Star Dreamer

Chapter III: Meeting Up in Helgastop - Part 4

The evening finally comes to an end ... but the morning starts


Laurelyn took the escapee into her arms, and was rewarded with a thorough chin washing. She smiled over the wiggling pup and said, “Thank you.” She drank in the young lad’s scruffy appearance and lively, mischievous eyes – a millenia away from children-soldiers and the babes whose souls had been twisted by the horror they saw or felt. “I have no doubt ….,” she stopped and looked over at Jacques, “That ‘Fiend’ likes cookies.”

She tried to reach into her pouch while the Pup squirmed, but she finally asked the jester, “Mind trying to get this one back into his…her? ....pack?


“I’ve no doubt that the animal likes anything,” muttered Jacques, trying to keep the pup from licking across his face as he took it from Laurelyn.


Once relieved of her armload she pulled out a couple of decent coins and handed them to the boy. “You might need to replenish your cookie stock,” she said. Her smile touched her blue eyes and she looked over at Thomis to let him know that in more ways than one life was returning to “normal.”


Rudolpho smiled at the woman. “No reward is neccessary,” he said, taking the coins. “I’m sure I’ll come across some more cookies sooner or later. If you’ll excuse me, I should really go join my new found friends over there.” Rudolpho indicated the table with a nod of his head. he looked back at the puppy. “Stay.” With that he walked over to the bar and stood balanced on a leg of the nearest stool. “Sir, I couldn’t help but notice the drunk pass out over there. He was muttering something about drinking away all hims money. Would you be so kind as to save this for him in case he needs to hire a ride some?” Rudolpho put the newly acquired coins on the bar. “Thank you very much.” He hopped down again, went back to the table, sat in his chair and began to finish his meal. “You can draw me now if you want to.”


Khanndie scooped the coins up with a quick flick of her wrist and stooped to drop them into the unconscious Stan’s vest pocket. “I’ll send someone out to Melba and tell ‘er to come pick ‘im up again.” She said it to M’eyeke as if they both were well-familiar with the routine, and in less than a minute one of the younger patrons of the bar, a boy barely out of his teens with an inability to look much above Khanndie’s neckline, had sped out the door to notify Stan’s wife that her husband needed to be carted away again.


Slipping the puppy back into his pack was surprisingly easy for Jacques. Perhaps the animal considered that it’d had enough fun for now and simply wanted to rest. Jacques wasn’t so sure – its past history wasn’t exactly encouraging.

“You listen to the kid, boy, and stay put,” he admonished with a waggling finger.

The pup yapped a couple of times, and then yawned hugely.

“And none of that either.”

A tired snuffling sound was his only reply as the pup curled into a ball and promptly fell asleep.

Jacques wished he could do the same, and returned to his chair at the table trying to stifle his own yawn.


Daron watched Rudolpho take money from the apparent owner of the puppy. How dare she call that fine animal “Fiend”! she thought indignantly. Faith, but he’s a lively young one! Not unlike Rudolpho… She smiled at that thought.

Her smile intensified when she saw Rudolpho walk over to the bar and hand the reward money over to the bartender, with an explanation as to how the money was to be used. He’s learning! I’m proud of him!

Daron barely got her supplies together, and calmed her expression, before Rudolpho returned to the table. Now only her eyes betrayed her pride in him.

“Of course I want to do it, Rudolpho.” Her dark brow wrinkled with concentration as she prepared to sketch. “I’ll do my best…” Her charcoal glided on the paper while she drew. On an impulse, she added an additional element to the portrait.

Satisfied with her handiwork, Daron showed the portrait to Rudolpho for his approval. Rendered on the page was the mischievous boy, full of life and happiness, along with a striking likeness of the puppy he’d befriended a few moments ago.

“What do you think?”


The little gypsy looked over the picture Daron had just drawn critically. He thought it looked very nice and could not find fault with it. He looked up at Daron with the thoughtful look on his face enough to worry her for just a second. He then broke into a wide smile. “I think it’s great! You could probably even sell it for a good price. You think you will? He finished off the food on his late and wiped his mouth. “So what are you all gathered for? Where are you going? Are you going on a quest? How come you two are so quiet?”


