Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

Joanna Bailey sat in her wheelchair in the common room, absently watching the other patients play ping-pong-- the ones that could, anyway-- or watching cartoons, or simply sitting and talking. She didn’t move, except to blink and observe.

It was Becca Smitts who noticed Ryan enter the common room, Emery on his heels looking tired or bored or both. Ryan looked around and wandered by the others in the room, looking and pointing and smiling without saying a word. Emery seemed to committed to looking bored and tired.


If he hadn’t known firsthand what life in a menagerie was like, Draegon was sure he would have found the Traveling Sight of Wonder much more enjoyable. He’d overheard children saying they wanted to join the menagerie-- out of earshot of their parents, of course-- and the freedom was probably a draw for anyone, but inwardly he shook his head at the people who thought foolishly that menagerie life was desirable. Still, he was enjoying the shows at least a little bit, mostly because this was Keffinen’s domain and there was nothing the bastard could do to touch him. So he strode among the patrons and the attractions, basking in the sudden feeling of being unshackled that the silver braid on his arm gave.

He actually recognized some of the performers in the menagerie. And when he thought about the ones he did think he knew, often some hint of a name would come back to him. The girl who ate fire was named Rin. Rin… Ramkan? As he watched her display, he managed to catch her eye, and she actually almost spluttered as she wrapped her mouth around the flaming end of a thin metal stick. Lucky for her she managed to recover instead of choking on the fire. Was it recognition or just the fact that he was Keidenelle?

The other watchers clapped and moved on, some of them tossing a few coins into the cracked bowl next to the little painted wooden sign advertising Rin’s bit of the show. Draegon waited by the bowl, hoping for a word with Rin. If she was afraid of him for being what he was, she hid it well, and after he told her who he was and why he was allowed in the menagerie without Keffinen breathing over his shoulder, she went away laughing.

There were others who remembered him, and who he remembered. The six acrobats had been much younger the last time he saw them-- they were brothers, or claimed to be-- but the years hadn’t been so bad to them that they didn’t still look like themselves. He had memories of extra water brought to him by them, of kind words spoken through cage bars-- even though he hadn’t learned enough language back then to know what the words meant-- of one of them simply sitting next to his cage now and then to keep him company. He told them, too, of the situation with Keffinen, and of his own good, semi-successful life as a traveling bard. Everyone he could tell about that, he told. Let them know what happened before Keffinen got into a huff at them and started spreading lies.

The only fly in the honeycake was Roark, the hefty man Lady Ara had set to keep watch on him. The hulking ox didn’t leave his side. Apparently, the oath he took, he took very seriously. Draegon didn’t think he would get out of Roark’s sight until his oath was fulfilled or broken. But why would he break it? There was too much profit in keeping the Seeker’s Oaths. He could walk freely without worrying about hiding from anyone, he got to keep his own instruments-- give them to Keffinen, indeed!-- he actually got to be part of the Search-- he had never considered it before it was necessary-- and now he had his own personal guard! This was the high life! He should have faced off with Keffinen years ago… if there had been a Search then…

A contortionist was performing in another of the little roped-off areas that caught Draegon’s eye. She couldn’t have been more than a handful of years younger than him, judging by her eyes, but her body looked younger. She was very lean and had a girlish figure, and were they up close, she would probably only come up to Draegon’s shoulder.

The contortionist spotted him straight away when he approached-- even though she was in the middle of her performance-- and gave a start that almost made her lose her balance. But she managed to recover, and all through the rest of the frightening positions she twisted herself into, her eyes kept finding him and staring. The words behind her tan eyes were “I remember you.”

Draegon couldn’t say he remembered her, but he stayed and watched her through the end of her display. When she was done, she approached him.

“I don’t have any money to give you,” he said immediately, for the first time feeling sheepish for not tipping the performers

“I remember you,” she replied. Either she hadn’t heard his money comment, or she didn’t care. “You used to be in a cage.”

“I don’t remember any contortionist.”

“Well, I wasn’t one back then. But do you remember a little girl? I used to bring you treats.”

He narrowed his eyes. Treats. Like a dog. But he did remember, a younger version of the woman in front of him: a wide-eyed, jolly little girl who would slip him bits of food now and then, almost treating him like a favorite dog-- one that had gone feral. Well, maybe not so much like a dog, because he had vague memories of her sitting next to his cage after dark, when he was alone, and her talking to him even though he didn’t understand.

“You do remember me,” she said, smiling as she saw the recognition in his eyes. “But I would be surprised if you remembered my name. Well, to avoid an awkward moment, I’ll just go ahead and tell you I’m Kemeny. Did you ever get a name?”

Yep, this woman was definitely that little girl, all grown up. “Draegon.”

“Ooh. That’s a very Gaernin name.”

“My old master was from there.”

She smiled at him gently. “I’m happy for you. I won’t bring up the past and ask you what happened since you disappeared, but I will ask what you’re doing now… besides Seeking.” She reached out and gently plucked at his braid. Well, she certainly didn’t lack for nerve!

Behind his shoulder, the hulking Roark shifted his weight heavily from one foot to the other and let out a low grunt that was undoubtedly meant for Draegon’s ears alone. The guard was undoubtedly fed up with the menagerie and was ready to go out and do his duty. So Draegon gave Kemeny the short version of what was going on and what had transpired with Keffinen. She bristled at that but didn’t say a word.

“Good luck, Draegon,” she said gently, lifting up on her toes to kiss him softly on the cheek. “I always wondered what happened to you.

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