So, there is finally a new one. Quite a bit longer in the making that usual, and I’ve never been any good at schedules. One reason is the story itself, as I had a really hard time with Niry and Laiva talking. There simply was no way the characters would go through with the script at the back of their minds and in the end I realised, that the characters were right and I wasn’t. Shame on me for taking that long to catch on. But of course, the main reason for this lengthy pause in my writing was real life getting in the way as it has a habit of doing. Writing takes more time than typing, with only a very few exceptions to that rule. Anyway, enjoy and spread the word.
The somewhere quieter in question was a small pub at the edge of the bazaar. The sign in the front had advertised it as the ‘Silver Wagon’, although the flaking off silver letters gave a much more accurate idea of the kind of place it was.
As far as Laiva was concerned it was a disgrace to every proper inn and pub. The place was dark, foul smelling and dirty. She wouldn’t have set one foot inside on her own, but she didn’t want to make more of a fuss than she already had. Niry had been nothing but nice to her so far and she didn’t really want to test the limits of his patience. She wanted answers, but she needed to talk to a merchant even more. This was what she had come to the city for in the first place. He was her best shot.
Meanwhile, Niry had settled for a table near the window. He waited for her to sit down, then took the place across from her and signed the barkeeper. Mynor made himself comfortable under the table.
‘So, what you’re having lass?’
Laiva hesitated. Her funds were rather limited as they were and if she couldn’t find someone to sign on with she would be strapped for every last iron. On the other hand it would have been impolite not to drink anything and she hadn’t had anything but the brackish water in her bottle all day.
‘I think I’m having tea.’ she finally said, settling on the cheapest option. Maybe she even got lucky and they wouldn’t charge anything for it.
Niry raised an eye brow.
‘Ah, come on lass, you can’t be serious.’
She wasn’t sure if he was being amused or offended.
‘I happen to like tea…’
‘Nonsense.’ he told her and the barkeeper ‘Make that ale and hot Jala.’
The barkeeper rushed off.
‘Don’t look at me like that. You’ll like it. Trust me.’
‘That’s not…’ she started, but didn’t get any further before Niry cut her off once more.
‘Look, lass, do you want me to look like a miserable cheapskate? What are people to say if I treat my guests to no better than tea?’
‘You don’t… Wait, guests? But I can’t possibly…’
Niry silenced her with a stern look.
‘Naturally you can. I invited you, didn’t I? See, that simple. And I bet you don’t have much coin for throwing around either, do you?’
Laiva shook her head; she couldn’t argue with that.
‘Thought so. Ah, here it comes.’
He was right. She had been too occupied with her dilemma to even notice, but there was the barkeeper with a pair of mugs, one with a white crown of foam and one steaming, which he set down in front of her before retreating to the counter.
She took the mug and carefully sniffed. It smelled like the promise of sweet rain during a drought, of spring blossoms on a dark winter evening, of fresh snow on a hot summer day and then some. It smelled so good, she hesitated to taste it, for nothing could ever keep up to such a promise. Then did took a sip and it did, and before she realised there wasn’t so much as a drop left.
Only then did she realise that Niry was watching her, and probably had all the time. All of the sudden, her head was getting all hot from a mixture of the hot drink and the blood flushing into her face. How could she forget her manners like this?
But Niry only gave her a broad smile, and said ‘I told you you’d like it, didn’t I?’
‘Yes, it’s… incredible.’
‘Comes from the north. The recipe is somewhat of a secret, I’m told, but I gather it’s mostly Jala berries. Tastes nothing like this, of course. A bit like wine, I guess.’
Laiva nodded. She had eaten wine berries once and they had been nothing like the stuff that ended up in the bottles.
‘But we didn’t come to ponder the secrets of Jala, did we?’
There was a rather uncomfortable pause with her fiddling with the empty mug while trying to figure out how to start. The last time hadn’t gone too well, after all, and she could really do without another outburst.
Before she had decided on anything to say, however, Niry broke the silence.
‘You were wondering why everyone treated you like a thief, weren’t you?’
She nodded. It was far easier if he said it than her.
‘Well, I don’t know how to tell, but you look the part, I’m afraid.’
She did what?!
‘Calm down, calm down. I didn’t say you were one of them. But just look at you. You are quite a bit past clean, your clothes look like you’ve been sleeping in them, and quite frankly I’ve know better groomed hair than yours called a mess.’
Laiva cast her gaze down. Did she really look that bad? She had cleaned up yesterday, but a lot had happened since that.
‘Oh, don’t give me that, lass. Come on, give me a look.’
