Orb and Arrow, Book I: Exploration

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*** 8 ***

Now the days tended into full summer. Eager to reclaim his property, Elden kept them moving and increased Brillar’s lessons. Her Life skills and her sight improved rapidly and he gave her a few lessons in Item magic, basics only. She had the cleansing spell but had gone no further. He continued to try to teach her to mend cloth but that was slow going so he switched to one for repairing metal armor which she proclaimed, “as easy as knitting bone.” No more arrows flew at her although he threatened, but her arrows kept them well fed on cwel and linic hen. They reached the outskirts of West Riversgate in only a week.

In their last few days the road had widened and there was an increase in travelers, mounted, with carts, or on foot. Once a fine carriage happened on them guarded by men-at-arms and they had pulled to the side of the road to let it pass. They’d traveled the southern route and didn’t need the bridge that spanned the river.

West Riversgate was an imposing town with a fine stone wall and several gates. As they approached one, a guard motioned them to take themselves to the merchant gate and they went, uncomplaining, first looping ropes around Jez and Bright to declare ownership and to keep the horses close to the cart. The merchant’s gate was narrower than the first but they passed through easily onto a cobbled street that widened after the gate. Houses and shops lined the streets. A butcher and fishmonger had open stalls near the wall and were doing a good business. The smell of fresh bread mixed with other town scents. Children, young or freed from their lessons, were everywhere. A small boy, pushed by an older child, fell hitting his arm on stone and crying. Without thinking, Brillar reached out, mended the sprain, and eased him.

“Have a care, niece,” said Elden, “a display may bring attention.”

“And you,” she said sharply, for she had felt him reaching out for his foldbox.

“I have it!” he whispered to her gleefully. “It seems the innkeeper kept it, or at least the charm is in that direction.” The streets had been well laid out and Elden found his old inn easily. “Yes! It’s here.”

They pulled up to the portico and he hopped out to hold Hob’s reins. “Niece, go in and ask for lodging and a barn. I don’t want to be seen too quickly.” Nodding, brushing trail dust off her clothes, she entered the inn and stopped.

The inn was high ceilinged and well furnished. Cloths covered some of the tables and sconces on the walls held lamps. The bar was long and curved and seemed to be one piece of polished wood. The stair to the right had a fine curved balustrade and the walls were hung with paintings. If Elden had been trying to hide here, he was having a fine time of it. The innkeeper, a heavy balding man, came over with a slight sneer at her clothing. Opening her purse, she stopped his sneer by handing over four pieces of silver and saying in an imperious voice, “My uncle and I require two of your better rooms and stabling for a cart and three horses. The horses,” she fixed him with a stern eye, “are to be well cared for as they are fine animals.”

Taking another look at the silver in his hand, few visitors handed their coins over without some haggling, he swallowed and stammered, “Of course mistress. At once.” He turned away calling for a servant to see to the animals, then, “Refreshment mistress?”

“Wine for two travelers, good wine, if you please,” she heard Elden come in behind her with their trade goods and take a seat.

“A fine quiet place you picked for your hideaway,” she murmured to him, but his attention was on a glass box with a plate above it.

“Look near the fireplace,” he whispered, “but show nothing.”

She glanced around casually. To the left of the fireplace she saw a glass case and knew its contents at once. A sign above said, “One copper to try this curiosity, one silver if you can open it.”

“So,” she said quietly, “he’s found a way to make money from it.”

“And a fine time they’ve had with it. Dented!” he replied with dismay.

The innkeeper returned with the wine.

“My man has taken horses and cart to the stable. Perhaps you would like to see your rooms when you finish the wine? Supper will be two more hours.” Brillar nodded. “My lass is heating water and will bring it to your rooms.”

They sipped their wine, calling when they finished. Several tables had filled as they drank and it seemed a good time to make themselves more comfortable for the evening. The rooms they were led to were not as fine as their last, but better than most. Both enjoyed the hot water, although cleansing spells were faster.

