Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Paid in Gold and Blood Chapters 7 & 8

(Two chapters are posted every Sunday and Wednesday. Links to the other chapters can be found HERE)
Chapter Seven

Katashan dreamt about his wife.

Maybe it was the bed.  He had not slept in a real bed in years -- in fact, not since that last night with her.  He hadn't thought of her so clearly since the day he came back to find their home destroyed, and she and the girls dead.  He had stopped dreaming about a lot of things that day.

Katashan had spent a little time with his parents, but they'd already had a strained relationship, and his father's suggestion that he remarry -- almost an order -- had led to words that probably should never have been said.

He'd left ten days later.  He would not go back.

But it wasn't his father's coldness that he dreamt about this time.  Tonight, he saw Ava before him, laughing and bright. She had fastened her dark hair up with golden rods and lined her eyes in dark, royal blue.  She laughed when he reached for her hand, and pulled away with a playful smile.  She paused again, and lifted her hand out to him.

But he knew, even in the dream, that he would never touch her again.  And yet he still reached, as though he might find a way past the barrier of death.  He wanted to have her back again, with an ache that made his heart pound.  Wanted --

She took his hand.

Cold.  Ice cold.

Katashan awoke with a cry of surprise and found a woman holding his hand.  He recognized her:  Sherina, who was long since dead at that high pass.  She floated on a soft breeze from the open window, her body and arms unnaturally long and nearly transparent.  Her golden hair, still glittered with ice, looked hardly brighter than the pale, snow-white skin.  Clouds of mist hung around her, but she wore no other covering. 

He tried to yank his hand back, but her fingers, though they looked no more substantial than clouds, grabbed hold and felt like the clutch of winter around his wrist.

"Be gone!" he shouted, his voice harsh and too loud.  She reached for his other wrist, but he moved faster, grabbing at the blade still hanging by the chain around his neck.  Thank the Gods he had the sense enough not to remove it when he went to bed. 

She snarled, her thin blue lips pulling back to show pearl white teeth and a frozen black tongue.  When he started to pull free again, she slapped at him with her free hand and the icy touch nearly numbed his arm.  Only the ritual blade in his hand saved him.  He clenched his fingers around it and drew blood which sent her scuttling back, keening loudly.

He started to stand, shaking his hand to try and clear the ache of cold from the skin and bones.  Seeing him show a sign of weakness, she swept forward again, but he lifted his bleeding hand, almost spattering her this time. She drew back in haste with a yowl of anger.

The door opened, spilling torchlight from the hall into the room.  The guard stepped in and stopped, his breath catching as he choked on whatever words he had meant to say.

"Get back!" Katashan warned.

"Gods -- Gods!" he finally cried out.

"Close the door!" Katashan leapt from the bed, drawing Sherina's brief attention from the guard.  He looked petrified, poor boy.  Not the one who had brought him here, so it was past midnight.  "Get out and close the door!  Now!"

He was a good soldier, at least; he stepped back to obey the order, though never taking his eyes from the enemy.  Sherina spun in the air, a gauze of light and almost substance, and then swept down on the soldiers, settling around him like a fine mist.

The guard slumped against the door and slid down, a glaze of white over his form, a film through which he gasped, his eyes rolling up as she drew power from him. 

As she drew the life from him.


Katashan threw himself at the two, his bloody hand held up while he chanted and focused the magic into his fingers.  Until he felt the warmth growing in his hand he hadn't realized he'd instinctively called fire.  She had become a being of ice, a demon of the cold and she drew away from the flame he held out towards her as a high bred lady shied away from a mud puddle.

The guard had turned pale white and his lips blue.  However, his chest moved, though erratically.  Katashan had paused only long enough to be certain he still lived and then spun back to the malevolent spirit drifting in the center of the room, red tinged eyes glaring at him.

He lifted his hand, calling up more fire to rest upon his palm. She backed away, mouth drawn back with a sound like a hissing wind.

"Be gone, Sherina --" He lifted his hand prepared to throw the flame into her icy heart.

Before he could finish the spell, she screamed and retreated out through the window.  Wind shook the room and rain poured in, some of it turning to ice in her wake.  Lightening rent the sky as a gale hit, blowing through the room with a new sweep of torrential rain.  He heard the sound of people and animals suddenly awake everywhere and regretted seeing the bed almost immediately soaked.

