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April 15, 2024

The Rubiyaat of Ozzie 12

By Alexandra Queen

Episode 12 - The Fellowship of the Ring

The rest of the night was peaceful, the next day even more so. Minerva let me help her with her pack, and in and out of the wagon. Call me short sighted, but the whole problem of her homeland and the big nasty things looking for her seemed far away to me. What I had today in front of me was not a resourceful escapee from a fate worse than death, but a pretty young lady who needed protected from large patches of mud and rude travelers on the road and in the wayside stopovers. Yeah, I know she endured horrible who-knew-whats, and could see things no mortal was meant to see, but as the wagon was ready to roll out and she found herself on the wrong side of a four foot slick of shit, I was right there to take her hand and help her jump across so her boots didn't get dirty. And you know what? It made me feel good. I've always had a hard time worrying about things that aren't right in front of me. So I didn't. And it seemed to me that once I stopped worrying about it, she stopped worrying about it.

We spent a wonderful couple of days, staring out the back of the wagon or walking along with it. Minerva found her voice again, better than ever, telling tales of her childhood that kept even Riordan quiet and listening. She and Seawolf would trade stories and anecdotes back and forth, sometimes songs, or point things out to me along the road, especially after I embarrassed myself by asking why the trees in the forest we were passing grew in such straight rows. It came out that I had never left the city and was completely ignorant of the outside world. Orchards. Who knew?

Not too infrequently, Danny would doze off or go up to talk with Havard and Finn, and she would sit by me in the wagon and tell me more personal stories, of her mother, or her sisters or father. I think it was during one of those stories, for me only, when the light was pooling her eyes and she was smiling with that kind of shy way she had about her sometimes that I realized I was going to take her all the way to where she had to go, demons or not. Yeah, sure, they could pop my head off and eat my soul, but without Minerva, I had what? Ale? Sure. And I could send Riordan to get some for me and then drink it alone wherever I found myself. An assload of money? Okay, so maybe I could buy someone to go get me the ale, since Riordan was probably going to spend the rest of his life in an expensive bordello somewhere with me long forgotten. I could buy a whole bunch of people to sit around and talk to me while I drank my ale and thought about the one woman - the one person - who had ever spent time talking to me just because. Screw the demons. Everyone could use some extra muscle, surely Minerva was no exception. I'd give her enough money to get her settled someplace nice, and then I'd learn how to be her goddam gardener or something.

But I hadn't written Riordan off by any means. I did ask once, as she fell silent and stared out across the rolling hills that separated (Riordan told me) Bloodport from Waymeet, "What're we gonna tell Danny?"

She frowned in thought, pursing her lips slightly in such a manner as recurred in my dreams over the next several nights. "I trust your judgment on that matter, Osgun. If you feel he needs to know, or deserves to know, then I will tell him, or you may. But allow me to say, perhaps the less he knows, the safer he is. That is why I lied to him about how I came to know about the ring."

"That you dream stuff instead of see it?"

"Yes. Since our paths will diverge at Waymeet, it seems to me that it would be safer for him, in case someone comes asking questions. I'm very sorry that I've put you at risk with what I've told you."

"I ain't worried. You talk, I listen. That's how it's supposed to go. Bother me more if you didn't. Anyway, I was kind of thinking of going further west than Waymeet anyway." Her smile faded and she looked at me a bit solemnly. I glanced at her, then out down the road as I went on, heart starting to pound in my chest. Was I scared that she was going to gag and pitch a fit and tell me she couldn't stand to travel with me, pick another direction? Or was I scared at how obvious it was that I was really telling her I loved her? "Well... you said there were more ... half-breeds like me where you come from, right? That it wasn't unusual to see them around and they were even kind of accepted?"

"It will be difficult for you there, Osgun," she said quietly, looking at me. I didn't look back. I really didn't dare. "You will be a foreigner, which is worse than a half breed."

"People are gonna hate me anywhere I go. Be kind of neat to be lynched and killed for being a foreigner instead of for being ugly."

Minerva ducked her head and smiled, then looked back out to the road with a pleasant expression. "I suppose the road will offer plenty of time for you to change your mind. And if you do not, then if I am successful in my task, perhaps I will be in a position to help you find a place to settle there."

