Chapter 57: Mercenaries
all that remains of great soldiers'
I heard scuffling up top, and I figured that meant at least one of them was free and fighting their would-be captors. Since no magic could pass the wall their mages had constructed, I took out my bow and shot an arrow up, to see if it would. It did. I could not think of anything immediately useful to do with it, but knowledge is never wasted.
Much more scuffling, then utter silence. Res Li spoke to one of the faeries, using his soothing voice that can place people under his control, but it did not work. He said it was too hard without seeing the person he was addressing.
All was quiet again. I had to assume that the White Faerie and Kyosuke were in their control. Caramela refused to touch the Crystal of Fire. I asked Ashe if he would try to use it, but he said he will not use it because he merely carries it for Caramela.
So, I asked Caramela to ask Ashe to use it. She answered, "It will bring evil."
I replied, "So will the faeries up there."
"So you want me to tell Ashe to use it?"
"Yes, I do."
"Ashe, use the rock."
He asked her, "How?"
"You have to study it until it tells you how to use it, but it will try to teach you to do what is wants to do, and you have to learn how to tell it to do what you want to do."
That did not sound very helpful, but Ashe unwrapped the rock and stared into it.
Ravena, wondering if she could conjure things using the Crystal of Air directly in the room above, rather than down here where it cannot pass the magical shield. She successfully created a tornado up in the room, and we heard shouts and much banging as the winds pummeled the faeries. Then, we just heard the winds.
Res Li looked up, and he could see again! The shield was now gone. He saw just two faeries up there, pinned to floor next to the door by the tornado, but it was otherwise empty. Kyosuke and the White Faerie were missing. As far as he can see, he saw about ten faeries outside the door (which was shut), and the lights were out. Hosei tested the faeries he could sense, but said none of the magic-users were among them.
I considered our options carefully, and came up with three alternatives. Go up and attack the two faeries, and then the rest. Go back out and around, and enter through the front door -- with many of the faeries here, it would be an easier fight in. Go find Menduri and see if he would help. None of us really trust Menduri, and we removed the third option from consideration.
Hosei suddenly remembered the book of symbols he carried that Ravena used to have. He prayed to his goddess of knowledge to discover which symbol to use in this situation, but nothing enlightened him. I asked him what, exactly, he can do magically. He says detect magical things, speak with anyone in their native language, create lighted pebbles that last an hour, conjure fireballs, light cigars, pull a rabbit out of his hat, keep himself dry in the rain, make people temporarily stupid, blow people across a room, make people feel more friendly (but not if they're already too hostile), and he place a mild curse on a person, if he has a piece of the person and he is within 12 yards of the person.
Perhaps useful knowledge for the future, but nothing for now. I decided we needed to carry the attack to them, up the shaft. Any action us better than none.
I tried to revive Ashe, who was lost in the Crystal, then I had to ask Caramela to wake him up, since he respects her so greatly. He did respond to her. At my request, Ravena created two air elementals to carry us all up, and changed her tornado into a wind that she used to pin the two faeries up there into a corner and out of our way. Then we were ferried up by the elementals.
I went first. The faeries yelled a great deal, so the others certainly knew we were there. I noticed the door opened outwards, rather than inwards. The rest followed me up the shaft. Ravena banished one elemental and the wind, and had the second elemental corral the two faeries, our prisoners for now.
Res Li looked out and said there were 50 faeries outside the room, clustered in a circle around the door, with one standing more forward. They waited for us to open the door.
But not for long. In Imperial, we heard a faerie ask, "Do you have Gadurik's body?" The two prisoners wore the same insignia as the faeries guarding the gate, so we were dealing with the same pissed-off faeries, not Menduri and his clan. Still, I wondered why that was the first question he asked.
I replied, truthfully but no fully, "Yes; we found it down in the tunnels."
"Would you be willing to hand it over under a flag of truce?"
"Will you trade us our two comrades that you have taken from us?"
"Yes. We're getting them. Why are you here?"
Res Li said quietly that he saw two others leave the group at the single faerie's gestures.
I recalled that we told them earlier we were here because we were excited to find Keda Ravaning. This did not make them happy at the time, which I now understand is because they believed we were encroaching on their claim to it. I think. However, until we mentioned Menduri, they were merely gruff. Then they became completely hostile, which I now know is because they are the Royalists and are opposed to Menduri as their King. Although I regard Menduri as the rightful king, I am not a faerie and their internal strife does not involve me.
I answered, "We wanted to see Keda Ravaning, and we found ghouls instead. We attacked them and that is where we found the dead king's body, and how we ended up in here."
They were quiet for another three minutes or so, apparently accepting my answer for the time being. Res Li reported that the other two had returned with Kyosuke and the WHite Faerie, who were both asleep but otherwise appeared unharmed. "Are you ready to trade?" they asked.
Hosei said he could tell there were 3 or 4 magic users out there among the group. Res Li said they were all still armed, and that they brought the two, set them down in front of the faerie who has talking, and they all backed away from the two bodies and the door.
