Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Twenty-Nine

It was still a shock to Jaidyn to wake up and be surrounded by Keidenelle. Even though the savages never made so much as a threatening gesture toward him, he still felt very out of place. Few of them were able to communicate with him, to understand anything but the most simple words he spoke. And he couldn’t make hide nor hair out of the gibberish that made up their language. They all had strange, long names like Lyeskelkin and Drarisechjokkein and Ararditwudynold. He eventually gave up trying to pronounce any more than the first syllable or two of each person’s name. In the end, he completely gave up trying to remember their names altogether. Alay served as translator, guide, advisor, and companion all in one. He was the one Jaidyn could not have functioned without.

Most mornings, he woke to see either Alay or a small standing over him, staring down at him while he slept and went through that awkward phase between asleep and awake. Some of them had worry on their faces when he woke. Alay explained, in what broken language he had, that Jaidyn did a lot of tossing and turning in his sleep and seemed disturbed most nights. Jaidyn didn’t tell him that his sleep had been troubled with disturbing dreams ever since he had joined up with their band. Each night, he dreamed strange mixtures of his remembered stories– no, his memories, he corrected himself– of Cheyne and his other unwanted memories of Lexan.

His waking hours weren’t much better. The Keidenelle didn’t offer much in the ways of comfort or luxury. Washwater was cold, earth was his pillow, his blanket was roughspun, he had no shelter from sun or rain… it wasn’t the sort of traveling circumstances worthy of a great reborn hero.

There were times they came near villages, but the Keidenelle seemed loathe to get too near them. Come to think of it, he had never actually heard of the savages raiding villages; their attacks were always more along the lines of banditry. It was only traveling merchants and the like that were threatened by them. But he missed civilization, and oftentimes, when he knew they were near a village, he would make them wait for a day while he went in.

He didn’t like what he was hearing in the villages. Cheyne was on everyone’s lips, but his name wasn’t the one attached to the rumors. And the rumors weren’t fading, either. At each new location, he heard a half-dozen new stories about this or that that the new Cheyne had done.

“It’s all lies,” he told himself one evening as he strolled through a village. Well, he had to admit it was much more than just a village. Bigger than a town, even. This place was a small city. And his name was completely unheard of here. It was enough to drive a man mad. But he couldn’t rightly proclaim himself yet; he still hadn’t found his sword. If the Keidenelle were supposed to be helping– leading him to the sword, he thought– they were doing a sorry job of it.

Then he looked up and saw it: a finely made sword of rich steel, gold, and gems, leaning against the side of a building with no one to tend to it. “Now that is truly the blade of a hero,” he muttered to himself, strolling toward it and wrapping his hand around the jewel-studded hilt. It was almost too heavy for him, but he still lifted it and began walking away, nearly running into the sign that named the building a blacksmith’s shop.

He didn’t stop until he was back among the Keidenelle. When Alay had managed to gather everyone– even though many had already been asleep– he held up his find and proclaimed himself Cheyne reborn, proudly wielding the great sword, Sonsedhor. Only one man could be worthy of a blade such as that one, and it had found its owner.

To his great delight, the Keidenelle lifted their left hands to the backs of their heads one by one and pushed their heads into a bow. It was one of the few gestures he had learned of theirs. It was the acknowledgement of submission. When two Keidenelle had a fight or and argument, the loser made that gesture before the victor. The entire band had just made him their leader. Even Alay held his head down.

This was only right.

Becca stared at the monitor that was giving her a live feed of the patients. There was almost no point in even watching them anymore. Every day, it was the same. They had started putting them all in the only recorded room nearly two weeks ago, but their actions practically never changed. They acknowledged each other or didn’t– their alternate personalities conversing and doing… whatever it was they did. She was convinced they weren’t aware of reality. They were sharing delusions, somehow. The “how” and “why” were what Becca was most interested in uncovering now.

Emery had been confined to a straightjacket now to keep him under control, but none of them seemed to mind or even notice– even him.

The patients’ individual profiles were on the desk before her, detailing the lives she had studied until they were as familiar to her as her own life. The files even included psychological profiles from when they had first started seeing therapists– before any of them even came to Ighosia Falls.

Five different people, five different traumatic reasons for a split personality to develop, for a mind to fracture. Every one of them faced an event he or she couldn’t deal with. But how did these personalities find one another? The principles of DPD stated that at the moment of the event, the personalities would split, and the alternate one would spring to life. So how did these personalities know each other when the originals didn’t?

She thought she had them all down now, had figured out whose personality belonged to whom:

Ryan- Draygun

Emery- Rowark

Lydia- Weslyn

And she was certain now that both Vale and Joanna had two. Joanna had Sen and Kimminy, and Jaden and Xanthis belonged to Vale. Such strange names…

There only arose more questions. More questions, and no answers.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Twenty-Eight

Kemeny followed Draegon to the great manor house where he was to be performing for a dinner party thrown by one of the High Lords of Gaern. They were greeted by a servant who led them to a small anteroom so Draegon could prepare himself. He opened his dulcimer case.

