“Good morning, Godfry,” Brine said, turning to the shadow and raising a hand to his eyes. “I didn’t expect to see you until—”
     Brine started.
     In the east, the mid-morning sun was peaking over the gray stones of the castle and turning the newcomer into a featureless silhouette. But even without the details of color and texture—or the use of his trusty monocle which was lying in his lap—Brine could see it wasn’t Godfry.
     He could see the split in the man’s trousers where Godfry’s robes should be and he could see the absence of a beard where one should have been spilling down the man’s belly.
     “Oh, I’m—I’m sorry,” Brine said, still squinting unflatteringly, “I thought you were—” 
     “Can yeh keep playin?” the silhouette asked, somewhat urgently.
     “I, uh…sure,” Brine said, raising the flute to his face and noticing, with some alarm, that the man was jerking spastically. “What should I pl—”
     “Jus play—play somethin!
     Brine did, but not before rolling to his feet and taking several steps back from the man whose silhouette was now jerking about like an enraged epileptic; head rocking, arms jumping, legs dancing in place.
     Brine hadn’t noticed this before—not in his temporary state of confusion—but now it was all he could see. The man had either gone barking mad or he was being attacked by a swarm of killer bees. In either event, Brine was starting to think a trip to the nearest guard might be in order. The jittery stranger might be a harmless fan of music who’d heard his favorite song and wandered over for a better listen, or he might be a raving lunatic who’d decided to live out his dream of cutting up a flutist while they played Marching up to Glory. Since Brine didn’t know which scenario was true, he decided to compromise…playing the tune while retreating to the kitchen.
     His music played, his feet backpedaled, and the activity levels of the shadowy stranger slowly approached inertia. Brine took a few more steps back—just-in-case steps, he told himself—but they proved entirely unnecessary. The longer Brine played, the calmer the stranger became. It was almost as if he were a wild beast from depths of the Harriun and the ghostly tones were soothing his savage nature.
     The man’s head stopped jerking, his arms grew calm, and although Brine wouldn’t have believed it had he not seen it with his own eyes, the man appeared to be settling into a gentle bobbing motion that reminded Brine of a slow dance between two lovers…And wasn’t there something oddly familiar about that dance?
     He thought that there was, and with the sun now on his right side and the man’s details slowly gaining in clarity, he saw several other features he thought familiar as well, like the coppery tint of the man’s beard, the matted locks of his hair, the grassy stains on his breeches.
     Brine stopped playing and lowered the flute.
     “Jaysh?” he asked, not needing his brother to confirm with his mouth what he had already confirmed with his eyes. And it was a good thing he didn’t require such confirmation, because his brother couldn’t have answered even if he tried, not with the thing in his arms thrashing about like a fish and threatening to break his grasp.
     Brine took a step back, both eyes bulging at the cat-sized monster that had previously blended with his brother’s backlit form, now attacking Jaysh with savage fury.
     “Can yeh—!” Jaysh yelped, unable to finish his sentence as he wrestled with the beast. He didn’t need to say more. Brine understood exactly what he wanted and quickly began to play, watching as the flailing cat-thing slowly went slack. Needless to say, Brine continued with the song well after the beast had placed its head in the crook of Jaysh’s elbow and closed its citrine eyes. And even then, he stood studying her for a very long time before directing his attention to his brother.
     “Is she okay?” he whispered.
     Jaysh shook his head. “Dunno,” he said, staring down at her. “She doan’ use’ly want nothin to do with people.”
     Shifting his look of concern from pet to brother, Brine said, “What do you think she wanted?
     His brother thought about this, then shook his head again. “I doan’ think she’d hurt yeh,” he said, his eyes focused on the animal in his arms and not on the cuts on his forearm or the tears on his sleeve. “We was jus walkin along, like always, an’ she jus went mad, clawin an’ bitin, tryin to get out’a my arms. She did once’t—”
     Brine stiffened.
     “—but I caught up with her an’ drew her back.” Jaysh looked back the direction he’d come. “Funny thing was, after we come over the hill, an’ she could see yeh over here playin, she calmed right down. Jus lay there in my arms like nothin happened. Weren’t ‘til yeh quit playin that she went mad.”
