Well, here it is, good or bad. I almost forgot to post it, oddly. That would not have been good for my already failing reputation.
Chronicles of Koeleth: the River’s Tale
Tom woke up early the next morning, which came as a surprise to Aaron, who had never seen Tom rise any earlier than he had needed to in the couple of months that he had known him. Tom made use of the bathroom provided by the inn to purge himself of the dirt and dust of the road. Going in, he looked like an impoverished beggar, but, coming out, he had cleaned up nicely. He had slicked back his usually messy hair, and he even bothered to groom his beard more than usual. After rummaging around in his travel pack for a couple seconds, he produced clean, unmarred gentleman’s attire, wholly foreign to his usual wardrobe. The transformation complete, he hardly resembled the road weary warrior from before. This all came as a great shock to the half awake Aaron, and he couldn’t help but comment.
“Who are you, and what did you do with Tom?” he groaned.
“I save these clothes for when I’m traveling in the upper echelons of society. It’s important to make a good impression on those with whom you are doing business. If they are expecting a battle-hardened warrior, you give them a battle-hardened warrior. If, however, they are expecting a gentleman, you give them a gentleman. I am off on this fine morning to find and rent a home. Were I a noble, I could purchase such things, but, alas, ‘tis not the case. I am sure they would prefer to deal with a gentleman, and not a warrior.”
The outfit was black from tip to toe, with silver accents. It had cost Tom quite a bit, but it was valuable armor that had carried him through the battlefield of high society on more than one occasion.
“Whatever works, I guess. What should I do?” Aaron asked in the same groggy voice as before.
“Whatever you want. I’m not your mother.”
Aaron rolled over onto his side and fell back asleep. Tom grabbed his coin purse and the strongbox with the gems in it and left his room. He went to the innkeeper and paid for another night, just in case his mission was a failure, and he left for the wealthy district of Ramsthrone in search of a home.
After searching for most of the day, Tom eventually found a dwelling that he liked. It was quaint compared to some of the other houses he could choose from, but it was more than enough to meet Tom’s needs and wants. The small brick mansion was relatively out of the way compared to other homes in Ramsthrone, but that suited Tom just fine. Upon entering the building, a visitor would find themselves in a large, open hall, a warm and welcoming fireplace directly across the room from the door. At each side of the hall, there was a door. If one went to the left, it would lead them to the dining room and the kitchen. If, on the other hand, one went to the right, one would find a library and a private study, both devoid of any documents or books at the moment. At the back of the hall were two more doors on either side of the fireplace, the left leading to a garden and the right leading to a gallery, currently just as empty as the library. At the end of the gallery, another door led to the same garden, a favorite spot of the previous owner, according to the realtor. Back in the hall, you could find a set of stairs on either side of the room that led to the second floor. Regardless of which stairway one took, one would be led to a walkway that hugged the walls of the mansion. If one went through the door at the center of the walkway, one would find a small hall leading to the master bedroom. In the small hallway, there was also a door leading to the second level of the library. In the master bedroom, there was a door that led to a large bathroom and another that led to a sizable closet. Going back to the walkway and following the right path would lead one to two guest rooms that sat over the front of the library. If, instead, one took the path to the left, the walkway would branch into two paths. Following the left path, headed towards the front of the house, one would find another guest room. Going to the right, one would find a guest bathroom and a small supply closet.
“So, what’s the history behind this place?” Tom asked, a bit more impolitely than appropriate of a gentleman.
“Well, the previous resident was a wealthy merchant,” the landlord’s representative told him. “He was rather eccentric, and he had no family. He built this mansion so that he might pursue his studies in peace.”
“He became ill. After consulting his physician, he left the home and left for the restful solitude of the Thorn Crown Mountains. That was roughly three years ago. Supposedly, he is still there, living quite comfortably. We’ve maintained the property, but few people show any interest.”
