Something Else To Worry About

Machiavella of Kingsport

Chapter 2: Old Friends…

            The refugees and convicts from Haven were bewildered, to say the least, when Keladry of Mindelan walked out of Maggur's stronghold with a strange, beautiful man in tow. Some of them were awed; but as for the man himself, he looked upon them with utter contempt as they greeted their loyal commander and fussed over her wound. He stood tall, vague, and aloof, his perfectly combed horsetail of blonde hair stirring in the breeze, and his cold blue eyes reflecting the sky itself.

            As for Kel, she had long since collapsed with loss of blood and weariness. Nealan of Queenscove would have helped her as the refugees were doing, but his eyes were fixed in disbelief on the distant figure. How could it be? It wasn't possible, the man had died three years ago, was it some illusion that had only followed Kel out of the castle? But no, it couldn't be, for it spoke:

            "Well, well, if it isn't the Yamani Pigsticker's little clique, hmm?" Joren of Stone Mountain laughed, grinning without a single trace of friendliness. He folded his arms and looked upon Neal as a piece of rubbish and tossed his fair head. Neal was nearly speechless, and stuttered in confusion and rage.

            "Y-you, it's n-not possible! You're s-supposed to be dead!"

            "Why, Queenscove, you look as though you'd seen a ghost! You and the rest of your ragtag squad." Joren looked out over the remaining faces; Domitan of Masbolle, Owen of Jesslaw, Dom's squad of the Own. Owen's mouth opened and shut, his eyes wide—he looked like a fish, except he was trying to find words to voice his disbelief.

            "W-well, are you…?"

            "No, unfortunately. I could have stayed with the Black God, resting in my own little world without you detestable swine and your hussy, but the gods were determined to have their fun. So here I am. Happy to see me?" Joren grinned another wolfish grin, spreading out his arms as though through the crowd of moving refugees he wanted to embrace his old foes.

            'Mithros, no, I am NOT!" Neal had found his nerve again. "Now you and my friends can chat a little more and catch up on what's been happening, but I have to go see to my friend." With that he ran up to where Kel was being borne away by the other healers. He bade them set her down, and from his pack he took out fresh bandages.

* * *

            Later, when Neal had finished helping out all of his many patients and everyone had set up tents for the night, Joren and he found themselves having a conversation. Not a civil one, albeit, but informative, at least for Neal. Kel slept on a pallet in the large healers tent, but she was ignored for the most part, although mentioned.

            "Why were you brought back here?"

            "I was needed by Tortall." Joren stifled a yawn, rolling his eyes up toward the ceiling of the tent, feigning boredom.

            "What kind of country needs a corrupt, sexist, conservative fool like you?" Neal spat weakly, shaking a little. He had spent himself out healing everyone that day.

            "Apparently one like yours."

            He didn't say 'his', Neal thought, surprised. He's snobbier than I thought when it comes to the government. "But what's so special about you?" Neal muttered resentfully.

            "I have powers now."

            Neal laughed. How stupid did that sound? 'I have powers'. Whatever. "Like what?"

            Joren stared at him for a moment, seriously, and with concentration. Neal felt his energy return to him. The scrapes all over his body disappeared with the pain. He felt much cooler. Joren relaxed again, looking cockier than ever. "Like that. And besides, mine doesn't run out like yours when I get tired. I am a vessel for the Gods."

            Neal was infuriated. The nerve of him! "A vessel for the Gods? You? Oh, please!"

            Joren was silent.

            "And besides, wouldn't they choose someone a little more compassionate?"

            The beautiful blonde man laughed, with an almost jolly tone, as though there was a hilarious farce Neal had completely missed. "Why, that's what that little whore is for! Says the god from the Chamber of Ordeal, she is supposed to 'change my heart!' Don't you think she's absolutely suited for it? With all that muscle, I suppose she'd try to beat some chivalry into me!"

