Chapter Two: Land



by

Josie Beaudoin







Watches were set, and everyone still awake settled down to sleep for the first time in this foreign wilderness. The night passed without incident, and the sun rose as it always did, as though this were a normal day in a normal world. For the survivors of the Eleli Rei, it was anything but.

The majority of the survivors were Rian, of course, and their entire world was shattered. The previous day had held more terror and loss than they could understand, and they were still reeling from the events they had witnessed and heard. The sea was only something to look at now, they had lost their captain, their friends and family, their ship - all gone. For the Landers, the shipwreck was startling and frightening, but the Eleli Rei had not been their home, and its loss was not felt so keenly. The baby was what they mourned.

And some of them could function despite their grief. Morgan pulled Galen aside to have a quiet talk with the hunter.

"Galen, I want you to lead me to Jasper," Morgan said as people picked at the leftovers from the night before.

"Magister, I will do as you say, of course, but I am not sure it is the best course of action. He was more than distraught yesterday, and I do not see that changing anytime soon."

"You mean he's acting like Paige," Morgan said. "Well too bad. We don't have the time for him to collapse, he's going to have to put his grief aside for now. There's work for him to do."

"As you say, Sir."

"Good. Have you eaten? You have? Let's go now. I don't want to waste any more time."

He beckoned Kemen over to his side.

"Kemen, I want you to keep an eye on everyone. I don't think there will be any need to do anything, but try to make sure no one does anything reckless or stupid while we're gone, would you?"

Kemen nodded solemnly, looking over the bedraggled crew. It was unlikely any of them would even move, much less cause trouble, but you never knew with people.

"Good. We're off, then. Galen, lead the way."

Galen moved off towards the tree line, Morgan following him. They might have been any two men going for a morning's walk back in Lyridon, Morgan mused, but he was afraid, and as he was beginning to be able to read people without his Vada, and he believed that Galen was afraid too. They entered the forest and Galen took a moment to get his bearings.

Jasper's pain stood out sharply in the quiet woods. Galen set out for the source, Morgan impatiently trailing close on his heels. Galen moved quietly, but Morgan stepped on twigs and shuffled through the undergrowth. By the time they neared Jasper's tree, he already knew they were there.

"Go away," he said. His pain loomed large in Galen's Vada.

"Jasper, don't be ridiculous," his brother said. "Whatever you're going through, we have work to do, and you're needed. Galen tells me you're hurt, and you'll be of no use sick or even dead. Now come down out of there at once and let Galen see to your wounds."

"I am dead," came Jasper's voice from among the leafy branches. "I broke one promise and have no way to fulfil the other. Leave me alone, I say."

"I can't, and you know it," Morgan said. "We're bound together, you and I, and I have things to do. I need you by my side, no matter what happens or has happened."

"I can't, don't you understand that?"

"No. And I don't have time to listen to an explanation, either. Just get down here."

"No. Leave me alone."

"You know I can climb trees almost as well as my sister. If you won't come down, I'm going up. Whatever you've gotten yourself into, we're in it together."

"Damn it, Morgan, leave me alone!" Jasper's voice began to rise in irritation.

"Not a chance. I hope this is a comfortable tree you've picked."

Morgan lifted his long arms up and swung onto the lowest branch with ease. Though he was not a strong man by any means, there was not much weight to lift. It had, of course, been many years since he had climbed a tree, but he managed well enough. He peered up into the branches to find his brother. Jasper was sitting two or three branches up, his back to the trunk. Morgan climbed until he was on the branch just below Jasper's, and with Morgan's height that put them face to face.

"Hi!" Morgan said cheerfully. He quickly looked Jasper over and saw several cuts and bruises, but he said nothing.

"Go away," Jasper said, exasperated.

"You said that already. Can we talk about something else?"

"Like what?"

"Oh, I don't know, just anything. Everybody's been so depressed and sad and scared, it's getting quite dull. Let's talk about something pleasant."

"Like what?"

"Well your view is nice up here. It's very ... leafy. And if you look around you, there's nothing but leaves in every direction. Did you know you can't even see the shore from here?"

"Yes."

"Ah."

"Was there anything else you wanted to discuss, or can I be alone now?" Jasper asked.

"Oh, you can't be alone," Morgan said. His voice was exasperatingly happy. "We're brothers, remember? Nothing will ever come between us. Aren't you hungry? Galen caught some very good something or other - I'm not sure what it is, but it tastes good."

