Chapter 6
26 Sp'gin (Wor'ginday)

They flew nearly eight hours that day, taking two-hour shifts piloting, and finally landing at about 3:2:30. They made camp in the clearing between the First River Forest and the western bank of First River, at the very tip of the river. This was a bit more than halfway between Plist and Tonad. It wasn't quite a straight line; instead, they were following the edge of the forest, which took them perhaps an extra hour and a half, two hours at most. Of course, Cameron could have used magic to illuminate the way ahead of them so that they could carry on through the night and make Tonad before morning, but they preferred to make camp for the night. And they preferred to do that near wood and water.

It didn't take long to gather materials for a fire and get it started. They soon had tents set up as well, and then gathered round the fire to eat and talk. They had some provisions they'd brought with them, and had enough left over after eating. Perhaps in the morning they'd forage a bit for breakfast, but it wouldn't be necessary.

They ate mostly in silence, saving any conversation for when they had finished. Finally, Darius began by saying, "Well, Tom, at least we can assume from what Zeph said that Tiejo does in fact have a master held prisoner in Near Port."

"If you say so."

"You get a lot of mileage out of that phrase, don't you?"

Tom couldn't help grinning, and said, "If you say so. But seriously, that spirit seemed... perhaps a bit more coherent than Tiejo, but certainly no less fanciful and... meandering... and, uh..."

"Tiejoish?" suggested Tiejo.

"The very word," agreed Tom.

"Are you saying," asked Ginger, "that you don't believe Zephrey? You'd accuse a spirit of lying? Or of simple craziness?"

"I think we all know spirits are capable of both. ...Do you happen to know if he's with God or Lucifer?"

"God, duh. How many times did he mention God?"

"You mean, 'the Chief'?"

"Yes, the Chief, who created all these worlds."

Tom rubbed the back of his head. "Well, I guess you've got a point, there. Still, have you ever asked him directly who he serves? I mean, spirits are capable of talking about the one other than the one they serve." He hurried to add, "And before you say anything, they're capable of deception, which might include calling the enemy something like 'Chief.'"

"True," said Ginger, "but then how could we know he wasn't lying when he answered a direct question?"

"Isn't there some kind of rule against that?"

"Not that I know of. Anyway, though, I trust him."

"Let's say he's not lying or crazy. He could always be joking, or just playing along with Tiejo to make him happy."

"Very well," said Darius. "Let us just say you won't believe for a certainty unless and until we see Tiejo's master with our own eyes. As long as you act under the assumption that what Tiejo says is true, it doesn't greatly matter whether you're truly sure of it or not."

"Sounds good to me. And I promise, I will act as if I knew it to be true."

"Good." And with that, Darius lapsed into silence. The others talked about other things, but Darius simply stared into his mug of coffee. At times he was vaguely aware of what they were saying, but didn't feel like joining in the discussions. Mostly, he was lost in thought.

After a while, he got up and walked away from camp, not too far into the woods to be out of earshot or in any likely danger, but far enough to be alone. He sat on the ground with his back against a fallen log, setting his recently refilled mug beside him. He shivered a bit, drew his knees up to his chest and hugged his legs. He sat like that for some time, once again lost in thought.

He couldn't tell how long he'd been there when suddenly Emma sat down beside him, having found him with his head in his hands, wracked with sobbing.

She wished she could think of something better to say than "What's wrong?" But that was all she could think of, and so that was what she said.

Darius managed to stop his tears, wiped his face, and sipped at his untouched coffee, which was growing cold. He didn't look at her. "Nothing, really. Nothing."

She wished she could think of something better to say than "Doesn't look like nothing."

"It is a problem in itself, I suppose, but it has no cause that I'm aware of. Nothing real, which is why I said 'nothing, really.' It's just something that's come over me off and on, all my life. The psychotherapists say there have been some cases documented over the years, and suspect there've been even more undocumented cases. Surely it happens on other worlds, too, but if any of them talk to spirit-talkers, the spirits don't offer much help or information."

"What is it, though?"

"Depression. I mean, not the kind most people get; it's some sort of chemical imbalance or something. It's a more intense and more frequent thing. And often it simply has no reason about it. It just comes on. Even if everything in your life is just how you'd like it to be, and you're generally very happy and content."

"But they don't know how to treat it?"

"No. But they do give some advice, which they admit may not work for everyone. One thing they say, which they do think is best for most or all, is not to try getting through these spells by drinking. So generally I don't. But not always. Anyway, it doesn't seem to make much difference for good or ill whether I do or don't. Another thing they say is to try talking with trusted friends, loved ones."

"I'm no PtD, but that sounds like sound advice to me."

Now Darius turned to look at her quizzically. "You're no what, now?"

"PtD, that's 'Doctor of Psychotherapy.' A fairly new term, I guess, at least the abbreviation. You know how some things are commonly abbreviated, like 'Mr.,' 'Ms.,' or 'Dr.'?"

