Prophecy Story Index || The Sentinel Fan Fan Fiction

Summary: As they wait for Jydan after the battle during Linet and Dorien's engagement ball, Blaen tells Melaani the story of a trip that he and Jydan took into Malinde on a simple mercenary errand years before. Or maybe not quite so simple.... Framing story set immediately following Time's Circle as an epilogue; Blaen's tale is set in the middle of A Flame in the Wind during the 5-year gap after Jydan and Blaen leave Fariedel (after they first run into Rik in Silver Cords) but before they first meet Kellessan.



Interludes
by Becky
July 2001

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Melaani tugged the edges of the soft, worn blanket more closely together as she waited for Blaen to come back into the room. By the time they'd arrived at Jydan and Blaen's residence, the chill of the night air combined with the stress of the evening had left Melaani more than a bit cold. Blaen had immediately given her the faded green blanket she'd always seen draped over the back of his overstuffed chair. What did he call it again? A shaliata? Her fingers stroked the woven fabric, lifting one edge to rub it over her cheek. Melaani closed her eyes and smiled to herself. It smells like Blaen.

She could feel the events of the evening catching up with her, making her tired. Weary. What had started out to be a dance in honor of Linet and Dorien's engagement had turned into a horrible night. The king gravely injured, Linet having to become Kellessan to fight -- and kill -- the leader of the invading force, and Blaen ...

Freezing in memory, Melaani opened her eyes and glanced at the open door, looking for Blaen, wanting to see him, needing to see him. In the midst of their dance, something had affected him, hurt him. It had frightened her. During their walk from the palace to his and Jydan's quarters, she had kept a firm grip on Blaen's hand, even as he assured her he was all right. She had noted absently that he allowed her to be close when he shied away from others they met on the way. To distract her from her worries, she assumed, he had told her about the tayaerran bond between himself and Jydan. Already knowing how close the two men were, the idea of them taking that one step further didn't surprise her. She glanced at the door impatiently. What's taking him so long? After wrapping the shaliata around her and asking if she wanted anything, Blaen had dropped a kiss on her head and disappeared down the hallway, saying he'd be back in a few minutes.

Not able to just sit any longer, Melaani stood and walked around the room. She'd been in Blaen's bedroom a number of times, but rarely by herself. Blaen sometimes brought her inside to show her a new passage or poem he'd found in a book. She'd played new flute pieces for him within these walls. They'd talked for hours in the house, sometimes in the bedroom, other times in the front room. She smiled. We first kissed in here. The room's decor reflected the personality of its occupant. Colorful pillows were stacked on the double-size bed. The overstuffed chair in one corner beneath a large window spoke silently of hours spent reading and learning.

A few framed paintings hung on the walls -- a tiny village near the sea, an abstract silver knot design, a sketch of a child's upturned face, and a small orange kitten curled into a ball while sleeping. Candles of varying shapes and sizes were scattered on the flat surfaces of the room; Blaen had lit the biggest one and she'd lit several others after he'd left, enjoying their soft glow. Blaen's quarterstaff rested against the wall next to the door, ready to be grabbed at a moment's notice. Several feet away, a pair of well-worn riding boots slumped on the floor, along with riding gloves and a half-mended bareback saddle.

She paused in front of the bookcase and ran her fingers over the spines of the books gathered there. An eclectic mix of poetry, prophecy collections, folklore, a few cherished novels, old histories, and his own journals filled the shelves, nearly to overflowing. Several larger texts, obviously borrowed from the Royal Library, lay stacked on a tottering table next to the bookcase. Moving on, she walked over to the chest of drawers that she guessed held Blaen's clothes. The chest came just above her waist and on top of it rested an odd collection of items, obviously the place he dumped whatever he was holding before rushing out the door. A comb, a handful of coins, two books (one open, one closed), a loose button with a few threads hanging from it, a coiled belt, a stone with markings on it, some folded parchment, a small half-full stoppered ink well, a hard wood case which she knew contained a quill, and a belt knife.

Leaning down slightly, Melaani brushed her fingers over the stone, wondering at the painted lines. Her eyes drifted to the books, and she picked up the closed one, reading the title. Green Waters. I've never seen this before. Flipping through the pages, she realized quickly it was an adventure novel meant for boys. But clearly Blaen treasured it dearly -- several pages had folded-down corners, as if marking favorite passages. The book just felt loved. Turning back to the front, she found an inscription on the inside cover: "To Blaen. Fondly, Aeris."

Melaani frowned. Aeris? Who's Aeris? And why fondly? Shoving the questions aside, she moved to replace the book where she'd found it -- resting on one side of the open book. As she released her hold on the adventure novel, the handwritten words on the open page jumped out at her.

~~~~~~~~~

Two years. There are days when I can hardly believe it's been that long since I first met Jydan. And then there are days when I can hardly believe it's only been that long. So many things have happened. Meeting Jydan first of all. And becoming friends with him, despite our differences. And then meeting up with Rik again, getting taken by him. Only to have Jydan swoop in and take me back, giving me my life and my freedom. Becoming tayaerra with Jydan. And staying that way. Willingly. Some days it seems so unreal. But now ... now it's almost like I can't remember what it was like without that bond--

~~~~~~~~~

Melaani jerked herself up, away from the private words. This is one of Blaen's journals! She stepped back, not wanting to intrude on something not meant for anyone else's eyes.

"Sorry it took me so long." Blaen's voice startled her, and she twisted around to see him entering the room, carrying a mug of something steaming with him. His boots were missing from his feet and the laces of his vest dangled loose. He'd pulled the ponytail holder out at some point, leaving his hair down and free. Forgetting the journal, Melaani moved toward Blaen and gestured into the air. 'Headache?'

Blaen settled onto the bed and leaned back against the pillows with a long sigh. "Yeah. Not a big one, but enough to be an annoyance." He sipped the liquid in the mug. "But this tea helps."

She sat on the edge of the bed again, resting her free hand lightly on his leg. Up close, she could see the lines of pain around his eyes, the way he squinted whenever the candle on the bedside table flickered too brightly. 'Maybe you should sleep.'

He shook his head slightly. "Not yet. Too jumpy." Lifting the mug, he took another swallow of the tea, sighing softly as pleasant warmth soothed his nerves. His eyes drifted partially closed before re-opening to look at Melaani. "I'm sorry I scared you."

Smiling slightly, Melaani moved a little closer to him, reaching out to touch his face before answering. 'I was scared, but you're okay now. Right?'

Blaen held her hand to his face, rubbing it against his cheek before moving to kiss her palm. "Still a little rough, but yeah." He fell quiet, eyes half-lidded as they simply looked at each other. Releasing her hand, Blaen lifted the mug to take several more swallows, mostly finishing the mug of tea. "I think that should be enough. I want to be awake when Jydan gets back."

Melaani took the mug and set it on the bedside table carefully. Before she could lean back to her previous position, Blaen's hand slid up her arm and tugged her toward him. She turned her head and looked at him in question.

"Sit with me. Please." He moved over slightly, making room for her.

She signed a gentle acceptance in the air and shifted around to sit next to him against the pillows. His arm curled around her shoulders, pressing her close to him. Her outside arm lay over his stomach as she rested her head on his shoulder. A smile graced her face as she felt the light touch of Blaen's lips on her head.

Blaen sighed and his muscles seemed to relax a bit more. "I'm sorry the evening had to end so soon. I was enjoying the dancing."

Melaani stroked a thumb over his shirt, then replied, 'Me too.' After a moment, she added in a rush, 'Who's Aeris?' Her fingers stumbled over the unfamiliar combination of letters.

"A-e-r....Aeris?" Blaen sounded surprised and she pushed away from him so she could see his face. He blinked at her. "How did...? When did...?"

She pointed at the books and quickly explained how she'd seen the inscription on the inside cover of the book.

