Eildon Rhymer (rhymer23) wrote,
Eildon Rhymer
rhymer23

On the Road to Come What May - part 6 of 16

On the Road to Come What May – chapter five (part 6 of 16)

The story starts here on LJ or you can read the entire story to date here in a single file.


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Chapter five
On Outstretched Wings
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The sun was shining, and birds were singing their tuneful love songs from every tree. Snowblossom was strewn across the grass like pale scattered dust. Green lace-wings fluttered by on wings that caught the light like specks of living star-stone. Jasper trailed his hand beside him, letting blades of grass caress his palm, linger for a while, and then spring free. What would a blade of grass say, he wondered, about this fleeting contact with someone as tall as the sky? What stories would they tell if they had the voice to tell it?

They were climbing steadily, heading into the hills. The flood behind was no longer visible, and Jasper realised that there had not been a single day of his life in which he had not seen water. A vast expanse of water already separated him from the city that had always been his home, and every step took him further away, towards an unknown world of possibility.

His travelling companions talked quite a bit, but most of what they said seemed unimportant. The prisoner walked steadily, his eyes fixed on the path in front of him. Rodney and the woman walked on either side of him, their path undulating, moving away from him for a while, but always drawn back to his side. Rodney chattered in that self-centred way that Jasper now knew to expect from him, but the prisoner treated him with the contempt that he deserved, insulting him and calling him 'McKay.' McKay, Jasper concluded, must be an unsavoury character from their songs and stories, whose name had become proverbial for everything unpleasant.

The other two, Ronon and the thief, kept disappearing.

Who were these people, Jasper wondered. They were not from Myr, and they claimed not to be from Daryen, but beyond those two lay only travellers' tales and rumour. Was he walking with legends made flesh? Were they envoys of some distant, undiscovered land? In years to come, would people sing songs of Jasper, the young prince who was the first to offer them a hand of friendship? It was hard to think of Rodney as a creature of mystery and legend. Perhaps they were just simple folk from the sunward side of Daryen, in a place where stars were strange, who had wondered too far from home and paid the price. Perhaps they were on a pilgrimage to the Circle of Daryen, or perhaps they had friends waiting for them near there, to meet them and escort them home.

"Where are you from?" he asked, letting the words fly like thistledown on the wind, to land where they willed.

He saw the prisoner and the woman look at each other, a sharp glance. "From… far away," the woman said.

"Yeah," agreed the prisoner. "We crashed on your--"

"City," the woman interrupted firmly.

The prisoner frowned. "Was going to say that."

The woman smiled at Jasper. "We arrived in your father's kingdom by accident, and we intend to return home as soon as it is possible. It is not our intention to--"

"So we're respecting the natives' ignorance now, are we?" Rodney sneered. "How politically correct. How prime directive. Just because they apparently think there's nothing beyond their petty little warring kingdoms, and have no concept--"

"McKay," the prisoner said, clear warning in his tone. "We talked about this this morning, remember?"

They had talked? They had talked, and Jasper had not known. They had excluded him. "I could order you to tell me." His voice had a harsh edge to it.

Rodney gave a snort of laughter. "Believe me, that is so not the way to get Sheppard talking."

A gaer passed above them, soaring on outstretched wings, watching the grass with eager eyes. Jasper had never seem one wild and free before, only tethered on a noble's wrist. Its beak was curved and deadly, but as he watched, it opened it and cried out, a high and thrilling sound. I am free, it said. I am free and I am flying and I am free.

The prisoner had raised his head to look at it, too, but his face was turned away, and Jasper couldn't see his expression.

"I…" Anything else he might have wanted to say felt suddenly less important. "I don't know your name," he said to the woman, then felt himself flush, remembering his tutor's lessons – no, no! Don't stammer like a fool. You have to be courtly when talking to a lady.

He opened his mouth to rephrase the question, but she was already answering him. "I am Teyla Emmagen." She smiled at him.

"Lady Emmagen." He bowed. She had smiled at him.

"Call me Teyla."

