The ancient city of Brosten and the escape from the snow, crime, and duties of Koss had seemed like a welcome break for Oirion, but what had promised to be a vacation was turning out to be anything but restful. The vast city flowed down from the high hills of Fairwah to a great open harbor. There was always a crush of ships, traders, fishermen, and pearl hunters that jostled and vied for the best position.
Like the ships, the streets were as diverse as any could be. Elves in their layered robes of reds and yellows glided through the crowds seeking trade, dwarves in glittery gem-encrusted silks bantered and bartered, humans from every continent came for a thousand reason, Dacan in a hundred shades of brown strode about boldly, and of course Purtans. The only races Oirion had not seen were Ezeeren and Pusan, but the massive size of the city and his distance from the harbor certainly did not mean they weren’t around.
Languages were as varied as the people, and the smells from the markets, the eateries and the taverns were wonderful at times and foul at others. Poverty and wealth walked side by side in the streets that were filled with people almost every hour of the day. City militia patrolled every street and kept a sense of secure order that was rare in a city so large and diverse. Still, Oirion felt he stood out, that he was watched, even hunted. The crowd and crush of travelers on the street seemed to hide a threat Oirion couldn’t quite name.
A quick back step saved him from getting soaked by a trade carriage that rushed past, far too fast for the crowded city, in Oirion’s mind. A woman nearly stumbled into him in her own attempt to stay dry. Her skirt tangled about his legs a moment. She shot him a pretty smile before he could say anything about it, and was back on her way as if nothing had happened. He hated cities, crowds, and the politics that always went with them, but here he was.
He pulled his hood up over his grey hair and wondered if the young woman had guessed who he was or if she was just polite. She had seemed rather too nice to have not recognized him. Again, that sense he was known and that a stalking darkness was smirking at him though the eyes of strangers returned. He grumbled at his own paranoia and let it pass. He moved quickly up the street. He had the need to move from the place he stood.
As much as he hated the crush of the crowds, he could vanish into them and lose even a demon in such a city as this. That was some reassurance, but he longed for the deep forests and ancient mountains of the northern border of the Empire. He slipped through the foot traffic, accepting brushing touches to help hide and defuse his own energy trail. Every step he watched for pickpockets, not that they could get anything he had, but he was aware all the same. He paused in an alley, pushed his hood off and pulled on a black cap, stuffing his hair up under it. He waited, shifted his shields, and changed his direction. Stepping out into the crowd, he went back the way he had come.
Most days there was no direction to Oirion’s wanderings in this massive city. His route had no destination, so he was free to truly pick his path at random. There was no paperwork here, no court cases, no funerals, nothing to do, and yet he just could not relax. He had tried, but the more he stayed still, the more uneasy he felt. Restlessness and a short temper forced him to keep moving.
Needing to meet Jamie today he had spent the last few marks making sure no one followed him to that rendezvous. His mind tried to understand his paranoia, to slow down, to ask why he was always feeling hunted, watched, or as if he was not certain if he was awake or on the verge of a nightmare. The more he tried to clear his head and his heart, the worse he felt. It had been that way for years and seemed to be getting slowly more so. He muttered under his breath and ducked into a tavern and out the back door before he circled around to the street.
Things had not been good, not for him, not for his partner, and not for the friendship between them. There had been a growing distance building between them. Both of them now wore shields to block each other’s magics out. It all came back to that year they had lost each other, and while they never spoke of it, they never spoke of anything at all anymore. Oirion was caught between nightmares and distraction. The change of pace and place had seemed a welcome relief and yet Oirion wandered the streets of Brosten feeling as torn and haunted as ever.
Jamie was the reason they were here. He had been asked to teach basic healing to a class of city guards who seemed to hold a small measure of healing ability. The constable had worked for years to gain the chance to have his men trained, and Jamie had jumped at the opportunity to get out of Koss. While Jamie was off teaching, Oirion was left to his own devises. Oirion had to admit that that was really never a good idea anymore.
Oirion left the street for the small quiet-looking tap room where he was supposed to meet his partner. It was an older building with great glass windows on the front, warm rosewood interior with the classic tap room layout. Oirion knew there would be two doors out the back and likely a third on the side wall into a small stable. The bar itself stood in the center of the room with wooden kegs neatly stacked as an island down the middle space with a counter over the kegs for rows of pitchers and heavy pint mugs. Brass taps gleamed in the light of the oil lamps, hinting at the variety of beers, ales and Dwarven whiskeys offered. All the more expensive drinks were kept in bottles under the bar top and out of easy reach for anyone with ideas of stealing one.
The layout allowed for many people to get access to service at once and yet was comfortable for smaller crowds as well. The place had likely once been rather grand, but now the windows were stained with a layer of fly spots, dust and grime, and the walls with the soot of the oil lamps that burned. The crowd was all on the lower end of wealth, looking as tired and neglected as the building.
