Chapter Five: The Drum



by

Josie Beaudoin







After the long hiatus at Barkarnas, Morgan had returned with Galen to their lessons. They were deep in their studies when there was a sudden cry from the lookout perched far above in the tangle of sails and masts and ropes.

“Man overboard!” was the cry. “Hard to port!”

“Overboard?” Morgan said, confused. “What does that mean?”

“I'm not sure, Sir, but everyone seems quite agitated up there. Should we go see?”

Morgan sighed.

“Go ahead,” he told Galen. “We could both do with a break. Don't stay too long, though.”

“You're not coming, Master?”

“No, I'm ...” Morgan scowled, and Galen could feel the exhaustion in his Vada. When he was working, Morgan was relentless, pushing himself to his limits.

“Rest, Sir. I'll come back and let you know what's going on in a bit.”

Morgan nodded and closed his eyes, shooing Galen away with a wave of his hand. He was steadily putting weight back on his scrawny frame, but he still tired easily.

As Galen left the corridor for the open hold, he saw many of the Ria gathered around the small round windows all along the left side of the ship, blocking most of the light. They were jabbering to each other in several languages, and gesturing out the windows. Galen made his way up to the deck. He was just in time to hear a splash as something hit the water.

The rest of the ship's compliment were gathered against the railing on the left – or port, as they called it, though he did not know why – side, as those below were. As he joined them, they made way for him to stand at the railing as well. They all seemed to be looking into the water. Looking down, Galen saw what had captured everyone's attention.

The splash had come from Jasper. He was in the water, swimming strongly towards an object Galen could not quite identify. He reached out with his Vada and realized that whatever-it-was was alive and in pain.

“It's a man,” Ruby said. Galen glanced over and saw that the old woman was standing at his side, a pitcher of water in one hand. She did not look at him, her eyes were fastened on the two men in the water.

The Eleli Rei drew nearer to her captain where he waited beside the bedraggled figure sprawled on a piece of flotsam. A net was thrown, and Jasper guided it under himself, the man, and the wood. Galen stood by Ruby and watched as Kemen joined the crew as they hauled the net up onto the deck.

When the two men were safe aboard and the railing set back into place, the crew returned to their duties, leaving Ruby to step in and help her new patient. Galen could sense everyone's curiosity, but also their discipline. The Ria knew they would hear the story eventually, and that in the meantime they could do nothing more helpful than staying out of the way.

Jasper had the man's head raised while Ruby put the water to his lips. At first he did not respond then his eyes snapped open and he began to drink greedily, gulping down the water. Ruby pulled the pitcher away.

“Slowly,” she said to the bedraggled stranger. “How long have you been out there?”

“There was a storm,” the man croaked. “It came out of nowhere. Oh God, they're all gone!”

“Calm down, it's all right,” Ruby said. “Here, drink some more water, but slowly. That's right. Take a deep breath. You're safe now, it's over. There you go. And drink again. Good.”

Galen drew closer, his curiosity overriding etiquette. The man in Jasper's arms was shaking, his clothes torn, hair in dried tangles crusted with salt. His face bore several days worth of beard in addition to the cut on his forehead. One eye was swollen shut, and his body was bruised and scabbed with half-healed wounds. Despite all this, he was now drinking steadily, his good eye alert and taking in the situation.

“How long?” Ruby repeated, pulling the pitcher back gently. The man stared at her and groaned.

“I don’t know. She went down in the storm,” he shuddered. “I didn't see anyone else.”

“What was your ship?” Jasper asked.

“The Drum. I was washed off deck, and came up to see her capsize. There was no time to lower the boats. One moment there was a ship, then the water was full of people and flotsam, and I grabbed onto something and passed out. When I woke up I didn't see anyone.”

“You're lucky to be alive,” Jasper said. “Welcome aboard the Eleli Rei. What's your name?”

“The Eleli Rei? Are you serious?”

“As a shark,” Jasper answered. “What's your name?”

“Tural,” the man said. “From the Drum. I didn't see anyone else. They're gone. The Drum is – no, it's impossible. She can't be gone.”

“Shhhh,” Ruby said. “Drink again. We need to get you out of the sun, as well. Galen.”

Galen helped Ruby to her feet.

“He's got some broken bones,” she told him. “I'm going to need help carrying him below. I want you to take his legs while Jasper carries him under the arms. Try not to jar him too much.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

Tural passed out soon after they lifted him, his strength exhausted. Ruby moved ahead of them quickly. When they got below, they discovered why.

