Chapter 28 – A Familiar Problem


Sixteenth of Learning 1142

Kalutu had watched the wedding with interest. He’d also watched the audience. From his position, he could see the emotional reactions of those in attendance. Kalutu didn’t share those same emotions. He understood why the ceremony engendered those feelings in the audience, but the concept of romance was alien to him. He had heard people talking of love, and he understood it as a concept, but he wasn’t sure it wasn’t just a mechanism that allowed humans to mate. He was happy for Prince Eric and Princess Chari, of course, but the ceremony left him feeling more isolated than ever, for he seemed to be the only one present that didn’t share the reactions of the others. He wondered if that made him a bad familiar.


When the guests left, he tried to reach Dahr, but the press of bodies made that impossible, so he patiently filed out with the others. When he got outside, he had trouble processing everything that was going on. Guards were trying to clear a path, people were moving in every direction, and two creatures, the likes of which he had never seen, came running up to him.

The first looked very much like a humanoid raccoon, and the other like a humanoid squirrel. Both types of animals existed on his original world, but they were much smaller, and didn’t have bodies like these. He wondered if, like him, they were lycanthropes.

Both were a head shorter than Kalutu, but their confidence made them seem taller as they approached. Kalutu paused when they reached him.

“You are Kalutu, the familiar?” asked the raccoon.

“I am.”

“My name is Chetterfor Bex, but you can call me Chet. Me and my companion Sam are representatives of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Familiars. You may have heard of us.”

The creature paused here and looked up at Kalutu hopefully.

Kalutu shook his head. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“Familiars are often badly treated by their masters. Abused is a better word. We have no rights, no recourse, no legal standing. But familiars are people too. We just end up enslaved.”

Kalutu thought this over. “If you are enslaved, then how is it you a free to protest your predicament. That would seem to indicate a certain level of freedom, would it not?”

Sam looked annoyed, but it was Chet who replied, his deep, melodic voice patient. “Our masters are dead. We are free familiars. We needed a new purpose and found that helping other familiars who were being mistreated was as noble a goal as we could ask for. Familiars being mistreated is a familiar story.”

“I thought that up,” chimed in Sam.

Chet nodded. “He did. It was very well received. There have always been stories of familiars being beaten, locked in cages, chained up, subjected to every indignity. And there’s nothing they can do about it, because they’re stuck in that role. We wanted to do something to call attention to the problem.”

“Ah,” said Kalutu. He didn’t know what else to say. He tried to picture what it would be like to lose Dahr, or Eric or even both, and felt immediate sympathy for these creatures, not to mention the abused familiars, a circumstance he’d never considered.

“Ah?” said Sam. “Is that all you can say?”

“I admit I am saddened by your loss and sympathetic to your cause. I’m also not completely sure what I can do to help, however.”

“We had heard,” continued Chet, “that you serve two masters.”

Both familiars looked at him expectantly.

“I do. Prince Eric and Prince Dahr. But I’m not abused. I’m very well looked after.”

“Oh are you? Do you realize you’re the only familiar in history that serves two masters?” asked Chet.

“I did not. But I don’t see how…”

“You can’t do that!” Sam interrupted. “Do you not see the precedent you’re setting? People shouldn’t be expecting more from familiars. They shouldn’t think of familiars as property. We’re living, breathing, feeling beings. And by serving two masters, you’ve opened the door to familiars being pressured to serve not just two, but maybe even groups of people. Serving one master is hard enough.”

“But surely you understand that I have no choice who I serve. I am compelled to serve both my masters.”

“It’s not natural,” shouted Sam. Anywhere else his shout would have drawn eyes, but the noise around them was cacophonous. In fact, it was possible he was shouting simply to be heard over the surrounding confusion. There were commoners cheering, the king shouting orders, wait, what was going on over there. Kalutu turned his head, while Chet picked up the conversation again.

“Look, we understand you have no choice in the matter. We’re not asking you to change that. We’re just asking you to join our group.”

Before Kalutu could answer, Sam broke in. “You were at the royal wedding, right?”

The change of subject was so sudden that Kalutu was drawn back into the conversation. “I was.”

“There’s going to be a celebration dinner afterwards?”

“There will.”

“Will they have beer there?”

“I expect they will.”

“Can you bring a date?”

Chet had had enough. “Sam, you’re not going to the palace to drink beer. We have other business right now.”

“Is it beer-related, at least?”

“No, it’s not. Remember why we’re here.”

