Chapter eleven

An empty house

††††††

†††††† Ciaran Morgan leant on the old stone bridge, and told himself that life was good. He was home again, back in Greenslade, where the people had rosy cheeks and were never savage or strange. His staff was in his hand once more, and there was no enchantment anywhere, just the Shadow that he had always known.

†††††† "Ah yes." He gave a contented sigh. "It's good to be home."

†††††† He could see his home from where he was standing. A wall enclosed the garden, but tall hollyhocks were peeping over it, a riotous explosion of colour with no discipline. Elias had planted them, of course. Ciaran would rip them up when he had time, and replace them with grey stone paving, perhaps with a still pool in the middle, as placid as the Shadow. There would be no flowers. There would be nothing in the garden that grew and changed, or blossomed with extravagant life.

†††††† Wind plucked at his clothes, telling him of the messages it brought from his village. He heard a strident woman calling her children home to bed, but they did not answer, and did not come, so she carried on calling all alone. A girl was singing, and he looked for her and found her, walking arm in arm with her lover along the banks of the stream. He heard a dog bark, and watched as pair of turtle doves landed on the roof of his own cottage, and turned towards each other.

†††††† He watched them for a while, then gasped, his heart racing. There was a light at the upstairs window, in Elias's room. Elias was back! He had changed his mind and come back to his master, to beg forgiveness. Ciaran scrabbled for his staff and started to run, but suddenly the window was dark again. It had just been a reflection of the sunset, a flash of light filtering through the leaves. There was no-one inside. Elias had not come home. The house was dark and empty, and Ciaran was outside it, and alone.

†††††† The dog barked again, and Ciaran turned round to see a man and a boy walking along the lane towards him, deep in conversation. The dog was bounding around their ankles, loving them both unreservedly. All three of them walked past Ciaran without seeing him. As they passed, the man ruffled the boy's hair, and they both laughed.

†††††† Ciaran did not watch them as they headed into the meadow. Instead, he clutched his staff and watched the stream. He would go inside when the sun had set. It was good to be home in Greenslade. He wanted to stay outside for as long as possible, savouring it. Only when it was dark would he go inside, and sit for a bit. Then he would go to bed, and then it would be morning, and he would go outside again.

†††††† Someone cleared their throat behind him, and he realised that a man had come sneaking up on him. "What is it?" he snapped. Then he saw the expression of sadness and need on the man's face, and spoke more gently. "What do you need me to do?"

†††††† The man had taken off his hat, and was twisting it between his hands. "Do you know where your apprentice is?"

†††††† "My apprentice?" That was Elias. Elias, who had deceived him and betrayed him, and was never coming home again. Not that Ciaran cared. He was well rid of such a one. "Why do you want to see him?" he demanded.

†††††† "It's just... I know he tried. He risked his life. My poor little girl..." The man wiped tears from his eyes. Ciaran never cried. Elias had cried a lot, but that just showed how weak he was. "My wife... She was crazed with grief. She might have said things. But I don't want him to feel bad. He did everything he could."

†††††† It was the father of the girl Elias had tried to save from the fire. Ciaran had lived through long horrible weeks since then, but to the people of Greenslade it was only a day or two ago. Ciaran had saved the woman he had set out to rescue, but Elias had failed, and the failure had led to everything else that had happened afterwards. It was enough to make Ciaran want to hate the man, for having a daughter who couldn't manage to stay alive.

†††††† "Please," the man said, faltering a little at the look on Ciaran's face. "I just want to talk to him."

†††††† "You can't," Ciaran told him. "He's not here. He's gone away."

†††††† "You sent him away? Oh, you didn't send him away because of Sophie, did you? I saw how you were looking at him, as if you blamed him. But he did everything he could. He was so brave. You should be proud of him."

†††††† Why did everyone always think it was Ciaran's fault? No-one ever thought to blame Elias, but he was the one who had chosen to leave. He was the traitor. Besides, Ciaran hadn't been looking at him in any particular way on the night of the fire. It was all lies. Elias had enchanted everyone to think well of him and to blame Ciaran.

†††††† "You can't talk to him," Ciaran said, as he began to walk away. But the path over the bridge would take him to the ruins, and that was a place he would never go again, so he whirled round and pushed past the man, heading back to his own house. "You can't talk to him, because he's dead."

†††††† "Dead?" the man gasped. "Oh, tell me it wasn't the smoke. He didn't die trying to save my little girl, did he? Oh, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."†††††

†††††† "No." Ciaran granted him that much before he slammed the door in his face. "It was nothing to do with you. He just died. He's dead, and that's all there is to it."

 

 

†††††† He sat in his armchair and dozed. The wind made the beams creak, and they sounded just like footsteps, like Elias getting out of bed in his room upstairs and putting his clothes on, ready to creep downstairs and make breakfast. Half asleep, Ciaran smiled.

†††††† Then it was morning, and he woke up with a start, his neck stiff and his arm numb. The house was still creaking, but this time he knew that he was alone. He had to make his breakfast all by himself, and eat it in silence. He lit a fire in the hearth, but the house still felt very cold.

†††††† Back in the armchair, he stared at the place where he had once seen another world. The morning sun made the dust glow, but it never formed itself into trees and people. Elias would have had months of life in the Kindred's world by now, and had probably forgotten his old master. He was never coming back. "Not that I want him to," Ciaran said aloud. Some things could not be forgiven. Elias could grovel on his knees, but Ciaran would never condescend to speak to him again, even if he came back now, stepping out of nowhere, and saying, "Master."

†††††† Someone knocked on the door, and Ciaran leaped out of the chair, snatching up his staff. Without looking back at the place where Elias would appear, he hurled open the door. A man was standing there, and he said good things, things that made the house feel warm again. "Master Morgan," he said. "Come quickly. We need you."

†††††† Ciaran followed him up the lane, striding through the centre of Greenslade, to a house on the north of the village. The man led Ciaran into the garden, and thrust an angry hand at an apple tree. His neighbour, he said, was stealing his apples, helping herself to the fruit on the branches that overhung the wall. That made them hers, the woman retorted, from her own side of the wall. Hers by right, and if he didn't want her to take them, he should prune the tree so it didn't intrude onto her land.

†††††† Both of them started to shout, and Ciaran wanted to press his hands to his ears. Then they were both pointing at him, demanding that he make a decision. Whatever he decided, they would abide by it, for he was their Brother. They didn't care that something was written in the statute books about just such an issue. Ciaran was their law, more so than the proper authorities, so far away over the hills. He had power over them, and he could help them. He was doing good, like the Brothers of old, and it had always seemed such a noble thing.

