Sunday, December 16, 2012

Paid in Gold and Blood Chapters 5 & 6

Starting every Sunday and Wednesday, I'll be posting two chapters at a time of my upcoming fantasy novel. Please comment and let me know what you think. The novel will be released after it has been presented here. Links to the previous chapters can be found HERE.

Chapter Five

The second guard walked ahead of him through a long passage beneath a stone-lined archway.  Small, dark windows looked down from the close-fit stones of the gray walls, and Katashan knew bowmen would stand guard there in times of trouble.  They had the same sort of entry ways at home.

Should he have stayed home?  Should he have learned to live with the pain of loss, perhaps gone back to the temple?  So many choices he might have made that would have precluded pulling the body of a dead woman into this courtyard.

Or maybe not.  The Goddess had obviously directed him here.

He banished those thoughts and concentrated on what he must do.  He could hear whispers echoing eerily around him and the sounds of footsteps in the passages behind those windows.  He kept his head bowed and concentrated on what to say.  How much of the truth?

He dared say nothing of the magic.  If he hadn't been drawn into this trouble, he never would have used the blade, and he had no intention of using it again -- except, feeling the weight of the body he pulled behind him and the brush of magic that came from her, Katashan knew that likely a promise to himself he would not keep.

Still, as far as the locals were concerned, he wanted to be nothing more than merchant moving south in hopes of starting a new business.  They need never learn more about him.  If he settled in a small town like Salbay and stayed clear of the capital, it was unlikely he'd ever even see another countryman.

However, if Peralin was right -- and why wouldn't he be? -- Katashan knew his troubles were just beginning.  If he were wise, he would probably hand over the body, make a wild display of magic, and scare everyone into letting him leave.

And do what?  Live in the hills like a wild animal as he had after he escaped slavery?  He'd had enough of that in Sidien.

The guard took him through another metal gate and onto a hard-packed dirt yard.  Horse stables stood to the left, close enough that a few of the horses started at his arrival and brought the stable boys at a run.  Beside the stables an array of tack sheds gave way to a smithy filled with smoke and the clang of iron on iron.

People moved everywhere and he found far more of the gray cloaked soldiers within than he had expected.  A guard stopped and searched him, surprised to find he carried no weapon.  As usual his little ritual blade went undetected.  It really wasn't much of a weapon as soldiers would see it, anyway. 

They also made a quick search of the travois, only lifting a corner of the blanket, though the soldier patted the rest down with an obvious show of distaste.  Others gathered, words whispered in a rush, making it impossible for Katashan to follow anything except the feel that no one was happy .

A tall man arrived, dressed in what appeared to be wellmade servant's clothing.  He looked at the travois and shook his head with disbelief.  "Captain Serrano will see him right away."  He waved towards the main building.  "This way."

Katashan took a quick look around, hoping the fog had not already started building up for the night.  There was a problem he had not considered.  He might have to ward the body in some way to keep these others safe.

They crossed to the inner bailey of a square, stone building that looked as though it had been carved out of stone rather than built from it.  A man came out through the wide, wood doors, brushing back a strand of dark hair that had blown into his face by the evening wind.  The others nearby came to attention.  The guard who had silently escorted him this far saluted.  This man, with a silver crescent on the shoulder of his black tunic, had to be a person of power.

Katashan gave him a proper bow, but he looked back up to meet the man's glance, refusing to be too subservient in this encounter.  He knew he would already be counted lower by virtue of being an outsider.  He needed to hold to his dignity in order to face down what could be a serious problem, if the locals decided to make it so.

"Tell me about this," the man said, nudging the travois.

Katashan knelt down by the body and began uncovering her while he told an abbreviated (and very boring) tale of how he had found her body at the base of the Verina Shrine where he had gone to pray.  Being from the north, and a follower of the old religion, they didn't seem to think that unusual, at least.

He'd gathered quite a group before he pulled away the last blocks of melting ice from around the dead woman's face.  That first -- he hoped he didn't have to uncover the knife, not in this much company.  That seemed something better left to a more private group.

Uncovering the face drew reaction enough.

"Oh Gods curse all," Captain Serrano said softly.  He dropped down on his heels beside Katashan and ran both hands through his hair.  Until that moment he had seemed aloof and unconcerned.  Now he looked worried.  "That's Lord Arpan's daughter, Sherina who has been missing since last fall."

