City of Border, on the border of Viller and Fors
The day is over. The sun is long gone, midnight is just around the corner, and the rain still falls. A paladin and her chronicler will go no further this day.
A small town, right on the border. Trains stop here. Travelers step off and go through customs. Show their papers, declare their goods, that kind of thing. Then they step on a new train and leave.
Old fashioned. Inconvenient. Inefficient.
But no train leaves at this hour, and travelers must stay the night. A room has been booked at a cheap little place. It is soon time to sleep.
Soon, but not just yet.
A paladin and her chronicler have spent a day on and off trains. More hours than they care to remember. There is a need to wind down and relax. A bit of food. Something to drink. Tea for him – coffee for her.
A quiet seat that doesn’t move, from which the view does not change. A street light and a rubbish bin. A closed convenience store across the street. The water on the window runs straight down instead of to the side.
There’s a candle on the table, and jazz in the speakers. A paladin and her chronicler each have a cup of their own, and food is on its way. Should not be long. A cafe is mostly empty.
– – –
“I’ll never understand how you can drink coffee this late,” said Raoul. “How do you sleep?”
“I don’t know.” Toini set down her cup and leaned back in her chair. “Old habit I guess. Never been an issue.”
And then they just sat there, looking at each other across the table, not saying a thing. So much for conversation.
Toini had changed into a red parka and baseball cap for the trip. Raoul had donned his black leather coat, but now it hung over the back of the third chair at the table, together with their bags.
The hours of traveling had barely rumpled his suit, and he looked as fresh as if he’d just stepped in for a quick brunch between meetings. Always impeccable. Proper. Polite.
Definitely the odd one out.
Taking another sip of her coffee, Toini glanced over towards the counter where the barista was preparing their sandwiches. Better be done soon. It had been a long day, and while Raoul might look chipper, she knew they both needed their sleep.
“So, ahem…” Raoul cleared his throat. “What can you tell me about the quest? You’ve barely said a word all day.”
“Mmm…” Toini stared down into her mug. White, ceramic, and with a handle big enough to fit her entire hand around. A little more than half-full. The cafe too dark for her to see her reflection.
“Boss, come on.” Heaving a sigh, Raoul drummed his fingers agains the table “You know I have to provide a full account of your activities – and it’s better if you tell me before the action starts.”
“Pfft… Action.” Toini snorted.
“You know what I mean.”
“Yes, yes.” She took a deep breath. “I’ll tell you.” Might as well get it done and over with.
The barista appeared beside them and set down two plates with their sandwiches on the table. “There we go.” He clasped his hands in front of him and smiled down at them. Tall boy, spoke with an accent. “Ham and egg for the sir. Salami and brie for my lady.”
“Thank you.” Raoul nodded up at him.
“Can I get you anything else?”
Raoul shook his head. “No, that will be all thank you.”
Toini’s belly rumbled. She donned a little smile and nodded up at the boy. “Thank you.”
“Just wave if you need anything. Enjoy.” Smiling, he nodded at each of them in turn, and then left.
A moment later they both snatched up their sandwiches and dug in.
– – –
A paladin and her chronicler eat in silence. Jaws crush down on bread and meat. Sips of tea. Sips of coffee. Sighs of satisfaction.
Rain still falls outside a window.
A candle still burns on a table.
– – –
“So…” Raoul put down is sandwich, most of it gone. He cleared his throat and reached for his tea. “A quest?”
“Yes…” Toini nodded and kept chewing. She paused, swallowed, and took a sip of her coffee. “A quest.”
Raoul raised an eyebrow. “Uhu?”
“Easy. I’m getting to it.” Glaring at him, Toini set down her mug.
With a nod, Raoul took another bite of his sandwich.
“The quest is to acquire a new member for the crew.”
“Yes,” he said between mouthfuls. “You explained that this morning.”
Toini scowled at him.
“Sorry. Go on.“
Still scowling, she took another bite of her sandwich. He could just wait. It was her quest. Her story.
A few moments later she swallowed down the last bite. She paused a little longer to collect her thoughts, and eventually she cleared her throat. “To do this, I need to find my sister in Kul Viller. She will put me in touch with an old childhood friend.”
Raoul raised an eyebrow, “Sister?”
“Yes.” She glared at him. “I have a sister.” She could have a sister like a normal person. Just because she never told anyone didn’t mean she couldn’t.
“Is that wise?” Frowning, he leaned back in his chair.
