by Etienne Suarven Lorneau, in Dark Ages
I. Setting the table
It was a cold afternoon of a rigorous autumn, when the sun is but a pale light behind the gray clouds and the wind blows from all directions, reminding me I should had brought my gloves. But after hours lost in the deepness of the Library of Loures I could not think about gloves. Absorbed in my research since the previous night, I had forgotten hunger and tiredness, only stopping when the flames in my eyes would not let me read another word. So I finally stepped outside my small hideout from the real, material world to breath the cold morning air, just to find out morning was a long lost memory to the lone leaves still challenging the Third Season.
I rushed to the port, where I boarded the first ship to Rucesion. It was a quick crossing, I must say, as all those ideas echoing in my ears made time fly like a sparrow. Once in Rucesion, I took yet another ship, this time to Abel, where I got in even less time. Moving out of the port into the largest city in the kingdom, and still hearing the voices of those who left their experiences and reflections to the future generations, I begun tracing my way toward the inn, hoping the kind hostess had not rented my room to someone else yet, despite the long time I had been away and the constant delays in the payment of my debts.
Walking down the cold pathways of Abel, I felt... empty. And after all those hours reading about the human mind and soul and history and thoughts the first things that passed through my mind were the psychological reasons for me to feel empty. The fact I am the worst warrior in this lands, and probably of all lands? Or that I could not read the few ancient writings found in the Library? Perhaps I missed something, but what? Before I could waste more of my time thinking about what I missed, my stomach reminded me: I missed my dinner, my breakfast and my lunch. Emptiness... I was hungry!
My route suffered a sudden change, as I hurled myself down another stone walkway, this time heading toward the tavern, where I got in fewer minutes than it is worth mentioning. The door was closed, but it was possible to hear the noises from the inside. Glad to find shelter from the cold air, I opened it and quickly entered the building, closing the door behind me, only then taking the time to glance at the surroundings.
People of all sorts drank and ate while talking to each other in a harmonious tumult. Many mundanes, from farmers to seamstresses, some alone, others with their families or friends, chatted among themselves, taking advantage of the heat provided by the drinks and the fireplace; a group of monks drank and laughed, talking about their glorious hunts; two rogues flirted uselessly with a priestess that cared about nothing but avoiding the small pieces of food her warrior partner carelessly allowed to fall from his plate over her capriciously sewed gown; a magician held a small flame in his hand, amusing other two magicians who would extinguish it with winds or water; a fourth magician, a young, short haired woman I was sure I had met before, but could not recall when or where, or what her name could possibly be, talked to someone I certainly did not know.
This last couple attracted most of my attention, specially the girl, up to the point I forgot my hunger. She had in her eyes the brightness I had seen only in the eyes of my brother's wife on the day they got married, long ago; in her lips a shy, soft smile, that, despite her attempts to hide, could be noticed both when she was talking and when silent; her fixed gaze on him, her attention to every word he said, the transparent nervousness in her hands. I remembered my already mentioned sister-in-law telling me what it was like when people were in love, and at that moment I could see an example. My mind started to travel, first trying to find reasons for love and why people felt that way, then less coldly I began thinking about all the happy couples I had met. I wondered what was it like to need someone, a single person, putting this person above all others. And suddenly a sharp blade cut my reflections in half.
"Hey, don't you he'r me! Come her' and have a seat!"
It was then that I noticed the woman in her middle twenties calling me, with a used plate in one hand and a piece of cloth in the other, exactly like the same time I came to eat in this tavern. The impression that scene gave was obviously that she was running the place, as I imagined in that past day. Her name was Théa, as I had learned from eating regularly at her tavern. She was a nice person, despite her strong accent.
"Don't just stan' at the door, get over her' and ord'it!"
Her words reminded me I had to eat something soon or I would collapse to the ground. I got to an empty corner of the counter, next to a wall, sitting on a rather uncomfortable wooden bench. She told something to an employee, probably asked her to take care of the other customers while she talked to me. I confess I felt quite proud with that...
"I can see you're starvin', boy. What'll't be?"
"A portion of... roast beef," I said after giving some seconds to comprehend what the woman had said in her awful accent, which sounded more like a dialect, "and some wine."
"Wine, eh, Etienne! Must say that's rare here, most folks order liquor or beer. Funny you didn't ask for the usual water! Runnin' from the cold, or decided to get high today, huh?"
