|A Friendly Face
Author: Meself PM
A Wanderers quest that intersects those of the main charactersRated: Fiction T - English - Words: 17,163 - Published: 09-08-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3774110
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A creak of the door and the pad-pad of sandaled feet alerted the gossiping locals to the newcomers. Eyes lazily turned to glance at a young man in a white woolen tunic stride up to the owner, staff in hand. They turned back to their drinks and their chatter without a second glance: just another shepherd who fancied to blow his savings by passing a night at the inn. One or two noted an open and guileless face and reckoned that he would fare better in striking up a conversation with Ginny, the (not coincidentally) pretty maid who the innkeeper had hired to help wait on his customers. However, after he paid Ben a few silver coins from a small purse which hung from his neck, he instead walked up to a trio sitting at one of the few tables in the humble establishment and introduced himself. "Gud ev'ning y'all. The name's Brent."
This produced some half-hearted hellos in response. Then one of the men, having his first good look at the youth, asked, "Say, where'd you get that scar, son. Looks awfly nasty." Brent self-consciously brought a hand up to his neck and traced the straight white line that crossed it, and grinned. "Oh, you mean this? Believe or not, my gud man, but I got meself a shave a mite closer than I had reckoned."
A second man quipped: "Bet that's the last shave you've ever had!" Brent's eyebrows drew together, "Oh it almost was. Lost the blade a ways back and thought to meself: 'Good Riddance'. Then I reckoned that I had let go of it too easily, but have had a Da'kor of a time trying to find that blade ever since."
The first man replied, "My cousin had three scratches on his belly, each one making that scar on your neck look like nothing. Nearly disemboweled him, they did." Guileless eyes went wide. "Wow!" he answered, "How'd he come by those?" The third man spoke up: "Da'kor got him. Nearly got the same ourselves not so long ago." The man shuddered.
Wide eyes became wider, the evening sunlight reflecting in his eyes as he leaned forward. "Really??" The three idle men proceeded to top one another telling this impressionable youth all about their adventure about a lone Da'kor who had walked right in, not a care in the world, had nearly bitten their heads off, and then demanded a room from poor ol' Ron.
The youth interrupted their stories, "Da'kor travel in packs. What was this one doing alone?" Silence met him. Their eyes told him that they had never thought to ask even themselves about it. Finally, as he continued to look to them for an answer, the third man ventured to answer: "Maybe Ronny know something. Doubt it. Da'kor aren't the type to chat much."
"I will do that. Thanks" With this Brent arose and left them.
The proprietor answered his queries with: "Oh, that one. He wasn't a bad sort at all. He had a good joke on us when he first came in, I must say. He was very polite and friendly come the next morning, though. Didn't even offer a complaint when time came for payment. There's many a customer that I can't say the same of."
"Do you know what he was doing by himself?" "Said he was looking for someone." "Ah." Sympathy flashed across his face, "lost someone to the fights, has he?" "Oh, no, nothing like that. He was searching for an elf, of all things." Eyebrows shot up. "An Elf?! Why would a Da'kor be seeking an elf?" "Don't recall him actually saying. He was also looking for Lei'ella. She's a well-known thief-catcher hereabouts, or was, leastways." The youth's open face closed for an instant. He asked, "Was?" The innkeeper's brows thoughtfully creased and he said, "Oh, she quit when she heard it. Was after that Da'kor like dog after a cat. Last I heard, she quit her job and was headed with him to Rhyll. " "Wow" was all that Brent answered to this.
Ron stopped in thought a little more. "Kayn'dar", he finally said, "that was his name. The elf I mean. He must've been famous somewhere, for him to attract so much interest, as he's been gone twelve years. Or so I've heard. Been nice talking to ye, young sir. Looks like your supper is ready, so I'll let you enjoy it" As he left, the youth turned to see Ginny bringing him a tray with soup and a small loaf of hard bread. "Here is your supper, sir."
He laughed at this and answered, "Just call me Brent. Haven't been called sir yet, and no need to start now." She smiled and said, "Hello, Brent. You may call me Ginny. She set the tray down on the counter in front of him. "Thank you, Ginny" Her cheeks turned rosy at this. The youth decided she must not get thanked much in her line work.
She had evidently had overheard some of his conversation with Ron, for she said"That Da'kor was a fearsome beast. When I brought him food, he greeted me with an arrow in his hand, he did!" "Did he apologize?" the youth asked matter-of-factly. The maid looked puzzled by this, so he asked again, "Did that Da'kor apologize?" "Oh...no. Da'kor don't apologize. They're beasts." "The innkeeper here said that he was a rather polite specimen, though he had a good joke when he first arrived by scaring everyone." Ginny began to look flustered. "No...I mean...I wouldn't know about that, though now that I think on it he did look rather sheepish by the arrow in his hand which I rather thought odd though I did not notice at the time because I was so scared. I'm babbling so I'll shut up now. Sorry." Then her eyes narrowed and said, "You are not a shepherd, are you?"
Brent took the hard bread out of the soup and took a bite of the moistened end. He chewed a few times before dismissively waving his hand and answering, "Oh, I wasn't born in a shepherd's hut...so to speak...but it has been my trade now for the past few years. Sometimes I lapse into how I once spoke, my peers tease me about it to no end, they do" Ginny stared at him. "You CHOSE to be a shepherd?!" He shrugged his shoulders and replied, "Sort of. The winds of fate will carry one far from his roots. If life were otherwise, then I reckon that places like these would soon be out of business."
One of the three sitting nearby inadvertently diverted this topic by shouting, "Sonny Boy, you'd better hurry up and kiss that girl, or I'll lose the bet!! I'm not going to be losing a silver because yer shy, ya hear?"
Ginny straightened up and smoothed her dress. Brent's right hand immediately went up to his forehead, covering his eyes. Both their cheeks turned a slight shade of pink. Pink turned to crimson as other old customers decided to add their copper's worth of unsolicited advice.
The young man arose and said, "I'd better finish this in my room, or there'll be no peace." A whole volley of jeers followed his back as he left the common room.
At the table of three, the third one triumphantly declared, "Told ya he was a shy one, now hand over the silver." Small metal discs clinked as they changed hands. The second one grumbled as he handed his over, "Wasn't too shy to chat with us or ol' Ron."
Brent finished his meal and brought the tray out to the kitchen. Ginny scolded, "Oh you didn't have to do that! 'Twould have been no trouble at all for me to come by and pick it up." He shrugged, scratched his head and answered, "Well, I mean to turn in early so I could have an early start on the morrow. I didn't want to be awoken by a knock, so...well, here." Ginny seemed to stiffen just a little at this, "I see. Good night...Sir, and Good Bye." "Ahm...right. Gud Noch." On his way back Brent muttered, "Seemed a bit grouchy to me. I wonder why."
All in all, this had been a good evening. He had learned the information he needed, so he could hurry on his way. Maybe he could finally escape...but for now he had to endure yet a while longer.
Later that night he heard his name called. He turned just in time to see a cloaked fugure and flash of a blade. He brought up a hand to cover his sticky wet throat, and he passed into the darkness seeing the cold eyes of his killer.
Brent awoke, and touched the old scar, reassuring himself once again that he was indeed alive. The old wound had not reopened in his dream. As he traced the scar on his throat, he considered his actions. Perhaps he was a fool not to let this go, to thank the good spirits and move on in his life, but he found that he could not. He had to find the blade that had scarred him.
How did one find one blade in tens of thousands? All he had to go on was a memory. A memory that... Lei'ella was reputed to be one of the finest trackers in Strathwood. Only she had the skills to find...Once he found Lei'Ella, he would find the blade.
Only then would he find out if this was a fool's quest or not.
He arose and left quietly by night, leaving a small sum of money by the door. He had paid in full already, but the information garnered last night had been helpful. Besides, his neck-purse wouldn't last two hours in Rhyll's streets anyway. Upon stepping out the door a thought stopped him, and he turned and stepped back in.
He left a note on the front counter: Was restless and left early. Thank you for the Da'kor story, it made my all too brief stay here worth the while the literate shepherd boy, Brent. He then turned and left. He didn't think the owner would concern himself over a guest's early departure, but...Well no sense taking the chance.
Dawn was far off, and he made his way slowly and carefully along the road. He proceeded at a somewhat greater pace when his eyes turned to night vision. His legs and feet consumed the miles before him, accustomed as they were to cross-country. He wanted to make Rhyll before evening.
His endurance was how he survived his journeys through life. He could fight and use his wits and speed when in danger. His friendly manner and intelligence had kept him from many a confrontation. However, he couldn't outwit and outfight everyone. Not everyone wanted to be a friend, and even intelligence failed to anticipate time and chance. However, when he hit the county, no grouch could find him, and he had walked away from a beating more than once. Those who would harm him failed to understand the pace they would need merely to keep up with him, much less overtake this wanderer. When Brent set a goal for himself, neither misfortune nor foe could really stop him.
