Twist of Mindy (book)

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The Twist of Mindy

by Mihocha Dentrie

Several years ago, during the winter days of 332, I journeyed through the village of Kaerna, looking for both shelter, so as to rest my weary feet from the biting freeze of the snowstorm, and a warm cup of tea to drink. My feet trudging through the snow, I made my way to the Gilded Unicorn Inn, and haggled with the flame-haired innkeeper, Savrin, that yes, she did want a bard to attract guests for that evening, yes, I was good, and yes, room and board was the absolute minimum price.

After about a half-anlas and a brief demonstration of my lutier skills, we hammered out a deal that would allow me at least a few days' lodging. She noted that in five days time, her cousin would be coming in to perform for her guests, so when that happened I'd need to pay my own way to stay. Nonetheless, I felt some measure of success in that something was finally going right; any and all tips I got were mine to keep, I had a bed, and I would be nourished. I dragged my things up the stairwell and through the white door, quickly relatching it as I collapsed on the bed.

I dozed for a bit, and upon waking I glanced out the room's window. The flurry was letting up and I could almost see the sun wending its way to the western horizon. Only a couple of anlaen until supper and my performance, I thought. Feeling listless, I bundled myself back up into my cloak and went outside, hoping that a brief walk would clear out my indoor-muddled mind before I settled down for the evening with my lute and a hopefully attentive audience.

Crunch, crunch, crunch through the snow. Crunch crunch crunch crunch...eh?

No crunch.

I stopped briefly, glancing down at my foot. Under it was the end of a dark green traveler's cloak, and connected to it was a small Human boy. A pair of Halfling children was lying in the snow next to him. What in Damaris's name pos- sessed these children to go wandering about in a blizzard? From where I was standing, they all looked half-dead.

I grabbed the boy by the arm and pulled him upright. "Can you stand on your own at all?" I asked. The boy nodded weakly, coughing in a pitiful manner. His hand clasped onto my lower arm so he could steady himself, and after a few seconds he managed to do so. Good. Apparently they hadn't been lying out here too long.

I was able to rouse one of the Halflings, another boy, up to his feet some with the Human's assistance, but the Halfling girl was barely able to move at all. I picked her up and placed her piggyback; she was lighter than the taffelberry tarts Olvi love so. Her face had a slight greenish pallor, and I wondered if she was ill on top of being frostbitten.

We piled our way back into the inn and headed back up the staircase. I lowered the girl off of my back and under the covers -- so much for a real bed to sleep on instead of a floor -- and then tossed a spare sheet onto the wooden floor for the boys. I ran back downstairs, secured a few extra blankets and pillows out of the cupboard, and scampered back upstairs before the maids recognized the theft. The ones I'd grabbed were a bit threadbare -- old, but definitely serviceable. Once I made my way into the room, I quickly bundled up the boys, and finally got a moment to look at the children.

The Human boy had bright red eyebrows with freckles all over his cheeks, while the Halfling had sandy blond brows, each looking no more than ten years old. Both of them were dead to the world, or so I thought. I tried to pull off the Human's hood, but he moaned loudly when I moved to do so. "Shh, shh!" I snapped at him in a loud whisper. "I'll leave the hood be...just don't let them know you're here!"

The Human looked drowsily at me, and then rolled back over under his covers. Children. Typical.

I glanced at my new charges -- Damaris knows what possessed me to bring them in here -- and stated, "I'm going downstairs to ensure that you guys manage to have a roof over your heads for the next few days; all of you are clearly not in any condition to move. Keep quiet so that Savrin, the innkeeper, doesn't know you're in here, otherwise she'll charge me four times what she's charging now, and you'll need to work yourselves to make up the difference."

Well, that was another inspiring and motivational speech from the self-proclaimed Mistress of Wit and Fancy of Zoluren. "I'll be back after my performance." I pulled my lute out of my case and headed to the bar, latching the door behind me. En route there, I tossed about five silvers to the maid to make sure no one came close to my room. She eyed me suspiciously when I asked, but by the way she eyed those coins, I knew she'd keep quiet long enough to get through my playing.

