People in the Mist
Mochsha and I spoke on a number of topics. We did cover some specifics of dealing with her father’s crypt, but did not come back to the subject. I considered it a basic job of draining the pond, removing all the evil runes and symbols, then having an artisan design new artwork, finally allowing the natural hot spring to again fill the pond. All I needed was Mochsha’s authorization, and with that having been done I agreed other topics could be discussed.
It was amazing how well I could relate to my sister. We had over a century between us with her trapped by her defiled uncle for most of that time. The two of us however knew many of the same people, and she spoke of being raised by Father in the same manner I was. Many of the things she mentioned that I did not know, I considered to be important information of our family that I needed to learn. My sister and I had no problems in being interested in each other’s topics, so talked until we agreed it was time for bed.
The next morning we spoke of building a road, or just a section of road, with a bridge over the Oshormin River. While there was a good place to cross, the flow would rise to make moving to the other side impossible. Mochsha spoke of constructing a route along a raised section of ground with a solid bridge to assure movement at all times of the year between her property and that of Orintious.
Approaching his home, I found him out with his men. He broke from whatever discussion he was involved in to step out to meet our carriage. As we stopped beside him, I saw some of the men come close as Orintious started the discussion I had come to hear.
“You are correct, Vernallor. There will be honor, but it will be of the type to take to the gods. Since we do not worship those deities, there is really no gain to be had.”
Stepping out, I looked to the nearby men as I asked, “But you are tempted to go anyway?”
“There is Mochsha. There is me. There is thus hope that a spouse from this world will come to our attention, or simply come. However, the bulk of immortal couples I know have come from different realities. For that reason, I am entertaining the challenge to actually make a plea to the gods of that world.”
I pointed at various men, then turned back to my brother to say, “And that would explain the men from Davelda.”
“Well, their immortality came at a price. Their pleas to the gods would be different from mine.”
“Lexonor, what about you?”
The man replied, “Well, I believe there is money to be had. Not from this, but the parents of the couple were rich with those of the lady not completely honorable. Those using illegal or dishonorable methods of acquiring wealth usually hide those earnings. I therefore am entertaining the prospect there could be things of value to be obtained from evidence gained on this mission.”
“I don’t want that. I don’t want the reputation of looking for the money even when my objective should be purely honorable.”
Therper pointed out, “Then you should desire the reputation of taking on the purely honorable causes.”
Lexonor added, “And since you made a princely sum from the last mission, you should be more than capable of doing so.”
I replied, “But I don’t have the experience. I would have to hire you, and with my inexperience you could easily manipulate things so your desires are achieved, possibly at the expense of my own.”
Orintious said, “Which is the reason I would take on the mission, Vernallor. I would be there to teach and guide you, which should be another virtue a possible lady would desire from a man.”
From Mochsha came the advice, “Don’t take the mission, Vernallor.”
My oldest surviving brother moved to help our sister from the carriage as he asked, “And what is your reasoning?”
“He should set his reputation as someone who will decline a mission.”
I replied, “I would accept that, Mochsha, but Father himself holds one of the pieces to resolving this mystery. No. I will need to go to Father to let him know what value I place in the piece and the reasons for my appraisal.”
Mochsha then asked, “Why have you not involved me, Orintious? You well know my gift for finding the light hidden by the mists of time.”
He replied, “The blame falls to our youngest brother, Mochsha. That last remark was something I had not considered. He should have spoken it sooner.”
I defended myself by saying, “I did not speak to Mochsha because I wanted her reacting. As for you, Orintious, you certainly should have considered Father’s involvement.”
“Listen, Vernallor,” Mochsha interrupted to say. “I am reacting. I want to know all about this. You boys find something to do, as I will be looking over material.”
Minchell brought a smile to our faces as she informed us, “I have prepared breakfast.”
We filled in Mochsha with as much information as possible during the meal. She had actually been told most of the story. What she needed to hear were the additional facts that had prevented me from moving on to other matters. It helped us that Mochsha was able to find a direction for further research from the information we provided.
“Just because one land is corrupt does not mean the others are. In fact, I would say the desire to hold the gathering in that land was because of their desire to make some profit from the story. Finding the pieces to come together only intensified the greed. I would even say that the priest had no idea what could come from having the entire trunk come together, but wanted it whatever it was.”
Lexonor said, “I would agree with that, Dame Mochsha. However, once we moved to the other kingdoms word would get out that we were still active in the matter.”
