Ko

“Are you going to pass up an opportunity to purchase a fit, strong lad like Lief here because of some fanciful tale?” Lief’s master had laughed at the merchantman’s tale. “A demon eyed beast from the old gods themselves? Your imagination is getting the better of you, Hector.”

“My friend, I have personally seen the bodies of Yuil the Elder, and Scarah of Rikston, and I swear I have seen three of the boys I inspected begging for a place on vessels bound for Fort Kielstone,” the man had insisted. “My bet, if I were to place one, is that no, there is no blood-eyed demon sent to hunt you, no cur of the Old Gods. But with others of your trade dead, and their merchandise free to roam the port? You should be careful, nonetheless. And I’ll not buy your boy, not if such trouble follows.”

The off-key singing of a drunk brought Lief back to the present. The man was clearly intoxicated, leaning against the bar with a mug in one hand and gesturing wildly to the grim-faced patrons with the other, before falling to the ground, his ale forming a small puddle of mud with the dirt floor. Merchandise free to roam, recalled Lief. Freedom was a dangerous concept that had left many in his position dead. Maybe it was best not think about it. Lief watched the singer get back up on a nearby chair, continuing his warble as though nothing had happened, though other patrons of the Bastard’s Tarnish seemed to keep well clear lest he fall again. Harmless as he seemed, the man made Lief nervous. His clothes seemed more suited to the Emperor’s court, if not for the amount of drink that covered them, and his tangled mess of grey facial hair. Who was this man, and why come to such a place? Why drown whatever sorrows he had in place that was probably worth as much as the gold embroidery on his jacket sleeves, forming the imagery of the goddess Aernar and her harp? He continued, surprisingly audible over the clamour of mercenaries, pirates, criminals and thugs in the crowded tavern. The singer, along with the rest of the room, went silent though, as the door opened revealing an elderly woman leaning on a solid wooden cane. The crowd turned to her with a common thought- the Bastard’s Tarnish was no place for a woman, particularly one of her age, and this late at night.

“What’re you all starin’ at?” she asked them, scowling. Lief quickly averted his eyes as she stared down the crowd. Please don’t see me, he wished to himself, all concerns about of the singing drunk gone. His master didn’t like it when he drew attention, and given his inability to sell Lief earlier in the day, he was in a dark mood. His master would want to be left alone, and if Lief drew the woman’s attention, even accidentally, he knew it would likely end violently. Still, he was sure he could feel the woman’s stare pierce him as it looked over the crowd. He dared to look up for a moment, relieved to find her interest in him entirely imaginary.

“Anyone here got some grub?” she grumbled while removing her coat, soaked and muddied, probably from days on the road. No, thought Lief, she can’t have travelled, not alone anyway. Even his master, notoriously found wanting in his willingness to part from coin, had hired mercenary protection for their journey through Sira region. The two thugs were more for show than anything else, and were currently spending their pay at the bar, yet by the look of her coat, this was the woman’s first night in civilised company for some time. Ha! Civilised, thought Lief. The roads about Port Cuthbert may have been dangerous, but Lief wasn’t sure the woman was any safer here. After all, his master wouldn’t be here if not for the questionable company. However, he soon lost interest in the coat as he gaped at the woman’s appearance underneath. She wore cotton breaches, rough and with as muddied a base as the coat, and a lighter half sleeve shirt, just as rough through considerably cleaner. What drew his attention though was the intricate tattoos all over her dark fore-arms. The complexity of the curves and the lines seems to almost hypnotise him.

“You!” Lief froze as he realised he’d been caught staring, and the woman strode across the room to poked him in the chest with her cane. He winced slightly when it hit bone, as if to remind him how starved he was. He had learnt a long time ago that to eat was a privilege, and as he had not been sold, it was a privilege not yet earnt today. Lief turned to his master sitting next to him. The older man took his time in reacting, quietly finishing a mouthful of his drink, and wiping the residue from his black, well oiled beard. Lief watched as man’s eyes flicked towards the woman, seemingly annoyed that she dare enter his presence, before he went about ignoring her again. Unfazed, she pushed her cane into Lief’s sternum, making him wish he’d had kept his thick, woollen coat he used to wear. Instead, he had been forced to sell it, to help fund a fine shirt his master had purchased in order to portray them as well-off folk. After hiring the thugs, it had been a bold plan of the Master’s- dress Lief up like he was actually worth something, then sell him at an inflated price. Well that obviously went well, he thought grimly. No doubt it would lead to another beating later. Maybe this time the master would go too far, he thought briefly, maybe this time I won’t have to wake up. He had never mustered to courage to do the deed himself, but maybe if his master did it for him. . . surely the gods would forgive him that. After all, isn’t death close enough to freedom?

