“I’m right here, Petalwynd. There’s no need to shout.”
“YES, BUT, HENRY!”
“Petalwynd, you’re literally two feet away.”
“I KNOW, BUT, HENRY!”
“I’m not deaf. Stop shouting.”
“FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THE GODS, WHAT?”
“Henry, please, I’m only two feet away. There’s no need to shout.”
Henry went a vibrant red. Petalwynd smiled. Nerise found something on the horizon to study very intently.
All was normal.
The trio crested a hill, looking down into the distance. At Henry’s side, Petalwynd gasped with joy, the monastery they had been seeking visible on the horizon. After a month of traveling, they were almost at their destination.
“Strange,” Henry commented. “I thought it would be bigger.”
“Size isn’t everything,” Nerise told him with a smile, throwing a sly look towards their monk companion.
Henry caught her look and chuckled. “I won’t argue that.”
“Come on,” the Halfling laughed as she headed down the hill. “We can reach it before night fall if we hurry.”
“Yes,” Henry intoned with a note of exhaustion. “Then we can spend some time around more people that can set themselves on fire.”
“Or kick you in the back of the head,” Nerise snickered.
“Or you,” Henry shot back at the Juten.
She gave him a dour look, then huffed and headed after the monk. Henry shook his head and trailed them, already dreading spending any amount of time in a building full of Petalwynds. One was enough, after all.
“I think this will be good for you, Henry,” the monk told him as she turned and walked backwards down the hill. “Perhaps you will come to understand my way of life better if you spend some time among other monks.”
Henry snorted at that. “I don’t think if I lived my entire life in that place, I’d ever understand anything about you.”
“Don’t be like that,” she chided. “Open your mind.”
“Just don’t let your brain fall out,” Nerise told him with a smirk.
Henry ignored her. “It isn’t about opening my mind, Petalwynd. You can set your own hands on fire, and work some kind of freaky healing magic. That’s not stuff I’ll ever be able to get, cause it’s weird.”
She cocked her head to the side and looked at him curiously. “What’s weird about it?”
Henry stopped, giving her an exhausted glare. “Petalwynd, seriously. When was the last time you ever saw me set myself on fire?”
She frowned. “That wouldn’t be a wise thing to do, Henry. You’d hurt yourself.”
“See?” he said. “Even you admit it’s absurd. Yet, when you fought Ms. Pussycat here, that’s just what you did.”
“Hey,” Nerise snapped.
Petalwynd smiled and shook her head. “That wasn’t fire the way you think of fire, Henry. It was cosmic energy, the force that moves through all things. It was pure chi, and I merely manipulated it to create fire.”
Henry gave her a blank look. “Yes, that explains everything.”
“It really does,” she nodded.
Henry scowled. “It doesn’t explain anything! What is this cosmic chi stuff, and how did you manipulate it? Why didn’t that fire burn you? Why can you only heal me if I’m about to die?”
Nerise looked from Henry to Petalwynd in boredom. After a month of traveling with them, she had gotten accustomed to this particular struggle between their personalities.
“Henry, some things must simply be accepted. They must be taken on faith. Trying to understand the deeper workings only makes it impossible to grasp the simplicity of the act itself.” Petalwynd held up a finger as she spoke.
Henry rubbed his eyes. “That is not an explanation. That is the opposite of an explanation.”
Petalwynd folded her hands behind her back and smiled patiently. “Only when one is still, and stops seeking the answers to life, can he truly move, and grasp them.”
Nerise sighed and examined her claws.
“What does that even mean?” Henry asked. “Is it like, you can only hear a shout once you know the sound of a whisper?”
Petalwynd rubbed her chin. “No, it’s a bit different than that. More like the one about the grasshopper.”
“Do not start with the grasshopper,” Henry snapped. “I hate the grasshopper. I’d like to squish the grasshopper.”
“Is the grasshopper like the catching the wind?” Nerise asked.
“No,” Henry sighed. “Catching the wind is like chasing a cloud.”
“Ah,” Nerise nodded, looking nonplussed.
“Henry,” Petalwynd cut in. “My point is, you keep asking how things work, instead of trying to see why they work. It’s just like the time with the donkey. Instead of trying to make something happen, you have to allow it to happen.”
Henry groaned. “I still don’t get the difference. Much less what it has to do with why you can do all this crazy, weird, magic crap.”
