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original fiction: Tin Man [3/16] - Diary of a Necromancer
Excuse me, I'm making perfect sense, you're just not keeping up
robling_t
robling_t
original fiction: Tin Man [3/16]


Chapter Three



The only thing worse than tramping for day after day past field after field of last autumn's stubble under the blazing spring sun was when clouds rolled across the sky, the temperature began to drop, and dark circles first one by one and then faster suddenly starred the dry dust of the track. "Do golems rust?" Liane asked as we hurried our steps towards a structure in the near distance that looked to have a roof.

"No, but metal attracts lightning," I replied, reflexively pulling my coat tighter at the thought. "I think I'd rather not find out what would happen..."

The structure turned out to be a shrine to the Lady of the Harvest, open to the elements on one side but large enough for the three of us to huddle in mostly out of the wet. "If I were a Goddess, I'd look for better followers," Liane commented, studying the crudely done wooden effigy. "They could at least have found a woodworker who knew where the breasts went."

For some reason the thought entered my head that this was an odd objection to hear from the lips of a woman who herself went about in a padded jerkin so constructed that it was difficult to tell if she had breasts. "I think a theologian would tell you that it's a matter of the devotion involved, not the result," I said.

"If it were me I'd care," she insisted stubbornly. "This is just shoddy work. If that baby is honestly someone's idea of a representation of humanity, I'm almost insulted. Not that I'm sure that is a baby," she added, peering at it sternly.

"It's roughly baby-shaped," I said, making myself more comfortable. A patch had opened up in the cloud cover, but more rain loomed not far off. "Have you some extensive experience that it's failing to measure up against?"

Liane sat down on her haunches and folded her arms across her knees. "I have a little girl," she said in an odd small voice.

I turned, startled; it wasn't unreasonable now I thought about it, she was certainly of an age to have a string of babies tucked away somewhere already, but it hadn't occurred to me to look at a footloose mercenary as somebody's mother. "I... I'm sorry, I wouldn't have..."

"I never said I didn't like my third cousin," she said, "it was the business I didn't want. So I ran. It was a long time ago. Or it feels like it was a long time ago. I think we're all older than we were a few years ago. If that makes any sense."

I thought of Tremare, and nodded. "Do you... do you know how she's doing?"

She blew out a breath in something that wasn't quite a laugh. "When all seven of us went for mercs, my parents started training my third cousin to take the workshop after them. The business was doing well, last letter I got." She laid her head on her knees and sighed. "Did you... have a family?"

"Not exactly."

She raised her head slightly, just enough to look over at me; "That's one I don't hear. Do your coin tosses land on edge, too?"

"I was wondering if you'd count my Master's daughter --" She lifted a sly eyebrow at me. "No, not like that, she was... we all helped raise her. I saw nearly as much of her as her Papa did. She did this embroidery," I added, smoothing my hand along the border of autumnal oak-leaves that ran down the buttonhole side of my coat. "I think it was some sort of punishment detail the housekeeping staff set her to when they totaled up how many pairs of trousers she put holes in the knees of in a year."

"Bet it didn't work any better on her than that ever did on me," Liane said, eyes twinkling.

"She figured out early that we'd forgive her for anything," I said. "We all spoiled her something awful. My Master was the worst, she was good at being stern with apprentices, but when it came to her own daughter...."

Liane blinked. "You know, my whole life and everywhere I've been, and I think that's the first time I've heard the word 'her' applied to a necromancer," she said. "Somehow it rather spoils the idea I had of it all."

"Don't let it, Tanzin Tremare would have been the first to say it was irrelevant," I said. "She was the only other Seventrails to leave them for Tremare in recent memory, and I was always left with the impression that Seventrails had actually thrown her out for being a bad influence on the livestock. We were all astonished that she'd let anyone get that close to her."

"Now I'm thinking of spiders eating their mates," Liane said with a shiver.

