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original fiction: Tin Man [11/16] - 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 [11/16]


Chapter Nine


The morning of the world, and I gladly bear my Lady on my broad back when She desires to thunder across the land with Her firstborn, Her horses, Her best-loved creations. I am Hers. But now, as for the first time the unchanging sun changes, begins to fall from the sky into the west with a shift of the glorious light, She bids me halt, and slips from my neck, and comes around to face me with Her curious upright form.

"The night comes, beloved," She whispers to me, and takes my moon-white muzzle between Her hands. "And I cannot be with you so near on the next Day. You shall have to watch over your people in My place."

Anything, Lady, I say, and bow my head to Her. And with the ghost of a sigh, Her grass-silken hair cascading around me, She touches Her lips to my brow, and I stand before Her in the upright shape as She wears. "Lady," I say again, marvelling.

And She draws me down to the soft meadow flowers, and says, "There is one more magic you must learn before the night." And rides me in a new way, until I cry out with wonder --

"Will you shut up?" Liane's querulous voice came from across the burned-out campfire. "You're going to turn us all into frogs."

I looked round for Her, heart-sore and body burning, for an instant more, before the dream finally faded into the gray dawn light. "Whrrgh," I said, delirious human mouth still trying to whinny.

Liane tossed crossly in her blankets and sat up. "Damn it, I guess it's morning anyway. We may as well move on, not that I got much sleep. What's got into you? You woke me up a couple times last night too before you ran out."

"I woke you up?" The sudden terrible suspicion that I'd been babbling away all night about my increasingly unprofessional feelings towards her froze me to the heart.

But, "I know your voice by now," she was saying, "even through a mob like that. And you kept mumbling. I'd hear it and think you needed me for something, but you were just out. If I'd known you were going to start talking in your sleep this late in the game, I might have stayed in Roadmeet."

I wish you had -- no I don't -- yes, I do, well, I should. I sat up amidst my wadded-up blankets, glad of the dimness, and wondered what had become of my left sock in the night. "It's only that... being around Seventrails isn't good for me, now I'm dreaming in stories Mama told me when I was little," I said. ...Even if that's not the ending she'd have given it...

She staggered up out of her blankets and looked down on me, appraisingly. "If it's anything like the stories those women were telling me about Seventrails men, I don't know if I want to hear it," she said, and went rummaging around in our baggage. "Your people are crazy."

"They're not my people anymore," I said. And paused. "What were they telling you about Seventrails men?" I finally asked, morbidly curious.

"A host of things that had more to do with horses than even I can stomach," she said, blithely. "I thought I'd met some mercs with filthy minds. Some of it if I repeated it to you I think the golem's head would melt. You don't really -- um, well, no, I guess that would be anatomically implausible, never mind. Wouldn't fit in your trousers," she added wickedly, and I went giddy from the blood rushing to my face. "I'm sorry, I don't meant to torment you, it's just that it's so easy."

"I'm really not in any mood right now," I said. Wouldn't fit in my trousers, indeed. And they complain about us. Never mind that it echoed how I felt right this moment. I waited until she had busied herself with rolling up her blankets to get up and begin doing the same, back discreetly turned until my mind had managed to wrest control back from my mutinous body.

"So what story was it that had you yelling 'break me, break me'?" she asked as she tore a round of flat Seventrails bread in two and passed me the other half, and I began to wonder if I was cursed to spend the rest of my life an unattractive shade of crimson. "Something about horses, I hope."

"With Seventrails it always comes back to horses," I said. "They say the Lady crafted us from Her horses, to watch over them for Her when She couldn't be with them."

"That's so sweet," she said, and looked as if she even meant it. "Sure beats the Silkshuttle tales about spiders. The other kids always called the Silkshuttle kids bugs."

"Spiders aren't bugs," I said, vestigial reflex from my teaching days spasming. "I can't see you as a spider, anyway. A horse, maybe; one of those mountain ponies that the Redwaters breed, the dun-coated ones with the darker manes. You're certainly bad-tempered enough." She laughed.

"And you would make a fine horse, with that face," she said. "And those legs. And that mane. A fine white stallion, lord of his herd. For all that you're blushing yourself chestnut now," she added archly. "Are you all right?"

"You're not the first person to say that to me," I mumbled into my bread. She raised an eyebrow in what looked like amusement.

"From that look, it was at least meant kindly," she said. "At least." I felt the color creeping even farther down my neck. "Ah. Another secret love from your past, eh? Was she pretty too?"

"He was my best friend," I said. And snuck a look in time to see her peeling her eyebrows out of her hair. "And yes, he did mean it that way. Necromancers may be a chaste and abstemious lot by and large, but we're still human."

