Okay, short ficlet about Brae's life. It's quite rough as I haven't even had time to re-read it, but I'm leaving for Santa Barbera to go to my orientation (or "uni expo", ellers) in five minutes, so here it is. Constructive criticism is good.
“That woman. What color was her shirt?”
Brae wracked his brain frantically. “Green,” he finally answered. “a darker green.” His father nodded silent approval and they continued on, walking the streets of Dublin. Brae tried to keep an eye on all the passerby, never sure which his father would test him on. For several minutes more, his father quizzed him relentlessly: colors, designs, shirts, pants, sometimes even shoes. Brae was better now. Ten years old, but these walks had been a semi-regular occurrence for the last four years.
“The last store we passed. What was in the display window?”
Brae panicked. His father had never asked this question before, and he was too busy paying attention to the passerby to spare many glances at the stores of downtown Dublin. Fortunately, he realized, this particular store had caught his eye. “A men’s suit.” He held his breath unconsciously - one wrong answer ended these walks, and the silence of the trip home terrified him. He waited anxiously for a response, and his father soon followed-up with another question.
“What was special about it?”
This, fortunately, had been the feature that had caught Brae’s eye, and there was no hesitation: “It came with a cape.”
His father smiled, a big, broad smile that always made Brae’s eyes light up as much as it did his father’s. “Excellent. Come on, Brae, let’s go get something to eat.” Brae marveled at the luck - his father choosing one of the few displays that he had noticed. It would be years before Brae, who thought these exercises ridiculous and his father strict, would even entertain the notion that his father had chosen the display on purpose.
“The number of children, by gender, that just passed us, their approximate ages, and a likely destination.”
Brae, thirteen now, thought carefully. The detailed questions were usually allowed more time for a response. “Four boys, six girls, all approximately 9-10 - except for one girl, probably 6 or 7, a younger sister tagging along, I would guess…” Brae paused, trying to think where Muggle children went between two and three in the afternoon. “Not coming home from school, no books. Not on an outing, too cold,” he said with a side glare at his father, who ignored both the look and inflection, “and too many to be a casual trip to a friend’s house. I give up. Where?”
His father laughed. “You’re not getting to go home so easily. You’ll figure it out eventually.”
They continued walking, Brae growing resentful - he detested not knowing the answer to any question.
“That man’s cloak. What color?”
“And his shirt beneath?”
This gave Brae pause. After a few flustered moments, he exploded. “I don’t know, his cloak was closed! It’s too damn cold out here for this anyway! Why do we still have to do this?”
His father’s congenial mood of a moment ago disappeared as quickly as his breath in the crisp air. “You know why. To make you observant. What color?”
Brae continued walking, not wanting to draw attention, and hissed quietly “I am not going to become a spy, father. I am not going to become a pickpocket. So WHY must I be able to notice every little detail about life? Can’t I look at the forest instead of the branches on the trees?”
His father growled, not particularly enjoying Brae’s teenage rebellion, contained as it was. “I am not teaching you to be a spy or a pickpocket. I am teaching you to be a man. What color?”
Brae stopped now, freezing cold and full of himself, spoiling for a fight of epic proportions to show his father the man he already was. “And why do I need this to be a man? Or what about the sewing? Did I learn that to ‘be a man’?” he mocked. “IF I need this piddling little details, I will ask the ravens. Isn’t that what they’re there for?”
His father stopped too, the busy traffic of the city bustling around them. “Dependence on anything is a crutch. Ravens are not always there to be eyes. Your mother is not always there to be your seamstress. A man is always ready for anything, Brae.”
“Really? Then what color were the gloves of the bald man who just passed behind you?” Brae’s father started a bit - Brae had never interrogated him before, only the other way around.
“Touché. Perhaps it is a bit cold for this… let’s head back to your uncle’s house.” The two of them resumed their course, side by side, the argument postponed until the next trip, and the next, and the next.
That night on Brae’s pillow was a note. In his father’s characteristic, labored handwriting was written It was a trick question. He had no gloves. Brae, for the remainder of his rebellious years, pretended the note had never existed.
“That man. What ring was he wearing?”
Brae replied speedily. “A wedding ring with a small emerald. That woman. Her necklace.”
“Three diamonds in a gold setting.”
It was almost a game now, the two trying to top each other, and Brae had long since grown out of his Oedipal provocations - he was 16 now, nearly a man in his own right. The walks were now more of discussions, and in between their talks the two would fire questions, trying to throw the other off or come up with a trick.
“All these years, father - why the exercises? There are no more wars. Why not something more - refined? Family picnics? Dancing lessons, even?”
“Just because there are no wars now does not mean their never will be again.”
“But even so, why? Why train your only son for some sort of bizarre future? These exercise,” he said, gesturing grandly but managing to avoid the passers-by, “these exercises do not even really train me to be a soldier.”
“I did not train you to be a soldier, I trained you to be a man. You know that.”
“What sort of man needs to remember these little details, or be able to survive for a week with nothing but a knife? What sort of battles could I face?”
“For a good man, Brae, there are always battles to be fought. Perhaps not wars. Perhaps not battles for territory or gold. But there are always battles that need to be fought.”
Brae gave up and went on to discuss the latest tome he had finished reading. He knew no further answers would come from his father - not today, perhaps not ever. Of all the mysteries his father had ever laid before him, some purposely, some not, the reason for the “exercises” (as they had long ago been termed, whether the walks or the sewing or the studies) was the only answer that had never been revealed.
Many of Brae’s friends were a bit scared of his father. He was nice, with a reassuring laugh, and generous and accepting - but his moods could change in the blink of an eye, and he could be almost cruelly hard in his demands on his son. But Brae always remembered the one time that all the exercises had, perhaps, worked against his father, for all his father's attempts to conceal it had not stopped Brae from observing the single tear that crept thieflike from his father's eye when Brae had first announced his dream of becoming an Auror.
His father bought him a new suit shortly after.
It came with a cape.