Not even his own mind could keep him from this possibly foolish quest. Hardships were to be expected in life, not avoided.
He knew this path. When he came across edible things, he ate a little. When a water skin was nigh empty, he refilled it, sometimes from unlikely places in the rock. He took a brief rest and meal near dawn, then continued on. The eastern sky reddened, then broke out into golden dawn. A breeze arose with it, and the low morning mist--which covered the ground like a blanket--would soon be cast aside.
The song of the crickets stifled a bit as they scurried to hide from the bird that would soon awaken to find breakfast. The birds wouldn't be alone in their hunger, and he felt the tiny pricks of mosquitoes turning to him for sustenance. He saw some game hopping or prancing about, which he might bring down with a slung stone, but he did not. He already had captured something for the Midday.
When the day proved too hot he found shade and fuel. He started a fire in an old pit and set the turtle he had captured earlier in the midst of the crackling flames. The nice thing about turtles was he did not have to turn them to evenly cook them, so he drifted off as he waited...
He was chatting with Ted the baker, telling him about an unusual recipe for bread involving acorns. He scoffed at such tales, as was his wont. Any recipe that was not passed down through the family for generations was suspect. A voice behind him called out, "Rain!" Only friends called him that, so he turned to embrace this newcomer. Only the one in the gray cloak was no friend! A blade blurred, barely seen. Experience caused his hand close over his throat before his senses reported the pain. The slash was too deep to stop completely. Rain's eyes accused unrepentant eyes: How could you? How could you use my name that way? Consciousness faded into the darkness with that question unanswered.
Brent awoke to find the turtle shell blackened as it should be. It crumbled away, giving way to the meat inside. He dozed a little while, then made a hat. He coiled a stem of grass and wove the grass leaves in its midst. The hat had some fuzzy heads sticking out of it and stated clearly that its wearer was a country hic: a country hic with the sense to avoid the sun's glare and ignore the people's glare. Having had a meal, a rest, and a shelter from the sun, he continued on his way.
Too little light slowed him down for its lack, but too much sun slowed him down for its heat. The sun's glare took away the will to do anything but endure and survive. The mind and body naturally slowed itself down to reduce the heat it gave off. As the sun drifted in the sky and turned its attention elsewhere, his body revived somewhat and he once again devoured the miles hungrily. He would smell deeply of bitter sweat, but that would matter little in the place to which he journeyed. Finally, looking very much the part of a yokel, Brent came to Rhyll before the sky blushed again.
Instead of searching for clues immediately, he took a detour through one of the market streets. There were fewer vendors about, for as evening quickly approached many had retired to some form of shelter. Other...workers of the street were also less numerous and those who...worked at night had not yet come out. Brent bought a few hard rolls. He was about to pay for some withered apples when he discovered that his purse was gone.
"Fool hic of a boy," the crabby lady who was selling the apples told him, "What nonsense brought you to this armpit of a city? You don't belong here." Brent spread his hands out while shrugging helplessly. "Sorry about that, ma'am. I'll trouble you no more." However, she was not done with him. "Don't you 'ma'am' me, you careless squirt. I'm no High-muckety-muck lady, and wouldn't be caught dead near one!"
"I'm sorry," Brent replied, "would you prefer, 'crotchety crone', instead?" "Faugh! Mums on that saucy tongue, boy! If you can't pay for those apples, you thief, then the least you could do is haul my cart for me, seeing as you've a strong young back." "I can but try, Cee-cee" he answered. "Cici? What nonsense are you babbling now?" "Well, I can't go about calling you Crotchety-crone all evening, now can I? So I've shortened it to Cee-cee. Much easier on the tongue, wouldn't you agree?" "On with you!" "As you say, Cee-cee."
The cart proved heavier than it should. Much heavier. This might mean that CC was stronger than she looked, which was certainly possible. More likely she had expected to badger some poor soul into helping her. Brent was used to being another's 'poor soul'. He had a generous spirit, and many had taken advantage of this. He endured such treatment gladly, but he also learned how to deal with such folk. Also, as a food cart was meant to be lighter at the end of the day, its weight almost certainly meant...
In addition to being unusually heavy, the distance was not very small to where she wanted it hauled. Cee-cee was rather vague from the start with answering how far she wanted him to take it. "Oh, a little ways yet, young man. Be patient. Why when I was twice your age(cough, cough, hack) I was able to..." All of this on top of a hard day's walk meant that he was going to sleep rather soundly some time (though perhaps not this very night).
He bid Cee-cee a "Gud Nach", though technically there was a little bit of daylight left. He chose to back-track to the street where he had first met the crone. Going to that particular street was generally a mistake, and Brent was now going through it again.
Soon a man with a bright smile and a sour face approached him. "Good evening to you, my good man. Have a minute?" "Gud Nach to you. I seem to have all night free, now that I can't afford a room." "'Tis a sad fact of life in this city, that there are so many dishonest folk about. Why, it's almost enough to make an honest man flee, if that wouldn't also mean abandoning this city these rogues. 'Twould be a shame if we did, and where would honest creatures like you be if there were no more honest men here to greet them?"
"It is of no matter", Brent answered, "I have but to endure this night and be on my way in the morning." "You probably could, my good man, you probably could. That you can have your purse snatched and be so generous to an elderly woman and still be brave enough to face a night alone on these dangerous streets does my heart good. That such a man as..." He interrupted the talkative one, "This is, as I've said, not a great matter. A hired shepherd is used to not having money, and keeping watch at night."
"That may be, that may be" the smiler(who he noted then to be wearing a fine cloak) said, "I can not imagine why men speak so poorly of them, if they learn such useful skills. Now that I think on it, I know a man who would pay well for an honest set of eyes to keep watch on some merchandise tomorrow night--honest eyes that will not sleep. Now I'm thinking that we'd all be better off if you hold off your all-night vigil 'til the next night and let me put you up at an inn. That way, you can sleep well and be well-rested for this task. What do you say? Have we a deal?"
"I say that I do not deal with strangers." Brent replied. "My apologies, young man, I was carried away at the thought of your plight. My name is Dan." "Mine is Brent, and I would discuss our deal a mite before shaking on it." "What's to discuss? Would you rather stay out in the streets all night?" "If need be, I will. However, I was but going to suggest that if you really want me to sleep in peace, then we should go to one of the uptown inns. Else I may as well sleep in some dark alley as sleep in the inns about here."
Dan's bright smile dimmed a mite. "Ah...yes, that would normally be true if you don't know the inns around here. But I know a fellow who keeps a safe enough place at a reasonable price. Come, darkness fast approaches." However, the newcomer would not budge. "You might trust this man, but I know him not at all. I would have to trust the judgment of a man whom I've just met and know little; you must forgive me, but I'm not in a very trusting mood right now."
Dan did not look insulted in the least. "Oh not at all, not at all my good fellow. I understand all too well how one must be cautious in this city. That is why my employer likes to hire outsiders--you're more reliable. Come, then. I know a man..." Brent interrupted him, "How about the Haven inn? I have heard it highly recommended by several folk, some of whom I trust. Not only is it reputed one of the safest places in Rhyll, but for a few coppers they'll bring enough hot water to bathe in. Imagine that: a hot bath, of all things! That would be a good place to spend the night! And it'll only be for one night, right? Before this job tomorrow night, yes? So afterward I would be able to pay you back."
Now it was Dan's turn to interrupt him. "Okay, okay, we'll go to this Haven inn. It's rather more expensive than what I have in mind, but for an honest man like you, I'll gladly put you up, if that's what your heart desires." "My thanks, my friend. Let us go, then. Today has been a long and eventful one." "Tomorrow will be better, I promise you." "Mayhap it will."
The guards gave them only a curios one-over as they passed into the inner city. Dan seemed to have enough influence now to get by, and Brent...well, no self-respecting rogue would dress as he did, even for a disguise. His face was uncovered and an open book of weary but cheerful.
Brent stopped the other before they reached the inn. "You need go no further on my account, friend. I should reach the inn safely enough." "But, what if you should get lost?" The big smile was looking a bit strained now. He had been on edge ever since he had passed through the inner gates. The newcomer pointed down a street with his staff. "It is that ways a mite and to the left. I hear that it is unmistakable. Where shall we meet on the morrow?" "Ah, I'll send someone...it's no bother. The lad is keen for any excuse to work. If you're sure you'll not lose your way?" "I'm quite sure."
"Well then. Let me give you enough for that exorbitant place, and then some." "It is hardly that my friend, if it lives up to its name." Dan was now forgetting to smile as he scowled at the coins he sorted from his purse, as if checking them for fleas. He remembered to smile again as he handed the selected coins over. "Here you go. There's extra should there be any need." A quick glance confirmed that the coins received had rather familiar dints and scrapes. How cheeky, and how very careless. He answered aloud, "Your generosity astounds me, Dan." "Not at all, not at all. Just doing my bit as an honest worker" he answered brightly enough. He then took his leave.