“I don't want to,” Brand was saying in a loud voice, “and you can't tell me -”

“I don't have time to coddle you right now,” Ruby told him. “Go aft and sit with your cousin, go up on deck and stare at the waves, but get out of my cabin. I've got a – ah, here you are. Get out of the way, Brand. Captain, put him in my bunk and get out. I've got work to do. Galen, you'll help me. Everyone else out. Shoo!”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


The door of Ruby's cabin slammed shut in Brand's face. The Captain immediately returned above, leaving Brand alone in the dark corridor. He stood blinking in disbelief and annoyance for a moment, then headed aft. The old healer had said he would find his cousin there. She was right, too.

“Hello, Cousin,” Morgan said as Brand pushed the door open and peeked inside. He had not left Ruby's cabin since they had left Barkarnas.

“You're no kin of mine,” Brand said. “Where is Opari?”

“Come in, Brand,” Morgan sighed. “Let's talk about this like reasonable men, shall we?”

“How do you expect me to reason with a barbarian?”

“Give it a try,” Morgan said. “I might just surprise you. Here, have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?”

Morgan stacked the loose papers that littered the desk and put a paperweight atop the pile. He motioned Brand to the seat recently vacated by Galen. There was a bowl of fresh fruit on the table, as well as a pitcher and glasses. Looking about, Brand could see that the room was far grander than Ruby's. He entered and sat with reluctance. Morgan poured a clear liquid into a glass and handed it to him. It was only water, but at least the glass was nice.

“Why do you do that?” Brand asked as Morgan set the pitcher aside.

“Do what?”

“Allow your slave to sit idly by while you pour a drink for your guest.”

Ashia looked up from her seat by the window with a guilty start, but the chore in question was already done. She looked at the two men nervously.

Morgan scowled at his cousin.

“She's not a slave, Brand,” he said.

“Are you saying those scars are not from shackles and a collar?”

“There are no slaves among the Ria. She is a former slave, since liberated, and you would do well to remember that. Besides, she's busy.” Morgan indicated the sewing in Ashia's lap.

“No slaves,” Brand sneered. “You call yourselves civilized, yet have not even the basic foundation of civilization.”

“It's a matter of perspective, Cousin,” Morgan said.

“I am not your cousin.”

“I'm sorry it upsets you so, but you are. To the Ria and Freelanders, slavery is a distinct mark of an uncivilized people. To inflict unnecessary suffering on another human being, to reduce someone to a piece of property, this we consider barbaric. For now, can we not both be civilized by agreeing to disagree, and discuss other matters?”

“You are wrong, of course, on both counts, but I am willing to set the subjects aside if there is another you would prefer to address. What do you have in mind?”

“Your future,” Morgan said. Brand's eyebrows raised, and he began to protest.

“Hear me out,” Morgan continued. “Whether you are my kinsman or not, whether she is called Paige or Opari, whether you are Brand or Erris, one fact you cannot deny is that your life is irrevocably changed, because there is not a Rian in the world who will return you to Erlaya. It doesn't matter what you call yourself, that's all in the past. You have to look to the present and the future.”

“And you think you are the one to guide me?”

“Gods, no!” Morgan said. “I'm as lost as you are, possibly more. But this is why I understand the need to focus on what is rather than what was.

“You do not think of yourself as my kinsman, but I do, and to see you hurting hurts me. Set aside the past and build yourself anew. The mighty Sutari Erris is no more, he existed only in Erlaya. It may be that my beloved cousin Brand is also gone. I hope not, but I may have to accept it. I don't know precisely who you are, but I know that you're unhappy and your heart is riveted on the past. So is mine. The Shield of the North is gone, and I'm not the same Morgan I was six years ago. I don't know who I am.”

“Why did you abduct us?”

“As with everything else, it's a matter of perspective, Cousin. You say 'abduct' while I see it as 'rescue.' My conscience would not let me rest if I callously abandoned my family to the monstrosity that is Erlaya and its twisted ruler. Whether you agree with me or not, can you not recognize and appreciate my intentions? If our positions were reversed, if you were 'escaping' from Krisadon, would you leave Paige behind?”

“Of course not.” Brand was indignant.

“Of course not,” Morgan said. “Because she is your family and you love her. It's why you followed her here. I love her too, Brand. Don't you see that we have this in common, this love of our kinswoman?”

“Opari is not -”

“In your sincere belief, she is not my sister,” Morgan said. “In mine she is. I don't care which of us is wrong, in fact I admit it may be me. But can you not recognize that I love her as a brother, that I want to protect her and care for her? As a civilized man, can you not acknowledge my intent?”

“You're a madman,” Brand said, rising from his chair.

