boy, watch those two especially as the Parade passes us again." A minute or so later the lead soilders came back into view, followed by the rest of the company.
Cinderflame watched the Hawks with the King and noticed how aware they were, one even looked from Hawk Carlson to his hand and foot and raised an eyebrow at Hawk Carlson before passing on. This exchange was forgotten as he watched the nobles pass in their beautiful clothes with fine words on their lips.
Hawk Tailor came into view, this time he too was leading a lady on his arm. The stood apart from the rest of the nobles around them. Cinderflame was shocked to see that both had a matching earring and that as they entered into view the Hawk lifted a handkerchief to the woman's ear to catch a little drop of blood from the new earring. They had gotten married that morning up at the Crystal Temple. When Hawk Tailor saw Hawk Carlson he led his new wife over and the stopped, letting other noble pass them.
Hawk Tailor bowed low and his wife curtsied. "Hawk, I would like to introduce my new wife, Selina." She curtsied again as Hawk Tailor looked on with what Cinderflame was a disgustingly love struck look.
Hawk Carlson bowed in return, "Tailor, you have found yourself a lovely lady. Keep her, and cherish her. May it never be said that a Hawk is not a family man. You have my blessing." The Tailors bowed and curtsied before walking on. The new Lady Tailor was beautiful Cinderflame had to admit to himself, and if a Hawk wanted her, she must be smart. He couldn't imagine a Hawk marrying a stupid or air headed woman for a wife.
Looking back at the nobles, Cinderflame started to notice the way the nobles walked and talked, they stood tall, and strong, their cultivated voices rang out with words he had never heard before. Most of them seemed smart. It seemed strange to young Cinderflame who had been surrounded by quiet Eagles, bratty Fledglings, and stupid Mudlarks to hear language that sounded so learned pass in front of him.
Hawk Hongi and his wife caused a sense of reverence pass over the boy. Easily in his seventies, the Hawk looked as tall and strong as ever. In Cinderflame's eyes, Hawk Hongi looked more royal than the King had. He watched as Hawk Hongi and Hawk Carlson exchanged nods and he savored his last glimpse of the Hawk as he disappeared into the mists.
Cinderflame didn't notice the other Hawks and Eagles stretching and leaving until Hawk Carlson rested a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Stretch boy, you still have to walk back up to your dorm." Carlson started stretching and Cinderflame copying, was amazed that a man in his late forties could be so flexible. After a few minutes they joined the end of the line of Eagles, Hawks, Fledglings and Mudlarks as they worked their way back up Flying Way to the Crystal Temple.