“It’s not magic,” Petalwynd sighed. “It’s just channeling and manipulating cosmic energy. Much simpler than magic.”
“So you say,” Henry huffed. “Seems the same to me, though.”
“Stop looking with your eyes,” she replied.
“Okay, I’m lost,” Nerise grumbled.
“Welcome to the club,” Henry told her.
“Perhaps, once you’ve spent some time with more monks, you’ll understand better,” Petalwynd told him.
“Only if they don’t shout at me for no reason,” he moaned.
“That was to teach you patience,” the Halfling replied.
“I thought it was to make me crazy,” Henry muttered. “But, of course, it was another lesson.”
“Everything in life is a lesson,” the monk told him. “I’m certain I’ve told you this.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Henry grumbled. “So, how did I do?”
Petalwynd frowned a bit. “Not very well, I’m afraid. Perhaps, with a bit more practice, you’ll improve.”
“Oh, goody, when can we start?” Henry asked dryly.
She smiled back at him. “Later, perhaps. Patience, Henry.”
Henry clutched the air, eyes raging. Nerise stepped away from him a bit. Petalwynd began to whistle.
Standing in a wide field nestled among the rolling hills, the monastery was older than the monks that now lived there, a relic from a forgotten era, fallen half into ruin by the cruel touch of time. Crumbling walls littered the glen, faded memories of structures that had once held meaning to people long gone from the world.
The central building, once a cathedral by the look of it, was all the truly remained, though even it had also begun to sag and wither, the fading flower of greatness left too long from the sun of affection. What attempts had been made to hold it together were frail, but did help to salvage some measure of the former beauty it had once known.
To the north of the cathedral, a shabby stable with rough fencing stood, corralling a handful of horses, even though they clearly had no interest in running wild and free. Age, more than anything else, had stolen that fire from them, leaving them content to graze, too weary to even raise their heads at the arrival of new faces.
To the east, behind the cathedral, were several long rows of tilled earth, crops half grown along their length, speaking to the self sufficiency of those who dwelt there. Clearly well tended, the tools of the farmer rested nearby, leaning against a broken stone wall, awaiting their need.
On the south end of the field was a large well, the only structure that looked new. A low stone wall with a bucket resting upon it, it still managed to complete the image of people doing their best to thrive in a harsh environment.
As the trio of travelers descended into the field, Henry took it all in, and despite his earlier protests, wondered if perhaps Petalwynd was right yet again. There may yet be something he could learn from those who lived here, for if they could survive and thrive in a place such as this, then perhaps he too could learn to exceed the limitations he saw in himself.
Limitations he had already begun to wonder if existed solely at his own construction.
“It does not appear that anyone is home,” Nerise commented as they stopped before the large front doors of the cathedral.
Henry had to agree. “Does seem pretty quiet. It’s possible they abandoned the place.”
“I don’t think so,” Petalwynd said softly, tipping her hat back to study the upper windows. “Monks would never abandon their place of study.”
“The Driskians have a way of being convincing,” Henry reminded her.
“Not to mention cruel to those who do not take their urging to heart,” Nerise added, a touch of bitterness in her voice.
“They are here,” the Halfling told them. “I do not think they are aware of our arrival.”
Henry began to reply, but stopped as he felt the kiss of a blade at the back of his neck, steel slipping along his flesh gently as a breeze. Holding still, he turned his head and met eyes like the sky, but hard as stone.
“I think they might be,” he managed past the lump in his throat.
“Right you are, Henry,” Petalwynd smiled. “Hello there!”
Henry gaped at the way she waved to his assailant. “Seriously? Hello? You’re actually greeting my attacker?”
Petalwynd’s smile faded only slightly. “Well, we are the trespassers here, Henry. I’m only trying to show her that we’re friendly. It never hurts to be polite.”
Nerise stifled a laugh, receiving a glare from Henry as he replied, “So, there’s a woman with a blade to my neck, and you’re worried about manners. That’s just great. Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome,” the Halfling nodded. “Let that be your lesson for today. Good manners are always called for.”
Henry sighed before addressing the woman behind him. “Please, kill me. You don’t even have to make it quick.”
The harshness in her eyes turned to mild confusion at that, an emotion Henry had become intimate with since meeting the Halfling monk.
“Really, Henry,” Petalwynd sighed. “Is that any way to greet a new friend?”
