The Adventures of Velia

I have also declared this game dead as the player has been missing in action, and has such long delays between posts that it is really unreasonable. Imagine – Velia started out at the same time as William X and guess how much difference is the material between both games?

Character Sheet

Character : Velia Alignment: C/G Level: 1
Player Name: Race: Human XP: 500
Class: Thief Subrace: Next: 1250
Sex: F Age: 20

Social Class

Religion

Height: 5″5’ Weight: 113lbs

Outcast

None

Strength 6 Hit: -1 Dam: -1 weight: 9lbs Press: 25lbs doors: 4 BBLG: 0%
Dexterity 18 initiative: +3 throw weapons: +3 armor class: -3
Constitution 9 HP bonus: +0 sys shock: 65% Resurrection: 70%
Intelligence 14 NWP: 4 spl.lev: 7° learn spells: 60% spells per level: 9
Wisdom 15 save vs magic: +1 bonus spells: / spell fail: /
Charisma 16 henchmen: 10 fidelity bonus: +4 reaction rolls mod: +5
Saving Throws Base Bonus Notes
Paralysis/Poison/Death 13    
Staff/Wand/Rod 14    
Polymorph/Petrification 12    
Breath Weapon 16 +3 Dexterity
Spells 15 +1 Wisdom
Abilities Proficiencies 7/7  
  Herbalism (3) INT -2
  Reading & Writing (2) INT +1
  Etiquette (1) CHA =
  Disguise CHR -1
       
       
       
       
       
       
Backstab: +4 to hit, damage x2 (changes at level 5)      
Pick pockets 25 +5 30%      
Pick locks 50 +0 50%      
Detect / remove traps 10 +0 10%      
Move silently 20 +10 30%      
Hide into shadows 25 +5 30%      
Detect noises 20 +0 20%      
Climb walls 60 +10 70% Short Bow    
Read languages 20 +0 20% Dagger    
Armor Class Weapons (basic THAC0: 20)
Base Armor Class 10 Dagger, THAC0 21, 1d4/1d3 Left boot
High dexterity -3    
       
       
       
       
       
Modified Armor Class 7 (Short bow, THAC0 18)* Shoulders
Hit Points (6): 6 (12 flight arrows, 1d6/1d6)* Quiver

*She brings these with her only when she’s travelling or in some dangerous situation. Else, she will leave them at home.

Equipment:

shoulders: bow, quiver

belt: pouch, small sack

left boot: dagger

POUCH: 30gp, 17sp

feather and ink, some sheets, chalks.

SMALL SACK: flint & steel, scroll case, soap, small metal mirror.

Clothes: Vest, pants, belt, dagger’s sheath, leather boots, cloak.

Appearance

A young woman, dressed like a girl from the city. Her face has fine features, with a pair of sharp green eyes and her black shoulder length hair. When travelling she uses to keep them into a plait: it’s less elegant, but much more practical. She wears no armor, and has no weapons. Again, when she’s outside the city she brings an old hunter’s bow with her.

Personality

Apparently, she is a strong woman.

She likes very much to deceive people (perhaps to avenge herself), and is fairly good at it, too. She tends to be very introverted, and hates speaking of herself. She won’t put too much trust in anyone for no reasons.

This, with time, could change, but not at the beginning.

But, under this mask, she’s still a weak girl suddenly forced to grow. She has never had a very strong will, and even now she haven’t. Unconsciously she’s seeking to return to her original status of childish happiness, and doesn’t realise that there is no way to return. She’s grown now, and nobody can return to be a child. Perhaps, should she understand this, she could even find a way to forgive Caerwynn.

Prologue: Background

Velia was the daughter of a proprietor of an apothecary in the city of Mongrim, at the borders between Frelandia and Sharilan.

Since a child she used to help him in the shop. She managed so to learn much about medical herbs. The years passed, and Velia grew to become a woman. She had a good relationship with her family, and her father was loath to give her to someone as a spouse.

It happened so that she fell in love with a young man who used to visit her in the shop. His name was Caerwynn.

Velia was so charmed by him that she accepted to help him in some unclear works, which should have helped him to gain the money necessary to marry her. At first she was only asked to give him information about the rich houses where she fetched her father’s ointments, but later she began to help him in some true work of burglary.

The things went on this way for a while, until one day Caerwynn came up with a wonderful idea that should have settled them forever. A work in Velia’s father’s shop. At first she was reluctant, but as ever Caerwynn managed to convince her. After all her father was rich, and the theft wouldn’t have harmed him so much.

The job went smoothly, and the loot was really awesome. In that days some very rare and precious herbs where kept in the shop to cure an important noble from a strange illness.

The next day, shortly after the theft was discovered, the noble had a crisis. The herbs necessary to cure him were unavailable, and no other apothecary in the city had them: they were too rare and precious.

Velia’s father was arrested and executed.

According to the plan, they should have avoided to meet themselves for a while, to allow the waters to calm. The days passed…. Velia never saw Caerwynn again.

She left home, and began to live in the way Caerwynn had taught her. Until one day…

Chapter 1: Velia Arrived in Mongrim

The land of Zon-Zor. Nesting at the northeastern section of Frelandia, Zon-Zor’s peoples had lived in a state of peace and prosperity since the surrender of the tyrant king to Frelandia just thirty years ago. Prince Zarin IV had ruled the land for thirty years since pledging his allegiance to Frelandia at the age of seventeen. Although he had been giving support to the king, hushed whispers in the streets still spoke of his preparations to achieve independence given the chance.