Toini shook her head. “No. It’s not. It’s really bad, but that’s the quest.”
She grabbed her mug of coffee and stared down into it. Almost empty. A big lump grew in her throat and she swallowed. “If Ek tells me to go see my sister, then I’m going to go see my sister.”
Across the table Raoul crossed his arms over his chest. Frowning, he stared at her. “He’s testing you?”
A test indeed. Toini nodded, but didn’t say anything. It had been long since last. She’d always passed, or she wouldn’t be here, but it had never been easy. Her faith was strong, but her god knew her weak spots.
“I have to trust in Ek,” she whispered.
“I see… I see.” Raoul nodded and stroked his chin, rubbing his fingers against the stubble. “Is that what you didn’t want to tell your crew?”
“Uhmm…” Her crew? Sure, it was her crew, but he was part of it too, at least for a little longer.
She raised her head and looked at him. Small wonder he didn’t fit in. It wasn’t just the clothes and the well groomed appearance.
“Yes.” She pulled a smile onto her face and nodded. “Yes, exactly. That’s it.”
”Uhu… Okay.” Still stroking his chin, Raoul pursed his lips and frowned. “And then?”
Raoul rolled his eyes. “You said your sister will put you in touch with an old childhood friend. What’s next?”
“Nothing. That’s it.”
Frowning, Raoul stared at her. “That’s it?”
“Yes.” Toini stared back. What was the big deal? “That’s it.”
Again, Raoul leaned back in his chair and stroked his chin. He looked out at the rain for a moment and then back at her again. “So that childhood friend of yours – they’re the new team member?”
Toini stifled a yawn. All these stupid questions. “Yes…”
She shrugged and sat up a little straighter, drained the last of her coffee, and sat the mug down – perhaps a little too hard.
“Tell me.” Raoul still sat there with his fingers on his face, like some therapist asking her about her father or something.
“Alright…” She let out a long breath, and let her shoulders slump. “Roy. His name is Roy. I’ve known him since I was a little girl.” Since forever – as long as she could remember.
Across the table from her, Raoul just nodded, and for once didn’t say anything.
”He was Paivi’s best friend and…”
A few steps behind, a few years too little, a few teeth short of a smile. She’d been the annoying little sister. Tiny Toini. Always a nuisance – a chore for her sister to look after. And Roy had always been there. Her sister’s awesome cool friend.
He’d always been nice to her. Nice to her sister too. To everyone really. Then, as they grew older, things had changed, as things do. She’d still been the little sister, but somewhere along the way she’d gone from being a nuisance to being one of the gang, and she hadn’t even noticed.
And then Paivi had landed that manager job at the pub, and for a while it had just been the two of them.
Toini shook her head to clear her thoughts. Not now.
“He’s a good guy.” She yawned and covered her mouth with her hand and hoped the cafe was dark enough it didn’t show her cheeks turning red.
Raoul picked up his cup and looked down into it, swirling the tea around. “Paivi is your sister’s name?”
Nodding, Toini grabbed her mug as if to drink, frowned down into it like she’d forgotten she’d just emptied it, and then put it back on the table.
“When was the last time you saw her?” Raoul looked at her, and then back into his cup again. “Or, this Roy?”
Toini stifled another yawn, and rubbed a hand against her face. “Long time ago.” So long ago. So very long ago. “Back before all this. Twelve years, I think, maybe.” A different time. A different life.
“Do they know?”
“No…” She wrapped her hands around her mug. It had gone cold since long, but she held it anyway.
“Not even your sister?” Raoul looked up from his tea cup and raised an eyebrow at her.
“No!” Toini spat out the word. “No one knows.” Her grip around the mug tightened, and her jaws clenched. “They all think I’m dead. I haven’t spoken to anyone. You know this.”
She stared at him across the table. He knew she couldn’t let her past life get in the way of her calling. She belonged to her god now. Completely. She was a different person.
That woman she’d been, the one her sister knew, she might as well be dead.
“I see…” Raoul rubbed at his chin again, a thin smile playing on his face. “Interesting…”
Bastard. Interesting indeed. Her entire life. Yeah, getting a new chronicler was definitely a good decision.
Toini took a deep breath, and it rumbled through her throat as she let it out again. “I’m done here. Go pay.”
Raoul’s smile slipped for just an instant, and then he nodded and got to his feet.
Toini yawned wide and stretched. She stood up, grabbed her bag from the chair, and headed for the door. Out into the rain. To the room they’d booked. To a bed.
Sleep would be good.