†††††† He mumbled something, though afterwards he had no memory of how he had decided. They nodded and accepted it, but his steps were heavy as he walked away. Was this all they needed him for? Elias was fighting to save a world, and his decisions could rule the fate of thousands. Ciaran could have had a part in that, but it had seemed more noble to rule the people of Greenslade. So here he was, home again, doing just the same as he had always done, but suddenly it seemed different, as if a veil has been removed to reveal something pale and hollow beneath it.

†††††† But that, too, was all Elias's fault, he told himself, as he trudged home. There wasplenty of genuine good to be done in Greenslade, and he would do it, and forget Elias.

††††††

 

†††††† The next day, he met a girl, who looked at him from under her eyelashes, feigning shyness. "Where's Elias?" she asked him. "We've not seen him for a few days, and people are saying he's gone away."

†††††† Ciaran stopped still. "How do you know Elias?" Elias had been so shy, and knew nobody in Greenslade except Ciaran.

†††††† "Oh, I've known him since I was so high," she said, holding her hand at waist height. "That is," she admitted, "I wanted to know him. I'd lost my kitten and was crying fit to burst, and Elias found her for me. He hardly said a word, just to stammer that here she was and please don't cry, but I quite fell in love with him on the spot."

†††††† "In love," Ciaran echoed. There was something inside him, like a strong hand crushing his throat. Could Elias have been so deceitful as to have a sweetheart in secret? Was everything about their life together a lie? "And did he...?"

†††††† "Oh no," she laughed. "We're lucky to get half a sentence from him. We got him to join us on the morning of the Green Blade last year, and that was considered a triumph, but he's been quieter than ever this year. Most of the girls have given up on him."

†††††† Ciaran grabbed her wrist. "What do you mean?"

†††††† The girl blushed. "Oh, he's so good-looking, and so sweet. Not like the other boys round here, with their shouting and their showing off. There's not a girl in Greenslade who hasn't dreamed of being the one who can break through his shell and win his heart. He just... He has a way of making people love him."

†††††† "But you barely knew him," Ciaran shouted. "How dare you love him? What's Elias got that everyone puts him first? He was never anybody, just what I made him. He was my apprentice. I was the one who did things, not him, and you all... And everyone..." He stopped abruptly, and let go of the girl's wrist as if it had burned him.

†††††† "I'm sorry," the girl was saying, but her eyes were flashing defiantly. "I didn't know it would make you cross. I expect you're jealous because no-one will ever love you."

†††††† "Elias loves me," Ciaran whispered. "He always did."

†††††† "Like a dog loves his master," the girl sneered. "Did you kick him away once too often? Is that why he's gone away?"

†††††† "He didn't leave me!" Ciaran screamed. "He's dead!" He said more, too, that made the girl cry, but as he strode away in righteous fury, his eyes were stinging, as if he was going to cry, too.

††††††

 

†††††† One morning, he just started walking, and didn't stop. He barely noticed where he was. His feet led him, and he followed where they went. By noon he was high in the hills, where the larks sang as if nothing was wrong with the world. Half way through the afternoon, he found himself heading for the ruins, and turned abruptly away. As the sun set, he was far away from home, in a wood he had visited once before, with Elias trotting at his heels. It should have looked pretty, but it didnít.

†††††† Everything was supposed to be perfect, now he was back home. The Kindred's world had been horrible, and he had consoled himself every day with dreams of home. Back in Greenslade, all wrong things would be set right. He would be himself again, content and complete. Why, then, did all the usual things give him no comfort? Why was he cold inside, even in the afternoon sun?

†††††† He knew it was Elias's fault. Elias had thrown all Ciaran's teachings back in his face. Stubborn and ungrateful, he had acted as if all his Ciaran's years of caring for him were nothing. Even so, Ciaran had not abandoned him. When Elias had been lost in his own mind, Ciaran had sacrificed everything to bring him back. In doing so, he had lost all his certainties, all for Elias's sake, who had deserted him. His homecoming should have been joyful, but Elias had tainted it, turning it into a betrayal.

†††††† And now everything was horrible. His home was full of petty people feuding over apple trees, and girls who wanted Elias, not him. It wasn't the place it had always been, and he had loved it so. It was his home, and Elias had ruined it.

†††††† But then, when night fell, he remembered Elias as a child, pointing at the stars and shyly asking him what they were called. He remembered how good it felt to know that he would never be alone, that Elias would follow him forever. He remembered waking up every day to find Elias awake before him, smiling as he placed breakfast on a plate. When he thought of every lane and corner in Greenslade, he thought of Elias there beside him. And, when the night grew so cold that he shivered inside the cloak that still smelled a little of wood smoke and the forest, he whispered into the fabric, "I miss him. Even though he betrayed me, I miss him."

††††††

 

†††††† The next day, no-one said a word about it. No-one asked him where he had been the day before, or came clamouring to him, saying how they'd looked for him but not been able to find him. When he walked past the row of burned cottages, he saw the carpenters and stone masons hard at work, rebuilding them without waiting for Ciaran's command.

†††††† Someone thrust flowers into his hand and said they were for Elias's grave. "He hasn't got one," he growled, slapping them back into the chest of the stupid giver. "I burnt him. There's nothing left."

†††††† A man came up and asked for his help, but Ciaran turned away and said nothing. It would be something small and trivial, and it would only make him feel bleak inside. If Elias came back, he would kill him for making him feel like this. Not that Elias had such power over him, of course not. Elias had betrayed him, but he didn't care. Ciaran wouldn't be undone by him. He wouldn't let him win.

†††††† He wandered for a few more hours, and then it started to grow dark, though he had no idea where the day had gone. I've got to go home, he thought, but his feet wanted to go the other way, anywhere but that empty house where the blank air never revealed another world, no matter how hard he looked.

†††††† A man came out of the pub, his steps a little unsteady. As he crossed the road, he almost bumped into Ciaran, and mumbled an apology. Ciaran grabbed him by the shoulders. "Tell the others," he commanded him, thrusting his face at the man's, despite the stink of beer. "I'm going away for a few days. Tell them I said goodbye. Tell them I'm coming back and they mustn't forget me."

†††††† The man staggered away, and Ciaran wondered how much he had understand, and how much he would remember. Not that it mattered. He had made his decision. He had taken things into his own hands. He wasn't so proud that he couldn't admit when he needed help, but his master would help him. His master would help him forget Elias, and would make Greenslade perfect again.

