Back Together /chapter nine – Into Norwood – Emperors and Exiles trilogy book 1

 

 

Shannon

Shannon

Chapter Nine                          .

Back Together

There was no doubt that Jamie was not well. He was as pale as Oirion had ever seen him.  He sat in a chair bathed in the sunlight that poured in though great windows. He wore a plain white wrap that belted around the waist.  His long curls were tamed with a fresh bath and likely some sort of conditioner that only a Purtan court would have. His head was bowed, his hands limp in his lap.  He looked to be a thousand years old. Feeble was the word that came to Oirion’s mind. Oirion wasn’t even sure how to approach him.

Oirion had been further healed and purified by a very skilled woman.  Even with that, he could not forget the touch of Shannon on him.

Oirion had slept, had bathed, and now wore a very fine robe.  It was a soft blue hue with incredible silver embroidery on it.  He never wore robes as an adult unless saying a mass and that was rare at best.  It felt odd to be dressing as a prince here… or anywhere.  Still he had grown up in robes and wore them well, but oddly, it made him feel uneasily exposed.

He chose the chair closest to Jamie and sat carefully, not sure if Jamie was asleep or not.  Jamie’s hand twitched, but he didn’t look up.

“They said a healer was going to see about your ribs,” Jamie said softly, his voice so weary it hurt to hear him talk.  “They do an alright job?”

“Yes.  She was very skilled.  How are you feeling?” Oirion leaned back in the chair and smoothed the length of robe over his knees.

Jamie slowly lifted his head to look at Oirion.  The fact he had been crying was very obvious in his swollen red eyes.

“I thought you were dead,” he said as explanation.  “I made some mistakes.”

“I didn’t ask about that.  I asked if you were okay, if you were going to be okay.”

Jamie shrugged a little. “I don’t think my lungs will ever heal fully.”  He pulled open his blouse to show his chest and a scar that looked like a morbid star clawed and burned into his skin.  Oirion noticed the horrid scar less and the fact the healer’s hands trembled and struggled with the simple task of closing his robe again.  “That will never go away.”  He let the fabric fall closed, not bothering to make it neat.  “Why did they help either of us?”

Oirion folded his hands in his lap. “Because I am the Line of Von Valreen.  They didn’t want me to just die.”

Jamie almost smiled. “I want to believe you, that it was that simple, but I’m not stupid, Oirion.”

Oirion smiled faintly. “No, it’s not that simple, but that’s the core of it.  I just want to know you’re going to be okay.”

“I’m alive.  I possess my own soul as of yet, but that’s about all I have.  I don’t think I am even a priest anymore and while I can still feel you, I don’t think I will ever be able to draw on your priesthood again.” His head bowed as if with the very weight of it. “Something has changed.  The bond is altered.”  He gripped his hands in his lap.  “I made mistakes, bad choices… I am so sorry.”

“Hmm.  I’ll worry about that later, maybe; right now I’m just glad you’re alive.  The rest can be fixed, healed, or dealt with.”

Jamie lifted his eyes to his partner.  “You’re a good man, Oirion.”

Oirion smiled.  “If you say so.”

They sat together in the sun, saying nothing.  Both of them had a great deal on their minds and neither wanted to talk about any of it.

They were both sitting there when Gallus entered, wearing the robes of a cardinal, looking rather impressive in the scarlet and gold. He was clean-shaven, his hair combed smooth and long, his Purtan bloodline suddenly very evident.  It all gave him a handsome strength he did not have with the beard and weighted robes he had worn before.

He took a chair and pulled it over to join the two other men. “Well, I just got done talking to the Regent.”

“About?’  Oirion asked.

“The demon rings in Brosten.  He is going to talk to the King about it.  He thinks it is serious enough to warrant the King’s direct involvement.  How are you two doing?”

“Fine,” Oirion said, trying not to rub at his arm.  It burned from the deal he had made, as if Gallus’s presence aggravated it.  He kept his hands folded to hide the mark that ran past his thumb under the wrist of his robe.

“It seems that we are likely to be staying here.  From what I gather, the idea is that we will live here in Ammen-Rah.  I will go and talk to the arch-cardinal here and see how I will fit in with the Church here.  Its sort of exciting to think the Church here is as it was before Gerome.

“I think they plan to have Jamie teach at the university and Oirion…” he shrugged.  “I think they expect you to do whatever you damn well please.”

Jamie chuckled.  “He normally does.”

“I was thinking, though, we might consider having a place together.  I just think it would be a good idea, for now at least.”

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Jamie said.  They all sat together with nothing more to say, soaking up the light of the sun as it crept across the fine polished wooden floor.  The beam of light had traveled across the floor and up the far wall when the King of Norwood entered the room.