"Oh. Yeah, a box of our stuff vanished when we moved here. Someone finally discovered it mixed in with to-be-sorted boxes for the Library. Dorien brought it over just the other day." He smiled and shook his head. "Aeris... I haven't thought about her in years. She's a...friend of Jydan's. I'd forgotten that she wrote inside Green Waters." Blaen's eyes drifted in memory, and he chuckled. "That was quite the trip. I was so young."

'Tell me about it?' Melaani smiled, seeing immediately that the trip brought back good memories. They both needed that right then. She settled back next to him, again resting her head on his shoulder.

"Tell you? Okay." He shifted a little, then started his tale. "This was...two years after Jydan and I first met. We'd been traveling along the coastal towns of Malinde and at one of them, Jydan picked up a package to deliver from someone in a hooded robe. Maybe that should've been my first clue that it wasn't going to be an ordinary trip..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So how come I've never heard of this town before? Wynn, I think you said its name is?" Blaen eyed Jydan over the top of Eri's saddle as he secured the buckle on his saddlebags.

Across from him, Jydan tugged at Shadowrose's saddle straps, tightening them one last time. He grinned at Blaen's query. "Probably because you're too young."

"Hey!"

Jydan chuckled and waved Blaen's indignation away. "Sorry. It's mostly because the town is hidden, tucked away in a corner between the Claris Forest and the Clarriet Mountains." He stepped over to their campsite from the night before and squatted next to the burnt-out fire to pick up his own saddlebags. "Add in the legend of Drame's ghost--"

"Who?" Blaen interrupted.

"Drame," Jydan repeated, but Blaen only looked at him blankly. He shook his head and sighed, a touch of amusement creeping into his tone. "Blaen, you said you lived in Malinde for a year. You had to have heard about the famous ghost of Clarriet Mountains."

Blaen pursed his lips in thought but shook his head. "No, I don't think I have. I stuck close to the coast. Maybe it's not told there." He absently fiddled with the reins, petting the horse's nose when Eri turned in response to the tug.

Shrugging, Jydan said, "Hmm...it is more of a mountain tale, so you're probably right. Anyway, he was..." He paused minutely, then cleared his throat to continue. "He was a slaver in these parts several hundred years ago. He was killed during a slave revolt in his stronghold in the mountains. It's said that his ghost still haunts these mountains, banished forever from the Light." Falling silent, he waited until Blaen focused on him before he finished, "At least that's the short version."

Blaen blinked. "Oh."

Jydan held Blaen's eyes for another moment before returning his attention to his saddlebags, stuffing the loose edges of a blanket further inside one bag. It hadn't been quite a year yet since their unpleasant encounter with Rik in Gurodel and even less time since they'd been tayaerra. Even after all the time spent together, both on the road and in Fariedel, and with all of Blaen's assurances, Jydan still found himself tiptoeing around anything involving slavers or even slightly dangerous jobs. Going to Wynn would be a change.

"Jydan?"

Looking back up, Jydan saw that Blaen was waiting expectantly. "Hmm? Oh. Anyway... Between that legend, the mountain range guarding one side, the fact that's only one usable and very narrow mountain pass within three days travel by horseback, and the Claris Forest," he gestured to the tall, heavily foliaged trees surrounding them, "which is too thick to send any army through, guarding another side...well, Wynn is fairly defensible."

Blaen frowned. "Sounds like this place is hard to get to. Why would anybody build a town in such a place?""

Jydan chuckled. "The hot springs."

"Hot springs?" The younger man's eyes widened in anticipation.

"Oh, yeah. That and Wynn is one of the original Mercenary Guild towns and still tends to keep a low profile." He paused, his eyes drifting away in memory. "Well, at least on the outside. It can get kinda...wild on the inside. Which means you'll probably want to keep your...barriers up at all times."

Blaen waved the second part away as understood and questioned, "Wild? Just what does that mean?"

"Well..." Jydan trailed off speculatively, then rose to his feet again. "Let's just say that the town has quite a reputation." He grinned and winked at Blaen as he threw his saddlebags over the back of Shadowrose's saddle, securing them efficiently. Shadow turned to glare at Jydan briefly, then snorted and stamped one hoof onto the ground. Jydan patted the stallion's neck. "Almost ready, Shadow."

"A reputation." Blaen repeated. "And just what does that mean? A reputation for what?"

Continuing to fasten down the saddlebag straps, Jydan hid his grin. "A lot of things. Wynn may be the town's 'official' name, but it's not really the name it's known by. Different groups know it by different titles. City of Three Gates. Twinned Towers. Darkened City in the Hills. Jinayan Hot Springs." His grin grew larger. "Blyss. Green--"

"What!?!" Blaen interrupted in shock. "Blyss!? We're going to Blyss?"

Jydan raised an eyebrow and stared at Blaen who reddened under his scrutiny. "Ah...so you have heard of it after all. Yes, we're going to Blyss. That's where we're delivering this package." He patted the bulge in one of his saddlebags.

Blaen just continued to stare at him. "And you've been there before?"

Jydan's eyes twinkled in suppressed laughter. "Oh, yes. Several times. In fact I was returning from there just before we met. And from the looks of you, you know all the stories. Don't worry. I won't let you get carted off." He pulled himself into Shadowrose's saddle with a creak of leather, then winked at Blaen. "Unless you want to be carted off, that is. You'll have to let me know if anyone...catches your eye."

The younger man blushed harder. He started to say something but changed his mind and snapped his mouth shut. Planting one foot in the stirrups, Blaen mounted Eri in one easy movement. After gathering the reins in one hand, he shifted once in the saddle and gestured in front of him toward the trail that led away from the sheltered clearing.

Jydan chuckled and clicked to Shadowrose. "C'mon, boy, Blyss awaits us."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blaen laughed. "I'd heard of Blyss before, but I'd never been there. From the stories I'd been told, it wasn't a place that 'good, upstanding' people visited. It wasn't a place that I had ever been planning to visit." He paused and added wryly, "Thinking about it now, it shouldn't have been so surprising that Jydan knew of the town and had been there before. It was just the sort of place he'd like to go."

Melaani grinned at the comment, silently wondering just how different Jydan was now than he was then. A question for another time since Blaen was still talking.

"However, him announcing we were definitely visiting and longer than just a day ... well, that surprised me. The fact that he wouldn't tell me just what was in the package we were delivering or who he was delivering to wasn't helping. All he would say was that it wasn't 'entirely illegal.' Comforting thought..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By early afternoon, they arrived in Blyss, entering through the southwest gate, also known as the Green Gate according to Jydan. Blaen surmised it was named for the abundant shrubbery along the base of the city walls and the delicate, green-flowered aerissanni vines snaking their way upwards along the wall itself. Jydan said that he normally used the Mercenary Gate but that it was on the other side of the city, nearest the mountain pass. The third gate, positioned at the northernmost part of the city, was known as the Peddlers Gate for reasons lost to the passage of time as most who entered through there were wealthy Malindens coming to visit the hot springs.

As they paused at the entrance for Jydan to converse briefly with the sentry, Blaen dismounted and edged forward, keeping one hand tightly wrapped around Eri's reins as he peered past the gate, his eyes wide. Not knowing what to expect, he'd kept his barriers closed up tight, not wanting to be overwhelmed by...whatever. He and Jydan had spent a great deal of the last several months on the road, away from a lot of people, so it felt a bit odd to be so careful, but being dironan, no matter the level or skill, left him vulnerable. So careful he was.

A large, busy, very normal-looking marketplace revealed itself to him a piece at a time, and he blinked in surprise. Not what I expected. Voices rose and fell in discussion and bartering. Goods were examined and purchased. Laughing children ran among the adults. An assortment of food smells drifted toward him on the breeze. Except for the fact that the marketplace seemed "richer" than most, it was nothing he hadn't seen a hundred times before in other places. Behind him he heard Jydan thank the sentry. A few moments later, the older man stepped up next to him, chuckling as he laid a hand on the smaller man's shoulder.

Blaen shot him a quick glance. "What?"

"Not what you thought it would be?" Jydan gestured toward the marketplace. "No half-naked women cavorting in the streets. No soothsayers or doomringers parading around, foretelling strange things. No mythical beasts hissing from cages. No--"

Laughing, Blaen smacked his arm. "All right, all right. I get it. Still...it's called Blyss for a reason. It can't just be this."

