By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 68 - Confessions
Berdusk 1371 DR, Eleint, 11th day (Penultimate Thunder: Hoar), early afternoon
Outside, Immerine shoves past the soldiers and out into the afternoon. She pauses in the courtyard unsure of where to go or why she is running. She hears the door open and close twice more and half turns to see both Jez and Nik following her. Not wanting to encounter them in the middle of the open courtyard she runs to the rear of the stables and waits for the first one to arrive.
She looks down at the hand clenched around the ring and her eyes fill with tears of rage and penultimate sorrow as she waits. Not used to the irrational raging emotions running through her she turns and pounds a fist against the unyielding stable wall, hoping the pain will help… but it doesn’t.
As she pounds on the wall, the young witch doesn’t notice a black owl swooping on silent wings into the stable, perching itself over Qwenta’s stall. She also doesn’t notice a scampering ferret which stops at her feet for a moment then darts of into a nearby stack of hay.
Exiting the Running Stag the young mage sends Ened’ome aloft to look for Immerine. Only Jez and Nik are present in the courtyard – heading for the stables. The young barbarian is subdued as he searches, a combination of embarrassment and concern smothering his natural enthusiasm. “Let me help… please?” he mutters under his breath. Tarim isn’t sure whether it is his need to have the girl understand that he wants to help, or that he really wants to help her that is more compelling.
There was such an air of mystery about her… it was very interesting. The real issue, he came to realize, lay in the fact that he caused her some distress and that was causing a great deal of distress of his own. “I hate it when people misunderstand…” he mumbles to himself softly.
Then the little black owl sends him a mental image of first a small prey not-prey running. Then of prey not-prey stopping at claws of a two feet, then of prey not-prey eating.
Jezbodiah at almost the same time receives a giddy feeling across the link with his familiar, interrupted only by an image of the paws of a two feet.
The tall bard pays no attention at all to the fact that Jez and Tarim are obviously on the same errand as he is, all his drunken concentration is bent on catching the witch. Nik charges after Immerine, coming to a staggering, utterly graceless halt a few feet from her. Nik leans against the wall, gasping for breath and swallowing hard to keep the whiskey in his stomach where it belongs instead of on the ground where his short run threatens to put it. As his stomach settles, he watches Immerine punch the wall. When he can speak without panting or puking, Nik says gently “It doesn’t help, milady. Trust me.” His haggard face is filled with concern, and his gaze is clear and steady. Obviously the adrenaline from the brief chase is keeping the alcohol at bay, at least for the moment.
“Damn,” utters Jez. “What’s mischief has she gotten into now?” Jez places his slender fingers along the side of his head, and stops to clear the sensation from his head. He looks at Nik and the newest member of the troop move past him. He looks down at his feet, first, then for anything that resembles the mental image.
Quietly the barbarian mage makes his way towards Ened’ome, finally coming to a stop at the entryway to the stables. He hears the voices within and ventures no further instead waiting at the entrance for a more opportune moment. He peeks within and even from this distance he can see and feel the pain pouring from Immerine in waves.
Conflict rages within the young man and he questions himself. Was he to leave her alone with her friend despite his state? To barge in and add further embarrassment to the poor lady’s plight? Or to wait and see if he was needed and apologize when the opportunity presented itself.
As Jez ventures into the hay Tarim smiles gently at the pretense, standing at the entrance leaning back against the doorway and on his staff, his face thoughtfully downcast.
Nik sighs, offering Immerine the faint ghost of a smile. “You said the other day that you believed in me. That you’d help me. Let me return that favor, if there’s anything a drunkard like myself can do to help you. Just name it.” His dull hazel eyes are filled with a strange desperation, and while the self-mocking, bitter humor is in his deep voice, it is only a shadow behind the worry. His smile grows into the lopsided, manic grin – even though it doesn’t change the burning hunger to help in his eyes. “You can hit me, if you need something to hit.” He offers her wryly. “I’m pretty sure I’m softer than that wall, and it’s usually more satisfying to hurt something other than yourself, or so I’ve been told.”
“Of course,” he says as he smacks his forehead. The lecture the old crone gave him about his familiar and how they are linked sets into his head at a frighteningly horrible pace. His heart thumping, Jezbodiah zips right past Nik and Tarim bent on finding his lost companion. As he approaches and enters the barn, he says, “Alanna, where are you? C’mon, where are you? I thought told you stay at the table.”