“What’s this?” he asked.

There was a folded parchment and a small washleather purse nestled in the case next to the instrument. Draegon warily lifted the parchment and read it. His emerald eyes began to tear up. “Weslyn…” He plucked the purse from the case and undid the drawstring, upending it over his other hand. Gold coins spilled into his palm. “She’s given me the money to pay my debt to Keffinen.”

She took the parchment from him and read it. “She loves you,” she said.

“I can read!” he protested, half chuckling, half-fighting against sobs. “I love her, too.”

Neither of them said anything else as he tucked the gold back into the dulcimer case and proceeded to tune the instrument. It wasn’t long before another servant came to bring him into the hall where the nobles were socializing.

The room was full of noblemen and women dressed in their finest silks. The coats and gowns were dully colored, mostly blacks, greys, and browns, but colorful embroidery covered most of them from ankles to neck. Even the few small children– closely watched by nurses– were decked out in so much embroidery the colors of the silks were hard to determine. It was easy to pick out the High Lords themselves– they had the most gold and silver in their embroidery and the most hangers-on around them. But which of the young men was Zanthys Advissen, the one they were looking for? Kemeny stayed close to Draegon, not wanting to stand out in her woolen clothes, but she still got good looks at everyone she could, trying to figure out which one was their man.

No one made a move to announce the arrival of the evening’s entertainment, but Draegon didn’t seem bothered by it. He strummed a chord on his dulcimer and immediately broke into a half-sung, half-spoken tale of Cheyne Firdin. It was one of the most traditional tales of him, one of the first linking him to Sonsedhor, when he had instead gone by the name of Masty Boroksen. He sang the verses of the forging of Sonsedhor and the first kill Masty made with it, a greed-driven noble miser who kept his commoners in poverty, keeping them as chattel rather than as liege men.

There was no applause at the end of the tale, though many eyes and ears were tuned to his voice and instrument. He continued with another righteous tale of Cheyne, when he had gone by that name. He followed that with the last sad song of Cheyne’s saga, his disappearance. She noticed tears in some of the women’s eyes as he held the last note in a clear voice. Kemeny swore she could hear the crying of the world in his tone.

"If my lords would permit,” he said after giving the silent room time to collect themselves, “I would now like to perform a piece of my own creation, never before heard.”

There were no objections.

He started with a few sorrowful strums of the dulcimer. He looked down sadly at his fingers as they brushed the strings of the instrument, but Kemeny thought he looked like he was thinking. What was he up to? She hadn’t known he was writing something for tonight. Or was he planning on making something up as he went? What was he doing?

He kept his head down, but Kemeny saw his eyes suddenly roll back into his head as his voice came forth. He started singing in a strange, foreboding voice, telling what she recognized as Roark finding Sonsedhor and knowing something had warped the great sword to do evil. He never mentioned Roark’s name, though, as he went on with the song, never looking up, sitting stiffly and seemingly unaware of the people around him.

But as the sky grew dark and the windows grew black, Draegon’s tale of Roark began to change. He started changing the name of Sonsedhor to Tyrfing– a name she didn’t know. Where had that come from? She heard the names Svafrlami, Arngrim, and Angantyr, but they were names strange to her. The story changed, still being about a man whose sword forced him to kill someone every time it was unsheathed, but in this story, the word became the undoing of every man who wielded it.

Thunder and lightning crashed outside, but the people in the hall were focused only on Draegon as he poured out this tale that was completely new to all of them. But the thunder seemed to strike a chord with him and brought him back to Roark and Sonsedhor. The story changed again, to the story they had really come to tell.

When he finally came to an end– or what passed for an ending, since the story didn’t have a conclusion yet– Draegon was pale, sweating, and shaking. The nobles were staring at him, baffled. Even with the strangeness of the occurrence, Kemeny recognized the similarities between the two stories Draegon had told, although this was certainly a strange way to try and get people to support Roark. Draegon wasn’t moving from his seat, but she knew he was finished for the night. She mumbled a hasty thanks to the nobles for their invitation and generosity. Awkwardly, she lifted Draegon’s arm around her shoulders and part-dragged, part-carried him back into the anteroom. He seemed to recollect himself there and gathered his things himself. He managed to walk on his own two feet through the streets and back to the inn.

Before they even got to the inn’s front door, someone tapped Kemeny on the shoulder. She spun around, coming face-to-face with a dark-cloaked figure. His hood was pulled low so all she could see was his chin. He thrust a slip pf parchment into her hand and hurried off without a word.

In a neat, precise hand, it read, I want to meet with you and talk of Sonsedhor. I’ll find you.

It was signed, Zanthys Advissen.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Twenty-Seven

As if they had disappeared from the face of the planet, Ryan and Joanna stopped talking to Lydia and Emery, who ignored them right back.

