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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 22

Pünon smiled to himself he hurried through the twisting streets of Far Point.

Wizards weren’t the only ones who could cast spells of invisibility. Priests could do it too. After fleeing into the darkness he’d cast his spell then circled back around to listen to the conversation of the blasphemers.

The woman, who called herself a Child of Heaven, was obviously Biqah. With a name like Lorelei, if there was a prophecy about her Adrammelech would certainly know it. Tartak and Adrammelech were enemies of course, but the big barbarian called Storm had claimed to be a Ghibbore of the Lord of Light, who all the gods hated even more than they hated each other. Maybe the two gods were preparing to send their followers to war. If there was trouble brewing between Adrammelech and the Lord of Light, it was his duty to stoke the flames a bit wasn’t it?

There was a local temple of Adrammelech, little more than a converted barn, but perhaps a visit to them to “helpfully” pass on some information would trigger a bloodbath between their worshipers, leaving the Tigers of Tartak to pick up the pieces.

He smiled to himself again as he hurried through the darkness.

* * * * *

Dinner for Storm and his friends was a lively affair, lifting flagon after flagon of ale and toast after toast to Durin, the once and future king of the dwarves, and Ralt his part-elven companion.

Before going down to host their flagons though, Storm cornered Ralt about the “new name” his dead mother had given him.

“She said my name was Emrys.”

Durin frowned in concentration. “Wot kinda name is dat? I ain’t never heard the like.”

Ralt snorted. “You’re not alone. I’ve looked high and low, read everything I could lay my hands on and I’ve never encountered it either. As far as I can tell, no one has ever heard of it.”

“I have,” Storm blurted before he could stop himself.

Three sets of eyes settled on him like iron weights.

After a long moment, Ralt broke the silence in a voice that brooked no argument. “This time, you have to explain yourself.”

Storm cursed his runaway tongue. What had possessed him to say that? The damage was done though and there was no way out. “I heard it on Earth,” he admitted. Now that he’d started, he found it easy to keep going. “On Earth, the most famous wizard of all time had several names, and one of them was Emrys. But what made him famous was that he was the mentor, tutor, friend, and king maker to the most famous king of all time.”

Lorelei touched his shoulder softly. “How could Ralt’s mother give him a name from Earth? The ‘king maker’ part fits,” she admitted, “but how could she possibly know such a name?”

It was a good question. It was also one none of them could answer. Before it cast a pall over their celebration, Storm herded them downstairs for drinks.

The main room of the Buffalo’s Head inn, like the main room of most inns, was longer than it was wide, graced with several fireplaces. Instead of fireplaces along the walls though, the Buffalo’s Head sported three circular fire pits spread out down the center of the room, each one large enough to roast a whole boar in. A cone shaped flue hung over each of them, the fire blackened iron and it’s corresponding pipe were suspended by chains from the ceiling. A padded bench, broken at intervals to allow traffic in and out, circled each one, which in turn was encircled by tables. Between the fire pits and the walls, the tables were laid out in long rows with benches on either side. At each end of the room were shorter tables going cross-wise.

Storm and his friends laid claim to one of those shorter tables in the back corner of the room where they wouldn’t be disturbed by nosy or drunken neighbors. The fact they themselves were more than a bit drunk didn’t enter into their calculations.

In addition to the roaring fires, torches flared at regular intervals overhead for light. If not for the high ceiling the room would have been insufferably hot. As it was they were sweating within the hour. Storm had thrown off his vest, baring his chest to the room and Lorelei, had thrown open her shirt as much as modesty would allow. The maids who scurried about serving them had their clothes open more than modesty dictated. Some of them earned extra money keeping the men company at night and it paid to advertise in addition to alleviating the heat.

Storm slammed his mug down on the table with a crash, splashing ale across the table in a flood. Lorelei jumped back with a laugh, sweeping her hand across the table to send it back to him. “Soon you’ll have banquet halls ten times this big,” he roared at Durin, “with a thousand maids to wait on your every command!”

Durin belched loudly, his face red from heat and ale. “Aye, but I’d rather have one good one the way ye have.” Lorelei blushed and smiled. “Too many women under one roof is bad fer a man’s disposition.”

Storm nodded heavily. “There was this one guy on Earth, centuries ago, who was supposed to have been the wisest man who ever lived and he had like, a thousand wives or something,” he slurred, trying to remember his long-ago Sunday School lessons.

“A thousand wives?” the dwarf goggled.

“Something like that,” Storm said, still trying to recall the exact number.

“Then he wasn’t the wisest man who ever lived,” Ralt argued drunkenly. “He was an idiot.”

“His wives couldn’t have been very bright either,” Lorelei interjected, fighting to stay upright. Her eyes were bloodshot. “It’d be bad enough having to share a husband with three or four other wives, but a thousand? You’d never see him!” She leaned across the table to plant a wet sloppy kiss on Storm’s lips. “But I see mine every night. Whoops!” she added as her hands slipped in the spilled ale, causing her to face-plant on the table. She sat back, flipping her hair to get the ale out of it. It ran down her chest in rivulets.

“Ye ain’t seeing ’em ta-night, ye’ve gone blind wit drink,” Durin snickered at her.

She flipped her hair at him, spraying droplets of ale across his face. “I can saw just fur,” she slurred. “Fine, I can saw, see just fur, fine,” she corrected, finally getting it right.

“You not exactly proving it right now,” Ralt laughed, forcing himself to talk slowly in the manner of drunks who pretend not to be. He spoiled the illusion by burping loudly.