"There were times when he wished she had, I'm sure," I said. "Especially... when 'Tana started growing up and wanting more than Tremare's Keep could offer her. That's... that's why I wasn't at Tremare, that winter; she'd disappeared somewhere again and I was the only one who was able to replace her Papa as the envoy at such short notice, so he could come home and wait for her to turn up. And then his letters stopped coming..." One drop of grief in a greater sea, but one that still stung distinct, the wondering if he'd found her, before...

Liane was silent for some while; finally she said, "At least I wrote to my folks when I left. Even if I didn't dare tell them where I was until I was under another Guild's protection so they couldn't make me come back to Silkshuttle."

"I didn't mean to --"

"Oh, lots of kids run away from home," she said. "And a Seventrails Mum too, aren't all Seventrails born with horses under them? Must have driven her crazy to be cooped up in a Keep." She shivered and hunched further inside her cloak. "Is it getting colder, or is it me?"

"The wind's picking up, I think." Rain drummed again on the shingles over our heads, faster than before, and I found myself hoping that we weren't in store for a nastier turn of weather, say the sort of wind that could fling cows around like toys. The golem shifted uneasily, seeking the deepest corner of the shrine as if it recalled our earlier comments about lightning. I was shivering myself now, debating whether it looked as if the squall would last long enough to be worth the bother of undoing my bedroll and wrapping up in a warm blanket --

Liane abruptly slid across to me and fumbled one wing of her cloak around my shoulders. "You're so skinny, I don't want you to get a chill," she said, grinning as I turned my head to look into eyes the subtle bronze of an autumn leaf.

"I know bodyguards need to stay close, but this is... unexpected," I said.

"I take my job seriously," she said, looking a little too solemn. "If keeping you warm turns out to be part of it, then so be it. Besides, I'm cold too."

"I think that's probably more the truth of it," I said, and she laughed.

"Well, I would rather be tucked up in a nice warm bed, overall, but I'm afraid this will have to do. Is it helping?"

It was, actually, the line of her along my side distinctly an improvement over the rest of me, and I caught my mind wandering off into an abstract daydream that shattered when I tried to look at it more closely. "If this keeps up much longer, maybe we should think about setting up camp here," I said. "Though it'd be cramped."

"I'm sure the Lady wouldn't mind," she said, craning her neck up at the effigy. "But do you really think we ought to? That town down there doesn't look that far away. And..."

"What?"

She shrugged, her cloak slurping off my shoulders. "I don't know, I've just been kind of... spooked, lately. Since Obermond. I think I need to be around people. Does that sound silly?"

"Hardly," I said.

The town wasn't very far away at all, once the rain did blow through, only another hour's walk or so through barely-budding orchards, and we arrived well before twilight for an unaccustomed view of a village that wasn't bustling around preparing to close up for the night. Down in the lowlands and this close to a trade road, the villagers had been lavish with tile and slate and brick; the inn's own ocher brickwork put me painfully in mind of Tremare's eccentric Keep. For the sake of Liane's nerves we decided to share a room and a bed despite having the option; "And I mean not to let you out of my sight for the rest of the night, either," she said once we had dumped our baggage and settled in over our supper in the dining room, cosied up to a side-hearth fragrant with the smoke of fruitwoods.

"Now you're getting me spooked," I said, setting my spoon down in my soup. "Is this based on anything substantial, or is this some sort of mercenaries' intuition?"

She frowned, not entirely willing to look me straight in the eyes; "Maybe a little of both; I just keep thinking, since Obermond... how crazy was that man? I mean, obviously very, but... would he have had the sense left to take the sort of precautions I'd take, in an operation like that?"

"Meaning...?"

"Well... the sensible way to run it, to a merc I mean... Always have someone that the other side doesn't know about."

It was a chilling thought, and I sat back in my chair, ransacking my recollections of Sorson for anything that might suggest an answer to her fear. "He was always better at working with dead people than live ones," I said. "I do like to think that I would have noticed if we were being followed by any ghosts --" I closed my eyes and listened, but found only the usual turbulence of ordinary remnants, including one long-ago murder in an upstairs guestroom that I made a note to ask the proprietor about before we left. Not our room, fortunately. "Well, short of sitting down for a formal Working to be certain, I think... I think we've just both had a shock, is all."