“You! See this coat?” she asked, taking his silence as compliance. Lief tried to shrink away, desperately wishing he could disappear.

“This was given to me by a very special friend who died many years ago. That makes it precious, understand?” she continued, ignoring his reaction. Please leave, he begged her inwardly, just go. He’ll kill us both. Still, she continued.

“Right. So now you understand it importance, I want you to take it innkeeper, have it cleaned and dried with extra special care, and taken to his finest room. Then get me a meal. And a drink. And clean sheets for the room!”

Lief remained seated as at as a hand clamped down on his shoulder. Master, he realised.

“I’m afraid you have young Lief confused with someone else,” Lief’s master informed the woman, putting down his mug, “the lad belongs to me, and it is my needs he attends to, not yours.”

“Last I checked slavery ended over forty years ago in these parts.” She lowered the cane from Lief’s chest, and leaned heavily on it, her eyes narrowing as she responded to the man, “so he don’t ‘belong’ to anyone.” The man smiled in response.

“If you believe that, then you are clearly in the wrong province. The rules here are somewhat more flexible. You see, Lief is not, in fact, a slave. He is what we call indentured with no hope of reprieve. You see, his family was unable to . . .”

His sentence was cut short by two sudden taps from the woman’s cane, one striking him under the chin, the other leaving her cane resting on his left cheek, forcing him to look her in the eyes. Lief groaned, sure his master was moments away from killing the woman. Briefly, he wondered if he really would kill an elderly woman in plain sight of everyone. Looking at the crowd, he didn’t doubt it. No-one here would be able to report to the Port Guard without being arrested themselves.

“Ain’t you got no manners,” the woman yelled, “you oughta look at people when talkin’ to them!”

The man glared at her, before his eyes widened. Lief forgot his fear for a moment, confused at his master’s shock. The man dealt with a full gamut of criminals, from nobility to the kind of folk that . . .That what, Lief? That profit from trafficking in human misery? People like him? Lief shook the thought from his mind. His master fed him (occasionally), clothed him and protected him. For all his cruelties, Lief was well aware that without him, he would be dead. But would that really be any worse? he asked himself.

“I’ll not answer to some demon-eyes savage!” the man spat as he answered, slapping away the woman’s cane. He stood, straightened his jacket, and whistled sharply.

“With me, Lief. Leave the old hag to see to herself.”  The boy scuttled towards him, again trying to fathom his master’s reaction. Who is she? Why does Master move for her?

“Boy, you stay where you are, and I’ll guarantee Attlestein, or anyone else, will never own you again.” Lief stopped, such was the authority in the woman’s voice. Attlestein. She knew his master’s name. How? His master used many pseudonyms, and as far as he knew, hadn’t used his real name for some time, at least not in Sira. How could she know? A dangerously optimistic thought came to him. Lief recalled the merchantman’s words. Was it possible that someone was hunting his master? He looked at the woman, her grey hair pulled into a bun, hunched over and leaning heavily on her cane. She had to be at least in her sixth or seventh decade. Fanciful ideas, Lief told himself. She may have stood fearless in a dangerous crowd, but without divine intervention, she could not have been capable of much. A beast sent from the old gods. . .a blood-eyed demon. He nervously peered at the woman, and though the dim lighting in the tavern made it hard, he saw to what his master had referred. Crimson in the centre and surrounded by shiny darkness, the woman’s eyes truly were something other-worldly. Perhaps? No, he still could not convince himself the woman had any part in the rumours.

If you don’t go with master, he will beat you and kill her, he reminded himself. The woman might mean to free him, but it was a minute chance at best. On the other hand, the chances that his master would be angry were infinitely higher. His head dropped and dutifully followed his master to another table. Before they were able to go far though, the drunk from the bar, apparently finished his singing, appeared in front of Lief’s master, spilling his drink over Attlestein’s front.

“My humblest apologies!” the stranger said, grinning wildly and clasping Attlestein on the shoulder. Lief turned away, cringing as he anticipated his master’s response. He heard the crack of his master’s hand striking the drunk, before collapsing as the man cannoned into him.