After closing the deal, Tom returned to the inn, unsurprised at Aaron’s absence, and gathered what few possessions he had. He moved in to his new home and immediately took advantage of having a place to store his stuff. The handful of documents and books he had were stored in his study. His ratty old clothes were stored in his oversized closet, along with his battered armor. The snake sword that had been in his pack for the past six months was hung in the gallery. His road rations were brought to the pantry below the kitchen. Now, the only thing that remained in his travel pack was a package to be delivered to yet another noble. As he was finally settling in, the knocker on his mansion door went into frenzy. He got up from the couch that he was laying on to answer it.
The cheerful face greeting him belonged to the body of a young woman, several inches shorter than himself. The short, black ponytail and the distinct yellow-green eyes could belong to only one person.
“Hello, Captain Flowermaiden. Please, come in.”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
Tom led the soldier to the living area and they sat opposite of each other in luxuriously comfortable chairs.
“To what do I owe the honor, Captain?” Tom asked curiously.
He couldn’t help but notice that the woman sitting across from him wore notably different attire than she had yesterday. Rather than steel armor, she wore an elegant sundress in a color that complimented her unusual eyes.
“Please, just call me ‘Lilly.’ Officially speaking, I’m not on duty today, so I’d rather not be addressed as if I were. However, customarily, it is my duty to greet new residents of Ramsthrone’s wealthier areas and ensure they have safely settled in. Normally, I would just wait until the next day I’m on duty, but I made an exception in your case.”
“Ah, I see. Well, I’ve had no trouble settling, so you needn’t worry about that. Since you’re here, would you like anything to drink? I don’t have much, but I can offer what I do have.”
“I would love some tea, if you have any to spare.”
“I do, believe it or not. A small batch straight from Ariluo, in fact. Best tea in the world.”
Tom got up and headed for his kitchen. The kitchen was large enough to support more than a few servants, but Tom found a spare tea kettle easily enough. He started water boiling.
“How has our fair city been treating you so far?” the woman called from the hall.
“I’ve been through Ramsthrone a couple times now, and it treats me well every time. I look forward to living here, as long as it continues to do so,” Tom said, rummaging through the cabinets in search of the appropriate tools.
“Good. It’s a decent place to live, but sometimes it takes getting used to. Glad you’re enjoying yourself.”
“I drink my tea straight, but I do have a little bit of honey and milk if you would like any of that,” Tom asked leaning against the doorway.
“You have honey? Excellent! I love having a little bit of honey in my tea. Please, bring that out with you.”
Tom disappeared into the kitchen and returned, holding a tray with two teacups, a small pitcher of honey, a teaspoon, and the tea. From Lilly’s perspective, he looked very much like a butler, considering his gentlemanly attire.
“I must say, you clean up nice, Mr. Riversedge,” she chuckled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were the proper servant of a stately noble.”
“Thank you, Madame. The tea is served, Madame. How else may I serve you?” Tom said, putting on the air of the aforementioned butler.
“Ah, thank you, Jeeves. I am comfortable for the moment, thank you.”
“Jeeves? Man, not even a cool butler, like Alfred, or Jarvis.”
“Okay, I know Alfred, but who is Jarvis?”
“A character from an old story. I don’t remember the details. Anyways, how is the tea?”
“Awesome, thanks. Anyway,” Lilly started, adopting a more serious tone, “what are your plans, now that you are in Ramsthrone?”
“Well, I figured I might update my wardrobe. It’s hard going so long with only two outfits. I might furnish this house a little better. The guest rooms are rather drab, the library is empty, and the gallery is dull.”
“Planning on entertaining, then?”
“Nah. But you never know when you might need to.”
“You don’t seem like the kind of person to choose a home like this. You strike me as a ‘small shack in the woods’ kind of person.”
“Yeah, I kind of am. But I needed a proper house to come home to. I needed a place to store my trophies and my books. I haven’t been able to keep very many possessions because of my nomadic lifestyle, and I wanted somewhere to rest, I guess, where I could have things.”
“I suppose that does make sense. By the way, I heard you have a blessed weapon?”
“I do. Who told you that?”
“You just hear things when you work so close to people in power. Besides, it’s something I should know as head of the guard. May I see it?”
“It’s up in my room. Come on, I’ll show you.”
Tom put down his cup of tea and got up. Lilly followed his example.
“Which guardian blessed you?”
