Eildon Rhymer (rhymer23) wrote,
Eildon Rhymer
rhymer23

On the Road to Come What May - part 11 of 16

On the Road to Come What May – chapter nine (part 11 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 nine
"And every road was new"
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Daryen was no different from Myr. The air smelled the same – earthy and damp. The sunlight dappled through leaves in just the same way. When Jasper twisted in the saddle to look over his shoulder, the peaks behind him looked the same as the peaks ahead of him.

Even the border itself was nothing, just a tiny thread of a stream, unmarked by any monument. He would have ridden over it without a thought, had the thief not announced to them all that this was what the border currently was. "Daryen," the thief said. "Half way there."

So now Jasper was a fugitive, at large in enemy territory. Instead of his father's men trying to catch him, there were agents of the Basilis of Daryen. It ought to feel more dangerous, but it actually felt more safe. The Basilis of Daryen did not want to chain him to a life without poetry. The Basilis of Daryen had not tortured Sheppard, and did not hold his companions guilty of the murder of one of his agents.

People watched them at times from black-stone towers or from the shelters of trees. Weapons glittered, but Ronon held the pennant high, and no-one approached them. Sheppard and Ronon seemed edgy, though, as if they were expecting at any moment to fight. Rodney was just busy complaining about his mount.

"I'm being split apart," he said. "It's too wide. It's got a mean look. It hates me." He rode it badly, lolloping from side to side on the saddle. The others rode better, especially Sheppard and the thief. "Walking would be better than this," Rodney said. "My hands are bleeding from the reins – look, colonel! – and--" He grabbed at the animal's long fur, narrowly avoiding falling off. "I'm going to be bow-legged after this. I'm going to need some serious medical attention."

"It's at least twice as fast as walking," Sheppard threw back over his shoulder. "Perhaps only two days until we get home." His voice smiled, although Jasper couldn't see his face. "We could always gallop and get it over with."

Rodney huffed. "You and your speed addiction. I hate to break it to you, colonel, but these are not fast planes. They're quite fall-off-able."

Sheppard seemed almost completely well, and less and less like the prisoner Jasper had first met in the water cell. At times, he seemed almost light-hearted, too. Jasper imagined that it would feel good to have stared into the face of death, but to have emerged alive on the other side. The grass would seem greener and the sunlight more intense. Sheppard had been in pain for the entire time that Jasper had known him, he realised.

A party of riders passed in the distance, pausing to look in their direction. Ronon's hand went to the weapon at his side, but Sheppard shook his head slightly, even though he, too, was riding one-handed, his right hand ready to go to his belt. Then the party rode on, leaving nothing behind them but churned-up mud.

"Huh." Rodney frowned, distracted from his mount for the first time. "It seems we have to thank that woman for more than just your life."

"Annis." It sounded like a rebuke.

"Whatever." Rodney flapped his hand, then grabbed desperately at the reins again.

"She was very generous," Teyla said. Another rebuke.

And she had saved Sheppard's life, or so Teyla said. Rodney had loudly claimed that she had just gotten lucky with her primitive herbs and witch lore, and that anyone could have done it, and why did she have to be there all the time, watching over Sheppard, when they were his team and-- Teyla had stopped him at that – a firm stating of his name. Ronon had defended the lady, too, even though he had spent the whole time prowling, desperate to get out. And Sheppard was alive – not that Jasper had been allowed in to watch his recovery. He had thought of Sheppard as his – his prisoner – but it seemed that he had no place with him.

Perhaps that was why the words had not flowed. He had spent seven days of leisure in Stone Hall, without anyone breathing down his neck with talk of duty and obligation. He had wandered around the yard, seeking inspiration in the stables and in the sturdy men who strode around, bright with mail and laughter. He had watched the play of clouds and darkness over the hills, and he had touched the dark stone walls of their chamber, and thought of the depth of history that had gone to make up their thickness.

