Castle Roland


by D'Artagnon


Chapter 12

Posted: 04 Dec 14

Crossing Burning Bridges

Things weren't suddenly looking as good as I could have hoped for. Let's see, at this point I had upset and then bitched out my best friend and lover, defeated the lord of this region in an impromptu duel, realized that I had been watched doing so by no less a personage than that same lord's own champion and, oh yeah, I'd practically unmasked myself as being slightly superhuman at the same time.

Not bad for someone trying to maintain a cover. You'd think that all the spy movies, comic books, and detective novels I devoured before realizing I was a Satyr would have sunk in at one point or another. I guess Kenny's right. Sometimes, I don't realize how stupid I can be.

Now it was bad enough that I had angered and then gotten mad at my lover over this. Kenny and I could work things out, I hoped (we'd been together for a few millennia, I'm sure it's happened before and we're still together), but by defeating, no, by humiliating the Countess' mortal identity I'd kinda stuck a hot poker in the eye of getting Croaker off the hook. No matter what sway I might have had over her before, she was now sorely disposed towards me. An honorable defeat would at least have been preferable to being summarily disarmed, and then mocked in front of peers and fellow changelings alike, then forced to sit and watch.

Court was going to be an interesting thing two nights hence, unless I could somehow straighten things out with her. Although, at this point, I wasn't really sure of the protocol involved. I mean, she was a little older than me here, but in the enchanted world, she was a full adult, with all that that implies going for her. That and a personal army.

It occurred to me as rather strange that she was here at all. Given that a dragon (and a motherfucking huge one at that) was loose in her domain, I'd have thought all her resources and time would be spent organizing the search and destroy on the beast. I mean, something that powerful walking in my home territory would definitely have to pass my judgment before I'd just let it wander. Especially since it was busy eating loyal subjects, apparently.

However, it wasn't my place to dictate to her what to do. I certainly didn't want her throne, her position, her duties or her power. I just wanted to be left alone to be with Kenny. All the power games and politics and internal struggling that so many changelings live for, the intrigues of court life, that wasn't for me. I'd be happy just to have Kenny back by my side, in my bed and always a hands reach away than to have to be the center of attention all the time.

I guess even long held remembrances of our true home, the lost and magical world of Arcadia, and my father's kingdom there, Cerulean, even such plaintive longings for that lost paradise need to give way to the fact that we are where we are, and we can't go home. In a way, I was fine with that. Arcadia might be where we originated and where we probably belong, but I kinda like this world, with all its faults. Gives me something to work on. I have the sinking feeling that until we were exiled, the whole of Arcadia was a fairly boring place. Glamour rich, I'm sure, but static.

Then again, I'd have said the same about Canterbury until a few days back as well.

At any rate, we went through practice and some individual warm up bouts. I didn't even notice how badly I was beating Bert until I had to sit and watch the other two fencing pairs continue dueling for about ten minutes. I must have taken Bert in fifteen straight passes. Once again, the asshole autopilot was on, and this time, he was in kill mode. Poor Bert looked like he'd been spanked, a bad puppy caught spoiling a fresh, white carpet. I ticked off another thing that I needed to fix on my to do list. Bert wasn't a bad guy. He was just at the wrong place at the right time, and my aggressive streak doesn't care who I take out my frustrations on. And here I was supposed to be his team leader.

We went through some group defense exercises for about an hour and then Master Mitch called for a lunch break. Kenny, Juan and I quickly changed shirts and then went to our favorite booth in the pizza joint across the street. Kenny sat on Juan's side, this time, making it a point that he was still rippin' mad with me, but not trying to be obvious about it.

You know, I think he was actually mad at himself for being mad at me. That kind of loyalty only love can inspire, friends and neighbors. And it made me really upset that I couldn't just apologize to him here in public. And we weren't likely to have a whole lot of private time soon, either, since Juan and I would both be spending the weekend with Kenny. I felt like a first class, A-number one, pain in the ass schmuck. And I'd earned every bit of it.

"So, have you thought of anything yet?" Juan said, sipping at his bottled water. Drink of choice at the Y, don'tcha know.

"We've got a list of to do stuff," Kenny said, focusing on Juan and the defense of his fae self, Croaker. "It just got made into an uphill battle, but we still have hope." Well, at least he hadn't accused me of flat out killing our case.

