Chapter Four

He said the best route would be to back-track. Agin. To go north and cross the eastern branch of the Eudora River, then go farther north until they could cross the main Eudora and travel through the Eudora pass. After that it would be a week long journey, if they took their time, to Kest. Their other option would result in a trek over three hundred miles of various terrain, while the first covered only three quarters of that.

"Why do we need to go to Kest?" Lucinda asked curiously. "Wouldn't Bane expect you to go there?"

Jareth shrugged. "It would be more likely, to them, if I were to go to the Changing Plains. It is an easy way to get lost; the perfect hiding place. And, I need to go to Kest because I need to do some research and Kest has the largest library in the known world, aside from the Elves, of course. I'm good friends with King Justinian. He owes me a favor."

"Why is that?" Lucinda asked.

Jareth sighed, but didn't look perturbed by her question. As if he had been asked the same question too many times. "Ten years ago, Justinian's Uncle, Osric was Steward of Sita. Justinian was the rightful heir and wished to claim his throne since he had reached the proper age. Osric, however . . . did not wish to give up the throne. He had grown too used to the power it gave him. He refused, blatantly, to step down.

"Justinian then came to me, his close friend, and asked for my help. Together, with some help from a few friends, we forced him to give up his claims to his lands in front of the Royal Council and to flee Sita forever."

"Why?" Lucinda asked. "That seems a little unfair to Osric."

"You desert folk are hidden away too much to know the truth of his terror." Jareth said bitterly. "Osric was no fair ruler. He sought power and money, mainly through exports. At the same time Sita was facing drought, the worse one that the country had faced in many years, and the farmers were unable to produce the numbers he wanted. The results were not good . . . blackmail, disappearances, death."

"Oh my." Lucinda murmured. "And you're sure Justinian will help?"

Jareth nodded. "Of course, why wouldn't he? He's the King."

Lucinda got along quite well with Arrow. The mare was smart, agile, lithe, strong, and competitive, especially when it came to running. But she was also sweet and gentle, and bothered by little but Fargo. For some reason, be it the fact that he flew in circles around her head just to annoy her, or his sharp screeching talk. Lucinda didn't really blame her. Fargo's eyes seemed to follow her every step, an occurrence she found particularly unnerving.

They traveled west first, finding the main branch of the Eudora and then the eastern one, crossing the latter at a shallow, rocky, slick ford. They took the crossing slow, getting off their horses and rolling up their trousers and storing socks and boots in saddle bags, before slowly leading both horses across. Both Arrow and Knight were extremely uneasy and jittery when it came to the water rushing past them. Knight stared too long at the water and almost fell over. Lucinda laughed in shock. "Dizzy." Jareth told her. "The same thing happens at the ocean. You have to be careful when you are riding. If you look at the waves you will get dizzy too and then you could both end up in a stick spot."

They moved northwest as quickly as they could, reaching the main Eudora by nightfall. They camped next to the river and hobbled both horses in a large grassy clearing far from the flowing water so they could eat without stumbling into river and drowning. Jareth went scouting, leaving Lucinda to start a fire and cook some of the rice. She searched by lamplight for any herbs that might add flavor to the bland rice. She found mint, which she gathered to save, a sparse, half-dead clump of rosemary and picked the whole thing. Searching the marshy shoreline she found wild onion and a reedy, bitter sort of wild pea. She took her findings back to the fire and sorted through them, adding the onions and peas to the pot of boiling rice.

Jareth returned with a scrawny rabbit, already skinned and gutted. He smiled at the sight of the food cooking and began to cut pieces of meet off the rabbit. He lay a large, flat sone at the edge of the fire and placed the rabbit meat on it, browning it before adding it to the rice. He sat down and stared at the flames, wrapping a blanket around his shoulders. "The cross we will have to make tomorrow won't be easy. There might be a bridge or ferry farther upstream, if we are lucky. Once we cross the river we have to go through the last bit of mountains before we reach far and pasture land. Then it should be about a week, but shorter if we ride hard."

Arrow nickered when Lucinda went to take her hobbles off and lead her and Knight to the river to drink. The silvery mare nudged her hand gently, hoping for treats. "Sorry," Lucinda told her. "I don't have anything for you." She ran her hands over the gray's coat and found that Amun had been correct; nothing stuck to her slippery hair. She checked for cuts or bruises on the soles of her feet, her legs, and her belly, and pulled the tangles from her mane. She did the same for Knight, relieved to find that neither horse had suffered any sort of damage thus far.

