Donovan swooped down to a perfect two-point landing in a clearing not far from the village of Jayanama. He was still careful to keep his forays into the skies reasonably private. No reason to alarm the locals, and he was an old hand at keeping his activities discreet.
He took off the flight helmet, a gift from Marcus. It wasn't like he really needed it; he'd discovered that he somehow generated an invisible field that acted like a windshield when he flew. Still, there was such a thing as style. He'd been toying with the idea of seeing if the village leather-worker could put together a jacket. That and a silk scarf and he'd have the image down pat. He grinned to himself at the thought
"How is it you can do that?"
Donovan made a manly, valiant, yet not entirely successful attempt at not jumping out of his skin. He spun to see Captain Jiranee standing there calmly regarding him, dressed in boots of soft leather, close-fitting thick woolen hose, and her padded arming jacket. One hand rested easily on the hilt of her sword, while the other was curled under her pointed chin.
Regaining his composure, Donovan asked politely, "Uh, do what?"
"Take to the air as you do," she said, nodding in Donovan's direction. "I've seen many strange things over the seasons, but never anything like this. Is this power common among your people?"
Donovan chuckled, "Not outside of a Hollywood studio, no."
At Jiranee's blank look, he sighed and added, "No, we have tales of people flying, but they're just stories. It's not something people do where we're from." He frowned as the thought struck him. "Wait," he asked incredulously, "You've never seen someone fly before? In, what, two centuries?"
"Ahhh...." Donovan did the math in his head. "Five... six hundred seasons." He waved his hand. "Never mind."
Tucking his helmet under one arm, he stroked his own chin in thought. "I only started being able to do it after being here for a while, so I figured maybe it was something about this place..." He looked at Jiranee, still frowning. "There aren't any stories of outlanders displaying extraordinary abilities? None at all?"
Jiranee shrugged. "Once, when I was young, I traveled to the great ocean. Along the way I saw a man who had no legs, just the body of a great snake. I saw a beast with a forest of spines on its back, men with horns on their heads, and the fishermen showed me a set of jaws I could stand erect in."
She dropped her hand from her chin and made an all-encompassing gesture. "The world is a large and strange place. And yes, I've heard stories... of a man who could become flame at will, or another who bore a sword of light, and of a woman who was made of metal. Do you wish to hear more? Some, I assure you, are mere lies."
Donovan grinned. "You're most likely right. Then again, if I were to tell people back home I met a seven-foot-tall stacked elf, they'd call me a liar or just plain crazy."
He continued in a more serious tone, "My friends and I have changed since we arrived here, and I don't mean in the expected way. BJ's become a one-man army, Edward's turning into... God knows what. I can fly... Heck, Jonathan sure as hell didn't look like a Disney cartoon before he came here. I can't help but think there's something behind it, that it isn't an accident."
He eyed the imposing figure before him. "You yourself are an anomaly. Did it ever occur to you that you may actually not be from around here? That somewhere, there are more like you and that's where you came from?"
There was a long moment where Captain Jiranee stood silently. Then she shook her head and took a few steps before leaning on the trunk of a fallen tree. "You are like Master Edward. At times I do not understand his words at all.... or yours. But to answer your question, I was found by my parents as an infant, alone in their croft. I used to wonder how I got there, and I was originally from. For yes, I am an anomaly, and have never seen anyone exactly like me in all my seasons."
Donovan paused as the implications of her statement struck him. "You must have had a lonely life," he said softly.
The tall elf glanced at her feet upon hearing Donovan's words. She was quiet, as if mulling over her thoughts. "Lonely how, Master Donovan? I've had many friends and boon companions... and even lovers in my time. And as I said, the land is a strange place. Perhaps people who appear as I do dwell here somewhere... it's just I've never seen them."
Donovan sighed and rubbed his sweat-slicked hair as he worked out his next words. "I happen to be familiar with how people treat you when you're..." he waved his hand vaguely, "different. I'm guessing there's a part of you that still feels... isolated. And alone." He gave the elf a sympathetic look. "And I find it hard to believe that if your people are a part of this world that you haven't tried to search for them."
"I have my duties to the King," she replied, perhaps a little too quickly. "But... I have asked. Virava sees many trade caravans and one can learn much from talking to them."
Donovan looked at Jiranee steadily. He realized he could be stepping into dangerous territory, but that hadn't stopped him before."Are you happy?" he asked gently. "Being the King's Justice, I mean. Is this," he gestured toward her, "what you wanted to become?"
“It is more than I dreamed.” Jiranee indicated Jayanama with a wave of her hand. “I’d once thought my life would be one of cows and corn, with pigs and peas thrown in for variety. But chance brought me to the attention of King (XXX) who asked me to his court. Once there, I was offered the chance to be made a page, then a squire. My parents could no longer truly run the farm, so I agreed, and was able to provide for them as they had for me.” She paused and her arm dropped as she looked back at her feet. “But I’ve outlived all I knew, so now I live not for the King, but for Virava. I am her protector, her servant, her flower.”
"That sounds... great for you," Donovan offered hesitantly, then pushed gently. "But it doesn't quite answer the question. Are you happy?"
"I... I thought I was. Why do you ask me such questions, Master Donovan? What is it you see that I do not?"
Donovan walked over to also lean against a trunk to give himself a few seconds to ponder his next steps in the conversational minefield. "I've... known people," he began, "who... see themselves only as others see them. Who define their lives based one everyone else's expectations because they've never been able to... look within themselves and find who they are and what they want."
