Veranda. I admit I was stunned at her presence, standing there alive and well with her body intact, beautiful and free of the scars of her hard life. Last I had seen her she was cold, broken, stiff and dead as we buried her in the mountains of Northern Barsaive.
When she asked me whether she could still serve on the ship as part of the crew, my logical mind screamed to say no. With the importance of our quests combined with the fact that I had buried the woman only a few days prior, by all rights I should have thrown her off of the ship without ceremony. But I found myself strangely indecisive, which is not normal for me. It wasn’t because of some sort influence by her either, it was because I sensed something more to her, something I couldn’t place my finger on. I could not say no, but I didn’t want to yes either. Clearly some powerful magic was afoot. For good or ill? I did not know for sure, but without a good reason I suspected it was the former.
What a nice change that would be.
She seemed genuinely surprised at my obvious distrust, which I did not attempt to hide, and her disappointment showed. She asked if she could go lay down in her bunk below deck. After a moment of pause, I nodded. As she left I looked to Skram and without saying a word he knew what I wanted and followed her below decks. I wanted her watched at all times and I could think of nobody more capable of dealing with such a strange situation than he.
What to do with her weighed heavily on my mind for the next few hours. During that time we unloaded our cargo into mule carts for shipment to the market. We had supplies to buy, men who needed healing, and the crew to organize into groups for shore leave. I did not allow anyone to travel alone while in port. Ever since the incident in Ayodhya, where I’m quite sure an enterprising bard used his influence to goad one of our crew into talking a little too much. Such information is valuable, and every tavern dwelling musician in Barsaive was good at finding socially weak targets for their charms, much like a wolf finds the lame sheep of the herd to kill. Keeping the men in groups where they could look out for each other, with a few exceptions, would prevent this. Even a powerful bard is not likely to trifle with a pack of armed and battle hardened men.
After her nap, Veranda and Skram made their way upstairs and, much to my annoyance, Veranda was on Skrams arm, happily chatting as they came upstairs. He was having a hard time pulling his eyes away from her breasts as he spoke. For this, I could not blame him. Veranda always did have a great set of tits, and now that the rest of her matched their perfection, they were distracting.
She pretended not to notice, but I could tell that she did, and simply didn’t care.
I had business to attend to in Throal, but figuring out the Veranda situation was now my top priority. Dremnin and Skram had been planning to visit the temple of Florannus. Veranda had decided to go with them, and now so would I. I had no use for the drinking and revelry that goes on in temples of Florannus, but I wanted to find out more about Veranda, so I would guide them to a little stop of my own.
I lead us off the ship and to the temple of Lochost. Veranda had been a slave before we freed her. Perhaps, I thought, the acolytes to the Passion of Freedom could tell me more about her sudden resurrection?
I was disappointed.
The old man who was the head of the order thought something was strange about her, but after poking and prodding her for a little while, claimed he couldn’t put a finger on it. She took it pretty well, but I had wasted my time and now had to waste more time making an appearance at the wildness that was the temple of Florannus.
I remember thinking that I simply did not have time to waste.
When we got to the temple, drinking and revelry was already well under way. Music was playing and people were dancing. The four of us went straight to the kegs and poured mugs of ale. I planned to carefully nurse my one drink until I could have a few words with Veranda, learn what I could, and then sneak out. My father once told me that a man drinking will often reveal in short order what he would never reveal while sober. I thought that perhaps I would understand Veranda better after she had let her guard down a bit.
As Veranda and Skram went out to the dance floor immediately, while Dremnin and I sat alone at a small table, as I carefully sipped my ale. It was not good ale, rather it was the cheap sort that drunks use to get themselves happy with minimal coin. I don’t know why that surprised me, but for some reason I assumed the temple of Florannus would serve high quality spirits. I should have known that for this type of crowd, the cheap stuff was the only sensible choice.
