IN WHICH Osmorn judges his sister, and feels bad. Purchases are made, music is played, and dinner is eaten. Paths diverge.
I woke up, my shoulder hurting like someone had shot it.
I moaned quietly and heard Andraste’s voice. “Ah, there he is, my songbird who saved the day.”
“Ugh, Andé, what…just…” I stopped talking as memories came flooding back. I didn’t want them, I didn’t want to be awake right now at all.
“Yeah, your first arrow wound is a memory, for sure. But you’ll heal up, it didn’t hit anything hard to repair, just muscle. And we’ve already had a healer here, they’ve got mending spells already working on the flesh.”
I just nodded weakly. Suddenly I wished for the bliss of sleep and forgetfulness. I kept seeing Thomas dying, and the Prince dying, and Copperplate dying, Ivy’s terrible work raining death, my own sister murdering a head of state…”
“If the arrow wound was all I had to remember…”
Andraste was quiet for a little bit. “Yeah, your first assassination can stick with you as well.”
“Why, Andé? Why did you turn on the prince?”
“But we were never working for the prince.”
“We were accepted into his inner chambers, we shaped his plans, we told him where to be—“
“All in all it was one of my better planned assignations, it’s true.”
“But it all went wrong. Thomas died.”
“Thomas got greedy, against my orders, again. I…I’m sorry, Ozzie. I’m sorry he died. He was too far gone to save by the time the healers arrived.”
“And the same goes for Copperplate and the Prince,” I said, not looking at her.
“Well naturally. We had to finish the contract. Nice work with the lute, by the way, that was quick thinking and probably saved your life.”
“Ozzie, save it, okay? I know you were left out but there is no way you were prepared to bald-face lie to the Prince in his own home. I know you thought we were there to protect him. That’s not how the world works, Ozzie.”
“How is murder in the streets even close to the same thing as protecting a head of state?” I asked.
“Would people have died if we were protecting the Prince? You don’t have to answer that. Who is to say that those lives are any more or less valuable than Bribis Heavybrass? Just because Heavybrass wore a crown his life matters more?”
“But won’t this throw his Principality into chaos? Won’t more lives be lost?”
“Oh, Ozzie. Of the last six princes of Qoulia, how many do you think died of natural causes?”
“I have no idea.”
“Nor I. It doesn’t matter. Monarchies are designed to survive the death of the monarch. Assisination is as natural to mortal Kingdoms as breathing. And sometimes just as necessary.”
“So you judged Prince Heavybrass and found him wanting?”
“Me, Ozzie? I judged the payment I was offered more than sufficient. The prince himself barely figured into the equation.”
“Who wanted him dead?”
“Why did they want him dead?”
“Don’t know nor care. But if it makes you feel better, perhaps it’s because he was systematically shutting down the elf havens, expelling elves as subversive elements in his kingdom.”
“Is that true?”
“Have you ever been to Qoulia?”
“That’s not fair, Andé, you know I haven’t.”
“So until you know what is really going on the world, stop presuming to judge those of us who are successfully living in it. And I should also say that you are on that roster now, thanks to our little outing.” With this she took a heavy purse out of her satchel and set it on the bed next to me.
“This should keep you safe and cozy wherever you end up, for a good few years. Buy a little house or even make a serious bid for a mid-sized manor in any of the cities in the area hereabouts. Not bad for someone who just got exiled last month!”
I looked at the proffered purse.
“That’s blood money,” I said quietly.
“All money is blood money, Ozzie. You’re in no real position to reject it.”
“That is money that came from murder, a murder in which I am complicit, though I thought I was trying to stop it.”
“Osmorn, OZZIE. Listen to me, it’s just money. It spends no matter what.” Andraste said.
“Not for me. Take it away, give it to Ivy, I don’t care.”
“UGH you are being stupid and stubborn for no reason!”
“Andraste, I have to learn how to be a mortal now, apparently—“
“This is what mortals do!”
“But maybe it’s not the kind of mortal I want to be. Keep your blood money, Andraste.”
She looked at me, a sudden realization dawning her eyes.
“You’re using my full name.”
“It doesn’t mean anything.”
Andraste sighed, and looked down. “You’re young. I hope you have time to get old, brother. Until then…here…this is your legal recompense.”
She counted out twenty gold coins. “This is standard payment for the loss of a comrade in battle. Regardless of which side we were on, this would be owed to you. And you need it. You’ve got nothing right now.”
I hesitated, for once. For a moment. I wanted to deny any of it, but the odds of me surviving without this money were slim. I sighed.
“Fine, give me the recompense.” Andraste handed me the twenty gold coins.
“How long will this last me?”