Before I could give her a grave, cold answer, she turned away and yelled something at the small opening in the wall, from where another room could be seen. I believe she asked the kitchen for my order, but again my disaccustomed ears could not understand what she said.
"Your beef should be ready soon. And the wine, I've got her' one you're goin' to love!"
She moved to a shelf and pushed many bottles and small kegs of all imaginable drinks to the side, pulling a dusty bottle from a place she nearly could not reach.
"Take a look!" Placing the bottle over the counter, she pulled the cork out. "Smell'it, isn't it somethin'?"
I moved closer to the old bottle and tried to catch some of the alcoholic aroma, but all I got was dust in my nose, which started a wave of sneezes I had not seen since I opened the ancient books in the Library.
"Heh, sorry, my boy, I should've cleaned'it first." She removed most of the dust with a cloth she had nearby, and handed the bottle to me again. "There, try it now."
I smelled it, and as far as I could tell it was indeed the best scent I had seen, or smelled, in a wine bottle. That made me anxious to taste it.
"Where is this wine from, Théa? It must be quite good."
"It is, it is! It comes from the vines of Loures. This bottle her' I got from a man who worked in the castle, he said it'd been the best vintage in a long while. I don't understand much 'bout grapes, so I just accept'd it, and now there it is. Sure is a good wine. Her', take a sip!"
The woman poured some of the glorious red liquid in a cup. I do not quite like drinking wine in cups, but I did not complain and just took it to my lips. She stared at me expectantly, resting her head on her hands, her elbows on the counter. "So...?"
"It is... truly wonderful." And I have not tasted a better wine up to this day.
"Ah, I knew you'd like it!"
"Good intuition of yours. But why are you offering me such a good wine? You should keep this one for very special events."
"Don't worry! We've kept this one for a decade now. Nearly no one orders wine in this city, and there are hardly any special events in this tavern." She laughed at the emphasis she gave to "special events". "And I know you like a good one, so her' 'tis!"
"Well then, thank you. Someday I shall repay you."
"Don't worry 'bout that now, Etienne! First pay that innkeeper an' the blacksmith, I know you owe them lots. For me, things are fine this way, with all th'folks eatin', drinkin' and havin' fun her'. I couldn't want anythin' else."
"Thank you again, Théa. I hope your business are always this good."
"If Danaan helps me, sure will!"
In a perfect timing, a female voice came from the opening in the wall, and a dish of roast beef came through.
"Her' you hav'it, Etienne. Enjoy!"
She quickly moved out of the back of the counter and returned to her usual activities before I could say a word. I just turned to my plate and cup and started eating the finest roast beef in Temuair, accompanied by the most delicious wine ever produced by Loures. Finally putting something solid in my stomach made me clear my mind of all thoughts. The chorus of people talking and laughing became uniform, sounding like a single calming musical instrument. I must confess that, despite my usual pursuit of silence, I do like such harmonic noises.
The wine, the relaxing tumult, or the night spent reading - or maybe them all - was causing me to feel somewhat sleepy, and despite my attempts to remain as alert as possible, I slowly allowed my head to fall against the wall and my eyes to close. And just as the first image of a dream was starting to form in the darkness...
"Let it be known!"
...a man who seemed to be in his late forties, wearing sturdy clothes that someday could have been those sewed for a warrior, sitting three steps from me, broke the harmony with a loud partial sentence, which attracted the attention of the whole tavern.
"Let it be known that I did what I did..." He stopped, reflected for some moments. If he had the intention of not completing his sentence, the interrogation points planted in the faces of all the static patrons surely made him see he had no choice now - he had to end what he started.
"That I did it for love."
Silence. No one dared saying a word, not even to ask what he had done. The man looked at each face in the room, expectantly, until the impolite warrior that was still eating and dropping half his food over the priestess's gown put all his intellect to work and came with a jewel of a remark.
"Bah! If at least it'd been for fame and money! Théa, get me more o' this beef!"
A buzz started among the patrons. People talked among themselves, not wanting to raise their voices in such a quiet moment. Some commented the warrior's manners and point of view; some defended the man to the people nearby, while others attacked, even not knowing what he had done; the neutral ones returned to their liquors and beers. I ate the last piece of meat in my plate and looked around. The man had a disappointed look in his eyes, probably due to the lack of comments. He let himself fall seated on the bench, and murmured something to himself, placing his hands over the counter.