"Just before the first snowfall in the pass, I imagine," Katashan said.

The Captain nodded and then frowned.  "You've brought us quite a problem."

"I didn't feel it right to leave her there."

"That's true enough."  He ran his hand through his hair again.  Katashan saw a hint of grey,  though he didn't look very old.  This was plainly a stressful job and he had just as plainly made it worse.  "It's just not the kind of problem I like to have dumped at my door step."

"I understand," he said.  He nudged the man's hand, drawing his attention and carefully folded back the edge of the blanket so that only he could see the knife.

"Damn," the Captain said softly again.  He nodded and Katashan let the blanket fold down.  Captain Serrano stood and looked around the group.  "We better take her inside.  I'll also need to send a rider to the estate and someone else needs to go down to the city to bring back Pater Matish.  I want this handled properly.  Gorton and Briggs.  Go."

Two men took off at a jog.  The others took that as a dismissal and quickly disappeared, obviously hoping the Captain wouldn't find something for them to do as well.  For a long moment Serrano stayed there on his heels, his head bowed.  Katashan wished he knew what the man thought.  The Captain's head came up again and he finally nodded as he stood.

"Bring her inside."

Katashan started to bristle at the order -- he was not one of the man's soldiers -- but he swallowed back the ire and pulled the blankets around the body once more.  He reminded himself he had to get used to being subservient to the locals.  The captain looked back at the door and then signaled one of the other men to help carry the bundle up the steps.

They slipped into the cool, dark interior of the building. Captain Serrano spoke quietly to a shadowed man to the left, who hurried away on his own errand.  Then he moved in front to lead the way through a narrow hall and into a bright courtyard, past a fountain carved into the shape of flowing waves and dancing seagulls, and into the kitchen.  The scent of food won a growl from his stomach as they passed startled and frightened servants.

Serrano looked around and waved Katashan and the other soldier towards another door.  "That's the cold cellar.  We'll put the body there for now."

"Body?" a woman said, backing up as though she hadn't noticed the bundle they carried.

"Finish up here. Quickly.  You are all dismissed for the night," Serrano said.  "I'll take cold supper later or eat in the mess.  Go."

The cook cleared away whatever she had been working on and fled with the others, all of them white-faced and whispering.  The Captain opened a door to a cold closet, already packed with ice, and began moving some things around.  In a moment they were able to slip the body off the travois and lay it on the floor.  The captain shook his head, and pushed the door closed.

"You will guard this door, Epas."

"Sir," the man said, saluting.  He eyed Katashan with suspicion, but said nothing.

"Come to my office," Serrano said.  Then he stopped and shook his head.  "Please, come to my office where we can speak in private."

"I would appreciate learning something of what I have gotten myself into."

"Yes, I'm sure you would.  Damn mess, northerner."

"Yes sir.  I realized that as soon as I tripped over her."


Katashan and Serrano walked back through the courtyard and up some stairs into the main part of the building.  They passed what was clearly the main hall with a chair raised at the end, tables and benches elsewhere.  Servants were clearing away the signs of a meal, and Katashan's stomach growled again at the thought of food he'd missed.

They went up a floor and into an area of smaller rooms, narrow halls and more stairs.  The place seemed more a home than a fortress with tapestries hung on the walls, and rugs covering the floors.  As his eyes adjusted, Katashan could see well-appointed rooms and a few clerks working.  Servants came and went, bowing and stepping aside for Captain Serrano and his guest.

Captain Serrano led them through a maze of rooms to yet another long narrow set of stairs.  Katashan plodded upward, feeling tired, dusty, and long since ready for a real bed, and perhaps even a dip in the sea to clean the long months of trail dirt from him.  He had oils and scents in the trade goods he had brought south.  If he could get to them, he would spare a little for himself.

Servants and soldiers mingled in the halls, some saluting and others bowing as the Captain went past.  He was equally polite to all, but he didn't stop to talk to anyone.

Just when Katashan thought they might never stop climbing stairs and walking down halls, the captain pushed open a door and ushered Katashan into a suite with an office they entered, and a bedroom glimpsed through a door to the left.  The servants had banked a fire in the hearth on the far wall.

