Castle Roland


by David McLeod


Chapter 6

Posted: N/A


by David McLeod

Travels in a Hostile World

Tyler put his hand on Alfred's shoulder and pushed gently. "Your wound is not completely healed. You must lie still while I bandage it, and until I say you can move."

"You're not my healer," Alfred began. "You're just a boy."

"If Jon says I am, then I am," Tyler replied.

"That's what deal with it means?" Alfred asked.

"Yeah," Tyler said. No one else would have understood. When Jon says "deal with it" he isn't abandoning me. He means I'm to use my judgment and he will back me 100 percent.

Tyler's mind darted back to that day when Jon had instructed the boy to scrub for an operation, rather than watching from the gallery.

"But junior interns aren't allowed," Tyler protested.

"Tyler," Jon began, looking earnestly at the boy. "We live in a world full of rules. There are rules that always must be followed, and there are rules that always must be broken. Between the two, are many, many rules that may be followed or broken depending on circumstances.

"The most important part of your education is developing a framework of right and wrong that will allow you quickly and easily to make such decisions. I mean right and wrong both in a moral sense and in a technical sense. Part of being my intern is learning to make decisions. If you will use your best efforts to make decisions, I will back you up before anyone.

"More to the point, the handbook has no prohibition against junior interns in the OR. That's probably because Harkness never expected the situation to arise. We're going to set a precedent. And once set, I hope that it will become custom."

Alfred had been abashed when Tyler told him what to do and how to behave; however, Tyler's confidence when he wrapped Alfred's chest allayed any concerns that boy might have had.

Jon helped Morgan gather the wheels of cheese and sacks of potatoes while the two men repaired the wagon. A spoke in one wheel had snapped; without its support, several other spokes had broken. Had Jon and Tyler watched, they might have been amazed to see how quickly new spokes were fashioned from a board taken from the wagon's side. They might have marveled at how easily the nails were pulled from the wooden rim of the wheel, and how easily they were driven back in after the new spokes were put into place.

By the time the potatoes and cheese were ready to be reloaded, the repairs were complete. Neither Jon nor Tyler had seen the men employing craft magic to make the task go faster and more smoothly than it would have otherwise.

Tyler was anxious to tell Jon about the water–hydrogen peroxide–or whatever, but he had no chance.

The woman spoke. "Morgan said you were truthful, and not Evil. You have saved Alfred's life. But even I heard your magic." She looked at Morgan.

Morgan nodded. "When you healed, the magic noise was loud. If anyone else heard it, and they probably did, they will be people looking for you. Soon. They are not people you want to meet, nor may you endanger mother, Robbie, the family." The boy looked at his mother. "I will go with them. They will need my help."

Mistress Alice nodded, reluctantly, but surely. "You are right, of course. May the Light go with you." She kissed her son, and climbed into the wagon. She handed Morgan a cloth bag about the size of two basketballs. Alfred was already lying in the back of the wagon. Morgan untied the horse and handed the reins to Jon. Jon and Tyler stood, stunned, while the wagon drove away.

"What just happened?" Jon asked.

"Who are you that you use magic so awkwardly and so noisily?" Morgan countered. "How have you not been captured or killed? How could you have lived enough decades to be a tween and not know how to control the noise of your magic?"

Jon looked at Tyler. "I think it is time to tell him, don't you?" Tyler nodded.

"If we are going to avoid whoever is looking for us, perhaps we had better start walking," Jon said. "I'll tell you while we go. Tyler, you ride the horse. You don't even have the scuffs any more."

Morgan nodded, and began walking north, toward a forest. "We'll find shelter and concealment in the forest."

Jon led the horse, and walked beside Morgan. "Tyler and I are not from around here," Jon said. "We're not from anywhere around here. We're not even from this world."

Morgan nodded. He believes what he says, Morgan thought, or he's insane. I don't think he's insane.

"Do you know," Jon asked, "that the stars are really suns like that one, and that worlds like this one revolve around those suns?"

