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Chapter 15.5: Intersections and Interlopers
When Antiphon Met Personal Demons
By Ken Scholes, Lisa Desrochers
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Ken Scholes and Lisa Desrochers
All rights reserved.
A cold wind moaned outside the command tent and Rudolfo blessed the warmth of his small furnace and the warmed cup of firespice he held loosely in his hands even as he considered the girl who stood with Lysias before him.
She was fetching enough, if young. Her garb was unlike anything he'd seen before and certainly not appropriate for deep winter in the northern reaches of the Ninefold Forest. She was short, with fair skin, long blond hair and blue eyes. And she wore clothing entirely unfamiliar to him. Her top – a sleeveless cotton bit – revealed more skin than was appropriate for winter or for most audiences with a king. And her pants were tight and made from a faded blue material. Her shoes were like nothing he'd seen before. But still, fetching she was despite her odd dress. With a few more summers behind her, she'd certainly become the type of woman he'd have pursued. Of course, since Jin Li Tam had fallen into his life he'd lost his appetite for any others, much to the disappointment of his former lovers. But there was something in the way she stood before him now that reminded him of his red-headed queen.
His eyes narrowed and he took a sip of the liquor, savoring its burn as it trickled down his throat. "Tell me again," he said slowly. "Who are you and what are you doing in my forest?"
The slightest trembling of her lower lip was the only telltale sign of her fear. When she spoke, her voice was clear. "My name is Frannie Cavanaugh. ..." Her words failed and he watched her find them quickly. "And I don't know." She paused. "I'm not even sure what forest this is."
Rudolfo found his eyebrows raising involuntarily as his eyes glanced to the stack of messages upon his cluttered work table. His borders had been breached by strange interlopers a great deal of late — the Machtvolk evangelists, Ria, the metal men, and whomever had managed to slip past his Gypsy Scouts at the Keeper's Wall.
Now this girl.
He leaned forward in his chair. "You are in the Ninefold Forest. Does this mean anything to you?"
She shook her head. "I don't know what you're talking about. Is it someplace in Canada?"
"Canada?" He cocked his head. "I've never heard of such a place. But I must assume you have also never heard of Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest and General of the Wandering Army? Collector of orphans and new shepherd of the light?"
She shook her head again. "Uh ... no. Sorry."
He sat back and looked to Lysias. "Do you think she's a Waster then?"
Certainly that would explain her lack of Named Lands knowledge and perhaps even her strange attire, though the clothing she wore was beyond anything he'd seen from those shattered lands east of the Keeper's Wall.
Lysias's face was hard, his expression perplexed. "I know not, Lord. Our patrol found her near the shrine, shouting and standing alone in a clearing."
Near the shrine. For a moment, he thought he should have her bare her chest to him, show him what mark may lay upon her heart, marking her as one of the Y'Zirites that so recently plagued his forest.
Perhaps, he thought, later. But something about her told him she was no follower of that blood cult. He turned back to his general. "And you've scouts back-tracking her trail?"
The old soldier shook his head. "There is no trail, Lord. Only her footprints in the clearing where they found her. None others lead in or out. It is as if she were just dropped there from nowhere."
Now he saw more fear upon her face but he watched her masking it. This one has resilience. Lysias's words registered with him and his eyes met hers. "And who were you shouting for?"
She blushed. "My ... friends."
Rudolfo and Lysias exchanged glances. "Friends," Rudolfo said. "How many?"
But before he could speak, the whistles of third alarm erupted from outside the camp and he heard angry voices crying out.
"Take your hands off me," one voice shouted. "Do you have any idea who I am ... what I'm capable of?"
The girl's eyes lit up. "Luc?"
Another voice drifted in from outside. "Please," it said. "We're looking for a girl. Once we find her, we'll gladly leave your woods." This voice was less angry, more reasoned.
He saw the familiarity register upon her face and she sighed. "Gabe."
But before she could answer, the tent flap opened and two scouts led their latest catch into their Gypsy King's presence and Rudolfo studied them quickly. The first was tall, black hair and eyes, wearing similar trousers to hers with a cotton shirt that covered a bit more of his torso. And the second was also tall and dressed the same as the other. But this one was built like a soldier, with longish platinum hair that reminded him of Neb.