A window opened to a magnificent sunset over the bay.  Katashan walked to it without even a 'by your leave' and stared for a long moment before he caught himself and looked back.

"Your pardon, sir.  The view is magnificent."

"It is."  Serrano settled behind a desk and waved toward a chair by the fire.  "You look as though you could use the rest."

"Thank you."  He took the chair and tried not to feel nervous under the man's stare.  "Is there a problem?"

"Oh yes.  Many of them, but then you know that much.  How far from the north do you come, Katashan?"

"As far north on the Iron Trail as you can get," he answered.  "I came from Kirin, the capital of Taris."

The man winced.  "I feared as much.  Why did you come here?  Hostilities are still fresh in people's minds."

"I'm not sure why I came, except that I didn't want to stay in Taris.  I came here on a whim.  And on a whim I might sail farther south.  But I will . . . rest here for a while."

The captain looked at him for a long moment, but didn't ask the obvious question about why he left Taris.  Good.  He didn't want to start by lying or hedging his answers.

A servant knocked softly on the door and came in with a message, handing it over to Serrano as he gave a quick look to the foreigner before retreating back out of the room.  Katashan caught the sight of a younger woman, lingering at the door to get a glimpse of him.  He hoped he hadn't disappointed them.

Serrano read the note and put the paper aside.  "You realize the trouble you have brought down from the mountains?"

"I knew this was trouble the moment I saw the knife.  I did not know she was nobility, but I'm not surprised."  He leaned back in the chair, worn and worried.  "I would rather not have been part of this, sir."

"No doubt.  You'd be a fool to have courted this purposely.  And I'm not entirely certain you aren't a fool since you came in here alone with a body you knew would draw considerable trouble.  Why did you send the trader and his men away?"

"Because, in order to keep calm the last day and half on the trail, I told them that I would take care of this part of the matter.  I keep my word."

"Do you?  Do you indeed?"  Serrano sat back as well and stared again.  "I'm not sure what will transpire from this business.  I am going to insist that you stay here, as my guest, until I have some feel for the trouble you might stir up."


"Yes, my guest, to be housed in one of the rooms, not the cells.  I wouldn't have marched you all the way up here to my quarters if I intended to lock you away.  I assume you won't mind if the servants take care of you for a few days?"

He frowned.  But --

"Is there, perhaps, a bath to be had as well?"

"I can arrange it," Serrano said and smiled.  "And a meal, some wine.  I wouldn't mind a dinner conversation with someone who is not going to quote lists of supplies or discuss horse mange.  I trust that won't be too trying?"

He gave a little laugh this time, feeling some of the dread easing from his body.  He could feel comfortable here.  The Captain seemed an amiable man.

"Tyren has my belongings, including the items I brought south to start a shop."

"Tyren?  Ah, the caravan master.  Interesting man, Tyren, who travels from the south to the north and back again, trading for the last few years, even when hostilities were still fresh in the minds of people on both sides."

"I wouldn't know.  A merchant recommended him as honest."

Serrano gave a quick nod and asked no more, but Katashan had the feeling of conversations only delayed, not forgotten.  "I will have your belongings brought here for the time being."

"And searched."


"I trust you to be careful.  There are vials of expensive oils in the trade items, and some personal mementos that are irreplaceable in my own belongings."

"I shall be careful and discreet.  And you are not just a merchant.  Your speech betrays you.  You are far too well educated."

Katashan winced, even though he'd known the question would arise sooner or later. He would have rather it had been later, and not under these circumstances, however.

He thought about saying nothing, but Captain Serrano stared at him, obviously awaiting an answer.

"My father had a post in government.  I had a good education," he said, and shrugged.  "But I was also in the army during the Sidien invasion and spent a few years as a slave.  I came back to find my home destroyed and my wife and children dead.  So . . . I came south."

Serrano blinked.  Perhaps he hadn't expected so much truth.  Katashan couldn't even say why he gave the story, except there seemed no reason to draw this out in long, painful conversations.

He looked down at his hands, taking a few deep breaths.

"I'm sorry," Serrano said.

Katashan looked up, and spread the hands in a gesture meant to convey . . . something.  He wasn't certain what, but the Captain nodded. And they were saved from any further soul-searching conversation by another discreet knock at the door.


