Episode Nine - Minerva's Monstrous Secret, or "She's in it for de-mony"
Riordan stopped because I knocked him tumbling away from the mouth of the hole. Not hard, mind you, but the lady needed out of the hole and he wasn't helping. "Sorry about that, Minerva." I reached down and grabbed her hand, then pulled her up out of the hole.
Riordan was sitting on the ground staring at me with disgust when I looked over. "You and I have got to learn to work as a team, Ozzie. That's all I'm saying."
"We gotta get back to the wagon, Riordan. She'll tell us what we need to know when she feels comfortable. The rest is none of our business."
"Sure, and her pet demons will eat us in our sleep. She's a westerner, Osgun. And - no offense, miss - she's obviously killed before!" He pointed down in the hole.
I got to my feet and offered a hand to Minerva to help her to hers. "Riordan, that body has been there since before my daddy went on the raping rampage that ruined my my mother and every goat in Bloodport knocked up, but left your mother untouched as even horny orcs got standards."
"Yes, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything because she," he jabbed a finger at Minerva, "is undead!"
Turning her back on us, Minerva headed up the hill towards the road, shaking her head. She looked exasperated, but also a little depressed. I told Riordan what he was full of and headed after her.
"Oh, so you have a better explanation?" Riordan called after me. "Tell me something, have you seen her change at all? She looks just the same as when you first met her, doesn't she? I don't hear a better explanation from her!"
Minerva was walking at a brisk pace that would catch us up with the wagon in not too long, head down and arms folded tight across her chest. It was easy enough to catch up to her with my longer stride. "Hey. I can go knock his teeth down his throat if you want, but honestly, it's just him being an asshole."
"No, I understand, Osgun. It's not entirely what Master Seawolf was saying. There was just too much of a clamor going on with everyone talking at once."
We walked on a few more steps in silence, during which I doublechecked to make sure Riordan was tagging along some distance behind. Clamor? Just me and Riordan? I pointed out, "Minerva? You aren't exactly reassuring me, here."
"I am from Darkdim Crux, Osgun, but I do not worship the demons there. I have no wish to continue in the living death when my time comes."
"I knew you weren't a dead person." I said supportively, earning me a bit of a look.
"I suppose," she said wryly, "that depends on how you look at things. I received word last night that I must return to the place of my birth in the Heights. I escaped from there when I was sixteen to avoid my fate as a sacrifice to the demons in the Great Temple. To return is death."
Demons. Breasts. Demons. Breasts. We walked in silence for several moments while my baser instincts warred with each other. Fear or lust, which would win? "So you're saying you have demons looking for you?"
"Do they... know what you look like? Or is it going to be some guy in charge of rounding up sacrifices who might see you and recognize you?"
"I escaped from inside the Temple. I spent almost a year there before I was able to escape. They would know me."
Demonology was not my strong point. I was terribly confused. "So, wait, you were a sacrifice, but you were hanging out in the temple for almost a year?"
"Osgun, listen to me. I shall try to explain more clearly. Every family in Noksheoth Heights is required to deliver a child to the Temple by the time the eldest child is twenty, a girl if they have one, a boy if they do not. Girls of the age of fifteen are preferred. The girls are sent to the Temple to serve in various capacities. Those that have proper talents are able to become priestesses, sometimes magicians or sorceresses, and very powerful. Those that have no potential are... left to demonic amusements."
"You, um... you got talents?"
"Of a sort. I can see spirits. Specifically, I can see and speak with spirits without drawing on the powers of a god or a demi-god like Noksheoth. Perhaps I could have channeled divine powers well enough to become a priestess, but I refused to worship Noksheoth, and so my fate was sealed."
The wagon was in sight now, only a short jog away if it suddenly mattered that much, and in good time, for the stars were just beginning to become visible in the darkening sky. I checked again to make sure Riordan was behind us, which he was, keeping a respectful distance between us. "So why you going back?" was the most burning question on my mind.
"I don't know if I can answer that question briefly. In the Hammered Hand last night, a spirit came to me with a warning. An issue has arisen and I have been suddenly remembered by several parties. The spirit warned that men had been sent to find me and bring me back to the Temple, but that his mistress would speak with me first. He seems to think that if I am wise, I will be able to win my freedom in this matter."
She used to talk to me about soup. And cute ways she and the other boarders used to try to get rid of the rats in the Widow Shorey's shop. The most serious matters she talked about was who was sick or hurt around the docks and who else was getting together to help them through it. I suppose it had been kind of naive to think that whatever it was that was giving her "vapors" was something I could solve by coming along and looking threatening. I felt suddenly stupid and out of my league and ridiculous. Worst of all, the tide of events was going to carry Minerva far, far out of my reach. Had I expected to follow her home and beat up some thug that was threatening her family? Find whatever work there was to be had to bring in a wage while she tended to a sick parent? Earn the respect and admiration of her family and the chance to... to what. Love her?
Taking a deep breath, I shook it off. How long would a woman like Minerva have stayed in my life anyway? So what if I hadn't expected this? It could have just as easily been some good-looking bastard with a couple pieces of gold to his name whisking her off. I had come on this trip with the realistic intention of spending one last week, maybe two, sneaking peeks down her top before saying goodbye forever. What had changed? She still had great breasts. What the hell was I in such a funk about? I summarized my take on the situation for her.
She flickered a bit of a glance at me, then wrapped her cloak around her more tightly, as if against the cold. "Anyway," Minerva faltered a little, then continued, "I sawï¾& a spirit by the road side. He needs something done before he can rest. It seems like it will be on my way, so I ï¾& thought I would help him out."
We had caught up to the wagon now. I jogged ahead a few steps to check in with Havard and Finn, then moved back to help Minerva climb in, hoping to console myself with the feel of her hips beneath my hands, but I came around the rear corner of the wagon only in time to see her disappear into the interior. She didn't even need me to help her into the wagon.
I was sitting on the gate of the wagon when Riordan caught up a few minutes later, watching the sky get slowly darker and trying not to embarrass myself by giving in to the urge to heave deep sighs.
"What the hell is this?" he asked as I reached down to give him a hand up. "You leaving the undead unsupervised?"
"Shut up, asshole." I was a dockworker. I didn't need to give responses with a lot of thought. I lifted stuff and drank ale. That was it.
Riordan frowned at me as he swung his leg over the rear gate. "Okay, then, tell me what's going on."
"Nothing's going on, that's what."
"So what's with the thieves' den and her being a westerner?"
"What do you mean nothing??"
"So she found an old bandit hole and she's from the west. What the hell's the big deal?"
A little perturbed, Riordan leaned forward to get in my face. "So how did she find the bandits' hiding spot?"
"Probably the same way you find your head, shoved as far up your ass as it is," I glared at him and enunciated: "blind luck."
With a huff of irritation, Riordan dropped into the interior of the wagon. I heard him mutter, "Gods of pot holes and road droppings..." A peek over my shoulder showed him fishing out a handkerchief and giving it to Minerva. I watched him stomp further back through the bags of wool and fling himself down to glare at the roof of the wagon, then looked back to Minerva. She was dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief. I turned to stare back out at the road, but it was nothing but dark and dirt. One of those sighs escaped me after all.Next Week: A Night at the Inn