Jewls the Lucky tries to keep a promise he made as a child, and still get out alive.
Dragon of Scrolls
By Nix Winter
A shared world with Niejuno
All rights reserved
Please do not archive or save
Hail hit, dancing over his cloak like the sky laid siege to his cloak and pack. There was enough sun through the clouds that it hardly felt right that snow should fall like small cold pebbles. More snow, of a worse more chilling form would follow. He’d been stuck in it for nearly two days the previous winter, swirls of white powdered death defying even a forest rat like him from finding his way to ground. Violet eyes were the brightest color and held the walls of his mental castle against the siege of fear that the sky wanted to lay against it.
With one gray wool gloved hand, he pulled his hood a little farther over his face, let a slow breath out his mouth, which was warm against his lips for such a flash of a moment. If he’d been anyone else, he’d have been highly concerned about being lost on a mountain range that wasn’t known for being hospitable. He had been looking for a dragon he’d ran afoul of when he was a boy.
The dragon was old, had been injured when he’d met him nearly fifteen winters past, and Jewls wasn’t at all sure that the old dragon would still be alive, let alone friendly to keeping the bargain he’d made only with a small boy.
Behind him, sitting on a rock, one foot propped against it, no cloak as if it weren’t the coldest day of the year so far, Craylish, the hail going right through him like he was the ghost he was, complained, “Small insane boy. You had a fever that winter. I tell you there is no such thing as dragons.”
“Where have you been, Master?” Jewls asked, resisting turning to look. Sometimes his master looked like had his last morning alive, and sometimes he looked like he would if he’d just picked up his head and put it back on his neck. Blood was not pretty on white linen.
“Went home to see Sarah. She’s getting married. I don’t see why she can’t see me,” Craylish said, voice more frustrated than whining.
“Maybe because you’re dead. Where were we when you lost sight of me?”
“How is Barrie’s name should I know? That was a long time ago, Jewlie and if you don’t get out of this storm, you’re not going to be anymore alive than me.”
“Shows what you know,” Jewls said, glaring from under the edge of his hood. “If you’re not going to help, be quiet.”
“How can you be so rude to me?” Craylish’s long fingers straightened snow-white linen lace of his collar. “Jewlie, there is a castle on the other side of the little valley you’re about to come if you keep going this direction. We stayed there that winter. Philip is a friend of mine.”
“Philip,” Jewls said, relieved that his master was looking all of one piece. His recent dreams had been unsettled enough the last few nights that he didn’t need the visual reminder of his master’s death. “I remember him. Dark haired man with a scar on his face. Wasn’t there something about him inheriting the castle from a man he hadn’t known, and then trying to win the love of the man’s wife? And then he was protecting her from her jealous family?”
“You were six. What did you expect me to tell you?” Craylish smirked, then shrugged apologetically.
“Shit,” Jewls growled, putting his childhood memories better into perspective now. “Did you ever tell me anything that was true ?” He started off along the side of the hill they were on, away from the path that would take him to that castle.
“Oh, well, imagining dragons is so much better. Lies don’t kill you. Snow does. Come on, Jewlie, don’t be such a stubborn bastard,” Craylish beseeched, following along without any sound to his footfalls.
“The dragon is real and I’m a bard. Lies do kill you,” Jewls snapped, slowing, fingers fidgeting with a strap to his pack, just caressing it over. The moment he’d turned away from that castle, he’d known he was going the wrong direction. He remembered the dragon’s cave being deep, dark, warm, and standing there, he remembered stairs, long, spiral stairs that seemed to go forever. He wasn’t going to find anything like that wandering around in a forest.
“Were we in the dungeon?”
“Maybe,” Craylish said, looking up and trying to catch the falling snow now. The hail had turned soft and fluffy, “But why would we be in the dungeon?”
“Because your friend Philip wanted something from you that you didn’t want to give,” Jewls considered. It didn’t feel quite right and it was so long ago, so full of stories that his master had told him that had nothing to do with what had actually happened. “If I’m insane, it’s your fault.”