"Knew you had to have broken a few hearts with that face," she said, regarding me with a faint grin.

"We have got to get moving for Priara," I said, lurching to my feet. "How far away are we yet?"

"Um --" She dug the most plausible map from its outside pocket on her pack and consulted it, frowning, as she wedged the last of her bread into her mouth. "Umphle urphle --" She swallowed; "Most of the day, looks like. You're right, hot dinners and beds beckon. Think the golem's coming with us?"

I looked towards the woods, and soon enough the golem emerged from the brush, twigs in its crest and looking somewhat as if it had been having an interesting night of it. It had a brownish smear on its breastplate that I found I didn't really want to think about. "If only to find himself a better job there," I said, and it rewarded me with a rather don't tempt me jut of its chin...

Priara was a village more the size I expected villages to be, in fact somewhat smaller; a vast relief, after Roadmeet, but it meant that there was only one inn, and at the moment there wasn't even that. Apparently a fire some weeks before had damaged their facilities beyond habitability and repairs were still in the preliminary stages, so the village spokeswoman apologetically offered to try to squeeze us in with her own massive brood for the night. "Let me guess: boys on one side, girls on the other, and the littlers all in the middle?" Liane said to her, laughing. "Ah, that brings back memories. That sound all right with you?"

I shrugged, not knowing what choice we really had at this hour, and she went up to inspect the proposed arrangements. I lingered outside on the porch, not entirely wanting to know, and distracted by an undercurrent of violence and healing and death coming from somewhere very near. Despite the hour there seemed to be quite a lot of traffic going on around one of the nearby barns.

If this upset was something that was going to be going on for much longer I wouldn't be able to get to sleep; reluctantly I found myself drifting towards what seemed to be the focus of the disturbance, a cluster of farmhands with lanterns gathered around a stall in the smaller wing of the barn, providing light to a healer who crouched over a horribly wounded dairy cow. The cow's ginger coat glistened with gore, black in the lanternlight. "Unless you can help, get out," the healer snarled at my intruding boots when I pushed through the lantern-bearers. Sweat glittered on his brow.

The cow shivered under his hands, and I saw its heart stutter and still. The healer dealt it a frustrated thump and rocked back on his heels with a fantastically obscene word, glaring up at me. "Well, that's that, then, and I hope you're glad of it. Who are you, anyway?"

"A necromancer," I said, incensed, and knelt beside him in the straw. "Have you got a knife?"

He looked at me like he thought I was mad, and I couldn't exactly blame him. "Why?"

"Because I can help. Have you got a knife?"

"Sweet Lady, I suppose it doesn't make any difference at this point," he said, and handed me the camp-knife from his belt. I drew a shallow line across my left palm, while he watched me skeptically, and returned the knife to him.

I'm doing this for a cow, sweet Lady indeed, I thought, laying my hands on the cow's ribcage roughly over where I recollected the heart ought to be. "Be ready to heal her," I said. "This isn't easy for me."

He gave me another extremely dubious look, but laid his hands on the cow beside mine. His eyelids slid shut, and then flew open again as I spoke a Word and he felt the cow's heart thump once under our hands. "What --?"

"Hold onto her," I gritted, grasping after the cow's fleeing lifeforce. It knew how badly its body was injured and it didn't want any part of what I was trying to do. I reeled it back with all the force I dared exert, feeling at the edge of my awareness the healer beginning to understand what I was doing; together, we managed to gather together the tatters of the cow's ghost and stitch it back into place in its flesh. I felt glassy from the unfamiliar strain of coordinating the delicate magics by the time he finally signaled that he had enough of the cow reassembled that I could let go. Released, I staggered backwards and sat down hard in the straw, wondering what I had just done. So that would work, maybe. If the Poppybalms wouldn't be scandalized out of a year's taxes from my bringing it up at all...

The back of the barn seemed dim and uncrowded, perfect to sit for a moment to collect myself; on my hands and knees, I crawled over to the back wall and sank down against it, hugging my knees to my chest and laying my head on my folded arms. I could spend the night right here, I thought fuzzily, wondering if they would let me be if I tried. Why not, the cows sleep here. Damn it all, I hate cows...

"Mister?" I felt a plucking at my sleeve, small and tentative, and blearily I lifted my head. Before me stood a little girl, four or five or so, clutching a limp tabby kitten. "Mister, somebody stepped on my kitty when my daddy was trying to fix Bluebell. If you fixed Bluebell, can you fix my kitty too?"

I looked at the tears shimmering in her wide blue eyes, and drew myself up straighter, and said, "I can try. Let me see her."

Trustingly, the girl laid the limp kitten across my bloody hands. The body was still warm. I closed my eyes, feeling the kitten's ghost fluttering around its shed body, and said, "Put your hands on the kitty."

