Chapter the Twenty Seventh: How Not To Deal With RejectionI was silent after parting ways with Magnus. Virgil tried to strike up conversation, perhaps to make me feel better, but I remained unresponsive. "Looks like it's just the two of us again, Samantha. I don't really mind, though." I didn't even look at him as he spoke. I just kept walking, and he kept following. "We make a good team, don't we? ...I think we do." He sighed at my unresponsiveness. It wasn't his fault, certainly, but I really needed some time to think and I was in no mood to chat. I did feel bad about it, though. As much as I didn't want to talk to anybody, there was one last thing I had to take care of before leaving Black Root and I didn't really want to stick around.
I knocked on the door to the mayor's mansion and his half ogre guard let me in once again. I walked straight over to the mayor, ceremonial dagger in hand, and it struck me just how useless the half ogre servant was. Chukka would never have allowed me to approach Mr. Bates in such a fashion. This half ogre must have been one of those decorative ones. I looked at the mayor with narrowed eyes, "I have retrieved your dagger."
I'm not leaving without those bloody taxes. "Your guards can't even protect you from petty thieves."
He sighed, unsure of himself. He was far too weak to be the mayor of a town, but that would explain all the smuggling and piracy. "Your point is well taken, but what would you have me do?"
I'd have you give me the bloody tax money. "Give me the taxes and align yourself with Cumbria."
He didn't even have to think before responding. It was almost as though he liked being told what to do, or that dagger meant a whole lot to him. "I accept your proposal - if you return the ceremonial dagger to me."
I handed it to him gently. "Here is your dagger, sir."
He handed off a chest full of gold in return. It was a tad heavy so I gave it to Virgil to carry. "You have been most kind, sir. I will let myself out." Having accomplished what I set out to do, I left. I certainly wasn't in a talkative mood.
Without stopping to rest I immediately left for Dernholm. Unfortunately for Virgil and I, Cumbrian skies were not known for being sunny or clear. Not more than a day into our journey Southward it started to rain gently and the rain continued until we reached Dernholm. I was just thankful that it wasn't a complete downpour. It was damp and unpleasant, but nothing that made it overly difficult to stay warm at night.
Dernholm looked like it hadn't changed at all in the month or so it had been since I last visited. The townsfolk were still dirty, the houses still looked like shacks about to fall over in the next wind, and filth cluttered the streets. Walking around a town like Dernholm with a chest full of gold sounded like a bad idea if I'd ever heard one so I wasted no time in gaining audience with King Praetor. He spotted the large chest that Virgil was carrying straight away. Virgil handed it off to a guard who checked its contents before carrying it carefully over to the King.
"Anything else, milord?" It was practically a habit for me to constantly search for more opportunities for easy coin. Nevermind that I was close enough to the King I could probably have pickpocketed him and had nobody catch on.
The King seemed to forget himself for just a moment, "There's something of a... personal nature..." then he stopped suddenly as if remembering himself.
I stammered, "Uh... you were saying...?"
"Until later, then." I suppose it's even more easy coin if I ever find myself back in this horrible town. With my official business concluded I headed directly for the bar. My mood was one that could only be cured by copious amounts of alcohol. "One shot of whiskey, bartender." I somewhat hoped that one night of drinking heavily would somehow cure my woes.
2 coin was nothing to me. "Certainly. Here you are, sir." Neither was 4 coin, 6 coin, or 8 coin. My whiskey binge simply didn't stop until I was damn near ready to fall off of the bar stool I was seated upon.
"uh... t-th-tanks." I slurred at the bartender, attempting to thank him for what really ought to have been my final drink. I can't say that I would've even stopped there if my drunken buffonery hadn't landed me into other trouble. It was at that point that I actually did fall off of my barstool and I collided with the gnome minding his own business just next to me. As I was quite drunk this seemed like a natural opportunity to strike up conversation.
"H-hi... gnowmm... you know anything 'bout this place?"
He took a step away to distance himself from the awful stench on my breath. "Please keep to yourself, madam. Can't you let a bloke enjoy his ale...?"
His obvious disinterest would only be off putting to the sober. "Uh... I no wanna bother you... just... askin' question..."