Tamorlin had stayed in a castle in the Marches. There were songs and ballads of tragic love, of young lovers separated by the hatred of their fathers. There were tales of feuds, and whole families wiped out, their bones left as food for the hobins. Some he had known before, and some he had learnt from listening to the men at their feasting, or taught the words by Dalla or Ellis or one of the few others who talked to him.

Yet even so, despite that, the words had not come. He had filled four pages with scratchings-out and hopeless rhymes. Perhaps it was the talk of war that unsettled him so. Perhaps it was the fact that for the first few days, they had been afraid that Sheppard would die. Perhaps it was just the confinement. He was not the sort of man who thrived indoors, it seemed, but needed to be out of the road, wandering free.

As he was now, he thought, looking up at the speckled sky. He had escaped his father, and now he was in Daryen, and every road was new. There was no need ever to go back.

******

"Ow!" Rodney protested, sliding from the saddle. "Ow! Ow! Ow!" He walked stiffly to a boulder, one hand pressed to his back, one rubbing his thigh. "I'm crippled for life. What if I want children one day?"

"Mini McKays?" Sheppard gave a mock shudder. He was showing no sign of discomfort, of course; a man who could claim to be fine even when he was about to die would not say a word about saddle-pain. He was still pale, though, but not in a way that would slow them down, so Kit told himself that he couldn't care less.

His own legs hurt, of course. It had been over four years since he had last sat on a merrilyn, and the muscles forgot, even though the rest of you never did. It was harder to hide on a merrilyn, of course, but the speed more than made up for that. Two days, perhaps. Two days before they arrived at the Circle of Daryen, and then… And then…

Enough of that, he told himself. He had to focus only on the moment, on getting them through each day. He had come close to slitting his throat with boredom and frustration in that bloody hall, with the widow and her servants watching him all the time in case his hands strayed towards her valuables, old-fashioned and threadbare as they were. She clearly disliked him. Well, he disliked her right back. Perhaps she expected their undying gratitude for her gift of merrilyn, but she wouldn't get it from him. If people were foolish enough to give things away for free, then you took them and ran as fast as you could, before they changed their minds.

Gods! he thought, as Teyla opened their packs. The old fool had given them the best fruits of her table. "She was sweet on you, Sheppard," Kit said. "What were you two getting up to, all that time she was alone with you?"

Sheppard was cutting off a slice of cheese. "Oh, the usual," he said lightly, gesturing with the knife. Ronon scowled though, so Kit counted it as half a success.

The food was good, though; he had to grant her that. The Debateable Lands had proved quite different from how the rumours painted it, and perhaps that was why he was out of sorts – because he always liked to be the man who knew everything. Instead of death, they had received hospitality – cold hospitality for him, from that keen-eyed old woman, but warmth for everyone else. She'd saved Sheppard's life, but she had handed Kit a platter that contained seven days of inactivity. Seven days to think. Seven days to doubt. Seven days to worry. Seven days in the company of someone who saw him as nothing more than a filthy thief.

But that's over, he thought, taking a swig of sweet wine. They were on the road again, safely over the border into Daryen. Yes, there were armies prowling around, but armies were big, lumbering things, easy to avoid. More to the point, Whisperers were hated in Daryen. If the worst came to the worst, they could just run screaming, shouting that a Whisperer was after them, and a horde of peasants with pitchforks would join in on their side.

Yes, he thought, taking another swig. The journey was almost over, and a new life beckoned, safe in Daryen. He was on the road, going where he willed, and that was good. Of course that was good.

******

Jasper's mount lowered her head to tug at a patch of yellow sunblade. "Stop that," he urged her, tugging at the reins. She grabbed three mouthfuls before she consented to obey him, then moved on reluctantly, chomping audibly. "Lazy," he told her, "and greedy." If she had a name already, he had not been told it. "I'll have to give you a name myself."

The path was leafy, dappled with shade, but hot and damp and airless. The others had moved surprisingly far ahead while he had stopped, he realised. Only Sheppard was waiting for him, holding his mount steady in a patch of deep shadow. "We need to talk," he said, when Jasper drew level with him.

