Chapter Four:

Lightening. Scars. Potatoes.


The fire had long ago turned to ash. I was sitting up in bed, holding the blanket to my chest. Rain pattered softly outside, mingling the scent of wet grass and ash together. My eyes roved the grey-lit room. St. John was not in the house.

My pack was near the side of the bed. I hoisted it up onto the bed and went through it. Nothing was missing. I pulled out a pair of trousers and a blue shirt with billowing sleeves. I held the shirt up in the light. It was one of my better blouses, something I would wear to a town meeting. The fabric had a silky greenish sheen to it, with little dark blue butterflies trailing along the collar. Why in the world had I grabbed this?

I shrugged, dropped it back onto the bed, and reached behind me for the zipper of the dress I was in. After fumbling blindly for a few seconds, and only swearing once or twice, I had the infuriating little piece of metal between my fingers and pulled it down. The dress slid from my body and crumpled to the floor in a pile around my feet.

I put the shirt on first, then pulled on my trousers and tucked the shirt in. My boots were by the door, and my jacket hung on a peg next to St. John's. I put on the boots and jacket, which reached to mid-thigh, and opened the door.

Birds were swooping under the eaves of the trees, chattering in outrage about their wet nests. Thunder crashed somewhere down in the valley. The world was full of swirling gusts of mist.

I no longer felt sick; in fact, if anyone were to ask me the last time I was ill, I would have said months ago. Energy seemed to be coiling inside me, and I was anxious to expend some of it.

Cooing and clucking emanated from inside the chicken coup as I walked by. Detta and St. John's gray gelding were standing beneath a lopsided shed. They stared at my approach, then looked away, chewing and flicking their tails. I offered my hands for the horses to smell. Both did, tickling me with their whiskers. I patted Detta's neck and looked her over. There was a small cut on her back left leg. It didn't feel too hot, so I moved on to her ankles and hooves. Her feet had been picked. It looked like she had been groomed too. The gray gelding was in similar good order.

St. John had been taking care of them.

I peeked around the outside of the shed. Where were those goats?

I walked out of the shed and out from beneath the trees. Black and silver clouds streamed by overhead, looking angry and bloated. Lightening arced in a bolt across the length of the valley. The thunder rattled my teeth.

I had been holding my breath. I let it go with a whoosh, shielding my eyes from the now-lashing rain. I pulled my coat tighter around me and set off down the hill.

Careful not to slip in the grass, I scanned the ground looking for movement. The further I went from St. John's house, the more sparse the grass became. The dirt went from a rich brown to a dull, loamy sand. Water ran in rivulets.

Lightening flashed again, and almost instantly thunder boomed. It was getting closer. As the crashing sound died away, I thought I heard a very goat-like noise. I squinted, looking for movement.

There! I stumbled forward, towards where one of the goats was bucking and straining against a lead. As I got closer I could see how frantic is was, the whites of its eyes bulging.

"Hey now," I said as loudly, and gently, as I could. I put my hands out. "Here now little goat, it's okay. Let's get you inside."

I was ten feet from it when I saw a much bigger shape move forward, leaning over a hole in the ground.

The goat started kicking, and I could see the lead line jump wildly in the air. My eyes followed the line, where it ended around the figures ankle. He had tied himself to the goat.

Why?

"St. John!" I shouted, over the din of the storm. I lurched forward and fell to my knees beside him.

St. John looked at me for only a second before his eyes darted back to the hole. I looked too.

The other goat was at the bottom. Muddy water was sloshing around it's neck, and was quickly rising.

"Get back to the house!" St. John yelled. The hole was at least six feet deep.

"Give me the rope!"

I turned around and yanked on the rope, bringing the bellowing goat tied to the line closer. It screamed, but I ignored its cries and shoved it into St. John's arms. He held the wriggling animal and watched as I quickly undid the knot. Once free, I pulled the rope around my waist and tied it.

Understanding dawned in his eyes as lighting flashed again.