Morgan nodded. "I've heard that, and you believe it."

That truth-telling thing is interesting, Jon thought. Aloud, he continued. "Our sun is probably one of those stars. I don't know which one it might be. Something brought Tyler and me here. I don't know what it was, or how we got here. I don't know why we are here. I don't know how we can get home. We've been here not quite two days."

"Where did you get the horse, and the clothes? I do not think they came with you," Morgan said.

"The man who owned the horse tried to kill me," Jon said. "If he had succeeded, he would have taken Tyler into slavery. I defended Tyler and myself. I killed him. We took his clothes and horse. His sword is wrapped in that blanket." Jon looked hard at Morgan. "Does that change the way you think of me?"

Morgan looked hard at Jon. "It is not Evil to defend one's self; it is not Evil to kill to defend one's self or someone you love." Morgan looked at Tyler and smiled. Tyler blushed.

"On your world, you do not worry about someone hearing the noise of your magic?" Morgan asked.

"Oh, no," Jon said. "We have no magic on our world. Healing is done through skill. It is done through knowledge of the human body, of how it functions, of how disease organisms live and affect the body, of chemistry of herbs and tinctures and other things. It takes years of study.

"Tyler began his studies about a year and a half ago; I have studied and practiced for more than a decade." Jon paused and looked at Morgan, "I don't think you heard a word I just said."

Morgan shook his head. "No magic?"

By this time, they had reached the forest. Jon looked back at the ground they'd crossed since leaving the road. It was hard, stony meadow. Even the horse's steel-shod hooves hadn't left an imprint. "Will those who might follow us use dogs to track us?"

"Aye," Morgan said. "Dogs and magic."

"We need to find a stream. If we wade in a stream it will throw off scent hounds," Tyler said. "But how do you throw off magic?"

"They say that if they have anything of yours, something that has been close to you for a long time, they can use it to point to you," Morgan said.

Jon thought briefly. "The clothes we abandoned were disposable, and we had worn them less than two days. Could they use that?"

"I don't think so," Morgan said.

Tyler asked. "What about hair?"

"Oh, yes. They say they can use hair, nails, skin…if they find it," Morgan said.

"Also not likely," Jon said. "We lost all our body hair when we first came here. I don't know why. I notice, however, that you have no facial hair, or hair on any part of your body that is visible."

"Nor did Alfred on his chest or stomach," Tyler said.

"No one has hair except on their head," Morgan said. "Except Trolls, of course."

"What are Trolls?" Jon asked. "Robby said Trolls had captured Boody."

"Brody. Do you not have Trolls, either?" Morgan asked.

"If I knew what they were?" Jon said.

"Oh! Trolls. Let's see. They say they're giants. Well, most are a foot or so taller than Humans or Elves–"

"What?" Jon asked.

"Elves?" Tyler asked.

"Okay," Jon summarized. "There are five races. Humans, like us; Elves who are generally a little taller and thinner, and who have pointed ears and eyes; Dwarves, who are generally a little shorter and stockier than us and who tend to live underground; Trolls, who are large, strong, ugly, and often a little stupid; and Lizoids, who are green and slimy, and generally nasty. Is that it?"

"Pretty much," Morgan said. "They say there are other races, including Gnomes, but I don't know if they're real."

"Next," Jon said, "and this is important. Who might be after us for using magic? And why?"

"Evil people," Morgan said. "The Duke of Amber is the closest Warlord. They say he has a couple of mages in his thrall. They would have heard your magic. Why? Because magic users have power, and the Warlords fear powerful men whom they cannot control."

"Okay," Jon said. "Next, magic and magic users. Tyler, I don't even know what questions to ask."

"Magic is power that certain people–magic users, mages–can use to do certain things, right?" Tyler asked Morgan.