One thing Velia knew. The noble’s son who executed her father had come from the courts of Zon-Zor. Her father did not tell her much about his last patient. But he was definitely a cruel man, to have been so unforgiving of a mistake made by her father.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of wagons just behind her. They were on the same direction as her – moving towards the capital city of Mongrim. The walls of the city loomed in front of her, massive and towering, a symbol of the power that used to be Zon-Zor’s. She should reach the city in another hour or so. Again, memories flooded into her – memories of her childhood. Memories of her dead father. Memories of the man who caused his death…

Velia had heard the rumour while on a stay at the city of Cotacir in Sharilan. Yes, the rumour to a part of her past she had preferred not to face – Caerwynn. There were rumours telling of a fair skinned and handsome young man assassinating the previous guild master, and taking over as the new guild master. His description – blue eyes and golden yellow hair, gentle in his manners, and sweet in his voice, matched Caerwynn indeed. And right now, after a year’s absence, she was on her way to the city she thought she would never see again…

The wagons simply went on ahead of her, at a pretty fast pace too. Bales and bales of hay lay stacked on it. It was pretty rare for hay wagons to be pulled by horses, actually. They were normally pulled by the poor man’s beast – either the ox or the mule. Behind her, she could hear the sound of a galloping horse, and the clanging of metal.

If she was feeling the circumstances, Velia hid it well enough. A year of rogue’s life had changed her deeply. She wasn’t the sweet and even a bit silly young lady working at her father’s shop anymore. Caerwynn showed her the basis of the art… but now Velia was something more than a mere apprentice. She had learnt the last lesson, how to improve herself without aid, and she did it alone.

So she was walking quickly and silently, without ever staring at anybody and accurately avoided looking in whoever’s eyes when glancing them, when she heard the sound of a galloping horse.

“What was going on?” She turned, ready to move away from its path.

The evening sun shone brightly, reflecting off the armoured man riding on a horse. Tall and handsome of appearance, he was dressed in a suit of plate mail armour. Draping over the armour was a cloak bearing an insignia – of one of the noble houses of Zon-Zor! His blue eyes looked kindly at Velia, his golden yellow hair flowing in the gentle evening breeze. By his side was a longsword.

“Good evening, lady!” He greeted courteously, “You must be careful travelling alone, even in the peace of Frelandia!” His eyes twinkled. He rode the horse with skill, with a grace of one who knew the arts of chivalry, “Come, my lady, you should be the one riding.” And he dismounted, patting the horse to reassure it, and looked towards Velia.

Despite the self-control she thought she had obtained, Velia was surprised… and even a bit embarrassed. Such a thing had never happened before to her. She stood on her feet, astonished, for some moments, looking the man dismounting with ability before the horse had completely stopped… and it was then she realised her cheeks were starting to burn. She gulped and regained her composure.

The man turned, looking to her. She hesitated a bit… and then answered, “Oh… I fear I’m not very good at riding, but I do thank you, Sir, for your kind offer. May I ask your name?”

The man laughed heartily, “Fear not, milady! My Bharmut here is gentle to all women, aren’t you my dear?” He patted the horse as he spoke to it. The horse whinnied slightly, and gave a snort. He laughed at its reaction, “I think Bharmut loves any woman that does not fight with her for her master!” His beautiful eyes twinkled as he looked at Velia. He gave a bow.

“Sir Calamon of Illin, son of Sir Shukaron Lord of Illin, at your service, milady.” He gave Bharmut a harder pat on the side and the horse slowed down and went down on its knees. It was indeed a well-trained beast. Its eyes seemed to speak of a great loyalty to its master. Sir Calamon looked towards Velia and gave another bow, holding on to the bridle of the horse.

Velia examined the horse… then smile, and closed in to her, “What do you think, Bharmut… can we be friends?” Then she mounted, smiling.

Bharmut was a gentle horse all right, one whose strength was tempered and controlled, a dam guarding the vast recesses of power of the waters behind. She could feel the powerful gait of the mare as she gently trotted along the road to Mongrim.

She also noticed that Sir Calamon had been looking at her. His beautiful eyes tinkered in the evening sunlight, reflecting a strength of character seldom seen in her year of travels. His well-toned muscles rippled where the mail undercoat hugged them, and the pieces of plated steel that covered him seemed to be of no hindrance to him at all. He caught her looking at him, and immediately looked away to the distance.

After a while, he spoke up, “So, milady, what brings you to these parts? Your dressing is unlike a native of the city!” The wind rustled his hair again.

Velia silently cursed herself for not having prepared a good excuse for being there. Caerwynn would have. Normally she would have just answered something like “It’s not your business”, but she could not do so now. And the last thing she wished to do was to speak of her past to anybody.

“Oh… well… I am a… well yes, an apothecary. I am from… Cotacir.”

She stopped to take breath, and then continued to speak much more fluently, “It is a bad story, it is. I was the apprentice of a famous apothecary. Everything was going good… until one day a noble became ill. My master was curing him, but one evening some thieves broke into his shop and stole all the medical herbs. The next day the noble had a crisis, and without the herbs there was no way to cure him. My… master… was executed.”

Sir Calamon fell silent upon hearing her words. He did not speak a single word, and did not look at Velia at all, but gazed intently upon the road as they travelled, him leading the horse. His gait was well-mannered, not like one of the rough warriors she had encountered in her travels, but a true gentleman, proud and true to himself. The wind blew, ruffling the mane of Bharmut. It seemed like she was enjoying the breeze.

Ahead of them, Velia noticed that the wagon that had sped through her just now had broken down, an axle having spun loose. Four men were trying hard to perform makeshift repairs to the vehicle. As they neared, Velia noticed the nervous looks on their faces. One of them was hurrying the rest on the repair work when another saw her. He shouted something she could not hear properly, and began running away. The other two looked up and fled too, leaving one man cursing. He too, quickly made his exit upon seeing Sir Calamon and her.