I kept my face neutral as I stared at the same boring stretch of road behind the wagon, but inside I was glowing fit to burst. I was going to be her gardener!

Riordan was naturally curious about the ring and the ghost, and some of our conversation was devoted to that topic.

"So... the ghost is following us?"

"It is following the ring, Master Seawolf."

"So it's here now?"

Minerva frowned a bit, probably making sure she didn't say too much. "Presumably."

"Can I see the ring?" Minerva slipped it out of her bodice and handed it over to Riordan to be examined. I peered over at it, too. It was pretty big.

"Worth a lot of money, Danny?"

"We...e...ll... you have about five gold pieces worth of actual gold. The craftsmanship is outstanding, though, which adds value. Problem is value to who? A collector might pay as much as fifty gold for it. Your average pawnshop is only going to give you about five. Maybe ten if you're lucky and the fence is drunk. But this looks like somebody's seal - see the design, Ozzie? That could potentially add value, depending on whose seal it was." I squinted and could make out a swirly pattern in the face of the ring, but it made my eyes burn, especially with the motion of the wagon. Riordan was looking over at Minerva. "Did you find out in your dream whose seal it is?"

"Only that tragedy befell the spirit because of the loss of the ring. It cannot rest until the seal is returned."

"Is the ring magic?" Riordan's eyes lit up. I shook my head and made the warding sign the old fishermen used to protect from such things. Who cared to dabble in magic? Magic was for monsters and non-human folk and the evil sorcerers who trafficked with them. Decent people didn't delve into such things. That was much of the reason westerners were mistrusted so. It was said that even the common folk often knew some magic and that they used magic devices with the frequency that we used heavy equipment like wagons or forges -- not everybody could afford it, but everybody knew someone who could. I suppose a magic ring could fetch quite a price, but how much money did one person need?

Minerva was giving him an arch look, her black eyes flashing a bit. "No, I believe it merely carries some significance."

"Are you sure?" he handed it back to her reluctantly.

"Yes, I am sure. I would be able to tell if a thing possessed magic."

The journey was amazing to me. Having grown up in narrow alleys where the only expanse of sky was seaward, and that often covered in fog, the wide open road was a marvel. The road climbed gradually at first, and then steeply up into the coastal hills, where there was nothing but scrub and dead grass and herds of cattle shivering in the snow. Riordan and I were recruited to help move the wagon along the road in places when the days warmed things enough to let the mud thaw. Havard and Finn were as patient as anyone else with my questions. Finn and I spent time walking beside the horses in case they slipped on the ice, and he showed me how their shoes were spiked in the winter for better traction and added incidentally that I should not let my feet get stepped on. Even when it was snowing or a freezing wind blew, the horses were often damp with sweat from the effort of pulling the wagon up into the hills and I understood why they had a team of four to pull a load I had figured could be done with two. We also spent a lot of time covering and uncovering the horses to make sure they didn't catch a chill, working so hard in the cold weather.

There were not many other travelers on the road. Mostly individuals or small parties, but sometimes a merchant wagon like ours, or a caravan. Havard said that in warmer weather, the road looked like a parade both ways, clogged with every sort of wagon and traveler you could imagine, from the reaches of the earth, and that merchants and vendors spent their days by the roadside or wandering along, selling refreshments, supplies, souvenirs, trinkets, sex, or anything else you could imagine. When he found out that I worked on the docks, he told me that most likely a full half of what I unloaded headed this same way down the road toward Waymeet. I couldn't help myself. I was impressed as hell.

Probably the most impressive part of the journey, however, was at the summit. Finn was telling me that in this weather, it would be almost as much work moving safely down the hill as it was to go up but that we should have about an hour's breather of level at the top any time now. He looked up at the sky, which was clear for the moment, and told me to head to the back of the wagon and take a look down the hill. The view was incredible. The round hills lumped gently down below me, covered in patchy snow and the flatlands and bay stretched out at their feet. I could see the entire city -- the walls, the gates, the boats as tiny, tiny specks on the water. It was so exciting I woke up Riordan and made him point things out to me - could he see the docks? Could he see the market? What was that big thing? (It was the castle of the Port Authority.) He could see better than I at the distance, which was a little disappointing, but it was still a sight I will never forget.

Next Week - Rumors of the Demon King
Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2002-09-28
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