IN WHICH Osmorn learns how to deceptively tell the truth, and makes purchases.
So now I was on my own. Again, but like, more prepared now. I had my lute, my had four more days of free room and board, and I had twenty gold.
And some really warm and comfy sleepwear.
I spent an hour practicing the lute, not playing anything, just actually improving the skills it takes to create music from twisted catgut and wood. The lute is often considered to be one of the easiest instruments to learn, because it is. But it’s hard to actually get good at the lute, like anything else. Walking is easy. Winning a footrace takes work. Hiking up a mountain takes work.
Four days. In that time I needed to figure out what I should include in my backpack when I left. So I needed at least a small tent, and a bedroll. The elven cloak I had would serve as a bedroll, I supposed. It was light and warm, and the weather was getting warmer so I wouldn’t need a cloak as much during the day.
I also needed to learn a bit more about Casinisa. Look at me, planning.
A quick inventory of my current belongings revealed that I had three sets of clothing, all fairly okay by elf standards, but very fine compared to the majority of mortals. I also had soap and other grooming items, which struck me as funny. Elves might not give you a tent, but you definitely get soap. I went down to breakfast and asked the waitress if there was a bathhouse in the inn.
“Well, yes sir, o’course, we’re quite modern,” the waitress told me, smiling. “But if you want a turn you’ll need to give me time to ensure no ladies are using it.”
“You only have one?”
“We rarely have call for a men’s bath, y’see, sir.” she said and let a giggle escape. I looked at the waitress, actually looked at her properly. She was a gnome, meaning even seated I was still taller than she was. She looked up at me and made eye contact, then looked at my ears.
“Ah, that’d explain it,” she said quietly to herself, but not so quietly that I didn’t hear her. “begging your pardon, milord, I’ll see that you have two hours later this morning.”
“Half an hour should suffice,” I said, then, thinking about Andraste’s advice, said, “Make it forty-five minutes.” It pays to maintain the image, and also to look like I was trying to be magnanimous. I hated this. but it was time to get good at it.
“yes milord.” She curtseyed. curtseyed, I’ll trouble you, and walked away. By the way, you haven’t lived until you’ve watched a gnome curtsey. as graceful as an elf, but a third the size. There’s more poetry in that one motion than an entire lovesick human’s book of sonnets. I found myself smiling.
I went to gather my things, and realizing that an elf lordling–ugh, that word hurt, not least because it was one of Thomas’ favorite words–wouldn’t let the commoners see their small clothes, even in their hand, I wrapped all my chosen clothes in the gorgeous silk cloth that my lute had been delivered in. And realized that my way of thinking was part of what marked me as different. Gorgeous cloth, indeed.
I cringe a little at this next part, but I started crafting my “persona” in this moment, trying to strike a balance between Andraste and Thomas, but figuring that a half-elf should be exactly that: an inexplicable blend of human and elf.
I’ll give you a slight preview of how that went: poorly. But it worked, I’m still alive. And yes, that’s the only metric that counts, a lot of the time.
At any rate, there was a diffident knock on the door of my room a few moments later, and, improvised finery under one arm, I opened the door.
“The bath is ready for you, milord. I reserved it for an entire horu, not wanting you to be rushed, sir.”
“you are too good to me,” I said. I pressed one of my gold coins into her hand. Yes, that meant I was down to nineteen, but I had four days here.
“Thank you, milord, you are most kind,” she said, curtseying again and making the coin disappear all in the same motion. I followed my now most solicitous hostess to the bath.
And then, forty-five minutes later, I had the day ahead of me. I tucked my purse into my belt, tied it tight and tucked it out of sight, then slung my lute over my shoulder. It was time to learn things. Also I needed soem smaller coins than just gold.
Elves don’t have banks, or money changers. Money flows in elf havens according to rules that I still haven’t figured out. But in general each House has its own treasury; the thought of letting a commoner manage your wealth seems absurd. Why pay humans when you can just build a massively fortified chamber and surround it with spells and wards and guards? Mortals seem more sensible about money, it’s our lifeblood in many ways.
One gold will buy you a lot of silver and copper it turns out. Now that I had some “change” to work with I decided to do some shopping of my own. I bought tent for probably only twice what a human would have paid for it, and a small fire marble at a rate that would let the apprentice who made it buy their way to mastery. At the time I though I had done quite well. I still have the fire marble. I keep getting it re-enchanted. Someday I’ll break even on that purchase.