Sir Calamon looked at her and frowned, “What happened?” He slowed Bharmut down as they neared the wagon. The two horsed were still tied to the wagon. One of them was starting to graze lazily on the hay. The other seemed quite restless, but was not trying to get away. Velia’s eyes noticed something gleaming from underneath the bits of hay the horse was picking up to eat as they began to pass by the wagon.

“I would really like to know. What’s that?” She pointed to the item.

“I too wonder.” Sir Calamon replied. “Why would peasants abandon their cargo and vehicle? I am a knight of the Third Order, and the peasants should have been more than happy to see me.”

Velia knew that the knights were the best troops of the Duke of Zon-Zor, the most powerful man in Zon-Zor, who answered to no one but the King of Frelandia. The Third Order was probably a rank, but she could not be sure of it – after all, these rankings were a business of the knights themselves.

“Oh well,” He shrugged his shoulders as he looked upon Velia. His smile had returned, as he seemed to have forgotten the words that Velia had said a while ago, “I will just have to wait till the patrols come, before I continue on our journey. The peasants could have gone for help to move the wagon, I will at least make sure the contents are untouched. In the meantime, I will have to arrange it a little…”

Sir Calamon reined in Bharmut, “Please excuse me a while, milady.” His eyes were noble and beautiful. It was quite unbelievable that this would be a man from the noble houses. The nobles of Mongrim were generally a nasty lot, who flaunted their riches, and could not care less about the peasants and merchants whose heavy taxes made them rich.

Leaving Bharmut impatiently grounding herself by the road, Sir Calamon went to pick up the bundles of hay that had dropped from the wagon. Rippling muscles showed off his body as he picked up the bundles with seeming little effort. Suddenly he frowned as he noticed again the object Velia was pointing at. Ruffling through the wagon a little, he picked up a short sword.

Velia’s keen ears picked up the sounds of marching.

Velia was still unable to figure out what was going on. So it was true – Sir Calamon was close to the noble who had her father executed. Perhaps he was that noble himself? Velia could not help but hope he wasn’t.

But now there was another mystery to solve. Why did these men flee? Perhaps they were friends of Caerwynn who recognised her? It seemed unlikely. Nevertheless, if Sir Calamon was one of these Knights, he could be a formidable ally to her… and enemy to Caerwynn. The sound of marching intensified.

“Perhaps they were not fleeing from us. What is this noise? It seems someone’s marching…”

Sir Calamon nodded. He moved over to where Velia was and steadied the reins of Bharmut. His right hand moved skilfully to his sword, still in the scabbard. The sounds of marching came nearer, and a troop of soldiers rounded the bend. There were eight of them, seven wearing leather armour and carrying a spear each. At their belts were hung short swords. The eighth, obviously the leader, wore studded leather armour, with a long sword hanging at his belt. The soldiers wore the insignia of the Duke of Zon-Zor.

With the Duke himself being stationed in a fortress in the middle of the city of Mongrim, his troops patrolling the suburbs were a welcomed sight. While they were known to occasionally be as oppressive as the noble houses, their presence provided safety and protection from the brigands and bandits that no king and authority had been able to suppress.

Sir Calamon relaxed at seeing the soldiers. The leader saw him too, and immediately snapped to attention. His troops stopped immediately upon this signal and snapped to attention too. Sir Calamon returned the salute, and smiled at Velia. He seemed to have eased up considerably, as opposed to his quiet demeanour after Velia’s account.

He called to the leader, who promptly ran over. He smiled and said, “Good evening, Sergeant! How is everything getting on?” The Sergeant nodded his head and replied, “Peaceful, sir. We were just returning from our patrols.” As he said this, he was looking quizzingly at the wagon. Sir Calamon caught his gaze.

“Yes, I am afraid we will have to look into this, Sergeant. That was one huge catchment of arms over there! The four men bolted off over there the moment they saw me.” He pointed to the direction where they ran off.

“Yes, sir.” The Sergeant paused for a while, before continuing, “I understand you have been away for some time sir?” Sir Calamon nodded, and the Sergeant continued, “Just two days ago, my men and I uncovered two batches of such weapons being smuggled in as well. The smugglers put up a struggle, but we managed to capture one alive. I believe the General himself has called him for personal questioning.”

The sun came out of the clouds at that moment, and the Sergeant put up a hand to shield his eyes, before continuing, “I heard the guards at the city gates have been doubled, sir. Lieutenant Septhir has taken us off city guard duty and put us on patrol duty for now.” Velia could not help but detect a slight distaste in his voice.

Sir Calamon nodded and said, “I am afraid they have been gone a while. I did not pursue them as I was escorting the lady. I would suggest you cart this wagon back to the city while I call in on the Lieutenant.” The Sergeant nodded, and gave a salute, before returning to his troops, barking out orders.

Sir Calamon smiled at Velia, and said, “It is just a small incident, milady. Now permit me to continue on the journey with you – it is getting dark.”

Velia observed the whole scene silently. Weapons smuggling? This was an interesting thing indeed. But she needed to know more.

“There is weapons smuggling in the city? I would not call it a small incident to forget about. If someone needs so many weapons it can only mean they’re preparing a revolt… or perhaps even a war! What is going on in Mongrim? There is risk of an insurrection?”

Sir Calamon was silent, deep in thought. He smiled at Velia and said, “Milady, surely you have a sharpness within you unlike many women I have met!” He gave a hearty laugh and continued, “Indeed, the minds of the wise comes from the same spark!” He was quoting a well-known Zon-Zoran proverb. Unlike many of the soldiers in the Duke’s employ, the knights were well educated.

His eyes seemed to dance with the joy of one expecting battle, as he said, “If there indeed be an insurrection coming up, Sir Calamon would be the first to be joined in the battle, to fight for the glory of the great Duke of Zon-Zor! Yes, no one shall take the city of Mongrim when the knights are protecting it!”