"There's a lot of nobles we might be able to rally to your cause, if we get the chance to speak to them ahead of time. That's gonna be the trick. Especially with a dragon on the loose."

"Some of the other kiths are worried that the dragon might have been sent."

"By who?" I asked, a lot worried. Juan was suddenly hearing rumors that might make things easier for us to assist his case, but the idea that someone, some changeling, was either in cahoots with, in control of or had just plain dreamt up that dragon… oh yeah, worried squared!

"Some say, by you, Robyn," Juan said, levelly. "I've been listening in at court the last few days. They haven't been too kind to me there. Everyone seems to think that… that I'll be Undone." He bit his lip, expectantly and then covered his face with his hands. Kenny immediately wrapped an arm around Juan's shoulder and brought his head down against Kenny's neck. Poor Juan, facing the death of his immortal soul and here I was adding anger to the already burning fires of someone who held his fate in her hands.

Kenny continued consoling Juan but he shot me a look of quiet insistence. My efforts were needed here as well. I nodded and reached across the table to rub between Juan's shoulders as he sobbed on Kenny's neck. We were getting some serious stares from the others in the restaurant and I wished that I knew a cantrip that would just let others forget we were even there.

Juan's arm wrapped up around my arm like a drowning man reaching for a rescue float. I wasn't aware that he had such strength, but his grip was like a vise. Unrelenting. If that's just his arm muscles, I thought, I'd hate to see the kind of force his Redcap teeth can exert.

"Listen, we're not beat yet, buddy. I swear to you," I said, getting a look from Kenny. Yeah, I know, I use the word swear too much, but it felt right just then. And Juan needed to hear and feel the power of an oath in order to calm down some. "I swear," I repeated, "Kenny and I will do everything we can to help you. You wont face the anger of the court alone." A distant echoing of thunder rattled the windows slightly, hinting that the Dreaming had responded to my oath. One of these day's I'm gonna stop doing that so casually.

Juan seemed to calm down by the time our lunch was brought over. And in typical hungry adolescent wolf pack style, we attacked the pie like it was our last meal. Some things are universal, and any meeting of the bottomless pit club was an excuse to not talk for a while. We just devoured and took the time to think.

I was suddenly aware, as the last piece of the pizza vanished from my sight, that Kenny's foot was resting on top of mine. His foot, not his shoe. How he had taken off his cross trainers without using his hands, I'll never know, but he was making an effort to show that while he was still mad, he still cared. See, even pissed at each other and being stupid, we find ways to communicate. I wish everyone could find that kind of love and understanding.

After lunch we walked back to the Y in relative silence. Juan hopped into a toilet stall, which was probably the best chance I'd have for a while to patch things up with Kenny. I ripped my shirt off and made certain direct skin contact with him, reaching out to run my fingers down his back. Yeah, I was cheating big time, since I knew his back is one of those places he positively shivers at when I touch him. I felt him tense and whip his head around towards me as I approached.

"Look, you know me. I'm a moron sometimes. I just shout out without thinking. I didn't mean to get on your case, and, well… geeze this is hard…"

"Robby," he said, his own hand coming up to put a finger on my lips. He held my gaze for several long, quivery seconds before he said something that pretty much had become a standard truth between us. "No words."

"No words," I smiled, and then took his finger in my mouth and slicked it down with my tongue. Gross? Perhaps, but one hell of a turn on. He giggled slightly as he pulled his finger out of my mouth. "Rain check on more of that later?"

"Do you even have to ask?"

"No, but let's be a little more careful, okay. People are trying to murder us in plain sight. We have to be a little more cautious."

"Yes, beloved," I said rubbing my fingertips against his lower back muscles, barely dragging fingertips there.

"You realize of course that you're going to make it impossible for me to think about fencing if you keep that up."

"It's just now getting up?"


"Only if you want it that way," I smiled.

"Geeze, you two want to get a room?" Juan asked coming out of the toilet area, already ripping his shirt off. His expression wasn't one of reproach, however. More like he had caught us in the act of something (unfortunately not!). I shrugged and pulled on my chest protector and Y-approved t-shirt. Kenny was already suited up and ready when I finished snapping my grieves on. Juan wasn't far behind.

"Wonder what's keeping Jesse and Bert?" Juan asked. Come to think of it, they should have been back across the bridge well before now.

