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Unlikely Allies: Last a Thousand Years - Part One


by schefflera

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Also by Dreagoddess

The war with Darigan was over -- again -- and both sides had retired to rebuild and lick their wounds. Or, in the case of a certain champion of Meridell, try to restrain that instinct. Jeran had been cleaned up and moved from the stone floor to a bed as soon as the astonishment at his being alive had worn off, and he was glad enough to obey the instructions to rest.

     At least, until Danner pelted up to his bedchamber and stopped himself by hanging onto the doorjamb. "Jeran!"

     Jeran blinked at the panting Wocky and pushed himself up on his elbows, trying not to wince. With the adrenaline of the battle over, he was unbelievably sore in places he had forgotten about since shortly after he first started training.

     "...What?"

     Danner gulped in air. "I think King Skarl and Lord Darigan are about to go to war again."

     Jeran blinked at him. "WHAT?!" It came out slightly sharper than planned the second time, but it was bloody well deserved! "They're not -- SOMEONE in this kingdom is going to be rational, blast it!"

     "You could take a dagger to the air in the room, it's that thick."

     "Next they'll be taking daggers to each other," Jeran grumbled, levering himself to his feet.

     "Nobody told Darigan to leave that staff behind," Danner muttered. "...Are you sure you should be getting up, sir?"

     "No, but who ELSE is going to keep them from killing each other?"

     "They haven't quite gone that far...."

     "You wouldn't have come after me if it wasn't a possibility. Now stop arguing with me and help me up!"

     Danner obediently came and helped prop Jeran up onto his feet and out the door. "I don't quite get it," he said anxiously. "Darigan seemed almost reasonable on the citadel...."

     "I don't think he -- quite likes the king," Jeran suggested, stopping in the middle for a wince. Walking was torture right now. The things he did for his king. "And I think the king feels the same way."

     "Well I'm not surprised about that, but I didn't think Lord Darigan liked any of us...." Danner fretted the rest of the way to the door of the treaty room, where Jeran lurched off him and shoved the door open, trying not to lean too obviously on the doorframe himself.

     King Skarl and Lord Darigan were standing up, glowering at each other across the table. A handful of guards and pages glared with somewhat less hostility and rather more unease from behind each of them, along the wall.

     All of them turned to stare at Jeran when the door burst open.

     "Jeran!" Skarl rumbled. "What are you doing up?"

     Darigan glanced past him, glimpsed Danner through the door, and raised an eyebrow, or the equivalent area, at Jeran. "What happened to you? I don't recall seeing you this time around. --Ah, forgive me. I believe your lieutenant mentioned you had been knocked off the citadel." Neither Skarl nor Darigan had apparently been using their chairs for some time; Darigan hooked his with a foot and pushed it gently in Jeran's direction.

     Jeran decided being able to speak for more than ten seconds was more important than his pride and sank down in it gratefully. "Danner told me we were negotiating a new treaty," he replied blandly. "I thought I should be involved."

     "You're supposed to be resting!" Skarl pointed out.

     "I can rest in here. I'm sitting down. What's not restful about two allies working out terms?" Jeran asked innocently.

     Darigan eyed him quizzically and then peered out the door again. "Just what did you actually tell him, Danner?" The simmering rage previously visible in his expression was being firmly displaced by what appeared to be an at least equally inappropriate urge to laugh.

     "That -- That you and King Skarl were negotiating the new treaty, my lord."

     "What else would he have had to say?" Jeran asked. "So, don't let me interrupt. Go on where you were."

     "That would be glaring at each other," Darigan admitted dryly.

     "That doesn't sound very productive."

     "It wasn't particularly."

     "Perhaps," Jeran continued with an inquiring look at his king, "I could be of some assistance?"

     Skarl frowned at him. "You're not going to go back to bed until we're done, are you?"

     "No." Jeran looked at Skarl steadily, the "you're not going to get rid of me, so do what I want and you can take credit for it when it turns out well" expression he'd perfected long ago.

     Skarl heaved a noisy sigh. "Fine."

     Darigan looked bemused. "Should I summon Galgarrath or Vex, in that case?"

     "If you wish."

     "Hmm. ...Not necessary, I hope."

