A Different Sort of Smarts

There were those who thought that Cornelius didn’t have much in the way of brains. Even his own mother, may she burn, used to tell him he didn’t have the brains given to a cockroach. Folks had compared him to many things. A hollowed out stump. A box of hair. One of them spiny lizards sunning itself. That was just the stuff he overheard. Or the stuff that was said to his face.

The thing of it was, at least as far as Cornelius could see, he did have smarts. They just weren’t the kind of smarts most folks had. He didn’t have much learning or know much about anything. He sometimes had to have things explained to him a few times before he understood, but that didn’t mean he was brainless. It was just that all of his brains went to a single thing.

When it came to getting what he wanted, Cornelius was a gol’ darned professor.

It just seemed to be the very best way his brain worked. If there was something he wanted, he could always find a clear path to it. If someone had that something he wanted, he could always find a way to take it. Even if it was a game of luck or chance, he usually had a few tricks or two to get things to swing to his favor. Sometimes those tricks failed him, but not very often. No matter what other people said, it was a type of brains. A type Cornelius had in spades.

On top of that, he sometimes seemed to have a genuine streak of luck. There were nights he’d be winning at the poker table for hours before he had to employ some of his tricks (not a lot of those nights, lately, but quite a few in the past he looked fondly on). There was the time he’d skipped dinner at the saloon and ended up being damn near the only one in town not puking their guts up all night. And now here he was, standing on the stairs just above the little alcove where that holier-than-thou woman always perched, and just seconds before he was about to start making trouble, he was hearing the most wonderful, beautiful things.

“These flowers can grant immortality?”

“It’s not something I wanted to tell people.”

Living forever. Not something Cornelius had ever really thought about. There didn’t seem to be a way to do it without a lot books and practice, neither of which was particularly enticing. And he’d had enough daydreams about finding his mother in hell and paying her back for the roughest years of his life. But now that there was an opportunity, well, how exactly a person supposed to say no to that?

He hurried back to the table on the lightest feet he could muster, only glancing back when he was seated again. Still, he watched for one of them to poke their head out of alcove, to know that he had been there.

“What in the hell are you doing?” Neiro asked.

“Shut up,” Cornelius said.

“You didn’t do nothing-”

“I said, shut up. Wait.”

Cornelius watched and waited, ignoring the stone-cut looks Neiro was giving him. It wasn’t long at all before the two women came out from the alcove. Imrie in her leather, and the mage’s apprentice looking far too fancy for a trip up the mountain. The apprentice didn’t even glance at them, holding her head so high she looked like some sort of pretty bird, but Imrie gave them an annoyed look. Didn’t fool Cornelius one bit. He just tipped his glass at her as they walked by and waited until they were good and gone.

“Will you tell me what is going on?”

“We’ve got to pack up. We’re going for the flowers.”

Neiro blinked at him. “The flowers that mage wanted? From the top of the mountain?”

“What other flowers would I be talking about?” Cornelius asked, barely paying attention. His eyes were focused on a particular plank of wood in the floor, one with a knot. His mind was circling that knot, over and over, working on the solution.

“We turned her down. Then we were going to mess with them. Now you come back and say we took the job?”

“No, Imrie took the job. We’re going to get there first. We can do it. They don’t even know we’re going to the flowers, too. They don’t even know I know.”

“Know what?” Neiro just about yelled.

Cornelius looked all around, making sure Neiro hadn’t grabbed anyone’s attention. He smiled and waved at a table of miners until he was sure they had gone back to their meal.

“Keep your warbling voice down,” Cornelius said, kicking him under the table. He thought about not telling Neiro, or just making something up. But Neiro was the only person on the planet he trusted, even a little. Surely there’d be enough for the two of them. In fact, Cornelius was banking on there being enough for the two of them, and then more to sell. The prices he could set would set them up for life. He knew the basin she was talking about. It was flowers from edge to edge.

Cornelius leaned in over the table, and Neiro followed suit.

“These flowers she’s going after? They can give you life. Eternal life.”

Neiro blinked a few times. Cornelius could practically see the gears spinning in his head, and he just needed to wait for them to catch. Neiro didn’t have brains in the same way as Cornelius did. Neiro remembered every little fact he was told or read out of a book, but didn’t seem to have a way to put all that information together. This was how they worked together.

Nearly half a minute later, Neiro squinted a single eye, and then looked up at Cornelius.

“They’re magic flowers?” At least he had the good sense to whisper.

“Right, that’s why the mage wants ‘em. She can do something to them, turn them into a spell.”

“An immortality spell,” Neiro whispered.

“Keep your voice down! Yes, a…that. Now, they didn’t see me over there. They don’t know I know. So, we are going to go get those flowers, before they get there. We are going to use those flowers, and then we are going to sell the rest.”

Neiro was frozen, sitting sideways in his chair, one arm on his leg, the other on the table and his hand cradling his chin. He blinked a few times, and Cornelius thought now who looks like one of those spiny lizards. He was impatient, but knew he needed Neiro. So he waited.

“Why does the mage need these flowers, anyway?” he asked finally.

“Who knows? Who cares? Whatever she needs them for, she’ll be able to find another way to do it. She’s a mage, dummy. We need those flowers more than her. Do you know what people will pay for flowers that can…do that?”

Slowly, a smile bloomed on Neiro’s face. “People would pay a lot.”

“Yes. Exactly. We sell those flowers, we don’t have to be chappies anymore, Neiro. We can be whatever we want.”

Specifically speaking, Cornelius could be ‘not in debt to a creditor’, but Cornelius kept that part to himself.

Neiro’s slow smile had become a large grin. “We better get going, then, right?”

Cornelius gave a single nod. “We better.”

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