"Well, everyone can use magic a little," Morgan said. "Except children, of course. Everyone uses a little magic to do everyday tasks. Weavers use it in a special way. So do smiths, and brewers, and other guild members. Healers, like you, use it to heal, but they also use herbs and other medicines. Clerics use it mostly for healing and fighting, except that there aren't any clerics any more. They say all the clerics are dead–killed.

"They say mages are the most powerful, and can do anything. I guess," Morgan concluded.

"How do magic users–not the everyday stuff–control magic?" Tyler asked.

"Um, I really don't know," Morgan said. "Spells. The clerics used to sing. Some people say that they can put magic in a potion or an amulet. I really don't know."

"How do you know when someone is telling the truth? Is that magic?" Jon interjected.

"It is something I was born with," Morgan said. "A few boys are. But please don't tell anyone. It's dangerous to be known as a sembler. They might think I was a mage. At the very least, they would conscript me into the duke's service."

"But is it magic?" Jon repeated.

"I think so," Morgan said. "When I truth-tell, I feel something like when I use boy magic."

"Boy magic," Tyler said. "It's exchanged by sex. Between boys, that is." He blushed. Morgan didn't notice.

"Yes," Morgan said. "You have to get boy magic from someone else, and you have to give yours away so that someone else can use it. That's the first of the mysteries, by the way. And you don't know the mysteries, do you? You must promise not to tell–except another boy, of course."

Jon had another epiphany. "That's why you cautioned Robby about the story–the bear and the boy having sex. That contains the mysteries, and your mother may not hear them."

"Yeah," Morgan said. "Even though I'm pretty sure she knows all about it. I mean, she has six brothers and five sons!"

Tyler was clearly uncomfortable. But, we have to know, he thought. "Um, when Jon and I had sex, I saw a glow moving between us. Was that magic?"

Morgan abruptly stopped walking. "You saw magic?"

"Is that what it was?" Tyler asked.

"Um, I think so," Morgan said. "They say only the greatest mages can see magic, though."

Jon thought furiously. Morgan prefaces nearly everything he says with "they say." He seems to be treating us honestly, but I wonder how much of what he says is speculation, how much comes from stories–like the one about the bear and the boy–and how much is true. Not, Jon thought with a flash of insight, not that those categories are necessarily mutually exclusive.

"Morgan," Jon began, choosing his words carefully. "You seem to know a great deal about your world–this world. Do you attend school?"

Morgan looked puzzled. "No, of course not. The Temple used to have schools in every village, and Guilds had schools in the towns and cities. There were schools for soldiers and schools of magic. They were all destroyed early in The Occupation–"

"The Occupation?" Jon interjected. I could almost see the upper-case letters, he thought. It must be important.

"When Darkness overran Arcadia and Elvenhold," Morgan said. "Several lifetimes ago."

"How do you know about these things?" Jon asked. "Did your parents, grandparents tell you?"

"Some," Morgan replied. "But mostly, from the stories in The Book."

More upper case letters, if the stress in his voice means anything, Jon thought. Move carefully.

"The Book?" Jon asked.

"Sure," Morgan said. "The Book of Heroes. My great grandfather–he didn't come to market this trip–taught me to read from it. It's written in an old language that the Elves once spoke. I had to learn that, too. It's hard, because even Grampa doesn't know all the words. The clerics used to know, I think. Anyway, no one else in the family wanted to learn. They like to hear the stories, though. I've read almost every one."

He's clearly excited about this book, Jon thought.

Morgan's voice and manner were animated. "Some of the stories are impossible, of course. Like the ones about dragons. And the one about the boys from another world–" Morgan stopped talking and looked hard at Jon, and then Tyler.

"Maybe that one is not impossible," Jon said. "Will you tell it?"

They had reached a stream. After they and the horse had drunk, Morgan tethered the horse so that it could crop the fresh grasses. The boys sat under an ancient oak tree, and Morgan told the story.

"Are you sure that Marty and Chandler were from California?" Jon asked.

"Oh, yes," Morgan replied. "My sister's name is Cali, and she was teased. "Where is Cali? Where is Cali-forn-ee-ah?"

