Chronicles of a Pagan
And Unexpected Friends
The man came bursting out of Hanova’s tavern and stumbled right into the fighter Ontibile. She had stepped back in shock as the man was shouting in some drunken rage about lies.
“It’s all a lie!” He shouted, shaking Ontibile by the joints in her old armor, making her rattle like a toy. “Everything! Everything…” His voice trailed and his expression grew confused as Ontibile put up her hands and moved to put her arm around his shoulders.
“Ah, come on now,” She said calmly. “It’s at least half true. Every good lie is.”
“Yeah,” The older man nodded drunkenly. “Yeah, it’s at least half true.” He mumbled running a hand through his hair.
“Come back in with me. Tell me your story.” Ontibile’s voice was soft for the first time since they had met. Like she was caring for a sick child.
She had followed the pair, uncertain and unsure. She had never been in a tavern before. Not be mistaken, she had had her share of elfin ale at plenty of festivals and weddings, but she had never actually been inside a tavern before.
Inside it was a loud and raucous mess, easy to miss a mad man in all this. Over all the shouts and loud singing there were the soft strains of an elfin harp. She saw in the corner, enchanted and strumming softly on its own. The harp and the harp alone was keeping this rowdy crowd from brawling, she knew that the moment she looked on it.
She found herself a safe seat in the corner while Ontibile sincerely listened to the stranger’s “story”. But it wasn’t a story at all. It was more like the inane babbling of a severely affected poison victim. He just went on and on rambling back and forth about lies and half truths. She sat and quietly drank her glass of elfin ale, the honey sweet milky colored stuff was almost enough to make her forget about the fighter and stranger standing and talking next to her by the time she got to the bottom of it.
“All the way from Karis?” Ontibile asked softly. “That’s a long road to travel.”
“I thought…” The mad man whispered then shook his head and took another drink of the hard cider he was drinking. She wondered if he should still be drinking alcohol. “I don’t know what I thought. That she’d wait? And what would I tell her even if she did? She couldn’t possibly understand… what I saw…”
“I’m going to go.” She whispered to Ontibile as she slid off her seat. “One drink is enough for me tonight.” Ontibile nodded.
“That’s probably wise. If you need me I’ll probably still be here in the morning.” She replied quietly.
Shaking her head she moved away from the pair. She pushed her way through the crowd and pushed off a young drunken mage who pretended to stumble into her. Straightening her tunic she walked back out into the evening.
It was nightfall now. It was a full moon too. Between the lamp light and the glowing crystals in the elfish lanterns the world was cloaked in silver. Her feet made no sound as she made her way through the dark streets of her home town. She would go sleep in the tree with her brothers and sisters, but she wasn’t truly ready to sleep yet. Not that she really needed it. All she really needed was to stand in the water.
The cool clear water washed up around her knees as she stepped into it. A deep peace washed over her shoulders and she sighed softly. Even at night, when her magic waned, in this water she felt strong, invincible even. She could sleep in the water, lay her head down on it like a pillow and become it, vanish into the ripples of the disturbed surface until sunrise. But she wasn’t ready to sleep yet.
She walked slowly to the stairs and stepped out of the water. She had wanted to be a soldier since as far back as she could remember. She wanted to fight for Erina, for the Alliance, she wanted to defend her home and wear that badge of honor into every town she entered.
She dragged her feet on the stairs. There was something bothering her now. Something she had never heard before. Something in Ontibile’s words and in her voice.
Every good lie is at least half true.
It was profound how utterly true that was, and it made her queasy to think of it. It was even worse than a whole work of fiction. It took the truth, a wholly beautiful and worthy thing and dragged it through mud and filth, leaving only half of what it truly was.
She thought about his words that night as she walked up to the smith. He had been so drunk. She hadn’t known then just how deep in love she would fall with him. She hadn’t known then how she would be his doom. But now, as she looked back on it, perhaps that rusted old fighter had known, even so long ago.