"They'll be here," Kenny replied, casually. "Bert's never been tardy a day in his life and Jesse wants to prove he's the rightful fourth spot on the melee team."

"I still don't know if it's gonna go that way, especially since you know who is watching now."

"You'd put in the Berubes over any of us?" Juan asked, alarmed.

"I think that Robby means that he might not put himself in," Kenny interjected.

"You thinkin' like that?"

"It's something I have to keep in mind. Heck if they plan for me, they might not be able to figure out how to deal with everyone else."

"But we can't win if both of you aren't in it. You guys are the best Jedi in any of the classes. No one, not even Sylvia has as many wins as you guys. And only you two have perfect matches."

"Oh come on now," I said, trying not to sound condescending. "We both have perfects against Bert. He's a good fencer, but he's too, idunno, technical, mechanical."

"He could benefit from learning more of your style, milord."

"I don't know if it's something I could even begin to teach him. He's so…"

"Stiff?" Juan supplied.

"Book smart?" Kenny added.

"I guess those fit too, but he needs to relax and not worry about what grade he's getting. Both of them do. It's like everything with them is a personal competition against each other. So much so that they stifle their own creativity. They're like badly programmed robots, trying to incorporate a new operating system."

Juan and Kenny exchanged glances and Kenny smiled, and for the first time in several hours, I felt the urge to smile back at him without thinking of him naked. Hey, I'm a Satyr and I love him. I'm also all of 13, so I'm pretty much a walking hard on. Cut a guy some slack, okay?

Kenny looked up at me and his calculating look dropped into place. He was scheming already, and it was barely 1 pm. I decided to let him keep his current plan to himself for now. We had serious training to do. I grabbed up my helmet and the three of us walked out into the main gym floor. Mitch was busy talking with a man who looked like a war veteran who had been a little too close to the action. He had an eye patch over his left eye, with some scars peaking around even that. I looked at him with my fae sight and recognized Sir Grahame at once. I guess it made a kind of sense for one Troll to converse with another. Then again, the only other Satyr I knew personally was Capricus, and my best friends so far were a Redcap and my Eshu lover. I was going to have to expand my thinking.

Grahame and Mitch parted as we came out to the floor and Mitch had the expression of someone who's just been handed brutal news. Before we got to him, I glanced around. Fae sight, check! Most of the changelings in the room had left, including Sylvia and her retinue. Even the Redcaps that had been mocking Juan were gone from sight. Something had happened and now I was wondering exactly what that might be. For so many to clear out, it had to be something really serious.

"Caspian?" I queried as we got closer. He knew what I meant immediately.

"The dragon has been sighted near the freehold hall, milord. And reports have come in that three more changelings, and two who have yet to go through chrysalis are missing."

"How horrible," Kenny whispered behind me.

"Have they been able to track the beast to its lair yet?"

"No, it flies too swiftly. Even Grahame's best scouts cannot track a course through the air."

"Perhaps not," Juan said. "But they know the direction it flew in. If the paths from the freehold and the previous path cross, they'd have a good place to start looking."

"Grahame did not give me that information. I would advise being on your guard from now on, though. This beast picks its targets well, getting them in small numbers and then moving on at speed."

"You'd think that something so powerful wouldn't be playing such tactics."

"It doesn't want to attract too much attention to itself until it can thin out the ranks of skilled warriors first," Caspian told me. I had to admit, it did make a sort of sense.

"Robyn, this may be a matter you will have to look into."

"Huh?" I replied to Kenny's assessment. Articulate, ain't I?

"I hate to admit it, my lord, but Kay Neth may be right. You can't ignore that this beast and you have a history. You will have to face this dragon again." A loud ringing in the air told me the Dreaming's take on things. As much as I wanted to deny it, the feeling of destiny taking a hand was all over the situation.

"I'm not ready to take on a dragon, and all of you know that." I shot Kenny a meaningful stare under my sweat sticky bangs. "Especially not in my current condition." And while I had enough strength back in my Iron wounded left arm to fight against mortals, even to show off against them, I knew that the arm wasn't 100% back. Taking on a chimerical dragon would be pretty much suicide even if I had been fully healed. Right now…

"Events will lead us to the right road," Kenny replied, as if it were an Eshu mantra.

And before we could get into any deeper philosophical waters, the rest of the team came in, panting, sweating and looking like they were being chased by Satan himself. They collapsed on the gym mats and gulped air like a guppy running a marathon in Nevada.