"So," Tyler said. "Two boys from California came to this world looking for another boy from California. How did they get home?"

Morgan's face dropped. "I'm sorry, Tyler. But they could not go home. That was the lesson of the story."

Jon took Tyler's hand and held it tightly. Tyler fought not to cry. Unbidden, Morgan took Tyler's other hand, and pressed it against his own cheek. "I'm sorry, Tyler. Maybe it's just a story…maybe they got home."

"Jon, Morgan, thank you," Tyler said. "I'm okay, now. But, Jon, there are some other things."

"What else, Tyler?" Jon asked, watching the boy's face.

"You're not an adult, any more. You're a teenager. Your face is not just smooth because of no follicles, but there are no age lines, either."

Jon was silent for a very long time. Then, "I thought something was going on. When we learn more about it–and how to control the noise–I'm going to take a look inside me–like we saw inside Albert."

"That's another thing," Tyler said. "When I was cleaning Alfred's wound the water turned into hydrogen peroxide."

Jon raised his eyebrows. "Another plus-fifteen?"

"Yeah, that's what I figured," Tyler replied. "I wished I had something more than water, and it was. Um, wishing doesn't always work, though. I've wished we were home . . ." The boy stopped talking abruptly. Jon saw Tyler struggle again to fight off tears.

Morgan, who had been silent through Jon and Tyler's dialogue, now spoke. "One of the stories in the Book of Heroes starts, A thousand lifetimes ago, when magic was strong enough that wishes came true or something like that. Since the book was written by an Elf, a thousand lifetimes ago means, well, nearly five million years. I believe the book, Jon." He turned, "I believe the book, Tyler. I think somehow you work magic by wishing."

Morgan's bag yielded more of the dry, flat bread as well as cheese and dried fruit. The boys eked this out with more of the pemmican from the saddlebags. We have food for perhaps four days, Jon thought. Well, like Scarlet O'Hara, I'll worry about that tomorrow.

"Tyler," Jon whispered, "how would you feel about inviting Morgan to share boy magic?"

"It would be, maybe not rude, but certainly not very sociable, if we didn't, I think," Tyler said. "It sounds like it's something boys do all the time."

Jon kissed the boy. "I'm glad you agree, Tyler."

Tyler returned the kiss. "As long as you don't leave me," he said, "I'll share–I'll share you." He giggled, and this time, the humor–however weak–was genuine.

"Morgan," Jon began. "We don't know the protocol, but Tyler and I would like to share boy magic with you. Is that proper?"

"Oh, yes," Morgan replied. "Any tween is free to ask any tween or boy; boys can ask other boys or tweens–if they know them, that is. If they don't, they're to ask their family–an older brother or father, an uncle, or whatever, first.

"Oh, and yes," he said. "I would like to share with you and Tyler."

Never been in a ménage à trios, Jon thought. But it wasn't like that, at all. Tyler seemed disinterested when Morgan gave me his magic. I thought at first Tyler was–jealous, perhaps? Perhaps he was tired. But the instant Morgan touched him, he came to life. I was so busy analyzing Tyler's behavior that I didn't pay attention to what they were doing until Tyler kissed me–and received my magic. Was some custom impressed on us along with language?

"We need to find a home for this horse," Jon said. "He's more trouble to take care of than he's worth, and he can't keep eating grass. If the grass had seeded, it might be different. We just can't take proper care of him. Tyler needs boots, first, though.

"Morgan, can we sell the horse and buy the things we need?" Jon continued. "You said he was a very fine horse. Could we get enough money to add to this–" Jon poured the contents of the dead Mercenary's purse onto his palm "–to get boots, some different clothes, camping supplies, food?"

"You've got more than four crowns, here!" Morgan said. "You have enough to buy boots, clothes, and more. But, you are right. We can't keep the horse. Anyone who saw it would ask questions we could not answer.