“Oh, whatever. You’re not insane. You’re just a little too trusting, a little too imaginative.”
Jewls wrinkled his nose and walked straight through the translucent form of his master. “Fine, let’s go see that castle and see who lied and who didn’t!”
“No need to get into a complete snit,” Craylish grumbled. “You had a fever. That isn’t a lie. I know I’m a liar.”
Jewls stopped, looked back over his shoulder, hood falling down around his shoulders to let white catch in flame red hair. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it, Master. I know you never lied to me. I just, I guess I’m cold.”
“And well you should be,” Craylish said, a forgiving smile bright on his colorless face. “Do you have any idea how cold it is out here? And it’s only going to get worse! Let’s get you into Philip’s Castle. Better to deal with him than freeze. I leave you alone for a few weeks and look where you get yourself.”
Jewls could almost feel his master’s arm around his shoulder, could completely feel the love his master had for him. “I have shelter. I’m not afraid of the storm.” Jewls protested. It wasn’t the first snowstorm he’d faced. One did not walk out into the forest alone and not be ready to set up shelter. He had survived worse with little consequences. He was only going to seek out the castle because of what he believed was in the dungeon.
“I’m afraid of the storm. It would break Sarah’s heart if you got yourself frozen to death,” Craylish chided.
By that time they’d gotten to the top of the little hill the snow was much more intense, so that Jewls could feel the chill all the way to his bones. He’d promised though, promised the dragon, that he’d come back when it was too cold to summon fire, promised him that he’d bring back a single scroll that had been stolen from him. Well, Jewls had never gotten that one scroll, but he had a perfect copy of the story that he’d found in a bard house three month’s journey from here. The dragon had been in his dreams a lot in the last year, and he wished to fulfill his promise.
There at the top of the hill, hood down, he espied a road. Bereft of trees, it laid claim to the hand of humanity, trampled dark, it was not even less traveled. For a moment Jewls felt stupid for having walked over the backside of the mountain to get here, but that had been the path he and his master had taken all those years ago. The castle itself was bigger than he remembered it, sturdy and practical, with long red pennants flying in the storm. There was a dragon on the pennant, long and black, dancing with the wind. Standing there, it was like finding a part of his childhood.
And more than a dragon, which he did want, he also wanted to know what had really happened here with his Master. He wanted to know more about his Master. The man had died with unfinished an unfinished song, and he couldn’t pass into the Hall of Bards with having that song finished. Jewls just had to find all the parts of his life to finish it for him.
“You miss me when I’m gone,” Craylish said, standing there next to his apprentice.
“I want you to be happy,” Jewls said, knowing his lively master. “You want to be reborn.”
“Like piss I do,” Craylish said. “End up a farmer’s son again, milking shit kicking goats?”
“You might have been happy as a farmer,” Jewls said, looking where his master pointed, to a rider coming out of the half raised portcullis, dark horse, rider bent over her, giving her full reign.
“Trust me, wasn’t happy as a farmer,” Craylish said. “They’ve seen you. It’s that damn red hair of yours. You’re getting famous. You were meant to be a bard.”
Jewls didn’t say anything, didn’t think anything lest his master’s feelings get bruised again. He wasn’t a child anymore as he picked his way down the hill towards this place from his childhood. He was nearly as tall as his master, face unshaven leaving him with gold and copper shadows on his face. His pack was tightly packed, but still heavy enough to truly have kept him through half the winter. The bulkiest item was his violin case, rounded, built almost egg shaped of a very durable waterproof lacquered wood he’d found in the South. He pulled his hood up, suddenly aware that his ears were burning, though his thoughts were very much about the dark underside of the castle he was about to ask shelter of.
The rider headed right for him and his master made with the slight snickering before he disappeared, which told Jewls that the rider was probably female. Craylish seemed to hope for offspring the way he might if he’d been Jewls’ actually father. Which, for all things that really mattered in the world, he had been.
