"That was a waste of time," Marit grumbled.
"Not really." Haplo lifted the book in his hands, reminding her of why they'd gone to the Kenkari in the first place. "And since they knew my parents' names, I'm inclined to believe them about tonight."
He wasn't quite certain what he thought about that night. He probably wouldn't for quite some time, long enough to figure out what the elves' cryptic words might mean.
Alfred coughed. "Our hosts don't speak Patryn," he reprimanded gently.
"Of course they don't," Marit snapped, still speaking her native tongue. "That's why I'm not speaking their language."
Haplo changed topics. In the elven language, he asked, "Do any of you have any idea what Krenka-Anris meant?"
They didn't. Not the Keeper of the Door, the lowest-ranking of the three. Not the Keeper of the Book, who would have answered honestly for Alfred's sake, if not for the sake of the Patryns. Not even the high priest, the Keeper of the Soul, who was closest attuned to the will of Krenka-Anris and therefore had the best understanding of her cryptic words. Not that Soul's silence meant anything- since he was closest to Krenka-Anris, it was entirely possible that he knew perfectly well what he'd related to the three non-elves but wasn't telling.
"Why are you asking them?" Marit demanded. She jutted a thumb at Alfred. "Ask him."
Haplo frowned, not quite understanding. "Are you still convinced that Alfred somehow set us up?"
"No," she admitted grudgingly, "because there's no way he could have known your parents' names. But assuming this message is real, not a trick or a lie, he probably knows what his own name means."
"Krenka-Anris kept that knowledge from me for a reason," Soul said.
Marit ignored him. Rounding on the miserable Alfred, she demanded, "So what's your name, Sartan?"
"…Alfred." He didn't meet her gaze, staring instead down at his feet. His face was faintly flushed, embarrassed. "Alfred Montbank. It was the first one I could think of," he admitted.
"But it's not your name," Marit said irritably.
The Sartan sighed. "I have very little left from that time, Marit: my magic and my name, and I'd more than half-forgotten them before meeting Haplo."
"Do you know what your message meant?" the Patryn in question asked, cutting off his ex-lover's retort.
Alfred's feet shuffled in and out, toes touching heels and vice versa. "I believe so, yes."
"Then do it," Haplo ordered. "Marit and I can take care of ourselves. You focus on whatever it is that you need."
Alfred's head snapped up. He gawked at the Patryn for a moment before beaming, nodding frantically.
"Is there anything else?" That question was directed to the Kenkari, who had been watching the (supposed) enemies' interactions in fascination.
"Krenka-Anris told me nothing more," Soul replied. "However, I do have a question, more my own curiosity than anything else. Haplo, what happened to your soul?"
Alfred fell victim to a sudden coughing fit.
"My what?" the Patryn repeated incredulously.
"I know that you have one," the elf explained quickly, fearing that he'd offended the other man, "but you don't seem to have it with you."
Alfred's coughs intensified. Haplo narrowed his eyes at the Sartan. "I don't suppose you'd know anything about that, would you?"
The Sartan attempted to look innocent and failed. Haplo arched a brow. Marit glared. "What did you do?" she demanded.
"I didn't do anything," the miserable man replied. In a pitifully obvious attempt to change the subject, he added, "His Highness will be waking up soon. We should get back to the ship before he finds himself all alone." Not that Bane would be frightened- he was more frightening than anything he was likely to encounter here on Arianus- but who knew what the brat would get up to on his own.
"What's this about my soul, Sartan?"
Alfred crumpled. "It was only a conjecture," he tried to explain. "That's why I didn't tell you. But… Haplo, have you ever wondered how your dog survived being thrown into the Fire Sea?"
Silence stretched out, thick as molasses. Finally, in a flat, disbelieving voice, Haplo said, "The dog is my soul." There was no emotion on his face, but his eyebrows were raised.
Marit snorted. "The dog is his soul," she repeated incredulously. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
Haplo, though, was frowning. He thought back to a series of unconnected incidents: spying through the dog's eyes, his disappearance while he was on Chelestra, his habit of inexplicably appearing at his master's side, how he survived the Fire Sea, how Alfred knew, just from looking at the animal, that his master was still alive….
"My soul. The dog is my soul."
"Not all of it," Alfred and the Kenkari corrected in unison. Sartan and elf blinked at one another, wondering who should continue. After a few seconds of silent communication, the Keeper of the Soul explained, "It seems to be only your best parts: pity, mercy, compassion."
Haplo's eyebrows climbed even higher.
