7. Threads Unravelling
Crescents of snowflakes continued to pile up in the corner of the inn’s windows. The Mayor’s big brown eyes watched them pelt the pane before her with reckless abandon.
“No sign of this storm letting up.” The petite woman pecked one of the small squares at eye level with a finger.
The Innkeeper came through her front door, allowing some of the long shadows to invade the space before her door severed them.
She dusted her overcoat with violent slaps. “Whew! Well, the other buildings are secured.”
The Vicar turned from the healthy snapping flames. “Any sign of the others?”
Her dark red curls shook. The Innkeeper dropped her stare to the bear skin rug near the fire.
“And the Miller?”
“None.” The Innkeeper removed her outer garment, hanging it on its usual hook. “Not that there’s much to see out in that void.”
The Taverness strode out from the kitchen to join them. “Looks like the sun’s about down.”
The Innkeeper nodded.
“Not much in the line of defenses.” The Taverness cocked her white hair in the direction of the backroom.
The Vicar turned his back to the fire, rubbing his hands. “We don’t really know what we’re up against.”
“How can we be so sure,” the Mayor said, tracing shapes in the window’s condensation, “that this Kannen girl isn’t completely delusional?”
Their host wandered over next to the Vicar and knelt closer to her fire and wrung her pale hands. “We don’t. What we do have are two bizarre visitors, a missing neighbor, and rumors.”
One of the Taverness’s shoulders elevated. “She seemed pretty convinced.”
“Hysteria can be very convincing.” The Vicar ran a hand around the ring of blond hair on his head.
The Taverness crossed her slender arms. “The rumors of similar accounts have been going on for a while.” She eyed the others. “We all know that.”
A stone silence fell over the room. The Mayor climbed down from atop the table and hobbled to the room’s heart. “There’s no denying that.” Her tone was flat and factual. “How do we know we can trust her?”
The Vicar tucked his hands into his robe’s pockets. “We have to assume the worst.” His voice drew all eyes like a magnet. “Whatever this affliction is, it’s made its way to our corner of the world.”
“Be that as it may,” the Mayor said, strolling around the room, “what defenses do we have against such an onslaught?”
The Innkeeper righted herself before the fire. “The Smithy won’t have enough to outfit all of us.”
“Even if he did,” the Vicar said, rubbing some dried bread dough free of a fingernail, “there aren’t enough bodies here to wield them.”
A huff came from the Taverness. “We don’t even know what we’re up against. What weapons would you use?”
The Innkeeper’s gaze drew the Vicar back to the mantle like a moth to a flame. While the others went on with their debate of defenses, she leaned closer. “There’s something we should discuss, Vicar.”
He studied her stern features. Genuine concern resided behind her eyes. “The loaves didn’t rise?”
The Innkeeper nodded. “Accompany me to my office?”
She closed the wooden door behind him so as to not make a sound. The Vicar strode to the small window next to her desk and peered off into the growing darkness.
“Those travelers showing up here is no coincidence.”
The holy man crossed his hands at the small of his back. “I was thinking the same thing.”
She strode to the edge of her writing desk. “Someone among us is a traitor.”
His eyes fell to the stone floor. “One of them invited this evil upon us.”
She closes the gap, an index finger stroked his forearm. “The question is, who?”
Back out in the main room, the Mayor and the Taverness had cooled off. The Taverness went to the smoldering embers and knelt down to toss another log into them.
“That’s an interesting tattoo you have.” The Mayor eyed the inked interpretation just below the Taverness’s tailbone. “A fox.”
The Taverness stood up in a jerk, tugging her black tunic down. “What of it?”
The little woman drummed her fingers against one another. “Tattoos, foxes, and solitude. Almost all of the trademarks of a certain lady of fortune, if my memory serves.”
The Taverness crossed her arms.
“What did they call her?” The Mayor searched the room for the lost memory. “The Arctic Fox?”
The Taverness sauntered closer to her accuser. “There aren’t many little women in this region, now that you mention it.”
The Mayor shuttered and rubbed the nape of her neck.
“Talks of your tomb raiding and pocket picking circulate still.” The Taverness orbited her prey with deliberate paces. “I’m sure the authorities would be eager to learn of her whereabouts even after all this time.”
“You put too much faith into those bedtime tales.”
The Taverness stopped in front of her and bent down close. “And, that brand on your forehead…” she swept some of the little woman’s black bangs aside. “I know the mark of the Thieves’ Guild when I see it.”
Back behind closed doors, the Innkeeper righted her torso away from the door. She paced to the back wall and turned to face the Vicar. “You heard them, lover.”
He took cautious steps closer. A quivering hand lingered over her breast before retreating back inside his robes.
“A raider and a thief.” She took him into her arms and pecked him on the forehead. “One no better than the other.”