It had been some years since Draegon had last ventured into Morena, but his memories were surprisingly accurate. The Gaernin people were, for lack of a better word, snooty. Many of them either turned their noses up at him or simply didn’t look at him, pretending he didn’t exist. They didn’t want to see a man who so closely resembled a Keidenelle savage, so they just didn’t see him at all. There was a reason he had been so long away from here; no matter how good a singer and storyteller he was, no one paid him any attention.

At least people listened to Kemeny when she talked. They spend their evenings going from inn to inn, Kemeny drinking and gossiping with whoever would listen– which was pretty much everyone. The people of Morena were notorious gossipers. Out of necessity, Draegon stayed in the background, sometimes as far from Kemeny as possible, so that she wouldn’t be ignored because of her association with him. Occasionally, an open-minded innkeeper would let him play the flute or the drum and tell a story, but that was it.

Ryan sat at the piano in the common room but did not play. He sang softly, however, strange sad tunes that seemed made up on the spot but had the repetitions and form of completed pieces, almost like folk songs. None of the songs had tunes Becca recognized, and the words… the stories told by some of the songs, were nothing she recognized, either.

There was a lot of gossip flying around concerning the Search, even before Kemeny tried to start spreading the news of Roark. There were two tales that were most prominent.

The first was that some insane man was going around claiming to be Cheyne reborn, claiming that his plain sword was the great legendary Sonsedhor. But he went around killing people left and right and was, in all actuality, a servant of the Dark One. He was a bloodthirsty demon of a man, frightening to look at. No one they heard the story from had actually seen him, but they each knew someone who knew someone who had been there when the false Cheyne came and killed someone nearby.

The second most prominent rumor– one that made the Gaernin swell up with self-importance even more than usual– was that the real Cheyne had shown up and was, in fact, a young lordling from their own city. His name was Jaidyn Huntley. Even before he left on the Search, he had exhibited the memories of Cheyne, but still had yet to openly declare himself. The only person he told his secret to was another lordling, Zanthys Advissen, the heir to one of the Morena High Seats. He was the one with proof that Jaidyn was Cheyne reborn; he claimed to have seen Sonsedhor with his own eyes.

Kemeny stated the obvious when she said they should talk to Zanthys. But Draegon knew it wouldn’t be easy for commoners– and foreign commoners, for that matter– to get in to see the heir of one of the High Seats. They would need to be invited into his presence.

“Well, nobles like that are always having feasts, aren’t they? And entertainers? Who’s to say they won’t want a bard sometime soon?”

“First of all,” Draegon replied over a glass of wine, “there’s no guarantee that I would be chosen should they want a bard. Second, even the commoners here don’t want a…” he made a face, “……don’t want me performing for them. Nobles will be even less inclined to hire me.”

“If we dyed your hair, you wouldn’t look so… like that,” she said. “And I’ve heard you play. You’re one of the best dulcimer players I’ve ever heard, and your voice isn’t bad to listen to, either. Let me dye your hair and I swear you’ll be hired to play for them within two weeks.”

He sighed. “Fine.”

The herb she washed his hair with turned his pale buttery head into a cap of chestnut brown. When she finally let him look in a mirror, he almost didn’t recognize himself. “You know, this might actually work,” he said, turning his head one way and the other. “Not that I’ll want to keep it like this permanently, but it’s definitely interesting.”

He played at a different inn every night after that, always the flute so the patrons could dance. On occasion, he picked up the drum and used it to punctuate a story, but he never opened his dulcimer. He was saving that for the nobles. Word spread of him quickly, with people often asking where the Dragon Bard was playing so they could be at whichever inn or tavern he was performing. He had to admit, he liked the title they gave him, even though it stemmed from a simple mispronunciation of his name that spread like a rumor through the city. That kind of notoriety was sure to get him noticed by the nobles.

Every third night, Kemeny washed his hair with the herb again. By the third time, he was definitely getting sick of it. “Once we get done here, I’m never changing my hair color again,” he commented as she rubbed the herb on his scalp. She pulled a lock of his hair, making him yelp.

In the cafeteria, another patient happened to drop her napkin in front of Ryan. He snatched it up.

After eleven days of playing inn after inn every night, the keeper of the inn they were staying at presented him with a sealed envelope.

“Is that what I think it is?” Kemeny asked as he broke the seal of the envelope.

He scanned over the folded page inside and nodded. “We’re in.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Twenty-Six

Someone had turned the TV in the common room to an educational channel, and a nature show about undersea life was on. Huge schools of pale, silvery fish glinted in the sunlight that filtered through the shallows of the water. It was impressive how they swam in a cluster and seemed to move as one. Vale’s eyes were locked on the images, but his mind was racing.

The plain could definitely be called “the middle of nowhere.” The Mother had told Jaidyn to go out in the open, and here he was. He had followed instructions, and… nothing. He had already been out here for two days, waiting. She had said help would find him. Well, where was this help?

Had the Mother lied to him? Of course not, he chided himself. The Mother was the epitome of goodness, the mother of every living thing: animal, plant, and person alike. Why would she lie to someone who would so blindly follow her, was so devoted to her that he didn’t question her?