Storming right past Nik and Immerine, Jezbodiah wades into the large stack of hay placed in the stable. Alanna, thinking her master wants to play a game, peeks out from under the hay – a comical sight with the grape still between her teeth – then dashes with quick movements up the stack towards an overhanging beam.
Immerine hits the wall one last time before turning to Jez. Scathing anger flashes in the piercing green eyes seen over the concealing veil. She says one single word, a very harsh “No.”
It is several moments before she says anything else. She dismisses Jez with a glance and sees the tiny owl perched on the stall. She flinches as she vaguely remembers shoving Ened’ome’s master back in the common room. “Why do you do this to yourself, Nik? You are a brilliant man, exceedingly talented. Who has hurt you so much you gaze at the world with haunted looks? Why would you even offer to replace an ineffective stable wall? I do not think you understand the depth of what I feel right now.”
Immerine opens the clenched fist and the ring glitters in her palm. She is caught up again in the same sorrow-ridden vision as earlier and finally just slumps into the nearby hay. She removes the veil and looks up. Nik sees a very beautiful, young woman with a resigned look graying her pallor. She croaks out, “The man who wore this ring was a Wearer of the Purple – a high-ranking member of the Cult of the Dragon. He came to my village when I was a child. My mother had gone on a mission for the sisterhood, a very important mission – she was to help recover and hide the Tome of the Dragon. My father was gone fighting the Tuigan horde. I was home with the village elders and the wolves… my friends.”
“My mother came home, but she wasn’t my mother. I ran to her; I was happy to see her. She grabbed me and held me tight but there was no warmth in her flesh. She was a cold, dead thing brought to life to serve the owner of this ring. I was just a toddler yet I can see everything that happened as if it were happening over and over in front of me. In fact, I have been seeing it play itself out over and over all day.”
“The man had troops with him and they rounded up the village members. They slaughtered every last one. I remember him speaking to me in a strange language, one of the languages Matteo speaks that I do not know. I remember his gaze penetrating my skull as he asked me something in that barbaric tongue. When I didn’t answer him he beat me and I knew blackness. I woke up and I could feel the spirits calling for his death. Their voices were sad, anguished and terrible. I saw a cloud on the horizon – my father’s troops were coming home to die. I tried to warn them, I tried but I was tied to a stake. Mt mother approached my father and cast a spell of whirling blades on him cutting his mount from beneath him. My mother ripped my father apart with her bare hands.”
“Then suddenly I was free. I don’t even know how. I ran. I heard the man scream to my mother to catch me. Something about my blood being needed for something. I don’t know. All I know is I ran and ran. My friends were there, the wolves, and I could feel something else… a presence. It was as if the spirit of the forest was by my side. I ran until my feet bled and I could run no more. I fell into the fork of a tree’s roots and hid, but she found me. She called me an awful child in her rasping dead voice. She was about to touch me when the tree ripped her apart. It reached down with its twisted limbs and pulled her to pieces. Her blood, what was left splashed all over me and I ran again. I don’t even know where I was going by then.”
“I fell asleep by a stream. When I woke up I was warm but hungry. My friends the wolves had followed and curled around me as I slept. There was a flat stone and a cupped stone near the stream. The cup was filled with clear liquid and the flat stone was covered with fruits and nuts. I ate, I drank and I cried. My life was gone, or so I thought. Then I heard the whispers, I felt the spirits. They helped me. They kept me safe.”
She looks up at Nik as if seeing him for the first time, “You Outlanders think we are mysterious and barbaric in our own right. We are. We have to be, there is no other way. When your people hurt the land you live on we feel its repercussions in our part of the world. This place has spirits too, some twisted and dark; others have adapted and still others remain free. I live in a different world than you. Even now…” The young woman slumps over her hands as she rocks back and forth in the hay.
The gaunt man’s wry grin fades as Immerine asks him about his own past, and the haunted look she refers to replaces the concern in his haggard face. He swallows hard but says nothing in reply, his suddenly anguished gaze fixed now on a point somewhere above Immerine. When she reveals the source of her own pain, the bard looks down at her, and his shock at her story quickly turns to sympathy. Horror fills his sunken eyes as his own vivid imagination fleshes out the witch’s tale. He sinks to the ground, eyes downcast now, his face filled with the desperate need to do something – ANYTHING – to help ease her pain. Nik doesn’t even seem to notice Jez, hugging his long arms to his chest and struggling for words that won’t come.