She had smiled at him. In the wild flight from the Citadel, she had been a gentle voice that had talked to him, telling him that he would not be hurt. And that was why he had never been as afraid as he ought to have been. She was his mother's voice and the voice of his first nurse, and lullabies when he couldn't sleep, and arms holding him against the nightmares. She was all the things that had been torn from him when he had reached the age of eight and had been dragged from the care of women and handed over to the cold world of men.

Now she stood with sunlight dancing in her hair, with a peasant skirt, and boots upon her feet. Now she stood and smiled at him amongst the flowers. Now, for the first time, he saw her.

"Teyla." He managed to say it. The questions came as swift as a flood after that, surging into his mind. Why did she travel with three men? There had been times when Myra had travelled with Tamorlin, but those two were bonded with a love so strong that two trees grew out of their graves and wove together in a true love's knot. "Are you…?" He had no idea how to ask it; merely moved his hand uselessly, indicating the prisoner.

He heard reactions from the other two, but his eyes were only on Teyla. She was no longer smiling, but her voice was gentle as she said, "They are my team, and my friends." Her tone was final. She might have added 'and nothing more', but did not.

Jasper looked away, at the glory of the snow-blossom, at the pale glow of the exposed outcrops. The gaer was hovering in the clear air, but as he watched it, it plummeted, falling to the ground faster than an arrow. He did not see it rise up again.

"Yes," Rodney said, "she-- What? I'm not going to say anything inappropriate, so don't glare at me like that, Sheppard. I was just going to tell the boy that he should be careful. Look at him – he's positively drooling. He needs to… uh… well, respect her, and--"

"I am quite capable of defending my own honour, Rodney," Teyla said, and even when there was an edge to her voice, it was beautiful.

"Don't I just know it." The prisoner gave a grunting laugh. "She kicks my ass every day with those sticks of hers."

"Not to mention the fact that she's the leader of the… of her people," Rodney said, looking quite strangely and insistently at Jasper. "Almost a queen, in fact."

"Don't think that helped," the prisoner said. "And I hate queens."

Jasper was suddenly very conscious of the sleep tunic he was wearing, of the way the heat and the exertion was making his face sticky with sweat. He could feel his hair sodden at the nape of his neck. He wiped his moist palms against the coat he was carrying. "John!" he heard Teyla said, as Jasper ran his hand across his face, smoothing out the damp strands of hair at his brow. "Are you…?"

"Fine. Just peachy." As the prisoner spoke, Jasper tried to slow his breathing. He wiped a bead of sweat off his collarbone. "No, I'm fine. "

Jasper's cheeks felt hot, burning against the back of his fingers. Silently, the gaer rose up from the grass. Teyla, he saw, had moved away from the prisoner, but it looked as if she had been touching his shoulder a moment earlier. As Jasper watched, she turned and shot a look at Rodney. Jasper had no idea what it meant.

They walked a dozen more steps. "I need a rest," Rodney said, stopping with a sigh. "All this climbing… I work out. I'm in good physical condition, if I say so myself, but it's this heat… Phew!" He puffed out air and wiped his brow. "And Ronon and--" He snapped his fingers several times. "--Kit have been gone a long time and it's only fair to give them a chance to catch up. I hope they haven't been caught by that Whisperer guy. Seriously, that was creepy. But, like I say, rest. Phew! Hot."

"No need to overdo it, Rodney." At first Jasper thought the prisoner sounded amused, but then he thought he might be annoyed. "At least let me sit down by myself." As Teyla stood over him, and as Rodney watched, biting his lip, from a little further away, the prisoner lowered himself onto a stone. His head was bowed, his fist clenched.

"Water." Rodney pulled a leather bottle out of his pocket and pulled out the stopper. He raised it towards his mouth, then lowered it again, holding it out to the prisoner. "Here."

Dropping his coat on the grass, Jasper sat down, leaning back with his legs stretched out in front of him. Fresh air danced over his newly-exposed arm, but his mouth felt very dry. No-one had offered him any. He bit back his irritation, remembering that this was an adventure and that the whole point of it was that normal rules did not apply. He had water of his own, anyway, jammed into his coat pockets by the thief. 'If you want to drink it,' the thief had said, 'you carry your own.'

