People in the Mist

Chapter Twenty-Nine

I did make it through the rest of the night without any incident.  I woke to find Crinorra with her head on my chest.  Laying there the sensation came to me of enjoying the experience.  Strangely, it felt unusual.  While I was not old with the acceptance I had a lot to learn, having the girl so committed to sharing her life with me struck me as something I had never before done.  Considering I had done things that week in Heracropolis, there were things I had done.  Strangely, those had not impacted me as new and novel acts.  I found myself somehow sensing a previous life.  Wondering about those thoughts, I however felt we had a day to make it through.

Getting Crinorra moving I wondered about our future.  Thinking of her presence in my life being like that of Minchell with Orintious really did not please me.  Crinorra had talents that I hoped to develop, although I accepted it would possibly result in her going her own way.  As much as I had paid for her, those with strong arcane skills could demand others pay them more than enough to recompense my funds.  The other option was to consider her as a future spouse, and for some reason I did not see that as our future.

Thinking about the runes I had tried to inscribe last night, I took out the book on Earth magic and flipped through it only to be interrupted by Crinorra saying, “I will get your breakfast, my lord.”

“No,” I replied.  “Go ahead and eat, then bring mine.  I should be ready for it by then.”

My eyes left the pages I was scanning due to Sterrig saying, “You just are not going to leave it alone.”

I had to ask, “What is your problem?  We are going in the right direction and learning about what we are going to face.”

“You just have to understand my usual way of living.  Rich people don’t come to you.  They live in cities where travel is easy if it is necessary at all.  You simply have to determine your target, then pick your time.  Even if you don’t find the actual wealth, usually there is enough for you to take and show some profit.”

“Are you admitting to a life of crime?”

“No.  I’m not admitting to a life of crime.  That would be like Orintious saying he does missions like this all the time.  Most of the jobs he takes are standard type of troop actions.  Maybe for special customers or exotic locations, but still what he does is not much different than what others mercenaries do.”

Not really wanting to challenge what Sterrig said, I instead asked again, “What is your problem?”

“We will be even closer by the end of the day.  Go ahead and admit what happened last night will happen again.”

“That is not a problem, Sterrig.  What will be a problem is if we are still ignorant.  I believe the second time last night I was able to do more because I gave some consideration to the first time.  Same here.  I plan on being even more prepared tonight.”

We both turned hearing a mature female voice say, “I will support the young man.”  Queen Lonarey stepped up to ask, “Vernallor, is that your only book?”

I answered, “My only book?  No.  My only book on Earth magic?  Yes.  Don’t really know why I brought it, but in preparing for a mission of this type it is best to be prepared for the unusual.”

“I would agree.  I am seeing why Orintious considers you his head man.  Listen, I have a gala at my castle in a little over a month.  You will receive an invitation.  Please come.”

“Send one to Orintious.  He has been having me accompany him.”

“No, Vernallor, but I will send one to you.”

I heard the conviction in her voice, and knew to be honored, although I did have to admit, “I’m not really old enough to be formally present.”

“Word of someone like you needs to get out.  I know I would like to spend some more time with you, and could introduce you to some ladies who could be influential.”

“I know better than to refuse, Your Majesty.  For the moment, let me focus on simply supporting your good thoughts of me.”

Now she presented a book I had not noticed in her possession.  “It might help you to read this.  This is the reason I am here.”

It was a rather substantial text, so I accepted it while saying, “I believe this will be more than I can read in one day.”

“Most of it you know, but stopping to fully read the parts you do not might still take some time.  I however believe it would be worthwhile.”

I thanked the noble lady, then went to where Crinorra had my breakfast ready.  She showed an interest in the book, but I told her to stay focused on the one we had been reading.  She spoke of wanting to read with me like we had been.  I reminded her that I bought her for a purpose, so she should stay true to it whether she considered it entertaining or not.  Crinorra sat to fix herself a piece of bread I supposed to share time with me, although did pause before taking her first bite to make a statement.

“You are correct, my lord.  I however want you to know I enjoyed it.”

I replied, “I am glad we got off to such a fine period of cooperation.  Still, we have our separate jobs.  Working together is not necessarily doing the same thing.”

Actually agreeing with Sterrig, I stayed wary of being bothered by a distant thump.  What I instead gradually came to be aware of was the multitude of voices.  They really did not become annoying, but I found their presence disturbing in the fact no one else was mentioning their presence.  When we stopped to allow the horses to rest, I found myself bothered to the point of needing some information.

I approached Queen Lonarey and asked, “Shouldn’t they be your people?”  Seeing a questioning gaze, I added an explanation.  “Those people I believe were sacrificed to keep that entity in its place.”

“Not necessarily,” she replied.  “They could have been slaves captured in some military engagement.”

“But they are working to protect your land.”

“This thing is evil, Vernallor.  Even the most vile of people want an easy life surrounded by good things.  Working for vile people actually does not accomplish that.  They will have themselves surrounded by good things and enjoying themselves, but they don’t share the wealth or pleasure.  There are times the evil will fight harder than the good, because being a servant to evil can be the worst life imaginable.  Good people tend to handle suffering a lot better than the bad.”