     "I'm not here to serve as Meridell's Champion, so there's no reason to summon yours." Jeran rubbed his sore muscles with a rueful smile. "I think they'd wipe the floor with me right now, frankly."

     Darigan shrugged. "I'd rather fight as my own champion if called for... anyway, Vex wouldn't be likely to challenge you to anything but a game of Cellblock."

     "I've never had the chance to get very good at that game. But I'm glad I didn't. So...if all the participants are here, perhaps we could go over the last point of contention?"

     Skarl grumbled something about Kass. Darigan glared at him and said in a carefully controlled tone, "We are going to make peace here and now. I would like at least to see the treaty you had before."

     "Sounds reasonable enough. It was a good one." Jeran ignored Skarl's grumblings and waved at a page to bring one over. The eager young Draik reminded him, oddly enough, of Boris and Morris. He wondered briefly where they WERE -- he hadn't seen them in all his recovery -- but there were other things to consider now. Lisha would've told him if they'd died or been seriously injured, after all. Anything else could wait. They were probably expecting him to scold them, and if so, they certainly had that right.

     "Vex and Galgarrath gave me that impression. I'm afraid I missed it, myself, and our copies seem to have disappeared." Darigan bent over the table to read this one.

     "I'd suggest Kass threw them out the window, but then we'd have probably seen them show up somewhere. Probably burned them."

     "I wouldn't be surprised either way," Darigan said absently. "Kass seems to have been overly fond of the first option -- Galgarrath spent the past several days climbing out of your rubbish heap."

     Jeran's lips twitched. "It's a nice, soft place to land, isn't it?"

     "Relatively speaking. That would seem to be its primary good quality. Though I'm afraid to ask what's in it."

     "Rubbish, mostly." Jeran waited until Darigan gave him a withering look to smile. "Sorry. But that's about it. A lot from the farms, so it's relatively soft."

     "Mm. I take it that also explains the smell." Although rotting... things... and garbage that had come from a healthy farm weren't the worst things he'd ever smelled by far. Darigan returned his attention to the treaty and at last looked back up. "This seems... acceptable."

     One of the guards was heard to mutter, "That's it?"

     Skarl looked up. "That's what we heard last time," he said dourly.

     "What went wrong last time," Darigan grated, "will not again."

     "We've no guarantee of that."

     "And we've none from you." Darigan's reply was just short of snapping. "No more than you from us, that is, and I am not sure what choice you think we have other than to try trusting each other's words."

     "Of the people in this room, WE are not the ones who've broken a treaty before," Skarl reminded Darigan bitingly.

     Darigan's eyes narrowed. "And we are not the ones who sent knights against a peaceful land without provocation."

     "Meridell has never sent knights against ANY other land that hasn't invaded ours first, Lord Darigan," Jeran spoke up quickly, before he and the king could go for each other's throats. "People may have quarrel with us for other reasons, but not that."

     Darigan turned slowly to look at him. "I had quarrel with you for that reason."

     "Then you had quarrel with us over a misunderstanding," Jeran said steadily, meeting Darigan's eyes. "Meridell's knights are honorable."

     "I think there was very little to misunderstand."

     "Obviously there was enough. If that's what you think, then there's no wonder you don't trust us. But if we're to live in peace, we're going to have to ALL trust each other." Jeran's stern gaze didn't miss anyone in the room, least of all King Skarl.

     "More than twenty years ago, knights hailing from a place called Meridell, of which I knew little more than the name, arrived at my home and took the orb from us," Darigan said levelly. "I can describe them if you wish, though I never heard their names. I should like to hear how you think this can be explained as a misunderstanding -- but it does neither of our peoples any good now to go on warring with each other."

     "Others could have easily claimed to be from Meridell," Jeran pointed out, though he eyed Skarl and wondered why the king didn't jump in to defend their honor as well. "Perhaps we should all put past grievances behind us. This was a good treaty once, my lord, Majesty. It can be again."

     "Others would hardly have been likely to carry the orb back to Meridell, would they?" Darigan pointed out crossly. "And I was trying to."

     "Your Majesty?" Jeran prompted, wishing he could get away with nudging the king.

     "We can...give it one more chance," Skarl replied slowly.