The water was too warm. Jasper wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and tried to get Teyla to look at him again. "Are you really a queen?"

"No." She sounded preoccupied, sitting close to the prisoner. "I am leader of my people, but they are not many."

Jasper took another sip, then poured some water into his hands and wiped it over his face. "We're not her people, in case you're wondering," Rodney said. "I have a very important position myself with our people."

Talis had disguised himself as a beggar and spent a year and a day in exile, learning truths that no man would tell honestly to a prince. He had returned with his wisdom and his will honed and sharpened, like the sun in spring after the dark days of winter. "Why…" He spread his fingers in the grass, watching blossom spring between them. "Why are you away from them?"

It was a while before she answered, long enough for him to fear that she was not going to answer him at all. But he heard her say something very softly to the prisoner, too quietly for Jasper to hear what it was, and heard the prisoner say something in return. Rodney watched them, twisting his hands, then looked back the way they had all come, biting his lip.

"I made the decision to leave them," Teyla said at last, "because I knew that I could serve them best in… a different place. I still believe it was the right decision, and there have been… other advantages."

Jasper did not understand. "But how--?"

"Leave it, junior." The prisoner sounded weary. "Where's Ronon? We need to… face the possibility that…"

"That the Whisperer's already here," Rodney said. "He spoke right here." He jabbed at his brow with one finger. "It was… It was quite horrible, actually."

"Yeah," said the prisoner, in the voice Jasper remembered from the water cell. "Being hunted usually is."

******

Pressed flat against the top of the crag, Kit could see the entire width of the flood. At its centre was the double line of trees that marked the original course of the river through its fertile flood plain, but now the water stretched from the hills to those on the other side, tainted at the edges with the mud from sodden fields.

"Quite the sight, isn't it?" he said.

Ronon, his predictable friend, said nothing.

"Behold the folly of man." Kit spread his hand, indicating a kingdom of loss and ruin. "That's what old Karris says, anyway. He used to bed some woman from Daryen, and he's been infected with that whole end of the world crap they've got going there. Gods coming back to judge us, and all."

"Quiet!"

Kit sighed. "It's not as if anyone can hear us, with them being down there, and us being here. There's such a thing as being too careful."

Ronon said nothing. The steamship had passed without stopping, anyway, its deck doubtless bristling with Myr's fineness, off to bring back their idiot prince and tear apart those evil villains who'd dare steal him. Should be thanking us, Kit thought. Rumour had it that the king despised his son and considered him a worthless fool.

"Can you actually see anything," he asked, "or are you just perching here like a gaer with its eyes on its prey because you think it looks impressive?"

"There's no-one now."

Kit watched the line steam slowly dispersing. The city of Myr itself was hidden by a spur of hillside away to the right. "Much as I appreciate the company," he said, careful to make his voice was sarcastic as possible, "you don't have to tag along with me. I work best alone. It's nothing personal, Ronon, but… Well, I can see you're a man of brawn, used to solving things with your fists. No disrespect to you for that, but this is different work. I've spent f-- a lifetime living by my wits on the streets. There's nothing I don't know about evading pursuit."

Ronon appeared to be studying the water's edge. "You left a footprint in a patch of mud back there. I got rid of it."

Clouds were gathering on the far side of the river, tinged with growing black. It was likely going to rain before the day was out; it usually did. It mattered more now, of course, out in the wilds, with everything at stake.

"Not that I don't welcome a fighting man like you at my back in case they do catch us, but…" He sighed, and looked at his hands in front of him, scraped on the back and stained with mud and rock dust. He'd always worked alone. No partner, no mate, no gang for him. Alone, when you didn't have to worry that another person would be the link that broke the chain and led to death and other unpleasantness. "You do keep going away, which isn't very polite." And then reappearing like a carril on silent feet, and slotting in beside Kit, leaving his heart pounding far too fast.

"Someone was down there earlier," Ronon said, "'bout two miles behind us. Three of them. Armed. I laid a false trail."

