By mid-morning they turned off the main thoroughfare, taking the narrower forester's road, leading them farther into the trees. The change in route had them changing position as well. No longer able to ride side-by-side, Mijinji waved Clessa ahead, keeping her beside Paxun while he took the rear. Vergon was already gone. As soon as he'd seen the road they were taking, he rode ahead as a forward scout. At least that's what he'd said before cantering off.
It wasn't too long after they'd settled into the new arrangement that the priest turned around and said "Your partner seemed to be in a hurry to ride ahead. How long have you known him?"
Concealing a wince, Mijinji replied "No offense intended, but Vergon really isn't comfortable around priests. They make him nervous. He was the same around Pavani's priests, so it's nothing personal. And I've known him for over a year. He's the best partner I've ever had."
"And you?" he asked, raising an eyebrow in Clessa's direction.
She met his eyes steadily. "I've only been working with both of them for a few weeks. I've learned a lot from both of them. I couldn't imagine working with anyone else."
"Hmmm. Your loyalty is admirable. I'm just curious about you. You're not like most of the mercenaries I've come into contact with, for all that you two fall into some of the most common types of them. But the other man, Vergon, what does he do exactly? He doesn't appear to be either a mage or a fighter."
"He can fight and has before. Vergon's talents are more varied and a bit unusual. But he often makes the difference between us finishing a job and not," Mijinji said, sitting straighter in his saddle. After a moment, he added "And he's really fast."
"How did you meet? Forgive my forwardness, but he doesn't seem the type of person you would seek out."
"You're right, he's not. We'd, my partner at the time and me, been hired by a couple to find their daughter. She'd run away with a young man a few years before. They'd been angry at first, but now were only desperate to know if she was safe and for me to tell her that they wanted to see her again, if she'd forgive them for what they'd said to her. We tracked her down, finally ending up in Maplestream.
She was living there and not hard to find, being as she was the only person in the town who didn't have that heavy accent of theirs. And she was married, just not to the same man she'd run away with. He'd left her after a few months for another woman. She'd married her business partner and had a daughter of her own. She was overjoyed to hear our message, and as we were leaving, was already making plans to visit.
It was as we were leaving that we ran into Vergon. He was studying our horses. When we asked him what he was doing, he said it was research. Then he asked us about ourselves. We told him we were mercenaries. He wanted to know what that was like. We chatted for a few turns, then made our excuses and headed out of town.
We were only a few bells down the road when we were ambushed by a group of bandits. There were six of them, plus a mage. We were in a rough state when Vergon rode in. We hadn't even known he was following us, but we were glad for his help. He was able to keep the mage busy, leaving us free to concentrate on just fighting. When we were done, I asked him if he wanted to come with us for a while. He agreed. Not too long after, my partner left and I hired him as a replacement."
"I can see he's far more suited to being a mercenary than I thought," Paxun said after a few moments of thought.
"Might I ask, which deity is he sworn to?" Seeing the look on both their faces, the priest continued. "He seems to be in charge of the firewood so I have to wonder…"
Clessa snorted. "He's not a worshipper of Lenah. Her followers try to emulate her industriousness. I don't think Vergon has the attention span to fit with that."
"Ah. Well you can't be too careful when your rivals can be found anywhere. Even with the war. Lenah's followers are…determined."
"I see," Mijinji said, looking his eyes on the road ahead, a muscle in his cheek twitching.
"You haven't told us about these Stiklirdian beads," Clessa said quickly, turning back towards Paxun after a glance at Mijinji. "Why do you think the shipments have been delayed? If it's thieves or the like, we might be able to help."
"The shipments-They're not being targeted by thieves. They've only been delayed. But the beads they're beautiful. The Stiklirdian craftspeople handcraft each one using various colours of glass. Sometimes they even inlay them with metals and shards of semi-precious stones they get from the gem-cutters. They're able to press patterns and designs into them while they're still cooling as well. Each bead is its own individual piece of art. At least the ones from the masters are.
I'm able to pick up the plain glass ones from the apprentices which sell even better than the more elaborate ones. Mostly because they're cheaper. But the masterpiece ones are what first draw people in. Have you seen them before?"
"I've seen a few strands of them before. They are exquisite," she said, smiling.
Paxun nodded enthusiastically. "And the best ones the masters keep in their private collections and displays. If you ever end up in Stiklird, you must visit one of their glassworks? You won't be disappointed, I promise."
"I will. Are there other places you'd recommend I visit, should I ever find myself in the polis?"
Half-listening to the priest detail statues, famous temples, and the markets, Mijinji let out a long, silent sigh. He felt his shoulders unknot and he rolled them until the last of the tenseness was gone. Turning back into the conversation, somehow Clessa and Paxun were now discussing Stiklirdian art, Mijinji nodded. Clessa was keeping their employer engaged and his mind far away from Vergon, leaving Mijinji free to concentrate on guarding the rear. The priest was far too interested in his partner for Mijinji's comfort. Especially if his partner really was a god.