Like most of Gaeren’s adventures, he had ended it at the bar.
Everything ticked off like a checklist in his head: Headlings dispatched and their remains incinerated, Zmei fled, though he had promised to return, wife found and returned to bed. He had expected to find her fairly hysterical – she seemed to have grown up so sheltered at times. But his presumptions were now as shredded as when she had asked him to spar and then given him a welt for taking it easy on her. Very little was as it seemed.
And how true that was here. A girl no one really knew well with an odd birthmark, being hunted by the Zmei. The birthmark story made sense, but, then, how did the creature know her name? Had they met? What must that have been like? “Nice birthmarks, means I’m going to rape you and the child born of it will tear you apart. Tea?” There were elements of the tale that simply didn’t add up.
But he was hardly in a position to protest the improbable. He had surprised himself when he recognized his own sense of responsibility about family. Ervel had pitched him to Restov’s minor nobles as an up-and-comer, which Gaeren supposed was true, so long as he didn’t end up in the Champion’s court of Ursundova. But far more improbable things invaded his mind darkly as he drank. Ursundova was never going to let the Republic go. Jacek was content to let them have their little experiment in democracy, so long as they acknowledge his rule. No one else on the council was particularly interested in undoing the trappings of nobility. The one person he thought might have believed differently was off on a quest, and seemed to be terribly different from the man in those letters Gaeren had read.
No, the impetus just wasn’t there. Ursundova would gobble up the Tors and throw festivals about “Unity” and generally let the Republic do anything Ursundova didn’t mind it doing. Armed rebellion was a fool’s errand – the Duchy had more resources and more people. Gaeren didn’t mind dying for a cause, but wasn’t about to throw his life away on a hopeless one, not when he had…
“Responsibilities.” He muttered to himself, drawing a quizzical look from the weary bartender that he waved away. He had a responsibility to the Republic, to the Duchy, and to his wife. How would he balance all three of those? He shook his head and stood, wobbling slightly. All of those responsibilities would keep. Right at the moment, the evidence pointed towards an innocent in danger. Someone had to do something. That was a responsibility he knew of old. It was a start.