"What's the matter?" Mitch said, going to kneel by Becka. Kenny, Juan and I attended to Bert and Jesse, who were similarly flustered.

"Some kinda big bird… at the bridge… dive bombing people… pecked my head," Jesse managed to get out. And sure enough, there was a nifty gash on top of his head, at least 10 centimeters long. But it didn't look like a bird attack, unless that bird had wicked huge talons. Kenny and I exchanged worried looks. The dragon was attacking normal humans. It was the only answer that made sense. It was protected by the Mists, which would shroud the truth from mortal memory, but there would be some sort of memory from such an attack. This was something that I could no longer deny. It was threatening my mortal friends now. Things had gone one step deeper into being personal.

"Mitch! Jesse needs to see a doctor. He's gonna need stitches."

"I'll go fetch the nurse," Juan said, bolting for the office in the front building of the Y. Kenny sat Bert up, talking to him gently, massaging his shoulders, helping to stimulate regular breathing. Kenny would be asking Bert for information when his panting had ceased. Mitch was doing much the same for Becka, whose eyes were wide with terror. Once more I exchanged a look with Kenny, but this time, it wasn't confusion or worry that passed between us, although several other emotions did.

It was anger. It was horror. It was a sudden understanding, between us, that something had to be done and we couldn't sit on the sidelines any longer. I might not want to rule Donna Trag's domain, but I'll be damned if I was gonna let people I was learning to care about be the victims of some supernatural menace that they had no defense against.

In short, I was pissed off, and so was Kenny. It was time to think about dragon hunting.

Kenny, Juan and I waited on the front steps of the Y as Mitch and the nurse explained everything for the police officer that had been sent to investigate. Jesse had been taken to the Anna Jacques hospital in an ambulance, both of the Berube's only suffering minor scratches. Considering what was doing the scratching, they were lucky it was only that. Understandably, class had been called for the day. Which was fine with me. I wasn't in the mood to be nice with a blade in my hand anymore. I was ready to carve things into tiny bits, hack through oak trees with one broad stroke, and just plain let my rage ride me for a while. It wasn't a pleasant mood I was in.

"We can't let this continue," Kenny said, calmly. Juan and I knew what he was talking about, but we also knew that we had some serious difficulties with finding, attacking and surviving attacking a dragon. I remembered all too well the feeling of utter terror that had engulfed me as I watched the thing shrug the Merrimack from its back. Merely being close to the thing was enough to paralyze me before. Going into its hidey hole was likely to make me piss my pants.

"What can we do? It's not like there's a book on how to fight something like that. Even if there was, we're talking about something that weighs more than all the knights and thanes in this region combined, that flies, probably breathes flame and can smack a Troll in half with a flick of a talon. What can we do against that?"

"We have to do something, Juan," I said, feeling both the conviction and the helplessness of my own understanding. "And fast."

"Caspian wont want us rushing off to do something rash, you know that."

"I know, Kay."

"And your parents will want to help."

"I didn't even think about them. I was more thinking we had two other sources to check into before we went dragon hunting."

"Yoseph and the Capricus?"

"Got it in one, Kay," I grinned.

"Who're they?"

"Friends of ours, Juan. Allies."

"Wicked good ones," I added, and then Kenny told Juan about our meeting with the Satyr's, omitting certain more personal parts, and the fight at the beach and Yoseph coming to my aid afterwards. He had already heard parts of the story, but something about the way Kenny told things just made you want to sit and listen. Eshu are among the wisest of kiths and they are renown for two things, never turning down an adventure when they can learn a great story from it and always seeming to know the right path, whether they can see where it leads or not. Kenny filled both of those attributes and expressed them with gusto.

"Seems you have quite a power base forming, Robyn," Juan said, addressing the Satyr in me. "No wonder Korbesh underestimated you."

"We're still working on your problem first, tonight," I said, getting a curt nod from Kenny. "And we'll need some information from you before we can proceed with it, but not here."

"I will answer any question milord puts to me."

"Uh, Juan, I consider you a friend, so when it's just us, you, me and Kenny around, you can drop the milords and sirs and all that. I think we're about to be trusting our lives to each other. First names will do fine."

Kenny smiled at Juan as he looked back and forth between us. Juan's own smile lit up and he quickly ducked his head to hide it behind his screen of wavy hair.

