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Unlikely Allies: Last a Thousand Years - Part Two


by schefflera

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Jeran spent most of the next few days in bed, feeling more injured in soul than in body. Lisha fretted over his low spirits and tried to cheer him up; it never quite worked, and he couldn't quite bring himself to explain why, not yet. He wanted to believe that it was the same sick feeling that had kept King Skarl quiet... but he wasn't sure if he did.

     He was strong, though, and his injuries had healed enough by the time the week was out that even downheartedness couldn't keep him from being restless.

     He found himself wandering the corridors, remembering that foolish young cub who'd fallen through a portal and wound up in a land straight out of his dreams. A regal young king in a castle, his honorable knights defending the adoring people from all dangers. One knight in particular who'd taken in that wide-eyed cub and taught him what it meant to be a knight. The honor, the sacrifice...

     ...Which knights exactly had been involved in the theft of the orb, Jeran suddenly wondered with a sick twist of his stomach. Darigan could tell him... if he really wanted to know.

     And what would he do, if he didn't like the answer? -- Or rather, what would he do when he had it? There was no answer he could like, not now. There were only different degrees....

     He found himself heading outdoors and staring up at the citadel once he'd left the courtyard. It looked less malignant now, and he couldn't tell if it had changed visibly or if the difference was all in his mind.

     There wasn't much point to staring at it, even if he did decide he wanted to ask questions. He couldn't exactly just climb up and knock on the door.

     Jeran almost missed the flicker of motion as a figure in black left one of the windows and spread leathery gray wings to glide toward the ground. It flitted sideways at the last moment, landing unexpectedly close, and looked almost as startled as Jeran felt.

     "Lord Darigan." Jeran was surprised at how...normal he sounded. But then, the latent heartsickness was probably toning down the necessary surprise of having someone land at your feet, and vice versa. "Come visiting?"

     "Sir Jeran." Darigan took a half-step back and bowed. "Apparently so, though I confess I wasn't expecting to find you here. I nearly didn't see you, I'm afraid."

     "As long as you did in the end, that's all that matters." Jeran returned the bow, remembering a time when that didn't feel like a completely natural way to greet someone. "How are your people adapting to the new peace?"

     "We are... working on it. Kass had been rather successful at working them up, I fear." And the resentment that had made it easy didn't go away quickly. Darigan planted his staff on the ground, though he didn't really lean on it. "I think in most ways it's a relief for all."

     "It's a relief to most when there isn't war."

     "Generally speaking, yes. Are you well, then? You look better than when last I saw you."

     "...I'm well, thank you. Just...feeling nostalgic today. Wandering the castle and remembering when it all felt new and...exciting."

     Darigan gave him a slightly perplexed look. Jeran wasn't sure whether it translated to 'You aren't making sense' or 'Why are you telling me this?' "You seem young for nostalgia," Darigan said at last.

     Jeran shrugged. "It comes and goes."

     "In its nature, I think." Darigan gestured vaguely northward with his staff. "If you feel up to walking further? I don't wish to be rude, but I came out mostly to stretch my legs and wings."

     "With the exception of 'wings', I came out for the same. I'm just well enough to be restless."

     "Aah. You won't mind then. Wings might have been useful a few days back, hm?" Darigan's own fluttered slightly and spread for a moment before settling as he began to walk.

     "Maybe, if I'd been able to use them by the time I fell," Jeran said wryly, joining the Darigani leader. Darigan set a pace not difficult to keep up with, but vigorous enough to start to churn out the restlessness. "But I fear a Lupe with wings might look...odd."

     Darigan glanced at him sideways with the faintest hint of a smile. "I know quite a few. Didn't you see any of them?"

     "...No, I must've missed that."

     "I'm surprised you didn't happen to fight any."

     Jeran shrugged. "I can't say why I haven't, sorry."

     "Chance, perhaps." Darigan dismissed the vagary in question with a flick of his wing. "Now, what of this nostalgic phase? I was under the impression that if anything there had been rather too much excitement lately -- but then, once it becomes wearing, I suppose I could imagine missing when it wasn't."