"Oh." Jasper wiped his damp hand on the animal's hide. Being alone with Sheppard took him back to the cell, back to the feel of a knife at his throat. It took him back to the time in the town, and the flight in the cart. Things changed when Sheppard spoke to him. "What about?" he managed to ask.

"About how long you're planning on staying with us."

Jasper ducked to avoid a trailing branch, its feathery leaves brushing along his shoulder. "Until…" No, he didn't know. That was the future. This was a journey made of a thousand moments of now. It was a journey that would never end.

"I let you come with us," Sheppard said, "because I got you into this, and I thought it would be safer for you to do your coming-of-age road trip with us, rather than by yourself." The merrilyn tossed its head, snorting, and Sheppard calmed it absently, a hand on its neck. "The people chasing us worked for your father. You weren't in any danger yourself, and you might have put in a good word for us if they caught up with us. Other reasons too, perhaps." He bent his head as a twig made a play for his hair. "I wasn't always thinking straight back then."

"I…" Jasper swallowed. He thought of Sheppard grinning at him in a speeding cart, and of Teyla and Ronon dancing with sticks in the firelight. He had been allowed to share in such things, he realised; they had never been given by right. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you for…" A prince did not say 'letting', except to a king. A prince did not… "Thank you for letting me come," he said.

Sheppard did not smile. "See, I was wondering," he said, grabbing hold of a branch above him, "if this war thing would make any difference."

Jasper looked at the slanting sunlight – something he would never have seen if he had stayed at home. "Why should it?" he asked.

"Because--!" Sheppard let the branch go, so that it snapped backwards. His voice was quieter when he spoke again, less of a shout. "Because people get killed in wars."

Wars were glorious in the stories, but heroes died, their bodies pierced with blades, and their widows and their sweethearts mourned. Jasper had never dreamt of being a soldier. War was harsh and scary, and he had never been good at wielding a sword. His father seemed to like wars, though, and old General Bracken, who had fought in the Winter War so many years ago, never stopped talking about how wonderful it had all been.

"Soldiers like war," he said. "They find guard duty boring. They pick fights all the time, off duty. War keeps the thieves and beggars off the streets, offering them gainful employment. People die, yes, but since the flood, it's been harder to feed them, so perhaps it's a good thing, really." They were all things he had heard other say.

"People die in wars." Sheppard spat each word out separately. "Real people – people who have no choice but to follow stupid orders. People whose lives are dismissed by the brass as acceptable losses. People--" He reached for another branch, the end of it snapping off in his fingers. "This war is being fought because of you – because of me, too, because I dragged you into this."

"No it isn't." Jasper could say that with utter confidence. "You don't know my father like I do. This isn't about me at all, or about you." Fierce against the shadow, the patches of sunlight prickled his eyes. "He knew all along you weren't from Daryen, even as he was torturing you to get you to admit that you were." He paused for Sheppard to react, but Sheppard said nothing, staring stiffly straight ahead. "He pretended to think that you were because he wanted an excuse for war. Now he just has a different excuse. If you hadn't been there, and if I hadn't… gone, he'd just have found another one."

They emerged from the trees into sunlight. The others were nearing a shallow stream, the water gleaming with beads of silver, like tears.

"My father…" he said. His father was a closed door, refusing to let him to do he wanted. He was a cold face of stone. He was a turned back. But perhaps, sometimes, you had to step away from something before you could see it clearly. "My father wants this war, and if I go back now, it won't make the slightest difference. I expect he already knows that I left of my accord, because he'd told me I was to go away with the army, the morning before… before I met you. He won't want anyone to know, though. Even if I went back today, it wouldn't change anything."

"You know that?" Sheppard said sharply. "Perhaps you're seeing what you want to see."

"I know this." There was no triumph in this flash of understanding. He felt almost sad, as if something had died.

Ahead of them, Ronon twisted in the saddle, his face featureless, with the sun behind him. Sheppard seemed to understand whatever message he was giving, though. He nodded, flicked his hand, and Ronon turned back.

