*** 7 ***
The road was much improved after a night of clear weather, but there were still some areas of heavy going for them. At times they walked to lighten Hob’s load. Lessons continued with spells in Item magic which Brillar found difficult for some reason.
“See the edges of the cloth like the broken ends of a bone and knit them in the same way,” Elden encouraged, but, while bones had seemed easy for her, Brillar found cloth difficult.
“There are too many threads,” she insisted.
“There are no threads in leather, yet you can’t mend that either,” he scolded and she scowled at him.
“It feels to me like thread even in leather. Skin is much easier.” That brought a sigh from her uncle.
The lessons in far-sight proved easier and she had stretched her sight considerably. It still gave her headaches but she banished them quickly.
The next day was even brighter and the road drier so that they made good time. They stopped for the night by a quick stream swollen by the rains but with a dry bank. The horses had an easy time finding good grass and the camp was easy to set up.
Then, as she was gathering firewood, Brillar suddenly cried out in pain, and gasped to find one of her own arrows deeply embedded in her thigh.
Elden walked to her bow in hand as she twisted in pain on the ground, a hand at the bloody wound. Harsh sounds were all that she could utter, the wound was agony and oozing blood.
“Level 6,” he said, seemingly unconcerned with her agony. “You know the words. Stop the bleeding! Reach inside the wound. SPEAK THE WORDS,” he commanded.
They came out through clenched teeth as she probed the wound with her mind. The bleeding slowed and slowed again. She gritted her teeth, her chest tight, taking short gasps for air.
“Better,” he said calmly. She threw back her head and glared at him. “Forget me,” he said.
“Would…. I could,” came out between gasps.
“The bleeding has stopped, now ease the pain; let it fall away.” He waited a moment. She sucked in mana; it was already depleted with her exertion. He waited again, then said:
“Now the difficult part. Break off the fletching and push the arrow through.”
“Are you MAD?” The pain had eased further giving her a moment for speech.
“You know how to do it for others now learn to do it for yourself.”
She glared as she reached with her unbloodied hand to steady her leg, using the bloodied one to break the shaft. The new wave of pain was brief, quickly stopped by a spell. She surprised him by pushing the arrow deeper without any words from him, although she uttered more spells; then she grasped the arrowhead with her hand as it emerged. A quick pull and the arrowhead and shaft slid free from her leg. She writhed a bit in pain and stilled it quickly.
“I am apprenticed………to……..a madman,” she managed to get out.
“Now, reach into the wound and secure the small bleeding.” His calm was infuriating. She could feel that he was following her every move and withholding aid. “Now the torn flesh and muscle, slowly, we are not threatened, take your time.”
“I am the only one threatened,” she muttered as she spoke the words seeing each bit as she healed and fused it. Her breathing became much calmer and she began to relax. Still more healing.
“Now the last, the outer flesh,” he said.
The entry wound closed first; the exit wound followed. Brillar lay back shaking; she was exhausted and drenched in sweat. More than half an hour had been spent in the “lesson” most of it in pain. He waited; then, judging her sufficiently recovered to return to the camp, reached out and offered a hand. She batted it away, furious. Without looking at him, she rolled herself onto all fours and struggled upright swaying.
Camp was only a few paces away, but they went slowly. Her leg was stiff and aching although she knew that she could ease that in a few moments. She reached out for more mana, feeling it flow into her, renewing her, uttered a few more words then collapsed by the fire.
Elden sat down casually, with easy grace, as if nothing had happened.
“Did you think, my good apprentice, that a spell of that power could be truly learned by practicing words? Or perhaps you thought you would learn it in battle when time was important?”
She gave no answer knowing he was right.
“And… there is still water to be fetched,” he added leaning back and looking contented.
Scowling she fetched the water, then, smiling impishly, sent the entire bucketful down on his head leaving him sputtering until a spell made it vanish and dried his clothes.
“I seem to have slipped,” were her innocent words. “I will, of course, fetch more.” She still limped slightly but the prank made her smile. Behind her, she could hear him laughing. She felt something move at her leg and found her leggings mended and the blood gone. Perhaps a lesson or two more in Item magic might be a good thing.