            Neal boiled, irate. "HOW DARE YOU CALL KEL A WHORE!" With his strength, lent from Joren's power, he knocked over his chair in an attempt to stand up and his hands shot at Joren's throat. But before he could reach it, he was thrown backwards by an invisible force and he skidded on the ground. "Oh, damn you, you filthy creature!" He glanced at his patients; Kel stirred in her unconsciousness as though she had actually heard the two men fighting. He slowly got to his feet. "I am not going to risk disturbing my patients," Neal continued, his voice low and angry. "So I am going to ask you to leave only once. And if you do not, I will find someway to hurt you, even with your 'powers'." He pointed a shaking finger at the door, glaring at his nemesis.

            Joren grinned almost genially, tipped his head pertly at him, and ducked jauntily out of the tent. Heaving an exasperated sigh, Neal sank into a chair and fell into a much-needed slumber, but it was not peaceful, for now, on top of everything, he had more problems facing him.

* * *

            The next morning Neal and Joren kept their distance. Of course this was an easy task, for Joren kept his distance from everyone else as well. He rode a borrowed horse at the back of the line, keeping his face like a cold mask of disgust. A couple of the teenaged girls tried to flirt with him, despite his snotty attitude and impudent air—but to no avail. He either ignored them completely or insulted them. Hurt, they rejoined their place in the long caravan line back to Tortall.

            Neal saw it all and shook his head. It was all too bad the girls hadn't known Stone Mountain's personality beforehand. They might not have bothered then. Kel sat weakly on a horse next to Neal, able to support herself somehow. (Neal thought it not her strength, for she would still have been in much pain from the wound in her shoulder, but rather, he thought it her stubborn will. He had never known his friend to give up.) Kel concentrated on nothing, it seemed but her inner thoughts. Neal pondered what Joren had told him the night before, about Kel having the task of trying to change him. Perhaps this was the cause of Kel's blank silence. After all, her Yamani mask was on—it had to be something like that.

            How was she to go about making Joren a gentleman? Even Lord Wyldon had never succeeded, back when they had all been pages. Not even the judge, when Joren had gone to court to pay for the kidnapping of Kel's maid. And who was to say Kel wouldn't give up? It seemed too daunting a task for her, Neal thought, although he had to admit she was stubborn and determined, and able to control herself a lot better than he himself would have been able to. Even so, what could she do?

            She would never torture anyone, not even her enemies. She left that to people who made careers of it, or Gods for that matter. And furthermore, how influential could Kel be, when Joren was opposing people of her very type? Progressives, and female ones, at that? Would she ever make him listen.  Kel, I hope it all goes for the best, Neal thought, shaking his head ruefully. I would that the gods had found someone else to protect Tortall in a time like this! I wouldn't accept any amount of money to be in Kel's place right now.

            He glanced at her again, and she was still silent, staring ahead with her Yamani face on. Neal sensed that likely she was brooding. All he could feel for her was sympathy. But he tried to think of other things, like how the rest of the people were faring, back at the fort—Wyldon, Raoul, all of the same. He hoped they hadn't been attacked while he and everyone else were here in Scanra. But Joren slipped back into his mind again. What would everyone think?

TO BE CONTINUED… (for sure)

A/N: Just letting y'all know about some things. In the reviews many of you left, you demanded "more, more, more"—there's only a slight problem there. You see, I start school on Wednesday, and let's just say the schedule, between classes, work, sports, and extra-curriculars, is RIGOROUS. Just to say the least. So I will likely not have much time to do writing of my own, unless it's for English class. So please, do understand that if I do not post for days, or even weeks on end, it is NOT because I have neglected the story. I do not intend to do that. I intend to actually finish this one, a novel idea for someone such as myself. (I rarely ever finish my work, except for "They Danced Anyway", another Tamora Pierce fic.) Well, anywhoot, thank you VERY much for the reviews, I always appreciate them, especially if you have suggestions! E-mail me or IM me, whatever pleases you…I'll be delighted to chat!—Nicoli D.