"This is ridiculous," Marit grumbled. "Let's go, Haplo. We have better things to do than-"
Alfred jumped nearly out of his skin, fell flat on his back. The dog grinned, plumy tail wagging, and licked the Sartan across the face.
"I assume that that is yours?" queried Door.
Haplo nodded. "He tends to show up without any warning." Which would make sense, if the mutt was part of his soul. By the Labyrinth, no wonder Xar hated the beast!
"It is your soul," Book proclaimed, solemn as a monarch at her coronation.
The dog grinned.
"All right then." Haplo shrugged slightly. He was out of his league and knew it. "Now what the hell am I supposed to do about it?" This was directed at Alfred, who had had longer to think about the dog and its implications.
The Sartan flushed. "Nothing, I'm afraid," he sighed. "You have to become complete again on your own by accepting that the dog and what he represents is indeed a part of you, and not a weak part either." He smiled ruefully. "Of course, I am not the best person to ask when it comes to restoring souls."
"Don't tell me you believe him." Marit was incredulous.
"The dog died. He was immolated in the Fire Sea, burned alive." Even now, the memory brought a lump to his throat. "Nothing and no one could have brought him back unless he had something else tying him to life."
"Fascinating." Soul didn't seem to realize that he had spoken. He gazed at the dog almost greedily, utterly enchanted by the thought of a living soul- or even part of a living soul- made manifest. "I wonder, how much is dog and how much is metaphysical?" Turning to Haplo, the excited elf added, "Does he eat, sleep, drink? Is he capable of producing offspring?"
Alfred choked. Haplo almost joined him. "How the devil would I know?"
Soul's face flushed. He coughed delicately, pink still staining his cheeks. "Yes. Well. You have the book and you have been given your messages. Is there anything else you required, or would you prefer to go back to the changeling prince?"
Haplo didn't bother asking how the elves had known about Bane's heritage. "A warning before we leave you: there are creatures called dragon-snakes that have escaped through Death's Gate. They are… I have faced evil before, growing up in the Labyrinth, facing lazar, but never anything like them."
Soul nodded gravely. "Thank you for your warning. We will bear it well in mind."
Alfred shivered, remembering the sheer horror of the creatures. "I hope so."
"The dog is your soul." Marit's voice oozed disgust.
"I know," Haplo grumbled, "that's the stupidest thing you've ever heard. But even if it isn't true, there is something uncanny about the mutt."
The dog's ears twitched.
"Magic does strange things when its bearer is close to death," Alfred murmured. His gaze was distant, unseeing. "And you were very near death at the Final Gate."
Haplo arched a questioning brow. "I never told you when the dog showed up."
Alfred started, looked very guilty. "I'm sorry. I'm not trying to, I promise. It's just that I'm so close to falling asleep that some of your memories must be leaking into my mind."
"What?" Haplo was a quiet man, not prone to loud outbursts, but this was almost a shout.
Alfred winced. Oh, right. Haplo might not have known that whatever they had shared on the way to Abarrach hadn't given them only one memory each. "You haven't been experiencing any of my memories, have you?" Though he asked, he knew the answer.
"Why in the name of the Sundering would I experience anything of yours?" The Patryn's voice was carefully controlled, tight with strain.
Marit watched the exchange, gaze dark, remembering everything. The men seemed to have forgotten she was present; she could work with that.
Alfred's feet shuffled in and out, in and out. "In Death's Gate, when we exchanged souls, I… seem to have received more than one of your recollections. I didn't mean to." His shoulders hunched in, making him appear small and shrunken. "I'm sorry. I really had no intention of seeing anything, because it's really none of my business, but sometimes- actually, just three times- they just snuck up on me."
"Which memories?" Haplo ground his question out from behind clenched teeth.
"A brief emotional impression of what life in the Labyrinth was like." Alfred wouldn't meet the other man's gaze. "No real events, just feelings. Your parents'… fight with the snogs. That was what I saw in Death's Gate. The Final Gate and the dog's creation." His eyes flickered to Marit. "Her leaving you, and you wondering if she was carrying your child."
"Our daughter's name is Rue." Haplo's voice was cold, sharp.
Alfred got the hint. "If it's any consolation," he hastened to add, "you should be able to do the same to me."
Haplo blinked at him twice, wondering if he'd misheard. He hadn't. The Patryn spat a foul curse, followed it up with an even fouler expletive. "That's supposed to make me feel better?"
Alfred thought his words over, flushed. "Oh. Never mind." He could easily understand why Haplo did not want memories of waking up alone and afraid, of wasting away for years and years in Queen Anne's palace, of fainting and clumsiness.
"Never mind," Haplo grumbled, mocking the other man. Then he sighed. "Just try not to do it again."
