Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter One

Chapter One

Ighosia Falls Insane Asylum-- the board of directors had yet to change the name to Ighosia Falls Mental Institution even though there was a bill on the board-- housed numerous patients who milled about aimlessly. Their behavior was placid enough that they could be allowed to roam the buildings and grounds without endangering themselves or others. The big common room that also served as game room and sometime cafeteria had enrobed patients scattered around tables, sofas, and the obligatory ping pong table. Most of them chattered with themselves or visitors or staff-- those that were coherent or thought they were coherent. Some still had enough of their minds to be able to interact, but those that spoke in gibberish still wanted to be heard. Volunteers had grown used to the ones who just wanted to be listened to while they babbled on about God-knows-what. Some of the patients who had no desire to listen or speak simply sat, staring at a wall, a TV screen, their hands or laps, or nothing in particular.

One patient sat in a wheelchair, her back to the wall, watching with uninterested eyes the color of chocolate. Auburn hair tumbled to her shoulders. She was always quiet, often unresponsive when addressed, but the doctors, staff, and volunteers had grown used to her and no one tried to interact with her anymore. She was content to sit in her chair, sometimes with a book or a magazine in her lap that she did not read, and while away the hours simply being, in a silent and lonely world.

Without warning or any sort of catalyst, she suddenly tried to stand in her wheelchair, struggling against legs that didn’t want to work. Her voice burst from her, hoarse from disuse. “I’ve lost it! I’ve lost it!”

Heads whipped around to look at her questioningly, a pair of nurses rushed to her to calm her down. A psychiatric doctor watched everything, immediately postulating what this sudden change in behavior meant. Was it, perhaps, the first sign of regained sanity, of awareness of surroundings? Or was it a delirium, with the lost “it” being something conjured in a fractured mind?


Necras was teeming with people, and they pressed in on Senne from all sides. Rumor that Cheyne Firdin had been reborn had reached her ears, leading her first to one city, then to another as the rumors developed. He was in Morena! No in Abem, or in Estria! No, he was in Necras! Wherever he was, the rebirth of the hero meant one thing: that the cursed sword Sonsedhor might again be within her grasp, or come within her grasp.

The crowds in Necras weren’t encouraging. The rumors had only pointed to one thing: the Search. The celebration of the great hero’s rebirth was nothing more than the setting forth of Seekers: men who believed they might be a rebirth of the hero, each one of them planning to go reclaim the famous blade and make a name for himself as a hero.

She pushed through the crowd; everywhere she looked were men wearing the silver braided cord of a Seeker. The cord came along with the oaths they made: to be honest, to do no harm to the innocent, and to seek it for righteousness rather than for glory. Those oaths freed men from all debts and obligations until one of three things happened: either they died, the sword was found, or the Seeker gave up and returned to paying taxes. Senne thought it all silly. Why should any man need to make oaths, or search for the sword? Whoever had once walked the world as Cheyne Firdin should know what had happened to Sonsedhor, hidden or not.

“He’s here.” The voice burst into her head like the boom from a firework. “The one who will find the sword. The one is here!”

In the middle of a crowd as she was, she fell to her knees from shock and elation. It had been so long. After her failure to bring him Sonsedhor back when Cheyne held it, she had been cut off from him completely and without mercy. Now, to hear his silken gravelly voice again was ecstasy.

As if he could read her thoughts-- which he probably could, actually-- his voice echoed in the back of her head again. “You are not in my favor yet, child. Do not believe you are. But perhaps you might redeem yourself. The one who will find that cursed blade is here. Bring him to me. Find the blade, and you may prove what little worth you actually have.”

As suddenly as it had come, the voice was gone, the itching buzz in the back
of her head abruptly disappearing. Shaking, she got to her feet, her eyes doing more than just passing over the individuals that made up the mass. Now, she actually saw them.

The plaza was filled to bursting with men and women, but her master had given her no way to tell which one of the men around her was the one. She picked out a chestnut-haired man not ten paces from her, but there was no guarantee Cheyne’s rebirth would look like Cheyne himself had. The man around her were all as different as people could be. Dark-skinned and fair, blue-eyed Gaernin and brown-eyed Melistrati, black hair and red hair and brown and all shades in between… she even thought she spied a pale-haired Keidenelle savage among the rabble. She gave a start at seeing the man she thought was a Keidenelle. Either they were attacking and no one cared because there was only the one, or he was an attraction escaped from some menagerie or showman who had set up outside the city. She had seen menageries boast of captured savages before, but most often they turned out to be fakes, men or women who had drained all the color from their hair by a means Senne didn’t know. This man’s hair wasn’t drained of color; it was more of a whitish-blonde, like fresh buttermilk or a none-too-clean linen shirt. He wasn’t dressed like a savage either; his clothes fit in perfectly with the crowd. Perhaps he had drained the color from more normal brown hair himself, to instill fear in competition for the sword. No silver braid of a Seeker adorned his sleeve; the man wasn’t out for the glory that would come with Sonsedhor. Senne dismissed him from her thoughts.

She worked her way through the crowd, her eyes darting around at man after man, wondering if perhaps her lover’s relationship with Cheyne before would help her recognize his rebirth. A thought struck; would he recognize her? Would that be one of the memories that came to his rebirth? Had she been recognized already, and he was simply avoiding her? There were too many questions. He was here, but where?

Musicians were playing on every corner, and jugglers and acrobats performed wherever they could find space. Half the people in these crowds were drinking, the other half mostly drunk already, even though it was not yet noon.

She found herself among a cluster of braid-wearing Seekers close to one of the gates to the city. Outside the walls, the colorful sides of a tent stretched towards the sky. The menagerie. She sneered; she hated menageries. A painted wooden sign named this Jonal Keffinen’s Traveling Sights of Wonder. A long line of Seekers were strolling among the large tent and the few smaller tents surrounding it that housed smaller attractions. She sauntered through the crowds herself, dropping a coin in the box near the entrance arch to pay her way in. Money was easily come by; she could waste it on this, even though she hated them. Cheyne might be among the crowd.

The smells of horses and mules reached her, and she wrinkled her nose. She let it stay wrinkled as she looked around and saw the people who wore vests made of the same colorful material as the tents; the vests marked them as workers of the Traveling Sights of Wonder. She glared at every one of them she saw. Menageries were peopled by nothing but con artists and freaks. Within one small open tent, a woman was contorting herself into all kinds of different positions that should have been impossible. Freak. In another, a man was “eating” fire and blowing it back out of his mouth. A small boy not wearing a vest darted among the crowd surrounding the fire eater. Senne saw the quick movements that showed he was picking pockets. No doubt he was employed by the performer. Con artist. A woman standing on a makeshift platform open to the air was swallowing daggers and knives and swords-- nothing any honest person would do to make a living. Strange animals were in cages, strange items in large glass bottles and jars were lined up on a table, being watched over by a man with eyes far too large for him. He looked like an owl. A man with no arms wrote on a giant slate with his feet, his handwriting neat and perfect. Freaks and more freaks.

And the other people were eating it all up. Any man who was truly Cheyne wouldn’t be taken in by all this. He was not one to be entertained by the unnatural. She walked purposefully out of the menagerie’s roped-off grounds.

Back within the walls of the city, she got lost in the crowd and stood in one spot, looking around. Cheyne Firdin’s new life was in here somewhere, but where?!

1 comment:

  1. oh yay! Sorry it took me so long to read it, but it's wonderful! I can't wait for the next chapter!