"Of course. Started with 'doctor,' centuries ago, though I've always found that odd. I mean, when speaking of a medical doctor, people on the Land almost never use any word other than 'physician.' And yet, when talking of a specific person, we add 'Dr.' to the front of the name. It's always been done with the names of psychotherapists, as well... and I'm not sure, off the top of my head, if there are any other types of doctor on the Land, though I think they have other kinds on Earth... But as for 'Mister' and 'Miz,' of course those, um, name-prefixes weren't used until the surname law went into effect, in 905."

Emma nodded. "Well, I hear where it's becoming fashionable to start abbreviating other things, as sort of a status symbol. Of course, the military's been doing it practically since they were invented, like with 'Lt.' or 'Sgt.' But it's creeping into other walks of life, as well. Most abbreviations seem to be two letters, but some are more, or perhaps, rarely, less. Usually they're pronounced the same as the full word, as with 'Mr.,' but sometimes the letters are pronounced, as with 'PtD.' Sometimes an abbreviation makes a shorter word, like 'Prez.,' as in 'President' like of a big business. 'Master' is 'M.' I hear that one took a surprising amount of consideration before they settled on it. They would have used 'Mr.,' if it hadn't already been taken for 'Mister,' and also considered 'Mt.,' which is 'Mount' or 'Mountain.' 'Ms.' is 'Miz,' 'Ma' is of course slang for 'Mother,' and... and, well, they didn't want to go up to three or more letters, so they went down to one. Other scholastic title abbreviations include 'D.' for 'Dean,' 'Hm.' for 'Headmaster,' 'H.' for 'Historian,' and 'appr.' for 'apprentice.' And this is being done in lots of other fields, too. You haven't heard of this?"

"No, but I guess I don't pay too much attention to some things about normal society and all. Especially in terms of school... I did attend one of the Order's schools, for awhile, after the war, but if they were already using abbreviations for their titles, I never noticed. I suppose I was aware of the military rank abbreviations during the war, from reading newspapers, but the PtD thing, that's definitely new to me. So, are they not... is it wrong to put 'Dr.' in front of their names, now?"

She shook her head. "Actually, they still use the prefix, but now they've added 'PtD' as a suffix, as well. Of course, it would sound silly to say 'Doctor so-and-so, Doctor of Psychotherapy,' which is why the suffix's letters are pronounced, rather than what they represent."

"Makes sense, I suppose. Though it seems odd that they put the 'Pt' before the 'D.'"

Emma grinned. "Yeah, I don't get it, either. But according to the ELC newsletter I read about all this, it's actually based on a term from Earth... 'PhD,' I think, though I don't recall what that stood for. Psycho-something-or-other. And who can tell why anything is done the way it is on Earth? Meanwhile, there's no telling if any of these new abbreviations will even stick. Could just be a passing fad."

Darius nodded and said, "Time will tell, I suppose." With a sudden frown and furrowed brow, he added, "What prompted this topic of discussion, anyway?"

"Um..." Emma stopped and thought half a centhour. "Oh yes. I said I'm no PtD. But I do think talking to friends would help."

"Ah, that's right. And I agree, the advice was sound enough, but sometimes I just don't feel like talking. Certainly I never felt like talking to my family about this. I suppose I still wouldn't, even if I could." Darius fell silent.

After a few moments of silence, Emma said, "I'm sorry about your family." Again she wished for something better to say.

"Y'know... sometimes a bout of depression does have some cause. One thing that hurts me is that... that I don't feel worse about... about that... than I do. I mean, I wish it hadn't happened. They were good people, and I loved them and appreciated them and all they did for me... But I never much cared for spending time with them or talking with them, and all I ever really wanted to do was get away from home. I don't know why. Just my nature, I guess. But I feel guilty, now, that I don't hurt more about their deaths. Not that it never hurts, but it isn't often, and usually it isn't as intense as I think it should be. So, I start to feel bad about myself, and that can trigger my depression. Other things do that sometimes, too...."

"I... I don't think that's so bad. Most of my family is alive, and I think they're basically good people, too. But I disagree with them about some things, some trivial and some important. I haven't seen them in some time, and I don't miss them that much. And I think I wouldn't be more saddened by their deaths than you are by your clan's. I would be sorry, though, as are you."

"Well, thanks. It's funny... normally I think of myself as different from most people in so many ways. Mostly I like being different, but there are some ways it hurts to be different, and some ways it feels good to be the same. Even if I can only find one, or a few people who are the same in some way."

"Well, I'm glad if I can... display some similarity to you, if it helps you feel better. So, you say you didn't care to talk to family about your depression. You ever talk to friends?"

"I've tried, sometimes. Mostly I talk to myself. I mean, I imagine I'm talking to other people. It's easier in my imagination, but I wish it would be easier to talk to people in reality. Still, sometimes I do manage to talk to friends, or even strangers."

"And what am I?"

He looked at her again. "Well... that's something else. I've been thinking, you folks in the Band, you know each other, perhaps you're friends. But I don't really know anyone I'm traveling with. Neither do Tom and Tiejo... although I think Tom knows the Band better than I do."

"A bit. He's still more of a friendly acquaintance than a friend. As for me, you must know I just joined the Band last year, so I don't know them as well as the rest of them know each other, though Cameron and I are already good friends, and certainly Ginger and I share something of a bond, being the only women in the group. And I know all of them better than Tom does, of course...."