A soldier stepped inside this time, saluted and cast one wary glance at Katashan.  He began to wonder if they got many foreigners here at all, though that would be odd for a port town.

"Yes?" Captain Serrano asked.

"Sir," the man said, looking back at his Captain.  "Pater Matish is nearly to the outer gate. Do you want him brought to your office?"

Serrano appeared to consider it for a moment.  "No, he'll need to see the body.  We'll meet him in the courtyard."

"Yes sir."  Another salute, a last discreet look, and then he left.

"I probably shouldn't have brought you here after all, but I wanted some little privacy to ask my questions," Serrano said.  He shrugged.  "Would you like a quick glass of wine?  We have time."

"You are kind, but I don't think it wise.  My last meal was sometime yesterday, and I think you shall want me coherent when the priest arrives?"

"Ah."  He pushed papers around on his desk, and then stood with a shake of his head, as though he knew he would never get to the work.  "As soon as we're finished with this business, I'll have a cold dinner brought up and we'll talk about other things."

"As you wish."  He dreaded the thought of standing again, of walking back down to deal once more with this body.  Katashan, remembering what Peralin had said about the priests and power, wondered if this man might have a sense of the magic involved. His head pounded at the thought, and he regretted having come straight to the city with the body.  A night, resting in the woods, didn't seem like such a bad idea now.

Except he would likely have faced another fog and the gods knew (or apparently didn't) what else might have come after him.

By the time Captain Serrano stood from behind the desk, the world had already turned dark outside the window.  He closed the shutters on his way out, tying them with a leather thong and they rattled in the breeze.  Katashan reluctantly stood and followed the man to the door. The pause in the madness had been too brief.

Captain Serrano only said a few passing words on the way back down to the lower levels.  He had the look of a man who had fallen into a pit and wondered if the shifting of dirt he heard came from friend or foe.  He didn't rush, and they reached the lower hall just as the guard escorted a gaunt man into the courtyard.  Obviously, Serrano knew how to time the journey. Katashan half held his breath as he waited to see if he would face an enemy or not.  He had not intended to search out any of the local priests when he arrived, but so far, there had been far too many things he hadn't intended but had already managed to do.

The tall, lank man stood covered in a long dark cloak, though he pushed back the hood to show an angular face of indeterminate age.  He seemed very calm.  Beneath the cloak he wore an equally dark, long robe, tied with a white rope, which indicated the man held a high position in the temple.

Oh, and a hint of power.  Katashan felt the magic and wondered if the priest could feel the same from him.  He saw no indication in the man's attitude.

"Captain," Pater Matish said with a polite nod of his head.  He looked to Katashan, his face emotionless.

"This is Katashan.  He brought a body in today, and I sent for you." 

Pater Matish nodded and said nothing, but Katashan could see a hint of worry in around the dark brown eyes.  Had he picked up the hint of magic from Katashan, just as he had from the priest?  Or did the man worry about the body?  Either, or both, might be likely.

Serrano abruptly turned away and started out of the hall, as though he purposely avoided any questions by the priest.  Pater Matish again bowed his head and indicated that Katashan should go first.  Having the man at his back made him uncomfortable as he listened to the quiet shuffle of bare feet on the floor.  The man was either a true believer who followed the dictate that one must always be in touch with the world, or else he was very good at the show.

Or maybe he just didn't like shoes and sandals.

The Captain sent the guard at the cold storage out into the hall and pulled open the door when they arrived.  Katashan stepped to the side as Serrano began to unfold the blanket from the face.

"Ah --" the priest said as he came forward.  He looked toward the doorway and lowered his voice.   "Sherina.  This is not good."

"There is worse," Serrano said just as quietly.  He drew back the blanket all the way to the waist.  "We found your missing ritual blade."

"Oh." The priest went down to his knees the move had the look of something he had not planned to do." 

Katashan stepped back, surprised to find out where the knife had come from since a ritual blade, devoted to a god and purified by a priest, could be more trouble.  Or not?  He hadn't felt anything particularly holy about the blade.  And they did things differently here in the south. 

