Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Five

Chapter Five

Vale Stapleton had been one of the patients in the courtyard during Ryan’s outbreak, and he had seen it all: Emery watching at the window, Lydia being bounded into, the staff rushing to contain the incident. He had been close enough to Emery’s window-- partly opened because of the warm weather-- to hear the man’s mutters. At the same time, he just happened to be close enough to Ryan’s bench to hear some of the words he half-mumbled, half-sang. But he’d been far enough removed from the incident that he wasn’t considered an associated party.

Parts of him remembered being a journalist once, and he maintained that observational nature even as a patient in the asylum. He locked away all the information he could from what he had seen and heard from Emery and Ryan, the whole time sitting still and looking stoic, a picture of good behavior in a crazy world.


Around the edges of the greater plaza in Morena, capital of Gaern, the manor houses of the highest noble families were clustered together, packed in like beggars in the sanctuary on alms day. Seven great and powerful families, and no less than ten manor houses between them. It was enough to make Jaidyn sneer. His own family was as old as any of theirs-- older, probably-- and yet his father still did not occupy one of the great seats on the council that ruled the city and nation. That injustice was only one of the reasons he’d decided to abandon Morena completely and wear the braid.

The other reason was because he knew he would be the one to find Sonsedhor. He was Cheyne Firdin reborn; that had been a certainty of his for the last few years. The children of the sanctuaries taught the catechisms, all about the memories that came to everyone, of lives lived long past, and Jaidyn had come into the memories of Cheyne Firdin. He hadn’t told anyone yet-- he didn’t want to give himself away until he had his sword. Yes, his father would be upset when he found out his oldest son and heir had cast off his birthright to become a Seeker. He would get over soon enough, when Jaidyn came home triumphant, fabled sword in hand, and claimed rule of all of Gaern for House Huntley. Seven councilors be taken by the Dark Father, he would set things right.

One of his memories crept into his head, and it wasn’t Cheyne’s. This memory belonged to a more recent life of his, that of a former member of the council. Lexan Hallech had been unfairly dismissed from the council nearly a hundred years ago, and House Hallech had ended with him. But instead of House Huntley taking its place, no, House Advissen had been chosen to replace it. It made Jaidyn want to clench his fists and shout in anger, but his self-control prevented him. No sense in wasting energy. He would need all his strength to reclaim his sword. And it would do him no good when he returned if he was remembered as a foolish man who shouted at nothing.

The worse of it was, Lexan hadn’t deserved to be dismissed as he was. Not to mention executed. That he definitely hadn’t deserved. The teachers of history painted him as a tyrant, an arrogant power-driven man who sought to make himself a king. But Jaidyn had the truth of it from his memories. He had always been just and generous, and so selfless that the other noblemen grew jealous of his popularity. They brought him down simply because he didn’t seek personal glory and comfort like they did. He undermined them by doing what was best for the commoners, not for the Houses.

The memory was of one of the many land ownership disputes he had settled. A pair of neighboring farmers had come to him, each arguing that the strip of good land between their farms was his. What could he do but settle it the way he had all the others? The strip of land they were arguing about couldn’t be both of theirs, so why seem to favor one man over the other? He rejected both their claims to the land and claimed it for his own. All the money made from selling the produce from it went straight to alms and to the government coffers, of course. He’d actually gotten lots of “tax land” as he called it, this way, until by rights, nearly a fifth of the farmland around Morena had technically been his. None of it was a single stretch suitable to call a farm, though. An acre here, a half-acre there. But it certainly brought in the money.

And he’d been deposed for that! It was infuriating!

There was movement on the balconies of the great manor houses. Men in clothes even finer than Jaidyn’s own came into view, the councilors of Gaern, some with their sons. Endren Prake, tall and fair-haired with his sickly son Burgess; Rabian Hartume, darkly handsome with his son Meck; lithe young Fastolph Kerning; Lec Ravits, who wore a strange contraption of lenses and wire over his eyes he claimed let him see better; Berrot Larac, the woman who dressed in men’s clothing as though tt actually made her a man. Jaidyn thought it was silly, the way she paraded around in trousers and a coat; the woman was well old enough to be his grandmother. Her husband had been a councilor before her, but when he had died, she had insisted on taking his seat rather than her oldest son, the proper heir to the seat. What a to-do that had been. Riots, mobs, brawls, fighting… but there she was, among the men, wearing her men’s clothes, and no sign of her son. And what was worse, she refused to remarry and set a man in her place. For that, she should be deposed.