Jydan grinned. "Well, you're right about that. C'mon. I want to get this package delivered and get a place to stay for a couple nights." He pointed to a wide, fairly busy pathway that wound around one side of the marketplace that would let them avoid the crowds. "That way."

Waiting a moment to let Jydan and Shadowrose take the lead, Blaen tugged on Eri's reins, joining others on their way into the heart of the city. He tried to keep close to Jydan but kept getting distracted by the vendors and the goods stacked on tables, much to Jydan's exasperation. The first time, the rich fragrant smell of fresh baked pastries awoke his stomach. When Jydan came back to collect him, both of them ended up buying a thickly buttered roll to appease their appetites. The second time, Jydan tracked him down at a large bookseller's booth, his face already buried in a volume of local folklore and Malinden history. Blaen simply bought the book and shoved it in his pack before Jydan had time to do more than lift his eyes skyward in a "why me?" supplication.

The third time, it was a small table jammed in the tiny space between two larger booths that caught his eye. Smooth stones, some plain, others decorated with markings or paint, were scattered in a careful pattern across the cloth-covered surface. An older woman sat behind the table, her eyes closed serenely above the light blue veil shading the lower half of her face. A handful of tiny gems of a slightly darker blue were affixed to the veil and winked at him in the bright afternoon light. She seemed unaware of the noise and dust in the air around her.

Slowing to a stop, Blaen hesitated only a moment before slipping between two large, jewel-bedecked women, both of whom were looking at the more gaudy collections to either side of the table of stones. Eri followed him obediently if unhappily as his ears twitched at the noise and the dust and the crowds. With a quick glance at the older woman, Blaen focused his attention on the stones, admiring the delicate brushwork on some of the painted ones. His eyes drifted to a small, palm-sized stone on the left edge of the table. The stone itself was a middling darkish gray, not quite flat or round, and had two curved streaks of white flowing across it, intersecting briefly before separating again. It wasn't particularly attractive, at least not compared to many others strewn across the table. However his free hand moved of its own accord, hovering over the stone as his fingers traced the lines in the air.

"A wise choice, my young friend."

Snatching his hand back with a startled gasp, Blaen lifted his head to find the old woman watching him with sharp, pale eyes. He blinked and stammered his apologies. "I...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--"

The old woman chuckled quietly and waved a hand in the air. A charm bracelet on her wrist tinkled lightly as she moved. "No need. I am Maylanna, a humble stones artisan."

"Blaen. My name's Blaen." He gestured to the stone, still curious, though a bit wary at the same time. "You said that it was a wise choice. Why?"

Maylanna picked up the stone that had caught Blaen's attention. "Journey stones do not call to many. Only to those whose lives are caught in transition and find themselves seeking." Stretching forward, she held the stone out to him.

He frowned a little, hesitating as he reached for the stone. "Seeking? Seeking what?"

The old woman's eyes fixed upon him, holding him in her gaze. "Only you know what you seek."

"Me?" He blinked a few times in confusion. "Uh...I don't--"

A hand clamped down on his shoulder, making him jump and giving Eri a start in the process. A burst of fear careened through him before recognition of the familiar touch slid through his barriers. The voice that followed and the well-known 'person sense' that came with the touch calmed him, regardless of the thread of fond annoyance underlying the tone.

"Blaen...sometimes I swear you need a leash." Jydan sighed and shifted his hand to grasp the younger man's upper arm. "What have you found this time?" He met the old woman's eyes, then stared at the table's contents before raising his eyebrows at Blaen. "Painted...rocks?"

The younger man shrugged sheepishly. "They looked...interesting."

Smiling, Jydan chuckled. "Uh-huh. Look, almost anywhere else, I'd let you stay and come back for you later, but not here. C'mon, we really need to get going." He gave Blaen's ponytail a gentle tug. "I'll take Eri and go back to where I left Shadow on the main path. You got one minute, okay?" He held up one finger in demonstration.

"Okay. Thanks." He handed Eri's reins to Jydan. "I'll be right there."

Blaen turned back to Maylanna after Jydan had left. The old woman spoke before Blaen could. "I sense that your friend is not a seeker." Subtle amusement sparkled in her pale eyes.

Lips twitching into a grin, Blaen glanced back at Jydan briefly. "Not exactly. He's more of a doer. And a very good friend."

Maylanna held out the stone to him again and this time he took it, running his two fingers over the lines. Something about it did call to him, though he couldn't quite put his finger on what. As he looked up to meet the old woman's eyes, Blaen was already reaching for his money purse.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blaen stopped his storytelling for a moment, half-raising from the bed. "In fact...I think the journey stone should be on the bureau."

Melaani patted him on the leg before jumping up to retrieve the stone. She sat back down and handed it to him. 'I saw this too. And wondered what it was.' She watched as Blaen traced his fingers over the lines. 'Did you find what you sought?'

He met her eyes warmly and nodded. "I think so. I have Jydan. A home. Friends. And I have you." Drawing her to him, he kissed her sweetly before pulling her back to his side to continue.

"After buying the journey stone, I rejoined Jydan, who was still muttering about needing a leash, and we continued. A little while later, we reached the far side of the tourist marketplace, and the pathway opened up to a wider road and regular buildings sprung up as we turned a corner into the Blyss proper. The further we walked, the brighter the colors. The people around us split off, entering various inns, taverns, and shops. And still no naked women in the streets." He grinned in remembrance. "However I did hear some rather loud and ... enthusiastic singing from a tavern called 'The Lovely Lady' a ways down the street from us. I asked Jydan about it, but he only chuckled knowingly and pointed across the street to a smaller tavern..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"There it is -- Xandt's." Jydan gestured to a small building, decorated with broad, sloppy dark blue and white swirls of paint over the outside wooden walls. A few horses were outside, their reins wrapped lazily around the hitching post. A handful of steps led to the front door which, Blaen noticed as they drew closer, didn't quite close properly.

As he draped Eri's reins over the hitching post next to Shadow's, Blaen eyed the building. "Doesn't look like much."

Jydan grunted. "It's not supposed to." He dug the fabric-wrapped package from his saddlebags, then whispered something into Shadow's ear. The stallion's ear flicked once and the horse shifted a bit closer to Eri. Flicking his cloak off one shoulder to reveal the gleaming curved sword sheath underneath, Jydan headed to the door.

Blaen hesitated, but decided to leave his quarterstaff on Eri. He touched his belt knife, then joined Jydan at the door, asking, "You worried someone's gonna steal our things?"

Before pushing the door open, the mercenary flashed him a quick grin. "They might try, but I think Shadowrose might be feeling a bit...snappish today." He winked and turned away to enter the tavern. Blaen shot a look at the big, black stallion who blinked calmly back at him, then hurriedly followed Jydan inside.

Darkness met his eyes and it took a few moments for them to acclimate to the change in lighting. But when they did, Blaen felt like he'd stepped into a Gurodellan bar rather than one in Malinde. Some part of him instinctively checked his barriers in reaction even as his eyes widened in mixed surprise and curiosity. The main room held an assortment of mismatched tables, chairs, and customers. Half-melted candles crammed into rusty holders gave the room a sinister glow. The counter for the bar took up one wall; a half-dozen tall rickety stools stood in front of it. It took another few moments for him to realize that everyone had stopped to stare at him and Jydan as they'd entered -- and that Jydan was meeting every eye with a dispassionate glare. Blaen could sense a slightly darker "color" to Jydan's nature than usual, one he'd long identified as Jydan's harder mercenary side. A few of the patrons nodded to themselves, grunting before dismissing the visitors to go back to nursing their drinks and mulling their hands in various card games.

Jydan murmured, "C'mon." He strode towards the counter where a short, balding man tended bar. Blaen hurried to keep up with him, arriving just as the man behind the counter spoke.

"Jydan."

"Xandt."