“Bah! If you cannot control your drink, leave it be and let the rest of us enjoy ours in peace!” Attlestein yelled. Lief, scrambled back to his feet, trying to climb over the stranger and return to him master’s side.

“Boy,” the man said softly as he grabbed Lief’s arm, “you need to choose now. This man is only your master for as long as you allow him to be.”  Lief stared wide eyed at the stranger, speechless at the suggestion. Every part of the man’s dress was either dishelved or stained, yet his grip on Liefs arm was firm and steady. Furthermore, Lief could not detect even the slighted drop of alcohol on his breath. The stranger stood, placing himself between the boy and his master, still grinning wildly. Lief was still frozen when he noticed the two mercenaries the master had hired move casually in their direction. He tried to scream a warning, but his throat seemed to close up in his terror, knowing that the master would be forced to pay the men extra for their interference, and that the frustration at paying the extra cost would be taken out on him. This man is only your master as long as you allow him to be. The words of the stranger came back to him. Could he truly be freed tonight? No, he thought. It didn’t matter anyway. He was a terrible slave. It was why he was the last one left, the rest had been sold in Ralor. Master gives you food, clothing, shelter- are these people going to provide for you the same? No. you will be forced back to the street, to fend for yourself.  You should be glad the master took you.

“Lief!” called Attlestein.

“Stay there, boy,” the woman told him. Go to you master, Lief urged himself. Why? he suddenly asked himself. The man was unable to reach him, thanks to the stranger standing between them. Even if Attlestein could get through, the events of the evening meant he was going to be beaten to within an inch of his life anyway. Maybe even further. Was there really any risk in finding out if these people could truly free him?

Lief!” shouted Attlestein again. When he still didn’t move, the master stormed towards the stranger, still standing between himself and Lief, knocking him from his feet with another well-placed backhand, and grabbed the woman by her collar, dashing Lief’s hopes.

“Leave.” he said, his voice a low growl, “Leave, and you may yet live. I do not know you and this drunkard are so interested in the boy, but he is mine. I own him.” The man towered over the elderly woman as he threatened her. Tall, strong, and his fury emanating from every feature of him, few watching doubted the outcome of the confrontation. So when the woman flipped her cane in her hand, and with a speed that belied her age swung it upwards for a solid blow to the man’s temple, it took less than a moment for the crowd to stop and stare at the woman for the second time that night- all except the two mercenaries. Immediately, they drew knives from their belts, making no secret of their intended target. Then, much to Lief’s astonishment, they stopped, eyes glassing over, and simultaneously falling to reveal the stranger with the green acket standing behind them, a thick metal rod in each hand. The woman calmly approached Lief’s master, placing one foot firmly onto his chest, and pressing the end of her cane into his throat.

“We will leave when I have the boy’s freedom assured,” she told him, “We know he’s your last, Attlestein. No more slaves to sell, no one left to sell to. Time to give up.”  Lief could feel his heart pounding as he watched. Freedom was not something he had not thought it possible in his lifetime, yet tonight he had heard it several times. His hopes died when the master stood, slapping away the cane.

“Foolish woman,” he growled.

“Foolish? I have oft heard the Shadowsbane described as such, but not for a many a year- and rarely by anyone lacking a death wish!” the grey-bearded man suddenly piped up, his deep and melodious baritone voice booming throughout the tavern.

“The what?” scoffed Attlestein.

“Have you not heard of Vani et’Gathri? Slayer of Gods, and Survivor of the Battle for Portha?”

“Alright, Korith enough of that,” the old woman snapped, yet the man continued.

“Ah, but though there may be a hundred more names by which she is know, the warning preceding her remains the same. ‘Beware the woman who survives where strong men die in-”

“Enough!”  Vani commanded him, and bowing low, Korith obliged, backing away silently into the crowd.

“The Battle of Portha?”  a man in the crowd asked, “Never heard of it.”

“That’s because none but our lady here survived.”  Lief jumped as the stranger turned to the man in the crowd. Definitely not drunk, Lief decided, just crazy. Lief had little time to avoid him though, as Korith jerked him back away from the woman and his master. A wide circle had cleared, with the two at the centre. Lief looked up at the man who had pulled him aside. For all accounts, he looked like the same mad drunk he had seen earlier. Except with the jacket buttoned up, cuffs upturned and shirt tucked in, the man’s bearing had transformed from drunkard to commanding. His grey beard had somehow been convinced to behave, large threads of it now banded in metal circlets, and the moustache sitting neatly over the top. Lief was taken aback by the change.

