Comet's natural charm worked wonders on Delph, who was soon fussing over him like a mother hen. He ate the biggest meal he'd had in years and felt quite guilty about it afterwards.
"I'll take that." Comet nodded towards the tray of food for Lady Zeal.
"You are a sweety." Delph smiled widely and handed the tray to Comet. There was no reply when Comet tapped gently on the bedroom door. Maybe he should leave her resting. Comet was just about to tip-toe away when Lady Zeal opened the door. The tray nearly ended up on the floor. Zeal was wearing Lore's official dress uniform. Black trousers, red silk shirt and a black cape complete with royal insignia clasp. Obviously the ensemble was far too big for her and looked totally ridiculous.
"I've brought your lunch." Comet said needlessly. Zeal looked at Comet, then at the food. "The ham and cheese is wonderful. I've just had some." Zeal nodded and picked up a slice of ham that was the size of the plate. She began biting chunks out of it, then wandered back into the room. Comet shrugged his shoulders and followed her. "Have you slept?" He asked.
"Slept." Zeal considered this with a mouth full of ham. "Oh yes. Yes I've slept." She tossed the ham on the bed and grabbed a lump of cheese. "Will you tell me about Entia? I don't remember some of this. I saw the statue in the Square."
"Well a lot has changed in twenty years, Lady Zeal." Comet handed Zeal a knife and fork. She held the cutlery in one hand and continued eating her food with her free hand.
"I don't understand this twenty years." She shook her head.
"Well you know you mistook Clash for Lore? That's because Lore was around Clash's age when you last saw him. Clash would have been a baby." Comet explained.
"So Clash looks like Lore because of twenty years. Yes?" Zeal wiped her mouth on Lore's very expensive shirt.
"Yes. Clash has aged twenty years, so has Lore and so has everyone else, apart from you."
"Yes, even me. I'm only slightly younger than Clash. I'm twenty too."
"More twenty? OK so Clash is twenty. What is Lore?" Zeal asked.
"I believe he's forty five." Comet replied and Zeal looked very confused indeed. "Two twenties and ... a bit."
"And I'm twenty too, just like Clash."
"Yes but that's because you haven't aged for some reason. Perhaps you can recall why?" Comet asked hopefully.
"No." Zeal said simply.
"Great." Comet muttered. "Maybe you shouldn't eat so fast, Lady Zeal." Zeal was still cramming food into her mouth.
"I like it."
"I can tell." Comet winced at the state of Lord Dawnstar's uniform. "You'll make yourself sick. Take your time. Here look." He took the cutlery from Zeal, cut off a small piece of meat, then handed it back to her.
"Yes. Thank you." Zeal ate that, then tried to copy Comet. "I went ... somewhere."
"Yes you did, for twenty years. You can't remember where?"
"No." Zeal frowned and shook her head, before having another go with the cutlery. "I have to do something ... or something. Damn, blast and shite to it! Why can't I remember anything?" Comet almost fell off his seat in shock at the colourful outburst from Lady Dawnstar. "I'm no good at that either." She threw the knife and fork on the bed.
"Of course you can, you just need time." Comet smiled. "Umm ... I'm not sure if this is part of my job but maybe you should drop the language when you're in company."
"What?" Zeal grabbed her fork again.
"Swearing. The language you used just then when you got frustrated. Don't get me wrong, I can handle it and I understand. Maybe others could be a bit surprised." Comet tried to explain.
"No one was surprised at Captain Baron."
"Ah yes, you were in the barracks, I forgot. I'm absolutely certain that Captain Baron wouldn't have swore if he'd known you could hear him. It's incredibly rude and disrespectful to swear infront of ladies, especially one such as yourself." Comet said.
"So I don't swear infront of ladies. Yes OK." Zeal eventually mastered the cutlery.
"No you don't swear a all. You are a lady. In fact you're the Lady." Comet tried so hard not to laugh.
"This is complicated." Zeal sighed. "I need to go."
"Go where?" Comet asked in panic.