False trail. Kit moistened dry lips. Such things were easy when your playground was a maze of bridges and walkways and staircases and passageways. "And you didn't think to tell me?"

"Don't trust you." Ronon said it as a simple statement.

"Given the circumstances," Kit said stiffly – Gods! I sound like my uncle – "I would have thought it was obvious that I have as much interest as you do in not getting captured."

"Don't trust your skills. It's nothing personal, but I work best alone."

The man sounded totally serious, echoing Kit's words without even a glimmer of a smile, without even anything to show that he was doing it deliberately. For the space of ten too-fast heartbeats, Kit had no idea what to say.

"Don't think they're following," Ronon said, sliding away from the edge of the crag with the air of someone who had been doing this since birth, "but there'll be more."

"Yes." Kit followed him, then rolled onto his back, leaning against a rock. "Lots and lots of them. Whole armies of them, with Whisperers at their head, who, thanks to your friend Rodney, know exactly where we were just this morning, and all of them determined to give us a gory death."

"You sound like McKay."

Kit shuddered. "Thank you. Thank you very much." But he felt that shudder carry on inside him, and felt the unsteadiness of his own breathing. Eight days of this! Eight days with death breathing down his neck. Had he made the right decision? Perhaps nobody had recognised him outside the Citadel. Perhaps he could have shoved Ronon and his friends in the direction of the guards, then rushed off to lie low somewhere deep within the Drowned Quarter, to wait and watch for another chance to come along. "Eight days," he said out loud, "across open country, with the Debateable Lands to cross."

At last Ronon smiled, granting Kit a quick flash of his teeth. "I know some tricks." The smile disappeared. "Eight days is nothing."

"Easy to say."

"Not just saying." Ronon's voice was strange.

"Well, it's quite long enough for me," Kit said, "and may I remind you…" Gods! Like my uncle again. He pushed a strand of damp hair behind his ear. "At least you're seem to think you're heading home, wherever you home may be. I'm going the opposite way. Thanks to you and your friends, it I've got to make a new start with nothing."

"It's not so bad, making a new start." Ronon appeared to be staring at the strange pattern of markings on his forearm. "You--"

"Come on." Kit pushed himself to his feet, his hand scraping against rock as he did so in a way that he knew had drawn blood. "Let's rejoin our happy little band."

******

Halfway through the afternoon, blackness rolled across the sky. As they picked their way down a slope, darkness moved across the landscape ahead of them like a curtain. In the dwindling strip of land that still basked in the sun, every tree stood out and every rock appeared to shine. Behind it, everything was shadow, all detail gone, melted into the gloom. It was like a hand sweeping across the fabric of the world, wiping out life. And there, at the very end of it, Jasper saw a single tree bent low against the prevailing wind, shining and luminous in the sunlight, although everything behind it was black. Then the shadow reached even it, and everything was dull.

"Thank God!" Rodney exclaimed. "Now I might get through the day without dying of sun stroke. I'm going to be in agony tomorrow as it is, with sunburn. Does this world have sun screen?"

Jasper cherished the memory of that single tree, wrapping everything that he had around it and keeping it safe. It was beauty at the heart of shadow. (Teyla with her smile and her gleaming hair.) It was tenacity – a single thing determined to shine, while all around it was dark. (The prisoner's eyes glittering as he clung to the platform.) It was the joy of poetry, that saw the beauty of ordinary things – things that lesser men walked by without even seeing.

"You see him?" Ronon said sharply.

"Yes," he heard the prisoner say. "Over there."

They abruptly changed their path, heading sideways across the slope. Jasper almost stumbled, pebbles sliding beneath his feet, and the thief grabbed his arm painfully. "Careful!" he hissed, steadying him. Teyla's hair was darker in the shadow. Jasper wondered what to compose a poem about first: Teyla, or the tree. Perhaps both, he thought, since she was as slender as a tree and as strong and as beautiful. What rhymed with Teyla? Sailor, he thought. Gaoler. A woman could be said to be the gaoler of a man, since her beauty held him captive. He was not sure how sailors would fit in.

