Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Four

Chapter Four

In an effort to understand exactly what had happened in the courtyard, Dr. Carolyn Anderson had the three involved patients brought together under her supervision. Ryan Pellin the musician, and Emery Landers the former policeman, were both out of breath from their running and were now under the watchful supervision of a few of the burlier nurses. Lydia Rhys, the woman Ryan had barreled over in the courtyard, had voluntarily followed after Emery without being told to accompany them.

The three patients sat in chairs facing each other in a bare-walled room. A two-way mirror sat on one wall, and behind that Dr. Anderson and her intern Becca Smitts observed their interactions with each other. The conversation baffled them both, though for a long time at the beginning, none of them said a word.


“I want to know exactly what happened out there.” Lady Ara Fusica said from her high seat on the dais of the audience chamber. It wasn’t a throne room, nor was her chair a throne; she was no queen. Lady of the Land, yes, but no monarch. “I want the truth, from one of you at a time, with no interruptions from the other. Is that clear?”

Before waiting for the Keidenelle man to agree, the dark-haired man stepped forward. “My name is Jonal Keffinen, my Lady, and I am the owner of the great menagerie outside the very walls of this grand city. If my Lady hasn’t yet seen the wonders of my Traveling Sights, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to a private showing-- free of charge, of course-- anytime you wish.” Keffinen made grand gestures as he spoke, making many flourishes of a cape he wasn’t wearing. The young Lady looked bored with him already, but she made her thank-you and bade him get on with his explanation of his actions in the streets.

"I have known this man since he was a child,” Keffinen began, letting his voice boom as if he were introducing performers in his tents and addressing his story not only to Lady Ara, but to all those in attendance. “Some years ago, while traveling-- this was before my show grew to its present grandeur, of course-- I came upon a squalling child in the wilderness. The baby had been abandoned by his savage parents and left to die. I expect he was meant as a sacrifice-- you all know what those Keidenelle are like, of course. But I could not, of course, allow an innocent, helpless baby to die alone like that. So, even knowing of his bloodlines-- for he had a bit of that pale hair even as a baby, my Lady-- I took him into my wagon and vowed to raise him as my own son.”

Even though none of the three patients had spoken a word yet to provoke him, Ryan made a protesting sound.

“Did you not agree to listen to each other’s story without interruption, sir?” Lady Ara snapped the moment Draegon opened his mouth. He got out no more than a grunt. Keffinen gave him a wry look.

“For years I raised him, until as a young child, he showed a desire to learn a trade. My show was growing splendidly at this point, my Lady, so I had many performers of many different skills. He was showing that he had indeed become civilized under my careful parenting, so I wasn’t afraid to let him to his own devices. My performers taught him anything he wanted: tumbling, high rope walking-- I have an exceptional trio of high rope walkers I’m sure would delight you, my Lady-- animal handling, fire eating…”

Draegon suppressed a grin at Lady Ara’s annoyed expression. Keffinen noticed as well, though his only response was to develop a tightness around his eyes and cut off the list of his performers abruptly.

“By the time he had reached his teen years, he had shown an aptitude for music, so I bought some instruments for him to learn with. As his talent grew, I allowed him to perform a bit and even let him keep a percentage of the profits as his own pay. But the price of the instruments had yet to be paid off, since his profits have been rather measly of late.

“Imagine my surprise seeing him walking the crowds of the city when I had expressly told him to remain in the menagerie area and perform! And with my instruments, no less! The ungrateful wretch must have thought to bolt today, thinking he could simply disappear into the crowds. It’s a good thing I never tried to hide his heritage by using color on his hair, or else he might have gotten away! And it’s another good thing that I happened to be making my advertisements in the plaza and saw him as he tried to escape. You see, he has the instruments on him, my instruments, the ones I so generously bought for him. They are still my property, you see, and worth a great deal.”

Ryan’s jaw clenched along with his fists. Still silence between the three patients, but he looked absolutely furious. That was when he spoke.

“The truth of matters, my Lady, is not in any word he has said. I was sold to him by a slave trader when I was a child, and Master Keffinen made me an attraction in his menagerie. He made no efforts to civilize me, much less treated me as his son. Ask him to name me, and he wouldn’t have a name for me. I was nothing more than a savage to him.”

It was Keffinen’s turn to open his mouth to protest, and Draegon did his best not to look gratified when the Lady ordered him quiet.

“The onset of Search fifteen years ago found his show in Gaern, and it was there that man broke open the cage that held me. I will not lie and say I completely understood everything at the time, as I had no semblance of a civilized education, but the man was my liberator. Now I know he was a particularly greedy man, a bard, and he was only kidnapping me to use me for his own profit. It was that bard who taught me music and made the efforts to civilize me. And he gave me my name, Draegon.

“But I was still little more than a means of moneymaking to him, and some years ago, I managed to make my escape from him and begin building my own life. The instruments I carry were bought honestly, with money I made myself.”

