Chapter 29 – You’re Never Too Old


Sixteenth of Learning 1142

Maynor studied the young Beast Master as they walked. She wasn’t classically beautiful, but there was something attractive about her. She had short, straight blonde hair and striking blue green eyes that twinkled whenever she smiled, which was often. She seemed to laugh at the world, and that laughter was contagious. She was tall as well, almost as tall as him. She was, of course, far too young for him. Yet he was curious about a girl that could level six times in one night, and tame a kreve as a Level 1 Beast Master. Well, he wasn’t going to learn much just looking at her.

“So, six levels in one night? What was that like?”


“I don’t know. I don’t really remember much of it. I passed out.”


“You realize I still don’t know who you are?”

“Oh…I’m Maynor, captain of the guard.”

“Really? How amazing!” She smiled at him broadly. “I’ve never met a captain of the guard before. If I misbehave will you arrest me?”

“I would imagine that would depend on precisely how you misbehave. Tell me, do you think it’s something you’re likely to do?”

“Misbehave? Absolutely. It’s the only time I’m having fun.” And her eyes twinkled again.

“Tell me, what do you think of all this?”

“All what?”

“You know…everything that’s going on.” He didn’t want to say more out in the open.

“I don’t know what to think. I’m not important. I’m just along for the ride. What about you? What’s your role in all this?”

“Training the princes and Princess Chari. And that owl fellow, Kalutu. You saw him?”

“I did.”

“He’s a were-owl. Very strange.”

She looked interested. “I should say so. Do the princes enjoy training?”

“Sometimes. I push them pretty hard.”

“You’d have to.”

He nodded. “It’s true. They had so little time to prepare and didn’t even know what they were preparing for.”

“When you train, do you know what you’re preparing for?”

“Sometimes, but you have to train for the unexpected as well as the expected.”

“And how do you train for the unexpected?”

“You learn everything you can about everything. There really isn’t any other way.”

Striker looked thoughtful. “You know, you should be more careful about who you reveal information to.”

“What information would that be?”

“You’ve already told me you’re training the princes and the princess. So if I were the enemy, and I took you out, they wouldn’t get the same training. It would disrupt their training schedule.”

“What I told you is something anyone half competent would find out five minutes after they were in the palace. It’s the stuff I’m not saying that makes the difference.”

“And you’re using this technique to interrogate me.” Striker looked impressed.

“I hope you won’t hold it against me.”

She smiled, playfully. “Perhaps I will hold it against you. It’s what most men seem to enjoy.”

Maynor let the comment go. Whatever game she was playing, he wanted no part of it. Yet, he was enjoying himself. He seldom had this kind of conversation and didn’t think this Tier 2 Beast Master represented any kind of serious threat. Still, it paid to take precautions. He couldn’t let himself get distracted by her flirtatious nature. He reminded himself she remained, like the rest of her team, an unknown quantity.

“Will you spar with me, later?” she asked. “I’m sure I could use a pointer or two.”

“We’ll see. It depends on what else is going on.”

Striker looked disappointed, and he almost relented, but then a finger of doubt touched him. Why was a young girl like that flirting with an old guy like him. Of course, he knew there were women who liked older men, but it had never happened to him. His intuition told him to keep an eye on her. She may look and sound like a flirtatious young woman, but she was also a woman who, like the young royals at the palace, had leveled extremely fast. That implied she was directly related to current events, in spite of her denial. In spite of her insistence at being along for the ride, she was a part of this. And though he couldn’t see exactly where she fit in, he thought it was important that he find out. It’s why he had volunteered to accompany her.

He studied her as they walked. He’d have to keep an eye on her, which he had to admit was easy enough. He just had to keep reminding himself that she remained, at all times, a potential threat to the young royals.


Each of the Misfits of Karmenon were given their own room in the same corridor of the palace. It was clearly a guest wing for minor nobles, which was quite a step up from the rooms they were used to. Merck sat on the edge of the bed, took off his boots and fell backwards without getting undressed. He was so tired, but it was done. His improbably named god had asked him to find an unnamed boy somewhere in the world, and he had done so.

Of course, George hadn’t said Dahr would end the undead threat. He’d said that Merck would end it. Merck had been very careful not to mention this fact to anyone. If the Undead King found out that a god had prophesied that Merck was going to put an end to the threat he represented…the very thought send a chill through him.

And while he had changed at least on one level, he not only wasn’t cut out to be a target, he hadn’t been trained to be one either. So what if everyone thought Dahr was the threat. Let them focus on Dahr, so Merck could do what needed to be done. That was reasonable, right? I mean if he were the one to end the undead threat, he couldn’t very well risk himself, could he? And Dahr was a prince. He’d be defended. No one was going to let a prince die.