Captain Serrano put a hand on the priest's shoulder.  "No one but the three of us knows about the blade.  I wanted you to see it first. I've sent for Lord Arpan, but he's not likely to arrive before sometime tomorrow."

"Yes.  You found her?" Pater Matish asked, looking up.  He priest had turned very pale.

"I did.  Silver Pass, at the foot of the Verina Guardian."

The priest's eyes grew a little wider.  The man did know that probably meant further complications.  And then, before Katashan could react at all, the priest did what Katashan had feared most. 

He whispered a spell to detect magic.

Matish slowly ran his hand over the top of the body, the little glitter of magic settling like a frost on the form, brightening where magic lay concentrated in the head and the area around the knife.  Katashan couldn't tell how powerful the priest might be or if he could sense Katashan's magic so nearby as well.  He held his breath and began to compose his thoughts in Cyrenian, hoping if he explained well enough this man might understand.

However, instead of turning to him and demanding an answer, Pater Matish drew his hand back, frowned, and looked at the Captain without even a glance at Katashan.

"This is not good, Captain.  There has been considerable magic involved in her death. The use of a ritual blade from the temple is very troubling."

"I feared as much," Serrano said with another sigh.  "What do we do now?"

"The magic is done," he said.  "I think, for the sake of the others, that we remove the evidence of a crime worse than murder.  The people will be frightened if they learn there is dark magic afoot again."

"Again?" Katashan asked, despite himself.

They both looked up, frowning as they turned to him.  Katashan almost cursed aloud for having drawn their attention.  In fact, it would have been wiser to act as though he didn't understand the language nearly as well as he did, though far too late to make any such change now.

Serrano finally shrugged.  "It's not as though we keep it a secret.  We had a dark mage in the area about two years ago and had to get help from the temple in the capital to finally kill him.  The scars the mage left behind are barely healed."

Katashan clamped his mouth shut before he asked more, especially concerning magic.  Salbay, he quickly decided, was not the place where he wanted to settle.  The sooner he got away, the better.

"I can cover the signs of what happened with her," Matish said.  He examined the blade, and the rope that bound her.  "At least for the moment, one else need know that we might have a problem with magic again.  Given Lord Arpan's attitude, we don't want to add magic into the pot when we tell him about his daughter's murder."

"Huh," the Captain said, less happy with that comment.  "I am in service to Lord Arpan.  I don't think keeping information from him --"

"What do you think will happen if we tell him that his missing daughter died in a magic ritual?  Do you really want to be part of what happens next?  Because you will be, since you are under his command and he's going to order you to do . . . things again."

"Damn.  Your pardon, Pater -- but damn nonetheless."

"I am asking that we be discreet," he said.  "We need not mention magic right away.  I will take the responsibility for the matter later, if need be, but I wish first to deal with the magical aspects quietly.  We can leave it as a matter of the temple, and even Lord Arpan cannot entirely argue with the decision."

"I can agree to that much," he said.  "And while I do serve Lord Arpan, my first obligation is to keep the King's Peace.  Getting Arpan worked up over magic would not help.  So I'll go along with this. We'll not mention the magic."

The priest looked up at Katashan.  "And what about you?"

"Me?" he said, and barely kept his hand from the ritual blade at his chest.

"You have heard what we've said, including the part about keeping information from the Lord of this area.  You could cause us considerable trouble."

"Not me," he said with a shake of his head as he leaned against the wall.  "I am a foreigner.  I hope to perhaps start a shop in some other village along the shore.  I do not think making enemies of the local captain and the head of the temple would be a good start.  Nor do I particularly want to be a stranger in a town where people are looking for an enemy."

"Wiser and wiser," Serrano said as he stood.  "Katashan will be spending a few days with me. Which reminds me, I must see that your belongings are brought to the fortress."

"Tyren likely knows there was magic involved.  Is there a way to ensure that he'll be quiet about it as well? I suspect it might already be too late."

"He's not a local, and he's been known for spreading wild tales about his travels before, so people will take what he and his men say with a grain of salt.  I will, however, have some words with him  and suggest that he moves on immediately.  I'll send a guard to get your belongings and him."

"I heard him say that he will be staying at the Crate and Ale."

"Thank you."  The quickly left the room.  Katashan heard quiet voices in the hall, but he and the priest remained silent.  He did see the priest give him a surreptitious glance, but there seemed nothing more than curiosity in the look.