They continued on in that vein, joking and laughing until the room was nearly empty as people drifted out one by one. By the time they staggered upstairs they could barely walk, leaning on each other for help, nearly overbalancing on more than one occasion as they weaved their way up the stairs. When Storm and Lorelei reached their room they didn’t bother undressing; they flopped on the bed and were out instantly.

The next morning, Storm woke up to a pounding headache with Lorelei sprawled untidily across his chest, snoring in a most unladylike fashion. He struggled upright, dumping her off him. She rolled over heavily, snorted, then curled up in a ball and continued snoring, albeit more softly. He massaged his temples slowly, groaning as he did. He hadn’t tied one on like that in ages!

He shook his head over the hazy memory and immediately wished he hadn’t; it made his head throb like a kettle drum. It slowly occurred to him to wonder if his healing power would have any affect on a hangover. He tried it and was amazed; within seconds he felt as if he’d just had a restful night’s sleep. The only remnant was a desperate need to empty his bladder from too much ale. He eased out the door quietly then hurried down the hall to the common latrine at the end.

Plumbing was still an underdeveloped art on Gaia. As a result, even though the tiny room was as well ventilated as could reasonably be expected, the odor was still too strong for him linger any longer than necessary. He finished and got out as quick as possible. On his way back down the hall he encountered Durin, looking much worse for the wear, heading toward the privy. He touched his shoulder as they passed, healing his hangover as well.

The dwarf’s face lit up like a candle. “Thank ye, lad. Tis been a goodly while since I’ve ’ad that much ta drink at one sitting. I’d forgotten the results.” He inclined his head at the door to his and Ralt’s room. “Ye might want ta do the same fer him, he’s carrying on like a baby.”

Storm nodded and shoved Durin toward the latrine at the end of the hall. “Go on, I’ll handle it.”

“Thank ye again, lad.” Durin hurried away.

Storm eased the door to Ralt’s room open, grinning in spite of himself at the pitiful groans emanating from their wizard. “Morning, sunshine!” he boomed in an artificially loud voice. “Come on, let’s go! We’re burning daylight!”

Ralt winced at his blast, covering his ears. “Go away,” he mumbled. “Let me die in peace.”

“And miss all the fun?” Storm continued loudly, enjoying Ralt’s misery. “Not a chance. Come on, up and at ’em!”

Ralt raised his head, bloodshot eyes giving him a watery glare. “Go. Away.” He made a rude sound. When Storm reached out to touch him he tried to bat his hand away. He missed by a country mile and Storm’s finger grazed his cheek. Healing power flowed into him and his eyes widened in surprise. “You can cure hangovers?” He sat up in disbelief.

Storm nodded. “Yep. I didn’t know it myself until I tried it just a minute ago. Crazy, isn’t it?”

“I’ll say,” Ralt answered, swiveling his head back-and-forth to test it. “I haven’t been that hung over in ages and ages.” He paused. “Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been that hung over, even after our fight with the demon.”

Storm sat down on the rumpled bed beside him. Their first battle with the demon that served Niran had been their worst defeat. They’d been lucky to survive it. It had also been the moment when they began to coalesce as a distinct group separate from any undertaking. When Ralt and Durin left them today it would be first time any of them had been apart since that fateful night. Oddly, even though Durin was more kindred to him in outlook, he found he’d miss Ralt more.

“Are you really sure about this ‘helping a king’ business?” he asked.

Ralt nodded quietly. “Elves and dwarves really don’t have the ability to cast magic spells,” he said, “no matter what you’ve seen me do, so it’s not just strange for me to be a wizard, it’s literally unheard of. We have innate abilities that are magical in nature, but actually casting spells? Never.”

“Uh, okay,” Storm agreed, wondering where this was going. “So?”

“So, when my mother came to me and said I’d be a wizard it was like saying water would run uphill or the sun would go backwards. It’s a huge sign, a prophecy almost, of things to come,” Ralt told him.

“Things to come,” Storm mused. “Like helping an ancient king reclaim his throne?”

Ralt nodded emphatically. “Has to be. Why, I don’t know, but it is. You don’t know why you’re a Ghibbore, you just are. Same thing.” He jumped up. “I’ve gotta hit the latrine before I have an accident.” He hurried out.

Storm followed him more slowly, heading for his and Lorelei’s room. She was still snoring lightly when he reached down to heal her. She woke up in the middle of it.

“Did you just heal a hangover?” she asked in disbelief.

He nodded. “Yep.” He sat down, running an absent hand over her shoulders, pulling her into him. He rested his chin on the top of her head, staring off into space.

She frowned in puzzlement. Pulling back she stared up at him. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “I keep getting reminded of just how strange the four of us really are.” He recounted his short conversation with Ralt for her, concluding, “When we were fighting Niran a lot of it centered around me being a Ghibbore, but now, this quest, it’s about you and what you did to Menewa using your gods-given talent, and Durin really being this ancient king and Ralt . . .” he shook his head, “being some kind of freak of nature or chosen by God or whatever. Then, his dead mother coming back to name him after the most famous wizard on Earth.” He shook his head again, trailing off into silence.

She threw her arms around him, hugging him tight. “I don’t have any answers for you, my love. None of us are what we appear to be, which means we’ve been chosen for something by the gods, or that One God you keep talking about.”

He frowned. “Actually I’ve been trying not to talk about Him but events keep conspiring to bring it up.”

She squirmed from the effort of holding in too much ale that now needed an outlet. “Then maybe you should quit trying and just let it happen.” She pulled out of his arms before he could protest. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got to get to the latrine.” She practically ran for the door.

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