Stone and Fire: Chapter 39

“He’s doing fine, Liam.”  Jurgen folded his arms and glared.  “He’s been reading up on irrigation and even talked with her about an aqueduct.”

“On the holding that provides his supply of ale.”  Liam sighed.  “I’d hoped…”

“You’d hoped what, Liam?”  Jurgen exhaled.  “That Rien would snap his fingers and solve all our problems?”  He shook his head.  “You’re not stupid.”

“I could argue that point.”  Liam leaned on the stone wall, staring out the window at where Rien was practicing in the combat circle.  His voice sounded a little grudging when he spoke again.  “He inherited his father’s fighting ability, at least.”

“You think that’s impressive?”  Jurgen laughed.  “A couple days ago he took out three of those guys blindfolded.”

Liam blinked before turning toward him.  “Rien fights blindfolded?”

“Sure does.”  Jurgen grinned.  “I’ve been teaching him.  He’s better than I am now.”

“Since when do you fight blindfolded?”  Liam raised an eyebrow.

“Since I saw you do it.”  Jurgen patted his brother’s shoulder.  “Figured if you could learn to do it, couldn’t be that hard.”

“You learned…”  Liam gave him a strange look.  “You learned how to fight while blindfolded?”

“And it was a pain in the ass.”  Jurgen nodded.  “I went through Wendel’s entire library, couldn’t find a single book on the technique.  Pretty much had to make it up myself.”  He twitched a shoulder.  “Where’d you learn it?”

“Jurgen…”  Liam stared at him for a moment.  “I have Asrael’s Sight.”

“I…”  Jurgen trailed off.  “You weren’t fighting me without being able to see?”  Liam gave a tiny shake of his head.  “You were watching the entire fight in your mind?”  Liam gave a small nod.  “You were cheating?”  Liam’s lips twitched.  Jurgen took a deep breath.  “I’m going to give you a five second head start, and then I’m tossing you in the…”  He didn’t finish getting the words out before Liam turned and broke into a run.

#

Sitting around the long table seemed to grow more difficult as the years passed.  Liam kept his face expressionless, even when Rutger sent a few cutting remarks his way.  Rien occasionally joined in, and rather than let them keep escalating Liam threw back a couple barbs of his own before Jurgen intervened with a few glares.  Fortunately, Petrus had brought his son, and the toddler occupied most of Thirza’s attention.

There hadn’t been another attempt at poison at the dinner table.  Thirza might want to kill him, but she was unwilling to risk any of her grandchildren in the attempt.  Part of him had considered not attending, of letting them all have a more companionable dinner.  And yet, as uncomfortable as it was, this trip would be the last time they were all together.

Jurgen followed him back to his quarters.  “You’re leaving soon?”

“I am.”  Liam shrugged, then held his door so Jurgen could enter behind him.  Efua and Mikaere were in the quarters, playing a board game.  They both nodded in greeting, and Jurgen returned the gesture.  “Still a couple things to do before I leave.”

“Liam…”  Jurgen folded his arms, then gave a small shake of his head.  “This is the first time since…”  He shrugged.  “Since the first time you came back that you haven’t asked me to look into anything or…”  He frowned.  “I thought things were coming to a head.”

“Things are.”  Liam sighed.  “It’s just the number of things you can do about it are limited, brother.”  He leaned forward, resting his hands on the back of the sofa.  “Marinus isn’t ready.”

“You’ve stopped calling him Rien.”  Jurgen took a deep breath.  “You’ve stopped smiling at him, talking to him, or…”  Jurgen frowned.  “Liam, Rien is kind of starting to hate your guts a bit.”

“That’s the plan.”  Liam swallowed.

“Well, it’s a shit plan.”  Jurgen let his arms fall to his sides.  “Would it kill you to be nice to him?”

“No…”  Liam looked up, meeting Jurgen’s eyes.  As long as Rutger had no reason to think Rien was a threat, he had no need or reason to go after Rien directly.  He could manipulate Rien with a fair amount of ease, and thus the best way to protect his youngest sibling was to let Rutger consider him more useful alive.  “But it might well kill him.”

For a long moment, Jurgen was silent.  Then he exhaled and nodded.  “Tell me where to find Phillip.  I’m about done with that bastard leaking poison into my brother’s ear.”

“It’s far too late for that to do any good, Jurgen.”  He pushed the thread away, unwilling to let those images enter his mind again.  “If you go after Phillip, he will kill you.”

“So you just want to…”

“I want…”  Liam raised his voice.  “To go back in time and stop a crossbow bolt.  To find another way to open the cages.  To find a way around an army.  I want…”  He closed his eyes.  “I want to stop seeing everyone I love die when the sun goes dark.”

He felt Jurgen’s hand on his shoulder.  “Tell me what to do, Liam.  You tell me where to look, where to find…”  Jurgen’s hand squeezed his shoulder.  “I am warchief of Draak, brother.  The largest army in the world answers to me, and if I call Wendel will answer.  You know this to be true.  So tell me, Liam.  Focus.  Where do we go?”

Liam focused on his brother’s voice, then traced the thread.  He saw Rien and the artifact and traced the thread again.  He focused harder, pulling the threads that connected Rien and Jurgen as he followed Rien’s path.

#

Jurgen leaned on the back of the chair, trying to calm himself.  Mikaere’s voice trembled when he spoke from where he knelt on the floor.  “Efua, is he?”