Finally the bard draws a deep breath, letting it out in a shaky sigh. “You’re right when you said I can’t understand what you’re feeling. I can’t. Nothing that has ever happened to me is even the faintest shadow of what you’ve been through. My home is still there, even if I can’t ever go back. My mother died a peaceful death in her bed, and my father is still alive. You’re so much stronger than me. To have been through so much at such an age…” He sighs again, a shudder running through his gaunt frame. “You want to know why I’m like this? Because I’m weak. I’ve always been weak. Not just physically, although that certainly makes my life so much harder. I was the despair of my mother, nothing but a disappointment. You, she would have liked very much, milady. But me, well, let’s just say my inability to keep my hands off things that interest me was not the only thing that got me hit. I always was a worthless, pathetic child. And I grew up into a worthless, pathetic man.” He shudders again, his eyes filled again with horror as he thinks how the constant scorn of his mother is nothing compared to what happened to Immerine. “But it wasn’t my mother’s fault. I think she loved me, sometimes. She was proud of my musical talent, you know. It’s the only thing I was ever good at. Well, that and taking things. It’s giving them back that always gets me into trouble.”
Nik’s eyes are vague now, seeing not the present but his own troubled past. “I don’t hate my mother. It’s not her fault. She never wanted children, but my father did. She told me once that she should have drowned me at birth, and maybe she was right. Mostly she left me to my father, although with the inn to run he didn’t have much time for a troublesome boy with no sense of restraint.” The bard gives a single cough of laughter, left hand rubbing absently at the scar under his right sleeve. “I could have turned out alright, I think, if I could have only kept my curiosity under control. And if not for Julia…” his voice trails off, and the pain and longing in his expression makes it clear that it is not his precious guitar that he is referring to.
The tall bard shakes his head sharply, the bitterness rising in his face like pus from a wound. “Anyway, in one stupid night I threw away everything I had ever dreamed of. I wasn’t a child, like you, when my world shattered. I was 22 before I finally landed myself in prison. In those three months I was beaten nearly to death twice, and well, a lady needn’t know what else happened to me there. Alcohol is my only refuge, the last safe place for me when my nightmares creep out into the light. If I drink enough I can forget, even if it’s only for a little while.” Nik gives another short, caustic bark of laughter before continuing harshly “Each time I’m sent to prison I’m sure I will die there, and after the first night or two I usually wish I would. The flogging I got last year was a pleasant change from the beatings and buggery, even if it was also the closest I’ve come to dying for my crimes. And some day I WILL die for my lack of control. I can only hope it’s quick and relatively painless.”
His eyes suddenly clear, and he gives Immerine a look of pure shame as he realizes how self-absorbed he is behaving once again. He looks away, face full of the acrid self-loathing and narrow shoulders hunched as if he wants nothing more than for Immerine to lash out at him for daring to bring up his abuse-filled past when she is faced with the horror of her own.
The moment passes, and shame again fills his haggard face. “I… I… I’m sorry.” he finally says, his voice rough with emotion. “I want… I want to help you. But I… I don’t know how. I can’t even help myself.” He drags his haunted eyes from the ground and looks at Immerine, reaches one trembling hand out to her before he remembers how she hates to be touched and snatches his hand back. “Tell me what to do.” he says hoarsely, desperately. The pain in his eyes is almost physical as he pleads “I’ll do anything. Tell me how to help.” The bitterness is gone, the sardonic, self-abusive anger lost in his need to give Immerine the comfort he denies himself.
Immerine stares at the haggard man slumped down next to her. “Oh Nik…” a slender hand tentatively reaches forward to touch the thin man’s cheek. Then a bit more sure in the brief touch Immerine, cups his chin. “You are anything but worthless. No one should say that of a child, no one! You want to do something for me? Then live your life. It is far easier to crawl into a bottle each night and flinch at others and hide inside – than it is to face each day. You are a viable man. You have a beautiful talent. You are intelligent and creative and when you are not cringing you are handsome. We all have bad traits, they can be changed but it is hard. I promise to help you as I can, but you also have to be willing to help yourself.”
Immerine looks down at her feet, removing her hand from Nik’s chin. “I have had visions of what is happening here. I have dreams. I know I need to be here but I don’t want to be here. You say you are worthless, I say you are not. You have at least helped the others, I keep running away. There is something dark happening here. Something screaming at me in my soul. It is like the dark fiend I met on my journey from Rashemen has inhabited this city. And then before I came into the city a dead thing rose from the river to attack, but did not… it was strange. There was a spark of something in its eyes before it turned and ran to the wood across the river.”