"Of course. Well, as you say, I think at best I could call all of you- the Band, Tom, Tiejo- friendly acquaintances, and very new ones, at that. I'd like to become friends, but I rarely get to know anyone well enough for that. I meet people, in my travels, sometimes even have adventures together, but I rarely stay in touch with them after we part ways. Even if I do, communication is infrequent at best. My order-name, you know, wasn't chosen without reason."

"Well, if you can talk to friends, and you can talk to strangers, it seems to me that with friendly acquaintances like us, you've got the best of both worlds, so to speak. So speak," she said with a grin.

He didn't quite feel like grinning himself, but he agreed. "I think I'd like that. I think I've been enjoying this talk so far; it seems to be taking my mind off my depression. Well, then, what to say next, I wonder? Hmmm...."

"Tell me about yourself. I don't know much. Then maybe I'll tell you more about myself. Or, likely we'll interject things where it seems appropriate."

"Well... my father, Adam, was born in Ship. My mother, Alyn, went there to study, and they met began dating. She introduced him to my grandfather, who became one of his most important clients. It was awhile after that that my father established his own trading firm, Lembas- named after a term from an Earth book. The company was headquartered in Triscot, so he moved there. Two years later, my mother completed her studies and moved back to Triscot to begin her career as a physician. Later that year- 887- they married. And a few years later, I was born. A couple years after that, they had my sister, Nelly. Anyway, Mom's family was already rather powerful in Triscot, and Dad's business was by this point making him fairly wealthy, himself.

"I grew up rather privileged, with all I needed and many of the things I might want. We had loyal servants, as well, and I was taught to treat them as equals. Despite the fact that there have never been slaves on the Land, I know that lots of people treat people differently based on their financial status, especially their own servants. People act like there were no different classes before the Order introduced the idea during the Coming, but that wasn't completely true. Still, as far as my family was concerned, all people were equal, some were just luckier than others. And so we always tried to be kind and generous with those who showed they deserved it- and we would assume people deserved it unless and until they proved otherwise with words or actions.

"Despite the fact that I was well off, and my family loved me and treated me well, and held many of the same moral beliefs I did... And by the way, I know people say behavior is learned, generally from the family, and I know that's often true, but I'm not so sure it's always true. People can come from bad families and turn out good, and vice versa. And sometimes, people can hold certain beliefs simply because that's how they are, and couldn't be any other way no matter what. If they share the same values as their family, it may be coincidence. I don't know how often this is the case. Perhaps not very. Which is one thing I think is different about me: who I am has little if anything to do with how I was raised. There are things I agree with my family about, and things I don't... Didn't. I'm just me, that's all.

"Where was I? Ah, yes. Despite having a good life and a good family, I wanted to get out on my own. Triscot tended to bore me. There were a few people who were enough like me for me to be interested in friendship with them, but very few. And there didn't seem much for me to do in Triscot. I needed a job, but nothing appealed to me there. Besides, I wanted to travel, see the world, meet new people- some were bound to be more like me elsewhere. Anyway, I wanted to explore, and adventure, and maybe do a little writing... Speaking of writing," he said with a sudden recollection, "I was wondering about those notes you were taking, back in George's study."

"Oh, sometimes ideas will just come to me for songs, out of nowhere or based on something I hear. Often the notes I take come to nothing, but it's best to write things down right away, so I don't forget. You never know what might turn into a good song. I think it was something about Tom's saying 'If you say so,' and your saying 'I do.' Problem is, sometimes I'll get an idea, some flash of inspiration, and no matter what I write down, I won't remember later quite what seemed so interesting about it. Even if I remember vaguely what I was thinking, the feeling just isn't there anymore. I doubt those particular notes will lead to anything. But you never know."

Darius nodded. "Same with story ideas, I find. Of course, I don't write too much, but generally what I do is about adventures I have. Embellished a bit, sometimes. A childhood friend of mine, Dave, now he writes good fantasy stuff. He has quite an imagination, but somehow he's never gotten published. At least not the last I'd heard. I think he's more deserving of publication than I am, but I guess my publisher doesn't agree. It's a shame. I'm sure he'll be published someday, though.

"Anyway. When... when my clan was gone, there was nothing left for me in Triscot, so I left. Well, I stayed with my friend Rob's family for awhile, and tried attending one of the new schools the Order established, for several months, but I wasn't really into it. So I took early graduation exams, got my mental stamp, and left. I was fairly young, only thirteen, but that was the last stamp I needed to become a legal adult, under the new adult license law the Order had introduced. I'd done a little adventuring with my friends, before; kid stuff, really. We'd been in the northern Triscot Forest, and across the Triscot River a few times into gryphon country. Nothing much more than camping out and playing games. But after the battle... Well, I'd been in Tanq at the time, staying with my Uncle West. After the battle, when we heard... we went back and looked around the old estate. There wasn't much left. The army had basically razed the place, and most of whatever had been left was looted before we got there.

