Friday, April 23, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Nineteen

The four inseparable patients were gathered so tightly around something that no one else could see it from any angle. Their voices were so soft no one could hear them. Becca had been watching them, of course, studying them from across the courtyard and wishing she had a microphone or tape recorder somewhere near enough to pick up their whispers.

She thought the item they had gathered around might be something Vale had carefully placed there earlier. He had taken his time making certain it was in just the right place, and he had constantly been looking over his shoulder when he did. But it wasn’t as if he were looking for observers-- more like he was trying to observe something else himself. Finally satisfied with his placement of… whatever it was… he had wandered off and squatted by a flowering shrub to watch.

Before Becca could get to the object and inspect it, Ryan had led his group-- she decided he was the leader from his tendency to well, walk in front of them-- to where Vale had left his object. Now all she could do was watch them and hope to catch a glimpse of whatever it was that had them so enthralled.

Days had passed uneventfully, and it was enough to make Draegon scream. None of the others complained of boredom, though, but they weren’t in this for adventure. He had hoped to make a story, an epic, a great lasting song out of his experiences in searching for Sonsedhor, but except for the skirmish with the Keidenelle band, there was nothing to sing about. Even the attack wasn’t much for subject matter. There was no glory in that kind of a fight. Thankfully, none of the others had mentioned the savages or his resemblance to them again.

He was so desperate for something interesting to happen that when Kemeny said she thought she saw a sword laying abandoned on the side of the road, his mind leapt to the thought they had actually found Sonsedhor. For a few seconds his mouth was dry, his palms sweaty, and his eyes looking frantically for the sword. Then his right mind came back to him. Sonsedhor would not be lying abandoned on the side of the road just this side of the Melistrat-Gaern border. And even if it had, well, he knew there was a village, Dracmere, not far from where they were. The border village would probably be teeming with Seekers, too, and if Sonsedhor had been lying in the path, it would have been snatched up already.

Even so, he decided to take a look at the blade. He dropped out of his saddle and scanned the grass where Kemeny was pointing. Sure enough, there in a rut next to the packed dirt road, was a fine-looking scabbard and the hilt of a sword sticking out from one end.

“She’s not kidding,” he said, walking forward and lifting the scabbard. It was indeed fine, though the hilt of the sword looked much too plain for such a sheath. He ran a few fingers up the leather of the sheath. “Too long of a blade for me, though. Give me a few good knives. Here Roark.” He tossed the still-sheathed sword to the soldier.

Roark rolled his eyes. “This was likely cast aside because it is a substandard weapon,” he said. “I’ll keep with my own swords, thanks.”

“Oh come on!” Weslyn chided. “At least look at it! Besides, the scabbard’s definitely worth something even if the sword isn’t!”

Kemeny spoke right on the tail of Weslyn‘s words. “Yeah, Roark! Let’s see it!”

Roark let out a soft, annoyed sigh and gripped the plain leather cord-wrapped hilt.

Draegon caught a glimpse of the wide, brilliantly shining blade as it was drawn. As the point of the blade left the scabbard, a harsh gust of cold wind rose, and bright sunlight flashed off the blade, blinding him. As his eyes regained their focus, he could have sworn Roark’s face had changed. He looked older, and his short-cropped black hair looked more auburn in the light. Dense stubble dotted his always-clean-shaven chin and cheeks. But then he blinked, and Roark was before him, unchanged, still holding the sword. He saw Kemeny and Weslyn rubbing their eyes. Had they seen the other face, too?

Roark opened his mouth to speak, but a pained grunt came out instead of words, and he dropped the sword. The palm of the soldier’s riding glove was stained red.

“What happened?” Draegon asked, walking up to where the sword had landed. The steel of the blade wasn’t as brilliant as he’d thought, and there was a bloody handprint on the hilt.

“Don’t touch it!” Roark growled, dismounting without his usual grace. The soldier snatched up the sword. He turned a glare to Draegon; his eyes looked hunted. He doubled over; Draegon feared he would impale himself on the blade.

“I… I remember everything,” he muttered. “Cheyne… everything. I… I need to go see where he… where I died.” Slowly, he straightened. His eyes were full of something new. It looked like uncertainty, or perhaps even fear. “This… this is Sonsedhor,” he said simply.

Draegon half-smiled. “Well that was easy.”

“That’s not funny, Draegon,” Kemeny admonished. “Something’s wrong.”

Roark nodded. “I can’t put my finger on what, exactly, but something is wrong. I know this sword. It’s mine. My Sonsedhor,” he whispered the name, caressing it with his voice. “But this… it isn’t the blade that I remember. Something’s… changed it.”

