Valeros Penchez - Chapter 2

The kindness that Valeros had shown to the Pilgrims came back to him those days following the murder of Tando. The pilgrims arranged to properly lay Tando to rest and helped Valeros to heal, both body and soul. Despite all the pilgrims’ best efforts, they could not convince Valeros to stay. He would always calmly look at them and simply say, “He will be avenged.”

Almost a month had passed before Valeros could resume the chase for Jinkar and his henchman. He spent two years tracking the man; moving from place to place by taking caravan guard jobs. When Valeros would reach a town, he would head to the tavern frequented by mercenaries and travelers and listen for stories. Someone as cruel as Jinkar always leaves stories in their wake. He got close a few times, only to lose Jinkar as he joined up with some bandit group and disappeared into the wilderness. In the end, it wasn’t skill or doggedness that brought Valeros to his goal, but luck.

Valeros had been in Sandpoint for about two months. He was making a decent living as a caravan guard for the merchants that traveled the Lost Coast Road. He had come to Sandpoint because of the reports of occasional bandit raids and this would be the right direction that Jinkar had been migrating. But there had been no stories that lead him specifically to Jinkar and he was beginning to think the trail had finally gone cold. Maybe the scurvy two-timer had finally reached the end of his rope and had been killed. Though he enjoyed Sandpoint, he didn’t think he could rest until he knew for sure.

It was lunch time at The Rusty Dragon tavern in Sandpoint and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming as always. The food and ale was good and the camaraderie was even better. Being a regular stop for many of the off duty town guard, it was generally a comfortable, well-mannered place. Valeros was at his usual spot at the bar talking with the bartender, Bart when the old Cleric Abstalar Zantus

shuffled in. He was not wearing his normal, kindly grin but slowly made has way straight to Bart with a purposeful expression on his face.

“Have you seen Shalelu lately?” he asked Bart.

The bartender, not being one to pass on the opportunity to gently tease the old cleric promptly replied with a completely straight face, “Define ‘lately’.”

Abstalar took it in stride, though. “Let’s say a month…. Yes, a month. She is a ranger after all and not in town much… Good grief man, are you going stand there flapping your jaws at me and not give me any ale?”

Bart filled the mug that the cleric had forgotten to order and sat it down in front of Abstalar. “What’s the problem?”

The cleric rolled his eyes and looked exasperated, “Do you know Farmer Ghent?”

Bart, of course, knew everybody; that’s why he was bartender. “Sure, he’s got a place down between Devil’s Platter and the Mosswood, right?”

“Yes, that’s the man. His place has the perfect soil for a particular herb I need and he has batch ready to come in. The problem is that he sent his son in with a note saying he won’t bring it in by himself as he thinks someone will try to take the crop or go after those two lasses of his.”

Valeros was casually listening to the conversation when what looked like a boy of ten or eleven peaked around the cleric’s robes. He leaned over and pointed to the child with his mug, “You mean THAT child?”

The cleric turned around, surprised “Good grief, boy! You’re not supposed to be in here. Go wait outside on the bench.” The child looked a bit crestfallen but slowly went outside to wait.

There was something about the way that Abstalar said “boy” that set off a slight twinge in Valeros. But he smiled at the feeling and the memories that came with it.

Abstalar watched to make sure the child went out. He then turned back to Bart to continue, but just looked puzzled for a moment, “hmmm… where was I?”

Bart, using years of practiced patience, said “Ghent, herb crop, won’t deliver.”

“Oh yes, anyway I was hoping to catch Shalelu to see if she would escort Ghent in with the crop. She owes me a favor.”

“Well,” Bart said looking thoughtful, “I can’t say I’ve seen her for over three weeks now. Not sure when she’ll be back. You know how she gets on her hunting trips. But,” he said looking around the room, “I’m sure you could find a couple fellas between jobs to fetch him for you. “ He leaned in closer to Abstalar, “Most of the single fellas in the guard would probably stumble over themselves for chance to get to know those two daughters of Ghent’s.” He winked.