He’d reached the bottom of the hill and the hard packed dirt road when the rider reached him. Indeed, it was a woman, dark eyes, pockmarked face, and a missing tooth when she smiled at him, her hood falling back a bit. She wasn’t much older than he, and she handled her mount as if she spent a great deal of time with it. “Jewls,” she asked.
He gave her a nod. “With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking, Lady?”
She laughed. “Father said you’d be coming, one of these days. He’s been waiting for you. Seems your master promised him a song.”
“He did,” Jewls asked, looking for his master out of the corner of his eye.
“It’s been all Father’s talked about for the last three winters. That you’d be back to fulfill your Master’s bargain,” she smiled, crooked, kind, and Jewls decided he liked her.
“Lady, may I have your name?” he asked, voice pitched to carry over the storm, high courtly accent.
“I’m Suz, daughter of Philip.” Laughing, she held out a gloved hand, “The snow’s not as courtly as you and it’s likely to kick us both. Come, ride with me.”
He took her hand, clasping her wrist and she pulled as he jumped. It was an easy move that both had made before and he was astride behind her, arms around her waist, eyes closed tightly. The thing with horses was it was a long way down and if you didn’t talk nice to them before you rode them there was just no telling what they’d think.
The castle was a really practical affair. Thick wall, barracks against the fore wall, stacked all the way to the wall, more barracks than Jewls would have expected for such a place. The people were well dressed, clean and even the boy pulling water from the well had a crowl and leather shoes. The place smelled of baking apples and honey, horse and leather. A gangly boy with the same straw colored hair as the boy drawing water ran up to Suz’s horse, catching the harness with easy familiarity.
She held out her arm to Jewls and he took it slipped towards the ground. A moment later she followed. “Welcome to Caris Fain,” she said, grinning, her hand scratching at her mount’s shoulder. “Noran, get my baby warmed up.”
“Yes, Lady Suz!”
“Come, Jewls,” she said, trying to throw an arm around his shoulder, but finding the pack too large, and settling for a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s get you warm as well. It’s built up a bit since you were here last?”
“I was very young,” Jewls said, shaking the snow from his cloak as he unfastened it and shook it from his shoulders. “It seems a very well set castle now.”
“I’ve worked very hard at it. This year we laid more lands to oats and had a larger count of cows and sheep than ever before. And father has been collecting things for you.”
“For me?” Jewls let the servant, a man who looked more like a solider than a trained servant take his cloak. As wholesome as the place had felt, her last words set him on edge. That Craylish had gone silent and absent also was not a good sign. “What kind of things?”
“You’ll see,” she smiled.
Her smile set him on edge as well. She had to be at least six years his junior, but time and weather made her look older. She lacked any of the usual nurturing, nesting cooing-ness that Jewls would have expected in a female, especially the daughter of a lord. He expected a certain preening from a woman. It was the same type of expectation he’d have for a bard at a tournament. Even bard women were prone to that, getting more so the older he got. He had a bit of trouble imagining the woman leading him towards the back of the great open main hall being with child.
There must have been more than a dozen women spinning and working at various house wares in the great hall. The tables were pushed to the center, back away from the great fireplace set in the back wall. The rushes on the floor were not as fresh as they could have been, but not completely toxic either. It was just such a nice domestic scene that Jewls didn’t know quite what it was that set him on edge. Perhaps it was some subconscious overlay of something darker past, because Jewls was sure it hadn’t always been so domestic. “How any families live here,” he asked, following Suz up the stone stairs at the back of the hall.
“We have upwards of forty families,” she said proudly, “but many more crofters. In another year, we might have enough wool to really make a trip down to the Tasian Fair, do some trading, get some better plows.”
Jewls kept his eyes away from the edge of the stairs, inching just a little towards solid stonewall. “Isn’t this Marqin land? Or do you pay taxes back to Basnin?”
“We pay taxes to none,” a diffident voice met them at the top of the stairs. The voice echoed in Jewls’ mind, deeper and louder in the past, but still bellicose now. “No one would dare try collect from us.”