The performance that evening was normal for most taverns. The locals came in, slapped each other on the back in greeting, and buried themselves in alcohol. The travelers joined in the beer and mead melee, and ignored me. Oh well. At least there weren't any fights tonight, and Savrin did look pleased at listening to an extended session of my music. As long as the person footing the bill is happy, that's all that ultimately matters, isn't it? Once she closed up the bar for the night, she tossed a few silvers in my direction, complimenting me, and waved as she headed into the back room, presumably where her bedroom was. I followed suit and headed back up to mine. I was pleased to see the latch hadn't been touched from when I last locked it. I unlocked the door and kicked the last blanket on the ground, making a makeshift sleeping bag.

The girl stirred underneath the covers, and rolled over, looking around the room in sheer surprise that by some miracle she was still alive. I chuckled. "So the sleeping beauty awakens, eh? What's your name?" I asked. "My name's Mihocha. I found you and the other two out in the snow, so I brought you on inside."

The Halfling girl looked at me. "Mindy." She coughed loudly, scrunching herself with what little energy she had under the covers.

I nodded slowly. "Is the other Olvi your brother?"

"Yes. Al."

"And the other boy?"

"Family friend. Vinny."

I chewed the end of a stray strand of auburn hair. Where had these children come from? They had clearly come from the north, judging by where we found them, and there wasn't another Human or Halfling settlement nearby from that direction, save the Human Promado Village, but that was...

I glanced at Mindy and pulled the hood off of her head, oddly meeting no resistance from her as I did from the boys. She was as bald as a Gor'Tog. I gasped. Berengaria, she must be like those folks I'd heard talked about at the bar tonight between songs...

"Are you...?"

"Contagious? No," she laughed bitterly. "That's the only sure thing about this illness that Pappy found out. If you're bald, everyone else is safe from you. Little good it does me now, though."

"Do you have any family that you can go to?" I asked, feeling foolish immediately after asking.

"An uncle, but I've no idea if he's still alive," Mindy replied. Her face seemed to be brightening more as she spoke, despite the melancholy her words possessed.

"Why did you leave the village?"

"Father..." She closed her eyes, "...asked me to. He wanted me to find an Empath named Mirinn."

"The Crossing Guild Leader?"

Mindy nodded. While her brother and friend dozed quietly, I continued conversing with Mindy, who began weaving her tale...

***************************

I was born in 320 in Promado, the daughter of Behm and
Ardys. Al was born two years after I was, but I honestly
can't remember a time he wasn't around. Brothers have a
way of hanging around in your memory even when you don't
want them to, don't you think? My parents and Uncle
Bruwster had moved to Promado a couple of years before I
was born and were welcomed into the community by the local
Hodiernan priest, Bekkett Tredo. The village didn't have
an Empath to take care of their healing, and my father was
perfect for filling in the gap.
Mams was a gardener and an herbalist, which was a perfect
match to Pappy's talents. She wasn't bad at empathing
herself...in fact, she was really good at it, probably
better than Pappy, though she rarely used it. She much
preferred working in her garden, or in the kitchen, or
pulling Al away from sharp objects.
Uncle Bruwster was...well, a bit of everything. He was
clubfooted, so he did stuff that didn't require him to move
around so much. He did alchemy, herb lore, geology, most
everything, but he played the violin very, very badly.
Mams's favorite gripe was that he killed the cats outside
with the sound he got out of that thing, but Uncle Bru only
grinned and told her that if he really killed cats with it,
"I'd probably be writhing in agony by now, Ardys!" Then
Mams would throw up her hands in frustration and usually go
to making a lot of banging sounds in the kitchen cooking
stuff.
Uncle Bruwster left us three years ago in the springtime.
He'd been trying for ages and ages to find a cure for his
condition on his own, since standard healing didn't seem to
work. Pappy tried really hard, year after year, and we'd
always invite other Empaths in to help, but nothing helped
at all. The only thing Uncle Bru did with one of his
experiments that was even close was to turn our cat Gigi's
feet red. And she was a pitch-black cat save for her white
ears. Al started calling her Stockings after that, which
was stupid. Gigi's name is Gigi.

***************************

"Clubfooted." I mulled on that for a moment. "Left foot, sandy-blond hair, spectacles, and a bald spot?"

"Yes, that's him. Have you seen him?" Mindy's eyes lit up briefly with excitement.