Katashan grabbed his tunic and quickly pulled it on, hiding the ritual blade.  He could hear people shouting in the halls not far away and knew he had little time before others arrived.  He crossed back to the guard and knelt, placing his still bleeding fingers against the young man's forehead.  He hadn't time for subtlety and whispered a quick and powerful spell that nearly sent him unconscious against the fallen boy.  He pulled back, gasping, but glad to see some color return to the guard's face and the breathing come easier as well.

Hell.  He didn't want to lose his secret now.  And he might not have to.  With a little more power he swept as much of the recent memory of Sherina from the boy's thoughts as he could, though he feared the whisper of memory might prove troubling as well.  Gods, what a mess!

Guards and Serrano arrived, the door bursting open and slamming against the wall.

"Are you all right, Katashan?  What happened?"

"I'm not sure," Katashan said.  "The storm . . . I thought I heard something.  He must have slipped on the water and the rain when he came in."

Serrano looked, his lips pursed, and nodded.  "It's an unexpected storm.  Is Dartil all right, Kennit?"

"Seems so, sir," another guard said as he knelt.  "A little cold.  Must have really hit his head when he slipped."

"Yes," Serrano said.

Katashan saw distrust in the man's face.  Did Serrano think him responsible for this accident or had he somehow given himself away?  His head pounded and when the wind blew again, he feared he saw her at the shutters.  He stood, perhaps too suddenly.  Serrano grabbed his arm, giving him unexpected and needed support.  He nodded his thanks and crossed the room grabbing at the shutters to pull them closed.  Serrano helped.

"You've cut your hand," Serrano said.

Damn.  He looked blankly at the bleeding fingers, wondering how to explain.  Perhaps the look only conveyed confusion because Serrano seemed a bit less hostile afterwards.  Someone brought him cloth and Serrano went off with the wounded guard.  A few minutes later the servants arrived and took him to new quarters.

Just as well he hadn't healed his hand, Katashan realized.  He would have had to cut it again to set the new ward.  Once everyone had gone, he set seals on the shutters and the door.  Nothing unnatural would come through this time, though when he sat on the bed, something rattled the window.

He did not sleep nearly as well through the rest of the night.



Chapter Eight

After such a horrendous night, Katashan wasn't ready to face Lord Arpan the next morning.  Unfortunately, a servant came barely after the dawn to say that the Lord had already arrived, the guard having found him on the trail and closer to Salbay than expected. The servant said Serrano would send for him soon and more than hinted he would be wise to be ready.

The nervous servant had spoken quietly and that marked a definite change since the arrival of the local lord, and nothing for the better.  Given the conversation he'd heard between Serrano and Pater Matish, he wasn't particularly surprised that the arrival of this man upset others.

  At midmorning, the guard knocked softly on the door and said he would escort him to the hall.  He had been watching out the window where he could see down into the courtyard.  Many people had moved along there, and none of them looked very happy. 

Katashan quickly straightened his clothing and stepped out of the room, giving the guard a nod.  He recognized the young man as the same guard who had brought him from the late meal the night before, but even he seemed more reserved today. Katashan regretted the loss of ease he'd felt here since he first arrived. 

As they walked down the long, silent halls, Katashan realized he had never felt so far from home as he did at this moment.  Even when he had been a slave he had felt some tie back to the place he'd lost.  Perhaps that had only been because he had believed, back then, that he could go back home and return to what he had been.

Katashan heard Lord Arpan before he reached the main hall on the lower level of the building.  Unlike Serrano, Lord Arpan did not hold meetings in his suite and he obviously enjoyed the show.  His voice boomed through the outer room before Katashan and his guard arrived.  He winced a little at the loudness and saw the guard give him a look of commiseration.

Then they entered the larger room and all emotions left the guard's face.  Captain Serrano and some of his men stood to the right.  A large man, swathed in red and furs, sat on a slightly raised stage, like a king before his subjects.  No one sat in this man's presence.

"This is the Northerner?" he growled before Katashan was fully into the room.

"Yes, My Lord," Serrano said, and gave Katashan a very discreet look of warning.

Lord Arpan leaned forward in his chair, his eyes narrowed and his mouth a thin line behind his shabby beard.  "Come here, Northerner."