“They are probably at work right now attempting to get their pieces back, and are finding that tied down in a number of issues. That however works to our advantage in gaining the time to do more research. Let me get to work.”
“You did well to bring Dame Mochsha, Vernallor. I doubt I would have held back from making my own actions otherwise.”
Orintious asked, “You mean you are willing to share in the honor from this even without any assurance of treasure?”
“As Vernallor pointed out, where I am looking will not be where you are looking. I still might take off, Orintious. What your sister, you, and Vernallor presents to me is the possibility of success. These people have already shown that they will kill those that oppose them. I would be stupid not to be cautious.”
“Vernallor, I do not punish greed. We are mercenaries. Lexonor is a part of this mission. It is when he starts becoming a thief that I change my opinion about how to treat him.” Before I could say anything else, he added, “And that applies to everyone he recommends from my men. I hired each of those wearing my colors, so they have a level of trust with me. Their motivation is one thing, and their loyalty to me is another.”
Mochsha asked, “But if he and all he recommends take off on their own?”
“He should not doubt that at some level I am greedy as well. Also, I have finished missions before on my own, and come back demanding my share of the gain of those that left me. That history should have them cautious as well.”
Lexonor admitted, “That is true, Orintious. Let me however assure you of what I said. My loyalty is based on your history to assure success. Mochsha, you help to assure a good mission, and I will not refuse letting you see some wealth from any other little escapade I might perform associated with it.”
“ALL RIGHT! Good call, Vernallor. Mochsha, glad to have you. Let me however say that I will do all I can to leave you alone. Minchell, do what you can to keep my sister comfortable.”
As we broke up, I spoke with Orintious concerning hiring men to help cleanse Bectim’s Pond. While I allowed local workers should be the ones preferred, if for no other reason than they would be cheaper, the evil and magic of what had been built at the bottom needed to be considered. Orintious focused on the matter and helped me develop a work plan he said to teach me, although I felt he also wanted to keep himself from bothering our sister.
Coming back together for lunch, Mochsha said she would be going to Father for further research. I spoke of the texts I had gained. She acknowledged their value, but said there were other concerns she felt a need to address. It helped to hear her mention the problems with magic, so felt the need to consider matters beyond those of simply locating our destination. Allowing Mochsha to do her own research, I went into Orintious’ house to see about doing some of my own.
Minchell asked, “What are you doing, Vernallor?”
“You’re the wrong person to tell,” I replied, “although I see no reason why not to tell you. I’m wondering if Orintious’ home has a private chamber for the men like Mochsha has.”
“And I am the wrong person to tell, why?”
“Because you could not tell me. Since Orintious has not mentioned it, I assume you would not know.”
Minchell might have been a slave, but ever since I learned about her there had not been any doubt that Orintious treated her as something special. The two did have a very close relationship. She looked at me, and I had no doubt recalled things about Mochsha’s mansion before making a reply.
“How can I help, Vernallor?”
“The trap doors in Mochsha’s home are in the master bedroom and that of the heir to the household. I guess, as a man, I might be the one to look.”
“The problem with this house is that it has been lived in for past many decades, and not really cared for. We have had different problems in restoring this house than Mochsha has with hers. Still, Vernallor, your question is a good one. Let me help you look.”
I spent time with Minchell looking through the house. It did surprise her when I pointed out the flooring to the master bedroom had an extra layer than the rest of the upper floor. She quickly moved to another room, and admitted there was a slight rise going into it. Minchell then told me to wait, and went to call Orintious.
When he heard what we had been doing, and concluded, he looked over the situation. He then did the very thing I was considering, which was to check the lower floor for signs of dead areas where the shafts would be to the private chamber. It surprised all of us when we actually found what we were looking for. I then had to think when I heard Orintious ask me a question.
“Why do we need to go there, Vernallor?”
Actually, it had simply been a mystery to me. The fact such a room existed in Mochsha’s house had me wondering if it was a standard feature to the homes on this world. It surely could have been just a difference in the mentality of the men in Mochsha’s family. What had me consider otherwise was that there was a magic to the place. Women did not register its presence and could not open the trap doors. Wondering about the truth of such private chambers, and having another sibling with a large residence on this world, I simply decided to check on the matter.
Feeling the presence of another mystery, I replied, “The question should be why did those before you not want to go there.”
Minchell said, “We have not gained any sight of our house elf, my lord. Maybe it is because we have not yet fully claimed this house.”
Orintious spoke of the work he had already put into the structure in a way of letting the lady and me know he was not going to simply tear things up. He called in some men, and explained to them the task he needed done. Those who were set to work showed their skill, and soon we had a nice section of the floor up revealing a set of boards poorly in place to seal a shaft down.
