I’ve known from the start that there’s some of the characters that don’t make it.
And they’re chattering long & hard, not only telling me Bloodied, but also what really went down in Shadowed.
I’ve adjusted this back to the "Journey" characters, since that’s what folks are used to; I think posting them as the real ones was too confusing. So…from the end of Bloodied:
“There is miodha all through the king,” Trevor said quietly. “His.”
“He,” Gareth snarled, “is fuadir. And Faol lies dead because of it!”
Pale, shaking, Jonathan was struggling against the men holding him, his gaze on Steve’s body, his mouth moving, no sound, as if choking. One of the guards backhanded him; Jonathan went to his knees, but lifted his head, staring from Steve to Neal, his eyes wild, panicking.
Ross couldn’t move, frozen in shock, grief.
“Faolán lies dead because of those,” Trevor nodded to the bloodied bolts, “and this man is no more fuadir than I. I see no crossbow on either of these men, Realm Guardian.”
Gareth moved swiftly, tore the front of Jonathan’s tunic open, baring the scars and the brand, ugly and livid even after months. “You deny the proof?”
“I deny what Donn did,” Trevor said. “This man is Ayoan, as I am. Not knowing of his Gift, untrained, unknowing, not even aware that such was possible, and overwhelmed by abuse and torture? The land can only act so far, Gareth, and all its tools have their breaking points.”
“You claim him of the land now.”
“No,” Trevor said. “I only claim him miodhach.”
“Then,” Gareth said, “we try him — again.”
Jonathan cried out, lunging against the hands holding him, was held fast.
“You fuckin’ bastards —” Neal fought, biting, snarling, and the club fell, caught him hard across the back; Neal sprawled in the dirt, spitting the words out, begging, pleading. “It wasn’t him — it wasn’t — it was all me — let him go —”
Oh god, Jay, no —
But Gareth gestured sharply at the men on Neal; they dragged him forward, pulled him to his knees. “We try them both. The land will judge this whole lie of theirs. The land will show the truth of the matter.” Gareth pulled his sword, laid the bare blade against Neal’s throat. “A death blow, here —”
Neal inhaled sharply, as the blade pressed in, his eyes tightly shut, visibly trembling.
“— let the fuadir heal that.”
“No!” It burst from Jonathan. “I — Steve —” His voice choked off.
What the hell? Ross stared. Something was wrong, something was very wrong, beyond the obvious. Jonathan was still fighting the guards, still acting as if he was trying to speak…
“When he fails,” Gareth paused, got visible control of himself, “then Faol’s killer is dead and the fuadir will be put to teind on the morn for complicity.”
“And when he succeeds?” Trevor said quietly.
Gareth’s voice was cold. “Then the matter is done.”
Ross was staring at Neal, at Jonathan, the thought despairing. Will the land even allow a cro-skradh to be healed?
Trevor knelt, studying Neal’s face; Neal was staring up at the sky, deathly white, not seeming to see anything around him. “The great vein only, Realm Guardian,” Trevor said calmly. “That will bleed him out swift enough. No miodhach can manage a beheading, and Jonathan is already drained from attempting the king.”
God…Jon’s innocent, no matter what Neal tried. Without Neal, we can’t get home. But Jon’s innocent…he’s… Then Ross went still, his breath short, his lips numb, as the next thought followed, relentless, clear…
…what his Majesty did for that protection you claim…
“Do not,” Gareth snapped, “ask mercy for them, Trevor.”
Trevor rose, to stare into Jonathan’s face. “I do not,” he said. “I only ask for reality, not the impossible.”
“It is already impossible,” Gareth said.
Somehow, Ross found his voice. “Stop.” Stepping out, away from the comfortable anonymity of the crowd, into the center — he couldn’t stop shaking, though his gaze was on Jonathan. Jonathan stared back, stricken, pale, as if he’d suddenly guessed…
“You have no say in this,” Gareth said.
He’s delaying, even he’s not sure. “I have every say.” Ross held Jonathan’s gaze for a long moment, then stared down at Neal. “I — I offer myself. In this man’s place.”
Silence, complete, total. Only the wind, the whispering of leaves, distant birdsong.
“Do you, now.” Gareth’s voice was flat, as if beyond anger.
“Faolán offered himself,” Ross said — god, how the hell can I sound so calm? — “He was to stand teind for me. Now I — I return that.” His voice broke; he swallowed, tried again. “My blood for his. My life for Faolán’s. Royal blood pays for royal blood.”
“And when you fall?”
Ross closed his eyes, breathed deep. He was shaking, cold, alone. “Then…then my death ends it. Full payment. For both of them.”
“No,” Neal breathed. “Ross, no.”
“You offer for two,” Gareth said. “You are only one.”
“I offer for a cro-skradh and one you call fuadir,” Ross said. “A prince’s life is worth more than theirs, I should think.”
Silence. “A prince,” Gareth said finally. “Then we will let the land judge the truth of that claim, as well.”
Someone shoved Ross from behind, pressure on his shoulders pushing him to his knees. Ross didn’t resist, kept his head up, his gaze fixed on Jonathan.
“Ross,” Jonathan said, his voice shaking, “don’t do this.”
…already drained from attempting the king…
Ross straightened. “I,” he said regally, “stand surety for my subjects.”
“Dammit, Ross, you’re not—”
“Jonathan.” Ross cut him off, firmly. Then, quieter, to Jonathan’s stricken face, “I trust you, Jay.”
He kept his gaze focused on Jonathan, saw Jonathan glance over at Steve’s body…then felt the cold metal against his neck, his pulse against the edge —
The slice, the sudden sharp pain, cold wet spreading —
Falling, endless falling…
a quick rough-translation glossary:
cro-skradh: one who uses blood-geas, magic drawn from death
fuadir: one rejected by the land, one from whom the land has withdrawn its gifts
teind: execution method favored by Kern; literal translation, "tithe". Implication is repayment to the land for the crimes.
Faol / Faolan: the true king of Kern, now dead — how Steve ended up in his place is told in "Severed Earth"
Trevor: the miodhach from the end of Severed Earth; Jonathan’s friend, teacher, and healer
Gareth: Kern’s Realm Guardian