He was still surprised that the Mother had appeared to him, and in the form of a man. Then again, she is a goddess; she can do whatever she wants. She could have fixed everything in a second had she wanted to. So why didn’t she? Probably some cock-and-bull reason– wanting him to earn it himself, right the wrongs of humans only by pointing other humans in the right direction– something like that. If he had her powers, he would definitely make sure things always went the way he wanted.

The Mother had actually appeared to him; there was a part of his mind that kept dwelling on that point alone. The Mother had appeared in bodily form– if as a man– to him. That sealed it in his mind: he was the true Cheyne Firdin rebirth. He was the one destined for greatness, not this as-yet-unnamed fellow all the rumors spoke of. The Mother was had spoken to him personally, had told him help was coming, was sending someone to right the wrongs done to him. She had even called him “my reborn king” which had to mean a throne was coming his way.

Had Cheyne been a king once? He tried to remember, searched for something to tell him the answer, but he only kept coming to memories of Lexan. She would get rid of them. She hadn’t said so outright, but she had said she would help him. She knew about them; she would do something. He kept telling himself that over and over as memories of Lexan tried again and again to force their way to the forefront of his thoughts. He kept fighting them back.

“No! I don’t want you! It’s Cheyne I want! I’m Cheyne!” He screamed at the thoughts of Lexan that kept barging in where they weren’t wanted. He scratched at his head, at his temples, trying to dig them out. “Save me, Mother! Save me from these cursed memories!”

“You… the one,” came an unfamiliar man’s voice.

When Jaidyn looked up, he was surrounded by men and women, all dressed in skins and with hair ranging from pale buttery yellow to gold. Keidenelle. He was completely surrounded by them. There was an ungainly pair of wagons outside the circle they made around him; each wagon held more of the savages. Each man and woman of them carried some sort of weapon, be it a blade, a wooden staff, or a bow.

He fell to his knees, darting his eyes from one savage to the next, trying to watch them all at once and waiting for them to attack. “Please, I’m unarmed! Don’t hurt me, please!”

They gave no sign that they understood, only looked down on him with eyes that were boldly colored green or blue or violet. It was like looking into a strange sea of jewels. One man, with a mop of hair the color of a canary and eyes so blue they made the sky seem plain, squatted in front of Jaidyn and pointed a long, tan finger at him. “You… our master…” His finger inched forward until it touched Jaidyn’s forehead, where the black speck of light had burned him.

His eyes widened. These were the Mother’s followers? The savage Keidenelle? Part of him groaned inwardly, but part of him rejoiced. The sliver of his mind that he associated with Lexan was positively delighted. There was fear attached to the Keidenelle. What an army they could make!

Trying to hide the trembling of his knees, he got to his feet and looked the man in those frighteningly blue eyes. “I am your master,” he said.

The savages surrounding him made strange noises that sounded negative to him. The man shook his head and pointed again. “Your master, our master. Knew you come. Great servant. We follow.”

Well, at least they would follow him. That was good enough. “I am Jaidyn,” he said, striking himself importantly on the chest.

“Alaykichihaahoush,” the Keidenelle man, who Jaidyn took for some sort of a leader, said, imitating Jaidyn’s chest strike.

“That’s uh… some name,” Jaidyn said sheepishly. “Um…… I’ll call you Alay. Alay,” he repeated, pointing at him to emphasize that he was to answer to the nickname.

Alay seemed to understand. He turned to the wagons and shouted something Jaidyn didn’t understand. The others began gathering and the men driving the wagons spurred the horses to move. The rest of the band began following the wagons.

“Come,” Alay said, motioning for Jaidyn to follow. He did so gladly. What a way to proclaim himself! He couldn’t wait to get to a city and proclaim himself Cheyne reborn. He had conquered the Keidenelle!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Twenty-Five

Becca was not the first person to think of Dissociative Personality Disorder concerning the five Sunsetter patients– as they were commonly called now by everyone– but she was the first to speak to anyone else about it. Dr. Anderson appeared pleased with Becca’s diagnosis, agreeing wholeheartedly that it was highly likely the case for all five patients. And from simply observing the behavior of the five, Becca had even come to a guess of how many personalities each had. Ryan, Emery, and Lydia she thought each only had one other personality– one other person with a whole other name and past. But Vale and Joanna, she thought, each had two…… maybe more.

But what still had both Becca and Dr. Anderson baffled was what had them connected so closely and why. As far as their files showed, none of the five of them had had any contact with the others before coming to Ighosia Falls. So why were they connected now? They had all arrived at the asylum at different times– in some cases, years apart. Was it because of their DPD? What exactly were the identities of their alternate personalities? Why was Emery suddenly getting so violent? And what had caused them all to split so suddenly? None of them had shown such tendencies towards alternate personalities until this whole mess began.

The Sunsetter mystery was the key, Becca was certain.