Dan evidently still didn't want be any nearer to the Haven and its proprietor than he had to be. This was no surprise, nor was 'weasel' Dan's not remembering his face a new matter. He never had a gift for remembering faces, and Brent's was one he had seen seldom.
The walled palace that was the Haven's sign confirmed he was at the right place, and he walked confidently within. He surveyed the lounge and dining room, which immediately introduced themselves to anyone who walked in the door. The lounge was lined with sofas and tapestries and book shelves. A handful of well-dressed men took their ease here, reading a book or playing one of the games. The dining room was a mite less than half-full at the moment: men, women and children eating over purple table clothes, under the light of scented candles. Today's candle theme smelled like myrtle.
Herald, the owner, immediately took notice of the newcomer and left some customers(to their annoyance) he was taking orders from. Brent spoke before he could: "Gud Nach to you. Would you mind putting me up in one of your rooms quickly? I feel unwelcome eyes looking on." Herald nodded and accepted his silver without a word. He led him up the stairs and led him into a room halfway down the hall, and then abruptly left, having important matters to attend to...
The newcomer would have loved to ring the bell which would summon a boy who would fetch him hot water for a few coppers. A warm bath would be lovely for sore muscles. He would fill the copper tub and pick one of the books out from the shelf to read while he soaked. There was usually some new book lying about, as customers often were leaving books and scrolls behind. A feather-down mattress would be a perfect end to the day.
However, he did not ring the bell. There was some work yet to be done before he would let himself retire.
Herald returned shortly afterward. He returned his sliver to him. "I evicted those unfriendly eyes you were worried about." "That was quick." "Watching from the rooftops is too conspicuous about these parts. Usually some lordling's brat who want some favor or other is sent to 'idle away' in or around my inn." "That would make sense. They would draw less attention, and as they have every right to be there, they would be difficult to drive away if spotted." "Not so difficult. You just have to insult their honor and they'll leave in a huff. They're rather particular about how they're spoken to."
Brent told him, "Are you sure there' nothing I can do for you while I'm here, if you won't accept my silver? I always feel strange staying in a place like this for no charge." Herald just shrugged his shoulders and said, "I wouldn't cheapen the life of my daughter by taking your money." "She was in no great danger when I found her. She was frightened, lost, and had her necklace snatched away from her, but she suffered no injury." "Perhaps, but I'm still grateful that you escorted her to the proper gate. Few around here would have bothered. Anyway, you saw how business was below. I've plenty of room.
"Now, if you really want to help out, why don't you go down and propose to Chelsea, and get her out of my hair." Brent raised an eyebrow at this and replied, "Having suitor problems again?" "Did you expect them to stop?" "For the daughter of the owner of such a respectable inn? I'll expect that they won't stop until she's betrothed or dead. Some of the more ruthless ones won't let even the former stop them." "That's it in a nutshell." Herald agreed miserably.
"Well if it will really set your mind at ease, I'll go and propose to her right now." He made as if to walk out the door, but was stopped by the innkeeper's arm and glare. "You take one step out that door, and...friend or no...I'll...I'll pummel you and throw you out on the street!"
He was answered with a hearty laugh, "Herald, my friend, I was yanking your goat, was all! Any young man who so much as looks cross-wise at your daughter earns your instant ire...even if he be your dearest friend! You're going to have to choose sooner or later. Chelsea's not the kind who'll gladly become an old maid." "Hmmpht! 'Tis a weird sense of humour you have, scaring a dear friend like that." "Got your attention, did it? Good. One day you'll find that the decision'll be made for you, whether you like it or no. Brace yourself, my friend, you know I don't idly offer advice. You will have to let her go."
"She's too young" Herald answered stubbornly. "Aye, she is. That will change, as surely as the night changes into day. I'll change my attire and help entertain your guest, if there's naught else I can do for you." "Hmph. I'll tell Chelsea to turn in early. I often do that when certain guests arrive, so she'll not be suspicious."
"No need for that yet. Do you have a spare old cloak about? I have an errand, and I may need to be taken seriously." Herald snorted and answered, "There's plenty of old stuff in the attic that customer's leave behind." "How can anyone forget one's cloak when traveling? Do folks nowadays enjoy being rained on so much?" "No, only odd ducks like you enjoy that. More likely some merchant bought a new cloak he fancied and didn't care much for his old look after that." The newcomer answered, "I'd comment on the foolishness of that, but for knowing many folk who eke out a living on their wasted living."
"No need to tell me. I see them every day" Herald replied, then his eyes narrowed and he accused, You're not perchance going to return here without warning and seeing my Chelsea, are you?" "Harrumph!!" was Brent's reply. "You know how she is. Can't understand why I move around so much and don't settle down here. In Rhyll, of all places! No, if she's not going to be listening then I won't go out of my way to talk to her. I'll likely be an hour or two, maybe longer. I may have to entertain your guests in the morning. If I don't make it back at a reasonable hour, don't wait up, you know I'll find some way back in."
As you wish. But if the guards catch you I'll let you rot in jail a day or two, just so you'd learn some sense."
They embraced quickly, and Herald said, "You know I don't mean that. You give new meaning to the expression, 'Right as Rain'. I'll consider your words on what's right for Chelsea, though I can't imagine anyone decent from around here." "Perhaps you could move her to another city. You have few relatives you'd trust, but I could think of a few decent places where she could find work, and you have the means for travel." "Yes, yes of course. We'll talk it over in the morning. I'll bring that old cloak. Good luck to you Rain." "Fair journey to you Herald."
So Brent walked out into the dark streets, leaving his country look behind. The guards would not let him through, though the night was barely dark, with red still on the horizon. So he simply found another way, slipping past a guard post and climbing through a window to fall to the ground below. Going the other way might prove difficult, if not impossible, later on.
He quickly made his way back where he had dragged the cart. Cee-cee was still there, and as cranky as ever. "Get off with you, boy! You have no cause to be here!" "Passing the night alone is rather dull, don't you think? May be just as well that my purse was stolen. Your company is better than those wolves in human clothing hereabouts."
"Get on, I tell you! I'm in no mood for your company!" "All the more reason for you to have company, then." Brent crouched low and gathered some rubbish into a pile. "Get you gone! I'm expecting company and they'll not like uninvited guests." "I won't stay long then. Care for some pine tea?" He had ignited the rubbish by this time, and he filled a pint-sized tin cup with water from his skin and set it over the flames. The crone just stared at him in the meantime. Finally she looked away and replied, "Fine, if it will make you go away sooner." "Of course", he answered, "I'll just enjoy some tea and rest a bit. Young as I may be, I've been walking all day. A small sit would be nice" "Don't you get too comfortable. I'll expect you'll be gone before the tea has a chance to grow cold." He added a bit more fuel to the fire, saying, "It'll heat up sooner, and I'll be out of your hair so much the quicker."
They sat in silence for a spell, then Cee-cee said, "That fire had better not attract unwelcome eyes." "Not likely. We're deep enough in the alley that it would not be seen but near its mouth, and I built the fire in that depression so it'll not be seen clearly even there. A few may notice, but around here, those few will likely not stick their noses into it, for fear that it'll be cut off."
"Hmmpht. You learned the rules around here quickly enough. You have to or you'll not live long." "I've been through this city before, on occasion." "I take it back, then. You're obviously slow." "I learned that my purse will be gone whatever I do, so I carry little with me when I do come through here. Last time I was able to buy supper and a room before my purse was snatched. Alas, this day I was not even able to buy your apples before I was robbed." "Not that I care, but how'd you manage to come by that cloak you're wearing?" "Some one who owed me a favor had an old one handy." "Don't know why you bothered. The way you were you'd have been ignored. Now you have something others might find worth stealing." "Perhaps. I blend in more now, though, and old cloaks are hardly uncommon in this city, making me an unlikely target to be mugged." "Hmmph. Maybe you're not such a foolish boy as I thought." "Why, thank you Cee-cee." "Stop calling me that!" "Whyever not? Don't you like it Cee-cee?"
Presently the tea became hot enough, and he poured himself a cup. When Cee-cee confessed to not having a cup, he gave her the tin. "It may still be hot." Brent commented. "Teach your mother to suck eggs, boy." "I'll do that, the next time I see her." "Bah! Didn't she teach you to prepare for guests?" "She did, but I wasn't sure you'd trust my spare cup." "Don't take offense easily, do you boy?" "If I were to be irate every time someone did what I no like, then I'd be grouch all the time, and then I couldn't live with myself. Being friendly is too fun to stop. If I take someone down, it is because I decide it needs doing, not for anger."
The moment became comfortable. The fire warmed the outside, and the tea warmed the insides. The conversation even warmed the heart of the crone, and Brent was not surprised to here her softly catching some zees. He might have done the same, but he endured the waves of fatigue rolling over him and rose above it.