"No, I'm afraid not recently. I remember seeing him about ten years ago with a Human woman, though, as I was passing here through Kaerna the first time...chestnut brown hair, average height for one of her kind, with a small mole on the left side of her chin. Rather pretty if you ignore that last blemish."

Mindy nodded to me, though I saw a bit of disappointment in her eyes. "That would've been Mrs. Tredo, Priest Bekkett's wife. You have a really good memory!"

"I have a good memory for those folks who help me. I was incredibly down on my luck at the time, and Gloriadara ...she insisted I call her Gloria...bought me some food from old Grek's store. You can peer out the window here," I pulled back the yellow curtains to illustrate my point, "and look at the general store...the whitewashed building. Lasted me long enough to get back on my feet, but I never was able to find her to repay the favor. Is she still about, do you know?"

"No...she died. She's Vinny's mom." Mindy glanced at Vinny on the floor underneath his sheets, breathing shallowly in his slumber. Her fingers clutched her quilt.

***************************

Priest Tredo and Mrs. Tredo got married two years before I
was born, so I don't remember it at all. Vinny and Al were
born on the same day, though Vinny was born in 319 and Al
was born in 322. Isn't that weird? Anyways, we'd often
run down the knoll, Al and me, to go see Mrs. Tredo because
she made the best cookies and such. Uncle Bruwster liked
her chocolate chip ones especially. Not that Mother's
cooking wasn't good, it was, but she'd always make us
tarts, and more often than not instead of the good ones
like taffelberry she'd make us weird ones from her plants
outside, telling us how good they were for us. Uncle
Bruwster and Father'd eat 'em too, but you definitely knew
Uncle Bru was just eating them to make Mams happy like Al
and me were.
Well, what happened to my family goes back to the Founding
Festival. On the final day of the most recent one, on the
third of Dolefaren, Mams had the best spot on the grounds
around the obelisk. She was selling some of her best spices
and mead that she'd gathered and made this past year,
making a profit that was making Pappy turn green with
envy; because of all the out-of-towners visiting, she
earned more that day than he often did during a low
month. The festival was winding down, with everyone
gathering at the north part of the Circle to hear the
final songs and see the dances. Al and I finished up
a game of ring-toss, waved bye to Mams, and skipped up
to see the rest of the performance.
A shaggy-looking man bumped into me as I headed up there.
"Hey, watch it!" I yelled at him. He ignored me totally,
set on a course to Mams's booth. I thought that was weird,
so I told Al to go find Vinny and stay with him while I
watched this one guy. Al wanted to join in, but I told him
no, and dashed over in Mother's direction.
When I got there, Mams was already staring at the man
carefully, despite the fact she always told us not to stare
at people. He definitely looked crenny in the head, like
he'd eaten too much of something bad for him. After
drooling at the mead for a few minutes, not saying a word
to the either of us, he collapsed deadways at our feet.
Moving faster than I thought even possible out of Mams,
she whipped around to the front and touched him, trying
to figure out what was wrong with the guy. She frowned
immediately, mouthing the words, "What is..." before she
realized I was watching.
"Amindei, watch the booth. I'm taking him to your father."
"Mams, by yourself? How can you hope to carry him back to
the house?"
Mams glanced at me. "I'll manage, Amindei. Watch the
booth." Before I got a chance to respond, she started
hauling him off, his upper body balanced neatly on her back
with his feet dragging behind, back to the knoll. One of
these days, I thought, I'd know better than to argue with
her. She always won. All the same, I really hated missing
the dancing, and I bet Al and Vinny would make sure that I
would miss it doubly later.
The strange man's condition didn't grow any better over the
next few days. Mams and Pappy tried everything they could
for him under the sun, but their efforts had no effect.
Pappy was also busy with taking care of his normal round
of patients -- Mrs. Ventil's consumption, Mr. Yengrin's
arthritis, Okki Pivrot's broken arm, and a half dozen flu
folks a day. Mams became the one that had to take care of
the stranger, and though he never said a word, his eyes
always lit up when she came in the room. Eventually, lots
of folks started coming in complaining of sore throats and
constant coughing. Pappy first thought it was just a case
of the flu hitting everyone at once, but soon, lots of
folks' skin began turning yellow.
Early one evening about an hour after supper, roughly three
weeks after the festival, Mams came into the living area
carrying a really big text. "BEHM!" she yelled. "You'll
want to come in here! I just found something." She turned