Chapter 2: Trouble at the City Gates

The sun was already setting down as they neared the city. Its golden rays bathed the armour of Sir Calamon in a beautiful shining yellow, reflecting off its well-polished pieces of plate. Before Velia loomed the walls of the city of Mongrim. Standing at over 80 feet tall, the walls (dating from pre-Dark Years days) had stood themselves successfully against all invaders. Only the diplomatic and military strength of Frelandia was able to force surrender from within – and even then the walls were not stormed by force but taken by clever tactics.

Velia could see the guards manning the city gates. The guards had just finished examining the carriage just ahead of the two of them. There were altogether about four men at the gate itself, and probably more within the barracks. If things still had not changed, patrols throughout the city would still be a regular thing.

One of the guards saw Sir Calamon and snapped to attention. From his dressing (studded leather armour, and long sword), Velia could see that he was probably the leader of this squad. Sir Calamon returned his salute and smiled at the soldier.

“Good evening, sir! May I see your identification papers please?”

Looking around, Velia could see that things had not changed one bit. There were still the familiar series of barracks about the entrance of the city. Further up the wide street (enough for a two four-horse carriages to pass through!) were the rows of taverns providing expensive accommodation to visitors. Hopefully one thing had not changed too – the Lucky Coin Inn should still have the necessary contacts to the local Thieves’ Guild.

Velia also saw the eyes of some of the soldiers on her. They were leering at her, and whispering among themselves – apparently sharing some manly jokes about the curves of her body. Velia was aware of her stunning beauty, which could be an advantage in some places. Yet at the same time, it had created a lot of unwanted attention many times.

The Sergeant frowned as he heard Sir Calamon recount the events that had taken place, even as he was examining the papers. He looked coolly at Velia, then returned his gaze to Sir Calamon. Meanwhile, he was still continuing on about his meeting with the patrol when the Sergeant stopped him.

“Uh…sorry sir, but your papers seemed a little out of date…we are no longer using this identification. I am afraid you will have to come with me to see the lieutenant, sir.”

Now it was Sir Calamon’s turn to frown. He looked at the Sergeant and said with a hint of impatience, “I have been away for a year! Of course my papers is a little out of date!” He shook his head as he said, “No problem, I will see the lieutenant – I assume it is Lieutenant Septhir?”

The Sergeant seemed a little surprised that he would know, but nodded. Sir Calamon turned around to Velia and smiled at her. He said, “Just a little administrative matters to attend to, for Mongrim’s security. I will be away a while.” He turned back to the Sergeant and spoke in an authoritative voice, “See to it that the lady and my horse is taken care of while I am gone!”

The Sergeant nodded and barked out orders towards some soldiers in the barracks. Two of them hurriedly ran out towards Velia and Bharmut. Sir Calamon gave a bow to Velia and walked off with the Sergeant, turning around and disappearing behind the barracks.

The soldiers who attended to Velia and Bharmut seemed like recruits. One of them looked sheepishly at her, and said, “Madam, would she kindly dismount so that I can water and feed the horse…”

“Yes, of course” Velia said as she dismounted. Perhaps there was a technique to do it, but she simply jumped off the saddle, relying on her agility, and landed silently next to the soldier. She needed not to be “taken care of”, that was sure!

It was time to make a plan. She knew what she wanted – revenge upon Caerwynn. All the rest was unimportant. Could she venture to the Lucky Coin and contact the Guild? She was a teenager when she left the city. Now she wasn’t anymore – she had grown, and had changed her way of dressing and keeping hair. Was it enough? Not for her mother, Caerwynn or some of her father’s former customers, but it would be for the others. She instinctively sought for a mirror.

The soldiers led the horse away to a nearby stable as Velia looked about for a room where she might refresh herself. Velia had never explored the barracks when she was young – the guards had always chased her away. She remembered in her sneakings, however, that the barracks were not places a girl would like to be. She had seen mirrors during her many peeks through the windows, but there were also many portraits of women in various stages of undress in their rooms. It seemed a favourite past-time among the city guards. The only other places where there were mirrors would be the washrooms in the taverns.

She was about to ask after the guards leading the horses away when she heard an appreciative whistle nearby. This was followed by a very rough and uncultured voice saying, “Yo, missus, you’re not from these parts, isn’t it? Don’t you know the rules here?”

She turned about, to see two soldiers coming near her. One was a big man, walking with a pompous swagger. She remembered him as one of the soldiers making jokes about her while Sir Calamon was speaking with the Sergeant. He still had that salacious look in his eyes. Next to him was a smaller man, with boyish looks and a small mop of hair on his head. He looked quite nervous.

Velia became worried. She needed to gain time, to let Sir Calamon return. So she asked back, “What makes you think I’m not from here?” She spoke looking the smaller man right in his eyes, to see his reaction.

The smaller man was nervously wringing his hands. He looked at the ground the moment Velia stared at him, not daring to look her in the eye. The other man made a smirk when he heard Velia speak. He spoke loudly with a self-important note, pointing to the bow Velia was carrying, “You are carrying a fighting weapon! It is against the law to carry this weapon in Mongrim!”

Velia had never heard of such a law when she was in Mongrim, back a year ago. While it is true that all weapons being carried by the citizens must be registered with the City Guards, they were never forbidden.

The big man paused to grab the smaller man and pull him up, to look at Velia, “We will have to confiscate your weapon, miss. And just to make sure you have no hidden weapons with you, my new comrade here will have to search you!” Velia heard loud laughter from another three soldiers who had gathered to watch the spectacle.

The big man glared first at Velia, then at the small man. He spoke roughly into his face, “What are you waiting for? Go!” He pushed the poor man staggering forward into Velia.