Taking my cup, which was half full by now, I moved closer to him. He looked at me when I sat in the bench beside his with an uninterested look, turning his head back to watch the nothingness. My curiosity, however, would not allow his indifference to stop me, so I asked...
"And what have you done?"
He looked at me again, this time with the corner of his eyes, and answered with another question and an affirmation.
"Why would you care? Nobody does."
"I am just curious."
"Curious? You just want to have a good laugh on my stories and call me crazy, like everyone else."
"No, no, I am curious. I am curious about how far people will go for love, what things one can do when taken by it. So please tell me, I really want to know."
"Naah, you just want to make me feel better. You will probably fall asleep before I get to the middle of the story."
I do confess I hate when people use such clichés to avoid being taken out of their sorrows. But I was determined to do two things: first, satiate my curiosity; second - and added after he said I just wanted to make him feel better - indeed make him feel better. Some stories do require someone to listen to them, before their tellers lose their sanity, and I like this kind of story, no matter how confusing and senseless it may be.
"Please, I am interested, really."
"It is quite long, better not start telling now, you must have other things to do."
Easy to notice he wanted - needed - to tell his story. I could not just back up now, and went on playing his hiding game.
"No, I have the whole afternoon, and the evening, and the night if necessary." I pulled the bottle of wine closer. "Now please start."
II. Too much appetizer
"Very well then," he began, "I will tell you, but at the end do not blame me if you hated listening to it. Or rather, if you find it too much of an annoyance, feel free to say so, I shall stop immediately.
"It is very hard for me to think of where to start telling it. It began some years ago, when I lived in Loures. I liked the castle very much, I would do anything to be in there. One day, while wandering outside its walls, I saw some employees cleaning the gardens inside and asked if I could help. To my happiness, they let me in to aid them in picking up the leaves. In my excitement, I did it quite quickly, and they gave me another work, then another. The next few days I was always helping them whenever I could, and soon other employees saw me and started asking for small jobs.
"Someone from the high ranks then officially hired me as a 'do-everything', as people called me. One day I would sweep the bedrooms, the other brush the horses, the other help with the laundry; any small thing they needed done, they would call me. And, in my free days, when I was not too tired, I would spend hours in the Library.
"It was the Library where I first met Liada. She was a beautiful girl: one could see his very soul reflected in her eyes, eyes of a color I could never say exactly what it was. Blue, lightly touched by green, is the best definition I could find to them. Much like the aquamarine stone, but far brighter. Her light brown hair was not very long, going slightly beyond her shoulders. She used to make a tress in the middle, while still leaving some of it loose, which gave it a serious, yet joyful look. Her skin challenged velvet itself in softness, and cotton in whiteness. Each line of her face seemed carefully studied to achieve perfection. And was she intelligent! She would read even more books than I did, as she spent more time in the Library.
"I remember sitting on the Library chairs and watching her read for hours. The attention in her eyes, her serious expression, always fascinated by what she was reading, a tear once in a while in those very sad fantasy books, her fixed gaze on the letters, the tenderness of her hand as she turned the pages...
"Pardon, I... I got carried away."
"No, it is quite all right," I replied. "Do go on, I certainly was enjoying your fine description."
"Ah, well. Many were the times when she noticed me looking, even staring at her, but she never said a word about it. And neither did I, I was too afraid to walk over to her and even say hello. We were complete strangers, even though I could recognize her from a distance of a hundred steps. But I felt as it could be just a matter of time, that someday everything would magically turn out right, that out of nothing I would walk over to her and say 'Liada, I love you' and she would reply 'I love you too' and we would be happy together for the rest of our lives. But it never happened."
My storyteller's expression was that of sadness, yet some hatred could be noticed in it. I refilled my empty cup with Théa's fine wine as he sent a big gulp of liquor down his throat. I looked around the tavern and saw it was still crowded, although many faces could not be seen anymore.
"Why did it never happen?" Perhaps I should not ask so many questions...
"Because I was a fool!" Saying that, he hit the counter with the bottom of his mug, returning to his calm state the next second. "But before going further into this subject, let me introduce some other characters."
"Go ahead, I am eager to know about them," I said after another sip of the divine red beverage.
