Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Nine

Dr. Anderson sat in her husband’s recliner with a snifter in her hand and the lights dimmed, staring at the blank television screen and seeing nothing but Joanna Bailey with her face pressed to the floor, completely limp but somehow beyond the nurse’s ability to lift and replace in her chair. She heard Ryan Pellin’s humming and footsteps as he dashed through the courtyard for no obvious reason. She heard “sun setter” mumbled in the voices of each of the five patients, and nothing else.

Whatever was happening with her patients, it wasn’t improving. She couldn’t say for certain if it was really “worse” for the most part, there were no injuries. None of them seemed to be out to hurt themselves or anyone else, but this behavior was so out of character for them. It was nothing she had seen before from any of them, and the lack of cause was infuriating. And the fact that she hadn’t been the one to notice the repeated phrase…

Becca was speechless when Dr. Anderson informed her that the board had voted to allow her to do some independent-- but guided-- study on the “sun setter patients”.

Ryan and Emery sat on the grass near a flowerbed in the courtyard. Becca watched them from a window, taking notes and making comments to a handheld tape recorder for later reference. For the past few days, the two men had spent almost all their time together in the courtyard, but then whenever they were indoors, they passed by each other with hardly a glance. Half the time, Vale seemed to be spying on them. Becca would see him out of the corner of her eye, peering around a wall or over the back of a couch or a chair. Joanna maintained her distance from them, but seemed to also always be watching them, whether indoors or not, sitting and observing from her chair. Lydia appeared to have completely lost interest in them.


The plains stretched on to the horizon, unbroken and actually pretty boring. Necras was out of sight of the camp Roark and Draegon had made. Roark had to admit the bard could at least take care of himself, even if he was somewhat infuriating in his behaviors. He seemed completely content to wander, leading but not saying where exactly they were headed, if he even had any idea where he was going. He would hum now and then, or sing softly to himself while they traveled-- to Roark’s mind anyway-- aimlessly.

But at least he was able to build a campsite and a fire and didn’t have to have his back watched constantly as Roark had been afraid. And the tune he was strumming on his hand dulcimer as he sat by the crackling flames was relaxing. Roark had never had much of an ear for music, but even though he didn’t know the song he was hearing he could at least say it was music.

The other noise that reached him was something he did have an ear for: movement. The light of their little fire didn’t extend far, the moon was new, and the stars were obscured by thin clouds, so it was really the worst possible light for Roark to scout in. But it was the best kind of light for someone to ambush them. He limbered his sword in its sheath and squinted out into the darkness, searching and straining his ears for the sound of the movement again.

Draegon looked lost in his music, and the horses in their grazing. Roark refused to be so blasé about his situation. He took his sword from its scabbard and set to it with his whetstone, giving whoever was trying to sneak up the impression that he was unaware of his or their presence. He prayed there was only one.

Becca watched as Joanna suddenly and slowly began wheeling her chair along one of the walkways, inching closer and closer to Emery and Ryan.

Roark thought the rustling stopped, and he strained his ears to pick up any other sounds. But then he found it, only quieter than before. Whoever this was wasn’t too terrible at stalking; just not good enough to sneak up on him. He could almost feel the intruder at his back. Draegon was still strumming his hand dulcimer.

The approaching sound stopped, at his best guess, a handful of paces behind him, probably well out of the firelight’s small reach. He tensed his legs, ready to spring.

“If you mean to do us harm,” Draegon suddenly spouted, “we both know you’re here, and you won’t catch us by surprise. If you don’t mean us harm, show yourself now, and we might consider letting you go uninjured.”

Unable to stop his movement as quickly as he wanted, he spun, only to find himself face-to-face with the contortionist, Kemeny. She had a knife in hand and had managed to get closer to him than he had thought-- another half a pace and she would have been within arm’s reach of him had she wanted to stab him.

“Sit down, Kemeny, and put away the knife. Roark, either finish sharpening your sword or put it away. And you sit down, too. You look silly standing there with your jaw open.” The faint notes from the dulcimer gave a light accompaniment to Draegon’s voice. Roark wondered if he meant the music to do that so perfectly. “What are you doing here, Kemeny?”

The slim contortionist crossed her legs beneath her and settled onto the ground near the flames, extending her hands out for warmth. “I don’t know why, but when you came, I just… I suddenly realized how stuck I was. I felt trapped. I felt like I was in a box, only it wasn’t like in my shows. I can squeeze myself into a tiny wooden crate and feel nothing, but I felt like… like I couldn’t move at all, and I didn’t like it. The Traveling Sights-- they were something I suddenly realized I might never wriggle my way out of, so I left while I could.”

“While our dear Master Jonal Keffinen’s back was turned, you mean,” Draegon
said, sour notes punctuating the man’s name.

Kemeny nodded. “And I’m not going back. Ever. So I decided, since you’re the one who helped me realize how stuck I was, I would come with you.”

Draegon flicked one sour note and stopped playing abruptly. He opened his mouth at the same moment Roark felt his open to spew protests, but Kemeny only raised a hand and shut them both back up.

“I’m not after glory, and I’m not after the sword. I’m not in Keffinen’s pocket, just in case you’re thinking he’s sent me after you. I’ll stay out of the way, I promise.”

“This isn’t some walk in the gardens, Kemeny,” Draegon finally stammered. “This is serious. Who knows where we’ll end up, where this adventure” --his eyes flicked at Roark-- “will lead us? There might be danger, and I don’t know if we can really protect you, especially if we run across some Keid… bandits.”

She put her fists on her hips. Even sitting, she managed to make herself stand taller, so she seemed to be looking down on them like a mother at two little boys who had been telling lies. “I have just now taken my freedom and my fate in my own hands, Draegon. As a free woman, I have the right to go where and when I wish. And if where I want to go just so happens to be the same direction you’re going, then so be it. Of course, I’d hate to be traveling alone when there are two so very fine gentlemen so nearby. But know that I will follow you no matter where you go, and if some bandit makes off with my head, I’m blaming both of you!”

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