He was truly a stunning man.  He was unmistakable, if you knew it to be him, but he did not seem to be the man whose likeness hung on church walls the world over.  He looked so like the images of the saint the church claimed him to be yet there was a vast dark power to him, a sense of cold strength that was instantly intimidating.  He wore a robe of dark green, so dark it seemed to shift into black.  He wore not a single piece of jewelry and his hair was bound back as if he was ready to go to war at any moment.

Oirion and Gallus both got to their feet as he silently crossed the room.  Oirion struggled with memories that flooded him and emotions that swung from love to hate and back again.  He stood rooted in place as the tall Purtan walked to Jamie.  The blonde man tried to get up, but the King motioned him to stay put and offered him a book, opened to a page.  Jamie took it in shaky hands and looked at the page before him.

“Do you know what that is?” the king asked in the Purtan Whisper that made his voice quiet and hid all magic and energetic signature.  In the age of the empire past, all royal people were expected to always talk thus as a show of humble wisdom and compassion for the less powerful.

“It’s a Demonic Ring,” Jamie said, glancing up from the page and back to it.  “I’m not sure, I don’t know enough about it, but it could be what was in Brosten.”  He looked up to the king.  “That’s what you wanted to know, right?”

“I had planned to let you recover, but if that is what you saw in Brosten, we will have to go there,” he said to Jamie, looking him over as if deciding how many aids Jamie would need.

“Why?”  Oirion asked.  “What is it?”

Shannon slowly looked over at Oirion with a cool calm that was as a cold and unmoving as a glacier.

He turned without an answer and headed for the door with a grace that seemed unnatural.

“I hate that man,” Oirion grumbled.

“Oirion!”  Gallus objected.  “Do you know who you are talking to?”

“Perfectly,” Oirion growled.

“It is possibly a Gatherance Ring.  They are used to draw the blood of the Great Ones into a single pool.  When enough is gathered, it can be poured into a single soul.  If it works, if the soul can endure it, he becomes a god and those in his ring become arch-angels or the equivalent,” Jamie said softly.  “It’s bad, Oirion.  Really bad.”

“And?”  Oirion asked.  “Why do you think it a good idea for you to go investigate now?” He called out as the King reached the door to leave them.

Shannon stopped in his tracks and turned around to look at him. “Because, Oirion, this is very bad.  I suspect those being used are the bloodlines of the angels and if that is the case, it would possibly give the would-be-god access to the Wells of Purt.  This is very old magic, back to the War of Old!  This was – is – Razzan!”

“Very bad?  Gerome is very bad.” Oirion challenged him back.

“We are going to Brosten,” the King said.

“You want to fight Reapers?”  Oirion demanded.  “They are out there.”

“I can protect you well enough.  In fact they might not even be able to read you any more.  Energy has changed and they do not chase faces.”

“I do not want to travel with you.  I’ll stay here.”

Gallus and Jamie exchanged a look that was curious as to what they had missed.  The two men clearly knew each other and were used to arguing.

“You have no choice and you know that,” Shannon said.

“Oh, yes I do!”

“You might try to test that, but Jamie has no choice and I am taking him with me.  You get too far from him and he will likely die of a heart attack.”

“You cannot make him travel right now.”

“I am rather certain he would risk his life to save the souls of every one alive right now.  Like it or not, Oirion, your partner is one the smartest men in the world right now.  His help in needed.”

“He is sick!”

“It’s alright, Oirion,” Jamie said.  “He’s right; I want to fix this.  If I can help, I will.”

Oirion threw his hands up as he snarled in exasperation.

“I am going as well, then.”  Gallus said.  “I know Brosten better than anyone and I know the sites and the way to find any new ones.”

Shannon looked at the priest. “I cannot promise to protect you,” he said.

Gallus smiled with truly amused smile.  “It’s flattering to think you assume any power I could not handle on my own would bother with me when you  are right there?  Why catch glass beads when there are diamonds in the same bowl?  Besides, I think Jamie could use me,” he added seriously.  “He will be very vulnerable for awhile.  I do not think he should be without a priest.”

Shannon looked at the man as if measuring his intent.  Gallus did not look away from the ice-blue eyes, but met them.

“Very well,” Shannon said softly. “Do not prove to be as bothersome as Oirion; he is all my patience can endure.”

“I have better things to do with my energy then argue with you, of all people in the world,” Gallus said seriously.  “When do we leave?”

“In a few hours,” Shannon said and left them.

“How in the hell do you know Shannon?” Jamie asked Oirion once the man was gone.

“Misfortune,” Oirion dropped into the chair with a scowl.  “Bad luck; maybe God has a morbid sense of humor.”  He grumbled under his breath.