"No!" He yelled, trying to grab the rope around my waist. I leaned back, out of his reach, and began crawling towards the hole.

"No!" St. John was on his knees, crawling towards me. "Stop!" He was pulling that poor goat along behind him, one arm wrapped around its neck.

Thunder crashed. "Get ready to pull!" I went over the edge.

The slide down was faster than I expected. It took my breath away. I spread my feet wide, trying to slow the descent and spare the goat from being the landing pad. The animal was trying to paw her way out of the hole, but her hooves gave no purchase and instead she slid back down into the water.

The rope jerked me to a halt and stole my breath. I looked angrily up at St. John, but he was just a dark profile now. The tension suddenly lessened, and I was lowered further down. I reached out my arms and flailed until my fingers caught one little goat horn. I bent forward, feeling the rope dig into my stomach, and grabbed the goat's front legs.

"Pull!" I screamed.

For a few gut wrenching seconds I didn't feel anything, but then the line caught and I was drawn upwards, one lurching couple of inches at a time. The goat squirmed in my arms, but I clenched her little body to my chest and held her.

St. John grabbed my collar and hoisted me over the edge of the hole, onto my back. I looked up at him, his hair plastered to his muddy face. I smiled at him before he disappeared from my vision.

I rolled over, onto my knees. St. John was in the process of getting both wet, muddy goats under his arms. He looked at me, then at top of the hill. I nodded and tottered to my feet.

I ran up the hill after him, trying not to slip and fall on my face. The lead whipped out behind me, still tied around my waist. Wind nipped at my heels as I splashed up the hillside.


St. John and I piled into his house, both tripping over the hearth. I landed on outstretched hands, but St. John wasn't so lucky. Since he was holding both goats, he didn't have time to put his arms out and instead landed on his face.

I kicked the door closed, panting. We were lucky not to get caught in a flash flood.

The goats, now free of their master's arms, had huddled into the corned by the fireplace, shivering and blinking.

St. John was sitting on the floor, rubbing his forehead.

"You okay?"

He gave me a dark look. I ignored him as I untied the line and slipped it from around my waist. My sides felt bruised and raw from were the rope had ground against my clothing.

"Well, you're welcome," I said, getting to my feet.
St. John ignored me and looked at the fireplace. Wood slid along the floor, one log at a time. I stared as they flipped over and landed with a puff of ash in the fireplace. A few moments later, a warm orange glow blinked into existence and then the logs caught. Within seconds a fire was going.

"How did yo-"

"That was not necessary." St. John said, pulling off his cloak. He was soaking wet underneath, too. He didn't seem alarmed that the fireplace had just started itself.

I was still staring at the fire. Had he really just started it...from across the room?

I turned my glance to him; his thunderous expression and angry eyes.

I pointed numbly at the fire. "How-"

St. John shook his head and yanked off his boots, standing on one leg at a time to do so.

I looked at my own hands, thinking of the time I had lit the fire in the Trampling Goldfish by...yelling at it?

"St. John-"

He turned from where he stood, next to the crackling fireplace, hanging his wet cloak near the heat.

His gray eyes glinted like steel.

"What?" I said dumbly.

"That was not necessary," He repeated, as if this explained everything.

"What wasn't necessary?" I was vaguely aware that I was dripping water everywhere.

St. John gestured angrily at the goats, who were snuffling at the floor, oblivious.

"I could have gotten her out. You didn't need to go gallantly down that hole! I had it under control!"

I bristled. "You looked like you were going to cry out there! That hole was too big; someone had to go down there, or she would have drown!"

"No," he said, taking a step towards me. "I was about to pull her out before you decided you know how to do everything!"

"What!?" I threw up my hands. "How! The other goat would have gotten away without another pair of hands. Why don't you just accept that you needed help! It's not that hard!"
"Because," he said, his voice clipped and terse. "I didn't need it."

Suddenly it clicked. If St. John was able to drag firewood across the floor with his...his mind...maybe he could move other things, too.