Her shoulders shuddered a little and she looked around the small smith shop. It was empty. Not a soul among the horse shoes and half formed armor pieces. She could hear soft voices and laughter coming from behind a heavy red curtain beside and behind the smith though and she wandered quietly towards the sounds.
Her hand froze on the thick red curtain. She had only few coins Scryren had given her. She had no idea if it was enough for a drink these parts. Worse still, what would she tell them when they asked where she was from?
The tavern itself was built into the very structure of the wall around Aridon. The curtain was strung over the entryway. As she pulled it back she could see only two Vails there, the barkeep and a young assassin. It was a narrow space, barely big enough for the counter and it was empty, which didn’t surprise Ontibile much. It was the middle of the day, not many came looking for drinks at this time.
“Well, are you going to come in or what?” The young Vail behind the counter complained. “You’re letting in the light.”
“Sorry.” Ontibile mumbled and stepped inside, remembering how she looked to them, like one of them, even though inside she still felt like herself, an elfin mage. The assassin was looking at her with cold, strange eyes.
Ontibile hated those eyes. She had met them before on the battlefield. They had no dark pupil, instead there was white where there should have been black and they seemed to glow in the dark. Those eyes looked right through her as if they could see into her very soul, they always had.
“Are you just going to stand there or are you going to order something?” The barkeep put his hand on the counter in the dim crystal light and scowled a little.
Ontibile reached into her pack quickly and put her few coins on the counter and climbed up into a seat.
“Whatever that will buy me.” She mumbled and put her head in her hands. The assassin was still staring at her. Her thin black lips twitched a little and she sniffed. Ontibile frowned at her. “Can I help you?”
“Where did you crawl in from?” The assassin asked suspiciously. There it was the question she feared.
“The mountains.” Ontibile mumbled. It was the truth and wasn’t that what she had said? Every good lie was half true.
The Vail behind the counter collected her coins and replaced them with some dark strong smelling stuff.
“Yeah?” He asked as he pushed the wooden cup towards her. “Which range?” Ontibile stumbled in her mind. She didn’t know what the mountains were called here. She didn’t know their names.
“The borderlands.” She mumbled quietly.
“So you’re a soldier?” The assassin asked doubtfully. Ontibile shook her head.
“Just a quester.” She muttered into the cup before taking a drink. It tasted as strong as it smelled and it made her eyes water as it went down but she made a good show of not being affected. “Looking for some work actually.”
“A quester? What were you doing in the borderlands?” The barkeep asked with a frown.
“Looking… looking for someone.” Ontibile put the wooden cup back down.
“So where are you from?” The assassin pressed. “Where is your home town?” Ontibile stumbled again inside her head.
“I’d… I’m not really wanted there anymore. I… I was sent away.” She said quietly. “I’d rather not talk about it.” The assassin sniffed again.
“Why not?” She pushed.
“Pyra…” The barkeep sighed.
“What?” The assassin asked loudly. “I don’t like little pagans from nowhere coming up into my favorite haunt without getting a little… okay, so I just don’t like pagans.” She grumbled softly and turned in her seat. “Bunch of dirty, back-stabbing, stuck-up, holier than thou…”
“Pyra…” The barkeep said again. “Keep your history to yourself and drink your liquor.” He put another small shot glass in front of the assassin and gave her a look, the kind exchanged between close friends when one was about to say more than they should.
“Bite me.” Pyra muttered before knocking back the shot.
“I would, but I don’t put things in my mouth unless I know where they’ve been.” The keep grinned wryly. Pyra laughed quietly and laid her head down on the counter.
“Another.” She demanded dryly pushing the glass back towards the keep. He turned to get her another.
“What’s your name, pagan?” He asked Ontibile as he poured another shot into another small glass.
“Ontibile.” She answered quietly. Both he and Pyra turned to stare at her.
“Get out.” He said firmly.
“What?” Ontibile straightened in her seat.
“Get out.” He said louder. “I won’t have any God worshipping heathens in my establishment.”