“She’s a tough old thing, I’ll grant you that,” the man in the crowd agreed, a sailor, Lief judged by the salt encrusted outfit, “but I doubt she’s been in battle. An’ besides, you can’t slay gods. Or are you sayin’ we’ve been swearing by some eternal corpse?”

“Not your gods,” Korith answered.

“Who’s then?”

“Those that came before. The ones your gods themselves prayed to. Before the Remaking.”

The man opened his mouth to reply when another sailor clasped his shoulder.

“Don’t bother, Yakor” the newcomer told him, “the Order will get to him. They don’t tolerate impersonators.” Korith grinned, and backed away into the crown with a mock bow.

“The Order?” asked Yakor, clearly not understanding.

“The Order of Aernar. Highest order of Bard there is. They have a tendency to execute any impersonators.”

“But what if he really is one?” Lief asked, interrupting the two.

“Impossible. The Aernarin refuse to speak any mistruths. It is their claim that they don’t need to, that any tale they tell is masterfully done even without embellishment. This madman, his stories of godslayers- impossible.” As the two men resumed their conversation, Lief turned back to where Vani was still chastising his Master.

“I was a slave once myself,” she was saying, “so I know you, and I know your type, Attlestein. We’ve been following you, see. We know all your networks- you may notice they’ve disappeared recently. So, as I’m sure you’re painfully aware, you are one of the few that remain.” She leaned in a little closer to the slaver, the latter now standing, but unable to move away due to the crowd surrounding the two. “If I were to kill you right now, it would make my day far more pleasant, and no doubt improve the world if only by a little. But I hated not having choice, so I’d rather not force you into anything. I’ll let you make the decision. You can walk away, give up your business, and let the young man go. Maybe even redeem yourself a little by doing your bit to see no more make the same mistakes as you. Or you can try and stop me hunting you for the rest of your horrid, meaningless life.” With that, she turned to take a seat. Immediately the slave trader reached inside his coat, drawing a hidden knife and aiming it for the small of her back. With a subtle sidestep, Vani kicked the chair back into Attlestein, moving out and placing herself just behind him. There was a dull thud as her cane struck him at the base of his skull. Not expecting the blow, he stumbled forward; tripping as Vani swung her cane low, hooking it around his ankle. There was no movement in the tavern, with the exception of the old lady, leaning on her cane as she knelt down to roll the body over, revealing the hilt of Attlestein’s knife sticking out of his own ribcage.

#

Korith watched the event from the within the crowd. Constantly moving, he kept a wide focus, waiting for someone in the crowd to defend Attlestein, tensing as he heard the thud of a body hitting the ground. Good, he thought, relaxing. He couldn’t see any odd movements, no-one rushing to avenge the dead slaver. If indeed it was his body I heard. A quick glance satisfied him that Vani had indeed survived.

“Korith!,” she called out, throwing the knife his way. With a deft hand movement, and a spin for show, he caught the blade. Not bad, he thought. Quality Fielden steel with some gemstones in the hilt. Rare, this far from Fielde, thought Korith, wondering for a moment where the slaver had received such a blade.

“Here you are boy, should get a good amount for that at the markets.”  Korith handed the knife to Lief.  The boy stared at it, then snatched at the handle. Korith pulled his hand back, trying to avoid the wavering blade in Liefs hand.

“Maybe I should take that,” he told Lief gently, lifting the blade from the boy’s open palm. “After all, few know the value of Fielden steel as well as I. It would be a damn shame to see you short-changed.” Lief looked at him wide eyed.

“Me?”  he asked, “No, I can’t. . .my master looks after my money. . .” He trailed off as he looked at Attlestein’s body.

“You have no master, lad,” Korith told him gently. The boy’s shaking magnified. This was the difficult bit, sometimes. Freedom was not an easy thing to comprehend for those who had not known it for some time.

“Don’t you want me yourself? I’m a good slave. I can. . . ,” began Lief.

“No, lad, relax. You are free,” replied Korith, “now you can stay here tonight, Mother and I will cover your expenses, then tomorrow we will head to the markets and get some money to set you up. This knife will do you well.

