Delicate Minds.September 23, 2008
The merchant was being smart with me, and we both knew it. I had to keep playing the game until I got what I wanted.
“So you have seen him, or not?” I asked.
“Of course I have, which is a more expensive matter.” he said.
I sighed. I reached into my pocket, pulled out a few gold. His hand shot out, palm up, fingers motioning. I dropped the gold into his calloused filthy hand. “He was here buying supplies. Seemed to be in a hurry. When I asked him where he was going, he told me he needed to get to Tawar Galan and wanted to know if I knew any ships to gain passage on.” “And what’d you tell him?” I asked. “I told him no, and he went off to the docks. Later Meliard told me he gave him a lift to Tawar. From there, I haven’t heard anything else.”
Satisfied, I flipped my hand at him and left.
I couldn’t get this one out of my head: a young Thestran male gets out of town without telling anyone why. Seemed the father and him had a bit of a row, but other than that, no reason. The mother got a hold of me through the bar. Seems I hang out there too much. So, over the last week I had been searching for this boy, asking around, and getting lead here to the docks of New Taragnor.
Personally, New Targ was my kind of place: bustling, loud, dirty. But for a human male of his age this had to be a very rough place to float into. There are people here that would skin you alive given the first chance, and they can spot an easy mark within a mile. Getting any of these ship dogs to talk is near impossible, even with the gold. Getting them to be friendly is impossible.
This case was costing me. I had already sailed to three cities, and even with some of the cargo I chartered, barely cleared a copper after meals and boarding. When and if I find this kid I am going to have to ask for some repayment. In skin. Until then, I turned and walked into the docks to see if anyone needed something heavy moved from one ugly grey dock to a much prettier one.
Sailing had always been my passion, and this new form of employment had made it worth even more. Now I could have my cargo, move it from one place to another while looking for missing citizens. And by my ears, could they disappear out here. Even with our fancy mail system and the new roads being put in, a citizen could simply vanish; gone so fast you would have thought they had just been a dream. Granted, most of the dangerous folk stayed with other dangerous folk, and almost every major city had managed to keep their borders clean and free of guts. But there were still those great expanses of wilderness out there..the roads ran through it but you never bothered to go. If you did, you didn’t travel alone and you definitely didn’t do it as a human male, age 17.
So what made me think this boy didn’t just wander off in a fit and got mauled by any number of big hairy things? Actually, I did think that. But as long as the gold kept coming, so would my false hope.
Once I reached Tawar I felt a little better. If he did get this far, these lands were much safer than most. The elves didn’t let evil just creep up and snatch people, or at least not nearly as much as elsewhere. And being that my people, the Raki, were from this area, I would have a base of operations to go to when I needed to. Favors could be pulled out here.
My first stop was to hit the tavern. After all, a stomach full of mead is but a side benefit to what the ears might pick up in the local chatter. And sure enough, within three cups I heard someone mention that new citizen: the one we all hear about once in a while. He shows up, starts speaking of dark things and generally causes peoples hairs to stand on end, but does nothing more that scare locals. But those types usually can be more attractive to a runaway boy than scavengers to carrion: the young need someone to tell them they have a place and they will try to believe it even if they don’t deep down. Found out the guys name was Amerk, and currently lived “somewhere north in the hills” and would come down to town for some supplies and probably a fresh collection of cult members.
Outside I prepped my horse Royal for the journey. He was grand, alright, not in size but in disposition. Nothing spooked him. And I knew that somewhere in the shadows lurked my dark watcher: my cat Bete. She was a gift from the Wood Elves here, and most of the time no one saw her, she was that stealthy. I say it’s magic, and I think I’m right.
The hills proved to be an easy enough climb, nothing more than baby mountains and trails clearly marked where people had been traveling. Eventually I came to a flat area, a sharp drop off making up three quarters of the camp. A few tents had been there for a while, fire pits had blackened the ground and I could see some movement indicating someone was there, just waking up.
I crouched down, but they had heard me. Out of one of the tents popped the boy’s head, young and handsome, no hair on his face. (A Humans lack of hair still made me laugh. They looked like babies.)
“Hullo.” he said. He seemed shaky, but was trying to put on a good front.
“Hullo.” I responded. Royal stayed where he was, but I knew Bete was fully aware of the boy. She could be on him within three leaps. “Are you Heru?” I asked. His mouth closed, got real serious. “Yes.” he finally stammered. He stepped out of the tent. He was wearing a black and red robe, marked with runes I had never seen. “You should probably leave, unless you want trouble.” The boy warned. “He’ll be back soon, and he doesn’t need people asking me things.” I stayed put, opened my palms in a calming fashion. In this world you realize that some things might be other things, even though they look harmless enough. “Who is he?” I asked. “He is my leader, but he needs to help me become stronger, better. He is helping me. He said my father didn’t need to see me again until I could return as a man.” “Listen, Heru, that man is lying.” I responded, trying to sound calm. “I know his type. He is using you for something. He is lying to make sure you stick around.” Heru shifted uncomfortably. His eyes began to water. He had something up under his skin he wanted to let me see, but he was afraid. He had guilt all over his hairless face. He slowly began to back up, getting closer to the cliff.
“Wait!” I yelled. “Your mother told me she wants you to come home. She misses you..” and with that the boy took several more steps towards the cliff. What had this man done to this boy? The boys face became pale, he concentrated on something off on the horizon. “Heru..wait…come with me. I won’t tell your father..you can join my company. You can help..” and with that the boy just fell back, out of view. Within seconds Bete was reaching for him, swatting at open air. I ran towards the cliff in time to see the boys face, silent, eyes open. And then he hit the rocks and spun into the forest below, then silence.
I dropped to my knees. That was it. Bete was already making her way down the cliffside in only the way she could, rushing to the boy. I knew she would come to the body and wait for me to get there. Royal had even rushed to the cliffside, and he puffed at the dirt, a loud horse sigh.
I sat and stared at the forest, for how long I wasn’t sure. I looked up as small rain drops pecked at my skin. I could hear a horse coming up the trail, so I ducked into cover. Royal turned around where he was, waiting to see who was coming. Good thing, a strange horse in your camp makes for a good distraction.
As the man came up he gasped, wondering what fortune had landed him. He slid off his old dusty mount and walked to Royal, arms out cautiously. Royal stood, head low and staring. The man had on mostly normal clothes, an overcoat and pants, but the pants were puffy and stretched tight: another layer of cloth underneath. From the waistline I could see a few streams of red and black cloth, his cloak must’ve been hidden under his normal clothes. He was inches away from Royal.
My arrow flew so hard and fast it simply went through his leg. He looked down and winced, then the blood started. I cursed. I shouldn’t have put so much energy into that shot. As the man looked up he must have seen a small man running towards him, then leaping through the air. He didn’t stay awake long after my foot crashed onto his ear.
It was hard enough breaking the news to the boys mother, but the father was worse. He didn’t say much, but you could feel the heat radiating off his body. I imagine he hated himself more at that moment than the man that messed up his boys mind. They tried to get me to take payment anyway, but I refused and lead them outside instead.
Tied to a stake was a man in a battered red and black cloak, face bruised and red from the burning sun of the sea. His lips were dry and flaking, and his hair matted with blood. He was too weak to say anything. I untied the rope from the stake and pulled it over to the father. I handed him the rope, shook his hand and walked towards the docks.
In Telon, sometimes it’s better to let the people decide the fate of a murderer.