Elden had left her at the door with, “Now, niece, I think it’s time to refine ourselves for supper.”

First, Brillar had taken time to survey the room. There was a soft chair and the mattress was down-filled. ‘Good rest there,’ she thought before opening the foldbox and taking out the green dress and a pair of light shoes she had forgotten. She refreshed them with a few words. The wall held a long mirror and she enjoyed the first view of herself in the dress. She let down her hair and bushed to a deep sheen then added two small braids pulling it from her face. She fixed one side with an ornament and looked at herself again thinking that her uncle had never seen her hair except in a braid. She was just finished applying scent when there was a knock on the door. Closing and storing the foldbox, she opened it, stepping back and straightening. He glanced, then looked more keenly. She raised an eyebrow.

“Well, who would have guessed so fine a lady would come from under so much trail dust,” he commented. He looked very good himself, dressed in the greys the tailor had made with a knife and purse at his belt. “But,” he took something from a pocket, showed it to her, then removed her ornament and fixed the new one in her hair.

“When?” she asked.

“While you were buying fruit.”

She blushed slightly, turned and put her ornament on the table. “It’s lovely, many thanks uncle,” she told him as she looked into the glass.

He offered his arm, “Shall we go down?” and led her to the steps. There were stares when they reached the bend in the steps. The innkeeper rushed to meet them.

“My lady,” he gushed, but she silenced him with a wave. “We wish to travel quietly,” she whispered as he showed them to a fine table then rushed off for wine.

There were more stares then the conversations began around them again. One of the townswomen looked at her and sniffed thinking her no niece although the innkeeper had obviously announced them as related. Brillar tapped on her glass when the wine was served, gathering attention.

“My uncle and I are merchants now traveling in silver ornaments and pins. I see you’ve noticed the one in my hair. If you have an interest in our merchandise, perhaps you will ask after we have supped.” She sat with easy grace.

“I thought we were going to gather no attention,” he muttered.

“I will not be thought a harlot. Besides, I know someone who will try his luck for a copper later and may be able to open that curiosity,” she smiled at him wickedly.

Several men and ladies did come over after they dined to admire her pin and Elden went up the stairs with several of the gentlemen, telling her that they were making a fine profit.

The inn grew lively and they stayed after supper and sipped wine, waiting. Finally, a student called to the innkeeper. “Good man, what’s that in the glass?”

“Oh, a curiosity that, a fine curiosity. You can see it is meant to be opened but none can open it. It’s well made and heavier than it looks. You can use only your hands to try it - someone has dented it already - and you have five minutes to take your chance.”

Intrigued, the young man handed over a copper and received the foldbox. He turned it over and over, puzzling. He shook it, tried to open its sides and ends. He attempted to pry it open to the laughter of his friends. Finally, the innkeeper took it while the others at the table laughed.

“You try it then,” he told his friends. Taking up the challenge, two more of the students twisted the curiosity with no luck. There were no more takers and the innkeeper was taking it back toward its box, when Elden spoke up.

“I would like a try if you please,” he said, handing over a copper and receiving what he had sought.

Elden seemed to study the box for several minutes while the crowd stared amused and a few bets were placed. Finally, responding to its owner’s touch and a deft movement of his thumbs, the box popped open. Several nearby moved forward to see how he had done it. He lifted one edge, holding the box high so everyone could see that he had won then snapped it closed as the innkeeper came with his coin.

“Such a fine toy,” he said, as the man stared from him to the now sealed box. “Keep your silver and I will keep this.”

The crowd cheered at seeing the inn-man beaten, for many a copper had been lost trying to open the box.

The inn-man stammered wanting to keep the silver but loathe to lose the coppers.

“Perhaps,” Elden said in a loud voice, “we can discuss a price in a more place more private as I would certainly like to buy this.” The two left and several of the locals came to keep Brillar company in his absence. They all had questions about how he managed to open the box.