††††††

 

†††††† He walked the ten miles to Sherborne, and slept outside in a wood that was far prettier and pleasant than the Kindred's savage forest. Next morning, he caught the first train that came by. It was a branch line, stopping at every village, where women pressed into the carriages and chattered of trivial things. Many of them stared openly at him, elbowing their neighbours and whispering, though he had no idea if it was because of his status as a Brother, or because of something about the way he looked.

†††††† In the city, he changed train and caught the cross-country express, that many considered handsome in its livery of green and gold. Opposite him sat an excited family going on holiday, chattering and playful. Ciaran stared out of the window, but soon he could see the Grey Mountains, looking exactly as they had done in the Kindred's world, so he closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

†††††† The train terminated in Conisborough, and he had to spend the night in that hateful city. He wandered blindly into the nearest hotel, and let them lead him into a room just like any other room. After they had gone, he stood at the window and squinted through the smoke. Beyond the chimneys and factories he could faintly see the towers on the far side of the river. Hundreds of years ago, that had been the extent of the city, and every building had been built to please the eye. In the other world, that was how the city still was. It was called Eidengard there, and it was far more lovely than Conisborough, despite the terrible things that had happened in it.

†††††† A maid brought dinner to his room, and he remembered having asked for it when he had signed in. He moved the food around the plate with his fork, ate a little, and left the rest. Pushing his chair back with a sigh, he picked up his staff and went outside. The concierge was reading the racing results in the newspaper and barely looked up as Ciaran passed. This was not Greenslade, and the robes of a Brother commanded little respect.

†††††† Outside, he wandered through the smoky air and the harsh noise. Someone greeted him merrily, and he recognised the family from the train, who were taking delight in every little ugliness of the city. Ciaran nodded to them, and walked on, once again letting his feet lead him. As his body moved through slums and courtyards, his memory filled with shimmery glimpses of forests and mountains, and of a young man shyly smiling at him, because he had been kind.

†††††† He paused for a while, and found himself in a narrow street full of children. The factory workers lived in long rows of terraced houses, but much of their living took place in the backyards and streets. Women leant over walls and gossiped, and the children played with ropes and balls. They looked at Ciaran with a sullen curiosity, but none of them approached him.

†††††† Was this how Elias had lived? Ciaran had never asked him much about his childhood, though he knew that Elias's brothers had bullied him, and his parents had deserted him. Elias had never blamed them, but had made excuses for them, and longed for their love. He had always been so desperate for security and love, and so terrified of abandonment.

†††††† A boy of about twelve sauntered forward, having volunteered or been elected to be spokesman. "What d'ya want, mister?"

†††††† "Do you know a family called Ward?" Ciaran demanded. "The father's called Evan. Lots of children, your age and older." But Elias's brothers and sisters would be all grown up now, of course. Elias was no longer nine years old, but twenty.

†††††† The boy shook his head. "But I know people. I can ask around." His expression made clear that he would only do it for money.

†††††† "It doesn't matter." Ciaran began to walk away. Why had he even asked? For a moment, he had wanted to find them, to make them pay for the way they had treated such a loving and innocent child, but what could he say to them? He refused to talk about what had happened to strangers who had forfeited the right to have anything to do with Elias. They wouldn't care, and neither did Ciaran, and talking about it would only lead them to believe that he did. No, Elias was dead to him, and his family were nothing, just the people who had given birth to someone he had once known.

†††††† He walked quickly on, past a woman bellowing at her son, threatening to beat him black and blue. Elias had been badly bruised when Ciaran had found him. He had been so badly treated, and not just by them, Ciaran thought, without wanting to. He had realised things in the Kindred's world that could not be forgotten, regardless of how much he might want them to be. He had done nothing to justify Elias's betrayal, but he had not always been kind.

†††††† "But I won't think of Elias," he muttered under his breath, as his feet took him through streets that Elias might once have walked, past factories where he might have worked. The children in the streets were pale, deprived of the sun all year round. Elias had been delighted with the sun when he had first arrived in Greenslade, and had never tired of the garden, where he would spread out his arms and turn his face to the sky and simply bask in the sunlight.

†††††† His steps meandered, and soon he was in a street where women in scanty clothes showed their legs and plied for trade. Elias had once told him that his sisters were prostitutes, and Ciaran looked for Elias's honey-coloured hair and graceful bearing, but saw no resemblance.

†††††† One woman approached him, but he recoiled with a look of disgust that set her to laughing. "Steady, dearie. I don't bite. Or don't you like women? I can take you to a place with pretty boys. Is that more to your taste? I've heard about you Brothers..."

†††††† Ciaran turned and ran, the woman's jeering laughter following him. I shouldn't have come here, he thought. Elias was gone and had to be forgotten. Ciaran should have stayed in the hotel, and buried his head under the blanket, and closed his eyes to everything that reminded him of Elias.

†††††† Then his steps grew slower, and he was walking, then standing still, just staring. What terrible irony was this? In his flight, he had come to the very place, where the memories were strongest. There, just there, Elias had been curled up, weeping. That was the spot. Ciaran, young and dead inside, had seen him and walked towards him, there, and had spoken the fateful words that had saved Elias's life, and ruined his own.

†††††† Ciaran knelt down, and touched the place where Elias had been. He blinked. People strolled past him, and some stared, but no-one could possibly know. His life had changed here. On impulse, he had taken an apprentice, and eleven years later the apprentice had betrayed him. "Better never to have met him," he declared. "Better to have walked by on the other side of the street, and left him crying."

†††††† The wind picked up, and he seemed to hear an echo of Elias's sobs. The road beneath his touch was cold and rough, and he wanted to feel the warmth of human flesh. No-one stopped to talk to him, and no-one cared. Last time, he had walked away from this place with a child's hand enclosed in his own. He had come to this place alone, and he had left there loved.

†††††† He tore his hand away and stood up. How could he wish that he had never met Elias? He had saved Elias, and they had spent eleven years together, that were richer than Ciaran had ever realised. I wish he was still here, he thought, or that I was there with him.

†††††† But they were treacherous thoughts, that came from being tired, alone in a horrid city that always left him out of sorts. Elias had betrayed him, and Ciaran's master would help him purge the treacherous brat from his heart forever. His master would save him. Tomorrow everything would be well.

†††††† But, for tonight, he could still mourn.

 

 

†††††† His master was waiting on the platform, hands tucked placidly into his sleeves.

†††††† "How did you know I was coming?" Ciaran demanded, before saying anything else. "Have they been spying on me?"

†††††† "I can always tell," Matthias said, with a small smile. "The link never entirely vanishes, even after so many years."