Still seeming unconvinced, Liane hunched over her supper again, eating with a detachment that suggested she wasn't tasting much of it. Which was rather a shame, it was the best meal I'd had in months. I savored it, listening idly to the buzz of conversations around me punctuated with the occasional sharp crackle of a barmaid discouraging an unruly hand with a not-so-subtle spell. "One could do worse," Liane finally unbent enough to say over the cobbler. "Are you wanting to go straight up to bed, or can we sit a while and see if anything resembling entertainment presents itself?"

"I suppose I could stand to be around people a bit longer myself," I admitted, and she grinned a trifle too victoriously. "Just so we don't end up being the entertainment." Out in the lobby beyond the dining room I could see the golem waiting under the turn of the stairs, the only space we'd found for it that was enough out of everyone's way yet still in sight. It looked bored.

"I can just see someone asking the golem to dance," she agreed cheerfully. "Although I'm sure you'll have taught him all the social graces --" A fussy baby at the table behind Liane started squalling outright, and the merc twisted around in her seat to confront the young mother; "Look, Ma'am, if he's teething, I think I might be able to help."

"She," the mother said automatically, and I thought I saw a flinch try to crawl across Liane's shoulders. "Really, I can --"

"Oh, it's no trouble," Liane said smoothly, picking up the nearest clean spoon. She crossed her eyes slightly at it, concentrating, and after a moment or two of this I saw faint traceries of frost dulling the silver bowl. "Here, let her chew on this --" The baby latched onto the chilled spoon eagerly, gumming and drooling and most importantly not wailing, and her mother thanked Liane with a weary smile. The mercenary was chuckling to herself as she turned back to face me.

"Generous of you," I said, feeling my lips twitching with the effort not to grin.

"Now, my brother the Coldfire can do that with his fingers," she said. "And I've heard the most revolting gossip from his friends. I think I'll stick with the spoons, really. Doesn't Tremare have any silly little exercises you can use to impress the yokels?"

"Nothing so useful," I said, and a stray thought made me turn round to the hearth; "But if you'd like to see one of the useless ones --"

"If you would," she said, and I could see her leaning closer as I went picking through the twigs and fragments in the kindling box. I took up a good-sized wand of gray-barked wood and held it out across my hands, feeling how a nudge in just the right place would remind it -- Across the table I heard Liane draw in a breath. "I thought you said you didn't want to end up being the entertainment."

"It's the followup I worry about," I said. In my hands the twig wriggled like it had a terrible itch, latent buds swelling and leafing out with a ferocity one rarely associated with trees. When it had erupted along its length into a foam of white blossoms I told it to be still. "This would last longer in water..."

"I'll ask the barman." Liane pushed back her chair. "Can I...?" At my shrug she leaned down and took the flowering scrap from my hands, cradling it as if she half expected it to wither and vanish or pop like a bubble if not handled just so. I watched her duck round the elbow separating the dining room from the bar and found myself smiling at the notion of what a hardbitten countryside barkeep would think of the out-of-season blooms.

She was gone for quite a while longer than seemed appropriate; just when I was beginning to contemplate scenarios involving variations on either waylaid or wandered off, though, Liane saved me getting up by reappearing from round the corner, flowers sticking out of one of the inn's sturdy stoneware mugs in her left hand and two more mugs in her right. "You should see this redhead at the bar, he's got hands bigger than yours," she said, sounding incredulous.

"That would mean trying to stand up," I said. She snickered and set all three mugs down on the table.

"The barkeeper," she announced, sounding very pleased with herself, "was so delighted to see flowers after the winter they've been having that even after I explained that it was only magic, he stood us to a round of drinks anyway. And the mulled cider smelled too good to refuse. So if you don't like it, I'll drink it."

"So long as they haven't put too much brandy in it," I said, sniffing at the mug and then taking a cautious taste; they hadn't, for once, only a lingering trace of sweet fire beneath the warm and slightly unfamiliar choice of spices.

"It would take more than a spike of apple-brandy to put me off my sense of duty," she said, wrinkling her nose at me. "Or is it yourself you're worried about?"