The moment passed when he heard the slight scuffing of feet. He backed away beyond the firelight. The shadows beyond the fire were difficult to pierce, but he could still make out a solitary figure approaching. Brent's ears confirmed the presence of two more men behind the leader.
The figure came to the borders of the firelight. This did not reveal much, except a common gray cloak obscuring a smallish body. The figure took in the snoring crone for a moment, then took a step toward her. Before the third step, Brent's voice arrested the motion: "I wouldn't do that if I were you."
The figure slowly took a few step back. When this did not provoke a response, a gruff, low voice could barely be heard to say, "Who be you?" Brent did not know much about throwing his voice, but he knew a little. "I am one who this night looks after the old one's welfare." The figure started at this, having heard him from behind.
"I was not aware that Miranda had any such protection", the rough voice stated." This time the reply was heard from above. "Nor would you have, had the old one not taken a nap. I am not inclined to wake her right now. Shall we proceed with business, or would you rather I put up some more tea while you wait?"
The response was a small twitch from within the cloak, which was enough to signal the two in the rear to rush Brent's position... I'm too tired for this. THWACKK. SLIP. THUD. CRACK! The cloaked leader turned to flee. THWACK! Sparks cut off retreat, as something solid impacted and ricocheted off the brick wall. "I'd not move if I were you," Brent's voice calmly explained to her, "unless you can fly faster than a hurled stone. The light is poor, but the alley is narrow. There's a good chance I'll strike you where ye'll not want to be struck."
The figure slowly turned half-way about and said in a clear alto voice: "Rain, is dat you?" Brent winced. He recognized that voice. He did not expect to see her. He answered crossly, "Only to those who are my friends, Bess." The small cloaked figure completed her turn, and took a half-step to where she thought he was. "You're still not angry about dat, are you? Dat was years ago. You were a young pup that needed breaking in to these streets." She shifted her weight while taking another half-step, a motion obscured by the lighting and her cloak. Rain did not react to this.
The cloaked one continued: "Only the capable survive. Nothing personal, but if not me den someone else woulda done you. If you didn't have what it takes, den you'd just have been put out of your misery. You had what it takes, so you survived. What I did made no difference. Dat's how Rhyll works. Wasn't my decision. I just live here, ya know?"
She took a step forward. "Look, I'm sorry." her voice was more subdued now, "that was harsh of me. I'm glad you survived back then, I really am. Just as I am glad to see you alive, when rumors had you dead. Guess there's no stopping the rain, is there?"
'The Rain' answered, "I'm not angry, just disappointed and sad. Ultimately, I lost nothing when you betrayed me to those thugs. They underestimated how much of a beating I could take. You, however, lost my trust. You've had some hard lessons in life. So have I. Since the world teaches me, I consider it only fair that I teach the world a few things. Alas, I don't believe you are ready to learn such lessons. Shall we move on to business?"
Bess stood by the fire now. "Certainly. Shall we go over to the Copper Barrel and discuss dis there? I have no desire to negotiate in such a...drear place." "We can negotiate here, as was originally agreed." "I'll not be able to carry any purchases with me", she explained reasonably. I need to hire additional help anyway." "I can keep watch, after our business is done" he replied.
"C'mon Rain, dat's bad business and you know it. How do I know you won't just walk off before I return?" He retorted, "How do I know you won't secretly signal some allies to come around and pick up the merchandise while you distract me? At least you'll know I won't walk off with it, as I have no interest in such things."
"Oh really? Den why'd you agree to work for the weasel? Yused to have no interest in dat eider." "He did not know that I was the one he was hiring. I agreed because I find the notion of making money off of him unawares to be...amusing." The small figure shook her head. "Your sense of humor will be the def of you, Rain." "At least I'll die laughing. You'll die when you underestimate the one you try to stab in the back."
"You are mistaken. I've always sized up my...competition accurately." "One of us will see which one of us is right." The hood hid her smirk at this. "Truly said. I must insist on hiring more help. If you will excuse me..." "When you return with your help," the man in the shadows said, "do not be surprised to find the merchandise in the sewers...if you can find it at all."
"You'd not dare!" Bess exclaimed, whirling toward him again. The Rain answered with a puzzled note in his voice, "Why would I not? I'm used to throwing my stuff away if I find them a burden. I travel light, and I let go of things easily: even of being strong and in control, as it is simply not possible for mortals to be such all the time. Sometimes I have the advantage. Sometimes I don't. For now you have influence and wealth, and when the time moves on these will dry up. One must endure weakness, and so must you, now."
"True words of a weakling!" the cloaked figure spat out. He answered, "I did not think you'd understand. Sometimes the coin lands on its edge, but it usually doesn't. Only in admitting your weakness can you be strong. Looking only to your 'strengths' will blind you to failure. Death will come for you, and you won't be able to see it. Five gold in advance."
"What?!" "I'm sure you tire of philosophy. Five gold for setting your men on me, or no business." "Dat's outrageous!" "You're right. It is outrageously generous. Ten gold." She cursed a blue streak in response. He listened patiently for this to die down, then commented, "How unbusiness-like of you, Bess. If you still feel that's still too generous, I could always raise it to fifteen."
"But I have little else but the gold for the purchase", she pleaded. "Why, exactly, do you expect me to believe you?" the Rain answered, dryly, "However, if you insist, I'll allow you to pay for what you can and dump the rest." "But Tra...my family will disown me if I come up short." "Sounds like a perfectly horrid family. I suggest you take the gold, forget the merchandise, and skip town."
"I...I can't do that. They'll hunt me down. I've been through too much to quit now." "You should take this chance. You may not get another. If a 'weakling' like me has survived being hunted, so can you. I'll even help, as I am no friend to your...family. You may as well accept my offer, as I'm not backing down from the ten gold. You may consider it a fee for hiding you away, if that helps."
The cloaked figure bowed down to the ground. "I can't, Rain, I just can't." She spoke not one word more, but stayed down in silence. Suddenly, the fire went out and she pounced as silently as a cat before his eyes could adjust. Bess had closed her eyes before putting out the fire, so she was able to make out a tall cloaked figure a short distance ahead of her. She flung a dagger and a slight whistle could be heard before it struck. The cloaked figure went down... The shorter cloaked one prepared to go and make sure he had been finished off. A stinging sensation in her back caused her to whirl around and face...nothing.
She became dizzy and went to her knees. What had hit her? There was no one there, no one but...Bess then noticed that Miranda was not lying in the same position as earlier. She tried to grab another knife, but could not. Shock prevented her from feeling pain, but not the cold of dying. She fell the rest of the way to the ground.
When the small cloaked figure finally went down, the crone stiffly arose and said, "Whippersnappers. Always leaving their messes for everyone else to clean up. Now what am I supposed to do?"
"Ya won't hafta worry bout dat, old hag." A scratchy young voice behind her said, "Yall be ded."
Miranda turned in time to see a youth in dark tunic and trousers preparing to run her through with his small sword. His kind were the baker's dozen on the street, all too common, all too young, and all too cocky. He had the upper hand...
THWACK. The youth fell to the ground. The crone didn't know if he yet lived, but she was sure that he wouldn't rise anytime soon. She spoke into the darkness, "So, survived the knife, did you?" "The knife never connected." Brent's voice came back to her, and she could dimly see a tallish figure in a pale tunic, "She only struck my cloak, which I was holding out in front of me. I expected her to be rash."
Miranda spat on the ground, "Bah! Lovers quarrel! Anyone with a bit of sense would avoid them." Brent replied, "Bess was an ambitious woman and flirted to gain advantage. However, I never knew her to take a lover. I don't think she wanted to be bothered with one."
"What do you intend to do?" she asked, a touch of nerves broke the pitch of her voice. He sighed. "Clean this mess up. Use some of the coins here on another errand. Return to the inner city, if I can. Leave as soon as I may. Will you come with? I don't imagine certain folk will be pleased with you about this, though you're hardly to blame."
"I'll take my chances, thank you very much! I'm too old to travel." "I'll carry you", he offered. Miranda tensed at this. "You'll do no such thing. Now hand over that purse or I'll do you like I did Bess." Brent cut the large purse from the still-warm body. "You mean this purse?" CLANG!! He slammed it through a rusty sewer grate. He then stated, "I wonder...If you should do me in and I drop this, are you strong enough to open a way into the sewers, and agile enough to climb down and fetch it, or are you too old for that as well?
"You...you...you...you..." words failed the crone. "You'll come with me? Good choice! Without the purse your chance of being forgiven go from slim to none." "This is Blackmail!" Even in the dim light, she could make out the huge grin that blossomed on the young man's face. "Yes, it is, isn't it?" he said agreeably, "I take it you're coming with, Cee-cee?" "Don't call me Cee-cee you...you...you boy!"