She did, and I gathered the kitten's life up, and, gently, I breathed a Word on the kitten where it lay in our hands. The pinstriped fur rose and shivered and the kitten twisted in alarm, sinking its tiny claws into the base of my thumb. "Kitty!" the girl exclaimed, and gathered the kitten from me into a ribcracking hug.

"Take her to your Papa, now, so he can make her all better," I warned, and she scampered off, still squeezing the kitten too tightly around the ribs. I sucked at my scratched thumb until it stopped stinging, wondering if I'd done the right thing by the kitten. My head hurt. I let my eyelids slide down and leaned back against the rough planks, wondering gloomily what I would find to have to put up with once I figured out how to drag myself up to the attic.

"Your man? I think he went in the barn," an indistinct voice somewhere outside the barn door said, and shortly I heard footfalls crunching towards me though the straw. With an effort I dragged my eyes open as Liane knelt beside me, and I reached out and put my arm around her shoulders, appealing mutely for help.

"I should have known that if there was a commotion you'd be somewhere in the middle of it," she said, and rubbed my back. "Come on, the conditions upstairs are kind of squalid but it's still better than spending the night in here."

She hauled me to my feet, more than half holding me up, and somehow got me out of the barn, across the yard, and up a flight of narrow stairs that seemed unreasonably long compared to the actual height of the roof of the house. "He's just tired," I heard her saying to an unknown person at the end of the stairs, and I realized that my eyes were nearly shut. I tried to open them and I couldn't --

###


Slowly, I became aware of a faint scent of violets. Feathery touches tickled at my nose as I breathed. It was nice, but I was getting a sense that something needed my attention, rather urgently in fact. After a few false starts I managed to get my eyes unglued, which rewarded me with an uninformative and dimly-lit view of a tangle of acorn-brown curls strewn across a lumpy pillow. Gradually, it dawned on me that I was looking at the back of Liane's head. Hm?

I seemed to be fully dressed, except for my boots, which was something, at least. I shifted my weight a little, noticing an awkward seam digging into a sensitive spot, and an outraged squeak came from beneath the blankets and four hot needles sank into my hand. "Kitty?" a sleepy small voice mumbled, and the pinstriped kitten marched up out of the blankets and glared at me as it sat down in Liane's hair to wash itself indignantly.

I looked under the blanket and found the little girl from last night wedged contentedly between me and Liane, arm still curled round where the kitten had just been. "Idu'wanna get up, Mummy," Liane sighed as the assorted children who seemed to be in the bed with us began to stir. Alarmed by the sudden creaking and tremors, the kitten took flight, bounding up and onto a nearby shelf by way of Liane's head. She cried out and flailed her way awake, sending a child even smaller than the little girl onto the floor on her other side. "Whups," she yawned, and got out of the bed to help the startled and wailing little one up. All over the attic, children were tumbling out of their beds to come and watch the spectacle, and in a trice I had the large bed all to myself.

"All right, all right, it's all right, everybody go and get dressed for whatever your morning chores are," Liane barked, somewhat less motherly than militarily, and the kids scattered, startled into obedience by her tone. "Good Goddess, what a swarm," she said once the last of them had vanished through the partitions to either end of the long room. "Are you all right?"

I realized that I was staring at the embroidered violets that braceleted the right thigh of her knickers and I averted my gaze quickly, scanning the floor for my boots. "What happened last night?" I asked, wondering if I'd really want to hear the answer. "I remember something about cows."

She turned to a small mirror hung on the far wall and started to do up her hair, and I relaxed a fraction, although her state of casual disarray was still conjuring up distinctly improper notions; she did have a figure, or at least more of one than her work clothes betrayed. "You helped their healer when he was losing a patient, and later I found you falling asleep in a corner of the barn and brought you up here." She sleeked her hair into a tail and paused, and I thought that she was looking at me in the mirror. "I think you were out before you actually hit the bed. You didn't even twitch when the healer fixed your hand."

I wasn't entirely convinced this was the whole of the story, but since I had to take her word for it I mumbled something noncommittal and got up to fetch my boots. Dressed and yawning children began to emerge from either side chamber. "Go down to breakfast," Liane said to them. "You too," she added, looking straight at me. "I'll be down when I'm dressed."

I let myself be swept down the stairs by the flood of children. At the foot of the staircase the tide parted and swirled around the golem, which stood staring up into the attic. "That thing's been clanking around here all morning," the spokeswoman complained when she saw me. "I think it wanted to go upstairs but it can't seem to manage. Did you sleep well? That woman of yours had to practically carry you up last night."