"There were a few things I found that were either partially destroyed or that I saw no use for, so I left them. West took a few things back home, and I moved in with Rob. Anyway, back when we'd played at being adventurers, we'd all had secret stashes of things. When I finally decided to leave Triscot, I checked my old stashes, and most of what was there suddenly seemed childish and stupid to me. Still, there were a few things that might come in useful, and I took them. Camping gear, a little gold, etc. I said good-bye to my friends, and then went off on my first real adventure.

"Some of the adventures I had over the years seemed interesting enough to write about, and some of what I wrote sold. I got to see the world, meanwhile, and acquired some small degree of treasure. Occasionally visited old friends, or West, or new friends- I did make a few, in my travels. In fact the first real adventure I ever had was with a girl I met named Lorelei, who I talk to at least once a year via t-mail, and occasionally still run into. She's someone it's always been easier for me to talk to than most people, about both casual and serious things. It's funny," said Darius with a small, wistful smile, "I might well call her my best friend, these days, and yet... I mean, how many people can say they don't usually talk to their best friend much more than once a year, and see them even less often than that?"

"Probably not many," agreed Emma. "Though it's hard for me to say how such matters work for humans, considering unlike your people, mine didn't inherit the punishment God exacted for the Fall."

"Really? I didn't know that."

Emma nodded. "Yeah, it's in the Book of Roderick. God actually decreed that no sentient race created by any race He Himself had created would be subject to the Fall, regardless of what form the Fall took on any given world. My people like to look at that as compensation for... well, mainly for the whole banishment thing. But obviously it isn't a trait unique to us, even on the Land. There are other races, of course..."

"Hmmm. Still, the punishment... I mean, enhanced loneliness is a pretty vague concept. Even if we'd never been thusly punished, our psychology tweaked that way, people would still get lonely, just to a lesser degree. And with or without the punishment, some individuals would always been more prone than others to loneliness, which is one of the things that leads to the sort of depression I suffer. This feeling of being... well, I know everyone feels different, isolated, but... some people, like me, can feel more different, more isolated. And as a psychotherapist I once saw told me, different people who suffer with this sort of... enhanced enhanced loneliness... react to it in different ways. Which actually is the same as any Landian- I mean, any human. Some try even harder to forge relationships, and some try to avoid people. Because, for me at least, I often feel the most lonely when I'm with other people. It's like my feeling of separation is inversely proportional to my proximity to others. ...Or should that be directly proportional?" He shook his head. "Whatever. You know what I mean."

"Yeah. Well, like you said, even without the punishment, people can feel that loneliness, and it's stronger for some than others. That's true for elves as well as humans. I think I feel the same way you do; though it's not just different people who can react differently to this feeling. Even a single individual can react in different ways. As I said, I was never that close to my family, in spite of loving them. We just never saw eye to eye about most things, and we had mostly different interests. So I did feel lonely around them, which is a big part of why I left. On the other hand, even if loneliness makes me avoid some people, it also makes me feel closer to certain people."

"Exactly," said Darius. "I think... if it's harder to make friends you really feel close to, those few friends you do make are therefore much more important to you. Though of course, knowing that just makes me feel more lonely, because I'm constantly worried that even if people think of me as a friend, I'm not going to be as important to them as they are to me. So in an effort to avoid clinginess, I have a tendency to become more standoffish. And that makes me feel that no one really has any reason to like me at all. It's a vicious circle." He sighed. "Life seems to be full of vicious circles."

Emma tentatively reached out a hand to touch his shoulder in comfort, but Darius flinched, and she withdrew it. She said, "Darius, I-"

Looking the other way, Darius said, "I appreciate your concern. I just don't like being touched. Actually... I really do want to get close enough to someone to be comfortable with such friendly touches. There are... a few people in the world I can stand to touch or be touched by, briefly. But it takes time to get to that point. Anyway, what I was saying... I know it's all in my head, but knowing that doesn't really help."

Looking back at her, he said, "But talking is good. So... I think we got a bit sidetracked by the whole Fall-and-punishment thing." He thought for a few moments before continuing, "I was talking about not being in touch with friends very often, which actually for me is both a good and bad thing. But what I had in mind to say after that, was... well, I had mentioned t-mail, when I was talking about Lorelei. Of course I use it to stay in occasional contact with various friends around the world. And the point I was going to make was that t-mail was just one of various good things that became both cheaper and easier to come by after the Coming, or even during the Coming.

"See, that's one thing I often tended to disagree with my family about, especially my father. We used to fight about it, sometimes. I liked so much of what the Order was doing during the Coming- at least, what they were doing publicly. They were bringing the world together. I liked that, more communication between villages, better knowledge of the world, sharing of information and all. Broadening your horizons. Integrating the police and government. A lot of their ideas for laws seemed good. I thought the World Fair was a marvelous idea, but unfortunately I wasn't able to go to the first one. Anyway, banks and schools and the census and even surnames, and so many other things, all seemed good. And as for the idea of nobility, clearly that would've included my clan. I even urged my father to run for office, but he refused.