†††††† Ciaran pursed his lips and pushed into the crowd, letting his master tag along behind. His link with Elias had often been entirely dead. Elias could have been alive or dead, a step behind him, or a world away, and he would have had no idea.

†††††† "Elias isn't here." His master kept pace with him, never unfolding his hands even as the crowd jostled.

†††††† "No." Ciaran shook his head. "He's gone. He's not coming back."

†††††† "Oh, Ciaran. What happened?"

†††††† Ciaran whirled on him, hands on hips. "What happened? Don't you mean what did I do? Don't you want to blame me, like all the others?"

†††††† Matthias gave a slight smile, his eyes mild and sympathetic. "I would just like to know what happened. I want to help you, Ciaran."

†††††† Ciaran blinked, and looked down at the ground. The porter's whistle sounded, and doors were slammed shut up and down the train. In a cloud of soot, it set off, to a chorus of farewells and promises to meet again. Then the crowd drifted away and the two of them were alone on the empty platform.

†††††† "Not here," Ciaran said. "Not now."

††††††

 

†††††† They leant together on the parapet in the Basilica gardens, and Ciaran told everything beneath the moonlight. He stared over the city as he spoke, and never once looked at his master. He tried to keep his voice level, but he often failed.

†††††† "You know about the sword," he began, "and how seriously Elias took the responsibility that went with it. You saw that much at midwinter. But you didn't see what happened afterwards."

†††††† He told his master how Elias had devoted himself to mastering the sword, and refusing to stop when commanded by his master. He told him about the girl who had died in the fire, and how her death had led Elias into a rash oath. He told him about the Kindred, and how they had manipulated Elias, making him incapable of denying them everything. He told about the enchantment, though not much, because no Brother should dwell on such things. He told about Elias nearly dying, and about him being crowned, the king of an unprincipled people who robbed and killed.

†††††† "I opposed them at every turn, of course," he said. "They were going to destroy Elias with their scheming. Nobody could do the things they expected of him, least of all Elias. It wasn't fair to lay that responsibility on him, when he was bound to fail. I was only thinking of him."

†††††† He told how, despite his reasonable objections, he had promised to accompany Elias to the city, and told about the events of the journey. "I knew he'd fail, but he needed to see for himself how impossible it was, the things they were asking of him. It was only going to be a few weeks. He knew that all along. That was the agreement. We'd go, we'd come back, and then we'd leave."

†††††† But everything had gone wrong. Elias had insisted on trying to save some worthless female and had arrogantly refused to run when the soldiers came for him. Instead of accepting his master's help, Elias had pushed him away. Reynard had dragged Ciaran back to the camp, and it had been the purest chance that Elias had been able to find the way home alone.

†††††† "He was in a terrible state." Ciaran said nothing about Elias assuming the form of a bird, for no-one would believe that. "I sacrificed everything to bring him back. I thought we were going to come home together, but he sent me back alone. He chose to stay there, with those wild people, because he liked being called king. He betrayed his vows as a Brother, and he betrayed me."

†††††† His master said nothing. Down in the city, a klaxon sounded, marking the end of a shift. The air was thick with the scent of the pendulous white flowers that bloomed regardless of season.

†††††† Ciaran gripped the parapet more tightly. "That's what happened," he said. "Are you going to say anything?"

†††††† "What do you want me to say?" Matthias asked, in a mild voice.

†††††† Ciaran closed his eyes. I want you to help me. I want you to stop it hurting. "Just say what you think," he said.

†††††† Matthias shook his head. "But that's not what you want, is it? You want me to say that you did nothing wrong, and that all the fault lay on Elias's side. You want me to say you're well rid of him, and should get on with your life and forget him." He took a step closer. "Don't you?"

†††††† "But I didn't do anything wrong!" Ciaran burst out. "It was his fault!"

†††††† "True," said his master. "He didn't act like a true Brother when he let himself be seduced by glory and riches."

†††††† Ciaran swallowed, and stared at the back of his hand, lying flat on the stone parapet. "There were no riches," he admitted. "He's chosen a very hard life. He takes the responsibility very seriously, and it seems to be a torment to him, rather than anything else."

†††††† "But, even so, he chose to serve a savage band of criminals and highway robbers. He should have said no to them right from the start, as soon as he knew who they were. An oath made to a criminal under false pretences is not binding."

†††††† Ciaran looked at the moon, which was far fainter than it was in the Kindred's world, where no smoke and street lights tainted it. "They robbed only when they had no choice," he said, "and killed in self-defence. The people of the duchy kill them on sight. Can you imagine it, master? Imagine if anyone who could sense the Shadow was judged to be evil, just because of the gift they'd been born with? That's what it's like for people with enchantment. They hurt Elias so badly."

†††††† "Because he was aiding a criminal, you said."

†††††† "I don't think she'd done anything wrong," Ciaran admitted, "except to possess enchantment. And they were burning her to death. It was barbaric. And Elias was the only one who had the courage to try to help her. He knew it could be the death of him, but he still did it. It was rash and stupid, but it was so very brave."

†††††† "But nothing changes what happened at the end." Matthias was relentless, his voice unforgiving and not like his own voice at all. "He broke his promise to come back with you if he failed in the city."

†††††† Ciaran clasped his hands together, digging his fingertips deeply into his flesh. "There was no promise," he forced out. "I told myself we were coming home after Eidengard, but I never told him. He made no promises."

†††††† "But he led you to believe he was coming back with you," his master persisted. "He lied. He tricked you. He'd decided he was going to stay, but you were in the way, cautioning him all the time, being the voice of reason. But he knew you cared for him too much to go home without him, so he pretended he was coming with you. But it was all lies. He never wanted to be with you."

†††††† "No." Ciaran pressed his hands to his face. "He didn't. He didn't want me. He chose them over me. He left me, as if everything we had together was nothing."

†††††† His master touched him on the shoulder. "That's what hurts you most, isn't it?"

†††††† Ciaran flinched away from the touch, pressing his body against the cold stone, curling into it. "I didn't tell you the truth," he rasped. "Nothing happened like I told it. Elias did everything he should have done. He never thought of himself. And I made it so much harder for him. I fought him at every turn. I didn't help him when he needed it. And I did it out of jealousy. It was all Elias, everywhere it was Elias. I could have helped them, but they didn't want me. I was nobody to them, and I hated that. It made me hate them. It even made me hate Elias."

†††††† He heard the sound of his master's robes, scraping against the stone, but no touch came. "You were very miserable there?"

