Damn. Siobhan could run her mouth as much as her legs. They knocked on Tim’s door. He invited them in. Two minutes later, when Siobhan mentioned they had better go to find a place to stay, and no sooner were the words out of her mouth than Tim and his wife and their daughter were begging the two of them to stay. “Maybe a day. No more than three. After three days, guests and fish start to stink!” And then it was on.
She talked for almost two hours straight. The Emerald Island. Finn. The Hound of Ulster. The Cwn Annwn…the ones from the underworld, not Queensland. Midgard. Gaul. Keltiberia. Rome. Carthage. Chariot races across the heather. Great battles. And the gossip of a dozen courts. Toot-Toot wanted to get his two coppers in, but he found himself as spellbound as the Tailors. Where in the world had this story telling, enchanting Siobhan been?
And then, after putting their daughter to bed, and Siobhan telling her a bed time story, even though her parents said she was much too old for such nonsense, only to relent when Siobhan pointed out that young Tailor was much too excited to go to sleep without the right story to focus on, only then, did she get down to business. Two more hours, but this time of relating who she was hoping to get to come to New Warrendale. Dwarven engineers and architects. (Quickly followed by a “pffft…too many dreams, not enough gold to get their attention”.) Water and sanitation engineers. Subterranean architects. Cathedral, Academic, Civil and Housing architects. Bronze sculptors. Stone sculptors. Stone workers. Masons. Street engineers. Painters. Artists. Minstrels. Actors. Carpenters. Alchemists. Scholars. Teachers. Blacksmiths. Bladesmiths. Tinkerers. Inventors. Somebody to design a printing press with moveable type. Papermakers. Book binders. Librarians. Soldiers. Sailors. Farmers. Ranchers. Herders. Glavians. Gnomes. Dwarfs…if they didn’t have to be bought. Spelunker strike teams. Wizards. Giant eagle riders. Giant condor riders. Druids. Desperately needed druids. And the list went on and on. It would have been tedious if anybody else was giving it. But Siobhan’s excitement was infection. And, without interruptions, the words just flowed, and took on a kind of magic of their own.
New Warrendale would be the cultural center of the world…if she could just get the right people to come in. It sounded …like some form of paradise.
But then, she brought in the reality check. Upper Torvell wanted them to fail and would be doing their best to make sure that they failed miserably. There wasn’t any money in the adventure…and wouldn’t be…for years. And it would be dangerous. And hard. And everybody, from the stable boys, to the artists, to the scholars, would have to have military training if they were fit enough to fight. There is a good chance of a full blown attack by New Warrendale’s enemies, and if they succeed, expect every man, woman and child to either be put to the sword or sold into slavery if those enemies are victorious. And did we mention…there’s no budget at the moment, the economy is destroyed and there’s no money right now…and may not be for years. And you could end up dead or enslaved. And that everybody is going have about two years of compulsory service to the state. And everybody will be tasked with learning to read, right, perform basic mathematics, learn the common language and glavian at a basic, functional level? Yes? Well then, other than that, it is a wonderful opportunity. And another half an hour warning about how things would be difficult and dangerous and that there were going to be obligations. And the only thing she had the power to absolutely promise is that the early going was going to be difficult.
And then she immediately followed up with the opportunities. Those with skills would be coming in on the front end of a near blank financial slate. If New Warrendale succeeded, they would be in the first position, along with the surviving indigenous businesses, to take advantage of phenomenal growth. Those without skills would have opportunities to study several trades, for free, in the new schools that she wanted to see built. And the government would be subject to the will of the majority of the people with at least the intentions of protecting the minorities. And…if she got her way… that all citizens would have at least some basic rights. No slavery. Limited legal extradition risk. A chance for those in trouble to start over. There would be risks. But there would be incredible opportunities for rewards. And a regular admonition that while she was not lying about any given point, she had no voting power herself. No ability to actually promise governmental action on anything she was promising. Only that for as long as she was at New Warrendale, she would work tirelessly to insure her vision came to pass.
Toot-Toot had heard bits and pieces of almost all of this before. But never presented in an uninterrupted stream of consciousness. Refined without sounding rehearsed. And…genuine, evangelical even, without sounding disingenuous or delusional. Galazarn should have listened to her make this presentation. He was likable enough and earnest enough… but he never had his act this much in order. It was abundantly clear that everybody could be signing up for their own extermination…yet…it sounded so appealing. And Toot-Toot might have loved her a little more. And then realized just how dangerous she could be without ever pulling out a weapon or casting a spell. And just knowing that made her passion just a little more infectious. Made her a little more taboo…because clearly she was more bat shit crazy than even Galazarn. And made her a little more exciting. And made him wonder if he made a good choice coming with her. And made him glad that he did, even if it was a bad choice. She was going to try to literally change the world or die trying. And she was…letting?…him come with her. And Boom-Boom (Eldritch Blast) was nice, but maybe there was something else, something bigger, more important out there to strive for. And, damn, she was a dreamer…and as such, she was so dangerous. And, he was proud that she was his friend.