"I'm not hungry. Go away."

"Why are you so down this morning?"

"I thought you didn't want to know."

"Well if there's anything I can do to cheer you up again -"

"No. There's nothing. Will you please go away now?"

"No, but we can sit without talking. I've got nothing pressing going on today."

"Morgan," Jasper began.

"Shhhh! I'm being quiet!" Morgan seated himself on the branch he had been standing on and settled into a silence. Jasper looked down at him and shook his head in resignation.

"Go on then, suit yourself."

"Shhhh!"

The two brothers sat together in the still forest. Galen stood leaning against their tree and, for lack of anything else to do, examined the two men's emotions.

They were both in turmoil, Jasper too angry and Morgan too scared, to say what they really felt. Over the months, Morgan's pain at being powerless had faded from a sharp, searing stab to a constant dull ache. He was beginning to learn to call on his training without letting the pain overwhelm him, was starting to be able to use the knowledge and skills he had learned as a magician and apply them to ordinary life. Morgan had more resources than he thought, Galen mused, and those resources could be used for much more than magic. Morgan was a formidable man, even without his powers. He was slowly learning that for himself of necessity.

Jasper Galen had never felt so broken, not even when he had learned of the slaughter of the decoy teams in Kaihiri. His pain manifested itself in a burning anger, at himself, at the world, everything. Galen could detect a thread of nihilism in the Rian, but he thought he knew Jasper well enough to dismiss the likelihood of suicide. He stood calmly at the base of the tree and waited for the two men to resume their conversation.

Perhaps an hour passed, the quiet of the forest broken only by the scurrying of squirrel-like creatures and the calls of strange birds Galen had never seen before.

"Damn it all, Morgan, why can't you leave me alone?" When they came, the words, softly spoken, were more plaintive than angry.

"Because I love you," Morgan replied. "You're my brother and nothing in the world can change that. I'm not leaving you, and you're not leaving me. We made an oath, remember?"

"Of course I remember. It was more than an oath."

"So I'm going where you're going. And if I recall, you're going to my home, which is convenient for both of us."

"I can't do it, Morgan. I can't go to Lyridon. Surely you haven't forgotten all you know of Rian law. You never forget anything."

"Well you'll have to help me with this fine point, because I'm not understanding it. Talk to me. Why does your crew call you an Oathbreaker? What am I missing?"

"Reina," Jasper said, his whisper barely audible above the sighing of the trees. "You're missing Reina."

"Everybody misses her," Morgan shifted on his perch.

"But not everyone is responsible for her death," Jasper said. "Only me."

"That's where you lost me," Morgan said. "Don't you think the Mer had something to do with that? You were in that water causing all kinds of mayhem, but you couldn't be everywhere at once."

"No," Jasper said, and his voice came out strangled with tears. "No, I could have saved her. I didn't. I chose to let her die. It's my fault she's dead."

"And no one -"

"No one else was close enough. I chose, and broke my word when I did. I'm an Oathbreaker, Morgan. I'm no longer Rian. I am forbidden to sail again. This land is my home now, I cannot go to Lyridon, it lies over the ocean."

"Jasper, I'm still lost at it being your fault. What oath did you break?"

"I swore never to allow anyone to hurt Reina."

"But surely that is beyond your control?"

"It wasn't yesterday. Don't you understand? I chose to let her die. I allowed someone to hurt her. Deliberately."

Morgan was silent for a while, then he softly asked his brother, "Why?"

"To save you!" Jasper shouted. "I couldn't save both of you, I had to choose. I chose you, brother. I chose you over a helpless baby. You're alive today because I broke my oath to Paige! I only had so much time, and I had to make a choice, and Reina is dead because of that choice! I knew she was going to die, and I did nothing to stop it. I turned my back on her and swam to you instead."

Galen could feel Morgan's shock as the situation finally sank in. Jasper's turmoil was as sharp as it had been for two days, and the last part of his speech was muffled by sobs and hiccoughs. At last, Morgan spoke again.

"But if you hadn't saved me..."

"Then I'd be an Oathbreaker, because I swore to bring you home alive or die trying!"

"Well you can still fulfil that, can't you?"

"Not as an Oathbreaker, I can't," Jasper snuffled into his sleeve. "I can't sail, and Fremere doesn't connect to Avyn, so I can't get you to Lyridon or anywhere else. Which means I've broken two oaths, because I've no way of fulfilling the word I gave to your family except to die."