“God worshipping…” Her voice trailed. Oh yes, hadn’t that old fighter told her once so long ago, what it meant, the name Ontibile, God Watches Me. “No.” She shook her head and raised her hand quickly. “No, it’s just… It’s a long story. It’s just my name. I renounced that faith long ago.” She mumbled the last sentence under her breath.
Pyra’s brow furrowed a little and her bottom lip stuck out.
“You should change it.” The keep told her with a growl. “It won’t do well to be walking around with that name. Did your mother hate you?” Ontibile chuckled grimly.
“Oh but it’s seeming to fit me more and more.” She mumbled morbidly into her wooden cup. The keep didn’t seem to hear her but when she glanced up Pyra was still staring at her with her creepy eyes, staring straight into her very soul.
How many times on the battlefield had she made those eyes close? How much hatred had bore for them? Only to now be sitting next to them, seeking shelter with them. The irony struck her and she smirked into the strong lager sitting in front of her.
She had believed the lie because it was half true. She might as well have been worshipping a heathen god… she certainly wasn’t any goddess. Ontibile made a cradle with her arms and sank her brow into it on the cool stone counter.
“By the way, Stahl,” Pyra’s voice said wryly then. “This isn’t an establishment, this is a crack in the bulwark you threw a curtain over and moved into… like a little mouse.” Stahl made a soft sound.
“Yes, like a mouse.” He said quietly. Ontibile heard the glass of Pyra’s shot clink on the stone counter.
“I thought we were keeping our history to ourselves tonight.” Pyra whispered.
“We were.” Stahl’s voice was so quiet Ontibile almost didn’t hear him. The glass scraped as it slid across the stone and Ontibile heard him pour another shot.
She tipped her head and glanced up through the strands of her black hair to see Pyra pouting at Stahl’s back. When he turned back he scowled at her.
“You’re not drunk yet, don’t pretend to be.” He scolded her and looked at Ontibile. “I know a guy, a good customer here, he’s a guard, he’s recruiting every hunter and quester that’s come by. He might have some work for you. Apparently there’s been trouble in the woods and rural areas around here. I’ll keep an ear open for you about anyone else looking for a quester’s help.”
“Thank you.” Ontibile nodded into her arms and tilted her face back down to touch her nose to the cold stone. She heard glass slid across the counter and felt it touch her elbow. She lifted her head quickly and in surprise saw a small shot glass sitting by her arm.
“On the house.” Stahl mumbled. “You look like you could use it.” She nodded again in a silent thank you. She saved the shot for last and used it chase down the last swallow of lager in her cup. It was tasteless but it burned going down.
Stahl and Pyra were carrying on some quiet conversation in the corner about someone Ontibile didn’t know. It didn’t sound like someone she wanted to meet either. She moved to slide off her seat and slip out unnoticed when a loud party suddenly pushed aside the curtain and pushed their way in. Some Nordien threw his arm around Ontibile’s shoulders and turned her back toward the counter.
“Drinks on me, tonight!” Another Nordien shouted. “I want to get drunk! Completely wasted! And every single one of you bastards are getting drunk with me!” He grinned as he declared his goal for the night loudly. A cheer went up from his party.
“Alright,” Stahl agreed calmly. “But you’re gonna have to tell me what we’re celebrating.”
“This young idiot, my younger brother has finally asked Sjorn to marry him!” The loud Nordien declared, pointing to the young man with his arm around Ontibile. He picked up his arms and hooted in excitement and probably some measure of relief.
“Well it’s about time!” Stahl shouted over them as he poured their drinks.
They didn’t ask her name. They didn't ask where she was from. They shouted in protest when she tried to get up to leave and dragged her back to the counter. Pyra got up on her chair and sang in a loud and drunken voice some song Ontibile had never heard before about courting a prostitute. She flushed red at the content of the song but no one else around her seemed at all shamed. By the time the song was over most of the small tavern was singing along.
The rounds went down one after another. It wasn’t until she succeeded in getting off her chair that Ontibile realized just how drunk she was. She stumbled a little as the room spun and tilted then she realized she wasn’t getting out of this small pub conscious as she twisted and blacked out before she even hit the floor.