Khanndie made her way over to Laurelyn’s table once again, and paused to scratch behind the sleeping puppy’s ears. The animal turned over in its sleep, still safely inside the backpack on one of the wooden chairs. “Fred,” she finally said, “you could name ‘im Fred.” Leaving the pup to dream of chasing cookies, she turned to start unloading her tray, setting lager and steak before the jester and bowls of steaming stew before Thomis and Laurelyn. “You need a refill?”

Thomis lifted his still 3/4-full glass and shook his head. “No, thank you.” His brown eyes swept over the room again; things had settled down once the pup had been restrained and Stan pushed to one side to snore noisily, but quite contentedly on his own. From the corner of his vision, he watched the waitress – a pretty young woman, with thick red hair with a certain harshness to it that told him the color most likely came straight from a bottle. Unlike Laurelyn’s own auburn tresses, he thought, turning his gaze back to the storyteller.

That was when he caught himself, one corner of his mouth turning upwards in amusement. Gods, how Mesani I’Se would chuckle to hear her Oath-bound, Thomis Parch, thinking of Hillrover’s “auburn tresses.” He might has well have been a schoolboy again, even more callow than Drywen, his former young charge, mooning over a girl in pig-tails.

That was when he noticed the waitress following his gaze to Laurelyn’s face, then back again. Khanndie herself smiled, just a bit, and raised one eyebrow with just a hint of the spirited amusement he would have seen in Mesani if his old friend had been there to witness the scene. At least Khanndie showed enough restraint not to remark upon it, just winked a bit and then turned to the other two at the table to ask if they needed anything else.


Laurelyn caught the waitress’s good-humored wink at Thomis, and the storyteller hoped she wasn’t blushing. Like a blessed wee girl, she thought, and almost laughed aloud – not in mockery but in cheer. She had flirted with many a fine lord, and more than a few healthy sailors. And Degda – the troubadour she apprenticed to had been her first lover – oh so many years ago. But in all those times – be they at court or with traveling companions upon the road, Laurelyn had never found her heart moved – like it had been by Thomis.

She lowered her eyes while she took a spoonfull of stew and reflected back. Perhaps, she decided, it was because she had never been in a situation where her very soul had been tested and each day meant living in the sword’s edge. And perhaps it was because she had never expected to find someone who was an island in the middle of the madness – someone who had walked that sword’s edge with her. It was that – and more, she also decided as she looked up and again looked at Thomis. She was a little in awe of his composure and more than a little in awe at how deep her feelings were becoming for him.

“Good stew,” she murmured.


Daron looked at Rudolpho. “No, this one belongs to you. I can always do another one to sell—with your permission, of course. I’m really glad you like it!”

She picked up her pad and charcoal, and began to work on another portrait. Finishing the sketch, she soon flipped to the next sheet. After much concentrated effort, she pulled the sheets free and turned them towards Keir and Pierre with a shy grin. On one was a drawing of Keir; the other held a portrait of Pierre. Somehow, she managed to capture them in a happier frame of mind than either presently showed.

“Do you like it?” she asked hopefully.


Pierre smiled gently. “I love it,” he whispered, honestly.


Daron fairly glowed under Pierre’s praise of her work. She handed the sheet to him. “It’s yours…if you want it…” She looked Keir square in the eye. “That goes for you, too, friend…” she said with a grin.


“Thank you,” Pierre whispered, and placed the sheet on the table in front of him, next to the one of Abigail, for he did not wish to fold either of them and cause a crease. He would bring them back to his house later.


Jacques attacked the steak with some relish. And a little sauce. He didn’t entirely trust the chef and considered some extra embellishments might cover for any lack of finesse in the cooking department.

He took a long drink from the lager and grunted in surprise. It wasn’t bad. Not half as awful as he’d been anticipating.

The puppy made a soft yipping sound in its sleep, doubtless chasing rabbits in its dreams – and probably somewhat smaller ones than that encounter earlier. Either that, or its dream-self was rather more brave.

“Should we call you Fred, boy?” he asked quietly. And shook his head as the pup quieted. “I guess not.” Laurelyn clearly considered the animal’s name to be Fiend, and though he’d intended it as a description rather than a name, Jacques figured it fit. In a bizarre and entirely irreverant manner, that suited the jester just fine.

‘Fiend’ yipped again quietly and then snuffled back into whatever dream he was engaged in.