“Oh yeah. We’re supposed to ask Kalutu to join the Society. But listen to this idea. If I went back to the palace with Kalutu, and there was beer there, I could get him drunk and then get him to…”

“No!” Chet yelled. “Sam, get control of yourself. We don’t get people drunk to get them to join. They have to join of their own free will.”

“You never let me have any fun at all,” Sam sulked.

“You mean I never let you drink beer?”

“That’s what I said.”

Chet shook his head. “Squirrels, what can you do, am I right? So tell me, Kalutu…what do you think? Would you be interested in joining our organization?”

Kalutu’s attention seemed to have drifted back to a knot of people crowding around the princes.

“I need time to think about it,” said Kalutu distracted. “Where can I find you?”

“We have an office at the Adventurer’s Guild. They, at least, value the sacrifice of familiars.”

Kalutu was barely listening. “I have to go. Something is going on. I’ll be in touch.”

Kalutu disappeared into the crowd, leaving behind two indignant manamals.

“See,” said Sam, “This is what I’m talking about. You move into a palace, and you don’t have time for anyone else. I bet that guy is going to be drinking beer tonight.”

“Do you ever think about anything but beer?”

Sam frowned. “I think of lots of things. Admittedly, most of them are beer related, but I think of other things too.”

“Like what?”

Sam had to think long and hard. “Women. We need beer and some hot squirrel chicks.”

“Why would a woman of any species be interested in you?”

“That’s what the beer is for!”

“You really are a simple creature, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. Ain’t it great?”


The walk back to the palace seemed interminable for all that it only took a short time. The calm was over, and though the storm had yet to begin, the first figurative droplets of rain were falling…Merck Vanderoth was here. Dahr didn’t know if he was more excited or scared, but at least he wouldn’t be waiting now. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen soon, even if he didn’t know what it was. He was hoping that Merck could answer that.

But the king had said, wisely thought Dahr, that they shouldn’t discuss this matter on the street. So they walked in silence with Dahr looking back frequently at Merck and his companions. There was one that looked like a shadow and another that had a snake’s head! Was that a serpent lord? He didn’t know but was anxious to find out.

Eric and Chari walked nearby, hand in hand, not yet willing to relinquish the closeness of the wedding, resign and concern in equal measure shadowing the joy they must be feeling. They too knew it had begun.

The kings and queens walked together in a small group, whispering to each other. King Leonid was the most vocal and most visibly upset, though Dahr couldn’t hear what was bothering him. All three of the others seemed to be trying to placate him. King Terrence seemed amused but conciliatory, Queen Treya looked supportive, and Queen Rhea looked like she was fighting an old foe, comfortable and confident, but not giving an inch.

Eventually, they made it back to the palace, and everyone was escorted to the throne room. At least everyone that mattered. All the royals, Merck and his companions, the guild master of the Adventurer’s Guild plus Leata, Maynor, Lord Ormund, even Veloran had managed to join them, though Dahr didn’t know when that had happened. An assortment of guards accompanied them as well, but no other nobles were allowed in. This would be a closed audience.

The king was about to speak, but before he did Andeon Walsh stepped forward. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Your Majesty. Please forgive the breech of protocol. For those who don’t know me, I am Andeon Walsh, the guild master for the Rish branch of the Adventurer’s Guild. Though it is not my place, may I suggest in the strongest terms that before anything else is said, anyone not directly involved in this matter should be sent from the room. This is a matter of the utmost delicacy.”

The king’s expression didn’t change at all. He looked thoughtful, nothing more. Then he asked the guards to leave, as well as Leata and Lord Ormund. Leata frowned, Lord Ormund looked resigned. No one spoke until the door closed again. Finally, the king got to say what he was going to say a few minutes before.

“Would someone kindly tell me what is going on?”

He cast his gaze about the room, like a drowning man searching for a piece of driftwood to keep him afloat. Finally, Merck spoke.

“Your Majesty, if I may, my name is Merck Vanderoth, and I was a Swindler by trade. Due to a set of circumstances that is not directly relevant to this story, Tharin, the god of thieves found me displeasing and let me go. My skills were taken from me. I then found myself the Priest of a new god, but I do not know his name.”

The king looked frustrated. “What do you mean you don’t know his name?”

“It’s George,” said Dahr. Everyone turned to stare at him. “I mean it’s not his real name, but it is what he prefers to be called.”