The innkeeper led Elden to a small storage room. “That box has been a fine draw for my inn,” he complained, “surely worth more than a silver coin.”

“Is it worth your life then,” came the menacing response, “because I will have what is mine,” Elden’s dagger was suddenly in his hand as he grabbed the front of the man’s shirt, holding him.

The inn-man stared at him closely. “No, you can’t be, not possible. There was word that you were dead,” he whispered, his voice fearful.

“Very possible,” hissed Elden, “and it was you who sent me out to that pleasure house where they took me.” His dagger was at the man’s throat.

“I, I……it is a fine establishment I was told, I mean it was when I visited. Truly.” The knife never relaxed.

Eldred probed and found only truth in the man’s words. He moved the knife away from the man’s throat.

“Now we shall go out together, you and I, and tell the crowd that I gave you three silvers for this.” He fixed it on his belt. “Then you will make a list of anything else that might have been ‘mislaid,’ and, if it’s worth my time, I may collect it; I see one of my surcoats there on a shelf.”

“Whatever I have that was yours will be returned, but some has been sold, some given away,” the innkeeper was fairly gibbering in relief.

“Then smile, good friend, and we go out together.”

Which they did, with Elden calling, “A fine bargain I’ve made and ale or wine for all present on my coin although we must retire.” More cheers followed. Brillar stood and went with him up the stairs to his room.

“Now you will see,” he said laughing, “what a year’s making will do.” He had no secrets from his niece/apprentice and the foldbox opened and reopened under his hands. When it nearly filled the room, she stared, dazzled, running her hand over fur, brocade and silk. Pouches held gold coins and herbs lined a shelf.

“That hat is yours, really?” she smiled impishly.

“Well, in some places, fur and feathers are well suited to impress.” He stopped as she gave a merry laugh.

“By the heavens,” she laughed, “I have found myself a rich Master.” She left him for her own room so he could take what he needed and refold the box.

Brillar slept comfortably and left the bed reluctantly. When she went down for breakfast, she found that Elden had already gone out. She ordered more corin and waited until he came in.

“For me good niece? Thank you, I am a bit thirsty.” He helped himself to the brew and turned a lip. “Sugared!”

“Well, it was mine, Uncle Elden.” She beckoned for more for him. “What news of the day?”

“The innkeeper and I have had a brief conversation in my room. What he had of my things he has returned. It seems that Reblin’s old master was here last night after we retired and has made an offer on our other items. There is nothing to hold us here longer. I stopped at the harness maker and bought us two good saddles; the time has come for us to go.”

“I also learned,” he added taking a swallow, “that there is a small teaching house of the Sisterhood just a few miles on across the river.” He raised a brow. “I thought you might like to send word to your family?”

“A fine idea, good uncle,” she replied, pleased with his thoughtfulness. “I’ll gather my things and be down in shortly.”

It took only a moment for both to be ready for the day. The innkeeper, perhaps wary of Elden’s temper, did not come out to bid them farewell but sent the stable boy with horses and cart. On the way to the merchant’s gate, they shopped a bit adding tubers, dried meats and fresh fruit to the cart. Traffic on the road to the bridge was light but they had to wait there for a drover to bring his cattle across from the far bank.

“Did you find Jenel’s partner?” Brillar inquired as they crossed the bridge and started down the road.

“I never looked,” he replied. “Probably just some courtesan hired for the evening and long gone. Let’s have one of those small melons I saw in the cart; a day as fine as this makes a man hungry.” When she reached for the melon, he gave her a shove and she tumbled into the dirt and worse, because the cattle passed along the road.

“I can’t have you forget your lessons now, can I?” he said laughing as she picked herself up and murmured the healing spells she had learned to ease her pains.

“That would have bruised,” she said accusingly as she climbed onto the seat next to him, fully aware that she smelled rank. He sniffed and turned away.

“What you have done, you undo,” she said neatly and her clothes were suddenly clean, but she refused to speak to him again until they saw the house of the Sisterhood down a treed lane. They turned left into the lane enjoying the cool under the trees. She looked at it and sighed, full of memories.

