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11 - Dreaming

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IN WHICH Osmorn wanders in dreams. He is rescued and recruited, then alternately insulted and mocked. There is a difference.

So here is what I experienced:

Ivy caught me, we did that part. The spirit of the one person the beltaine actually liked told me they weren’t sorry, which was quite literally adding insult to injury. The next few memories are disjointed.

I was walking alone along a dark road, in grief and pain. My feet were torn, my body bruised. The road was hard and jagged rock. Frequently I fell, frequently I stood back up. Each time I was more injured and people from my past walked nearby commenting on my state. For a moment I saw Paelias, Chaedi’s brother, commenting that I was bleeding all over my fine clothes. The gnome hostess at the Statesman noted that she would be the one to have to clean up all that blood, for one paltry copper, most likely. My nameless father, his name burning in maddeningly obscured symbols above his head, actually stooped to help me. But when he saw the blood and soil and cracks of my hands were he drew back, unwilling to get his hands dirty on my behalf. My stepmother walked alongside my father, remonstrating him for even pausing to look at trash such as I, yet she kept one eye on me the whole time she was near.

Chaedi stood on he eastern horizon, her back towards me. She didn’t turn to watch.

Andraste stood far to the south, her back towards me. She didn’t turn to watch either.

I fell into deep water and came face to face with Prince Bribis. He was pale and cold, yet still watched me angrily as I struggled back out of the water. Beside him lay a statue made entirely of copper, green and already weedy, but it was the Prince’s bodyguard. I had betrayed him. The statue moved, and pushed me out of the water, conveying to me without words that I did not deserve to sink into death alongside the prince, that I was being rejected, not saved.

From time to time sunlight broke into my view, a hazy world without words or coherent thought, a world I could observe but could not touch. In this other world Crannog sat near me, my lute across his knees. Brumli stood at my side, a pendant in one hand and a prayer on his lips. If I could but comprehend I would have discovered the name of his secret God then and there, for he spoke it many times in supplication over me.

I wandered in the mires again, lost but more stable on my feet, no longer hurt by the judging stares of my closest kin and only friends. I was injured and they ignored me. I was dying and they pretended that I had never lived. Not one of them prayed for me, yet two strangers sat long vigil for me.

Sunlight again, this time through a window, and I was warm.

I drifted beneath the waves another time. And was in the mires. I knelt at the side of the dead lake and looked down into the face of the dead prince and his stalwart companion. “I did not know,” I told them, “but never will I use that excuse again.” I don’t know if they forgave me. But they sank quietly into the depths and were gone. I faced my father and told him that his mystery no longer mattered to me. I looked at my step mother and said nothing. There was an ache, a shadow between my father and his wife, and it was my mother. I told this shadow that I would like to have known it.

And then I slept. Real sleep. Dreamless and healing.

When I awoke there was the sunlight through the window again. I was under a quilt, my head supported by a pillow. The ceiling was wrong in some way I couldn’t quite place, but the day was coming in beautiful and it was hard to feel too worried about a ceiling. It was plastered and whitened, with nicely squared off timbers, that had been neatly adzed and stained a deep black, then carved with fanciful scenes of deer and elk. The lighter wood under the stain provided the contrast and was frankly beautiful. So simple yet such an effective way to create color and depth.

“Well, you’re up then? Good morning, Lanky.” Said a cheerful female voice near the door. I tried to look around and found that my muscles weren’t interested.

“No, stay still, I’ll have ye fed and propped up in a jiffy, although probably not in that order,” The woman said and chuckled at her own joke.

With surprising strength and grace my hostess propped me up, piled pillows behind me with one hand while holding me up on the other arm, then laid me gently back against the mountain of bedding.

“There now, Lanky. All comfy? Well that’s good. There’s a touch of color in you today as well, also good.”

From this vantage point I could finally see my hostess. She had curly brown hair that fell in ringlets down her back and across her shoulders. Some of it was tied back into a ponytail, but there was so much, I wondered if any hair tie could capture all of it.

Beneath her fringe of bangs she had brown sparkling eyes, high cheekbones with a rosy glow, and a bright happy smile. I could make no reasonable guess at her age. She had about her a seriousness and attention to detail that seemed to belong to the very young, but her face didn’t have any of the plumpness of baby fat in it. Nor yet was it wrinkled or showing any real signs of age. She caught me staring and smiled again, absentmindedly blowing a stray lock of hair out of her face as she sat a tray across my legs with some juice and soup on it.

“Well then, I guess introductions are in order aren’t they? I’m Oratina Laughlace. I run this inn, the Homebound Soul with my mam. We have a few rooms for rent, we serve ale and food downstairs in the common room, and take care of travelers when their companions pay us to do so. But you, poor pet, you were in such a bad way I would have taken you in for free. Can’t have the great and the good dying on your doorstep after all. What would the neighbors think?” She chuckled again at her little joke.

