“So--you’re from across the River?” noted a rather jowly Erl whose name Justinian hadn’t quite caught, in tones that mixed interest with suspicion.
“Yes, sir,” said Justinian looking around Haken’s Mound. The name, he’d found, was somewhat deceptive--Haken’s Mound was apparently a rather spacious hall, surrounded by a small town. Presently, the Guard, and the Kizaks were sharing drinks with the Muster, a sizable collection of individuals apparently comprising anyone within a unspecified radius who possessed something that could be considered a weapon.
They were a strangely intimidating bunch, actually.
“I hear it’s very strange over the River,: said the jowly Erl. “I hear some of your folk worship bones, like the Ghouls!”
Justinian frowned as he tried to find a polite way to say to this man that he was an ignorant fool. “I believe you are referring to relics. The remains of saints, and people of especial virtue are honored--not worshipped--for their connection to those who lived…. worthy lives.”
The Erl laughed and raised his hand in mock defense. “Now, now, young sir--I find no fault with it! There are many paths to Mother Night, and all folk walk the ones they’ve been set on.”
Justinian considered telling this man that he didn’t honor Mother Night at all, but decided against it. The man clearly meant well, and there were three Erls approaching him at this very moment, one of whom was holding what looked like an oversized cleaver. “Mador, you old rumsack!” said one, a slender Erl with a drooping eye, wearing a red cap.
“Dinadin!” laughed the apparent Mador. “It’s been--what--ten years?”
“Since after the rising,” agreed Dinadin with a nod.
The four Erls nodded together. “We are True Folk!” they shouted.
Mador slapped Justinian on the back. “This is Just Sinin. He’s from Across the River! A religious expert.”
The other three Erls turned towards him, looking at Justinian with unabashed curiosity. “Is it true that in the Easter Kingdom, you can have as many wives as you like?” asked one with a bald head.
“No but some of our nobles like to pretend it is,” he stated.
“Mmmm,” muttered Mador. “Like the Kizaks. Only--more Milesian.”
Dinadin shook his head. “No, no. The Kizaks believe you can marry up to six women.”
The bald Erl rolled his eyes. “But who but the Erls of the Waste would want to? Look at the troubles I have with just one!”
“Speak for yourself, Garm,” said Mador, slapping his chest in satisfaction. “There’s enough Mador for as many women as want him!”
Dinadin snorted. “Well, as none do, that’s certainly the case.”
The other Erls laughed at that. “A touch! A touch!” cried Garm, slapping his knee.
Mador seemed about to reply, when Hagen and Palamedes walked by, each holding a mug of beer. “--you’re on death’s door, you’re in the middle of nowhere, there are no goats, no pigeons, and no mice, and you’ve sprouted a beard. What then?”
“You must cut in your heart,” said Hagen. “If you do that, Darksome Lady will understand.”
“Well, I’ll be the Lord of the Cobbles!” said Mador. “Hagen Greatthews!” He threw his head back and laughed. “I don’t believe it! You’re still in the Guard!”
Hagen turned and grinned. “Mador Spidersilk! I’m surprised you’re not dead!”
“You know me, Hagen! I live hard, and I’ll die hard,” replied the Erl. He looked at the Ogre. “How’s Eire?”
Hagen shrugged. “All right, I suppose. But she and I moved on. I am seeing hostess, named Meg now.”
“Always the heartbreaker,” said Mador. He gestured to the Ogre. “Now, there’s a man who could use six wives!”
“So small a number?” replied Hagen. He stroked his chin fondly. “With face like this--world is my truffle.” He gestured at Justinian. “Squire Sigma knows of what I speak!”
Justinian blinked as all eyes turned on him once again. He coughed. “I believe I should check on Her Excellency.”
As the Milesian inched away, Hagen laughed. “See? Such modesty? Sign of true master!”
Justinian shook his head as he walked away. Sometimes the difference between a crowd of Nightfolk and a crowd of his brother Sacristans enjoying a few drinks were rather hard to spot. And other times, they were impossible.
“Well, aren’t you a gloomy Gustov?” came a slightly inebriated voice. Justinian turned to see Morgaine sitting by herself, with several empty tankards in front of her.
“Your Excellency,” said Justinian with a bow. He frowned slightly. “I see you’re enjoying yourself…”
“Just a little…” declared Morgaine gesturing with her fingers to show just how small an amount she meant. “Got to move tomorrow. Big things.” She looked over the crowd in Haken’s Mound and shook her head. “It all started here, you know that?”
Justinian puzzled that remark over, and decided to try for further clarification. “What started here? If I may ask?”
“The Plains,” said Morgaine. “The Erls. Our general tendency to kick ass.” She smiled slightly, her eyes misting over slightly. “When we crawled out from the caves--yes, we used to live in caves--well, at first, all this space, and sunlight--it terrified us. So we just--gathered in small groups, and looked out for each other.” She clapped her hands together. “Those were the first freeholds. And living like that--it made us different. We worked together, but there weren’t any rulers. Every Erl was his own king. And when the Ghouls and the Devs came up from the south, and tried to break the Plains to their will--well, we showed them what that would take.” She nodded to herself. “Of course--we’ve changed a lot since then. And those who’ve traveled farthest have changed the most. We do that, you know. That’s why Marsh Erls and Kizaks are so--different. And--hell, some folk say the Ghouls, the Ogres, the Goblins--even the Devs were Erls once.”
Justinian glanced across the room, where Quiet and Sacripant were walking side by side. “I can see that about the Ghouls,” he muttered. “I mean--aside from the blue skin and the… little fangs, they look just like you…”
Morgaine raised a hand. “Don’t forget the hair. You can’t forget the hair.” She sighed. “Not that we’ll ever know the truth. Damn Sutekh! So much lost!” She shook her head, then slumped forward on the table. “I should probably stop drinking for now. I’m getting maudlin about stupid things.” She glanced up at Justinian. “Did you say goodbye to Eurydice?” She looked at him intently. “Again?”
Justinian crossed his arms. “I really consider that personal.”
“Heh,” said Morgaine. “I’d ask you for your secret, but really, it’s pretty obvious. A handsome face.” She smiled at him. “Honestly, if you were a girl, I’d have made a move on you myself.”
Justinian attempted to keep calm, while his mind screamed in utmost horror. “If I were a girl, I would have joined the Sisters of Mercy, instead of the Sacristans. And I’d never would have come here.”
Morgaine chuckled. “And wouldn’t that be a shame?” She yawned. “I think I drank a little more than I should have. Just give me a--” And then she pitched forward, her head striking the table with a thump.
“Oh, thank goodness,” said Justinian.
“If I were you,” came the spectral voice of Nerghal, “I would never, ever remind my grandniece of this conversation.”
“That was roughly my plan,” noted the Sacristan.
"Wise man," stated Nerghal.