There’s some old saying about how after you find enlightenment your life is the same as before. I’m not sure what the point of that is unless they want to discourage people from trying to find enlightenment. Which they probably are, that way there’s more enlightenment for them. Crafty jerks. Regardless of the intent I now see that saving the world is a bit like that. Yesterday I saved the world and everyone in it. Today? Same as the days before it. Okay, that’s not exactly true because I woke up on the floor of a woodshop like a tame beast instead of on the ground like a wild beast and breakfast was home cooked biscuits and honey instead of whatever salted and dried garbage Martialla pulled warm from body heat out of her pocket but the point is that had nothing to do with saving the world and it’s only better by comparison anyway. You know what I mean.
Martialla was treated to more healing from the village “wise woman” and before we left she showered the community with gold as way of thanks – which is a rookie mistake. She has a lot of learn about being affluent. It may seem generous to reward people with more gold than they’ve seen in their lives up to that point, but it’s very disruptive, most people can’t handle it. And it’s not only bad for the people themselves but for the community as well. People don’t react well to sudden drastic changes, even one that in theory should be beneficial. I guarantee you if we ever come back to this place everyone will be cursing her name for all the misfortunes that have befallen then. Befell? Is that a word?
Today we finally reached the road to Alleene, or least a road to somewhere, who knows really. And surprisingly there were no bandits seeking our gold or our lives, no knights demanding satisfaction (of various types) no stingmoggies to vex our path, no basilisks sunning themselves in the middle of the road, nothing like that – just a road and the people traveling on it. There weren’t many of them though, not as many as there would have been a few months ago. Renwick being destroyed is going to have a profound effect on this area. I wonder what’s going to become of this part of the county and what other place is going to experience a windfall because of it. Assuming Vieland doesn’t conquer the whole place in the next few months anyway. I’ve mentioned before that I’d like to study the “evolution” of cities, once I’ve become the world’s foremost scholar on that topic I should be able to expand my expertise to the growth and decay of larger areas like counties. I’m going to have to live a long time to apply that knowledge to the entire Kingdom, but we’ll see what we can do about that.
Despite Martialla’s paranoia we camped that night some fellow travelers – maybe she assumed that since nothing had happened that day we were due to be attacked by nightgaunts and having more people around would diffuse the possibility of one of us getting grabbed – or at least herself or me, I doubt she cares too much about one of the cousins being dropped from a great height by a nightgaunt. There was a brother and sister with a daughter (not sure whose) pulling a cart stacked full of cages, each one containing a scorpion the size of a cat – they were bound for some manner of giant insect bloodsport in Heathgrove. There was a couple who introduced themselves as Lady Penrhyn and Sir Cropton Sarver but they were (to my expert eye) clearly frauds. Whether their cadre of servants were in on the joke of were the ones being duped I don’t know. There was a troupe of traveling players who talked excitedly of performing at places I had never heard of – Golden Borrow, Grovedale, Friendship – seriously who names a town Friendship? There were a couple other people hanging about, I think they were going to look for work in Preen. A brickmaker or a basinmaker or something, a guy that picks berries (that’s a job?), a woman who builds wells (makes sense now that I think about it, wells have to come from somewhere) and various people like that.
As sometimes happens in these impromptu gatherings of traveling folk banding together in the dark dark night someone brought out the booze then an instrument or two turned up and the evening transformed into a good old fashioned hootenanny. For the first time in a long time I heard music and had no interesting in singing – not because the music was terrible (although it was) but because it felt wrong to sing while in chains. Even when you’re singing something sad and somber the act of singing itself feels like something free and joyous, at least it does to me, and it wouldn’t feel right to do that while in bondage. The cousins joined in the lowbrow revelry with abandon while still maintaining a superior air. Even Martialla loosened up a little – taking some drink and chatting with some of the travelers – but only after making sure that I was tightly secured to a tree. She made sure to keep half an eye on me as well.
Not long after people started kicking up their heels a fellow came over to stand near me semi-awkwardly. He was one of those types you see sometimes that you can tell has been hard used by life but wears it well – rather than looking haggard or used up they’re more like a dented iron pot, a little damage but still mostly fine. He was a bear of a man but he had long dark hair in two braids, which looked strangely girlish on his unwieldy frame.