Katashan crossed to the man without comment, bowed well, and did his best to look as though he didn't resent Lord Arpan's glare.

"Do you speak the language?" Arpan asked, his voice still very loud.  "Do you understand me, boy?"

"Yes, my Lord, I do," Katashan said without raising his own voice.  Perhaps he should have played with a little pidgin.  He doubted the man appreciated anyone who spoke well and likely had a better education than his own.  Katashan had met many boorish people in his life, and he knew the look and sound of them by now.

"You found my poor daughter."

"Yes, sir."

"How did you happen upon her?"

The tone of the question came close to hinting at an accusation.  Katashan suspected the man wanted someone to blame someone for the death.  Yet, at the same time, he got the distinct feeling the death of his daughter would not cause the man an inordinate amount of grief.  There was no loss in the man's face, but anger lurked there, looking for an outlet.

"I only found her by accident, sir.  I tripped, in the snow.  She must have been there most of the winter, I fear."

"And where were you this winter?"

"In Taris," he replied evenly.  No use lying since he'd have the answer from Tyren or any of the other workers in the caravan.  Katashan carefully bowed his head, trying to make his home not sound like the land of the enemy. He heard whispers from his men. "I joined the caravan.  It took us several months to get here."

A subtle way, he hoped, of pointing out he wouldn't have had time to come here, kill the girl, go back to Taris before showing up again.  The little hint did not help;  Katashan saw Lord Arpan's mouth clamp shut and his eyes go harder.

"The captain tells me you are a merchant." Apparently, from the tone, being a merchant was no better than northerner.

"Yes, my Lord."

"I don't approve of foreigners taking money out of my land."

"I understand, sir.  I had come looking to take ship farther, if I found no place to settle on this shore."

Silence.  Katashan held his place, his head slightly bowed as he carefully listened to the sounds of Arpan's grunting breath.  He knew this type.  Lord Arpan preyed on the weak and that made him wonder where the father had been when the daughter died.

"We've had trouble with outsiders before.  I won't tolerate it.  I don't trust you, not bringing a body in.  If you expected to be paid --"

"I did not, sir," he said and could not keep the indignation out of his voice.  He looked up and met the man's piggish stare. Subservient wouldn't work with a man.  Nothing would, so he might as well speak the truth and stand his place.  "In my land, we would not leave a body if we might return it to the proper people and the priests who would see the person to a proper grave and rest."

He heard mutters behind him, but this more favorable, he thought.  People who fought in the war would know the Tarisians always returned the dead to the enemy, along with all their belongings intact.  They were not thieves and they were not scavengers.

Lord Arpan sat forward, his small eyes angry behind a fall of dirty gray hair.  Katashan knew he couldn't win in this situation, not with a man who found him a convenient enemy.  Saying nothing damned him for being secretive and hiding something.  Saying anything in his defense would make him too bold and a troublemaker.  He fully met the man's look of hatred.

"I will not brook insolence -- not from anyone in my land, and especially not from a foreigner whom I already have reason to mistrust."

"Yes, sir."  But he did not look down.

Lord Arpan suddenly surged to his feet and backhanded Katashan hard enough to send him sprawling.  Others scrambled out of the way and out of the man's reach.  The piggy eyes protruded and the vein in his neck pulsed.  "That is how I deal with people whom I dislike and distrust!  That and worse.  Remember it, especially if you have any urge to lie to me.  The Captain will deal with you for now.  I have other business."

"Yes, sir."

Serrano made a little gesture.  The same guard came back, but did not offer a hand to help him up.  Katashan stood and gave a polite bow of his head, refusing to give way to the man's bad manners, but glad to be leaving so quickly, and with nothing worse than a bruise.

"If I find that you've lied about anything, you'll pay for it."

Katashan nodded, still holding to his manners, even in the face of this bore.  Arpan had already stumbled back to his chair and waved his hand.  A servant rushed forward and handed him a flagon of something that plainly wasn't water.  He swigged it, and drops ran down to his chest.

He shoved the flagon back and glared at Katashan.  "Go."

He left with the guard, getting only one quick glance of relief from the Captain. However, before he left the room Lord Arpan started again.  "I don't trust foreigners. They bring trouble."

"Yes, sir.  However, so far he has done what is proper.  He could have pretended he never saw the body. We wouldn't know."