"Quick," Rodney panted behind him. "Hurry, hurry. Ow!" Jasper heard the sound of tumbling stone.

Ahead of them was a patch of trees, flowing like dark green liquid across the hillside. They had slender trunks, covered with white papery flakes, and broad leaves. They rose from the grass like slim maidens poised ready to dance, and they reached out to their sisters, their leaves brushing together and shutting out the light.

"Far enough," he heard the others say, and "here" and "down." He wondered if any of them saw the things that he saw. He wondered if they could walk side by side for the entire length of the world, and yet live in two different stories.

"What's happening?" he asked, because their world, his father's world, the world devoid of poetry and song, could still reach out and shatter all his dreams.

"Someone's coming." Ronon was crouching near the ground in a way that commanded Jasper not to see him. Even the angle of his back seemed to echo the angle of the tree trunks.

"From ahead of us," the prisoner said. "Some native. Didn't move like a soldier. Best be careful, though."

"Native." Jasper frowned. "People live here?"

"Course they do." That was the thief, his voice harsh. "Hundreds of thousands of people scattered across the hinterland, struggling to grow enough food to feed the hungry city of Myr, where nobody grows anything at all. Didn't you know?"

"Of course I knew." He crept forward. A twig dug painfully into his knee before snapping. He knew of the villages in the hills above Myr, and of towns across the river. Some of them even had names. Carmin produced the best cheese, and Fallow had produced rich red wines, until the rains had ruined the vines. Surviving bottles of fallowmead now sold for more than a casket of solid gold.

"You haven't noticed the smoke?" the thief demanded. "You haven't noticed walls? You haven't noticed merrow with letters dyed onto their coats? You haven't seen the huts and cottages that we've been oh so careful to avoid? By all the gods, boy, do you walk round with your eyes closed?"

"I walk round with my eyes open," Jasper retorted, "more than a man like you could ever do." He saw a small insect emerging from the bark. He saw a small fungus peeping from the soil at the base of the nearest tree, as white as the kind that went well with fowl, but shaped more like a hat. He knew that 'bark' could rhyme with 'dark', and he knew by heart a hundred different ways to tell a woman in verse that she was beautiful.

"Stop talking now please," Rodney whispered, "because – hello? Stranger approaching – could be Whisperer in disguise, sneaking up."

Jasper edged forward, stopping just short of Ronon. He could see the hillside spread before him, and perhaps that really was a path, Perhaps that line of piled stones had been piled there deliberately. He saw the man, too – a small figure trudging up the hill, showing no signs of the joy he would have expected from someone who lived in a verdant landscape like this. As the man drew closer, Jasper could see that he was exceedingly thin.

"Not a Whisperer," the thief said quietly from behind him. "Whisperers never look half-starved."

Jasper looked back over his shoulder. Teyla, the prisoner and Rodney were several paces behind. The prisoner wasn't even bothering to watch the approaching man, but was sitting with his back against a tree, his eyes closed.

"If he really is a farmer," Jasper said, making up his mind, "then we should introduce ourselves to him. We can share in the hospitality of his table." Luncheon had been bitter fruit and uncooked taba root and nothing more, and he was hungry.

Ronon's hand closed around his wrist, and stayed there until the man turned off the path and passed over the top of the rise. Jasper several times decided to say something about it, but thought better of it every time.

"Introduce ourselves," the thief said, although many heartbeats had passed, long enough to recite three score epic stanzas. "Jasper-lad wants to stroll out and say, 'Bow before me, peasant, for I am the crown prince.' What part of 'fugitive' don't you understand? Or are you bored with your little adventure already, and want to go running home to daddy? Because – oh, yes! – the worst you have to look forward to if we're captured is a lifetime of having servants wait on you hand and foot. For us, it's an agonising death."

