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Chapter 24
4 Sp'mo' (Ha'day)

1

Darius and Alecstar looked at each other in shock. Both were speechless. After a few moments, they turned back to Sidney, who looked back and forth between the two of them. "Hmmm. Well, I suppose you'd both best come with me." Glancing over Darius's shoulder, the retainer called out, "Those of you with carpets, pack them up and come along, as well. The rest of you, wait here a bit. Someone will be along shortly to lead your striders underground, then you can join us...." Returning his attention to Darius, he said, "Quickly now, come along, my lad. Your father and mother, as you may well imagine, will be anxious to see you...."

Sidney turned and began walking back the way he'd come, but Darius and the others just stood where they were. Darius sputtered, "But, but... you're telling me my parents are still alive?!"

The old retainer stopped in his tracks, and after a moment's immobility, whirled around to face Darius, his mouth agape. Then, turning to face Alecstar, he asked, "You really haven't told him any of it, Major? How long have you known him? When did you find him? And you haven't spoken a word, but let him carry on in such belief?"

It took Star a few moments to find words. "I, I... I didn't see any reason to bring it up. I didn't think it mattered. I mean, about the escape plans. I'm as shocked as he is to learn that any of his clan is still alive."

"But you... you were... I mean, it was your own idea!" At this, Darius turned his head to stare at Star, as Sidney continued to speak. "You were the one who approached Adam with your plan, weeks before the battle. You warned him it was coming, and presented the notion of building an escape route underground. More important, your plan included the... you know, the burning. To hide... the true number of our dead. To make them think the entire clan had been killed. Excepting, of course, Darius and West, who were in Tanq at the time. And excepting the rumors which were planted about the fate of the other children. It's sad how many of the bodies we burned really were who the enemy believed they were- and of course, even those that weren't of Adam's clan, were still dear friends and allies, killed in the battle, in the heat of which surely our enemies concerned themselves little with keeping tracks of the names or faces of those they killed. But the point is, you knew about all of this. As I said, it was your own idea. So how can you claim not to have known at least some of the boy's clan were still alive?"

Looking askance, Sidney paused when a thought struck him. "Does... does this have anything to do with your disappearance, before the end of the battle? We thought you'd continue in your service to the Order's army, that you might be of further help to the Protestants in the years following the war. But I later heard you'd deserted, and no one knew what had become of you, not even that captain friend of yours, Stav-"

"Don't say his name!" shouted Star, suddenly. He locked eyes with Sidney for a few moments, a fierce expression on his face. Then he closed his eyes and lowered his head. "He's the reason I left. He did something I never could have predicted, and can never forgive." Looking up again, he added, "In fact, I'm surprised you seem to be unaware of what he did. I'm sure it earned him a promotion, and should have made him famous. I always wondered why he never took credit for it, but I thought at least any survivors of the battle would have known the truth."

Sidney shook his head slowly. "I've no idea what unforgivable act you're referring to. Of course, a great many unpleasant things were done that day, on both sides. I don't know if you yourself killed any of our allies, but I'd understand if you had, to keep up appearances. Nor do I know if he did, but again... I'd understand."

"Of course he did," said Alecstar. "Yes, we both did, and regretted it. I regretted it, anyway, very deeply, but it was a necessary evil. I'm not so sure he felt the same way, though. But it's not about killing in general, but rather..." He sighed, and with a pained look in his eyes said, "Just forget it. It doesn't matter anymore, and I don't want to talk about it, or about him. The point is, it's on account of his actions during the battle that I assumed the plan must have come to naught. He knew it as well as I did, and he'd spent just as much time working on the escape route. I thought... he must have led our forces to find those who had escaped, and finished you all off. And there's nothing I could have done about it. If I'd ever tried to check up on you, I'd have been caught, court martialed, and executed as a traitor. So I'm confused. How is it that you're still alive?"

"All I can say is that he never betrayed us. Unless the Order wanted us to feel safe and hidden, when all the time they've been keeping an eye on us. I can't imagine why they'd do that, when it would have been simpler just to kill us all, at the time, and be done with it. Anyway, we haven't heard from the captain since the war ended. To the best of my knowledge, he's currently a major, stationed in Kimrin, though things could have changed by now. But I can say that he visited us here, a few days after the battle. He seemed concerned about your disappearance, most distressed. Thinking back, I suppose it may have seemed to me there was something he wasn't saying, that may have added to his concern. Perhaps that was related to whatever you're talking about, but at the time I couldn't figure out what might have been troubling him. So I just assumed I was mistaken, and there was nothing more to it, in fact, than his natural concern over the disappearance of his friend." He momentarily closed his eyes as he shook his head. "I haven't thought about it since then. Things were complicated for all of us, and I had my own concerns. I was happy to be alive, and to still have a clan to serve, even if their numbers were reduced, and they had to go into hiding. At the same time, I was also in mourning for those who were killed, as we all were."

