Oh my goodness.
It's finished. It's finally finished. Now, a corollary to that; NaNoWriMo is very much NOT finished yet. I am ahead of par, to the extent where I could, in fact, take a day off. I won't, of course; that would be stupid. But I'll be writing something completely different for the last couple of days of NaNo because Poisonroot is DONE.
The last chapter... I'm proud of it. I'm not often pleased with my writing, but Victor's character has started to change in so many subtle little ways. I think he's still a bit of a bastard under the surface, but it's more that he's starved of contact with other people, or he's deliberately starved himself. Forced to communicate daily with Trip and Lauren, things have changed for him.
Anyway. A sequel is definitely coming.
Enjoy! I know I have.
By the bye; ALL of Poisonroot is in First Draft status. The editing needs to start soon, and then it will be time to think about trying to publish this. At that point, unfortunately, all the posts will need to come down, or at least be denuded of their Poisonroot content.
So, enjoy it while it lasts. The edit won't be coming up on here to save me time, though I plan to still post on here.
Trip heard a tap on the door. He curled up tighter on the bed, feeling his joints ache and the bruises on his head and legs pulse with pain.
The tap came again, then became a knock.
The door opened a crack and Trip heard Lauren step quietly into the room. She sighed and moved over to the bed where she sat, not facing him.
"I know you're upset, Trip," she said eventually. "We all are. What happened… it's a lot to take in." She let out a breath and they sat in silence for long minutes.
Finally Trip uncurled and sat on the bed next to her, resting his head on her shoulder.
"I just keep seeing it all in my head," he said. "I can't… I can't unremember them. Forget them."
-The city-dweller finds them, picks them up and takes them to the palace. Victor almost falls. Everywhere there are corpses, ordinary people who were overwhelmed, beaten to death, simply collapsed from the strain-
-The giant Hork, so life-like, screaming as the flames engulfed it and it burned to death-
-Anila, still in the crater as the fireball blossomed-
"I think I understand," she replied. "I've come with some good news, at least. They found Rennin. Alive."
Trip jumped off the bed, his heart suddenly leaping. "Anila?"
Lauren shook her head. "No. They couldn't find her at all, Trip. No body… no nothing."
"She might have escaped, then?" he said, and sat slowly back down.
"I'm not sure why you… she tried to kill you, Trip," Lauren said, pushing herself off the bed. Her expression was harsh. "It's what she deserved."
Trip shook his head. "That's a Victor answer," he said, and moved to the door. "I'm going to see Lord Rennin. Coming?"
Lauren stared at him for a moment, then shook her head. "Sometimes, Trip, you amaze me. And sometimes you shame me. Come on; he's been brought into his rooms."
Together they moved through the palace. An enormous amount of repairwork were already taking place as walls were shored up, ceilings repaired and broken objects were swept up. The crowd of Tree-controlled city folk, already being dubbed 'the seeds of madness' by the news-sheets handed out at street corners, had rampaged through the palace before anything else. A few of the fastest-moving people had made it as far as Verne's village to the east, but reports were already flowing in that they had all collapsed at the same moment the Tree had gone up in flames. Outside of the city, the only casualties had been a peddler and his horse who had happened to be riding along the road.
Wounded from the Ducal Quarter were being brought to the palace; several other areas of the city had been set up as field hospitals, and physicians were likely to be busy for the considerable future. Every room in the palace was full, mostly with the general population.
Trip and Lauren ducked under a ladder and around a group of citizens supporting a man whose leg was clearly broken.
"Are we going out to the town-house," Trip asked. Lauren shook her head.
"No, it turns out Rennin hardly ever used it. He has quarters here, barely a bed and a washbasin."
"Hm, I guess that explains why the place looked so empty," Trip muttered. They reached a junction in the corridor and Lauren pointed to a door with a small brass plate affixed to it.
"Room 201. Lord Rennin's inside. He might be sleeping, though. We should be quiet," Lauren said.
Trip gently tapped on the door, then slightly louder. He looked at Lauren, who shrugged, and slowly opened the door a crack.
The room was empty.
"I thought you said-"
"I thought he was here, Trip. It might be… hang on." Lauren dashed up the corridor and grabbed a passing courtier. Trip pushed the door open a little wider.
The room was bare, beyond even some of the rooms back at the Library. A lot of the monks had considered a room devoid of any personal effects to be 'closer to nature'. This was just… a bed and a washbasin. Not even a window.
Lauren came back, slightly breathless. "He's in his office, the silly man. How the hell he thinks he can do his job with those injuries is beyond me."
Trip gave a half smile. "I bet Victor's behind this."
"Most likely," Lauren said, leading the way again.
Five minutes later they found the office. Inside, sure enough, Lord Rennin was sat at his desk, paperwork piling up on his desk, several other men working off to one side. He looked up briefly as they entered, then pointed at one of the other people in the room and clicked his fingers.
"Regnald, get the reservists down to the South gate. Billis needs the support. Heavens know he's not the best in a crisis." He paused and looked pointedly at the young man he was addressing. "You didn't hear that," he said.
From the corner, Victor gave a sardonic little laugh.
"Also, get Reynolds down here. I want his opinion on something. And see if you can't get the physicians to give me something for the pain. Do that one last though." He waved the messenger away and closed his eyes for a moment.
Trip winced in sympathy. Rennin's left arm was in a sling and he was awkwardly trying to sign pieces of paper one-handed. He was sporting cuts on his face too numerous to count, and several patches of his hair were simply not there.
"Hello, Lord Rennin," Trip said quietly. Rennin looked up and put his quill down.