"You couldn't sell it, though. It would have to be in a large city. No one in a farm village could afford such a horse, and to sell it for much less than its value? That would raise more unanswerable questions. You cannot enter a city large enough to have a market. You couldn't pass the semblers at the gates."

In answer to Jon's questions, Morgan explained. "Everyone entering a city is questioned by semblers in thrall to the local warlord. If you're not a citizen, they would arrest you. If you said you killed someone and took their horse–no matter if it was self-defense–they'd arrest you. If you said otherwise, they'd know you were lying. Then they'd arrest you.

"We are not far from Amber. I'm a citizen–or at least a subject, according to the land claims of the local warlord–so I should be able to enter safely. I will take the horse into the city and sell it at the Ordinary Market. I'll not get full value; they'll assume it is stolen, but they won't care."

"Why would they assume the horse is stolen," Tyler asked.

"The Ordinary is the out-of-the way market, where things are sold that can't be sold in the regular market: charms and amulets, drugs. Things that have been stolen. Slaves, some say."

"That sounds too dangerous," Jon said. "We need another plan–"

"Actually, I'd be safe," Morgan said. "The Ordinary is run by the Thieves Guild, and they know that customers and sellers must feel safe–must be safe–or the market will close. It's probably safer in the Ordinary than in the regular market where the only guards are the thugs of the Warlord."

"Why are there so many different coins, with different figures on them?" Tyler asked when Jon handed the coins to Morgan.

"Since the Occupation, king has followed king, and prince has followed prince so quickly that the mints no longer put names on the coins. In fact, most people don't even bother to learn their names," Morgan answered.

"It's still early," he added. "However I, for one, have walked enough for today. The river is just behind those trees"–he gestured toward a tree line across a meadow that bordered the road–"and I'm ready for a bath and a swim." He looked at Jon.

"That is the best thing you have said since you said yes to sharing," Jon said.

Tyler grinned.

There's no jealousy, Jon thought. I am not jealous that Tyler and Morgan have had sex–and will probably do so again, today. There were so many petty jealousies among the gay community on Earth. Why is it different, here? Is it because I'm older and in better control of my emotions, or is it part of whatever has changed us?

No, I think I know what it is. On our world, in a homophobic society, the gay community was so small if one found a partner one was protective. Here, there's no reason to be jealous.

The guards at the gate accepted Morgan's claim, and allowed him to pass after only cursory questioning. Nor was it hard to find the Ordinary. The First Market was over, and most of the traffic on the streets was going to or from the Ordinary. Morgan blended in with the crowd.

He was pleased with the price he'd gotten for the horse. Might have gotten more if we'd included the saddle, he thought, but Jon was right. That might have raised too many questions. And, this will teach them to try to cheat a Sembler!

Morgan had memorized a list of items that Jon wanted, and found the first in the Ordinary: sturdy leather packs with straps that allowed them to be worn over the shoulders or strapped to a saddle. He went from stall to stall, examining various goods and slowly filling the packs.

Boots for Tyler were no problem: they'd determined that his feet were only slightly smaller than Morgan's. A pair of boots that were a little too small for Morgan would do nicely. I'll not find the daggers here, Morgan thought. He'd convinced Jon that he and Tyler must wear daggers.

"Every tween does, so do most boys," he'd said. "Unless they're Valarians, and there are no more of those."

Jon had nodded when Morgan described the Valarians. "Not unlike the Quakers of our world," he said. "I don't suppose you've heard of a Valarian c . . . c . . ." Jon stopped speaking. I can't say the word. I know what I want to say: a Valarian cannon, like a Quaker cannon.

"What?" Morgan asked.

"Never mind," Jon said. "I'll think on it."

Morgan found daggers at a shop just inside the Eastern gate of the city. Good luck, that, he thought walking out the East gate with his burden. We agreed that I should leave by the East gate since I came in the West gate. It would avoid questions if the same guard saw me, and wondered about the horse.