"She's not my woman," I mumbled under my breath, and more loudly said, "Yes, thank you. It was... kind of a strenuous night last night."

"He fixed my kitty," the little girl proclaimed, and her mother looked at her fondly.

"Did he now? Well, then, I suppose that that's another favor we owe you, sir. Would a nice hot breakfast start to pay that off?"

"Yes, please," I said gratefully, and took a place at the table amongst the children, across from the healer. Liane came down the stairs as plates were going around and slipped in beside me.

"Heard you fixed a kitty last night, as well as the cow," she said, helping herself to the passing food. ("My kitty," the little girl beamed, and Liane patted her head.) "Are you sure that's quite good for you?"

"That's me, reckless fixer of kittens in need," I said, and it apparently came out more bitingly than I had meant it, for Liane looked up at me sharply.

"It was sweet of you; it's just... Are you sure you're up to this?"

"What choice do I have?" I glared down at my plate and tried to concentrate on shoveling in food.

I felt her hand come to rest between my shoulderblades. "I worry about you," Liane said softly. "You were worn pretty thin when this started. Is there going to be anything left of you if we ever do catch up to Sorson?"

"That's my problem, isn't it," I said, and stood up. The children all craned their necks up at me as Liane buried her face in her hands. "I need some air," I muttered.

"I think he needs more than air," I heard the spokeswoman remark as I headed for the door, and Liane made a noise that may or may not have been agreement. Cursing, I fled out into the sunshine.

If I had any sense at all I'd have stayed in Roadmeet, I thought, looking around for a suitable wall to beat my brains in against. None presented itself, so I sat down on the porch steps, staring blindly out at the road. After a while I realized that I was ineffectually pounding my fists silently against my thighs. "Like that, is it?" the healer's voice said.

"You don't know the half of it." I hunched over my knees, and he came to sit beside me on the steps.

"Why don't you just tell the young lady how you feel about her?" the healer asked. I gawped at him.

"Because I don't want to lose her," I heard myself say. The healer nodded knowingly, looking as if he'd just added five or ten years onto his estimate of my age and thought he'd arrived at a plausible scenario. "No, no, it's not --" I shook my head, feeling my face beginning to burn, "it's not the way you think, it's what I have to do, I have to hunt down a madman who doesn't even leave ghosts when he kills people --" I found I was trembling. "I can't face that myself, how can I ask her to?"

The healer stood up, dusting off the seat of his trousers. "I wish I could say something that didn't sound trite," he said calmly, "but truthfully that look of you there just from thinking about it scares me witless, and I think I'm going to go inside and kiss my children and climb into bed with my spouses. Live while you can, I'd say." And he went into the house, leaving me to stare after him in utter bewilderment. Shortly I began to laugh, nervous hysterical laughter that soon had me rolling in the road in an uncontrollable quivering fit of the giggles. I tried to get a grip on myself when I realized that Liane and several of the children had come out of the house to watch.

"I've seen horses roll in the dirt when they're itchy, but I didn't realize you took your Seventrails stories that seriously," Liane said, squatting on the porch steps. "What's gotten into you this morning? The golem's in there making a racket like someone's in the attic throwing pans down the stairs."

"If I knew, believe me, I'd stop," I said, sitting up. I still couldn't quite catch my breath. "I think last night took more out of me than I thought."

"We could stay here another night, if you think --"

"No. We can't." Suddenly I was irrationally convinced that even another night's delay would be disastrous. "Let's get to Pridening and get this over with."

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Comments
morgynleri_fic From: morgynleri_fic Date: May 24th, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
*makes grabby hands*

I'm probably going to be glad to read the next four chapters all in one go when I get back from the road trip. *is very curious what happens next*
bovidae From: bovidae Date: May 25th, 2010 03:21 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
gah! I need to magically forget about this story & rediscover it when its done. This is driving me nuts! Good stuff!
owensheart From: owensheart Date: May 26th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Oh my, I loved that he helped tha cow and that paragraph with the kitten just broke my heart.

That part right in the bigining was beautifull andactually quite hot too.

lovely fic.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 29th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)

Hmm...

>>So that would work, maybe. If the Poppybalms wouldn't be scandalized out of a year's taxes from my bringing it up at all...<<

I'm thinking this would make a very fine next storyline when you wrap up the first one. I'm really enjoying these characters and would love to keep spending time with them.
robling_t From: robling_t Date: June 2nd, 2010 06:15 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)

Re: Hmm...

The next project in the queue would actually have been a prequel set during his years at Tremare -- there's about 35k words of that floating around on various HDs around here, might even get around to finishing it someday...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 2nd, 2010 06:19 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)

Re: Hmm...

That sounds like fun, too. Please write more.
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