"Go. You know? Serai said I had to shut myself in the small room out there if I needed to go." Zeal explained.
"Oh! Oh go? Er yes. You'd better go." Comet opened the door. "Over there, see? Small room."
"Thank you." Zeal minced past Comet.
"I can't do this." He muttered to himself. "I'll have to ask to see Shadow in person." He set about tidying up the mess Zeal had made wih the food.
"Much better." Zeal breezed back in and Comet didn't know if to laugh or cry when he saw the Lord's cape was sodden wet at the hem.
"Lady Zeal? Wouldn't you prefer to wear something else?" Comet asked.
"Does it matter? Serai took my other things. She said Bess' taste in clothes was horrible." Zeal told him.
"Well those clothes
are Lord Dawnstar's and they're far too big for you."
"I found them in that hole in the wall."
"The cupboard, yes. Is there nothing in there a bit more suitable?" Comet made a note to grab Serai to address this. This was her job, not his!
"I'll look. Bess said not to undress infront of ogling perverts. You'll have to leave." Zeal began ransacking the cupboard that seemed to contain only Lore's clothes.
"I'll take this tray back down and return later to check on your wounds." Comet said. Zeal just nodded and continued hunting. Comet grimaced and left her to it. He returned the tray to Delph, accepted a sweet biscuit, then went to look for Serai. He didn' get far when he heard a cross between a howl and a sob, and it wasn't Zeal. Comet ran up the stairs as fast as he could to find Lord Dawnstar in his room and far from happy.
"It's ruined!" He yelled, holding up the wet cloak. "It's got what on it? How dare you!"
"I don't know what that means. Was I not to wear it? I felt cold." Zeal sounded completely baffled by all the fuss.
"No, Zeal, you were not to wear it." Lore said angrily. "Or this, or this, or that! What in the names of the gods are you doing?"
"Dressing. I'm cold!"
"Just get into bed, Zeal. I'll send out for you some clothes of your own." Lore snapped.
"I don't know what I've done to upset you. Maybe I should try Clash's clothes hole. He doesn't have as many twenties."
"No! No you will not, Zeal! Stay in there and stay covered up."
"Yes. OK. What if I need to go?"
"You don't go anywhere until I get you some clothes." Lore said flatly. Comet grimaced and made a very disturbing prediction. "Ah Comet! We have a ... situation. She's to stay in that bed. Understood?"
"Completely." Comet watched Lore stamp down the stairs with an armful of ruined clothes. Zeal looked absolutely bewildered as she sat in bed with the sheet up to her chin.
"I think I sodded something up but I'm not sure how." She said seriously. Comet tried his best to explain that something like a dress uniform was most probably something that Lore took great pride in.
"I'm sure Lord Dawnstar was more ... surprised ... than angry."
"My arse. He was furious." Zeal said ruefully.
"Barracks talk, Lady Zeal." Comet reminded her.
"Oh yes, sorry. Comet I feel ... heavy earth. Why is that?"
"I'm not sure. I'm not sure what you mean." Comet replied warily, mindful that Zeal was a wizard.
"It's Lore. I thought about both of them while I was ... wherever I was. I told water all about them and how fantastic my man was. It was important so I didn't get lost." Zeal frowned in concentration.
"Thinking about him kept your spirits up. I can understand that." Comet immediately thought of Brand and it almost set the tears off. "Lore and Clash were your connection to home. Of course you thought about them. You love them both very much."
"Is that what it is? I feel it but I don't recognise it. Does Lore love me?"
"What? Of course he does!" Comet smiled. "He'll tell you that himself."
"But he hasn't. Isn't he supposed to do something? For me especially, I mean?" Zeal asked.
"Ah, I'm not sure you should be asking me this." Comet said awkwardly.
"Probably not. I've gotten everything else wrong. OK so I love Lore, and I always have. Right, I know the feeling now. I feel earth because I feel ... flat. I feel ... heavy. It's because Lore doesn't have feelings." Zeal struggled o get her meaning across.