"It's the danger to you, too." Sheppard looked at him for the first time since the conversation had started. "You weren't in any real danger in Myr, but we're in Daryen now. You're the crown prince of an enemy power, and I'm taking you to the enemy's capital city. That's not a risk I'm prepared to take."

"It isn't your decision to make," Jasper retorted.

"Yes, it is." Sheppard's expression was as cold as Jasper had ever seen it.

"I'm a man now," Jasper said, wishing that his voice was not wavering. "I'm a prince. I can do what I like." Please, he wanted to beg. Please. Anyone could wander through the flowers of his own kingdom. That was a boy's adventure. Tamorlin had never stopped at borders and boundaries. To wander unseen and fearless beneath the very noses of his enemies… To see those snatched moments of beauty that no-one from his country had ever seen before…

He bit his lip, biting back words that he knew would mean nothing to Sheppard. "They won't recognise me," he said. "Noble-born hostages are always treated well. We won't get caught. The people of Daryen are just ordinary people, and you evaded a Whisperer…" His voice ran out. He tightened his grip on the reins as his mount attempted to drink the sunlit water. "Don't send me away. Please don't."

Sheppard said nothing, neither yes nor no, but kicked his mount into a trot, and went to rejoin his friends.

You're just like my father, Jasper wanted to shout after him, trying to stop me from doing what I need to do. But the words, that had served him so well just moments before, refused to come.

******

Ronon held up his hand sharply, indicating that Kit was supposed to be quiet. I thought I was, he thought, looking down at the mud oozing between his toes. The signal probably meant that he was supposed to stay still, too, sinking a little deeper into the sodden mud with every breath.

Ronon's hand turned into a pointing finger. People, it meant. Then he flattened his hand, bringing it downwards. With a sigh, Kit obeyed, crouching down where he stood. The change of position shifted his weight forward onto the balls of his feet, and cold water closed round his ankles like clamps. Whose idea was it to go without boots? he wondered. Yes, that would have been mine.

Just to add insult to injury, he couldn't see any sign of anyone approaching. He trusted Ronon to be right, though; they'd done enough scouting trips together now for Kit to know that. "Where?" he had to ask, just framing the shape of the word with his lips, not giving it any voice.

Ronon gestured to his ear, as if to say listen. Kit did. He heard the faint squelching of mud beneath his feet as he failed to stay entirely still. He heard the reeds rustling in the breeze, and the lower sound of the wind in the trees. He heard wading birds calling to each other, and the rhythmic splashing of a kraese racing across the water to launch itself into the air.

It was long time before he heard the voices. Ronon just crouched there the whole time, watchful and patient.

"Just fishers," Kit said, though he had to add a "probably."

Ronon smiled, though his eyes were still watchful. Kit had to grab at a handful of reed to keep himself from over-balancing. Face first in the mud, he thought. That's a fine way to impress-- Not that he was trying to impress anyone, of course. He didn't care what they thought of him, and he'd be rid of them soon enough. Wave bye-bye, go their separate ways, and…

"They won't see us," he felt the need to add. They were away from the main navigable channel, separated from it by a thick row of trees. Add in the mud and the reeds, and the fact that fishers at sunset didn't have a thought in their stupid heads that wasn't about home, and they were probably entirely safe. Not that Ronon seemed to possess such a concept, of course. Even in Stone Hall, with that bloody bitch fawning over Sheppard and his friends, Ronon had prowled and paced, as if he had expected enemies to lurk around every corner.

The voices drew nearer, accompanied with the sound of oars wielded by someone who saw no particular need to keep quiet. A kraese grumbled noisily in the reeds, and Kit saw it a moment later, waddling long-sufferingly through the line of trees, followed by a line of downy young. He pointed at the happy feathered family, then at his hungry belly, but Ronon shook his head slightly. "Sentimental?" Kit mouthed, but Ronon jerked his chin at his weapon, then at the unseen boat. Too noisy to shoot them now.