And there was the seventh Councilor: short, dark-haired Banjay Advissen. And next to him, his ridiculously tall son Zanthys. Jaidyn sneered at the young man he considered his rival. Two years younger than Jaidyn, Zanthys held the place that should have been Jaidyn’s, not to mention the romantic interests of half the young women in Morena. Zanthys was tall and lithe, with strong features but a bone structure so delicate it should have belonged to a woman. A ready smile sat underneath ice-blue eyes that by all rights should have radiated frost, but more girls swooned at a glance from him than even looked twice at Jaidyn. His chestnut hair was always clean and pulled back into a short ponytail that looked soft even from this distance. And even though Jaidyn was older-- nineteen years old!-- he couldn’t manage to grow more than scraggly whiskers on his lip, while Zanthys kept a well-trimmed patch of hair on his chin.

Zanthys had all the power and respect that by rights should have been Jaidyn’s, and there he was, up on the balcony, waving and overlooking the Seekers and Gaernin people he would one day share the rule of. Jaidyn wasn’t sure how the insufferable man-- no, at seventeen, Zanthys was still a boy!-- managed to pick him out in the crowd, but he saw the look of recognition and acknowledgement in his eyes, and knew that one flick of the hand-- was that supposed to be a wave?-- was directed at him. Jaidyn let his lip curl into a sneer. House Huntley stood behind House Advissen. Jaidyn’s own father was a supporter and advisor for Zanthys’s father Banjay. As a result, he had actually met Zanthys, even played with him a bit as a child. And as much as he wished Zanthys’s manners and politeness were a façade, the simple fact was that he was a truly nice and honorable young man. There wasn’t a drop of arrogance in him, even though he was a notorious gossiper. If he had a fault, it was his fondness for gossip.

“Zanthys is waving at us!” came a familiar voice behind him. And there was stout Hoeth Karzark, the sixteen-year-old son of Viddad Karzark, Rabian Hartume’s right-hand man. Hoeth was of the same noble station as Jaidyn himself, and he had been a much closer childhood playmate than Zanthys had been. That still didn’t mean Jaidyn had to like him. As third son of his House, Hoeth’s chances of inheriting anything worth having were slim, so the silver braid on the boy’s arm was not a surprise. He was stretched up on his tiptoes-- at least he was shorter than Jaidyn-- and waving frantically at Zanthys and the other councilors’ heirs.

“Quit stretching like that,” Jaidyn snapped. “You’ll give yourself a hernia.” His eyes went back to the braid on Hoeth’s arm. He plucked at it. “Did your father approve of this?”

“He suggested it,” came the reply. The younger man’s boring brown eyes contemplated Jaidyn’s own braid. “What did your father say?”

“He doesn’t know yet, but I need to go on this Search.” Darting his eyes around to make sure no one was listening, he leaned in close to Hoeth. “What I’m about to tell you is in the strictest of confidence, Hoeth. It’s not something you can tell anyone else. Do you understand?”

His eyes brightened. “I love a good secret! What is it?”

“I am Cheyne Firdin reborn, Hoeth. I have the memories. But I don’t want to publicly come out with it until I have Sonsedhor. But all those times you and I and your brother Jairome played at being heroes when we were younger, you remember? Those weren’t made up adventures. I drew a lot of those out of the memories I have from Cheyne. They wre stories of things that really happened-- that I really did in my past life!”

Hoeth’s eyes went huge, making him look like a child hearing stories at his mother’s feet. “Really, Jaidyn? You’re really… So what happened to you? To him? Cheyne? Why did he… you… he disappear all of a sudden? And Sonsedhor-- where is it? Where did you leave it?”

It struck Jaidyn suddenly that his memories didn’t answer those questions. What he remembered told him nothing of Cheyne’s disappearance or the location of the great sword. But he wasn’t about to let Hoeth know that. He would doubt, and then he would spread the story. “Look, Hoeth. Those memories aren’t something I’m emotionally prepared to deal with right now. Just thinking about actively remembering them is making my throat close up. I have so many wounds tied to that old life that I can’t really deal with-- can’t really talk about, anyway-- until I have the sword and come into my own. I know where it is, though, and I’m going to get it; I just can’t talk about it. But don’t ask me to talk about them. It opens up a lot of old scars.”

Turning away from the fervently-apologizing Hoeth, he let his eyes wander back across the milling crowds and up to the balcony where the councilors were. Some were still there, the masses apparently forgotten by them, as they were chatting among themselves. The others were gone, Zanthys Advissen being one of those missing. He didn’t do anything to suppress the sneer that curled his lip.

“I’m going to leave this afternoon,” he said, interrupting what was probably Hoeth’s twentieth apology. “You can come along, if you like. Maybe you’ll get mentioned in the tales the storytellers spin.”

“Really?” his mouth spread into a broad grin. “Which way are we going? Where’s Sonsedhor?”

“I told you not to ask. Especially here. Others might hear if I were to answer you, and they would go after the sword themselves. We can’t have someone unworthy taking hold of Sonsedhor now, can we?”

No one will get what is rightfully mine, he thought. Part of him wondered if that thought was his; it almost made him think of Lexan Hallech.

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