“You’re new friend is holding me hostage!”
“She’s only being cautious,” Petalwynd instructed. “As you pointed out yourself, there are Driskians about.”
“Which I am clearly not one of,” Henry snapped back.
Petalwynd only shrugged. “Nothing is ever clear. Look at Nerise. Would you have thought her to be a friend when you first met her?”
“Not sure I do now,” Henry answered, giving the snickering Juten a dark glare.
“First impressions are not always accurate,” Petalwynd told him. “That’s all I’m saying.”
“She’s threatening me with a sharp implement,” Henry growled. “That’s hard to misunderstand.”
Petalwynd gave him a sly smile. “Lucky for you I don’t think that, isn’t it?”
“Oh, for crying out loud, will you let it go!” he cried. “I was hungry and desperate. This is totally different.”
She shrugged again. “If you see it that way, I suppose, then perhaps you have not grown as wise as I thought.”
“I’m still here, you know,” the woman intoned.
Henry gave her a scathing glare. “Why no, I’d totally forgotten about the dagger threatening to sever my spine. Thanks for the reminder.”
“Yes, antagonizing your captor is always the best idea,” Nerise giggled.
Henry groaned. “Please, just kill me. I’m begging you.”
“Uh…” the woman stammered.
“Kira, stop that,” called a voice so full of authority, Henry felt the pressure at his neck vanish instantly.
“Bishu,” she said, stepping back from Henry. “Forgive me.”
Looking to the man who had spoken, Henry instantly had the impression of a taller, male, human version of Petalwynd. Dressed in the robes of a monk, with a shaved head, he stepped from the shadows of the doorway, a stern, but not angry, look on his face.
“This is not how we welcome guests, Kira. I’ve told you this before.”
Kira looked at the ground, mumbling, “Sorry.”
“Forgive her, friends,” Bishu said to Henry and his companions. “There has been trouble of late, and Kira is not trusting of strangers.”
“Driskian trouble, I assume,” Petalwynd said. “Which means there is no need for forgiveness. We too have had our trouble with them.”
The monk smiled and bowed to her. “Thank you, friend of the Jade Eye, and welcome to the monastery of the Sacred Wind.”
Petalwynd returned the bow. “Sacred Wind? I thought your order was no more.”
“Very nearly, but not quite,” Bishu replied with a tired smile. “I am Bishu, head monk of this temple, and I bid you welcome. All that is ours, is also yours.”
“Petalwynd,” she replied. “My friends, Henry Blake, and Nerise of Jute.”
The monk bowed to both, a gesture Henry attempted to mimic to poor effect, but could not help but notice Nerise managed expertly. It was small, but yet another instance of the cat woman besting him at something, a trait she displayed he had come to find annoying.
“Please, come in, and take your ease,” Bishu said, sweeping his arm towards the doors in welcome. “I would very much like to hear what has brought a member of the Jade Eye so far to the east.”
Nodding, Petalwynd gave Henry her sly smile, as if to say I told you so. He ignored it as he followed the Halfling and Nerise inside, pausing only to cast a last glance at Kira.
Standing off to the side, she eyed he and his companions darkly, hand still resting on the hilt of the dagger she had only just sheathed. Clearly not a monk, with the thick fall of blonde curls that reached her waist, he found himself wondering who she was, and why she was here, then remembered his own choice of traveling companion.
Some things, he felt, it may be wiser to never know.
As Allan had promised, the monks were extremely generous, offering to share what little they had freely. Bishu made arrangements for the trio to have rooms, and baths, for as long as they wished to stay, his only request that they contribute while they were there.
Though there were only four other monks besides him, all were as open and kind as their leader. A young elf named Hu was quick to offer Henry assistance with anything he needed, even offering to wash his road weary clothes for him. Pater and Will, two other humans, attended to Petalwynd and Nerise, while the last, a dwarven lass called Shelly, trundled about preparing extra places for dinner with a good natured smile.
After the meal, which was plain, but filling, Henry wandered outside, seeking the fresh air. Petalwynd had already settled into a deep conversation with the other monks, full of phrases and metaphors Henry couldn’t wrap his head around. Nerise, meanwhile, dozed peacefully by the fire, leaving him alone with himself for the first time in weeks.