Ryan finished his nonsensical story, spoken so quietly Dr. Anderson and Becca Smitts could only completely make out one sentence in every three. Emery kept his eyes on him, then flicked them to Lydia when she began speaking-- more loudly, but no more understandably.

The woman merchant whose wagon had been hit said very little. “This Keidenelle man was running and my cart happened to be in his chosen path. Obviously, being pursued as he was, he wasn’t able to take time to pay me back for what was broken, but he did take the time to apologize for his actions, even if it was only in a look. I had some wares broken, but I don’t think the price of what was lost is worth anyone being imprisoned over, my Lady.”

Draegon’s eyes widened. She wasn’t angry? Keffinen’s eyes were wide, too, but more likely he was surprised that the thought of money could be so easily put aside.

For a long few minutes, Lady Ara thought over what she’d heard. “Here is my decision,” she said finally. Draegon was glad; he was growing tired of the nearly murderous looks Keffinen was shooting him. “No matter which of your stories is true, they do agree on one point. Master Keffinen has been derived of property that was rightfully his. But whether that property was taken by Master Draegon or it is Master Draegon is of no matter. Either way, he is responsible. Personally, I do not approve of the slave trades, and I have outlawed them in my own lands, but it is not in my power or right to free a slave that is not mine.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Draegon saw Keffinen’s smile grow more and more. No doubt thoughts of money were running through his head.

“I give you three options, Master Draegon. Number one, you may return to Master Keffinen’s custody. You admitted freely yourself that you were his slave, and I admire your honesty in that. I would think any other man would deny it, especially since it was something your accuser didn’t mention. Slavery is a touchy subject for all. So your second and third options will allow you your freedom. Your second option is to simply give Master Keffinen your instruments. They are, after all, the property he claimed. Your third option is to pay Master Keffinen the full value of either the instruments or yourself as a slave, whichever price is lower, to offset the costs of the property he lost. Mistress Merchant?”

“My name is Gossard, my Lady. Mistress Gossard.” The merchant woman looked frightened.

“Mistress Gossard, you do not wish recompense for your lost wares?”

“No, my Lady. As I said, it is not worth someone losing his freedom for a few broken vases.”

The young Lady nodded as if pleased. “Then all I have for you is a small request for your services. If you would, please appraise Master Draegon’s instruments. And if you are comfortable with it, appraise Master Draegon, as well. We need to know a fair price for him to pay Master Keffinen if that is what he should choose.”

Draegon felt awkward as Mistress Gossard looked him up and down, judging him as one would a horse. At least she didn’t check his teeth. He didn’t want to part with his instruments, but a single reassuring look from the merchant made him more willing. She turned the carved wooden hand dulcimer, his silver-chased flute, and his rather plain tambour over in her hands one by one, gently plucking out a few notes on the dulcimer for tone and thumping the tambour twice to test them before handing them back.

“Considering the fine quality of his instruments and the physical shape Master Draegon is in, I would judge them to be of comparable value. Somewhere around seventy-five gold marks.”

Keffinen’s eyes glittered while Draegon’s fell. Seventy-five marks? And gold marks, too! He didn’t have that kind of money.

“Master Draegon? What is your decision?”

Draegon looked at the lords and ladies lining the walls of the audience chamber. Each of them avoided his eyes as if he were a fearsome animal, even though it should have been obvious from his behavior during this whole interval that he was no savage. No matter what, he wouldn’t go back to being one in their eyes. No one would cage him again. He fell to one knee and put a hand over his heart.

“Before the eyes of those around me and the ever-graceful and loving eyes of the Great Mother, I pledge myself to the Search for Sonsedhor. I will speak no untrue word. The innocent will fear no harm from me. It is for righteousness that I Seek, not for glory. Until the fabled blade is found or I pledge myself to another cause or master, I will Seek. This is my oath.”

Keffinen burst out with a string of obscenities that caused Lady Ara to have him removed from the chamber. “You realize what you have just said, Master Draegon?”

He only held out his hand in response. “My braid, my Lady.”

Sighing, Lady Ara produced a silver braid of the Seekers from somewhere about her and placed it in Draegon’s hand. As he tied it around his arm, he repeated, “This is my oath.”

“The oaths you have just made free you from all debts and obligations for the time being, Seeker Draegon,” Lady Ara said with resignation. “But do not believe it puts you in my good graces. It is a coward’s way out you have chosen, and I place no trust in cowards. Your oath only frees you from my verdict until the sword is found, until you die, or until you give up and begin again paying taxes to some lord or lady. But I will not even let you get away with that. If you are ever seen without your braid, you forfeit your oath, and you will be required to pay twice what you owe to Master Keffinen: a sum of one hundred and fifty gold marks. And to ensure that you don’t simply return to a life of performing and make your escape, my man Roark will accompany you on your search.” A single glare at Roark from Ara ensured he did as he was told.

Emery let out a grunt that could be taken for surprise, then mimicked Ryan’s behavior in kneeling with his hand over his heart and murmuring something neither the doctor nor her intern could hear.

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