Chapter Nine: Dead



by

Josie Beaudoin







“So tell me about this war and where we’re going,” Morgan said.

“What’s this?” Necio asked.

“There’s a war here, right? Ruby said there was a prophecy. Somewhere we have to go that holds a cure for my brother. So let’s get going.”

“Belay that a moment, Morgan,” Ruby said. “We’re waiting here for the Lady. Then we’ll discuss things with Emmy and see what she thinks. In the meantime I’ll try to help the captain. I may be able to drain out the poison myself.”

“No,” Morgan told her, “we’re going to sail out of this harbour and go find Jasper’s cure. Captain, will you sit by and let the prince die because Emmy isn’t here to give an order? I may not be a Rian, but I’m more than capable of giving orders if that’s what you need.”

Captain Necio sighed.

“Tell me the prophecy,” she asked Ruby.

“You can’t be serious.”

“I’m serious. The Shield has a point. His Highness may well be dying, we can’t wait around for him to just wake up. Tell me the prophecy.”

“Don’t call me the Shield. My name is Morgan.”

“Well the Shield has the authority to give orders. ‘Just Morgan’ is just another Lander.”

“Fine. Whatever. We have work to do. Let’s do it.”

They both looked at Ruby, who sighed again.

“You youngsters are going to get yourselves killed trying to save him,” she said. She looked at their determined faces. “All right, here it is:

“There is a civil war raging between two factions of the local religion. It’s a ridiculous thing, they’re disagreeing over a point of how to worship one of their many ‘gods.’ The old woman in the marketplace said the place we’re looking for is right between the two armies, but hidden deep in the overgrown jungle. So in order to find her invisible Lost Temple of the Moon that only a blind man with a pure heart can see, we have to walk through the middle of a war.”

“The Lost Temple of the Moon? Are you sure that’s what she said? Ruby, that place is nothing more than a myth.”

“You’ve no need to tell me that,” Ruby snapped.

“But she said it holds Jasper’s cure?”

“That’s what the woman said.”

“Do you believe her?”

“Well, she is a mage, which means she may well be a true prophet. I believe she’s sincere, if that’s what you’re asking. Whether or not she’s right, that’s a different matter.”

“So we’re sailing to Ligma, then. That’s the logical place to start,” said Necio. “Damn. It’s at least five days away if not more. Is he even going to last that long?”

“I told you,” Ruby said, “that I may be able to bring him around myself. If I can’t... well, five days is a bit much to hope for, especially since that’s just to the city. Then we have to traipse through a jungle full of warring Landers. I just don’t know. I’ll do my best.”

“I was kept alive through force-feeding for several years,” Morgan said. “We can feed him, can’t we?”

“We can try,” Ruby admitted, “but he won’t swallow. We would have to prop him up, spoon broth down his throat and hope it went down the right way and didn’t drown him.”

“Surely you can do that with magics, it’s simple enough wizardry. Make it go in his stomache.”

“Well, yes. Still, Morgan, you’re asking a lot.”

“He’s your prince. He’s your captain. He’s my brother. Of course I’m asking a lot. And you’re going to do a lot, or you’ll have to answer to me.”

“As I understand it, Archard, you weren’t dead, only asleep. This is an entirely different thing.”

“You said he isn’t dead.” Morgan ground his teeth at the title, but said nothing about it. If they wanted him to be the Shield right now, so be it.

“Well he’s not, exactly. His soul hasn’t left his body. But he is dead. No breath, no heartbeat, not that I can detect.”

“Captain, get us out of here. Lift your anchor or hoist your sail or whatever you do, but get us moving. This is going to be a very long five days, so we’d best get started right now.

“Ruby, if his body is dead, what do we do? Dead is dead, right?”

“It’s complicated.”

“I’m smart. Explain it to me.”

“If you two will excuse me, I’ve got work to do,” the captain said, but the two were already deep in technical conversation and did not hear her depart.

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


“Throw the hooks to her!” Emmy shouted. Stout ropes carrying strong hooks were thrown over the side of the Eleli Rei to land on the deck of the Pyria ship. Pulled back, they dug in to the railings and bound the two ships together.