“You just stood there and argued with the King of Norwood…. are you insane?”  Jamie asked.  “Do you have any idea what he is?”

Oirion gave his partner a sharp look.

“No, Jamie.  I thought he was a farm hand.”

“I am curious,” Gallus said. “Why does the King of Norwood, Prince of Crouse, allow you to argue with him?”  He truly sounded curious and amazed.  “And why do you call him Shannon?”

Oirion looked at the man before him.

“Does it matter?”  He asked, angry at the whole thing.  He could not even recall the number of times he had been asked why he got away with such things.  He still had no real answer for it.  There was so much involved with the memories he had just regained and a lot to think about. Shannon never had to put up with Oirion and yet he had from the start.  Why?  He had no idea.

“Yes, I sort of think it does,” Jamie said.

Oirion looked at his partner, torn over how to answer that and the truth of his burning arm.  He knew more about Shannon than any soul alive, except maybe Gerome, he reminded himself.  He couldn’t help but shiver at the thought.

“I am Oirion Von Valreen,” he mocked, “for whatever the hell that’s worth.”

“Apparently its worth a lot,” Gallus said.  “Not just anybody gets to argue with the Prince of Purt.”

It was less than an hour when they were led from the hall where they sat.  Three men came in and lifted Jamie, chair and all, to carry him down the hallway to a small locked room. Shannon waited, dressed in black leather, chin to toe.  His hair was bound back in a braid, changing his appearance from cool to cold.  He waited for them at a wooden door.  He looked them over, almost as if he was going to say something, but changed his mind and simply opened the door to the dark beyond. He motioned to them to go through.  Oirion almost snarled, but when the other two hesitated, he went first.

He stopped at the threshold and looked at Shannon, wanting to say something, but there was nothing that came to mind.  He turned and stepped over the dark line.  There was a moment of no air, of cold, and pressure.  Then he was in a small wooden room with no windows and two small doors.  A single lamp hung from the ceiling.  Gallus was a step behind him, followed by Jamie and Shannon.

Shannon shut the door they had come through and opened the one across the room.  Jamie staggered a step to a chair that was set there, waiting for him. It was all he could do to get to it before he collapsed.

“Shield him,” Shannon said to Oirion.  Oirion didn’t even ask, but snarled at himself for not doing it sooner; he knew better.  He shielded himself and Jamie as tightly and completely as any shield he could hope to build right then.

The chair Jamie had dropped into was buily with wheels, two larger ones on the side with a smaller one in the back.  Gallus knew it at once and unlocked the wheels and took the grips of the chair.

“I got him,” Gallus said.

“I’m sorry,” Jamie said, truly upset and troubled by his condition.

“You will recover quickly, if not deeply.  I need you on your feet,” Shannon said.

Jamie nodded, his head in his hands. “If I can gain redemption, I will do whatever I need to do to attain it.”

Gallus patted his shoulder before taking hold of the chair and pushing it forward. Shannon nodded and moved toward the door and opened it.  He held it for the others to pass through into a narrow hallway.  The smell of food and smoke met them. Shannon stopped Oirion in the door as he moved to follow Gallus and Jamie.

“Keep your head, Oirion,” he said softly before following Oirion through the door and into the hallway that led to the stairs and the tavern below.  Gallus paused at the foot of the stairs and measured the room a moment before he chose a table and pushed Jamie up to it.  Oirion followed him, not certain why, but not about to make a scene.  Without a word Shannon took a seat as well.

“It is funny to think really how many friends I have had in my life that at some point I have snuck into bars in such a chair.” Gallus chuckled and waved to a staff member.  The man walked over drying his hands on a worn out towel.  “A pitcher of something dark and thick; mugs for my friends,” he said with a gesture of his hand.

“Aye,” the man said and walked away.

“Do we have time for this?” Oirion asked, not certain why they had stopped here.

“I was thinking,” Gallus said.  “Magic is magic and if the trouble is as bad as it would seem, then they are watching for someone of enough power to cause trouble to show up.  Now if I was watching for such, the last place I would look would be right under the portal used to get them into the area.  You would watch the doors and track the paths of those leaving, not those staying.”  He looked to Shannon as if for conformation. Shannon was watching something else across the room, though, and seemed to pay no attention to them at all.

“Shannon,” Oirion insisted, “where are we and why?”

“Babic,” Shannon said, not looking over at Oirion.  “It’s an easy way beyond the Barrier of Norwood.” He glanced at Oirion and switched languages to that of the land inside the Barrier Shield where they had once traveled together; no one here was about to understand his words.  “Gallus is right; it’s why we didn’t go to Brosten.  There are a lot of dark magics and powerful things here in this tavern as well as in all of Brosten that confuse the sort of scans he’s talking about.  We are being watched though.”