"As little dignity as I have left these days, I'd rather not compromise the rest of it," I said. The corner of the mercenary's mouth turned up in what might have been the beginning of a grin.

"There's probably not much that you could do which would shock me," she said, eyes dancing provocatively above the rim of her mug as she raised it to her lips. "I've travelled with Scaldberries."

"Scaldberries only set fire to things," I said. I saw her eyes dip down towards our table's unseasonable centerpiece, tiny roses defiantly snowy against the dark pottery, and return to mine with a new murky uncertainty in their depths.

"I suppose I'd rather not wake up with any ghosts in our room," she acknowledged. "Especially not mine. Would you rather I --"

"No, it's not that strong," I said, and sipped at it some more to prove it. The brandy in the cider was actually a little too respectable for the purpose, reminiscent of Tremare-Outlier's better efforts, and I wondered if a return visit here in the fall would betray trees clotted heavy with the fabulous red of Moonblood apples. Unauthorized cuttings from the jealously guarded trees though they'd have been, I found myself hoping with a surprising ferocity that it would.

A Flowerhair courtesan with her braids knotted below both ears, signalling her willingness to be quite accommodating, was looking over at our table speculatively, obviously somewhat short on custom for the evening yet. Liane followed my gaze and sniffed. "Like either of us could afford an amateur right now, much less quality -- you are such a blusher," she said in surprise, lifting a hand to touch my cheek lightly. "Remind me not to take you to any card games. I bet I'd be able to clean out any table of Seventrails I went up against, wouldn't I?"

"Most likely," I mumbled. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Flowerhair drifting her way around the angle into the bar; somehow, I almost suspected that having her off our scent had been Liane's unspoken desire. The mercenary certainly had entirely too satisfied an expression on her face all of a sudden.

We sat for a while, not speaking, content to sip at the spiced cider as it slowly cooled and luxuriate in the novelty of being off our feet and still mostly awake to enjoy it. Dinnertime seemed to be winding to a close, a more boisterous crowd beginning to collect in the half of the dining room beyond the central hearth, closer to the bar. Liane sat partly turned in her chair, looking as if she were debating with herself whether or not to suggest we remove to that end of the room. From this angle I could see a wayward tendril curling at the nape of her neck where it had escaped from her tight topknot, and the dimple in her earlobe where an off-duty merc might deign to wear a ring.

With a slurp Liane accounted for the last of her cider. Squinting disappointedly into the mug, she set it on the table; "What do you think, should we try for another?"

"You're trying to get me drunk, aren't you."

"I'm just curious to see how many drinks it would take before I couldn't understand your accent at all, is all," she said innocently.

"You're a fine one to talk." She grinned at me.

"I like the way you speak, though," she said. "It goes nicely with the exotic name. But I suppose you're going to spoil it now by telling me your name means something like 'another one to have to buy shoes for', right?"

I flushed and looked down at the tabletop, scuffed patina-green tiles figured with a slightly overrationalized compass-and-straightedge abstraction of grain. "Papa said it was his people's word for something like a pumpkin. I had a twin, Mama must have been --" I held my hands way out, and she giggled.

"I suppose it's better than what mine's supposed to mean," she said. "Mum had no idea. I am going to have another, do you want one?" I shrugged, and she made a second foray into the bar, reappearing more quickly this time than the last. "The redhead's gone," she remarked, settling back into her chair. "I still can't believe those hands. So, you had a twin, you said?" I grimaced. "Alike or not?"

"Not," I said. "He was normal. Railan and Lailan, though, they were the second and third oldest of us, even we couldn't tell them apart if they didn't want us to, until one of them chipped the other's front teeth fooling around with a snaffle bit, and then we only had to try to get one of them to laugh. Fortunately, they were both pretty ticklish."

"Khavran has a like-twin," Liane said, sipping her new cider. "Who went to Scaldberry, if you can believe it. I bet my Mum could have matched your Mum story for story. Where was your father from, that you all have such names?"