Velia slowly stepped back. The small scrawny little fellow fell down to the ground as he stumbled off-balance due to Velia stepping back. She took off her bow as to comply with the big man’s orders… but suddenly drew an arrow, pointing the weapon towards the big man’s Adam’s apple. The small man looked up from the ground as Velia drew her arrow.

“Be very aware… as this arrow is poisoned with Crudine, and I can’t miss you from this distance. Sir Calamon and the guards I met before told me nothing regarding my weapons – but if what you say is the truth, I will consign them to him only.

“You…” She spoke to the small man, “Go and call Sir Calamon. He’s in Septhir’s office, and they won’t be happy to hear about what is happened here. Go!”

The big man glared at Velia. The three guards that were laughing away became dead serious when they saw her pull the bow. Three crossbows were brought up hastily. They were already cocked, and they were now pointed at Velia. He put up his hands and slowly retreated back.

“What are you waiting for? She is threatening a city guard! Get up from your dreams and grab her weapon!” He barked harshly to the soldier just two feet in front on Velia, on his fours and still trying to scramble up. He seemed a little hesitant whether to listen to Velia or his comrade.

The big man pointed a finger threateningly at Velia and growled menacingly, “Woman! I grew up being threatened! If I had yielded, I would not be a First Class Soldier now! That’s one arrow you are pointing at me. There are three bolts coming for you!” He pointed his finger emphatically at her each time he made a point in his speech.

Meanwhile, Velia could hear sounds of commotion coming from the barracks. “And if one of these bolts hits me, you won’t be a First Class Soldier anymore for long. You won’t survive long enough to see the dawn of tomorrow, and I can’t say what will be the fate of the one who fires the bolt. I have nothing against you,” She speaking to the guards now, “Nor against you,” She glances to the small man.

“But I can’t accept being harassed this way. You are a courageous man, or you would have yielded. Now show yourself to be a honourable one, too, and excuse yourself of your own will, before Sir Calamon and Lieutenant Septhir come to force you to do so, and we’ll be able to put an end to this inconvenience.”

The small man looked up at Velia and bit his lips when he heard what she said. She could just barely, imperceptibly (she could not be sure) see his eyes starting to water. He looked back again at the First Class Soldier intimidating him. Another dozen men had by now gathered in a two-tier formation, crossbows pointing at her. The First Class Soldier begun to move back, away from Velia, his eyes boiling not with either rage or fear, Velia could not tell.

The small man quickly stood up, blocking her arrow – and the crossbow bolts. “Run!” He screamed at her as he tried to push her away from him. Velia did not allow herself to be surprised by the action of the small man, and started to look for the nearest cover.

Velia’s position was pretty precarious. The nearest cover, her becoming a pin cushion, was the nearest street. She remembered the place. If it still had not changed, it provided many entrances and exits into the poorer parts of the city, which did not really sympathise with the city guards. A little further away would be the street leading into the market-place, a naturally crowded and busty area where one could get lost easily in the crowd.

Velia wasn’t happy about how things had gone, but she had no choice. She rushed towards the closest street, hoping to find a place to hide herself as soon as possible. Then, with a bit of luck, she could have walked back on her steps to meld into the crowded marketplace.

For a moment she asked herself who was the small man who helped her, and why he did so. But she had more important thing to do at the moment than pondering on what had just happened.

There was a commotion behind her, and the curses of the First Class Soldier who had threatened Velia. He seemed to yelling both at the small man and at her the same time. She did hear one very important sentence, however, “Get her!”

She darted quickly into the street. It was quite dark at this time of the day, and the poorer parts of Mongrim were not lit with torches. It was quite difficult to see her way around the street, much less run properly. But one thing was sure – the soldiers would find it not easy to look for her as well. Still, chances were they would carry torches, and surely it would not be long before they caught up with her.

Velia had been running through the dark street for nearly ten minutes, and her lungs felt like it was about to burst. The sounds of shouting and faint glimpses of torches could be seen, but she could not carry on any further due to her weak heart. She collapsed against a door – which suddenly opened up behind her!

A woman’s voice cried out, “Hush!” And pulled her behind the door, immediately shutting it. The place was in pitch darkness, and Velia could see nothing. A hand was on her arm, however, and it felt like a woman’s hand. Suddenly, there were loud knockings on the door that Velia just entered through.

“Hey, you there! Open up! This is the constabulary!”

The woman whispered to her, “Wernoel will bring you to a hiding place. Quick!” Velia could feel a smaller hand grip her hand and tugged her.

Velia nodded in the darkness, and quickly answered, “Thank you. I won’t forget this.” Velia could hear something soft being shifted aside, and the quiet opening of some form of portal. Velia fell gingerly onto a soft mattress-like material upon the urgings of Wernoel, who simply tugged her down after jumping. Then the sound of the portal being closed came, and Velia realised they must be in some form of secret hiding place on the ground.

Velia could hear the woman opening the door, and the sound of the First Class Soldier, “Prufina! Did you see a young woman head by this way?” There was a tension in the air, as the sounds of the soldiers bearing up behind him came closer, and shouting was heard.

“Awh…” Velia could hear the woman (whom she assumed must be Prufina) speak in a sultry and sexy voice, “You are looking at a young woman now and you want to ask me if I see any other young women about?”

Velia heard the soldier laughed, and he said, “I look for one younger than you, woman! Although right now I don’t mind having you!”

Prufina giggled and said, “But your superiors will come after you if you spend your duty time with me right now! And trust me, they do patronise me as well, and I do not wish to have to lie to them if they ask me about the activities of their soldiers!”

The soldier laughed again as he said, “And I would not dare to trust your lips with my indiscretions, Prufina – after all, my superiors do pay a price higher than mine, right? I will be off duty tomorrow – I will have you then!”