Merck only had a Tier 1 team of adventurers protecting him; Dahr had the entire palace guard. He’d be fine. And Merck could do whatever it is that he was supposed to. Merck would end the undead threat, while Dahr distracted everyone. It was a good plan, better than many of the plans he’d had when he had been a Swindler, and most of those had worked out just fine.

Admittedly, back then his confidence had been artificially bolstered by sizzle, a crutch he no longer had available. While that was a positive step forward in his life, he missed feeling invincible, even if he knew the feeling had been an illusion. Now that he’d gone straight and could think more clearly, Merck realized he was completely unqualified for whatever tasks lay ahead. He was a new, low level priest with no training, no guidance, no experience other than being a Swindler, and those skills had been taken from him.

The very training he lacked was the kind of training Prince Dahr would have received. Perhaps he should have been the one that George had selected, instead of Merck. That would have been better for everyone. Merck had barely slept since that fateful day in the swamp. Life was more complicated than it had ever been, and he had none of the tools to deal with any of it. Thank George for the Misfits of Karmenon. Ironic really, considering how they’d met.

His thoughts continued to circle like buzzards over a man dying in the desert, when he eventually drifted off.

It was much later when he woke to a knocking on his door. Merck awoke confused, not sure at first where he was, or what time it might be.

“Who is it?”

“The king wishes to take a late night meal with you and your team. In a short time, we will come and collect you. Please be ready.”

Ready? How does one prepare to dine with a king? And what was that dream he’d had about? Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew it was something important. Something that he needed to remember…but he couldn’t.

Okay, don’t try. Do what you have to do to get ready. It basically amounted to washing up. He had no formal clothes to put on. He had no time to take a bath, and probably wouldn’t if he’d had the time. The king surely didn’t expect a ragtag group of adventurers to be courtiers.

He was in the process of pouring water from a pitcher into a basin when a thought popped into his head, a piece of the dream. He had seen Dahr and Eric in a cart, riding with a tall, shaggy, brown-haired giant of a man. Eric was smiling happily in the back of the cart, looking around as if he were taking in the sights. Dahr was having a conversation with the man, asking him questions, trying to get information. Though Dahr outwardly seemed okay, Merck could tell he didn’t want to be there and knew at once that the man was the enemy. He had somehow taken the princes. He’d kidnapped them. Against all odds, he’d gotten them out of the palace and out of the city of Rish.

Unless it was just a dream. That was possible, right? It might be nothing. But he knew deep down that this was information provided by George. And that meant in all likelihood it was true. After all, George had shown him Dahr, and he turned out to be real.

Now what? Should he tell someone?

He didn’t know a tremendous amount about royalty but definitely thought that telling a king that his sons would be taken didn’t seem like a good thing to do. And he didn’t have anything to go by. He didn’t get a good look at the man, who was in the driver’s seat of the cart, so he could only see him from behind. He’d seen glimpses of his face each time he turned his head to answer Dahr. He didn’t know the man’s name. He didn’t know where they were, or even when this would happen.

What would he say? He had a dream? What if he said it and it turned out to be just a dream? Merck may have been a Priest, but it had only been for a very short period of time. He had no idea how all this worked. He was terrified of making a mistake.

So, he wouldn’t volunteer the information unless he had reason to do so, though he wouldn’t lie if someone asked. That was a safe plan of action. He would go have dinner and keep his head down. If the princes were going to be taken, there was nothing he could do about it and furthermore, he had no idea if this wasn’t something that needed to happen to end the undead threat. The decision made, he relaxed.

Whatever was going to happen was perhaps days away. There would be plenty of time to worry. Whatever was going to happen, Merck was a part of that, an important part. Important enough for a god to seek him out. Merck had never been important before and wasn’t sure he liked it. He was no knight, no prince, no storied adventurer. He was just a young man who had chosen a bad path in hard times. There were tens of thousands like him all over the world. Hard luck cases, who either died on the streets, or learned how to survive successfully. He might have been either at one point. But then he had joined another group of people who never survived…he had become a sizzle addict.

Sizzle addicts didn’t often recover, at least, he’d never heard of one doing so. It was an insidious fate. Even before the first time he dosed himself, he knew how dangerous it was…so why had he done it?

And he knew at that moment, the truth. He had taken the drug because deep inside, he wanted to die and knew it was the only way a coward like him could bring himself to end it. It had been less of a decision and more of an attempt at slow suicide. Had his life been that bad? Had he been so troubled? Was being a Swindler so abhorrent to him? No, that hadn’t been it at all. He liked fooling people and getting away with it. He loved the feeling he got when he had that big score, so what was it?