My oldest surviving brother said, “All right, thanks men. Vernallor, you go down. This is your mystery. Yes, it is my house, so I will be right behind you.”
Actually wondering how what was below would be different than the chamber beneath Mochsha’s house, I set my feet on the rungs. Hearing a strange crunching noise, I turned to look down. Taking the lantern, I took time to inspect the way I was using to descend. Wondering about the history of the family of this estate, I could only think of the mystery getting deeper finding the rungs burnt.
Hearing men speak of getting ropes without needing to be ordered, I heard Orintious ask, “Vernallor, do you think there is a way Nerframe could contact my house elf?”
I admitted, “I do hear of her speaking with other house elves, so I guess it is possible. We still should check out what is below. If we don’t, we might not understand what we are told. It might sound strange, but Nerframe’s harsh life with Mochsha’s evil uncle actually made her willing to be social. She can still be a little bizarre.”
“Do you think my house elf might have had some bad years?”
“Not like Nerframe.” I paused to sniff, then said, “I cannot really smell the fire. Let’s get down and check this out.”
“Be careful, Vernallor.”
“A house elf will always be good to their family. Nerframe assured me of that. This is your house, Orintious, and I am your brother. I’m not worried about the house elf, but about your home.”
“Still, you’re my younger brother. If you get hurt, I will be held accountable. Be careful.”
I smiled seeing the men return with rope, then said, “Of course, Orintious.”
Fully knowing Begaxy’s experience with ascents and descents, I listened again as he spoke of certain safeguards. Honestly, I felt able to make the climb without the equipment. I still understood Orintious’ predicament, so listened as those with more experience assured my safety.
I still did not really smell the past fire. While the wooden rungs and the beams clearly showed a strong charred condition, I wondered how long ago the situation occurred. I also had not heard Orintious speak about any need to make repairs from a fire. The previous owner had not properly managed the property, so had not earned the money to keep things in good condition. Orintious had only spoken of neglect as the problem with his home and land. Wondering about what had really happened in the room, and how long ago, I dropped down to the floor of the chamber below.
As I looked at the charred remains, it actual brought me some comfort to hear Orintious say, “I am glad not to see any bodies.”
While agreeing, I had to state my own conclusion, “The fire in here was intense.”
He went to bang on a wall, and seeing a cloud of ash I listened as Orintious said, “This is more than simply cleaning things up. We are going to have to rebuild.”
Therper had come down, surely to make a record of what was found, although I found it strange what he spoke about. “Yes. The first order or business should be just to clear everything out. Should be regular substrate around us.”
I mumbled, “And secret places.”
Orintious replied, “That cannot be the reason for this, Vernallor. There is no reason those down here were not allowed to see certain things.”
“Nerframe is very particular about who can see certain things, Orintious. She gave me those gloves, because they were for a room like this, and Mochsha could not come down. She then was very particular about the financial records, which were secluded down in a chamber like this.”
“That’s because Mochsha is a lady, and Nerframe is used to a male being in charge of the house.”
Not unwilling to speak to my brother, I simply offered, “What if it was the lady of the house that did this? She just wanted to destroy this room. That would explain why it was sealed away.”
“Give me a why that has evidence to back it up, Vernallor.”
I saw it. A small figure could be made out. It was not frail, but was not well clothed, had not tended to its face or hair, and generally had a pitiful appearance. It did something, I believe with a tool. I saw a section of the burnt paneling fall, then the figure disappeared.
Orintious moved to the exposed section of hardened ground, then pulled out a metal box. There was a lock, but the figure again appeared to hand him a key. I could tell my oldest surviving brother saw his house elf, as I heard his words of thanks. Orintious then worked to expose what had been secreted inside.
Seeing documents, sheets of paper, took us both by surprise. I was actually expecting a ledger, or some records bound in a book. Orintious took time to study the papers, then gave some orders.
“Therper, we need men down here to start gutting this place. There is more here. We need to find it, then discuss matters.”
The chronicler asked, “What should we find, Sir?”
“Those of this house once were involved in slavery. I suspect there were women down here. We need to discover as much as we can, then deal with it.”
“Slavery,” I mumbled, then spoke up realizing something. “Of course. That answers questions of my own.”
“All right, Vernallor. I guess we both have work to do, but we both need to be informed. You work. I work. My men work. We then talk. Agreed?”
Answers are found, but not ones that really make anyone happy.