Lucinda kissed Arrow's dark nose and led them back to camp. Jareth was still sleeping so she stirred the ashes in the fire and added wood to heat the left over rice from the night before. The sun was rising later than usual, partly because of the mountains to the east, and partly because winter was on the way.

Jareth woke and stretched, bare chested, yawning as he scooted closer to the fire. Lucinda tried not to stare. It was silly really, of course, for her to stare. It wasn't as if she had never seen a man's naked chest before. He caught her looked and quickly pulled on a shirt, his expression stoic. "Good morning."

*

The cross was going to be dangerous, both of them knew it. Neither horse seemed to want anything to do with the icy mountain water. They reared and balked, refusing to enter the river. Finally, after hours of struggle, Jareth swore and mounted. "There had damn well be a ford to the north." he hissed angrily. "Stupid animals. If there isn't any other way to cross we will have to blind fold them and stuff their ears and pull them across."

Lucinda mounted Arrow and tried to settle her. She was shaking. Scared and nervous. She quivered and danced. Lucinda spoke softly, singing desert songs, hoping to distract her. Arrow fell in step behind Knight, her head set and neck arched as she had been trained.

They traveled alongside the river when they could. If the terrain was too rocky or the trees too thick, they traveled away from the river, farther east, moving back and forth, all day long. When at last they stopped to make camp it was nearly midnight and both were too tired to doi much besides unsaddle the horses and fall asleep on half made beds.

When Lucinda woke, ravenous, she used some of their water to soak the beans and a few handfuls of rice, while she started the fire. Jareth woke and took the horses to the river ro drink before tying them back to the tree.

"Will you tell me now how old you are?" Lucinda asked bluntly.

"I suppose. It would be better now."

Lucinda sat back down on her blankets and waited for him to speak. He took his time; setting the rice and beans in the fire and sitting on his own blankets, warding off the early morning chill. Fargo screeched and flew around him before landing deftly on his shoulder. "When you are born the way I was . . . with obvious differences, parents generally know exactly what to do. Children like me are sent to school with other magical children from Hirum and Urik. We schooled in Urik, close to the southern sea.

"All magic comes from two places; nature and within the body. Every person, every animal, every plant or tree has magic. Some people are born able to access both sources, some only one, and many others neither. Magic . . . it shouldn't really be called magic at all. It's really all just energy. Using the energy stores within your body has a likely effect; using energy makes you tired. Energy taken from animals has the same effect on them. Flower and plants will wilt, trees will loose their leaves when too much energy is taken from them."

Lucinda listened intently, watching his face as he spoke, hoping to catch the slightest hint of emotion. He was so . . . unreadable. Stoic. Maybe that was why she wasn't quite sure that she liked him. "Go on," she told him gently. "This is fascinating."

"At school students are taught how to tap the energy without taking too much. They learn how much can lead to death in animals, in plants, in trees, even in people. They learn to control it and wield it to their benefit or for others'. Students attend classes for eleven years in the classroom and then another five to seven studying outside, one-on-one with instructors involving real events."

He stopped talking for a short while. "How old are you?" Lucinda pressed.

He snorted. "You won't like the answer."

"I still want to know."

"Magicians are given the choice, by the Gods, if we wish to remain mortal, or if we wish for true Immortality." he paused. "That was the worse decision I think I have ever made. I thought . . . I thought it would be glorious. Wonderful to live forever. But . . . I can't . . . I can't even kill myself."

"Why–why on earth would you want to kill yourself?" Lucinda exclaimed.

"Watching your family, your father, your mother, your brothers . . . watching your friends die isn't . . . It's very painful. It does things to the soul and the mind . . . knowing that you will always be alone. I will never find someone who can stay with me until I die."

"Were your brothers like you? Why can't you marry another magician?"

"My brothers were smart. They saw what I did not. They chose a mortal life. They were already deeply in love, and a few already had children; they knew the choice they would make when they were asked. They understood the consequences. As for marrying another magician . . . It is deadly, most of the time. The only way that one of us can die is by the hands of another. If I fell in love with a magician, I could just as easily anger her and she could kill me without a thought, accidental or otherwise. It's very . . . complicated, but it has been done before."

"How awful." Lucinda murmured. She tried to imagine living for ever, having walked the earth like Jareth had, but she couldn't.

Jareth nodded. "I know. I was stupid."