“If you’re clever, frugal, and canny, maybe two months. So for you, you’ll be lucky to have any of it before you leave Madreach.”
“Yes very droll. And I was serious. Give the rest to Ivy.”
“Ivy already left, Ozzie.”
I looked up into her eyes, only she was turned away from me.
“Already? How long have I been out?”
“About half a day. She took her cut as soon as we got paid and set out. I don’t know where.”
“So…so you’re on your own, like you planned.”
She shook her head a little. “Sure. Yes, I’m on my own, just like I planned. Wonderful.”
“Look, Ozzie, it’s fine. I understand why you think you have to do what…you’re doing. I know I told Ivy to find a nice place to settle down. I wish her well. I’ll…I’ll head out in a day myself. But don’t worry, my last act as captain of this little band, I’ve paid for your medical care and room and board for five days. And before you get all bent out of shape about it, I used the money Thomas stole from you to do it.”
“Andé, look, I’m not trying to judge you.”
“But you did, Osmorn. Quite clearly. Maybe someday you’ll change your mind, or at least…at least understand me a little better.”
“I hope I do, sister.” I said quietly and she nodded a little.
“Listen, I don’t know where you’re going, Ozzie, but here’s my advice. Stay out of Qoulia. You just killed their prince, and that’ll make people have powerful feelings about you one way or the other.”
“That’s good advice. And Qoulia would be…which direction from here?”
“Dragon’s teeth, Ozzie. West. If you leave the borders of this great nation to head west, you will be in Qoulia.”
“Good, excellent, thank you. And we are currently in…which great nation?” I was getting tired and achy and honestly sick of this conversation.
“Storest. You are in Madreach, the de facto capital of Storest. If you want my advice, head east to Casina. It’s a nice place, good government, you aren’t implicated in the assisination of any major heads of state there.”
“Seems wise. And where is Andé the Bold heading?”
“You’re the only one that calls me that, Ozzie. But it doesn’t matter, not to you, not right now. I might find you again before you die out on the road.” She turned away and casually picked up my lute, the bolt still jammed tight into the body of the instrument.
“I can get this fixed for you, if you like.”
“No, but thank you…I think…I think I like the reminder of how close I came to dying.”
“You can’t play this, Ozzie. Let the company buy you a new one.”
“I…yes, thank you, to the company of the intrepid Captain Andé.”
“Least we could do after waylaying you, tricking you, and getting you tangled up in a murder that, honestly wouldn’t have gone as well with out you.”
I looked sick and looked out the window. I didn’t want to be rude, but at the same time I very much wanted to scream at her to stop talking about the death of a sentient being like it was the punchline to a joke.
“Well, I’ll see if I can get you a new lute, Ozzie. Rest up. Dinner at sundown tonight? My treat.”
“No, I—actually, yes. Thank you Andé.” I said. She smiled, but only a little, and left the room.
I had to leave, that much was clear. I wasn’t cut out for life in a city like Madreach. But there was a nagging thought; Andraste had suggested that I might be able to learn more about how to use my music for more than just music, and someone in Madreach might be able to help me with that. Frankly anything that didn’t involve learning to use a sword more competently seemed useful. I doubted I had enough money to stay in Madreach very long.
My thoughts kept exploding on me. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t plan, all I could see was Thomas dying and Andraste killing and money spilling in the blood they left behind, and people grubbing in the blood for that money.
I reached for my lute…wait, no. that was frustrating. I wasn’t a great singer; competent, certainly, but you can’t sing and think the way you can play and think. But I needed an instrument. Which meant I needed money, which meant…
I followed her down the hall.
“I don’t know what your schedule looks like today, Andé, but…I’m feeling well enough to be stir crazy and I don’t just want to be in there with my memories.”
“So, could you show me how to not get cheated out of my money? Perhaps you could help me go buy that lute you so graciously offered me.”
“Awwww you want me to take you shopping? Should we buy you some new pajamas for beddy-bye time as well?”
“Is that a thing I’m likely to need?” I said, absolutely not letting any expression into my face other than interested curiosity.
“If you pass out every time you take an arrow to the shoulder yes.” She said.
“Yes, very droll. Come on. I need a lute.”
“Okay, let’s get you one.”
Shopping, it turned out, was simply competitive lying. The contest was to see who could say the least informative thing the most convincingly. And Andraste was very good at it. She convinced others to give her information they clearly hadn’t intended to offer up. Often just by asking them for it nicely. It seemed that was a super power of sorts. Within a very short span of hours she had a lutier making custom adjustments to a truly finely made lute, with a promise to deliver it to our rooms at the inn before sundown.
“It’s because we’re elves,” She said in sylvan as we were walking between stalls.