“If its such a good knife, you can keep it,” Lief told him, “I. . .I don’t want to owe you anything.” Korith burst into laughter.

“No, you will owe us naught! Besides, I can’t keep this. I abhor violence in any form, as I do the devices that exist purely for such reasons.” Without explaining, he wrapped up the knife up in his coat, making it disappear into the sleeve.

“Colonel.” Korith looked up to see several of his soldiers entering the tavern. Curse them, five minutes earlier and this would have been carried out without risking Vani. Still, at least they had arrived. They could help with the cleanup.

“You’re a colonel?” the boy asked, making Korith jump.

“Damn, lad, give a man some warning! I forget you were there!”

“Sorry,” Lief replied, bracing himself.

“Lief, relax. No-one is going to beat you anymore. Mother and I stand firmly against violence.” Lief stared at him.

“But didn’t you just. . .”

“Lad, all that was done here was initiated by your late master. Look how that turned out for him.” Lief didn’t seem convinced.

“But what about the two mercenaries?” he asked, pointing to the thugs still lying unconscious on the ground.

“What about them?” Korith called over his men, indicating to get the mercenaries out into the street before they woke up and came looking for who had left them with such a headache.

“I saw you knock them out,” Lief insisted, “if you hate violence, why do it?” ‘

“Just because I reject violence as a concept, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate its occasional usefulness. Now, if you are done, I have some business to attend to,” replied Korith, stepping towards the innkeeper before Lief a chance to respond.

“My good man!” Korith grinned as he approached the man he assumed to be the owner of the Tarnish and placed a purse on the counter. “Please accept this minor compensation for disturbance created this evening.” The man regarded purse warily before opening it and checking the contents.

“Who are you people, anyway?” he asked. Korith was hardly surprised. Soldiers in Port Cuthbert generally stayed out of the taverns. It would take some effort, and likely some gold, to placate the innkeeper.

“King’s guard,” replied Korith, “Colonel Korith of Fort Kielstone, we came to arrest young Attlestein .”

“But . . .we’re in Sari. And you ain’t a soldier” interrupted the innkeeper, unsure. Korith smiled disarmingly.

“His ship is registered there, making it Fort Kielstone’s territory,” the colonel told him, “so I guess it would have been lucky if we found him there. And as for me being a soldier; are you calling me a liar?” The colonel leant forward on the bar, clearly displaying his cuffs, and dropping a sizable purse on the bar.

“Er . . .no. I mean, yeah. . . Lucky that,” replied the innkeeper, catching on. Meanwhile, Korith watched Vani wander over to where her coat had fallen to the floor.

“Boy!” she screeched at the ex-slave, “what the bloody hells is this doing on the floor?!”

Korith chuckled to himself as he saw Vani bully Lief into doing whatever serving her. It’s almost another form of slavery, he thought to himself amusingly, though he would never say that to the Vani. Korith was all too aware of her experiences. Much of the respect and loyalty she had from him and his lads came from that.

On the topic of the lads, that reminds me, thought Korith.

“My good man, how many spare rooms do you have tonight?” he asked the innkeeper.

“Six left, but if you have one for the lady, I can fit two people in each of the remaining rooms.”

Korith scratched his chin. His men didn’t really need to stay the night, but purchasing rooms might help smooth over the fact someone had just died in this man’s tavern. Regardless of how indirectly his guard might be involved, he didn’t want any rumours getting around that they had killed the man themselves. Business always helped that.

“We’ll take them,” he decided, handing over another purse. The innkeeper’s eyes bulged when he saw the money.

I guess business here has been worse that we realised, Korith grimaced. This man would be loyal enough, he decided. As he counted it, the bartender looked up sideways at Korith.

“Must have been a rough upbringing,” he said.

“I beg your pardon?” asked the colonel, confused.

“The Shadowsbane, I heard you call her Mother. I can imagine she would’ve been a tough one.” Korith laughed loudly.

“She’s not my actual mother,” he replied, still laughing, “It’s a name we give her in lieu of rank.” This time it was the innkeepers turn to look confused.