Star stood in silent contemplation for a centhour. Finally, he said, "Perhaps what was troubling him, and the reason he left you all alive, was because my disappearance upset his own plans, whatever they may have been. It could be that the reason they're keeping an eye on you is so that one day you might lead him, or someone else in the Army or the government, to me. Although that InterVil agent seemed to know who I was, so I don't understand why..." He sighed, and shook his head. "Whatever it was, I'm happy you're alive. But now that we've met up again, I think you all should take greater care than ever. For now, staying here may be safer than I'd thought it would be. Or, it might be even more dangerous. In either case, we can't stay too long, even if it's only reasonable to allow Darius a bit of extra time for a family reunion. But we still have a mission to accomplish in Near Port. After that's taken care of, I think I'll take a break from my current alliance with Darius, and go to Kimrin, somewhere I'd hoped never to go again. Specifically to avoid ever seeing... him. But now I feel I have no choice. I need to learn the truth about all of this."

Throughout this extended exchange, Darius (and the others) had all stood motionless, except for the turning of heads back and forth between Alecstar and Sidney. Now, Darius repeated his earlier question. "So... you're telling me my parents and a number of other relatives are still alive?"

"The boy's quick," muttered Tom. Emma punched him on the arm.

"Indeed they are," said Sidney. "Now come on, all of you! Look, they've come out now," and at these words and the retainer's pointing figure, they all spun to look behind them, expecting to see Darius's parents. Instead, they saw more servants. "They'll take your striders, so you can all come right away. We've tarried here far longer than expected. As I said, my lad, your parents are anxious to see you, after all these years. As are your sister and various cousins, and such, I'm sure. Come!" Once again he turned and continued on his way. Darius, Alecstar, and the others all followed him to a section of ground, which Sidney lifted, revealing a staircase, which they followed him down.

2

Sidney led them down the stairs, and then along a hallway lighted by torches resting in sconces along each wall. Intermittently, they also noted various armaments hanging on the walls, and now and then other hallways branching out in either direction. Finally, they arrived in an antechamber, the circular wall of which also held torches, mostly unlit; the majority of the room's light came from a stone brazier, standing about four feet high, in the center of the room. Aside from torches, the wall also held a few paintings. Tom commented that the curved frames were cleverly constructed, ane he suspected it was one of his former masters who had designed them. Along the walls also sat a few couches, of which Sidney invited the guests to avail themselves. And so, most of the party sat down; Darius and Alecstar remained standing, along with Sidney, beside the brazier.

Darius rubbed his hands over the open fire, and said to himself, "I've always said, 'Home is where the hearth is'." He spoke almost under his breath, half wanting others to hear it, half not. He'd always found bad puns to be amusing, a fact of which he was simultaneously a bit proud and a bit embarrassed. Those seated along the walls certainly were out of hearing of anything spoken so quietly; Star and Sidney gave no indication as to whether they'd heard or not. Darius flushed a little, and rubbed his cheeks to hide it. Quickly, he decided to stop thinking about such pointless things, and simply stared at the fire.

All other eyes were on the doorway opposite the one they'd just entered. A few moments after Darius had stopped thinking about anything except the fire, Sidney said, "Ahem." At this, Darius looked up, and saw his parents, who had just entered the room. He could see, even from this distance, that his mother had tears in her eyes, and he suspected his father's easily could have, if he weren't in firm control of his overall expression, which nevertheless denoted his pleasure at this unexpected reunion.

No one moved nor spoke, for nearly a centhour. Finally, Darius moved his hands away from the fire, glanced quickly at Star on his left, and Sidney on his right, and then walked around the latter, heading somewhat haltingly toward his parents. When he reached them, he stopped, looking directly at their faces for only a few moments before averting his eyes slightly, and mumbling, "Mom, Dad, hi. Um, how are you? Alive, I see. Uh, so that's good. Better than I expected. So... it's nice to, you know, see you." Looking down, he mentally cursed himself for not knowing what else to say. He was happy, of course, but-

His thoughts were interrupted by his mother throwing her arms around him and hugging him tightly. He reciprocated, but the hug lasted longer than he was comfortable with. Finally, she let him go, and his father embraced him in his turn, more briefly than his mother had, for which Darius was grateful. Both his parents were aware that Darius didn't like touching, but they also knew that they were the two people on the Land for whom this aversion of his was not too great. He mused momentarily on the fact that when he'd been much younger, he'd actually liked hugging; he often wondered exactly when and why this had changed. But this, he realized, was not the time to devote to such thoughts.

Darius and his parents stood looking at each other for another few moments, though of course Darius did so only fleetingly. Then his mother said, wiping the tears from her eyes, "I'm so sorry, Darius. It must have been hard for you, thinking us dead, all these years."