Kit was an expert at patient waiting, but all he wanted to do was fidget. He wanted to grumble, to shout, to run out through the trees waving his hands...; just to be done with this thing. He just wanted…

"…with all their possessions," he heard, brought with a sudden gust of wind. He couldn't make out the next few sentences, but the sound of oars grew closer. "Just upped and left. They were right panicked, they were."

"Stupid thing to do, though," said a second voice, lower than the first. "The end of the world's the end of the world. It don't stop at city boundaries. No point panicking about it. If it comes, it comes. Carry on with catching fish and making love to the wife and repairing the nets and cleaning out the chimney – that's waiting for me at home tonight, it is – and if the world should happen to end…"

"No 'happen' about it, Clay," said the first man. "It's what they say – the priests in Daryen. They know."

"But how do we know that they know?" said Clay. Kit decided there and then that he liked him. "The Basilis and his crew are big on secrets. They talk of portents, but they don't tell us what they are so we can make up our own minds. The way I see it…" A kraese took off noisily, drowning out his next few words. The boat was passing, too, glimpsed only as a few patches of movement beyond the trees. Although Kit could hear that Clay was still speaking, his words were not quite loud enough to piece together in ways that made sense. He heard 'Gods' and 'Myr' but that was all.

The other man was louder, full of all the outrage of a true believer. "It's not just the priests who saw it," he said, but then even he went too far away to be heard.

Kit found that he had been leaning forward, his knees deep in the mud. He snatched his hand away from the bunch of reeds, and their harsh edges sliced into his palm. "Fuck!" he cursed, lurching upright. He pulled one foot squelching out of the mud, and struggled for balance. "Fuck!" he cursed again. "Fuck!"

Ronon just watched him, quiet and infuriating. Kit fought the urge to plant two hands on his chest and shove him into the mud. Instead – behold my self-control! – he began to head back to where they had left the others. He didn't even stamp and splash. His palm tasted of mud and blood and water, and cold, sharp things lurked in the mud beneath his feet to scratch him.

"Aren't you going to say something, then?" he hurled at Ronon, when the silence became unbearable.

"Not got anything to say."

Gods! Kit thought, because he wanted to throw something at him, and… Gods! It was the seven days' delay. It was being so close. It was… "Gods!" he said out loud, and Ronon just looked at him, nodded as if he understood, and carried on.

They had left the others on a mound that rose from the marshes, based around the roots of a giant callow tree. Its long trailing branches hung down like a cascade of ribbons, creating a hidden space around the trunk, as large as a chamber.

"There's people nearby," said Ronon, rising from the mud like something from the first flood, leaving black footprints on the grass. "We'll hear them coming, though. Splashing."

"I didn't hear you coming," the prince said, hanging onto a trailing branch like a dancer to a ribbon.

Kit flashed him a grin. "That's because we're good, friend Ronon and I."

Ronon pulled his pack round to his front, holding it one-handed and opening the straps with the other. "Got dinner," he said, pulling the opening wide to show his friends the mass of speckled fish.

"How did you catch…? Oh. You stunned them." Rodney looked unimpressed. When one fish flopped onto the ground too near his feet, he stepped back, screwing up his face. "Then you… ugh. Never mind." Ronon picked it up, holding it up with both hands, one at the head and one at the tail. "You're not going to eat it raw?" Rodney protested. "What, are you Gollum? Cook it, at least. Teyla's making a fire. Hurry up, I'm hungry."

Kit found that he had plucked a reed from somewhere, and that he was tearing it to pieces, shredding it. "Bickering over cooking," he said. "Isn't conversation boring when Sheppard's well?"

******

If they tried to send him away, Jasper decided, he would refuse to go. No, he would pretend to go, and then he would follow them. Myra had followed Tamorlin in secret for the length of one whole winter, after he had parted from her in an attempt to save her from sharing his fate, and then, at the first turning of spring, had saved his life from a dreadful trap. Perhaps, when all hope was lost and they thought themselves forsaken, he could reveal himself and save all their lives…

No, he thought, as the last golden rays of sunlight danced over the reed-tipped water, he would forget about such worries, and lose himself in the beauty of the moment. He would sink into the virgin beauty of this unknown land, and shape it in words and rhymes and memories. No-one could take that away from him, not his father, and not Sheppard.