"Why didn't he?  What's he hope to gain?  I won't pay the bastard."

The guard gave a quick glance down the hall when they reached the stairs and appeared relieved to find no one following.  He shook his head in disgust, but said nothing at all.

"What now?" Katashan dared ask when they reached the second floor.  He rubbed fingers against the side of his face, feeling a small bump and the start of a bruise.  At least the man hadn't broken his nose.  Katashan wasn't certain what he would have done if things had gone worse.

"I'm not certain, sir," the guard said softly with another glance behind.  "His lordship might be here for a day or two.  He will be making the day-to-day decisions during that time."

Which, if he read the tone, wouldn't make anyone particularly happy.  Katashan imagined the man was chaotic. Chaotic and despotic wouldn't be a good combination. Everyone would have trouble dealing with such a leader, especially if the men were used to working with Captain Serrano.

They'd climbed two flights of stairs and gone down three halls before the guard seemed comfortable enough to speak again.  "Your belongings were brought from town last night, and they've been put in the room you first had.  I was instructed to take you there if that's not a problem for you."

He thought about the ward on the shuttered window in the second room, but it wasn't likely to be a problem unless Matish found it.  And if so, he'd deal with the consequences.  And a shield anywhere in this building during this madness had to be some help.

"No problem at all.  I rather liked the room before the storm."

"Yes, Captain Serrano thought you might since the view looks out over the sea.  He said to tell you the sunsets should be lovely."

"Did he?" Katashan said and smiled.  Perhaps there was no breach between the two of them, and Captain Serrano only played his part with Lord Arpan around.  "Thank you."

The guard gave him an odd look.  "You don't seem upset by his Lordship's behavior."

"I don't like it, but I am in his lands.  One must be prepared to accept such encounters when one wanders so far from home.  I think settling here would be difficult with such a man in charge, so I will move on as soon as possible after this business is settled."

"It's not so bad here, really, sir.  His lordship lives at Prina, his estate in the north near the capital.  He doesn't spend much time in Salbay.  We're a small port, really.  It's the salt pans, the wood from the foothills, and the shipments of snow that makes us important."

"Shipments of snow?" Katashan asked, startled.

"Yes, sir.  In the heat of summer we pack snwo down from the heights and ships sail here from Atshila, the capital, and load up with snow in their holds to take back.  They sell it on the streets there as an antidote to the heat."

"What a strange business."

"You never been in the heat, have you, sir?"

"Katashan," he said.  They had started up the third set of stairs, and he felt a little winded.  They slowed.  "I admit I haven't been to the warmer climes.  In the north, even the edges of the salt bays freeze in winter, and the rivers aren't navigable.  Snow is something you curse, and no one makes a profit from it."

"The rivers freeze?  Like in the mountains?"  The guard looked at him, startled.  "How do people live through the winter, then?  How do you get food?"

"Stockpile foods that will last in the autumn.  However, a long winter and a miscalculation can mean starvation for the outlanders on their farms if they get snowed in.  People generally do all right in town where they can share and where the government stockpiles more food -- unless the winter is too long. Then it's twice as dangerous to be in the city where you might be murdered for a loaf of bread."

"We get snow down here for only a few days in winter, but the weather can be fierce in the mountains behind us.  We get rain and floods in the spring, though. Those can be trouble enough."  He stopped at the next hall and held out his hand.  "I'm Cork, sir."

"Cork."  Katashan shook hands and smiled, despite the slight sting in the side of his face.  "It's nice to have a name.  I appreciate it."

"Don't blame none of the others if they hold back, sir.  It might not be. . . ."

"It might not be wise or safe to be my friend.  I understand.  And I'll be discreet about knowing your name, Cork."

"Thank you, sir."  He started out again, shaking his head now at whatever thoughts he had.  "It'll be all right in a few days, once his Lordship goes home.  Wish you hadn't brought the body here, sir, but really you had no choice.  And we'd have had it fall to us soon as the melt comes, anyway."

"Did you know the young woman, Cork?" he asked as they neared the room.

"Yes, sir.  She stayed here quite often."  He looked around, and his voice dropped a again.  "She was too much like her father.  They couldn't stay in the same building without trouble erupting.  And then her husbands had died within a few months of each other.  It looked bad. So she -- traveled a lot.  I can't say I cared for her much, but I wouldn't have wanted this to happen to her."