After a short while a drunken woman approached our table. She was young and cute, and completely intoxicated. She gazed at me happily, perhaps looking for a big man to bed for the night. It took her a moment to register my cold stare before she shuffled off to find an easier target. No sooner had she left than Veranda and Skram came back and sat with us. They had been dancing furiously the whole while, and Skram was winded like I’d never seen him before. Veranda’s breasts were heaving, and Dremnin was staring. She asked him to dance, he agreed eagerly, and before two words could be said, they were off. This surprised me, for Skram, a hardened and athletic soldier was winded yet Veranda, a woman, was taking Dremnin for another wild dance. Strange indeed. And that was not all, as I watched I noticed that her very presence on the dance floor was having an effect on the crowd. Their passion for their wild dancing seemed to intensify while she was near. Interesting, I thought but it made me more confused than ever. Even the most powerful of bars could not have swayed the crowd so.
After Dremnin was danced out and sat huffing and puffing at the table, I took a moment to sidle up to Veranda while she was refilling her mug yet again. I poured just a little more ale into mine to keep up the pretense, then I glanced at her cooly.
“So, what do you expect me to do with you Veranda?”
She smiled at me and cocked her head in sincere curiosity. "What do you mean, lord?"
I turned to face her then, hoping to solicit a telling reaction. She had finished at least three mugs of ale since we had arrived and had to be well on her way to drunkenness.
“I buried you less than a week ago, Veranda, yet here you are asking to rejoin my crew. Last I saw you your broken, stiff body was under a pile of rocks. Now you expect me to take you back as part of the crew?”
Her face got very serious. I thought that now I was getting somewhere. “Yes lord, I do. I do not know what happened, I do not remember falling off the ship or other events as you and others have described. All I know is that I’m happy to be alive and that I plan to enjoy what life I have left. I never had that opportunity before in my life, the Therans saw to that. Though I have only been with us for a short time, our ship, the crew, is the only good life I’ve ever known… my only family. I hope with all of my heart that you will let me continue to serve, and if you do, you have my word I will serve honorably and that I will protect our ship and our crew with my life.”
Her words rang true to me. I remember feeling as though I could see through her immense beauty then, and I felt like I was looking into the eyes of a woman who was somehow both innocent and worldly at the same time. I believed her… but the logical part of me still desired to rid myself of the question of her presence. Yet, every instinct I had was absolutely sure that she meant all that she said, and my instincts often served me well.
Still, the logical part of me was a stubborn thing. I looked her hard in the eye. "How can you expect me to do that Veranda? What would you do if you were in my position with a once dead and now resurrected crewman? Consider the responsibilities I have to our quest and to the rest of the crew."
She paused at that, and very seriously said; “What quest is that?”
I was suddenly embarrassed as I realized that I had erred. Neither Veranda nor the other new crewmen we had rescued from Thera’s Pride had been aware of our true quest at the time of her death.
Flustered, and admittedly a bit frustrated, I responded soberly. "I forgot that you had not been told of that. It will be something we will have to discuss when you come back aboard the ship."
I put down my mug then, feeling angry with myself for my mistake and more than a bit out of place at this temple, where my serious nature clashed with the entire place. I was ready to go back to the ship and rest.
Sensing my imminent departure she delicately put her hand on my arm. "Stay. Have another drink and dance with me."
Her smile was warm and winning. But I was still annoyed and feeling as out of place as ever, I answered her the only way I could.
“No.” I said flatly. "I have much do to before we can leave Bartertown. As it is, my life does not afford me time for such things."
I turned to go, but she laid a hand on my mailed shoulder. "One dance."; she said.
I hesitated. I did not dance at all other than the formal dances of the court. I certainly did not dance like the wild people in that place. Yet I found myself agreeing to do so. So I danced with her, clumsily, and I did my best to not look too foolish. She seemed to be doing her best to make me feel comfortable doing so, though I can’t say I really was. Skram and Dremnin applauded heartily and were kind enough to stifle any laughter. They seemed all too happy that their normally surly leader was taking some time to relax in their house of worship. They poured me many drinks, too many, and I danced with Veranda much more than I should have. By the time I pulled myself away, it was very late.
I had a great time that night, though Quorra was worried about me when I got back. Afterall, it was very unlike me to be away for so long. Still, I must admit that it was fun to let loose and relax like a common man for awhile. Yet, as I returned to the ship I thought it was a mistake. My place at that stage of my life was not in the drinking halls with a maiden on my arm.
Regardless of how I felt though, the time for fun would soon be at an end for me.