As his eyes continued darting back and forth between her face and some obscure point to the side, he replied, "Well, yeah. But I always wished... it would've been harder for me than it was. I mean, I'm sure it was harder on you, even though you knew I was alive. You guys... you know, I love you, and all, but..." He sighed, and hung his head. Then he cleared and steadied his thoughts, determined to force himself to be stronger, more confident. He thought once again of the kind of person he wanted to be, if he was to be any kind of leader at all. Besides, this was his family. If he couldn't look them in the eyes and speak his mind, how could he ever do so with anyone else? So he looked up, and said, "You know how I feel. At a time like this, it must seem a terrible thing to say, but you know I've always thought my family must love me more than I do them. And I've always hated myself for that. And you know I always looked forward to leaving home. I mean, of course losing you saddened me, deeply. In my own way, I've always loved and appreciated all of you, and I always wanted you to be happy." A hint of a grin momentarily played at the corners of his lips as he added, "And, you know, alive." Turning serious again, he continued, "So, I'm very glad that you are. And I'm glad to see you again, and look forward to seeing more of the clan. But of course you realize..." he turned his head away for just a moment before returning his gaze to them, "the way I act or speak around you all... probably isn't going to be any different now than it ever was. I never really understood how you could be happy just to have me around, when I never said much or took much interest in joining in whatever everyone else was doing or talking about. And I'm still going to be like that, and I'll still feel bad about it. But at least now I can understand your being happy to have me here, even if I don't say or do that much. Of course, it won't be for long, maybe a few days, and then we must continue on our way. But hopefully, after that, I'll be able to return, and we can spend more time together. I have a notion that Triscot will end up being... well, the seat of a new government we may establish, if all goes as I hope. So, yeah, I should be here more. I look forward to that. I suppose I should take some time over the next couple of days to discuss my plans with you, but also... well, I suppose there'll also be less serious matters to discuss."

"You bet," said Adam, with a wink. "Anyway, we understand how you feel. We know you can't help it, so please, try not to let it trouble you too much. But now," he looked beyond his son, first toward Sidney and Alecstar, and then beyond them to the Chaos party, who had stood up from the couches practically as soon as Adam and his wife had entered the room, "you and your friends should come with us to the main hall, where already the rest of the clan are assembling, as word of your return spreads. Not everyone is here, as some of us have work that takes us away, from time to time, but there are a fair number of us home, at present. You've picked a good time to visit," he finished with a smile.

The others began walking toward Darius and his parents, who turned and walked back through the doorway into a shorter hallway than the one Darius's group had first come through. They all followed, and Adam said over his shoulder, "By the way, it's nice to see you again, Major Alec."

"You too, sir. A most unexpected and welcome pleasure. But please... my name is now Alecstar Inco. For short, my friends call me 'Star,' as I'm avoiding the name 'Alec,' these days. And of course, I'm no longer a major, nor any rank at all. Just 'Alecstar,' if you please."

"Of course, understood completely." And as he spoke these words, the group entered the main hall, which was far larger than the antechamber, and far brighter. There were a few lit torches along the walls, as well as a few braziers at various spots, and one large fireplace set into a wall, but most of the light was some sort of luminescence that no one in the group recognized, except Cameron.

"Excuse me, sir," the ex-Sorreter said, with obvious wonderment, "how is it you come to have... I mean, those lights are electric aren't they?" He turned to Darius and asked, "You didn't have those when you were a kid, did you? I know your clan is wealthy, but still..."

Darius just shook his head, as surprised as Cameron. Or rather, as surprised as the rest of the group, who were more surprised than Cameron, considering they'd never seen any such thing before.

It was at this point that they reached the dining table, around which a number of people were already sitting. Adam and Alyn both took their own seats, and indicated that the others should do likewise. When everyone was seated, Adam responded to what Cameron had said, a centhour ago. "We have, or rather had, a few friends among the Sorreter community, who provided us things, when we were making plans to go into hiding. Things that even now aren't available to the general public, being as yet experimental."

"'Experimental' is too weak a word. This isn't even magic, it's technology in advance of anything we should yet have on the Land. It's complicated, because magic and science are basically the same thing, at a certain level, but there is a difference. And I know that spirits who talk with Sorreters sometimes share things that are weighted more on the science side than the magical, but... I don't think these things could even be manufactured, spirits would simply have to... you know, give them to you. And even then, how would you power them?"

"We have what you call a generator. Not the kind they'd have on Earth, I suppose, not even nine centuries ago, when the Land was created. Much simpler than that, but... it gets the job done. The mechanical aspect is fairly simple, actually, not at all beyond the current potential of Landian science. In fact I expect the Order will soon enough be introducing such generators, itself. But you're right, technically electric lights, if not their power source, are beyond officially recognized science, though not as far beyond as you might think. And I can tell you, they definitely come in handy. We have to limit ourselves as to how much fire we use for illumination or cooking, because of the smoke produced. Though actually, we've been using a slightly modified version of the plumbing system developed by the Order during the Coming, to transport smoke instead of water. Obviously it wouldn't do to have smoke released from the ground right here on the estate; it would look far too suspicious, if anyone happened to notice it. So, the generator powers more than just the lights, but also pumps that force the smoke through the pipes to an obscure location where it can be released more discreetly." He paused for a few moments before adding, "As much as we require the magic-dampening spell that blankets the estate, it really has been something of a hassle, preventing us from using simple illumination spells and thereby forcing us to use so much technology-"

"I'm surprised to hear you wish you could use more magical devices," Darius cut in suddenly, with great effort. It was always practically impossible for him to interrupt anyone, and by the time an opening occurred, it was usually too late for him to speak his mind, as the conversation would have moved on too far by that point. So on rare occasions, he did manage to force himself to interject something. "The last time I saw you, you wanted to get rid of the ones we'd already gotten, earlier in the Coming, before you learned the truth about what the Order was up to. In fact, even before then you were reluctant to buy certain things, just because they were too expensive for the general public, and you were uncomfortable with the whole notion of a class divide. And I was certainly never aware of your having any Sorreter friends."

