“I don’t think our journey is that urgent.” I muttered to myself and the Slayer. “We can delay ourselves long enough to take a safer route down the waterfall.”
“And here I was waiting for you to scream in terror as you fell down a waterfall.”
I had been picking my way down the edge of the waterfall trying to find a way down that wouldn’t kill me or break a limb. I looked to one side partially expecting the Slayer to be there, obviously she wasn’t though. “Was that a joke that you just made?”
“I am not entirely devoid of humor. I am human, well at least I was before I died. Your noble actions are a constant source of amusement for me because it is so different then how I grew up.”
I found a small trail that lead down the waterfall which had been hard to see in the dark. “How did you grow up?” I asked off hand as I took the trail down.
“Things were very different when the gods were still alive. It wasn’t a pleasant upbringing but there were others that had it far worse than me.”
“I’ve read some of the books about when the gods were alive, it didn’t sound that different then how things are now.” I commented.
“Everything written from that era was partially controlled by the gods. I suppose for nobles, the other big source of history writers, not much had changed but for those less fortunate life is a lot different.”
“Nobles have taxes which they take from their subjects and that they spend to protect the lands.”
“Optimally yes. Many nobles abuse this, taxing their subjects more than needed.”
“Even you do it, although you do not realize it.” Said the Slayer. “You live a very luxurious lifestyle. You have prosperous lands so the peasants still have enough. There are better nobles then you but there are certainly worse. I guess I would call you average for this age.”
I didn’t really respond. I suppose that might be true.
The Slayer continued, “But the gods had a tax too, things you had to do, to pay, to earn their protection. Without the god’s blessings you would have an incredibly hard life. The weather, your health, your fortune, they were all controlled by the gods. It was easy for the nobles to pay these tithes but for peasants it became a major part of their lives.”
“The gods really had that much control over things?”
“Yes, when they wanted to. Most of the time they didn’t do anything but when somebody pleased them or displeased them they moved into action. And it was a lot easier to displease them then it was to please them. Once you displeased the gods it was hard to recover. Without good weather it was difficult to earn a living and to appease the god you angers. It just grew worse and worse. There were beggars in my village that you couldn’t talk to, couldn’t help, because they had displease the gods so much. They were kelp alive by the gods to provide an example to everybody else about what could happen if you displeased them.
“That sounds awful. But surely not all of the gods were like that. Some of the stories I heard said some of the gods were kind and generous.”
“Too much power corrupts Lord Friddnick, remember that. What could be more corrupt than immortal beings with huge power over their world. The gods were not human, something else instead, something that just doesn’t understand humans in the same way that humans understand themselves. Even the kind gods accepted what the other gods did, supported it even.”
I was quiet as I reached the bottom of the waterfall and began to refreeze myself a raft. Finally I said, “So you killed them. How does that make you any better then them.”
“It doesn’t.” There was cold certainty to her words. “I am just as bad as the gods. Just like them I saw something that had to be done and I did it. Yet I am not immortal, even had I not been killed by Zillk I still would have died. There is a limit to how corrupt I could become, to how much power I could obtain. I know these are just excuses but they are the only things that kept me waking up those days.”
“A necessary evil?” She didn’t respond so I continued, “And you are dragging me into it. I’ll only say that right now I am still different from you. I’m going after Eyyo because he is threatening me life and the lives of those in the kingdom. The fact this he is a god is not what is motivating me.”
She continued to remain silent. I listened to the silence as I boarded the new raft and took it down the river. It was still a long way to the capitol and there were still more dangers on the way.
It was several hours later when we reached the next waterfall. I don’t know when I began to think of me and the Slayer as a “we” but it made me feel a little bit less insane to be doing these things with another person even if that person was a century dead. I found myself asking her ordinary questions, talking about things that weren’t related to gods.
I found out that she had been a daughter of a merchant. One who traveled all around the world buy and selling goods. Her entire family had been brought along and they had lived a happy life even if it had been one with more hardship then I was accustomed to. She didn’t mention what happened to her family but because of the way she edge around it I could only assume that the gods were responsible for the end of her happy life.