But then, doubt crept in. She was a fanatic. He saw that now. And he wondered…she was his friend…but was he her friend? Or just a tool to accomplish her goals?
* * * * * *
The Tailors probably would have insisted that they sleep in their beds, but both Toot-Toot and Siobhan were much too tall to fit on their short beds. They seemed deeply troubled having to have them sleep on the floor. But Siobhan assured them, with warmth and earnestness and loving hugs, that her and Toot-Toot were fine on the floor. The Tailors has brought out blankets for them to lay on the floor, and they would be near the fireplace, and that it was infinitely better than sleeping in the forest with the wargs, and the Tailor’s hospitality made their accommodations infinitely better than any place in Avondale. Toot-Toot understood that the hospitality extended to them was the best the Tailors could manage, and in the grand scheme of things, it was rather meager. But he had never heard anybody make such a meager offer sound like they were genuinely in the company of nobility. Anybody else tried to tell the Tailors how great their hospitality was would come across as socially polite bullshit. But Siobhan…made it seem like they were being treated like the king and the queen of the world. Siobhan was very good, he realized, at making people feel good about themselves. Was this just a learned skill? Or was she simply delusional?
* * * * * *
Toot-Toot’s mind was racing through the evening’s conversations as he laid on his back, listening to the pops and crackles as the fire began its long descent to ash, his hands interlocked on top of his belly, Siobhan’s back up against his left side, his sword laying next to his right side. Racing. Racing. Racing all over the place.
He felt Siobhan falling asleep. Or at least he thought she was when she began to squirm. Then roll over facing him and peeling his left arm off his body and under her neck. She shimmied in a little closer and rested her head on his collar bone. Her left hand snaked across his belly. He could feel the lust rising from the physical contact, though he repeatedly told himself there would be no physical relationship with Siobhan. Her hand did not stop…and kept moving…up…until her fingertips rested at the top of his sternum. He cleared his throat and started to speak when she broke in first.
“Wrong? What’s wrong?” His voice cracked ever so slightly. “Nothing’s wrong. Why do you ask?”
“I hear your breathing,” she said softly. Her voice. So nice. Even when just above a whisper. So calming. At least when she wasn’t yelling. “It’s rough…irregular. You’re a little twitchy. You’re tense. I’m not sure you could be more wound up if we were buck naked right now and lathered up with scented oils.”
“Oh…well…that’s a calming image! Thanks a lot!“
She chortled a bit. “There’s no scented oils around her, Toot. Just lamp oil. And…I’m not inclined to lather either of us up in an oil that tends to catch on fire…”
One breath. Try to relax. He could feel the throbbing abate a bit. Another breath. “Well…at least there’s that.”
“So…again, what is it that has you wound up.”
He took a few moments to compose his thoughts and figure out how he wanted this conversation to go. He felt two of her fingertips start to stroke back and forth, ever so lightly, ever so slowly, as the top of his sternum. It did not feel erotic or like she was teasing him. Maybe because the heal of her hand was still resting in place providing an anchorage. Maybe it was…pensive.
Well…no time like now to get to the most important heart of the matter. “Siobhan…what do you think of me?” He hoped his tone came out neutral. Tone is difficult to manage when trying to speak softly so one is not heard in the room next door where the hosts are sleeping.
“Well…” she paused. That was not good. It meant she had to think about it. “What do you mean?”
“Damn it, Siobhan…it’s a simple question. What do you think about me? How hard can that be?”
She raised herself on her right elbow, pressing down on his sternum more firmly with her left hand. Not hard. Just solid contact. “It’s may be a simple question, but it is vague. What do I think of you as…what? Blademaster? Boom-Boomer? Equestrian? Bed warmer? Diplomat? Glavian? Traveling companion? Friend? Lover? Spouse? Pet?”
“Pet? What the fuck, Siobhan!”
“Well…like I said…simple…but vague. There are a lot of possible permutations to the question.” She folded her right arm back between them and put her head back down on his shoulder, easing up the pressure of her left hand so it was just resting in place.
Sigh. “Never mind. Forget I said anything.” He started to roll his back towards her.
“No,” she replied firmly, and even more firmly pressing her hand down on his chest to keep him from rolling. He could still roll over if he wanted to. But she was making it clear he was going to have to try much harder to get out of this conversation now that it started. “What is it you want to know?”
“What do you think of me?” he repeated, a little exasperated.
“How so,” she replied back, sounding a little equally exasperated.