He quickly held up his hand to forestall an immediate response. "I'm not saying that description fits you, necessarily. It's just that I've noticed that you seem... detached. As if what's going on and what you need to do is not what 's preoccupying you. Like you're just... going through the paces because you don't have anything better to do." Donovan pushed off the tree as he realized where his talk was taking him. "I'm probably just totally misreading the situation and insulting you in the process. I'm sorry," he sincerely apologized.
"No... you're correct." Jiranee spoke slowly, her long silvery hair hiding her downturned face. "My mind is not always fully on the task at hand... and... I have many things to consider before I return to Virava."
Donovan approached the elf carefully, making sure to stay out of her personal space. "Jiranee," he said softly, "Take it from someone who knows. You can spend your life being only what others expect you to be. It's just not going to be a very enjoyable life. He made one small step closer. "It's all right to think about yourself first, at least once in a while. Be who you want to be."
"Who I want to be?" Jiranee interrupted. "Master Donovan, as I said, I have much to think about ere my return to Virava. The most important being what it means to serve Virava and to what extent I will go to see her safe. For I have...." She stopped suddenly and turned away.
Donovan realized he'd stumbled unto something and spoke in the same gentle tone as before to her back. "Jiranee, I'm guessing there aren't many people you get to talk to freely. All I can say is, I have no loyalties here, except to my friends and boon companions. I have no place to judge from and no personal agenda to pursue. If you really don't want to talk about it, I'll respect that. But it looks like this is something you need to get off your, ah, chest and if not me, who?"
Still with her back to him, she spoke. "Virava is not what it was. It has fallen into despair. My council is unwanted and unheeded at court. The king listens only to those who tell him what he wants to hear. I am not banished from the court, but I am unwanted there and spend much of my time on campaign." She turned back to him, indicating Jayanama with a gesture, "Did you not think it odd that only one knight of the realm would stand against a host of bandits? But the king fears war from the plains, fears this warlord Conan, and in his fear has become close-minded." Sinking back against the tree trunk, Jiranee bowed her head, "And like a coward I stay away and do nothing."
"Woah, that's heavy," Donovan mused. He rubbed his head as he sympathized. "Yeah, it sucks when your commanding officer's acting like a moron and you can't exactly tell him where to stick it. Been there, done that."
He looked at Jiranee. "If there's one thing I can tell, m'lady, is that you are not a coward. Your mind is in conflict, between your sense of duty and your sense of right. It's not an easy path to navigate, nor one whose destination is quickly reached. I can't tell you which way is right, but it's definitely something you'll need to look into yourself to figure out."The words were out of his mouth before his brain could catch up with them. "Whatever your decision, my friends and I will support you."
He winced inwardly. You gotta stop doing that, you damn idiot, he could hear a voice berating in his head.
"You would support a regicide?"
Donovan cracked a roguish grin. "Hey, he's not my king."
Realizing what he'd just said, he quickly shifted to a more serious mien. "I'd hope there'd be something we could do before we got to that point." He paused. "But if that is what you feel is the best solution, I trust your judgment."
"But he is my king. Tell me, Master Donovan, have you ever faced such as decision? One that may force you to act against all you have held dear?"
Donovan's face settled into a neutral expression. His earlier words came back to haunt him. He had no reason to worry that Jiranee would judge him for his past, but a lifetime habit is hard to break. He carefully chose his words.
"I was once forced to choose between losing my life's dream and betraying a truth. I'm not sure if that matches. But I'll tell you something that might help. You have a sworn duty to serve the King. But, is your duty to the Crown, or to the man who wears it? If the king does not honor the duties he has as ruler, is he then no longer true to the office he holds?"
He looked own for a second, then back up to face Jiranee. "In our military, there is a well-established chain of command. But every officer knows he has the right and responsibility to refuse an order that runs counter to the principles that we've sworn to uphold. Regardless of the cost."
"My duty is to Virava. But I have made oaths, and to act against them...." She shook her head. "It is not something to be taken lightly. But...." And here she looked thoughtful, almost contemplative. "Perhaps you will understand more once we arrive in Virava."
Donovan nodded respectfully. "The fact that you do not take these matters lightly is proof or your integrity." He offered his hand and said in a formal voice, "No matter what happens, I am honored to have met you and to stand at your side."
Her hand was rough, with the callouses of a swordsman, but her grip was firm. "And am I honored to have met you, Master Donovan, and your companions."
Wanting to somehow break the mood the conversation had strayed to, Donovan cocked his head to look at the elf with a speculative eye. "I wonder, m'lady, have you ever wished to feel what it's like to fly?"
Her reply was to cock her head and arch one eyebrow, reminding Donovan of Mister Spock, before glancing up.
Donovan gave Jiranee his best boyish grin, shifted his grip on her hand so it was if now inviting her to dance, and then gave a slight bow. "If I may be allowed the honor?"
She bowed in return. "You may."
Donovan moved closer, rising slowly to be at eye-level with the statuesque elf and wrapping an arm around her to hold her close. He instructed her to hold tight herself.
"There's something I like to say at a moment like this," he informed her, then said a phrase.
Jiranee repeated the words in slight confusion, the last syllable stretched into a cry of surprise as they shot up into the sky.
"Up, up and awayYYYYYyyyyy...?!?"
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