"Well, you were a kid. It wouldn't have been appropriate to let you in on everything we were doing back then. Especially considering the pro-Order sentiments you held at the time. And of course, much of what I'm talking about didn't even happen until you had gone to Tanq, to stay with West."

With a grin, Darius's mother added, "And what your father may be forgetting to mention is that his attitude has changed somewhat, since you last saw him. I recall a certain argument he and I had once, not long before you left, on just this subject. I was defending the wish you and your sister had to keep such devices, and pointed out that even he wouldn't seriously consider giving up the indoor plumbing we'd installed a couple of years earlier."

"I remember that," said Darius. "And he said it was different because, even if it had been developed by the Order and was part of their Plan, it wasn't magic. Besides which, he felt confident that it wouldn't be that long before everyone on the Land had it, not just the so-called nobility."

Adam and Alyn both looked a bit surprised. Adam said, "We had no idea you overheard our argument. I'm... we're sorry, we should have been more careful."

Darius looked away and said, "Don't worry about it. I'm sure some kids are easily scarred by hearing their parents argue, but I was always mature enough to realize it was only natural. No one can agree about everything all the time. It's not like I ever thought... you know, anything... bad was going to happen. Like breaking up, or whatever. Not over something so trivial."

"Well, that's good," said Alyn. "In any event, after the Coming, the prices of magical items was lowered considerably, and actually became commonplace much sooner than plumbing, which is still not quite universal, from what we hear."

"Speaking of plumbing," said Adam, "I've been wondering that it's even allowed, after the passing of a certain law, soon after the end of the Coming..."

Cameron nodded. "The Prohibition of Off-world Technology. I wasn't going to mention it, when you were talking about your electric lights..." With a grin he added, "It would be rather ironic to be discovered and imprisoned for using electricity, after being granted amnesty for your actions during the war. Oh, I assume you know about that?" They both nodded. "Anyway, the prohibition doesn't apply to plumbing, because it doesn't utilize any technology that didn't already exist, it's merely a new application of existing technology. It was actually developed by an engineer named Lyle, and only later incorporated by Bishop Kizin into his Plan. The prohibition applies specifically to technology which could only have been provided by spirits to Sorreters, not by Landian inventors."

Adam nodded. "Anyway, I must admit it's a good thing we did have that on our estate. The fact is, there's no way we could have prepared these tunnels in time if we didn't already have space underground cleared out for the septic system. Speaking of irony, if it weren't for the Order's Plan, our own little plan to hide from them never could have been implemented."

"But while you may be able to hide yourselves down here," said Cameron, "concerning your lights, there's the matter of the automated scrying spell which scans the world for technology such as- oh never mind that's right the magic-dampener." He grinned sheepishly, now. "I guess that would block scrying for technology just as well as scrying for people."

Adam laughed. "I'm sure it's an easy thing for a Sorreter- and I'm assuming that's what you are- to forget about the inability to use magic, seeing how integral a part of your life it must be. Second nature, like putting on clothes in the morning. But... as it happens, the dampening field is somewhat weakened, underground, so a few relatively weak spells can be used, for up to several hours at a time. Perhaps tomorrow you can see one of them in action. Meanwhile, I should mention that in the event these tunnels are ever compromised... well, the Sorreters who installed the lights also rigged them with self-destruct spells, to destroy any evidence of the lights' existence. The spells would be triggered by unauthorized entrance into the outer tunnels, which as you saw were lit merely by fire. Although personally, I feel that, because when the prohibition was passed, it wasn't made retroactive, technically we're not breaking the law by having the lights." With a grin he added, turning to Darius, "Well, your uncle Kuris tells me I may be wrong on that point, but even he doesn't argue with me when I say that the laws of the living can't be applied to the dead, which is what we are, ostensibly."

At this point, Darius's mother spoke up. "If that topic has been concluded, it's time now for introductions. I imagine you've all heard of my husband, Adam." They all nodded respectfully. "And my name, if you don't know, is Alyn Lonewander II-"

"Lonewander?" exclaimed Darius suddenly. "What? How?"

Sidney, who was sitting directly to Darius's right, turned to him and said, "I mentioned I'd read some of your books. Did you think your parents wouldn't have read them before I ever got the the chance to borrow their copies? Of course, we all know the Order name you chose for yourself, and... well, pretty much your whole clan chose to go by it, as well. Of course, it's not official. Obviously no census-takers ever stopped by to jot down their names. And those that go out use assumed surnames, if they need to use anything but their first names, at all. Still, among the family and those who are trusted, 'Lonewander' is the name." The retainer chuckled. "Bit ironic, if you ask me."