Katashan didn't mind having to stay at the fortress for a while, though he hated the thought of being held here against his will.  Still, he had spent time in worst places.  So he bowed to the priest and followed the Captain at the man's signal, out into the halls again and away from the body and the trouble it was sure to still cause him.



Chapter Six

A couple nervous clerks pulled the Captain aside before they got back through the first floor.  He gave Katashan a look of apology and called a guard over who took him up through a series of stairs and halls. There he found the servants had already prepared a room, and brought in a tub filled with steaming water.

The room looked well-appointed; the sort of room one would give to a visiting dignitary.  A fire had already been laid against the cool night, and the bedding newly cleaned.

"The privy is there to the left," the guard said with a wave of his hand toward a door.  "Captain Serrano would like to see you after he's done with other work.  He said you will have time for a leisurely bath and he will make allowances if you are not quite ready when he calls for you."

"Thank you," Katashan said with an automatic bow of his head which was politeness in his own lands.

The soldier saluted as he turned to leave, which made Katashan wonder what sort of rank they supposed him to have.  The guard went back out of the door and closed it.  Katashan listened.  The man did not leave the hallway outside.

This neither surprised nor angered Katashan.  In fact, he found it reassuring in some ways.  He didn't want to think Captain Serrano the type of fool who brought a stranger (for whom he already had some doubts) into his stronghold and then turned him loose. And besides, Katashan didn't really give a damn what was outside that door. He had hot water in a huge tub by the fire and scented soap as well.

Rather nice looking plain black pants and tunic sat on the bed as well. Clean clothes.  Katashan began to strip off the clothing he had been wearing for days, grimacing as he did so, until only the ritual blade remained.  He thought about tossing the clothing into the fire to burn, but it would only make the room stink.  He considered throwing them out the window, but then realized he might need them later. After all, the only other clothing was borrowed.

Katashan rolled them into a ball and dipped them in the water to catch some of the scent of the soap in hopes it would help dampen the stench.  Then he tossed them on the floor in the far corner of the room.

A moment later he slipped down into the steaming water.  Paradise.  He had found his way to paradise after all.

Later, a quick tap on the door woke him.  The water had cooled but still felt wonderful.

"Sir?  The Captain says he's ready to see you at your leisure."

He wanted to tell the man to go away and tell the Captain to do the same, but he had been raised to be a better guest. 

"I'll be there shortly," he said and began to pull himself out of the tub.

"Yes sir."

He found a cloth to dry with, grateful the fire that had been set to keep off the chill.  He even found a brush on the table.  Damn good host for a military man.

Ah.  High rank probably meant he came from nobility of some sort  since things worked that way in Cyrenia.  This made sense of the man's manners and attitude and Katashan could feel comfortable with this person.  That meant a lot on a night like this, with all else in such a flux.

He dressed in the provided clothing and carefully dropped the ritual blade back under the tunic, adjusting the thin chain beneath the collar so it didn't show.  The body of Sherina rested inside this building and it might take more than guards with good weapons to keep out the kind of trouble she could draw.  Besides, leaving the blade behind for the servants to find would be very unwise.

He didn't bother to braid his hair back, and after a last brush over the tunic to make certain the blade didn't show, he went to the door.  He paused there reluctant to leave the nice room, but he had no choice.

Katashan bowed politely to the waiting guard and followed him back down through the maze of halls.  A longer rest -- a night of sleep -- would have been very nice.  He felt lethargic and out of sorts, and worked hard to curb his own bad temper tonight.

The scent of food, even just cheese, breads and fruit, proved surprisingly invigorating as he came through the door into Serrano's suite.  Candles brightened the table at the center of the room. The Captain put aside a stack of papers with a nod of greeting and a wave dismissing the guard, at least to the far side of the door. 

"Captain," Katashan said with a little bow.

"Katashan."  A wave toward a chair across the table from him.  "My apologies for the poor repast --"

"I've been living for weeks on journey bread and a few scrounged winter berries the deer missed. This looks like quite a feast to me.  It's kind of you to invite me."

Serrano laughed.  "Ah yes.  Having been out on campaign far too often, I know the feeling."