†††††† "I hated it," Ciaran said. "I hated everything about it. I hated that no-one knew about the Shadow. I hated the enchantment, because it was wild and I didn't know anything about it. I hated the Kindred. I hated the way they fawned over Elias, and expected him to do impossible things. I hated the fact that it wasn't me they were asking. I hated the way that he was learning how to be strong, and soon wouldn't need me. I hated the cold and the rain and the stars and the earth. I hated it all."

†††††† "And Elias knew that?"

†††††† Ciaran nodded. "He asked me. That last morning he asked me if I could ever be happy in that world, and I said no, never." He passed his hand over his face. "I think I knew," he whispered. "I knew how seriously he took his oaths to the Kindred. I knew he'd never be able to leave them. Deep down, I always knew he was staying."

†††††† "It's easier to be the victim," Matthias said. "It absolves you of the need to make decisions. It lets you blame someone else, to be self-righteous and angry."

†††††† "He lied to me!" Ciaran screamed. "He didn't want me! He chose them over me!"

†††††† "Maybe he did it for your own sake. He wanted you to stay, but he knew you would be happier if you left. He's always been insecure, as you know. It would never cross his mind that you might want to stay with him."

†††††† Ciaran slammed his fist into the stone. "He should have let me decide."

†††††† "What would you have decided? To stay with him, or to come home alone?"

†††††† Ciaran turned round, leaning back against the parapet. He brushed his hand against the nearest flower, and watched the yellow pollen fall onto the gravel path. Greenslade was his home, or so he had always believed, and he had sworn oaths to serve it forever, and Elias was nothing to him, just a boy he had trained for a while. If he stayed in Greenslade, he could help people all by himself.

†††††† "I would have chosen to come home," he admitted, turning his head away. "And Elias knew that. I'd have chosen to leave him there, and... and perhaps I would have regretted it afterwards, a little, but I wouldn't have chosen anything else, not then."

†††††† But he had always hated the modern world, and the Kindred's world was hundreds of years in the past, before pollution and machines. He had always dreamed of a time of swords and glory, where a single hero could change the world, but his own world had changed and would never be like that again. In the Kindred's world, he would always be second, but he would be helping in something great. In Greenslade, he took the lead in decisions about apple trees and family disputes. In the Kindred's world, he could help save a whole people.

†††††† "You could have stayed with him for several years," Matthias said, "and come back to find only a few months gone."

†††††† "No!" Ciaran burst out. "No," he said, more slowly. "That wouldn't have been right. I couldn't live half a life, between two worlds. I have to be entirely dedicated. A Brother can be nothing less. And... I think it wouldn't be fair to Elias. I think I hurt him very badly, by being so desperate to leave. He thought I wanted to leave him. But it was the world I didn't like. It wasn't anything to do with him."

†††††† His master was only a voice in the darkness, for Ciaran had not once looked at him since he had begun his confession. "But it was, wasn't it? You said it yourself. You couldn't bear to see Elias becoming strong and independent, and not needing you any more. You were deathly afraid of it. You thought it meant he would inevitably betray you. But that was nothing to do with him. It all started years ago, before you even met him, didn't it, Ciaran?"

†††††† Ciaran stiffened. "What do you mean?"

†††††† The cool hand touched his wrist, gentle but strong, not letting him escape. "You never recovered from the thing with Gideon, did you?"

†††††† Ciaran thrust him away, making him stagger. "Don't say that name! I've forgotten him. I haven't thought of him in years."

†††††† Matthias supported himself with one hand on the parapet. "You haven't spoken his name, no, but that doesn't mean you've forgotten him. He's behind everything you've done ever since."

†††††† "How dare you?" Ciaran screamed. "It's not true! I'm not so weak that I could let any person change me!"

†††††† His master shook his head and smiled sadly. "But it's true. You know it's true."

†††††† He had dreamed about it in the storm, when the voice of the wind had told him things he didn't want to believe. Gideon. It was a name he had not thought of in years. Gideon, who had broken his heart. Gideon, who had shown him the inevitable result of being so foolish as to love.

†††††† Ciaran had only dim memories of his family. His mother had brought him to the Basilica when he was three years old. Could the Brothers take the boy in, she begged, for she loved him so and wanted him to have a better life than the one she could offer him. Since it was already clear that he had a gift with the Shadow, they agreed. She cried and kissed him, and was never seen again.

†††††† Ciaran had grown up different from the other boys. In the old days, parents had flocked to the Basilica to offer up their children as Ciaran's mother had done, but those days were gone. Now potential Brothers were taught at the Basilica school during the day, but returned home every night. They had home and families, and they laughed at Ciaran, who had none. For his part, Ciaran despised them, and thought they were less devoted than he was, and would never grow up to be heroes. But, sometimes, when he saw them walking away hand in hand with their mothers, he cried a little, and wished someone would love him.

†††††† One day, a grave-looking Brother approached him and asked him to be his apprentice. It was rare in these days for a boy to be trained by only one master, and Ciaran thought that nothing more marvellous could happen to him. Someone had picked him out, above all others. He swelled with pride, and his master was a silent man, and did little to check him. But he was also a silent man when it came to giving praise, and he never told Ciaran that he loved him.

†††††† Ciaran was ordained at twenty-one, and he thought that the world lay before him, his for the taking. He would help people, like Finbar had done, and everyone would love him and tell his story. It would be glorious.

†††††† When the ceremony was over, he walked with his master in the garden. "You've done well," his master said, clapping him on the shoulder. "I'm proud of you." But, before the smile of pleasure faded from Ciaran's face, his master said terrible things. "You can visit me whenever you like, Ciaran. I'm retiring to a cell to contemplate in solitude, but you are always welcome."

†††††† "A cell?" Ciaran stammered. "But why?"

†††††† His master looked into the distance, as if the world had already stopped existing for him. "More and more I find myself distracted by worldly things. I want to become closer to the Shadow. I want to be free from the noise and the bustle."

†††††† So Ciaran had only been a distraction, then. His master had been desperate to be freed from him. Ciaran stammered something, he didn't know what. When his master went inside, he stayed outside in the garden, looking across the city, wondering if there was anywhere out there who would needed him, who would take delight in his company and want him above anything else in the world.

†††††† Love was not forbidden for the Brothers of Shadow. Violent emotion interfered with the ability to sense the Shadow, but love was held in high esteem. Once, the Brothers believed, everything in creation had been one. Anything that brought people together was a good thing, and nothing brought people closer together than love.