"Wait." Comet tried to digest this. "You think that Lore doesn't love you? I'm sure he does, Zeal." He felt very sorry for Zeal. Wherever she'd been, it had stripped away her ability to handle her life here. "He was just a bit angry about the clothes, that's all."
"Surprised, you said. No Comet. He never smiles at me. He never tells me he thinks of me even though it's been a twenty for him. Is it my fault? I do realise I have to re-learn a few things."
"I don't think there is a fault. I think you have to give yourself time. You're trying to fill in gaps with the most complicated thing of all. Emotions. As for Lore? You have to remember what a huge shock this is for him. It's a huge shock to all of us, but especially him."
"Yes I understand. I've forgotten how to do things and that upsets Lore. Will you help me?"
"Yes of course I will." Comet nodded. Perhaps getting information wasn't going to be impossible after all. He felt a huge pang of guilt over all this. He genuinely did feel sorry for Zeal. It was quite pitiful for him to see their great hero in such a state of confusion.
"So I want you with me all of the time to advise me and correct me. Yes?" Zeal nodded eagerly.
"As much as I can. It'll be a pleasure." Comet smiled. Serai came into the room with a few of her own dresses, and a nightgown.
"Sacred Mother, Lord Dawnstar is furious." She said. Zeal looked at the bedsheet and Comet glared at Serai. "That was a very careless thing to do, Lady Zeal."
"Hey, hang on." Comet spoke up when he saw how upset Zeal was. "So it wasn't careless that none of the womenfolk here realised Lady Zeal has no possessions? She's been away for two decades, of course she has no clothes."
"Even so, Lord Dawnstar's uniform?" Serai said challengingly.
"She was trying to keep warm, seeing as no one had left her anything else. Or maybe you're suggesting that someone sick enough to require a Tender, should wander about in a bedsheet buying her own things?" Comet never was one for backing down from an argument. Serai looked away first. "She's not at fault, Serai. I don't want her upset by accusations of carelessness on her part."
"If that's what you think. Excuse me, Lady Dawnstar." Serai walked stiffly from the room.
"Now I've upset Serai." Zeal sighed.
"You haven't." Comet glared at the door. "Really you haven't. She should think before she speaks and she certainly shouldn't speak to you like that. You're the Lady of the house. You pay her wages."
"Thank you. I'm pleased you're staying with me." Zeal smiled.
"As much as I can, as I said." Comet replied, holding the door open for Lore who appeared with stacks of packages and boxes.
"Mittin got these. You'll get some of a better quality when I have someone to advise me on such things." He dumped the packages on the floor.
"I love you." Zeal said bluntly.
"Yes. I'm your husband." Lore said awkwardly, looking at Comet. Comet just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
"Comet will sleep in here, Lore. Will we all fit in?" Zeal said. Comet squeaked and almost fainted. Lore looked at Zeal as though she'd sprouted a new head.
"N ... no! Er no!" Comet yelped. "Lady Zeal? What?" If Lore lost his temper here he could throw Comet out of the house. that wouldn't bode well for Brand.
"You said you'd stay with me. Have I said something wrong again?" Zeal looked warily at Lore.
"Lord Dawnstar, I sincerely apologise. This is probably all my fault for not making myself clear." Comet grovelled. "I assured Lady Zeal that I'd stay with her as much as possible to help and advise her. I'm a Tender."
"Tenders sleep too." Zeal said unhelpfully.
"Not in there with you they don't." Lore said flatly. "Comet, explain to Lady Zeal at a later time, why her comment was inappropriate."
"Me?" Comet blurted. "Sir I would never speak on such a level with Lady Zeal!"
"You're a Tender." Lore scowled at him.
"Yes sir. A professional carer. I'm not a close, personal associate of Lady Zeal's and I'm the wrong gender!" Comet pleaded.
"Oh yes, I see. I tend to think of you lot as ... neutral." Lore said in annoyance.
