Chance Meetings [Part One]
Greetings! For anyone who has been reading my Journal Entries, following the mage Kesarakk on his journey following the activation of the Gateways, this is a short story following my latest entry following Kesarakk meeting a Bard on his quest to find his mentor. There is a link to all my short stories in my signature, but here is a link for the official website
Kesarakk woke to the morning life of Brekfuntile. The first rays of light were entering the window, casting long shadows against the far wall. The tired mage took a minute to orient himself and remember the events of the past three days. Grelan was gone, his mentor taken during a supply run to the small town. He had enough coin to purchase a tucked away room in the Golden Friar. The tired mage found the irony of his refuge almost too much, given it was a band of clerics who were hunting him. He had spent two nights in this tavern and was relieved to have slept without incident.
The mage rose from his goose-feathered bed in a grunt and donned his stained, purple robes. He checked the wards he had placed on the door and window. When satisfied that there had been no attempt to break them, he poured water into a small bowl and washed his face. The coolness of the water was a welcome feeling against his tired face. After washing, Kesarakk picked up his staff that he had leaned against the wall next to the bed, removed the ward covering his door and exited. The smell of cooking bacon and fried eggs made the Mage’s mouth water. His stomach woke then and demanded attention. He absentmindedly rubbed his belly as he descended the stairs.
As Kesarakk reached the landing of the stairs he was greeted by a young woman standing behind a podium. She was a plain woman with brown hair knotted together in a fashion common for ladies of court and wore a simple dress, though well kept. Lines on her face betrayed her fatigue, but she greeted the mage with a warm smile. She bowed her head with indifference then spoke. “Good morning, Sir Mage. Cook has prepared an excellent breakfast this morning, enough to feed our patrons twice over. Shall I have a plate made for you?”
Kesarakk smiled at the woman and nodded his approval. “Bacon, chewy if it pleases the Cook. Eggs, fried with the yolk uncooked and the freshest bread that you can find. I would also like honey milk, if available. If not, I will do with wine.”
The woman gave him a half-bow as she took mental note of his order. “I will inform the cook at once. I will see to your beverage personally, Sir Mage. Take any seat you like and I will return presently. Should you require anything else, do not hesitate to ask. Our home is yours.”
Kesarakk smiled at the woman and made his way to a table in the corner of the room. The tavern was better kept than he first believed when he first entered the Tavern three days past. Tables, though battered by years of use, were wiped clean while the walls were decorated with paintings of places far beyond the walls of Brekfuntile and were arranged in a manner that suggested a continuing story, much like the painted walls one were to find in a noble's castle.
A stringed instrument played as the Mage looked at the walls. The melody was soft but complex. The man wielding it smiled to himself, his eyes closed in a distant memory as the music flowed from his fingertips. Kesarakk couldn’t help but smile as the song continued. In his mind’s eye, he left the tavern and went many miles away to his first years as a mage’s apprentice. He was in the Tower of Zazel sweeping Archmage Oblouk’s chambers. He smelt the smoldering embers of the fire and the musky of books. Alchemical experiments bubbled in their glasses on various tables in the room. It has been the start of an early spring, though the air still held it’s chill of the past winter. It was a happy memory of a simpler time. In those days, there was only a silly boy who had the ambition of rising to the rank of Archmage and spending his days working on alchemical experiments who dreamed of becoming patron to regal lords and the center of political intrigue. Now, he was just a silly old man who wanted nothing more than to return to the Tower and forget all about the gateways and the politics of the times.
The music stopped suddenly, breaking Kesarakk’s internal contemplations. His eyes refocused to see the man staring at him with a knowing grin. Kesarakk smiled back at him, more out of embarrassment than courtesy.
“Did you enjoy it?” the man asked.
Kesarakk cleared his throat before answered. “Yes, I found it beautiful.” He put plainly.
The man set his lute against the wall and got up to move to Kesarakk’s table. He wore brown and white linens covered by a black vest with matching leggings with a large silver belt. He looked no more than twenty and three years, though the Mage wasn’t good at guessing ages. “Miller, at your service.” The man said as he stretched his hand out in good faith. Kesarakk returned the gesture without speaking and offered the man a seat with a nod. Miller took the seat as the hostess arrives with Kesarakk’s meal.
The woman set the meal down in front of Kesarakk. “My apologies, Sir Mage. I did not realize you had a companion. I can return to Cook and have a second breakfast made up if it pleases you.”
“Don’t trouble yourself over me, fair lady,” Miller said as he looked the woman in the eye. She bowed her head to hide her blush. “I must say, the ladies of court would be jealous indeed if you entered their keeps. Your beauty alone would shame their fine garments and perfumes.”
The woman continued to blush as she tried to mouth a reply. “Y-you’re too kind, sir. I would never presume to enter any court with this rag.” She grabbed the edges of her dress as emphases.
“Any man with intelligent eyes would ignore your dress to look upon your face, my lady,” Miller said.