Now I didn't feel so sure he had needed help. "So you're saying that-"

He cut me off with a nod, and then he turned his back and started angrily going through a little cupboard by the bed. I stood by the door, not sure what to do with myself. I was a little scared by the confrontation, and my legs itched with the need to walk away from the fuming St. John.

I opened the door a crack and looked outside. It was still pouring rain. Droplets splattered my face, so I closed the door and sighed. St. John was looking at me.

"Take your clothes off."

I blinked. "Excuse me?"

St. John rolled his eyes. "You're going to get sick again if you don't get out of those wet clothes."

"Oh. Okay."

I walked nearer to the fire, and St. John moved out of the way for me. He sat down on the bed, watching me. I stared back, fingers frozen around the clasp of my coat.

"What?" He said.

"Can you, er, turn around?"

He shifted on the bed until his back was to me, his face to the wall. I cautiously undid my coat and laid it on the floor, in front of the merry little fire. I stole a glance at St. John before unbuttoning my shirt and laying it beside my coat. I looked around, remembering that I didn't have any dry clothing except for that scratchy green dress.

"The chest." St. John said.

"The what?"

His back still to me, St. John lifted his arm and pointed at the chest near the door.

"Oh. Right."

I went to the chest as goosebumps rose all along my skin. He could have told me earlier, before I got down to my skivvies. I tipped the lid back and rummaged through the piles of clothing.

"They're all your shirts." I complained.

"So wear one."

Oh. Well, alright. I pulled out a faded blue shirt with white buttons and pulled it over my head. The bottom skirted the middle of my thighs. The fabric smelled of herbs that people sometimes used to ward away moths.

"Thanks."

He grunted in acknowledgment and slid off of the bed. He paused when he realized I didn't yet have pants on, then quickly looked away. I should have been mortified, but he didn't have the slimy, reptilian gaze that most men had. Besides, he had taken off my clothing before, and put that dress on me. His look had been respectful and slightly embarrassed.

I tried not to gasp as St. John took his shirt off and went to the fire, to lay his shirt next to my own. His body was beautiful, though I couldn't say I had seen many naked torsos to compare his with. When he knelt down to straighten out the creases of the shirt, the glow from the fire cast a trio of scars into relief. They were clearly old, and ran in parallel lines from his left shoulder blade to right hip. His blond hair hung around his face as it started to dry. I tore my eyes away, feeling myself go red.

I pulled on a pair of tan trousers extracted from the trunk and then dug back in.

"Any preference?" I said, digging through the clothing.

"No."

I gave him a green shirt and pair of trousers and then sat on the bed, facing the wall as he changed.

"I'm sorry," he said, after the rustle of clothing died down.

I turned around and looked at him. He had the pot over the fire, and was adding water from a pitcher to it.

"It's okay." I answered. "I didn't know you could...well. I didn't know you could handle it on your own."

St. John shook his head.

"You were trying to help. I appreciate it." He looked at the goats, who had laid down on top of one another and gone to sleep. "I've had each of them since they were babies."

I nodded. I understood. When I was eight years old, I had found a baby rabbit trapped in the barn. After many, many scratches I caught him and raised him in a hutch my father built for him. His name was Prince Mimo. He died a few years later, when a flood rushed through Iverwilde and knocked the hutch over in a puddle, drowning him. It had hurt to see him dead, and I cried for days.

The fire crackled and popped, licking the bottom of the black pot with its orange tongue.

"So how could you have gotten her-"

"Jezebel."

"What?"

"Her name is Jezebel. The white one is Lucy."

"Oh. Right." I looked at the sleeping goats and then back at St. John, who had a bag of herbs in his hand.

"But how-"

"Isn't it obvious, Dexter?" He said in a slightly exasperated tone. He looked at the fire, as if to further drive home his point.

"Alright, so you have magic."

There. I said it. Was he going to kill me now, since I knew?

"Yes, I do."