In the morning, the last of the ache was gone but she still glared at him when she mounted the cart.
“A lesson well learned?” he asked.
“Well learned,” she agreed grudgingly. “How were you taught?”
“Much the same way, but with a sword,” came the reply, “and took much the same retribution, although it was a small rain of pebbles.”
At this, they both laughed and started the cart.
“Didn’t know I had skill with the bow, did you,” he said merrily as they set off to more laughter. Noon was an easy meal. Her Master, as she now fully admitted him to be, even fetched firewood. His small scratches she healed quickly.
“From what the potter said, I think we will reach Healdsten in an hour. Our time on the road has been well-spent,” he commented dousing the fire. “Then we will see if we can make a profit on the load. Paying for this lot has left me with a light purse.”
She burst out laughing and he stared.
“Uncle, I wore out two pairs of boots with walking and stayed in many an inn. A foldbox can hold more than herbs and hair pins.”
“Money? And you have let me spend my coin with no thought to the lightness of my purse,” he made his voice petulant which fooled her not in the least.
“Have no fear. I just know that a man prefers his own coin. A moment only and I will refill your light purse.” Brillar opened the foldbox and took out some silver and two gold coins.
“By the Light,” Elden exclaimed, “I have found a rich apprentice!”
She laughed. “Wherever I traveled, there has usually been need of a skilled healer. From the wealthy, I accepted a coin or two, from others, a place to sleep and a hot meal,” she explained. “The merchant whose son broke his leg in three places was very grateful, it was already part healed and twisted.” They remounted the cart and set off.
Their road now led between fine herds of cattle, sheep and horses. It was good land for grazing but a bit boulder-strewn for farming. They passed a few cottages near the road with small stone-marked gardens in cleared areas near them. Children came to gates to wave or played with toys near doors. It appeared that carters were often seen on the road and not feared.
As Elden had predicted, Healdsten soon appeared and looked to be a more prosperous town than Eafel. Still, like all good country towns, this one had an inn at the entry road. A planked walk in front of the inn and a roof over the door proclaimed the inn to be as substantial as the town.
Elden called, and a man came to the door.
“Good afternoon, good folk,” he greeted them, “and welcome to the Sword and Shield, the finest inn and rooms in Healdsten.”
“I wonder,” uncle whispered to niece, “if there is another.”
“Welcome, welcome, you will need stabling for the horses of course and a place for the cart,” he whistled for the stable boy who was already nearly there because he had seen their approach from the rear of the inn.
“Ah there you are lad. Be ready to assist these fine merchants.” Glancing at Brillar, “You’ll not need a bow at our inn mistress, for we have a sheriff’s man here who keeps order. And we have a good tub for washing as you seem to have found some mud on the road.”
“You have not named a price,” remarked Elden, unmoving. “We will need rooms, supper and a good breakfast, for we hope to sell our goods and move on quickly.”
The innkeeper looked them over a bit. “Four coppers for each room, three for each meal, two for each horse, one for watching the cart,” He began to count on his fingers. “A silver and seven in all, worthies.”
“And would two silvers find us with better over all,” asked Brillar. “The trail was long and refreshment scarce.”
At the sound of two silver coins, the man’s eyes widened. “Aye, mistress, and a bottle of wine with your supper.” She handed over the coins.
“Wife,” he shouted and they jumped from the cart, handing Hob’s reins to the stable boy, “we have company.”
Elden had a few words with the stable boy, handed him a copper and joined her in the inn.
The lower portion of the inn was stone, but two stories made of wood stretched above then. Ceilings were low and heavily timbered. The walls were plastered and whitewashed and the innkeeper had hung prize animal heads as decoration. The cold fireplace was massive and spoke of many a merry winter festival at the inn.
The innkeeper came out with two pints of cider, “To wash away the dust,” he said, lingering. “Harkort, is my name, my wife is Salma. If you have need, just call and one will answer.” He paused, waiting.