Trawn received his merchandise--rather unexpectedly--at his house. The guards found it upon searching his house, having received two independent reports about it. Trawn and his men were unable to resist, as some of the merchandise had been mysteriously mixed in with the flour for that morning's breakfast. Trawn liked his breakfast fresh-made, after all.
Kayron was at his usual evening job at the Broken Blade. He was sweeping the alleyway, having finished mopping the basement. Down there he could overhear quite a few conversations. When he was sweeping or otherwise aiding Din in the main room, he could also see who was coming and going. In the alleyway, those who were eager to hear a bit of "gossip" would come by and...alleviate the tedium of sweeping. All in all, not a bad evening job, if one didn't mind the danger.
The latter approached him now. There were four...no...five of them. The fifth was blocking his exit to the roof, while the others blocked his way out of the alley. Unusually prepared of them. They were obviously not here merely to hear gossip. Urchin had better be running for help, as Scar-Eye wouldn't drive them off without aid.
He spoke to them coolly, while continuing to sweep, "If you are looking for the entrance to the Broken Blade, it is down that way and to the left." They didn't seem keen on word-sparring, however, for one of them only answered, "Yer cumming with us." Kayron turned to the speaker and said, "What if I am not so inclined?" They were not particularly keen on wit, either, for the speaker turned to his companion and asked, "Whadidye say?" His partner replied, "I tink 'e said 's not cumming." "Oh, 's not, izzy?" The two before and the two behind surrounded him, painfully pinning his arm to his back. Kayron did not resist. "Cum'long nicely now, or you'll find dat ya don't need yer arm to talk."
CRACK. The pressure on his arm was gone. CRACK. Kayron turned to see a young man wearing but a simple tunic holding a staff in a double-grip, and two of his assailants on the ground. He did not need to turn to hear the rest of them scampering off as quickly as they may. The youth shifted his left hand to the back of his head and started to self-consciously scratch himself.
"Um...Gud Nach to...I hope I didn't interrupt nothing. I mean...um..you looked like you were in trouble, but there was also this...ah,er...lady who was in trouble, only she wasn't. In trouble, I mean. But she wasn't a lady either! Er... that is...she didn't talk like one, anyway. Sure chewed me out about scaring away her...erm...customers. Anywho, the name's Brent. Nice to might you...I hope?"
Kayron smiled easily at him to allay his nervousness. "I may be called Kayron, and your arrival was fortunate. How come you are wandering about? It's not safe here at night, as you've just seen." He did not shake his hand, however. Being friendly didn't mean being stupid in his book.
"Oh...That." Brent had stopped scratching his head, but only so he could pull at his short beard. "It's kinda embarassing, actually. You see, my purse went missing shortly after arriving, and I can't afford a place to stay of the night. So...well, now I'm wandering about as I can, and...well...I'm used to all-night vigils, and will stay up all night if necessary. I'm planning on leaving first thing in the morning, of course."
"Rhyll can be a dangerous place for the unwary" Kayron looked at the nervous young man steadily as he spoke, leaning on his broom with his head a bit to the side, "What brings you here?" The youth sighed. "I came to find some Lady who came through, not so long ago, but no one will give m so much as a greeting, now. I didn't think finding a woman traveling with a da'kor would be so...frustrating."
Kayron raised an eyebrow. "A woman and a da'kor? That is an unusual pair. Perhaps the da'kor was hiding his face." "Could be" Brent smiled weakly, "Anywho, where should we dump these two?" His hand swept toward the two unconscious figures piled on the ground. "On the street should be enough. They won't attack again soon." "Sure" he answered agreeably, and hauled the heavier of the two onto his shoulders.
As they dumped them out front, Kayron posed another question: "Why do you seek this woman and da'kor. Did they do something wrong?" Brent just shrugged, "She's a thief-catcher, might be able to help me find something. I've no interest in the da'kor except for him being in her company. The woman is helping the da'kor find an elf, is all." "An elf?" "Aye, figure those two won't be hard to find, I'm going to poke around the nearby villages until I turn up a lead." Kayron did not speak for moment, then turned to face Brent to say, "I would suggest starting in the villages south of here. I believe I saw a woman go that way, a short while back. She was accompanied by one as short as a child, but whose features were hooded."
Brent weakly smiled and replied, "As Gud a place to start as any. Thank you for the tip, Kayron. A gud nach to you." "I hope the night won't be any worse, anyway. I'd wish you luck, but you seem to have enough already...Rain."
Brent fetched his cloak and purse from their hiding place a short distance from there. He then revived the two unconscious thugs. "Wahidme?" one of them managed. "A large stick" he answered. "Gud work. Here's a gold each for your troubles. A gud nach to you." "Thanksuh", the thug beamed at the praise and the gold.
He allowed himself to relax a moment against the wall, and breathed contentedly. His errands were done and Brent could now return to the Haven, if he could manage it somehow. Well...he would think of something, as usual.
Brent was "relieved" of his heavy purse by a band of mercenaries coming out of the Blade. He beat a hasty retreat before the inebriated comrades realized that only a few coins were among the contents of the purse. The rest of it was full of tin scraps he scavenged for just such an occasion.
The textile house enjoyed a rare night of peace. The guard dog, known affectionately as RIP(Rest In Pieces), was taking a break from warning off every cricket that dared to come onto his territory. The watchmen inside couldn't agree on whether his howling resembled and army of yowling cats so much as a throng of screeching cocks, but they did agree to enjoy a toast at the blessed silence.
In the meantime, RIP was also enjoying a moment of pure bliss, as he submitted gladly to his tummy being massaged. No guard did this...they regarded being even in the same yard as the dog as smart as walking out into a thunderstorm. Not even the owner liked to spend a great deal of time with him, not wanting to lose what little hearing he had. The man in the simple tunic, however, had more than enough patience.
Rain was used to being followed, usually by grouchy people: even grouchy people with dogs. Then one morning he found one of his followers had actually caught up to him in the open country. He half woke to the feeling of moisture in his face. Warm moisture, not the rain he was used to. When he opened his eyes to see the puppy licking his nose, the four-legged enthusiast's ensuing barks of greeting revived him fully to wakefulness.
His heart was pulled when he finally let go of RIP. Rain had been the one to give him that name for his habit of vigorously shaking the game(which was thoroughly dead) he fetched to make sure it stayed dead. Rain had taught him the few commands he knew, and even to not bay all day long(nights were another matter). However, half-deaf Tom had needed him more. Besides, it was nigh impossible to be inconspicuous with a furry fury tagging along.
Of course, being accused of being in league with the dark spirits had amused him to no end...
RIP followed the Rain out onto the streets and into the sewers(well, he had to carry him down). After walking to a certain place, he pulled out a few links of sausage. The mutt immediately tried to snap them up, but they were yanked just out of his reach. Failing that, he proceeded to howl at the sausages until they agreed to come down(which strangely enough didn't work). What anyone might think of this cacophony echoing through the sewers is anyone's guess, but if anyone guessed that the sewers were haunted by a dark spirit that a dark mage had summoned, well, that would come as no surprise.
When the Rain was done teasing RIP he turned a corner and flung the sausages toward two startled guards who stood at some distance. The links wrapped itself around one of the guards' arm. Before they had a chance to do that, however, a certain four-legged enthusiast dashed immediately around the corner and charged the guards' position, growling all the way. The two guards wasted no time in abandoning their post. Perhaps being assigned to sewer duty had robbed them of their sense of duty. Perhaps they had no strong sense of duty to begin with and that's what landed them with sewer duty. Either way, Rain now had free access to the inner city for the price of a few sausages.
When Brent made his way back to the Haven, the hour was late, and the boy assigned to hot-water duty was absent. He was likely shirking his duty, as there were few requests at this hour. Brent did not have the energy to seek out where the boy might be, so he prepared the hot water for his bath himself. He wanted a hot bath, not get the boy into trouble.
His mind dully noted the approach of small feet. He thought that the boy might be returning, but the voice that came in through the door was not that of a boy. "You stink" Chelsea told him. She seemed to be in one of her moods. "The streets of Rhyll will do that to a fellow" he answered.
Brent didn't need to turn to know that both of her fists were firmly planted on her hips. 'Twas now the time for tongue-lashings, it seemed. "Since when", Chelsea spoke coldly, "Did your duties include ignoring guests in favor of mucking about on the streets and forgetting to doff your cloak?" He did not respond immediately. Was he being confused with a bath-boy? He changed the pitch of his voice to answer, "I only just arrived, Ma'am. Sorry."
She did not answer for a long moment. Was she now beginning to recognize him? Apparently not, for she stated, "You're new around here." "So I am" Brent replied, "Just came in today, in fact." "I see. Well don't be late again. Father doesn't take kindly to slackers. "Oh, I won't be here very long, Ma'am. I'm just filling in until my friend returns." "Hnh! Tell your friend he's going to be in deep pickles with my father. After you bring up my hot water. My room is found..." After Chelsea finished her instructions, she left the room with an air of dignity.