"What are you doing back here? Thought we'd seen the last of you." Xandt's voice was noticeably cool, causing Blaen to wonder just what Jydan had done last time he'd been here.

Jydan smiled easily and leaned against the bar, one hand resting on the package where he'd placed it on the counter surface. "Oh, you know, I can't get enough of this place." He looked around idly. "Does Misha still come here? I have something for him."

Xandt glanced at the package, then back at Jydan. Blaen's eyes skittered between the two men as the staring contest lengthened. He hadn't seen Jydan act quite so much like the merciless mercenary he was rumored to be in awhile. It felt distinctly odd. Finally Xandt grunted and waved a hand towards the far side of the room. "Through there." Heavy maroon curtains hung from hooks above a doorless entryway that Blaen hadn't noticed earlier.

"Thank you." Jydan pushed away from the bar and put his free hand on Blaen's shoulder. "Keep an eye on my friend for me, will you?"

Blaen immediately protested. "But--"

Jydan turned and squeezed Blaen's shoulder to quiet him. "Stay here. I shouldn't be more than a minute or so. All right?" His eyes drilled into the younger man, and reluctantly Blaen nodded. Jydan echoed the nod and picked up the package. "Good. Be right back."

After watching Jydan vanish behind the heavy curtains, Blaen smiled nervously at Xandt who gave him an unreadable look before walking to the other end of the bar. It felt odd to be separated from Jydan in such a place, however briefly. Blowing out an uneasy breath, Blaen hiked himself up on a stool, freezing momentarily at the squeaky creak. When the stool remained firm rather than splintering into pieces, he relaxed. A little. He looked around the room, trying to appear casual and at ease even though his nerves were doing a Shionanian jig. Several pairs of unfriendly eyes met his, and he quickly looked away. No need to challenge the natives.

Finding himself at a loss for what to do, Blaen dug out the journey stone and look at it more closely, at least as best he could in the dim lighting. Pulling a dingy, glass-covered candle over with one hand, he leaned down a little to squint at the stone. He kept one hand gripping the edge of the counter, uncertain of his perch on his seat. Soon that was forgotten as tiny specks in the white lines glinted at him as he moved the stone in the light. Shifting on the wooden stool, Blaen raised his hand to touch the lines. Just as he started to trace one finger over the stone's surface, the stool creaked and rasped loudly under his weight, startling him and making him lose his hold on the stone.

<plunk> <plunk> <whirrrrr>

Again all eyes swiveled to the young man at the bar who sat frozen for a moment before smiling self-consciously. Blaen waved a hand in the air. "Uh...sorry. Sorry." He hopped down from the stool and crouched to snatch his stone from the dirty floor.

Behind him he heard the tavern door bang open and a booming voice echo in the room. "Xandt! A mug of your meanest fire ale. And who--"

Blaen shoved the stone in his vest and stood up in a rush. Turning, he started back to the bar, only to slam into something rather large and solid.

"--is this?" An odd mix of scorn and amused curiosity colored the deep voice.

Taking an involuntary step backwards, Blaen swallowed hard as he looked upwards. Bigger than Jydan, bigger than Rik, the man scowled down at him, obviously waiting for an answer. Intricate tattoos covered his arms...his very big arms, Blaen noted. A scar ran up one side of his face, disappearing into his short, raggedly-cut blond hair.

Falling back onto the inner strength that had gotten him this far in life, he lifted his chin and answered the question. "My name's Blaen. I'm here with--"

The man cut him off with a surprised shout, "Blaen? Jydan's Blaen?" His eyes widened slightly.

His hand going warily to his belt knife, Blaen blinked and nodded. "Uh, yeah. I guess if that's--"

He barely had a chance to panic before a meaty hand clomped onto his shoulder, nearly knocking him off his feet. His barriers flared with the unexpected contact, but Blaen didn't sense any ill intent. A huge albeit uneven smile lit the big man's face. "Good to meet you, Blaen. The name's Rolf."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Melaani jerked up to stare at Blaen, her eyes wide and half-scared. 'Who's Rolf?'

Grinning, Blaen tried to explain. "Rolf is a mercenary and looks exactly how you'd think a mercenary should look. Huge. Lots of leather. Scars. Big muscles. Kinda shady-looking. Drinks 'mean' fire ale."

She shuddered at the picture Blaen painted for her. 'You weren't...scared?'

"Oh, yeah, I was scared. I figured he could swat me once and that would be it. But instead...instead, for reasons I'll never know, he liked me. And I wasn't about to argue with him. And even if I had, Jydan reappeared only a few moments later...."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Rolf." Jydan's voice called out from behind Blaen.

The mercenary moved his eyes from Blaen to Jydan, grinning even larger. "Jydan. I thought you might be in here. That black stallion out there reminded me of you." He released Blaen's shoulder and stretched out his hand toward the approaching man.

Blaen turned slightly, sighing quietly at Jydan's reappearance. Jydan met his eyes for a moment in an assessing glance, then returned his attention to Rolf. He grasped the other mercenary's arm in a familiar welcome. He laughed and shook his head. "I'm sure Shadowrose would appreciate the comment."

Rolf chortled. "Heh. I'm sure he would."

Jydan rested one hand on Blaen's shoulder. "I see you've met Blaen."

Flashing a nervous smile at Rolf, Blaen said, "Uh, yeah. Barely. You two know each other?"

"We've...worked together a time or two," Rolf remarked with a secretive smile. He crossed his arms over his chest. "So, what brings you to this fair city?"

Jydan held up a small red bag tied with a gold cord. Heavy coins jingled inside. "A job. A completed one, I might add, that paid very well." He ignored the sudden attention given him by the rest of the room, squeezing Blaen's shoulder to calm his quiet intake of breath.

"Misha?" Rolf questioned.

"Misha."

Rolf snorted. "Does he ever hire anyone else?"

Jydan smiled smugly. "I'm the best. Why would he?"

"Yeah. Right." He stepped over to the bar and grabbed the mug Xandt placed on the surface. "Buy you a drink?"

Jydan looked at Blaen, then back at Rolf. "Maybe another time. I think we need to be going." He paused a moment in thought, then asked, "Do you know if Aeris is in the city this season?"

After downing a few hefty swallows of fire ale, Rolf nodded. "Yup. She's here. I'm assuming you still remember the way." He raised his eyebrows at Jydan.

"I don't think I could forget."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I never did find out what that package was," Blaen mused. "Or who Misha was. Jydan wouldn't tell me. And considering how adamant he was, I decided maybe I just didn't want to know. Besides, by then..."

'By then, you wanted to know who Aeris was.' Melaani guessed.

"Yeah. And why Jydan wanted to know if she was in the city. And just who she was to him..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So, who's Aeris?" Blaen asked, waiting as Jydan securely tucked their payment into one of the saddlebags draped over Shadow's back.

Jydan grinned. "Aeris is an old...friend. She keeps a place down the way a bit." After resnapping the saddlebag, Jydan tugged Shadow's reins free and pulled himself into the saddle. "C'mon. I'll tell you more on the way."

Blaen released the reins from the post and quickly mounted Eri, following Jydan to the middle of the hard-packed dirt road. They passed a heavily loaded cart of fruit on its way to the marketplace, several swaying men singing very badly off-key, a young woman in yellow whom Jydan identified as a journeyman in the Mhia Poetry Guild, and a trio of sky blue-robed Erosi priests debating loudly amongst themselves, seemingly unaware of the milieu around them. Blaen raised both eyebrows at their presence. Jydan explained with a chuckle that Blyss was a popular place for quick weddings.

As they cleared the clump of traffic, Blaen twisted slightly in his saddle to face Jydan. He opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by other voices from above and behind Jydan.

"Hey, Jydan, when did you get back in town?"

Jydan pulled Shadow to a gentle stop and looked upward, grinning at the woman leaning over the window sill in the second story of The Lovely Lady. Blaen's eyes widened as he realized how...underdressed she was and that her...assets were very much on display. Two other women, both similarly not attired, poked their heads of the adjacent windows.

"Jydan!"

"Honey, you promised to visit when you came back!"

