The story so far: Tollon’s quest to slay a dragon has been delayed as he finds his old school devastated by the vanishing sickness. Now read on . . .
When he briefly reappeared from the vanishing sickness, Honorable Dickat Strunstur said “Ovad.” Or something like that. It clearly meant something to him, for he was learned in many fields. But to Honorable Alencar or me? Nothing.
Alesca Alencar thinks it too dangerous for me to stay at the school, and sends me back to the village. She herself stays behind, hoping Strunstur might yet reappear again, or that she might otherwise obtain clues as to what happened to the people who had vanished.
I stop at the more disreputable of the village’s two inns, figuring they are more likely to talk about what was known or rumored about the school. After a fair amount of drinking, and my demonstrating one or two simple magic tricks, the innkeeper and his pals admit that two refugees from the school had made it to town, but had vanished shortly after arriving. And my fellow drinkers assure me that the refugees had really vanished, and not been robbed and murdered, because they admit they are the people who would have committed those crimes.
Oh, and they invite me to rob and murder the village bailiff with them. We’ve all been definitely drinking too much. They take my refusal surprisingly well, and even forget to threaten me not to tell the bailiff.
I decide I might overstay my welcome if I sleep there, so leave and wake up the bailiff at his house instead. The man is the village’s miller, muscular and foul-mouthed. He recognizes me from years ago, when he threw me into the river after I’d played a prank on him. It takes me a while to convince him I’m not playing another prank. I tell him what I know about the school. He tells me the only people he knows of who went out toward the school to see what happened never came back. And he dismisses my warning that some people want to murder him for his money. “Oh, that lot. I’d like to see them try it. I’d smash their brains out against the millstone, except they don’t have any.”
One doesn’t make good mileage on the road at night. So I lost a day, two days, really. It’s four days later I finally ride into Velgard, to the home I grew up in. Well, house; it wasn’t much of a home after my mother died. My brothers all picked on me (save Zarsin) because I was the smallest and smartest. And my father thought me mostly useless for the same reason. He couldn’t believe his good luck when Sarton asked to take me as an apprentice.
I’m in luck: four of my six brothers and four of my six sisters have moved out. My father, stepmother, and eldest brother all offer me a cold welcome. The twins, Zarsin and Zarsa, have never been interested in anyone other than themselves, so they just smile at me in unison and go back to staring into each other’s eyes. The only one who’s happy to see me is Jallia. And I am happy to see her.
Jallia has my coloring, the only one of my siblings who does, which has always been sort of a bond between us. She’s lively, smart, and has a wicked sense of humor. With so many of our siblings gone, she has a room of her own, where we go after supper to talk for hours. Much of it is just catching up. Jallia is changing from a girl to a woman, and she’s starting to turn heads. And we even talk about that sort of thing, which to my surprise I don’t find embarrassing, even though Jallia is my sister.
And then Jallia casually asks, “Tollon, why are there two women haunting you?”
(To be continued . . .)