The Lupine Saga 111

“Those are some pretty coins,” the human said when he reached the group.

“Sir, are you all right?” Va’il asked.

“Just fine, boy. I’m doing just fine. But little girl, are you sure you want to hand over such an amount to these two sleazes?” the man asked. He then hiccuped and burped. The smell of wine on his breath filled the air.

“I think you should go sit down,” the male swine said, his voice full of anger.

“Ain’t no way I can do that,” the man said.

“He said to go sit,” the female swine said. She pried her eyes away from the coins that Ruby had closed her hands around, and then took hold of the man’s arm. He immediately shook her hand off.

“I don’t need to be touched by you, filthy one,” the man said.

“Hey, stop being rude. This isn’t any of your concern,” Va’il said. He walked up to the man.

“It ain’t any of your concern either. Why, I think I’ll just sit, then. You act like a fool all you want,” the man said. He turned, walked two steps, and sat on the ground.

“Enough with him. Just give us the money and be on your way,” the male swine said.

Ruby dropped several coins into his hand, bowed, and then walked away. Va’il followed behind her. They left the inn quickly, and started north on the road to the city. They walked for a while as the sun travelled overhead.

“I won’t complain, but was it really all right to give them so much money? Considering it was all brought unexpectedly from that night… you can’t really have that much, right?” Va’il asked.

“It wasn’t that much. I still have a lot. You’d be surprised how much I’d normally carry around as pocket change in Rising. That kind of amount is nothing to my family. We have more than enough to last, however long it takes to return home. I’ve only avoided using it around the people we’d have to spend some time with to avoid suspicion. But here it’s worth it to help them. It was good, right?” Ruby asked. She stopped walking and looked behind her. The inn had already disappeared into the distance.

“It was a good thing to do. That’s all that matters,” Va’il said.

“Right. Let’s hurry to the border. I want to get home as soon as possible,” Ruby said.

“You won’t make it with that kind of naivety,” said a voice to the side of the road.

“Who’s there?” Va’il asked, but he couldn’t see anyone around them.

“Just a sleeping fool,” the voice said. Off to the side of the road, a man rose and dusted himself off. “What a great nap.”

“You! You’re that human man from the inn!” Va’il said. He was both surprised at the appearance of the man, as well as how he could get ahead of them without Va’il ever noticing.

“Me? A man? Hardly! I’m as much a man as you are!” The man chuckled, and then took a drink from the gourd at his side.

“As much as I am?” Va’il asked. “No, you’re not. I can tell.”

“A half has a wonderful nose, indeed!” the man said.

“How’d you know I was a half?” Va’il asked.

“How do you know I’m a human man?” the man asked.

“I can smell it. I can tell. I know,” Va’il said. He was becoming agitated.

“And I know you’re a couple of fools,” the man said. Va’il growled at him.

“Stop teasing him. What do you want?” Ruby asked.

“I want to help you, actually. But if you don’t know what I am, I don’t think I can,” the man said. He then fell backwards and landed on the ground. He took another drink from his gourd.

“Ah, I get it. Of course you’re not a man! You’re a drunk!” Ruby said. The man jumped to his feet.

“Correct! What a bright young lady! Certainly your noble blood cares for you well,” the drunk said.

“Noble? And you knew Va’il was a half. How?” Ruby asked.

“I know little myself. But I just figured it out using my drunken powers. Aren’t I incredible?” the man asked.

“You’re smart, that’s what you are,” Ruby said, and then sighed. “Of course you figured it out. I carry myself differently. And anyone with enough experience and exposure to lupus and humans would know Va’il is a half. You’re just experienced enough to know. Am I right?” Ruby asked, a smile across her face.

“Oh, what a grand little girl! Certainly, I’ve stolen from enough nobles to know exactly how they act! It doesn’t matter if they are children, swine, avian, or human, they are all noble one and the same. And lupus are a thing in themselves. Your servant looks like one, but doesn’t always act like one. That and more, but then I’m just bragging,” the drunk said.

“Ha, you’re wrong. Va’il isn’t my servant,” Ruby said. The drunk slapped his head and moaned.

“Oh how the liquor has forsaken me! I was sure that a noble human traveling would come with a servant. Maybe I’m getting old,” the drunk said. He then laughed and took another drink. “But that tells me something new.”

“And that is?” Ruby asked.

“You kids aren’t from Grip. Interesting. And you’re not from Ens. Which means you can only be from one of two places, if you’re from anywhere at all. Ha! What a find,” the drunk said.

“Is that all? I thought you said you were going to help with something,” Va’il said.

“Indeed I am. But this game is so fun! Ha! So the girl must be from Hallum, at least. But I wouldn’t know whether the boy is from Hallum or Aris. But the lupus in Aris wouldn’t have a half. But then again, Hallum is far enough north, I guess. Or maybe, possibly, one of the somewhat more human cities in Farrow? Doubtful, considering them as a whole. Ah, I just don’t know. Tell me, please!” the drunk said.

“Wrong on all accounts,” Ruby said with a growing smile.

“Wrong? Wrong on all? But, that means only one thing. If not from Hallum or Grip, the only other human lands are Ens and Rising. And your hair isn’t blue, so you shouldn’t be from Ens. Rising? Children of Rising? Out here? Are you really?” the drunk asked.

“It won’t help you to know, if you’re planning on doing something to us. But yeah, Rising,” Va’il said.

“I see. No, I have no intention of handing you to Grip. But, this is sobering,” the drunk said. He had calmed down and become solemn.

“So it’s true, isn’t it? Grip is after Rising’s travelers,” Ruby said.

“It is, somewhat. Travelers are mostly nobles. And they are unlikely to know of the recent changes outside Rising. Too many nations have fallen too quickly. It’s a trying time. But enough of this. I’m sure you’ll figure enough of it out in your travels. Let me give you some advice, now. Turn around and go back to the inn where you left those swindlers. Their four relatives will soon return, and together they will speak of how they took you for a ride with a soppy story and a play. You threw away your coin for no reason at all.”

“That’s a large accusation,” Va’il said.

“It is. But true,” the drunk said.

“And how are we to know you aren’t just trying to trick us into going back again, where another trap may wait? One set by you, and not them?” Ruby asked. She took a step away from the drunk.

“That’s the right thinking! Of course you can’t trust me! Why, I’m just a stupid old drunk who steals and swindles when I can as well. I’ve taken from a king’s cellar, a duke’s kitchen, a merchant’s stall, and anywhere else my hands will fit! I’m the most untrustworthy person there is! You better think like that, and apply it to everyone! We’re all after your life or your wallet, and nothing else will suffice. We’ll tell you pretty lies that make you feel wonderful, and then stab you when you aren’t looking. I’ll cut your tongue if someone paid me enough, and thousands more would take your life just for a chance to be promoted. So don’t trust me! I’m a terrible, terrible drunk! I guess that’s all I can do. Take care, kids of Rising.” The drunk took a bow, and then walked north, never once turning around. Va’il and Ruby watched him for a minute before consulting with one another.

“North or not?” Va’il asked.

“I don’t know. I think not, but I just don’t know,” Ruby said.

“South it is. Let’s go back to the inn. It’s just another few hours lost.”

“So, then, you believe what he said? Do you think that nice couple really did put on an act?”

“What I think, is that we don’t have a good record when it comes to trusting the right people. Let’s verify it with our own eyes.”

“I understand,” Ruby said. They turned and headed back towards the inn, reaching it after noon.

About James Ashman

I write books of the fantasy, heroic, and adventure types. So far. I'm an author who loves fantastic stories.
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