"And you trust me enough to let me see it?"

St. John turned to me then, his gunmetal eyes boring into mine.

"I don't think you will turn me in." And with that he turned back to his work, grabbing a potato and a knife.

"No," I said after a moment. "No, I won't. Though based on what Corland was saying, you're worth a lot to the empire."
St. John stiffened. The knife sliced deep into the potato, gouging it.

"Sorry," I offered. "Didn't mean to strike a cord."

He resumed peeling the potato. Without taking his eyes from it, he said:
"Magic is dead. Or very nearly dead. Anyone born with it nowadays is either killed or thrown in prison or worse."
"What's worse?"

"Being a Pet."

"A pet?"

St. John tossed the potato into the pot and picked up another one, taking a deep breath.

"Have you ever been to New Tempest, Dexter?"

"No." It was true. I had never been to the capitol, to the crown city. That's where the Queen and her advisors lived, along with the sitting generals and the merchants and so forth. It was a huge, sprawling city.

"No? Well, I was born there. When I was a little kid, I used to go into the square on Saturdays. Most every child had to. If you didn't go, your parents were fined." He picked up a carrot and began slicing it into little round chunks. "Saturday was when they held the executions."

I had unconsciously pulled a blanket around me. I unclenched my hands from the fabric and felt blood rushing back into them. Rain still pattered outside.

"The execution started when the sun was highest in the sky. A line of prisoners, both men and women, were filed in from the dungeon. They all stank horribly, and many people drew back from them and said awful things and spit on them. All of the men had long, tangled beards. The womens' dresses were torn. All of them had shackles on their left ankles that drained their magic.

"The women were led up first, and forced to go down on their hands and knees, like dogs. The men were filed in after them, and had to stand behind them, as if ready to mount. The crowd was encouraged to jeer and spit. And they did. They always did."

St. John had stopped moving his hands. He was looking down at the knife, his eyes swimming with memories.

"One of the Queen's advisers would walk up the stairs and onto the dais. Behind him would be another filthy person, this one with a collar around their neck and a chain running from it into the adviser's hand. The people in the collars, different each week, always looked the most afraid; the most crazed. The other prisoners looked exhausted and wilted, like their spirits had already fled their bodies.

"The adviser would unfurl a scroll and read the offenses of the people on the dais. They were always the same; using magic, in some form or another, to deteriorate the safety and integrity of the Queen's domain.

"This done, the adviser would whisper in the collared person's ear and point to the first prisoner in the line. It always happened like this. The filthy thing in the collar would nod vigorously and close his eyes, raise his arms, and a concussion would rent the air. The first prisoner would burst into a mist of bone and blood and gristle, splattering the crowd and the other prisoners. The thing in the collar would work it's way down the line, listening to the adviser who whispered into his ear after each death. He would kill them all, and once he was finished he would get down on his knees and stretch out his neck. The adviser would draw his sword and behead the thing in the collar, to demonstrate to the people that magic could be killed with steel. That it had to be.

"The collared things, they're called Pets. They are tortured until they will do anything, anything, for their queen." St. John looked at me. His eyes were haunted. "That, Dexter, is the worse thing that can happen to someone with magic."

I blinked and took a breath, unable to form words. I had known, heard once or twice, that there were public executions in New Tempest of people with magic. Had even heard, though not with such grisly detail, that people with magic were made to do it. But I thought it was just idle rumor, or lies used to scare people. I was now convinced that it was true by the look of horror and disgust lingering on St. John's face.

"St. John, I'm so sorry. I would never do that to you."

St. John said nothing, merely turning over the knife in his hands. No wonder he lived alone. How could he trust anyone with his secret? But it wasn't really a secret, was it? Half the country side was enthralled by legends of the mage, the lost prince, the hero St. John. Did he perpetuate it, or was the legend something completely out of his hands? I knew now was not the time to ask.