Jewls looked past Suz to the tall, dark haired man at the top of the stairs. He held a white cane, the handle carved like a snake dragon. He was a figure from Jewls’ memory and the cold he was trying to shake only sank deeper into him. “Philip,” Jewls greeted him.
“Lord Fain,” Suz said, proudly.
Jewls perversely wondered if it had been her father who’d knocked out her tooth. Fain was a common name. It literally meant field in several languages. It wasn’t the name of a hereditary lordship, and well, you could hardly be a lord if you weren’t beholden to someone. If that were the case, you were a king, but he had a feeling that he didn’t want to go back into the storm when what he was looking for was in and under this castle. He bowed politely and said, “Ginee firl lorai dain,” he said, speaking in Bardish, almost singing the words. “Your home is welcome, Lord Fain,” he said in common, adding the name only in common.
“What tongue you speak?” Suz asked, eyeing him with a whole new kind of interest.
“That’s Bardish,” her father said, not nearly as pleased as she. “We’ve had a bard here before, but let us not talk of the past. Come in, Jewls. I take it that you are no longer apprenticed to Craylish the Wicked Smile. Where is he?”
“My Master is dead eight summers now,” Jewls said, making a small sign with his right hand, the hand his bardmark, to indicate that he was still baring grief for the loss.
“Time does pass,” Philip said. “I had not expected him to live still, only kept hope. What is your full name, boy?”
Jewls bristled inside, didn’t betray so much as a flinch outside. “I am Jewls the Lucky,” he said, giving only part of his barding name, which was in and of itself a slight. He gave his full name only to someone he respected or wanted to show honor too.
“The Lucky? Oh that’s ripe,” Philip laughed, the sound of his cane harsh against the stone hall they were in. “Did Cray give you that?”
“No,” Jewls said, wondering if maybe the storm wasn’t all that bad after all. “The Guild Master named me. Were you close to my master?”
Philip smirked over his shoulder, stone cold gray eyes not really touched by humor. “We shared many things.”
“Father has been so excited about you coming, Jewls!” Suz said.
“Child, go and tell Miral to send food up for us. See that the tower room has a fire and the bedding is freshened.”
That was one of the things Jewls hated. Bedding was never really fresh. It was washed, fluffed, smelled of sunlight, and wrapped over soft things that contained all manner of vermin that seemed to live to bite bards unwise enough to lay down on them.
As they walked into the main room of Philip’s personal suite, a roaring fire in a fireplace as tall as Jewls, nearly as wide. There were three logs and lots of coals, and Jewls was suddenly willing to forgive just about everything he didn’t like about castles and various assorted human habitats. He nearly purred as he knelt in front of it, only then realizing how wet his sweater was, that the tips of his gloves were actually frozen. “What a lovely fire.”
“I’m so glad you like it,” Philip said, settling himself in a thick cushioned chair. “Can you actually sing?”
Being inside, it was claustrophobic a bit, the hard walls, the one door. The stones under his knees were warm though and he slipped his pack off his shoulders, pulling it protectively near his side, before holding out his hands to the fire. As he peeled the gray woolen gloves from his hands, he sang through his scales. His voice was fine, moving easily from high tenor up to low soprano. He had trained with very talented bards since his barding, not for long periods of time, but he learned quickly. Being in a place where he’d been with his master, there was a layer of understanding how many things he knew that his master had not taught him. After he finished scales, squatting there in front of the fire, hands feeling enough warmth to have it start spreading up his arms.
A gracious host would have given him time to change, given him his own room, which, he supposed if his room didn’t have a fire like this one yet, he didn’t want all that badly, but changing was high on his list of wishes. “Do you have a song you’d like to hear?”
“I have always wondered who Craylish stole you from,” Philip mused. “You have a voice that could make people believe in the guild’s claims to magic.”
It would have been entirely too confrontational to say that Craylish had not stolen him. He knew that his master had not, though, like the rest of the world, he had no idea where his master had gotten him. The ghost had steadfastedly refused any answers on that score. “How did you know my master?”
Jewls shifted from one foot to the other, realizing as warmth soaked through him, that one boot had leaked and his foot was wet. He hated snow.