"I've never had such good friends before," he said, trying to hide his smile. "Thanks, guys. I really mean it."

"We know," Kenny said, talking for us.

Mitch shook hands with the city cop and walked over to where the three of us sat on the front steps, equipment bags under our butts to keep the hot granite of the steps from burning through our gym shorts. "Ready to roll boys?"

"Yup!" we answered as one.

"Then lets hit it," he said, leading us to his SUV. We loaded the sabers and our bags into the back and then climbed into the back seat. Mitch drove like he was watching the skies, which, I have to admit, the rest of us were as well. There would be no true sense of safety until the dragon was either driven off, or slain. And either of those options was bound to be an all day job.

At Kenny's house, we unloaded the gear, and headed down into Kenny's basement to just unwind a bit. Mitch mentioned firing up the grill and getting some hot dogs going, so we knew we wouldn't be down there for long. It was time for a little interrogation. Or so we thought.

Juan suddenly took a little ill and needed to go to the bathroom for a bit. He said he was feeling a little dizzy about being with us. That it just made him think about how little time he had left. Well, I'd feel the same way, were our positions reversed. Poor kid was driving himself into a right fit state, and hearing about my recent cold iron experience, twice in the same day no less, and seeing the mad gross scar on my shoulder hadn't been all that good for him. He was starting to lose hope, and that was something I could not let him do.

"Kenny, is there something we can do to help recharge him?" I asked. "He needs, well, I'm not really sure what he needs, but he's not gonna be good for anyone, much less himself if he's always getting sick, or puking and needing to wash his face just to calm down."

"We could infuse him with Glamour, maybe." Kenny said, almost asking it.

"How? Just charge an object and stab him?" I said, picking up my favorite lightsaber.

"Well, that could do it, but it lacks a certain personal touch."

I had to look at him with my "piercing gaze," a kind of narrowed eye look like you get at the beach on a sunny day when you forget your sunglasses. You see that look a lot in old gunslinger westerns. I didn't quite pick up his meaning, but he had something in mind.

"Robyn, we may have to do a little more than just give him Glamour. We may need to give him some courage and some reason to live."

"Are you saying… that you want us to… with him?"

"Oh come on, you're the Satyr here. Don't tell me you don't find him attractive."

"Well, yeah, he's good looking and all, and he has those Spanish eyes, but… I thought we were exclusive, ya'know?"

"We are," Kenny said, moving forward and putting his arms around me. "And I don't want to share you with anyone. You know that. But he might need something more than just words to remind him that he's alive. It's just a suggestion."

"Kay, I… okay, idunno what to make of this. Is this your Eshu sense of the right path kicking in?"

"A little more than that, my love. It's one human reaching out to another, and giving a gift."

"You think he'd accept?"

"We'll just have to see."

I leaned in to Kenny's sweet body then, both of us just glorying in being close. Neither of us was hard, but both of us were feeling the need to be held. A need that we both suspected Juan had as well. Whatever came of things later that night, we'd just have to play it by ear. Anyways, my keen ears detected Juan approaching and Kenny and I split and busied ourselves with tidying up his room. No sense flaunting our relationship, even though it was common knowledge among changelings.

"So!" Juan said, coming into the room. "What kind of questions did you need to ask me?"

"Take a seat," Kenny said, gesturing to the couch. I plopped myself down on the beanbag chair, and Kenny took his favorite spot on the water bed, back in the corner of the bed headboard and the wall.

"Okay, we have a theory, but we need some info to work it out more."

"Okay," Juan replied, looking suddenly like he was on the hot seat.

"Now, we're going under the supposition that Korbesh gave you the Cold Iron. Is that right?" Kenny asked, tucking his knees up to his chest, resting his chin on the knees as he spoke.

"Yes he did, but he gave it to most of the others as well. A while back. He said there was coming a day of reckoning and we'd need those knives to put the traitors into the Mists for good."

"So all the Redcaps have these knives?" I interjected.

"More or less. I know of at least three others that have them and are told to carry them always. Korbesh has two on himself all the time."

"What about concealment? How are they able to hide the presence of Iron from all of us?'

"The knives are enchanted. I was told that they were tempered in changeling blood, so you don't sense them easily."

Kenny and I exchanged very alarmed looks. I'd never heard of anything so foul as using our blood like that. That was something I thought only some fictional (or not so fictional) vampire might do. But hearing it said just made my blood a little colder. Korbesh's crimes were growing in my mind.

