Twice in the span of a day I had seen someone who I was honestly believed to be someone else. I know it made me more of a fool, but Liz told me to stop berating myself for it, consider just how much the two individuals had meant to me, how I had built them up in my mind, and move on. She offered to punch me the next time I did such a thing, if that would help. She’s always thinking about what’s good for me.
Meredith, Analise, Millie and Sebastian went up into the inn around midday the day after the fire. The crowds had grown bored of waiting to hang someone, and the good Bishop had taken his men back to their encampment, leaving the village streets empty except for the broken buckets and other refuse that a mob leaves behind when they grow bored enough to go home.
Liz and I waited in the underground lair for the rest of that day and into the following night before Sebastian returned with fresh news. An embassy from Blackstone Landing was due any day now and either Captain Kershaw would be sending Bishop Cirila packing, or she’d be taking those loyal to her and leaving the keep. I told them of the events southward, and how I had strong allies that they could join up with if it came to that. He said he’d pass that news along, but they were deciding if they should go rogue, declare themselves a free legion and stay at Far Spire, defying the Lord Governor and driving the Hand of the One True God out of the region.
I also told him about the gnoll attacks, and my belief that they were of demonic origin. This news disturbed him. The village had no wall to protect it from a ravaging army, and they had neither the time, money nor resources to build one, even a wooden palisade. He added that to his things to talk with Kershaw about and informed me that I was a font of good news.
He suggested giving me the nickname of Storm Crow, mostly in jest. Blargle came to my defense, however, assuring Sebastian that another wizard had already been dubbed such and that he didn’t like the competition. I noticed in that conversation it was generally accepted that I was a wizard. I didn’t understand the political difference, so I asked.
Turns out, wizards are feared and tolerated as long as they did not over throw the people in power. Running around the swamp, beating on hobgoblins and frogs made no difference to the over class. So, another hedge wizard from a backwater province was of no concern.
Now, claim to be a cleric? A holy man or woman who could channel the divine from a deity, and not be affiliated to the Hand of the One True God, well. That was a killing offense. And as I was in enough trouble with my face, and my demon lover, why compound the problem.
I argued that I was proud of being a cleric, that I had absolutely no qualms about declaring my life to those deities whom had shown me true enlightenment.
This intrigued Blargle, who thought the whole idea scandalous. She knew of wizards who tried to align themselves to other powerful beings to draw from their power reserve, or to gain some advantage over the other wizards. But to actually openly declare an allegiance to an ancient god or gods from an outlawed pantheon, and one told to be long dead, that was the height of chutzpah. And Blargle appreciated a strong mind, a quick wit, and a stunning set of eyes.
We were drinking the ale again when that last bit slipped out, and I realized she had turned to stare at Liz again. I have to tell you, I felt a rush of heat at that stare. I had a flash of jealousy that both shocked and shamed me. This is the exact feeling that Sister Edna begged me to eschew. She told me of the kingdoms that had fallen for the spurned love of another. How petty jealousy and spite saw good men and women killed in their beds. How for no other reason that sheer envy, entire kingdoms have been over thrown and the families of the ruling class, butchered in the streets.
So I kept my mouth shut and breathed through my nose, deep breaths that allowed the poison that fluttered through my mind to dissipate. I turned from staring at Blargle, who continued to stare at Liz, to find Sebastian watching me closely. He had a knowing look on his face and nodded at me when I had the grace to blush.
He suggested that we refill our tankards and left Blargle at the table. When we were alone far enough to hide our conversation he leaned in and clapped me on the shoulder. “I’ve known Blargle for a dozen years,” he said with a kind smile. “She has a heart of gold and the self-esteem of a princess on dragon slaying day. While it appears she fancies your young Liz, trust me when I say it is a platonic thing, full of envy for her beauty, and awe for her many talents. You see, Blargle is afraid that despite being Marigold princess three years running, that old age is degrading her charisma and that she falls further and further behind in the academic contests in Skyfell.”
I glanced back at the strange wizard and finally let go of the jealousy. “She is very kind,” I said, smiling at Sebastian.
He nodded. “I only ask that you take her with you when you leave here in the next few days. She is not popular among the Hand of God Folks, for sure, and many of the sympathizers in the village are cruel to her.”
I agreed to allow her to travel with us, if she was so inclined. When we returned with the ale, I suggested just such a deal and both Blargle and Liz spun to look at me, surprised. Blargle was pleased as punch, spending the next hour gushing over how true the prophecies must be, and how she looked forward to following me into glory.
I let her know about leeches, gorge-wings, and a few other things that liked to eat you in the swamp and that seemed to dampen her enthusiasm a bit.