“Take your boots off, boy,” Philip commanded. “This ain’t no fine court. I’ll not have you dying of chill.”
He was not that fragile. He wasn’t and everyone seemed to think he was houseplant just waiting for them to give him a nice pot. Taking his boots off though wasn’t a bad idea at all. Without words, he sat down, back against his pack; he started unlacing the top of his boots. He’d have to sweet some wax out of the kitchen and fix his boots too.
“So you want to know when I met Craylish the Wicked Smile?”
Jewls nodded, slowly peeling the leaking boot off.
“I met him before he had you. That man could drink anyone under the table. He had his heart on the sole of his boots, I swear. I picked him up out of the gutter in Creesha . To be honest, I just wanted to steal his cloak and he was too drunk to notice, and then I found that bard mark. A real bard make and a long blond braid to go with it. Oh, Barrie was smiling on me that day.”
Hearing about his master being so, it gave Jewls heartburn. And then his master was complaining at him. “Maybe you should eat more often. You’d get less heartburn.”
His response to his master didn’t quite leave his tongue. Only he could see his master, and really he wasn’t interested in sharing the ghost’s existence with this old enemy of his.
“You don’t like hearing about Cray like that, do you?”
“My Master was a sober man, honest, kind, courageous. He was wise and loving,” Jewls said, not wanting to start crying. He didn’t see any reason too, hadn’t expected the tears to start blurring his vision, so he turned his attention back to his other boot, working on the laces, letting loose hair drape over his face, crimson stage curtains. “He was a good bard.”
Philip laughed, then cut his laughter short. “He was, after he got you. He became a good bard,” the last was said with enough hint of a lie to it that a bard might lose their braid, right through the throat for having said it.
Jewls accepted it though. It was true to him. “I miss him.”
“You know, boy, I do too. How did he die?”
“We were going towards a tournament,” he said, taking his time peeling down his wet sock. “Sarah, Master, and me, we were going to win and he was going to use the money to buy Sarah her bardkin price. Or start on it, I guess. It would take more tournaments than one to buy bardkin price. Took me six, but we heard calls for help,” Jewls said, so cold as he told that he wrapped his arms around his knees, drew them to his chest, one sock on, one off. “We went to help. Bandits were attacking a merchant family.”
“Cray went to help strangers,” Philip asked, doubtful. “How old were you?”
“I was thirteen. Sarah was pregnant.”
“Who was Sarah? She’s your lady?”
Jewls colored, looking up with wide eyes, flame all the way back to his ears. “No! She’s Master’s wife. I, I uh, she’s like my adopted mother.”
Philip’s smile was actually kind then, the cane rolling on his lap. “So she’s the one you bought Bardkin price for, in Cray’s name? The baby?”
“She lives at a lighthouse. The family we helped. That family. They gave Sarah a job taking care of a lighthouse. She’d been from a lighthouse. The baby was a boy. He’s sweet, but rough voice.”
“Makes sense. How did he die though?”
“Bandits beheaded him,” Jewls said, words falling like abandoned pebbles, too fast, blurring together.
“Well, at least he got the heroic death he deserved. Jewls, he was my friend, at least most of the time. I do not mean you any harm.”
“He considered you a friend,” Jewls said softly. “Perhaps I could winter here for a while? Suz said you were expecting me?”
“Expecting might be too strong. I was hoping. I do need something from a talented bard,” Philip said motioning for servants to bring in small tables laden with food, sliced beef in thick sauce, warm bread, some of the apple he’d smelled earlier.
Jewls’ mouth watered and he wanted warm bard tea, apples. He didn’t share his bard tea with anyone though, so he wasn’t bringing that out. “What do you need,” he asked, before moving towards the food.
“I will explain. I’m sure we’ll come to a good agreement. Eat, eat as you like, Jewls.”
“Thank you,” he said, smiling, a small smile that dissolved after he licked his lips. “It smells delicious.”
“We have a good cook,” Philip said. “I’m glad you came here now. I am very glad. Eat, please. We can talk when you are warm and rested.”