"Of course, a lot of the changes that were discussed during the Coming didn't come until after it had been completed. Before that, I had started to change some of my ideas about the Order, especially when I'd listen to Vallus's speeches. And then... well, after they killed my clan, that clinched it. I might like some of what the Order did, but some of it was very wrong. And even the stuff they did right, they did the wrong way and perhaps for the wrong reasons. The funny thing is, I don't think they even wanted power; not most of them, anyway. They insisted on a separation of church and state. I think they believed that all they did was for the good of the world, and the people. They felt that the end justified the means. Sometimes I'm still not quite sure how to feel about the Order, first or second. There are things I like, that might not have come about in my lifetime, if not for them, and the Coming."

"And yet you want to overthrow them."

"Well... sort of. I mean, I'd want to keep a lot of what they established. I don't know what I even mean, sometimes. What is this whole 'Chaos' business, anyway? What's it all about? I don't know. And here I am, trying to found it, and presumably to lead it. What kind of leadership quality does it show if I don't even know what my own idea is about? And another thing I sometimes worry about, what kind of leader breaks down crying for little or no reason?"

"If it helps any, you can chalk both those things up to chaos. If you don't know what you mean by chaos, so much the more chaotic, eh?"

Darius smiled wanly. "I've sometimes thought of that. And it does help... a little." He sighed. "I guess that'll just have to do, for now."

"Anyway," said Emma, "I think a good leadership quality is questioning one's self, not just assuming one deserves to lead. Not that you can do it without any self-confidence whatever...."

"I've enough self-confidence, I think. Most of the time. I know my abilities and my limitations, and I think my abilities outweigh my limits. And to be sure, I wouldn't rule alone. I'm thinking of a triumvirate, which would head up a greater council. I think perhaps all of our current party would be at least a part of the council, if they wished."

"Even Tiejo?"

Darius laughed. "Perhaps even Tiejo. Tom would be just crestfallen, otherwise, don't you think?"

Emma laughed, too. "Indubitably."

After a few moments of silence, Darius started thinking that this conversation was going on longer than he was used to. He wondered how much time had passed since he'd left the group, and asked Emma if she had any idea of the time.

She glanced at the magic timepiece on her bracelet and said, "Hmm. Third Five and Twenty-three. What time do you think we should be leaving in the morning?"

"Probably about the same time as this morning. What was it, something like Second Two and Fifty?"

"I think so. Well, that's more than thirteen hours away. We've plenty of time before we must sleep if we want a full eight hours. Only reason we stopped so early is the sun sets early this time of year."

"Mmm. Well, of course, it often takes me a while to get to sleep, once I start trying. Sometimes hours. Sometimes I don't get to sleep at all, but that doesn't happen often." He took another sip of his coffee.

"Good thing that's decaf," said Emma. "Anyway, on the subject of getting to know each other, there's something else about you: partial insomnia."

"I don't know if it goes that far. Maybe. Anyway, what else call I tell you about myself? I've said it can be hard for me to talk to people, but once I get started, it can be hard to stop. I am ever so fond of detailing all the things I hate about myself. I really am annoying, I feel. People usually tell me I'm wrong, but I can't quite believe them. So, let's see...

"Things about me that suck. Well, there are things I find polite that most people find rude, and vice versa. Mind you, about this or most other things I say, I won't be able to think of examples of what I mean, and a lot of people get annoyed by that, but no one finds it as annoying as I do. But I can't help it. I've just got a poor memory. Funny thing is, my memory can be quite good about some things. Lots of trivial things that interest me, I remember. But also, lots of things I truly want to remember, important things, like something a friend has said to me about themself, I forget. And then, lots of things I want to forget, I can't help remembering."

"Well, memory's a funny thing. Sometimes you can remember something for a certainty, but turn out to be wrong, but even when you have proof of the truth, and know it for a fact, you can't help remembering differently. Even the best of friends can sometimes get into terrible arguments over things like that, where both people are 100 percent, completely incapable of remembering or believing differently than they do, and they get extremely annoyed at each other's stubbornness. Sometimes friendships even end that way, and that's something I try to avoid. If I realize another person and I can't ever believe differently than we do, particularly if there's no evidence for one side or the other, I'd rather just stop discussing it. But people get angry about that, too."

"I know," said Darius. "I hate that. And people can be such hypocrites. They can do exactly the same thing they accuse you of, at least as often. I find sometimes I want to talk about something and they don't, but if they want to talk about something and I think it would be better not to- even after we've tried and accomplished nothing except upsetting each other- they get upset that I won't keep talking about it. It's a total double standard. The really troubling thing is, some people can repeatedly do things that seem completely unfair and unreasonable, and yet... most of the time they can seem so great, so much like yourself, they can be great friends you couldn't bear to lose. So it doesn't make sense at all, and it hurts so much when they get like that, and sometimes you lose them despite your best efforts. Of course, things are rarely one-sided. I do things wrong myself, even if I sometimes don't see it clearly until I've looked back on things, when it's much too late. It's just such a damned shame, y'know?"