“You’re close enough. As far as most people are concerned, out here, in the world, half elves are effective elves. You are just as likely to get discounts as I am. You are likely to get respect. You’ll be resented for having a crazy long lifespan. You’re an elf, brother, or at least 60% elf. The secret is to act like you deserve it.”
“Yes, I knew your mother, very briefly, and no I didn’t kiss her.”
“How did you know what I was going to ask?”
“Because you’re lost, alone, soon to be more alone, and you have no real family that you can count on. This is the recipe for mortals getting antsy about their heritage.”
“I feel so…classified.”
But I felt more than that. Andraste had mad a study of mortals…we were important to her, for some reason.
And yes, this was one of the first times I used the term “we” to refer to mortals. I was getting used to it. Slowly and unhappily.
“She’s…probably dead.” I said quietly.
“You’re over fifty, she was probably twenty, maybe twenty-five when you were born. She could still be alive, but…she’d be old.”
“No. I didn’t know her that well. Her accent was Casinian. That’s all I can tell you, but Casina is a large country, Ozzie.”
“Do I have any other pressing appointments?” I asked.
“Ha! Well, I guess you don’t at that. Ah, but here we are!”
“Where are we?”
“The tailor. We’re going to order you some nice pajamas for beddy-bye time.”
Dinner that night was much less stressful than I had thought it would be. I’m told that mortal minds are good at letting things go, something that elves struggle with. The elven dream is eternal, and holds the memories of the entire race, to some degree or another. Or something like that, the only one who ever tried to explain it to me was Chaedi, and she seemed to be glossing over a few bits of the experience.
Though, what would I know?
At any rate, Andraste and I had a nice dinner and while we were eating my new lute was delivered. The strap was tailored to me, green and gold and fitted to slide easily around my shoulder, to let me play or stow the instrument with speed. The rosette was gorgeously, intricately designed, like a stained glass window, but with no glass. The carvings were inlaid with tracings of gold, winding around silver in and out of the rosette pattern. The stock and peg box made of a dark lustrous wood. The frets were made of a dark metal or stone, perhaps obsidian, they had a purple fire in them. The body shone with an inner glow… I was a little bit in love, to be very honest. To be even more honest, I was very much in love. Somehow the lute now felt better than it had in the store. Perhaps because now it was mine.
I started picking out a few notes, pushing my dinner away to play a bit. But this was different. I wasn’t playing the room around me, I was playing my own feelings. It wasn’t on purpose. I had simply intended to test it out, to assess its timbre and tone and sizing, although Andraste had guaranteed it was sized correctly for me, almost as assiduously as she had guaranteed my nice new pajamas were tailored correctly for me. It was perfect. And it was suddenly a channel, a conduit to the feelings that had been roiling around inside me.
With more and more emotion pouring and winding into the song I played. The song sped up, my fingers strumming across the strings, then picking specific notes, pouring out cascades of individual tones in the midst of a torrent of chords. Insanity, loss, confusion, frustration, they were all in there.
But the song was resolving, and now I felt…acceptance, connection, togetherness.
After a moment I trailed off, letting the song wind up into a satisfying resolution of the final chord structure.
And the applause began. In surprise I looked around me and found that people at every table were watching me. Some were openly weeping, and some were heads down on the table in front of them.
Andraste was watching me as well, of course. Her expression was curious. “Though this be music, yet there is magic in’t,” she said, more poetically than I thought was really warranted.
“You’ve been reading human tragedies, haven’t you?” I said to her and she smiled, even giggled a little, suddenly sounding a century younger.
“Guilty. They’re so…short. So emotional. A human gets killed and his son kills the murderer in a matter of weeks. None of this elven “Now I shall build an intricate cuirass of unknowable power and wage war upon my father’s slayer for a century until we both fall into madness” nonsense. Murder, speeches, vengeance. It’s refreshing.”
“I always liked comedies better.”
“Takes one to know one, I guess.”
I was about to make a snide comeback—and it would have been good, I promise—when Andraste’s face clouded over.
“Ozzie, I’m leaving town tomorrow. I’ve got work to do. But I wanted to let you know before I left, and…and I’m glad we were able to spend today…in better spirits than yesterday.”
“Oh. Oh, I see. Well, yes, that was the plan. And I am too, Andé. I know I’m not much help, but if you ever need someone to make fun of, look me up.”
“Oh I make fun of all of you mortals. But…yeah, if I need someone to be the butt of some very specific jokes, I’ll find you.”
We looked at each other over the flickering candle in the middle of the table for a long moment.
“Be well, Ozzie.”
“You too, Andé.”
She nodded, drained her wine glass, and walked away, not looking back.