Food was always hard to resist and before Jewls could talk himself out of it, he had a wooden plate piled with bread and apples, butter and honey, potatoes in cream with green onions. He avoided the beef and Philip did not comment, but sent for a selection of cheese, which Jewls then worked over as well. Feeding him was a very good way to get his good will, but to Philip’s credit he didn’t press the issue of the favor he wanted.
Jewls was not in a good mood when he got to the room they’d given him. He still did not know exactly what it was that Philip wanted, but his first guess was that the man wanted validation for his ‘kingdom’. This was something a bard could do, but said bard had better be willing to place his neck literally on the line with the kingdom. Jewls wasn’t feeling that motivation.
The room they’d given him was warm though with two logs burning and a huge four poster bed with thick wool drapes that were neatly pulled back and bound with thin black ropes. His cloak was already there and neatly hung and brushed free of snow. The rock solid base of Jewls’ life had always been the love of his master. He hoped the ghost didn’t have the nerve to show up just then. There were so many things unanswered. He’d heard more than once that his master had been a drunkard. Jewls had never known him like that, to drink and lay in a ditch.
Where had his master gotten him? When he’d been little just knowing that the goddess of luck had given him to his master. When his master had died, he’d thought the world had ended. For weeks he hadn’t said a word to anyone. The pain of those days came back so easily. His bardmark had not made the feeling of being alone in the world go away. Even his gold leaves did not make it less, though he was tempted to dig his two leaves out of his bag and hold them, just to prove his value to himself. He wasn’t the worthless bastard of a drunkard fake bard.
Standing there in front of the fireplace, pack still on, mostly… he just missed his Master. He missed Sarah and Crayah. The world felt too large now that he was inside the closeness of the building. “I don’t know how to do this, Master,” he whispered.
The fire cracked, and the straps of his pack insisted against his shoulders and finally he slipped the pack off, lowering it with both hands. All his worldly possessions, not counting gold kept on the bard guild ledgers, stood just a little taller than his knees, a little wider than shoulder width, not really deep either. The largest item with him was his violin, which he carried in a box made of a specially grown gourd that had been lined with a gray tree sap that resisted all moisture. With a sigh, he peeled his grey sweater off over his head, dragging the thinner woolen undershirt up a little, revealing skinny, pale waist. He was all muscle with a veneer of ivory and flame. His sweater, mostly the same sweater he’d worn the day his Master died, just washed and darned, added onto, mended beyond all recognition, got laid on the carved wood chair by the fire. He kicked off the thick knit shoes that Philip had loaned him and padded barefoot to place them by the door where a servant could find them.
It was twenty steps back to fire. Half way there he’d found a song to sing softly, “I can fly, I can fly, I need your love, o lady draw nigh, I can fly…” He swayed, moving through courtly line dance on his way back to the fire. The deep shadow that had been on him had lifted a little when he got back to his pack.
Warm, a full belly, it was music that called him then and he unbuckled his pack where it was strapped around his violin case. Squatting, on the balls of his feet, he opened his case slowly, careful with of the buckles that held the case closed until he got to the last two which worked as hinges. His lady was dark blue stained, smooth and glossy, silver edging in the fret board and around the scrolling end. Just seeing her, his beautiful Lady Veras, he felt a shiver move through him. She had cost him just about everything he’d earned for nearly two years, and then some. There were people he still owed favors to over Veras.
He pulled the bow free, tightened it down. It too had not been cheap. Made for him alone, it was formed just to his hand, his name inlaid in silver. Jewls the Lucky of the House of Fire. His pants were already dry enough to take off without worrying that they’d shrink unbearably, but still wet enough to be unpleasant. These got laid over the arm away from the fire, and bare feet, legs warmed by the fire, he picked up his lady and plied bow to strings.
A mournful cry, beautiful and deep, too fast to be for anyone except himself, and he played Craylish’s Song. That song, then three sets of scales, and the shadows were even farther away. With strings under his fingers, nothing could truly be wrong. If he were the only person who could stand his own company, as long as he had Veras, he wouldn’t care.