"Anyway," said Alyn, "I was named for my aunt, who died at the Battle of Triscot, so she never held the name Lonewander." She then turned her head and patted the hand of the older woman to her left, and said, "This is my mother, Laina Lonewander." Turning to her right, she looked past Adam and said, "To my husband's right is our daughter, Nelly."

"Hi, Bro," said Nelly to Darius.

"Hey, Sis. What you been up to?"

"Spirit-talking, mostly."

"No sorretry, I trust?"

She screwed up her face and said, "You know I consider that evil. Even if I have to accept that we make use of it, I want no direct part of it."

"She often argues with her cousins about that," said Alyn. "Joss and Thew are both spirit-talkers, like their father, Spivin. They all took the name 'Protestant' rather than 'Lonewander,' though no slight to you is intended, Darius.

"Anyway," said Alyn, "back to introductions." Pointing in turn to each person she named, she said, "This is my sister, Lucia, her husband, Kuris, their children, Luni, Kar, Tor, and Matz. And there are two of Spivin's children, Joss and Lia. Their brother, Thew, is off adventuring somewhere, but we received a letter the other other day saying that he may be back at any time, now. Hopefully he'll return before you leave, Darius. And before anyone asks, no, of course the postal services don't deliver mail here. But we have ways of keeping in touch, which maybe we'll explain later.

"Um... so, that's everyone present. I should mention a few who are absent. Let's see, my uncle Monn is at work; he's a mechanic in town, with his own garage, but of course he uses an assumed name; calls himself Al Tinkershop, for official purposes. His wife was the first Alyn, who died, as I mentioned. Their daughter, Ani, is a physician, who also uses an alias: Kyra Hippocrata. Monn and Ani both have their own places in town, so we only see them here on rare occasions. Monn and Alyn's son, Barat, is a smuggler, like my husband; they were both honest traders, before the war, but have since been forced into underground work. The name Barat uses in public, whenever necessary, is Raymond Blackcoat. I should say, when Monn, Ani, and Barat were all thinking up their false identities, they considered all going by the same assumed surname, but ultimately decided it would be best to have no association with one another, publicly. Two of Monn and Alyn's other daughters, Isle and Athak, also died during the Battle of Triscot. Athak, was Spivin's wife, the mother of Joss, Thew, and Lia. Also absent is another of Monn and Alyn's sons, Brik, who was married to Lua; they both died in the battle, as well. Their son, Doog, is another adventurer off somewhere now, and their daughter, Cara, has become a pirate. Who else is missing? Spivin is off meeting with Nathaniel Rook, right now."

"The Protestant bishop of Triscot?" asked Ginger. "He knows you're all alive? Or is Spivin using an alias, as well?"

"Oh, he knows. He's long been a close and trusted friend of the family. And gosh, but what a large family it is! I still haven't finished saying who all isn't here. You know, some of these introductions are for the benefit of all you newcomers; but some of it is updates I'm trying to provide for Darius. Anyway, my brother, Lance, has a house in Shanty, with his wife, Brynne. Lance has retained his real first name, but he goes by his wife's surname, Studi." She looked at Darius and explained, "Brynne's a teacher. She moved to Triscot in 907, and they married a couple years later. At that point, they moved to Shanty, a small port town a bit over 200 miles west of Triscot, on the coast of Near Land. It's easy to keep a low profile there, as it's not an 'official' village, and doesn't even appear on most maps." Scanning the group at large, she added, "I'm not sure how many people outside of Triscot have even heard of it, though it was used by the Protestant Navy during the war, which is when the town first began to spring up. Though now most of the ships that dock there are pirates." Looking at Darius again, she said, "So if you go there, there's a chance you might see Cara, and you should also drop in on Lance, and meet Brynne. I'll let them explain how they came to meet, when Lance was supposed to be in hiding.

"Anyway, I think that's everyone. Oh, of course, my father, Putt, also died in the Battle, as did my grandmother, Millith. I suppose you know that my brother, West, lives in Triscot, and openly uses the name Lonewander, though he has no idea we're still alive. Darius, maybe you can tell him...."

"Next time I see him, absolutely. Though I've no idea when that will be...."

Everyone lapsed into silence for a centhour, and then suddenly Joss spoke up. "So, Darius, it's nice to see you again, though I barely remember you. I look forward to talking with you about various things, including some of your books. I've done a bit of writing, myself... I'm a spirit-talker, as Alyn mentioned, and I hope some of my conversations may someday be published in the O'Gas. But I also write adventure stories, even if mine are entirely fictional. I'd love to have you take a look at some of them." He paused for a moment before saying, "But what I really wanted to say first of all is, now that the introduction of the Lonewanders and Protestants is done, I think it's time for you to introduce us to your new friends."

"Oh, right. Of course. Sorry. Um..." Darius leaned forward a bit and turned to the left and right, then left again. "Um... I suppose I could give you everyone's names, but I'm not sure how much anyone wants to volunteer about themselves, so I think I'll just let each person introduce themselves. Working from my far left to my right...."