Oirion chose a stool at the back corner of the bar itself so he could watch the doors. There were plenty of tables, but none of them gave as many options of access to doors and view of the front. Sitting, he ran his hand over the smooth surface of ancient dark wood that was likely many centuries old. Waiting for service he watched his hands; he could feel the wood and yet he could not really feel his hands. It was an odd sensation, as if he was wearing gloves of some sort. He had gotten accustomed to watching his own hands, as they were numb as often as not. It wasn’t just his hands. Often it seemed as if he was wearing a body that was not his at all. He had not been so uncomfortable in his own flesh since childhood. He had mastered his body and become a great warrior, but now he just felt old and confused.
It didn’t help that on his right hand was a silver ring with a lavender stone that he could not recall how he gotten it, yet could not bear to take off. Once he had tried and found himself in tears as if he had broken his own heart. Sometimes he had moments when he recalled flashes of the events that put that ring on his finger, but they flickered away the moment he tried to focus on them. So many things were like that to him… like dreams that vanished away as soon as he tried to recall the details.
“What can I get you?” the man at the counter asked him. He was a mixed-blood, part human, part purtan and likely a little elven in there somewhere as well. He was a tall man, handsome enough with curly light brown hair. He had a smile and a comfortable manner, but still Oirion felt uneasy with him.
“Whiskey, whatever the house has,” he said to the man.
Oirion knew it wouldn’t be long until Jamie would found him. Oirion could already feel it. It seemed an odd sort of place to have Jamie meet him, but at least there were a few old billiard tables in the back portion of the place. Oirion turned to watch a game that had started just as he had sat down. He had not played the game much at all, and not since he was a teenager, but he knew Jamie loved it. It was likely the reason they had come here.
“Remember the last time you played?” Jamie asked, trying to startle Oirion. Oirion didn’t even glance over. Jamie had almost got him, but Oirion knew the energy too well to have jumped at Jamie’s presence.
“No,” Oirion lied. He looked over as Jamie leaned on the bar with his elbow. WHY DID HE LIE?
“Can I get a pitcher of the house ale and a couple mugs?” He asked with his ever-charming smile. The blond man watched the game a moment. “You want to play now?” Jamie was out of uniform and had put on a handsome vest and fine blouse. He looked to be a young noble.
Jamie was neither young nor nobility, but he appeared so with such ease it was almost unsettling. Oirion looked away from his partner and back to his battered hands. He took hold of his small glass of cloudy whiskey. He felt sick.
“Not really,” Oirion said before he took the shot.
“Oh, come on, Orry,” Jamie said with a grin. “I haven’t played in a decade or so.” He dug for coins for the pitcher he had ordered.
“I take it you are having a good time teaching,” Oirion said as he pushed himself up, trying not to feel bitter about how miserable he was and how happy Jamie seemed.
“Honestly? I am,” Jamie said seriously, “but I don’t think that’s why we’re here, though.” He put the coins on the counter as the server brought the order. “Come play.”
Oirion sighed heavily, but moved to the back, hoping to find a table that was in a corner and yet not trapped in. Jamie followed him with the mugs and pitcher. They found the back had several tables that were all but hidden from the front of the bar and set up for the players. Jamie went for sticks, allowing Oirion to pour him a mug of ale.
“How’s the class? Any talent?” Oirion asked as Jamie returned.
“A shocking amount,” Jamie said with a troubled scowl before he took a sip. “The laws against magic outside the priesthood are starting to go bad. These people should be master healers; most of them, anyway. Why they ended up working as city militia is beyond me. It seems an odd choice for some – many have great gifts of healing in them.
“Several of them suffer terrible migraines for the lack of knowing how to shield and many have killed without knowing it. Lack of teaching is creating what the lack of teaching was supposed to prevent.” He shook his head as he moved to the table. “I think, though, that this group will do well with what I can teach them. It makes me think maybe I should try to open a school.” He laughed as he set the balls on the table. “Start my own order, you know.”
“Good luck with that,” Oirion said, leaning back on the table they had chosen. “You might be able to stay on here and teach, though.” He folded his arms across his chest. He shifted to make sure the table was solid enough to roll back onto if a fight happened and he let his eyes scan for all exits and possible weapons. “You are a great healer and you chose a militant life. You could have chosen a gentler kingdom in the Church than the 6th. Maybe there is a need for you healers to protect yourselves. It seems to me that many of you tend to be warriors if you are cut off from the chance to be safe by other means.” He sort of spoke out loud to himself, but it made sense. “Maybe you should think about a school.”
“Not likely,” Jamie said stepping back from the table. “If the Church wanted me doing such, I would have been doing it already. They want us right where they have us.”
“All but under house-arrest in the poorest city in Purt,” Oirion grumbled. Jamie handed Oirion a stick and he moved to the table. Oirion took aim. He focused a moment. He hated this game; however he was good at it – or had been once. In days gone past, it been the game of lords, but it had moved down to even the slums in the last few centuries. Oirion had learned it with gold-etched sticks, marble balls and ivory inlaid tables. Jamie had learned it as well, but by street rules on tavern sticks.
“It took a lot of time and strings to get us here at all.” Jamie said. “Make no mistake; someone wants us here… and it’s not the church.”
Oirion looked up at his partner without taking his shot yet.