“Elden, merchant, and this is my niece Brillar. I’ve been teaching her the trade.” He saluted Harkort with his tankard.
“Well met, then, well met. And what are your wares then for I know all the sellers in town, and a fine town it is I can tell you. We’ve 900 or more here, yes 900, and some respectable homes for those who have coin. Why, there is a fine cobbled plaza in the center of the town and good shops around it on cobbled streets. Then down the roads you can find those that make – workers in leather and cloth, gold and silver. Fruit sellers, fish mongers, we even have dyer of cloth although they be a fair pace from town, the smell you know.”
It seemed that Harkort would go on forever, so Elden put in, “Is there anyone likely to buy good Eafel pottery?”
“Well, then, do you plan to stay the night only and want to make a quick sale or will you stay and set up a stall on market day.”
“A quick sale would suit us and back on the road in the morning,” Brillar spoke up.
Harkort thought about it. “I’ll confer wi’ me wife, a moment only.”
He returned with her as they finished their ale and Salma spoke up, “My brother has a stand on market day and could like sell what you have. I sent our lass to fetch him.”
Her brother, Kenlen appeared at the door, a bit breathless and Elden took him around to the cart to show the wares while Salma took Brillar to a room where she could “wash off the countryside,” she was told. It was a simple affair, an overhead tub of cold water that could be opened to flow down as the washer scrubbed. Still, they were trying to seem ‘ordinary’ and Brillar used it at once.
She had finished and redressed when Elden returned, looking pleased. “Sixty in silver,” he remarked as he sat to sip the last of his cider. “Kenlen seemed to think that he could sell it for a nice profit and can store what he doesn’t sell quickly.”
“Did he suggest wares for us to buy? Perhaps from another member of the family?”
Elden glanced at her. “In fact, niece, when he heard we were heading to West Riversgate, he suggested silverwork. The silversmith in town had a good trade there making ornaments for ladies of the town. He moved himself here when he married a local lass from a good family. I am told that, although he makes less money here, he prefers it to a larger town. Carters are said to have reported a good profit from his work.”
Elden took himself for a quick wash then dressed and they sought out Reblin the silversmith. Together they picked out several dozen intricate pieces at a good price. Elden lingered a bit in the shop while Brillar walked the plaza and bought two unusual pieces of fruit.
“Uncle,” she called tossing him one as he came from the shop. “What did you learn?”
“His old master had been sorry to lose him. He gave me the names of several people who might be interested in his pieces.” Then, quietly and with command, “What do you see?”
In a respectable town with a sheriff’s man in place, they had both relaxed, perhaps a bit too much. She continued walking and reached out.
“So many people.”
“Sort them,” was his hard whisper.
“Brightness, children at lessons, housewives.” She almost stopped walking. “Behind us, some darkness, three men, drink, I think they may have noticed us, our coin and purchases.”
“I think we should go and take our supper, then retire. Well done, niece, if a bit slow. Supper then sleep with our weapons at hand.”
She had felt quick pleasure at the “well done” and rankled at “a bit slow.” Supper with wine sounded fine to her as the fruit had improved her appetite rather than dulled it. They kept their walk easy and casual until they reached the inn. She could feel one man following them and told Elden in a whisper getting his nodded agreement.
Their supper was indeed better than the normal fare they saw around them. Salma had prepared a roast hen in savory herbs, fresh vegetables, warm bread and a custard for desert. Harkort brought an open bottle of wine to the table and poured it into tall glasses. Their meal brought good natured comments from the other folk at the tables but none seemed to begrudge them their food since, like good merchants, they had cheery smiles and ‘hellos’ for all.
Brillar sipped appreciatively at the wine and then took several swallows. “He keeps a fine vintage for the weary,” she said looking at her uncle who had barely begun his wine while her glass was half empty.
“A very fine vintage,” he replied, too quietly, “although another lesson is in order, as you did not inspect the wine.” Guiltily she reached out to the drink, testing it, and finding something wrong.
“More of the roast hen for you, niece, and bread to soak up the wine for I don’t recall teaching you that cleansing spell yet.”