Images popped into his mind. His father beating his mother. Merck, a small boy standing helplessly watching. The fear, the pain, the humiliation of being completely helpless. It never left you. Nothing that had happened to him after that had done anything but reinforce what his father had said about him throughout his entire childhood. He was worthless. Good for nothing. Useless. And he had been. There was nothing he could do to defend his mother or stand up to his father. He ended up a petty criminal in a world of petty criminals, living off the crumbs he could steal from more well to do sorts. He only ever took the tiniest fraction of what they had and somehow considered that success. He had been worthless.

If someone had told him that a year later he’d be in the palace at Rish in a noble’s guest room, or that he’d somehow be part of an adventuring team, he’d have laughed. But here he was, a member of the Misfits of Karmenon in a king’s palace, about to have dinner with the king himself. He thought about sizzle then and realized he no longer needed it, because he no longer wanted his life to end. Instead, against all odds, he was dying to know what would happen next.


The short walk from the palace to the guild building took far longer than Maynor had thought it would. They weren’t walking fast to begin with, but they paused often to examine some of the temple architecture, even entering a handful to have a quick look at the interior. Maynor knew he should get back to the palace, but part of him also felt that Striker herself was worth this extra scrutiny. No one else in the Misfits had leveled as she had, or transitioned into a new specialization, or ended up with a pet kreve. Or was that just an excuse to spend more time with her? It bothered him that he couldn’t honestly say.

By the time they reached the Adventurer’s Guild and managed to locate the guild official that would allow them access to Stalker, it was already later than he’d hoped, but he couldn’t bring himself to be annoyed or feel panicked. The Tier 1 team in the palace was no threat at all to King Terrance or Queen Treya. The only possible threat on that team was here with him. It would be fine. Realizing that, he relaxed, just a little.

Finally, they were led to the room where Stalker waited, and Maynor saw her for the first time. Huge, black, terrifying, or she would have been to most people. Maynor approached boldly and circled her, confident he could react quickly enough to defend himself should she attack.

“Easy, Stalker, he’s a friend.”

He could feel the beast relax. He placed a tentative hand on its side and when it didn’t react, he stroked the thick, smooth fur. The beast closed its eyes clearly enjoying the attention.

He would have liked to spend some time allowing Stalker to get to know him, but they really had to get back to the palace.

The return journey, with the two of them accompanied by Stalker, was as routine as something like that could be. People panicked and ran the moment they saw the creature, which amused Maynor, who gave up trying to reassure them early on. The control Striker had over the beast, particularly for her level, was startling. But like anything that wasn’t really a threat, he soon put it from his mind. It wasn’t that he didn’t stay aware of it. Maynor was always aware of his surroundings. It was part of his training. But the kreve remained in the back of his mind, ever-present, a possible threat but not something he needed to pay attention to consistently. Which left more of his attention for Striker.

There was something odd about her, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. Maynor was no stranger to beautiful women. He’d been around nobles for a long, long time, and some, knowing he was close to the king, had made it clear that they would be open to a sexual relationship. This was something that Maynor would never consider. It would compromise his position as captain of the guard. Striker was something else entirely.

It was true that she represented a possible threat. He couldn’t rule that out completely. But she didn’t have any real reason to seduce him, because as a commoner, she wouldn’t get anything out of it. He wasn’t going to give her information. He wasn’t going to break any rules for her. Unlike the nobility, she had no actual power over him. And it had been a long time since he’d been with a woman, and that had been Leata.

His relationship with the seneschal had been strange. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t serious, yet it wasn’t casual either. It was two worldly veterans blowing off steam, mutually enjoying each other’s company on the rare occasions they both had a free moment. That relationship never really ended because it had never really began. They were friends and would remain so, whether they slept in the same bed or not.

Leata never flirted with him. There was no strong attraction on either side. It was an occasional coupling of convenience and nothing more. While the two shared a mutual respect, they both knew that in an actual relationship, they’d kill each other within a few months. Leata was too detail oriented, and too used to being in charge of everything. Maynor was a free spirit who despised being told what to do, unless the king or queen were the ones doing the telling, but that was duty. Beyond that, he was in charge of the guard. The two of them in an actual relationship? It could never work.

But Striker treated him like he was someone special, and he wasn’t used to that. Despite being from a minor noble family himself, Maynor was seen as the captain of the guard, the only rank that had real meaning to him. And guards, after all, were simply servants with swords. There was nothing special about what he did, not in his mind. He had a duty and performed it to the best of his ability. No one was particularly impressed with him, except perhaps the guards under his command. But Striker seemed impressed. Seemed drawn to him. And he felt drawn to her as well. How long had it been since he’d felt this way? He couldn’t remember.