Pausing for a moment to stare up at the stars, he found them oddly comforting. No matter how far from home he roamed, they remained the same. He easily picked out the constellations he had known since childhood, and found himself smiling a bit at that. Perhaps the world was not so big as it seemed at times.
“Don’t wander to far,” Kira said from beside him. “I won’t come looking if you get lost.”
He started a bit, then gave her a glare. “Do you enjoy sneaking up on people or what?”
“A little,” she nodded. “Though, you’re easier than most.”
“Whatever,” he sighed, finding a spot of grass to sit on. He was a little surprised when she joined him.
“So, you know, sorry about earlier and stuff,” she mumbled after several minutes.
Henry grinned in the darkness. “Yeah, I guess it’s okay or something.”
She nodded slightly, and seemed content with the matter. Henry leaned back, staring at the night sky, lost in his own thoughts, oddly comforted by the silent company at his side. Sparing a glance her way, he found Kira gazing up at the heavens as well, a melancholy look in her eyes.
“I’m guessing you aren’t a monk,” he said softly after a while.
“Hardly,” she chuckled. “I guess you could say I’m a ranger, if you need to say I’m anything.”
“A ranger, huh,” Henry mused. “Been a while since I’ve seen one. What has you all the way out here?”
She shrugged, laying back in the grass. “Someone needs to be. The Hills, they are a rough place, but beautiful as well. I guess I just feel at home here.”
“With a group of painfully polite monks.” Henry lay back as well. “Yeah, I can see it. Who couldn’t?”
Kira chuckled at that. “Like you’re one to talk. A Halfling monk and a Juten warrior. I’d love to know what brought a mercenary like you to have such company.”
It was Henry’s turn to laugh. “Oh, I’m no mercenary. Not even close. As for them, well, that’s kind of a long story.”
Kira looked at him in surprise, eyes that had been hard before now turned curious. “You look like a mercenary, especially with that sword. If not that, then what?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he assured her.
“Try me,” she replied with a grin. “Not everything is what it seems in life.”
Henry laughed at that heartily. “So Petalwynd keeps telling me. If you must know, I’m a blacksmith, and very little more.”
Kira looked dubious at that. “A blacksmith? Seriously? I find that hard to believe, not with the whole scoundrel look you’ve got going on.”
“Scoundrel look?” Henry balked.
Kira gave him a wry grin. “The hair, the beard, the whole shifty look. It does kind of scream scoundrel.”
Henry snorted. “I’ve been on the road for months, for your information, and haven’t had time to really sit down and do the socially acceptable maintenance to make myself look like a gentleman.”
“Sure, okay,” she nodded. “Though, if you don’t mind me saying, the scoundrel look works for you. I’d stick with it.”
Henry cocked an eyebrow. “Does it now?”
“Very mysterious and sexy,” she nodded.
Henry blushed. “Yeah, well, I’m not going to get excited here. I’ve got a bad history with women. So far, they either screw me over, kick me in the head, or pull a dagger on me. I’m not thinking being mysterious and sexy is my thing.”
Kira giggled, a girlish sound very at odds with the lean and hard muscled look of her. “I apologized for that.”
“Doesn’t restore my damaged ego, you know.”
“It should,” Kira told him. “After all, I thought you were a threat to the monks. That says something.”
“I’ve seen what monks can do,” Henry said, waving her comment off. “I don’t think I’d be much of a threat to them.”
She sat up, looking down at him with concern. “These you would be. They’re pacifists.”
Henry blinked, and suddenly understood her protectiveness of them. With the threat of Driskian raiders ever present, the monks of the small monastery were in terrible danger.
Somewhere, out in the night, their deaths waited to descend on them without mercy.
The next day, Henry and Petalwynd wandered the grounds of the monastery, Nerise choosing to nap in a warm spot of sunshine. Henry had made a comment about it, but had only gotten a low growl from the Juten that had sent him happily elsewhere.
Bishu joined them soon after, showing them around, and telling them what he knew of the history of their home, which was very little. The Order of the Sacred Wind had found the abandoned temple during a pilgrimage, and remained there, seeking to restore the lost glory of the temple.
“It’s a peaceful place, I’ll give you that,” Henry told him as their tour finished. “Though, with the Driskians wandering the Hills, it’s not the most defensible place you could have settled.”
Bishu shrugged. “We do not fear. Our door is always open to any who wish to rest here, even Driskians.”