The adult crew of the Lady swarmed over the railings and onto the opposite deck. They were met by more than twice their number of Pyria brandishing an array of weapons. The fight was brutal, but short, as Bartok closed with the Pyriate captain who ordered her men to drop their arms.

“All we want,” Emmy said patiently, “is the man who attacked our captain. Give him to us, and we’re done here. Where is he?”

“You’ve got the wrong ship. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Nice try. I’ll ask again. Where is he?”

The point of Bartok’s blade dug a little deeper into the captain’s throat.

“You’re not getting paid enough to die,” he muttered in her ear. “Can’t spend money when you’re dead.”

“In the nest,” she said. “He’s up in the nest.”

“Your loyalty is touching.”

“Roll off!”

“Not my type,” Bartok laughed. “I prefer a woman who’s sane.”

“Come on down, we know you’re up there,” Manty called.

Nothing.

“Any volunteers to climb up there and see?” Emmy asked. There was a silence all around, broken only by the splashing of waves on the sides of the sips. Emmy’s eyes narrowed.

“Chop it down,” she ordered. An axe was fetched and set to the base of the mast up which the assassin was hidden.

“You’re destroying my ship!” the Pyriate captain objected.

“Would you rather I burn it down?” Emmy asked. The captain shut up, but glared at the Lady’s crewman hacking away at the mainmast of her ship.

“Now I want you to think very carefully about the answer to this next question,” Emmy said. “Who hired your ship?”

“Him.” The captain nodded to the shuddering mast.

“And do you know who hired him?”

“He didn’t say, I didn’t ask.”

“Hired you in Kaihiri?”

“Yes. I told him we’d never catch up to you, but he said it wouldn’t be a problem. Turns out he was right.”

“Oh it’s a problem, all right. You’re losing your mast and your passenger over it. How did you get ahead of us?”

“I don’t know. I just sail the ship.”

“Not anymore, you don’t,” Bartok said with a swift plunge of his knife. “Who’s next in command? Anyone?” The mast creaked and groaned, the axe bit and hacked, but no one spoke. At last the huge timber gave way, cracking and falling sideways with a crash into the sea opposite the Lady. A man jumped from the rigging as it fell, diving into the water of his own accord. He sopped through the wreckage of the mast and sails toward the ship.

“Show me your hands,” Manty shouted to him.

“It’s not me you want,” the man said, dropping a knife into the depths. “I can tell you who hired me, he’s the one you want. Let me back on board and I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

The assassin was dragged back onto the deck of the crippled ship.

“Thank you,” he said, wringing out his long braid.

“Think nothing of it,” Manty said, “but there’s nothing we need from you but this.”

Before he could squeak, Manty took an enormous swing with her sword, dropping his head to the deck. It rolled overboard while the body fell twitching at Manty’s feet.

“We already know who hired you,” she told the corpse.

“Back to the Lady,” Emmy ordered. The crew retreated from the stunned Pyriates, taking their hooks as they went.

“Burn it to the waterline,” she told them, “and let’s get back to Ilsho.”

The ship was a pyre in the distance, and it turned the setting sun into beautiful colours as the Eleli Rei headed east, back to Zamburrha, Ilsho, and the body of their dead captain.

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


... guards hauled me easily to my feet and flanked me as I walked behind Laric quite under my own power. The glowerer stalked at my left hand looking for a reason to strike, so I was careful to give him none. We went along the corridors listening as we passed by thick doors to Laric’s recitation of the inhabitants behind them. I assumed - correctly - that I would learn more of them in greater detail as time went on.

I do not know to this day if my cell was chosen beforehand or at random, but at last we stood before it and the Enemy unlocked the heavy oaken door with a wave of his hand. It swung open at his word and we all entered. The light which shone about him in the corridors accompanied him inside, and thus it was that I first laid eyes on what was to become my home. What I saw was not heartening.

At least it’s clean, I thought.

“Of course it is,” Laric replied aloud, hearing my thoughts. “It’s as clean as you could wish for.”

“Or at least as I could hope for,” I shot back.

It didn’t rattle him in the least.

“Well I suppose it’s not up to your royal standards, Archard, but we common people must make do as best we can. I do hope you shan’t be too inconvenienced.”