“Sorry friend, I’m not really looking for company tonight.”
He held up a bottle and a clay cup that looked tiny in his big mitt “I thought you could use a drink.”
I sighed “Oh, I wouldn’t mind that at all, but my hands are occupied at the moment and I don’t like it when people feed me or give me drink from their own hand. It’s undignified.”
He nodded “Got yourself into a little trouble with the law have you?”
“Something like that, you’re the first person to say that – most people seem to think that I’m a slave.”
He frowned slightly “Isn’t slavery illegal in the Kingdom?”
“So I keep telling people.”
“Well uh, I wouldn’t want to intrude if you aren’t looking for company but I was hoping that I could speak with you for spell. It’s not a coincidence that I’m here, I was sent to communicate just with you in particular.”
“Oh yeah? I’ve been getting a lot of that lately. What God sent you and what eldritch abomination am I supposed to help you contain? Is your speech going to be something about how there is a darkness outside reality, a darkness born not from the absence of light but from the presence of true darkness. And that darkness is full of things. Nasty things that as long as they’re ‘out there’ have no shape or form, but when they come here they turn into something that shatters the minds of mortals. Something with a dreadful hunger.”
“Uh . . . no. May I sit?”
I nodded since my arms being bound precluded any gestures “Be my guest.”
It took him a moment to lower his bulk to the ground and get into a comfortable position, taking a drink from his bottle before speaking.
“I don’t know anything about any entities, but I do know you from the old days out at the farm.”
“You must have me mistaken for someone else.”
“Ela right?” I nodded “Yeah, I knew you when we was both just little nippers. Not knew really in honest, but we were in the same area before you went off to wherever you went, knew of you I guess. Don’t look like the years have been overly kind to either of us, but we’re still standing.”
“Somehow you tracked me down from when I was six? That’s . . . . awful?”
He shook his head “No, not as such, I was sent – kind of like you said. Only not by a God, not really.”
“Is that it? I thought you wanted to talk, what’s the story? Who are you and what’s going on?”
“Folks call me Oldlaw on account of my love for Oldlaw Whiskey. What’s going on is that I’ve been sent to check in on you. See how you’re doing.”
He took another drink “Well, that’s where things get complicated, I don’t mean to be enigmatic or try to make this seems like a mysterious visit but I can’t talk too much about it. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to you anyhow. So? How are you doing?”
“Are you fucking kidding me? What the fuck are you even talking about?”
His look was mildly reproachful “Do you have to curse so much? In the beginning you never cursed at all, do you remember?”
“Well at court that kind of language marked you as boorish, which was bad – it wasn’t the thing to do at the time. Now, with the way things are going cursing seems like exactly the kind of thing that I should be doing.”
“Okay Ela, have it you way.”
“Quit talking to me like we’re old pals out on the porch sharing a jar of peach booze and gossiping about our neighbors across the way and their dumbass son. I don’t know you, and I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish with this folksy bullshit routine.”
He seemed a little hurt “I just thought that you could use a friend.”
“Mm, is that what you are? A friend? A friend who’s going to help me? Are you going to unlock these chains? You should be careful about that, that woman over there eyeballing you right now has a fearsome temper – and she has the perspicacity to back it up. Are you going to take her on for me my friend?”
He glanced over at Martialla “Oh, I try not to do that so much these days. When I was younger my friends and I used to get into all kinda scrapes. I wish I had learned my lesson about that sooner, wasn’t until a couple of my buddies got killed that I realized that’s no way to go through life.”
“Yes well, I’m glad that you came all this way to talk about your personal growth through tragedy while I’m chained to a tree.”
“Huh, I guess this wasn’t very helpful. But at least I tried.”
I snorted “Well that’s what counts.”
“It’s a hard path you’ve chosen for yourself Ela, very dangerous stuff. I hope you make it through alright. Do you think you will?”
I shook my head “What the fuck is wrong with you pal? Did you get dropped on your head? What kind of question is that?”
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company