As if pleased with what he heard, Sterrig asked, “It is bothering you, isn’t it?”

“If you were listening,” I replied, “then you can give some commentary.”

“Okay, you’re right.  She should know.  However, even if she did, it would not help you.  We would still need to go there and face this thing.  Whatever she could tell us would actually be useless, Vernallor.”

As if he touched a nerve, Queen Lonarey replied, “I would not say ‘useless.’”

“No.  Useless.  That is one thing my background clearly has taught me.  All your pontifications and reasons for your policies actually has little value.  The people will put their own value on your policies.  Most they will appreciate or at least allow your rationale to have some merit.  You will however find certain laws not obeyed, and probably not enforced.  You will find certain monuments not respected.  Thieves and low-lifes will actually put some laws to their advantage, and steal some items you felt needed to be venerated.”

I had to ask, “What use are those comments?”

“They should let you know the reason she is here.  You are asking the right questions, Vernallor, but not in the right way.”

Before I could voice the question, Queen Lonarey asked, “Why am I here?”

“For the very reason we were told.  They want a trade route, a smuggling route, through the mountains.  They were working on it when the historic events happened.  Now, how do you keep something like a trade route unknown?  Well, you can’t.  What you do however is put a special monument, or grave, in a remote location.  You then have a reason for people moving in this direction, and you promote that along with the isolated location of it.  The fact some people and their belongings disappear while others show up, well you have no control over pilgrims.  You thus have your smuggling right in front of those looking for the route you are using.”

“That however did not happen, because what we are going to face is very evil.”

“Right,” Sterrig turned his attention from the lady to me as he continued, “so she is here to support our removal of this threat.  What should have been a simple deed with us hoping to find some treasure is instead her chance to gain control over a new source of wealth.”

I had to reply, “But what you are saying is that she is not against us.”

Queen Lonarey said, “Thank you, Vernallor.”

Orintious joined the conversation by saying, “And she has been offering concessions.  While not actual money, it does provide opportunities for future opportunities.”

“And it does not prevent you from continuing with your plans.  If you don’t help yourself to certain things, I feel certain others will.  I do want this trade route opened, but do not think I have any grand ideals about this crypt or whatever is there.  Its presence might be from a moment of history, but one that went nowhere.  I have no ties to those events.  Whatever your plans for that place might be, I will not work against them.”

“You believe her, Vernallor?”

I replied, “I’m not the suspicious one.  Sterrig?”

My middle brother admitted, “Yes.  I believe her.  Honestly, no reason not to.”

“Yes, there is.  However, she is not giving us a reason to.  If Orintious was being concerned with a military company shadowing us, or she was speaking of her own plans for this place, we might have a reason to expect betrayal.”

While I saw the lady give me a questioning look, Orintious assured a point I made.  “None of my men have spoken of any signs of us being followed or shadowed.”

Those words seemed to satisfy everyone, at least for the moment.  I returned to my mount feeling that the topic might come up at the end of the day.  Considering the matter came up at this time, I thought about how I might satisfy my own mind on the topic.

As we started to move, I softly asked, “Crinorra, do you remember those marks I made?”

She replied, “Yes, my lord.  I actually expected you to be researching them today.”

“Queen Lonarey gave me something else to focus upon, but it might have been a distraction.  Flip back through your book and see if you can discover anything close to what I made.”

“I already did so, my lord.”

She flipped to where there was an illustration very close to what I had done in the dirt.  While the book was not in her language, what instructions I had given her on the day before helped her gain some understanding.  The writing however developed the topic to where even I had trouble understanding the concepts being presented.  The fact I expected the symbol to be part of a ward to protect me and my party further distorted what I sought from the words.  Finally I however realized what I had done in the dirt was to force the entity to focus on me.

My act did make sense in keeping anyone else from being hurt.  Surely at some level I knew Crinorra was with me, and I did not want her targeted.  Even now I sensed all the others who worked to contain the entity, so felt no surprise I wanted them ignored.  The entity had fled however, and that had me wonder why.

Considering it was a dream, I might have considered myself a little more powerful than I truly felt myself to be.  Something within me however said that I knew what I was doing.  Attempting to reconcile that idea, I thought about the ability of my dream self able to recognize the tie binding the entity, so merely acted to keep it away from the souls working to hold it until they could force it back.  That hypothesis however did not feel correct either, so I spent time considering just how close my dream touched on reality.

The pleas of distant souls brought me out of my mental analysis.  There were so many.  While they had managed to keep the entity in its place, I fully accepted their efforts were failing.  Since they were not physical beings, I wondered about how they could tire.  The only answer I could come up with was the one they had been sacrificed to hold was gaining in power.  I found myself wondering if we would be worthy of the faith the souls were putting in us to bring their work to a conclusion.

And more preparations are made.