“Who?” Oirion asked him.
Jamie took a sip, leaning back on the table with an ease that seemed at odds with the topic he had brought up. “Take your shot. They’ll be here soon enough, I think,” he said.
Oirion took aim and started the game. No balls dropped into the pockets and he passed over the bar stick to Jamie. He was glad nothing had dropped. They were not here to play; they were here to meet someone. Games of billiards was just a cover. Win too fast and it would draw in other players who wanted serious games and they didn’t need that just now.
“I was thinking we might go to the theatre while we were here,” Jamie said, taking his shot.
“Why?” Oirion asked.
“Because it may be a long time before we get the chance again.” Jamie gave him a dirty look. “I would like to go. Would you like to join me?”
Oirion sighed, folding his arms over his chest. “You know how I feel about such political gatherings.” Oirion hated the world of the wealthy and avoided it as much as he could. Going to such a place on purpose seemed like a very bad idea.
“Yes, you poor baby, you might run into someone you know.”
“Not in Brosten, but I might lose my temper and get arrested again.”
Jamie laughed to himself at the memory of the last time Oirion had lost his temper in public. Several church marshals had arrested him and hauled him to the cardinal to be questioned for his mental stability. It had happened several times in the last years.
“That was well warranted,” Jamie said amused. “I’m sorry you got arrested, but it was funny.”
“I am really tired of being arrested.” It was warranted that time, but while Jamie thought it all amusing, he had no idea how unstable Oirion felt most of the time. Oirion wasn’t going crazy, but he certainly wasn’t the man he had been twenty years ago; he was not the man he had been a decade ago. Whatever had happened to him in that missing year he had forgotten, but it had changed him on a level so deep not even he understood what it might be.
“You know they do it on purpose to keep you from being a political figure, don’t you,” Jamie said as he aimed for a shot.
Oirion knew that he was targeted and watched, forced to stay down or be made an example of. He hated that it worked, that he was a story of the past and not any part of the current minds of the people. If it was just a political game, he would be as public as he could just to be spiteful, but his life was not that simple. There was something in his head that was worth not remembering, or worth a great deal of power to make him forget. The last thing he wanted was for whatever it was to be known. He wondered at times if even he wanted to know what had happened to him that year that he had disappeared. He knew the story that had manifested was wrong. He had no doubt of that, but he could not prove his feelings about it. Jamie missed and handed back the stick to Oirion.
“I know, Jay,” he said softly.
“Hmm,” Jamie shook his head. “You play their game well, then.”
“Maybe,” Oirion admitted. He moved to take a shot at the black and white balls, focusing his gaze on the lone red ball for his next shot.
It was odd to just hang out with Jamie. They didn’t do that anymore. They were always working. They just passed each other in the halls, rarely, if ever talking. After thirty year alone in dangerous territory with no one else to talk to, they had once been unable to be at ease unless the other was close, but now that had changed. Whatever had happened went into the soul and was not just the lack of memory. Something was lost that could not be regained and Oirion was afraid to face it for fear it would destroy his soul-bound partner.
Ten years ago Oirion had woken up from nightmares in a bed in a healer’s small house with Jamie at his bedside. He had been found stumbling out of the woods before he passed out at the door of a wood-cutter who had brought him to the healer. The healer told Oirion they had no idea who he was when he first arrived at the healing house.
Jamie’s search found Oirion in a bed in a coma. Oirion had reports in his pack, all of them seemingly perfect and backed up and yet Oirion knew in his heart he had not written them nor walked those paths. Whatever had happened, someone had gone to a lot of trouble to hide it from the Church.
They didn’t talk for the rest of the game, as their own thoughts filled their heads and they just picked at the balls with only half-effort. Oirion kept thinking back to how he had once, not so long ago, been seen as a great hero of the northern border, only to be shunned now by the church. The pontiff himself had interrogated Oirion about that year and though he had studied the reports, he seemed to believe them as little as Oirion did. After that, Oirion and Jamie had been promoted to bishops and sent to Koss… that rat-hole, filthy, disease-infested, mining camp of a city. The game of politics was being played about him and now he just reacted to it all, letting it happen. Jamie went to refill the pitcher and returned with two men.
“Oirion, this is constable Tyven,” Jamie said of the Purtan man who nodded politely, “and Bishop Gallus,” he nodded towards a white-haired, bearded old man who smiled and put out his hand.
“It’s nice to meet you finally. I told James that you are both welcome to stay at my house while in Brosten. The inns can be a bit rowdy at times here. I’d be happy to have you,” the bishop said.
“It is an idea,” Oirion said. He took hold of the man’s hand in polite manner and felt for a moment as if the world had spun a bit too fast. He felt as if he should know who this man was and almost as if he had met him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he almost heard someone whisper to him, but it was something he just couldn’t catch. The moment was past and the old man was just a happy round-bellied man in his later years with sparkling eyes and an easy smile.
“You followed?” Tyven asked Jamie.
“Sure,” Jamie said with a shrug, “but I lost them well before I got in the area here.”
