Welcome to another edition of Through the Balustrade character sketches. This one is about a better known character from the book, Jahn. There’s never a doubt in Balustrade that Jahn loves Liza, but what you don’t know is how it all began. Here’s a love story….
Jahn bent the clip around the three loose ends. It wasn’t perfect, but she would like it. Three cords intertwined. Her, him, and the Leader. He held the loop up. It looked about right. Small enough not to fall off, and large enough to fit her tiny hand.
“What ya doing?” Altrist’s voice never suited him. He came around to face Jahn and smiled. “Oh. I see.” He may have looked and sounded no more than 10 turns, but his eyes always gave him away. His eyes hinted at more turns than Jahn had ever seen and usually the words that were carried by that childlike voice confirmed turns and turns of a life lived.
“I guess this roll will be the one.” Jahn tucked the bracelet into the slit pocket opening on his cover up top. “What do you think?”
“What do you mean what do I think?” Altrist leaned against the rock and kicked some pebbles into the steady creek.
Jahn ran a hand through his thick blonde hair pushing his bangs back. Blasted riddles and questions. Just come out with it. “Do you think it’s okay to have a matchment with Liza? Do you think the Leader would bless it? Do you think she knows how I feel?”
“Have you asked him? Have you told her?” More questions.
“Of course I have, but it’s not like he’s here for me to just have a conversation with. I’ve asked the wind and heard my heart, and that’s about all I get. What do you think? That’s what I want to know? Do you think it’s the wrong time? Will there ever be a right time? You’re the one who said we need to be ready at any moment. I can still be ready and be matched with Liza. We can be ready. I’m not sure if she knows. I’ve never come out and said it, but she’s got to know. You do think she knows don’t you? You don’t think she’s got feelings for that sentry, do you?” Jahn didn’t take a breath until he saw Altrist part his lips to speak.
“I think you love her, and I think that it will work out the way it should.” He pushed off the rock, tapped Jahn on the shoulder and headed back toward the cave.
Jahn waited til Altrist was well down the trail before he spoke. “Great. That’s very helpful.”
Liza’s giggles caught him off guard. She had the bottom of her skirt in one hand and held Jasper’s with the other. They were in the shallows coming up from the branch that connected with the Goneer River.
The sun still beat down, but Jahn felt a cool fury enter his veins. It crept up his legs to his arms and made his hands ball into fists. If this had been one of his songs, he would have just plucked out a few minor chords and held a long dark note. That fiend. He lies and swoons and acts like her friend, but the only thing in his eyes is greed. He wants her for himself. He doesn’t love her.
Jahn shook the thoughts from his head and turned back to the Leader. All are welcome. All are loved. All are invited. Jasper wanted to be with them for now. He’d left his post as sentry, denied all he knew, and joined them. He wasn’t the enemy. He cared about her. Who couldn’t care about her?
This roll needed to be special, not tainted with a jealous heart or vindictive a spirit.
She smiled and waved when she saw him and motioned for him to come join them. Jasper gave a nod and narrowed his eyes ever so slightly. Jahn wasn’t afraid of him, but it would have been nice to have Grouper’s strength or Onder’s speed. You can’t really put someone in their place with a song.
“Hey.” Liza hoisted herself up to the big rock and pulled some leaves from her pocket. “Look, mint! There’s a whole mess of it.” Her perfect pink lips framed her perfect white teeth, and her slick black hair had given up on the ponytail. She shined almost as brightly as the sun. Jahn slipped his hand under hers and pretended to be excited about the mint.
“There’s some pretty good fishing up there too.” Jasper jumped beside them from a different rock. Jahn nodded, but held onto Liza’s hand. Jasper plucked a mint leaf and stuck it in his mouth. “We’ll have to head back up there soon.” He kept his eyes on Liza.
Jahn stepped back. “You can never have too much mint for you tea.”
Jasper moved to Liza’s side. “That’s so true.” He was young and strong and confident, and for a split flash Jahn wondered if Jasper wouldn’t be better for Liza than he. She was closer to Jasper’s age. Young and full of life. He could protect her better. Maybe her heart had changed since he’d been here. Jasper swatted her half-filled ponytail. “You ready to head on to the cave?” He talked to her as if they should move as one.