Prufina seemed to have blown a kiss, before she said, “And I will wait for you, dear. Just remember to bring the money you owed me for the last time!”

The soldier laughed and Velia heard him speak to the other soldiers, “Get ready the posters first thing tomorrow. The lady shall be arrested for disrespectful behaviour towards the duke, and for resisting arrest! As for Jethran, I am going to give him a good thrashing for being such a coward!”

Velia could hear Prufina close the door. A few minutes passed by before she opened the portal. The light that came in temporarily blinded Velia. When her eyes adjusted to the light of the lanterns in the house, she could see that she was in a 5 foot deep ‘pit’ with a mattress. Lying on the mattress with her was a small little girl, barely eleven to twelve years of age.

Prufina was a woman who looked like she was in her late twenties or early thirties. Still beautiful at her age, she had lovely golden hair that reached down to her shoulders. Her face had quite a bit of make-up, and she was dressed in some see-through gown. Her green eyes though, betrayed a certain form of tiredness – there seemed to be little life in them.

“You must be careful here in Mongrim, my dear. The city guards here can be quite corrupt, since we are far away from the influence of the king.” Prufina spoke as she helped Velia and Wernoel off the pit. She motioned Wernoel to the doorway to another room, saying, “Get the lady a cup of tea, dear – I think she is going to need something to calm her nerves.”

Wernoel nodded and walked briskly into what Velia surmise must be the kitchen. Prufina looked at Velia and asked, “So what business have you here in Mongrim, to be chased about by the town guards? There are going to be posters all over the city looking for you tomorrow.” She smiled in a motherly kind of smile as she said that.

Velia sat, recovering her breath after the long run, thinking as to what to say.

“I guess I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anyway, Mongrim is the city of my birth. I was returning after four years to see my mother when I was approached by a knight… he said his name was Sir Calamon. I accompanied him to the city barracks, but there he was forced to leave me for a moment to see a certain Lieutenant Septhir. And while I was alone this First Class toad came to importunate me. He said he had problems with the bow I had on my shoulders and wished for a perquisite on my body to check for any other weapons. I refused, and here I am.”

And now I’m done. Velia thought. Posters on every wall? I guess I could not have found a better way to warn Caerwynn, if he’s still here.

Prufina smiled as she heard Velia relate her story. She looked at Velia’s weaponry, and shook her head, “Right now, the law in the city makes the carrying of weapons of war within city limits illegal. I suppose your hunting bow must have been the cause of your problems, though I must say it is stretching it a bit to call it a weapon of war.”

Wernoel returned to offer the tea to Velia. The tea was a very fine mixture of fruits, and tasted wonderful, calming down Velia’s nerves. The little girl sat down to observe Velia’s conversation with Prufina. She had very beautiful eyes. Her hair was cropped short, just covering the ears, and tinted with a purple dye (the latest fashion in Frelandia right now). She smiled when her eyes caught Velia’s.

Prufina smiled and warmly gave Wernoel a light kiss on the cheek, before saying, “You should be in bed, little girl. It will be a long day tomorrow. Come give mummy a kiss.” Wernoel smiled, hugged Prufina and gave a peck on her cheek, before running into another doorway, covered by a curtain. That must be the bedroom.

Now that Velia had a chance to look about the room, she realised it was a prostitute’s room. A beautifully decorated couch in rich velvet, which she happened to be sitting on, dominated the entire room. The only other furnishing was the dressing table, and two chairs. A rug covered what Velia realised must have been the pit she was hiding in. From the furnishings and the draping, Prufina must have been a very high classed and popular prostitute.

Prufina looked at Velia, as if considering something. She spoke, “I have never been very impressed with the low life in Mongrim, and the city administration is no difference. You should leave Mongrim first thing tomorrow. I will see what arrangements I can make. And if you do not mind, lady, you can sleep with my daughter in the bedroom while I prepare for business in an hour’s time.

“Oh, by the way, lady – what is your name?”

“My name is Velia.” She smiled back at Prufina, “And I am twice in your debt now. However… I’m not so sure about leaving the city so hastily. Perhaps there’s still a way to put the pieces together… and I still have to find my mother.

“First… I need to know the name of this First Class Soldier. Then… I’ll have to find Sir Calamon again. He must help me now. Don’t you happen to know where he might reside?”

Prufina grinned and winked as she said, “Ah…you must be talking about Ohkhalu. He is one big bully, but like all bullies, he is a coward without all his men about him. Oh, I have him round and round about my finger, and he would be too stupid to even know!”

She laughed a little at the joke she made, before continuing, “Honestly speaking, this Sir Calamon, if he is a knight, would be staying at the residence of one of the noble families here. And how many have we at the last count? More than a score of them! It would take quite a while for you to find him, my dear. Not to mention that the city guards are probably all over the place hunting for you now!”

She paused and thought a while. She then said, “But I guess some of my customers might know. If I get some information, I guess you would be the first to know.” She shrugged her shoulders and winked at Velia again, “This Sir Calamon, is he a handsome young chap?” She giggled and nudged Velia a little.

“I guess he is.” Velia smiled, “And quite gallant, too… just like all knights I guess. But perhaps it was just flattery! Perhaps it won’t be so difficult to track him down. He’s from the Illin family. I remember that well. Perhaps you could find a way to have a letter delivered to him?”

“I was thinking… I need to walk the city streets. What do you think…” Velia looked herself in a mirror, “If I cut my hair short and I wear man’s clothes… and I add a bit of make-up… do you think I could pass for a young squire?”

“Hmm…” Prufina thought to herself, “Well, the Illin family…sounds very familiar, perhaps one of my customers know something. Tell you what, I will see what I can do.”

She smiled and walked one round about Velia. She giggled and said, “Well, my dear, you may just have to tuck your bosom in a little – some tight cloths wrapped about would do the trick. And perhaps you would just make a very handsome young squire!”