I took a wary taste of the mug she had set in front of me, more of the brandy-warm cider; "Somewhere across water, he didn't even know how to explain where it was from here. I have this garbled recollection that Mama said she bought him somewhere, but I'm probably confusing it with the story of how we ended up with Redbelly. Goddess, I hated that bull."

"I think you are getting a little drunk," she said, cocking her head at me. "Maybe we ought to just go up to bed. Or not," she added after some few moments, and I realized that I'd been staring at her blankly. "It looks like someone's setting up."

I turned to see what she meant and saw that a group was forming around the central hearth, to-ing and fro-ing and rearranging of chairs and tables gradually coalescing into a semicircle facing one patron seated crosslegged on the raised hearthstone. A storyteller, evidently, no instruments in sight, and now with a ritualized boast that she knew how the Goddess had gotten Her cloak, she launched into a prose tale in a clear voice that carried nicely all the way over to our table. I expected, given the locale, to hear the bawdy version that took place in an apple orchard, refined Death all silk and ermine and pearls and an ending that involved audience participation when there was fruit in season to throw around, but instead this woman chose an older story of Their meeting in the morning of the world: the puzzled Lady searching for one of Her horses through heavier and heavier summer snow, as the sun threatened to cede its place to the sudden alien moon and Her very hair began to change from grasslands-gold to vibrant red, and finally discovering the bloody-muzzled pack of strange pale wolves curled beneath the impossible ice-white blanket of their sleeping Master's own hair --

I pushed my chair back from the table as the storyteller was coming to the part where She confronts the naked newcomer, looking into the eyes like reflections of the moon, and demands to know where He has come from -- and He answers, just as startled as She, I have always been here... Liane stood up with me, looking upwards curiously; "The last time I heard this story in a tavern, a little girl turned to me afterwards and asked me if I ate raw horsemeat too," I explained. The archer made a face.

"I would have been interested to hear how she handled Their big argument over which of Them made the world," she said, but she followed me out into the greater lobby, evidently meaning to stick literally by her earlier resolution to keep me in her sight. The golem was waiting patiently at the foot of the stairs, a cloak draped carelessly over its arm where someone had mistaken it for part of the decor. I took the cloak away and draped it over the newel for its owner to collect later. "So what did you tell the kid?" Liane persisted.

" 'Only on special occasions'," I said, and clomped up the stairs, hearing her chuckling behind me. (In fact this was true, but only because she'd happened to ask one of the few necromancers who still had to put up with his birth-Guild's unreasonable ideas about grand ceremony. The other Tremare had been livid when the distorted anecdote filtered back up to the Keep.) I found the heavy iron key in my back pocket and fumbled open the door to our room, ignoring the way the golem heaved its shoulders in a silent sigh as it settled itself where it could keep watch on our door and still be out of the way in the narrow corridor.

The room was as nice as the dinner, fat copper lamps with mica shades adding a cozy light to the fire in the hearth and a feather-stuffed quilt plumping out the bed. Liane sat down to pull off her boots and nearly toppled sideways across the whitework coverlet when the first one popped off. "I bet you haven't seen a decent featherbed in even longer than I have," she said.

"You'd win," I said. "I can barely remember what a featherbed is." I pulled my own boots off, leaning on the bedpost, and set them on the cheery rag-rug on the side of the bed I intended to claim. My socks wanted mending.

Liane pried herself out of the featherbed and went to hang her jerkin over a chair. "I probably punched the loom-cards for that bedspread," she remarked, eyeing it critically. "I thought I'd go mad copying that chart. Does it have a nasty word woven into that corner by your foot?" I looked, and recoiled, and she chortled. "I wonder how many more years it'll be before Mum notices that. Um, I have to..." She jerked a thumb vaguely in the direction of the door and slipped out, leaving me to entertain fanciful notions of some horrific fate managing to befall me in whatever short span it took her to complete her business.

I peeled out of my black sweater and my shirt, since the room seemed warm enough to sleep in my winter underclothes, and I was standing trying to sort out the entwined sleeves when I heard the door open and close once more; Liane came into the room, and stopped beside me, and out of the edge of my eye I noticed her outstretched finger coming to hover at my right wrist. "So there was someone," she said, teasingly.