Jacques took another long drink from the jug of lager, and winked outrageously at the red-haired waitress. The pup wasn’t the only one with dreams…


Khanndie, one table over, winked back. It was part of the routine, and here in the Wench, most of the patrons understood that; the ones like Stan were the exception—hell, even Stan understood it at the beginning of the evening, before he slid too far into his cups. The jester, for all his outlandish costuming, didn’t seem like the one to grope without invitation. Then again, the waitress reminded herself, he didn’t seem to be drunk yet, so that could change with a few more lagers.


I’d just as soon call that fine pup Phideaux. Suits him,” Daron muttered to no one in particular. Though she hoped his owner and the gentleman with the outrageous outfit would take the hint. “Calling him “Fiend”, indeed! An insult!” she muttered again.


Pierre sipped the coffee he had ordered and looked from Daron to the table with the puppy. “There’s a reason,” he said, almost to himself, not quite thinking about the puppy. “There has to be. It might not make sense, but there’s always a reason.”


Daron snorted her disapproval. ”’Make sense’ it most certainly does not! You call someone ‘Fiend’ and they’ll live up to it!” she insisted. “And it’s such a cute, innocent, misunderstood puppy, too…”


Pierre stared into the blackness of his drink. His words were barely above a whisper. “It may seem that way,” he whispered, sadly. Pierre then turned to stare at Daron. “Perhaps you should talk to her.”


With a sigh, Jacques returned to his steak. The way the waitress had winked at him had clearly imposed a limit on what was expected – and available. He took another pull at the lager and fervently hoped that the magic show was cancelled. He’d be in no state to do any prestidigitation after a few more drinks. Even if he knew what the word meant.

The pup snuffled again in its sleep, almost as though it was laughing at someone.

“Shut up boy,” growled Jacques under his breath. “Or you want me to take the young lady up on her suggestion?”

The pup whined briefly, and then settled back into its quiet sleep.

Jacques took a fourth – or was it fifth, he was blessedly beginning to lose count – pull at the lager, and cursed silently. Not only was he talking to the animal and acting as though it understood him, but he was doing it while it was asleep as well.


Daron stood up. A determined look lit her features.

“I think I will, at that, Pierre. Excuse me, all…” She walked over to the neighboring table. “Pardon me for asking,” Daron said to the auburn-haired woman, “but why is such a sweet, delightful puppy being saddled with the name of ‘Fiend’?”

[Jacques & fiend]

Swallowing another mouthful of lager, Jacques looked up – bells ringing.

The pup gave a yawn in its backpack and opened one eye sleepily. It yawned again, and opened the other. Then, after a short stretch, it opened both at the same time. However, it made no other noise, and sat watching Daron and Laurelyn curiously.


Laurelyn was just tired enough from the road to let a “who me” expression show on her face as she looked up at the woman who had come to their table. The dark-haired young woman didn’t appear drunk – so Laurelyn slipped the newcomer into the “concerned citizen” category.

She shifted in her chair to face the woman, and said, “Names don’t always have to denote temperament.” Laurelyn decided against telling the entire history of why “Beast” fitted a certain bay hunter. Instead she went with an equally true tale as she thought of Lord Kiever’s troubadour, Degda, and the man’s dog. “A good friend of mine,” she said, “Had a Setter he – for some reason unknown to me – named ‘Peace.’ That dog was anything but ‘peaceful’ – every stranger she saw she’d attack.”

The storyteller decided not to go into the small detail that the dog had a knack for going for men’s more vital parts.


Daron digested Laurelyn’s words. She nodded in agreement.

“Faith, but I know what you mean indeed. I had a cousin named Casey who, far from being brave like her name means, was scared of her own shadow!” Her artist’s eye noted Laurelyn’s fatigue. “Please forgive me for blathering on like I am! Good day, ma’am.”


“Good evening, to you then,” Laurelyn said, trying to smile but fighting a yawn. She decided to finish her stew – otherwise she might just be asleep.


Rudolpho looked at the portrait and tried to figure out the woman’s logic. She pays for my mean in exchange for being able to draw me. Then she turns around and wants to give me the portrait. How does she gain anything on this deal? Its a nice picture and all but. Rudolpho voiced the next part of this thoughts. “Its a great picture thank you, but…” he fidgeted “can I have the other picture you drew? The one of my..mother?”


Laurelyn gave up on the stew – good though it was. She looked at Thomis, then at Jacques, and said, “Good gentlemen tis time I was off to bed – before I get too cozy with this stew.” She smiled and stood up. “May the night winds bring you gentle dreams.”