Brent allowed himself an exhale. At least she hadn't recognized him. He really didn't want to bring Chelsea's bathwater up to her room, or be anywhere near her for the rest of the night. He decided that he had enough energy to track down the bath-boy after all.
Brent had evaded the pair who had been following him easily enough, and went to a small, little-known village. He thought it odd that two thief-catchers were following him. He could only guess that Lord Darin had taken exception to the way Brent had paid back the money he had borrowed from him. He ought to be safe enough in the village for at least the rest of the day.
So when a female called him by his nickname, he was not on guard. Just curious as to why he didn't recognize her voice. Perhaps a little girl that had recently grown up? Then he heard a sound he did recognize: the whir of a metal blade slashing through the air. He instinctively brought up his hand to close the wound he did not yet feel. His eyes were free to stare into the eyes of the one who had used his name against him. Eyes cold and gold. So very cold...so very gold...so very angry. Golden eyes had no cause to be angry with him. He vowed to put a stop to them, if it was the last deed he did...And then he collapsed.
Like the previous chapters, there's a lot that's in here just for fun, not because it's central to the story. Which is ironic, since the written rough draft has recently gone missing(probably some kid), and I am reacting to this as if I'd lost a pet dog.
Brent kept his word to Herald and made his rounds among the guests in the morning as they came down for breakfast. Mostly he entertained them with stories and conversation. When asked why his hood was up, he replied, "Oh, I'm an incorrigible traveler with his mind on the road. I like to wake up prepared to go, and consider it bad luck to lower my hood before I've set foot on the road." Which was true enough, although there might have been bad luck of a different sort if Chelsea, who was helping serve breakfast, ever caught sight of his face.
He left before the late wakers rose for breakfast, as the innkeeper's daughter was throwing more than one suspicious glance his way. However, he got no further than exiting through the doors before he was accosted by an unexpected face: A sour face with a big grin.
Dan enquired as to whether he had slept soundly. Brent replied cheerfully that he did, and that this was a welcome surprise, as he had been expecting an errand boy, instead. The smiling man replied, "Oh, I just wanted to make sure personally that you were ready for tonight. I must confess that this is also for my employer's sake. Last night some of his merchandise was stolen, and I want to personally assure him this morning that we'll have reliable help tonight."
The friendly one raised an eye-brow and shrugged his shoulders while responding: "Well, looks like you're right about the help in this town. Where I was raised being reliable was the only way you'd get the best jobs." He then shook the other's hand and stated, "You may assure your employer that, as sure as your an honest man, I'll be there tonight."
Dan shied away from Brent's candid gaze. He replied, "Er...Good, good. I'll take that in the spirit it was...that is, good, good. I'll be sure to tell my employer you may count on that. Ah... I should be on my way...Oh! I almost forgot, my good man. You must be strapped for coin right now, what with the extravagant prices of this...place." The young man waved that away with a hand a word: "Oh, the innkeeper was a reasonable enough fellow...if you mind yourself around his daughter, anyway. He lowered the price a bit in exchange for keeping his guests entertained. Sheep and wolves and da'kor stories get a little stale up north, but they're fresh as the dawn around here." "Oh...really. Well that's fortunate for you.
The...owner here is rather touchy about who he takes a liking to, daughter or no. In any case I looked around a bit and found something that might interest you." The slight man took at a small purse out. A purse identical to the one stolen yesterday. Cheeky, how very cheeky. "This ought to carry you through the day. No sense scrimping on such good help, eh?" He winked at Brent, who replied wryly, "You're generosity is as ever, amazing to me. I mean that from the bottom of my heart, friend. I hope you didn't pay too much for that. I sewed it together from leftover scraps."
"Not at all, not at all, my good man", Dan replied, "A little coin for such a fine young man as yourself is of no consequence. Besides, I have this...understanding...with the hawker who came by it, so you need not worry for my welfare, though it does you credit." He looked about. "Ah, where does the morning go? It's been good chatting with you, but I must really be on my way." Brent gave a slight bow. "Have a meeting myself at the south gate. Someone'll be anxious to see me. Gud morn to you." He bowed more fully. The fake smile dampened a bit as Dan's brows knit together with suspicion. "The south gate...?" He started.
The youth's luck turned south at this point. A screech from inside the Haven rang in their ears: "Rain!! You sneaky old athkatchu!! Come and face me like the man you're supposed to be!!!" The smiling man stopped smiling completely as he exclaimed, "Rain? No! He's dead! Quite dead!" The corners of Brent's mouth curled upward, and he answered, "Whoever this Rain is, he'll be as you say if he doesn't hurry. In that spirit, my old friend, I bid you a fond farewell." In but a moment the slight fellow found himself alone in front of the Haven, and he still wasn't smiling. In the next moment he had even less reason to smile, as he stopped being by himself. Twice.
A very determined looking young lady glared up at him. A young lady who was the daughter of a man with whom he was not on cordial terms with. She ordered, "The man that just left. WHERE DID HE GO?" Dan did not dare to tell a lie to her, "Ah...the South Gate, Madam." Before he had finished pronouncing his last m, he was alone again. The next he knew, the Weasel found himself several inches off the ground. The man with whom he was not on cordial terms with, whom had also just seen him talking with his daughter, whom he was very protective of, was now wringing him by his scrawny neck. "My daughter" was all the enraged man managed to say. "...South...Gate!" Was all the choking victim managed to get out.
It was enough, apparently, for the next thing he knew, the man with a very sour face found himself alone and on his seat, the latter feeling rather sore at its unexpected meeting with the stone-paved street. In addition to a shortness of breath and a sore posterior, he found that he was quite shaken. Or rather, he was quite shaking. Especially his hands. Forgetting his meeting with his employer, he decided that a few drinks were in order.
This plan started well enough, but when after a drink or two Dan became calm, he began to add two and two. He then began cursing, which the patrons didn't mind too much. However, as he also threw his drink across the room, and the drink and glass rained down the occupants of one table...sour-face once again finding himself on the street. Hard. On his keister. It was sorer than ever. To add insult to injury, his employer did not take his tardiness...calmly.
So the Weasel found himself on a horse racing out the city gates. A horse with a vicious gait who managed to find every conceivable(and a few inconceivable) bump in the road. His curses did not do a thing to soothe his blistering keister.
In the meanwhile, Brent indeed met someone at the south gate...
When the Rain had finally hit the road, he stepped into a small piece of eternity, winding his way over and on beyond the horizon. He slowed and murmured when he came across a town, speaking to the locals, while they, if they wished, spoke with him or drank of his experience. Out of town his focus narrowed and hastened his pace, though he was still a bit slow from hitting Rhyll last night. The path was clear, now, and laid out before him, bringing him ever nearer to the sea
One step flowed into another, and mile after mile took their toll on him. Yet though he ever paid this toll, his body and mind were not even sorely taxed. In this, Rain was one of the wealthiest men on the face of the earth. Mile upon mile took away from him, and mile after mile added to him. Strength that was spent in his steps was replenished by food his steps took him too. Likewise with the water and air. The attention he paid to his surroundings was constantly replaced with new sites to take in. Then there was the light. The light always strengthened him, even as the heat sapped him. In the light there was a greater glimpse into eternity than could be found on even the longest of roads
He stepped out of eternity once more as he ever did. His work among men was not yet done, after all. To make a difference, he did have to be different for a bit, but then he had to come down to earth once more and be...not so different, and not too much a stranger. The people he met changed him, added to his experience, but he also changed them, and later he would return to eternity once more so that he could once again be different enough to make a difference. Sometimes the change would mean the death of others. One day would come and find him no longer walking on the earth. But for now, he had a difference to make here in this city. Perhaps little, perhaps much. What would happen was always a mystery, one that can only be solved if one stepped into it. So he greeted the folks with a "Gud Morn to you" as he stepped into Aydensfell
Brent had no clear strategy here except to poke around the inns and shops and ask if they'd seen a da'kor passing through, and hoped fortune smiled upon him. As it happened, fortune did smile upon him...in an altogether unexpected fashion.
He walked into a herbal shop. The lady there probably didn't know anything, but was pleasant enough to talk to. Brent only had enough time to nod in her direction before someone came in from the back, carrying some ginger roots in a basket. He took one look at the lady's new help and exclaimed, "Markus, ya old dog! What're you doing in this city!" The one so addressed was a young man sporting a light beard. At the sound of his name he dropped to the ground and dashed out the way he came in, while the quite astonished lady looked on. Brent winked at her and said, "Don't you worry Nelly, I'll be back with him in two shakes of a tail."
