18 - Conscripted

Peace is nice. I feel it surround me and cushion me for a long time before I fade in to where I expected to appear in my dreams. Gerald looks up as I'm still settling in.

He looks so afraid that I almost drop to the floor. I think he realizes that, because he tries to stifle it as soon as it registers on him that it's showing so badly.

I look around. I'm not sure if anything has changed in here. I can see it a little better, now. This room looks more like an office that's been modified to also hold prisoners than a true cell, which explains the desk. There's an old fur that's been hung on the wall. It looks like part of a bearskin, along with two ragged spears. The desk near the door that Cade was writing at, along with the chair matching it, look more like something of the Peacock King's - finely carved, well-polished wood. There's a wardrobe closet opposite that's of the same style and color. It's closed and I can't see the contents. Gerald's bed, on the other hand, appears to be pretty old, the mattress spotted with stains. I starts to inspect the cuffs holding him, but he warns me off.

"Don't even look at them. You'll get detected." The nerves are radiating from him. I do spy the silver handcuffs that Cade was brandishing earlier - one end is cuffed to one of the rails of the bed now, the other hooked into one of the chains on Gerald's manacles. It seems like a useless safety precaution, but Gerald's already said that I shouldn't probe what's holding him. I suppose Cade's wards must be that nasty.

I look back up to him. He's been waiting to catch my eye. He's nearly gone white. "Lyric? You need to send word out to Dad. I can't handle this on my own."

He watches me stare at him. From me there is no reply that readily comes to mind. I just watch my brother. He must be panicking. It's obvious he can't quite think straight. It can't quite help that the jewel in the collar around his neck is glowing so brightly that it's gone white. His breath is fast, coming in little gasps. Part of me wants to comfort him.

...Part of me.

I look at the head of his bed. Something's been scrawled on a piece of old paper and then pinned on the wall over him. I can't make it out. It's blurry in the vision of the dream. Maybe a kind of mark, probably writing.

I break away from looking at it when Gerald's breathing breaks into a whimper and he tries to curl on his side. It's simply not possible with the way he's being held. There's no slack to those chains at all. He looks at me. I catch his eyes, look into them. He doesn't really see me. I don't think that whatever he's seeing right now is anything that's in his room. One of those cries comes out again, and goosebumps ride up my spine. That's not something I can believe is coming from my brother. It's just can't be real.

"...Gerald?" I venture the question very carefully. I'm afraid I'll startle him even worse. I see his eyes widen just a tad, see his eyes barely focus. See his lips ghost over the word "Lyric".

I sit on the floor beside the bed. "If you can hear me, let me know, all right?" He gives the barest of nods. I feel...relieved. "Gerald? We're going to get you out of here. Camden came here to train two apprentices of his. He knows what's happening. He told me to keep writing, and he's going to figure out the rest." I see his shoulders ease back, even though his breath is jerking at his chest. "Can I help you right now? What's happened? This isn't like you." It really isn't. It's painful to be here, I just don't feel like I'm really with my brother.

His eyes roll up and focus on the ceiling for a moment. He closes them in concentration. A bead of sweat forms at his temple. Then he slumps, his breathing normal again.

"He's sending energy into me. Emotions. Ghosts of memories of people he's tortured, Lyric. I keep having trouble fighting it off because I can't separate them from my own feelings and thoughts. I'm...I'm just focusing on not letting my will break. Not letting him loosen my tongue. I do that, and everything's alright, right? I'll keep going over here. And you...you keep doing your good job over where you are, and I'm sure I'll be out before we both know it." He sees the worry cross my face. "Really, if Camden's here...and his apprentices are always top of the line. You've tipped them off. We have support. Don't worry. Just keep writing. Just...if you have to, you have my guns."

There's a pause that fills me with dread.

"They're there for you, if you need to use them."

The dream went blurry sometime after. Time was hard to measure after that point. Maybe I didn't want to pay attention anymore, after hearing that. Most of all, though, I didn't want to see my brother like Gerald was now. Not after I'd said I left home partly because he was so successful and talented. Because he shined so bright. The only thing on him now that shines is his collar.

I hear the door of the room open, feel an icy trickle down my neck, and turn just in time to see that Cade still can't see me during my visits. After that I think Gerald willed me straight out of the dream. One moment I was there, the next moment I was awake and staring at the stars.

I turned to the side, saw Rachella's sleeping face, copied the peace inscribed on it into my mental ledger. I wanted to keep it at the forefront of my mind as I drifted back into sleep again.

The next dream I had was something I didn't expect at all. My Father. Sitting with all of us surrounding him. He was reading a book to us. Patient and slow for the younger ones, but expressive and subtle enough for those of us that were older. I don't even remember how many of us were there, then. Time is a funny little thing.

I remember suddenly piping up and asking if I could read one of the parts of a character I liked. He smiled at me, and motioned for me to sit beside him, and I did. That was it. Something so simple. Just shared time. I don't understand what was so important about it.

Deeper sleep tapered in slow and easy on top of that, until I was't dreaming at all, just resting under the night sky with my new friend.