“From what I have learned of them, rest is usually not on their mind,” Petalwynd replied. “Perhaps it would be best if you took a more defensive stance in dealing with them.”
“So far, we’ve not had to deal with them directly,” Bishu said. “They have left us be, though if they did come, I would welcome them as friends.”
Henry snorted a that. “I doubt they’d be interested.”
Bishu gave him a sad look. “The welcoming hand of friendship is always more pleasant than the closed fist of war.”
“However, one cannot hope to embrace others as friends without being willing to defend them should the need arise,” Petalwynd countered.
Bishu chuckled at that. “The Jade Eye was always a bit more martial minded than we, so that comes as no surprise, my friend. I disagree, however, that there is ever a reason to resort to violence. Reason and logic are the most powerful weapons in the world.”
“Driskians have reason proof armor, and logic resistant weapons,” Henry intoned, leaning against a wall to watch as Shelly tended the garden.
Bishu shook his head. “Nothing is reason proof, Henry. Only those who do not try, are destined to fail.”
“I think what Henry is trying to say is that he fears for your lives,” Petalwynd told Bishu.
“There is no need to fear, for all things, even life, are transitory,” the monk replied with a sigh. “If we die, then it was our destiny to do so.”
Henry shook his head as he spotted Hu approaching. “Sorry, Bishu, but I can’t take such a relaxed view of life. It’s worth fighting, and yes, killing for.”
“But it does not need to be,” the monk said sadly.
“Yet, it is, and that’s the reality of it,” Henry replied.
“Master Bishu,” Hu called as he drew near. “We have a problem. The axle on the wagon has broken.”
Bishu frowned. “Did we not just repair it last month?”
Hu shook his head. “I believed so, but it is broken again. What should we do?”
“Fix it,” Henry told him.
“Yes, but, how?” Hu cried.
Henry shook his head as he pushed away from the wall, clapping the distraught elf on the shoulder. “Take me to this vexed wagon. I’ll tend the matter.”
“Really?” Hu sighed in joy.
“As long as you have an anvil, then yes,” he nodded.
“In the barn, come, I will show you,” the elf agreed, leading Henry away.
Bishu and Petalwynd watched them go, but it was the human who spoke first. “I do not understand your choice of traveling companion. He is to quick to commit himself to the path of violence.”
“Then you do not see what I see,” Petalwynd replied, watching Henry go with a smile.
“Tell me,” Bishu urged.
A sly smile spread across Petalwynd’s face. “Henry does not see what might be, or could be, but what is. He is able to deal with what is in front him, resolutely, and without hesitation. His mind is not bogged down by questions or fears of the spiritual nature, for he is a grounded man, facing reality head on. You see a man who is willing to walk the path of violence, but I see a man willing to walk the path of necessity.”
Bishu looked to Henry as he headed for the stable with Hu. “Perhaps the world needs people such as he is what you are saying then?”
“So long as there are those committed to following the path of violence at the expense of the innocent, then yes, there will always be need of those who will meet them head on for the sake of the innocent.” Petalwynd grinned in the direction Henry went as well. “Henry is such a man, even if he does not yet know it.”
“Perhaps, but I believe that it is better to seek to create a world free of violence than it is to simply deal with it,” Bishu told her.
Petalwynd gave him a surprised look. “Who said that’s not what I was hoping for as well? Take a man like Henry, give him the ability to defend the innocent, and you will see a world begin to form where violence is not needed.”
Bishu chuckled. “Two paths to the same goal, is it?”
“Basically, yes,” Petalwynd agreed. “Trust in your path, my friend. I will not fault you for that. As for me, I will put my faith in Henry.”
“You risk much on the shoulders of a single man,” Bishu sighed.
Petalwynd nodded slowly. “He can handle it. I’ve seen it in him. He will not let me down.”
Bishu decided it best to leave the matter be, but could not help wonder if the Halfling was right. Despite his rough appearance, there was something to the man that even Bishu could not ignore. An inner light that was faint yet, but promised to be strong.
Time would tell, he supposed.
Several hours later, Henry stepped back to admire the work he’d done on the axle, nodding to himself in satisfaction. It had felt good to work the anvil again, the steady ring-ding of the hammer soothing the many concerns and fears he’d developed during their time in the Hills.