Laughing, Jydan inclined his head. "I know I did, Joela. But not this time, okay?"

The first woman shifted her gaze to Blaen. A slow smile crept onto her face. "You could bring the cutie with you. We'll show him a good time."

Blaen felt his face flush hotly, and he looked away. Behind him, he heard Jydan chuckle lightly.

"I don't think he's ready for you, Sian. And we really do need to get going, girls." He waved a hand at them before kneeing Shadow forward. "Take care."

A chorus of goodbyes answered his voice. Blaen woodenly clicked Eri into movement again next to Shadow.

After a few moments, Jydan said quietly, "Sorry about the girls. They can get a little carried away sometimes. They're harmless. Really."

Blaen finally looked over at Jydan and found only soft amusement rather than ridicule at his reaction. "Uh, yeah. I didn't know that you...I mean, not that I'm..." He waved a hand in the air nervously. "Never mind."

Jydan's lips quirked into a smile. "Blaen. It's okay. The girls know me and like me because I talk to them. We flirt; we eat; and Joela gives a great neck rub. That's about it. Okay?"

"Oh." Blaen cleared his throat and shifted in the saddle, pushing his embarrassment away. "Okay. Um...so, you were gonna tell me about Aeris?"

"So I was." Accepting the change of topic, Jydan's eyes unfocused as he looked at the road ahead of them. "Aerissanni is ... unique. She showed up in Blyss several years ago, complete with a very healthy inheritance from an uncle who'd recently died. Or so she's always said. No one's been able to find proof one way or the other." He chuckled at Blaen's widening eyes and continued. "After promptly purchasing and finishing a half-built estate, she became part of the Blyss landscape as if she'd always been here. Aeris is a patron of the arts, is highly cultural, sits on the Weavers Guild council, and knows about everything that goes on in Blyss and most of Malinde. Or ever has. Which is why she's also an unofficial part of the Mercenary Guild as an informant. Lastly, she's written several books, though you'd have to ask her what they are." He kneed Shadow into a slightly quicker pace as they rounded a corner.

A long street stretched out before them. Blaen blinked as he realized that actual houses had started to appear rather than businesses. And that the noise of the city had significantly decreased. He twisted in his saddle to stare behind them with a frown before looking back at Jydan. "How do they do that?"

Jydan raised an eyebrow in question but the smirk on his face said he knew what Blaen was asking.

"It should still be noisy, shouldn't it? At least more than it is."

The mercenary chuckled. "I remember wondering the same thing years ago. And I've never really found out just what they do. Or who they is. I think it's a city secret. Either that or no one actually knows." He winked, then chuckled at the continued puzzlement on Blaen's features.

"Uh-huh." Blaen was quiet for several moments, eyes lost in thought, then he shook himself. "Anyway, how did you meet Aeris? It doesn't sound like she's anyone who would need the services of a mercenary."

Jydan laughed. "Too true. Actually, it was the other way around. I was in need of a..." He hesitated, then finished, "...a quick getaway one evening. I happened upon her coach as it was returning to her estate and Aeris invited me inside." A slow smile eased across his features. "It was a lovely night."

Blaen blinked a few times as his mouth rounded into an "oh."

Shaking the memories away, Jydan continued, "Anyway, that's how we met."

"I...see. I think." Then he frowned. "Wait, you said 'Aerissanni' at first. Isn't that the name of those vines on the outside walls?"

"Yup. They're everywhere in Malinde, as I'm sure you've noticed." Jydan took a sharp turn to the right, Blaen following, and they stopped in front of a large sprawling two-story building. Windows glinted in the sunlight as did the gleaming outer white paint of the walls. Tall green leafy trees stretched their branches on either side, shading most of the front lawn plus sections of the surrounding walkway. Patches of brightly colored flowers were scattered in clusters in the tall grass. Two columns stood guarding the entrance, each wound tightly with the vibrant green-flowered aerissanni vines. Jydan added quietly, "I've never found out if she was named for the vines or if the vines were named for her."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"The house...was beautiful. And that was just the outside." One of Blaen's hands danced in the air as he described it. "As we got closer, I could see the detailed mouldings in the columns and the sparkle of inlaid colored glass in the walkway. We left Eri and a properly-instructed Shadow with a stablehand and went inside to find Aeris."

'Shadow. That was Jydan's previous horse?' Melaani questioned.

He nodded slowly. "Shadowrose. Yeah. He was a very noble, very proud stallion. Not at all like Ghost. He didn't play, though he did have the occasional sweet tooth. He was killed protecting me during a battle just a few weeks before Jydan and I met Kell." Blaen remained silent for another moment, then shook himself and went on.

"The inside of the estate was equally opulent. And yet somehow comfortable and familiar at the same time. Plush, brightly-colored, and very decorative draperies hung on the walls. Where there weren't draperies, there were paintings. Just beyond the high-ceiling entryway, a tall spiral staircase led upwards. Through partially opened double doors to one side of the entryway, I could see bookshelves that hinted at a rather large library. I think Jydan spotted the opened doors before I did because he had a hand on my shoulder even as I took a step in that direction..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Ah-ah, Blaen. Stay. I'd forgotten about Aeris' penchant for book collecting. Speaking of which..." Leaving his hand on Blaen's shoulder, Jydan turned to the older man who'd let them in. "Is Aeris at home?"

The man straightened slightly. Mouth turning downward at the edges, he replied, "Yes, Lady Aerissanni is in. May I ask who is calling?"

Glancing to the side, Blaen wasn't surprised to see Jydan's eyebrows go up. Straightening slightly himself, Jydan raised his voice just enough to echo off the glass chandelier high above them. "My name is Jydan. Lady Aerissanni and I are old friends."

Before the older man could respond, the double doors parted, opening completely as a rich feminine voice interrupted, "It's okay, Olennus. I know him." The older man nodded once and slipped away just before a woman wearing a ankle-length dark blue gown stepped into view. Her long wavy red-gold hair gleamed as she glided across the floor towards them, bringing with her the subtle scent of jasmine. A warm smile lit up her face, and she touched Jydan's cheek with one hand. "Jydan. I had wondered when you would be stopping by."

Blaen's mouth dropped open as Jydan first took her hand in his and touched his lips very properly on the backs of her fingers. Then he leaned forward to kiss her somewhat less properly on the lips and to whisper something in her ear that made her brown eyes dance. A smile on his face, Jydan backed away, releasing her hand after a few seconds.

"My apologies, Aeris. Took me a little longer to get here than I'd planned." He slid his eyes towards Blaen and winked. "My friend got distracted by the booths at the Green Gate market...several times."

The woman laughed softly and turned towards Blaen. "I've known you to be easily...distractable as well, Jydan."

Jydan chuckled and inclined his head. "Hmm. Perhaps." He reached out and touched Blaen's shoulder, drawing him nearer. "Blaen, this is Aerissanni. Aeris, this is Blaen, my partner."

Aeris canted an eye at Jydan. "Partner. That's new." She turned back to Blaen and held out her hand. "Good to meet you, Blaen. And please do call me Aeris."

Blaen smiled and took her hand in his. Not knowing the proper Malinden way of greeting nobility, much less ladies, he settled for giving her a brief Shionanian greeting. Enclosing her hand in both of his, he bowed his head slightly. "You grace me with your presence, La--Aeris."

"And you honor me with yours, Blaen." She smiled at Blaen's blink of surprise. "I've visited Shionan a time or two. Beautiful country. Lovely, gracious people." Aeris raised her other hand to touch his hair. "But unless you've dyed your hair, you're not Shionanian. Gurodellan, I'd say. Northern, maybe near the sea."

"I-- Yes, I am." Blaen blinked again, then abruptly released her hand, having forgotten that he still held it.

Jydan laughed. "Did I forget to mention that Aeris has an uncanny knack of knowing where people come from?"

Smiling, Aeris turned and threaded one arm through each of theirs. "Come. Let's sit and talk for awhile before the evening meal. And you are staying; don't even try to argue."