Though the mattress wasn’t a feather-filled one it had been ticked with fresh straw and so Laurelyn found it reasonably comfortable for her sore body. She could see an inkling of morning light trying to creep through a crack in the shutters, and cursed. Not only because she had overslept – having not gotten back into a traveling schedule, but because every muscle, particular her lower anatomy ached from far too many hours on a horse. Again – something she hadn’t done for several months.

With the utmost care and fine array of curses Laurelyn eased herself from her bed and began to dress.


Daron awoke just as the dark sky reluctantly yielded to sunlight. It seemed appropriate to her, somehow, symbolic of her night of disjointed dreams and much tossing and turning. Fact one: she knew she had to continue on her journey to learn her brother’s fate. Fact two: she knew also that she wanted to look after Rudolpho.

She decided to wait on her decision until she had some breakfast under her belt. Though, with her stomach feeling as uneasy as it did, chiefly due to lack of proper sleep, Daron wondered if anything would stay down for long.

She dressed quickly. Unplaiting her braid, she found her comb and carefully worked it through her hair. Then, with motions honed smooth due to sheer repetition, she rebraided her hair into the thick single braid she preferred while working or traveling.

Gathering up her few possessions, Daron left her room. She first checked on her horse, quartered in the adjoining stable. Next, she went into the Sea Wench’s main room. Part of her hoped to see Keir, Pierre and Rudolpho waiting for her. Unnerved by her dreams, she wanted some friendly company while she ate.


Rudolpho had had to decide what to do about sleeping arrangements that night. This place is a lot better than that alley last night. Maybe I could sneak in here. Looks like a great corner to curl up in over there by the hearth. Satisfied that he had found an appropriate place, he left the Wench. It was a simple thing to shift into the tabby cat. He remembered the fun he had procuring the hair off that one. Having changed, he waited for signs of activity to die down for the night before he snuck back in. He settled himself curling his paws and tail around him by the fire and slept soundly. It had been awhile since he had gone to sleep with such a full belly.

Rudolpho awoke early the next morning when sounds and smells in the kitchen woke him. He settled in again keeping a sleepy eye on any that might approach him.


Keir rolled over in the loft of the stable just in time to see Daron leave. Brushing bits of straw that clung seemingly everywhere he stood and stretched. His rumbling stomach reminded him that it was well past time for breakfast though it wasn’t all that long ago that he had finished his second helping of dinner. That second helping had meant spending the night in the stable rather than a room but he did not begrudge the trade.

Gathering his belongings he carefully rolled up the two portraits Daron had given him. He had gazed at them far into the night before drifting off to sleep, particularly the one of Frazzle. The one she had done of him drew an amused smile. That is certainly not me, he thought though he had thanked her for it. It seemed odd to him since she had captured Frazzle so perfectly and all her other drawings had been equally marvelous. {No, definitely not me.} He felt the representation was far too childish and missed his obviously stern and regal bearing.

Climbing down he made his way into the common room, the delicious aroma of fresh bread and fried pork drawing him on.


While waiting for her stomach to settle down enough to contemplate ordering some breakfast, Daron looked around the room for something to sketch. She saw the tabby cat curled up on the hearth. Smiling to herself at the appealing sight, she picked up her tools and began to draw the scene.


Rudolpho noticed Daron enter the room and prepare to draw him again. She doesn’t know it’s me. Others were filing into the room, but as yet no one had come near him. He stretched his paws showing his claws and opened his mouth wide in a lazy yawn. He then got up and began to stretch each one of his legs individually. Having completed his morning stretch, Rudolpho sauntered over to Daron and rubbed up against her legs purring. He looked up at her and meowed pitifully.


Jacques groaned, and rolled over. He could almost hear a yipping, yapping, snuffling in his head. And it ached. Perhaps that was justice for drinking so much lager last night, though it hadn’t been that much. Not with an early start expected.

He slid out of the bed and thumped uncermoniously to the floor, sending his loose hat rolling and rattling across the boards. The bells echoed through his head for a while, and then settled into a low, dull, ring that he could ignore. After all, he’d had more than enough practice doing so in the past.

Glancing back at the bed to make sure it was empty – he couldn’t remember enough of the previous night to be absolutely sure – he crawled over to the bowl of water the maids had generously left him.