"It aaallll shtarted when I rran away from Caladonn... never shoulda bought that shtupid zzerplin ticket. That... damned zheffyr... crashed... ev'rybody died... Horace... Victoria... Wilhemina... I'm gonna mish them."
The gnome stared at me curiously. Virgil cleared his throat quite purposefully, trying to gently guide me away from the bar but I slapped his hands away, intent on continuing my story. "That'sh... ancient hishtory now, though... I guesh... if it weren't for that... I never woulda met ol' Virgil here... an' I'm glad I met Virgil. He'sh really nice to me, not many people are nice to me. We've been all over together... I think... we're gonna go see some dwarfs when we're done here. The... their... the black... somethin'... black mitten... dwarfs."
My stupidity knew no bounds at that moment. "Uh... yeah!" Other than that unfortunate newspaper story I'd been keeping my story to myself quite well, but in that moment of weakness I didn't have the foresight to simply shut my damn fool mouth.
"Uh... why you want to help me, Vollinjer?" I was so drunk that everything was confusing to me... even the color of the bar stool I'd fallen off of.
It occurred to me that perhaps I reminded him of somebody, just as Jayna reminded me of Nathaniel. More than that, however, I was too drunk to either care or think clearly. "Uh... mebbe you want to join us?" I was lonely and vulnerable, and my drunkenness did little to alleviate either condition.
Virgil couldn't take it anymore. He finally took me aside, catching me as I stumbled drunkenly. "Samantha! I don't know about this gnome... there's something about him I just don't like! He seems awfully eager to go with us, especially after we've just met him!"
Articulation was not my strong suit, "Uh... I think he just different... he want to be friends."
"Mebbe, Virgil. I go talk to him..." Although I fully intended to give thought to what Virgil had said, I completely forgot about all of it once I got back to the bar.
Vollinger looked up at me curiously, "Is there a problem? Were you going to ask me something?"
I nodded happily. "You join us?" Virgil hissed.
"I called Samantha Colburn...!" The one upside to being drunk is that I could introduce myself without all the memories of old Merle surfacing.
I thought about that and it occurred even to my drunken self that I ought not go anywhere when drunk. Sleeping it off sounded very warm and pleasant, however. "Mebbe we sleep first. I had a... drink... or two."
Vollinger eyed me curiously while Virgil eyed him curiously. I barely noticed either as I stumbled over to the innkeeper.
"Me stay 'ere 'nite?" Although words were not my strong suit, it was lucky for me that the innkeeper was accustomed to dealing with others like me and worse.
"Oh, but of course, madam. That will be 25 coins, please." She held out her hand patiently.
Even while completely plastered I was never one to allow money to be spent without complaining about it. I shouted out, "Dat a lot!" Then, quieter, "Okay, here." I gave her the coins, taking my room key in return, and retired for the evening.
But of course I woke up with a pounding headache in the wee hours of the morning. That, compounded with finding a vaguely familiar gnome sleeping on the other side of the room, almost made me swear off of whiskey. Almost. I took a long, warm bath to soothe my nerves and hopefully recover from the past night's binge. I was feeling slightly better when I finished, though memories slowly came back to me about the odd gnome I now found myself traveling with. Virgil was right that there was something odd about him, but I really couldn't place what. I could tell he felt a certain shame in the reasons he had for tagging along and it made me curious. I was torn.
It was only natural to suspect something sinister, but the more curious part of me hoped that if I trusted him someday he might grow to trust me enough to share it with me. I knew I was being overly sentimental about somebody I'd only just met - and while completely drunk to boot - but I didn't much like the idea of telling him to get lost either. I'd been the one to ask him to come along, not the other way around, and it would've been incorrigible to ask him to leave so soon after.
I wasn't about to repeat the mistakes of the past, however. I wanted everything to be out on the table. If Vollinger didn't want to share his thoughts with me then so be it, but I wanted to be damn sure he knew exactly who I was before we even set foot outside of that inn. After getting dressed and gathering up my things from our inn room I wandered out into the bar with an eye for valuables. Much to my surprise I actually spotted something that I somewhat recognized. One slightly tipsy woman sitting at a table was wearing a very attractive looking amulet with a red eye in the center. I couldn't be certain, but I thought it looked a lot like the medallion of beauty Madam Lil had described to me.
