The lights came back on, and I opened my eyes. I was on my back, with Vall’s head on my shoulder. I felt her stir, and she lifted her head. “Is it morning?”
“I think so,” I turned my head to lightly kiss her. “There is no sun to see.”
“I feel well rested, so I think it is.” She rolled away from me and stood. “Come, let’s see if they brought our clothes.” She walked to the door and opened it, all while not wearing a stitch of clothing. The sight of her body was always exciting to me, and I stood.
“Is that thing of yours never satisfied,” Vall giggled as she collected the neatly folded pile of clothing from in front of our door.
I looked down at my rigid member, hard as much from a need to piss as from the sight of my mate stepping toward me, her hips swaying back and forth as she walked. “We really should go see about breakfast,” I said with a grin.
“Oh, we will,” Vall said with a matching grin. She set the clothing on the bed, and reached out to take my member in hand. “I want to try that bath again.”
Finally, after an intense session under the warm water, we managed to dress and appear once again in the taproom. Pel and Ket sat at a table, their chairs pulled close together. I walked toward their table, hand in hand with Vall.
“Good morning, Ornthalas and Vall,” the servant said from the kitchen door. “I will have your breakfast out shortly.”
“Thank you,” I called. Vall and I sat down, and I looked to the halflings. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” Pel said, while Ket nodded and chewed. “Did you rest well?”
“Among other things, yes. The baths are wondrous.” Vall smiled at the halfling girl.
“Hm,” Pel said with a glance at her mate. “They are, indeed.”
We waited only a short time before the servant appeared with our food. He set something with eggs and potatoes in it before us, along with a dish of something that looked like flat, dry, pancakes. “What are these?” I asked.
“They are a type of bread. You have a mixture of egg and sausage, along with beans and potatoes. You can put the food on the bread, and then fold it up to eat it. Or, tear the bread into pieces and use that as a sort of spoon to eat.”
“Like this?” Vall used her spoon to scoop some of the food onto the bread, and then she folded it and took a bite from one end. Her eyes went wide; she chewed, swallowed, and reached for her cup. “Oh, that’s spicy!” She set the cup down. “Milk?”
“It helps with the spices,” the servant explained.
I copied Vall, and found the spices to be intense, but tolerable. The food was very good, and we both ate everything on our plates.
When we were done, the servant cleared our plates, and then returned to our table. “What do we do now?” I asked.
“I would suggest that you find the depot,” the servant replied calmly. “You will need what it contains, and it will take time for you to learn to use it.”
“What’s a depot,” Vall said.
“A place to store items for later use.”
“Can you take us there?” Pel spoke up.
“No, I cannot leave this place.”
“Do you know where it is?” Ket said next.
“No. The book tells where it is, though.”
“That would be great if any of us could read it,” Pel sighed.
“I can read it,” Vall told her, “a little at a time. I have a spell that can only be used once per day, and it doesn’t last long.”
“How long will it take to go through the whole book?” Ket glanced at Pel. “We can stay here together until she finds the map, or directions, or whatever it is.”
“We can write down what she reads,” I suggested. “That way, she only goes through it once.”
“I can bring you pens and paper,” the servant said. “Just a moment.” He walked behind the bar and out of sight, and then returned with some items in hand. He set a book and what appeared to be shiny sticks before us. Opening the book, we saw that the parchment was white, and much thinner than any I had seen. He picked up one of the sticks, pushed on one end with his thumb, and pressed the other end to the parchment. A thin line of black ink flowed onto the page as he began to write.
“I have never seen parchment like that,” I said.
“It’s paper, made from wood, believe it or not. You have to be careful about getting it wet; it will disintegrate if placed in water for more than a short time. I also have more of it, so don’t be concerned with using it.”
I thought for a moment. “When Vall reads, we will have to write quickly before the spell fades.”
“What if you make errors?” Vall pulled the paper in front of her and picked up one of the pens.
“Why don’t we all write at once?” Pel shrugged. “If one of us makes an error, the other two should not make the same error.”
“Let me get you more notebooks,” the servant said. He brought them to us, and Pel pushed the book to Vall. We opened the books to the first page, marveling at the thin, smooth paper pages. I pushed the end of the pen, and it clicked softly as a metal object appeared at the other end. I wrote my name on the paper, and the pen slid easily across the page.
Pel looked at my writing and scowled. “What is that?”
Vall leaned over and looked. “It’s elvish. What did you expect?”
“Ket and I can’t read it,” the Halfling said. “We will write it in the trade tongue.”
“I can write that, too,” I said with a smirk. “Just for you.”
“May I see the book?” Vall asked before Pel could reply. Pel slid it to her, and Vall opened it to the first page. “I will cast the spell and then start reading.”
The next five-day was a drudgery of spellcasting and frantic scribbling as Vall read through the book. She would cast her spell, and then read to us as fast as she could speak. I resorted to writing in elvish, and then rewriting in the trade tongue, as I was much faster in my own tongue.
Her spell lasted long enough to tire us all out, so we would rest, and then go back over what we’d so hastily written. We would argue about what had been said, and there were many words that Vall did not know how to say. “I can read them,” she would explain, “but I have no idea what they mean. If I did not know what a sword was, how would I explain that word to you?”
The servant brought us our meals, cleaned our clothes, and brought us towels, soap and other items as we needed them. He would also tell us the time of day, but using a curious marking of time called an hour. There were twenty-five of them in a day, he explained, beginning at midnight. We all told him of how we had come to be here as we passed the time.
So, it was at the tenth hour of the fifth day when Vall cast her spell yet again and began to read. She read for a few minutes – there were sixty of them in each hour, we had learned – and then she started a passage about the depot!
We wrote swiftly, and Vall went back to read it again, as it described where the depot was. After the spell faded, we went back over the writings until we were satisfied.
I sat back and sighed. “None of what the book describes is familiar to me.”
“Me, either,” Ket said, and Pel just shook her head.
“I know it,” Vall said in a low voice. “I know exactly where it is.” We looked at her, and she sighed. “It is well to the north, in the orcish lands.”
“We can’t go there!” Pel looked around the table. “They will kill us.”
“They will kill you,” Vall corrected her, “but they may not kill another orc, especially a shaman.”
“You aren’t a shaman,” I pointed out.
“Yes, but I can still use magic,” she smiled at me, baring just a hint of her upper fangs in a show of irritation.
“What about us,” Ket said. “Or him?”
“You will be my servants,” Vall told us. “I’m sure we can find what we need to be convincing.”
“This is crazy,” Pel muttered as she sat back and crossed her arms. “They will take their time in killing us if we’re found out.”
Vall nodded. “Yes, they will. They will have to kill me first, though, because I will not let them take me alive again.”
“We should go back to Nilyn, first,” I said. “She could get Lirimaer and Dreev to help us.”
“She is the strange woman you spoke of,” the servant said from the bar. “I would counsel against involving others in this.”
“She is my friend,” I said quietly.
“Is that what she said?”
“Not exactly. She said she was my protector or something like that.”
“I would say that the two things aren’t the same.” The servant nodded to me. “Of course, it is your decision.”
“We were supposed to bring back the book to her,” I argued.
Vall glared at me. “That was before we found the real owners, Ornthalas!”
“I told her we would return, Vall!” I snapped back at her.
She stood and glared at me. “You do whatever you wish, then. I am too tired to argue with you, and I have suggested the only way I know to take us through the orcish lands. It’s just this side of foolhardy, but no one save orcs travels those lands unmolested. Even Nilyn and the wizard would be found out.” She turned on her heel and stalked away, closing the door to the rooms behind her.