Some long minutes, and much muttered cursing, later, Jacques walked downstairs to face the day. Or at least as much of it as he could possibly bear.


Laurelyn finally had stretched enough to loosen protesting muscles, before she dressed and packed.

Once out of her room she stopped to tap on Thomis’s door, but that brought no response – so she headed down to the common room for hot tea and breakfast. She figured that Thomis had probably risen well before she had.


Daron looked down at the tabby cat rubbing on her legs. She smiled and gently scratched him behind his ears.

“Well, hello there. You’re a handsome fellow, yes you are,” she cooed. Still scratching behind the cat’s ears, she looked up at Olga. “Olga, could I get a plate of that delicious smelling fried pork, some bread, cheese and cocoa, and a bit of fish and a bowl of milk for my friend here please? Thank you kindly.” Having thus taken care of ordering breakfast for herself and the tabby, Daron returned her full attention to scratching behind the cat’s ears. “Yes, you are definitely a handsome fellow. Who do you belong to, fellow?”

Daron knew she sounded silly trying to carry on a conversation with what some would consider a “dumb” animal. But her father had instilled in her, from as long as she could remember, the idea that she must respect that all living creatures have intelligence and feelings. Another reason why it annoyed her that the woman had called the puppy “Fiend”.


Jacques watched the girl talking to the cat. Perhaps, he decided, he wasn’t quite as insane as he’d thought. After all, it seemed to be perfectly normal to talk to animals around here.

A yip from behind startled him so much he nearly fell off his stool.

“Don’t sneak up on me like that boy!” he growled as he turned to face the pup. Somehow it had managed to escape again, though it was beyond him how.

The pup yapped again, and looked up with mournful brown eyes.

Jacques sighed, and caught sight of Laurelyn coming downstairs.

“Alright, we’ll get you some breakfast.” The idea of food didn’t appeal half as much to him as it doubtless did to the pup. But then the animal hadn’t downed a dozen or so mugs of lager last night. He reached down and lifted the pup up onto the table, where it sat looking up at him.

“Miss,” he called to a waitress. “Once you’ve done with that animal,” he indicated the cat with a ringing nod, “would you mind dealing with this one?”

Brown eyes swiveled in the direction Jacques had glanced, and a low growl issued from the pup as it focused on the cat.

Then it sneezed, and yipped again, tongue lolling out and tail wagging.

“Boy,” muttered Jacques. “You’re as dumb as a fence post aren’t you?”

The pup just grinned back at him.


Allowing the tabby to rub against her shoulders, Daron turned to face Jacques. Righteous fire lit her green eyes.

“Phideaux is most certainly not as dumb as a post! Just because he has the sense not to start a fight when there’s no need to-” She stopped speaking when she realized what she said. “I’m sorry, sir. But when I hear someone insult one of the Maker’s creatures just because they’re not on two legs and can’t talk to defend themselves-well, I just can’t help but speak up about it.” She looked at the puppy. “I’d let you come up here too-if you promise not to fight with…” Her dark brow furrowed in an effort to come up with a suitable name for the tabby. “Riley. Yes, that suits you fine.” She looked the tabby square in his yellow-green eyes. “Just don’t you start fighting with Phideaux either, Riley-or I’ll ignore you.”


Rudolpho had cast a glance over at the puppy when he had growled only to see him forget just as quickly. He sat down on the table and watched Daron with a feline imitation of his innocent “who me?” look. He blinked at her one more time then began to groom himself nonchalantly. Might as well take a shower while I wait for breakfast.


Laurelyn overheard part of the conversation, and shook her head with a smile over the “oh so abused Pup.” Whom she scooped up as she reached Jacques’ table. “Morning,” she said – in a subdued tone since she saw how pained the jester looked.

While she played with the pup’s ears and let it snuffle at her sleeve she placed and order of oatmeal and hot tea for herself, and a bowl of oatmeal, mixed with beef broth for the pup.


Thomis pushed the door open, brown eyes sweeping across the room as he stepped inside -Laurelyn had just reached the jester’s table, the young artist seemed to have confronted the jester about something (the pup, Thomis speculated – she had seemed quite perturbed about the pup’s name the previous night). Not a busy morning in the common room, with only a few other customers scattered about.

He had spent the first hour that morning doing some limited explorations of Helgastop, gathering provisions and automatically noting which alleyways in the immediate vicinity were dead ends. (That was a habit he had learned the hard way while journeying with Mesani I’Se.) He also had learned a bit about the road that lay before them, information Laurelyn would need in deciding how to proceed.