"Her father has other heirs?"

"Yes, sir."  Cork stopped by a door and carefully pushed it open.  He looked inside and then nodded back to Katashan.  "Fordel is the last of his children.  He keeps the troops at Atshila.  A good man.  The room looks fine, sir.  I suggest you stay here and rest for the afternoon.  If his Lordship goes out for a while, I'll let you know."

"You can be blunt, Cork.  It's best if I stay out of sight as much as possible.  I can do that much.  I've had a long, tiring journey with a troubling ending.  I can stand to rest for a day or two."

Cork nodded and looked relieved to find his charge still so reasonable. 

"I'll see to it the kitchen staff remembers you are a guest here," Cork said.  He smiled as he stepped aside.  "Thank you, sir.  It makes this easier if you cooperate."

Katashan  bowed and went into the room, which had been cleaned, well turned out, and a fire set and ready to light at nightfall.  Cork pulled the door closed, but he could tell the man stood guard on the other side. 

Beside the bed sat several bags and boxes of his personal belongings and trade items with which he hoped to start a new life here.  Katashan went to the window and opened it up to the fresh sea air, and then settled on the edge of the bed, pulling up the first box.  The small bottles inside had been examined, but carefully replaced in the cloth wrappings.  Captain Serrano had been true to his word, but he hadn't expected less from the man.

Katashan entertained himself through most of the morning by sorting through his belongings.  He still had no idea what might sell here.  Perfumes and spices seemed exotic and out of place. 

In the early afternoon, he abandoned the work and went to the window.  He pulled a chair over, and watched sails along the hazy horizon and wondering where the ships came from and where they went.

Did he want to settle here at Salbay?  It did meet many points of his personal criteria: not too large, not a governmental center, and friendly people as long as he didn't count Lord Arpan.  And he could watch the sea from this town, which despite his horrendous experience as a sailor, he still loved.

He spent most of the afternoon watching the ships and trying to make decisions about his future.  It proved a very quiet, restful day despite the start.  He hadn't minded staying here at all, and suspected he could stand even one or two more days of such peaceful rest.  The journey had been hard enough, but the use of so much magic after he found Sherina had been worse.  He'd been badly out of practice, and was -- thinking about it now -- amazed the ability had come back so easily. 

A discreet knock at the door drew him away from the window and the view, and the darker thoughts that had haunted him.

"Enter," he said.

Cork came in, balancing a tray covered with a cloth.  "Sent up from the hall, sir.  They're feasting tonight and Captain Serrano didn't see why you shouldn't share in the excellent food."

Cork place the tray on the table and uncovered the array of bread, venison, various vegetables and what looked like sweet cakes.  Katashan hadn't been particularly hungry until the moment he smelled the food.

"My compliments to the Captain and the chef.  Is there some reason you cannot join me?"

"Me, sir? Join you?" He looked at the food he had just put on the side table as he pulled a small decanter of wine from inside his vest, startling Katashan with thoughts of Peralin.

"There is obviously plenty to share, Cork.  Is there a reason you must stand outside the door, rather than sit inside?"

"I, a --"

"You are not guarding against people getting in, Captain.  You are making sure I don't go wandering out.  I understand.  I'm a stranger here and arrived under troubling circumstances.  The Captain would be a fool not to have me watched."

Cork looked at him and finally gave a small, half embarrassed shrug.  "The Captain would like me to get to know you better."

"Would he?" Katashan said and grinned, grateful for the honesty.   "Well, here's your chance."

"Yes sir, I suppose so.  And the food smells damn -- ummm, very good."

Katashan cleared his supplies from the rest of the table and they moved it over by the window.  He sat on the bed, Cork taking the chair, and unobtrusively making certain he stayed between Katashan and the door.  He couldn't be certain Cork did it to keep danger from charging in past him or from keeping Katashan from charging out.  He really didn't care.

They had a companionable meal with a witty, amusing conversation.  Cork had left the door open and Katashan occasionally saw curious servants wander past.  Many of them slowed to look in.  Cork did not drink any of the (very fine) wine, but they shared everything else.

The conversation stayed well away from anything dangerous, including discussions of the army, Lord Arpan, or anything else that might be considered delicate.