     Pretending to adjust the position of his sandals, Brine took another step back. He’d seen the animal the night his father passed away, but he had not seen it well. The chamber had been dark and the pet-thing had remained coiled in Jaysh’s arms.
     Now, however, seeing her in the light of day—and in full flail, no less—he’d gained a new respect for this…well, whatever it was. With shredded skin for ears and a nub for a tail, he’d found the thing to resemble no classification of animal with which he was familiar.
     Still trying to place the beast, he half-suspected some evil wizard had pieced her together, a theory that only blossomed in his mind the longer he surveyed the scars on her body. Is it worth it? he asked himself. Is bonding with the man who made your life miserable as a child worth tolerating this horrible-looking animal—Horrible-looking and dangerous?  
     Brine thought about that for a long time. The previous night, as he excused himself from the anteroom and retired to his chamber, he’d mentioned something to Jaysh about catching up on the past and trying to repair the ten ages they had spent apart. At the time, with the grief of his father’s passing fresh in his heart and the decision to stay as adviser fresh in his mind, it had seemed like the right thing to do. Clearly, his God had a purpose for him in this land and, based upon what he’d seen so far, that purpose likely involved the revitalization of the temples, an act which would prove infinitely more simplistic with the assistance of the ruling magistrate.
     His holy purpose aside, though, wasn’t forgiving others an Amian’s responsibility? Was it not written in the Wogol that he should love his enemies and chase after those who forsook him? Knowing full well that it was, Brine forced a smile and said, “So what’s her name?”
     “Zeph,” Jaysh said. “I calls her Zeph.” 
     “Zeph, huh.” Brine felt out the name for a moment, tracking down the connections it made in his mind. “Is that short for Zephyr,” he asked, watching as Jaysh only frowned. “Like the light breeze?” he added. “Here and then gone?”
     Jaysh glanced to the west and wrinkled his brows. “Doan’ think so,” he said. “Fer as I know, it jus means Zeph.”  
     “Okay. Zeph it is,” Brine said, returning his attention to the beast and feeling his smile start to slip. He was running out of things to say and he knew it. He pointed at the lines of scar tissue on her back. “So did Zeph have an accident or something?”
     Jaysh leaned forward and gave the marks a look. “I reckon she did,” he said.
     Brine waited for an elaboration, but when none came, he said, “What do you…um…reckon it was?” 
     “Doan’ know,” Jaysh said. “She jus come like that.”
     Sill scrutinizing the rippling lines, Brine said, “And where’d she come from?”
     “Found her down round—I wouldn’t touch her!” Jaysh said. Brine jerked back the hand he’d been extending towards the creature. “She doan’ like bein’ woke up,” Jaysh said, “or touched.”      
     “Oh, I—I see,” Brine said, sounding reluctant and a little afraid. He studied the thin lines of the creature’s eyelids and wondered how close he’d just come to loosing one of his fingers. He wrapped the hand around the flute and lifted his eyes to Jaysh, watching as his brother assessed his cargo a little longer—a just-in-case stare, Brine thought—and then lifted his eyes as well.
     The brothers stared at each other.
     Behind them, an old door—or possibly a gate—squealed on its hinges; Someone in the castle going about their daily business. But in the greenery of the garden, the Brothers Denbauk continued to stare, staring until the act became something that might get one’s ears boxed in the right kind of tavern.
     “I best get,” Jaysh said, glancing at Zeph. “She sleeps better when I walk.”
     “Does she,” Brine said, aware that he’d omitted the inflection and his statement sounded like an accusation. In order to recover, he offered a weak nod and said, “I suppose she would.”
     “Yep,” Jaysh said, and walked back into the garden.
     So much for reliving the good times, Brine thought. But even as he thought the words—even as he watched his brother easing deeper into the unkempt grounds—he couldn’t claim to be entirely disappointed. And it wasn’t that he didn’t want to talk to his brother. It had more to do with the fact that they simply had nothing in common and nothing more—
     Iman! The Missions!