to me. "Amindei, would you clear off your dishes and Al's
dishes like I asked you to earlier?" Mams was really
making use of that tone lately.
Mams opened the book. The book itself was a bright blue,
decorated with a small emblem of a lion on the spine.
Above the lion's head were the words "GCMH Press."
"Telgi Gweld," Mams read aloud, "is a virulent, yet slow-
acting, strain of plague. The sole known outbreak that
occurred in Tifflan, a small village to the northeast of
Riverhaven settled by a mixture of Humans and Halflings -
you can tell a Human wrote this, can't you, Behm?" Mams
added wryly, though her worried look didn't leave her face,
"in year 149 of the Verekian Calendar, proved almost
totally fatal to the citizens of that area. Victims would
generally have sore throats, nausea, fevers, and upon the
third week, jaundice of the skin begins occurring. A few
days thereafter, the patient's hair would begin falling out
in clumps at a time until the patient was totally bald,
coupled with the jaundiced skin shifting to a green hue.
As a result, one clever, or bored, healer dubbed the malady
the Gor'Tog Plague. It is unknown what results the illness
would have on a Gor'Tog.
"The sole survivor, Fenty Luckwind, is the only empirical
evidence we have to enable us to discern that the final
stage of this illness is non-contagious, because the
healers who treated him did not become infected. Another
theory that may account for his survival is his young age."
She turned the page, and her eyes became large. "Fenty had
just started losing his hair. Thanks in part due to the
concoction below, the healers were able to get him stable
long enough for him to actually recover, managing two
months later to regain a full head of hair. One part
water, two..." She broke off. "Goodness, I could gather
these things up now!"
"Ardys, you can't go out right now. It's the middle of the
night," Pappy said, though he didn't put a lot of oomph
into what he was saying.
"I'll be fine, Behm. The plants mentioned in here are just
outside of the village. Time is of the essence if you want
to save that one." She pointed at the stranger, who looked
like a corpse. Mams tore out the page with the list of
ingredients from the book, wandered over into the
entranceway, snagged her cloak and a lantern, and yelled a
farewell as she went out the door.
Pappy muttered to himself. "I really wish your mother had
better sense than to tear up books and abandon me like
this. She knows that I can't leave all of these folks."
Father looked at us, and sighed. "Go on to bed, little
ones." He sent us off to our rooms, and I climbed up to my
top bunk and fell asleep.
When I woke up the next morning, Mrs. Tredo was in the
kitchen, coughing to herself, with Pappy nowhere to be
found. Though she was in the early stages of the jaundice,
she was still healthy enough to do normal day stuff.
Mrs. Tredo turned around and looked at me as I wandered
groggily into the room. "Morning, Amindei." With a deft
toss, she flipped over a pancake.
"Morning," I yawned. "Where's Pappy?"
"Your father went outside shortly after you went to bed to
go looking for your mother. Apparently after waiting a
couple of hours. Bekkett's out with him...Ivinnes is over
on your parents' bed, still out like a zombie."
A bang came from the entranceway. "That must be Pappy and
Mams and Priest Tredo!" I exclaimed. I raced over.
Priest Tredo and Pappy wandered through the door. I peeked
around them as they headed in, but I didn't see Mams at
all. "Where's she, Pappy?" It was then I noticed his
cheeks were streaked with tears, and I saw a braid in his
hand, gold mixed with red and tied at both ends with a blue
ribbon, Mams' favorite color. "Did...did she go on a
journey? To find those herbs?" I noticed his hair was
still as long as ever.
Pappy lowered his head. "She's off on the longest journey
of her life, Mindy. She was killed by a stray S'lai last
night." He reached out to hug me, and I buried my face
against his chest, crying really loudly and unable to stop.
The stranger ended up dying the next day. Soon folks
began dropping like flies, losing their hair in great
tufts. I think partially because we were Olvi that Al,
I, and Pappy had some limited resistance since we didn't
get sick like everyone else right away, but a few days
later it didn't matter...Al was stuck in bed under
Pappy's orders 'cause he got the plague. So many people
started dying that in the southern part of the village
we started a dead pit, because we barely had enough
strength to move them to the pile. We weren't able to
dig holes and cover them before another person arrived.
Mrs. Tredo died and Priest Tredo followed a few days later,
making Vinny an orphan. To separate us from the sick folk
he was tending, Pappy, Al, and I moved into the Tredos'
house. Pappy was inconsolable. His mornings would consist
of burying the dead, and then going back to Priest Tredo's
office in the chapel. I remember seeing him stringing the
ceilings with several banners, trying to cheer the village
for Nartsagi.