"Bring out Gadurik and get your friends." I had our two prisoners, about whom they did not even inquire, and had them carry Gadurik's body our first. Baku and Ashe followed right behind them to retrieve Kyosuke and the White Faerie. I placed myself directly behind them, just in case.
The door opened into a short hallway with another door in its middle. We made the exchange peacefully. Kyosuke and the White Faerie were indeed fine, just asleep.
I asked the faerie in the front how long they would remain asleep.
"A few more minutes."
"Well, I'm still waiting for the true answer. Ghouls. You don't fight ghouls just to look at a faerie-hold."
Hosei, aware of my difficulty with negotiating with western barbarians came up behind me as my advisor. He whispered in my ear that the faerie in charge was trying to ask us diplomatically: "Are you stupid or dishonorable enough to walk into a place you knew was ours?"
That stung, as the truth usually does. But my personal honor is still tied to the Crystals, which are more important than I. Hosei suggested I ask, "You mean the king's hold?" I did so. Some faerie muttered something in their hideous tongue, which Hosei translated for me: "Looks like this guy didn't die by ghouls, but by an axe." He looked at Ashe's axes.
I felt this conversation was getting beyond me. I pointed out to them, "This place belong to all faeries. One of your greatest heroes is buried here, in this holy place. One faerie faction cannot own it over all other faeries: all faeries own your history and your honor.
He politely questioned my ability to interpret faerie law. "Are you claiming to be a representative of the faeries?"
"No, but I am accompanying one of yours, who wishes to visit this honored ancestor. It is immoral to keep him from doing so." Even the western barbarians should understand so simple a truth.
Still politely, he asked, "So your faerie friend feels that sneaking in the back door is the appropriate way to pay his respects to Harim?"
"You have no right to refuse him the opportunity to do so." More muttering, and Hosei said they believed the White Faerie was here as an agent of Menduri to contest their ownership of Keda Ravaning.
"We do not represent Menduri. We are not part of his entourage. We do not contest your ownership of this place. We are here solely to see the gravesite of Harim the Faerie Hero." I said all of these things with conviction, as every statement was utterly true.
"When your faerie comrade awakens, he is welcome to join our expedition."
"When he wakes, I will tell him so. 'Expedition'. You do not know where the hero's grave is?" I hoped not.
"We'll talk to him about that."
They were clearly not going to invite us to tea while waiting for the White Faerie to awaken, so I replied, "I will send the White Faerie out to speak with you when he wakes." I stood in the hall, looking at them, and waiting for Kyosuke and the White Faerie to wake up. After five minutes, they were still out. I asked again how long we must wait for them to wake up.
"Depends how strong they are. I suppose I could wake him up for you."
I signaled for both the White Faerie and Kyosuke to be brought forward. "Please revive both of them."
He revived the White Faerie only. I figured that was the best I was going to get right then. I told the White Faerie that he had been invited to join these faeries in finding the tomb of Harim.
The lead faerie immediately "corrected" me. I said that we would speak of it." That was not what he had said. I let that be and asked again that Kyosuke be awakened. I was ignored, of course. Barbarians.
The White Faerie asked, "What about my friends, who have come with me so far? You told me I was unwelcome before."
The faeries spoke in their language, and Hosei translated for us. The lead faerie introduced himself to the White Faerie, a point of courtesy not afforded to us until then. "My name is Ranegu," and then a long list of his honored ancestors. "As I'm sure you're aware, Keda Ravening is the long-lost burial place of Harim and belongs to all faeries. We have discovered this place and are holding by right of" some inexplicable faerie law "and are currently engaged in finding Harim's tomb. We know the tomb is protected very strongly by magic."
I translated Hosei's translation in my head. They have absolutely no idea where Harim's tomb is, and they're certain it's very well guarded by magic and traps. I didn't think they'd been here long and are probably not very far along in their search: otherwise, they would have found the ghouls already.
He continued. "If you're willing to become part of the expedition as a member and transfer your loyalty to us, you're welcome. Non-faeries are not welcome as anything but guests, but only once we've established ourselves here. Now is not that time." He glowered at the rest of us.
The White Faerie extended his own introduction: another long list of honored ancestors. Then he addressed their invitation to abandon us and join the Royalists. "I have no desire to contest your claim to this hold, and I recognize you as the holders of Keda Ravening. I would like to accept your offer, but as I said, I can't abandon my friends here. I've made commitments and it would be wrong to simply abandon them for some personal quest of my own. If they were willing to accompany me, I was wiling to try both tasks. My companions are not without skills in exploring ruined and abandoned sites. We've traveled together for a year and a half, and they've proven resourceful in finding and defusing traps and other difficult puzzles. You might find it beneficial to hire them."
"What skills do they have?"
"Hosei, the monk of Varena, has magical talents. The Miyaras are highly skilled warriors. Ravena, the monk of Bianca, is a healer. Res Li is skilled at finding and defusing traps and unlocking locks."