†††††† Despite this, many Brothers swore themselves to celibacy, preferring to love mankind in a general way, rather than love one person above all others. Others married, although they could not bring their wives into the Basilica. But the common people's gossip was not entirely false. Some Brothers found love with their fellows. In the world outside, love between men was frowned upon, but the Brothers saw it differently. True love was the coming together of two souls that had once, at the dawn of time, been one. It knew nothing of age or appearance or gender. It was pure, and transcended such petty things.

†††††† When Ciaran used to dream of being loved, he never saw the face of the loved one. He knew men were supposed to love women, and when he went into the city he looked closely at all the pretty girls, but he saw nothing that set his heart a-fluttering. His vocation as a Brother was so important to him that he could not imagine anyone being close to anyone who did not share it. Where other young men might dream of the pleasures of the flesh, Ciaran used to dream of joining mind to mind with his soul-mate, touching the Shadow together and finding it ten times glorious than when alone.

†††††† Gideon later accused him on being a romantic. "You think love conquers all, but life's not like that, Ciaran. Love is nothing but fine words invented by people who want a little bit of pleasure for a while. Only romantic fools believe in it."

†††††† That was afterwards, of course. The first time Ciaran saw Gideon he was only another Brother, a few years older than Ciaran was, who sat down beside him in the garden, and spoke kindly to him when he needed a friend. He was handsome, too, with shoulder-length black hair combed off his face, and dark eyes with long lashes. He had elegant hands and walked like a stalking cat. His laugh was like honey, and his smile could melt ice.

†††††† Gideon talked to him, and soon Ciaran was smiling. He flattered him, saying he had heard great things of him, and that he had no doubt that Ciaran would become a famous Brother now he was ordained. He singled him out, lavishing him with attention. He could have chosen anyone else as a friend, but he had chosen Ciaran.

†††††† The courtship lasted barely a week. By the end of the second week, Ciaran was extravagantly in love, and the two of them were inseparable. He gave himself to Gideon, body and soul. All his cherished dreams of the future were blown down like a house of straw, and rebuilt into dreams that contained Gideon. They would travel the world together, doing good and saving lives. When people talked about them, their two names would always be mentioned in the same breath. Sometimes, though, it hardly seemed to matter what they did. As long as he had Gideon, he could be happy in a hovel. He would abandon all his dreams for him, as long as they were together.

†††††† He started saying such things to Gideon. At first Gideon smiled and turned away. Then, on one terrible catastrophic night, he laughed. It was all a little diversion, he said. Surely Ciaran didn't think he loved him? It was over, and he was off to find someone new, and how pathetic Ciaran was to be sobbing in the dirt, begging him to come back. He was such a little romantic, such a child.

†††††† Ciaran cried all night. The next day, he wiped his eyes and left the Basilica, and never cried again. He wandered for months, as his robes turned into rags, and the flesh fell from his bones. He slept in ditches, and sometimes people took pity on him and offered him a ride in their cart to somewhere else. He didn't really care where he went. If people smiled at him and tried to help him, he turned away, because he knew that smiles hid treachery, and trust was always betrayed.

†††††† He might have died within the year, but chance brought him to Greenslade. Something about the village touched him. It was far removed from the modern world, and the people were like innocent children, just waiting for someone stronger than them to take them in hand. As he walked through the streets, Ciaran resolved that he would be that person. He would be their Brother, and he would serve them, and they would need him and love him, and never betray him.

†††††† For a few years he had lived there alone. The people came to trust him, and he came to take pleasure in helping them. But, at night, they returned to their happy homes, and he returned to his cold cottage, where he spent the long hours of the evening with no-one to talk to, and no-one to love him. Until, by chance, he stopped overnight in a city called Conisborough, and found a weeping boy who so badly needed someone to look after him. Until, by some strange fate, he found Elias.

†††††† "I should have come to you that night," his master said, as Ciaran remembered. "I should never have let you leave. Even old men can be fools. I retired to my cell to contemplate the Shadow, but of course all living things are part of the Shadow. You can't fully understand the Shadow unless you live in the world. By not realising that, I did you a grave disservice."

†††††† "It doesn't matter," Ciaran muttered. His eyes were stinging. "It's long ago."

†††††† The hand tightened on his wrist. "Gideon was a... a scoundrel. He enjoyed breaking hearts. He was cast out of the Order only months after you left, you know."

†††††† Ciaran's eyes widened. He had never let himself speak that name aloud, and so he had never asked. It was extremely rare to be cast out of the Order.

†††††† "You've built your whole life around that one heartbreak," Matthias told him, "and he's not worth it. He was a bad man. There are other bad men in the world, but most are good at heart."

†††††† "I didn't build my life around it," Ciaran protested. "I forgot him."

†††††† "He broke your heart," Matthias said. "You trusted him, and he betrayed you. So you reacted by vowing never to love again. But it's a lonely life, without love. You've always wanted to be loved, ever since you were a child. Who doesn't? But love is risky. The person who loves you might leave at any minute. So you made sure they needed you so badly that they never would. You made sure that they loved you, without you ever needing to love them. That way you thought you'd be safe."

†††††† "No!" Ciaran shouted, but of course it was true. It was why he had chosen Greenslade, and why he had chosen Elias.

†††††† "Elias isn't Gideon," his master said, and Ciaran wanted to scream at him for saying truths that he didn't want to hear. "He didn't betray you. He just found something more important than anything, something that he had to do."

†††††† Ciaran pressed his hand to his mouth. "But he still left me."

†††††† "No," his master said. "Gideon was the one who left you. Blame him for it. Hate him for it, if you have to. But don't let him ruin your life."

†††††† Ciaran whirled on him. "It's too late for that! You're fifteen years too late!"

†††††† His master looked at the ground. "I know. I was never a man of many words, not then. I wronged you by that, I know." He took hold of Ciaran's hand, gently easing out the tense fingers, stroking the palm. "Would things have been different if I'd told you that I loved you? You were like a son to me. You're very dear to me, and nothing you do can ever change that."

†††††† The silver of the moon fractured and blurred as tears started in his eyes. It would, he wanted to say. It would have made such a difference. It was all he had wanted, just to be loved by someone who would never leave him. And in that, perhaps, he was more similar to Elias than he had ever realised.

†††††† "Elias chose something else over you," his master said. "It was bound to happen one day. Despite all your precautions, one day he was bound to meet someone and fall in love, or disagree with you, or be ordained and want his own life."

†††††† "Not Elias," Ciaran choked, through tears. "He couldn't survive without me. He was never going to leave me. He couldn't bear it, to be alone."

†††††† There was a long silence. An owl hooted in the trees, and the leaves rustled. A bell sounded in the city, and Ciaran became aware of how damp his sleeve was, from long hours outside in the night.