“It took us longer,” Tyven said. “I had to change clothes and… anyway. I’m glad you both made it.”
“Let me go get us drinks,” the bishop said cheerfully. “I’ll be right back.” He toddled off to get drinks as the constable took a seat at the table.
“So what’s this about?” Jamie asked.
“I wish I knew,” Tyven said. “That’s why I wanted to get you two here. I’m an officer of the law. I don’t study magic or such. I turn to wizards and priests for that. However, when I did last time, the Church washed it up. They denied the whole thing happened and as odd as it seemed, I let it rest… the first time. The second time they were there just after us and took all the sketches and sent us off. They cleaned it up, not so much as an energy mark left. The reaction I got trying to get answers was… shall we say … cold.”
“Cold?” The bishop chuckled as he rejoined them with a pitcher of cider and one of dark ale. “What I got was cold; what you got was something much different.”
“So you figured out how to get us here under other pretences?” Jamie asked.
“We had already been trying for the classes. It worked well enough,” Tyven said.
“Why?” Oirion asked as the bishop filled his mug.
“Because,” the bishop said carefully.
“Because why? Why us and for what?” Oirion pressed. “Do you have any idea how little it takes for me to get arrested and picked apart? They want me to come off as unstable and crazy.”
“You are,” Jamie said with a sweet smile. “You’re just mean enough to get away with it.”
Oirion shot his partner a cold look.
“I am half-afraid to even mention the exact details of it. I don’t know who might be listening for such key words,” Tyven said.
“Before you even say another word, I need to know why you would go to the trouble to get us.” Oirion pressed.
The old bishop sat carefully in the battered chair. “Armond told me to.”
Oirion might have expected many things, but not that. “Armond?” Oirion asked, about ready to get up and leave.
The bishop nodded. “He comes to me now and then. He said you would think I am lying.”
“You are a priest; you do believe in Armond don’t you?” Tyven asked, concerned.
“I believe in Armond just fine, but He has not so much as whispered a word in 10,000 years. Why now? Why of me? I find it unlikely I am so grand as to as warrant such.”
The bishop shifted a little in his chair. “I do not ask questions,” he said apologetically.
“You ask a lot of us,” Jamie said. “You bring us in to try to figure out something we know the Church does not want us looking at, and then ask us to believe that it is Armond’s Will?”
“I still have nightmares of the scenes,” Tyven said softly. “I have been on the streets as constable for over sixty years and seen nothing like it. I have had men go into shock over it; I have had hardened men get sick and have to leave. This is not something simple. This is very ugly and very bad. I fear the Church is doing nothing about it, worse… that they hide it.”
“Evil has walked in the holy places of this city. I cannot pinpoint it, but it has stood in the churches and hides so well I fear it wears the face of a priest,” the bishop said with a sadness that could not be faked. “The cardinal pretends it is nothing but a vampire,” he continued. “I fear he is fooled or is in on it.”
“I had a secretary do sketches of the last event. I hoped to try to show you, but he’s not an artist trained and was very short on time. The artists of the earlier ones tried to make the best they could from memory, but they are quick sketches. I also have a map with the places marked.” Tyven slid a black folder over to Oirion. “Do what you want with them.”
“Ah, good; now back to the game, shall we,” Gallus said happily. “I do love a good game.”
Oirion got up to make a few shots that “accidentally” dropped Jamie’s balls, allowing him WHO? to win the game. Oirion took a seat at the table with the constable. The constable watched the game and the door while Oirion opened the folder that had been left on the table. Inside on the top were several requests for different students of art who needed a patron. Oirion was aware the constable had put them in there to hide what was truly there.
There were the letters, then the details of what they faced. The sketches were flawed and far from image captures, but they were enough to see that there was magic involved and magic of a dark sort that included bodies of the dead.
Oirion’s gut tightened as he looked at them. His eyes kept going back to odd details that seemed of importance, but that he had no idea what it was about those points that kept drawing his attention. He slid it all back together and into the folder.
“I will look at them closer,” Oirion said as he folded the folder and slid it into his deep inner vest pocket. “You’re recommending them?”
“Yes,” Tyven said. “They are all good young people who just need a little help to be great.”
“I do not normally pull on my families’ resources,” Oirion said honestly, “but I will look into it.”
“Thank you. I hate to bother you with such things, but I have sought aid for them and with you here… It was Jamie’s idea,” he added.
The cheerful bishop had Jamie laughing as they played another game and the little old man laughed as he won and clapped his hands like a child.
Oirion wasn’t laughing. He was ready to move; he felt watched and hunted. However, he stayed and tolerated the small tavern for several more games before he rose at the end of one, leaving the bishop and the constable to play each other.
“I am headed back. You staying?” Oirion asked Jamie.
“No, I have class in the morning and am not as young as I was once. Good night, gentlemen.”
They left the tavern together and made their way from the door and across the street. Out of habit they used the shadows to move, picked a route, then, once they might be overlooked, veered off it to take another. They drew up hoods and picked up the stride of young men. In effect they would seem to have vanished between one street light and the next.
“How bad is it?’ Jamie asked softly.