She laughs bitterly, “Look at us. Sitting in the hay crying our eyes out and having two grown men peek on as if we don’t know they are there. I saw you walk in Jez. And you Tarim, Ened’ome gave you away – stop skulking in doorways.”
Tarim stands straight from his leaning spot and manages a soft, sad little smile as he approaches. “I came to apologize and to make sure you were…all right” he finishes belatedly after not finding the words he was looking for. “I had only meant to help… and I am so sorry to have upset you so…” the raven-haired young man continues while approaching, his bright blue eyes focused on her sharply as he nervously thumbs the carvings on his staff.
“I have difficult ignoring a lady in distress, I just forgot how different the ways of other people can be…” he adds contritely, finishing “if you could forgive my transgression I would be very grateful.” As he draws near the little black owl swoops down in a circle around him and settles on his shoulder and rubbing her small beak against the side of his face.
“As I recall I am the one who shoved you to the floor. I should apologize not you,” She is about to say more when Jez jumps in.
Heeding Immerine’s exclamation, Jez remains silent throughout the entire affair. As they conclude the respective tales, the lithe half-elf stands all the while dumbfounded at the confessions of Immerine and Nik. His mouth open and slightly agape, he remains silent through out Tarim’s rebuttal until Alanna’s grape drops from the rafters and bounces off his head. He blinks and shakes his head but once. “It seems some matters are deeper of the soul than I once thought,” he says looking at Immerine. “No wonder why you push people away from you. All the sorrow and pain you’ve endured forces you to walk a dangerous road. If I understand the Rashemen from my parents, you’re to exact vengeance on the man who murdered your parents.”
Immerine looks askance at Jez, “No, exacting vengeance on this man is something I would personally love to accomplish but it is not a requirement. My responsibilities are to my Sisterhood and my people. Their safety and wishes must come first. I would like to find where my mother hid this tome, as it is obvious she had found it and hidden it or that man would never have risked coming to Rashemen. It is also obvious he did not find it, but he thought I was the key. I was a toddler and my memories may be somewhat distorted though.”
There is stark confusion on her unveiled face, “Why do you think I push people away? I do not push people away… well except for Tarim. I have never touched any of you outside of healing except Matteo and now Nik. I hold myself aloof from you because you are Outlanders. We can be companions, friends – perhaps, but never anything more. To do so would be to bring the death sentence down upon you and banishment or death for me. I am not a normal member of the population. I am a ruler of my people. To understand what this means you would have to be Rashemi. The reason I do not like to be touched is twofold. When we are involved in spellcasting even the air around us is alive and it is for your own safety. The second is more personal and I will not explain to you just know it has to do with my past and how I was raised.”
Immerine looks at Tarim, his staff and the little owl, “You use the blessings of the Hidden One, do you not? I think you call her Mystra and her blessings the Weave. Would you teach me? I have the spark in me but no the knowledge of how to tap it or the instruments to use it.”
Tarim listens closely and understanding dawns slowly. He nods ever so slightly as she speaks, processing each new bit of knowledge carefully and drawing conclusions from them. Then she asks… Tarim blinks… once… twice, he opens his mouth to speak and nothing comes out. Color rises to his cheeks and yet he looks back at Immerine unabashedly. “Lady Immerine, I am but I am nearly a novice myself… perhaps my mentor Kevin Janis would be a better choice?”
Inside his heart aches and he desperately wants her to say “No” but Tarim knows Kevin is more seasoned. “It is the right thing to say isn’t it?” he wonders. The slight barbarian thinks about it, his mind racing along with his heart. Yet the more he thinks, he comes to the conclusion that Kevin’s more analytical approach might not suit this very spiritual, spirited, emotional and intuitive lady. And too could this not be Mystra’s will for him perhaps?
Mere seconds later he smiles at the mysterious lady, raising his empty hand, placing it over his heart and bowing, saying, “Perhaps not… I would be greatly and most truly honored to lend my humble skills to aiding you on the path.”
Immerine watches him coolly, “I did not ask your mentor Tarim, I asked you. You have heard too much of my life so you know what to expect. You also know my temper firsthand. And I think you are patient enough to deal with me. You need more confidence in yourself. So if you are willing I would like to learn from you.” The tone in the woman’s voice indicates she has already made up her mind even if Tarim continues to have doubts.