     "I'm not missing the excitement. I've had QUITE enough with falling out of citadels, thank you. Just... as I said, thinking back to when this all seemed new...."

     Darigan looked curious. "From the tales of you, you must have been training since you were a cub."

     "I was. I...was adopted by the king's most trusted knight." One Skarl would have sent on a mission he thought necessary for Meridell's survival? Jeran felt sick again. "He started me on my training."

     Darigan gave him another sideways and slightly sour look -- or was that Jeran's imagination? Then he looked fully at him, frowned openly, and stopped walking. "You don't look well, Sir Jeran. Are we going too fast?"

     "No. No, I'm fine."

     "If you're certain."

     "I am. Thank you."

     "...Very well." Darigan resumed his walk northward.

     Jeran sighed. "And since you're here, I...wanted to apologize. For the things I said during the negotiations."

     Darigan turned to him again, ears sweeping back in surprise. "You were quite effective, I thought," he said formally after a moment's searching.

     "Except when I accused you of being...mistaken, when I was the one who didn't know what I was talking about."

     "...I thought you seemed to believe what you were saying."

     "I did. That would be where the 'didn't know what I was talking about' part would come in. I was the one mistaken and..." Jeran swallowed hard. "All of Meridell owes you and your people an apology for what we did to you."

     The shock plain on Darigan's face did nothing to make Jeran feel any better. "I wasn't expecting one," Darigan said at last, quietly, "but I appreciate it. Particularly given how long it took me to realize that most of Meridell did not deserve the vengeance I wanted to take for it." A faint, sad quirk to the corner of his mouth. "And that my people didn't deserve the price we paid seeking it."

     "None of our people deserved what happened. And I...I honestly thought none of our knights could have caused such pain to your people. Least of all knowingly. I still...don't think they knew the result it would cause. But...I don't think they would have cared. They were certain our people were doomed without it."

     Darigan looked suddenly very weary. "I no longer think I can say for certain how much of what befell us was from losing the orb, and how much was from bargains ill-made in the desire to retrieve it, though at least I can say the damage had started before the latter began. I am still angry -- you saw that, I think -- but there's nothing to be gained from it now."

     "...No. There isn't." Jeran sighed. "But that doesn't make the feeling go away."

     "When you asked after how my people were adjusting to the new peace, and I said we were working on it," Darigan said with an answering sigh, "what I did not wish to say at the time was that there's still... much resentment, not least because Meridell didn't seem to suffer from losing the orb." A wry smile. "The other side of that, however, is that I get the impression being able to trade in your markets is considered one of the main benefits of the treaty."

     "It will be good for our people too," Jeran replied distractedly. "...My lord, you said you'd -- you could describe the knights who came to Darigan originally."

     The change of subject, though abrupt, was absorbed after only a short pause. "I could. ...I have not seen them since coming here."

     Jeran would have preferred that he HAD. "...It was many years ago. The knights who went then could be dead or retired by now."

     "Entirely possible."

     "There is...one in particular I was wondering might have been involved."

     Darigan eyed him curiously. "As I said, it's possible. What does this knight look like? Or did, I suppose."

     Jeran winced. "...Describe the ones who... took the orb, please?"

     "A white Kougra, a yellow Krawk, and a red Eyrie. Very stern, very proud, and very fierce, they seemed at the time. Mounted on white Unis, with blue eyes; I can't think of other features to describe, though I do believe I would recognize them."

     "...A white Kougra?" Jeran had to turn away from Darigan for a moment and squinch his eyes shut tightly. He remembered the jokes too well, that Sir Togran wanted to be sure he stood out in the ranks of the knights, and scared off any other white Kougras who came near. Togran had confided laughingly once to a young Jeran that it was just happenstance, but no other white Kougras would try now, so it worked out the same in the end....

     WHY did it have to be Togran?!

     "Sir Jeran?" Darigan's hand on his shoulder made him jump; Jeran realized on opening his eyes that they'd walked farther than he would have expected, and the concern in Darigan's voice might have had something to do with the fact that he had just been narrowly prevented from walking into a tree.

     "...I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention." Jeran shook himself slightly. "I just -- never mind."