“Lady Sorowa, Maiden of Tears.”
“Really? You seem like such an optimistic individual, though.”
“Yeah, but it’s usually the optimists who are the most sad. The world’s in a bad way, and I feel it. That thought is always on my mind. But here we are.”
Tom opened the door of his bedroom and led Lilly to the closet. Opening it up and walking in, he retrieved his halberd and brought it out.
“This is my halberd, the Hardened Tear. Its enchantment is a defensive spell that lets me summon a wall of water.”
He handed the weapon to Lilly, who gingerly took it.
“It’s nice. Seems like it could be useful to have in a few situations,” she murmured, investigating the weapon.
“I also have a blessed weapon! Wanna see?” she excitedly asked.
“It’s called ‘Spring Rose.’ Its enchantment is ‘wind speed,’ which, as you might imagine, improves my speed.”
Without warning, Tom found himself staring down the blade of rapier.
“Impressive. Although, I must admit, it’s not normal to threaten to stab people in the face.”
“Yeah, sorry. Got a bit excited,” she apologized awkwardly. “You see, I am a follower of Lady Joye, the Reveling Heart, and I take great pleasure in showing off my weapon. Battle, weapons, and magic are just so much fun.”
“It’s fine, really. Just please give me some warning next time. Can I have my halberd back now?”
Tom put his halberd back in his closet and the two warriors returned to the downstairs living area.
“Yeah, I get that. I mean, I come from a line of blacksmiths, so I have developed a healthy respect for the beauty and intricacy of weapons. Magical weapons, in particular, fascinate me. They’re extremely durable, being able to withstand blows that would cleave lesser weapons in two. I’ve seen wooden sticks withstand crushing blows simply because they were magical.”
“Isn’t it fascinating? I was shocked when I first received my weapon. I was training in the barracks alone when it happened. All of a sudden, a vibrant white light filled my vision and bam! There was a woman standing there. She was definitely not a warrior, though. She wore a loose tunic that came down to her knees and carried a hunting bow in one hand and a harp in the other. Long, sandy blonde hair in a ponytail. At first, I thought this woman was seriously lost. Then she introduced herself. Honestly, my first impression of my guardian was that she was a bit too free spirited. Pretty flippant, actually. But she gave me a speech about how the joy of my heart would be manifest, or something like that, and then she gave me the Spring Rose. Never did properly thank her.”
“Ah, the Erscheinung.”
“The what now?”
“The Erscheinung. It’s the Ekoalem word for ‘apparition,’ and it’s one of the three major ways humans receive blessings from the guardians. Ekoalem is the language that gave birth to our modern language of Koeling. Anyways, the apparition is when an illusory image of the guardian is sent to bestow the blessing on a person. Mine wasn’t so pleasant. I received my weapon through an Einberufung, a summoning. I had just left my hometown of Lilly Pond to begin my career as an adventurer. I had stopped to take a rest near an isolated lake. I heard Sorowa tell me that the woes of my heart would be given form, and then I felt a wrenching pain in my chest. When I finally recovered, there was the Hardened Tear, lying on the ground in front of me. Unlike most blessed individuals, I actually went to my guardian to ask for her guidance. I don’t know how it is for her paragon, but she’s pretty easygoing with the missions.”
“That’s pretty crazy.”
“Yeah. Aaron, a friend of mine, actually has two weapons from Apathos. Both of them were given to him by Erscheinung. The first time he received a weapon it was because he was so immensely lackadaisical that even Apathos couldn’t ignore him. The second time he got a weapon, it was because Apathos forgot he had already given Aaron a weapon.”
“That’s pretty funny. Never figured a guardian could make such a simple mistake.”
“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard of such a thing. Even Embarassia doesn’t make those mistakes.”
“Right. Anyway, I’ve stayed here long enough to do my job. I’ve enjoyed the visit but I probably should go now. I most likely have other things to attend to.”
“I imagine so, what with being captain of the guard and all. It’s been nice having the company, though. Oh, if anything valuable goes missing, don’t hesitate to come to me. I can probably give you some information.”