     “Oh, hey! Jaysh! Jaysh, I forgot.” Brine sprinted after him. “Have you seen Iman?” he asked. At the sound of their childhood friend’s name, Jaysh flashed him a guarded look and Brine raised a placating hand.
     “Oh, you’re fine. He’s not mad,” Brine said. “You just might let him know you’re back. He’s been looking for you. We’ve all been looking for you actually. I mean—” he winced at the implications of that last statement and studied his brother, looking for signs of injury or irritation.
     Fortunately, though, Jaysh made no display of either emotion. He actually appeared enthralled by something behind the disciple, something moving in the trees at the rear of the grounds, possibly the same animal that had eluded Brine’s gaze earlier that morning.
     “What I meant,” Brine said, still puzzling over his brother’s stare, “was that we just wanted you to know the council wasn’t upset with you—Well…,” his face broke, his Amian training applying a mental slap to his face for this attempt at deception, “…Mums was upset, and Serit too—But only at first, and never with you.”
     Brine shook his head. “They were upset with Iman, not you. And Mums, she was going to be upset no matter what. I’m sure you’ve heard her theory about Jashandar reverting to Drugana, so of course she wasn’t going to be happy unless we all set out for the south.
     “And Serit…well, you know Serit,” Brine said, offering a polite grin so he didn’t have to come out and call their pseudo-uncle a spineless coward. “He has some issue with the kryst and the histories, something to do with the integrity of the Sway Mission. But I didn’t catch all of it. I had to step out to the privy and by the time I came back, Iman had…had him…”
     Brine frowned and looked to the edge of the garden, searching for whatever it was that had his brother’s attention.
     “Is something back there?” he asked.
     Jaysh continued to stare for several long moments, then finally shook his head, his eyes never leaving the maples and firs.
     Maybe he’s looking for kittens? a voice cooed in Brine’s head. Out loud, Brine said, “Well, anyway, no one was really happy about the missions—except maybe for Reets.” He gave his best what-do-you-expect shrug. “But everyone was given the opportunity to step down from their positions, even Mums and Serit. Iman made that perfectly clear. No one had to stay unless they wanted to. And it wasn’t as if any of them had a better idea, so…,” he trailed off, unsure of what else to say, “…so was that why you left?”
     Eyeing the trees along the back of the garden, Jaysh said, “Had to get more vine.”
     “Oh,” Brine said, staring at the bulge in his brother’s cheek, this one every bit as large as the one he’d seen three nights ago.
     Jaysh said, “Iman’s sendin me into the Sway tomorruh.” He nodded slowly. “Vine doan’ grow there.” 
     So you are going, Brine thought, hoping his wide expression did not betray him. The other popular theory regarding his brother’s disappearance—aside from the one centering on his fear of Mums’ reprisal—was that the new king had finally seen the error of his ways and had decided against the missions.
     Because everyone knew the missions had not been his idea. Jaysh, with his tattered pants and muddy shirt, his matted hair and leaf-flecked beard, just didn’t have the look of a planner. Iman, on the other hand, was a notorious planner, or perhaps schemer was the more appropriate word. Needless to say, no one was surprised when—as Iman circled the roundtable and detailed the king’s strategy—the king had sat in the garden, running his hand along his pet-thing’s back.
     Instead of mentioning this to his brother, Brine mustered a rueful grin and said, “The Sway mission…wow.”
     His brother nodded. “Yep.”
     “I’m going on the Harriun mission,” Brine said, and when his brother failed to comment, he added, “I mean, Godfry and me. And the Lathians. They’re going, too,” he said, looking over his shoulder. “They’re actually supposed to arrive today. And when they do, Godfry and I are going to meet them. We decided that since Balthus already knows them, and since we’ll be traveling with them for quite awhile, it would be best to introduce ourselves. Maybe get to know a few of them, so it’s not so awkward later.” Like it is right now, he thought.
     Jaysh continued to stare.
     With a nervous grin, Brine said, “You don’t have to worry about that, do you. You already know Serit.”
     Jaysh glanced at him, then back to the trees, but in that flicker of eye contact, Brine thought he saw something there, some semblance of emotion his brother held in check.
     “I gota go,” Jaysh said.