I stood up and took the knife from his hands. There was a pail beside the fireplace, filled with vegetables from what I assumed to be a garden I had yet to see. I took a carrot from it and got to work.

St. John was staring at the wall.

"I'm sorry. I don't know why I told you all of that." He said in a distant voice.

I gave him a meaningful look. "Don't apologize. Sometimes you just need to get things off your chest. It helps your brain process things. You'll feel better in a little while, you'll see. Why don't you sit down?"

St. John sat down on the bed and almost immediately started reading Coromitus and the Frogs. I peeled various vegetables, glancing at St. John every so often. He was completely absorbed in the book.

I wiped my hands on my—or his, rather- trousers and sat down beside him.

"What other books do you like?"

St. John didn't look at me, but thumbed the dog-eared pages of the little red novel.

"Well," I began, listening to the sound of distant thunder. "Besides Coromitus, I've always loved The Princess and the Crow. And The Goblet of Ruin. The Goblet is a bit melancholic, but very good."

St. John rubbed a hand along his jaw. "I've never read those ones."

"Well then, I'll just have to let you borrow them." I gestured at the destroyed corner of one of the pages of his book. It must have been creased as a book marker countless times. "But I must warn you, if my books come back to me in that condition, I will be forced to beat you with them."

St. John looked at me out of the corner of his eye. I shrugged.

"That's the rule. I'd say it's pretty reasonable, wouldn't you?"

"I guess so," St. John said dubiously.

I nodded. "Well good then, it's settled. I've got them in the bottom of my trunk. Once I get home..." I trailed off.

Home. Oh God. Here I'd been gallivanting in the countryside with someone many thought didn't exist while my father wasted away. He could already be dead...

"Dexter, what's the matter?"

I touched my fingers to my lips. What if he had called for me, in his last moments of life? How could I have been so stupid, to come running out here looking for revenge when my family needed me in Iverwilde?

"I need to go home." I said distantly.

"Now?" St. John asked, puzzlement in his voice. "Those books can wait, you know-"

"No!" I jolted off of the bed and lurched for my jacket. It was still wet.

"Dexter," St. John was off of the bed, coming towards me. "What's the matter?" He caught me as I spun towards the door. I tried to tug away, but his grip was strong.

"You don't understand! I'm a fool for coming out here."

St. John looked hurt. He recoiled slightly.

"What do you mean?"

I was jumbling my words. "No no," I said. "I'm glad to have spent time with you. I'm eternally grateful that you saved me. But I didn't come out here to find you."

"But you called me. I heard you."

"I came to find Crane, he—What? You heard me?"

St. John nodded, regarding me like I might be slightly crazed. Maybe I was.

"You," he pointed at my chest. "Called me." He pointed at his own chest, as if this made perfect sense. "I heard you."

My panic was momentarily doused.

"I'm not following you."

"It's something people with magic can do. If the need is great enough, they can call to one another. You don't know about that?"

I shook my head furiously.

"I don't have magic." I said resolutely.

St. John narrowed his eyes.

"Are you saying you didn't call me?"

"No, I mean, yes, I did. Sort of. But not like that. I don't have magic, and I don't have time for this. I need to get back."

"Back to what, Dexter? What in bloody blue blazes are you talking about?"

"Crane. Rektus Crane raided Iverwilde. He killed a lot of people, and my father was shot. I came out here because—because I, I needed to find Crane and-"

"And what?"

I sighed, accepting my foolish mistake.

"Kill him."

"Sit down," St. John commanded. I did, feeling awash with shame and embarrassment. What did my father think, once he realized I had abandoned him? That I fled? I left Uncle Mic alone.

"Dexter, stop thinking like that."

"How do you know what I'm thinking!" I snapped.

St. John didn't blink. "You're sending off emotive waves like a sandstorm."

"Emotive what?"

St. John shook his head. "Never mind." He stirred the pot around and pulled out his trusty bowl once again. "Before you go running off into the desert in my clothes, you can at least eat something."

"I'm not hungry," I lied.