"Around the time I met Liada, I also met Risia. She was the maid of Lady Ann, the daughter of a Duchess from Abel that lived in the castle. Lady Ann did not quite like all the decorum her mother made her go through, and spent most of her time among the servants.
"Risia was very friendly and nice to everyone. I do agree that she was not half as beautiful as Liada, but there was something in her short blond hair, and in her strong traces, which showed she was from the region of Suomi; perhaps in the way she blushed because of anything, going in a mere second from her pale skin color to the same tone as the roses in spring; and maybe even in her dark, deep eyes, that attracted me.
"As for Lady Ann, she deserves a note too. She was a quite common Abel girl in appearance, the only thing worth mention being her beautiful ebony hair. And no, before you think it, I was not attracted to Lady Ann too."
"I did not think that...!" I remarked.
"Well, most people do. What I can say is that Lady Ann's mother, the Duchess, became a good friend of mine some time later. But that is not important right now, let me go back on tracks.
"Talking to Risia was always a pleasure. She could not discuss any of the books in the Library, as she had never even entered those fantastic chambers, but anything else one would want to talk about, there she was for the chat. We became good friends in a few weeks, despite our differences: I would exchange all her parties among the other employees and her trips to Piet for the ability to read those ancient texts. And in fact I did, remind me to come back to it later."
Not only did he know the Library as well as myself, but he also knew the ancient language. Nobody would tell, judging by his clothes. Both my cup and his mug got a little emptier.
"Ah, the ironies of the world! Liada, Risia and Lady Ann were around the same age, and were very good friends. So the two others knew of my admiration for Liada. What nobody knew was of my attraction to Risia. I denied it to myself. 'It just cannot be, you may not love more than one at a time, it is not natural!', I kept thinking, even though I was not quite sure if I loved any of them. Perhaps it was just that, admiration and attraction.
"After a few months, the situation took me to see things more clearly, or so I thought. I could not get Liada's pale face off of my mind, while Risia was but a good friend who I found to be quite pretty, and nothing more."
"So you loved Liada after all?"
"That is what I thought for some time."
"And did you ever talk to her...?"
He sighed. "Let me go on with the story..."
"Oh, I am sorry."
"No reason to be. Well, as I said, this went on for months, Risia being a good friend, Liada an unreachable love. Then the day came when the Duchess fell ill, and no one knew what her ailment could possibly be.
"Being the Duchess a good friend, I went to visit her and noticed the symptoms she told me about were much like those of an illness I had read about in the ancient books."
"You already knew the ancient language by that time?"
"A little bit, learned from some notes written on one of the books and some deductions. But anyway, knowing what the sickness was, I recommended the treatment mentioned in the book. At first the nobles were not quite confident about it, but they had no other choice. Fortunately, my indications were right, and the Duchess was back to her activities in no time.
"The Duchess, in gratitude, decided to give me a weekly amount of gold, and demanded I would stop working. I had no intention of stopping, but I could not go against her, and so I quit my job. On the other hand, that allowed me to spend more time in the Library, with the books and the torture of seeing Liada nearly every day and never talk to her. But this would end soon..."
"You finally spoke to her?"
"No, I could not. By that time I believed that talking to her would be like asking Danaan herself to come to the land for a chat. I thought of Liada too highly to direct my words to her."
"Excuse my observation, but that sounds somewhat... childish"
"Observation excused, despite everything. And yes, I know it was childish. At first she was indeed a stranger. But my very first actions toward her led everybody to the belief that I loved her. This way, I would not dare greeting her, for she could think I meant something beyond politeness."
"Of course you never proved your theory."
"Indeed, I did not. Let me go back to the story. A few days after my 'promotion', sponsored by the Duchess, Lady Ann was sent back to Abel, and with her, Risia. Liada parted a few days later. It was only then that I discovered she was the daughter of the Prime Minister, while trying to get some information about where she had gone."
"You only learned she was the daughter of the Prime Minister when she left!?" I was astonished.
"Why, yes. Most of the employees either did not know, or did not want to mention it. I recall asking Risia once about it; she only said Liada would rather not think about her father too much, and I should not concern myself with that either. I never knew the reasons for that, though, but I know she followed her friends to flee from her him."
III. Disappointing main dish
There were a few moments of silence. Taking my cup, I quickly looked around the tavern. A few groups still remained from when I entered, some new ones were forming. I noticed the couple that attracted my attention earlier had new companions now, and they all talked with a serious expression. Théa wandered around them, trying to overhear as much as possible. Before I could focus on what they were saying, the confused patron by my side went on with his story.
