It’s been said that you sometimes don’t value something until after you’ve thrown it away. The reverse effect of buyer’s remorse I suppose. I miss Martialla, which doesn’t make sense because I just saw her yesterday. We used to go days or weeks at a time without actually laying eyes on one another so why should I be melancholy when I just saw her last night? I mean, I know why, but still it seems strange. But there’s nothing for it, life goes on and all that. Even sleeping fitfully as I did I didn’t notice her leaving in the night, she was gone when I woke up, headed south I assume. Speaking of fitful sleeping my non-dreams have been increasingly feeling even more strange. Have you ever watched a snake swallow a fat rat? It’s slow and awful and you can’t look away. Somehow that’s the feeling I get while I sleep now – like the power that that bitch hag is using to protect me is being worn away inexorably. I need to get to Gib’s Tor as soon as possible.
Should be easy, all I have to do is follow the river north, problem being I’m not sure which river I’m looking at– it’s not like they have signposts. I assume it’s the Umberlee and what I need to do is cross to get to the Pipestone but I don’t know that for sure. It could be the Pipestone. Another issue, all the nearby bridges are back in town and given my (totally justified) murder spree yesterday it seems like a bad idea to go back there. But as I said, there’s nothing for it. I headed north along the river hoping that some method of crossing would present itself. I thought maybe that one method would be the river being fill of logs floating downriver to be milled, but I quickly realized that all the logging was going on to the south – this was the area where all the trees had already been felled.
It’s hard to imagine that this dry desolate land was once a massive forest. I wonder at what point we’ll reach the time when we’re cutting down trees faster than they can grow somewhere else – and will we realize it in time to stop ourselves from cutting them all down? You know I’m feeling gloomy when I’m sparing thought for sustainable forestry practices. Another thought I was kicking around, which I’ve had before, is how easy it is to get away with things when you can change your appearance on a whim. I’ve been told that disguising yourself with an illusion is fairly elementary magic. Given all the things I’ve gotten away with simply because I can appear to be someone else at the time it doesn’t take much to imagine that a small group of illusionists could cause an inordinate amount of damage to foundations of society. Which quickly leads to the thought, maybe there is already a cabal of shape-changing mages out there that are up to all kinds of evil shit. Who would know? Maybe all those people being hung while protesting their innocence actually are innocent. Wouldn’t that be a fucking kick in the ass?
There was a minor noble back at court that would let slip if be imbued enough that he was convinced that there was a sect of demon worshippers that were secretly controlling everything. Once he was drunk enough he’d go on at length about how they would feed babies to alligators or sharks or something nonsense like that. As is usually the case his belief was rooted in the fact that he had achieved nothing in his life and never would – and he was a great man so clearly the reason for his failure was because the world was controlled by a secret group that he was not a part of. Usually I was intent just to listen and be entertained by his nonsense but one time I got exasperated and told him that if what he was saying was true, it would mean thousands of people killing tens of thousands of people a year all without leaving any evidence and without anyone being the wiser. It would be the greatest cover-up in the history of humanity. He looked me in the eye, dead serious, and said “now you understand what I’m dealing with.”
Although in his defense I have run into an inordinate amount of cults since my exile from court, not demonic all of them, but potato tomato you know – they were sacrificing people so it hardly matters to whom (or what). I have a theory about that. There’s all kind of crime in the city, but it’s all normal stuff like theft and murder and rape. Out in the countryside is where the real freaky stuff happens because there’s nothing else to do. You work day and night busting your ass to grow wheat day after day year after year with nothing to look forward to other than plowing your ugly wife occasionally and suddenly some weird monster with fifteen noses and lizard-lips is saying you should carve your neighbors heart out on a weird stone you found in the woods and doesn’t sound half-bad as an alternative. Some people say that idle hands are a demon’s best friend, but I think idle minds are the real problem. You need to numb people’s minds with the sweet allure of entertainment. Alcohol is doing as much as it can, but it needs some help. If you’re a musician or an actor or a storyteller or some kind of performer you need to be touring out in the sticks. It sucks, but do your part to keep human sacrifice to a minimum okay?
I was contemplating these kinds of weighty issues so much that it took me a moment to realize that I heard a voice.
“Is that you cousin? I scarcely recognize you.”
I turned and saw that the voice was coming from a boat making its way downstream towards Three Rivers. It wasn’t exactly a pleasure craft but it clearly wasn’t a dedicated working vessel either – it was a hybrid of sorts, the kind of thing you might find in the grubby hands of a wealthy peasant who wants something nice but can’t help but be practical as well. The voice belonged to a woman sitting on the deck in a camp chair with a maid holding a parasol over her and a manservant hovering nearby clutching a bucket of ice holding a bottle of wine.
It took me a long moment to realize that it was my cousin May. Last time I saw her she looked different. To call her an unfortunate looking woman would have been overly kind. She looked like she had been hacked from a fallen log by a blind woodsman. Her chin was pointed, her cheeks hollow, her face creased from constant frowning, her back bent as if she was always cowering from a blow that never came, and her short dark hair was streaked with grey even though she was not yet thirty. That was what she looked like before. Now she was drop-dead gorgeous. As I well know some of it was artifice – cosmetics and a fine dress and all the right accessories – but I know enough as well to spot a stone cold fox when I see one.
