A paladin and her sister do not speak. The song on the speakers ends, and a new one begins. A lone man at a table still sleeps, and over by the end of the bar, two old men finish up their drinks and ponder getting more.
Outside, rain still falls. You can feel it in the air. In the sounds on the window pane. The light from the candles is just that little more warming. It’s a day best spent indoors.
The lady of the house goes to see to her other guests. The old men at the bar get new pints. Clean glasses. Fresh brews. The sleeping man gets a blanket laid over his shoulders. A half empty glass is removed from his table.
When her regulars are seen to, coffee is brought from the bar. One mug for her sister. One mug for herself. And a pot to last them a while.
Just like it used to be.
– – –
Paivi took her place at the table again. She grabbed her cup with both hands and blew on the steaming coffee.
Smiling, she nodded over towards the lone man at the table on the other side of the room. “Normally I throw them out if they fall asleep, but with the weather like this…”
Toini nodded. “Yeah… I hear you…” She wouldn’t want to be out more than necessary with the rain coming down like it did.
“And he’s a regular too.” Paivi sipped her coffee. “Comes here a lot. I’ll call a carriage for him in a bit.”
“That’s nice of you…” Toini wrapped her hands around the warm mug, and stared down into the black liquid within.
Paivi shrugged. “Yeah, well, I gotta look after my lads you know. Someone’s got to…” Her voice drifted off and she set her mug down on the table in front of her.
“Mmm…” Toini nodded and tugged at one of her dreads. “Yes… I guess.”
Rolling her eyes, Paivi heaved a big sigh. “Aw, cheer up now.”
“Yes. Sorry. I was just…” She paused, chewed on her lip for a moment, and then she shrugged and tried to smile and look casual. Everything was fine. Really. “Never mind. Whatever. What else is new?”
“Pfff, Toini…” Her sister grinned at her. “You still suck at small talk.”
Toini glared back. “Yeah, well, so is your face!”
“Hah!” Paivi brightened up. “That’s more like it.”
Toini stuck out her tongue.
Laughing, Paivi grabbed her cup and had another sip. When she set it down again her face had turned serious. “Okay. That’s enough. Why are you here?”
“Don’t mess with me sister.” Paivi’s eyes grow cold. “You’re a stupid paladin, and you can’t call me because it’s oh so dangerous. There’s a reason you’re here. Tell me.”
“Yes… There is.” Toini heaved a sigh. Time to get serious again. “I’m here on a quest.”
“Quest?” Paivi raised an eyebrow. “Like a proper paladin quest? By the will of your god and all that?”
Glaring, Toini nodded. “Yes.”
“So all that talk about not putting me in danger and all that, you’re just throwing that out the window for a quest.” Paivi grabbed hold of her mug. “Your god’s not too clever is he?”
“It’s fine,” muttered Toini. “You’re safe.”
“Safe?” Paivi tilted her head and the beginnings of a sneer formed on her face. “Didn’t sound like that earlier.”
“Shut!” Toini snapped her fingers and held up her hand. “Ek’s a mean bastard of a god, and he asks a lot of me, but he’s not stupid. Sending me to you is a risk to him as well. He’ll keep you safe.”
Still sneering, Paivi leaned back in her seat. “Uhu… and your boyfriend?”
“He’s not my stupid boyfriend!”
Paivi crossed her arms over her chest. “Whatever. He’s with you and he just went to see his family. Will your Ek keep them safe too?”
“No, but I’m replacing him soon.”
“Replacing?” Paivi raised an eyebrow.
“Yes.” Toini sighed. “He’s been with me for five years soon, and we agreed he will not renew his contract with Church. He’ll soon return to Knysvian and they’ll assign me a new chronicler.”
She clasped her hands on the table and sat back in her seat. “We talked it over and he decided it was worth the risk. It’ll be another few years before he’ll be back here again.”
“Uh…” Paivi’s lips twisted into a sneer. “So you decided to risk the life of him and his family – just like that?”
Toini glared at her sister. ”It was his choice, and…” She stopped, lowered her gaze, and took a deep breath. Slowly, she let it out again.
She took a look around the room, and then she cleared her throat and turned back to Paivi. “Look. Ek is not a kind god. I’m not one of the good guys.”
Paivi’s jaw dropped, and her face paled. She stared at Toini and her eyes filled with uncertainty.
Her jaw set, and her face frozen, Toini stared back. “Life isn’t easy. Nature isn’t kind. Raoul knows what he’s doing. Okay?”
“Heh… Okay… If you say so…” Paivi turned her head and looked away.
Toini didn’t move at all. “I take life, and I give life, but I never gamble with anyone else’s,” she said through clenched teeth. “It’s his choice.”