"The first days were sad, I must say. The courtroom did not have the tranquil presence of Lady Ann; the yards and bedrooms had lost the joyful spirit of Risia; and the Library lacked the brightness of Liada. To forget about it all, I would turn myself to anything that would make me keep my mind off of it. I started to read twice, three times as much as before; attempted, without success, to learn the art of cartography; began writing a never concluded book; visited taverns and stores as much as possible. I made many new friends, of whom I would like to cite Dano and Tratta. Dano was a house builder in Rucesion who would eventually visit Loures. He did not like to read, yet his culture was something he could be proud of. Tratta, by her time, was a dancer in Piet.
"My attempts to flee my memories led me each time further. I was given a position as general in Loures Army, despite my lack of knowledge on the military arts. I quit the position two months later, as it would not help me much in my main goal, and since I had much of the Duchess's weekly gold deposited in the bank, I decided to withdraw some of it and travel around Temuair in my own ship."
"Your own ship? Were the kingdom ships not good enough?"
"Yes, they were, but I needed to have a responsibility of my own, some people to command, some possession to care about."
"But you had the army!" I said between two sips of wine.
"No, I had a given position I did not want at an army not chosen or entirely controlled by myself. I wanted something of my own, with my touch, my choices."
"Ah, of course. Go on, please."
"Very well. I ordered the construction of a mid-sized ship at the port of Loures, which I supervised from the project to the last polishing. In the meanwhile I gathered the finest sailors of the region, receiving each one personally at the castle. And when everything was ready, we set our sails to the South, just to see what existed there.
"I admit I wanted to go exploring the seas until I had reached the end of the world, but my men were not that much adventurous. After a few weeks we returned to the safe waters of Temuair, arriving in Rucesion, where I planned to stay for ten days or so, perhaps visit the Dubhaim Castle with my most strong companions. But I could not. On the second day of our permanence, while eating at the local tavern, I met Dano. He seemed quite troubled about something, and I was quick to ask what it was.
"Dano had been working beyond his human abilities, and the nights spent awake claimed their debts at the worst time possible. He made a terrible mistake at the construction of a landlord's house, which condemned the building and wasted a large share of the owner's money. Dano needed to leave Rucesion as soon as possible, but the landlord had all the kingdom boats watched day and night. Being his friend, I offered to take him to another city. We left the next morning.
"Yet again I decided to explore the seas, this time to the North. Unfortunately, at the first day by the ocean I learned Dano suffered from severe seasickness. I had no choice but order the anchoring here at Abel.
"We found a suitable place for him to live, at least temporarily, in two days. At the third day, while he was setting his things in his new home, I decided to wander around the city, to get to know it better. And what I feared the most took place: my path crossed Liada's.
"After seeing the items available at a local store, I was heading to the door. At that exact moment she was coming in. Our eyes met, but I quickly looked somewhere, anywhere else. My heart was pounding, I trembled. As it had been on those months in Loures, I could not greet her. Not knowing what to do, I took the way of the street and back to Dano's new home.
"I gave Dano a poor explanation as to why I had to leave immediately, handed him some money to start anew, and left Abel wishing my ship would be swallowed by a whirlpool. But the sea was as calm as it could have been that day. My sailors were confused due to the quick end of their shore leave. I ordered a route to Suomi, they would have as much free time as they needed under the protection of Undine. Once there, I left my ship and its crew at the port and returned to Loures in the usual kingdom ships.
"Back home, I looked for Tratta. She was my closest friend before I left on my aimless voyage, and would certainly greet me well. And in fact she did, listening to my laments and never complaining, showing me the situation was not as troublesome as it seemed to me.
"With a new decision in my head, I decided to start anew. I visited the Duchess, who was quite happy to see me. We spent many hours talking about all sort of things. At the end, I asked her to stop sending the weekly money - I wanted to live completely on my own again. She was uneasy at first, but I convinced her of my purposes; at last she agreed.
"Before leaving Loures, I paid a last visit to Tratta, who promised she would always be there for me in times of need. Thanking her again, I left for Suomi."
"Sorry to ask," I interrupted, "but did you still have much of the deposited money?"
"No, not much. But I was not worried, it would be enough to start a new life. And after selling the ship..."