“That's entirely possible,” Morgan admitted. “In fact, I'd even go so far as to say probable. But the Ria seem to think I'm right, so you're stuck with our view of reality whether you like it or not. I urge you again: re-assess your place here, for her sake as well as your own.”

“Where is she?”

“Up on deck last I knew. She likes the wind in her hair. If you see her, would you -”

But Brand had already left.

“Alright, nevermind,” Morgan said to the retreating footsteps. It would be a long time, if ever, before he regained Brand’s trust. He turned back to the lessons he had been going over with Galen. There was so much material to cover, and so little time.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“Magister, I don’t understand.”

“What’s the problem? You just do it, that’s all.”

“I can’t get the hang of it. Is there some other way to accomplish the same thing? I don’t know if I can learn this.”

Morgan glared at his apprentice.

“We don’t have time for this, Galen,” he said.

“I know that, Sir, but I’m just not understanding.”

“You’re going to make me do it, aren’t you?”

“Sir?”

“There come points when everyone stumbles, Galen, and parts that some people just have trouble learning. If I were a normal magician, I could just show you, but I can’t. We cannot skip this part, and we cannot work around it. I’m going to have to show you.”

“You mean...?”

“You’ll have to go into my mind. Vatha! I hate this! I knew it would happen eventually, but I hate it.”

“Sir, perhaps Ruby could --”

“No, she’s a Rian. They use the same magic, but they apply it differently. If you’re going to learn Freelander magic, you need what I’m teaching you. Trying to teach you. By Quphic and Vatha, I hate this!

“Well, let’s get it done. Quickly. No stopping to browse through my memories or feelings, you understand?”

“I’ll try, Master.”

Morgan glared, but Galen could see that he was shaking.

“Do you remember the day I took you as apprentice?” he asked.

Galen nodded.

“Do you remember that I hate you?”

Nod.

“Good. Don’t ever forget it. Now let’s get to work.”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“Is he going to make it, Ruby?” Jasper asked.

“His spirit is strong, Captain. I believe he will recover. He was lucky we were nearby.”

“We wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t -”

“I know.”

The thought sat unspoken between them, an uncomfortable silence filling the small cabin.

“Well, let me know when he wakes, alright?”

“The very moment, Captain.”

“Right.”

Jasper rose and left, softly closing the cabin door behind him. He went up on deck where the bright sunlight made him squint after all that time below. Kemen was deep in conversation with Bartok on the proper tying of knots, and neither man gave him any notice. In the bow, Brand and Paige were having a conversation, and doubtless it was heartwrenching as they all were. Nothing was ever simple with Brand around. Jasper wanted something simple right now. He looked around. Then he looked up.

Then he grinned.

Jasper began climbing the shrouds, heading for the crow’s nest. Wind, water, and nothing else as far as the eye could see. Perfect.

The year he had spent ashore had changed Jasper. He had of necessity spent so much of it alone, he had actually begun to appreciate solitude as he never had before. Always he had spent his life in the company of others, hearing them talking, fighting, working, playing day in and day out. It was as familiar and necessary to him as the air he breathed. Now he found he craved a moment of relative silence if not solitude. He relieved the scout perched in the crow’s nest and settled in to make himself comfortable. The ship faded away below him, muffled by the booming of the sails and the cawing of gulls. The empty horizon was soothing and comforting.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“Captain!”

A child’s voice broke through the quiet of Jasper’s mind about an hour later.

“Damn it all, what-”

“Ruby says to get down to your cabin, now!”

No time or need for further questions. Jasper swung down from the nest and ran back below decks, aft to his own cabin. So much for peace and quiet.

Galen was pale and shaking when Jasper threw open the door to his cabin and rushed in.

“- told me you would worry, but those were his orders. I was only-”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“I went into his mind again. Captain, he ordered me to,” Galen said when he saw the look on Jasper’s face. It was the same look he had seen in Ecba.

“He ordered you to? Why in God’s name would he - no, nevermind. Just fix it.”

Galen slumped on the bed next to Morgan’s crumpled and shaking form.

“He ordered me ...” he whispered. Tears rolled down his face unnoticed. “He was trying to show me something and he told me to go in there. Captain, I saw it. I felt it. Vatha have mercy, I know what he’s been through...”

You’re praying to Vatha?” Jasper asked, shocked.

“He is. She’s his god. I understand Her now. Gods, the pain. You can’t imagine. Morgan is not on this ship, Captain. It doesn't matter that you took him out of that dungeon, it's the place he'll always live.”