Once he passed through the gate, Morgan began to count his footsteps. When he reached 2,000, he looked around. He was alone on the road. He ducked into the woods on the south side of the road, and waited. It would likely take Jon and Tyler longer to work their way around the city. They'd have to walk several miles out of the way. I hope those–what did Jon call them?–flip-flops we made for Tyler from the saddle girth hold up!

Whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will. Tyler recognized the notes Jon whistled, and remembered that they once had meant something. There was no response.

"Come on, we knew we were probably too close to the city," Jon said, holding out his hand. They'd been walking hand-in-hand the entire day. It was not necessary. The ground was level, the underbrush in the forest was sparse; it just felt better.

"Jon?" Tyler asked. "Where are we going, anyway."

"Good question," Jon said. "I've been content to let Morgan lead. He knows this world and this country, and he seems to be very smart. It is, however, time to ask him. Not that his answer will make much sense, will it?"

Tyler started, and then smiled wryly. "He could say anything, couldn't he?"

Whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will. This time, the answering signal came: bob-white, bob-white. Again, Tyler recognized the notes. "The words the whistle makes–they mean something, don't they?" he asked Jon.

"Um hmm," Jon said. "They used to. I wonder what it was."

"Hand me that stick, would you?" Morgan said to Tyler after Jon had asked his question.

Morgan brushed pine needles from a patch of ground, knelt in the dirt, and began to draw.

"This is Arcadia," he said.

"The Book of Heroes has a map," he explained. "The ocean is on the east; mountains are on the west and south. Mountains, not so high, lie between Arcadia and Elvenhold on the north. We're here–just east of Amber. We're headed here–the city of Albion. It's supposed to be an open city–one anyone can visit."

The boy faltered. "I don't know what else to say," he said. "I didn't think much farther than getting you away from the family."

Jon, who had knelt beside Morgan, reached out and hugged the boy to him. "You've saved not only your family, but us, too. Don't feel badly that you don't know what to do with us."

"Albion," Tyler said.

Jon looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

"One: it's an open city. Two: it's a goal. Three: it's a decision," Tyler said.

Jon nodded, and then smiled. "Three very good reasons. Morgan?"

Morgan nodded, and pointed to the east.

"Morgan, in those stories of the boys from another world, is there anything about them not being able to say certain words from their own world?" Jon asked. The boys were sitting around a small fire that Morgan had built. They'd had hot tea with fresh bread and fruit for supper–the first decent meal Jon and Tyler had had since arriving in this world.

"Oh, yes," Morgan said. "It was very puzzling to them, at first, and to me. I didn't understand until Grampa explained. Some words mean things so evil that magic doesn't allow them to be spoken in World. At least, that's what Grampa said."

"But the words for the birds' whistles," Tyler protested, "they couldn't have been evil, I don't think, but I don't know them!"

Jon hugged Tyler to him. "Tanstaafl, Tyler," he said. "Hmm, that sounds the same, and I know what it means."

"There ain't no such thing as a free lunch," Tyler said. "But ain't isn't in this language. And the letters are different. It's not the same word."

"What are you two talking about," Morgan asked.

"It's a saying from our world," Jon answered. "It goes back to the days when ale was expensive and food was cheap. Taverns used to offer a free lunch to anyone who would buy ale. The lunch wasn't free, of course. The cost was included in the cost of the ale. When you say, there is no such thing as a free lunch you're acknowledging that everything has a price, even if that price is hidden.

"Whoever or whatever brought us here also taught us your language," Jon continued. "But it has taken away much of our own language. That was the price. When we healed your brother, we found we could do things we could not do in our own world–things you call magic. That was given to us. I do not yet know what price we will have to pay for it, but I am sure we will pay one."

"Balance," Morgan said. Jon looked at the boy expectantly, and Morgan continued. "The Book has a lot in it about balance–between Good and Evil, between Light and Dark. I think it's the same thing."