Feeling my face turning that bright Seventrails red, I tugged my undershirt-sleeve back down over the bracelet; "Just a friend. I think he was worried the winter at Whiteraven might go giving me ideas about staying there... Sorson was originally a transfer from Whiteraven, come to think of it. But I gather they were a bit more sociable than he cared for. Or maybe it was because our winters were warmer --"

"Somehow I think you're trying to tell me the wrong half of this story," she said, rather too smug a look on her face.

"Well, what ought I to say? Baran was the last of the Tremare I ever saw alive." I turned away from her and stuffed clothes roughly into my pack. "Until the other day. And you see how that turned out."

"I'm sorry, I've put my foot in it again, haven't I."

"I know you don't mean to," I said. "Sometimes it's hard even for me to believe." I risked glancing back over my shoulder and saw her fiddling at her jerkin, trying superfluously to smooth the crease where it hung over the chair. "Look, it's all right, really."

She shrugged, reluctant to pursue the question if I wasn't willing, and turned herself to an inventory of her baggage that was perhaps a bit more thorough than she usually seemed to conduct in the evenings. I made my own trip down the hall (much to the bewilderment of the golem) and by the time I came back into the room she was putting out the lamps, padding around in shirt and unders and woolly socks. I sat down on the bed, keeling over into the soft feathers, and presently I heard Liane saying: "You'd be more comfortable if you took your trousers off." I opened my eyes a slit, all I could really manage, and she added, "Just an observation."

"Mphh." With a snicker she turned back her side of the blankets. Eyes still mostly closed, I managed to kick out of my trousers and squirm under the blankets without entirely waking myself back up. The trousers themselves landed in a dark puddle on the rag-rug. I felt Liane settling herself into the other half of the bed, figuring out with tentative prods where my feet had ended up and accommodating herself to the situation with only a little bit of unnecessary shoving, until at long last the bed stopped heaving and we both lay quiet, the firelit dimness settling heavy over us like an extra quilt. Even with my eyes closed the room was spinning faintly.

"Well, good night, my copper-eyed Death," Liane said half into her pillow.

Between fatigue and brandy I had to think about this for a while. "That doesn't even scan well," I finally said.

"My other metaphors were even clumsier," she assured me. "Maybe by the time this is over I'll have come up with a better description..." She yawned and settled herself deeper into the featherbed.

"Papa called them 'hazel'," I said. She seemed to be asleep already. I rolled over onto my stomach, shutting out the firelight with the crook of my arm, and melted into feathery dreams:

She sits on the hearth with apple blossoms woven behind her right ear, in the empty dining room, waiting for me to approach and kneel at her feet. "You didn't wait for the other half of the story," she chides gently. " 'When He touched Her horses, half of them became stallions; when She touched His wolves, half were bitches. And He looked at Her, and She looked at Him --' "

"I don't want to hear this story again," I say.

"But I want you to hear it."

"I can't meet your price."

And she draws her finger down across my heart --

I roused, barely cresting the surface of sleep, and discovered myself spooned around the unprotesting mercenary, my right arm clutched contentedly to her chest like some extension of the blankets. I began to extract myself from this compromising position, but Liane whimpered in her sleep and tightened her grip. Well, all right, then, I thought, too sleepy to really argue, and soon fell back down into disturbing impressions of a narrow space and someone peering at me.

When I woke up for real at last I was alone in the bed and this didn't seem correct. While I was still lying there trying to work out who I was and where I had left my feet Liane came back into the room, half-dressed and looking damp. "Oh, you are up," she said.

They weren't men's unders, I couldn't help noticing, a line of tiny violets embroidered along each side-seam. "It's late?" I said, trying gallantly not to stare as she whisked into her trousers.

"Not particularly, you were chasing rabbits half the night and I thought you could use a little more sleep while I got a wash. It's your turn to buy breakfast, do you want me to run down and get them started on it while you get yourself put together?"