“You might have something there,” Abstalar said rubbing his jaw.

Now Valeros was listening intently. He had his two favorite subjects together in one place: Work and Women. He politely coughed, “Excuse me for butting in, I couldn’t help but over hear your conversation. Perhaps I can be of assistance?” He flashed is most winning smile.

Bart raised a sardonic eyebrow at him and said to Abstalar, “This is Valeros Penchez. He’s been working the caravans ‘round here for a couple months keeping the bandits off of ‘em. He seems to be a decent sort of bloke… as his types go.” He snuck Valeros a wink. “Sorry, I thought you two knew each other already.”

Valeros, still smiling, offered Abstalar his hand, “I know of you but I haven’t yet had the honor.” The cleric took his hand in a surprisingly firm grip for a man of his apparent age. Abstalar held his grip and stared intently into his eyes. He felt has if the old man could see right into his soul. Valeros forced himself to hold Abstalar’s gaze and pressed on, “It just so happens I am between commissions and it sounds like you have a need.”

The cleric released his hand and Valeros thought he saw the hint of grin in the corners of his mouth, like he was trying to suppress some private joke. Abstalar gave Valeros the once over while slowly stroking his beard and muttering to himself “Maybe… Yes, just maybe..”

Valeros glanced at Bart with a questioning look and the bartender merely shrugged his shoulders.

Then, just as suddenly as he had gone into his trance-like contemplations, Abstalar snapped out if it again and was a bundle of energy. “Very well, Val… Ver…. Hmmm.. What was your name again?”

“Valeros”, the mercenary said slowly, wondering what he was getting himself into.

“Yes, Valeros, that was it… Very well, Valeros,” Abstalar continued, “I think I’ll take a chance on you. Where’s your partner?”

“Partner?” Valeros said, surprised. “I’m afraid I don’t have one, why do you ask?”

Abstalar’s brow crinkled in consternation, “Oh that simply won’t do. I’m quite sure there will need to be two of you.”

Now it was Valeros’ turn to be concerned, maybe he had just gotten in over his head. “Maybe I misunderstood. I got the impression that this is just a load of herbs to be brought in from a local farm?” He figured it had to be local since he couldn’t imagine a farmer sending such a youngster any distance, much less across a countryside he really considered dangerous.

The old cleric looked a touch hurt. “Well, I wouldn’t call it JUST a load of herbs. And it is only about a half day out by wagon, less by horseback.” Then he looked around conspiratorially and leaned in close to Valeros speaking softly, “The herbs are the key ingredient to my healing potion formula.” Abstalar leaned back beaming, as if that explained everything.

In an odd sort of way, it did. Valeros had heard of such potions but he had never actually seen one. Sure, he had been aided by clerical healing spells before. Casting such spells was usually the mainstay of a cleric’s income. But the portability of a potion to do the same thing without needing the cleric to be present could mean the difference between life and bleeding to death for a man of arms.

His mind was instantly flooded with the image of Tando, bleeding to death in an alley. Would it have saved him? Valeros forced his mind back to the present. Yes, he could see the real value if someone knew what the crop was for.

Abstalar continued, “Of course it isn’t really far, about a half day by wagon. It isn’t likely that anything will happen but….there has been reports of bandits about. If something were to happen, I would have to wait a whole season for another batch. I’ve already been out of the herb for over two months. So, I think it really would be safest if you took someone with you.”

There was something about the old cleric that Valeros liked and he realized that he had already made up his mind to take the job, no matter what. Still, Valeros let himself slip into full negotiation mode. He reached up and rubbed the back of his neck while planting a look on his face as if he was thinking it over hard. “Well, I’m sure I can arrange another guard but,” he paused for effect, “this isn’t going to be cheap.”

Now it was Abstalar’s turn to play his part. He looked crestfallen and said, “Ah, but I am but a humble servant of the Gods, my good man. What could I offer one so rich in life such as yourself?”

Bart, who had been listening to the conversation and wiping down the bar muttered, “I’m going to need snow shoes if it gets any deeper in here.”