Draegon heard something in the distance. “Riders are coming up the road, I think.” He turned to look at each of the others in turn. “I think we should keep moving to the village. It’s not far.”

“Yes, let’s move,” Weslyn agreed. “And you can make your proclamation, Roark. You are Cheyne Firdin reborn!”

Roark shushed her vehemently at the same time both Draegon and Kemeny said, “No!” The two of them looked at each other, startled. Weslyn looked at Draegon questioningly, but it was Kemeny who spoke up.

“If he proclaimed himself, it would only send Draegon straight back to that bastard Keffinen. None of us want that, right?”

Understanding washed over Weslyn’s face, and she considered Draegon for a few long moments before responding. “You’re right. But… what then? All the stories say that when Cheyne reappears, it’s because the world desperately needs him.”

“He can save the world without everyone knowing who he is,” Draegon put in. He turned to look at the still-silent soldier. “Right?”

Roark’s stony blue eyes traveled over them one by one. There was only more silence as he looked at them, then at their surroundings. The riders coming up the road were very near, a pair of strangers on horseback. As they drew closer, silver braids were visible on both their arms. Without stopping for a word or even slowing, the pair rode by at a gallop, their horses’ hooves kicking up small clouds of dust.

“I need to go,” Roark said once they were well out of earshot. “To the river Swen.” He looked significantly at Draegon. “Where I died.”

Draegon replied with a simple nod.

When evening fell, Ryan and Lydia could be found alone in the common room. The pair stared at each other for the longest time, silent, their eyes never wandering even though there was much happening around them. When they finally began to speak, their voices were drowned out by the Wheel of Fortune on TV.

The common room in The Full Casque in Dracmere was too full of gawkers for Draegon to want to stay long. He didn’t mind crowds, especially when they paid well, but he didn’t even offer to perform for them. The innkeeper would have been eager for the entertainment-- most innkeepers were-- but Draegon had the feeling these people would have used more of their energy staring at his hair and eyeing him warily for signs of violence than emptying their pockets for him. So rather than offering to play his hand dulcimer and tell tales of valiant deeds and former Seekers’ adventures, he retired to his room.

He wasn’t even all the way up the stairs when Weslyn caught up to him. “Draegon, can I talk with you for a bit? I don’t want to be alone, but Kemeny is staying in the common room and I’m tired of the noise already.”

“Of course,” he replied, showing her into the room he had rented for himself. He would have shared a room with Roark, but the man was being distant, and Draegon had decided against intruding on that contemplative solitude.

“Something is on your mind,” he said when the door was closed. Weslyn sat gently on the edge of his mattress, so he took the only chair. “What?”

Weslyn bit her lip. “When I was a little girl, my father always told me I had an eye for appraisal.”

“As demonstrated by your services at my trial?” he put in coolly.

She nodded. “But he said I was a good appraiser of people, too.” She paused, it seemed almost hoping for him to interject again. When he stayed silent, she went on, taking a deep breath to brace herself. “Since Necras, I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind. You’re a good man, Draegon.”

He looked at her sternly. “I’m a Keidenelle savage, Weslyn. Wherever you’re going with this, stop. Please.”

“You’re not a savage!”

He stood and walked to the small table in corner which held a washbasin. One by one, he produced nearly a dozen knives that he had hidden about his person. With a small flourish, he set each one next to the basin. “You saw what I did to them. I’m no better than they.”

“You have every reason to hate them, I think,” she replied softly. “But that hatred isn’t all there is to you. There’s so much more that I see in your eyes, behind them. So much pain, but happiness and pride, too. I saw it all that first time I looked at you, when you tried to upset my wagon.” He blushed a bit, glad his back was too her so she couldn’t see. “I could even see the anger burning inside you that day, Draegon.” She sounded closer to him, like she had stood and walked up right behind him. “Even knowing all I did, I still couldn’t get you out of my mind after you left. I… think I love you, Draegon.”

“Why did you have to say it?” he said, spinning to face her. There was barely a hand’s length between them.

She looked crushed. “You knew?”

“I suspected,” he admitted, “though I had hoped your looks were directed more towards Roark than at me. He would be better for you.”

“It’s not him I want,” she said. “But you don’t feel the same way…”

“I didn’t say that,” he said quickly, “but I’m not going to say I’m in love with you, because… well, I don’t know you very well yet. I can’t read people like you can.” The corner of his mouth twitched up in a smile. “But if it’s really me you’re interested in, I am definitely interested in you.”

She stepped in closer, bringing her face within inches of his. “That’s good enough for me.”

He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers.

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