Markus did indeed return with him...like a sack of potatoes. Brent dropped him unceremoniously on the floor and asked(with a note of laughter), "Why is this any way to greet an old friend? You oughtta be ashamed of yourself, startling a nice lady like Nelly so!" The man rose to his feet and said, "Nelly, I guess you've already met my friend Brent, also known as Rain. Rain, I guess you know my wife, Nelly." A feminine eyebrow was raised at this, "And you already seem to know one another. I would have thought you would have mentioned him earlier, husband. Brent strikes me as a decent enought fellow." Marcus found something on the shelves to look as his cheeks reddened. "We...did not part on the best of terms, last we met."
"You silly lamb!" Brent answered, "You think I'd hold a grudge over that last mischief you played on me?" "Mischief?" Nelly said with a twinkle in her eye, "What ever did you do to this nice man?" Markus finally broke down and laughed, "Sorry about that, I thought you were someone else. Probably'd run from you anyway. Last I saw ya, you were chasing me through the streets of Dubin like a madman!" "Ah, that was mostly for fun. After all I was due to pay you back for swiping my tunic while I was taking a nap."
Nelly stared at both of them. "You took his tunic?" she asked. Markus hugged his wife, "Oh, just a harmless prank that kids do when they're not settled down. 'Twas nicer than seeing Rain put his old cloak on fire...while he was still wearing it." "As you say, friend, it was old. I figured I may as well have fun getting rid of it, and pay you back for telling those girls I was a lord in disguise, bound to marry the first girl to kiss me because of a bet. I tell ya, when those girls started screaming as the flames started climbing, Markus' voice rose just as high!"
"Well...I'm certainly glad my Markus has grown up a bit. I don't mind a bit o' fun any more than the next lass, but setting yourself on fire is so...Novice-like. When will you settle down for a decent game of wits?(She turns to Markus) And stealing Rain's spare tunic! I mean, what fun would that be, anyway?"
Brent started to answer, "Oh, but it wasn't my spare tunic. You see...", but he received an elbow in the gut as Marcus turned to his wife, "So...why don't we all get reacquainted at lunch...or supper. I'm sure Rain, as usual, has some errands to finish." "Oh, that would be just fine. You wouldn't mind, this time Brent, just this once?" Raising an eyebrow at Markus, the Rain responded, "Oh...sure. I just normally pass through here without stopping. Large cities set me on edge. Well...I see y'all later." "I'll see you out." Markus stated.
Outside, the Rain asked, "What're you all shy about? Nelly has heard her share of mischief back in the academy." Markus answered, "I...just don't want her knowing too much about my past, is all. We started out with you braining me with that big stick of yours, while I was sneaking up on you, and that's more bloody shady than she's used to. Anyway, there are certain subjects one does not bring up in front of a lady." The wanderer answered, "I admit that I don't tell everyone everything about my past...that's impractical...but I don't hide from my past. While some of it is embarrassing, I'm not too ashamed to use my experience." The assistant herbalist retorted, "You're not too ashamed to chase a man naked throughout a whole city, at any rate." He shrugged. "After you snatched my only tunic, modesty became a moot point, anyway. Don't worry, I won't spill the beans on you, but you may find that Nelly's heart is bigger than your fears."
The search for leads proved frustrating, until he came across The Silver Lining, a new inn. Then he learned something of the party he was pursuing. He became all the more frustrated for finding this information. He needed a break, and lunch was a perfect one.
"So how did your morning go?" Nelly politely asked, as she set up the table. Rain saw no harm in being candid, so he answered plainly. Markus leaned back in his chair and said, "Sounds like the group Varden was traveling with. Was rather surprised that he travelled in the company of a mage. He doesn't like them." "You know Varden?" Nelly asked as she set the rolls on the table. Markus smoothly answered, "Oh, his face is more well known than he likes. I don't think his reputation is good for his trade. Thieves need to be inconspicuous, and all that. I heard someone matching his description was traveling with a thief-catcher and a da'kor, of all things. That sort of news spreads." "I never heard any of this." "No reason you would, sweetie. The da'kor got the most attention when he passed through."
Brent decided to deflect the conversation, as a favor to his friend, "Anyway, finding them will be all the more difficult now that a mage is with them. They can travel long distances with a single spell." "I am sorry to hear that." All three of them were seated now. "What will you do now?" "Oh, go ask around, see if some mage will help me at least part of the way. If not, I'll just guess where they'll likely be and go there. Or wait here, if they're likely to return." "Well...I wish you luck." Nelly replied slowly. "Don't worry, Nelly, I know I'm not likely to receive help."
He deflected the conversation again, this time for his own sake. He didn't want them asking too much about why he was seeking Lei'Ella. He brought up Herald, and his problems on account of his daughter. Nelly mentioned a few Senior mages she knew who were like that. Markus brought up a guy he knew who was protective of his sister(which was apparently a good thing, in her case). The conversation turned to other people they knew or had once met, and their children, and their jobs, and their gardens, and...(etc.)
The senior mage did not look up from the book he was reading to tell the newcomer that he wasn't permitted in the library. The man in the simple tunic answered, "Why? Are you afraid that ignorance is more contagious than knowledge? That's contrary to natural law, that is, nature abhors a vacuum. That which is abundant spreads to where there abundance is lacking. Theoretically, anyway. In reality nature doesn't always work like that, so I got to wonder why that's considered a natural law. I mean, theoretically the abundant knowledge of the teacher should flow naturally into the student's relatively new mind, but really, student's often have to work to achieve their teacher's understanding, and some don't learn at all. I mean, how many times have you cringed whenever you hear a student try to learn by osmosis? Osmosis, now there's a funny word. You wouldn't believe how many townsfolk insist that I'm making that word up if I tell them about it, and then believe me if I say that arikinahin is a fancy word for lettuce?" Some stifled giggles could be heard in the background.
Shortly afterwards the senior mage hinted that he could remain as long as he remained quiet. Brent was perfectly happy to remain quiet and start browsing through the books. The mage, however, was not. "That book is restricted to mages alone" he told him, again without looking up from his reading. "Whyever not?" he answered, "I've no mage blood, so there's no risk of me accidentally setting off a spell in here." "If you've no mage blood, then you've no need to look at it, have you?" "Ah, but I rather like knowing what a mage is capable of before I ask him if he would do something for me. Unless, of course, that mage likes being pestered by a simpleton." More giggles, less stifled, again decorated the background of silence. "Young man, certain knowledge is restricted for your own protection. You're a wanderer, and may come across a child with elvan blood in him. If that child learns magic outside these halls, he could be a threat to you as well as himself."
Brent showed him the book cover. "I never knew that Forty-seven ways to cultivate and prepare parsley could be so dangerous." Giggles turned to outright laughter. "Seriously though, I have no interest in the book. I simply am in the habit of looking through a book a bit to see whether I want to read it. I don't judge books by its cover or its title if I can help it. I couldn't resist baiting you a bit, though, and for that I am truly sorry. I'm a bit of an imp sometimes." "Apology accepted. Perhaps if you could tell me what you are looking for and we can avoid future incidents." "Oh, I was just wondering how often a mage might help a traveler travel more quickly." "That is only done for ourselves or something important. Mages are not in the business of helping merchants cut their travel time, nor in helping idle wanderers reach their haunts sooner."
Brent stepped up to his table and planted the palms on its surface. He said, with an utterly calm voice, "Ah, but I'm not just idly wandering. I'm seeking someone so that I might lay to rest a ghost of my past. I would not even be troubling you at all, but for that the one I seek is now in the company of a mage. They are no longer in this city, but were not seen leaving by the gates. I know, because I've come far, and sought answers from everyone I could outside the academy. To catch up with them, I will ask help from the academy itself, but only because one of your own is unknowingly hindering me. My quest may not seem much to you, but it is enough for me to come here, when I prefer not to deal with magic if I possibly can."
"If a mage is accompanying them, then that is that mage's business. We are under no obligation to you. Besides, you have another plan, do you not? The mage will not accompany them forever. With your obvious determination, you will catch up to them soon enough." Brent bowed his head for a moment, as one who is very weary. "Very well," he finally said, "I will trouble you no further, Sir." He walked away from the table the senior mage was studying at.
However, he did not walk toward the exit. Instead, he walked right up to a table where a group of red-haired girls were studying. Or rather, pretended to study. Given that the laughter originated from this table, they were probably not as focused on their studies as they looked. They pretended to ignore him as he approached, but they could no longer manage that when he bowed to them and asked, "A Gud afternoon to you, ladies. I seem to have nothing to do this evening, would any of you consider joining me this evening for supper?" He received the following reactions: one laughed out loud, one looked like a bug had the temerity to crawl on her book, one merely widened her eyes in surprise, and one exclaimed, "Oh, but we don't know the portal spell offhand!"