“I don’t feel so unwarranted about how uneasy I have been,” Oirion muttered. They took a sharp turn down a dark side street and cut up another to a brightly lit main street and slowed down into an easy walk.
“That bad?” Jamie asked with no humor in his tone at all.
“The sketches aren’t great, but they are enough. Add it to the fact a bishop and a constable got us here… it’s not good.”
“I will get out of class early tomorrow. They have drills that they all have to be at. Where should I meet you?”
“At the smallest darkest tavern on Harbor Street.”
“You don’t know the name of it yet?”
Oirion didn’t respond to his partner’s comment. There was truth and a hint of bitterness in it, but Oirion ignored it. Jamie had his own flaws and vices. Oirion might have gotten a bit dark in the last few years, but every time he failed to watch his back, he ended up in cuffs.
“Don’t come as yourself,” Oirion said after another turn. They split up to get back to their inn at different times by different routes. Some habits didn’t need to be spoken of and were so much a part of their lives they were not about to change them.
There was nothing else to do. Oirion couldn’t relax and he needed to find a way to distract himself from all the things in his mind. It had not been his plan, but there was a fantastic sign and a young man selling tickets to some great show with some famous singer that Oirion had never heard of. He went ahead and bought a balcony seat for two. Maybe it was time for him to go to a show, to do something different than what he found to be normal for him now.
He knew as soon as he bought the tickets from the young man that he would need to make certain they fit in. They had to show up as wealthy men, not as Fathers James and Oirion. He cut for the market, grateful for the distraction. It would give him something else to think about for a few hours at least. He knew what Jamie had packed and what the man owned, and he had to admit that nothing would work in the company they were about to be a part of. He had to stop and think: what size was his partner, had he gained weight, had he lost muscle? The fit of one’s clothes was important in the circles of wealth. He sighed and took it on as a challenge. He would need to find the right size and make it all look tailored. It would prove to be a full afternoon of work and he knew it. He paused for a moment to thank God for something stupid and meaningless to think of to distract him from the encroaching storm on his mind.
The tickets that Oirion had bought were for the Imperial Theatre, so it would work for Jamie’s desire to see and touch something of the upper classes. If Jamie wanted something else, then he could find another show later. Tickets in hand and clothes sent ahead to the inn, Oirion had one more stop to make before he got ready himself. He stopped at a jeweller’s to pick out a set of prayer beads for Jamie.
After looking through endless numbers of them, he found exactly what he had hoped to find. They were moonstones on a chain of Elven silver. On the gold star, etched with delicate silver writing, were the names of the twelve Angels of Purt. It was stunning, it was expensive, and it was powerful. As he bought it and filled out the paperwork for it, signing his name to the bill as his own, Oirion Valreen Hennen, the shop owner looked up at him almost in shock.
“You’re Father Oirion?” he asked in awe.
“Most days,” Oirion muttered, pressing his thumb into the paperwork, burning his own thumb print into the paper. All registered wizards had to do that for all bank notes.
“I thought you had a set of gold beads,” the man said.
“I do,” Oirion said. He didn’t think it needed to be known he had lost them somewhere along the road in the year he had lost. For sixty and some years he had carried those beads and then… gone. “These are for Jamie,” he said.
“I am honored to know into whose great hands they will go,” the shop owner said with a bow of his head. “Why are you here? Brosten is a long way from Norwood’s dark border.”
“Jamie is teaching a few classes; we won’t be in the city long.” Oirion didn’t point out that they no longer patrolled the northern border, but were the bishops of Koss and had been for years.
“Might I have a blessing against the dark things that hunt the souls of men?” The man asked carefully, almost fearfully, for such a thing. It was a good request, nothing like a blessing for wealth or good luck like so many wished. Oirion reached out his hand and set it softly on the top of the man’s bowed head. He closed his eyes and for a moment let himself just breathe, then he whispered softly to heaven to bless the man, to guide his steps and to protect him from dark things.
As his final breath of the word released, he felt it… a darkness, something that had marked the man, watched and hunted him. It was a flash of something, but even as Oirion saw it, the power of his blessing seemed to jolt through him like a shock of energy.
Whatever it was that had marked the man, it was shattered by the power of Oirion’s priesthood. Oirion was startled enough that his hand jerked away, but the blessing was done. More often than not, the power of a priest was debatable. Sometimes things shifted and moved for it, but Oirion had felt his faith crumble into mud over the years. But the burst of energy was a powerful way to remind him he was still a priest and Armond was still the Angel of Purt.
The shopkeeper took a shuddering gasping breath and began to cry. Oirion took his package, uncertain what to say, but left the man there to feel what it was to be blessed and free of the dark thing that had been after his soul.
Once Oirion got back to the inn, he bathed, washing with finer soaps and shampoos than anything in Koss or on the roads of a patrol. He dressed in the new clothes and sat with a glass of wine, thinking about what had happened. He was ready for the night hours before Jamie got home, but he was still sitting there thinking, with the same glass of wine, when Jamie entered the room.