Then it was time to go after knowledge. I found my way to the “tall buildings” that were also on a hillside. one of them was a library, and while my lute got dirty looks in there, it was clear that there was no law against me carrying it inside, so long as I didn’t try to start any spring dances while I was there. I went to the desk where a serious-looking human sat, his long beard spotted with ink, yet distinguished.
“Sir, I wonder if I might ask you for direction,” I asked. “I find myself suddenly thrust into the thick of affairs and I need to gather information quickly. In this massive library, where might I find information about the lands round about?”
“What makes you think that any common wandering minstrel can use the collected writings gathered in the library of–” Glance. Ears! Wider eyes. Facial change. “Ah, forgive me sir, I hadn’t realized…ah, yes sir, we have geographical references this way. Ah, if I might know where to start, that is, where you started, sir?”
“I am come from the elf haen of Rhys. I have… not traveled extensively.” i said, amazed at how useful the truth was when it was phrased correctly.
“Ah, I quite understand sir. Rhys, you say, I see. and which lands are you interested in?”
“Storest and Casinia mainly.”
“Easily done sir.” the librarian led me into the stacks of books and as we walked asked. “If I may ask, sir, what enticed you out into the wide world?”
I managed to look like the following were a great secret and said, simply, “my father did not approve of our love.” and left it at that.
The librarian’s eyes lit up and he filled in all the details he needed on his own. “ahhh, ’tis an old story, is it not, sir? Yet none the less poignant for that.”I nodded, trying to convey that I was graciously accepting his condolences instead of marveling internally. Who needs lies when half-truths exist?
“Well, here we are sir, a few useful maps first, perhaps? Madreach is here, some distance north of your home haven, sir.” He helpfully pointed at a couple of dots on a colored piece of paper. I understood the concept of maps, of course. And I could read.”
“Ah, so Storest is bounded by Qoulia, here, and Casina, here.”
“Quite so, sir. The Dwarven kingdom of Shrav, which, ah, surrounds, your home haven of Rhys, is south of us.”
“And this small country? Klas?”
“Ah, that’s not so much a country anymore sir. Abandoned, haunted land, Klas.”
“Oh yes, sir. The word is that the Creators lived there, when they were among us. Whatever they left in their wake, ’tis not for the likes of mortals, sir, nor elves either, As I’ve heard tell.”
“The capital, the ‘Steel City’, is it truly made of steel? Seems impractical.”
“Well, now, that’s a question of no small debate, sir. I’ve never been to Klas myself, sir, but I’ve heard tell that the walls are as hard as steel and impervious to the elements. Many have tried to make their fortune by opening the walls of The Steel City, and have paid with their lives. If you don’t mind an old man saying so sir, you’d be wise to avoid Klas at all costs.”
I love stories. I love songs. And this was the beginning of a typical story. But I was tired, and frankly didn’t want to be part of that story.
“Good advice, my friend. I shall steer clear of Klas, at all costs.”
I meant it. I really did.
“But Casina is safe enough, I hear?”
“Well, for the likes of you, certainly sir.”
“Is there some unrest in Casinia?”
“Oh, not much sir, not more than normal. And if you take ship here you can be in the capital city in two weeks at most. Possibly less this time of year.”
“What if I wanted to go overland?”
“Oh, well, sir…that would be a longer journey, four to six weeks, I’d wager, if no harm befell you along the way.”
I wanted to ask him how much passage would cost, but that wasn’t the kind of question I could ask without destroying my image as a well-heeled if somewhat disgraced elven lordling.
“Hmmmm I see, thank you. You’ve been of great assistance,” I said, and I read a bit more. Mortal histories are complex. Mortals keep doing things, always, all the time, every day, It seems. It was dizzying, elves don’t work like that.
At any rate, I got a basic history of Casinia. Originally a province of Oulia, it was one of the first regions to break away and declare itself a separate nation. The loss of Casinia was seen as the final proof that Oulia was weakened beyond salvation. The Founding of Casinia is the basis for the current calendar system. It happened roughly fourteen hundred years ago. In mortal terms this was almost the earliest reaches of memory. In elven terms, that was when my grandfather was young and active.
At any rate Casinia itself was weakening in modern times. The people were relatively wealthy, moderately intelligent, and still somewhat active academically but it was obvious they had lost a competitive edge, a drive to improve. In other words, they were a lot like elves.
Okay, I’ve made that point quite enough now.
Weakening or not, Casinia was my next goal. I read a little about the Steel City as well, to learn about the environs generally, but there was very little known about it at the time. It truly wasn’t made of steel, as near as anyone could tell, but whatever it was made of was far harder than any other known substance. It was impossibly ancient, and yet seemed quite advanced.
“Well,” I thought. “No reason to ever go there.”