“I love you. You know that. You might be my best friend in the world.”
“As a friend,” he snapped back. “I’ve told you that before. As a friend.”
“And you want to know if I love you back…as MY friend…or if I am just…using you?”
Damn. That was much of it in a nutshell. But it was a damned intuitive insight. How the hell did she get there so quickly? Maybe she is a witch.
Too many heartbeats later, “well…yeah. Sure. Let’s start there. Am a just a tool?”
“Let’s not start with the tool thing,” she shifted her weight slightly, letting her left thigh and calf snake their way on top of his right leg. “Let’s start with the friendship thing.”
“I feel like I have to go back to New Warrendale. Now. Not later after Avondale and Whitefall. But now. Yeah…we will spend a couple days here before heading to Bowerstone…and probably a few days in Bowerstone before sailing. But… basically now. You want your red katana back. You really want your red katana back…”
“What’s this got to do with the question?” His annoyance over her avoiding he question.
“I’m getting there. Patience, ‘Oh Purple One’. So…I know you really want your red katana back. I kind of get that. It’s a personal thing. If you were to go back to New Warrendale with me, then you leave the fate of your red katana in the hands of a group that is not as invested in getting it back as you are. So…it’s less likely you get your sword back…ever. Because you are my friend, I encouraged you to let me come back alone. The red katana is important to you. So I want you to get it back. And coming with me means that may not happen. Likely means it probably won’t happen. They will get distracted and go on some side adventure and a decade from now your red katana will be half way across the world in some red dragon’s lair. A red katana for a red dragon. So…I told you to stay with the group. Because…you are my friend.
“Furthermore, New Warrendale’s fate is my…burden. I don’t want you to anchor yourself to my…dream…because of possibly mis-guided feelings…”
He started to protest, but she felt him suck in air before speaking.
“Shh! I’m talking now. I know that New Warrendale is important to you. But not like me. Or you wouldn’t have had an escape plan. And that’s fine. Really. What good is free will if you cannot use it. But…I didn’t want you to come with me. I didn’t want you to come with me because I care about you a great deal. And New Warrendale is not your dream. That red katana is more of your dream…and until you get it back, I don’t know if you can ever dream of anything else.
“And you are a damned fine tool for my dream. You have so many…critical uses to helping make my dream come true. So, as a tool, I am better off with you here than with the team. But as my friend, you and your needs are better served with the team. So…when I decided I was going back to New Warrendale…I treated you like a friend, not a tool…because you are my friend. But after telling you ‘no’ three times, and you still insisting that you come with me, I said ‘fuck it, come on you dark lavender fool’.”
“Oh…and now you are my tool. I am going to use the fuck out of you in every way I can. Make no mistake about that. I am going to wring every last drop of usefulness out of you that I can.” Dramatic pause. He started to speak. “But, you will still be my friend first.”
“So…you do love me!?”
“As a friend! Absolutely.”
“But…not as a…mate?” What the hell…might as well see where this can go.
A pause. Pressure by her left hand on his sternum fluctuated a bit, but not enough to give guidance to what she was thinking. Fuck. Probably should not have gone there. “Well…no. Not really. There are a couple of reasons. But the most important one is I don’t think of anybody as a…”mate” right now. I have New Warrendale to think of. Drelmadath to think of. And still have to retrieve the Essence of Hermes. I don’t have time for a mate at the moment.”
“Not even a casual encounter?”
“Can’t risk getting pregnant?”
“So…you’re a virgin?” Toot-Toot never thought of her as a virgin. Maybe because she tended to be too loud and brassy. But, he never knew her to engage in carnal activities either…so he did not really think of her as experienced.
“No. My husband would not have seen the humor in me continuing to hold onto my virginity after marriage.”
“Wait! You’re married!” He bolted upright, unintentionally dumping her onto her back. “Why didn’t this come up before?”
She chuckled as she righted herself into a sitting position. “It never came up. And does it matter?”
“Well…no. But yes. This is the type of thing you tell your friends. You know…I’m married so maybe you shouldn’t sleep with me!”
“Whoa, Big Boy. Calm yourself.” Amazing how telling somebody to calm down almost never works. Amazing that her tone actually settled him…just a bit.”First. He’s dead. Second, even if he wasn’t, I could sleep buck naked with you, um, without the scented oils…scented oils might be a shade too much…and it wouldn’t be a big deal. Neither my hand nor my loins are going to accidentally fall on your purple flute. I can be totally naked with you, and shades, even be turned on and not feel compelled to act on it. I’m passionate, but I am not ruled by lust. And I know how to say, ‘no.’ Politely at first. Less politely if it bears repeating. My matrimonial state has nothing to do with our relationship, because we are friends. Just friends. And not ‘friends’ like Gilby has friends.”