Marit went white as the implications reeled through her brain. And then, as was her wont, she blamed Alfred. "You told them his name?" You gave them magical power over him? You betrayed him, handed his identity over to a thousand Sartan enemies who want him captured, imprisoned, dead? Furious images of what the other Sartan could do with that name, of the magics they could work, permeated her words. They slammed into Alfred's mind, made him stagger backwards.
"They'd have learned it anyways," Haplo growled. In retrospect, it was rather stupid of him not to have come up with a pseudonym of his own (Hal, perhaps?). But then, he hadn't known much about mensch names when he came to Arianus, and what was done was done. There was no point in whining about the past, just in moving forward. "From the mensch."
"That doesn't justify it," Alfred pointed out. "I still shouldn't have-"
Haplo shook his head, the ache behind his temples spiking. "Whatever. You can't change the past, Alfred."
"Well, no, but-"
"You can't change the past."
"No, he can't," Marit noted. She clearly wasn't entirely convinced of Alfred's innocence yet. "But he did still give your name to your enemies."
Once again, Haplo lamented his decision to get out of bed.
"I'm sorry," Alfred whispered, staring at his feet. He glanced up at Haplo, viewed the Patryn sideways. "I didn't know they would do something like this."
Marit snorted. "You didn't know that a bunch of Sartan would attack him in his own ship? You didn't realize that your people would do their best to capture him, break him? They might claim they came here for you, and maybe they did, but that can change at any moment. If they decide to attack Haplo, if they capture or kill him, it will be your fault."
All right, that was enough. Haplo butted into the conversation. "It's too late for me to start using a pseudonym, but we can still learn from this. Alfred, Bane, what's a good, inconspicuous name for a human woman?"
"Mary, perhaps," the Sartan suggested. Bane didn't answer. He wanted the adults to forget he was there, to loosen their tongues, lower their inhibitions. He knew full well that they were keeping secrets from him, and he didn't like it one bit. "Or a variant of it, like Maria or Marie. All three names are quite unremarkable. So is Martha. Margaret and its variants. Or, if you wanted something that didn't sound at all like your true name, you could try something like Joan."
"Is he telling the truth?" Marit asked Bane, thwarting the boy's plans to remain unnoticed.
Pouting, the prince replied, "Yes. There are lots of women with those names."
"Why would I lie?" Alfred muttered, though he was careful not to let Marit hear.
"Because you're a Sartan," Haplo muttered back. "You might not have noticed this, Alfred, but she doesn't seem to trust you much."
He was a bit too loud in his last two words. Marit heard, looked up. "What was that, Sartan?" she demanded.
All right, that was it. He could understand suspicion, even some degree of paranoia, but this was utterly ridiculous. Haplo's face went blank, hard as stone, the cords in his neck bulging with strain. His fists clenched, muscles going taut all along his body. At his side, the dog's ears lay back as the animal snarled. His fur fluffed up, making him larger, a dark contrast against his white fangs.
"Listen up," Haplo snapped, his voice merging with the dog's growl. "All of you."
The other three listened up. Alfred's face was worried and confused, Bane's nervous and calculating, Marit's wary and watchful.
"Marit. Bane. Our lord put me in charge of this mission. I'm his main emissary to the four elemental worlds, not you two." Haplo bared his teeth in a parody of a smile. "That means that you listen to me."
Bane was indignant. "I'm the prince of Uland-"
"I don't care," Haplo interrupted. The changeling's jaw sagged; he had almost never been interrupted before, and certainly not by someone of such low birth. "You're on this ship because you gave your fealty to my lord- your lord too, kid. That means that in anything related to our mission, you defer to me. Understand?" The runes on his body glowed softly, a sign of dominance instead of danger, a visible reminder of Bane's current status.
The boy flushed, the ugly red contrasting horribly with his blond hair, but did not respond.
"Understand?" Haplo repeated, towering over the smaller male.
Lips tight, fists clenched, Bane nodded.
"Good." Haplo turned his attention to Alfred, who seemed less than pleased by his treatment of Bane. Menace or not, the changeling was still only a child. "I don't have the same kind of authority over you, Alfred, but we made a deal. Will you listen to me, do as I say, until the deal is done?"