“Wow, what’s this for?” Jamie asked of Oirion’s altered appearance. “You even shaved.”
“Go get bathed and dressed,” Oirion said vaguely, gesturing to the new clothes on Jamie’s bed.
Jamie went to do as told while Oirion kept coming back to the flash of darkness he had seen. His mind wanted to make it into a face and yet it was just out of his mind’s eye, as if he was scanning something with a shield up so he couldn’t quite make it out.
Jamie emerged looking like a noble prince in his fine clothes and long curls. He held the beads in his hands and looked up at Oirion, almost afraid to ask.
“Are these for me?” he asked.
“I put them on your clothes, didn’t I?” Oirion asked, getting up. “Yes, Jamie, those are for you. Yours broke months ago.”
“How did you know that?”
“I found several of the beads on the office floor. We do live in the same space, you know.”
“I… was having a bad day,” Jamie said uneasily.
“I know you like moonstone, so… ” Oirion shrugged. “Just put them on and let’s go.”
Jamie strung them though his belt in the manner of a ranking priest who is off-duty. They left the inn for the carriage that had been ordered and was waiting in the street and had been for hours.
Jamie watched out the window as the carriage brought them up into the higher and wealthier part of the city. The crowds were left behind for wider streets with only a few carriages and on the sidewalks were servants at tasks of errands, but little else.
All Oirion could see were the alteration to the ancient city. Buildings almost as old as Purt itself stood here and should have been honored, but they were defaced with the styles of the Empire of the last few thousand years. He sighed and did not look at the tarnishing mark of current construction and disregard.
They came to the restaurant that was said to be the best in Brosten. The carriage door was opened and little stairs set up for them to have an easier step down. The walkway to the doors was lit with tall lamp posts with buckets of flowers at the foot of each one. Small parks grew on either side of the walkway and building, and somewhere, although they couldn’t see it, they could hear a fountain. The building itself looked to be a small palace and the inside proved it.
The place was called the Kings Hall and was well named. Waiters were like guards in uniforms, the floors polished marble, the walls layered in gold showing scenes of a fantasy world of beautiful naked people working in the fields and vineyards of Purt. Above it all, the ceiling soared up a hundred feet to a barrel dome down the length of the main room. The entire ceiling was covered in a single solid mirror that reflected the room and light back, making it all seem that much larger and wealthier
The meal came in courses: sea foods, fresh salads that tended to be as much flower petals as leaves, pastas, rices from as far away as Tuss, Dwarven breads, and all of it leading up to a glazed duck with caramelized sugar flakes as new feathers. There were three wines, sipping whiskey, little bowls of anything you could think of, and all of it served with a skilled staff.
In the corner a small group of musicians played softly. The entire air of the place was of wealth. To Oirion it was cold and felt like his childhood. Jamie savoured every bite, admired every bit of the hall, soaking it in almost as if he could not imagine it real. Oirion realized that he had never taken Jamie anywhere of the sort and the wages they had were far from being able to ever afford this place.
They had been to fine cathedrals, but nothing of the wealth of the political power of Purt. The meal took several hours, as Oirion expected The bill was brought in a neat small folder and as he had in the jeweller’s, he signed his name and burned his print. The man looked at it twice, then cleared his throat.
“Are you the real Oirion Hennen? You really Father Oirion?”
“Yes, he is,’ Jamie said.
“I… it’s just that normally bishops don’t pay. The Church pays for their meals.”
“This is on the House of Hennen, not the Church,” Oirion said. The young man bowed and left them for the back.
“It would explain why so many of the church members here are so fat,” Jamie said, picking at a plate of shrimp he just couldn’t finish. It was as Oirion finished the last of his wine and the time to go had come that the young man returned. He held out the bill.
“Father, the owner said to give this back. As a bishop you need not pay.”
Oirion looked at the young man a long moment. He took the folder back as well as the pen and wrote on it before he handed it back to the man.
“Good night, young man,” he said before he turned to go. The young man opened the folder and looked at it with a stunned look. Jamie left with his partner and didn’t ask until they were in the carriage.
“What did you write?”
“I left it as a tip for the staff to divide.”
“Why?” Jamie asked.
“I will not take handouts from a Church that allows such darkness to walk the streets. We ate there as members of the House of Hennen, and that is how I paid for it.” He glanced at his partner, then back out the window.
They rode in silence though the city, not back to the inn, but up toward the higher end and the theater.
“You have never said I was member of the house of Hennen,” Jamie said.
“You and I are more deeply bound together than any marriage might make two people. My life is your life and your death is my death. If you wish to live like a Hennen, then I’ll add you to my account. God knows I will never have a wife or children, so I might as well give it to you.”
“Oirion, if we live though the next twenty years, we are going to live a very long time. You might yet be King of Valreen before you die.”
Oirion laughed and looked at his friend. “I’d rather die.” He shook his head. “Valreen has a king and if he dies heirless I seriously doubt Gerome would hand the crown back to my family. Now on a serious note, if you read the small legal print in the ordination and the laws concerning estate between soul-bonded priests, property becomes joint in the same way as someone marrying into a royal family.”