"You sold the ship?"
"Yes, I sold it here in Abel. Sometimes it can even be seen at the port, not as beautiful as when it was mine, but still has its charms. Anyway, I sold the ship and moved to Mileth."
I refilled my cup and noticed he had no more brandy, so I offered some of Théa's wine, which he promptly accepted and, much to my surprise, recognized.
"Ah, I remember this vintage. I still worked as a 'do-everything' in Loures, and picked many grapes. It was at the same year the Duchess fell ill. Amazing to find this bottle after so long."
IV. A soup too hot
"Well, back to the story. In Mileth, I found my real destiny. At the moment I saw the statue of Danaan, I knew I had a greater fate. I should be a warrior, and fight for the Light! I found a noble warrior who taught me on the ways of the Craft, and with the money I had I bought the necessary equipment.
"My life had a meaning again, all I wanted to do was fight, defeat any and all who opposed the Goddess. I stopped reading, gave up on writing, and set myself to hunt, to become stronger and serve the Light in a better way.
"I had success those first months, until something completely unexpected happened. While in the tavern, I saw two faces I knew quite well. Risia and Lady Ann, followed by a man I did not know, and without noticing my presence, entered and ordered something to eat. As they waited for their meal, I greeted them, and was introduced to Lorma, Lady Ann's fiancée. He was a small farmer from Mileth, and met Lady Ann when selling his harvest at the markets in Abel.
"My friends brought sad news with them. The Duchess had lost everything in an obscure way, and was living on the mercy of the king. Lady Ann and Risia thus moved to Lorma's farm in Mileth to try living on their own. Risia intended to move into town as soon as she had a new job.
"Completely by chance, I mentioned Liada. I should not have." He fixed his gaze on the wine, but did not drink it.
"Lady Ann started to cry immediately, and left the tavern. Lorma followed her. I apologized for my question, not knowing exactly what I did. What I knew is that something awful had happened. And Risia, trying to hold her own tears, told me.
"About two weeks before that day, which would be a week after they received notice of the loss of the Duchess's possessions, on visit to the farms by Rucesion, the Prime Minister's caravan wandered too far from the roads. The five chariots were completely shattered, but were found in better condition than the bodies."
"The Dubhaimid..." I knew quite well what these things did to lost travelers.
"Most certainly. Liada returned to Loures the day she learned about it, and Risia had no news from her at that time."
Silence took over for a few minutes. I took the time to take a look around. The tavern was much emptier; only the short haired enchantress and her group were still discussing. Théa was sitting at their table, giving her opinion on all and everything.
"Let us advance a few days," he said, surprising me.
"What? Oh, yes, of course, do as you please." I was doing my best to pay attention to him, but his story was getting quite long and I had been awake for over thirty hours.
"Risia found a job in town, leaving Lady Ann and Lorma at the farm. We grew closer by the day, as I had completely forgotten about defending the Light and spent most of my free time with her, sometimes in Mileth, sometimes at Lorma's farm. Then I did something I regret up to this day."
Again he fixed his gaze at the wine, but this time swallowed nearly half the mug.
"What?" I intervened.
"I proposed to Risia. Asked her in marriage."
"But Liada!..." That made no sense!
"I know, I know." He shook his head. "I should have never done that. I neglected my feelings for Liada completely and let myself be taken by a momentary passion." He looked to the side and mumbled something I did not quite understand.
"And did she accept...?"
"No, she did not. I do not know if fortunately or not, but she said 'No'. I felt like my life had lost its meaning. I returned to hunting with even more fury than before. In fact, I went to live by the woods. My only visits to Mileth were on the way to its Crypt. Those who saw me said I had gone mad, and they were right. I only stopped when my sword broke in two and the rest of my equipment was a step away from falling to pieces. Then I sought help. I returned to Loures."
"To meet Tratta?"
"Yes, that was what I had in mind. But I found she could not keep what she had promised me. Tratta had married a soldier of the Loures Army, and forgot completely about our friendship. I still do not believe she could possibly marry that man. He was the most impolite - actually, disgusting - soldier of the whole army, and treated her very bad."
"The heart has reasons unknown to reason itself..." I quickly remarked. He went on like I had said nothing.
"I left Loures the same day I arrived, due to both my revolt about Tratta and the fear of meeting Liada, and wandered for days with all those thoughts in my mind, my regret for proposing to Risia, the hatred for myself for never speaking to Liada, the submission of Tratta. I finally decided to go to Piet and once again rebuild my life.