Inconvenienced! I was nearly ready to weep and he knew it, but I refused to break down in front of the guardsmen. His use of my title nauseated me. In many ways it was worse than his insolent familiarities. He watched me a moment, and I imagined him drinking in my pain like a fine wine. His face was tranquil, a gentle smile gracing his lips, his eyes closed in purest contentment. At last he drew a deep breath, sighed, and opened his eyes.

“It’s a terrible waste, don’t you think?” he asked me. When he sensed my confusion, he added, “The soldiers. It’s a waste that they’ll die today.”

“For pity’s sake, Laric, you don’t need to kill them.”


“How is he?” Necio peeked her head in the door to check on Jasper.

“He’s still dead,” Morgan said, looking up from his writing. “Always the same. I want to thank you again for the paper. We used up all of ours on a project I was working on, and I’ve had nothing to write on for quite some time now.”

“What is it you’re working on, if I may ask?”

“My journal, sort of a diary. Making sure the last five years are not lost. A lot happened.”

“Jasper told me a little bit. Before he left, I mean. And in Kaihiri. Now here you are, so he must have succeeded. He was an amazing man. I can’t believe he’s dead.”

“Necio, he’s starting to smell. It’s been three days. Ruby’s slowed it considerably, but he’s clearly dead.”

Jasper’s skin was blackening, and there was a distinct, sweet odour about him. Necio went over to him and took his hand in her own.

“I don’t understand this,” she said. “He’s dead but he isn’t. Ruby keeps saying he isn’t. How can he not be dead?”

“I don’t understand it any better than you do, and she’s explained it to me at great length. I trust her, though. If she says he’s alive, then somehow under all that, he’s alive. Thank Quphic he’s unconscious.”

I’m not unconscious! Jasper screamed, but no sound came out. Ruby is RIGHT! I’m here, you’ve got to help me!

“There’s nothing we can do for him,” Morgan told her. “We just have to wait for this city and go find this lost temple of Ruby’s. If you’ll excuse me, Captain, I’m going to return to my work. It helps distract me from the current situation.”

Morgan returned to the desk and his papers.


“Pity? Oh yes, pity. I’m sorry, Morgan, but I fail to see how it applies in this case. Besides, I’m not going to kill them. I promised my Wildings sweets before I leave, that’s all.”

Tears must have stood in my eyes at this point, for he blurred and wavered in front of me, but not for long. In the haze before I could blink he disappeared, leaving me in silent blackness. I sank to the floor weeping, my face buried in my hands, but tears cannot last forever. My grief and pain were diminished not one whit, but at length exhaustion overtook me, and I slept.

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


I do not know how much time passed before I awoke. I lay still in absolute blackness, my face pressed to the cold stones of the floor, listening for the faintest sound which never came. At last I sat up, though I thought it best not to stand. I recalled noticing my cell was clean, but not much more. Laric has a truly hypnotic presence, and while we had spoken my attention remained on him. Now I wished to learn the dimensions and disposition of my cell, things which must now be learned in the dark.

Since I had no wish to stumble or fall I crawled about the room on hands and knees. When once I had found a wall I turned left and made a circuit of the room, counting until I had turned four corners. In one corner I found a pallet or mattress which I suppose was meant to serve as my bed. The only other items in the room were a set of chains embedded in the wall opposite the door and a plain bucket. Though the bucket was clean and dry, a faint telltale odour and some common sense easily explained its purpose. The room was larger than I had expected it to be. Over the course of those miserable years I calculated its size: seven and one-half by fifteen cubits, the door being in the centre of one of the longer walls. This became the limit of my world. To this day, when I pace it is fourteen-cubits-turn, fourteen-cubits-turn without needing even to count them out.

I’m not sure how long I spent exploring the room but it was nowhere near long enough before distraction failed me and my situation was bourne in upon me once more. The pain swung back and forth from physical to spiritual repeatedly. The guards were unquestionably dead by now, and had I the chance I would have begged even the glowerer for forgiveness. I never knew their names, but their deaths were on my head. They were the first, but far from the last who would die because of my crimes. Were it not for me they would not have become privy to knowledges they were never meant to know, nor subject to the Emperor’s little playthings, the innocent Wildings. The cut on my chest was slick with blood that would not stanch and it burned with a stinging pain that shot lances through my body when I probed it. I could not find it, but the diamond Laric had placed inside the wound was holding it open and could not be removed.