They reached the palace and managed to get Stalker into the practice yard just around the time dinner was being served. They only found out about it by chance, when they saw servants carrying food from the kitchens and followed them. Only then did he realize how ravenous he was. The day had gotten away from him, and he hadn’t had anything since the early lunch that had replaced the breakfast he had skipped to train the princes and Princess Chari.

The servants led them straight to one of the smaller banquet halls, where the Misfits of Karmenon were eating with King Terrence, Queen Treya, King Leonid and Queen Rhea. Leata and Lord Ormund were present as well. He was surprised that Lord Ormund sat just to the King’s left, until he realized the king was probably using him to surreptitiously read the classes and levels of each of the Misfits, as well as to see if any of them were lying.

There were two seats at the end of the table, and he and Striker each took one. He hadn’t really wanted to sit near her, considering how jumbled his thoughts were. He wanted time away to sort them. But that wasn’t how it went, and so they talked with each other and those closest to them, Borin, Dreek and Garne.

From the brief conversations he had with each of them, he thought they were probably okay, though he didn’t have much experience with phase shifters. Of all the Misfits, Dreek was the one who made him the most nervous. How did you defend against a guest that could walk through walls? Having to accept that level of potential intrusion went against his every instinct.

There was a huge amount of food, and he realized this was the meal that had been prepared for the wedding feast. He wolfed down everything on his plate like a starving man, and Striker seemed amused as she watched him. She ate at a more leisurely pace, seeming to enjoy each bite. Maynor realized she probably wasn’t use to such fair, where as he had come to take it for granted.

There was some sort of roast meat, which he was fairly sure was boar, mixed vegetables drizzled with honey sauce, potatoes with onions in a heavy cream sauce, and a selection of wines, or ale for those who preferred that, which seemed to be most of the Misfits.

The conversation was mostly a retelling of the story and trying to figure out if they could glean any clue of what they were supposed to do next. No one knew. By the time he’d eaten his fill, he found himself growing sleepy. Several of the Misfits had already given up on the day and asked for leave to return to their rooms, which King Terrence granted.

Not surprisingly, Dahr, Kalutu, Eric and Chari seemed wide awake, fascinated by the Misfits of Karmenon. They asked innumerable questions about serpent lords, phase shifters, salads, adventuring, and the events that had led them to Rish. From his position at the far end of the table he couldn’t hear all of it, but he heard enough. He’d also had some wine which he regretted now as it was making it harder to stay awake.

Eventually the king called an end to the dinner, and everyone returned to their room. Apparently Striker had had a bit too much to drink as well, for she was stumbling. He followed her to make sure that she reached her room, but when she entered, she didn’t close the door. She looked at him. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman looked at him that way.

He knew entering would be a mistake. Not that he thought anything bad would come of it, but he also knew that it wasn’t the responsible thing to do. But when she looked at him, there was a hunger in her eyes that made him wish he was twenty years younger. He knew he shouldn’t. He had other responsibilities.

“Are you just going to stand out there in the hallway, or will you come in?”

He had to fight the impulse, but he did fight it. “I’m sorry, Striker. You’re very attractive, but you’re also a guest of the king. I would be betraying my duty if I stayed with you tonight.”

“What if I had something to tell you that you don’t know yet, that might give you an advantage when dealing with the Misfits. There may be some things you don’t realize.”

That was interesting. He knew she was baiting him. Playing on his desire to know everything.

“Just one kiss, and I’ll tell you something you probably need to know.”

He still hesitated. There was something wrong. He could feel it. Something nagging at the back of his mind. Yet he stepped into the room.

“One kiss.”

She smiled. Approached him. Looked up into his eyes. Then her lips met his, and the world went away. He never did learn what she was going to tell him, because his entire world became desire. It was a kiss that went on longer than any kiss he could remember, and when their lips parted, he was fumbling to remove her clothing and she was doing the same to him. He almost didn’t remember to close the door, but did so at the last minute.

What followed wasn’t the cool, casual sex he’d shared with Leata. This was primal, animalistic, passionate. Something he hadn’t experienced in many, many years. And then he got lost in it, the pleasure, the desire, the intensity. This was something beyond Maynor’s experience. This was magical.

At the thought, warning bells went off somewhere in his head, but he was too far gone to acknowledge them. When they came together, there was an energy there, a power that demanded his full attention. And he rode a wave that seemed to build and build and build until the sensations consumed him, then he let go. And afterward, everything he had been thinking was gone, lost on a sea of exhaustion he hadn’t felt in more years than he could remember.


The Book of Lost Wisdom continues with Chapter 30 – One Final Lesson, coming soon 

Back to Chapter 28 – A Familiar Problem



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