Kesarakk coughed slightly and took a sip of his drink to cleanse his throat. The sweet milk enhanced with honey swam in his mouth for a moment before he swallowed. He spoke as the woman redirected her attention to him. “Anything my friend desires to eat and drink.” He said before returning to his meal. The mage eyed Miller as if to say get on with it.
“Spiced wine, if you have it. Music is thirsty work.” Said Miller.
The woman bowed to him and hurried off to the kitchen. Her face was still red and she made a point to avoid eye contact with Miller as she presented his drink. He thanked her and gave her a gold piece before she returned to her normal duties. The two men sat in silence for a few minutes as Kesarakk finished his meal. Once he washed down the last mouthful of yolk-soak bred Miller spoke.
“If you don’t mind my asking… Sir Mage, was it… What brings a group of mages so far from your tower? It is rare to find even one of your kind in such a small town and unheard of for so many to be seen outside of the major cities.” Miller smiled as he asked his question.
Kesarakk looked at the man with trepidation. There was no malice in the man’s eyes, only simple curiosity. After a moment of contemplation, the mage decided to answer his question. “A few members of my order and myself have been working on experiments in this area. One of my companions was separated from me during our supply run. I’m currently looking for him now.”
“Would these experiments have anything to do with the Gateways?” Miller asked. When Kesarakk’s expression changed from caution to alarm, he held out his hand with an explanation. “It’s common sense, Sir Mage. The entire continent is buzzing with stories about the reactivation of these ancient Gateways. Every guild, holy order, and government are trying to discern the implications.”
“What would a man of your stature know of these matters?” asked Kesarakk. He spoke bluntly if not rudely, but Miller took no offense. In fact, he laughed a deep, pure belly laugh as though Kesarakk had told a good joke rather than questioning his pride.
“Fair question, Sir Mage. Perhaps I did not properly introduce myself. I am Miller the Bard. I belong to several Bard colleges from the beautiful Aesrain along the forest to the glimmering port city of Nezeküla. It is my job to know the popular stories and information passed between cities and their leaders.” Said Miller.
“As you say,” Kesarakk replied as he drained the last of the honey milk and wiped his beard with the sleeve of his robe. The mage moved to get up from the table, but Miller grabbed his arm. The two locked eyes for a short moment before the bard spoke again.
“I do have information about a group of clerics that have moved into the city. Few know they are here, but the Night’s Watch has been seeing to their needs. Apparently, the Archbishop of their particular order has relations with the town’s governor and they have enlisted his aid. They have taken over the old watch tower on the west side of the town wall. There are tunnels that lead from there to the road. Since they have taken residence there, the Night’s Watch has reduced security of that area. Now there are only two that are stationed at that wall, with messengers entering the tower at least twice a night.” Said Miller.
Kesarakk sat back down and ran his hand through his beard as he digested the bard’s words. If the Watch was helping these clerics, his position was even worse. During his early years as an apprentice, there was one truth that all the new mages were told “The only power greater than the arcane is perception. If people believe something long and hard enough, no amount of truth will sway them.”. The mage looked at Miller and knew in that moment he could not find his old mentor alone.
“Do you know if anyone other than the clerics and their aids has entered the tower?” he asked.
“Such as your lost companion.” Stated Miller. He took a minute to retrace his memories, then spoke. “No… I haven’t heard of anyone else entering the tower, but if your friend was taken along the road, they most likely would have gone through the tunnels. No one, other than the Night’s Watch, would possibly know and that information isn’t shared freely.”
“My order will pay for your troubles and offer protection against any who would harm you for the information.” Said Kesarakk.
“You misunderstand me, Sir Mage. As embarrassed as I am to say it, I know nothing about the occupants of the tower, save that they are clerics and they are friends with the governor of this town.” Said Miller.
Kesarakk sighed and nodded to the man. “I thank you for your information. It will help with my next plan. Good travels to you.”
The mage stood and walked from the table, staff in hand. He set a few coins at the podium where the hostess stood and show bowed to him in thanks as she took them and placed them inside a hidden coffer. Kesarakk opened the tavern door and walked out to the busy streets of Brekfuntile. The sun was higher in the sky now. Farmers moved their wagon of goods through the city and shop keeps shouted out their wares to sell. While he was out of place, no one looked at the Mage as he made his way through the town. Kesarakk hadn’t gone one hundred paces from the Tavern before he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Miller. He noticed a dagger strapped to his belt that had not been there before and his lute strapped to his back.
“You’re going to need help with whatever your plans are, Sir Mage. I would like to offer my assistance.” Said the Bard.
“It will most likely be dangerous and unpleasant. Your information is invaluable and if you are seeking payment I can send word for your payment brought to Brekfuntile.” Said Kesarakk.
“You wound me, truly.” Said Miller with mock sadness. “I’m a Bard, not a cripple. Granted, I use my lute more than my dagger, but I am no stranger to adventure. My only payment will be to tell your story once we reach journey’s end. I can tell that you have more than one surprising plot twist to give to any narrative.”