“Amazing,” Hu said, a note of respect in his voice. “Such craftsmanship is truly inspired, Henry.”
Henry shrugged. “Do it your entire life, and it becomes pretty easy. The only real trick to it is to have a bit of pride in your work.”
Hu nodded quickly. “It certainly shows. You must have been a very successful blacksmith. Why did you ever give it up to become a wanderer?”
“Wasn’t really my choice,” Henry sighed, waving the elf to the far side of the axle. “Circumstances changed and I followed the only road open to me.”
Hu pondered that for a moment as he helped Henry lift the axle and carry it to the wagon. “Surely there was some other option that you just didn’t see at the time?”
“Yeah, probably,” Henry agreed as he crawled under the wagon to reattach the axle. “It’s funny how you can see things much clearer in hindsight. Regardless, I think I made the right call. As annoying as she can be, Petalwynd is a good friend, and that was something I was in sore need of when we met.”
“So, you don’t regret your choice, then?” Hu asked, watching him work with interest.
“What’s the point?” Henry asked in return. “I mean, sure, I could spend my life wondering about every decision I make, but what good does it do? You make the best call you can at the time, and live with it from that point on. That’s just life.”
“My order teaches that if we spend time contemplating the many possibilities, we can find the path that best suites us, and have no regrets,” Hu replied.
“Isn’t always time for that,” Henry chuckled. “Some times, you have to just go with your gut. Well, I do anyway. You probably don’t.”
Hu smiled at that. “No, I don’t suppose so. My life here allows me the luxury to contemplate every option. With my life span, I want to live with as few regrets as possible. It’s why I’m here.”
“I get that,” Henry admitted. “But let me tell you something from my human perspective, Hu. There’s no real time in life for regrets anyway. You do your best, and that’s just that.”
“I wish I could live that way,” the elf sighed. “However, it is not the path for me.”
Henry laughed. “Sounds like a regret right there.”
Hu went pale. “Oh, dear.”
“Relax,” he told him. “I’m sure it is the best path for you, so don’t go getting worked into a tizzy over it.”
A gentle smile graced the elf’s face. “Still, I will meditate on it later. If I am not meant to be here, then I should not be.”
Henry shook his head, smiling. “You monks, always so worried about making sure you are in the right place, doing what you’re meant to do.”
“What else is there?”
“Doing what you want,” Henry replied. “In the end, the only way to avoid regretting a life lived poorly is to live the way you think is right.”
“But the will of the cosmos…”
Henry waved that off. “Screw the cosmos. It’s vast, and we’re tiny. If it’s that worried about us, it should give us big, clear road signs. Take out the guess work. Besides, you have free will for a reason, you know.”
Hu pondered that. “Perhaps, though I think I am more comfortable with this life.”
Henry laughed. “Then, you are already living the life you want, aren’t you?”
Hu went wide eyed. “Henry, you are very wise.”
“Not really,” Henry admitted. “Just got a bit of common sense.”
“Who would have figured?” Kira asked from the door of the barn.
Henry gave her a glare. “You are not the person I want to be hearing that from.”
She smirked a bit. “Just saying, a rogue of a man comes here and proves himself somewhat wise and helpful. Not many would have guessed it.”
“Shut up,” Henry grumbled, the woman’s smile making him uncomfortable. “Unless you want to get down here and help me put this thing back on. Hu’s got zero mechanical skill.”
“I really do,” Hu sighed.
“Sure,” Kira nodded as she moved to join him. “Someone’s gotta make sure the scoundrel doesn’t mess it up.”
“I’ve got Petalwynd to smash my ego,” Henry told her. “I don’t need you for that.”
Kira crawled under the wagon and gave him a wink. “Then what do you need me for?”
Henry flushed. “Hold that,” he snapped, pointing at the axle brace. “And stop talking.”
“As you wish,” Kira grinned.
Nerise woke to the strange sensation of being watched. Cracking her eyes, she saw Shelly staring at her in wonder, Pater hovering behind the stocky dwarf in awe. With a heavy sigh, Nerise looked up at them fully.
Shelly went red, staggering back a step, nearly knocking Pater to the ground. “Oh, my! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to wake you, deary.”
Nerise stretched as she pulled herself fully awake, back arching while she yawned. The human and dwarf both grew wide eyed at the sight of the massive claws spreading from her hands.
“What manner of beast are you?” the dwarf murmured softly.