Paivi still didn’t look at her.
Toini relaxed, let her shoulders slump, and grabbed her coffee. Her sister would understand, eventually. She wouldn’t like it, but she didn’t have to.
It was true what she’d said though. She wasn’t one of the good guys.
It had taken her a long time to figure that out, and even longer to accept it. In the end, good or bad didn’t matter. Nature didn’t take sides.
She wasn’t one of the bad guys.
Her sister would figure it out. Better if she did it on her own – in her own time.
Toini sipped her coffee and waited. The song in the speakers ended, and she heard the man over at the other table snoring. Behind her, from over the wall of the booth she heard the two old men at the end of the bar talking. She couldn’t make out the words, but she didn’t need to.
She’d come into their bar and upset the daily routine. She’d upset their bar keeper, and probably delayed the coming of their beers. Of course they’d talk about her. They’d probably heard at least parts of her conversation with Paivi too.
It was fine. Rumors or not. Ek would keep her sister safe.
Her sister, on the other side of the table, reached for her coffee and drank. She stared down into the cup, had another sip, and set it down on the table again, holding on to it with both hands.
“Okay,” she said. “So what’s the quest?”
Toini took a deep breath. This was going to get embarrassing. “I need to find a new member for my crew.”
“Okay, so a replacement for that guy?”
“No.” Toini shrugged and cleared her throat. “Church will assign me a new chronicler. I need someone for my personal crew.”
Paivi raised her an eyebrow. “Personal crew? I thought it was just you and your… That guy…”
A thin smile grew on Toini’s face. Her sister was picking up on some things at least. “Raoul. No. I’ve got a crew of my own. They’ll be here in another few days.”
“Uh…” Paivi frowned. “Where are they now?”
“I was in a hurry, so we left them in Gosmarin and took the train. They’re coming with the ship.”
Paivi gave a low whistle, and a big grin appeared on her face. “You’ve got your own airship? Does it have a jacuzzi and everything?” She almost looked a little bit proud.
Toini burst out laughing. A jacuzzi. She’d never even thought about it. Uberk would have a fit if she even brought it up. Then again, he did enjoy a challenge, maybe she could make him think it was his idea. It could bear considering.
Still grinning, Toini sipped her coffee. “No. The Orange Cream is a beat up old hauler that I got refurbished.” She sighed and let her gaze drift off. “It’s not much, but it’s all the home I have.”
Paivi tilted her head and pouted. “Well… You’re always welcome to stay here for as long as you want. You know that, don’t you?”
“I know.” Toini blushed. “I really do, and it makes me happy to hear you say it, but I won’t be here long. Soon as we’ve got our man we’re off again… A few days though… That would be great.”
Her face was beet red now. She could feel her cheeks burning. These emotions. She wasn’t used to them. It wasn’t her. Trust. Familiarity. Weakness. Love?
“Just like that?” Paivi glared at her. “You show up out of nowhere and then you’ll just disappear again right away? And I bet you’ll never call again either – for safety or something, right?”
Toini closed her eyes. There was a reason she stayed away from those emotions.
She took a deep breath. “I’m really sorry Paivi, but that’s the way it’s going to have to be.”
“Well, that stupid sucks.” Paivi snatched up her mug of coffee and drained what was left.
“Yes it does.”
Paivi reached for the pot and refilled her mug. “So?”
“So what?” Toini frowned. “Yes, it sucks, but it’s how it’s going to have to be. That’s just the way it is.”
For a while, they just stared at each other.
Eventually, Paivi looked away. She muttered something under her breath, grabbed her coffee, and drank. After she set down her mug, she reached for the pot and filled up Toini’s.
Toini glared at her.
She hadn’t asked for more. Sure, she’d wanted more, but that wasn’t the point. Her mug had been almost empty, but she hadn’t asked for it – and now she was being an idiot, and it was her stupid sister’s fault.
“So why did you come back here in the first place?” said Paivi. “It’s not like I’m going to join your crew.”
“No, of course not.” Toini sneered. “I came to you because you know where to find the one I seek.” And now she sounded like some cheesy oracle from some crap movie too.
Paivi frowned at her. “I do?”
“You do.” Toini nodded. “Ek said you’ll lead me to him.” There was no doubt. The knowledge was clear. Extremely clear.
Chuckling, Paivi snorted. “Oh, did he now…” A smirk crawled on to her face and she leaned forward with her elbows on the table. “So who is it then?”
“Ehmm…” Toini’s face grew bright red. Her cheeks burned. She pressed her eyes shut.
“What?” For a moment, Paivi was completely silent, and then she started howling with laughter.