* * *

"I remember when he spoke in Court."

I wake up, my mind alert and my eyes clear. I shift just a little bit, listening to...ah, that's Jenny.

"I was still an apprentice then, attending with my teacher. It's a singular memory indeed: all of those justices and politicians, ambassadors and rulers. The Bureaucracy and the Law, shoulder to shoulder, podium to podium - all forced to listen to an animism's words and at least pretend to care about them. I'd say I liked him just for giving so many of us the opportunity to see that, really. Still, other than that I don't really know him that well. He's more in politics than anything, and that's not exactly given he and I opportunity to cross paths." I hear her shift. "Lyric might be a good one to ask, Camden. He's obviously been in contact with him a few times now."

I smell tobacco, just a faint mild whiff of it. "Aye, but he's still sleeping. Besides that, I'm not sure if he's likely to have gotten anything coherent out of Faun. Animisms in captivity...I've seen it, once. We lost that one, you know." There's a numb silence.

"...Yes. I remember that. They kept trying to salvage that region even after Rapa Nui's death. Stupid fools, as if telling themselves over and over that it would work would change the real Truth of things: she dies, every critter there dies. Even the ones they brought in themselves." She sighs. "Old news...and yet, it feels dangerously relevant. You're concerned about how well Faun fares in his captivity?" There's a pause, the sound of her shifting, maybe tossing her hair. "I came in at the end of that case, so I've only seen the aftermath of a death. What is a captive animism like?"

Camden sighs, the sound an obvious indicator that he doesn't want to discuss this, but knows it must be done. "It came in stages, with her. I saw Rapa Nui early in her incarceration. She was distressed, of course, and always looking for a means of escape. None could touch her without restraint. But she had her mind then, and her calm. The animisms, though they have animal natures, are capable of behaving as rationally, or moreso, than human beings. As a whole they're very calm beings. Their reputations...well, you know how it works. Most people don't try to talk with them tactfully, so they reap what they sow. In any case...early on, she did as well as she could. She was unhappy, but still healthy. Later..." He sighs. "Later on I saw her again. She would brood in the corner, and refused to react to anyone's prodding. Then she would fall upon the unsuspecting without warning. She managed to kill guards, but they still kept her." I can hear the disgust in his voice. "They still wanted to keep her as leverage for their tiny land disputes, on their tiny little island. I saw her in the end, when we finally reclaimed her. We couldn't free her. She hadn't broken - she'd gone mad instead. As if she'd contracted rabies. Frothing at the mouth, unable to tell that there were no bars, there was no cage. She died of shock, and well...you were there. You saw the animals die with her." He lets out a long, weary sigh. "I don't know how similar Faun's case may be. He, to his advantage, has had much more experience interacting with humanity. He may have a higher tolerance for captivity. But..."

I hear a puff of breath. Probably Jenny blowing her hair out of her eyes. "You're worried, I see. Well, why not ask Lyric and at least see what he knows? He's been awake for the past few minutes, after all, listening to us talk and pretending to be asleep."

There's a long stretch of silence in which I pray that I didn't just wet my sleeping bag.

I'm just going to write that I didn't. Nobody can prove me wrong. I WAS THERE. Were you? Wait, what if Camden or Jenny reads this? ...Hey, Daddy's never going to read all this stuff I've written, right? Oh, shit. He might.

...Okay, I'm not thinking about that anymore.

I sit up, rubbing my head and opening my eyes. I've had enough time to be fully awake but not enough time to not feel a little bleary. Or maybe the dizzy feeling I have is from the rush of getting caught eavesdropping. I wipe my eyes and then look up.

Jenny is leaning down and looking at me from three inches away.

I yelp and jump. A few feet over I hear a muffled cry and then Rachella sits straight up in a pose that seems ready for anything. She looks the situation over, then rolls her eyes.

"Jenny, does scaring the livestock ever get old for you?"

The archer makes an amused snort. "Never. Now get up and look lively. Even the 'livestock' isn't as lazy as you this morning."

A blush creeps up on Rachella's cheeks before she gets up and starts to pack her bedding. I decide to follow suit. Going through a morning routine is a better way to prepare to talk to Camden than just getting repeatedly startled by Jenny. ...Not that it didn't happen anyway.

Camden is preparing breakfast over the coals of last night's fire when we begin to discuss things again. "So, Lyric. What can you tell me of Faun? How is he faring in the Jherent O'Monarch's cage?" While he says all of this he surveys the stew with a face so serious that I expect the stew to answer for me. Then his eyes flick up to mine for just an instant, and I remember to answer.