"Thank you sir." Comet said sarcastically. "I was just about to examine Lady Zeal. Will you stay?" Lore nodded and Comet tried to muster up a bit of confidence. He gingerly poked and prodded a few cuts on Zeal's head and arms, then rubbed some foul smelling salve on them. Zeal's ribs caused him to take a deep breath and burrow a tunnel through the sheets to the site of the injury. "Am I on the wrong side? There's no sign of injury. Tender Antal told me you had cracked ribs."
"Where?" Zeal lifted the sheet completely. Comet stood up quickly and looked imploringly at Lore.
"For crying out loud!" Lore dragged the sheet back over Zeal. "Maybe I should engage a female Tender. I didn't foresee any of this at all."
"No!" Comet and Zeal both said together.
"That's all fixed down there." Zeal nodded. "I won't need to do that anymore. I'm sorry."
"Fixed? You had three cracked ribs." Lore said.
"Is that what it was? Yes it hurt like a bastard." Zeal said seriously and Comet had to turn away to hide a laugh. "Ah barracks again. Sorry! No, I fixed it. It's fine."
"Zeal did you use magic?" Lore frowned at his wife.
"Yes." Zeal sighed. "Earth forces. Lore it isn't wrong! It isn't bad!"
"Oh? The forces that took you to ... gods know where, for two decades? I'd say it was very wrong for anything to separate a mother from her infant." Lore preached and Zeal looked devastated. Comet thought that was an incredibly unfair and very cruel thing to say. Obviously he kept his mouth shut.
"It wasn't like that." Zeal said feebly.
"I won't argue with you, Zeal. You have no argument. I'll send Serai to help you dress for dinner. Comet, you'll join us in the dining room." Lore strode out of the room. Comet smiled reassuringly at Zeal and followed him.
Zeal looked endlessly better dressed in a long blue dress and a shawl. Serai had brushed her lovely hair too, and the bugs seemed to have gone. She sat opposite her husband, Comet was opposite Clash. Zeal glanced at Comet to see which cutlery he'd picked up, the copied him.
"Clash?" Zeal said with her mouth full. Comet pursed his lips so Zeal swallowed before continuing. "Clash? You do know that I didn't leave you on purpose a twenty ago, don't you?"
"The forces took you." Clash replied.
"No. No they didn't. Umm well yes they did." Zeal frowned in frustration. "They needed me for something but I don't know why."
"Clash needed you too, so did I." Lore said flatly.
"Father, please." At least Clash saw the hurt look in his mother's eyes. "We worked out that it was probably some sort of Pact. Does that sound right?"
"Pact?" Zeal considered this. "Yes that does sound right. The forces gave me the magic to defeat the Barbarians."
"And what did you give them?" Clash asked.
"Myself, obviously." Zeal shrugged. "I can't remember why. I went for a purpose." She shook her head in concentration. "Oh arseholes to it. I'll remember some time." She picked up the wine bottle and drank straight from it. Clash snorted a laugh and Zeal looked at him over the bottle. He nodded at Lore, who looked far from impressed. "Swearing or bottle?"
"Both." Lore took the bottle from Zeal. "The Courts and the government want to meet with you, Zeal. Even the Queen herself is keen to see you. Personally I don't think you're up to it. Comet?"
"Maybe waiting a while before public engagements would be for the best." Comet said diplomatically.
"You don't want me to see people? Why?" Zeal asked, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. Comet discretely handed her a napkin, then dabbed at his own mouth with one. Zeal nodded and copied him, then tossed the napkin on the floor.
"That isn't the point." Lore said. "You should wait until you're better ... adjusted, Zeal." Comet thought that a rather strange choice of words and was confused with Lore. Zeal Dawnstar was a hero of epic proportions. If she was Comet's wife, he'd have her dancing in the street with her people. Why wouldn't Lore want to show her off? Comet found himself looking at a painting above the fireplace. It was a painting of the statue in the Square. He also recalled the gifts and tributes left in the Square on Zeal Day. Comet didn't think for one minute that the Dawnstars claimed all these gifts, but they'd certainly done well for themselves over the last twenty years. This was a lifestyle they'd want to sustain and producing Zeal for the Queen and Courts with an affected mind could compromise that. Comet suddenly felt a rather bitter taste in his mouth.