Weslyn knew better than to talk about what had happened at the river. For nearly ten days, she and the others had kept quiet about it; in fact, none of them had said much of anything at all since then. Draegon was now almost constantly riding and puffing away quietly on his flute– his way to deal with the silence. Kemeny kept quiet, except for occasional whispers of encouragement and affection to the horse she’d borrowed from Weslyn. Roark kept his eyes forward, locked on the ever-distant horizon. He hadn’t so much as looked at any of them since he’d scared that Senne woman away.

It was because of his eyes, Weslyn knew. Roark didn’t want any of them to see what was behind them. But she didn’t have to see his eyes to know. He was struggling. She hadn’t quite understood the last thing he said to the woman: “If I have to kill someone today, let it be you. You actually deserve it.” but she could guess. Every night now, Roark disappeared for an hour or more. There was something very wrong, and the only thing she could think to blame it on was the sword. The big soldier certainly wasn’t offering any explanations, but she believed she had everything pretty much pieced together.

Lydia approached Joanna while she was alone in the courtyard. The wheelchair-bound woman was usually unresponsive unless she was with all the others, but for once, she actually acknowledged the other woman. The two talked softly until it grew dark and some staff members escorted them back inside.

Kemeny was on watch when Weslyn woke in the middle of the night. It had been twelve days since the events on the Swen’s bank. It must have been either near midnight or early in the morning; Roark was asleep on the ground, his back to the fire and his companions. He must have already gone out to do his deed and returned.

For a long time, Weslyn wasn’t certain Kemeny knew she was awake. The contortionist sat staring at the low, crackling flames as if nothing else existed in the world.

“He’s going to try and chase us all away,” Kemeny said suddenly.

Weslyn walked to Kemeny and sat down next to her. “You think so, too?”

“He’s afraid of hurting us. He keeps coming back from… wherever he goes…… with this anxious, hunted look. But where’s he going and why? I haven’t figured that out yet.”

Biting her lip, Weslyn looked at the sleeping reincarnation of the great hero. “I think he’s killing people. At the river, he said Sonsedhor’s tainted. I don’t know exactly what kind of taint we’re talking about, but… I think he’s killing people, and for some reason, I don’t think he has a choice but to do it. And he’s going to try and chase us away so he doesn’t hurt any of us.” She paused. “I don’t blame him. I would probably do the same thing.”

“We can’t just abandon him.”

Weslyn nodded. “But I don’t think we can all stay with him, either. As much as it hurts to say it, I think we are in real danger from him. If Roark has to kill…… what happens if there’s no one else around for him to do in?”

Kemeny nodded. “I know what we need to do.”

Once the two men were awake and, more importantly, alert enough to pay attention to them, Weslyn and Kemeny told them what they had decided. “Draegon, you and I are going to take the road to Morena. Then we go south. Maybe to Estria and eventually to Abem. We’re going to make sure the everyone knows that Cheyne is back.”

“And I’m going with you, Roark,” Kemeny said, her posture and the authority in her voice making her seem much taller than she was, “whether you like it or not.”

The two men were so startled that neither spoke; they simply stared incredulously at the two women. Weslyn tried to imitate the pose Kemeny had adopted, fixing an intimidating look on Draegon as he tried to find his voice.

His reaction was satisfactory. “I suppose…” he shot a quick glance at Roark, who didn’t return it, “…we have no choice… but I don’t see why we really need to split up. I mean, Roark can declare himself while we’re all with him.” He stopped for a second, obviously thinking. “Although I guess it would spread the news faster if we split up. Still, I’d rather we stayed together.”

“Go with Weslyn, Draegon,” Roark said softly. “Please.”

The bard slowly turned his head to look at Roark in disbelief. “You swore to watch me…”

“Sonsedhor’s been found. You’re free of your oath. Go.”

“DON’T LEAVE ME ALONE!” Kemeny’s shout startled them all, and as one they turned to look at her. Her eyes had grown wide and glassy, partly rolled back into her head. Her mouth had dropped open, forming a silent scream. The whole of her was shaking uncontrollably. “Don’t leave me, please, not alone. I don’t want to be alone, please! Not like this!”

The three others all stared at Joanna as she had what seemed to be a seizure. Her mouth formed words, but only creaks and strained grunts came out. She finally managed to get out a shout, “Where am I?!” before the fit stopped, as abruptly as it began.

Her screaming stopped. One moment Kemeny was shouting pleas and shaking, the next she was standing, still with that authoritative, self-pleased look on her face. Weslyn and the two men exchanged worried looks. Sneaking a glance into Kemeny’s eyes, Weslyn saw nothing, no evidence that she knew anything strange had happened.

“Are you alright?” Draegon asked her.

She looked confused. “I’m fine, why? Don’t change the subject, singer.”

He arched an eyebrow at her but didn’t reply.

Weslyn leaned over to Kemeny and whispered in her ear. “I think we should change plans. I’ll go with Roark, you go with Draegon.”

“Why?” she whispered back. “I thought you wanted to go with Draegon because you… well, because you said you two shared ‘some deep feelings’ the other night.”