“By?” Oirion asked.

“I haven’t located him yet, but he tagged onto Jamie as soon as we entered the hallway.  He’s close, in the city, but is using the same magics and confusion we are using to stay hidden.  Stay close to your partner and keep him shielded.”

“Why would anyone have a tag on him?” Oirion asked, not comfortable saying his partner’s name, letting him know they were talking about him.  For whatever reason, Shannon didn’t want the other two to understand and Oirion had to respect that.  He hated to admit it, but he trusted Shannon to do nothing without good reason.

“Likely the same reason he had an abyssal leach in his soul, Oirion.  Stay close to him and tonight sometime you and Gallus need to do some healing and purification prayers with him.  Just… don’t do it when I am in the room.”

“You think I’m stupid?” Oirion demanded at that. Shannon should know him well enough to know he was aware that such an act would be very straining on Shannon and his magics.

Shannon lifted an eyebrow at him.  Startling Oirion more than anything, Shannon suddenly smiled.

“No, Oirion, you are many things, but you are not stupid.” He shook his head, got up from the table and left them as if he was headed out the back to the privy.

“What was that about?” Jamie asked.

“He is paranoid about being found out,” Oirion said.  He shook his head.  “He is worried about your ability to go unnoticed.”

“I’ll be on my feet by morning,” Jamie promised.  “I might be a little slow, but I won’t be in this damn chair long.”

“Good,” Oirion said as the pitcher was brought to the table.  “The sooner you’re up, the better.”

Jamie nodded.

Babic was a large city just south of the border of Norwood in the kingdom of Forli.  Ancient as any city could be in Purt, it was built on the ruins of the past and bore the magics and the marks of a place that old.  It was also set on top of several ancient magics that not even the Church could wipe away.  For that reason it had become a sort of hiding place for the magics that had been outlawed and put under such tight control of the last few centuries. It was a dark side of the way Purt had once been.  The city was deemed unsavory by the church and the crown of Forli allowed it to be almost a city state under the direction of three governors.

The city was left alone for the most part because of the poverty, it’s nearness to Norwood, and the fact that the church could never hope to control it. Oirion stood at the window of the inn room they had taken for the night and watched the street below through the filth that was coated on the glass for so long that he could barely see at all.  He didn’t like the city and he didn’t like being hunted, having Jamie hunted, or being anywhere with Shannon.

Worse though, he was bothered by the fact Shannon was not back yet. He wanted to be rid of the memories of the past, of the friends he had lost, of the wars he had fought… of Shannon.  He could not get past the ache of loss for the company he had once traveled so far with.  He knew without a doubt that Shannon would have ordered their minds blocked as well and for the same reasons.  It wasn’t done for any reason other than their own safety.  If Gerome had known for certain they were allies of Shannon, it would have been very bad.

“If you’re not going to shield your thoughts from me, you might try to at least make them coherent enough I can respond,” Shannon said over Oirion’s shoulder so softly it was almost a whisper, but not quite.  Oirion hated him.  The man… no, the demon had snuck up behind him on purpose!  He aimed the thought at Shannon as clearly as forcefully as possible.

“You get that?” Oirion asked as sweetly as he could. Shannon didn’t step back, but actually put a hand on Oirion’s shoulder.  Oirion felt it like the roll of thunder, exciting and terrifying.  He knew his own reaction was due to the relationship of magics they had been forced to share and that Shannon was a vampire, among other things.  The touch held more; Shannon was causing Oirion’s shields and energy to shift in a way they never could alone. Like yellow blending with blue to make green, both Shannon and Oirion were affected so neither could be seen as themselves by any scan seeking them. His own instincts were blurred in the hum of the magic of the city and he knew it.

“Hold onto that as long as you can, Oirion.  It will make this easier on both of us,” Shannon breathed, almost as if he didn’t want to say it.  He stayed a moment longer and then was gone, leaving Oirion feeling suddenly exposed and cold as if he had just had a blanket pulled away and left exposed to a chilly room.

He turned and watched Shannon pick up a pack and staff he had left at the doorway.  Oirion caught the glint of light off of Gallus’s eyes from the bunk where he supposedly slept. He felt a little uncomfortable thinking the priest had watched the exchange between Shannon and himself.  Gallus had to have seen how very close Shannon had stood and the fact Oirion had not objected.  It felt as if something very intimate and private had been exposed.

“You have a plan?” Oirion asked Shannon out loud, not taking care to let the others sleep now.

“I have train tickets and we leave soon,” Shannon said as he tossed a small pack to Oirion and set the staff against the side of the bunk.  “Help Jamie get dressed while I order you something to eat.  The kitchen should be up by now.”