And so, the first to speak was Tino. "Hi," he said. "I'm Tino. No Order name. I'm a singer with the Band, which is the name of our band. Of which there are five members, and the other four will soon introduce themselves. Um, I also play siku and ocarina. Aaand, we're all adventurers as well as minstrels, and I'm dating Ginger, here," and he squeezed her arm, as she was sitting right beside him. "And before anyone else gets a chance, I'll let you know I wander off on my own a lot- I could almost use the name 'Lonewander,' myself, I guess- and, uh, I'm also an odd combination of goofy and mysterious." Turning to Ginger, he asked, "Does that about sume me up, my love?"

"Reckon so," she replied, giving him a peck on the cheek. Then she turned to face Darius's clan across the table, and said, "So, I'm Ginger Protestant." When she said this, a look of realization crossed Adam's face, but he remained silent and allowed her to continue. "I'm a spirit-talker, and I've had a bit of inconsequential stuff published in the O'Gas. Also, I sing and play the lyre in the Band." With s slight grin she said, "I'm dating the mysterious goofball to my left." And once again serious, she said, "My father was Protestant Arch-bishop Therman. I wonder, Adam, if you may have ever had any contact with him, before he was killed?"

Adam shook his head. "Not directly, I'm afraid. However, I was close to Triscot's Protestant Bishop, Toros, who himself had contact with your father; he once mentioned having met Therman's daughter, Ginger, during the first Protestant Pilgrimage."

Ginger smiled as she replied, "Yes, I remember. Toros was... a good man. His zest for life was infectious. Helluva fun guy to have a conversation with. Most of his time was of course spent with my father and other organizers of Protestant Movement; but while I'm sure he was an important part of all that serious stuff, he was clearly a very jolly person, at heart. A lot like my father, actually."

"Yes, I heard a great deal about Therman from Toros, and not just about the Movement. I know he thought highly of your father as a friend, as well. Anyway, obviously the whole Protestant Movement never would have happened at all, without him. I'm terribly sorry for your loss, and I feel myself indebted to him. Perhaps that debt should pass on to you; I'll do whatever I can for you, whatever you might ask, that is within my power."

Ginger shook her head. "Your hospitality is more than enough. Besides, if there was no Protestant Movement, you wouldn't now be in hiding, and forced into smuggling rather than honest trading. You'd still have your home, your status, and... and you wouldn't have lost friends and relatives, in the war. I'm sorry for your loss, and perhaps it would be more appropriate to say I am indebted to you."

Adam waved his hand in negation. "Not at all, my dear. One way or another, we would have fought the Coming. I daresay we would have been far less effective than we were, without a larger Movement to be a part of, and would have lost far more than we did."

Ginger just nodded, and said no more. After a few moments of silence, the person to her right spoke. "Well, my name is Emma Pseud. Obviously, I'm an elf. My proper surname is Des'Lossin, which I usually don't share with people the first time I meet them, but I think I can trust you all. Not that it even really matters; I'm not trying to hide my identity, or anything. Still, I'd prefer it if you used the name 'Pseud.' Anyway, I play the mandolin and an elven instrument called a duré, in the Band. I'm also a lyricist; I write most of our original songs, though the others do have a bit of input, especially Cameron. And we also play songs from other worlds, many of which are provided for us by Ginger. And, I guess that's all I can think to say."

"I'm Cameron Piper, a fife-player and lyricist." He stopped for a few moments, considering his next words. Finally, he grinned and said, "Well, as you guessed- and I suppose I didn't do a good job at all of hiding it- I'm an ex-Sorreter. You didn't add the 'ex' prefix, but... I think I can trust you." He glanced at Nelly, as if he had something else to say, but decided to wait til after the introductions had been completed. "And that's all I'll say about that, for now."

Tiejo looked at Cameron, Emma, Ginger, and Tino, counting them on his fingers. "One, two, three, four." He looked to his right, past Darius and Sidney, and added, "Five. Yes, number five will be the introducing soon. Next, probably, since already you are knowing Darius and Sidney. Hmmm. Okay, then, Tiejo Streetrat, I am being. Is for to rescue my master we journey all soon to Near Port. Um, and I am being one of first two members of Chaos, other than Darius, of course." He beamed with pride at that fact.

Next up was Alecstar, who said, "Well, I suppose some of you know me as Major Alec. I was in the Order's army during the Coming, but did whatever I could to help the Protestants, as you know. Now I am just a drummer in the band, and go by the name Alecstar Inco. So... don't call me 'Major' or 'Alec.' As I said to Adam just a little while ago."

"Tom," said the next in line. "Like Tino, no order name. Alecstar, there, was the last of the Band, though I've known them longer than I've known Darius. Like Tiejo, I was one of the first two to join your boy in this thing he's planning, which he calls the Chaos. I'll let him tell you about that, in his time. There's really not much to say about myself. I'm what you call a jack-of-all-trades." He turned his head down, a bit, and rubbed his stubbly chin. "Well, I guess there's actually a lot I could say about myself, but it's not important."

And finally, "My name is Jasp Underground. I am chief spy of the Tonad branch of LandOrder, currently serving as liaison between my organization and Darius's little group, here. No telling how far this association may develop. Could end as quickly as it began. Or it could grow much deeper, and last for years." He shrugged. "The matter is of little interest to me, though these people seem decent enough. I wish them luck, and will help them to the best of my ability, until instructed otherwise by my superiors."