Valeros and Abstalar were grinning at each other, both understanding that the other would not be taken in. Valeros raised his mug up to Bart, “I think we’ll need another round to work this out.”

He then turned to the old cleric as Bart poured two more. “Alright, let’s just cut to it. I’m going to need to cover normal rate for the second guard and cover a few supplies for the trip. I’ll throw in my wages for half… just because you amuse me.”

Abstalar countered, “I’ll cover any supplies you need, but how about you get more creative on your negotiations with who you hire and make it one rate for the two of you and I’ll throw in a healing potion when the batch is finished?”

That got Valeros’ attention. But, he dared to counter again. “One rate and two potions. I’ll cover the supplies but I want a potion up front for the trip. If we need to use it on the trip, it becomes your part of the supplies and I get two potions when the batch is complete. If it survives the trip, I keep it and get one potion when the batch is complete.”

The old cleric went back to stroking his beard for a moment, then, “Agreed! But I get final approval on the man you take with you. I won’t give one of my potions to just anyone.” Then another thought

seemed to hit Abstalar absently, “And one other thing, I’m sure old Ghent won’t leave his wife and daughters at home by themselves, so I’m sure they’ll be along for the trip too.”

“Agreed, “Valeros replied. “How soon do I need to leave?”

Abstalar seeming completely sincere, “How soon can you find someone?”

Valeros just groaned.

Just then, one of the city guardsmen that Valeros had become acquainted with, Rodmear, bounded through the door and into the Tavern. He waved and greeted people as he approached the bar. “Bart, set me up; I’m starvin’!”

Rodmear moved down the bar towards the empty stool on the corner, his usual spot, on the other side of where Valeros sat. He greeted everyone he passed. As he made it to Abstalar and Valeros, he shook the old cleric’s hand, “Father Zantus, good to see ya out and about.” As he went around Valeros to his stool, he slapped him on the shoulder, “Valeros! How’s yer luck holding out?”

“Depends,” Valeros replied, turning to him as he sat down. “Are you between shifts or just on a break?”

“It just so happens I have the next few days off,” he beamed. Then he suddenly eyed Valeros suspiciously, “Why do ya ask. Ya don’t plan on ruinin’ it do ya?”

Valeros turned to Abstalar and raised a questioning eyebrow. The cleric was stroking his beard again but nodded his approval. Valeros turned back to Rodmear flashing his best smile.

Rodmear continued to look suspiciously at Valeros. “I’ve seen that look before.”

“Our holy friend here has an honest errand he would like us to run for him,” Valeros began.

The guardsman’s look soured, “this is startin’ to sound an awful lot like work.” Bart arrived and placed his plate of stew and a mug of ale on the bar in front of him.

Valeros feigned indifference. “Oh, not much really. We just need to play nurse maid to a load of herbs and some farmer named Ghent.”

Rodmear’s eyes went wide with surprise and a grin slowly spread across his face. He looked at Abstalar, “Did he say Ghent?” Abstalar nodded. His gaze shifted to Bart, “THE Ghent!? … With the twin redheads!?”

Bart shrugged, “That’s what the man said.”

The burly guardsman faced Valeros like an eager child with a new toy. “I’M IN!”

Now it was Valeros who wore the look of suspicion. “Don’t you want to know what it pays?”

Rodmear seemed genuinely shocked by the question. “Valeros, have you ever SEEN the Ghent twins?!”

Once again, Valeros wondered what he had gotten himself into. Not that it was going to stop him.

Abstalar stood up. “Well, I think that’s settled then. Right..well…you two should leave as soon as possible.” He turned and headed for the door, seeming to move faster than a man of his age really should. The old cleric stopped at the door and turned to face Valeros. “Oh, and one last thing..”

Valeros thought, “Finally, the other boot drops.”

“You will need to take the boy back with you.” Abstalar then shuffled out the door.

He had completely forgotten about the boy.

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Valeros Penchez - Chapter 2

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