Oirion watched him go, trying not to grumble about fate as he turned to Jamie.  He hated to wake him, but a train was not going to wait.  He sat down on the bedside.

“Jamie,” he said softly, “you need to wake up.”

“I was dreaming,” Jamie said sleepily.  He chuckled a little. “For a moment we were home and all the last 11 were years nothing but a dream.”

“Where is home?” Oirion asked.

Jamie pushed back the blanket with a heavy sigh. “It’s a small cabin in the woods, far up a mountain slope, hidden by magic and stone, and smelling of herbs and leather soap.” He gasped in pain as Oirion helped him up, but he kept moving.

Oirion pulled the clothes out of the pack Shannon had thrown to him and helped Jamie change out of the robe into something finer and softer, but far more sturdy.  It also came with a long hooded cloak that was stunning in its own way.  It was a dark thick grey wool with stitched design on all the edges, set with small beads here and there.  It looked plain at a glance, but the closer one got, the finer it was.  Oirion draped it around Jamie’s shoulders.  Jamie caught his breath with relief.

“Oh, wow,” Jamie whispered, “that’s impressive.”

“What?” Oirion asked.

“I don’t know what sort of magic is in it, but there is something powerful.  I can feel it.” He took hold of the staff and stood upright.  He looked at Oirion a moment as the room slowly began to grow lighter with the coming morning. “Did you sleep at all?”

“Not much; a lot on my mind.  I’ll sleep on the train. Ready?”

Jamie nodded.

“I’m awake,” Gallus said, rolling up from the bed.  He rubbed his eyes as he grabbed up his own cloak and boots.  “I’ll be right behind you; go on down.”

Oirion let Gallus get ready while he walked down the flight of stairs with Jamie to the tavern below where the food was being brought out to the tables. Shannon looked Jamie over and nodded as the man sat.

“Better,” he said.

“Yes,” Jamie agreed.  “Thank you.”

“On the road you must be a Lord,” Shannon said.  “Let us help you through the next few weeks.  It is the best cover we can get.”

Jamie nodded, but said nothing more.  He allowed Shannon to dish him up the breakfast of flat bread and soft eggs.  Jamie started to eat before Oirion and Gallus did. Shannon took nothing, but sipped a small cup of tea.  No one said anything as they ate and they said very little as they walked slowly to the train station.

Once the trains of Purt had run to nearly every city and allowed people and goods to get from coast to coast in a matter of a day, not the several months it now took. Only a few trains still ran at all and they were sadly run-down.  Where once the trains had rushed along in silence, with running water and heat or cooling for all, they now groaned and creaked, clanked and rattled down the tracks. The very magic needed to keep them running at the speeds they were designed for were long made illegal outside the priesthood, and the skill to work those magics lost but for a few books that survived in forgotten attics and workshops.

To make matters worse, there was now a harsh division between the races.  A slow-growing hatred had been build up for those of Purtan decent.  All problems were blamed on them and so to be Purtan was a good way to be treated very poorly.

The weather had spun into a blast of winter with bitter wind rushing at the train from across the Forli plains.  This little train was worse than many, but at least it wasn’t too crowded.  Here noone wanted to deal with anyone and they were all left alone to huddle together in their booth.  Their breath steamed in the air as the train rushed along.  Jamie curled up as best he could and fell asleep against the wall.  Oirion stared out the window with his mind swirling over everything he had forgotten and had lost, but wasn’t sure he recalled clearly.  Dreams became real and the lines blurred.  He hated Shannon.

Gallus had closed his eyes and slipped into prayer with his prayer beads in his fingers.

Oirion dreamed of a train ride.  The train rushed in near silence.  The warm hum of the car’s well-balanced magics in tune with the earth and the stars was like a lullaby in his head.  He was comfortable with the sunshine coming in through the window on him.  The world was good.  He opened his eyes as a presence joined him in the compartment.  In the doorway stood his apprentice, Annwa. She smiled as she leaned against the door frame.

“You looked peaceful; I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Just soaking in the sun,” he said.  He looked out the window as the ripe fields rushed past.  They were almost there and the city would soon come into view.  He sat up and smoothed his long robes as his apprentice joined him and took a seat across from him.  She was trying to hide how excited she was, but was having a hard time doing so.  She had never been invited to an imperial court before and to be there for the wedding of an emperor was something impressive and rare indeed.

“You are very calm about being back in the city.  It’s been awhile since you were in Ulam Bac,” she said.

“Hmm, several hundred years, I should think.  The Empire of Purt is very stable, my dear, the magics as old as many races.  I do not think much will have changed.”