“Really? That’s interesting. It’s not something I personally would say to an enforcer of the law, but I’ll keep it in mind. Alright, see you around.”
“No matter. You may thank me before long. Don’t be a stranger.”
“Hey, hey, hey! Who is this?” an all too familiar voice said. “Already have a girlfriend? You move fast.”
“What!? No! This is Captain Lilly Flowermaiden, the captain of the town guard. She was just here ensuring that I had settled in comfortably.”
“Oh really? Well, you won’t mind if I flirt with her, then.”
Aaron gave Tom a suspicious glance.
“Be my guest, but I’m not responsible for the consequences.”
“And, who may I ask, is this strange character?” Lilly said, slightly baffled.
“Aaron Deepscar, at your service, milady,” Aaron coquetted, taking the air of a suave young gentleman.
He grabbed her hand and lightly kissed it.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Is this the friend you were talking about?” Lilly inquired dismissively.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Tom answered.
“I can see where he might make the mistake of calling me your girlfriend, though. Given that this was our first social visit, we were awful friendly with one another.”
“Yeah, but how would he know that? Unless you were watching?”
“What? Me?” Aaron asked, trying to seem innocent. “I would never stoop so low as to watch a fellow man as he brought a woman to his bedroom to show off his weapon.”
“So, you were watching!”
Lilly simply chuckled at this humorous but clearly idiotic new entity in her life. She did not say it, but she thought the two made for excellent friends. She could sense a certain understanding between them, despite their outward animosity.
“Lovely Lilly, the gardens of Eternal Reach pale in comparison to your eyes. Their beauty knows no end.”
“Hold your horses, kid. That’s not going to work on me.”
“Hey, I’m not a kid. I’m 24. I’m an adult.”
“Well, I’m 22, and I’m clearly much more of an adult than you.”
“I thought women never said their real age,” Aaron retorted, mildly flabbergasted at her seeming immunity to his charms.
“A ridiculous idea, if you as me.”
“Harsh, man,” Tom interjected. “Shot down twice in three days.”
“Don’t rub it in,” Aaron coolly volleyed back, resuming his usual aloof demeanor.
“You are good for a laugh, I’ll give you that,” Lilly laughed. “Well, boys, I must be going. I have other things to attend to. Do me a favor and don’t lose that sense of humor. What a couple of idiots.”
“Hey, now,” Aaron and Tom said in sync.
“See you!” the young woman exclaimed as she ran off, leaving Tom and Aaron equally insulted.
“Finally, she’s gone,” Aaron exhaled in relief.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tom rightly questioned.
“I may or may not have purloined a precious something from a nobleman or four.”
“Already causing trouble, I see.”
“Only a couple of items for a few of my jobs. And maybe a golden ram statuette as a housewarming gift.”
“Housewarming, huh? I’m not sure I want stolen goods adorning these halls.”
“So, this is the place, huh?” Aaron finally commented on the house. “Nice. Very, um, luxurious. Oh, honey, you really shouldn’t have.”
“Don’t start that up again. Yes, it cost a pretty penny, but that just means my load is a little bit lighter. Look, it’s pretty late. I don’t have much in the way of food yet, so I was going to run by the market to grab some things. You can do whatever. You are welcome to stay in my home, but please try to avoid doing illegal things while you’re here. I’m trying to make a comfortable life for myself here. The last thing I need is the captain of the guard breathing down my neck.”
“No guarantees. Also, ‘comfortable life?’ Worst lie I’ve ever heard.”
“Yeah, well, who asked you?”
Tom left the mansion on his mission, leaving Aaron to his own devices. Aaron, left to his own devices, explored the halls of this empty building and set himself up in one of the guest rooms. He placed the ram statuette on the first pedestal inside the gallery, with the full knowledge that every time Tom walked into the room, he would be reminded of the fact that stolen goods decorated his home. Tom returned from the market with enough goods to feed a small army. After preparing a small meal for Aaron and himself, Tom stored the remainder of the food. The rest of the night, miraculously, was rather uneventful, and Tom spent it in his study, reviewing the few texts he owned. Aaron disappeared, as per usual, but, shockingly, it seemed he had not caused any trouble when he returned.