“I don’t know how that all works,” Jamie said.
“You can draw on the family common bank to a certain amount and if the “spouse” dies, you inherit an equal share that is split between you and any children. The name is retained for the children and the widow. If a marriage has lasted fifty years, there can be a Signing of Names. In that action you become equal owners of the personal wealth and property.” He rubbed at his hands. They ached today and his priest ring seemed to burn as if he had gotten nettles under it. “I signed your name to my will decades ago. I just never had you add your print to it. It was sort of done to make my father disown me, but my grandfather forbid him to do so and granted the legal right and allowed the signing.”
“I’m confused,” Jamie said. “You tried to get disowned? Why would sharing your money with me make your father disown you?”
Oirion chuckled to himself a little. It was really the first time in many years that he had laughed or chuckled. Now he had done both.
“My father thinks we are lovers; he always has. He does not understand what the bond is; he thinks of it as a way for men who are that way to get away with it. He hates me, he hates you for making me a freak and he can’t give the estate to his other sons as long as I am alive.”
“I’m the oldest son. I get the family estate, by Geroman law.”
“Even if you have no heirs?”
“Even if. I can adopt my brother’s children if I like, but I get it. I tried to get renounced, disowned, renamed… my grandfather will not do it and thinks it funny that his daughter’s husband thinks of it as his. So if I die, you become Lord Hennen after my grandfather. Because of the change of laws, daughters rarely inherit if there is a male heir, and my mother is not high on my grandfather’s list of people he cares for. He would rather burn it to the ground than give it to his daughter or her husband.” Oirion chuckled. “You getting the name and estate would really chafe my brothers’ asses to no end. It’s almost worth death to make it happen.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that?”
“I don’t like that world, Jamie. I certainly don’t like how the law works now. Before Gerome put new laws in place the family estate would have passed to whomever the emperor chose in the line, not necessarily me or one of my brothers, but that’s the only option now. I was trying to get kicked out. It would have seemed a rather cruel trick to give it to you just to have it taken away. I can add you to my account next time we are in Valreen. You have enough magics through the bond to burn a print. I just realized that in the, what… seventy years we have been together, you have never gotten to take advantage of having to deal with me.”
“You know I am a wizard because of you, more powerful than most born with it; I am a better fighter; I’m still alive, and I have a brother… not bad benefits if you ask me.”
“Hmm,” Oirion dropped it and let it be. They arrived at the great theater. If the Kings Hall had been grand, this was fantastic. The sheer wealth in the outdoor tile alone was enough to make Oirion clench his teeth. So many people were starving and the aristocracy was laying tiles that could each feed a family for a year.
They walked up a set of wide steps to a great covered park with fountains and raised gardens holding flowers, vines, and trees. The way it was stacked and layered was very much in the manner of the elven empires. The nobles and wealthy of the city gathered in the light of the wizard lamps that burned bright and clean here, not the oil and soot-spewing lamps of the lower city.
The court wore bright bold colors, with as many jewel-encrusted and sparkling decorations and trinkets as they could find a place to pin, clip or stick one on. Servants moved though the crowd with trays of drinks and candies. The talk made a babble of sound that was punctuated with laughter now and then. Jamie walked next to Oirion, taking it all in.
Security dressed as nobles with swords met them and took the tickets from them.
“Names,” a thin man with heavy glasses asked them.
“Oirion Valreen Hennen,” Oirion said with a heavy sigh. “And Tyjhamerashell Shazmar.” The man recorded it, then looked up at them, blinking.
“Oirion and James?” he asked
“So it would seem,” Oirion said.
“Welcome to Brosten,” the man said with a nod and a truly pleased smile. “Please, enjoy the show.” He bowed and let them pass. They had not even made it to the door when they were met by a woman with a very low cut dress, a bit too much human blood to pull off old age well, and far too much perfume.
“Oirion?” she asked, a bit shocked. “My Good Heaven, Boy! I have not seen you since you were a teenager. How is it my own nephew can come to the city and not come to call?”
Oirion took the offered hand with clear tension and unhappiness, but he forced a civil expression for Jamie’s sake.
“Forgive me; I lose track of where everyone is. I have been out of touch.”
“Oh yes; I do not understand how it is you stand the forest, but I hear you have been made a bishop and given a city of your own.”
“Koss is not a city,” Oirion said. “It is a form of house-arrest for a man who tends to be difficult to deal with.”
“Well, then you must be glad to be out and about.” She took his arm in hers and stepped into a walk with them to get inside. “How is your father?”
“The same as always.”
“And your mother?”
“She does not write me.”
They stepped inside the door and then she seemed to see Jamie. She looked him over a bit critically.
“You must be Jamie,” she offered her hand. Jamie took it and lifted it to kiss the old hand with his eyes on hers. His charm turned on, as well a hint of healer’s magic that he played with just enough to make his touch most pleasant. She seemed a bit startled by it, but certainly did not pull away from the man.
“A pleasure,” he said to her. “Will you be sitting near us?” he asked.