     Darigan let this pass without argument and looked ahead again. "It was not so very long ago," he said after a moment, "that General Kass was one of my dearest friends, and most trusted. Of course you know that he was among those who stood up to me when I had gone entirely mad.... He made only the same mistakes I did, but I tried to free him and call him back, and failed."

     "I realize that everyone makes mistakes. But...sometimes...you wish otherwise."

     "With all your heart, and with all that is in you."

     "...Exactly."

     They walked in silence for a while then; by the time Darigan spoke again, they had almost reached the tongue of sweet-smelling richer green that spilled out into the forest around Illusen's glade. "Whatever else he did, and whatever I may hold against him," he said slowly, "...I think I might not be mistaken in saying that Kougra raised a good cub."

     Jeran looked at Darigan quickly, startled. "I--" He stopped short and forced himself to chuckle very slightly. "I suppose I was hardly being subtle. ...Thank you."

     Darigan flicked an ear in acknowledgement. "Not over-subtle, no."

     "He was a good man, and a good knight. I don't know the circumstances around taking the orb, and I can't excuse it even for him...but it was still only after that I met him, and he was a good man then."

     "Are you expecting me to argue with you? I won't. There are... many things I've done that I could not have imagined in my youth, and that leave me heartsick now. And I rescue Kass dolls from garbage heaps in the citadel, for the sake of the good I knew of him." In a slightly different tone, Darigan added, "I fear it disturbs Galgarrath."

     "...I can see why," Jeran said slowly. "And I didn't expect you to argue. Just...something I needed to say, I suppose."

     "It isn't an easy thing to hear about him for me, I confess... but then, I spent far too long blinding myself to anything other than that we had been wronged. I'm... deeply grateful that those in Meridell who are innocent of this seem willing not to do the same."

     "No one wants war. No one sane, at least. It's a necessary evil sometimes, but if we have a choice between peace or holding a grudge...well."

     "Then you are wiser than I was for a very long time." Darigan's ears pricked forward. "It took a child's kindness, and forgetting everything else, to teach me better."

     "...A child's kindness?"

     Darigan's smile was a softer expression than Jeran had seen on his face yet, if a bit rueful. "I still have no memory between being ringed and defeated in the citadel, and finding myself with... no memory to speak of at all, near a cornfield in Meridell. I... some farmers and I mutually managed to terrify each other, at some point, and then an Usul girl found me hiding in her family's barn, and looked after me."

     "...I mean no insult to her, but what possibly possessed her to do that? You weren't exactly a stray to be taken in!"

     "For all I knew I was -- but honestly, I have no idea why she did it, though I'm very grateful."

     "Strange child. But fortunate for everyone, if that's what helped...change your mind."

     "She was trying to coax me out to evacuate with the rest of them -- and I have no idea what she would have said to her parents if she'd managed it, either -- when one of my own soldiers, or Kass's at the time, grabbed her." Darigan shook his head. "I lost my temper. His comrades called me by name, and afterward I remembered...."

     "I imagine it was quite the shock to THEM, if nothing else."

     "Er... while they were conscious, yes."

     "Which probably wasn't long." Jeran smiled a bit. "It was enough of a surprise for everyone here when I came back to life, and I wasn't 'dead' for nearly as long!"

     "I think I missed it entirely, in fact."

     "We seemed to have missed each other. I was rather surprised to hear YOU were back."

     "Frankly," Darigan admitted, "so was I."

     "You were there for more of it than I was."

     "Yes, and I'm still not entirely sure what happened. Not all of it, at any rate. I believe I gathered from Danner that I arrived on the scene shortly after you fell."

     "Almost immediately after, I believe. Excellent timing."

     Darigan's mouth twitched. "I'd think you might have preferred shortly before, really."

     "As long as Psellia had better timing, I can't complain."

     "...Who?"

     "The air faerie who caught me, hence the reason I'm not dead."

     "Ah. Very helpful of her."

     "I certainly thought so! But as far as the battle goes, your timing was very good."

     "I try." Darigan looked briefly pensive, then shook it off and added, "As far as the negotiations afterward, so was yours."

