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Kumquat 2, Black Raspberry 14

Author: rustydragonfly
Challenge: Kumquat 2 (Everyone's got to start somewhere), Black Raspberry 14 (When in Rome, do as the Romans do)
Toppings: gummy bunnies (origfic_bingo April card: diplomacy)
Wordcount: 1270
Rating: all ages
Story: Manifestations
Summary: The boys make their case.
Notes: Been writing MFS so long I've forgotten how to write a character who doesn't have bad intentions for the boys. But I promised myself I'd try and put out at least one plot related piece per week so things would actually keep moving here.

(not that he doesn't like messing with people a bit.)



Jen hadn't slept nearly as soundly as Dhaymin. He'd woken with the groggy, half-dazed head of one who'd stayed awake too long, with barely a few hours to crash before the day resumed around him. But he remembered far more than Dhaymin, at the same time. He remembered being told he'd have to present his case to the lord of this city - Ardea, or so he thought his name was. A case that would determine if he and Dhaymin had a safe spot for winter, or would freeze on the road again.

It wasn't his idea of a safe place. He'd thought he'd had enough of lords, since Koiski. Oh, he counted himself among them, yes, but on a pure technicality. There were rankings among lords just as everyone else, all the way to Fellstar's grand house, and beyond even that. Next to them, what were they? Dhaymin, the technical heir of a scrap of frozen forest, and Jen, his younger brother whose very name hung on his elder's acceptance.

He'd never been this hemmed in since his time with Koiski, either. He'd expected to be led upwards, into open, clean air, where a lord might gaze over his city, but instead, their guide led them downwards, into the heart of what he assumed was the central pyramid. He knew this only from memories of being led inside that morning, which was also the last time he'd known the time of day. It felt as if he'd slept until the evening, well after sundown, but here there was no knowing. The people of this land did not place much value on timepieces, and he'd been left cut off from the world, lost without the sun or moon.

Down and down they went, through pale stone walls that tilted inwards, creating ceilings narrower than the floors, as if the whole structure were waiting to collapse in on itself. The air lay still, warm and dry from the torches. Jen felt swallowed in the earth, forced into solemn silence. As always, his gaze drifted, his eyes focusing on the walls, carved as they were with looping bird-figures, their necks twisted like snakes.

And at last it opened out again into a vast circle, a cavern in this network of carved tunnels. The light felt dimmer now, as though stretched to accommodate the space, leaving the vault in darkness and the edges in shadow. But in the centre, lit up, lay a raised, stepped platform, and upon that...

Jen had expected a throne, something huge and magnificent. There might have been one in the past, as the platform's surface appeared ragged, as though something had been pulled from it and not a lot of care had been taken in doing so. Instead, two figures sat upon the broad stone, one appearing to in the middle of a book. At their approach they set it aside, as the brothers’ guide made a quick gesture of offering before leaving without another word. The reader spoke to the other, words that Jen couldn't make out, and offered their arm to the other to let them stand. It was then that Jen recognised them.

It was the older man and woman from the lakeside, where the crowd had parted to let them pass. Lord Ardea, and his wife, in thinner robes than before, but still heavy clothing in the cold of the room. His dark silver hair was tied back now, framing his brown face and pale eyes - but Jen knew before he even got a look at them, that Ardea shared something with Dhaymin after all. It was in the way his wife walked close, in the steady, testing motion to his feet. He was blind.

Realising, with a sudden stab of guilt, he'd nearly forgotten Dhaymin despite him having been right by his side all along, he gave him a quick nudge in the ribs. "We're here," he whispered. He froze for a second, not sure what to do. Would it be disrespectful to make the gesture of offering, if the recipient could not see it? But of course there was not just Ardea to greet, and Dhaymin, unaware of their host, had already done so - and there had been their guide, too. So Jen followed suit, and waited.

"Good evening," Ardea said, as he came closer. "I hope you dreamt well."

"Very much so," said Dhaymin.

"I am glad to hear about it," said Ardea. "A very nice fall, too," he added, and Jen realised the remarks weren't meant for him anymore. "I'm told it was a little theatrical, though, but I think you had a lot of people fooled just then."

Jen felt his blood freeze. Ardea was smiling, and if his eyes hadn't been that blank, sightless white (what had happened to him, he wondered? Certainly nothing that had happened to Dhaymin), he'd have sworn the older man was looking right at him. Dhaymin, he thought, why did you have to do that? We could have negotiated right there and then! Even now, after rest, warmth, and food, his body still ached, his joints still sore from exertion, his mind still fuzzy. It would have made no difference.

"You needn't worry about it," Ardea went on. "I've known people take unusual measures for a warm place to stay. You weren't the worst of it."

Jen scrambled in his head for words, and sighed in relief when Dhaymin spoke for him. "We're sorry," he said. "We lost our father in the south, a long time ago. We've been looking for him ever since."

"And we," put in Ardea's wife, "have no way of knowing if you tell the truth."

Shit, Jen thought, don't bring up the rest of that story.

But Dhaymin, much to Jen's relief, spun out a story without any more imaginary dead lovers. If it had meant to be a joke, it had fallen so flat even he'd noticed, not to mention stirring up a few unfamiliar thoughts inside Jen's head. He mentally scolded himself for thinking such a thing. At a time like this! It had always been a flaw of his. “Concentrate on what is important,” people told him, and his mind drifted to tiny, inconsequential things. He stared at a floor tile, covered with interlocking grooves. They'd been different on each floor, another thing he'd noticed while, all around him, Dhaymin and their hosts discussed why they should be allowed to stay.

"Please," Ardea said, holding up a hand, "stop. You don't need to continue. Whatever you say to me, I have no choice but to take you on. Consider my other option a moment. What would that make me?"

Jen opened his mouth to say "But..." and then closed it. It would be just like him to speak out of turn and ruin it all. He looked back at the floor, studying the grooved tiles, and left the talk to his brother.

"Of course," Ardea said (and he was smiling again, Jen noticed, when he looked up), "there is always a catch, but I will find you some work."

"Work?" That snapped Jen out of his floor contemplation. "Oh well... of course." It wouldn't be any different to the odd jobs he and Dhaymin had performed on their way here. The way he'd phrased it, though... he hoped, to whoever might be there and listening, that he wasn't dealing with another Numbers. The world barely needed the one.

(You ruined that as well, said a voice deep inside him.)

"Yes, work," Ardea said. "So tell me, both of you, what are you good at?"

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
bookblather
May. 28th, 2012 03:22 am (UTC)
DDDD: Poor Jen! He seems so... so unhappy with himself, constantly, and Dhaymin is only trying to get them a warm place to stay. Poor kids. I'm glad at least Ardea seems kindly disposed towards them.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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