"Alright, now you're getting a little extreme, don't you think?"

"No, it's perfectly logical."

"Maybe to a Rian, but I'm not a Rian, and it doesn't make sense to me."

"I'm not a Rian anymore either," Jasper said, his voice mournful.

"Then perhaps you need to stop thinking like one," Morgan offered. Jasper looked down at him in shock.

"What do you mean?" he demanded.

"Well, if you're not a Rian, then you're a Lirydoner, right? Of course you are, you're my own brother. Now what Rian would be unchivalrous enough to refuse passage to The Shield's brother on a quest?"

"All of them, when that brother is an ex-Rian Oathbreaker," Jasper said, the light dimming from his eyes.

"Well there has to be some answer to this riddle," Morgan said, "and we're going to find it. I'm not willing to stay here forever, and I don't think it's where you want to be, either. No," he said, interrupting Jasper before he could say a word, "I'm not talking about what you believe is right, I'm talking about what you want. You don't want to be here, do you?"

"No, but I -"

"Then we find a way around it. If there's one thing Carak taught me, it's that there is always a way to do something, you just have to reason it out. He loved presenting me with riddles, and I loved answering them. This is just a riddle to work through, and I intend to do it."

"Morgan, you're crazy. There's nothing in Rian law that allows for it."

"But I'm not a Rian. Now hush, let me think."

Again, the tree fell silent and the sounds of the forest resumed. Galen, patient as always, waited while his master thought. At last Morgan spoke.

"I can't think like this," he announced. "My belly's empty and I'm thirsty and there's a branch jutting into my back. I'm getting out of this tree. Will you come with me?"

"I'm not going back to camp, I just can't bear to see the looks on their faces."

"Who said anything about camp? I just want out of this tree. Galen, can you procure some food and drink for us?"

"Of course, Sir." Galen set off in the direction of the shore and was soon lost to sight in the trees.

Morgan climbed down from his perch, followed clumsily by Jasper. Morgan reached the ground and looked up at his brother's progress. It was slow going, and he seemed to be having trouble holding on. As he came to the last branch, Jasper fumbled, but managed to make it look like a trick acrobat coming down from a swing.

"You're hurt," Morgan said. It was not a question.

"Not much, I'm just stiff from sitting up there all night."

"Jasper," Morgan said, exasperated, "anyone, even me, can tell that your arm is not working. When Galen gets back we'll see whether or not it's broken. If you've done more damage to it by climbing around in the trees like a squirrel, I'll have your hide."

"You can have it," Jasper told him. "Though I warn you, it's not worth very much right now."

"Just stop, alright? Please."

Jasper sat down on a rock with an exaggerated growl of frustration. Morgan hid a smile watching his brother's actions. It might take a lot of persuading, but Morgan had no intention of allowing Jasper to stay on Fremere when there was work to be done back home. He thought about home for a moment then, and nearly threw himself on a rock in frustration too. What could he offer? What would he be facing when he arrived in Lyridon with no powers and no way to stop the Enemy? It would be so easy to give up, for both of them, but Morgan could not allow that. When he regained his senses, Jasper would not allow it either.

They sat together in silence until Galen returned like a ghost from the woods. Over his shoulder he carried one of the large rabbit-like creatures, freshly killed.

"We'll make a fire when we get to your new camp," he said to Jasper.

"My new camp?"

"By the creek. I've got no way to carry water. So we'll find you a nice spot by the stream up here in the woods and you can be alone and in as much comfort as any of us are. They won't come looking for you even if they know where you are, so by the creek is as reasonable a place as any other."

"It's a good idea," Morgan said. "Could you take a moment and look at Jasper's arm though? I think he may have hurt it worse than he's letting on."

"It's broken," Galen said without even looking at his patient. "It'll have to be set."

"Sometimes I really hate magicians," Jasper said. "Can't a man suffer in peace without someone probing into his mind?"

"Not with my apprentice around, you can't," said Morgan. He flinched inwardly, the old complaint against magic making him want to disappear in a puff of smoke, but he held his ground. There was no smoke for him to vanish into anymore. He was not the magician Jasper grumbled against today. "Come on, let's go see your new campsite. Galen's probably already picked it out and everything."

"I found a good spot I think you'll like well enough," Galen said. "It's not far, but we'd better hurry so I can set your arm. It's already been left overnight, and I wouldn't want it to heal crooked."














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