“Women weren’t allowed in when she started out,” the bard explained, “Didn’t want special treatment, so she stays out of the military, and we called her Mother in lieu of rank. It’s helpful actually, keeps here outside the chain of command. It can be quite convenient at times, not being under command of the King”

The innkeeper nodded, still looking confused, and excusing himself, left to serve other patrons. Korith didn’t mind, he enjoyed sitting after an arrest and relaxing for a moment, moreso when it came to such an end as it had. It had many months since any of them has seen Fort Kielstone, but they would be heading back soon, and for Korith, it wasn’t soon enough. The thought of an extended stay in Fort Kielstone helped relax him somewhat. .

“You said you were a pacifist,” came a voice from behind him. Lief looked up with wide, innocent eyes. There was no accusation, Korith decided, just confusion and curiosity.

“Do you imply I am not?”  he asked, mockingly offended.

“You said you were a soldier. How can you be a soldier and a pacifist? And a Aernaren?” Korith considered the boy for a moment.

“Lief is it? How old are you, lad?”

“Um. . .fifteen, I think?” Bloody hells, Korith thought, he looks about twelve! Regardless, he ordered a second drink for the boy, and bade his to sit down.

“Did you see me enact any violence tonight, lad?”  he asked.

“You knocked out the bodyguards,” Lief pointed out. Korith scratched his beard, cocking his head and looking up.

“I’m certain I would remember something like that. Are you sure you saw me hit them?” Lief gaped, about to contradict the Colonel, when their drinks came, and Korith sat back to watch his soldiers relax. His men had done this before; they knew that an arrest in a tavern was not good for business, and regardless of how untasteful the clientele, he encouraged his men to stay and drink, have a meal and generally enjoy themselves. Not only was it a simple and relaxing way of rewarding his men, but stories got out, and in a land where people generally didn’t co-operate with the foreign soldiers, the spilling of coin for drinks, food, rooms, gambling or even women would generally keep most innkeepers, and even many of their patrons, on their side.

“But . . .you’re still a soldier?” came Lief’s squeaky voice from behind him. Halfway through ingesting his ale, Korith coughed for a second to clear his throat.

“And what exactly is your point?” he asked.

“Well, how can you be a soldier and a pacifist” Korith took his time with another mouthful.

“Have you ever heard that the best battle it the one you don’t have to fight?” he asked. The boy shook his head. Didn’t think so, Korith thought. He sighed. “It used to be a common saying. Nowadays, people haven’t seen war so much, so people still equate it with glory, seeing bravado in the killing, and strength in destroying the enemy. In truth, the best a commander can ask for is an enemy not willing to fight. If you can secure victory before battle, you get the same result without the senseless killing.

“I am indeed a pacifist- I believe in the non-violence as the ultimate solution. But belief alone will not always suffice. Sometimes action is required.” Lief sipped his drink quietly next to Korith, thinking on what he had said.

“Can you tell me about her?” he suddenly asked.

“About who? Vani?”

“Yes please. You called her all those names, but I’ve never heard of her.”  Korith stroked his head, then coming to a decision, swiftly finished his drink.

“Boy, have you ever heard a tale told by an Aernaren? It is a rare treat, these days,” he asked.

“I have,” Lief replied. Korith stood indignantly.

“Well, in that case, maybe I won’t perform.”

“No! I mean, no, I have not,” Lief replied dutifully, “please, it would be an honour.”  Korith grinned. The boy catches on quick. Korith leapt on top of his table.

“Ladies and gentlemen! If you would be so kind as to turn your attentions towards my small, yet adequate stage, it would be my greatest pleasure to ply my trade amongst you,” he announced. The crowd gathered around, relieved at the opportunity to enjoy some entertainment.

“Ah, but it is not mere entertainment, I offer,” Korith said as he overhear the crowd saying as such. He curled his moustache around one of his fingers and struck a wistful pose.

“What I bring to this place is no mere fairy tale; far below my station is the warbling of fables, or whispering of rumours. Here, this night, you will learn a forgotten history, of the time the Gods returned and waged war on the very land you stand upon. This was the time of Krushnak, of Thea’ardur, and most importantly, of course, of the woman you see before you- The Dawn Shadow, Ad Jethhla- Vani of the Gathri. The tales may seem fanciful, fantastical and the adventure unbelievable; yet on my word to the goddess, I tell you they are true as I have witnessed and been told by the woman herself. And besides, if you still don’t believe me,” Korith leant in towards the crowd, cupping one hand around his mouth as though whispering to the crowd, and used the other point a thumb in Vani’s direction, ignoring the scowl she was giving him, “I’ll let you be the one to call her a liar!”