At very long last, I heard footsteps in the corridor and under the door a golden light flickered. Then a rattling, and that door opened, revealing two men, one carrying a drawn sword and a torch which blinded me with its brightness, the other a tray of food. Both had the grim look of men ready to fight. Their attitude softened somewhat when they saw I made no move to speak or rise.

“This’n the new one, da’n’t look much,” the tray-bearer said.

“Fac’n red fram crayin, it is,” said the second.

“Wouldn’ yer’n be?” the first replied.

“Yer, ah knows t’would,” answered the swordsman. He turned to address me.

“Now lissen here, son,” he said. “Let’s get some things strayt at the start. Firstus: you’m stayin here. Do’n get fancy notions of scamperin off t’home. Secondlike: do as you’m told or yer’ll be made to do as yer told. Unnerstand right now tha’m’s only one thing we can’t do to yer, and that’s kill yer. That leaves an awful lotta things we can do, and yer da’n’t wants ter knows. Thirdlike: do’n worry abat it. Behaves and yer’ll be trated good. We’n asn’t got time ter sits around hurtin’ yer all day fer fun.”

“That’s the way of it,” the first man said. “Here’s yer meal. I’d raccommand yer eats it, too, though Ya’Sret knows yer’ll please yerself. Yer’n fed once a day. The backet’s changed out once a day. Fer yer’n own sake, use it, eh?”

With these words, which I must admit seemed not unkindly spoken despite their gruffness and for all I had to wade through their accents which I have much simplified here, the two men left me with a tray of food and my own thoughts.

I had not expected much in the way of a meal, imagining that since I was here to suffer, food and the want of it would figure into that suffering, but I was wrong. The food was both plentiful and excellent. Daily I was to dine on good ales, breads, fresh fruits, strong stews and soups or cuts of meat. The food was varied and fortifying. There was no thought, for obvious reasons, of poison in my meals; death was my wish, not theirs. On that first day - or second, I truly could not tell - I finished my dinner and lay down upon the pallet, giving myself over to sleep.

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


Nights passed in those donjons - I cannot think of them as days since the only light was the torch bourne by men bringing meals. Everything was night and there was very little to mark the passage of time. The world was not entirely silent, for now and again there would come to my ears voices of other prisoners, some calling out for conversation, others screaming or sometimes, most eerie of all, a soft, even breathing sound which ought not to be audible at such a distance yet was as clear and precise as though the breather sat beside me. The little Wildings also made themselves frequently heard. What Laric had said of them turned out to be quite true, for they played, fought, laughed and sang like the most normal children you could hope to find at a midsummer’s faire. They lived without a care in the world and were innocent of malice.

Time makes even the most horrifying seem common place, and I admit I grew to love the Wildings. They were quite charming in their own way, a trait they shared with their creator. It is lamentable that their intellectual growth ceased where their bodies’ growth did, and I was unable to get very good conversation out of them. Nevertheless they were quite curious about me for awhile, clustering outside my “box” and asking...

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


This can’t be happening, Jasper thought. It must be a dream. He tried to move but couldn’t budge. In the background he heard Ruby and Morgan’s voices, discussing what was to be done. Morgan sounded extremely angry, Ruby exhausted. No, don’t argue now, I can’t have you at each other’s throats. Just get me out of this, what’s wrong with me? You’ve got to stop bickering and help me!

Jasper’s efforts were in vain. He could feel nothing, and since his eyes had closed, he could see nothing but dim light through the lids. He was, however, listening intently to what Ruby was saying. I’m not dead, I’m still here! he tried to shout, but nothing happened.

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


“They left?” Emmy was not happy.

“Yes, they left yestreday.”

“Why didn’t they wait for us?”

“I don’t know,” the Rian said, “but the Shield left specific orders that you were to catch up to them as soon as you could. They’re going to Ligma with all speed, but the Lady can...”

