Days turned to weeks and still Peter never went across Cleansing to the Lady Bards’ side. Occasionally Jordan conceived of a wild plan but it never worked. Jordan went across one more time but he was forced to swim back when one of the Mistress Lady Bards saw him. Bran laughed the night he heard about it. Jordan mumbled and grumbled that if the Mistress Lady Bard reported him he didn’t care.
The first year was coming to an end and Bran, Peter and Jordan had grown closer while Sheen had become more distant. Sheen, with his upright nose did not make it easy for Peter in his attempts to keep some unity. Jordan had no qualms about ridiculing the Sheen for having baby fat. Sheen in turn continued to outsing the rest of them; however, by the end of the year Bran noticed that Sheen had become angry. Jordan’s taunting and the alienation seemed to put Sheen in a constant foul mood. Bran saw this, just as he knew Peter did, but Sheen became obnoxious and on the few times Bran tried to talk to him, Sheen snubbed him off as a low-life.
In an attempt to keep their group together Peter suggested that he and Bran try to be nice to Sheen. Peter did not want Sheen to end up like Algin. One day while they were bathing Bran asked Peter why he felt it was so important to keep their group together and why he was upset when Algin had to leave.
“You have stern brown eyes, Bran,” Peter said wearily. “You don’t look at people, you look into them. Maybe that’s why you’re so quiet. Too bad I can’t say the same of others. I was born in the east as you know. There are Bard schools in the east, probably more than there are here, but the campuses there are diverse and often chaotic. Some are based solely on enchanting; others offer more than typical Bard training. I have heard some campuses train their apprentices to earn through playing and promiscuity.”
“Promiscuity? I’m not always sure of the big words you use Peter. Do you mean like Jordan?” Bran said with a chuckle.
“Maybe,” Peter answered with his head downcast. “I come from an honourable family, a family who takes care of other families. In turn those other families work for us. It’s called a feudal system. We work for a prince who works for his brother, a king. In the end we all work for the Emperor. The Emperor has gone through many mood swings in his time. I have been told many stories. Centuries ago he brought peace to the land. Farther back, when he was depressed, he let his sons rule. Some say he even tried to commit suicide. Even farther back, closer to the time when he was just beginning to rule, I’ve heard he was ruthless. Legend says he had a city of the dead. Over five thousand heads were pierced through stakes and lined in rows along the city’s streets. The city was dead because of the diseases caused by the rotting heads. Druids were brought across from the west to cure the city with special herbs and medicines.”
“Why didn’t the Emperor succeed in killing himself?” Bran asked.
“Again, legend says, he took a broad sword with one edge jagged and thrust it into his belly. At first the sword did not penetrate and those witnessing his attempted suicide thought he was faking it. Many suggested the Emperor had shielding under his shirt. The Emperor removed his shirt. Again he plunged the sword into his belly. The sword would not enter. The Emperor became enraged. Again and again he drove the sword tip into his belly. Harder and harder he thrust the sword until finally–it broke.”
Bran wondered if Peter was fibbing. “What about poison?” he suggested.
Peter laughed. “Why bother, his enemies poison his food continuously. At first the Emperor had tasters but in his depression he decided to allow his enemies to kill him, so he ate the meals without the tasters. Nothing happened to him.”
“How can this be true?” Bran asked. He was concerned now, because Peter was not one to tell lies, but the Emperor stories were too fantastic.
Peter’s eyes grew stern, even angry. “I can see you don’t believe me. My parents sent me here Bran, because in the west the world still has natural and wild areas, and because of this has some innocence, and truth. The land where I come from is spoiled now. The Emperor has let his sons go to war over ownership, and yet there are stories that he manipulates these wars. Why? Because he is bored. For decades we had peace, and prospered. Now our food is used to feed unwanted soldiers, and our people go to war for the Emperor against the Emperor’s own forces. You see the Emperor says he is neutral but the richer folks have learned that this is not true. The Emperor is creating wars with other species just because he is bored.” Peter’s head hung low. “My father said we were so close to peace. Through proper trade and respect we were so close to creating a catalyst of understanding and peace. This is what the west is still like. There are troubles but nothing so strong that it would shatter the peace. So, with peace in mind, I want to keep everyone friendly. Whether that be Algin, Sheen, Jordan, you, or myself.”
Bran said nothing. The sadness he felt emitting from his friend answered his question more thoroughly than he expected.