Lucinda shrugged. "We all make mistakes. And besides . . . if you hadn't decided to leave your mortal life behind we would not be here. Justinian would not be on the throne. Osric would still be ruling, and who knows, maybe he would have taken control of Hirum, or Urik next. I could easily see King Endrik being . . . persuaded by Osric. He is not a very bright King."

Jareth seemed to ignore her comments. "Tell me about your parents." he said instead.

"I don't know them." Lucinda said truthfully. "They died. My father before I was born and my mother right after. But . . . Nana has raised me well. She has given me exactly the life I wanted and I could not ask her for anything more." Her eyes fell to the ground. Nana. Sweet, Dear, Nana . . . Lucinda missed her terribly, but if staying away from the inn meant safety for her, Rhea, and other guests, Lucinda would not hesitate.

"When we get to Kest you can write her. I'll send Fargo back. He could get there much quicker than a normal messenger."

Lucinda breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, I would like that. And I promise that I will say nothing about Kest at all when I write. I will just say that I am safe and that I am . . . sorry."

Jareth smiled. "She will like hearing from you. Now, we have some traveling to do. There is a ferry, crude, but it will work. It is about two miles from here."

They packed up camp, stowing away their belongings in the saddlebags. They ate and mounted up. They rode briskly for two miles alongside the river until they reached the ford. There was a small ferry-house on either shore and a crude raft made of split timber lay against the shore, lashed by crumbling ropes and nailed together where the builder had thought absolutely necessary. Lucinda dismounted uneasily as Jareth did the same. He handed her Knight's reins and strode forward toward the leaning hut on the shore. He knocked on the door and stepped back, waiting. Nothing. He knocked again and then tried the door. It was unlocked, apparently, so he ducked his head and went inside. Lucinda led the horses closer to the cottage, unease growing at the distance that separated her and Jareth. She had an ill feeling. The two horses investigated the short cottage curiously, nibbling on some of the lichens that had grown on the roof, and jumped when Jareth cam back out, shaking his head.

"No one."

Lucinda frowned. "Are we supposed to cross ourselves? The cottages look very . . . old. Maybe this place has been abandoned."

Jareth sighed. "It has been abandoned. Two brothers, dwarves actually, who had been run out of the Lost Caves by the King, used to run the ferry system."

"Explains the size of the cottages." Lucinda noted. "What do you believe happened to them?"

Jareth shook his head. "I'm not sure." He looked about the clearing and then walked toward the forest. He came back a few moments later, scratching his head. "There isn't anything that would provide an explanation . . . Strange. They were fine a few years back–"

Lucinda's ears caught the twang of an arrow being released seconds before it hit Jareth's arm. He yelled in surprise and pain and then ran forward. Knight reared and Arrow spooked, ripping her reins from Lucinda's hands, darting away as fast as she could on such short notice.

Lucinda made to go after her, but two figures swarmed toward them out of the trees. She backed away, clutching Jareth's uninjured arm. One of the men was bald and badly scarred. The other was . . . blond. Terrified, Lucinda gazed at the men. The bald one winked. "Remember me, girl?"

Lucinda shivered and Jareth bit out, "Bane, this is between you and me. Leave Lucinda out of this mess." His voice was calm, despite Lucinda's assurance that he was angry.

"Wouldn't have found you if it weren't for her. She lies with her eyes."

"I'm sorry, Jareth." Lucinda breathed. "If I had known–"

"Later, Lucinda. Now is not the time for apologies. I have a duel to win. Step back please." Jareth directed softly.

Lucinda nodded her head once and stepped away, Knight's reins still clutched tightly in her hand. The blond man turned back into the forest while Jareth and Bane circled each other, looking for cracks in the other's defense, and came back with Arrow. Wide-eyed, Lucinda waited for something terrible to happen to the quaking mare, but the man just held her reins, watching the two magician's with steely eyes.

Jareth removed his outer robes and the battle began. It was hard for Lucinda to follow. The magic wasn't visible to her. The only way she knew that something was happening was when Bane flew backward, seemingly of his own accord. Spinning. Yells of pain . . .

Lucinda wasn't much help watching so she quickly mounted Knight and drew Jareth's sword from where it hung on the saddle. The blond man was too absorbed in the fight to notice her charging forward until it was too late. She ran the man through and watched in disgust as his body slid off the sword. Arrow screamed and reared. Lucinda reached down and picked up the reins, tossing them over a tree branch and then turned back to the fight. But the smell of the blond man's blood made her lightheaded. She fought the weights that pressed down on her, pushing at the waves until she lost her balance and slipped out of the saddle, crashing painfully to the ground.