Making sure that my new companion was looking I crept up behind the woman and snatched it quickly from around her neck. She continued sipping her drink, not even noticing me. I triumphantly looked back towards Vollinger and took a bow. He silently clapped for me. I guess that answers that question. At least I could be assured that Vollinger wouldn't get angry over every little indiscretion I committed. It wasn't long ago that I'd been thinking I needed a companion I could trust and, while I couldn't be entirely sure about him, at least Vollinger didn't seem put off in the slightest by either my drunkenness or my thievery. A gnome that could tolerate vices like that would make a fine travelling companion for a time, whatever his reasons for following me might have been.
For my next trick I snuck over into Archibald's house, wondering just how many fool adventurers he and Gladys had duped since I was last in Dernholm. When he wasn't paying attention I slipped Gladys' ring right off his finger. It was quite the feat and I imagined I wouldn't have gotten away with it if the ring had fit him better. Let's see you do that, Sammie.
"You put on a wonderful show, madam. Your skills are quite good." Vollinger congratulated me as I left.
"Uh... thanks, Vollinger. How kind of you to notice." Well, I am a master... Hmm. Perhaps Vollinger's not so bad after all... The gnome was a mystery to me still, but that only made me even more interested in travelling with him. Sorry, Virgil, I've got to go with my gut feeling on this one... he might have a rather rough temperament, but I think I could get along with this gnome.
The several day stretch of constant, light rain was finally nearing an end. The sun pierced a few scattered clouds as I made my towards Gladys' house to give her the ring back. It was looking like a good day to start my journey back towards Black Root, and from there to Tarant. I gently pushed open the door to Gladys' house, letting myself in. Quiet, so as not to startle her, I spoke, "Gladys, I've brought your ring back. Archibald... gave it to me."
Your little game is over, old woman, and now you know it. "Of course, here it is."
"Thank you for your trouble," she creaked.
"It was no problem, madam. Good day to you." I was starting to feel quite good. I'd gotten the severe desire to drink out of the way, met a new - if mysterious - friend, gotten Madam Lil's amulet, and even done my good deed for the day by putting Gladys' and Archibald's little game to rest. Since things were going so well I wanted to get an early start while the weather was improving. On the way out I passed by that familiar herbal scent once again... Jayna...?
I poked my head into her old house briefly, expecting to find it empty, and was quite startled to find her inside. I didn't know why or when she traveled all the way back here, but it made me quite sad. "Jayna! It's good to see you, darling, but what in blazes are you doing back here?!"
She looked down at the ground, biting her lip gently. "I, uh... Tarant is an awful big city... I think I'm just more comfortable here... even if I won't be learning that much."
I sighed. Even if being around me will spoil her, I can't just let her waste her life in this dying town. "Come with me, Jayna. I'm sorry I asked you to leave, I miss your company. You can't just stay here... I'll take you back to Tarant and I'll make good on my promise this time. We really will learn together."
She glared at the gnome following me, then looked back at me with a rather resolute stare. "I... see..." I stammered. Even Jayna doesn't like Vollinger... though I suppose she's afraid of just about everything. He isn't that bad, is he? I was sad, but as much as I liked Jayna, I didn't feel right asking Vollinger to leave in favor of her. The rational part of my mind knew it would be best for me to leave Jayna to her life, and continue on with mine. She might not be accomplishing much in Dernholm, but at least she was still her... she didn't have to deal with all of the violence and thievery that surrounded me. It really wasn't an easy decision, but finally I spoke once again. "All right, Jayna. I'm sorry to hear that. I've gotten ahold of some technical manuals back in Tarant, I'll try and make it back this way to give some to you. Please... take care of yourself."
She smiled weakly, tears forming in her eyes. I was holding back my own tears as well, and the sight of hers made it all the more difficult. "You take care as well, Samantha. I'll certainly be thinking about you. Traveling with you was quite an enjoyable adventure for me."
"Good bye, Jayna." It felt as though I was saying goodbye to Nathaniel. The rational part of me warred with the sentimental part, and I wanted to cry out... to tell her just how much I enjoyed her company, and how sad it made me that she was wasting away here. I know it's for the best, but that doesn't make this any less painful. I turned and departed before my emotions became too much for me to handle. Why does everything make me feel so damned sad? Am I really such a weak person? The three of us made for Black Root.