Merck blinked. “I am a priest of George? Really? I’m not sure, but I think my story somehow just became less believable.”

“Believe it,” said the king. “We have seen evidence of George’s power.”

“As you say,” said Merck. “If I may continue?”

King Terrence inclined his head.

“At the time that I lost my class and gained another, I had a vision. And in that vision I saw a young boy.” He gestured toward Dahr. “I was given no name, and no location. I was only told I needed to find him.”

“Why?” interrupted the king.

Merck drew a deep breath. “Because this boy is going to end the undead threat.”

Silence filled the throne room. No one spoke. No one commented. But each person present, even those who had heard this before, still had to roll the idea around in their head. End the undead threat. What would that look like?

“You expect me to believe that my fourteen-year-old son is going to end the undead threat? I have heard in my time on the throne many ludicrous statements, but the sheer audacity of this claim…are you sure you’re not still a Swindler?”

Dahr shook his head. “Father, Merck didn’t have a vision. I was there.”

“What do you mean you were there?”

Dahr could see the king was getting agitated and held up both hands palm out in an attempt to calm him. “Sometimes, I have visions. Except in this case, I wasn’t seeing something, I actually was with Merck Vanderoth, wherever he was. That’s how I knew he was coming.”

“And you didn’t think to tell anyone?”

“Eric and Chari knew.”

The king blew out his breath, and then took a deep one, clearly trying to calm himself.

“Oh, you told Eric and Chari. Well that’s okay then. You do realize that I’m not only the king, but I’m also your father.”

“Yes, Father. I realize this. I also know that there are reasons to keep secrets sometimes, and this was one of those times. If you really wish to complain, I can put you in touch with George, and you can complain to him. Because I’m getting quite tired of being scolded for doing what my god tells me to do which, by the way, is also what Sheba told me to do.”

The king looked abashed. “I’m sorry. You’re right. But this situation is…”

“Preposterous? Insane? Ludicrous?” Merck was ready to change the subject and pick up the story again. “Yes, it is all of those things Your Highness. Put yourself in my place. I had lost a class, and gained a new one. There I was, alone in the ancient ruins in a swamp, when my pursuers caught up with me, the Misfits of Karmenon.”

“The Misfits of Karmenon?”

“The name of my guild team, Your Majessssty,” said the serpent lord, bowing.

The king nodded, and Merck continued. “They saw that I’d changed class and escorted me back to the local chapter of the Adventurer’s Guild, where we were sent on to the Adventurer’s Guild in Pelaro. On that trip, our Hunter, Striker, gained six levels in one night.”

“And I thought four was good,” said Eric.

“You leveled four times in one night?” asked Merck.

“I did. And Chari and Dahr leveled three on the same night.”

“It must have been some night.”

“You could say that,” said Chari.

“So,” continued Merck, “not only did she gain levels, but she transitioned to a Beast Master, and tamed a kreve. And together we…”

King Terrence interrupted. “A kreve? She tamed a kreve? Do you expect me to believe this?”

Andeon Walsh stepped forward. “I have seen it with my own eyes, Your Highness.”

King Terrence shook his head, partly in disbelief, but mostly in resignation.

“So, you’ve found my son. What happens next?”

“I don’t know,” said Merck. “I was hoping he did.”

All eyes turned to Dahr.

“They should stay as guests at the palace.”

Striker spoke now, for the first time. “Stalker, my kreve, is still in the Adventurer’s Guild. I can’t leave her there alone.”

The king shrugged. “If she’s part of the team, she’s part of the team. Bring her. We can house her in the training yard for now. I’d like to see her for myself anyway. And if she’s here you can visit with her whenever you like.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” Striker bowed low.

“If it’s okay with you, Your Highness,” said Maynor, “I can help this young lady…”


“Striker, bring her kreve back. You have control over it?”


“Good. We should go now.”

The king nodded, and Striker and Maynor both walked from the throne room.

“So we just wait, is that it?” asked the king.

Dahr nodded. “Though I don’t think the wait will be long. Something tells me there’s one final piece of the puzzle to be revealed.”

“Would you care to elaborate?”

Dahr smiled mischievously. “If I could elaborate, it wouldn’t be a piece of the puzzle.”

Eric shook his head, Chari groaned, but King Terrence laughed.

“Well then, let’s get you all situated. Someone find Leata. We can get to know each other better over a late dinner. 


Forward to Chapter 29 – You’re Never Too Old

Return to Chapter 27 – The Wedding



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