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Another Trial

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The waves washed around their raft. The sky overhead remained the same sunset tones each passing day only changing at night to cast the ocean into a deeper and more threatening darkness that remained dull all the same. The island had been bursting with interest compared to this journey, Cidgeon thought to himself.

Still there was one good thing. Cabanela had finally fallen asleep at last. They were supposed to alternate, yet too many times Cidgeon took his watch in company. The stubborn fool. Then again maybe it wasn’t just stubbornness. Cabanela turned his head with a low groan and a shiver, furrows lining his brow. Was it stubbornness to keep going or avoidance of the things sleep brought? Possibly both.

Cidgeon sighed and shuffled closer. He didn’t want to wake him; Cabanela needed this sleep, disturbed or not. And what then anyway? He pulled the blanket more securely around Cabanela, fighting off the old sense of helplessness that had become far too common over the past year. He’d never been very good at this from the earliest days when the young boy’s nights were broken with nightmares and he relived the attack on Tzen. All he could do was sit by and listen if the boy woke and if he could bring himself to talk haltingly between tears or long lulls of silence. Listen and wonder how it all came to this.

Years later and he still couldn’t say what possessed him to take the boy in like that. What did he know of children, let alone one newly orphaned and home annexed? He’d berated himself multiple times in those early days. A child would only hinder his works and his efforts to maintain his secrets. And yet… And yet something had drawn him to the boy. Simple pity or something more—three decades later and he still couldn’t say, but it wasn’t a decision he regretted for one moment.

No, it was those lines etched in deep he regretted, watching him run the ragged line of exhaustion. It was failing to convince him not to go for the magic infusions in the first place. It was not being be able to help him when he needed him most, not even recognizing who it was who truly needed that aid. It was a year-long coma. It was sitting on a raft in the middle of the ocean in a world torn apart, not knowing what land was left to find and who was still out there.

The telltale prickle of magic shook Cidgeon from his thoughts. Cabanela’s eyes flashed open. Words of a spell came out monotonous and rapid.

“Stop!”

He clapped a hand over Cabanela’s mouth, grimacing at the anger and panic rising in his eyes. Well, better some extra temporary distress than the alternative. Cabanela struggled to pull away, fingers flexing and sparks dancing off the tips.  

“Cabanela, stop. You’ll drown us.”

Blank eyes met his, blinked and narrowed as recognition dawned. Cabanela relaxed. Cidgeon removed his hand.

“Professor…?”

“Try not frying our only mode of transportation.”

Cabanela sat up. “Sorry, I… was elsewhere.”

“I noticed,” Cidgeon said dryly. “Nightmares?”

“Suppooose.” A long pause and he spoke again, his voice low with a harsh edge. “I was with him.

Ah. He couldn’t say lightning bolts weren’t an entirely unreasonable response were they not in the middle of the ocean. Cabanela fell silent. Lovey-Dove fluttered onto his shoulder with a soft coo and he stroked her feathers absently while staring into the distance. He finally spoke again.

“Is it possible to remember anything from bein’ crowned?”

Cidgeon frowned worriedly at him. He’d hoped not. He knew only stories and rumours of some things, but others... “Briiiing in the boys from Tzen!” The Jester’s crowing still rang sharp and terrible in his memories with the nightmarish sight of mindless obedience and a rain of lightning. No, don’t let Cabanela remember that senseless slaughter.

“Do you remember something?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” Cabanela’s fingers stilled before resuming their stroking. Lovey-Dove nuzzled his jaw. “Maybe it’s everything throwin’ me for a loop. In Vector there were things that were so familiar, but I couldn’t say how. I’ve been havin’ dreams that feel real… feels like Tzen.”

“Have you been dreaming of Tzen again? It’s been a long time.”

“They’ve been comin’ baaack. And Maranda I think. I’ve heard the rumours and stories. I know I was used to torch the place.” His hand dropped from Lovey-Dove and he bowed his head with a pained grimace, fingers digging into his hair. “But I can’t quite…”

“You don’t need to,” Cidgeon said sharply. “The Slave Crown is ancient. I can’t say how much you should or shouldn’t be able to remember. I doubt those fools even fully understood what they had. Memories may remain in your subconscious, but those acts are on the Jester’s, Asbolus’s and Sith’s heads.” A figure masked and robed in white, ever present at the Jester’s side. He’d been right in front of him all along and he’d missed it. “That wasn’t you.” A silent slave with no will of his own: that wasn’t him.

“Maybe not,” Cabanela said after a pause. He turned dark eyes on Cidgeon. “I wasn’t lookin’ to see another city burn.”

“No,” Cidgeon agreed. What else could be said?

Lovey-Dove gave another coo of concern and traded Cabanela’s shoulder for her perch back among Cidgeon’s hair.

“It’s all right, old girl,” he muttered.

He reached for their supplies, pulled out two cups and cast a small-scale aqua rake into each, letting them fill with water.

“It’s not much,” he said passing one to Cabanela. “But heat that up. Something warm will do you some good.”

Cabanela cupped it close and a puff of steam arose shortly after. Cidgeon’s cup received the same treatment and he thought Cabanela would finish there. Instead he gripped Cidgeon’s shoulder for a moment and a wash of welcome warmth coursed through his clothing.