The young mage grins happily, blue eyes sparkling with delight “I will teach you everything I can Immerine, I promise…”
Looking at Nik, Jezbodiah says, “All good things drown in sorrow and grog. It’s the first tenet of the Llirran faithful. It teaches us moderation in times of joy and celebration as it teaches us to leave the past and work towards the future. Let your past go and push away the tankard. You’ll never find the comfort and absolution ye seek in the bottom of it. You have damn fine musical talent. I’m sure as I can do a hand stands that the Llirrans or the city’s music guild could use a man like yourself.”
Immerine’s words and gentle touch chase the pain and desperation from Nik’s careworn face, leaving behind sheer bewilderment. Clearly encouragement, and sympathy are the last thing he expected, and it takes him a moment to realize exactly what she has asked of him.
As Immerine turns her attention to Jez and Tarim, Nik draws his legs up to his chest, wrapping his long arms around his shins and resting his chin on his knees. Terror is plain in his face as he contemplates life without the numbing comfort of alcohol, and he seems oblivious to the conversation occurring around him. The gaunt bard sits like that for a long moment, huddled up as if he still expects a beating and visibly struggling to get control of the fear and self-loathing that have always ruled him.
Finally determination overthrows years of abuse and self-pity, and he gets awkwardly to his feet. He even abandons his usual slight stoop, squaring his narrow shoulders and holding his head high. A small, tentative smile touches his lips as he hears Immerine practically ordering Tarim to teach her. “Just incredible.” he murmurs to himself, impressed by how well the witch handles herself even after dredging up such painful memories.
Looking up at the beams of the barn, Jez spots his ferret. “You, young lady are in so much trouble. Get! Down! Here!” He points to his shoulder. The small ferret looks hurt, though quickly scampers down the perch on the young half-elf’s shoulder, giving the appearance of complete innocence.
Behind Jezbodiah, a single hiccup catches the tall man by surprise, and Nik swallows hard several times, the awe in his face rapidly turning to panic as he realizes he really did drink way too much way too quickly and He should have stayed sitting down. One hand pressed to his mouth, Nik scrambles to the nearest empty stall, where from the sound of it he is being rather ill.
Jez waits for Immerine and Tarim to finish speaking, and Nik to disappear into a stall. “Very well,” he says. “To violate you is to cause misery or dead upon myself and you. I understand this and I will abide by your wishes, but I do have one thing to ask of you, a personal before I leave and return to the inn. When you are ready to speak or wish privacy. Let me know.” He waits for Immerine’s reply then he pipes up again.
“What’s important about this tome? And why does this Cult of the Dragon want it?”
The smile that was on Immerine’s face dies when Jez asks about the Tome. Her voice is cold and dead when she replies to him, “Nothing Jez. Nothing at all. Why they want it I cannot say. I should never have said anything about it. You have to keep it to yourself if you do not want to be a Dracolich’s dinner. I’m not joking.”
“You want to talk to me in private so follow me. Let’s get this over with.” Immerine walks out of the stable waiting for Jez to follow then around the corner to the back of the building.
Tarim stares at the lovely witch still grinning happily as she relates her gloom and doom warnings about Dracoliches, and steps out of the way so she can go speak with Jez privately. He watches her leave while leaning on his staff standing there in the stables, thinking and smiling to himself.
After she’s gone he shakes his head as though to clear it and says quietly to Ened’ome, “A teacher… me…” before chuckling softly and scratching the little owl gently on her supple neck.
“Just a minute,” he says. The rogue waits while passing a long glance on Nik, seeing if he’s puking blood or a vital body organ. “The banes of gluttony and excess roll up from the gullet and onto the open ground like a bad batch of Talona’s pudding cakes,” he muses to himself. “A man with considerable talent, a minstrel and merry-maker, he wastes all of it. Well, al least he purged himself of foul poisons.”
Finishing her grape, Alanna scampers down off the barn’s high beam and proceeds towards Jez. Once on the floor, she proceeds towards her master, paws matted with grape juice, small bits of hay and dirt as she moves along to his leg. Jez doesn’t seem to mind her messy digits as he picks her up and proceeds after Immerine.
Cradled in his arms and laying on her back, Alanna begins to lick her paws clean.
Finally the retching and gagging coming from Nik’s stall ceases. The tall bard makes his shaky way out of the stall, but he only comes out far enough to see Immerine leave. He leans against the wall, face pale and running with sweat, and spits a few times to try to rid himself of the taste. Incredibly enough, the bard doesn’t seem to have gotten any vomit on himself, which is a pretty good indicator of how common an occurrence this is for him. Nik drags one hand across his mouth and gives Tarim a crooked smile.