"I know," said Emma. "Especially when you think you're more different than most people, and you've finally found someone you think you're compatible with. I mean, if you have so few friends in life because you're different, each one is that much more precious, as you said earlier. It seems so impossible that you'd lose them. Sometimes it seems like most people just make friends with whoever's around them, at work, in the neighborhood, or at school, since that was established. Any familiar face will do. You see someone often enough, you talk to them often, and soon you just assume you're friends. I mean, that's how it seems with normal people. At least, that's how it seemed to me among my people-"

Darius cut in, "No, it seems that way to me too, about humans. Again, maybe it's the loneliness that makes people try harder, whether there's any real justification for friendship or not, though if you say it's true of elves as well, maybe not." He shrugged.

"I dunno. But as I was saying, for people who aren't so normal, it's hard to find friends, and when you do it really means something. It's really special, and it seems so... meant. Y'know? And then if you just lose them and it doesn't seem to make sense, because you know you're both great people who have a lot in common and love each other and all, and only ever try to make each other happy and not to upset or hurt each other... and you do hurt each other anyway, without meaning to or even really understanding how... It starts to seem like God or the Universe or something is against you. Just constantly setting you up to get hurt. Each happiness is given to you just so it can be taken away."

"Exactly!" exclaimed Darius. "I've thought all those things. Except, some happinesses you can retain, just so you don't end up killing yourself or something, and that's just so you'll still be around for the Universe to throw more pain at you."

"Yes," agreed Emma. "And you thought you get depressed for no reason!"

He smiled. "Ah, but all this tends to go through my head when I get depressed, and if the spell is about nothing, then none of the things that usually hurt seem to matter. Oh, all those things trigger spells at one time or another, though."

"Well, aside from the depression problem, it seems we have a lot in common. Perhaps we're meant to be friends."

"Yes." He stopped smiling. "And perhaps eventually we'll lose our friendship for some unreasonable reason."

She frowned. "But... we both know how that goes, and it seems wrong to both of us, and... I mean, don't you think...?"

Darius nodded. "I know. But that's what's so unreasonable about it. Two people can know they think alike because they talk about things, how they feel and all. They can even talk about these very things and agree about them, and try to avoid being trapped by such things. And still...."

She sighed. "I suppose so. Why do you suppose the Universe is so unfair? You think maybe Lucifer won long ago, and the ongoing battles between him and God are just a show he puts on to make people believe there is some hope? At least until they die, and then he has a good laugh at their expense."

"Maybe. Somehow I doubt it, though. Sometimes I don't know how I can believe in a just and loving God, but sometimes I can be so happy and love life and the world so much, that I can't doubt Him. I dunno. Maybe that's part of the game. In any event, there's nothing anyone could do about it now. We just have to live life and try to be happy and make others happy. Take the bad with the good. And all that."

Darius fell silent for a bit, then said, "Anyway... I feel like I've been talking too much about myself. It must be your turn to talk about yourself. Not that I haven't been learning about you already." It didn't always occur to him to ask people about themselves, and when it did, it wasn't always easy to do so. In fact, if someone asked how he was, he sometimes answered 'Fine,' and wanted to add 'how are you?' but often couldn't. It was just one more thing he hated about himself, but it made him feel a bit better about himself when he did manage to display an interest in others; though it also often made him feel bad a moment later, thinking it was pathetic to feel anything resembling pride over being able to do something so simple, that everyone else did effortlessly. At the moment, though, he didn't concern himself much about any of that; he merely turned the lead over to Emma, and waited for her response.

"What would you like to know?"

"Hmmm. For starters, where'd you get that timepiece you checked earlier?"

She looked at her wrist with a smile and said, "This? It was a gift. Cameron made it for me for my last birthday."

"Sweet. Do the rest of the Band have them, too?"

"Um, I don't think so. I'm sure he'd be happy to make timepieces for them if they wanted, but he thought to make this for me because I'd been complaining one day about never knowing what time it was." She shrugged. "It was an offhand comment, and I'd totally forgotten about it until he gave me my present, like a few months later."

"So, after that, you end up getting him anything special for his next birthday? Oh, and while we're on the subject, when exactly are your birthdays?"

"Well, mine is 22 Aut'gin-"

"Hey, that's the day after mine."

"Neat. Maybe later this year we can have a joint party. Anyway, Cameron's birthday is 31 Win'yet..."

"Ah, Quad Day! I don't think I've ever met anyone born on that date. That's pretty neat. Oh... sorry, I interrupted." With a slight quirk of his lips he added, "Normally I'm not even capable of that. Anyway, please continue."

"Quite alright; it really is pretty rare for someone to be born on Quad Day. In fact," she said with a grin, "that rather played into my decision of what to get him for his birthday, earlier this year. I had spent a lot of time thinking about it, after my birthday, and nothing came to me for quite awhile. But one day when I was thinking about the actual date of his birthday, I thought of a story he'd once told me..." She broke off, looking thoughtful for a few moments, before continuing, "You know, actually it might be better if I let him tell you about that." With a mischievous grin she explained, "It might be a bit embarrassing for him."

"Okay, then. I'm sure I'll have a chance to talk with him sometime soon; as I said, I do hope to get to know all of you better. Speaking of which, please do go back to telling me more about yourself."