They sat in silence for a spell. It was only when Cabanela started to nod off only to jerk awake that Cidgeon spoke again.

“Get some sleep.”

“I’m fine. Few hours, riiight as rain, baby.”

“Yeah, sure, if it was a few hours,” Cidgeon countered. And not so consistently only a few and so scattered. “Look,” he continued, “I know you don’t like the idea, but a sleep spell tends toward a dreamless sleep. I can—.”

“I can’t say I neeeed more voids,” Cabanela said blithely.

“It’s not the same and you know it.”

“It’s close enough,” Cabanela snapped.

Cidgeon stared at him unperturbed. Fine, let him rant and rail; it was better than trying to bury it all under the thin and cracking veneer he’d been trying to uphold since he finally woke on the island.

“Three years.” Cabanela abruptly cut off with a deep breath, and instead fell silent once more while fixing a hard stare toward the horizon as if willing land to appear right then and there.

“You were helpless for three years,” Cidgeon said. Cabanela’s hands clenched. Two years enslaved, one a coma, all three empty. While he could see Cabanela’s hesitance, it wasn’t doing him a lick of good. Cidgeon plowed on. “And if you keep up like this you’ll be so again and then what do you think you’ll do when we do find land?”

“This is nothin’ I can’t handle.”

“I didn’t spend a year watching over you not knowing when or if you’d wake to let it happen again.”

“It won’t.”

“Exactly.”

“I…” Cabanela, grit his teeth, shuddered and drew inward. Tense. A wound up spring with nowhere to unwind.

Cidgeon found himself almost wishing they were back on the island. At least there Cabanela could leave and go vent some steam. Trapped on this small raft there was nowhere to go, leaving him with a Cabanela who was both overtired and restless—not a combination he relished or wished upon anyone.

“I won’t force it,” Cidgeon said.

“Nooo? And why should you when you can force my hand instead?”

Now Cidgeon felt first the seed of anger bloom. “Remember who you’re speaking to, boy, then you can tell me you’re ‘just fine’.”

Cabanela’s mouth twisted and the ocean received another angry glare. Cidgeon let the sullen silence stretch. He said his piece. It was up to Cabanela to make the next move. As expected it didn’t take long before he spoke again, tone low.

“Dad…”

Cidgeon sighed. It had been so rare to hear it. Now it had been, what, three times at least since he woke and it still gave him an odd sort of pang. Not… bad, but he wondered if he’d ever get used to hearing it.

“I’m sorry,” Cabanela said. “You’re right, I’m not at my best.”

Cidgeon snorted.

“You’re nothin’ like the doc or him.” Cabanela gave a wan smile. “Why manipulaaate when you can call someone three kinds of fool?”

“I wouldn’t have to if they didn’t prove themselves to be one.”

“Point taken, prof, point taken.” He leaned back on his hands, face drawn and eyes tired, but with a set in his shoulders that told Cidgeon he’d made up his mind. “This one time. Dooo it.”

Cidgeon shook his head. Fool, fool and more fool indeed. If he’d listened in the first place they wouldn’t have had to go through all this. Goddesses forbid simplicity.

“Lie back then.” Judging by his heavier lids and slower movements as Cabanela complied it wouldn’t take much to push him over the edge anyway.

When Cabanela was settled Lovey-Dove fluttered down to settle on his chest. She received another stroking and a small smile.

“Cooomfy there, ladybird?”

“Maybe you can keep him down,” Cidgeon said.

“Coo!”

“Wake me if something happens,” Cabanela directed at Cidgeon.

”You don’t have to tell me. Now get some sleep,” he said firmly and cast the spell.

Cabanela went slack as the spell took hold. Cidgeon eyed him. His stillness was uncomfortably reminiscent of the past year. Cidgeon never wanted a repeat of anything like that again, yet there was a certain appeal in the thought of him staying asleep until they found land. Trapped in a contained space with a man who needed things to do and didn’t have them was turning into its own special kind of trial as today’s fit of temper showed. Cidgeon let out a long sigh and looked away. Let him rest for however long this lasted. He was the most peaceful he had seen him in too long. Ridiculous man.

Just Lovey-Dove and the ocean for company now in a more welcome quiet. There was enough wind to take care of them for the time being, so he sat and let his thoughts drift with the waves, finding a different sort of rest there.

Three to four hours later by Cidgeon’s count Lovey-Dove took off from her perch on Cabanela to fly high circles above their raft. An excited chirp caught Cidgeon’s attention as she swooped back down.

“What is it, Lovey?”

 She flapped in place, shot forward a small distance then flew back.

Cidgeon squinted. His eyes were most definitely not what they used to be, but there was something in the distance. It was nothing more than a vast dark smudge on the horizon and there was a ways to go yet to reach it if reachable it was. Still, it was more than they’d seen thus far.

“Could be anything. Could be storm clouds for all we know. Let’s hope it’s something better, eh?”

“Coo!”

Lovey-Dove took her place back in Cidgeon’s hair with another cheery chirrup.

“We won’t wake him,” Cidgeon said, giving Lovey-Dove a small pat. “It’s not enough of anything to be ‘something’ yet.”

Not yet, but as the wind pushed them onward Cidgeon’s hope grew that this time Cabanela would wake to good news at last. They were going to make it.