Velia looked again in the mirror to her shoulder-length black hair. She sighed. Then she decided herself and asked Prufina to help her cut them in a credible fashion.

“That bastard shall pay for this, I swear!”

Prufina chuckled and said, “Well, my dear, it looks like I will have to open for business later! I may lose some customers!” She laughed and spent the rest of the evening working with Velia, to disguise herself as a young squire. She washed her hair and cut them in a pageboy haircut.

Then she dressed herself with the appropriate clothes. Prufina took a cotton band and wrapped it tightly around her bosom until it became nearly invisible under the vaporous white shirt. To be sure she added a leather jacket over it.

Then they added breeches and boots, and even a hat. Velia looked at the result in Prufina’s large mirror. Prufina giggled and put her right hands limply on her shoulder, leaning against her and rubbing against her body sexily, saying, “Ah, my most handsome young man, you are a lady killer! Why don’t you spend the night at my place? Prufina will not charge you!” She giggled uncontrollably.

Velia’s sulky expression melted in a smile. “How could I refuse an offer from such a fine woman as you, milady? But, by the gods, let’s take away this band! I can’t breath!”

Velia asked how many Apothecaries there were in the city, and how to find them. Prufina frowned as she helped her with the cotton band, saying, “Now why would this young lady want to know about apothecaries? Nothing interesting except horrible smelling herbs, if you were to ask me!”

“Well… I’m a herbalist. I guess there will be someone in need of an already skilled apprentice. I’m in need of some herbs and I don’t have the money to buy them. And, by the way… the scent of herbs can be wonderful, you know! I’ll show you when I return.” Velia replied.

Prufina wriggled her nose at the suggestion, “No thanks! I prefer the smell of roses from a lover any day!” She laughed to herself at this, and continued, “Why don’t you go into the room and rest, my dear? I am about to begin my business – unless you want to be my competitor! I would have to drive you out if that is the case!” She grinned at Velia.

Velia nodded, and went to the other room. She preferred to avoid thinking of what Prufina was about to do – she believed herself to be an open-minded woman, and she wasn’t used to judge anyone for anything. Yet a sense of uneasiness remained.

Thinking to other things she went to bed. It took a while to fall asleep – she tried to think of pleasant things… like Sir Calamon… but strangely enough, her thoughts went to the small man who tried to save her. Who was him? What was his name? Why did he act so?

Chapter 3: The Next Day

Velia awoke, the room in dim light. She could not tell the time of the day, since there were no windows for the sun to shine in, but it had to be daytime from the light in the house. Wernoel was no longer next to her – she must have woken up and gone to work. Good thing she did not follow the profession of her mother. At least she was a woman of the day.

Velia had remembered hearing sounds of passion coming from the room next to hers throughout the night. Sometimes they were loud enough to wake her up. Other times, thankfully, they were soft enough for her to drift into sleep, before another sound (from another man!) had woken her again. It was probably many hours later that Prufina had come in and slept next to Wernoel. She was still sleeping away, her body clad in a sheer dress, with thick make-up on her face. For a woman of her age, she really had a very good figure.

Velia arose, and moving as silently as possible (and she was quite good at it) went in the other room, bringing the clothes with her. She stopped before the mirror, and dressed herself as a squire. She left the bow and took the dagger, putting it to the belt – for a squire it wasn’t strange.

Then she went out, looking for the closest of the apothecaries. She was determined to find work in one of the shops. She needed some money, and that was a way to earn it. But, more importantly, such a job would have given her access to many herbs useful for what she had in mind. Most of the city apothecaries would have certainly remembered her father and what happened to him, and someone could have also known about the wife and the daughter of that man. She could always say she was a cousin from Cotacir.

Velia looked about the city from the street (making sure she left from the other end, avoiding the guards). This was one of the main streets, and it was dotted with small little stalls selling plenty of goods. Already, at that time of the day (early morning), people were milling about. One end of the streets would lead to the market, the other to a series of shops. If her memory does not fail her, uncle Porure’s apothecary would be near the market place. There should be another two apothecaries on the other street, both rivals to her father’s business. Her father’s former shop should be there as well.

She thought about it for a while, then decided to go to her former house. It was possible that her mother was still living there, and anyway it was a good place to retrieve some information.

The Apothecary Street was named after the many apothecaries there. The three biggest apothecaries rivalled each other in fame and size, and her father’s was one of them. The familiar smell of herbs brought back many memories to Velia as she walked. Nobody seemed to recognise her, or perhaps if they do, they were not doing anything about it. A troop of town guards suddenly appeared at the end of the street. There were about eight of them.

It’s not good to play with fortune when there is no need for it, Velia thought. She entered the closest store, to avoid being forced to pass too close to the guards. The troop marched pass her, one of them pausing to stick a poster on the pillar of the shop. At her angle, Velia could not see the poster description.

“Hello, young man, what brings you here? Looking for something to buy for your sweetheart?” A voice called out to her from behind her. Velia glanced about the place, noticing that it was probably a cloth merchant.

“Oh… hello. Well… yes, I am looking for something nice. Something VERY nice. I’d like to strike an attitude, you know.” Velia smiled to the merchant, “She’s 20… slender… with black hair and green eyes. What would you suggest?”

The one talking to her was a fine young man actually. Soft features portrayed his face as he smiled at her, and said, “Ah…so it is for your sister! The description seems to sound like you!” He smiled as he led Velia through the various wares. The cloths he had ranged from the common to the richest of purple and velvet. Her eyes rested on some silk.

He was quick to see her interest, chipping in, “Ah…she will like it! This is the finest silk, imported from Eyonda itself!” Velia had heard about the silks of Eyonda. They were supposed to be the finest in all of Theophilia.