When Jasp had finished speaking, Darius again glanced from left to right, then returned his attention to his parents. "Well, I guess that's everyone. So, um... yeah. I guess Tiejo and Tom both mentioned 'The Chaos', but not what it actually is. The fact is, it's an idea I've had in my head for some years now, but I just recently started working toward it. Originally it was intended to become a rebellion, but lately I've been rethinking that. Meanwhile, events have progressed more quickly than I expected, and not in entirely good ways. It's all rather complicated, and I can't even begin to tell you how I've gotten myself involved with an inter-village gang like LandOrder. But you deserve to know that their enemies, InterGang, have somehow become my enemies, apparently. And in large part because of that, the Chaos is now wanted by InterVil. Mom, Dad, everyone... we're in trouble, and I fear we've brought that trouble to you. I'm sorry. I don't know what to say." He sighed, and rubbed his face, finally covering it with both hands and lowering his head. He wondered for a moment if he might begin to cry, but that thought quickly passed. He realized he wasn't so much depressed or ashamed or worried or anything else, just at this moment, so much as he was simply tired. No more words came to his head, so he simply sat, and waited.

It didn't take long before he heard his father say, "Son... I'm proud of you." Darius looked up, and saw his parents looking at him from across the table, with their arms around each other. "We both are. We know how hard all this must be for you, especially considering... well, you know. How hard practically everything in life is for you. And I know that... the last time we saw you, you didn't exactly see eye-to-eye with us about the Order. I'm sorry that we didn't part on the best of terms. I've felt so bad about that, over the years, and I'm sure you did, as well. But now you're back, and we have a chance to make amends. I want you to know that... even if you still disagreed with our position on this, or any other matter, we would love you just as much. That said, we really are glad to know that you've come around to our way of thinking."

"At least on one matter," put in Nelly. "Though I'm sure you're still stubbornly wrong about other things."

Darius grinned and said, "I know you are, but what am I?"

"I just said, you were- oh, never mind." She crossed her arms and sulked.

"Now, children," said Alyn with a smile. "Try to act your age."

"Anyway," said Adam, "you should know we'll support you any way we can. There's a lot of knowledge we can share with you all about what we did right during the war, and what we did wrong. We also have people who are good in a fight, and some weapons and other supplies. Plus lots of contacts in this and other villages. If you want a rebellion, you're not alone."

"Ah," said Tom. "Glad to hear it. And I'm sure we could attract even more allies if we can tell them Adam of Triscot is alive and leading the rebellion..."

Adam shook his head. "I'll be glad to advise you, but I'm not leading this thing. And for now, it's best if the Order continues to believe we're dead. No, Darius is it. This is his rebellion, he's the leader. Not bad, for a 21-year-old kid. I sure couldn't have done anything like this, at that age. I damn sure couldn't have gotten people twice my age to follow me, as he seems to have done."

After a few moments of silence, Cameron cleared his throat and said, "Nelly, about something you said earlier... I'm wondering how you can call sorretry evil? Considering the majority of spirits who work with Sorreters and sorcerers are themselves servants of God, doesn't that explicitly convey the fact that He condones the existence of magic on the Land?"

She sighed, and replied, "No. In the first place, we don't know that any of those spirits follow God. I don't think we can just take their word for that. I don't know if you've read any of Earth's religious texts, but-"

Ginger cut in, "All that happened thousands of years before the Land was even created. God and Lucifer have both mellowed considerably since then."

Nelly turned to her and said, "So said Lucifer to Brist."

Ginger nodded and replied, "A fair point. To my knowledge, God Himself has never specifically confirmed that assertion. Though according to the Book of Brist, He did call their rivalry a game, just as Lucifer did. Such terminology would seem to indicate mellowing, wouldn't it?"

"Possibly, but not necessarily. Either way, we don't even know for sure that the spirit Brist talked to immediately after Lucifer was actually God. I tend to assume it probably was, in that instance; but to be honest, I don't believe the majority of the stuff in the O'Gas, especially anything involving magic..."

"What about the Book of Julia?" asked Emma. "I'm sorry to turn the subject away from magic, right after you'd brought it back to that point. I suppose things like religion do tend to inspire lots of sidetracks. But, on the point of not believing what's in the O'Gas, in general... Well, God Himself appeared to her, that one time-"

Nelly shook her head. "Nonsense. If I've said I wasn't completely convinced the spirit calling himself God in the Book of Brist really was Him, I certainly don't believe it was truly Him in most of His appearances in other Books of the O'Gas, especially the Book of Julia. In that instance, I don't believe for a moment that it was Him."

Everyone in the Band seemed quite taken aback by that opinion. "But," said Emma, "Surely He wouldn't allow someone to impersonate Him, and let the encounter pass into the official scriptures of the Land as truth. And if He ever did make genuine appearances, why wouldn't he use those opportunities to correct previous false information?"

