Friday, January 25, 2008

Light (part four)

Aelph's grandson had grown rich and prosperous in the city near his homeland. Through adroit manipulation and steady progress through the bureaucracy of that place, he became the first advisor to the King's chancellor, himself known as the power behind the throne. Thus he was established when Jasmine came to his town.

She did not know where to look for him, as she had never expected that he would rise so high; but her unusual appearance, clothing worn paper-thin beneath her great cloak, quickly spawned rumors all around town - and Aelph's grandson made it his business to hear all the rumors. On a hunch, he arranged to meet her, and was overjoyed to meet his sister once more. Brother and sister alike scarcely recognized each-other, so were they changed by time and experience.

They talked into the twilight, Aelph's grandson feasting his sister on delicacies as they recounted the hardships and triumphs in the time that separated their last meeting from the present. Each hid somewhat of the truth. Aelph's grandson told nothing of the silver idol, the gift from his father, that he had sold to begin his journey; Jasmine said nothing of the living brother that Jasmine had abandoned to finish her journey. Then, slowly, the conversation petered out.

"Do you have them?" Aelph's grandson asked.

Jasmine swept aside dishes, placed each treasure upon the table. The ancient greatcloak, white-furred and magnificent even in its decrepitude. The steel-forged sword, long as a man's arm, nearly unmarred by nick or scratch. And the golden necklace, chain still severed from the blow that knocked it from the merchant prince's neck... but did not kill him.

"Is it over, then?" Aelph's grandson asked. "Can I return home to my father, and tell him that justice is served - my quest complete?"

Jasmine opened her mouth to speak. Then something caught her eye - a star, the first of the night. She looked at it, and its light, inexplicably, prompted in her a memory. She remembered the beggar on the streets of the distant city, tortured and worse for no reason but existing. And she remembered the crest on the uniforms of the horsemen that tortured the beggar - the crest of the merchant prince, Aelph's brother.

Jasmine closed her mouth. She lowered her head, ashamed of what she had nearly done. Then she apologized to her brother - apologized for the lie of omission she had told him. Now she told the truth - that the quest was not yet over, not while Aelph's last brother yet lived. She told of the inhumanities that his minions callously perpetrated, and vowed that she would not again forsake her duty - that, in the morning, she would return to the city where that prince made his residence, and finish the task she had begun. Then, tears in her eyes, she looked at her brother again, and apologized for destroying his faith in her. She rose from the table.

Her brother shouted, urging her back. Tears were in his eyes, too. With a hoarse throat, he told her that he, too, had lied - had kept the silver idol for himself, and used it for his own gain. He had justified it to himself before, he explained - why would Jasmine need such wealth for her task? - but, seeing her ragged and thin, his guilt plagued him. Yet it was only Jasmine's own confession that prompted his.

Both siblings were silent a moment, absorbing the revelations each had given the other. Then Jasmine's brother spoke again. He would help Jasmine, he said - with his position and personal wealth, he would give her new clothes, food, supplies. There was some trade between this city and that of the merchant prince - Jasmine's brother would arrange a trade mission, with Jasmine at its head. Rather than climbing over broken glass to gain entry, Jasmine would simply walk in; rather than hiding in the rafters, Jasmine would walk up to Aelph's middle brother, face-to-face.

The merchant prince squinted as Jasmine walked up, wearing great finery and surrounded by her own guards. The cloak and gold necklace were with Jasmine's brother, in the far city. As Jasmine approached within feet, her hand moving towards her sword, the merchant prince's face cleared as he recognized her. Jasmine drew her sword and charged as her quarry fled, screaming to his guards. The guards clashed with Jasmine's, and Jasmine chased Aelph's brother alone, finally cornering him in a small garden near the rear of the palace.

Aelph's middle brother begged for mercy. Jasmine offered none.

In his last moments, as the starlight shone down brightly on him, Aelph's brother whispered, "...I always envied his wit..."

Months later, Aelph's grandson formally returned the three treasures to his father, bodyguards lurking discreetly in the background. As his father, smiling broadly, began the manhood ceremony, Jasmine visited her family - so long abandoned. They asked questions - where were you, why did you leave? She answered none, but only asked questions of her own. She admired newborn siblings, praised her younger sister's growth (and slipped her a note, with a finger to her lips), and then, as the manhood ceremony reached its conclusion, Jasmine quietly vanished.

And that is her happy ending.

1 comment:

King Kessler said...

Redemption and victory in the same story! woo