†††††† "I don't know what to do," he admitted, at last. "I can't live in Greenslade any more. I doesn't have the same appeal, not now I've seen the things Elias is doing."

†††††† "Do you want to see him again?"

†††††† Ciaran gave a deep sigh, passing his hands over his face. "I didn't say goodbye. I said such terrible things to him. I... Before I left, I realised lots of things, but I never told him. I never apologised. I never asked him what he needed, or how he felt."

†††††† "You came here so angry with him," Matthias reminded him.

†††††† Ciaran gave a wry laugh. "I never was. I tried to convince myself that I was. I wanted to be, because it was easier."

†††††† "You were hurt that he chose something else over you," his master murmured.

†††††† "I blamed myself," Ciaran said. "I'd already admitted to myself how badly I've behaved. I hated the last things I said to him. I... I hated myself, for the things I'd done." He shook his head. "But it's hard to hate yourself. It's easier to hate someone else." He thrust out his chin. "And I do blame him for some things. He should have told me what he was planning. We should have had a proper goodbye, an honest one, both knowing who was going and who was staying."

†††††† "You should be telling him this," Matthias said.

†††††† "How can I?" Ciaran shouted. "I can't open the door by myself! I've tried!"

†††††† His master smiled. "A master doesn't have to be with his apprentice in order to speak to him. How do you think I knew you were coming today?"

†††††† The link! Ciaran and Elias were linked in their minds. It didn't allow them to speak in words, but it allowed a certain awareness of emotions. Ciaran had neglected the link, opening himself to it only seldom, but Elias had always been ready and waiting, quick to respond. "But he's a world away," Ciaran said. "He won't hear me."

†††††† "When two people are lucky enough to have a link in the Shadow," Matthias said, "nothing can get in its way. You say the Shadow exists in his world, and it certainly exists in this one. That means the two worlds were once one, just like everything around us."

†††††† Ciaran moistened his lips, and swallowed. If he called, and Elias did not respond, that was the end of it, the end of all hope. Elias had rejected him, and it was to be forever.

†††††† "Try," his master urged him. "You won't be able to get on with your life until you've spoken to him. You don't have to promise anything. You don't have to live in his world. But you need to say goodbye. It has to have a proper end."

†††††† "It's been months for him," Ciaran cried, because he had wasted days in Greenslade, and well over a week had passed. "What if he's forgotten me? What if he's happy there, and doesn't miss me at all?"

†††††† "Then you should be happy for him," his master said. "Surely it's better to think of him happy with the choice he made, rather than tormented, unable to live the life he's committed to?"

†††††† No! Ciaran had to bite his lip to stop himself crying it aloud. He wanted Elias to be miserable. He wanted him to be regretting his choice, and missing him, and desperate to be summoned home. He wanted him to know no happiness except that which came from being with Ciaran. Despite everything he had admitted tonight, he was still selfish enough to want that.

†††††† A cloud passed in front of the moon, and the darkness deepened visibly. Ciaran shivered, although it was summer here, not winter, as it had been in the world he had left a week before.

†††††† "Try," his master urged him, as persuasive as Oliver, but less treacherous.

†††††† Ciaran closed his eyes. He felt as if he was about to leap off the parapet, to plunge through the cold darkness to the ground far below. His hands trembled, and he lunged for the stone, but found his master's hand instead, and he took strength from it, though he had always thought that he had all the strength that he needed and depended on no-one.

†††††† Taking a deep breath, he threw himself into the darkness of his mind, seeking Elias. And he found him.

††††††

 

†††††† Someone was stroking his face, in a place that smelled of outdoors and flowers. A hand took his, and it felt warm to the touch, because his was so very cold. Ciaran gave a sighing moan. "Elias?"

†††††† His hand was squeezed tighter, then gently laid upon his chest. "Did you find him?" It was his master, and the scent of flowers were the old familiar ones in the Basilica garden, that had always been a little cloying even when he had been in love.

†††††† Ciaran opened his eyes and saw the moon. He turned his head and saw the light on top of the tallest tower in the Basilica, and his master's composed face, where only the faintest tightening on the muscles showed his concern.

†††††† "You fainted," his master told him. When Ciaran tried to sit up, he pushed him back with a hand on his chest. "Ciaran, have you been eating since you came back? How are you sleeping?"

†††††† Fighting the hand, Ciaran sat up. "It's nothing to do with me." He tried to stand, his back scraping against the stone wall. He held onto the parapet for support just in case, but he felt completely well, not dizzy at all. Matthias fluttered to his feet beside him, still trying to prevent him. "It's not me," Ciaran repeated. "It's Elias."

†††††† His master accepted defeat and folded his hands. "Elias did that to you? He attacked you?"

†††††† Ciaran dragged his hand across the rough stone, drawing the fingers up into a clenched fist. "No." He took a shuddering breath as he gradually recovered the memory. "I don't think he was even aware of me. But he was hurting so badly. I think he was just crying out to anyone who might hear him. He couldn't scream aloud, so he was doing it in his mind. And I heard it. It... It hurt."

†††††† "You felt...?" his master began, but there was no time for this, no time for explanations. He had to do something! If just an echo of Elias's pain had made him faint, how much worse must it be for Elias?

†††††† "I have to go to him," he cried. He pushed Matthias aside and started to stride through the Garden, crushing flowers and blades of grass as he went. "I have to help him! He needs me. I'm his master."

†††††† His master followed him. He said things, but all Ciaran heard was the memory of Elias's cries.

†††††† Ciaran reached the door that led out of the garden, and it was there that his master caught him and grabbed his arm. "Stop," Matthias urged him. "You want to go to him, yes, but what are you doing?"

†††††† Ciaran lunged forward and pushed the door open with both hands. "I need to go to him." He spat each word out between his teeth. "I don't know how to do it. I'm going to ask the Conclave. I'm going to demand that they find a way."

†††††† "It's after midnight," Matthias protested. "They aren't in session."

†††††† "Then I'll find them, one by one," Ciaran growled. Then he stopped fighting his master's arm, and whirled round to face him, leaning close, taller than him by half a head. "I'm doing it for Elias. Can't you see?"

†††††† "I know," Matthias soothed. "But you can help him better if you're calm."

†††††† "How can I be calm?" Ciaran screamed. "If you're not going to help me, let me go!"

†††††† He tore himself out of his master's grip and ran down the corridor, then up the twisting stairs. His feet slammed against the stone floor, and he was shouting things, words he was not aware of speaking until afterwards, when he found that his throat was raw.

