When Baerd returned with the firewood, it was to find Alessan just as he’d left him; sitting cross-legged on his dusty brown pack and gazing intensely into the glowing embers of the fire as though trying to work out some puzzle at the heart of it.
“I found more wood,” Baerd said unnecessarily, setting the small pile of sticks down as he spoke.
Alessan looked up briefly to meet his friend’s worried glance, then shook his head as though to clear it. “Will it be enough to last the night, do you think?”
“Should be,” Baerd answered. “We don’t want a big fire, anyway, and I found a good deal of hard wood so it ought to burn well enough.”
Both men were silent for a few minutes as Baerd added more wood to the dying red-gold flames and carefully piled the rest to one side. In the still night, the crackling fire seemed loud and almost brash against the calm light of the single moon and the soft breeze whispering through the trees.
“What if my mother’s right?” Alessan said suddenly.
Baerd felt his chest tighten reflexively at the words. “She isn’t,” he said shortly. “You know that, Alessan.”
“Do I?” His friend returned mildly.
“You do,” said dryly. “You were the one who explained it to me, remember? And however reluctant I may have been to accept it, you were right. This isn’t something we can fix by running at it and slaughtering everything in our path. Your mother-” Baerd bit back what he was about to say. “She will understand,” he continued carefully. “She knows how politics works sometimes. It is only disappointment that makes her act this way, Alessan.”
Baerd watched as his friend’s lips twisted into an expression more akin to a grimace than a smile. “She is disappointed because of me,” Alessan replied, his tone still mild. “She is disappointed in me. That is fair, she has every right to be.”
“No, Alessan!” Baerd felt his chest twist again. “She is not right to be disappointed in you. With what army does she expect you to charge into battle? With which allies? If you do not act with caution, you will get us all killed, and then Tigana really will be lost.”
Alessan was silent a moment. “My brothers would have found a way. My father too. My mother expects me to live up to my lineage.”
Baerd closed his eyes against what he heard in his friend’s voice. Why, he thought savagely, did this have to happen now? What right had she to destroy with a letter the hard won confidence and slowly built plans of the past two years? Once upon a time, before the world had been re-forged in flames and rubble, Princess Pasithea di Tigana bren Serazi had been a woman beloved by her country, for her warmth and wisdom as much as for her beauty. From the words that had been written to her youngest, last remaining son that morning, it was clear that she had truly survived the battle of the Deisa no more than her husband had.
“You will live up to that lineage.” Alessan snorted quietly. “You will, you already do. Times have changed, politics have changed. You live up to your lineage by understanding that and reacting to it. Your mother wants you to play by the rules of her generation but we can’t Alessan. Rebel armies and lone assassination attempts are useless against empires powered by magic. You need to tell her to be patient. One day you’ll do so much more than just kill the man who killed your father.”
Alessan shook his head. “One day. My father would have gathered an army of exiles by now. My brothers would have rallied troops wherever they went. And me? I don’t even know how to gather an army. I’m no great orator, I’m not an amazing swordsman. My only knowledge of tactics comes from books, not battles. I only ever learnt how to lead an orchestra, no one ever expected me to need to do anything else. What do I have? What can I possibly do, just me, on my own?”
The silence stretched out just a moment too long.
“I don’t have your words,” Baerd said gruffly. “But you must know that you have me, for whatever you need of me. And you have Marius. It may be a small start but still, it is a start. We will find other exiles, other people who have reason to hate the Tyrants. My sister, Naddo, the leaders that disappeared after the battles. If we are careful, if we are patient... This is the only way. Or at least, the only way that doesn’t guarantee the both of us dying before the year is out. You know this, Alessan. Your mother will come around to the idea, eventually. You just need to give her time.”
“Time,” Alessan looked briefly as though he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Always, time is the answer.” For the first time since the letter had come that morning, he raised his troubled gaze to look straight into his friend’s warm, worried brown eyes. “And what if she is right? What if we are just “two young boys dreaming foolish dreams”? What then?”
Baerd shrugged. “Then we fail. But we do so knowing we gave it our very souls.”
“But we still fail.”
“Does the trying not count for anything?”
It was Alessan’s turn to be silent. “If Tigana is still lost at the end, then I don’t know if it does. The end result is the same either way, and who is to know any different?”
“We will. The god and the goddesses will.”
Alessan smiled sadly. “So nothing changes. If we fail, exactly the same people will know as knew before. Tigana is still lost and we are lost with it. The chance is gone.”
“So what other option do we have? I left home because I had to know that I had tried something. Alessan, we couldn’t defend our country because they wouldn’t let us, because we were too young. Then we couldn’t defend our country because no one could hear us if we did. Now even the possibility of a country is slipping away from us and if we don’t fight for that then we in turn take it away from those that follow. We have had our country taken away from us but we still have the possibility of the country, the feeling of it, the sense of it. Tigana! Maybe no one else can hear it yet but we know it is there and it is that that we have to fight to keep alive, otherwise we lose even the insubstantial sense of it and once we have lost that, Brandin has won. We have to try, Alessan! Just as our fathers did and your brothers on that day at the Deisa, before the second battle. They knew then that they were lost but they were still allowed to fight. If nobody will give us that battlefield then we’ll just have to find our own. Maybe you don’t need an army, maybe we’ll never even see a real battle. Maybe in the end leading an orchestra is what you need, maybe in some circumstances a musician turned soldier makes more sense than a trained general!”
Baerd ran down suddenly, feeling rather hot and flushed. Curse Alessan’s mother anyway. Curse her for what she was doing to her son. Unwillingly his thoughts went back to his own family. Dianora would have understood, he knew. Would understand someday, he hoped.
When Alessan looked up again, it was with an odd expression in his slate grey eyes. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you speak for so long,” he noted.
“It seemed important,” Baerd mumbled, picking at his shoe.
Alessan sighed. “Yes,” he said. Then, more quietly, “Thank you.”
Baerd didn’t reply.
Alessan took another quick look at his friend, then reached for his pack and pulled out his Tregean pipes. About to start playing, he paused, before pulling out a second, slightly smaller set of pipes. He held them an instant, then offered them to Baerd. “Did you want to join me?” he asked diffidently. “I could try to teach you something. Maybe the tune we heard last week, at that tavern?”
Baerd hesitated. “I’m not exactly musical,” he said apologetically. “I’m better at making things than making music.”
“Right,” Alessan agreed, fussing with a bit of reed. “That’s fine. I just thought I’d... ask.”
As he watched his friend replace the second set of pipes in his pack, Baerd felt something twinge in his chest again. “I could sing a bit, if you wanted,” he offered. “Though I’m not exactly good at it.”
The look of sheer pleasure on Alessan’s face was all the answer he needed.