She also spoke of some of the places that she stopped on her journey to kill the gods. People who helped her on her journey and the times that had together. Those two parts of her life seemed to be the happiest because those are the times that she was willing to talk about.
I took my turn and told her stories of my childhood. I hadn’t really known my mother because she had died when I was young so my father helped me grow up. Because noble parties always thought they were hilarious I had a good repitour of only slightly exaggerated stories from my childhood. Sir Nathan had been a squire at that point and I used to get in trouble with him, or at least him him in trouble.
The journey was still quite long and once the sun was up I had to stop rafting down the river in an ice raft. Somebody would be sure to notice if I did that. Now however I was far enough away from my fiefdom that nobody would recognize me. I was able to rent a room in an inn even though I did get some strange looks because of I was renting a room in the early morning but otherwise nothing strange happened.
I rested for most of the day. My knights were certainly out looking for me by now but they should be looking for me in the wrong direction on a wild goose chase. They certainly wouldn’t expect me to go by river. Still I needed to be careful and not attract too much notices to myself. I slept for a while during the day and left the inn a few hours after noon. I still could not risk traveling the river while the sun was still up so instead I found a secluded location.
I couldn’t keep on relying of Zillk’s ability to improve my swordsmanship and I had to get better myself. Normally I would be at lose at what to do but I had an idea.
“Slayer, you used a sword if the stories that are told are true.”
“That I did. I learned from a great teacher.”
“I don’t suppose you could help me learn to use the sword.”
“I’m inexperienced at teaching and this is not the best situation. But it is good that you are wanting to learn so I would be happy to teach you. First you will need to adjust your stance, you have terrible fighting stance which will surely get you gutted.” I listened to her explanation the best that I could and several hours later I was exhausted and at the end of my rope. I didn’t think I could swing my sword again, maybe for the rest of my life.
“Huhmf, we were just getting started and you begin to collapse?” Said the Slayer. “Well, I guess that will be enough for today. I’ll expect you to be ready again tomorrow. We will aim for a session that is twice as long tomorrow.”
“You’re trying to kill me. You are seriously trying to kill me.”
“I’m trying to save you. Remember that.”
I laid down on the ground for a good hour after the training session. I had trouble moving my muscles were so sore. It was only after the sun was about to set that I was able to pull myself up and stumble toward the river. By the time I had reached the river I had composed myself and was able to function normally again. I reconstructed my ice raft continued my journey down the river.
It was another two days to the capital. It had taken maybe a little longer then it would on horseback but that was because I was forced to disembark during the day and suffer through the Slayer’s terrible training regime. However now I could see the city off in the distance I landed and stood on the land again. The sun was beginning to rise and I needed to walk the rest of the way.
The city was much bigger then the small rural towns in my fiefdom. It had a majesty that make it a great place to spent time. I spent part of the year in the city because many nobles did and because it was very enjoyable. Alas that that was not the reason that I was visiting it today.
I did notice as I passed through the front gates of the capitol that the guards were fewer and father between. That king’s soldiers must have really be hurt from the battle with the orc horde. His army was one of the prime defenders of the wall so it certainly would have taken more deaths and injuries then any other group.
First was a place of residence. I had a house in the city but I couldn’t use it without attracting attention to myself. Instead I would have to rent an inn room. I found one a little out of the way where I would be less likely to be bother or be noticed by anybody that I knew. It wasn’t a huge risk but it was still there. There were plenty of nobles that knew me and if one of them saw me leaving or entering an inn my cover might be blown.
It was rather less comfortable then I wanted but it was better then rafting on a ice raft. I still had plenty of money but since I didn’t know where I would be going home so I needed to careful with my money. After getting my room I went out to purchase some things, I had left the manor without several essential things, at least for me. Several hours later I finally managed to acquire a few new changes of clothes and a couple of other things. Finally I had myself some lunch and then collapsed to sleep in my room. I had been staying up too late because of the ice rafting.
“When I wake up we can go look for your information.” I muttered at I went to bed.