She shifted a little, suddenly uneasy. “Ah, no,” she said, then giggled and pulled her hand away. “I have seen the show a few times and have decided to leave the best seats for those who have not. If I had known my own family would be here tonight, I might well have bought us a balcony, but alas…” she looked to Oirion. “You should have called. Oh, can you excuse me?” she said, quickly hurrying away.
“What did you do to her?” Oirion asked.
“Nothing,” Jamie said innocently, but laughed a little. “Your aunt? I didn’t know you had one.”
“She is my father’s half-sister. I have no blood in common with her at all and the last time she was in Valreen, my grandfather threatened to beat her into mash for his dogs to lick up off the floor.”
“That’s a bit extreme,” Jamie said, folding his hands behind his back as they walked through the crowd toward the staircase that would take them to the upper levels.
“She hit me with a pole ax and then kicked his dog. He was a bit drunk and lost his temper. I tell you what, that is one man I would not want mad at me, not even now.”
“She hit you with a pole ax? Why?”
“I was a weird child. I got hit a lot,” Oirion said with a shrug. “People didn’t like me much.”
“Why did she hit you?” Jamie asked, very concerned.
“I stood up for my father. I told her that at least my father had enough intelligence to fake being a Hennen; she on the other hand wasn’t even worthy of working in the sewer lines. Or something along that line. I think I had just gotten home on some vacation or other and was not in the mental space to be picked on by her.”
“Your grandfather didn’t care too much for you being hit then?”
“He cared that day.”
“How old were you?”
“Oh, thirteen, I suppose, maybe fourteen.”
“About the time you started to grow and lose a little of the weight.” Jamie remembered.
“I suppose. I was slow enough then that I didn’t block the blow and she broke my glasses.”
Jamie sighed heavily, but didn’t say anything more. They brushed through the crowd to get into the balcony seat. It was just two chairs with a small table already set with wine and glasses, cheese and crackers, and a bowl of fruit. Oirion took a seat and let Jamie pour the wine. Jamie ran his fingers around the rims of the glasses to make certain they were free of any poison, a trick Oirion had noticed, but wasn’t sure just when Jamie had started to do it.
Jamie took a seat and looked down at the great stage. “You ever wonder what sort of man you’d be if you had not gone to the seminary?”
“I’d be dead. I’d have killed myself long before I made manhood,” Oirion said seriously. He swirled his wine and took a sip. “I wonder what sort of man I might be if the abbot had not put us together, but then again I am pretty sure I’d be dead that way as well. I was far too reckless as a young man. If I had not had a skilled healer with me at all times, I would have died.”
“You know I think about it.” Jamie sat watching the crowd fill in below, each to their assigned seats and places. “You have no idea how hard it was to find the money to pay tuition.”
“I don’t. I have no idea what financial lack is like. I have always had the money to get what I needed or wanted. Money does not buy sanity, nor does it buy you friends.”
The lights began to dim and the crowd filled the last few seats below. Jamie refilled their glasses and settled in. The play began with a simple melody of a young woman seeking to escape her small village. Oirion didn’t watch much and he didn’t follow the story. He tried to relax, but his hand burned, his heart ached, his mind was filled with a thousand things and kept going back to that flash of darkness he had seen.
He noticed through it all that Jamie had a small cough. His mind surfaced out of his own turmoil to watch and, sure enough, every few minutes the man stifled a small dry cough. Jamie seemed not to notice as he sat forward watching the performance.
The intermission brought up the lights and behind the curtains a grand change of scene. Jamie leaned back and hit his chest a few times, thumping himself with a hint of energy that Oirion could just barely feel, but knew was used.
“You really made me part of the House of Hennen? When?”
“Twenty years ago or so,” Oirion replied.
“I thought twenty years ago that we were pretty close, didn’t do anything without talking about it.”
“I’m not a talker, Jamie. I told you I wasn’t going to wave it in front of you to have it taken away. Does it matter?”
“I guess I just thought I knew us better than that. I thought all our secrets were from before the bond was made.”
“It wasn’t a secret, Jamie; money does not spend in the forests of Norwood. It just slipped my mind. I don’t talk about my family… you know that.”
“Do you have any idea how upset I was when you vanished?”
“Jamie,” Oirion leaned forward on the table and looked at him very seriously. “I admit we need to talk, but here and now is not the place. I am sure it bothers me as much as you, but this is not the time.”
Jamie shifted uneasily, but eventually looked away from his partner, back to the stage below and the crowd that moved about it.
“Something is about to shift, Oirion. I think we need to fix this before it blows up in our faces and destroys us both. You are going to have to listen to me and hear what I have to say and soon. This is killing me.”
Oirion was about to ask what that meant exactly, but the lights began to lower and the crowd to hush.
He tried to watch the play, but had lost too much of it in the beginning to know what was going on and ignored it for his own worry and thoughts. The wine was gone well before the end of the show, but they had places to be. They left at once, slipping out of the bright wealthy crowd for the carriage to escape. Inside the carriage were long cloaks with which to hide their finery. They changed carriages twice and then walked. Oirion had studied the maps and it was time to take a look at why they were there.