He didn't hesitate. "Of course."
"How come you're asking him and ordering us?" Bane whined.
"Because I don't have legal authority over him, that's why," Haplo snapped. Also because Alfred didn't need to be bullied- at least not now. The Sartan wasn't the source of their current problems (well, he was in a way, but that didn't have to be the case. It wasn't Alfred's fault that he hadn't been born human or Patryn, wasn't his fault that his ancestors and Haplo's had loathed each other); the Patryn man didn't even really have to include him in his tirade.
"Time for some ground rules. Rule one: no murder attempts. This means no throwing daggers-" he met Marit's eyes "-no poisonings-" Bane attempted to look innocent. If Haplo hadn't known the brat's history, it might actually have worked "-and no magic." This to Alfred, who hadn't tried to kill anybody and really didn't need this lecture. Oh, well. There would be rules for him later.
"Rule two: don't provoke each other. No snarky comments about Bane's parentage, no unmitigated glaring at Alfred, no insults of any kind. You will not try to bait each other, trick each other into breaking a rule, or act like you're going to pick a fight.
"Rule three: if you're going to use magic, give everyone else a warning first." This was the first rule that was directed mostly at Alfred. The Sartan had a tendency to use magic without thinking. Haplo didn't mind- that tendency had saved his bacon more than once- but Marit felt differently, as evidenced by the dagger-throwing incident. "And preferably an explanation of the spell. Obviously not in battle, but no other exceptions."
The older man hesitated. Haplo's foot tapped, impatient. "Spit it out."
"I assume that at least one of you will be coming with me into the catacombs?" At Haplo's nod, he continued, "Will I have to explain every defensive spell before casting it?"
"No," said Haplo, even as Marit said, "Yes." The two Patryns locked gazes, frustrated. Then Marit remembered her ex-lover's earlier remarks and grudgingly looked away. She might be Xar's spy, but he was his emissary, his son. He outranked her just as much as he outranked Bane.
"Rule four," Haplo announced, satisfied that he wouldn't have to force yet another confrontation, "we're going to try to be civil to each other. I'm not asking you to become best friends, but like it or not, we share the same mission. We can fulfill our mission more effectively by learning to cooperate."
"Okay," Alfred agreed, meek as ever. His head was lowered but his eyes were level, clear, understanding. Alfred was very good at understanding.
"Does everyone understand?" Haplo finished.
Marit didn't say anything, just nodded.
"Good." The tension drained from Haplo's shoulders. "We're almost there. Did you want to land, Marit, or should I?"
"Can it wait a moment?" Alfred queried.
The others stared at him, not having any idea what he was thinking. "Why wait?" Haplo asked.
"There is a spell that can prevent them- my people, that is- from transporting to you again," the Sartan explained. "I've never cast it before, but I know it inside and out. It was developed on Arianus as a theoretical exercise and involves some fascinating applications of-" He took in the Patryns' expressions and amended his statement. "The point is, I know how to cast it and they don't. I'm not certain how that would affect the dog, and I obviously can't include people whose names I don't know- not that I'm asking you for anyone else's name, of course- but this way you will be safe from an attack like the one today."
"You want to cast an unknown spell on Haplo?" Marit's voice oozed suspicion, distrust, and of course she phrased the Sartan's proposal in the worst possible way.
"Not unknown," Alfred corrected. "I just haven't cast it before."
Marit snorted, folded her arms. Haplo wondered in frustration if she'd even listened to his lecture five minutes ago. "Alfred's good at picking up new spells," he told her. "I'd be dead if he wasn't." He turned to the pleased-looking Sartan in question. "Use the spell on me and on the ship. Leave a hole in the spell on me for yourself and Marit and a hole for the three of us on the ship's spell."
"Me?" Alfred exclaimed.
"Yes, you. Are you deaf?"
"Haplo-" Marit began.