**************************

Mindy took a deep breath of air and started coughing violently. I passed her the chamber pot while she hacked phlegm. Blessedly, none of it got on the sheets -- I couldn't get other ones if those ones got ruined. "Two days ago, we found this note in Pappy's office. It's what lead us to try to head south in the first place." She handed me a folded piece of parchment, which I opened:

Dear Mindy and Al,

Children, if your eyes ever happen to see this note, then I have truly gone through with my suicide attempt. I fault myself for being weak and not a strong enough father for you or a husband for your mother, and because of that weakness it was necessary for me to remove myself from this world. I could not live in this world without your mother.

There is one Empath who is good enough to be able to possibly help you -- the Khalo'rae'Wen of the Empath Guild in the Crossing, Mirinn. You should remember her from a few years back; she was the Human lady with pale blonde hair and blue eyes who visited your Uncle Bruwster a few years back to see if there was anything she could do for his foot. It was about a week or so prior to his leaving.

I shall save you tarts when we are together again as a family at Fostra's Inn. I will always, always love you children. I only wish I'd been better able to provide for you.

Your devoted father, Behm


The postscript of the note was poorly written, illegible in this light. I passed the parchment back to Mindy, my mouth probably still hanging agape from reading it. What sort of father would abandon his children to wander through Fostra's Haven just to be with his love? My emotional and romantic side got it, but...

"Mihocha?" Mindy asked, diverting my caravan of thought. "Would you...do me a favor?"

"What's that, Mindy?" Even though I'd only known these children for such a short time, I felt very drawn to the flaxen-haired Olvi.

"Well, it's really two. Would you take my brother and Vinny to see Khalo Mirinn? When I die...would you cut off my braid for Al?"

Suddenly her earlier reference to the braid made sense! Two years prior I'd met another traveler in Riverhaven, a small, grungy man, who patted his wife's braid as we sat down for a glass of mead. I'd asked him about it, and he showed me his recently cropped hair. He said that it was a custom back at his home village to cut one's hair before a long journey, exchanging it with a loved one so that you'd each have a piece of one another to lead you back to one another and to keep you together.

"If you die, I will, Mindy. I'll get all three of you to Mirinn somehow." I promptly ignored the blizzard banging on the window from outside. When there's a will...

"They've got to get to Miss Mirinn, Mihocha. They've just..." She began coughing again.

"Get some rest, Mindy. Please save your strength to get better.

She nodded slowly, and sighed, rustling back under the covers. She was facing away from me, but the air hung palpably with her doubt.

Three days later at sunset, I pushed Mindy's body outside into the snow. Lighting my lantern, I made my way to a small stone quarry a ways from the village and began creating a small burial space for her corpse. Before I closed off her face to the rest of the world, however, I separated the braid from her head, quickly knotting and tying up the loose end with a white ribbon.

I quietly mulled to myself, feeling at my own red hair. Savrin's cousin was due to be here tonight...how on Elanthia was I going to get those children south? The blizzard, blessedly, had finally stopped, but I couldn't exactly carry both a Human and a Halfling however many miles it was to the Crossing in this cold weather.

I walked around the front of the inn and back upstairs to my room. Both of the boys slept soundly -- thankfully both had enough sense to keep quiet, but I needed to leave here as soon as possible. Those two would never be able to work off their debt in their conditions, and I really didn't have that much to spare for back pay on an inn room. So I went down to the bar with my lute to prepare for my performance. One of the strings had snapped immediately after my last song the previous night, an omen for Mindy's death later that evening, I now realized, and I quickly repaired it. I tightened the pegs at the top and plucked it, making sure it wasn't too flat, and settled in for a final evening of bawdy songs and even bawdier stories.