She laughed a little, but her smile fell away at once when her fellow apprentice rushed into the cabin, white as a ghost and tear-streaked.  She fell to Oirion’s knees trying to catch her breath.  He could feel the magics on her of the seers.  Whatever she wept of, it had been a vision and he didn’t even need to ask.  He could feel it in her, like the cool power of the darkest stretches of space. He gave her time to recover, smoothing her hair until she could talk.  She lifted her eyes to him, shaking her head.

“It is doomed,” she said and started to cry again.  “Pride and jealousy will kill one son and make the other damned to hell.  I cannot go, I will not go.  I will not bless this marriage when the Emperor’s heart is of possessive lust, not of love and partnership.”  She held her face in her hands and began to sob.  Oirion lifted her face and offered her his own calm soothing energy.  Her fear was real, words failed her and he knew it.  The reality of her magics and the politics of the world did not always work well together.

“I want you to breathe deeply,” he told her warmly.  “Put your thoughts in order.  Scattered fears accomplish nothing.  Break it down into something I can hold.  Then try again.  However, it is not the place of a young girl to challenge the Emperor in his actions.  I will take your vision; I will hold it and I will bear the weight of it.  I can go before him and make demands and say thing you could never get away with.  I am your master and you must trust me.  Recall, my dear child, that all vision is simply an option for the future: not all of it and not even absolute.  Think what is coming and how you can change it, for you have already set much in motion just saying what you have to me.  Your influence on the moment and on the future is as great or small as you wish; you just must learn how to apply what you have.  Use the right tools, don’t try to push the boulder over with your hands, find leverage.”

She calmed and nodded.  Closing her eyes she stayed on her knees, not about to just get up and let it go.  She applied his advice at once.  Slowly she began to speak.

“Should it come to pass as it has been shown to me, the last son of Armond sits on the throne.  Poisoned by pride and angry, he shall be the force behind the fall of the Empire.  Loyal servants shall become assassins; sons shall be let die, cast to hell.  Blessed child will be torn down, forced upon his knees for his father’s crimes.  Purt will fall at the hands of demons put in the hearts of the holy by the Emperor’s word.  The Holy Pontiff will watch his own blood run and be helpless to stop the darkness.  Purt will fall. Angels shall die and the albatross will fall from the sky.” She looked up into his Oirion’s eyes, calm and certain.  “The jealous desire of a man to own a woman but not to love her soul will set the world to war.  The demons circle now and will slip into his heart and turn him against what he loves most.”

Oirion felt a little ill and worried, but one thing at a time.

“Now child, think how you can change that, shift it, aid the world against it.  Open your heart to the universe and allow that power to come to you.”

She nodded and rose to her feet.

“Now, go wash your face, change your clothes; the city is here and we shall be there very soon.”

She left him alone with Annwa again.  Annwa looked to him with her cheer gone.

“You think she is right?” Annwa asked.

“True love will drive a man to risk his all for that which he loves, but when the love demands love back, it is not true.  If I do not find Tyrell to be in possession of true love, I shall object to his marriage.  You two will be there as my apprentices and your futures will be affected by this greatly.  You can take what I have taught you and stay there even should I go.  You will be free to become great and powerful, but if you stand up to him, it will not be met well.  Tyrell is a rash young man with a terrible temper.”

“I wish to have you always as my master,” she said.  She was no child and knew fully well he would not always be there.  He would leave them to live a life without the stain of defying the Emperor.

“You have enough to be your own master now.  You do not need me.”

Oirion knew it would not go well; he knew it so much he was there at once standing before the emperor.  Tyrell’s smile had gone from his face.  He stood before Oirion, stiff and eyes flashing with power.  Oirion felt his own heart harden against the man.  The rash temper and the childish show of power was enough to confirm the fears of the young seeress.

“Have you lost your mind?” Tyrell demanded.  “You are a guest here and you stand here to tell me that you do not approve of my choice?”

“I approve of your choice fine; I do not approve of you,” Oirion said with a harsh tone. Tyrell’s face flushed and his nostrils flared in his rage.  Oirion continued, “Your show of childish rage even now proves my point.  You are not ready for marriage.  You deny your advisors, you sweep around like you fancy yourself a god, and you think no laws of right or wrong apply to you.  I am unimpressed!”

“I am your Emperor!” Tyrell yelled, losing all self-control.  “How dare you talk so to me?” Power flushed and flashed out from him, whispering about the folds of his robes like lightning in the clouds.  “I have ruled this Empire for two thousand years and you think I do not have the wisdom to choose a wife?”

“This temper!” Oirion pointed to the floor before the Emperor, feeling his own anger rising.  “This attitude you hold will be the death of your sons!  You will tear this Empire down in your fits of rage!  You will shatter your wife and hand us to demons!”

“You go too far, Oirion!” the Emperor roared as lightning crackled and snaked across the ceiling.  “You are under arrest for treason!”