“Well, look, something just happened that was… a little strange.” She looked over her shoulder at the two men. They gave no sign of hearing them and made no move to get closer and eavesdrop. “You kind of went crazy.”


“And I don’t know that Roark would be well-suited to protect you if something like that happened again. But Draegon will. And Roark wouldn’t hurt me. I’m not worried.”

Kemeny’s expression finally went fearful. “If you’re sure…”

“I am. Just… keep Draegon busy while I do something, okay?”

They immediately began dividing up the camp supplies and packed their packs. But while Kemeny kept the two men at task after task– men should really be doing the bulk of the physical labor, after all– Weslyn secreted herself on the other side of the horses and wrote out a note to Draegon. While his back was turned, she slipped both the note and a purse of money into the leather case for his hand dulcimer. It fit in there comfortably, but he was sure to find it right away when he opened it next.

As she came back into sight– the men hadn’t even seemed to miss her, which was exactly what she wanted– she couldn’t help but notice that Draegon was a bit too sweaty to account for the work he’d been doing. He also looked pale.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

He looked surprised to see her suddenly in front of him and forced a smile. “Oh, it’s nothing.”

“Really,” she said, gently laying a hand on his arm. “You know you can tell me.”

He sighed. “I’m just worried, with us actually proclaiming Roark… what if I run across Keffinen?”

She gave him a soft smile but had already made up her mind not to tell him about the purse she’d secreted in his dulcimer case. If he came across the menagerie owner, and if the greedy man demanded his seventy-five gold marks, that purse held more than enough. Just in case. She couldn’t bear the thought of him being behind bars.

“It’s getting pretty late… almost noon,” Roark said, still not looking anyone directly in the eye. “We should get moving. All of us.”

Weslyn stood on her tiptoes and kissed Draegon gently on the lips. “We’ll find each other. Soon.”

“Meet me in Necras?” he asked, his green eyes hopeful.

She smiled.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Twenty-Four

Vale spent his day as usual, glaring at everyone around him, saying nothing, doing nothing.

Jaidyn first heard the rumors in a tiny village so small he didn’t even bother asking the name. Cheyne Firdin was reborn! He had claimed Sonsedhor! He had already gone forward to fight the Dark Father. No, he was serving the Dark Father! Cheyne’s rebirth was a servant of the Dark One. No, he had been born a Keidenelle. No, he had tamed a Keidenelle. There were dozens of rumors, and he would overheard one rumor from one man, then a few minutes later, a different one completely contradicting the first one he told. But they all agreed on one thing: someone had claimed to be Cheyne reborn.

He kept silent about it. These fools actually believed this kind of rumor? Where was the proof? Where was this false hero? No rumor gave any hint of his whereabouts. Jaidyn simply chose to ignore the rumors.

The tiny village claimed only one tiny inn. He stopped walking right in front of it, when he realized Hoeth had fallen behind. When he turned, the younger man was looking at him accusingly, his chin thrust forward and his eyebrows pulled down angrily. “You duped me,” he said. “You lied to me. You said you were Cheyne!”

“I am,” he replied calmly. It was, after all, the truth. He was Cheyne. He was!

"I don’t want to hear any more of your lies!” he yelled, drawing eyes to him. “No more of your stories! If you were, then why isn’t this news about you? Why don’t you have Sonsedhor yet? Why don’t you ever give me a straight answer when I… Nevermind. I’m finished, Lord Huntley. I’m ridding myself of you.” He took a few steps toward the inn’s front door. Before he got halfway to the door, he spun and pointed a condemning finger at him. “You are not welcome under the same roof as me.” Turning on his heel, he disappeared into the inn.

“Fine! But when the truth comes out, don’t try to apologize, Karzark!” He stormed off, his ears straining– against his will– for more of the rumors. He heard a handful of rumors, then a dozen variations of them, then a dozen variations of them, until it was enough to make his head spin and made him desperately want a drink.

He finally found his drink, in the makeshift tavern some old lady ran. He didn’t know how much he downed, but the lady didn’t stop him so long as he paid the coin before she gave him each bottle. But the rumors followed him into the little one-room tavern, and even the wine he was trying to drown his thoughts in didn’t make them go away. As the rumors grew more and more elaborate, even to the point of detailing his proclamation and triumphs he’d already had, Jaidyn’s mood grew hotter and hotter. Finally, well past dark and furious enough to start spitting, he stumbled out of the tavern and headed to the inn.

He barged in, empty wine bottle in hand, and was on the point of shouting Hoeth’s name when his eyes focused on his former friend and companion. The young lordling was laughing, sitting at a table with his arm around a pretty dark-haired woman who looked to be in her mid-twenties. As he stood there, watching, he saw Hoeth actually lean over and sneak a kiss.

It was only a few moments before Hoeth saw him. He leaned over to the woman and whispered something in her ear. She covered his mouth with her fingers, stifling a giggle. Then Hoeth leaned and whispered to a man at a nearby table. The whisper passed around the room, and a wave of laughter followed behind it, with a lot of pointing at Jaidyn. The laughter faded and was replaced by jeers. Apparently he’d told everyone about Jaidyn’s “lies”.