Yellow flowers, he thought defiantly. Yellow… Sun. Sunlight dancing, prancing, chancing. And every breath a new breath and a new moment. Sundown. Sunfall. Sunset. Sunset… Fishing net… His foot slipped, sliding down the bank, splashing into the cold water. "Wet," he said, wriggling bare toes in the watery mud. He clenched his fist, letting out a sharp sigh. "Wet." It didn't fit the mood of his poem.

For a while, after that, his mind was blank, with all those things that he didn't want to think about clamouring to be heard, and all those things that he wanted to think about quite stubbornly refusing to cooperate. He stood up and climbed the bank, skirting the trailing curtain of leaves.

"…it's either that," he heard Sheppard say in a fierce whisper, "or we fly him back home."

"Pick up a ride from Atlantis, you mean?" Rodney's whisper was louder, easier to hear. "I thought we were going with the prime directive thing of letting the natives--" The wind stirred the branches, parting them, and Jasper took a quick step backwards. "Ignorance," he heard Rodney say.

He saw Ronon watching him from the water's edge. "…Wraith won't respect--" Sheppard broke off. Jasper took another step backwards, then another, almost falling. A bird cried over the marshland. Clustered on the flatter side of the mound, the merrilyn snorted quietly to each other.

Jasper wandered over to the creatures and talked to them for a while, stroking their coarse fur, watching their stubby tails swat at flies. He could hear the others talking behind their curtain of leaves, snug in their chamber. Even Ronon was there now, he thought. The thief was the only other one out, sitting on a foot with his feet in the water, throwing fragments of reed into the wind.

"No," Rodney was saying, as Jasper wandered up to that trailing barrier of leaves. "No, colonel, don't even think it. Yes, I know it's flashing, but that means that a Whisperer – mean, scary men, remember? Oh, you didn't meet the last one because you were busy ruining our nice clean rescue attempt – is trying to contact us. Please can this be the one flashing button in the Pegasus Galaxy that you don't press."

"Two words, McKay: Pot. Kettle."

"Oh, ha ha."

The last sparkles of the sunset gleamed on water, and it was as if Jasper's whole vision had fractured, breaking into shards. Even the reeds at the water's edge swam.

Then Teyla came towards him, emerging from the branches like a bride parting the silken drapes of the wedding hall. "Jasper," she said, quite loudly, with a smile. "You are most welcome to come in."

Blinking several times, wiping his hand across his face, Jasper followed her into their chamber.

******

Apparently Jasper-lad was finally going to get his wish, because after dark, there were stories. Sheppard started the ball rolling with a second attempt to tell the story of Luke Skywalker, but either he told it badly, or it was a stupid story. Rodney kept on interrupting, which didn't help.

"Just because you identify with Han Solo."

"Whatever you say, 3PO."

"For the last time, I am not-- No. Dignity. See how I respond with dignity to your childish assertions."

"Anyway…," Sheppard said pointedly.

"Anyway," Rodney echoed, "you missed out the bit with the-- Sorry. Being quiet."

"Too late," Sheppard said. "Your turn."

Rodney started to tell a story about someone called Batman, by the end of which he and Sheppard had somehow come to the conclusion that Wonder Woman was the hottest. Sheppard, pale in the firelight, and clearly not moving any more than he had to, then told a confusing story about some foolish woodcutter who thought he was the cleverest man in the kingdom, but ended up destroying five sixths of a castle. Rodney retorted – and it felt like a retort, although Kit had no idea why it should be so – by telling them all about a little boy called Johnnie who managed to wake up a nasty, sleeping monster, because he didn't know the meaning of 'leave well alone.'