Hosei spoke, "And we've dealt with the supernatural and magical many times in the past, and we're still here."
"So, it might be possible to hire you folk as contractors?" He appeared a trifle more interested in us.
The White Faerie said, "It's unusual, but it would allow me a chance to both remain with my companions and maybe get a chance to pay my respects to Harim."
"And your expected payment is what? "
Hosei suggested that we discuss amongst ourselves and give a formal presentation. The White Faerie asked for a few minutes to discuss the matter, and we were granted the time.
We returned to the room for a hopefully private discussion.
The White Faerie explained what was being offered and what would be expected. "Our friends back there are an expedition here to evaluate this hold and determine what to do with it. Probably they or someone else will establish it as a hold. Because of the early stage of exploring they're in, they are not truly living in the hold. They are reluctant to have non-faeries here because of that. However, they're willing to consider a possible loophole in hiring us as consultants to explore and find Harim's tomb. There are numerous traps and protective mechanisms around the tomb, and they've barely gotten started. Provided they don't find our rates unbelievably low or too high, they will hire us. They will be very picky about maintaining control over anything found here. Do we do this, and if so how much do we charge? I recommend a highish price that can be haggled down."
To add a little more difficulty in listening in on our conversation, I spoke in Nipponese. "If we hire ourselves out to them, whatever we find is theirs." I was speaking obliquely about the Crystal of Water, which we could not let them have.
The White Faerie answered in Nipponese, "But we don't have to work for them forever, and we don't have to tell them about everything we know. We can return later. Plus, there's the possibility of Shan and his box." The White Faerie didn't want them to get the rock either, of course.
"This is probably our best bet, but Gadurik's body might still be an issue."
I was on the fence about the proposition. It would allow us to prowl around this shrine and discover the crystal. But we would be beholden to the faeries and honor-bound to turn over whatever we found to them. Even the barbarians saw the possible problem: Hosei reminded us of that fact. So I asked for everyone's opinion of the deal. Ashe, Res Li, the White Faerie, Hosei, Ravena, and Baku all said yes, as did I. Sun will go where I go, and Caramela where Ravena goes.
To my joy, Kyosuke awakened. I described the proposition to him and asked what he thought. He summed it up thusly: we would be hiring ourselves to a group who is against Menduri, the rightful faerie king, which could end with us involved on one side in a battle, or even war, between faerie factions. He was right to point that out, as such an agreement would be completely improper. However, I said we were mere contractors, and will not involve ourselves in any conflict between faeries. I did tell the White Faerie to be sure we were to be uninvolved with any faerie battles, and I insisted on an endpoint to the contract: finding the tomb. Once it was located, the contract was over.
The White Faerie put forth the contract and the price he recommended as being high enough to indicate we thought well of ourselves and leave room for haggling down without being so high they would dismiss us out of hand.
Apparently he either underpriced us or they were far more desperate than they let on. When the White Faerie was finished describing our offer, the lead faerie said the terms were acceptable. They did not haggle over the price. There was one matter before they accepted the contract, however. They wanted the full and honest explanation for Gadurik's death.
The White Faerie explained, "I can give it to you, but you may not believe it. I barely believe it myself and I was there. We know the story about when Gadurik fell. I don't know how he survived. We've met the one who is now Lord of Kara Osohara. After the great battle, he went back and retrieved the body. When we came into this place, we encountered ghouls. We of course attacked them. We have a knife that destroys the undead. One of the bodies didn't disappear. Right before our battle with the ghouls, a faerie met us and convinced us to take us with him. He introduced himself as Alets, an agent of Menduri, who wanted to meet with us. We told him we weren't interested, we wanted to see the great hero's tomb. He came with us, and it was better to keep an eye on him, we thought. We defeated the ghouls. Then Alets prayed over the body and it wasn't a ghoul anymore, but King Gadurik. Which suggests that either Gadurik has been enchanted for all these years or someone lied when they said he fell years ago. His death was regrettable, but unavoidable as we had no idea who he was."
I could quibble with the death of a body versus the death of a person, but I remained mum. This was the White Faerie's purview.
The lead faerie answered, "So, Alets was with you when Gadurik died. And when he died he was tainted with evil."
"And you would be willing to swear to this before the court of Menduri?"
"Yes. This is all wrong. Gadurik was a good king and didn't deserve whatever happened to him. I don't know if Menduri was involved or not. If this is the king's body, it's in very good shape to be dead this long."
"OK. You're hired. Go get our supplies and return them to the supply cabinet, then report to Sunrimu."
As we returned the supplies Kyosuke had thrown down to us from the supply room, Hosei mentioned that the magic users among the faeries likely know that we have magical objects. Hopefully, not their nature.
I keep telling myself that there is no dishonor in hiring my sword to the faeries. The western world is far different than home. I am still a Miyara, and not a landless, lordless ronin who hires himself out to whoever will have him.
Home still waits for me.