Nerise pulled herself to her feet, towering over the stocky woman. “What manner of beast are you?”
The dwarf turned bright red as she became fascinated with her fingers. “Oh, my! I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you.”
“Neither of us,” Pater nodded quickly.
Nerise gave a heavy sigh. “I’m a Juten, not a beast. That’s all there is to say on it.”
“I’ve never heard of such a people,” Shelly intoned as she followed the cat woman away from the sunny spot, Pater breathing down her neck.
Nerise shrugged. “And I’d never heard of dwarves before I came to this country. The world is larger than it seems.”
“That it is, yes,” Shelly nodded quickly, Pater echoing her head bob.
Nerise arched an eyebrow curiously. Something was amiss here.
“Was there something else you wanted?”
“Ask her,” Pater nudged, poking the dwarf closer to the cat.
“I’m gonna, donna be shovin,” the dwarf snapped, her thick accent surfacing with her irritation.
“Ask what?” Nerise inquired, mostly with boredom.
Shelly fiddled with her fingers absently, looking everywhere but at the Juten. “Well, we were thinking, what with you looking all like a cat and everything…”
“Yes?” Nerise growled.
“We were thinking,” Shelly continued, rubbing her bald head nervously, Pater doing the same. “If you had a fancy for milk?”
Nerise flattened her ears. “Milk? Seriously? You’re asking me if I like milk, because I look like a cat?”
Shelly went bright red again, Pater doing the same. “We donna mean no insult by it, mind ye,” she blurted. “It’s just, that if you did, like it I mean, then we’ve got some fresh.”
“Fresh milked,” Pater nodded quickly. “From a cow.”
Nerise glared a them, whiskers twitching for a long moment, before saying, much to her own dismay, “I’d love some, thank you.”
Both monks brightened instantly, Shelly blurting, “We’ll just run and fetch you some then!”
“Right now!” Pater blurted as well.
Nerise nodded as they both moved to run for the door, bumped into each other, bowed in apology, then fled the vicinity of the cat. Shaking her head, she had to admit this was still better treatment than she was use from most she had met.
Ten minutes later, Will joined her, carrying a large bowl of milk and a very confused expression. “Shelly asked me to give this to you.”
Nerise flattened her ears in annoyance. “In a bowl?”
From nearby, the sound of a scuffle could be heard, drawing the attention of both Juten and human. The fight ended quickly, with a burst of foul dwarven language.
“Yeah,” Will nodded slowly. “They’re both kinda idiots.”
“I noticed,” Nerise sighed.
“I’ll get you a glass,” he said, handing her the bowl.
Nerise sighed. “No, it’s fine. At least someone will be entertained.”
Will chuckled, trying to ignore the squeals of delight he heard from somewhere behind him as the Juten lapped at the bowl of milk. Some days, he felt certain, the cosmos had sent him his friends to test his patience.
Although, Nerise had to admit, the milk was very good.
Several days passed as the trio of travelers took advantage of the hospitality of their hosts. Petalwynd lost herself in meditations with her fellow monks, while Nerise put her skills to use in the kitchen, surprising everyone with her culinary prowess. Henry busied himself with the bevy of much needed black smithing the monastery was behind on, only Shelly having any real skill, but not as much as he did.
Henry knew he should take it as a compliment that he could outshine a dwarf at the anvil, but when he looked at the often nervous lass, decided he would rather not think about it too much. Kira became a necessary buffer for him, shooing the fascinated monks away so he could work in peace, and slowly, he began to see the hard eyed ranger as a friend.
From time to time, as he and Kira would sit and talk, or just share quiet moments, few words really needed between them, he would catch sight of Petalwynd watching, her sly smile in place. Whatever she was up to, he chose to ignore it, as confronting her rarely ended well for him. It was best to let the Halfling plot as she saw fit.
Likewise, he felt a bond growing with Hu, the young elf’s eagerness to learn and gentle nature touching a part of Henry he had spent months ignoring. His time with Petalwynd often left him feeling as if he were a tag a long in her life, but with Hu, Henry became the mentor, and it was a feeling he found he liked a great deal.
Those few days at the monastery passed slowly for all of them, and after the darkness of recent months, each of them took respite in them.
Sadly, everything ends.
To Be Continued Next Month In:
©-2016 Cain S. Latrani