"Okay, now about the night in question," Kenny said, his eyes going a little narrower. "Korbesh altered the challenge at Robby by substituting you for Sir Grahame. When were you told about that?"

"Uh, he said to bring my blades to court. I mean, that's nothing new, but he did want to make sure I had both my sword breaker and the Iron knife."

"So you didn't know that Robyn would be at court?"

"Well, I did when we were on the way. He told me that I would help correct a major problem and if I was victorious we'd be feasting on a Satyr legend."

"By feasting?" I said, kinda raising a finger timidly. "You don't mean…"

"Eating while hurt but still alive, yes."

"Now I think I'm gonna be sick," I said.

"Robby!" Kenny hissed at me. He gave me the "not now" look that my Mom has perfected.

"Okay, but you didn't know it was Robyn, right?"

"No. Korbesh never said a name. But I'm pretty sure he knew it was you."

"How so?" Kenny asked, keeping on it.

"Well, Korbesh has a few mistresses in highly placed positions. One is a herald in Donna Trag's court."

"A Sidhe herald?" Kenny and I spoke as one.

"Uh, yeah, she's a Sidhe. Is that important?"

"Croaker, my friend," I said, bounding up to the couch to pat him on the shoulder. "We may have just figured out how to save your sorry hide!"

"You have?" he said, his expectations rising.

"Yeah, I think so," Kenny agreed. "This information proves that Korbesh knew that Robyn would be there ahead of time, that he had designs on at least Undoing Robyn and possibly attacking Donna Trag as well."

"Oh," he said, suddenly hanging his head a bit. Kenny shot me a look and I read it in an instant. Why's he sad about this?

"Is there something you haven't told us about all this yet?" I asked, sideways, keeping my face turned half between the two of them.

"Yeah," he said, looking like we'd just kicked his dog and dared him to do anything about it. "Yeah there is. Korbesh isn't the only one that knew about Robyn coming to court that night."

"Who else?" Kenny asked, a look of concern coming over his face and switching into his Ren and Stimpy thinking look.

"Grahame knew in advance. The herald that brought the news to Donna Trag and Korbesh is Grahame's ward."

"Uh, that's not damning in and of itself," I said, trying to see what Juan was getting at.

"No it's not, unless you consider that Korbesh and Grahame were in a motley together once. They were teammates."

Kenny's eyes shot up. "You mean that Korbesh and Grahame might be in cahoots?"

"That would explain how quickly Grahame backed out of the duel."

"More than that," Juan said, looking at the floor. I couldn't see his eyes for all the wavy hair that hung down in front of his eyes. "In mortal reality, they are step brothers."

"How do you know this?" Kenny asked.

"Because Korbesh is my father."

I rolled back on the beanbag, shoulders and head leaning back on the floor, reeling from that revelation. Things had just gone from emotionally complicated to ten layers deep into trouble. We couldn't ask Juan to testify against his own father, even if he was a black-hearted sonuvabitch. He'd throw not only one of his own kind but his own flesh and blood, his own son, fer god's sake, to the wolves. I immediately doubled the amount of hate I had for the man. No squared it and jumped it up several orders of magnitude.

Steam should have been rolling out of my ears at this point.

"Oh, Croaker!" Kenny said, at once at Juan's side, embracing him. The Redcap let out his held in tears now, just bawling like a child. I wrapped both of them in my arms as well, giving Juan the much needed shoulder to cry on. He must have left the waterworks on for about five minutes solid.

"No wonder you're making yourself sick all the time," Kenny said, rubbing his shoulder blades. "Well, this certainly will make this an interesting day in court."

"Yeah," Juan said, dejectedly. He pulled himself back out of our group hug and tried to recover his sniffling. "Guys, I want you to know, no matter what happens, I really appreciate you helping me, even if you fail."

"We're not licked yet, Juan," I said, a fierce smile coming to my face. "Kay and I don't let our friends down. We'll beat this thing, somehow."

Mitch called down, "Attention all vultures! Fresh meat on the table!"

Well, we were all still young boys as well as supernatural powerhouses. And growing boys at that! We charged upstairs and onto the back porch, devoured several hotdogs each, along with a fresh bag of cool ranch chips and enough tonic to drown in. The sun was still high in the air and this was the first time I got a really good look at the back yard.