The Oath-bound nodded to Laurelyn as he converged on the jester’s table, and stooped to scratch Fiend’s ears as he took his seat. “Morning,” he said softly to his three traveling companions, with a quick glance towards the artist, Daron. “I’ve arranged for supplies to be delivered to the stables,” he added. “And found out a few things about the direction we are going next.”


“Greetings,” Laurelyn said, “And thanks – you’re far more awake than I seem to be this morning.”


“Mornin’” replied Jacques, trying to seem rather more cheerful than he felt. After all, he wasn’t anything more than suffering from his normal hangover, and even he considered it unseemly to be unpleasant because of that.

Though the girl who’d leapt to the defence of the pup was a little more than he’d bargained for.

“Miss,” he called over to Daron. “Better not to jump to conclusions about a man’s comments. Least ways ‘til you’ve some right to.”

He turned to the animal in question which was diligently trying to work his way up Laurelyn’s sleeve.

“You want to be called Fido, boy?” asked Jacques.

The pup stopped its burrowing, and let out a muffled whine.

“Didn’t think so.”


Laurelyn got Pup untangled from the lacings on her sleeve and turned the little one over to rub its belly.


“I’m truly sorry, sir,” Daron said, truly contrite. “But I’ve never known a ‘dumb’ animal…not unless you count my cousin Peyton.” Then Daron returned to her table, sat down, and scratched Riley under his chin.


Keir stopped as he entered the common room and looked over the cluster of Big Folk gathered together. With a resigned sigh he strolled over with all the elan he could muster at this early hour. If nothing else he thought, at least the service would be faster than if he sat alone and he would be alone enough once back on the road.

As Daron was the only one he knew formally he addressed his request to her. “Good morn’ Daron, may I share your table?” Spying the tabby he wondered if he’d made the right choice, hair in his food being one of the few things that could suppress his appetite.


Daron looked up. A genuine smile, touched with relief, crossed her features.

“Please, do,” she said. “One moment.” She carefully picked up the tabby, mindful of his claws, and looked him in his eyes. “Riley, you’re going to have to sit on my lap for now. When your breakfast comes, you can take it on the floor.” She put the cat in her lap.


He looked calmly up into Daron’s expressive eyes. The young feline did not wriggle and squirm as some cats were wont to do. One place is as good as another. He began to settle into her lap making “happy feet”, mindful not to use his claws. He glanced over to see what the puppy was about, then looked up at Keir. He certainly seems much bigger from this perspective.- Rudopho continued to wash a paw as he watched the happenings in the room.


Upon taking his seat Keir smiled and nodded at the others. “Good Morn to you all.” He was delighted with the swift attention Olga gave his order and sat back to await its arrival, trying not to let his legs swing. He was surprised to hear a few roaches chittering near the bar, they’d been noticibly absent last night and he knew the albino roaches with black liver-spots peculiar to this land were especially fond of malted liquids. They didn’t have much to say to him, such nervous creatures never liked to be distracted for long – have to stay alert and ready to scurry, and he already knew the ale was tasty anyway. More amazing was the lack of fleas on the dog and cat. He would have expected they’d pick up some, considering the class of clientele the Wench attracted.


Pierre brought up his horse-an appaloosa-to the stables, where he reigned it in. He ignored the stares he got. After all, he lived in town, why in the world would he opt to ride a horse? And why was he carrying a large knapsack? Something was definately amiss.

Pierre paid the stableboy a few coins tip, and walked into the inn, carrying his knapsack and lute.

“Morning, Pierre,” Olga called cheerfully.

Pierre spoke somberly. “Morning.”

“What’s the matter, boy? You look even worse than you did yesterday.”

“I’m fine,” Pierre whispered. “Ought I to perform now?”

“Of course, dearie.” Olga smiled. “Some music while people eat their lunches would be rather nice. So, what have you written for us today?”

“Oh, nothing.” Pierre smiled. “I do believe I’ll play Greensleeves today. Nothing like the old tried and true, eh?” He smiled, again, at her and went onstage.

There was no introduction today. He opted for Gan old song, one he could play in his sleep. He sang, his slightly boyish voice surpisingly loud and resonating. After that was done, he did a few other songs-all common songs that most anybody could know.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “I have enjoyed performing for you.” A mixture of the truth and a lie. He did enjoy performing, yet know he really wasn’t in the mood to enjoy much of anything.