Brillar forked more hen into her mouth. “In fact,” her uncle added, “it might be well to finish the bottle and appear to have succumbed to whatever is in the wine. I’ll cleanse it latter.”
He took a deep draught of the wine encouraging her with a nod, raising his glass in a toast. “To a fine inn,” he said to the applause of the company, and tankards were raised all around.
As they ate their custard, Brillar could feel the heavy effect of whatever had been in the wine. She staggered a little on rising and was steadied by her unsteady uncle. Salma rushed to them and held her other arm as she guided them to their rooms. Brillar managed to reach her bed and threw herself on it. Once safely in his room with the door closed, Elden spoke quietly cleaning himself and then Brillar of both wine and sleeping potion. In the next room, she was suddenly wide awake and alert. Finding their rooms joined by a locked door, she rapped quietly and joined him when he opened it.
They spoke in low voices. “How long do you think,” she whispered.
“There’s still some light. After midnight when the inn is empty,” he replied. “You can sleep a bit with your blade beside you. I’ll keep watch.”
“There was no darkness here,” she said confused.
“Someone else is at fault here, not Harkort. Perhaps the wine dealer is in league with the robbers. We shall see tonight or in the morning.”
She went back through door, and he closed it. There was a candle in the room and she shuttered it. Its light might be needed. Armed, she stretched out not on the bed but on a chair after crushing a pillow and blanket on the bed into something like a sleeping form. Her purse, boots and cloak she left in plain sight on a small table by the bed. Confident in her uncle’s watch, she managed to doze a bit.
He woke her sharply and she gripped her dagger. There were footsteps in the hall, and she moved quietly to station herself behind the door. She heard keys in both locks and smiled grimly. The thieves were about to get a surprise. The man in her room moved quietly to her purse and cloak on the table, turned and headed back to the door.
In one movement, she un-shuttered the candle and slammed the door with her foot. Startled, the man dropped her things. “Stand down,” she barked, showing the knife. In the next room, she could hear noises. Unarmed, but faced with what he thought was a mere woman the thief lunged at her.
Brillar dropped the candle, sidestepped his lunge and slashed his arm. The knife bit deep and he screamed. Next door she heard a crash then Elden was in her room, stamping at the candle. “Do you mean to set the inn alight?” he demanded.
“I was busy,” was her steady reply, pointing at the bleeding man. There was a rush of footsteps in the hall and bright lanterns.
“By heavens,” it was Harkort, followed by a serving man. “What is this commotion? What’s all this here.”
“Thieves,” replied Elden, “come to take what they could in the night and leave us dead.” The servant was dispatched for the sheriff’s man.
“Not dead,” said the thief from the floor where he was holding his wounded arm and rocking. “I carried no weapon.”
Elden threw a short sword on the floor. “Not you perhaps, but your friend was ready to kill.”
“I didn’t know,” he pleaded.
Salma was heard on the stairs, a robe wrapped around her night clothes and with another lantern brighter than the first. Harkort went to Elden’s room and came back shaking his head. “A fine blow was struck there,” he said chuckling. “He’ll sleep into the day and wake sore.”
Salma just stood aghast. “That this should happen in our inn,” she cried as other guests, wakened from their sleep, came to see what had happened. Elden went to her and put an arm on her shoulder. Brillar could feel his comfort flow to her.
“My good lady,” he said soothingly, “these are none of your guests.” Her soothing joined his and extended to the other guests. “It’s obvious that they came by stealth and stole the keys. This is none of your doing and the speed,” he emphasized, “at which your husband came in response!” He chuckled. “Why I have never seen such concern for guests.”
At his kind words, and the kinder quiet spells, she calmed just as the sheriff’s man came up the stairs sword in hand and ready.
“What’s here,” he demanded of the assembled company.
“Theft here,” responded Brillar taking up her purse from where the thief had dropped it, “and perhaps more in the next room.”
“Send for a healer,” he commanded the servant. “And have someone send up a mop and bucket,” he called after the lad.