The male Patryn raised a hand, shook his head. "I'm not saying that you have to like him, Marit, but you will have to learn to trust him. I do." He turned to Alfred, was disgusted (but not really surprised) to see that the Sartan was tearing up. "Cast the damn spells already, will you? I'd like to land as soon as possible."
The wet-eyed Sartan nodded rapidly. "Of course." He backed up, began a merry, high-pitched song. Runes flowed from his hands to surround the ship, settling into the walls. A bright smile lit up his face, lent speed to his dance. The Patryns listened to the runes, understood very little except their own names, harsh consonants instead of the Sartan language's long, musical vowels. After a couple minutes of activity, Alfred slowed to a stop, but the magic didn't leave his face. "Your turn, Haplo." He stepped forward, not stumbling once (though he didn't have that far to go), repeated his song. This time, the only Patryn rune-name he used belonged to Marit. The woman in question watched with one hand on her dagger.
When Haplo didn't spontaneously combust, she allowed herself to relax a bit. It was possible that the Sartan had cast a delayed-reaction spell, but she doubted it. Why she doubted she could not say, didn't want to say, but it was probably safe to assume that a man who hadn't hurt them in the days they'd lived on the same ship wouldn't break his habit now. Not that she'd let her guard down, of course. She wasn't stupid.
"All right," Haplo said once the spell was complete. He hadn't stiffened as Alfred worked his magic on him, as a Sartan cast a spell on a Patryn. Either he was very brave or, as he'd said to Marit, he really did trust the older man. "Now that this is settled, which of us was going to land the ship?"
"I will." Marit wanted as much experience as possible, just in case. Her eyes traveled to Alfred once again, weighed him briefly before returning to the steering stone.
Haplo followed her gaze, sighed. Well, he reminded himself, I didn't say she had to like him. Not that she would even if I had said that. And I suppose that trust can't be forced. As long as she lets go of this in emergencies, there's nothing I can do.
"You do remember how to land, right?"
The landing went smoothly, without a hitch. Marit parked the ship half a mile away from the Kicksey-winsey's nearest limb, hid it behind a mask of runes. The ship was not invisible, but it would be almost impossible for anyone to see it, especially if they didn't know it was there. Not that any dwarves would come this far outside of the machine's all-encompassing embrace, but it was always better to be safe than sorry.
"Here's the plan," Haplo announced as they walked towards the Kicksey-winsey. "We find Limbeck and give him this copy of the book." They had two extra copies in the ship, not wanting to risk anything more than they absolutely had to. Even Alfred thought that the replication was a good idea and wondered aloud why his people hadn't done that themselves. "He calls his people together. We go down into the tunnels so Alfred can cast his magic. By the time we get up, Limbeck will have gotten everyone important. We bring them down and have that automaton work the machine. The continents align, everyone's happy, and we can leave. Questions?"
"What then?" Alfred asked. The Sartan hadn't been having a good time. The island's ground was rocky and uneven. Combined with his natural clumsiness and his justifiable nervousness around Marit, not to mention his lingering aches from being thrown around the ship like a living missile, the landscape was a recipe for disaster. He'd fallen several times, once knocking over Bane, once almost crushing the poor dog. Things had gotten better since the dog devoted all his energy to helping the poor man, but Alfred would have an impressive collection of bruises when their journey was over.
Good thing they'd landed so close. Haplo didn't want to think about what would have happened if Alfred had had to walk farther. "Then we get Bane back to his parents and give them the excuse my lord formulated. The humans will have an heir- two heirs- and stability will be assured."
Alfred considered asking what excuse that might be, decided better of it. "All right."
"Yeah." Haplo rested his hand against the cool metal of the machine. He scanned its length, couldn't see an entrance. The Patryn briefly considered opening a door there and now, if only for poor Alfred's sake, but decided not to. They could walk some more. Even the Sartan could walk some more. "Now come on. Let's go."
I really feel sorry for Haplo now. And Alfred. *tries to hug both and is warded off with magic*
Yeah... for NaNoWriMo, I'm just trying to write 50k for my various projects- Harry Potter, this, a long DGC one-shot, etc. Hopefully there will be another Traitors update before the end of the month and I'll be able to publish that long one-shot. Hopefully.