"I didn't…" Jasper glanced at Teyla, but she was busy with something else. "I wasn't going to tell him my name. Farmers and… and honest peasants…" He curled his hand, fingers digging into his palm. This man was a common thief, he told himself, and there was no reason why he should make Jasper struggle for words. Honest farmers always help people in the stories, he thought, but he knew not to say that aloud. "I thought he'd help us. Food, and… and…"

"When he was so obviously starving and so obviously hasn't got enough food even for himself?" the thief snapped. "He looked sixty, but I'd wager he's no older than Rodney here. Probably buried his wife last winter. His oldest son has been taken for the army, and his second son's labouring in the city, building the rich men's palaces. His daughter's coughing with the summer-damp, but half of everything he grows has to go to his kingsman, who keeps a third part of it himself, and sends the rest to the city."

"How…?" Jasper swallowed. "You don't know that. You're making it up."

"I'll wager it's true, though, or something like it. And there he is, clinging onto life, struggling to survive, and you wanted to land six hungry mouths on him? He'd have punched you in the face, boy, or fallen over dead from the shock where he stood. Gods!" The prisoner spat. "I don't know who's the worse fool: you, or that poor sod out there who doesn't see that this is a world on the way out."

"Huh," Rodney said. "The thief has a heart of gold, after all."

"Not me." The thief stood up, pressing his hand against the pale bark. "I'd rob him where he stood if he came close enough." He flashed a quick, cold smile. "Perhaps I still will. But I know how things stand. I hate people who don't, that's all."

Then show me, Jasper almost said, but did not.

******

Just as the light was beginning to fade, they found a broad clear stream. "Can we camp here?" Rodney's voice was hopeful.

They could reasonably manage at least another hour of walking before it got too dark to carry on. Kit almost said so, then looked at Sheppard swaying on his feet with a dazed expression, Ronon and Teyla standing around him like bloody bodyguards, ready to bite the hands off anyone who tried to make him go any further. Even Rodney's flapping was done with many a quick, nervous glance Sheppard's way. Only Jasper was oblivious, staring at the water with an idiot grin on his face, clearly transfixed by the beauty of his golden-haired reflection.

"Fine." Kit sighed, using his best long-suffering voice. Truth was, he was exhausted himself. Back in Myr, chases were short and swift and desperate, and ended with you breathless in your hiding place, hearing your pursuer stamp away. Companions were people you drank with for a few hours, then left to go on your way. He had let himself get rattled, he knew. He had said more than he should have to the idiot prince, surprising even himself.

"I'll get dinner," Ronon said, stalking off into the twilight. Teyla went with him. Kit briefly considered following them, on the grounds that anyone who went out of their way to have a private conversation deserved to have it overheard, then decided that he couldn't care less what they were talking about. Probably nothing good about him, but that was fine by him. He wasn't in this game to be liked. It wasn't as if they were likely to run away, not with their precious Sheppard left behind. You didn't risk your lives to get someone out of the Citadel only to abandon them beside a stream with only a thief, an idiot prince and a prattling… whatever he was for company.

It was not a bad place for a camp, really, with a small cluster of trees sheltering them from prying eyes, and with a ready source of fresh water. "This is safe?" Rodney asked, poised with his leather bottle over the stream. "It's not going to flood overnight and sweep us all away?"

Kit grinned. "It already did that." He pointed at boulders cast up against the trees. "Late summer rains did that last year, I'd guess. Round about this time of year, it was. Almost exactly, now I come to think of it."

Rodney snatched the bottle back, and teetered backwards over the stones, heading back beyond the trees.

"Why do you go out of your way to make people dislike you?"

The voice took him by surprise, and he cursed. Last thing he'd seen, Sheppard hadn't looked like he was going anywhere. "Why…?" He cursed again; cleared his throat. "Why do you say that?"

"No reason." Sheppard smile was strangely familiar. "You remind me someone I know, that's all."

Kit stamped towards the water. Sheppard followed him, settling himself down with evident difficulty on a flat stone, his feet stretched out above the water. He was obviously hurting, but he made no sound of pain. "Don't go looking for a heart of gold," Kit told him, "because I hate to disappoint people."

Sheppard looked at him. "I won't."