Kesarakk shook his head as he looked to the Bard. He was right, he would need help and what better help than someone who already knows a great deal about what is going on. “Very well, master Bard. I am Kesarakk the Purple.”
“A pleasure, Sir Mage.” Said, Miller, as he shook the mage’s hand again. “Come with me.”
“What are you about?” asked Kesarakk.
“Political intrigue, an order of mages and clerics fighting each other and hostages to free? There is only one person I can think of who can help with our quest.” Said Miller.
“Our quest.” Echoed the Mage as he trailed the Bard. They took a series of turns and twists through the town, keeping to the back alleys. After thirty minutes of walking, Kesarakk found himself turned around. It was as if he was no longer in Brekfuntile, but another town that occupied the same space. Even the type of people had changed. What once had been a street full of farmers and merchants, was now alleys filled with homeless, the decrepit, and hooded figures that moved with urgency. The air itself changed and grew darker, as though the people in this area rebuked the light and all who lived in it. Finally, Miller stopped in front of a torch lit door. He turned to Kesarakk and spoke in a hushed tone so that no one could hear their conversation.
“Fair warning, friend. This place belongs to someone who many thought dead, or not even to exist. She would appreciate it if you kept it that way.” Said Miller. He waited for the Mage to say something, but only received a nod from the old man. The Bard smiled and moved to open the door. He paused and looked back to the Mage as he turned the handle. “I do apologize for the discomfort you are about to experience.”
Before Kesarakk could ask what he meant by that, the door opened and the Bard entered. Kesarakk grumbled to himself as he followed the man. Even with the day reaching its peak, the room was dark with a thin layer of smog. Herbs and incense burned at Kesarakk’s nose. It reminded him of an alchemical lab, but with poor lighting. A proper alchemist would need an area of good lighting to ensure he did not spill or over-measure ingredients for experiments. Those were the things that got people killed.
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, Kesarakk could hear a melodic voice. The song was rhythmic and controlled, but altogether beautiful. It reminded the Mage of ritual chanting, most commonly used by summoners when beseeching other planes of existence for guidance or aid. The climax of the song began and the figure he now knew to belong to an elven woman rose from her seat next to an open fire. She grabbed a four-foot scythe from the wall behind her. She pricked her finger on its sharp, black tip and held the open wound over the fire. She did not flinch or break her controlled singing. A drop of blood fell from her finger and into the fire. In that instant, the fire bathed the entire room in an orange, angry glow. There was an otherworldly roar and all fell silent. The fire died and the room went black.
“By the gods.”the woman complained. Kesarakk could hear her moving and knocking items over in an attempt to relight the fire. There were scraping noises and sparks where he last saw the woman. A second later the fire came back to life and he could see her sitting cross legged in front of it. She looked up as if noticing him and Miller for the first time. “Oh, hello.” She said.
“Anastacia, we talked about this.” Said Miller with a note of disappointment in his voice. “ Even Master Summoners have trouble with contacting the plane of fire. Why in the seven hells would you attempt a summoning in the middle of a timber town?”
The woman giggled with innocence. “I’ve created golems and summoned flame hounds before. I just wanted to talk to a fire sprite. They are so cute and I hear they make great familiars.”
Miller rolled his eyes, or so Kesarakk thought more than saw. “Sprites of any plane are tricksters by nature. They will help you one minute and when your back is turned half of your house will be burned down.”
“And since when has Miller the Bard known anything about summoning other than the stories he has heard, hmm? Had I know you were so skilled in the art of summoning, I would have surely sent for you decades ago when I began the craft.” Said Anastacia.
Kesarakk couldn’t help but smirk at the woman’s remarks. In the few minutes he has known the woman she had unnerved him, perplexed him, and now has entertained him. Miller gave Kesarakk a sideways glance before he cleared his throat to change the subject. “Anastacia, allow me to introduce to you Kesarakk the Purple, Mage of the Tower of Zazel. Sir Mage, this is Anastacia Tru of the Tru Line in the Mist Forest.”
The Mage’s eyebrows rose slightly at the introduction. He looked Anastacia over again with scrutiny. She was beautiful, a common trait for elves, but she did not hold herself the way petty nobles did who believed themselves more important than anyone else in the room. She was also short, for an elf, now that he saw her clearly. She couldn’t have been more than five feet and six. Kesarakk nodded as he finished his visual examination of the woman. It was said that the former queen of the Mist Forest had fallen in love with a Dünir dwarf and had been murdered for it. There was no word on a child born of this affair, but if it were true he was speaking to the rightful queen of a Py’rai clan.
“Pleasure, Lady Anastacia.” Said Kesarakk.
Anastacia scoffed then giggled at the Mage. She walked over to Kesarakk and laced her arm around his. “Tell me, Sir Mage. What trouble are we in?”