“I don’t care,” Jasper said. “Just fix it. Undo it, block it out, bring him back, do whatever you have to, but just fix it. Ruby, you help him.”

“I don’t think-”

“I don’t care what you think. Get him back, and that’s an order. Get it done before Paige finds out.” Jasper turned and stormed out of the room, furious.

The two magicians looked at one another helplessly as the door slammed shut. Morgan was silent and still, Galen keened with grief and fear. There was nothing Ruby could do but let him weep himself out.

“Perhaps if we share it,” she suggested as his tears began to ebb. “It might help to spread the pain out...”

“No,” insisted Galen. “No, it’s too big. It won’t spread, it’ll just crush you too.”

“Are you quite sure?” she said, reaching out to him with her Vada. It brushed up against his gently, and he slammed his shields into place.

“I’m sure,” was the reply.

“Alright, we’ll find another way. Any ideas?”

“Absolutely,” Galen told her. “We’re connected. Morgan and I are connected. There’s a bond here that goes beyond anything I’ve ever felt before, anything... even when you and I joined. So I think I can reach him, help him, if only I can stand to go back there. But not right now. Gods, not right now. I don’t care what Jasper says, he can’t kill me this time, and I’m not going back in there tonight. What Laric did to him...”

“Shhhhh, let it go,” the healer said. “Don’t dwell on it, don’t let it control you.”

“I’m so tired, and there’s so much pain...”

“Then sleep. I’ll tell the Captain you’re working on it.”

“And when he sees me sleeping?”

“What sleep? You’re in a deep trance, reaching out to bring Morgan back.”

“You’re a sneaky, wicked woman, Ruby.”

“Funny, that’s what everyone says, but I’m just a sweet, kind, gentle old healer woman. Now go, get into a convincing-looking ‘trance’ and I’ll take care of the Captain.”

Galen was too tired and miserable to argue. With a nod, he lay down next to Morgan’s limp form, trying not to think about what he had seen and felt. Behind his eyelids torments danced, refusing to be banished. Morgan’s withdrawl seemed the most logical thing in the world, but Galen did not have the mental discipline for it. Morgan was a master magician despite the loss of his powers, and still it had taken at least three years to develop that skill. Galen’s confident assertion to Ruby that he and Morgan shared a connection was true, but whether that would allow Galen to awaken his master he did not know. If it did work, it would be more of a curse than a blessing. The blackness was Morgan’s only comfort. Galen had none at all. Despite his exhaustion, it was a long time before Galen fell asleep, and the horrors of Morgan’s waking memories followed the apprentice into his dreams.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


At first it had been simple. Bound and gagged, Morgan would be hidden behind screens where he would watch Brand and Paige adjust to their new lives as Erlayan Demi-gods. Laric positively doted on the two of them, offering them every least thing they desired, and things they had never dreamed of. Slaves, jewels, gold, delicacies from far-off lands, the adoration of the court and common people alike. Temples were erected in their honour. Morgan was taken to them and forced to endure the ceremonies, always hidden from view, but present nonetheless. Their joy and eventual complacency were a harsh blow to the man who had sworn to protect his people and his family.

Other torments were to follow, swinging back and forth between the physical and emotional depending on Laric’s whim. Always there were the taunting jeers, though.

“Morgan, just think: if you had your powers you could destroy this device with a word.”

“Morgan, you could stop me if you were not a normal man.”

“Your sister is being courted by a truly handsome young man. Wouldn’t you love to kill him?”

“Morgan, your pain is beautiful. Now try to imagine what I’m feeling. You can’t, can you? And you never will. Only a magician could.”

There were no other magicians in the donjons. Laric’s powers were considered divine, and anyone showing signs of magic were stripped of their powers and usually killed. Sometimes they were tortured. Laric took delight in torturing others while making Morgan watch, all the time goading Morgan to stop him. When Morgan’s mind began to dull to the horrors, he would be put in his cell again, left with nothing but blackness until the sensitivity returned.

That was when Jasper arrived.

He slipped into Morgan’s cell wearing an amulet and carrying another one for Morgan. Invisible and silent, they followed a guard up through the ascending locked gates and out of the prison into the bright sunlight. Quickly the brothers made their way to the coast, where the Eleli Rei sat waiting for them. Soon Morgan was home, his powers restored. The army he led into Erlaya was massive, and they overwhelmed the capital with little difficulty, rescuing Paige and Brand. Their gratitude at being delivered from illusion was great, and they returned home with Laric’s nation crushed under Morgan’s contemptuous heel, never to rise again.

And then he woke up.