"This seems like a pleasant location," Katashan said, waving toward the dark window.  "I look forward to visiting the rest of the city.  Can you tell me about it?"

Cork smiled and pushed aside the remains of the food, and his fingers traced invisible lines on the table top as he spoke.  "The fortress is here on the top of the bluff, along with a few trailside inns that cater to those traveling the trail towards the capital.  The Old City is on the cliff below us.  You can't see it from here because of the curve of the cliff, but it's pretty damned impressive.  The buildings are carved right out of the stone. Then there's the fishing village down on the shore.  It's new, but mostly because it tends to get wiped out every fifteen years or so by either nature or invasion."

"A hard life down there on the shore."

"Yes, it is.  That's where I grew up but I didn't want to live and die on the sea, and that left only one other place for a man of my background.  Happens that I got lucky because Captain Serrano took over the year after I joined.  Things have been better since then."

Katashan nodded and didn't ask about the previous commander or what problems there had been.  He also didn't ask if war had come her.  Better to let that go without comment.

As the night drew later, Cork lighted the fire and then banked it a little later.  They spoke for a while about the fishing fleet and the few days Cork had sailed with his uncle and brothers.  From the look he gave, he didn't like the sea nearly as much as Katashan did.

They had a pleasant evening, and Katashan found himself more unsettled than he had expected when another guard came to take Cork's place.  The two men exchanged a few words at the doorway and then Cork bade him good night. The new guard closed the door and stayed outside the room.

Despite the late hour, Katashan didn't feel like sleeping, mostly for fear of repeating last night's fiasco.  After Cork left and with the night dark and cold outside, he closed the shutters and sealed them with a ward. Then he went back to dusting and sorting the bottles and vials. 

He knew there would be trouble here either from Sherina or from her father.  He'd managed not to think much about it while Cork kept him company, and he felt grateful for that respite, but now, alone in this foreign room he felt the precariousness of his situation again.

A soft knock.


Captain Serrano opened the door and stepped in, looking over the bottles Katashan had lined up on the table, and the parchment and quill that he'd just sat out.

"I feared, as late as it is, that you might be sleeping," Serrano said.  "I didn't expect to find you working."

"I'm not particularly tired tonight.  How are you?"

"Tired enough.  I just saw his Lordship to bed.  He's trying to convince me that you had something to do with his daughter's murder."

"Why would he think so?"

"I didn't say he believed it.  But you are a convenient target.  And there are questions."

"About my magic."

Captain Serrano stopped beside the table, staring across at Katashan.  "What made you decide to tell me?"

"I've done nothing wrong, but the longer I kept the secret, the more it would seem as though I had a reason to do so.  I trust you, Captain Serrano.  I assume you realize that something dark tried to get into this room last night."

He glanced at the tightly closed shutter and nodded.  "Yes, I'd figured that part out.  Why did it happen?"

"Because Sherina wasn't just murdered:  She was killed in a powerful ritual and I broke some of the links when I took her body away from the site.  We had an encounter on the way down from the hills on the first night and I kept that from my companions as best I could.  I couldn't hide last night's trouble as well, though."

Serrano glanced towards the door.  They had not spoken loudly.  "With Lord Arpan here, you do not want to be blatant about the magic."

"I thought as much."

"Did you tell Cork?"

"No, although not for lack of trust.  I felt you should be informed first."

"Thank you.  Can you tell me more about the death of Sherina?"

"I cannot tell you by who or why it was done."  He carefully pushed aside the bottles and put both his hands on the table, considered telling him about the Godling, and decided against it.  This was complicated enough.  "She had been tied to the spell with very powerful glyphs. The blade that killed her belonged to Pater Matish, and likely held power as well so it became a power perverted, which gives it special abilities.  I suspect you already knew about the involvement of magic.  Matish knew when he checked the body.  Did he know about me?"


"I thought as much.  Forgive my deception of silence.  I found myself already far more involved in a dark and dangerous situation than I wanted to be.  I didn't want to open myself to trouble I might have been able to avoid."

"You could have avoided all trouble by leaving Sherina where you found her."

"The Goddess directed me to the body.  I did not even see the open trail, only a few steps away.  Instead, I trudged through knee deep snow and fell over her.  I don't take such signs lightly."

Serrano stared, looking as though he would like to disagree, and knowing better.  Katashan felt sorry for the captain, imaging what it must feel like to realize be had become involved in something far more serious than he might have expected.