Teyla prodded the fire, the light playing over her smile. Ronon was leaning with his back to the tree trunk, slightly out of the circle of firelight, and looked more relaxed than Kit had ever seen him. Sheppard was clearly too tired even to lift his arm, and Rodney claimed to be in agony from saddle-pain, but the four of them looked happy.

"Your stories are stupid," Kit told them harshly. He was the nearest to the edge of their natural little chamber, cool winds brushing the back of his neck.

"Yes," Teyla said, with smiling rebuke at both Sheppard and Rodney. "It is not fair to exclude Jasper and Kit so."

Jasper, encouraged by Teyla, told one of his ridiculous hero tales of the great imaginary heroes of a Myr that never was. Teyla listened politely. Ronon was perhaps asleep. Sheppard also had his eyes closed, and several times brought his hand to his brow, as if to nurse a headache. Rodney watched him nervously, clearly not quite used to the idea of Sheppard no longer being at death's door.

"We'll be home in two days," Rodney said, too soon after the end of Jasper's story for it to be polite. Not that Kit cared about the boy's feelings, not in the slightest. "Home. Dry feet. Never having to sit on one of those creatures again. I'm in agony, by the way. I think I'm--"

"Crippled for life," Sheppard finished for him, without opening his eyes. "It must be Tuesday."

Rodney almost squawked with outrage, then appeared to remember the whole dignity thing he had going now. Sheppard opened his eyes and looked at the others – Kit and Jasper totally forgotten now – and started with a "Remember when…?"

There were far too many remember whens. After Kit had shredded half a dozen branches, he gave a pointed yawn. His eyes met Jasper's, who was tracing stiff patterns in the dirt with his finger. Then Kit looked away, and stood up, heading out into the darkness. The branches slithered back into place behind him, and he stood staring out across the lowlands of Daryen, branches like fingers at his back.

"Tell me about your home, Teyla." Jasper's request faltered its way into the silence between one happy remember when and another.

"It is beautiful," Teyla said, a smile in her voice. "There are towers, and there is water all around it…"

"Like the flood?"

"No." Her voice was gentle with memory, and Kit thought of his own home, and clenched both fists as tight as he could make them, and then tighter still. "Beautiful water, like a mirror in the sun, and there are balconies where you can feel the wind in your hair. It sparkles with the light of so many hopes, but there are still places where you can sit in the darkness and look up at the stars. And the people…" She trailed away into a sigh.

"Is that where your people are?" Jasper asked.

Teyla was silent for a very long time. Kit stamped away without waiting for her answer.

******

Jasper was slow to realise what had woken him. He rolled over, moaning quietly, and tried to sink back into sleep again, although the cold was insistent, and the smell of damp earthiness called to him, reminding him that he was not at home.

Then it came again – a low sound, like someone beginning to speak, but unable to get as far as words. Rolling towards the sound, Jasper opened his eyes. The fire was down to embers now, but was bright enough to show him the Whisperer's globe rolling slowly past it, turning one more time, and then lying still. It glowed orange in the firelight, but that was all.

The person on Jasper's left sat up; Jasper could hear the sound of it, but could not see enough to tell who it was. Sheppard, he thought, had been there when they had settled down to sleep. He could hear the wind whispering in the leaves, building to a sudden crescendo as a gust passed them, but nothing else. Then Sheppard spoke, no louder than that whisper. "Ronon?"

The wind stilled, and all was silent again. With every breath, Jasper saw a little more. Sheppard was standing up completely, he realised, but the large shape on his far side was completely still. Teyla was darts of controlled movement on the opposite side of the fire, her hair gleaming like copper in the light of the embers. But there were more people than there should have been. The thief stirred with a gasp, then froze. Someone was crouching over Ronon, and where Rodney should have been, there were two people, and he saw the blade, and he saw the hand, and he saw the throat.

That strangled sound came again, this time forming itself into words. "Uh, guys? No, don't! I guess the Whisperer--"

"…has found you," said a new voice, quite cold.

******

end of chapter nine

On to chapter ten
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