His anger reached the boiling point, and he stormed out of the inn and back into the street. There were still a surprising number of people out-of-doors, considering the time of night. He thought he heard whispers and felt fingers pointed at him as he passed. Gossip spread quickly in a small place like this. The story had already spread far beyond the walls of Hoeth’s inn.

Try as he did, he couldn’t even get a bed in the stable loft.

Something different came over Vale’s eyes, but since he never really let anyone see them, no one noticed.

He curled up next to a half-rotted barrel that sat next to a house and tried to sleep. His fury had yet to really cool, and it kept him from keeping his eyes closed for more than a moment. He kept seeing faces: people laughing at him, some unidentified man holding Sonsedhor, Hoeth jeering and accusing…

There was someone looking down at him, someone with a face he invisible in the darkness.

“I know what they’ve done to you, the injustices, the mockery they make of your life,” the man said in a cool voice.

Jaidyn jumped to his feet. “Who are you?”

“I am…… that is all. I am.” He paused, as if to let those words sink in. “I have seen everything you have gone through, my son. And I can help you.”

He furrowed his eyebrows. Someone had been watching him? Who?

“I see you are suspicious. That is healthy. But I know everything, can see everything, Jaidyn. I know the memories you have, that fight with you. Lexan’s memories.”

He hadn’t told anyone about that. He backed up, but the wall of the building was at his back.

“You need not be afraid, my son. I am here to help you. Accept my pity, my reborn king.”

Reborn king? I am Cheyne reborn! I knew it! “Mother? Are you The Mother?”

The man made no move, and Jaidyn still couldn’t see his face, but he got the impression he smiled.

“I thought you were a woman.”

“I take many forms,” he replied. “You have respect for power, so you see me as a strong, hale man.”

“Why can’t I see your face… Mother?”

“It is not for mortals to see, no matter how highly esteemed I may hold them.” There was that impression of smiling again. “Will you accept my help to right the injustices done to you, my son? To claim what is rightfully yours?”

“Yes! Yes!”

“Then go out into the open, where you are all alone. You must be unarmed. I have other followers, ones who will find you, but only if you are out in the open and without weapon. Will you do this?”

“Of course, Mother! Of course!”

“Then I will mark you as my own, so they will know you." With one last impression of a smile, the man disappeared in a flash that left blue and black and gold lights sparkling before his eyes. One of the black lights came to him and settled onto his forehead. There was a burning sensation for a split second, then nothing. He reached up to his forehead and felt where the black light had touched him. He felt nothing. Would these followers see it?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Twenty-Three

The sound of water trickling in the stone fountain in the courtyard could be heard even in Emery’s room, even through the barred window. He appeared calm, much calmer than the evening before, when he had tried to choke Kristen to death.

Becca managed to obtain permission to bring his friends by his room– with him under supervision, of course– and allow them to speak to each other through the little viewing window in his door.

Senne could only describe herself as emotionally drained. Guilt filled her, ate at her. Cheyne had been intertwined so much in her life, all her lives, and she had betrayed him to the Dark Father for no other reason than to earn her own immortality, an immortality she had anyway, through the memories of her lives. So selfish, so foolish.

She found herself nearing the river where she had committed her last transgression, but she wasn’t alone at the river’s edge. There were four others, and one of them……

She recognized Sonsedhor in his hand. As if sensing her presence, he turned and looked straight at her, sheathing the sword at his hip as he turned. She knew he recognized her.

Emery behaved for the entire morning, very calm and in control of himself. Under the watchful eyes of a half-dozen nurses, he was allowed to go out to the courtyard for some fresh air. But as soon as he reached the stone walkway, he saw Joanna in her wheelchair, and he went into a rage, throwing himself at her in a fierce attack.

“You sent me to hell,” he said softly, his eyes burning. “Senne.””


“Cheyne is dead!” he bellowed, not moving a muscle. He didn’t shake with the fury he must be feeling, didn’t so much as twitch his cheek. Even his expression didn’t waver. He could have been a statue for all his body gave away. But his voice… the strain, the rage in it… it was painful. “It’s Roark now.”

“Roark……” he didn’t interrupt her this time, just stared at her with those hate-filled blue eyes. “I… I’m sorry…”

“Why? Why did you do this to me? Why did you murder me?”

She could feel the tears coming. She had told herself over and over again that it hadn’t been murder. It wasn’t murder… the water killed him; she just pushed him in… but she knew it for a lie. “It was… he wanted Sonsedhor.”


The tears came in earnest, making her sob uncontrollably so she couldn’t answer. Cheyne… Roark… had to demand an answer twice before she got control of herself. “The Dark One… the Dark Father.”

Roark recoiled as if from a viper. “You sold yourself to him!”

“No, please, I’ don’t belong to him anymore!” She sank to her knees. “He dismissed me. I’m… I’m no use to him anymore.”