“You can’t arrest me!” Oirion snapped back.  “I have immunity so granted by your father!” He jerked his arm free of the hands of the invisible guards who were always present.  “Don’t touch me!”

“Get out!” Tyrell roared at him.  “Get out of my house, get out of my city and get out of this kingdom!  Go back to your tower and do not leave it!”

Oirion saw it, knew it and his heart broke.  He knew what was coming, the utter pain, the destruction of the empire, as dream and reality blurred and gave him all insight.

“You are a fool, Tyrell; you do not know what you have done.” He lifted his hand and opened a portal.  He would leave and leave now.  Back to his tower he would go and seek a magic to try and save the empire. Letting the power go, he opened his eyes to the rattle of the train and the ache of cold toes. Trying to move, pain exploded in his back and made him gasp.

Shannon opened his eyes from across the small space and looked at the man on the facing bench.  Outside it was dark, but a small candle lantern hung over their heads, swinging a little in the motion of the train.

Oirion felt caught between reality and dream.  He felt almost as if the train ride here was the dream, not the life he had in the dream that was fading away.  All of his life, Oirion had dealt with nightmares and dreams so vivid he woke confused and feeling displaced.  It was far worse when he was young.  It had gotten so bad Jamie had been forced to do a great deal of work on him to help his energies root to the earth after many of the dreams.

“How did you do it?”  Oirion asked.

Shannon didn’t react at all for a moment. “Do what exactly?” he asked.

“Make us forget, get me to the healer… I remember getting off the ship in Bonne Ev Erran.  Then I was in Krent.  How did you do it?”

“I gave the order to protect you at all costs.   I had no part in the details.”

“You have men that powerful under you?”

“Many.” Shannon closed his eyes again, as if he was going to go back into a trance.

“Then why have you left Norwood and why force me to go with you?”

“There are some things only I can do.  I do not leave Norwood without good cause.  Bad things tend to happen when I do,” he added.

“You’ve had warning something was very wrong, haven’t you.”  It was more a statement than a question.  Oirion’s comment was enough for Shannon to open his eyes and look at him again.

“Whispers and a few vanished operatives,” he said.  “You need to learn to listen to yourself, Oirion.  Sometimes those dreams you have are the energies talking to you.”

“That’s really something coming from a man who does not sleep for fear of his own dreams.”

Shannon almost smiled; the corner of his mouth twitched, but it went no further. “Careful, Oirion, I might forget to shield you against my dreams.   Then I won’t be the only one who does not sleep for fear of my nightmares.”

Oirion shook his head and leaned back into the cushion of the bench seat in an attempt to ease his pain.

“Don’t flatter yourself quite so much, Shannon.  My dreams are not of you,” he said turning it into a bitter joke.

“What do you dream of then, Oirion?”

Oirion fought down the shifting emotions that were always linked with dealing with Shannon.  Once his life had been so simple and he had felt he was doing a good thing, solid in his religion and self.  Then he had met Shannon and everything had begun to crumble.

“What do you know of Master Oirion… the man I was named after?” Oirion asked.

Shannon rubbed his hands together pulling the tight black leather smoother.

“Master Oirion was a friend of the house of Krent, advisor to the King Tyvallor and Godfather to Princess Elleshara.”  He sighed a little as if it was a difficult topic.  “He was a young man when Tyrone was emperor.  Years later when Tyrell was emperor, Master Oirion managed to so anger Tyrell that he was sent out of the palace the day of the wedding to the Elleshara.   Master Oirion was a very old man when the Empire fell and many think he was an early target, as he seemed to vanish from one moment to another.”

“What of his apprentice, Annwa?” Oirion asked.

“I do not know the details,” Shannon said.

“She had an affair with the Prince, TyHarren, Tyrell’s cousin. Tyrell banished her from Purt and denounced the unborn child.  Rumor is that Captain Elliot Sailor is her grandson,” Jamie said sleepily.  “Elliot is a famous pirate who is said to be quite a powerful wizard and in serious opposition to Gerome. He is on the list of Enemies of Purt… he and his son, David.”

Jamie made himself sit up a little, clearly still tired, but unable to sleep. He held his chest as he coughed a little.

“Really?” Oirion said, a little surprised and irritated.  He looked at Shannon with a hint of cold anger over-riding everything else.  “You didn’t know Dave’s grandmother was Annwa, huh?”

Shannon lifted an eyebrow at Jamie, either very impressed or quite annoyed.

“Was I not supposed to know that?”  Jamie asked, a little confused at the reaction both men had.  “I thought I was here because I can answer random questions.”

“Don’t you think you have sinned against me enough?” Oirion asked Shannon coldly.  “You going to add lies to it?”