The first struggled against the scout's restraint and his eyes flashed red. "Unholy Hell." But, when they saw the girl, both faces flooded with relief.
"Thank God you're okay," the light one said.
When they moved toward her, the scouts held them back and Rudolfo raised his hand. "Let them be," he said.
The three hugged quickly and he instantly saw that some kind of love existed between her and the dark one.
The other detached himself first and turned to Rudolfo. "You're in charge of this place?"
Rudolfo nodded. "I am."
"I'm Gabe," he said. "You must let us go. We don't belong here."
"Gabe." Rudolfo stroked his beard. "You are correct in the latter — you do not belong here." He paused, taking in their strange attire. "But as to the former — you have arrived uninvited and unannounced in my lands. And this after the edict I've issued, closing my borders." He let the words sink in, though he wasn't certain that they truly comprehended him. "Until I know more about you, where you come from, why you're here, I mustn't do anything but ask you questions." He took a sip.
Gabe's voice lowered. "We are not from here. As to why we're here – I don't know. I suppose unintended intersections are sometimes unavoidable. But I am confident the powers that have brought about this particular encounter will correct this grave mistake and return us to our proper place."
"Perhaps," Rudolfo answered, "those powers should consult with me about this matter."
Gabe shook his head. "The powers I speak of do not consult."
The Gypsy King shrugged. "Then your answers to my questions will have to suffice. And when I've finished asking them and you have finished answering them, we can discuss your release from my ... care."
He thought he'd see fear on the man's face, but he did not. Instead, he saw annoyance and frustration. Their eyes locked for a moment. "Do you have any idea," Gabe asked, "who you're dealing with?"
Rudolfo smiled. "I could ask the same question of you. But no matter. We can help you find your tongue."
Gabe turned to the girl, Frannie. "I could use a little help here."
She blinked, then her eyes widened in comprehension. "You want me to ...?"
Gabe locked her in a hard gaze and nodded.
"I don't think it will work," she said, backing away a step.
The dark-haired one, Luc, stepped up behind her and whispered in her ear. "Try."
The firespice in his belly combined with this odd interchange gave Rudolfo a sense of bemusement. But when the girl turned her eyes upon him and her mouth opened to speak, he felt something quiet stir within him.
"Please," she said. "Let me and my friends go. Gabe's right. We don't belong here."
And when she spoke, he found he could hang a name upon what stirred within him. Trust.
No, he realized. Compulsion. And it made complete sense that they be escorted from his camp and sent upon their way, back to whatever strange place they'd come from.
He looked to Lysias and saw agreement in the general's eyes. "Very well," he said. "We'll outfit you with winter gear and supplies. And I'll provide three of my best and brightest to see you southward to more moderate climes."
Gabe shook his head. "That won't be necessary. I believe we will find our way sufficiently."
Rudolfo drew in a deep breath, held it, and looked once more to the girl before releasing it. "Very well. You are free to go."
The scouts did not even try to stop her when Frannie surged forward quickly to lean down and kiss his cheek. "Thank you," she whispered.
And for reasons utterly inexplicable to him, Rudolfo blushed.
He inclined his head to her friends and they returned the gesture. Then, they left and Rudolfo sat and pondered them.
Lysias broke the silence first. "What happened just now?"
The Gypsy King shook his head. "I do not know. But I'm certain they're right – they do not belong here and moreover, I suspect they are needed elsewhere."
Still, he could think of only one woman who could so sway him with her words. And his fierce and formidable queen, Jin Li Tam, typically needed far more words than just the simplest request to move the mountain of his stubborn nature.
Slowly, the others slipped from his tent until he was left alone and that night, Rudolfo lay long awake in his cot pondering the intersections he'd encountered along the course of his life and the interlopers that had met him in those places.
In the end, he finally slept and dreamed strange dreams of a world he could not comprehend as the cold wind whispered through the forest outside.
Excerpted from Chapter 15.5: Intersections and Interlopers by Ken Scholes, Lisa Desrochers. Copyright © 2015 Ken Scholes and Lisa Desrochers. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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