“I’m Thorstes,” he told Brillar with a slight bow, “the sheriff’s man here. He looked at the wounded man. “You’ve a fine hand with a dagger,” he said looking her over in surprise.
“Better with a bow,” said Elden coming back to the room. “Harkort supplied some rope and we’ve tied the other for you.”
Both men wore rough brown homespun and well-worn boots. They looked akin and the injured one confirmed the other was his brother.
Thorstes gathered the short sword and a knife from the other man. “Best see if anything is missing,” he said to Elden who assured him that everything was in place and accounted for.
“I heard him come in and used my fist before he could act,” said Elden flexing his hand. Brillar was surprised to see that it was actually bruised.
The serving lad arrived with a healer and two men who helped Thorstes with his unconscious prisoner. Brillar felt a sudden darkness and straightened, staring. Elden nodded to her. As the men took the prisoners downstairs, Elden had a quick word with Thorstes as she listened. The others had returned to their beds.
“That man in the dark red shirt, do you know him?” he asked, “I think we saw him with the other two earlier in town when we were buying silver.”
“All three are new to me,” Thorstes replied. “You can be sure that inquiries will be made and answers found.” He nodded to them both and left.
Salma bustled up again with a mop and a maid to do the cleaning. “Such doings in my respectable inn,” she fumed, rattling some new keys. “You’ll not want those rooms now,” she insisted. They gathered their things and followed her up a second set of stairs. “I think you will find these suitable,” she said opening two doors. “We keep them for the lords who sometimes happen by.” She quickly had candles lit. They showed larger and finer rooms than those below.
“You do us too much service,” Elden said with smiling grace and a slight bow, leaving her flustered. “But it’s late and we’re tired. We’ll see you in the morning.” Salma dropped a curtsey and fled.
“Well,” said Elden looking around, “a fine reward for doing away with ruffians. Sleep well, niece.” He entered his room and closed the door. Setting her things down and undressing, Brillar flopped on the bed and squirmed comfortably in its warmth.
‘Let’s hope the local healer hasn’t my skill,’ was her last thought.
Her new accommodations had heavy curtains at the windows and Brillar was alarmed when she opened them. She’d slept late. Muttering a cleansing spell, she opened the door and found a ewer and basin in the corridor. She carried them into the room, washed her face and hands then, finding a mirror, she shook out and combed her hair before rebraiding it. When she finally went down to the necessary and breakfast, she found Elden in conversation with a group of locals.
“Good morrow, Brillar,” he called and beckoned her over. There was bread, honey, and jam on the table and she greeted her uncle hastily before taking a bite of bread and jam. He laughed heartily.
“My niece seems to have developed an appetite after her night’s work,” he told the group, laughing again.
“And how is that bruised hand this morning,” she asked with a little smile. “Still sore?” He flexed his hand as the group laughed at his discomfort.
“Perhaps I should see the healer,” he mused.
“She’s busy with thy niece’s work,” came a voice from the crowd which roared in response.
Salma bustled up with a laden tray. “Now you’ve had your news and told it. Be off and let the lass eat,” she told the crowd.
They disbursed leaving Salma to say, “Now then, you seem well this morning and here’s a fine breakfast and corin for you.” She hurried off.
Brillar sipped the hot brew, added honey and smiled, then applied herself to breakfast while Elden told the morning’s tale; the sheriff’s man had already come and gone.
“All three were in on the game,” he began, “one to tamper with the wine, the others to do the robbing. The healer is dealing with the one you sliced; you cut him to the bone.” She nodded. “Your friend, Thorstes, has them in a locked cell. He wanted us to wait for the judging,” he looked at her, “at least he wanted you to wait,” she scowled at him around a bit of sausage, “but I told him we must be on the road. There are enough to tell the tale. I also had Salma’s serving girl go round with some coppers and buy us food for the road. All is packed and readied for us.”
“You have been busy,” was all she said and went back to the room for her few things there. Salma and Harkort came out to bid them goodbye. “We hope you won’t be holding all this against us or passing word about it on the road,” there was pleading in his voice.
“Not a word,” Elden promised. He clicked the reins and they started off, Jez and Bright following.