He set her down though, and went to work on this braid. Suddenly tired, he sat down by her and worked at loosening the pouch his braid was in. That too had straps over his shoulders. It wasn’t made of wool though, but something much more exotic and durable. The fabric was softer than anything he’d ever felt, smooth and thin as spider web. The ties gave way and he started pulling braid free, checking it carefully to see that it was dry. Just slightly damp at the start, not nearly enough to really worry about, he kept pulling, hand over hand. His braid grew paler near the tip, a very bright strawberry color compared to the more copper flame of his roots. He coiled it by his knee, in the violin case on the velvet there.
A braider and a bath would have been so sweet, someone to massage his scalp, to spread his hair out, that would have been heaven, but it wasn’t going to happen. Next tournament, sometime next spring. Or maybe if he found it comfortable here, he’d do his own hair.
After a yawn, he picked Veras up again, stood, the braid still making a small one and a half coils at his feet, and played again. This time it was the Dragon’s Tirade, a slow and mournful song, an expression of feelings he couldn’t even fully name and express in his own life.
The storm brought a darkness, a night of it’s own, and Jewls found music until sleep pulled him deeper than his violin. As soon as he sealed her away, the dark loneliness returned. The storm screamed outside the shuttered windows, the log burned down to coals, and he tucked himself there, on his cloak, under his blanket, one hand tight around a strap of his pack. It wasn’t the most secure way to sleep, there in front of the fire, but right then it was all he had.
He would never be aware of the people who’d lingered outside his door as he’d played. Music is a primal need of the human soul, and half the castle would think he had magic before he even got to set a foot out of his room. Nothing else could make sounds like that.
Wakefulness found Jewls sometime before dawn had found the castle. His master’s ghost was no where to be seen, and the guilt and loneliness that had dogged Jewls was also missing. This was not something Jewls felt any need to go looking for. In fact, he felt rather self conscious for being quite so upset as he’d gone to sleep.
The fire was now just coals, but still warm. It was very encouraging. He had come here for more than just warmth though. Yawning, he stretched and reached for his sweater. Now dry, it wasn’t as soft as it would be when he’d worn it for a bit again. Nighttime gave the world a much more peaceful and trustworthy feel to Jewls. He packed Veras back up, made sure that it was as sealed as possible, then went into the lower part of his back by unlacing that part of the bag. From there, he pulled a very small metal teapot, more flat than round, dark burnished color with a short little spout and a braided resin handle made, supposedly, from the braid of Ayan the Virgin, who lived more than two hundred years previously. It was said that rope made of his braid was meant to ensure the heart of the owner would only be open to his or her true love.
Connor had given it to Jewls as a Winter’s End gift two years before. Jewls did not believe the story about Ayan the Virgin, but the idea made him smile. Only a braider could have even bought such a thing, or believed such a story. For one thing, hair couldn’t last that long. It was a good teapot though and Jewls settled it down on the coals.
Squatting there before the fire, he reached back for soft leather canteen of water that he kept in the same compartment, and a smaller leather pouch with drawstrings tied around a hood. He put a bit of water in the teapot, closed the water container, then opened the other pouch with a deliberate three rotations of the bag, as he breathed the bard mantra.
He’d never even heard it before he got his bardmark, just one of the many things that his master had neglected to instruct him in, but since, it had become his own personal mantra as well. Truth. Beauty. Freedom. Tayaris. Eliaris. Frearis. He would need to remember his purpose if he were to go where he planned.
Under the leather flap, he pulled the pouch open and pulled out a small wooden spoon. Three heaped spoonfuls of a creamy golden powder and then he sealed the pouch again with the same three slow rotations. With the teapot lid on, he swirled the little pot with both hands then set her down on the coals to warm. The very act made his mouth water.