“Hell of a way for me to introduce myself, wasn’t it, lad?” he says wryly. “I’m Nik.”
The bard’s sardonic expression becomes faintly embarrassed, and he looks away. “I’m not always like this.” he says finally, apologetically, his deep voice faint. “Well, that’s a lie, I AM always like this. I just usually hide it better.”
Tarim nods to the taller thin man and says “Tarim Ravenmane, once of the Tree Ghost Tribe, now clan-less. Don’t worry… I don’t blame you… had my youth been anything like yours I’d be dead, so the fact that you try is impressive enough.”
“Drink is deadly stuff though… you should try to master that, lest it finish the job the world has tried to do to you.” His gaze drifts to the floor as his mind wanders…
Immerine waits until Jez shows up. If he doesn’t she shrugs and sits down to be alone with her thoughts.
Seeing Immerine sitting down, he proceeds towards her but keeps safe distance from her. “Didn’t mean to keep you waiting, but I need to say this is privacy away from the others. It was in regards to the day we were outside the cave.”
Blinking at Immerine, Alanna rolls over and climbs onto his shoulder where she rests comfortably, continuing to clean her paws and prune herself as the two begin to talk. She pays them no attention as she does.
“What did I do? Do I owe you an apology for something too?” Immerine asks her voice and face indicate resignation.
“No, I think you misread me. But I will make it brief. It is I who should owe you an apology. I should have popped Matteo in jaw for striking a lady of your stature and position. But I didn’t. I thank Lliira I held myself in check. Striking Matteo would have caused unforeseen problems in near future.”
“Matteo … well he is no longer my concern. I have released him from his pledge under duress. I do not need his complications in my life considering what I have just learned.”
“My second question is a bit personal, and I’ll, uh, umm, try to, uh, put it into favorable terms. When you disrobe before me, it hadn’t occurred to me then, but it does now. Have you coupled with the opposite. Have you kept your maiden’s head?” The tone of Jezbodiah’s voice is serious and caring, but evasive.
Immerine looks at Jez not really understanding the question at first. “Do you mean have I had sex? No, I haven’t. Though I must admit men are such strange animals. I mean after all Matteo was wounded and when he started leaking I thought I would have to fix it and he said it didn’t need to be fixed. What is a maiden’s head, by the way?”
“Wounded? He wasn’t wankering himself,” Jez replies with a perplexed look on his face. No, never mind. Don’t say it.” He snickers and chuckles at the thought, then continues, but his tone is more serious. “Your maiden’s head, you know the supple rose, the flower, uh, your virginity,” he says. “Have you soiled yourself and offended your goddess.”
Immerine looks down at herself then back up at Jez, “Khelliara doesn’t get offended when I get dirty. I thought I was rather clean compared to the rest of you. I mean, no one’s blood spilled on me.” She raises her arms and sniffs under each one. “I smell like me. Why would that offend my goddess? Jez you are not making any sense. I thought you had something private to ask. So what do maiden’s heads, roses and flowers have to do with sex? If you don’t know what sex is I think very poorly of your mother, especially if she is from Rashemen. Maybe I should have a talk with her. Young men your age should have gone on Dajemma and enjoyed themselves by now.”
The half-elf rolls his eyes in disbelief. “No not dirty, I forget, you don’t understand our language and the way we use words in given and often constrained circumstances. It’s something I will have to teach you sometime. That is without touching you. You’ve already told me the consequence of what would happen.”
“Uh, Maiden’s head, flower, uh yes. That’s what we call virginity Immerine. When a couple love each other for the first time in an intimate joining, the woman is said to have lost her maiden’s head or her flower has been plucked after the coupling. It’s something we ‘barbarians’ do not talk about openly, especially amongst a large group of strangers. It’s considered impolite and discourteous. Out here, virginity is a highly valued and protected prize that isn’t given away freely, amongst both good and wicked citizenry, and amongst churches.
“What’s a Dajemma by the way. Sound like something I wear before I go to bed.”
“I don’t think I would want to learn the language if you can’t say something plainly. If you are asking me if I have ever coupled with a man, no I haven’t.” Immerine replies. “A dajemma is a young person’s time of exploration when they leave their home to experience the world before returning to their home to take their place in the world. Now Jez, stop asking me about flowers and prizes – what do you want? Are you trying to tell me you want to have sex with me?”