“He breathes.”  Efua kept her hands on either side of Liam’s head.  His brother’s skin was pale, almost gray, and blood was pooled on either side of his head.  It still trickled a little from his nose and the corner of his mouth, and Jurgen felt a chill when he realized some had also come from Liam’s eyes and ears.  Liam’s screams still seemed to echo in his ears.  “He will…”  She looked up at Jurgen.  “Put him in the bed.”

Wordlessly, he obeyed the order, lifting his brother’s limp body and carrying him into the bed chamber.  Mikaere followed a pace behind, then immediately took up a position of vigil as Jurgen set Liam down.  “There are potions —”

“He needs rest, Jurgen.”  Efua’s voice was firm.  “I’ve already done what healing can be done.”

“As soon as he wakes up…”  Jurgen straightened.  “I’m going to ask him what he did and then make damn fucking sure he never does it again.”  He smoothed a blanket over his brother, then turned to Efua.  “Has anything like this happened before?”

She nodded.  “Though never this bad.”  Her eyes went to Liam, and he saw a tear trickle from the corner.  “And not for…”  She wiped at her eyes.  “When he was a boy, we had to gag him at night, and put a tether on his ankle to keep him from…”  Her voice became ragged.  “Uduak or I would always be within a few feet of him, when he slept.  The things he…”  She took a deep breath, and then her voice was hard.  “He will not seek that thread again.”

Mikaere’s voice caught his attention, though the man spoke quietly and in a language he didn’t understand.  Mikaere was kneeling next to the bed, his hand atop Liam’s.  It took Jurgen a moment to realize that Mikaere was praying.  Efua made a sound under her breath, and then gestured for Jurgen to follow her from the room.  “What…”  Jurgen frowned.  Then he shrugged.  “Which god is he praying to?”

“The one laying on the bed.”  Efua went to the cupboard and took out two cups.

“The…”  Jurgen rubbed the back of his neck.  “I thought he got over that.”

Efua poured wine into the cups.  “I consider it a comfort, really.”

“You consider…”  Jurgen took the cup she offered him.  “Someone worshiping my brother to be a comfort?”

“Yes.”  She swirled the wine in her cup before taking a drink.  “In Uhses, when a living god ends his time in mortal form, his sworn adherents will join him on the funeral pyre, so that they can continue serving him in the next world.”  She looked down at the glass.  “Mikaere is sworn to him, a human sacrifice offered up to Aihuroa, the phoenix god.  He would have burned in the lighting of his family’s forge if Liam had not taken him to serve in this world.  When Liam dies, Mikaere will do the final duty of seeing his body receives the proper funeral rites…”  She looked up, meeting Jurgen’s eyes.  “And then Mikaere will follow him into the next world.”

He drained the cup.  “How is that comforting?”

“Liam…”  Efua drained her own cup.  “Does not always know the value of his own life.”  She set the cup down.  “But he would never be careless with Mikaere’s.”

“When you put it that way…”  Jurgen picked up the bottle, then refilled the cups.  “It is comforting.”

#

“I swear, Liam, if you’re…”  Jurgen’s voice was a low, threatening growl when he entered the room.

Liam wiped at his nose and came away with a small trace of blood.  He sighed.  “It’s done.”  He went to stand, then staggered a little.

Jurgen caught him, then made another growling sound before simply swinging Liam up into his arms and carting him over to the couch.  “Efua.”  He glared at the woman.

Efua was already coming their way, with a potion in her hand.  “Drink.”  She waited for him to obey, then looked up at Jurgen.  “He’ll be fine.  This strains him but is within his capabilities.”

“He’s staying another day.”  Jurgen shook his head.

“Jurg —”  Liam started to shake his head, then immediately regretted it.

“He’s not going anywhere until I’m satisfied he’s recovered.”  Jurgen folded his arms.  “I’ll chain him to the damn bed if have to.”

A smug look came over Efua’s face, and Liam groaned.  She took the parchment out of her belt pouch and handed it to Jurgen.  “Efua…”

“What…”  Jurgen opened the parchment.  He stared at it a moment, then read the words on it aloud.  “Jurgen, brother of my heart, if my husband decides to be stupid please consider yourself authorized to chain him to the bed and leave him there until he comes to his senses.  Signed, Adaeze Idowu si Arendse, Captain of The Bard, Queen of the Ilael, Wife of an idiot.”

He sat there, not looking at his brother.  He didn’t need to look at Jurgen.  He could feel the smug pouring off of the man.  Jurgen stood there almost a full minute, smirking, before carefully tucking the parchment away.  “So…”  He drawled out the word.  “Want to tell me what you were doing?”

“Sending a dream.”  Liam leaned back.  “It’s considerably more difficult to share a vision when I’m not in physical contact with the recipient, especially when said recipient has no magic of their own for me to link to.”  Then he nodded.  “And yes, I am staying another day.  That was already the plan.”

“Who…”  Jurgen frowned.  “Liam…”

“I sent a dream to Queen Thirza.”  He pinched the bridge of his nose.  “She’s been trying for years to get the Scepter to work and tried again just last night.”

“So she’s going to assume this dream was prophetic and…”  Jurgen took a deep breath.  “What did you show her?”

“The truth.”  He leaned back.  “Or enough of it.  She got the gist well enough, anyway.”  He swallowed.  “I will have to take a longer route home.  I need to get something from Diantha.”

His brother stood there, eyes half closed.  “It’s begun.”

“It has.”  Liam closed his own eyes.

For a long moment, Jurgen was silent.  When he spoke, it was all Liam could do not to flinch at the words.  “You promised.”

“Yes…”  He swallowed.  “I did.”

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