"I think," Tyler said abruptly. "I think that I remember what Jon taught me about healing. I think I remember what I learned in chemistry class, and in biology. I think I remember what I learned about anatomy and physiology and histology and bacteriology. But I wouldn't know if I'd forgotten, would I?"

Jon looked at Tyler. "You're right. I hadn't thought of that."

"What?" Tyler asked, unable to interpret the expression on Jon's face.

"You have once again made me very proud of you, Tyler," Jon said.

"Morgan, I have been thinking about what you said, about magic and wishing. Tyler and I talked about the hydrogen peroxide–the water he cleaned Alfred's wound with–he did not really wish, he imagined hydrogen peroxide. I don't think he wished magic; I think he used his knowledge of chemistry along with some magic. In fact, I think that is how magic really works. Knowledge plus magic equals effect," Jon said.

Morgan thought for a moment. "I think you're right," he said at last. "Mother talked about weaving magic, but made me learn how to weave cloth, first. Father talked about the gestation cycle of the goats, and was going to teach me how to bring a nanny goat to season early, using magic. I think they both wanted me to understand things without magic first, and then understand how to use magic."

"There's more to it than that," Jon said. "Like, how do we capture magic, and where and how is it stored in the body?

"Morgan, Tyler and I are grateful. We are more than grateful, we are deeply in your debt because you left your family to travel with us," Jon said. "You know that Tyler misses his family. I have none to miss. You don't seem to miss your family, or you're very strong–"

"Oh, you really are from another world!" Morgan said. "Do you not know that every boy I know–every boy in World–wishes and dreams of meeting you, or someone like you?"

"What are you talking about?" Tyler asked.

"The greatest adventure in my life is going to market," Morgan said. "Rather, the greatest adventure in my life was going to market. My father and his father and his father are farmers. I would have been a farmer. My life would have been the soil and the seasons. In fact, the only thing that changed would have been the seasons. But now, I'm on a quest with you!

"Albert understood. After a while, when it is safe to do so, he will tell the other boys in my family, and they will be happy for me. They will also be sorry that they didn't meet you." Morgan stopped abruptly. "That's all," he added, when neither Jon nor Tyler reacted.

Once again, Jon questioned Morgan, and then attempted to summarize what he had learned. "About half of all boys will leave home after they become tweens because of some sort of wanderlust. Most will not return. If they're ever heard from again, it will be news of their death." Jon felt a pang. Half the boys die before adulthood. It's worse than the Army. Our casualties in Gulf War III seldom exceeded 25%, and that was awful.

"Some–perhaps all–of these boys believe that they are fulfilling some sort of destiny. They believe they're on a quest. It's the grail legend, Tyler," Jon said. His voice was both excited and sad. "They're on a quest for the grail. They believe they'll receive magical help. Some believe? Hope? Wish? that they'll be called to join someone already on quest–a knight or paladin–a proven warrior.

"Oh, shit!" Jon said. "Morgan do you think? Tyler and me? Oh Morgan, what have we done to you!"

Morgan sat by the embers of the fire, brooding. Jon had retreated to a rock some yards away, and was brooding, too. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up. It was Tyler.

"When we first played Truth or Dare–your version of it, anyway–what did you tell me was the most important thing for a gay boy in a homophobic world?" Tyler asked softly.

Jon answered instantly, "To thy own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."

"Well?" Tyler asked.

Jon sat quietly.

"You are what Morgan was looking for," Tyler said. "You are the Being of Light that I used to dream about and that Morgan has wished for all his life. If you think really hard, you'll realize it."

Jon walked to where Morgan was sitting, and put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Morgan," Jon said. "I don't know if I'm the Paladin or the warrior you think I am. Tyler thinks both he and you are somehow bound up with me in some sort of quest. I don't know. I don't have any special knowledge or power, and I don't even know where I'm going."

"Oh, that's all right," Morgan said. He stood up. "Most heroes don't know that they are heroes. But everyone else does." He surprised Jon by kissing him. "It's really quite all right."

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