A boy’s singing caught part of her attention and she glanced up to see who was performing. It was the young lad who had been with the artist and the gnome – she wasn’t sure about his race, not quite the characteristics of a gnome- and the lad who had retrieved the Pup. She noted he had a strong voice – though not quite the tempered confidence of an experienced performer. And today she would say his heart and focus wasn’t quite with his music.

“Damn,” she muttered softly – feeling her own ghosts closing about her as the memory of another young musician brushed her thoughts – Justinian. A gentle man that had not outrun a horrific death – too innocent for a world that tended to eat innocence alive. She shuddered and hugged the Pup.

If she had her way – she’d urge Beast into a gallop and wouldn’t stop till they stood on a moonlit beach – with The Star Dreamer on the horizon.

Laurelyn tried to bring herself back to the world of daylight and life – where a Pup whined and licked her chin. And Thomis was near. In a place where war and bloodshed didn’t stain its streets and the people had more normal concerns. She bent her head to rub noses with the pup and put him down on the floor so he could eat his meal – that Olga had just brought over.

To no one in particular Laurelyn said, “We’ll need to get Fiend a lead….”

As if hearing the pronouncement the pup had stuck one paw in his oatmeal and scampered under the neighboring table.


Giving up picking at the meagre portion he’d ordered, Jacques looked up and followed the pup’s movements.

“I think he’s doing fine without being led anywhere,” he offered.

The pup let out a couple of quick barks, and nosed at a small beetle that was scurrying across the floor. Fiend watched it curiously, and trotted after it for a little way before sitting down with a satisfied expression and wagging tail.

“Yup, I think he’s doing just fine.” Jacques looked back at his breakfast and shrugged.


“I think you may be right,” Laurelyn answered, watching the pup, and feeling a bit more in the mood to eat her breakfast.


“Inquisitive little thing,” Thomis remarked, and picked up his own spoon. “Have you considered naming him Fidget?” The puppy merely yapped good-naturedly, wagged its tail a bit more, and looked around for some other prey to stalk across the floor.

“Apparently we may run into some unsavory types on the road ahead,” Thomis said to Laurelyn as he blew across a spoonful of oatmeal to cool it. “A couple of smaller parties have found themselves relieved of their worldly goods.”


Laurelyn sighed and put her spoon back down. “I take it that both parties made it back to tell the tales? Any reports of the numbers that are attacking?”


Keir had been wolfing down his order of sausages and scrambled duck eggs when the terrified scream from the beetle intruded on his thoughts. ::Danger! Danger! Flee!:: echoed in his mind long after the pup gave up the chase. He sent a calming ::Safe now:: but the beetle refused to believe him.

His sensitive ears couldn’t help but pick up the conversation around him, even through the strains of the unfamiliar song Pierre was playing. He didn’t like the news the biggest of the Big Folk was relaying. “Pardon good sir, I couldn’t help but hear you mention some sort of trouble.” He had heard quite clearly but found that tended to make people nervous around him. “Would you be so kind as to tell me in what direction it lies?”


Thomis half-turned in his chair to respond to the small man who had addressed him. “Thomis Parch,” he introduced himself with a slight nod, and set his spoon aside. “Reports have the bandits thickest on the roads south.” He supposed he oughtn’t to have been surprised to have learned this, it seemed to be just another instance of the misfortune that had dogged both himself and Laurelyn ever since their separate arrivals in the west.


“Laurelyn Hillrover,” the storyteller offered the newcomer.


Keir’s furry eyebrows knotted. “Most kind of you… Thomas Parch, for the warning. I am headed to the coast myself and will be sure to take care.” He absently rolled a sausage around his plate as he considered the unwelcome news. Not that he was carrying much of value to anyone but himself but it was dear to him. There was no getting past his need to reach the sea for that was the most likely place to find his kin, if they were indeed here.

He abruptly remembered his manners and nodded to Laurelyn and Thomas. “I am Keir Ti’Kar, son of Ja and Karpel.” he said, holding his hands out palms up in the traditional Hortus greeting. “May your journey be most fortunate.” Returning his attention to the eggs he silently wished he could fly like the bird that laid them.