"Campaign," Katashan repeated, slipping into the chair across from the man.  He looked up to find the Captain starring across at him again.  "Ah.  You were in campaign during the war with Taris."

"Yes.  I was an officer in the King's Own, and we held the Tatalin Pass to the northeast against the main brunt of your forces."

"And won convincingly, I might add," Katashan said as he settled into the chair.

"It doesn't appear to bother you."

"I was not in that war, Captain.  I was a slave elsewhere at the time. No, it does not bother me -- the king was unwise to try to retake the south, hoping to win glory for his name.  Though, do you mind if I ask a question?"

"I'll let you know after I hear it.  Have some food."

"Thank you."  He carefully placed some bread and cheese on his own plate and thought about Peralin again.  "On the journey I spent a night at one of the many Inns, and had a discussion about the war.  He told me you did not win because you had superior magic."


"You need not answer.  I am only curious.  I had always just assumed --" He stopped and shrugged.  "But people rarely talked to me about the war when I returned to Kirin, so I assumed -- never mind."

"We were outnumbered three to one," Serrano said.  He sat the food on his plate and stared at the wall for a moment, before he shook his head and looked back at Katashan.  "It's no secret how we won.  We had far better weapons and armor.  Your people depended too much on the magic, and your mages could not be everywhere.  Once they were removed, the Tarisians had nothing strong to fall back on."

"I see.  Yes, that would make sense.  In a way, that's what happened to those of us in the fleet as well -- in a different war."  He picked up the little knife and sliced the bread and cheese, and purposely turned the conversation elsewhere.  "I hope to settle somewhere along the coast and open a shop for scents and spices.  I have connections back in Taris for such things, if I can show a profit.  Do you think I'll be allowed to do such work here?"

"I can't say," Serrano answered.  He looked relieved to have left discussion of the war behind.  "I can't say this is a good time to approach business as an outsider in this area.  Let's find out what happens in the next couple days."

For the remainder of the meal, they would not, Katashan knew, talk about anything more serious than the price of grain in the market.  He didn't mind.  They had a pleasant meal.  He had the distinct impression Serrano wanted to ask him about things as well, but having already set the limits on his side, didn't feel it fair to press for what he would not give himself.  They discussed travel, far lands, cheese and wine.  Neither magic nor murder worked their way into the conversation, nor did any more discussion about old wars.

Far later than he expected, a guard came at Serrano's call and took Katashan back to his room.  He appreciated the guide. The halls were darker with only a few torches flickering at the intersections.  The numerous stairwells all looked alike to him.  He would be glad for the bed and blankets, even though he had slept remarkably well the night before --

He didn't want to think about that part just now.

"I don't think I would ever find my way through these halls," he said aloud, startling the guard.

"No, sir, I imagine not.  It's quite a maze until you're used to it.  Built in pieces, the building was.  It fits like a puzzle, sir."

"I can tell."  Katashan found it disconcerting and wondered if perhaps the guards took him through different halls each time.  He almost asked, but stopped himself.  There could be a reason why they would want to keep a stranger uncertain of his way inside their fortress.

He wondered about the history of the place, though.  Some of the walls seemed worked stone and others brick, and sometimes He thought they were inside a cave rather than a building -- but then they would go up a level and walk past room with open windows to night sky.

They reached his door and the guard pushed it open, looked inside and gave a little nod before he stepped aside.  "Sleep well, sir.  We'll change guards about midnight.  I hope we don't wake you."

"I suspect I shall sleep undisturbed.  Thank you."

Katashan stepped inside to find the fire banked, a single candle on the table by the bed, and the blankets turned down.  Gods, it looked like this room held one paradise after another.  He slipped off his sandals, his shirt, and decided that was enough.  He barely had enough sense left to blow out the candle as he slipped beneath the blankets.


Anonymous said...

Spotted a few typos, but I could hardly care by this point. The story's taken me in completely. I've been disappointed by enough published fantasy stuff in the past, so this is a pleasant surprise to say the least.
Seems to be picking up along nicely; pacing's good.
Looking forward to reading the rest unfold.

Zette said...

Thank you! I'm glad you are enjoying the story. And if you remember any typos, feel free to point them out. (grin)

I hope the rest of the story keeps entertaining you.