“I have never lied to you, Oirion,” Shannon said.

“You didn’t know Annwa was related to Dave?”

“No,” he said.  “I was told she was a servant woman of no matter and never given a name.  Emmery did not even know his mother’s real name.  I might have suspected, but had no details.”

“You know the son of… that means…,” Jamie sat up suddenly breathless and excited.  If he was following their conversation right, he had just realized that it meant that the Line of Armond was not dead.

“Do not finish that,” Shannon warned Jamie.  “Oirion, you need to not talk… ever.”

Oirion grunted and shifted again. “You know I really hate you,” Oirion said sweetly.

“You keep saying it,” Shannon said as calm as ever and closed his eyes, slipping back into a trance.

“You do know who he is, right?” Jamie eventually asked Oirion, who was glaring out the window.  Oirion looked over at his partner.  Jamie looked much better, but it was hard to tell in the near darkness of the cabin.

“Yes, Jamie, I know who he is,” Oirion said firmly, tired of being asked that question.

“Really?  You know the truth of what happened to Saint Tyredelle?”

“I know,” Oirion said softly, almost seeking forgiveness of his partner for knowing as well as he did.

“I don’t understand, Oirion,” Jamie said softly, trying not to wake Gallus or rouse Shannon, either.  “I know because it was explained to me in Norwood, but how do you?  How can you sit there and talk to him like he is an annoying governor you’re forced to play politics with?”

Oirion shifted to turn from the window toward his partner.  He drew in a slow deep breath and tried to think how to explain it in a rapid manner that would not make his own tangled emotions boil up or leave words out in the open that demons might be listening for and could track.

“He was on the same ship that I was and we got blown off course and into a very unpleasant reality.  We were forced to work together for the sake of others and…” he had flashes of it, the boat, the demon, the magics, and the pain… he swallowed it down and forced his heart and breath to steady.  “Everything that has been wrong with me since has been because of my instinct to protect my company.  I acted without thinking and put myself in a very bad place.  I don’t want to… I don’t think I can talk about it more than that right now.  Most of it was blocked and I only remembered it all in the last few days… so can you just trust me that I know who he is better than anyone I can image.  It wasn’t explained; I saw it, I…” he shook his head and looked away.

“There is no reason he has to put up with you,” Jamie whispered.  “He is loved and feared in Norwood.  Feared Oirion; he isolates himself for a reason and it keeps men alive.  You push him and he can kill you.”

Oirion actually smiled.  “Keep in mind, Jamie, he is a vampire and if you travel with him you will be forced to turn a blind eye when he holds the soul of a man in his hands and draws his very life out.  Now you think how I was a decade ago and imagine for a moment how hard that would have been for me.”

“He always gets permission.  It’s in his own laws.”

“Permission under a lure is little more than raping a drunk girl,” Oirion whispered as Gallus shifted.  “Make no mistake… Shannon is very good at what he does and will kill without remorse, but he does nothing without good reason.  He didn’t kill me then; he won’t kill me now.  He let you into Norwood then and he saved you now.  He did not do that just to lose you.  You’re an asset to him and he will do what must be done to keep that asset on his side.”

Jamie studied Oirion’s eyes a moment, then nodded.  He could hear the tremor that came and went in Oirion’s tone, he could see the strain, felt the emotional nightmare Oirion was dealing with, and knew he had gotten all he was going to without turning it into a fight.  He had to be glad he gotten any answer at all.

“You and I are a powerful partnership when we are in good form, but right now we hardly know each other anymore.  We are broken and battered old men.  I can’t imagine we are worth that sort of attention right now.”

Oirion reached over and put his hand on Jamie knee in an earnest show of sincerity. “We are not useful as warriors, Jamie.  He has a million great warriors, but you are a lore master who rivals Shannon himself and between the two of you, few riddles will go unsolved…. and I… well, I have a bad temper and a lot of power when I get really upset. Shannon knows just how to put me into places where I seem to prove Gerome’s fear of wizard priests to be well founded.”

“You rarely use any true wizardry,” Jamie said, a little confused.

“It does not mean I can’t or that I haven’t.  I was taught early that to draw too much attention is a bad thing; it has kept me alive far beyond wise for Gerome.   I have no doubt if Shannon has roped me into being his side-kick, he is about to deliver a blow to the would-be Emperor of Purt and I’m going to get all the credit.  He is forcing my hand.  Just keep that in mind.”

Jamie nodded and bowed his head a moment.

“You should get some sleep, Oirion.”

“You’re right,” Oirion nodded and pulled his coat tighter about him, settling into the bench to try to sleep.  He knew he wouldn’t, but he didn’t want to talk about Shannon any more.

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