For as long as Arcblaze could remember, Fichturzzin Day – “Fish-Throwing Day” – was his favorite day of the year.
The first time Fray had ever told him about it, he’d laughed. ‘Fichturzzin’ meant ‘to throw fish’ in the native language of the people of Hagdal, which is a colloquial phrase for selling seafood. The reason why it sounds so silly is because the idea of selling and eating seafood itself is outlandish to the Hagdallish; their village is located so deep into the mainland that they didn’t even have a word for ‘fish’ until a wayward merchant with shark jerky showed up one day selling the delicacy for fifty iron a piece. They liked it so much, they ended up buying him out and devouring it with such rapturous pleasure that they demanded he come back with more, but Hagdal was so far off his usual path that he could only make the trip once a year. Thus came the birth of Fichturzzin Day – one day of the year when the merchant, and every fisherman along the coastline, travel to Hagdal to hawk all their maritime wares at the Hagdallish for armfuls of money.
As a child, Arcblaze liked it mostly because the sheer idea of it all was so bizarre that even hearing the name cracked him up. He hadn’t been allowed to attend the festivities because traveling to Hagdal was a three-day trek North, leaving their bountiful village behind in favor of treacherous deserts and canyons, and Fray feared he was too young for it. The year he turned twelve was the first year Fray actually allowed him to come along, and he started to like Fichturzzin Day for an entirely new reason.
There were more people than he’d ever seen before in his whole life.
That explained why they would begin preparing for it at least a month in advance. Setting aside prime catches to dry, smoke, and salt for weeks at a time, or stockpiling live animals in rudimentary holding tubs, building up their inventory so that they would have as much to sell as possible. They’d be completely sold out by early evening, and then they would pack up. The festivities concluded shortly after midnight, at which time the Hagdallish would celebrate by becoming grossly intoxicated and lavishly dining on their purchases. The outsiders were welcome to stay and participate, but many people would tell you that the only thing worse than the journey to Hagdal was a night spent with a Hagdallish man drunk off fish and grog.
Arcblaze was infinitely thankful for the moment when Fray pulled him from his newfound chums – two burly Hagdallish men, easily twice his size – and lifted him onto the back of the horse drawing their cart, beginning their journey back home under the light of a bright half-moon. Fray insisted that Arcblaze do his fair share of work for the profits they’d make, which included packing up the cart, but once that was done he was free to celebrate. And celebrate he did, if a little too much.
They were a good hour into the trek away from Hagdal. The older man had barely turned his head, but it was enough to spot Arcblaze slouching against the horse’s neck from the periphery of his vision. “Boy! That’s a damn good way to run your horse into a pit.”
The sudden break in silence startled Arcblaze, who with a half-snort-half-snore instantly straightened and blearily peered over at his companion. “Ssssorry,” He said, yawning. “I’m awake.”
“Y’damn well better be. I warned you not to drink with’em brutes, but did you listen? Noooo. I ain’t gonna be soft on you for bein’ drunk. Mind your horse.” Fray grunted, staring hard at him.
Arcblaze grimaced and cleared his throat. He was suddenly very painfully thirsty. “Can’t we just make camp now?”
“Hah!” Fray barked, but Arcblaze knew far better than to think him humored. He was annoyed. “Gettin’ drunk with’em Hagdals and wakin’ up with’em too, that what you want?”
“How can we still be close to the village? We’ve been going all night.”
The Hagdallish were an awfully passionate people, and if they love fish, then they love the people who bring them fish. Unfortunately, that even meant kidnapping anyone who camped too close to the village and bringing them back for fear that the elements would take them in their sleep. For as well-meaning as they were, their good intentions had a tendency of being misplaced.
“S’only been an hour, and we been walkin’.” Fray answered as he narrowed his eyes at the dark horizon. “We haven’t gotten very far.”
Arcblaze huffed and slouched, adjusting to a more comfortable position. “Okay. Sorry. Sorry.” He grumbled and rubbed his face, fumbling around in a satchel for his waterskin, only to find that it was carelessly left dry on leaving the village earlier. Holding it above his mouth, he anxiously licked his lips before peering at Fray again.
He needn’t even say the words for the older man to roll his eyes and reach into his pouch, tossing a half-full waterskin across the short distance between the horses. “Topped us off before we left. Couple jugs in the cart, good ‘til we make it to the riverland. Ought to teach you some vigilance,”
Arcblaze groaned loudly then took a swig from the waterskin, wiping his mouth with the backside of his arm. “I said I’m sorry like three times. Look, I’m awake now. Thanks for the water.”
“Hold onto it. You look like you might need it.” Fray side-eyed him.
They settled into an agitated silence. It took a few minutes, and a few more mouthfuls of water, for Arcblaze to organize his thoughts before blurting out, “Okay. But it was a good day, right?”
Fray grunted again.
“I had fun. Did you have fun?”
The older man only looked more pissed off, which was a hard feat to accomplish with Fray who most of the time had a more affable air to him.