Jahn stuck his hand in pocket to find the bracelet and looked away. He could wait.
“No, I want to gather some lilies for Anna. You go on back. Jahn will see me home.” She put the mint away and lifted her satchel from Jasper’s shoulder.
The young sentry almost protested, but must have thought better of it. He smacked Jahn on the back. “Okay, then. Take care of her. We heard some undesirables when we came down. If you need help, just signal.” He ignored the foot bridge and took a running leap onto the bank and disappeared up the trail.
“How are you?” Her voice always reminded him of butterflies for some reason. Even when she was serious or angry, she sounded light and happy. “I can tell something’s bothering you.”
Jahn stared at his bare feet for longer than he should have cause by the time he met Liza’s eyes, tears had gathered. Her heart was so sensitive. If she thought she had done something to hurt him, it would tear her up. That was another reason to just stay quiet. Refusing him would hurt her almost as much as it would pain him. But Jahn knew the truth needed to be said. If only once, if only ever mentioned by him stating plainly how he felt, then so be it. She needed to know. He needed her to know, and whatever she wanted would be fine.
“I need to talk to you.” His voice sounded deeper than normal. More bass than tenor.
Liza didn’t answer, but took his hand and led him down the creek a ways to where the ripples pooled and the trees reached over the water. Then she motioned for him to sit on the edge of the rock. She joined him and let her legs hang over.
“Okay. Now you can talk.” She smiled, but her lips weren’t as pink now.
Jahn leaned and tapped her shoulder with his. There really wasn’t a brilliant way to start. He could sing, but these words needed to be spoken. He would sing later, maybe. “Liza—“
“Yes, Jahn.” She fiddled with her hands.
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Jahn.” She said it so matter-of-factly that he didn’t quite think she understood.
He touched her chin and turned her face to his. “No, I don’t think you understand. I love you.”
The look that blossomed in her eyes was like the sun first peaking over the mountain. Just a glimmer at first, then more light, then rays of brilliant joy flowing out to dress the world. “You love me?”
“Yes. What did you think I said?” He wiped his nose with his sleeve.
“Well, I know you love me, but I always figured it was just like Altrist does or Grouper or Thim.” Her failure to list Jasper caught Jahn’s attention. “I only hoped.” Tears stopped her from finishing.
Jahn scooped her into his arms and buried his face in her soft mane. She held him tightly then pushed away.
“I asked for this.” Her lips were pink and perfect again. “I asked for this.”
Jahn wiped the tears from her cheeks. “What do you mean? Who did you ask?”
She pulled his hands into hers and looked like she was about to make a speech. “I asked the Leader. Well, you know as best I could. I asked him if I could have this kind of love.” She smiled away the serious look. “And I wanted it to be you. It’s always been you.” She touched his face. “I just always figured you only thought of me as a child, like a sister.”
“Twenty turns is not a child, and not a sister.” He leaned closer and waited for her to make the slightest movement toward him, but before he could kiss her she closed her eyes and shook her head.
“Oh no” Her hands went to her abdomen and a light spread out through her fingers. She opened her eyes with a spark in them. “Hey, you want to come with me?”
Jahn knew that loving her would have to be accepting her gift too and its unpredictability. He loved all of her, even the fact that she could disappear in a flash. “Does it work that way?”
“Well, I carried those fish with me that time I went from the pool to Pocket. That worked.”
“I’m bigger than a fish.”
“Oh come on.” The light grew brighter. “We haven’t much time.”
Jahn wanted to, but the unknown held him back and he shook his head. “Not this time, you go on.”
“Okay, but I’m going to tell them all before you even make it back.”
Jahn snatched the bracelet from his pocket and slipped it on her wrist. “Three cords.”
“Three cords.” She smiled and leaned over and kissed him hard. Then let go just as the light engulfed and swept her away.
Jahn watched as the sparkles of her presence melted into the late afternoon sun. She loved him back.