Chapter the Ninth: Remainders of the Old WorldIt was time for me to start looking around for dear old Sarah. That was the last bit of business that I really had to take care of in Dernholm and I wanted to make sure it got done before I got sick of the whole damned town and left it for good. I bribed one of the local vagrants with a spare bottle of wine I scrounged up from somewhere and he pointed me in the proper direction.
Virgil just couldn't keep quiet about the whole ring business, though. "Madam, about Gladys and Archibald..."
I cut him off. "It's all right, Virgil. You were right about them. I had no right poking my nose in where it didn't belong. I don't plan on wasting any more of my time with it and I apologize for not listening to you earlier."
He seemed like he was about to say something else, but he merely slumped his shoulders, "Yes, madam." What? I admitted you were right! I can't win. I wanted to ask him, or to try and think of something else to say but my mind was blank. Before I knew it we'd arrived at the house the vagrant pointed out.
I went to knock before realizing that only half of the door was even present to begin with. It sort of swung itself open as I half attempted to knock and the woman inside looked up at me. I smiled nervously, "Uh... good day, madam. Might you be Sarah Toone, daughter of Bessie?"
I felt mean for even bringing it up, but she was the only person I could get any information out of anymore. "I am trying to find a way to free your mother's ghost." My intentions weren't exactly noble, but what I needed to accomplish to get paid in the end could probably be considered a good thing.
She looked almost angry, then, though I didn't really suspect it was directed towards me. "Oh? And why, may I ask, are you doing that?"
Well, you see I'm being paid... yeah, all right already, I know I'm not exactly virtuous. I tried to explain myself as best I could without seeming like a completely selfish boor, even though that's just what I was, "Well, I spoke with your brother about the mine and he was rather upset. I offered to help."
Ah, right. Almost forgot about that. Could one of the two of you please stop hating the other just long enough to put your mother's ghost at rest? I would really appreciate it, and so would my purse. "He told me you didn't like him."
It made sense, then, why Percy was so nervous that I was at his house to kill him. He'd been dealing with violent thugs. What I didn't understand was why he didn't just tell me all of this in the first place. I'd bet he had me pegged as a good person for some strange reason. He thought I might balk at helping him if I thought he'd done wrong by his mother. The only mother figure I ever had was old Merle and I don't think I'd complain too much if her ghost haunted the old orphanage. "How did he convince her to sign?"
"But why did she kill herself over him selling it?" It wasn't a nice thing to ask, especially since the answer was so obvious. I needed all of the information I could get, however, and as long as Sarah kept talking I wasn't going to discourage her.
That's pretty much what I thought. Why else be so averse to signing it over to Percy? She knew he'd do something like this. I needed to keep Sarah talking, so dwelling too long on Percy's evils simply wouldn't do. "Did you know she's calling your name? Why is that?" Besides, my own evils were far greater.
Oh now that's really too much. You can't blame yourself for what somebody else did. You're only responsible for yourself. I had to at least change the subject, while I was no saint I certainly wasn't going to let the poor woman sit there and sob as a direct result of my questioning. "Why did you move here, anyway? This place has seen better times."
And so you, too, ran away. Oh, Sarah, I only wish my conscience were as light as yours. Still, both of us ran away when faced with a pain that we could not bear. I don't have a home to call my own anymore, either. She hadn't struck me as the type to pawn off her family's worldly belongings before leaving so I wondered exactly what her plan had been. "Your brother wouldn't help you out? He seems to be well off." That was, after all, why I stole into his house looking to pilfer a few things.
"Are you serious?!" She very nearly shouted, "I would never ask for his help. Never!" I guess she didn't have a plan after all. Then again, neither did I.
"What was your brother's excuse for selling the mine, anyway?" She seemed much angrier now, which was a good thing by my reckoning. Better than sobbing at any rate.
So he owed a bit of money and then sold out his family to cover the debt? What a worthless sod. At least when I steal from people I do it for my own gain, not because I'm scared of some debt collectors. Does the man have no shame? I needed just one last bit of information. "Can you tell me who owns your family's mine now?"
Jackpot. "Thank you so much for your time, madam."
She nodded politely, "Think nothing of it." I've got to head to Tarant eventually, anyway. While I had been busily scurrying about and doing odd jobs for anybody that needed them I was quickly beginning to realize that precious few of them were paying off. My bank robbery and tavern gambling could only hold me for so long. Hoping that the local nobility would be a bit less stingy, I decided to pay King Praetor a quick visit before leaving.
The castle wasn't exactly difficult to find. It would've been harder to miss, in fact. It was midday so naturally they were allowing audiences with the king. I was escorted by a pair of guards into the throne room where the king actually stood up to greet me. He was considerably more polite than I'd imagined after hearing that nasty rumor about him, but I suppose that was one of the differences between nobility and people like myself. I would never be anything more than a street rat.
His voice was patient, and tired. It sounded just the slightest bit raspy, but that was to be expected for a man whose very job is to talk with people all day long, every day. "Ah, a maiden from beyond the city's walls. What can I do for milady?"
What a charming fellow. He even flatters a peasant girl like me. "How did you place me as from beyond the city walls?"
I disagreed. It was my opinion that traveling through dirt and mud for over a week had disguised me quite nicely. "My lord flatters me, I'm no different than your people." I did suppose that my clothing seemed a bit newer, despite the number of times it had been torn and subsequently sewed back together. I also looked a good bit healthier; not nearly so gaunt or sickly. Maybe Praetor was right after all, but that struck me as an incredibly sad thing.
Go ahead, blame technology. Just because you can't adapt doesn't make the world to blame. Despite any personal disagreements which I didn't dare voice, Praetor had given me just the opening I was waiting for. "Could I be of any service to the kingdom?"