“Are you mad you didn’t get to drink?” Arcblaze coyly scratched at his chin. This was treading dangerous waters, but he had a feeling it wouldn’t rise into much of an argument; they were both tired, and Fray adored him like a son, and Fray should know by now that this was one of Arcblaze’s less subtle techniques of lightening the mood. “Next time I promise I’ll be the designated rider. You can totally get plastered off your ass and I can-”
“Ain’t mad.” Fray cut in without even shedding a glance his way. “Just disappointed.”
Arcblaze’s words all but withered away in his throat.
“I depended on you to do your job and I ended up doin’ half of it while you sallied around with your new pals all night.”
The boy’s brows knitted with indignation. “What are you talking about? I packed up like you told me to! When I asked, you said I could go.”
“You did a piss poor job. The jugs were empty, the jerky crates still greasy, you didn’t even hitch the cover to the cart! Ain’t ever seen so much carelessness from you, boy!” Fray growled, briefly glancing over at him. And when he did, Arcblaze saw what he could only feel was a glint of simmering disgust, and he felt it inside himself, too.
He couldn’t even think of anything to come back with. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t really remember doing any of the things Fray mentioned. He’d just been so swept up in the frenzy of the festival. “I’m sorry.” Arcblaze found himself apologizing again. “I thought I’d cleaned everything up.”
Fray shook his head. “Well you didn’t.”
“Okay well, I know that now.”
“Don’t you give me lip.” Fray scowled.
“I’m not, okay, I’m sorry, I really am! Really. I mean it. I really really mean it. I didn’t mean to leave such a mess.” Arcblaze added hurriedly, shrinking under the weight of Fray’s disapproval. He was quietly thoughtful for another couple moments, unable to look away from Fray, as if vying for the older man to look and see just how sorry Arcblaze could make his face look. “I just… there was so much going on. I was really excited. I wanted to go and have fun, you know?”
A long, audible sigh trailed from the older man, whose shoulders lifted and sagged with the sound. “But you didn’t think about me, did you?”
The look of apology on Arcblaze’s face gradually tightened into one of distress. The accusation had caught him off guard. He had assumed that Fray would handle most of the cleanup like he always did, like he did every year for the past six years that they’d gone to Hagdal together. It didn’t occur to him that Fray would have wanted anything different, or that maybe Fray would have wanted to join the celebration, or that Fray would have expected a greater level of responsibility from Arcblaze for some reason. Had it always been this way?
It took all of his self-control not to criticize Fray for not saying anything about it. “Well, what did you want?” He ventured slowly.
“I just wanted you to what I asked you to do.” Fray’s answer was rigid. “Then I could spend less time cleanin’, and more time preventin’ you from drinkin’ your face off.”
Arcblaze pursed his lips at the older man. This, he knew what this meant. He’d been with Fray long enough to know when he was trying to be candid. “I don’t know, I mean. I was drinking quite a lot. You would’ve had to follow me all around the village to keep me from getting drunk.”
Fray said nothing.
“Like… we went to this tavern, where the guys said the barmaids were just my type, I think at first they were just trying to dump me somewhere.” Arcblaze spoke cautiously, but after noticing Fray’s lack of response, continued with a little more gusto in his story. “So we went there, and man, the ladies were actually massive – they had biceps the size of my head! They were so huge and amazing. I don’t know how those guys had it in my head that they were my type, but they were totally right.” He laughed.
The corner of Fray’s lip twitched just slightly.
“They literally had to drag me out of there.” Arcblaze added. He had fond memories of clinging to one woman’s arm as she hoisted him up off the ground with it. “Then they made a bet I couldn’t stomach the leftovers from the less popular stands, so we went around buying the food that was still left from some of the carts. It was so gross. And there was this massive bonfire in the south village square where they were doing like, magic tricks? With the fire? I never seen anything like it. I couldn’t actually see until one of the guys put me on his shoulders.”
Fray squinted and looked like he was parsing the information with some disbelief.
“Um. At one point, I think I was on someone’s roof? They wanted to see if they could throw me up there. They did, actually. They did throw me up on there. And when I was up there, I saw someone walking this really small horse. I wanted to ride it really bad, so I asked them to help me down, and they did. They actually found the tiny horse. I tried to ride it, but it kicked me in the, uh,” He cleared his throat. “They all thought it was really funny though. I made a total ass of myself.”
“See, and I would’a saved you the embarrassment if I’d been able to.” Fray finally scoffed over at him.
“No, I bet you would’ve found it totally hilarious too.” Arcblaze argued. “I don’t think you’d have been able to stop me. But I mean, it would have been loads more fun if you were there, so, sorry that didn’t happen.”
“Yeah.” The older man shrugged his shoulders grumpily. “Well, maybe next time.”
Arcblaze grinned, and Fray had even caught a glimpse of it before staring off ahead again, prompting Arcblaze’s grin to broaden that much more.
“S’long as you do your damn job.”
Arcblaze laughed. It took some real digging, but at least now he knew what Fray had really meant. “Will do. And next year we’ll party together, ‘kay dad?”
Fray seemed to be contemplating the words, as if he was begrudging over the idea of partying, or the teasing reference to his fatherly position. Either way, Arcblaze did eventually see him soften his tense posture and even try on the hint of a smile, and that was good enough for him.