     Jeran chuckled softly. "Thank Danner for that. I just acted on his report."

     He got a sidelong look for that, with a hint of amusement. "Yes, and I still don't think I believe he told you anything quite as politely neutral as you both insisted."

     Jeran smiled blandly. "Knights never lie, my lord."

     "And how long has it been since you believed that, Sir Jeran?"

     "...Since I was a cub, my lord, and I still believe it." A faint, sad smile. "But even the truth can have...many shades to it."

     "HM" Another wry look. "Well enough. I'll hold my tongue next time; there was little call for that."

     A shrug. "You're entitled to your opinion, and I don't blame you for having a poor one of us."

     Darigan's steps slowed a little. "And yet I have no evidence that you, specifically, have ever behaved without honor, and can't say the same for myself," he said seriously.

     "...I try. I...always felt I had a great deal to live up to. Togran. And...well, not being from Meridell to start. You always have to be better than the natives if you come from outside."

     "I wasn't aware that you were from outside Meridell. They certainly claim you with great enthusiasm."

     "Well, I've been here since I was a cub. And I was adopted by the knights en masse, really."

     From the abrupt twitch of Darigan's ears, he didn't find that an attractive prospect. "How did you get here on your own?"

     "Fell."

     "...That seems to be a problem for you."

     Jeran chuckled. "It wasn't quite as long a drop."

     "From where?"

     "...I'm not sure if you'd believe me if I told you. A long when from here."

     "A long when," Darigan repeated, blinking. "Strange. Then again, I hear they found dinosaurs living happily down an ice crevasse, so perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised."

     "I've learned not to be surprised at anything, since I fell through a hole in some bushes and wound up in a land out of legend."

     A faint smile. "You sounded surprised about Sally. Or perhaps just incredulous."

     "Perhaps just a bit surprised."

     "I'm still... not entirely certain what I'm going to say to her." Darigan sounded uncertain, too. Jeran thought of calling the tone shy, but found it too incongruous. "Thank her, presumably. Possibly apologize for hissing at her."

     "I'm sure she forgave you for that already, if she was trying to, ah, rescue you from Kass's soldiers." Jeran had to try hard not to laugh.

     "She was remarkably patient." Darigan eyed him and then chuckled slightly himself. "Don't strain yourself, Sir Jeran. I know precisely how absurd it sounds, and was."

     Jeran shrugged. "There are stranger things." But he was grinning broadly now.

     "Indeed there are. Such as falling from a long when away, no doubt." Darigan tilted his head back to look upward, toward the citadel, with the dark clouds still clinging to it but -- perhaps -- beginning to fade. "I shall visit to pay my respects to Sally and her family very soon... but for today, I still have far too many things to do." He hesitated. "I am... glad to have spoken with you, Sir Jeran."

     "I'm glad to have spoken with you as well, Lord Darigan." Even if it had made him confront things he would've rather stayed safely unknown. "Perhaps...it's not only our kingdoms that can become friends?"

     Darigan looked back at Jeran with a surprised smile. "I would like that." A pause, and the smile quirked at one corner. "I'll try to avoid giving anyone the impression befriending a knight of Meridell means I've lost my mind again. I'll... drop in sometime, if I may." He glanced back toward the castle and frowned slightly. "Will you be well for the walk back?"

     "I'm tougher than I look, apparently. I never thought so, but everyone seems to think I'm ridiculously fragile now." Jeran's voice was very dry. "I'll be fine. And if it's insanity, at least it'll be seen as a mutual one."

     "You look reasonably durable, but I don't wish to be accused of testing the matter." Darigan grinned toothily. "Enjoy the rest of your walk." He took off then, catching Jeran only slightly in the downdraft from his wings.

     Jeran watched him go until the lord of the citadel was only a speck in the sky. He would never have thought even a week ago that he would have suggested the possibility of friendship to Lord Darigan, of all people, but he sensed that they had more in common than either realized.

     ...And who knew? If they could manage a friendship, perhaps their kingdoms could as well.

     Friendship that would last a thousand years.

     *****

The End

 
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