"OK so we wait a while." Zeal shrugged. "You didn't answer my question, Clash. Do you think I abandoned you willingly? I didn't."
"No of course not." Clash said awkwardly. Obviously he was unused to such maternal concern, especially from someone his own age.
"Does it matter? You saved Entia." Lore reached for more wine. "Clash, have ..."
"I think it does matter, somehow. I'm just not sure why." Zeal interrupted. "I feel it's important that Clash knows I didn't abandon him. There will be a reason for it."
"I think you're tired." Lore commented. It took every ounce of restraint that Comet had to keep his mouth closed. It was glaringly obvious why it was important! She was his mother! Why didn't one of them just tell her that as an explanation?
"No, not tired." Zeal said simply. "I do know that I've missed something very special, Clash. I've missed you growing."
"Six feet five's worth." Clash smiled and made Zeal laugh.
"You're not like me at all! You're exactly like Lore, isn't he Comet? Your father was the most handsome man in Entia when he asked me to marry him. He was studying history and the law even back then. I knew you'd do well in the government, Lore." Zeal smiled at her huband who, quite frankly, looked bored. Zeal noticed that too. "Yes. Yes well I'm pleased you followed in his footsteps Clash. I think I'll go and sit in the garden while the sun's still up."
"Take Comet with you. Clash and I have business to discuss." Lore said dismissively.
Comet found Zeal sitting by the pool, making tiny fountains spring from its flat surface. She stopped when she saw him approaching.
"Have I done something wrong, Comet? Shock or no shock, I don't understand it. Does he not remember proposing to me? Doesn't he remember our life before the Barbarian attack?"
"Of course he remembers. Why would he not?" Comet replied.
"So why doesn't he like me now? He did then."
"Zeal I'm sure he does still like you." Comet said, although he had a few doubts of his own edging in.
"Why did he never re-marry?"
"Heck Zeal I have no idea." Comet smiled. "Let's face it, you're a pretty hard act to follow. It's just as well eh? I can imagine a realm hero being a very despairing rival." That made Zeal laugh.
"Maybe he'll find me interesting again if I knew where I'd been and why I was back. That's bound to be interesting to the government."
"I think we'd all like to know that." Comet said lightly and thoughts of Brand flooded into his head.
"It's the magic, Comet. It's something important to do with the magic. I wish I could remember." Zeal sighed.
"It'll come to you, don't worry. Have a swear if you like." Comet grinned and Zeal laughed again. "It bound to be to do with magic. Everything about it is magical, yourself included. Wherever you've been has no time."
"Confusing." Zeal frowned in concentration.
"No passing of time. No twenties. No tens, fives, ones or anything else. You haven't been aged by time." Comet tried to clarify.
"I should be two twenties now. That's ... oh buggery ... don't tell me! ... twenty, twenty, forty!"
"Yep! You'd have been forty if you'd stayed here." Comet said.
"Queen Honor? Oh! She was twenty when she was crowned! Is twenty always such a prevalent ... thing?" Zeal asked.
"Just a coincidence in this case. Queen Honor was thirty when you left. She's fifty now. Can you remember Musit Dure?" Comet smiled.
"He had more twenties than everyone put together, even before I left!" Zeal nodded.
"He's still on the Queen's Council and he's ninety five. That's almost five twenties!" Comet laughed.
"What about Oola and En Greycloud? Do they still have the farm by the River Ent?" Zeal recalled this suddenly.
"River Zeal." Comet corrected and Zeal rolled her eyes. "Oola is still here as far as I know. En passed away about three years ago."
"I see. I used to play on the farm and feed the horses."
"Really? Did you live by the river?"
"Well I was found by the river so I suppose I did for a few hours." Zeal shrugged. "Mistress Hulu who lived by the Infirmary, found me and raised me with her six sons and four daughters. She'd gone by the time I was married and the children had all left Entia to live in other parts of the realm. So you see, having someone as educated and as refined as Lore taking an interest in me, is probably the best thing that's ever happened to me."
