A Harvest of Broken Stars

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Chapter 30: Chris

Later that evening Gilmir went down to the inn’s common room. He had persuaded Hobble to give him coins for a glass of wine. Finding a place in the back corner, he sat down. He located the serving girl called Chris and lifted a finger when they made eye contact. Putting the coins on the table, he ordered a glass of wine.

When Chris returned with his drink, Gilmir said, ‘I wondered if you could help me with something?’

‘Sorry, it’s busy tonight. I have no time to chat,’ Chris said with a slight rural dialect. She picked up the coins and turned with practised efficiency.

‘I am sorry about your father.’

Chris stopped, and turned. Staring at him with narrowed eyes, she asked, ‘What do you know about my father?’

‘I’ll tell you, if you help me with something.’

Chris studied him for a moment, as if she was seeing him for the first time. Gilmir knew he would get the help he needed.

‘I’ll come back when I have a break,’ the serving girl said, before heading back towards the bar. A brown armless dress revealed the girl’s arms. The right limb visibly more muscular than the left. Gilmir let his glance fall to her legs. The left more toned than the right. Another piece of the puzzle.

A half hour later Chris came and took a seat on the other side of the table. The glass in front of Gilmir was almost empty despite his attempts to make the wine last. Fortunately, in that regard, the wine was not especially tasty. It was a dull, fruity thing, with a stale, earthy aftertaste. However, it was wine.

‘Any chance of a refill?’ Gilmir asked, lifting the glass and shaking it.

‘If you have the coin,’ Chris said without a smile.

Gilmir sighed and put the glass back down.

‘What do you know about my father?’ Chris asked.

‘You first. Do you know an old drunkard called Saendar? I need to speak to him. Can you arrange a meeting?’

‘I know of him, yes, everybody does,’ Chris said, frowning. ‘But …’ She trailed off, her gaze locked on his. ‘Okay, that is all? A meeting with Saendar? When?’

‘Sometime tomorrow is fine.’

‘Okay, I’ll make it happen. Now, tell me what you know about my father.’

Gilmir realised he should not say anything until after the meeting. There was no possible way to tell how she would react to what he had to say. In fact, he did not have much, and she would most likely end up disappointed. He could ruin it all by telling her now. On the other hand, he did not remember the last time he spoke to a female. It felt good. Normal. Even a human girl. He took the last sip of wine, and held up the empty glass.

‘Fine!’ Chris took the glass and stomped off.

This is going great, Gilmir thought, chuckling to himself.

Soon Chris thumped the wine glass on the table in front of Gilmir. ‘Now, sir, you start speaking.’

‘Of course, fair lady,’ Gilmir said, lifting the glass. ‘We have a deal. I tell you what I know of your father, and you set up the meeting with Saendar tomorrow?’

‘Yes, spill it!’

Gilmir took a sip of the wine to hide his smile. He enjoyed this more than he should. Putting down the glass, he started his tale.

‘You and your father lived in the countryside. Just the two of you.’ Gilmir studied the girl intently while he spoke the last sentence, watching her reaction. Her eyes widened a little, her pupils dilated ever so slightly. ‘He used to be a soldier.’ Chris leaned forward a little. Another hit. ‘When he died, you moved into the city.’ No reaction. ‘You got a job here. The owner is an old friend of your old man?’ The girl’s eyebrows knitted. Falling stars, he was slipping. ‘Your father taught you everything you know, you were very close.’ A hint of something in her eyes. A little generic, but closer to the target. Chris lent back on her chair and crossed her arms. She was on to him. He leapt for it. ‘His name was Christopher. He was a sergeant in the Grey Kings army until he retired. You still have his sword.’ Her eyes shifted to the left, the pupils growing a bit again. A strong finish, Gilmir congratulated himself. Lifting the glass to his lips, he took another sip of wine. It was getting better.

‘You did not know my father, so how did you come up with that story?’

Gilmir studied the girl for a moment. Either he had missed more on his deduction than he thought or there was more to this young human woman than he had first suspected.

Gilmir cleared his throat. ‘The bracelet you are wearing, and the belt you wore the other day—they are both more fitting to a grown man. The belt is similar to the weapons belts used in the army, and worn. Especially where one would expect a scabbard to be fastened. I suspect the bracelet is of sentimental value. Whereas the belt serves several purposes. Your dialect revealed that you’ve not grown up in the city, although you try to hide it. And “Chris?” Gender-neutral names are not common for humans living in the countryside. I guess you took your father’s name or a short version when you moved here. After he died, that is. Your hand is calloused’—Gilmir nodded towards her hands now resting in the girl’s lap—‘indicating that you are used to harder work than serving drinks.’

Chris stared at him in silence for a while. Crossing her arms again, she said, ‘And the part of him being a sergeant in the Grey Kings army?’

‘Mostly a guess,’ Gilmir said, studying her.

‘So you did in fact not know him.’ Chris could not hide her disappointment, moisture gathering in her eyes.

A stab of bad conscience hit Gilmir who opened his mouth to reply. But the girl was faster.

‘Or maybe,’ Chris said, balling her fists, ’I stole the stuff from an old, annoying guy, after beating him to death with my bare hands for telling me nonsense stories about my life!’ The young woman pushed her chair back, and rose.

‘Wait. If you do set up the meeting with Saendar, I can give you some pointers on your swordplay.’ Chris stood staring down at him. ‘For a small fee, of course,’ Gilmir added with a smile.

’How do you … What do you know about swordplay?!’

’I know enough to tell that your stance is unbalanced. You always lead with your rapier, and trail with your left foot. Which is fine for fencing at your uncle’s garden party, but not effective in real combat. When that old man comes at you with murder in his eyes, you need more balance. Both in your body and in your stance.’ He did not like that the girl had indicated that he was old. For an elf, he was young. Besides, he was not supposed to show any signs of ageing. The time in the prison cell had taken its toll, and, although feeling much better, he still had a lot of mending to do.

‘I’ll set up the meeting.’ Chris turned on her heels.

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