Her hair was long and thick and lustrous without a hint of grey. Her face had been alternatively sharpened and softened as needed, and if we’re being honest symmetricalized as well. Her eyes were bright and confident, her skin was smooth and pure, and if she had gone a little overboard with the fullness of her bosom who can blame her? Depending on your preferences some might have said she was even more comely than I. They would have been wrong, but they would have said it.
“You’re looking well cousin, whatever can you be doing here?”
She managed to sound bored by the idea “I’ve just returned from a retreat in the mountains – hot springs, rejuvenating treatments, that sort of thing. I wanted to go before the snows set in, winter is coming in the highlands and I wouldn’t want to be trapped in that ghastly part of the Kingdom for months on end.”
I couldn’t help but smile, remembering my awkward country cousin “Certainly not.”
She smiled meanly “You’re looking a little ragged there cousin. I couldn’t quite believe it was you walking beside the river like a common peddler. Last time I saw you you were the very height of fashion and good taste you were. I was quite jealous at the time.”
“Events have conspired to teach me to be humble since then, not too humble mind you, but my circumstances are much reduced as you can plainly see.”
She was clearly delighted. Her boat was in danger of floating beyond speaking range and she gestured slightly with her fan for the crew to pull over to the side of the river and they silently moved to obey.
“Would you care to join me for lunch cousin? You’re looking rather underfed.”
There’s no pleasure in life quite so grand as rubbing your success in the face of someone that used to have things better than you – why should I want to deny my dear cousin that? Her skiff (is that the right word) glided (glid?) to the shore and I walked a rickety gangplank on board where a group of efficient servants was bringing out a table. It was a nice table but still it was quickly hidden like a shameful bastard child under a thick tablecloth and then decorated with glittering dining ware and fine crockery. Charcoal grilled fish with white asparagus, steelhead trout roe with a sauce of cured grapefruit and spices, candied strawberry with hot strawberry jam, ravioli, chicory and ricotta topped with grated white truffles – it was quite a spread, especially for a traveling meal. The wine was subpar, certainly not worthy of an ice bucket attendant but beggars and choosers etcetera.
“Eternal damnation suits you well cousin, you’re looking radiant.”
“Yes well if I had know that selling my soul would work out so well I would have done it years ago.”
“And here I was thinking that if I met you again you might be cross with me over the whole thing.”
She waved away my concerns flippantly “Oh Gods no, best thing I ever did. What good did having a soul ever do me anyway? Useless thing I say. Nothing to compare to beauty and dignity certainly.”
“Indeed a small price to pay for eternal torment.”
“If you listen to the priests of Odobenine poor people go to the torments of the Hells anyway so I didn’t have anything to lose. The Adariel women will tell you something other altogether but that’s why I leave theology to the theologians. I intend to live well and let the Gods worry about souls and the afterlife.”
We touched our glasses together in a toast “I couldn’t agree more. I have to say I’m impressed cousin, based on the manner in which you travel you’ve done a lot in a short time since I visited you on the farm.”
“That was more than a year ago cousin.”
I raised an eyebrow “Was it now? Time flies doesn’t it? Regardless though it’s not as if you can just walk into town and say ‘look at me, I’m pretty give me money’. You can only go so far on looks alone, you’ve done remarkable well based on your lack of refinement and cleverness inherent in your upbringing.”
She smiled “That insult was so thinly veiled as to be practically barefaced, but I forgive you cousin because I am rich and attractive and can afford to be generous with the envious. You’re correct though, being dazzlingly lovely doesn’t throw open all the doors of wealth and power, just opens one or two a crack – you still have to jam your foot in and then force them open. As my sisters learned much to their remorse.”
“You were always the smart one May.”
“Damning with faint praise that is, comparing me to Liddie and Elba. And no one calls me May anymore, my name is Maianjuno now.”
“That’s a mouthful.”
“I can’t have people thinking I’m common now can I? Rich people always have stupid names. And what do people call you now cousin?”
I chuckled, so briefly maybe it was only a chuck “Any number of things. People really have no manners these days.”
May regarded her wine glass for a moment and then tossed it overboard “I have something to confide in you cousin, I don’t know if anyone else could appreciate it. When I was a girl I used to pray every day, to Adariel, to Odobenine, to Melmoth, to any God that might be listening. I promised them I would be good if I could just have a little more. But now that I have instead of have not, I see that was childish. I don’t promise the Gods that I’ll be good anymore, I promise myself that I will be as evil as I need to be to never go back to the way things were. People born rich have never known hardship so they don’t really know what they stand to lose. That’s why people like you and me, people that fought up from the bottom, the ones who know – we’re the really dangerous people. Because we know what it’s like to never be clean. Never be warm. Never be full. To be sick and scared all the time. We know. And we know that there’s nothing so bad that you shouldn’t do it to avoid going back.”
“You’re quite the philosopher for a poor country girl from Cymrile county.”
She snapped her fingers for someone to bring her a new glass “As they say, you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”
“So true cousin, so true.”
Funds: 6922 gold
Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, ruined nobles traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage)
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, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter, Nightmare Hag