“That’s absolutely awesome. She’ll like it so much! But how much is it?”

“Oh, not very expensive, I will give you a discount…let me see…” He paused for a while, doing some mental calculation, before saying, “How about 50 gps per yard square? It is the best price in Mongrim – you will not find any other shop selling this for a better price!”

Velia smile crumbled as she said, “I fear my purse is not up to the task. But it’s so beautiful… tell me – don’t you know a way to get the money? I’ve seen many apothecaries down the road, and I am skilled in the use of herbs. Do you know if I could find work somewhere?”

“Well…” The young man sighed, knowing business probably was not going to find him then, “If you are looking for work in the apothecaries, you will never be able to afford this!” He shook his head and continued, “I don’t think any of the apothecaries are looking for work though. You may just be out of luck, my friend.”

“Oh.” Velia looked very disappointed, “I understand.”

He grinned and spoke conspiratorially, “I too may not be able to afford the silk too, but I promise you discounts on all my goods if you were to introduce your sister to me!” He winked at Velia.

Velia winked back at the boy, “Oh well… knowing her tastes, she could even like you after all.” Meanwhile she slowly walked next to a window, continuing to joke with the man until the road was clear.

“Well…I do thank you. But now I’ll be on my way. Perhaps we will meet again for that silk!” She went out and walked towards her former shop.

As she walked out, she could not help but notice the poster stuck onto the pillar of the shop she just left. It was a very good drawing of her, drawn by an artist in the employ of the city guards no doubt. Below the drawing were the words “Wanted for Illegal Possession of Weapons of War and for Resisting Arrest. Rewards will be given for information leading to arrest.”

It was a walk down memory lane for her. Not much had changed for the past year that she left. Taking a familiar turn to the left, she walked towards the place where her father’s apothecary should be. The sight of the place saddened her heart, for the signboard no longer said “Quadrino’s Herbs And Medicine” but “Quintina’s Medical Hall”. Quintina’s was not a rival, but it was a competing shop nevertheless. The proprietress must have bought over the place. By the light of the morning sun, Velia could see uncle Gorkum, one of her father’s workers, measuring out the herbs. Nobody else was around.

Velia’s eyes flashed as she recognised him. It had been so long since she spoke with a relative! In the years spent abroad she had simply removed that chapter of her life in the deepest recesses of her soul… but now the memories were suddenly coming back to the surface, piece after piece, without any pity.

“Good morning, sir.” she said. She was scared: her disguise worked effectively just a few minutes before, but Gorkum was a relative who had seen Velia grow since she was born. But, on the other side, she had changed much in the last years, and now she was disguised as a man. She decided to wait for his reply, examining his face to find any sign of wonder.

The man looked up from the balance that he was using, and placed the measuring pans down. He smiled at Velia, and said in the familiar comforting voice, “Yes, young sir, how may I serve you?” His smile was still as wonderful as ever, reminding her of the days when she had played on his lap.

“I have a message for a woman… her name is Lysenn Quadrino. I have been instructed to bring it to Quadrino’s Herbs and Medicine, but looks like the shop’s owner has changed. Could you please be so kind to help me?”

Gorkum’s eyes widened the moment he heard Velia speak out her mother’s name, and his eyes began to shift furtively around. Raising his voice so that everybody could hear, he spoke, “Oh, the rarer herbs are inside, sir. Please come in!” He grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her into the shop.

“Japheth! Attend to the shop while I show our customer our prize herbs!” He shouted into the herb preparatory room while he ushered Velia in urgently into the herb storage area. Velia was not able to see how this Japheth looked like, so quickly did he disappear with her behind closed doors.

The smell of strong and powerful herbs greeted the nose of Velia. Her father had brought her in when she was very young, and she could probably name off most of the herbs, their properties, and their medicinal value, without any effort. Rows upon rows of jars and boxes rested upon the shelves. Shelves still clean from the daily dustings of uncle Gorkum, noted Velia.

Once the door was closed, and Gorkum was sure no one heard them, he quickly turned to look at Velia. The room had only a small ventilation and sun hole on the roof, and not much light, or sound for that matter, travelled in or out of the room.

“Sit down, young man,” Gorkum pointed to the floor, before sitting down, “Lysen Quadrino is a name I have not heard of for a long time!” There was a certain sadness in his eyes, and some glimmer of hope as well. “I have thought I would never hear it again in my lifetime.”

“Young man,” Gorkum gazed at Velia as he said this. He seemed to still not recognise Velia. “Lysen Quadrino was never seen after the new Count took her away, a week after he ordered the execution of her husband. I hope you are not a relative – he had ordered the execution of all relatives of Gibrail Quadrino. If there is a message, I guess only I, the former employee, am the closest person to hear it. But it might cost me my head!”

He shook his head in sadness. “I was a coward then, and the year since have been heavy upon me. Young man, what is the message? I will try my very best with my old bones to fulfil them. Perhaps Gibrail would forgive me of my cowardice the night I spat on him!” Tears were starting to flow from his eyes. Tears of remorse, of great anguish over something evil he must have done.

Velia tried to force her mind to work, but it was not easy, given the circumstances. Her emotions were flooding her. Her mother had been executed too, then? She never suspected such a thing could have happened! Tears were coming to her eyes too, now. She stared at the man sitting before her.

“Uncle Gorkum,” she whispered. She paused for a while… a long while… and then continued, in a louder voice. “Uncle Gorkum… I need to know. You must tell me. What really happened? Why does the Count have all of us executed?”

For a moment, Gorkum looked a little puzzled. He gazed intently into Velia’s eyes, as if trying to decipher what she was trying to say. For a moment, Velia thought he might have recognised her, but the confused look still stayed in his eyes.

“Young man, why do you cry like I do? How is madam related to you?”

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