She thought a bit about how to begin, before saying, "Well... it will be obvious that I'm originally from Woodstockade. I was born in 894, three years before the start of the Coming-"

"And four years after me."

"If you say so," she said with a wry grin. "Anyway, my parents were Zarrin and Gema Des'Lossin-"

"Ah, the true last name!"

She smiled again. "Yes, now stop interrupting! Or at least wait for me to get more than one sentence out."

"But- they couldn't have had that name yet, could they? Not until the surname law was passed at the end of the Coming."

"Wrong! For your information, elves have had surnames from the third generation, over a hundred years ago. A way of remembering our ancestors. For some, it's one of those status things. The greater their ancestor- and we all know a fair bit about all of the original fifty elves and High Sorcerer Roderick- the more respect they expect, and often receive, whether they deserve it themselves or not."

"I know about Roderick and a few of the original Elves, like Eller. And I know of a few of their descendants, like Chief Des'Eller, and I think I heard the name of Woodstockade's LandOrder don is Des'Tambor. But I guess I don't know too much. Don't know about Lossin or any Des'Lossins."

"Lossin was a songwriter and musician, as am I. My father was a sailor and an adventurer, and during the Coming became a captain in the Order's navy. My mother had been a bit of a florist. She was too young when the Coming began to have embarked upon a definite career, but she was always good with flowers, and enjoyed them. She still dabbles in the trade, for fun and occasional small profit. But she became a banker, and a pretty good one. Helped finance some of the Order's operations in Woodstockade, including the raising of the navy there."

"Is that how...? No, of course they'd met before. You were born before the Coming. But, if she was too young...?"

"She was seventeen when I was born, and my father twenty. When the Order contacted the elves, they were 24 and 27, respectively. My people tend to choose life-mates much sooner than careers. We believe... most of us, anyway... that love should be an easy thing to recognize, surely, and best to enjoy it for as long as you can. Some humanfolk seem to worry too much about finding the right person. Maybe we're just lucky, being able to know our hearts. It seems a simple thing, and surprising it isn't always so for your kind. But then again, it's probably the whole punishment thing. While many people, human and elf alike, try extra hard to make friends with very little reason, the enhanced feeling of isolation, of not being truly understood... well, I've heard that makes it extra important for humans to make truly certain the person they end up with is the right one. I guess it makes sense that it takes longer for them to be sure of something so vitally important, given the need to overcome their psychological predisposition to feeling... alone."

Darius nodded. "At least that's one thing I like about living on this world. I may feel more certain than most that I'll always be alone, but from what I've heard about other worlds, like Earth, I like the fact that Landians take marriage more seriously. Though I also like that marriage here isn't as complicated here as it is elsewhere. I don't really understand why it should be that on some worlds, people feel it necessary for church and state to have any involvement in the matter. Here, we make our pledges to each other, privately. Of course, God sees, and knows what's in our hearts, and that's all that matters: the individuals, and God. What other people think, what the law thinks... they even decide, unilaterally, that people, all people, are adults at one specific age, and yet they give a few privileges out at an earlier specific age, and others at later specific ages. One thing I can say for the Order, at least adult licenses make sense. Four stamps for maturity. One given when a physician finds you to be physically mature- that is, of reproductive age. One when a psychotherapist determines that you're emotionally mature. One when a spirit-talker says you're spiritually mature. And one when your master- or headmaster, at the new schools- says you're mentally mature; that you've learned a trade, among other, more general things. All four stamps on your card, and you're an adult. And you don't even need all of them to decide to marry, just physical and emotional."

"Even that much caused a bit of a stir among my people, when the Order introduced the idea of adult licenses. But most people eventually agreed that it made sense. Mainly they just figured that since we know when we're ready for marriage, those in a position to give us our stamps should surely recognize our maturity in the appropriate areas, as well. Anyway, it's important to us to enjoy life as much as possible. Part of that is being together with the one who's meant for us, whether for life or for a time, and part of it is having the job that's right for us, whether for life or for a time. Most of us like to do a bit of adventuring in our youth, anyway. Some make a career of it, some don't. We tend to find life-mates in our teens, and careers in our late 20's or early 30's. These things can vary from person to person. I always knew I wanted to be a musician and lyricist. Some do know what they want to do, early on, especially artists. Some don't find a life-mate for a long time, and some never do. I've never found one. Of course, I'm only eighteen, but many elves my age are already married and starting families. I've never even had a casual relationship."

"Nor have I. And that's one of those things about me. I don't think I could ever really fall in love, and I certainly don't believe anyone could fall in love with me. And even if it could happen that I fell in love with someone who fell in love with me, I'm not sure it would be right. I just think I'm... I don't know. I'm not named Lonewander for nothing, as I believe I've said. It's hard enough for me to make friends. To find a life-mate to spend all my days with... I'm just..." He sighed. "One of those vague things I don't really know how to say. But I think, the more time someone spends with me, the less they'll want to spend with me."

"And with that attitude, you'll soon be proved right, buster!" Emma said with a grin.