I picked up my trousers and handed her an approximation of the probable bill, and she flitted out, leaving me in peace to try to remember how my clothes went on. The cleanest shirt in my bag at this point was my best shirt, the one with the tiny silver acorn-cap buttons at cuffs and throat that echoed the larger brass ones on my coat, and it felt like forever before my sleep-muddled fingers had managed to find and fasten the last of the wretched things. Liane was already sitting over two breakfasts when I finally staggered downstairs. "I thought I didn't care for mornings," she said when she saw me.

"I've slept better," I said, peering into my biscuit; someone had already dressed it with a dollop of honey. Wearily I set about scraping it out with a spoon and replacing it with marmalade.

"I didn't mean to get you all riled up with my stories," she said. "I feel a lot better now, I think I just needed some sleep. Oh, here's your change." She held out a fist and dropped a few small coins into my waiting hand.

I started to close my hand on the coins after a cursory tally and paused, eye caught by a familiar acorn-cap crosshatching on several; "The innkeeper gave you these?"

"Well, the barman," she said, frowning. "Why?"

"Nothing, probably," I said, pocketing the money. "Just... I haven't seen Tremare coins in a while, it startled me." I'd had small-town shopkeepers refuse Tremare Guild-notes more than once in the last year or so, as the news of my Guild's demise filtered out, but apparently here by the trade road at least the coinage continued to circulate unremarked.

The Flowerhair was sitting at a table near the door when we left, looking as if the night hadn't agreed with her either. She grimaced at us as we passed, and I couldn't help but wonder who or what had so soured her outlook. Or possibly only her opinion of us -- I shook my head, wondering where that thought had come from, and we passed blinking out into the rising sunshine of the inn's courtyard. It was a brisk morning, but clear, washing hanging limp on a line in a stark contrast to yesterday's brief gale. Evidence of the storm still lingered in the form of murky puddles and swathes of mud; a yawning stablehand was sweeping ineffectually at these with a pushbroom, looking as if there were any number of duties he'd rather be seeing to than this.

The coach-steps had been put out already, a crate of chicks labeled to be put onto the next carriage to a presumably nearby hamlet sitting forlornly on the top step. The golem seemed fascinated by the frenetic peeping coming from the crate. "You have seen chickens before," I told it crossly when it didn't follow us past the steps.

"I'd be happier if we had coach fare too," Liane remarked, stifling a yawn. "Or is he worried about slipping in the mud?" The wind, or possibly the stablehand, had deposited quite a lot of slurry near the coach-steps, a drain in the middle of the patch doing little in the way of removing it. Two hoofprints stood out clearly at the edge of the drying puddle.

Two unshod hoofprints...

"Are you coming?" Liane said from the street, and I looked up at her, startled. "Or is it the both of you are hatching a plan to free those chickens?"

"No, I..." I turned away from the puddle and hurried to catch her up, the golem reluctantly tearing itself away from the crate and following. "Someone's been through with a barefoot horse, struck me as sort of odd."

"Now I've got you doing it," she chuckled ruefully. "I suppose now you're going to tell me that Sorson's one virtue in your eyes is that he doesn't believe in horseshoes?"

"I doubt he's considered the question," I said, glancing back over my shoulder with the vague feeling I was being silly for doing it. "Although none of Tremare's horses believed in shoes; my Blackbird kept filling their heads with how Seventrails know horses should go shoeless like the Lady made them until our farrier had to quit. And then he went and blacklisted us so we couldn't hire another."

"Tremare's hardly the only place to have that problem," she said, and I had to concede that in the absence of other evidence it wasn't exactly plausible that two stray hoofprints meant anything at all. Still, as we passed through the town and turned to follow the road along a slow-flowing river I found myself peering at any hoofprints I saw in the gravel, trying to discern whether I could make out the marks of shoes or not, and I couldn't break myself of this habit for a number of days.

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Comments
morgynleri_fic From: morgynleri_fic Date: March 29th, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
*makes grabby hands* More!

*settles in to do her best impression of an (im)patient cat*
owensheart From: owensheart Date: March 30th, 2010 03:54 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Oh I love the little bit of back story you have given for these characters.

Great story!
otrame From: otrame Date: March 30th, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
I am really enjoying this, hon.
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