     Darigan let out a breath. "Then we shall."

     A page brought Jeran the quill and inkpot he'd been about to request; he smiled at the lad before passing the items across the table. "I think we've enough witnesses here for the signatures, then."

     The signatures were done in good order, though Jeran thought Darigan might break his quill; vows were spoken solemnly on behalf of both peoples, with no further snarling. Now, Jeran thought, if Lord Darigan would go home, he could go back to bed. That probably meant there were plans for an extended visit.

     Darigan standing up would probably have been a useful cue, except that Jeran still had his chair.

     "I think, sir knight," Darigan finally said, with a mere hint of a smile, "you have fulfilled your purpose in breaking in here. Perhaps my party should depart so you can return to your rest?"

     "I didn't break in," Jeran said with dignity. "I knocked." For the sake of honesty he added, "Vigorously. ...And fare you all well, then, if you will. I for one am grateful to be at peace again."

     "Farewell also." Darigan refrained from saying he was grateful not only for peace but that he could leave Meridell castle and its king now. "And I wish you a swift recovery."

     "Thank you."

     Darigan left the room; the Darigan soldiers filed out after him, and Skarl had to send his Draiks scurrying somewhat frantically after to conduct them out of the castle.

     Which left Jeran and Skarl alone in the conference room, Jeran trying to gather up the energy to move again. To try to look a little less like that's what he was doing, he said casually to the king, "It's no wonder Darigan came against us if that's what he thought, hmm? I wonder how we got the orb from those thieves."

     Skarl didn't quite meet his eyes. "I had sent knights out in search of some aid. Meridell was in desperate straits, as you know."

     "Which the thieves might have known about, explaining their taking OUR identity. A good thing they were caught!"

     "...A good thing." Skarl's agreement sounded hollow.

     Jeran looked over at him oddly. "Are you well?"

     "Perfectly well!" Skarl rumbled. "Though you should be getting back to bed. Is Danner still out there, or should I prop you there myself?"

     "...You know I will always serve you, Majesty," Jeran said slowly and carefully, "but I've also known you since I was a cub, and you don't sound as if nothing's wrong."

     "We have peace again...."

     "Yes. And you don't seem nearly happy enough about that."

     "I'm very pleased."

     "Majesty...You're avoiding, and it began when I talked about the thieves who stole the orb."

     "You need rest, Sir Jeran."

     Jeran's mouth tightened, though not with pain. Not physical, at least. "You know more about this than you're letting on."

     Skarl sighed. "Jeran. Bed."

     "...WERE those Meridell knights?"

     Another, deeper sigh. "Yes, Jeran."

     Jeran's fists clenched, his heart tight in his chest. "You -- you sent knights of Meridell to STEAL?"

     "I sent them to find help in any way possible. Our people were dying."

     "And instead of ASKING for help, they STOLE it?! Condemning other people who'd done no wrong? Where is honor or even DECENCY in that?"

     Skarl still didn't look at him. "For all I know they did ask first. Our people were condemned if they didn't bring it back."

     "Our people are condemned when they become THIEVES and honorless scum!" Jeran snarled. "You didn't bother to ask, you didn't bother to SEND aid to those who were deprived of the orb once our people were safe again. And you led us all to war knowing they had every reason to hate us!"

     Jeran was breathing hard at this point, and it was fortunate he hadn't stood yet, as he would've had to sit down again. "Correction. You let ME lead us to war."

     "Do you believe any empire, including theirs, arises without conquest?" Skarl shook his head. "...You're right. Though most of our people know no more of it than you did. Now go back to bed, Jeran."

     "You may have known me as a cub, Skarl," Jeran said heavily, "but I'm not one any longer, to be sent off to bed when questions are too hard to answer."

     "That is all the answer I have, and you are not a cub, but you're not well either."

     "I was considerably more well a few moments ago, I assure you."

     "...Go and rest, Jeran," Skarl repeated. "I have no more answers for your reproach. I will not apologize that I could not watch my people die... but I will not pretend what we did was honorable either. Now go."

     "And to think," Jeran said very softly, "that I was just reproaching Lisha for thinking of all this like a story." Meridell's Champion rose slowly to his feet and limped painfully out of the room.

To be continued...

 
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