Darius just sighed again. "Yup. But even if I could get over that... I dunno. No need to worry about it now. Cross that bridge when I come to it, as they say. If I ever do come to it, which I doubt I will. Anyway, on with your story."

"Well. To make a long story short, I felt my people- including my parents- were on the wrong side of the war. I wasn't alone in that belief, but I felt alone, because of that and other things. But while... I think you said you got your card and all your stamps the same year you started adventuring for real, I didn't even get my card until 907, a few years after the Coming. Of course I couldn't leave home until I'd gotten that and a couple of stamps, not unless I wanted to be a street rat or something, and no offense to our friendly acquaintance.

"Well, I got my physical stamp soon after my card, and my spiritual stamp too. Elven spirit-talkers tend to have a great deal of faith in the spirituality of their own kind, and a broad idea of what that means. It's fairly easy for us to get those stamps fairly quickly- and fairly deservedly, if I do say so myself. The emotional took a while longer. I don't think my emotional state is much different from yours, so perhaps you can understand that. I mean, most elves don't see much difference between the emotional and the spiritual. It's all about how we look at life. But I was different, as I've indicated. In any number of ways, including that I wasn't dating. Still, as I say, we tend to have fairly open minds, and besides, I finally told the psychotherapist who was reviewing me for my stamp, when she asked me why I never dated, I told her to go read the Book of Julia. She understood, and that along with her typically elven general open-mindedness got me my emotional stamp when I was fifteen. I got my mental stamp at sixteen, which is at least a decade younger than most elves do, and so I was a full-fledged adult.

"I left home, and a year later- last year- I joined the Band. In Triscot, as it happens. I had sailed there, and that's where I stayed, playing music where and when I could. Mostly in theater groups. When the Band showed up, they sat in with the regular band in the troupe I was working for at the time. It seems they knew most of the musicians and actors, and often joined them when they were in town. I got to know them myself, and they asked me to go with them when they left. I agreed. I liked Triscot well enough, but I was anxious to see more of the world."

"And when did you take the name Pseud?"

"The moment I left my parents' house. I'd been planning on that for more years than I can remember."

"Well, okay." He glanced back towards the camp. "Do you think they miss us yet? Perhaps getting some funny ideas about us?" he added with a mischievous grin.

She laughed and said, "Not any of the Band. ...Have you read much of the O'Gas?"

"There's too much for the layman to have read much. In fact, too much for most spirit-talkers who do it for a career. But I'm aware of most of the highlights." With another grin, "Including the Book of Julia, or at least the most famous part of that book. Say, you kids ever play that song?"

"We have, and we do it rather well, I think. But not often."

"Well, I should like to hear it sometime. I've heard a copy of the second version, actually- and come to think of it, I suppose the musical style isn't entirely dissimilar from what Black Radly were playing, the other day. It's funny, at the time it sounded totally original to me, but if the song mentioned in the Book of Julia is a fair indication of the kind of music they have on Earth, or had at some point in its history, I guess their sound isn't that original, after all. I really should try to listen to some music by other Earth artists, but of course such things are practically nonexistent. I wonder if any of Ginger's spirit friends could provide her with copies of things? ...But like I said, I'd also like to hear you guys play that one song sometime. I've never heard it done by any of the Land's bands."

"Well, perhaps before this adventure is over, you shall get your chance. And Ginger already has a few bubble recordings by Earth bands, as well as artists from various other planets. I'm sure she'd be happy to let you listen to some of them. Might help pass the time on the journey. Meanwhile, it's getting a bit chilly out here. We should be getting back to the fire. And I have a little something we could add to our coffee, before turning in."

They got up, a bit stiffly after sitting so long, and headed back. As they walked, Emma commented, "You know, I've been meaning for awhile now to ask how you can stand wearing a jacket all the time. I can see wearing one on a night like this, perhaps, but most of the time..."

Darius allowed himself a slight grin. "Yeah, I get that a lot. It seems to be just one more way I'm different. I mean, I'm just not psychologically comfortable without a jacket, and it takes an especially hot day for my physical discomfort to outweigh my psychological discomfort enough for me to choose to forgo one." They reached the fire, which the others seemed to have abandoned for the tents. Darius was glad to be alone, aside from Emma. It was always hard to be around too many people, though he was starting to get used to this particular group. Still grinning as he sat down by the fire, he concluded his explanation by saying, "But you should see what I wear when I get outside the tropic zone."

With a grin of her own, Emma replied, "Well, I look forward to it." She took a moment to go to the wagon and retrieve a bottle, while Darius refilled both their mugs with coffee from the now cold pot. Sitting down beside him, Emma opened the bottle and poured generously from it into both their cups, and then they each stirred in some sugar.

"Ah," said Darius, "Irish cream. Just the thing to warm up a cold cup of coffee. Better with both manners of heat, but this'll do in a pinch... unless you want to set our mugs over the fire and wait a bit?"

With a grin she said, "Perhaps in a moment. But just now, who wants to wait? A sip or three, first."

They clinked mugs and both toasted, "To Blynn!"

After they both had a gulp, Emma added, "Or, as they say in the theater, 'Tooblan!'" and they both laughed.


chapter 7

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