"Trip. I'm glad to see you're up and about," he said. "What can I do for you?"
Feeling his eyes start to tear up, Trip said "I thought you were dead."
Rennin coughed and looked down. "Well, as you can see, I'm not," he said gruffly.
"I'm so glad," Trip said quietly.
"Still, not for want of tha' li'l wench," Victor put in from the corner. Trip looked questioningly at him.
"Oh aye. Anila tried t'bury 'im, or crush 'im, or somethin'. She ain't out. Not even down." Victor got up from the chair where he'd been resting. He stretched. "Reckon it's nearly time we was gone, Rennin."
The old knight nodded. "I could use your help here, Victor. The people need a figurehead. Someone to rally around."
"Not anymore," Victor said. "I got a home now."
Trip looked up at Lauren, who huffed out a laugh and shook her head.
"Victor, your house was destroyed. By… Hork, or the Tree, or something," Trip said.
"I'll build a new 'un then," the man replied defiantly. "Better'n last one."
A knock at the door interrupted the argument. The door opened and Lord Reynolds strode in, accompanied by Emmeline.
"I'm sorry, Lord Rennin," Reynolds blustered, "but the Duchess wouldn't take no for an answer."
"As she quite rightly shouldn't," said Emmeline. Trip suddenly realised that something was different about her. She stood a little straighter, something subtly changed about the expression on her face. She looked… older.
"Duchess, Emmeline?" he said.
She looked down for a moment, then straight into his eyes. "My father was one of the… casualties. For now, I am coordinating the recovery effort here in the city. Lord Reynolds and Lord Rennin have resumed their rightful place by my side. Although," she said, looking pointedly at Rennin, "some people should be bed."
Rennin shook his head. "Lady Fennic, while the city needs me you will not find me lacking."
She inclined her head gracefully. Then she turned to the others.
"What of you, Trip of the Library? What will you do?"
"I… I don't know. Find my parents, I suppose."
There was a moment of stunned silence, and then Victor, his eyes narrowed, slowly said "Trip, ain't your parents… I always thought you was an orphan…"
Trip shook his head. "That’s… I guess that's kind of how it's always been. When members of the Church have a child, especially researchers like my parents, the child is left with one of the larger monasteries for his education." He looked down. "I've seen my parents three times in my life."
Victor grunted and moved to stand next to Trip. "Well, s'pose I c'n take you t'see them. 'S a dangerous world."
Trip felt his face light up into a huge grin. He turned to Victor. "Really?"
The man scowled. "Don' go gettin' all mushy over it. I'm jes' puttin' off havin' t'build a house again cuz somebody got it knocked down." He looked at Lauren expectantly.
She shook her head. "Whatever I do it involves heading back upriver. I can give you a lift that far," she said. "The Belle's no longer impounded and I've got all my kit back. Sabir's already on it, by the way. Found her curled up in the cabin." She laughed. "Damned intelligent cat."
"Victor Junn," Emmeline said, drawing herself up to her full height. "You have the House of Fennic's everlasting gratitude. Though your struggle has been great, you have prevailed to the benefit of the thousands who live here and we offer you the freedom of the city. Should you wish to settle here, you are more than welcome to a plot of land, a house, whatever you should wish."
Victor nodded once. "I'll… bear it in mind," he said. "C'mon, Trip." He bowed shortly to the Duchess, and Trip realised it was the most deferential he had ever seen the big man. Victor left the room, and Lauren followed him.
Trip bowed to Emmeline, and she giggled, suddenly a little girl again.
"Trip, you look so serious!" she said. He couldn't help but laugh.
"Will everything be ok here?" he asked.
She nodded. "Reynolds has suggested that the Tree's destruction might eventually force people away from the city, but human will is strong. We have decades, maybe hundreds of years. I'm more worried about the Church. What will you do, Trip?"
"I don't know." He shook his head disconsolately. "Hork was new to the post; the Elders might elect another quite quickly once word makes it to them that Hork was an imposter. But I'm not sure they'll believe it, or understand it."
"What if they're all part of it?"
Trip frowned. "Then we're all in trouble," he said grimly. "Emmeline… Duchess Fennica, I need to go."
She bent slightly and kissed him softly on the cheek. Her lips, suddenly close to his ear, were gentle.
"Return soon," was all she said, too softly for anyone to have heard but him. He blushed and nodded, then followed Victor and Lauren.
Several times on the way to the Belle they were stopped by passers-by who recognised them, either from the poor woodcuts in the news-sheets or from tales of Victor. From a few paces back, Trip watched as Victor foisted each of them off with the shortest possible amount of effort, but then Lauren gently took his arm and whispered something in his ear. The next group that stopped them, small boys, Victor stopped and let them see his sword.
By the time they got to the Belle it was late afternoon. The last few stragglers, following them still, lost interest and went back to their lives. Victor stepped on board and immediately went down to the prow, tossing his sword and the travelling bag, which he'd snagged on the way out of the palace, onto the deck. Lauren went aft to see if she could get the engine started.
Trip went and sat on the very front of the ship, balanced on the railing. He looked out at the beckoning river, wide and fast-flowing.
"Victor," he said.
"I'm sorry about your house."
There was a long pause. The engine spluttered, coughed, spluttered again and the reassuring whistle and hiss of the steam-driven boat grew up around them.
"'S just a house," Victor said, so quietly that Trip almost didn't hear it.
As the boat moved forward, the breeze swept the smells of the sea at Trip and, for a few hours at least, he drifted into blessed forgetfulness.