In the darkness of his cell, Morgan realized it was nothing but an illusion itself. Laric had given him joy, fulfilled his dream, for the sole purpose of tearing it away from him. It was the first illusion, simple, direct, easy. Laric’s skills would improve over time as Morgan became more and more wary. And between illusions, there was always the physical torture. Laric was a powerful healer, and Morgan always returned to his cell in near-perfect health, barring the open wound on his chest and the memory of pain leaving him shaking and sweating.

Lying on the bed asleep, Galen shuddered and convulsed, trying to rest, haunted by his master’s misery.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Sweat drenched Laric’s long, black hair, beads trickling down to sting his eyes. He paused for a moment to regain his breath and tie his hair back again. He wiped his brow with the back of one arm and switched the flail to his right hand. The room was filled with lurid shadow and light from the huge fire in the center of the room.

Galen lay gasping, struggling to breathe the hot air that seared his lungs. Blood ran slowly from his nose and mouth. His chest lay open – to the bone in some places – and he thought he could not survive. He wished he would not.

“Betrayer!”

The whip slapped on his raw chest once more, the barbs of each tail digging just a little deeper, pulling out small chunks of flesh as they were ripped free. He was being shredded by the tiny hooks, his skin hanging in tattered strips. His chest burned inside and out with every raw gasp he took, and his throat was sore from screaming in the baking heat.

“Where is she now?”

The whip cracked again, lodging its teeth in Galen’s flesh a little deeper.

“Is she at home?”

Crack.

“Is she safe?”

CRACK.

“Is she alive?”

“YES!”

Laric paused, whip upraised.

“You don’t actually know that, do you?”

“You won’t kill her,” Galen said between sobs. “You can’t hurt me with her if she’s dead.”

“Oh, Morgan, really,” Laric said. “I will always be able to hurt you with her no matter what. You’ve already seen to that with your own guilty conscience. You betrayed her that day. You gave her to me to do with as I please.”

“Monster!” Galen spat blood with the word.

“No, Morgan, you’re the monster,” Laric said, and he applied the whip again. Morgan passed out in blessed relief.

Galen woke with a start. Morgan’s memories, his mind told him. It’s not real, and it wasn’t you. He was drenched in sweat nonetheless, the dream as real as any memory of his own, the pain of the whip slowly ebbing as he came more fully awake. He looked at his chest, and saw that his tunic was not torn or bloodsoaked, only wet with sweat.

Morgan lay on Jasper’s bunk curled into a ball. Galen knew there was only one scar on Morgan’s chest: the remnants of the wound that had refused to heal for so many years. Galen had seen his first master do healing spells before in his role as a god, but nothing on this scale. People wanted to bring home scars – “See? Here’s where the Ya’Sret healed me!” – but he had wanted Morgan in perfect health, to torment over and over.

Galen sighed. He knew what had to be done next. He had to get Morgan back to himself quickly or risk Jasper’s wrath and Paige’s anguish. He did not feel up to either. As to waking Morgan... Master? Galen’s mind spoke into echoing blackness. Master, it’s over. Still no response.

Galen reached over and shook Morgan by the arm.

“Morgan, it’s over,” he said aloud. “He can’t get you here, you’ve sailed beyond his reach. I know you can hear me, Sir. Please come back before she sees you like this again. You know how much it upsets her.”

From the huddle that was Morgan came one solitary, tiny whimper.

“It was only a memory, Sir, and he’s gone. She is alive, she is safe, and we are taking her home. You’re needed in the here and now.”

The whimper was not repeated, but Morgan began to shake.

“Sir, she will be - ”

“Shut up,” Morgan said, and his voice was brusque. He sat up, the shaking gone as quickly as it had begun. Looking into his eyes, Galen saw misery, but not despair. Morgan was in control of himself once more.

“Fetch me a glass of water.”

Galen brought the water without a word. Morgan drank it down, then handed the glass back to his apprentice.

“My throat gets sore from screaming,” he said.

Galen nodded understanding.

“Mine too,” he said.

“You should drink something, by all means,” Morgan told him. “I don’t want you to get sick, it’ll put us behind in our lessons. Did you find what you were sent for?”

Galen nodded. He marveled, as always, at his master’s strength.

“Then finish your drink and we can get back to work. I want you to show me so I’m sure you’ll be doing it right when the time comes.”

“Just like that, Sir?”

Morgan stared at him levelly.

“Yes, ‘just like that.’ We stopped in the middle of a lesson. It’s time to get back to work.”














This web page and all it's contents were written by J.C. Beaudoin, who is solely responsible for it, for better or for worse. Copyright 2005 and 20016. Hands off. Lookie, no touchie! :-)