People in the Mist

Chapter Nineteen

I woke up to a strange weight on my legs.  Wondering if Thursdeck was moving things around, and had inadvertently set something on my bed I looked up.  Seeing Sterrig in a chair with his feet set on my legs just let me know this day might not go as comfortably as I desired.

Seeing me awake, he said, “Your valet would not let me have the maps.  Said that you had not given him instructions on the matter.  I could have gotten mad at him, but that is not how our relationship works.”

Sterrig was the brother before Dechapper.  Being that Sterrig would do things bordering on illegal, he often spent time at Father’s waiting for certain authorities to start putting their focus on other concerns.  While I enjoyed spending time with him, the things he taught me and what he considered fun activities did not agree with me.  I ended up finding fishing trips with Dechapper to be more enjoyable and instructive.

In clothes Sterrig appeared as a slightly hefty person with the head of an animal.  We had come to conclude he was supposed to be a badger, but that was simply our best guess.  I did know that with the clothes removed he had a thick hairy hide that stayed loose on his body.  He was a very difficult person to wrestle with.  I was about to ask Sterrig about a lady in his life, only to realize that a lighter set of feet was also on my legs.

Seeing my valet also in the room, I said, “It’s okay, Thursdeck.  I grew up learning how to handle Sterrig.”

My valet replied, “His behavior is still rude.”

“Actually, it’s not.  Trust me.  Sterrig can be rude.”  Seeing Thursdeck bow, I then said, “I’m up, Sterrig.  Give me some time and we can look over the maps.”

My brother replied, “Why do I have to wait?  Give me the maps now.”

“This is not your mission, Sterrig.  You were not one of those almost cooked.  I can accept that Orintious brought you in, but I have not heard any such words from him.”  Feeling my mind come fully aware, I then said, “Also, I doubt very highly Orintious brought you in for the travel.  He had another reason for including you.  Honestly, you do not need to see the maps.”

From the hallway I heard my oldest surviving brother say, “Now you are thinking, Vernallor.”

Before Sterrig could reply, I looked to the lady and said, “Good morning, Theria.”

She was also a badger person.  There was a difference in her furry head and that of Sterrig, and she would wear some cosmetics, but mostly it was in her choice of clothes that one considered her a female.  It did help that she spoke with a clearly feminine voice.

“Good morning, Vernallor.  Orintious would not promise us anything about this mission, so that is why we came to you.”

I replied, “It’s his mission.  He hired me early on, so I was one of those almost cooked.  Honestly, though, I have to say that there isn’t any money in this mission.  What treasure might be available will be fought over by more people than whatever army Orintious can afford can actually protect.  The people on that world have tried to kill us, and we are not heading to one of its most friendly and reputable cities.  You might want to bow out.”

From the hall came the voice of the oldest surviving brother saying, “I have men coming to that conclusion as well.  It was in hearing another speak against going that I thought to go to Sterrig.”

The brother in my room said, “That is why I want to look over the maps, Vernallor.”

I replied, “You don’t need the maps, Sterrig.  You need the story.  Go to Mochsha.”

“Okay.  I’m going to her, but then I will be coming back here.”

As Sterrig and Theria left, I looked to my valet and asked, “What are you doing here?”

He replied, “The determination of Sterrig and Theria had me concerned for you, Master Vernallor.  I brought a change of clothes as a reason to stay and watch over the pair.”

“I didn’t tell you to hide the maps.”

“I just cleaned up and organized your room, Master Vernallor.  Honestly, I actually feared Sterrig finding them.”

From the hallway I heard Orintious say, “Heard what I wanted to know.  Most of my men are already up, Vernallor.  I however know of no reason Minchell would not fix you breakfast.”

I replied, “Considering what I drank last night, tell her that I would appreciate something substantial.”

“Will do.”

When I finally showed up at the table, Minchell brought me a cup of coffee then said, “If Orintious had a place like this, we could have had you over while you were still young.”

While I wanted to tell her that appreciated the words, I however said, “Well, I got to spend time with Konclond.”

“That is another thing I like about my life now.  I am getting to know you children of Lord Galabur.  I only heard Orintious speak of Konclond, and Normanie.”

“Normanie and Konclond were both old, in different ways.  I barely remember Normanie.  Konclond, well, I can tell people that I really spent time with a dragon.  He was nice, but of course I was his brother.”

“Well, let me say that I prefer being here and getting to know you than simply tending a room in Heratin’s palace.”

Seeing her rush to the stove, I said, “Well, thank you for breakfast.”

“Stay in my life, Vernallor.”

As I started eating, I found a number of men to come to the table.  Seeing one start shuffling a deck of cards while another set down some bronze coins.  While I wondered what they were up to, I kept my focus on enjoying my meal.

“All right, Vernallor,” Lexonor said, “Orintious told us to teach you how to gamble.”

“How to gamble?” I replied.  “Sterrig was just here.  He taught me that.”

