I traveled with the caravan and the Corbachian Refugees with them throughout the realms. I made myself useful to the group and indispensable to Helkias. We would ride together when he took to a wagon, but oftentimes we would patrol the edges of the caravan. I learned long ago how to ingratiate myself with people. To get them to open up to me. To tell me everything I wanted to know. With Helkias it was both easier and nearly impossible. Every time I thought I made some headway into the stubborn dwarf-born’s life he threw up a barricade, shoddily constructed, but enough to slow my progress.
And yet I let him in. It had been well over a decade since I last felt myself. But traveling on those roads, fighting off the occasional bandits or pack of wolves alongside them. I felt more in my element than ever before. My mentor went to great lengths to strip me of self. In the grime and work of those days though I felt it scab over. Someone I left behind long ago began to heal.
Upon taking up residence in Kenkilit in the lands of Voraniss I found my first real opening with Helkias. As the stars rose and the moon was lost in its cycle I found him drinking, short legs dangling over the edges of a broken wall. Humming a tune I didn’t recognize.
“Well don’t ye linger there, girl. Move along or grab some stone,” He slung back his drink and I caught a whiff of what I can only describe as torch oil. He handed me a mug and dropped in a hefty swig.
“It won’t kill ye. Not quick anyway.”
The man who sat beside me was so different from the one I met in the tavern. He seemed lighter. As if some weight had been lifted. I heard tales from some of the other Spears about his recent adventures alongside the elf, the barbarian and the Voranians. Helkias always had a couple days of joy after his adventures in the realms, but this was different. I’d never seen him this way. I threw back the offered drink and handed it back to him.
“What happened out there?” I asked. I learned early on that subtly and deceit weren’t the right course with him. Helk appreciated directness.
He drank another.
“Met a god.”
He offered another.
“I’ve heard a bit of who he is..was…is. Hels I don’t know what to say. Vandor. His names Vandor and what he represents in Voraniss. Telym, it’s exactly the sort of cause I’ve been waitin’ for.”
“And standing there, holding a gift from him,” He held something around his neck, but in the moonless dark, I couldn’t see what, “I don’t know. I felt renewed.”
“There’s been talk,” I turned to look at him, again, directness, “Some of the refugees say you’re making this place your home. You and Cronin. Some of the other Spears. Are you done with Corbach and the fight back there?”
I could almost see some of the weight fall back on his shoulders. I didn’t mean to. But it was information I needed. At the time.
“Something else happened. The night before we met the god. The Voranians keep as jubilant a fire as I’ve had the privilege to be a part of. They have rituals. I can’t say I understand ‘em as yet. But there’s a power to it. That community.”
He poured, handing it back to me. All in silence before continuing.
“They asked us to burn wishes. Send them out into the sky as ash and remnant. But to do so we had to purge ourselves of the darker emotions. So as not to corrupt what we asked of their spirits, gods, whoever. I don’t claim to know it all. What it means. But I’ll tell you this girl.”
What I can only describe as peace came over him then.
He looked into the empty mug.
“I wished to find a place then. And doing so I let go of all the hate and pain and terror and disgust that I’ve carried with me from Corbach. The next day we met their god of vengeance and protector of the innocent. This Vandor. I think it might be my place. I made my mark and said oathwords to the Archdruid. I think whoever they are that were listening heard what I asked for and granted it to me.”
“What’s it mean then? Not the big picture. What does it mean for you, Helk?” I was surprised to find I asked out of genuine interest, far beyond information gathering.
He chuckled and shook his head.
“It means that the vengeance I am going to rain down on the heads of the council and that pile of goat excrement Ser Quioren isn’t going to flash and burn. It isn’t going to come quickly. It will be no fiery burning vengeance, not vengeance born of passion and hate. It will be a rising tide of vengeance. It will slowly cover their heads and they will draw their last breaths knowing that it was I, Helkias Gotholias Ryunn, son of Keric and Alis, born of Corbach, Steward of the royal family, Blackraven that opened the floodgates and drowned them.”
The mug was destroyed. Tinder in his hands. He brushed it off and it flew into the darkness. I felt a chill run down my spine that did not correspond to the night, the dark, or a passing wind. Beside me sat a force of nature that would return to Corbach when the time came. And that force of nature laughed then.
“Hels Telym. You’ve got me talkin’ like me pops did preaching hard to the followers of Kantador’s hairy ass.”
I saw then again the lightness from before. He reached into the pack beside him and pulled out another mug.
He began a tale from before. From back in Corbach. He spoke at length about the young princes. Prince Eric seemed to be his favorite. The smallest of the boys. But the most tenacious. I would have liked to see the man he grew into, the way Helkias spoke of him. I remembered their bodies. I remembered how Helkias spoke of that day. And it occurred to me. The days had been difficult to track. But it had to be close.
An anniversary of sorts.
We talked at length. Sharing stories of home. Keeping the darkness at bay with laughter.
And we drank.