“Yes, we can catch them, that’s not the point. What in the world could have possessed them to leave when they knew we were coming back?”

“Let’s go find out,” Bartok said.

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


... and asking incessant questions without waiting for answers as children are wont to do. Not one of them had been beyond the confines of the donjon and had only the vaguest concept of the world above. What they primarily came for, what kept them returning again and again, was the songs I was willing to teach them. It was professionally gratifying though not too surprising to learn that none of the other prisoners were Freelanders; my songs were all new to the Wildings, from the simplest nursery rhymes to the sacred songs of praise to the gods. When they took up the notes of a prayer to Vatha, the stone corridors echoed like her temple on the Island during a High Service. At those times I could almost feel her presence around me and I would weep at the illusion. Vatha was not there.

I began to adjust. The miasma of fear and pain, the endless dark and unnerving sounds all grew commonplace eventually. My world contracted to the inside of my skull as all actions took on the quality of dreams.

He was watching me of course. A day came - or night, a moment perhaps - when my meal was brought as usual, and as usual I turned my face from the light to protect my eyes. When I heard the door shut, however, the light was still there. It shone red through my closed lids and before I could decide what to do I heard movement behind me. He was there.

“Good morning, Morgan.” The Emperor spoke in a bright, cheerful voice.

“Is it?” I said. “I hadn’t noticed.”

I was trembling and he knew it, but I refused to acknowledge it. The world outside came crashing back into my mind and I began to panic, wondering -

“She’s fine,” he said. “More than fine, in fact. Everyone simply adores her at court. Her pale skin has started a whole new fashion, women are bleeding themselves to look like her. None of them come close, of course. Your sister is an exquisite beauty, but you already know that.”

“Please let her go home; she’s not a part of this.”

“Oh but she is, Morgan. She’s a part of you. Don’t worry about her pain, there is none. The pain is all for you. She has no memory of you, she’s having the time of her life with her adoring and ever-attentive cousin who is her only living relative. You had forgotten about him, hadn’t you? Everyone forgets about him. Not anymore though. Brand is happier here than he has ever been. You see, here he -”

“Let them go!”

“They don’t want to go, Morgan, that’s my whole point. Your family is happy now, happy without you. What does Brand have to go back to, after all? Oh by the bye I hope you don’t mind I’ve taken the liberty of renaming them. ‘Brand’ and ‘Paige’ are such obviously Northern names, and it would doubtless raise questions even from them. Your cousin is ‘Erris’ now, and your sister ‘Opari.’”

My back was to the door, torch and him. I opened my eyelids a marginal fraction and looked down. I didn’t see the flagstones though; something was on the floor. The room was painfully bright and squinting through my lids it took a few moments before I realized what I was looking at: my hands, folded in my lap. I had quite forgotten that I was anything more than a mind, and it came as something of a shock to see my own body. I willed my hands to move and saw them obey my thoughts. It was an astonishing sensation. Then the torch sputtered and flared, and I squeezed my eyes shut again.

“‘Erris’ is the Erlayan word for fire,” I said. “Speaking of which, could you put this one out?”

“Does the light bother your eyes?”

“It does, rather.”

“Good. The little things are sometimes the best.

“I decided not to change your cousin’s name because there was really no need to. It’s a name here as much as there. Your sister on the other hand... who in the world would name a princess ‘servant?’ False humility, I suppose, but it doesn’t translate at all. To me, however, she is a true gift, so I call her ‘Opari.’”

“A gift? You abducted her, you monstrous bastard!”

“She leapt into that portal of her own free will. Took me as much by surprise as it did you. And Brand. Gods, he’s so forgettable, so utterly inane. They both chose to come with you, I had no interest in either of them. I’ve done more evil than you can imagine, my young friend, but it irks me senseless to be accused of crimes I didn’t commit. Haven’t I caused enough pain in this world without people making things up, or must I do more?”


“Morgan? The Eleli Rei is here. You’d best get up on deck. Emmy looks furious.”

“Alright, I’m coming.” Morgan laid his quill aside and stoppered the ink bottle. He gathered together his papers and tucked them under one arm.