†††††† In the middle of a landing, he stopped, put his hands on his hips, and turned a full circle, his chest heaving. He heard the faint echoing sound of footsteps at the bottom of the stairs, and knew his master was following him. "Help me!" he screamed, and it was a command, not a plea. "I demand an audience!"

†††††† A door opened a crack, and someone peered out, their feet bare. It was no-one of consequence, so he glared at them until they shut the door. Another door opened with a soft click, and there was Grand Master Jerome, with his cloak pulled over his sleeping robes and his hair uncombed, but with eyes as deep and alert as they were when he was awake.

†††††† Those eyes met Ciaran's. "Ciaran Morgan." There was a slight nod of greeting. "Explain yourself." But his eyes seemed a little kinder than they sometimes were.

†††††† All around them other doors were opening, and the Brothers who were members of the Conclave came out of their rooms, while those who were not retreated to watch through cracks. His master, too, came up behind him and stood with him, but Ciaran barely noticed him. All he saw was Grand master Jerome.

†††††† "You have to help me," he said. His voice sounded haughty, but it cracked on the last two words. "Elias..." They didn't know the story, not any of it. He had not reported it to the Conclave, only to his master. They would probably rebuke him for that, but there was no help for it. "My apprentice," he said. "He's gone to another world, the world the sword came from."

†††††† "Ah." Jerome nodded, and Ciaran heard a murmur from the watchers behind him, as if they were saying, We knew he would. We always had faith in him, unlike that master of his.

†††††† "I went for a while, too, but Elias sent me back. He's king, you know. King of an exiled people with no power. He's promised to help them any way he can, though it's dangerous." He hurled the words at them defiantly. They were always so quick to judge, these great ones, but let them dare say a word against Elias!

†††††† "He isn't coming back?" Jerome said, then continued without waiting for Ciaran's answer. "We will ordain him as a full Brother in his absence. He has passed more tests than we could ever give him, if he proved himself worthy of the sword."

†††††† What did it matter? "But he's hurt!" he cried. "He's trapped somewhere. He's crying out for help. He needs me." He grabbed Jerome by the upper arms. "You have to help me find a way back to him! Please, you have to!"

†††††† Jerome did not fight his grip. "We don't know how," he said. "We never did. We tried for years, but we never could find a way."

†††††† "But you have to." Ciaran slid to his knees. "Please. Please help me. He needs me. I've got to go to him. I was so cruel to him and he has to forgive me. I can't carry on unless I see him again. I can't."

†††††† "I'm sorry." Jerome bent as if to raise him to his feet, but Ciaran's master was there before him, placing his hands protectively on Ciaran's shoulders.

†††††† Ciaran twisted his neck round, peering up at his master, whose face was strangely blurry. "You'll help me find him?"

†††††† Matthias nodded. "I will. But come with me now, Ciaran. Come back to my room and rest. You'll think more clearly in the morning."

†††††† But before the sun rose, over a week would have gone by for Elias. Even as Jerome shook his head and said how useless he was, Elias had experienced a whole hour of torment. Ciaran blinked, and said as much. Matthias listened, but his eyes flickered once over Ciaran's head, exchanging a look with Grand Master Jerome.

†††††† They thought there was no hope. They would tell him the things they thought he wanted to hear, as long as he came with them quietly and stopped causing trouble. They didn't care. They were the sort of people who just stood back and accepted things without fighting. These were the people who just bowed their heads and accepted the decline of their once-great Order.

†††††† But Ciaran had never been like the others. He was a fighter. He would fight impossible odds, and let the others could say what they wished about him. He would change things. He would find Elias. He would never give up.

†††††† "Come on, Ciaran," Matthias urged, tugging him to his feet. He put his arm around Ciaran's waist, supporting him as if he was sick, and started to lead him away. Despite everything, it felt comforting and safe, and Ciaran found himself leaning into the embrace.

†††††† He started to walk away, feet shuffling. People whispered, and he knew they would all be talking about him in the morning, and for days to come. They stared at him, and he wanted to press his face into his master's shoulder to avoid them. He knew he ought to shout something defiant, but he was very tired.

†††††† "Nearly there." Down the stairs, in shady darkness, and the watchers were no longer there. After twenty steps his master led him through a door, to a landing just like to one above, where he had faced Jerome. He opened the nearest door, and helped Ciaran inside. "Sit down." He guided him to the edge of the bed, where Ciaran found himself sitting, shuffling back until he was leaning against the wall. He pulled his legs up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, just like Elias used to do.

†††††† "You can stay here," Matthias told him, but Ciaran was already looking around the small room. He had always met his master in public places before, and had never seen the space he had made his own. The room was simple, but not barren. There was a picture of Ciaran on the dark wooden desk, and Ciaran was touched to see it, then ashamed, for he had no picture of Elias in his own house.

†††††† Matthias was preparing tea, and Ciaran could only see his back. "They were all staring at me," Ciaran said. "I used to dream of that, of everyone talking about me. But they always have, haven't they? I was the one stupid enough to fall for Gideon's promises." He stumbled over the name, but he said it. "I was the one who wasted myself in Greenslade, but thought I was doing such great work. And now I'm the one who went mad in the middle of the night and woke everyone up."

†††††† His master's turned round, the empty teapot clutched in his hands. "It's not true, Ciaran. It's a good thing that you want to help Elias, that you were prepared to give so much to find him. The Ciaran Morgan I saw a few hours ago wouldn't have done that. I was proud of you."

†††††† Ciaran plucked at the edge of the blanket. "But you don't think I'll ever find him." His voice was leaden, stating a fact, not asking a question.

†††††† His master put the teapot down and walked to the bed, where he sat down beside Ciaran. "I think you can contact him. I think you can be a comfort to him. But find him? Not even the masters could find a way into that world. How can you?"

†††††† "I have to," he said. "He's hurting. He needs me. He's... He's Elias. He's mine." Matthias started to speak, but Ciaran stopped him, managing to muster a small spark of his fire. "Don't say it! You think I made my choice and have to let him go. You think I'll fail. You think I have to resign myself, and give up."

†††††† "Not give up," his master murmured, but it meant the same, didn't it?

†††††† "I won't give up." Ciaran muttered. Turning his face towards the wall, he closed his eyes, and pretended to sleep. But you have to give up, his thoughts whispered. What else can you do? There's no hope. There's no hope at all.

†††††† He slammed his hands to his ears, but the thoughts were still there. After a while, watched over by a master who believed he would fail, he slept, but the thoughts followed him even there.