Brent laughed aloud at this. "So? I am not in the habit of charming a spell off of a student-mage. I do not like magic being cast on me at all. If I must, then I'd prefer someone with many years of experience spell me. I am in the habit of meeting new people, however, but I do not wish to interrupt your studies. So I ask again, would any of you like to come with me to dinner? Dining alone can be such a dull affair after all." "You have much finer speech than you do clothing, er...what is your name anyway?" The one who laughed at him asked this. "Just Brent, milady, and wandering the corners of the earth is kinder on tongue than it is with fine clothing." He held out his hand. The girl took it, with another laugh, "Good point, the name's Jessica, by the way." "Well met. I was serious before about not wanting to interrupt your studies, though. Could we meet later on?" She raised an eyebrow and was about to reply, when a voice came(still from behind his book) to their ears, "The library is for quiet study, not socializing. The young lady is not interested in any case."
Jessica's brow crossed at this, "'The young lady' can speak for herself, dad." She turned to Brent again and said, "Tell you what, we can talk later, say two hours at the front doors of the main hall. As to dinner...I'll consider it." He bowed again, "I shall look forward to it. Until later, then."
Suddenly white butterflies surrounded him, and Brent felt himself wrench from his natural place on the earth and flung to another part of it. He was used to the lay of the land revealing itself to him slowly, and steadily, as his feet moved across the ground, and he always knew where he was. Except for now. Now he was sick and disoriented.
Slowly, he managed to accept what his eyes were telling him, and found himself north of Aydensfell. Far north. Keeping his date with Jennifer was now out of the question, but he was not upset, with the exception of his stomache.
Aloud, he said, "Nelly was right on the mark about that guy. I can scarce believe this actually worked." He proceeded to the north. Following behind Lei'Ella's party would no longer work. He had to anticipate where they were going. He did not know her immediate destination, but he did know she was looking for the elf, Kayn'dar. If she succeeded, she would immediately head North, to the city of the elves.
Inverloch was his destination now.
The Da'kor on his shoulder began to stir. "Wahitme?", he managed to ask. Brent answered, "Wisdom, my friend. Wisdom defeats strength, even the strength of your pack." His load tried to squirm out of his grasp, but was too weak to succeed, which was just as well, as a five foot drop wouldn't do the Da'kor much good right now. "Hmun. Mus kll" he said, and then drifted off into unconsciousness. "Not this time, my friend. Death will find me another day", Brent answered him.
A pack of Da'kor had stalked him shortly after entering the forest. Having expected that, Brent let them follow for a while. When a breeze came up he lighted a torch, and applied some dried vines to the flames. The stench of the smoke was carried back to his hunters, who scattered. He stunned one of them with a slung stone and had been carrying him ever since. A knife to the throat had let the others know not to follow him too closely. He was headed toward a Da'kor village now, hoping they would barter information about the elves in exchange for their fallen comrade. The younger ones would want to shoot him then and there, but older and cooler heads would likely prevail. Dealing with the Da'kor was such ticklish business.
To his surprise (and the elf's) he came across a serious looking elf just out of the village. An elf with golden eyes. His heart started as he thought, is this Lei'Ella? A second glance revealed a male elf, however. A male elf with silver white hair and golden eyes this near to Inverloch...
The elf glanced at his burden, then looked him sadly. "Would you release my brother? Mother has faced enough grief for...today." "You're bro..." Brent decided he didn't need to inquire, "Yes, of course. I only kept him to discourage the others from being too hasty." He lowered the goat-dog to the ground gently. "He ought to be up and about in a few..." he stopped himself, as the other bent down to touch the unconscious brow. A soft white light illumined the forest a moment, and the gash the stone left behind closed up. The Da'kor was still unconscious, but he was breathing easily now, asleep.
Brent said, "You are the one called Kayn'dar, are you not? I know of a thief-catcher and a Da'kor that were looking for you." The elf hesitated a moment, as his face showed much, and nothing at all. He finally said, "They found him." "Glad to hear it. I've had a da'kor of a time tracking Lei'Ella, if you'll pardon the expression. She'll be much easier to find now, and I've been looking for a long time. Would you mind escorting me from here? If I am seen by myself again, their may be trouble."
Lei'Ella waited patiently for Kayn'dar to finish talking to the elders. Or perhaps she was waiting anxiously. Her troubled thoughts were interrupted by a stranger's voice. "I never expected to see you in a dress, nevermind looking lovely in it. I guess I never took the trouble to think of thief-catchers as human beings, er...people, that is. You were always a bunch of grouches to me."
She turned to see a young(human) man in a simple tunic, carrying a staff, and having a tattered leather satchel about his waste. He'd look like nothing more than a pleasant villager, if it were not for that scar across his neck. "What are you doing here near the council chamber?" she asked him coldly, "Humans do not come here." "Ah, now there's the thief-catcher I know: cold and hostile toward anyone she suspects. Never so much as a 'how do you do'." Lei'Ella started back, but only just a bit. "Have we met? You have the look of one of the many rogues I've brought to justice before. Leave, before I call the guards."
The human grinned at her, "The guards are a little distracted at the moment. Apparently, someone let some wild squirrel into the archives. They won't bother with one of Kayn'dars guests." "How could you know Kayn'dar? That is impossible? I will not tolerate your lies!" He shrugged, "Oh, I'm not lying, I can turn a sentence on its head if it suits me, but I never lie. I only just met your friend on his way back from Kiadho. He graciously let me enter this beautiful city when he learned I was looking for you. That was a good job, by the way, of finding him. I'll bet finding Kayn'dar will make your career more so than killing the man known as Rain ever did."
Lei'Ella's cold face broke then, and she looked away, sadness written on her face. "Are you a friend of his? I took no pleasure in his death. I quit being a thief-catcher." The human crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. "Then you will not be disappointed to hear that your blade did not cut quite deep enough." Her head whipped around and she looked up at his face for the first time. "You...that is not possible. Berard said you were dead." A half-smile greeted this. "Berard must not have a lot of experience with the strong will to live, then." He shrugged, "Or he just underestimated his quarry. Hunters make that mistake often enough." "I...did not expect..." She looked down again. "Have you come for revenge, then? You wouldn't escape."
He walked toward her. "Perhaps I am not concerned about escape." Lei'Ella was backed up against the wall. There was no escape. Pad, Pad. As he drew closer, she took up a stance for battle, but she knew it would do her no good. He had a staff, and she was unarmed. If she cried for help, they would come to late, and might provoke him to attack. He might be just trying to intimidate her. If so, he was succeeding.
Pad, Pad. One more step would bring him within easy striking range. Pad. They stared into each other's eyes for a long, long time. His gaze was steady and unreadable, even to an elf. She tried to affect the same expression herself. She was failing at it. She had tried to kill this man on the mere orders of her former boss, not even knowing his crime. Perhaps she deserved this, for her crimes. But she wanted to live. She wanted to see Kayn'dar again. He had been through enough already. He didn't deserve to suffer for her mistakes. She had to see Varden again, that kind-hearted thief who had earned her trust...and more. Strangely, she was also concerned for that fiery mage, Neirenn. She would lose her temper and cause who knows what trouble. But for all that, she closed her eyes. She could meet his stare no longer. Perhaps this was for the best...She had no place to go to, really. She could not feel welcome by the elves. The humans would not welcome her. Her life had been one hardship after another. What had she, but foolish hope after all...
KLAT-KLATTER. She opened her eyes. The staff was rolling away on the floor. Rain was on his knees, palms down, with his face toward the ground. She could not understand what her senses were telling her, so she waited for sense to come. He was in turmoil, that much she could tell. The Rain's gaze gradually turned up again toward her eyes, and it was no longer unreadable. Softly, in a voice that matched the sadness of his eyes, he finally said, "I forgive you."
"I came here to confront a spectre of my past. Following your trail, this spectre took on flesh and blood, as I learned who you were. Fears can be a foolish thing, can they not? You are no more a monster than the Da'kor are. You, like me, did not have a place you belong. Unlike me, you did not choose to be an outsider. I would be wrong to take away your chance to find your niche, where I have found mine, in spite of many hardships. I do not wish you good luck, for fortune is fickle, as you know. I do wish you a gud day, and a gud life. If ever we cross paths again, I will be your friend, as I might. You've got some good friends now, though. You will find more. I did, and I was a genuine grouch, while you are just a sham."
He rose to his feet slowly, and held out his hand. Numbly, she took it, and he gave it a firm shake. He then turned about, picked up his staff, and started to walk away, hobbling more like, leaning heavily upon his staff. Lei'Ella found her voice then. "I...do not understand. What is your place? You're an incorrigible wanderer." He turned and just shrugged, "I am the rain. I come, and I go. Then I come back again. I take what experience is washed away with me and bring it to others. Some bless my coming. Some curse it. I'm a blessing to those I count my friends. I know who I am and who my friends are. That is enough for me. Perhaps that will be enough for you. Perhaps you will find satisfaction in a certain trade as well. I find satisfaction with telling stories myself, as well as a number of odd jobs now and then. You'll find out when you get there. It'll work out, in the end."
He walked away, and Lei'Ella just shook her head at this strange meeting with this strange man. She waited for Kayn'dar again, not as pensively as she did before.