Another of the mercenaries, named Velsnill, said, “Then let us see how good you are.  Each of us has fifty coins.”

“Bronze?”

“Yes, bronze.  Worthless.  Tarnishes with no real purity at all.  Some societies however have no choice but to use bronze.  Cost more to buy real chips, so we use bronze coins.”

“Why do I need to learn how to gamble?’

Lexonor answered, “Because to learn what we want to know, it might mean us having to go into places like that.  Some places it is best to force a confrontation.  Some places will force the confrontation.  We know you can fight, Vernallor.  Not the best at it, but you do stay in shape and will occasionally take the time to spar with us.  What we don’t know is if you can gamble.”

Mellurd came in, and as he sat at the table he said, “Vernallor hasn’t left.  Good.”

“He said Sterrig taught him to gamble.”

“That is entirely possible.  Kid might end up with all the coins.  Let’s see.”

I did let them know I had experience at gambling.  I put out Lexonor, and lost trying to put out Mellurd.  Since they were trying to teach me, Velsnill offered me his stakes.  I told him only if Mellurd would change the game.  The elder asked me what I wanted to play, and I taught them a gambling game they did not know.  After a number of rounds of play when Mellurd finally felt he had a handle on the rules, he admitted that I had enough experience.

“All right, Vernallor, we’re in.  You have done us right twice.  From what we are hearing, this won’t be a mission for a kid.  What I mean is that we probably will need you covering your own ass.”

I mumbled, “I bet Orintious will not agree with that.”

“He’s your brother.  He’s operating under different rules.  Still, I am seeing him giving you license that I didn’t see him give you on the first mission.”

From the door came the voice of my oldest surviving brother saying, “No, although Vernallor had Heratin to give him experience in some unsavory activities.  Vernallor, I believe you found these men suffering from certain pleasures.  I hope not to find you in such a condition.”

Mellurd stood and bowed while saying, “Lighten up, Orintious.  Vernallor proved himself.  If he was half the fighter you are, I might consider him as a replacement.  Vernallor will become someone for us to trust, but we are learning that he will take us along a different path.”

“Good, because I have enjoyed the previous two missions with Vernallor.  They have also been highly profitable.  I feel it is just the last fact that has all of you wanting to support Vernallor.”

Lexonor turned to me and asked, “Vernallor, what if this mission does come up short on treasure?  Will the honor be worth it?”

I thought for a moment, then answered, “No.  I say that because no one will know, care to know, or believe us if we tell them.”

"The gods will know.  If you plan on leaving the life of a mercenary, the thoughts are to turn to them.  That is where I am thinking.  If Orintious drops out, I might decide to leave this life as well."

“All we should end up doing is find a crypt.  There is power in the trunk, but I believe that leads to something else.  They want power, so anything that reflects a simple love story gone wrong will not satisfy them.”

Orintious asked, “Where does the trunk lead, Vernallor?”

I answered, “To the crypt.  We are not interested in the remains of the elephant or the doomed couple.  There was something however driving the situation, and that is where the mystery is.  It is that which caused everyone to try and seal this away.  When trouble came to the original couple, a power vacuum was created.  They attempted to fill that void while protecting the younger princess.  Desperation fueled a little stronger magic, but nothing that would disrupt present kingdoms.  When things went sour, there was no one who knew or wanted to know about what happened.”

Mellurd said, “With others scared that certain facts might cause some to declare war.”

My oldest surviving brother commented, “We have all seen the really minor reasons some have claimed to be a justification to take up arms.”  He then looked to me as he asked, “So, Vernallor, we are simply going for curiosity?”

I replied, “I see no reason to claim otherwise.”

“But you really don’t believe that?”

“There is no reason for that crypt to be there.  It’s not wealth, or those of Junorshy would not have left it alone.  Actually, that is why we go to that town.  If they talk of it as having been looted, I would consider turning back.  If they however actually avoid speaking about it, probably because they do not know, there is something there.”

“I will need to see the maps, Vernallor, as I will need to figure out how to get us there.”

I felt the need to assure my brother, “I actually had not hidden them.”  I then rose my voice to command, “Thursdeck, please go get the maps.”

My valet came down the stairs, bowed to me, then after walking out the door Orintious asked, “That valet is not getting on your bad side?”

“No, although I cannot say he is getting on my good side either.  He does his job, which is all I want at this time.”

“You’re not going to bring him?”

The question actually surprised me, although I did have an answer.  “In a town like Junorshy I believe he will be a bother.”  Attempting to prove my point, I said, “I don’t see you using a valet.”

“I had one at one time.  I just out-lived him.  Same thing I guess I am doing with Minchell, but I am much happier with her than I was with the valet.”

“Well, I believe I need to wait until I know whether or not I am immortal before courting a lady.”

“You need to simply wait, period.  At least this mission will keep you busy.  Let me look at the maps, then we can talk some more.  Men, what I said applies to you as well.”

And final decisions are made.