"Is Mara still your cook?" Receiving a small nod in reply, Jydan smacked his lips as they passed through the double doors into the library. "Then I don't plan on going anywhere."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

'Aeris and Jydan were...' Melaani's hand stilled in the air between them as she searched for the right word. She and Blaen had slid downwards to lay flat on the bed, both on their sides facing each other. Finally she chose what to say. '...more than friends?'

Blaen nodded slightly. "Uh-huh. I'd seen Jydan flirting with women in the past, like Caleen in Fariedel, but never anything quite like that. And never with anyone like Aeris who simply flirted right back. They were very entertaining to watch. Not that I noticed them much after she took us into her library. It was like...it was like a dream. Shelves upon shelves upon shelves of books, all divided into categories lined the walls. Histories, poetry, mythology, romances, adventures, tales of the long long ago past, sciences...it was all there." He shook his head in memory. "Aeris saw me gaping and told me to look around. I think I nearly tripped over my feet to get to nearest shelf.

"Behind me, seated on one of the plush couches, I could hear Jydan and Aeris talking and laughing quietly as they caught up. Bits and pieces of their conversations floated to me across the large room..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Jydan the loner with a partner. I never would've guessed." Aeris sounded amused and Blaen turned slightly to see her and Jydan relaxing on the couch. Jydan's legs stretched out before him, while Aeris had hers curled partially underneath her, hidden under her dress. One of Jydan's hands was entangled in Aeris' thick hair; and one of Aeris' hands rested somewhat proprietarily, Blaen thought, on Jydan's thigh. Before he could look away, Aeris shifted and met his eyes for a second. "What changed your mind?"

Moving his gaze to Jydan, Blaen caught the older man's eyes. Jydan's lips quirked up into a mischievous smile. "You know, you're not the first to ask me that." The man chuckled, then sighed plaintively. "Am I just not partner material or something?"

Aeris laughed and patted Jydan's leg fondly. Blaen rolled his eyes and turned back around to stare at the books in front of his nose. It took him a second to realize he was staring a shelf of rather heavy romances. Um...no, not what I care to look at. Moving on... He shifted down a few steps as Jydan finally answered the question.

"It started out as just a business partnership, but along the way...along the way we became friends. Good friends. And that's more or less...it."

Raising his eyebrows at the very short version of the past two years, Blaen threw Jydan a quick glance over his shoulder, but decided not to add anything to the explanation as he examined the shelf of books. Behind him, he could hear Aeris' indistinct murmuring. Plucking a book at random, he looked down and was startled to see a familiar title -- Green Waters. It was the epic adventure story of two young teenage boys, best friends, out to conquer the Emerald Sea in their homemade sailboat. Blaen smiled sadly and ran one finger over the faded title lettering. It had been one of the few books his family had owned, and he could still hear his father's deep voice reading it to him, speaking one boy's chanted words that began their great journey.

'To the sea we must go, for the land is too tame. To the sea we must go, for the green waters await. To the sea we must go, for our lives have just begun. To the sea we must go.'

Old tears threatened, but he forced them away and moved on. I wonder if Jydan's ever read this book. Blaen turned to ask, Jydan's name on his lips, but let the question die in his throat when he saw that Jydan's attention was...elsewhere. Namely on Aeris as the two of them kissed. So much for the talking part of the evening... "Uh..." Blaen stared a moment longer, then whirled around and skipped a few shelves down to disappear between two tall bookshelves and out of sight of the couch. He shook his head and muttered to himself, "Okay. Maybe I'll ask later."

Scanning the tags on the shelves, Blaen realized he'd found a section devoted to Malinden mythology and folklore. He ran his free hand lightly over the spines of the books as he continued to walk, murmuring the titles to himself. At the end of the row, he stopped in front of a glass case containing various objects. Above it on the wall hung a large tapestry depicting a man and a woman in common clothing facing each other and holding hands. Even through the faded colors, Blaen could pick out the smiles on their faces and the hints of a crowd of people watching them in the background. Old Malinden script decorated the outer edges of the tapestry. Leaning against the glass case, he squinted at the writing, stumbling over the olden words that described the scene.

"And so it was that ... with noble stealth, awesome strength, and ... undying courage ... exalted Crown Prince Dejanik defeated Drame, scourge of the hills and valley ... and ... claimed fair Kathena of Eirena ... as his ... wife, equal mate ... and future queen ... of the great ... Malinde."

"You read Old Malinden well."

"Aah!" Blaen jumped at the voice and spun around, dropping the Green Waters book he still held and slamming backwards against the glass case. Fortunately the glass didn't crack although the items inside rattled at the impact. Jydan and Aeris stood just a few feet away, both with startled and concerned looks on their faces.

Jydan stepped over to him and grasped Blaen's arm. "Easy there. You okay? We, uh, didn't mean to scare you. Sorry."

Blaen took a deep breath and another before waving Jydan's apology away. "It's okay. I was just...absorbed, I guess. I didn't hear you behind me." He crouched down and carefully picked up the book, checking it quickly for torn or folded pages as he rose back to his feet. "Looks okay. Good." Carefully, he set the book on the glass case just as Aeris joined them, standing next to Jydan. "Sorry about the book. I sorta forgot I was holding it."

Aeris inclined her head. "Understandable. And my apologies as well, Blaen."

Curious, Jydan tilted the book up to read the title. "Green Waters?" He pursed his lips. "Sounds vaguely familiar...I think. Isn't it a children's book."

Blaen smiled slightly. "It is. Sorta. Maybe for older children. I-- It is, was, special to me." He reached out to touch the book, running his fingers over the faded cover. "My...father used to read it to me before...well, before." Jydan placed his hand over Blaen's and gently squeezed, unknowingly echoing the wash of muted sorrow flowing across their tayaerran bond. Raising his eyes to Jydan's, Blaen nodded slightly at the expression of understanding on his friend's face, then smiled to let him know he was okay. Jydan returned the nod and released him as Blaen turned to the Aeris. Her eyes were speculative and somewhat curious, but she seemed content not to ask.

Wanting to change the topic and actually wanting to know, Blaen indicated the tapestry behind him. "Is this based on something that really happened? Jydan mentioned Drame, or rather his ghost, earlier, but the others..."

Aeris nodded. "Yes, it is true. Many hundreds of years ago, Dejanik and others managed to overthrow Drame of Malaan from the his stronghold in the mountains. He had held the country in his grasp for quite some time. No one is quite sure who killed him or how, only that it was done. Kathena..." Aeris smiled secretively. "Kathena was the cook in Drame's stronghold; she was a slave there, but one with rank and who Dejanik had revealed his secret to. He fell in love with her and she with him. They reigned over Malinde for many years quite happily." She leaned across the glass case to touch the lower fringes of the tapestry. "This is a copy of the original wall hanging that was made to mark the occasion. It was, and still is, quite the love story."

"It sure sounds like it." Blaen gazed upward at the tapestry again and blinked as something flashed past his inner eye. He frowned and squinted to bring it into focus, but whatever it was refused to be more than a long grayish blur that briefly lit up as though glinting in the sun.

"Blaen?" Jydan touched his shoulder.

The blur vanished as quickly as it appeared and Blaen shook his head a little as he stepped back. "I-- Nothing. I just...never mind." Returning his attention to Aeris, he asked, "Would you happen to know if their story is written down somewhere? I think I'd like to read it."

Aeris smiled at Jydan's mutter of "another book" and answered the question. "Yes, actually, there is a book. And I happen to have a copy of it if you'd like it."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I was surprised when she gave me a narrow gilt-edged volume, which had been sitting in the midst of the romance section, and which had been penned by Aeris herself." Blaen gestured to the bookshelf across the room. "I think it's in there somewhere. In any case, I made myself at home in a rather comfy chair in the corner of the library and sank into the land of Malinde's past for a couple hours."

Melaani queried, 'What about Jydan and Aeris?'

Blaen shrugged. "I don't know what they were doing, though I did hear Jydan mention horses and taking a ride around her estate when they were leaving. They showed up sometime later and jerked me from my reverie by saying it was time to eat.

