The old man lay curled in a fetal position on the bed. He quietly thanked the gods of the mountain that there had been such a nice lady working the tavern. The nice lady gave him a warm bed and a bowl of hot stew, and the simple act of kindness had cleared the shadows in his head – at least for a little while. He tried to turn his head to the window to see if morning had come, but his ruined muscles prevented the motion, so he resigned himself to waiting for the sunshine to come through the window and reflect off the tiny mirror his devastated body had been forced to stare at all night.
He hadn’t slept for nearly a week – She came to him when he slept – and the Sandman had almost completed tugging him down into darkness when the door to his little room opened and jolted him back into wakefulness. He couldn’t see who had opened the door, walked softly into the room in soft boots, and had closed the door behind him quietly. He didn’t see who it was who sat in the chair on the other side of the bed. The old man’s muscles were too damaged and too weary to follow his orders to turn over.
“Hello Victor,” came the cool, smooth voice behind him, which shoved the old man’s heart into his throat and started him trembling. Since he refused to enter Her realm in his sleep, She sent the devil himself to speak to him in person. The man in the chair knew he had been identified, so he stood and carried the chair to the other side of the bed where he would sit in the old man’s field of vision. Even though he knew what to expect, the man’s stomach still twisted at the sight of the black cloak with the violet roses, the cold brown eyes, and the raven-black hair of Tahl’Mearis.
“We had a deal,” the man said, cocking his head to the side so he seemed friendly and threatening at the same time, “you’re not holding up your end of the bargain.” Spirit slid the chair up to the bed so he could place his face directly in front of the old man’s. “Now listen, the work She wants you to do is simple enough, why fight it? I do so hate to sound clichÃ©, but we can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Either way She gets what She wants, but in one way you get to keep what little sanity you have left. You may even earn your freedom if your work is good enough.”
The old man sneered viciously at the Ringwielder and spit in the man’s eye.
“POISE, PRECISION, DISCPLINE, CONTRACT, FAMILY!!!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. “POISE, PRECISION, DISCIPLINE, CONTRACT, FAMILY!!”
Spirit causally wiped the spittle from his eye as the man carried on with his mantra. “Very well then Victor Smithson, have it your way.”
Out in the quiet tavern the nice lady who had given the poor crazy man food and a bed wished desperately that he would stop screaming in his sleep.