Wouldn't you know it?! They had a strip of ground, carefully maintained, that looked just like a fencing strip. Regulation size even! Quirky, yes, but there it was. I guess considering how much both fencing and Kenny had become a part of my life (this life anyways) it shouldn't have surprised me.

"Itchin' to try it out, aren't you?" Mitch asked, following my gaze.

"One disaster at a time, Caspian," I said, changing the subject. Problem was, I really did want to try it out. But I steeled my thoughts and put things into perspective. "Capricus says you still owe him a chess match," I replied.

"Capricus is here?"

"We met him at Salisbury. He leads the Satyrs in that area. He's sworn himself as thane to my banner."

"Good one to have at your side," Mitch grinned. "That old rascal still think there's a water route back to Arcadia?"

"He seems to think so," Kenny said. "Pops, most of the Satyrs in this domain are from Cerulean."

"Well. That means we have an army of loyalists at the ready."

"Guys, I want this made perfectly clear right now. I don't want an army, I don't want to find a water route back to Arcadia. I don't want Donna Trag's domains… I just want to be me. Too much blood has been shed over something we can't even get back to, that we can't claim." I looked around at them all in turn. "I don't want to lose anymore friends over something we can never win."

Mitch smiled, looking at Kenny with an appraising eye. "I told you he'd smarten up one century or another."

"Not in front of my betrothed, Pops," Kenny said, smiling. "I don't want him thinking all we ever talk about is him. He's got a swelled enough head as it is."

I shot Kenny a mock angry look as he said that. "You've never complained about how it swells before."

"Uh, this isn't a conversation I want to take part in," Juan said, collecting his plate and going inside to the kitchen.

"How's he dealing?" Mitch asked, hooking a thumb over his shoulder at Juan.

"He's better, but we just found out some strange news. Korbesh's mortal self is his Juan's father," I said. "Things just got complicated."

"Just!?" Kenny asked. "It's been complicated for a while now."

"Well, more complicated, then."

"Hummm," Mitch intoned, thinking. "Have you thought about what your defense will be for Croaker?"

"Two things come to mind. One, we prove that the fight was a set up and that Korbesh was behind it."

"And we promise to perform some outlandishly dangerous task for Donna Trag if we can't prove that Korbesh is trying to manipulate her or even kill other changelings."

"You boys realize of course that there is one seriously dangerous task running wild in the county right now. If you are forced to perform a boon for Croaker's existence, that means you'll be sent after the dragon."

Kenny and I reached across to clasp hands under the picnic table. "Well, that's a chance we'll have to take then," my Kenny said.

"Yeah, we'll just have to be careful," I put in. Kenny nodded in agreement, his thumb sliding over mine. I gripped his hand tighter for a moment and then just leaned into him with my good shoulder.

"I am so proud of the both of you. You could easily have turned Juan away and washed your hands of the entire matter. Now you are taking a serious risk for someone who would have Undone one or both of you only days ago. That kind of honor is rare, my sons."

"Well, Juan just needed a friend," I said, as Juan came back outside, more hot dogs piled on his paper plate.

"And so did we," Kenny said, finishing my thought. Mom and Dad would be envious of how well Kenny and I were reading each other just then. And Juan, well, he came out and grinned like an idiot after hearing Kenny and me call him our friend. I don't think too many people ever said that to him. He seemed to be happy, or at least content at the moment.

And you know what, a smile on him, whether as Juan or as Croaker, was never the same thing as before. Oh, he still had all those perfectly even teeth and the jaw muscles of a front-end loader, but he now had an emotion behind his smile other than "kill/smash/eat!"

Juan had pretty much completed his journey out of the dark side (to keep up the Jedi analogy). Now he had to deal with living in the light. And wouldn't you know it, just as we reclaim a soul from the darkness, the darkness had to up and get even with us.

A spirit from Yoseph's beach house suddenly appeared before us, and I had this really dreadful feeling that our werewolf friend was in serious danger. Especially when the spirit dropped a small leather bag with Indian markings on it onto the table, and then simply vanished without making a sound.

"Robby! I recognize that bag. Yoseph was wearing it while he performed the healing ceremony on you."

"Mitch?" I said, eyes going about desperately.

"Kenny, get the swords! Robby, Juan, go get your gear on! We're heading for Salisbury! Move!"

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