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Celtic Dance
1998 by Scott Powell
http://members.aol.com/midimanu/home.htm

2. Pepin

Valeria was cold and wet and heard distant voices.

"It seems rather unethical, that's all."

"I know, but think of it as starting her training a week or two early, and believe me, she needs this lesson. The next person she pisses off might tie a rock around her neck before dropping her in the river. I've got to make a side trip to Westmarch to pick up some more recruits and I won't be able to keep an eye on her."

"It's just that the Healer's Oath..."

"Forbids you from doing harm. This won't do her any harm. Quite the opposite, in fact. Now, unless you'd prefer to follow her around until she needs to be fished out of the Talsande again..."

"Oh all right. Gemma -- rest her soul -- always said you were a hard one."

"Ha! I'll wager that's not all she said about me!"

Valeria lost consciousness again.

A reedy-looking man in a white smock hurried into the room. What remained of his hair was white and downy, and his face bore the pinched lines of someone who lived his life in a perpetual state of low-level anxiety.

When Valeria awakened again, she was warm and dry. She was lying on a bed, wrapped in blankets. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her clothes drying on a rack near a fire in the fireplace. It was a small room with simple furnishings. The night sky was visible through the window opposite her. Despite this, there was a persistent clamor of voices and music from outside and from below her. She tried to sit up and winced. Her head felt light and her stomach lurched unpleasantly. Her jaw ached like nobody's business.

"Don't try to sit up," came a woman's voice. The speaker was a brown-haired girl about Valeria's age. "Here, drink this." She held a hot mug of some kind of soup to Valeria's lips. It tasted like a thick chicken broth with something in it that burned her throat a little, but settled her stomach almost immediately.

"Pepin!" called the girl, still helping her drink. "She's awake."

A reedy-looking man in a white smock hurried into the room. What remained of his hair was white and downy, and his face bore the pinched lines of someone who lived his life in a perpetual state of low-level anxiety. "Why don't you go on back downstairs," he told the girl. "I'm sure Ogden needs your help tonight, what with Caravan in town."

"All right," said the girl, "but don't hesitate to come find me if there's anything else I can do to help." She spared Valeria a reassuring smile and exited.

"How are you?" asked Pepin.

Valeria tried to speak, but her voice came out a raspy nothing.

"Oh, I'm sorry," apologized Pepin. "I'm afraid you've lost your voice for a few days. You drank a great deal of the River Talsande today and your throat's infected from it."

Valeria was determined to make herself heard. "Where?" she forced the word out and it emerged as a ridiculous high-pitched squeak.

"You're in a room above the Tavern of the Rising Sun, in Tristram," said Pepin. "You've been in and out of consciousness since about noon. I'm Pepin, the Town Healer."

Valeria nodded. Actually, her question was going to be, "Where is that mangy she-dog who dared to strike me?" However, this was useful information too.

"You should try to get some sleep," Pepin told her. "You'll be better in the morning. I'll try to check on you then, but I'm afraid I'll be terribly busy. People tend to get into all kinds of mischief when Caravan's in town."

As if on cue, the sound of angry voices drifted through the wooden floor, followed by the sound of a piece of furniture being broken over someone's head.

Pepin sighed and turned to go. "I'd better go see what that was about. Good night."

Valeria lay awake for a few minutes and listened as the barroom brawl downstairs subsided as quickly as it had begun. A little while later a Bard, possibly the same one who'd been on the barge with her, began telling a "Lord Cool & Stupidhead" tale.

"Oh no! Not with the cow!" responded the drunken audience at the appropriate point in the story.

Valeria smiled in spite of herself.

Originally published to alt.games.diablo July 21, 1999.

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