A Sister came out onto the porch of the clean white structure to meet them. Windows lined the walls, some open to admit the morning air.

Brillar stepped down from the cart and made the traditional greeting of the Sisterhood. Surprised, the Sister returned it.

“I am Brillar,” she announced, “Daughter of Darwallen of the Life Sisterhood in Laurenfell.”

“Good Sister,” she was answered, “come in, visit and rest with us a while.”

“I apologize, but we’re in a hurry. I only came to ask that you send word to my parents that I am well and in good company. Oh, and to make a gift to your house of this cart and Hob. He’s been a fine animal for us and I know you’ll treat him well.”

Garnelden was already saddling the Jez and Bright and transferring their purchases to saddle packs.

“I see,” said the Sister glancing at Elden’s foldbox, “that my report to your parents will be truthful.” The heads of curious children had appeared in the Sister’s classroom. Without looking, she said, “Back to your studies,” and they disappeared amid giggles. She smiled warmly.

“My lady Brillar?” Elden had the horses ready.

“May your travels be safe,” said the Sister, waving her out.

“May your students be less trouble than I was at that age,” Brillar answered with a laugh.

They put their horses into the traveler’s pace and made time to the road and onward following the Carlin River that flowed through West and East Riversgate. Now in full summer the heat of the sun was hard on their mounts even with their easy gait. They rode in the early morning only and rested in whatever shade they could find as the sun rose higher.

‘Rested’ is a relative word. The horses rested and the first day they were well watered at a pool the river had formed on its way to the lake, but Elden continued Brillar’s lessons.

“Swords and arrows are easy,” he explained. “Armor is the best defense against them although archers are usually in the back ranks.”

“I’ve heard we sometimes hide behind shield barriers?”

“A good thing too, as arrows fly both ways. Still there are other ways to die in a battle or just a nasty fight. How is your defense against magic?” Without waiting for a reply, he sent a weak bolt of lightning against her, but she cast it aside.

“You’re becoming predictable, Elden,” she remarked.

A frost bolt, much stronger than the lightning, left her chilled to the bone. A word from between chattering teeth, and she was warm again.

“I think, Master, that I could use a lesson or two.”

He responded with a smile. “Perhaps after lunch.”

She had hunted early in the day and close to camp, bringing down linic hens which were already roasting at the fire but not quite ready to eat.

“A swim then?” She stood and stripped down to her scants heading to the water. “Coming?”

Reluctantly he stood and followed, pausing to take off his boots. She was already in the water. The river had carved a deep pool beneath some shade trees but the water was warm enough. Elden rolled up his pants and waded.

“What’s this? The water is fine for swimming, Elden,” she said splashing him. She had, for the most part, given up calling him ‘uncle.’”

“There is something, perhaps, I should explain,” he stopped.

“You can’t swim?” she asked guessing his answer. She was treading water in the middle of the pool.

“Indeed, I lack the skill.” Elden looked somewhat sheepish.

“Not from fear of the water?” Brillar had learned to swim as a small child and loved the water.

“Only from lack of teaching and experience, I assure you,” he responded, miffed.

“Then remove your finery,” she replied going to stand in shallow water, “and I’ll be teacher for a while.”

Elden proved an apt pupil. A bit of instruction in an easy stroke, a bit of sputtering, and he could move clumsily through the water. The aroma of fully cooked hen pulled them from the pool and he cast to dry their clothing so they could re-dress.

As they ate, she asked, formally, “Master, you seemed in a rush to get to Lands-end, now we travel slowly.”

“We have hill country to cross which can be dangerous. I want the horses rested.”

She accepted the answer but felt something else behind the words. Sometimes she saw his lips move soundlessly and wondered what words there would be if they were spoken aloud. Elden’s silent mutterings were his review of spell, dispel and counter-spell, spells of War and Creature magic, spells he believed he would need in Lands-end.

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