"The evening meal was absolutely delicious and more food than I'd eaten in months. Food on the road just isn't the same. Jydan disappeared at one point during the meal through the door into the kitchen. Her eyes sparkling, Aeris explained that Jydan always felt the need to thank Mara, the cook, personally." He grinned and lowered his voice a tad. "Judging from the ensuing feminine giggles and Jydan's laughter when he returned, I decided Jydan was bestowing his ... favors on Mara as well.

"By then, tired from riding and full of good food, I was close to falling face first in my dessert. Aeris had prepared two bedrooms with an interconnecting door -- Jydan asked for that I think -- for us. The beds were huge and topped with those really plush, deep, goose feather filled comforters. I vaguely remember shedding my boots, pants, and overshirt before half-jumping and half-crawling into the bed. And that I wasn't so sure I'd be able to get out in the morning.

"However, at some point in the middle of the night, I woke up..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Eyelids raising to half-mast, Blaen stared blearily at the room. Soft bed. Inside. Stomach still full. Where am I again? His brain struggled to catch up as he focused on the vague shadows cast by the covered candle sitting on the table across the room. Oh, yeah. Blyss. Aeris. Yeah. Sleep called to him, but so did the pitcher of water sitting on that very same table. He sighed and pushed himself upwards -- or at least tried to before belatedly remembering the plush comforter on the bed. The comforter which currently swallowed both arms up to his elbows.

Blaen fell backwards into the pillows with a grunt. Man... I could just go back to sleep. He yawned and licked his lips. But I'm thirsty. Rolling to one side, he finally managed to get up...more or less. Still half-asleep and on his hands and knees, he clambered toward the edge of the bed, fighting against the comforter that seemed determined not to let him go. Swatting a particular obstinate fold away, Blaen shoved himself forward--

--and promptly rolled off the bed and onto the carpet-covered floor with a great thump.

Definitely more awake now, Blaen gripped the bedpost and pulled up to his feet. "Ow!" He rubbed his hip which took most of the impact and hobbled over to the table with the promised water pitcher. Muttering about the over-stuffed bed under his breath, he filled a cup with water and gulped down several swallows.

Blaen abruptly paused in mid-swallow as his eyes drifted past the partially open door that connected his room to Jydan's. Wait a minute. Where's Jydan? He should've heard that. Jydan was a notoriously light sleeper, his ears trained for unusual noises and sounds. Falling out of bed definitely counts. And Jydan should've appeared as soon as he'd heard the thump. At the very least, he would've called out to see if Blaen was all right. Replacing the cup on the table, Blaen picked up the covered candle and padded to the door. He pushed it the rest of the way open as he stepped through into Jydan's room cautiously.

The candle cast a puddle light into the room, adding to the dim glow from the crescent moon and smattering of stars that shone from beyond the filmy-curtained balcony doors. One door stood slightly open, allowing the cool night air inside, bringing with it the distant murmur of the never-asleep city.

It only took moments for Blaen to see that Jydan wasn't in the room. The bed was mussed, but the occupant was gone.

Huh?

He took another step, then nearly jumped as a menacing shadow popped into sight next to him. His movement combined with a breeze from the open door caused the candle flame to flicker low before steadying again. Shifting the candle to one side, Blaen breathed out in a rush. Just Jydan's boots by the chair. He frowned. Just... Jydan's cloak lay draped over the back of that same chair. And his sword and sheath rested on the table next to the chair.

Instinctive panic started to take over and he stepped closer to the table and chair, reaching out to touch the heavy cloak, curling his fingers in the familiar weave. Where is he? Visions of assorted less than savory characters breaking in and carting off Jydan in his sleep ricocheted in his head even as he realized how unlikely that was. At the same time, he 'reached' for the still untested silver cords, relying on his gift to show him that his tayaerra was alive. And okay. He found them waiting as he closed his eyes and stretched forth.

Glowing with life. Nearby. Happy.

He took another breath, exhaling out deeply in relief. Blaen's eyes flew open as he caught a particular scent hanging in the air, stirred by the breeze fluttering past. Jasmine. Aeris's perfume? Here? Why would-- Oh. He blinked. Oh!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Melaani's eyes widened and her mouth formed an 'oh', silently echoing the younger Blaen's reaction.

Blaen laughed softly. "I went back to bed and didn't ask the next morning. Didn't think I needed to know. And Jydan... Well, I don't think he'd planned on me waking up. And since I didn't want to embarrass him, Aeris, or myself, I just let it be.

"Anyway, the next morning, we left, but not without a few gifts..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blaen stood on the porch outside the house, rocking up on his toes and back down again. Shadow and Eri, saddled and ready to go, waited at the bottom of the porch steps, contentedly munching on grass and looking well-rested and well-fed after a night in Aeris' stables. Blaen shifted his attention to the sun as it rose slowly over the tops of the buildings and city gates. Rays of light shimmered on windows, turning them momentarily gold before continuing on their way, touching all of Blyss. Closing his eyes, Blaen smiled to himself, enjoying the warm feel of the glow on his face.

Behind him, Blaen heard Jydan's low voice nearing him, so he shifted slightly, turning to see Jydan and Aeris exit the house. Still the gentleman, Jydan had one hand resting on Aeris' back as they joined him on the porch. Hair piled loosely on top of her head, garbed in a long, deep green, satin dressing robe, and in bare feet, Aeris still managed to look regal and every inch a lady.

"You ready to go, Blaen?" Jydan asked as they stopped next to him.

He nodded once. "Yup. Just waiting for you." Blaen paused, then couldn't resist adding, "For a change" in a brief moment of foolhardiness. He grinned cheekily at Jydan's mock glare.

Aeris chuckled, eyes twinkling in amusement at the exchange. "I really do think I like this partner of yours, Jydan. He's good for you." She gave him an impish smile, then stepped away from him to extend her hand to Blaen. "This is for you."

Blaen hesitantly took the small cloth-wrapped package, his fingers telling him instantly that the package held two books. He shot a quick glance at Jydan before returning his gaze to Aeris. "Uh... You've already given me the Kathena and Dejanik book. I couldn't--"

She interrupted smoothly, raising her hand to stop his words. "I insist, Blaen. One you will find is the Green Waters book. I saw how much it meant to you." Aeris paused as the young man blinked several times. "The other is a collection of old tales centering around the Kathena/Dejanik story; some may be myths and some purport to be actual historical accounts. Jydan mentioned your interest in history, and I thought you would like to add this book to your collection."

Again, Blaen tried to protest. "I...I can't... Surely you want to keep these in your library."

Aeris stepped closer and placed a finger on Blaen's lips, silencing him. "It is rare that I meet someone who truly values books and their history. It is my...wish that you take them." She removed her finger and waited.

Blaen finally nodded and clasped the small package tightly to his chest. "Thank you. I will treasure them."

Smiling, Aeris leaned forward, brushing her lips across his cheek. "I know you will." A hint of jasmine scent clung to him as she pulled back.

"Uh..." He blinked at her, sensing more seeing the half-smile on Jydan's face -- and feeling a light blush color his cheeks. "I'll just go..." Blaen motioned behind him to Eri, then simply turned and clambered down the steps to where the horses waited. As he tucked the precious package into his saddlebag, Blaen could hear Jydan and Aeris exchange a last few words.

"It was...good to see you again, Jydan."

"Only good?"

Blaen glanced covertly to the side, catching the sly smile on Jydan's face and the answering smile on Aeris' face as she replied noncommittally.

"Hmm..."

Jydan chuckled and leaned forward, meeting her in a last hearty -- and long -- kiss. They parted slowly, faces lingering close together as they looked at each other a moment longer.

Abruptly realizing he was staring in wide-eyed fascination, Blaen jerked his eyes away and gave studious attention to refastening the buckle on the his saddlebag. He resisted the temptation to look again when he heard vague whisperings and Jydan's quiet laugh. A few seconds later, boots clomped down the steps, and Blaen glanced over to see Jydan finally joining him. Aeris remained on the porch, her hands tucked into the folds of her satin robe.