His eyes narrowed. “Your master threw you away, so you come crawling back to me? I loved you once Senne– many, many lives ago– but I see what that meant to you.”

“I was a fool, Roark! I’m sorry!”

“Apologies aren’t enough.”

“But he’’s still after you… the Dark Father… he still wants Sonsedhor. I can help you.”

He took a few long steps toward her and grabbed her by the neckline of her dress, pulling her roughly to her feet. “Why does he want it so badly? It would do him no good. It’s just a sword. Sonsedhor is nothing but a tool.”

“It’s a means to control you,” she replied haltingly. “If he controls it, he controls you. You know you and Sonsedhor are tied together, but you were created by the Mother, her tool. Control of one is control of the other.”

“I follow the Mother’s will!”

She gasped for air, staring up at eyes that had went from molten flame to solid ice in half a heartbeat. His hand released her; her knees gave way and she crumpled to the ground, sucking in breath after sweet breath. “But Sonsedhor’s his now, isn’t it? He’s tainted it. You did deliver it to him.”” She heard the soft rasp of steel on leather, saw the sword in his hand. ““If I have to kill someone today, let it be you. You actually deserve it.””

Still short of breath, she scrambled to her feet and ran. He didn’t chase her.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Twenty-Two

The mattress of the bed in Roark’s room smelled of clean straw and didn’t have very many lumps in it. As a soldier who had once fought in a drawn-out war, he didn’t need to be comfortable to sleep. He could lay on a bed of rocky ground with a boulder for a pillow and achieve a very restful slumber.

But he couldn’t sleep. There was a feeling tugging at the back of his head, one that he couldn’t explain. The memories that had flooded into his head at drawing Sonsedhor that morning had settled in; they weren’t the problem. It was bloodlust.

He tried to fight it down, the desire, the need to kill. The urge to take the life of a man, to watch the last bit of light go out of his eyes. As the night went on, the feeling grew. As hard as he fought it down, it still bloomed in his mind.

Kill… Take a life…

It was very late– probably very near midnight.

Kill… He wrapped his hand around Sonsedhor’s hilt, could almost feel the bloody imprint warm against his hand. The whole sword was warm; it pulsed in his hand. Kill… Do it…

He opened the window of his room and dropped to the ground from the second floor.

Emery hadn’t spent much of the afternoon with his usual companions. In fact, he’d spent most of it in his own room, alone. But toward evening, he wandered out into the hallway, looking around as if he was lost. Becca noticed him and kept her eyes on him as he meandered around the furniture and the other patients, tense as a guitar string. Before anyone could tell what he was doing, he had his hands around the throat of another patient, Kristen Censor. Kristen screamed and went into a seizure-like fit, crumpling to the ground and screaming rather than fighting or even struggling against Emery’s grip. It took three nurses to pry him away from her and drag him, still fighting, back to his room. More than one of those nurses has bruises the next day.

Roark kept the murder of the woman in Dracmere secret from his companions. He tried to leave for the river before they woke, but Weslyn and Draegon were already up, having breakfast together and talking, when he entered the common room.

Four days’ hard riding took them to the riverbank. Three nights passed, and on every one, the urge to do murder took him until he couldn’t fight it anymore, snuck away, and killed whatever person happened across his path. Twice, he came upon the camps of Seekers and did his bloody deed, apologizing even as he thrust the blade between ribs or into a gut. The other night he happened on a trio of hunting Keidenelle and slaughtered all three before they could even think about defending themselves.

It was the after murdering the three Keidenelle that he realized, to his immense relief, that one death sated his bloodlust. Something had been done to him that made him kill every day. Every night…

The fourth day, they reached the bank of the Swen. He recognized the blackness that lay on the other bank. It was nearer than he remembered from Cheyne’s dying day. Then, there had been some land on the other side of the river, a few feet of bank on the other side to stand on. Now the water went straight up to the edge… and stopped. But the river was still deep, still had a strong current. The water didn’t run off the edge into the void. But there was no bank to contain it as there had been when he was Cheyne. He stared at the black. He had stood on the opposite bank with Senne and looked over the edge.

Senne. The memory rushed into his head like a charging bull and hit him with as much force. She had betrayed him, been directly responsible for his death, for him drowning.

One murder everyday. Staring into the black, he relived the four murders he had already done. He could feel the others nearby, Weslyn, Kemeny and Draegon.

I won’t. Not to any of them. I’ll kill myself first.

In the end, he doubted he could sink a blade into his own flesh. Part of him doubted that would do anyone any good. It had to be the sword’s doing, Sonsedhor’s doing. Somehow the sword had acquired its own will, and the will was evil. If he died, would it seek another owner? He couldn’t risk sentencing someone else to that fate. This was his burden; he wouldn’t try to escape.

But he could try to turn the sword’s evil will to good. Killing innocents was unforgivable; he knew he was already damned for it. But there were plenty of wrongdoers, criminals in the world. If he sought the murderers, rapists, and thieves out instead…