Ah, that explained it. That’s why the ceiling was so low. Oratina was a halfling. I was in a halfling burrow, well, no, a halfling inn. I looked around as much as I could. Everything here was small, but handsomely appointed and well made. Now that I knew what to look for I realized I was laying across two beds that had been pushed together and was still almost too big for them.

Oratina lifted a spoon to my mouth. I tried to help with the process but it wasn’t really happening. She gently let some broth trickle down my tongue. It tasted like heaven. A few more repetitions of this and I felt some strength returning. Enough to attempt speech at any rate.

“Tha—th—thank you” I said.

Oratina beamed, her smile warmer and more vital than sunlight.

“First words, and such gracious ones! You’re quite welcome, pet.” She said, dabbing my chin with a napkin and lifting the juice to my lips so that I could take a sip.


A few hours later Crannog stuck his head around the door to my room. “Ah, Osmorn, you’re awake. Brumli will be pleased.”

My voice was still weak but I asked. “How’s your head?” And Crannog smiled brightly for a moment.

“Mending quite nicely, thank you for asking. ’Twas a good throw, powerful and on target, especially given the circumstances. I should have caught it.”

“You two..sat vigil over me,” I said.

“Well, you were in a bad way, those snakes have some tricky venom. Brumli could explain it better, he said it wasn’t one thing, it was a bunch all mixed up.”

“No, Crang—Crannog. My own people, my own family, wouldn’t have sat vigil. They would have left me to die.”

Crannog looked hurt, in sympathy. “Well, family is the hardest, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s easy to be kind to strangers because you don’t have a lifetime of reasons not to.”

“I don’t really know. I’m just starting to learn about people outside of my own home.”

We sat silently for a few more moments.

“So, where are you an Brumli off to now?”

“Ah, well, that’s something we wanted to discuss with you, you see. We’re headed south, and could use your skills, if you’re available.”

“My skills? The ones where I almost got us all killed, or the ones where I hit you in the face with a rock?”

Osmorn And Ivy Again

“So anyway, we have another mission that Brumli wants to take on, and he hired other help this time, but we would like you to come as well.”

“Do I get paid this time?”

"We paid for you to stay in this inn and kept you from getting killed by Brumli, but yes. You’re learning a lot about how this whole mercenary thing works.”

There were footsteps outside in the hall as he was speaking, and then someone entered the room. I didn’t look up, I wasn’t in the mood. But there was a sudden laugh and then an annoyed voice said, "Oh, no. I realized you said we had ‘an injured teammmate,’ but you didn’t say it was him. Although I don’t know who else I would have expected.”

“A voice from my recent past, far too recent,” I said, and there she was.

“Been giving any more ladies the green gown?” Ivy asked.

“Okay, you know what, why her? Why here?” I asked.

“Why aren’t you with your sister? did she cut you loose as well? Decide that an injured brother is worse than a teammate?”

“Yep. But I thought the whole point of that last mission was that you could retire a rich woman and not have to do dirty work like this any more.”

“Techinically we’re doing holy work,” Crannog commented, but we weren’t listening.

“Yeah, she tried to put me out to pasture, but I’m not that old yet. I don’t think she understands how long humans live, I think thirty is the same as eighty to her.”

“Yeah, we’re all basically pets to her. So you’re rich but want to keep going? Gotta get richer?”

“What about you? The money wasn’t enough to buy you a three hundred room mansion to fill with elf mistresses?”

“I turned down the money,” I said and realized instantly that it was a terrible thing to say in this case.

“Oh, Osmorn. Oh, Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie.”

“People call you Ozzie?” Oratina asked.

“No. Well, my sister does. Or did. Sometimes. But nobody else.”

“Except me,” Said Ivy.

“And me.” Said Oratina.

“No, look, it’s just like, a family name—“

“I think you mean a pet name,” Ivy interjected, a malicious smile on her lips.

“Ugh…look, okay, Oratina, you can call me Ozzie if I can call you…I don’t know, Tiny.”

“Done!” She said with a happy laugh.

“Nicely done,” Ivy complimented the laughing halfling, and Oratina curtseyed.

“Well thank you Miss Ivy, I’ve always had a way about me.”

“Perhaps you’ll have to teach me.”

“If you like, but it’s not complex. Men are easier to manipulate than they think. But we shouldn’t discuss it in front of them, they get so confused, the poor dears.” Oratina said as the two of them walked out of the room together.

“What just happened?” I asked Crannog.

“I wonder if that halfling is available to come with us,” Crannog said. Apparently it was his turn to not be listening all that closely.

I laid back on my pillows and looked at the too-close ceiling above my head. It was still too close.


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