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Never Say Never

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I've never been a hero, and William never was. He was always been the fourth child, the youngest, the one who wasn't in charge of anything more than ordinary business. Not like his older brothers, who got more work from their father with the guilds, and who always came home with more exciting tales. William had been competent, he'd been good and worked hard and made his mother smile, but that never got him more than passing words from his father.

He'd never felt such a weight on his shoulders as when Gregor pressed that medallion into his hand.

(He told himself that none of his first thoughts were about how he'd be able to show his father that he was worth looking at. Certainly by the end, when they were embroiled in plots and grudges, they weren't.)

And now his father looked at him, and his mother beamed with even more pride than before, and his brothers had written him about it, and the pretty serving girls at the tavern flirted a little more heavily than they did before. But now William didn't have time to care about his father's approval, or that of his brothers, and he flirted less with the serving girls and tipped them more, talked to them about the things they had seen and heard instead. Because perhaps he was a hero now, but their quest wasn't yet done, and there was more at stake here than his own pride.

I've never been a mage, and Aren never was. Just the son of an innkeeper, one who waited tables and washed dishes with his family, and dreamed too much. The most he was supposed to hope for in the world was a special trip to a nearby city for business, to settle down with a nice girl like Laura and help fix up a home with her.

And then the magic ran out of his body, uncontrolled, when that awful beast swooped upon him; it flowed from his hands and burst out like an explosion.

It took a lot of time to temper the magic. At first it was giant sparks of electricity pushed into the enemies that drew too close; only later was it precise lightning strikes shooting down from an empty sky. Storms called in over the area of their battle. Drawing the water from an opponent's body, or giving his energy to his companions when they didn't have time to stop and drink their healing senwater in the middle of a fight. Protecting them from other magic and blows and arrows.

Now he was training under a real mage, but as much of a dream as it should have been, there was still too much bothering him to enjoy it fully. Not when his companions were so far away, and not when justice was still waiting to be finished. That was how a good joyman's tale was supposed to finish, after all: the happy ending, with all the villains brought down.

I've never changed the minds of men, as I am not a sage, and Kaelyn never was. She was just a girl from the woods who spent too much time with the Grrlf, too much time hunting to provide for herself and her father, too much time exploring rather than learning the trades of normal girls. Not that her father ever said he minded.

But when she became part of a quest, suddenly she was more than that: she was the woman who dared to fight, who came into town with a Grrlf at her side, who never showed any fear in the face of threats.

It was different, having William teach her how to sharpen her sword and asking for tips on how to shoot arrows like she did. To have Aren begging her for stories of her time with the Grrlf while cooking for them, better than anything she could manage on a campfire. Even if sometimes William remembered too much that she was female and what that was supposed to mean about how she acted, although at least he listened when she told him the serving girls probably wanted an edge in life more than his kisses. Even if Aren sometimes faltered when she could carry more than him and take harder blows, but at least he didn't protest.

To become an ambassador to the Grrlf and work on building an understanding between them and humans – it was something she never could have imagined happening. And she was happy to be traveling, to have ears she never could have reached before, to have admiring eyes on the plate she wore and the expensive sword and bow hanging off her, but – they weren't going to be safe until their quest was properly finished, and Kaelyn always did hate to leave a job half done and an obligation unfilled.

Oh, I've never been in battle, and I've never been to sea, I have never saved a prince's life, none owes a debt to me, a tavern crowd sang, somewhere, in a tavern much like any other in the city. A joyman, the night's entertainment, smiled.

He had several feathers in his hat, bright and long, proof of his entertaining abilities. As he stood and brushed the last of the road dust off his clothes before he began his stories, his eyes went to a corner table. Three friends of his, two men and a woman, wearing armor under their traveling cloaks, were laughing their heads off rather than singing. They toasted, ale sloshing.

The joyman knew which hero, mage, and sage he was going to tell a tale of tonight.