"Avi, Carina!” his father said. Silhouetted against the sunshine outside stood both his father and mother. Around their legs were a half dozen of their children, Avi's siblings. His mother held baby Galiun. As soon as she spotted her big brother and sister, Margreth came running.
“Avi!” Margreth said as she charged full speed toward him. She leaped into his arms before he had time to get to his feet. Holding her, he stood and closed the distance between him and his parents. Carina and Rachit were on their feet now.
“What are you guys doing here?” Avi asked.
“I bolunteered,” Margreth explained.
“Dad,” he said. “I’m so glad to see you!” His father slapped him on the back as Avi hugged his mother and gave his infant brother a kiss on the forehead. He passed Margreth to Carina. Margreth began chattering to her.
“How are you here?” Avi asked.
“Shepherd Amos held a town square meeting after you left. He told us what happened with the delegation.”
“I know, it’s terrible,” Avi said.
“Yes, but he told us of your bravery, you, Carina, and Rachit. You’re Sundar’s heroes,” his mother explained.
“Oh, I don’t think—” Avi said, but his dad was too excited.
“He told us how you had made your way to the capital and how you sang at the Low King’s banquet. Sundar is so proud. He said you three are the entire delegation for this year’s festival.”
“What they lack in numbers they make up for in character,” Eliah interjected, lifting his wineglass. They all smiled.
“That still doesn’t explain why you’re here,” Avi asked.
His dad continued. “Amos asked for volunteers to come be a part of an emergency delegation. Little Margreth volunteered at once. You would have been so proud of her.”
“Aww, Margreth,” Avi said, turning toward his little sister.
“You're so brave,” Carina said to the little girl in her arms.
“Like my brother,” she said. “But Mommy not let me bring String Head.”
“Who’s String Head?” Avi asked.
“That's her pet cobra,” his father said. “Anyway, Margreth inspired others too or maybe shamed them. After she volunteered, Landra, then Shevey signed on. Then Jenil. Nimit Patel and his daughter Amoli volunteered. They're here too.”
"What about great-grandpa Neil, or Kiran, or Grandpa Rohan? Did they not volunteer as well?” Avi asked. His father hung his head slightly and shook side to side. “Well, then. We will make do with what we have. How many have come?” Avi asked.
“Thirteen, including you, Carina and Rachit,” his mom said.
“Wait, did you say the Patels are here?” Avi gulped.
“Yes,” his father said, leaning in slightly. Their eyes met knowingly.
“Amoli?” Carina said. Their father nodded.
Rachit interjected. “Usually, the Sundar delegation is twenty-four, but thirteen is better than three.”
“I’ll walk with Sundar,” Eliah said. “I’ll vouchsafe my approval for your faithfulness for another year.”
“That would be great. That makes fourteen.” Rachit said. Avi was still too amazed to reenter the conversation.
“I dare say my daughter would as well, now that she's met some of you,” Eliah said.
“But how did you guys get here so quickly? How did you beat us here?” Carina asked.
“I had something to do with that,” Eliah said. “Your shepherd Amos contacted me. He asked if we had transport available. I had a vessel making a surprise trip to Tamesh City a few days ago. Since I had a pilot in the area, and it was coming back to Jerusalem anyway, I had them stop in Sundar.”
With that, Eliah rose from his reclining position, took one more drink from his wine cup, and moved toward the door.
“I regret that I have to leave all of this wonderful food, but I must be getting to some of my neglected duties,” Eliah said. He added proudly. “My daughter is singing at the festival opening tomorrow. I have to make sure she has rehearsed her part.”
“Thank you so much,” Avi said.
“The festival begins tomorrow. The processional is at four. You are free to stay in the palace for the festival week. We are pleased to host you,” Eliah said before he disappeared through the door.
A brown nose followed his absence. Apparently, Bhoora could no longer restrain himself. He smelled an entire banquet's worth of goodies, and he was coming in. Margreth showed him to the table, and they sat and ate together with the other children. The kids laughed as they tried to see how much food they could stuff into Bhoora's overeager mouth.
“There’s still something I don’t understand,” Avi said. “Why didn’t Amos arrange passage for us with Eliah if it was available?”
“Because,” Rachit said. “We needed the journey.” Avi’s eyes found Rachit’s as they looked to Carina.
“Yes, we did.”