Darius looked a bit nervously between his sister and Emma, knowing that if Nelly knew the elf was a Julian, there could be trouble; well, not actually trouble, but some annoying and pointless unpleasantness, anyway. Unlike the vast majority of people on the Land, his sister would never accept that such things were... natural. In fact, he doubted anyone in his family except himself was entirely sure about that point, which was one of the things that had always made him feel somewhat at odds with them. But at least they weren't too extreme in their views. Some of the things he'd heard of happening on Earth, centuries ago, instances of intolerance, discrimination, even so-called "hate crimes"... would have appalled his clan as much as they appalled him. At least no one in his family believed Julians should be in any way abused, nor refused the same basic rights as everyone else.

Ginger asked, "And if you don't believe any of the spirits we talk to are followers of God, how can you be a spirit-talker, yourself? Wouldn't it seem as evil to you as sorretry?"

"It's possible some of the spirits follow God, just not as many as we're led to believe. I never make assumptions about the ones I talk to, whatever they themselves may claim. But they do seem to share some of my opinions, mostly; those who don't, I debate with."

Turning to Emma, she continued, "As for why God never corrected any lies, and possibly allows Himself to be impersonated, we know from stories of Earth's religion that faith is very important to Him. On a world where spirits- and possibly God Himself- frequently appear to people, there's little if any room for faith, because there is indisputable proof that religion is more than mythology or supernaturalism. Faith, by definition, requires belief in the absence of proof. So it occurred to me long ago that, while we know with absolute certainty that such things as God, Lucifer, spirits, Heaven, and Hell actually exist, faith comes into the equation through what, specifically, we choose to believe about these matters. And for one to choose to believe some things, one must choose to disbelieve other things. Of course, the only religion points that exist to be questioned in the first place, are those matters which are written of in the O'Gas. But how can we disbelieve what has been written, unless we assume that God has allowed some truths and some lies to be written? When you think about it, some spirits admit to being followers of Lucifer, and it's always possible for them to lie, as well as to speak the truth. And if we assume God allows lies to be written, He would probably allow His own followers to lie, as well, assuming any of the spirits who talk to us actually are followers of God. So, if we assume that not everything written is automatically..." and here, Nelly grinned just for a moment, as she said the word "gospel... then it is up to every individual, spirit-talker or not, to decide what parts to believe, and which to doubt. That is where faith comes in, and faith is what God needs from us. So, I believe what I believe, and I also believe that those who believe everything blindly, as well as those who believe or disbelieve the wrong things, will be judged based on those beliefs, when they die."

Ginger was truly impressed with this line of reasoning. "That's a very intriguing theory; I've never really thought of it that way. I'm not sure whether anyone has, though as you say, we all know that some spirits follow Lucifer, and may lie. There are plenty of passages in the O'Gas that merely report what spirits have said, without the intention of implying that what they said was necessarily the truth. But you take it much further, and you may be right. Very interesting, and I believe that your theory, whether or not I or anyone chooses to agree with it, deserves to be shared with the world, to really make us think, and question our own assumptions. Though it could be a land-shattering new line of thinking." She turned to Darius to say with a grin, "It could stir up a great deal of chaos, and cause alot of trouble for the First Order." Turning back to Nelly, she said, "Since you're supposed to be dead, I suppose you can't have ever been published in the O'Gas, but I hope you've kept records of your conversations with spirits, and maybe someday you could be published. Maybe even make a pilgrimage to Plist or Monab, assuming events develop such that your clan can come out of hiding."

"We'll see," said Nelly. "I do like the idea of traveling, so I hate being stuck here. I very much doubt I'd be welcomed in Monab, but Plist is a possibility."

Darius was somewhat impressed with what his sister had said, himself. She really had grown up in the years since he'd last seen her. He'd never thought of her as particularly intelligent, but maybe that had changed, even if he probably still wouldn't agree with her about very much. But even if he now thought she seemed smarter, he couldn't bring himself to tell her that. Still, he allowed, "Well, I really hope we can change the world sufficiently for all of you to come out of hiding." He looked from his sister to Joss. "You mentioned earlier that you'd like to be published, and I want to help make that happen. For you, and Nelly, and Thew. And I'm sure there's a lot that the entire clan could contribute to the world. So now I'm more determined than ever to succeed." Looking toward his father, he added, "So thanks for the support you've offered. Though I should clarify, I'm not sure what the Chaos will ultimately do, but the other day I started thinking it might be as simple as trying to get a proposition for secession on the ballot, someday." Unable to think of anything else to say, Darius looked down at the table.

For a time, everyone fell silent, and concentrated on eating. After awhile, small talk resumed, though Darius remained quiet. Later, everyone adjourned to the den, where they sat around enjoying coffee, tea, or chai, according to preference. More talk ensued, both of the goals of the Chaos, and of lighter topics. Finally, the guests were shown to rooms where they could sleep, for as long as they stayed with the Lonewander clan. It was a bit crowded, but far less so than in the wagon, of course; and they were all especially glad of the water closets, as well as beds.

Darius was feeling more optimistic than he had in some time, and looked forward to seeing what the next few days held for his allies and himself. So for now, he put off thinking about what the coming weeks and months would hold....


chapter 25

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