“No, that would be wrong. I’d rather have your friendship” he says. “I’m sorry, but I was raised to protect the honor and decency of women, not exploit them for my own selfish impulses. I wasn’t raised to be a worshipper of Lliira just to celebrate and fornicate at the quickest whim. I was taught to think and see the enjoyment and happiness in the world around me.” He kneels down next her and says, ‘I’d rather serve you as an escort, or defender for the time that you are here. And ask for your permission if I may.”
He stops to catch his breath then continues. “I’ve felt restless in Berdusk, since the Summer’s Solstice has ended. My father and mother calls it “wanderlust”. I’ve finished with the initiations required by my family and my faith. I will need to leave my home by the first thawing of spring and go about with my own Dajemma.”
Immerine looks thoughtful for a moment and shakes her head. “You cannot serve me that way, Jez. To become the warrior of a wychlaran requires a lifelong commitment. I will not be here for life. Your companionship and friendship I can accept for the time but nothing more. I still do not understand why this could not be asked in front of the others. Why the secrecy?”
“Like I said, some things are best discussed in privacy.” He stands and Alanna chirps. “No, I haven’t forgotten my furry friend. With Matteo gone, who’s up to leading the group? I can’t do it nor do I want it. I was hoping he could train me with a larger selection of weapons, better swords and axes. Maybe learn how to fight with better armor, like studded leather, but now with him gone, I’m stuck. That and I have other plans down the road that is my life. Plans that may put me into a favorable light. I can’t say much as it may put my family in harm’s way.”
“So you want to be a Harper? I understand this is one of the best cities to be in for that.” Immerine stands back up. “Are we finished? I would like to get out of my armor and talk to Tarim about learning to tap the Weave.”
He stands and looks surprised. “You, you know of the Harpers? A story for another day perhaps?” He scratches his head. “Yes, we’re finished. It’s getting dark. There are scrolls and wands in that assortment of chests that came in tonight. I’m curious as to know what they can do. That and I have to introduce myself to some strangers.”
Immerine rolls her eyes at Jez, “I am a wychlaran dear boy. Of course I know about the Harpers.” Immerine walks off back into the stable to chat with Tarim thinking at least the wizard has his head in one place.
Immerine walks back into the stable an irritated look on her face. She smiles when she sees Nik up and talking to Tarim. “I’m sorry to both of you. Jez has been trying to get me alone since earlier, though I have no idea why. All he talked about was flowers, maiden heads and pledging himself to me. Did you know he values the virginity of a woman? He says it is worth more than – well I can’t remember exactly what it was he said but it was very silly.” Qwenta sticks his head over his stall and starts nibbling on Nik’s hair.
Tarim smiles at her return looking up from the stable floor where his gaze had drifted as he was lost in thought…”Not very subtle is he?” the barbarian asked softly. “He would fit in well in my village… I was often accused of being too… sensitive”
“So Lady Immerine… when would you like to begin? On your path to understanding The Art I mean…”
“What a bright young man you are. I was coming back to ask you the same thing. I do not know what I need to begin. I have very little money. I was hired by Lord Ashgale to be his advisor, but that relationship does not seem to be working. I do not know if it is in my best interest to continue. But I really do not know what else to do. How does one get money for supplies in a city like this?” Immerine seems suddenly in a position she is unused to.
The slight young man beams at the praise of the witch. “For the time being all you need is a clear, well-rested mind and a quiet place to study, Lady Immerine.” he answers. “For my part we could begin now…” he offers with a shrug, appearing to have no preference.
On a closer more insightful appraisement, a well-cloaked eagerness is present however, noticeable by Immerine.
“I have my room here at the Inn. We can go there if you like. There is a small table in the room where we can sit. You will probably want to tell Kevin where you will be though. He may want to come too, but I will be learning from you,” she says the last reassuringly.
Tarim smiles openly as she suggests that Kevin should be present and nods heartily. “Agreed, I think it’s an excellent idea…I wouldn’t want to start you off on the wrong foot as it were. Kevin can make sure I am not telling you anything the wrong way…or too soon or so on. I also wanted to tell you that I will let you borrow my papers too…I don’t have a proper spellbook as of yet… but my spells, knowledge and insight are all at your disposal dear lady… On one condition…” he adds
“Condition? What condition?” asks the witch.
Tarim blushes and looks into her eyes saying “You never forgave me for my mistake lady… for touching you without permission. I know that I didn’t know at the time… but I don’t want you to think I took it lightly. I am not a person who deals well with offending or upsetting ladies. Forgive me? Please?”