Laiva hesitantly lifted her gaze.
‘There, that’s better. You mightn’t look at your best for now, but that’s nothing some water and a comb can’t fix, I’m sure. If the others would have looked more closely, they would have noticed, but looking closer can be risky, you know. Plenty of kinds out in the streets just waiting for a chance. Those in gangs are the worst, of course, stealing everything that isn’t bolted down and then some.’
He was right, of course. Merchants had to make a living, too. She could hardly hold it against them if they tried to protect their wares from thieves, could she? But it was still unfair. And it didn’t explain one thing.
‘Why did you take the risk then?’
‘Ah, call me naturally curious. Plus I have a quick eye. Your clothes are far too good for one of them, you see. And, of course, that wolf of yours is a dead giveaway.’
‘Mynor isn’t mine. He’s just… a friend.’
‘Well, well. In this case, let’s just say a fabulous friend like yours wouldn’t band up with a lowly thief, would he?’
‘No, probably not.’
Unless that thief happened to be her, she thought. She wasn’t quite sure where that had come from, but it felt right.
‘So, now that we have that out of the way, why don’t you satisfy my curiosity and tell me a little about you. Like your name, for starters. You have me at an advantage there.’
‘I haven’t told…?’
No, she hadn’t.
‘My name is Laiva. Laiva Etheril Azanee.’
‘Well, that’s quite a name you got there.’
‘I… think so?’ Well, it obviously was a name.
‘I mean it’s long. Most people I come across can’t be bothered with more than one. But never mind. It suits you. More to you than first look tells, eh?’
‘Thank you. I think.’
Niry gulped down the last of his ale, then looked at her likewise empty mug, as if trying to remember how that had happened.
‘Where are my manners. Here I talk and talk and you don’t have a single drop left. Well, we’ll see to that.’ he finally said, then turned signed the barkeeper to bring another round.
‘So, lass, what brings you to Bonia? And why are you rumpled like that?’
The barkeeper switched mugs and left once more. That left her a few moments to figure out what to tell. She didn’t want to lie, but she could hardly admit that she had broken into the city with half the guard on her tail.
‘Well, I had a bit of a run-in with a few guards on entering the city… And then I lost my way and got mobbed by, well, I guess it could have been those thieves. But Mynor chased them all off and they ran like scared chickens!’
He glanced at Mynor under the table, who stretched demonstratively, before treating him to a look of his own.
‘So you came here all alone from… You are from one of the forest villages, aren’t you?’
Laiva only nodded in between large gulps of Jala. This was so good; the most amazing thing she had ever tasted.
‘So, you are from Pala? Deres? Koto?’
She put the mug down.
‘From Pala, actually. But I wasn’t alone. I had Mynor.’
‘Naturally. I was just wondering what you were doing here all alone… with… Mynor, that is.’
‘Well… Actually, I’m looking for someone going to the capital. To sign on with… You aren’t by chance going there and in need of an extra pair of hands?’
Niry was giving her an incredulous look. She countered with a desperate smile.
‘But you’re… I mean, aren’t you a bit young for that? And your people are surely worried out of their minds with you running away.’
‘I didn’t… exactly… It’s not as if they care. They are mean!’
And she was not going back. No. Way. But Niry only looked at her and shook his head.
‘You know, lass, the only right thing for me to do’, he said deliberately, ‘would be dragging you to the guard this instant.’
‘But… you won’t?’
‘No. I doubt it would make a difference, even if I managed. And I seriously doubt I would, especially with your… friend. Not to mention that you are my still my guest.’
‘I should probably go now…’, Laiva replied, already half off the bench. Niry, however, put a hand on his arm and gave her a sad smile.
‘I’ll go. You stay and to finish your Jala.’
And with this he stood up and went to the counter in the back, where he exchanged a few words and coins with the barkeeper. So, this had been her best chance of getting to the capital. Too young… It was only because she was a girl. Well, she would show them… Somehow.
‘Just one more thing’, Niry said, stopping on the way to the door, ‘I know people stick together in the forest, but people in the plains, and especially in the cities, aren’t like that.
You see, most of those kids living on the streets never had a choice, but you have one, lass. Use it. It would be a shame for you to end up like them… or worse. You have a place where you belong and nothing is worth throwing that away. Just go to the guard, they’ll get you back home safe and sound.
And just because I know you won’t listen to reason, I told the barkeeper to give you some soup. Just think about what I said, will you?’
The worst, of course, was that she couldn’t even be mad at Niry. He was simply too nice for that.
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