I wanted to head that way anyway. It was everything I had been hoping for. I could even catch the train from Black Root to Tarant and take care of my business up there before returning. I wanted to make my conditions absolutely clear, however. "What's the pay?" You don't have the 'look' of a citizen of Cumbria either. I know you can afford it.
He didn't seem particularly surprised at my greed, which was a good thing in my book. "If you succeed in retrieving my taxes you'd be entitled to 200 coins, and, of course, my everlasting gratitude."
Awful cheap for a king, but I suppose this IS Cumbria. At least it's better paying than most of my other jobs and it's on my way anyway. I could always use the gratitude of a king. "Consider it done. I'll be leaving right away." At a gesture from the king one of the guards in the room marked my map with the location of Black Root and I was escorted out.
I'd planned on heading directly out of town, but on my way I smelled a peculiar scent coming from a nearby house. I couldn't quite place it and, as usual, my curiosity got the better of me. It smelled almost familiar and I simply had to know why. I knocked lightly on the door to the house and a petite little half-elven woman answered the door. "Uh, hello there... what can I do for you?"
I tried to sound friendly, despite the strange circumstances. Dernholm wasn't exactly a town where people randomly knocked on your door, and if they did it was probably bad news. "Greetings, madam. Might I ask who you are?"
"My name is Jayna... Jayna Stiles." She seemed nervous and unsure of herself, almost as if she found me intimidating for some reason. Her name sounded slightly familiar to me, too, and that was when it clicked.
Ah! The healer! That would explain the scent. Oh, how long it's been since I smelled that pungent aroma... "It's a pleasure to meet you, Jayna. Have you a moment?"
She seemed flustered, and uncertain. I could tell she wanted me to leave but she couldn't quite find the words, nor force them out of her mouth. Instead she simply acquiesced. "Uh... I suppose that I do. How can I help you?"
I couldn't help but take a liking to the young girl. In truth she was probably a great deal older than I, being half elven, but the way she acted made me think of her as young. Elves matured more slowly at any rate. I supposed that, more than anything, it was the association with herbs that made me fond of her. Nathaniel had been fond of herbology and the scent always reminded me of him. By extension, hanging around Jayna felt positively nostalgic. "What are you doing here in Dernholm, Jayna?"
"What sort of healing do you do?" I bit my lip, hoping I wasn't too rude to ask. My skin didn't itch at her presence, and the smell of herbs was everywhere. It wasn't difficult to figure out the answer but I wanted to hear her say it.
"Why is that, Jayna?" That fire in her eyes... She had that same passion for her craft that Nathaniel did. It made me smile just seeing her youthful enthusiasm, and yet... I also felt a bit sad. Such is the way of nostalgia: happy for having the memories, and sad that they are now little more than a remembrance.
She hesitated a bit before continuing and I could tell it was an unpleasant memory. Regardless, I let her continue. You don't get to talk to many people, do you? It's all right to tell me, you'll feel better if you get it out.
Such is life in the old kingdom... such is life in many places. We've all got our own sad memories. Be thankful that the evil in yours is one of nature.
Regardless of her actual age she was definitely young for a half elf. I almost felt like a mother to her. "How are your studies progressing?" For once I think I actually, genuinely cared about her answer.
"Really? Do you really think technology is better?" I wasn't so much talking to her as I was with myself... re-living a conversation I had a long time ago, in another life. Jayna looked scared suddenly and I snapped out of it.
Praetor had been so polite, and yet... even a fool can be polite. Politeness is actually an attribute that is especially common among fools. Others are less likely to think you a dullard if you just smile and nod. "Do you know much about... er... THAT sort of healing?" She shook her head sadly.
I couldn't fathom why she would stay in such a technophobic town if she had nothing left anchoring her to it. Her parents were gone, and the kingdom around her was crumbling. If she didn't get out she might never get out. "Well, why don't you leave? Go to Tarant, maybe?"
It looked as though the two of us could help one another out. Virgil's magicks didn't always agree with me, and I was headed to Tarant anyway. "Hmmm. Maybe you'd like to come along with me...?" I know that my reasons are selfish, but I would be delighted to have you with me for at least a little while. If only for that scent, and for the memories that I recall when I look in your eyes.
Even as I thought of it I saw that passion flare up in her eyes again. "What? What do you mean?"
I can't very well tell her that she brings back warm memories of my past. "Well, I'm... er... travelling. I could use a scientific healer..."
She was so quick to dismiss herself, but I wasn't going to take no for an answer. If there was one thing I would persist at it would be this. I could at least take her to Tarant, I'd be doing her as much of a favor as she would be doing me. "Perhaps we could learn things together...?"
I smiled a rare, genuine smile. For the first time in a long time I felt true happiness, even if only a smidgen of it. "So... you'll come along, then?" She sounded so excited, so happy. I was quite glad I chanced to stop by.
I gestured towards the door, "Then let's do so..."
"I need to make a brief stop in Black Root, but we can catch the train to Tarant from there," I said. "It's the fastest way up to Tarant."
She gasped, "Really?! You're really going to take me to see the train? And I'll even get to ride on it?" Her excitement only made me laugh. You deserve better than this, Jayna. Taking you out of here is the least I can do.
Bonus ContentRequested by TheCaptain
Here's my inventory at the end of the chunk I have planned for my next update:
I'm saving the shovel for later, I'll probably unload it on Virgil and have him carry it until I need it. The copper rings are so I can make charged rings as soon as I get some large capacitors (Tarant!). Everything else, aside from the quest item, is pretty much because I never throw anything away. I'll be storing it in the Bridesdale. (Can anybody tell where that screenshot was taken from the window in the upper left?)