At the conclusion of my performance, towards the entrance of the bar two people wandered in: a flame-haired youth who by the speed she conversed at could only be Savrin's bardic cousin and another man dressed in the traditional [[Leth Deriel]] forest-green tunic. Presumably he'd had far more coats on, but the maids would've grabbed those before he'd entered. Savrin detested snow tracked across her inn's floors. While the cousin continued her rapid-fire chattering with Savrin, who was bobbing her head at the girl's speech so rapidly that I thought she was going to throw it across the bar like one of her own axes, the man sat down at a nearby table. He faced me, giving me the opportunity to look at his face for the first time that night.

"Well, Miss Dentrie, is your face always so flushed after singing your banshee wailings?"

I gawked at him a moment. "Kent? Kentari Weiks?" Kentari and I had been close childhood friends in Leth.

He smirked. "No, Baron Jeladric. 'Course it's me, Mims. I thought you were heading south to Arthe Dale to fetch some prime Togballs for Ungar."

Just my luck. He still remembered that nickname I hated. "That brute? Hardly! Actually, I was hoping to make it over to Wolf Clan, but I did trip over a couple of Halflings en route," I said.

"Did they bounce well?"

I stared at him.

Kentari gulped, knowing full well that I didn't give that expression out on a whim. "Sorry, Mihocha," he said, appraising my face. "Are you okay?" I shook my head; it was obvious to anyone else in the room that I wasn't. Though my eyes weren't watering, my body belied my jovial attitude on the stage not minutes before.

I slowly related the full story back to Kentari, in hushed tones so that Savrin's alert ears wouldn't pick up what I was saying. When I was done, he yanked on one of his earlobes, like he always did when he was thinking deeply about something. "You know..."

"What, Kent?"

"This gives me a really great idea. Irinna, Savrin's cousin over there, managed to swipe two of my coin bags several days ago while we were stopped at Dirge."

I peered at him. "Why haven't you filched it back yet?"

He shrugged. "I knew where it was. Wasn't any reason to get it back. She does, however, owe me." He leaned closer to me, switching to a Forest Elf dialect. "Bay in the stable. Think the interest on what those bags're worth will pay up for it."

I bit my tongue to stifle a giggle. "At what interest?"

"Something high. Let's say...leave once everyone's asleep. Will take the bay and my horse, get down to the Crossing with you riding on the bay. Pawn off the horse when we get down there, making a tidy profit, and you can take those boys to that Mirinn Human woman."

I nodded. Funny how serendipity does happen every so often, isn't it?

At Starwatch, we proceeded as planned. The stable guards snoozed like babes as I hummed a lullaby. Kentari ducked in, then just as quickly brought out his stallion and Irinna's bay. Kentari mounted his horse, and then we set up Vinny to ride in front of Kent. I steadied the bay (it truly was a remarkably even-tempered horse) and got Al situated on it in front of me, bundled up in a few stray quilts. We were about to ride away, but I suddenly remembered something.

"Kentari?"

"Yes, Mims?" I HATED that nickname.

"Toss me your dagger."

Kentari eyed me oddly. "Don't you have a perfectly sharp one of your own?"

"Yes, but they're packed up. I promise I won't scrape it or bloody it."

Kentari shrugged. "Do as you like, then." He negligently pulled a dagger out of his boot and hurled it into the snow next to my horse, who shied fiercely, nearly throwing me and Al off. I shot him a dirty look once I got the bay under control, then quickly climbed off the horse, fetching the dagger. "What are you going to use it for?" asked Kentari,

"You'll see," I said. I nudged the horse to go north of the inn, and we traveled back to Mindy's gravesite.

"That's the wrong way down south, Mims. You sure you don't have some Ranger blood in you?" chided Kentari, following on his chestnut stallion.

"Quite." I pulled off my hat, letting my coiled red braid fall the length of my back. With one swift motion, I cut it and tied off the end, placing the braid underneath the stray pile of rocks.

Kentari gave me a quizzical look. "You normally do this hair cut thing before you head further into Zoluren? The south is slightly warmer, but..."

"Just making a promise, Kentari. We can go now."

And so we did, riding across the hills past Arthe Dale to a mostly nondescript whitewashed building on Magen Road.