While his breakfast warmed, he set about checking his boots. They were soft, splendid for walking in, climbing over things, keeping good balance, very bad for durability. Sitting cross legged, Vera’s case next to one leg, in the faint red light given by the coals, he searched for the leak. The inside of his boots were soft padded and worn, sheep skin and worn down to the shape of his foot. They weren’t quite as dry as he’d wish, but he did find the hole, a very small tear near the binding between the sole and the boot part.
Yawning he leaned back against the chair, his boot in his lap. Mending things was not his favorite task. He much preferred buying the materials to mend with, imaging how it should be mended or made, and then paying someone else to do so. So it came to him that mending after his tea would be a much better idea.
He had a cup too, and it was a splendid cup, silver with a crystal bottom set in it, three rubies set into each of the faces. It was a truth that Jewls had never told a lie, never would. It was such a deeply ingrained law that to lie might just cause his heart to stop as he spoke. It was said that that was exactly what had happened to some bards. Jewls didn’t really believe that, but he didn’t not believe it either. However, there was no such taboo against theft. Only lying about having stolen. The cup had previously belonged to a bardhouse master in a western town. Jewls welcomed the man to steal it back, if he could.
In the mean time, it was Jewls, and every time he drank from it, it was as if the scars on his back would fade a little more. Not that there were a lot of scars, mind you, but he’d been drinking from the cup for a full year.
His tea was warm by then, thick and frothy as he poured it into his cup. A touch more water into the pot, and he wiped it out with a rough square of brown paper that he’d gotten from a healer. Very careful to wipe the special cloth everywhere, to make sure he’d left no trace of his tea, he cleaned the pot, then threw the paper onto the coals. It had seemed a shame to waste paper of any kind on something as simple as cleaning. The healer, who had given him dozens of the thick papers, promised he’d be sick less often if he made sure his tea pot was well cleaned, and not just with whatever water he might find locally. She’d also told him to always boil any water he drank, unless he had been in the area for a while and knew the source was clean. Healer’s had odd ideas, but sometimes rituals could be helpful.
Ritual felt very comfortable just then, as his memory was all to eager to remember the dragon he’d met years before. A great green beast with huge eyes, wings tucked in close to his back and large clawed hands, Jewls remembered him being bigger than a house with a snout that could probably bite off the head of a horse in one go.
Now that he was here, he also remembered that he’d been lost before talking to the dragon, probably sick, as his master’s ghost had reminded him. The dragon had spoken to him in soothing clicks of it’s great jaw, melodic hisses. They must have talked a long time, sitting there in the darkness. He remembered, uncomfortably, not understanding the dragon at first, but near the end, before he woke up being held in his master’s arms, he remembered understanding so clearly that the dragon was very sad, that she’d had a book stolen from her and she couldn’t be free until she had that book again. The Book of the Sun.
In every bardhouse library he’d been to, he’d remembered, and he’d looked. When he’d found The Book of the Sun, he’d copied the whole thing, word for word, even copying the illustrations as well as he could. Conner said his illustrations looked like spilled tea leaves. He hoped the book was helpful to the dragon. It was in a language, even an alphabet that the didn’t recognized nor understand. The copy had taken nearly forty days to make. It had better be the right book.
Books aside, or maybe because he was nervous now, he reached for his razor. The razer was a small shell shaped silver metal with a very sharp edged tool used for shaving, sewing, all manner of uses. It stored in a slightly larger silver shell which protected the edge and held small layer of soap. He poured just a little bit of water It only took moments to shave. The cup also served as his mirror, and with only the slightest fruitless wish that his hair would suddenly turn into an attractive chestnut or a enticing raven, he took the hair from his chin and upper lip, down his throat. At least he could get rid of some of the red.
That was all the procrastination Jewls was going to allow himself. He’d come for a reason and he was sure the dragon had told him to come when the storm was at it’s worst. He remembered being afraid enough of the dragon that he remembered really strongly that he had to come while it was cold.
“Lord, the bard has disappeared.” Adrian Quills said, hands folded neatly knuckles to palm. There was an air of mysticism in the man’s voice, posture.
Fain glared at him, one eyebrow drawing sharply down. “He is still here. He’s looking for something.”