“I am not a lady. I am a witch, but your reverence speaks well of you. Outlanders are allowed to make mistakes, there is nothing to forgive. Now you know better and you will simply not repeat the same mistake. You did not upset me,” she holds up the ring. “This upsets me. This makes me very angry and I intend to bring retribution against these people and their twisted beliefs. Can you imagine upsetting the lines of life and death to bring the dead to a state of undeath. Very sad and it makes me and my goddess very angry.”
Tarim nods agreeably, “Good enough. I was raised to abhor evil necromancy, it’s constructs and works and I still do. They anger me as well.” He says solemnly “I would be honored to assist you in ridding the world of their corruption. If I may. And to that end I have a spell that I will teach you first, which is effective against the undead even for a novice.”
Immerine opens her mouth to say something about being called a novice, but sees Tarim did not mean any offense, so changes her mind. “I have several spells effective against the undead as a servant of Khelliara, but I will need to learn some as a servant of the Hidden One as well.”
Immerine takes a step toward Nik and takes his hair out of Qwenta’s mouth. “Nik, are you going to be okay?”
The gaunt bard had seemed content to lean against the wall and try to recover from his emotional and phyical upset, silent and staring at the floor as Immerine and Tarim talked and not even noticing Qwenta nibbling at his hair. But when Immerine approaches him, Nik looks up from his boots and offers her a wan smile. The look in his eyes is terrible, frightened and full of pain. “I haven’t been okay since the day I was born.” he says faintly, the bitterness harsh in his voice.
But then Nik sighs and looks up at the rafters, and when he looks back down at her his eyes are clear. “But I think things might get better from here.” he tells her. The lopsided smile grows brittle, and he says weakly “But I have one more favor to ask of you, milady. If I can’t drink away my nightmares, do you have anything to help me sleep?”
Immerine smiles at the bard, “I can mix a potion to help you sleep. It is made of natural herbs and a little jihuild. It will give you a burn even your alcohol cannot match. It will sharpen your senses for a time but after that the herbs will cause you to drift to sleep. There should be no dreams for you tonight. Come upstairs to my room and I will mix it there.” Smiling she walks back to the Running Stag.
The bard watches her walk away, gratitude brightening his gaunt face. He sighs with relief, then looks over at Tarim. As he turns, he suddenly realizes how very close he is to Immerine’s big stallion, and panic twists his face. He steps back out of the seemingly non-threatening horse’s reach quickly, shivering, arms hugged across his narrow chest. It takes Nik a moment to compose himself, but when he does he offers Tarim a crooked, embarrassed smile. “I… ehm… I don’t like horses much.” he explains weakly, fear still shadowing his eyes.
The tall man gives the horse a last wary look, then returns his attention to Tarim. “So, you’re going to be teaching Immerine to work the Weave, are you?” The fear is suddenly gone from his green-flecked brown eyes, instead they are alight with curiosity and excitement. “You wouldn’t mind if I came along and watched, would you? The study of magic is a bit of a hobby of mine. I promise to be silent.” A bright, rather manic grin on his lips Nik adds, “I even promise to be sober.”
Looking somewhat uncomfortable Tarim forces a smile and says, “It should be educational for all of us. I can’t wait to hear what Saer Kevin has to say about this lunacy of mine.” With a resigned sigh the young mage says, “Let us join the others.” Giving Ened’ome another little scratch behind her head murmuring to her, “Yes, Yes I know… food.”
Having finished his discussion with Immerine, Jez heads away from the barn and off into the streets of Berdusk for the evening. Alanna, maintaining perfect balance, sits comfortably on his shoulder with one small paw clasping a handful of his blonde hair. The half-elf shakes his head softly at the level of Immerine’s naivety and her innocent personality. He can not believe how culturally backwards she is and yet at the same time determined and focus on the road in front of her. “She’ll make a good leader,” he muses to himself.
“So Berdusk is in danger,” he says to Alanna. “I wonder how to explain this to my parents when I return home? And I wonder how I’m going to explain you,” he says as he looks at Alanna. “I know my younger sisters, especially the twins will enjoy having you in the house.”
“Squeak?” Alanna peeps at her master as if she could say, “really?”
“Such is for tomorrow and a certain halfling.” Stretching and circling his injured shoulder, Jez continues to walk with the streets of the city he is happy to call his home. Tomorrow will bring more adventures for him.
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