“What in the Depths do you think you’re doing?” he heard Emmy shout over the water. “You stole our captain!”

“Only temporarily,” Necio shouted back. “The Shield is in a hurry and couldn’t wait.”

The two ships drew up alongside each other and Emmy boarded the Blue Swallow.

“Calm down, Emmy,” Morgan said, coming up on deck. “We knew you’d catch up, and here you are, so what’s the problem?”

“The problem is what if something had happened along the way?”

“It didn’t. Besides,” he said under his breath, “are you saying the crew of the Swallow is incompetent?”

“No of course not, it’s just that - well we were worried. What happened?”

“Jasper’s dead. It’s very complicated. Would you like to see him?”

“Dead?” she yelped. “You mean dead as in dead? No, because then you would have given him a decent burial. What in the name of God is goi- no, just take me to him. Obviously it’s complicated.”

“Brace yourself,” Morgan said as he led Emmy below and back to Necio’s cabin. “It’s a bit shocking, but Ruby assures me he’s... alright. Sort of. In a not alright kind of way.”

“Emmy,” Ruby said, coming out of the cabin as they were heading in. “Morgan, are you really sure it’s a good idea to let her see him like this?”

“You can’t keep me from him, you haven’t the authority,” Emmy said.

“Of course I do, young woman,” Ruby replied. “But I’ll defer to the Shield’s judgement.”

“Well I think she should see him,” Morgan said mildly. “She’s got to see him eventually anyway. You don’t think she’ll let us go ashore without her, do you?”

“Yes, alright, good points both. Come on in then, Emerald, but beware: he’s not a pretty sight.”

They went in, and the hardbitten Emmy blanched at what she saw.

“I’m doing my best to keep him fresh, but there’s only so much one can do to stop the process. We’re going to be hard-pressed to fulfil the prophecy if he begins to rot.”

“Wh- I don’t- proph- what?”

“Excellent questions, all,” Morgan said wryly. “And ones to which I’m not sure we actually have the answers. It seems there’s a prophecy of a place that can cure anything, but it’s both lost and invisible. We need to find it, and that will restore Jasper.”

“But he’s d-dead,” Emmy said. “How can you cure death?”

“He’s not dead,” Ruby repeated for the thousandth time. “He just looks it. Alright, I know it looks pretty convincing, but I’m asking you to believe me: he’s not dead. His soul is still in his body, and as long as that lasts, he’s not dead. I’ve seen enough corpses to know that.”

“She’s right, he’s alive,” Galen said, coming up behind them. “It’s the most peculiar thing. How did this happen?”

“Poison. Something called ‘yarorgero,’ are you familiar with it?”

“Not in the least. Is it Zamburrhan?”

“We don’t know, but it would make sense if there’s a cure for it here.”

“You really believe that prophecy?”

“Well the alternative is to give up,” Ruby said.

Don’t give up, don’t give up! Jasper thought as hard as he could. God, someone, can’t you hear me? Galen? Can you hear me?

“What do you think he would want?” Emmy said.

I want to live! Jasper shouted. Please, can’t someone help me! Don’t give up! I’m here!

“I think he would want to see it through to the end,” Morgan said. “We all know how stubborn he is. If there’s even a chance to save him, we have to take it.”

Emmy nodded.

“Let’s get him back to the Eleli Rei,” she said. “He’ll be more comfortable on his - is he comfortable? I mean, does he know what’s going on?”

“I don’t think so,” Ruby said. “I haven’t felt anything from him except the presence of his soul. No emotions or anything like that, just his presence. He can’t hear us, and he can’t feel anything.”

You’re wrong, you’re wrong, he shouted. I’m here, and I can hear you! God, please let them hear me, please let them know! But nothing happened. The conversation continued on around him oblivious to his pleas.

At length they moved him back to the Lady. The crew had been warned, as much as possible, but the sight was still shocking. He was moved to his cabin and placed in his bunk, Brand being moved to a cot nearby, objecting every moment.

“You’re evicting me from my bed to put a stinking corpse there?” he said.

“Shut up, Brand,” Morgan suggested.

The next day found the Eleli Rei sailing into the port of Ligma.














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