Kit filled his bottle and emptied it over his head. It was bitterly, deliciously cold. The evening air tingled on the wet skin like fingers creeping all over his flesh.

******

After dinner, Teyla and Ronon cut branches from the trees, took turns with a knife to whittle them clean, and then whirled around each other, clashing the sticks together in ritual dance.

It was the most beautiful thing that Jasper had ever seen.

Teyla was lit by the fading light of evening and the fierce hunger of the flames. She moved like a flame herself, never still, going where she willed. Ronon was water, silver and dark like the flood, surging like the tides, swirling like a river's currents.

"What are they doing?" he breathed when there was a lull; when the two of them faced each other breathless and smiling and wild.

"Sparring," the prisoner said.

"Showing off," said Rodney.

"Teaching a lesson," the thief said with a hoarse laugh.

Afterwards, Ronon made them put the fire out, "because it's warm enough for the cold not to kill us, and people might see it."

Rodney cleared his throat. "Speaking of which…?"

"No sign yet."

With the last glimmer of firelight, Jasper saw Rodney's hand flutter nervously towards his pocket, then away again.

"Warm enough not to kill us," Rodney said, when the fire was out. "That's not comforting. Do you know how cold the body can get without actually dying?"

"Cloud keeps the heat of the day in."

"And sunburn – don't forget that. That disturbs the body's natural thermostat."

No-one said anything for quite a while. The sound of the stream seemed to grow and grow until it filled Jasper's whole being with its song. "We should tell stories," he said. "Will you tell me a story of your people, Teyla?"

She did, but it sounded like a children's tale, all about a boy who didn't heed his father's warnings and headed off into the ruins, but ended up outwitting an aven – ("which is somewhat similar to a wolf," Teyla said. "Sounds more like a crebyn to me," said the thief.) – and returning home with enough hides and tuttleroot to feed and clothe his family for half a year.

The prisoner then started to tell about a young man called Luke Skywalker and a princess who called for his aid, but then he stopped half way through a sentence. Jasper heard him breathe in, hold it, the breathe out again. "Perhaps another day," he said.

Rodney said he would tell the tale of Doctor McKay – Jasper's head snapped up at that; he had been hoping to hear the legend of the awful McKay – and how he finally achieved the recognition he deserved, was given a Nobel Prize (clearly some sort of precious jewel), and never again had to almost die in hideous and ridiculous ways because of reckless colonels and trigger-happy cavemen. He didn't actually tell it, though, though his voice rose hopefully after his introduction, as if he was expecting some sort of reaction.

The thief claimed not to know any stories. "And we don't want Ronon to tell one," Rodney said, "or we'll all have nightmares."

There was nothing much after that. As night went on, Jasper grew accustomed to the dark, enough to see the vague outlines of his companions. One by one they lay down, though he had no idea who it was who first started snoring. Whenever he woke in the night, though, which was often, one or other of them was sitting up. The first time it was Ronon, facing away towards the hills. The second time it was Teyla, and she turned towards him when Jasper opened his eyes, and he almost said something, but did not dare to. The final time, it was Rodney, but the prisoner was also up, his back against a tree, watching them all.

******

end of chapter five

On to chapter six

*****

Note: I don't like putting notes in at the end of chapters, since it interrupts the flow for people reading the story straight through. However, since that was another quieter chapter with a quiet ending, I'll do so now. I almost stopped posting this story the day before yesterday – not completely, I hasten to add, but just for a few days, while the dust settled after the things that have happened in this fandom lately. However, I decided that it was more important to me than ever to keep it coming out one chapter a day. I'd originally said I might sometimes have to skip a day, but I'm very determined not to, now. I do intend to switch to an early morning posting schedule as of tomorrow, though, since that works better for me for several reasons.

Huge thanks to all of you who are sticking with it. I always knew that this would be a story with limited appeal, because of the original characters, so I'm thrilled that some of you – a small, select group ;-) – are reading it. And to those who send reviews or comments: you brighten my day (and at the moment my day needs all the brightening it can get.) Thanks so much to every one of you!

Next part tomorrow morning. :-)
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