With a quick glance towards Laurelyn, Thomis raised his own hands in imitation of Keir’s gesture. “May the threads carry you to your destination in safety.” That warped the traditional greetings of his own background, but with no one around to correct him, it didn’t seem to matter. Perhaps the storyteller would choose to invite the little man along, but the decision was hers to make.


He looked langorously around the room as he listened to what everyone was discussing. I wonder if he is talking about Stan when he says that. Oh well, I guess I’ll find out later if he looks at me suspciously. Rudolpho’s attention was grabbed by the puppy who had been nosing around a beetle but had lost interest. Not much of an attention span on that one. He looked at the pup and blinked both eyes at him almost as if he were sticking his tongue out at the pup.


Once Daron and Riley’s breakfast arrived, Daron carefully dislodged the tabby from her lap and set him on the floor.

“Down you get, Riley. Breakfast.” She placed the bowl of milk and plate of tuna in front of Riley. Then she attended to her own breakfast slowly, first nibbling on a piece of the fresh, warm bread, wary of upsetting her stomach.

Her fears were unfounded. Daron’s appetite returned with a vengeance. She soon polished off her simple meal.

“Olga, you don’t by any chance have any honey about, do you? If so, could I please have a bit and some more of this delicious bread?” she asked hopefully.


Rudolpho did not protest when Daron put him down and placed food in front of him. He made short work of the tuna and began to quickly lap up the milk. The milk must have been freshly gotten and come from a healthy cow since it tasted so good. The milk was soon gone and Rudolpho licked the bowl. He regroomed his face and whiskers then stood up and stretched. Time for Riley to say goodbye. He meowed up at Daron and rubed up against her legs once more. I see them do this all the time. He got a look on his face and tensed then ran out the door.

A quick change later, Rudolpho re-entered the Sea Wench as himself. “Good morning everyone.”


The pup’s head cocked to one side as the inn doors opened and Rudolpho entered. He then issued a low growl for a few seconds, before standing and wandering back over to Jacques, Laurelyn, and Thomis.

He whined quietly, and pawed again at the oatmeal.

Jacques glanced down, and then looked miserably at his own cold and congealed breakfast.

“Can’t say as I blame you, boy,” he muttered. All this talk about bandits, along with his habitual hangover, had pretty much removed any appetite. Not that he could remember the last time he’d actually eaten anything before noon anyway, but that wasn’t the point.


Thomis stopped the morning-shift waitress as she wandered by and asked her to bring something a bit more likely to hold the pup’s attention. “As for numbers,” he continued his conversation with Laurelyn and Keir, “stories vary, placing it at anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen or more. It can be difficult to separate fact from exaggeration, so I can’t be any more precise than that.”

The waitress shortly came back with a saucer to place before Fiend, one with chopped scrambled egg and small bits of bacon. Thomis took it from her with thanks, and leaned over to place it before the the pup – who had somehow managed to lift himself up on his hind legs to sniff hopefully at the dish. Almost before Thomis could set the plate down, Fiend had half-scrambled into the saucer. “Don’t grow too accustomed to such rich fare,” Thomis murmured. Fiend just half-yapped around a mouthful of food.


Laurelyn ate at her oatmeal and thought about Thomis’s news; as she ate she discreetly studied Keir – and decided that he wasn’t likely to stab them in the back. Finally she asked Thomis, “Which would you say our best bet is ….keep to the three of us and travel fast, or see about traveling with another group heading that direction?”


Hearing the possibility of safe, or at least safer, conduct made his ear tips twitch and he listened eagerly for Thomas’ reply.


“Greater safety in numbers,” Thomis answered as he took a sip of his water. The pup, its snout buried in egg and bacon, snuffled in agreement.


Rudolpho had been accidentally eavesdropping on the whole conversation. He was able to get away with that quite a bit it seemed. Seeing the chance for adventure and getting to see more lands outside Helgastop, he dove at it head first. “Hi there.” He strode forward in his self important manner towards Laurelyn and extended his hand. “My name is Rudolpho and I think that you should travel with a slightly bigger group. There is safety in numbers you know. Take me for example. I could help with supplies and I can be a great scout. Where are you headed? Is it far away? Have you been there before? What’s it like?” He would have gone on had it not been for the echo of a voice that said “Rudolpho, you must allow other people to get a word in edgewise.”

The boy was abruptly silent and bowed his head a little, allowing Laurelyn to respond to the multiple questions he had asked.



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