"I've been trying," Alfred admitted wretchedly.
"Try harder." Haplo's tone brooked no argument.
"All right." His feet shuffled. "I'm sorry."
Haplo sighed. "I suppose you can't help it," he grumbled. And it was kind of his fault that they were going through this- he had cast the spell which had kept them from fainting.
By this time, they had reached their vessel. Haplo paused their conversation for long enough to chant the spell of unlocking. Runes flickered. The ship opened. "Go back to sleep, Alfred. I'm sailing us to a less populated island."
Alfred nodded, made his way to the nest of blankets. He extracted two of the blankets (why had he used so many in the first place? He wasn't that cold) and offered them to Marit. "I'm staying awake," she informed him icily. "Haplo, will you teach me to fly the ship?"
Her ex-lover nodded. Alfred folded up the extra blankets, grabbed the one he would use, and collapsed onto the floor. Soon, just after Haplo had lifted the ship into the air, he was asleep again.
For perhaps an hour, he quietly (no need to wake Alfred) explained the workings of his vessel. This is how you land it; this is how it lifts into the air. Here's the steering equipment, these ropes will bring you up and down in the air. This will let you speed up, this will slow you down in preparation for landing.
"So, what's this about you two exchanging souls?"
Haplo winced. He glanced quickly at Alfred, was relieved to see that the Sartan was still unconscious. "It's a long story and we should probably land soon." He was weary in mind if not in body. It had been a long, draining day.
"You've already explained how to land."
That was true. Haplo had told her that in an effort to keep talking, to delay their inevitable conversation. It seemed that his plan had backfired.
"When I went through Death's Gate to Arianus and Pryan…."
Somehow, his simple explanation warped and changed into a saga. He told her about Limbeck and Jarre and their rebellion, about discovering Alfred's heritage in the High Realms, about escaping the tytans on Pryan. He related the sheer horror of Abarrach, the wonder of the Chamber of the Damned, his torturous punishment for letting Alfred escape. He told her about Chelestra and the now-dead girl who had loved him, about the foul, terrible dragon-snakes and the wondrous dragon that had saved him. He was frank and honest, blunt about his mistakes and doubts, eloquent in his descriptions of the wonders he had seen. He talked until his throat was dry, until his eyes were red from lack of sleep.
Marit listened, frowning at Bane's treachery, fighting back laughter at Zifnab and some of Alfred's misadventures, smiling with relief when her ex-lover survived a particularly difficult situation. She was a good listener, quiet, able to ask questions with a simple facial expression that didn't interrupt the narrative.
Night (or what was left of it) passed them by; Solarus peeked out from behind the Lords of Night. At some time, Haplo and Marit had decided not to sleep that day. They would continue flying until they were closer to the Low Realms. They were just beginning their descent when Bane entered the room. The changeling started, stared at Marit. "Who are you?" he demanded.
The Patryn woman touched her heart-rune. "I am Marit." She didn't ask the prince's name or even comment on it. She knew who he was.
"What are you doing here?" the boy snapped.
Haplo's eyes bored into her. Her jaw tightened. She was not going to confess to espionage. "Helping."
Bane pouted. "Grandfather didn't say a thing about a helper."
"Yet here I am."
Bane spent the rest of the morning wheedling her for information. She ignored him. According to Haplo's tales and the rumors circulating around the Nexus, this child was an unpleasant little brat who had murdered his own father and wanted to kill those who had raised him. Such actions were abhorrent to the Patryn race.
A tiny, niggling voice asked why, if these actions were so horrible, her lord was using this boy as his tool. She told the voice to shut up.
The child eventually woke Alfred, hoping to get more information from him. Marit expected him to spill the beans, but, to her surprise, the Sartan simply confirmed that Marit was a helper and went to look for food before heading back over to his notes. Haplo stopped him. "No."
"Alfred, you worked on those plans for how many days? They don't need more work. Besides, you'd just starve yourself. Why don't you help me go over the book instead?"
Marit manned the ship while they went over the book. Alfred would occasionally explain some minor point Haplo didn't understand. Marit listened. If something happened to Haplo- for instance, this suspiciously friendly Sartan showing his true colors- she would be able to work the machine.
The Lords of Night returned, masking Solarus. Marit landed the ship on a tiny coralite island. "Get some sleep," she ordered the others. "Tomorrow we enter the Maelstrom."
Poor Haplo. He's not really taking all these revelations well (though that might have been because of Soul's curiosity. Incidentally, I've often wondered the same thing. COULD the dog have puppies?). Hopefully he'll adjust soon.