St. John gave me a level stare. "Your stomach has been growling for the last 45 minutes."

I gritted my teeth. St. John shoved the bowl into my hands.

"Eat it."

"If I eat it will you stop pestering me?"

"Possibly."

I shook my head and ate the soup as quickly as I could. My stomach started undulating in anxious waves, and when I was about three quarters of the way through the bowl I handed it back to him.

He shrugged and ladled more soup into the bowl, and then ate with relish.

"St. John, I have to go back. It's important. There's no telling what Corland has been up to since the raid. On top of that, my father could be dead."

St. John said nothing as he chewed. His eyes reflected the warm glow of the fire, the flickering crackle of flames.

"I won't stop you." He said finally.

I glanced at my hands. "Good."

"But I would prefer if you at least stayed until morning. It's too dangerous to go out now. It's dark and it's raining. Those circumstances haven't boded well for you in the past."

I cringed, thinking back on my reckless charge through the desert two (or was it three?) days ago.

"That makes sense, I suppose." I paused for a moment. "Would you come and sit by me, St. John?"

St. John seemed thrown by my request.

"Why?"

I looked up at him, at his wide gray eyes and set jaw.

"Because I really need a friend right now."

St. John sat beside me. He drew up his knees, rested the little red book on them, and began to read aloud. His voice was smooth, the words as familiar as breathing.

"Coromitus was a boy who wanted to be King. Because he was a young man of considerable resolve, the question then transformed from could he be King, to how was he to become King? First, he had to find himself a Kingdom, and perhaps even a Queen to rule by his side..."

TO BE CONTINUED...


A/N: Dang! Sorry for the wait. Life has been starts and stops lately, and it has taken me time to collect my thoughts. This isn't a very action-y chapter, but hey, at least the goat made it!

I'll be honest with you guys though, I'm always terrified that if I don't include violence/action/sex (oh my!) every couple thousand words, that people will get bored and stop reading. That's kind of assuming readers are shallow though, and you guys certainly are not. The people I've generally come in contact with on FP have been thoughtful and intelligent, especially those who have been reading (very patiently) all the crap I've posted. (I LOVE YOU GUYS!)

So I'll let you guys be the judge. Do you think this chapter was too slow, or do you like slow-pace 'character building' chapters, as I like to call them? I tend to like lots of dialog and explanations etc, but I'm not sure about everyone else. Please leave me a review, telling me what you think, what you like, and what you don't like. I ALREADY LOVE YOU FOREVER THOUGH!

RandomActs: Haha Yes I have to agree with you on all counts. Firstly, Dexter should give Louis a chance, as he really is a very fine fellow. But Dexter had other things on her mind, so I can't really blame her. And St. John is kind of an 'animal whisperer'...oh man. I just put a mental image of that Cesar guy in my mind. *slaps forehead*

That One Dork Stacey: Yay! :) I love seeing reviews from you, and I'm glad you're enjoying this story. I'm also glad you made a profile! *favorites you*

Marxist Park: Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. And yes, it was sort of a poorly executed homage to childhood stories. :D

Della Rose: I don't even know why I bother trying to breathe when I read your reviews. All I do is this wierd so of wheeze/laugh, like crying and choking on joy all at the same time. *sigh* You just have that affect on me! And Della is spelled suspiciously like Detta. I think my subconscious was trying to tell me something. No, not that you smell like a horse. More that you are a trustworthy, oddly expressive sort of creature. -that was meant to be a compliment. There's one in there somewhere! WHERE THE WILDS THINGS ARE WAS MY FAVORITE BOOK! I think they ('they' being those shady, suit-clad corporate movie executives) are making a movie out of it! I'm not sure how I feel about that. :/

Said Author: Haha that would be surpemely confusing. Someone should write a story where everyone has the same name, though I'm not sure how many readers could wade through that. Maybe a super short story or something. Yeah, sumpin like dat.

Well I love you all, and hope you are having fabulous summers!