"In Piet I became a shepherd, working at the local farms. When I had enough money, around six months later, I started my own sheep breeding with some sheep I gained from one of my bosses, in a small piece of land also donated by him.
"A whole year as shepherd, I really liked that. But then I felt Danaan calling to me once again. I had to go back into being the warrior I once was. The farm and sheep sold, I made a quick stop by Loures Castle, avoiding Tratta's home, and bought some equipment. Then I moved to Rucesion. My plan was to become strong enough to wipe out every sign of Darkness from the Dubhaim Castle."
"A little megalomaniac, if I may add." Could Danaan herself do such a thing?
"Yes, you may. But I never got to prove I could do it, nor the contrary. When I arrived in Rucesion, the first person I saw was Dano, who had returned to his old job in the town of his birth. He was accompanied by his wife..." He threw all the wine left in his mug down his throat in one furious gulp. "Liada!"
"By the name of Undine!"
V. Bitter dessert
"Anger, revolt, hatred, envy. I jumped from the ship as soon as it docked, and ran toward them. So I pulled my sword from its sheath and before he could do anything his heart was trespassed by my blade. He fell to the ground without saying a word."
His expression became very grave.
"Liada looked at me, kneeling beside him, and for the first and only time directed me her words. 'Monster! You killed my husband!' I still remember the anger and fear taking over her beautiful face, as well as her eyes at that moment: they were dark. Dark as Chadul himself. The very reflection of my soul..."
A tear rolled down his cheek. Not knowing what to say, I turned my neck to see the rest of the tavern. The only people inside were me, the poor storyteller, Théa, and the group I have mentioned before. Théa was cleaning the tables; the group went on discussing.
"Perhaps it was an awful coincidence. Perhaps it was a trap set by Danaan. Either way, there I stood, holding my sword, Dano's blood dripping from it. His dead body fallen by my feet, Liada crying over her lost husband. I was petrified, and could only move after the royal guards locked the door of my cold cell in the basement of Loures Castle, where I was to spend the rest of my life."
"But it seems obvious that you did not."
"No, indeed. Tratta learned about my prison and came to visit me. I told her the whole story, and her husband, with the aid of the Duchess, who still had some influence over the king's decisions, had me released."
"Very. Anyway, I then moved here. I again live by the woods, specifically, and come to Abel eventually to fix my equipment and eat some real food, when I have the money for it."
VI. Removing the dishes
Théa put all the dirty plates at the opening in the wall, and came to talk to us.
"Gee, boys, where's my wine? You sure lik'd it, eh?"
"Ahrn, sorry, Théa... I will pay whatever you ask for it." I was blushing as I replied.
"Naah, don't worry, Etienne. If not for you guys, I'd die before this bottle was empty."
"You had better drink more wine then," the man by my side intervened, "because I still have another bottle here. It is a miracle it has not broken yet, and I would hate to see such a good wine go to waste. So please accept it."
He picked a bag from the ground and opened it, taking a bottle as old as the empty one over the counter from inside.
"I always carried this one with me, to drink at the celebration of my marriage. Do not ask me why I kept it even after... for such a long time. Either way, here it is. Just let me have one or two free sips, eventually."
Winking, he put the bottle over the counter, threw some money next to it and headed for the door. "I hope you have a better luck than I did, young warrior. Fare well!"
After he left I realized I did not know his name, so I asked Théa about it.
"That's Rother. Did he tell you he ask'd my mother in marriage, long ago? But she sa'd no, 'cause she knew he lov'd her friend, one that lives in Rucesion. Well... Some things aren't meant to work out, eh?"
"But some are, Théa."
I put some money over the counter and moved toward the door. As I passed near the group, I overheard a piece of a sentence, "...and we may build the Embassy at the South region of the Province as soon as..." Wishing to get to the inn as soon as possible, I left the tavern without hearing anything else.
It was already late night as I walked down the stone pathways of Abel, always staying under the light of the lamps. Entering the inn, I noticed a strange woman talking to the innkeeper. I greeted them, and the woman turned to me, her eyes shining as brightly as the full moon, in an indescribable blue slightly shaded by green. She asked me:
"Young warrior, have you ever, by any chance, met one of your Craft by the name Rother?"