"Still ready to go, Blaen?" Jydan paused next to Blaen, resting his hand on the younger man's shoulder as he repeated his earlier query.

Blaen nodded and grinned. "Whenever you are."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"...and that was that. We went back the way we came, stopping briefly at the local Guild house to check for a job, then left Blyss and returned to Eirena."

'Did you ever say anything to him? Later? About that night?' Melaani pushed herself up and off the bed. As Blaen answered her question, she made a quick circuit around the room, dousing most of the candles, leaving the room lit by just the night-safe candles that could be left to burn unattended.

Blaen's half-closed eyes followed her movements around the room. A soft chuckle slipped from between his lips. "Not...really. He asked me how I slept. I almost told him I fell out of bed, but I decided not to. When I asked him how he slept, he just sorta smiled and said he had a 'lovely night.'"

Returning to Blaen's side, Melaani frowned and paused before reaching for the folded blanket at the bottom of the bed. 'Why are they not ... together now?'

"I've always wondered why they didn't...run off together." He shrugged and added, "I asked Jydan once, but he just smiled that same smile and said long-term wasn't what either of them wanted. Not then. We haven't talked about Aeris in a long time."

'And now there's Liralen.'

Blaen grinned and chuckled. "Yeah, now there's Liralen. And she's definitely after Jydan. I don't think he even realized it until tonight."

Smiling, Melaani shook out the blanket and prepared to drape it over Blaen. He touched her hand, stopping her. She looked at him curiously. 'What?'

"Stay here. Beside me. Please?"

She hesitated, then nodded once. 'Okay.' She covered Blaen with the blanket and lay back down beside him, pulling the shaliata more securely around her own shoulders and using one hand to twitch the lower part of it over her bare legs and feet. Relaxing, Melaani rested her head on the pillow again and smiled at Blaen. She reached out and softly touched his cheek, stroking her thumb over it. 'Close your eyes. I won't leave.'

Blaen's eyes slowly closed and his body relaxed into a half-asleep state. Melaani knew part of him was still listening for Jydan's return and wouldn't stop until he walked through the door. Sliding her hand away from his cheek, she wrapped one hand around one of Blaen's, interlocking their fingers as she pulled it close to her. She kissed his fingers in silent benediction, then started to close her own eyes. Before she did so, Blaen spoke up again, his voice a bare whisper between them.

"And so the gentle maiden did care for her injured love. With hands of grace and tenderness, she soothed his battered soul. With a spirit of mercy, she brushed away the sorrows. And with...with..." His voice drifted off as sleep finally conquered him.

Melaani smiled, recognizing the words of an old story from one of Blaen's many books. The rest of the last line echoed in her mind, familiar to her after several readings.

'And with a kiss, she promised him her heart.'

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Using a last burst of energy, Jydan trudged up the steps to his quarters above the guard compound, his good cloak snapping in the air behind him. It had taken him longer than he'd expected to finish. Between the clean-up of the palace, doing a quick survey of his men, tightening the security for the waning hours of the night, and checking in with Linet about Stefan's condition, the hours had slipped by without much notice. Kedric had finally made him leave, assuring him that all would be well. Liralen had accompanied him to the barracks, parting with him at the entrance to the grounds. Liralen. A weary smile crossed Jydan's face. Although a kiss had been out of the question in front of the two guards at the barracks entrance, the quiet look and touch of her hand on his arm said more than enough. Besides, he could still feel the warmth of her lips lingering on his from earlier.

It had been a couple years since he'd thought about pursuing a relationship with a woman. Even then, there'd been only a few he'd considered seriously. Aeris. His mouth quirked into a smile as he remembered the fiery, brilliant, and passionate lady of Blyss. Caleen. A widowed innkeeper in Fariedel, she had been in most ways the opposite of Aeris, but in others, surprisingly similar. Brave. Her own person. Quietly strong. And then there'd been the brief flirtation with Kellessan -- before he knew who she truly was. He shook his head as he came to a stop on the porch of his quarters. That had been doomed from the start. Even if she hadn't been the princess in disguise.

Pushing open the door quietly, Jydan stepped inside, pausing a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darkness within the house. Outside, tall torches had lit the pathway enough to see. Inside, it was dark, even with some light sneaking through windows and the open door. He fumbled for the small candle on the table by the door and lit it once he had it in his grasp. Lifting it, he shut and locked the door, and walked further inside, surprised to not find Blaen and Melaani on the couch. A hint of worry touched him, but he shook it off. Bedroom. Maybe Blaen needed to lie down. Heading into the kitchen, he found a larger covered candle and used the smaller one to light it. As he did so, a small open wooden container on the counter caught his attention. One of Blaen's tea bag holders. Peering inside, he sniffed once, then frowned. Headache tea. He's still hurting.

After tugging off his boots, Jydan lifted the covered candle and moved silently across the floor and down the short hallway. As he neared the bedrooms, a soft glow from Blaen's bedroom crept into the hallway. He entered the room and stopped short, smiling in spite of his concern over his tayaerra. Both wrapped in separate blankets, Melaani and Blaen lay asleep on top of Blaen's bed, facing each other, holding hands. Jydan leaned against the door frame, watching them. He's found love. And after all he's been through, he deserves it. And Melaani ... she's good for him.

In his sleep, Blaen shifted and his forehead creased; a quiet moan slipped from between his lips. Jydan set the candle down on the nearest flat surface and walked quickly around to the other side of the bed. Sitting down at Blaen's side, he rested one hand on Blaen's shoulder and with the other, stroked his forehead. "Sh...it's okay." he concentrated on feeling only pleasant peaceful things, realizing Blaen's inner barriers must still be weakened and he must've picked up on Jydan's momentary turbulent emotions. Under his touch, Blaen stilled, his breathing evening out. "There you go, Blaen. Sleep." He remained where he was, filling his own pushed-down need to see and touch Blaen, to know he was okay.

"Jydan?" Blaen's whisper startled him and he looked down as Blaen's head shifted on the pillow. Blaen remained on his side, but his eyes, halfway open and not really focused, met his.

"Yeah, it's me." He squeezed Blaen's shoulder, emphasizing his words. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"Hm. Glad you did. Wanted...needed to see you." His eyes slid closed as he spoke. "Everything okay?"

Lightly smoothing Blaen's hair away from his face, Jydan nodded. "Yeah, everything's okay. Go back to sleep, tayaerra. We'll talk tomorrow."

"Okay." Within moments, Blaen had slid back into slumber. Next to him, Melaani had never stirred, a testament to her tiredness as well.

Jydan sat there for a few moments longer, fingers lightly stroking Blaen's shoulder, watching in relief as most of the remaining pain lines slowly dissipated from his face. He looked over at Melaani and pondered waking her to send her back to her own quarters in the palace. But he shook his head, disregarding that idea immediately. No. She's asleep. And safe here. He returned his gaze to his partner. A part of him wanting to remain at Blaen's side, but he needed sleep as well, and as comfortable as Blaen's reading chair was, Jydan knew he wouldn't get any quality sleep in it. If Blaen's condition was worse, it would be different, but since he seemed to be okay...

Removing his hand from Blaen's shoulder, he prepared to stand, stopping as his sleeping tayaerra made a soft noise of protest. He knows I'm leaving. What should I--oh, I know. Rising to his feet, he quickly removed his cloak and gently laid it over Blaen's blanketed form. In the past, the dironan had mentioned -- somewhat shyly -- that something about the familiar feel of Jydan's cloak and the 'sense' of his presence on it, comforted him. And as Jydan tucked the edges around his friend's form, he smiled. Still works. Never waking, Blaen released a soft sigh and melted into deep, healing sleep.

Finally turning away, Jydan padded to the door to retrieve the covered candle. He paused to take a last look before retiring to his own bed. His whisper barely stirred the nighttime air. "Peaceful sleep, Blaen. Rest well."

- The End -


Author's Note: Drame, Kathena, and Dejanik are characters from The Bestowal, written by Ryana.

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