"Well you're definitely the best thing that happened to him." Comet said ambiguously. "You gave him a fine son, for one thing."
"Yes he is fine." Zeal agreed. "I feel my memory returning, and along with it, my memory of ... um ... social behaviour. Sort of. Everything stops when I was standing out on West Ridge. I need to see people, Comet. I need to be reminded of my home. I've no pricks here."
"Pricks. Sharp ... things ... to make my memory work. How long do I have to stay here with no people?" Zeal asked in agitation.
"Well I'm your Tender but the final decision is Lore's. I can mention this to him, if you like?"
"Yes please. Thank you Comet." Zeal smiled, then looked serious. "I have a problem."
"OK. Let's hear it."
"Given my new sense of decorum, of sorts, I now know why Lore was a bit ... pointed ... when I outlined the sleeping arrangements." Zeal said sensibly.
"Oh that! Yes it was a bit surprising." Comet laughed.
"I can imagine so. I have vague recollections of the bed being for other things apart from sleeping and going in. I can't remember what to do." Zeal said in irritation.
"This isn't happening." Comet muttered. "Well first off, the bed isn't for going in. Small room remember? I think Lore misunderstood what you meant when he told you not to go. You need to go, you go to the small room."
"I'll remember. And the other?"
"Zeal that's one thing I can't advise you on. I swear I can't." Comet said in amusement and a touch of sympathy. "You're going to ask me why now, I know you are. Remember the decorum stuff? It wouldn't be right at all for me to discuss that with you, for a few reasons. You're a married Lady. The only people who should ever, ever mention the subject are you and Lore. No exceptions."
"Not even Clash?"
"Shit no! Er .. pardon me. No, not even Clash. You and your husband. Absolutely no one else." Comet emphasised.
"Understood." Zeal nodded seriously. "What about wind? I almost exploded during dinner because I wasn't sure if to let it out or not." Comet cringed and began another lesson.
Lore and Clash sat in the study, drinking wine.
"You could have at least answered her, father." Clash said.
"Perhaps." Lore rubbed his tired eyes. "It's taken twenty years to get here, Clash. That's twenty years of thinking your mother was never coming back. She stood still, I didn't. What we have now is for you, remember. The throne of Entia is coming to you."
"Yes I understand that, but we can't just pretend she isn't here. Those people out there worship her! She's a ready made successor to Queen Honor." Clash said gloomily.
"There's more to it than that. Stop behaving like a brat. As long as I have Honor between the sheets, the crown is yours. I've never let you down before." Lore snapped.
"I presume you don't want the Courts thinking she's feeble minded?" Clash said sulkily.
"No. People would switch adulation for sympathy. Sympathy doesn't carry the status. Why the shit did she have to come back?" Lore sighed loudly.
"Well she did and she's right here. Maybe leave her with her Tender for now until things stabilise." Clash advised.
"Maybe so, yes. I need sleep. I have a meeting tomorrow while you're in with the Council. Feel free to stay here." Lore said.
"I'll return to my rooms. It's fine." Clash let himself out of the house.
Zeal was brushing her hair at the mirror when Lore entered the bedroom. He had hoped she'd be asleep.
"You look tired." Zeal put down her brush. Lore just nodded and began pulling off his boots. "I'm a bit of a shock, I know." She climbed on the bed behind her husband. "I never expected to have a river and a statue named after me." Zeal rested her head on Lore's shoulder and he edged away. "Lore?"
"I'm tired, Zeal." Lore muttered.
"Haven't you missed me at all? You were the first thing I thought of when I returned. I love you Lore, I always have."
"Zeal, don't." Lore moved out of the way completely. Zeal looked completely bewildered. "What do you expect from me after all these years? Do you think I can just switch off then back on? What do you want from me?"
"My husband." Zeal said weakly. She was so very hurt, far worse than the pain from her cuts, bruises and ribs. Lore rolled over and urned his back on his wife. Zeal noticed her eyes were seeping water and made a note to ask Comet about it.
Dawnstar Of Entia