"What do you know about the ritual?  What kind of danger are we in?"

"I only know for certain it was very powerful.  The runes were of life, death and bondage whichis not a good combination." 

The Captain finally settled on the chair where Cork had been and waved a hand towards the table and the bottles.  "I had Matish go over your belongings.  He found no sign of magic in anything you brought along.  That surprised him."

"I'm not here to sell magical potions or my services as a mage.  I had renounced magic long before I left Taris.  I did not come here looking for a use for it."

"And yet you have."

Katashan stared at his hands, spreading the fingers and looking at the small cuts.  Most of the old scars had disappeared at Peralin's touch, but in some ways he could still feel them there . . .  like the other wounds that had never really healed for him. 


He looked up again.  "My magic betrayed me when I could have used it to save what I loved most.  It betrayed me when I fell into the hands of those who enslaved me as well. They tell me it is a gods-given gift, but if so, the gods could have been considerate of the pain they caused me.  I had intended not to use magic again.  An unwise resolution: My life has never gone the way I planned."

Captain Serrano looked at him for a long, silent moment, weighing many things that Katashan could only guess at from his look.  At last the man sighed and shook his head.  "You present a damn lot of problems, Katashan."

"Your pardon.  It was not my intention in coming here.  I had hoped to find peace."

"Which you could not find at home?"

"Not after I had lost so much."

Serrano nodded, and then stood, looking towards the window and frowning.  "Damn mess.  We don't need this, not after the last time."

Katashan asked nothing, although it would have been helpful to have known something of the history of the last encounter with magic, if only so he could find out how they fought and won.  But he did not ask, and the Captain seemed relieved.

"I would like to assign Cork as a permanent guard and servant.  That will keep the others from having more than minimal contact with you and whatever trouble you encounter.  I'm not certain how many of them would deal directly with Lord Arpan.  He's a stickler for protocol in most cases, and would normally be appalled at the thought of someone talking to him out of turn.  However, if he thought he could use a servant to make you into the enemy he wants --"

"I would be very happy to have Cork as my companion and guide."


"And you do trust him."

"Oh yes.  He's a good fisherman's son, a local.  He'll do what's right, not what's politic.  Tell him as much as you think might be important."

"That works best for both of us."

The captain gave another curt nod, but he already looked distracted as he turned back to the door.  Katashan watched him go, trying to decide if he had given the right answers or if he'd only created more problems.

Serrano paused at the closed door and glanced at the window.  The breeze shook the shutter.  "Will there be problems again tonight?"

"There might.  However, expecting it this time, I can take precautions.  The room should not be drenched nor should any guard be put in danger."

"Yes, about that part.  Matish said you saved Dartil's life."

"Did he?" Katashan asked, wondering how far he could trust the local priest.

"Be careful, Katashan," Serrano warned softly, a hand on the door handle.  "I am not in a position to offer you more than words of wisdom.  Don't provoke Lord Arpan."

"I intend to avoid him completely," Katashan said.

"This may not be your choice."

"I know."

The captain nodded and appeared relieved that Katashan understood the situation.  Katashan wondered if Cork would start his new duties tonight or in the morning.   No matter.  He trusted Captain Serrano to make certain the guard who stayed at his door was someone whom he trusted. He would have someone to watch over him and protect him -- at least from that which a weapon would stop.

Tired.  He looked at the bottles arrayed on the table and thought about leaving them there -- but no; it would be too dangerous if Sherina came for another confrontation.  So he laboriously wrapped each in cloth and carefully slid them back into the boxes. Then he covered the boxes with lids and pushed them into what he hoped would be a safe corner.

When he finally moved back to the bed he barely had the strength left to strip off his borrowed tunic and left it neatly on the stand by the bed.  His finger brushed along the blade, wondering if he should think ill of it, of the magic of --

Of the things which had already saved others here, because at some point the magic would have come to fruition, unless Pater Matish somehow learned of it first and . . . No.  The Goddess would not have directed him here if there had been another who could have handled the trouble.

He slid into the bed and pulled the blankets up.  The banked fire gave a soft blow to the room, and though he could hear the occasional movement of a guard outside, it seemed more a relief than a distraction. 

And he slept well -- at least for a while.

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