"Faun's...well, he's often very angry, but he seems to keep it down when he needs to. I'm still getting used to his moods. He's impossible to predict. I know that being in captivity makes him tired, especially with the way the Ebrellin-i commands his Court. He always towers over everyone and tries to keep them constantly under command, whether they realize that's the case. Since Faun's a feral person, it's hard for him. Especially in the chains and with that collar on." I see Camden raise his eyebrow in me, a silent question posed. "The collar...it's enchanted. It's not the same as Gerald's, but it subdues Faun if the Peacock King wills it. I think part of it is that the King's given him a pet-name. 'Faun-doe'. I've seen those used before, in the different Courts I've stayed in. For animals rarely - it's been almost always for people. I don't know how it works exactly, but using the name will enforce obedience." I shudder. "I've seen plenty of slaves in other places than the Peacock King's Kingdom. Usually the name makes them do what they're told...they always look forced in their actions. Or like marionettes, or something..." I see Camden nodding at me as I speak. "You've seen it too, then." I sigh. "He can't really force Faun to do much, the King. He...he made me force Faun to kneel, once. Kneel or get a cut. I...I didn't want to."

I can't look Camden in the eye. There's a moment that passes by in which all I can hear is the stew bubbling. Then he says, "Go on," in that even voice that tells me nothing of what he thinks about what I've been saying.

"He says the Law is nothing to worry about. Just silly guidelines. He says he knows better, and he seems determined to train Faun. Make him tame. I don't really understand it, but he's done the same to a lot of his slaves. Humans, I'm sure, but what I'm really talking about are the nymphs, elemental spirits, land spirits...he charms them. Gets their gifts for his own benefit. Lights and heats the rooms, that sort of thing. I don't see why he wants to tame Faun, though. He won't get the same sort of benefit, and he knows it. He was genuinely sad about what happened to Hespiredes, after all. Even Faun said so." I see Camden give me a look then that makes me pause. "...What...what did I say?"

Camden's face still betrays nothing except the bare hint of interest hidden in his eyes. "Faun spoke to you of Hespiredes?" I think he's trying to contain his excitement. Something about him is very held back, right then. 

I nod. "I asked him about her after I overheard the Peacock King and Faun talking about her. That's how I knew the King was upset about it - I heard it in his voice. When I talked to him, Faun told me the story of the valley we're outside of now. He told me about his mother."

Camden raises an eyebrow. "I assume that the King intended to bring Faun to a reunion, then?" His eyes dart over to the cage on wheels in the wagon train. "Rare game indeed."

I nod. "He...he had planned that before you three showed up in his Court. I don't know exactly what he meant by it. Whether he wanted more training to be done on the road, or if he really did want them to have a reunion. I...it's hard to tell. The King is as secretive as he's subtle. And Faun is..." I don't know what face I make, but I must look exasperated, because Camden laughs at it.  "Yeah, well...you obviously know how he is, then."

Camden smiles as he stirs the stew. "As you've apprently heard from Jenny and I's discussion, we've seen him speak in Court. I've also spoken with him many a time face-to-face. Faun has been a singular animism, as strange as it is to think that any of them could be considered 'average'. He's very interested in the Law, and learns the rules of human society so that he can play them to his advantage, to the animisms' advantages, and most especially to the advantage of his forest. He's made more progress getting rights for them than anyone else has, I think. There's a certain advantage that he has in that - it's very difficult to debate against their rights when an animism is sitting next to you in Court-appropriate attire, draped with furs, looking more like he belongs there than most Kings. It tends to throw off the opposition something fierce." He laughs at himself. "I'm going on. Tell me what Faun tells to you. Tell me how he's interacted with you."

I nod. "Once the Peacock King wasn't watching, I started to treat Faun as an equal. He responded in kind immediately. He tries to slit my throat or bite my fingers off every now and then, but I think that's just his way. He's glad that I ask him questions and that I don't just blindly follow the Peacock King. He seems genuinely glad for the company, I think." I look up to Camden, brows knitting together. "You don't think he's going to go crazy like Rapa Nui, do you?"

He sighs and begins ladling stew into metal travel bowls. "I know that he's a more stable individual than Rapa Nui, and is used to human contact and knows how to plan and strategize. I know that he has regular social interaction through you and has a good hope of getting out of his situation. These are all things that Rapa Nui didn't have. But, will he still go crazy? Maybe. In the end, his isn't a human mind nor a human soul. Different things could drive him to the edge. He hasn't shown any warning signs like Rapa Nui did, but can I consider Rapa Nui a yardstick to judge Faun by? No. In the end, conjecture is only conjecture, and my assumptions may mean nothing but wishful thinking."

He stares at me for a moment. I guess the despair was showing, because his next statement is, "Rapa Nui took months, though. Faun's not been in captivity long. We should be concerned, but don't look as if someone's about to die, Lyric."  My expression must have not changed much. He reaches over and puts a hand on my shoulder. "Are you that concerned about him? Why don't you write about him?"

I blink in utter confusion.

"You've written about Gerald to look in on him. Why not try it with Faun?" There's not a wink of guile in his face when he asks me this. "There, it's worth a try, isn't it? Here, eat." He hands me a bowl of stew. I feel Jenny settle in beside me.

"Yeah, judging by how I've seen it go with your siblings before, there's no telling when your next meal will be."

That doesn't exactly help the food settle in my stomach. At least Camden's a good cook. After breakfast I decide to try what Camden asked as the rest of them break camp. It helped that Camden reminded me to do so, with a very pointed look.

I'm starting to wonder who I'm working for. Sheesh.

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