Chapter III:64

If I did not know the way,
perhaps I’d follow the sun,
that did not stray in course,
not till the day is done,

if I could not rest my head,
not when the night was black,
then on a ribbon of moonlight,
let Laeune guide my path,

if the stars should ever vary,
and all the heavens crack,
then I’d let my heart decide,
and cross the oceans back.

– The Wanderer’s Lament, circa 40 B.E.

The Road Ahead

Estae 20th, 1 S.R.

“I still can’t believe… we just left,” Katrisha mused. She’d stopped to look out over a rolling plain, above the thinning tree line of a forested hillside.

“A few days late to be bemoaning that,” Etore offered beside her.

“I wouldn’t say I was bemoaning, exactly,” Katrisha countered. “I agree, it really wasn’t wise we stay…” She hesitated as Wren trotted his horse around them, and down the hill. It seemed a willful act, to ignore the conversation. She begrudged him that.

“Welcome to life on the road. You make messes, or fix them, sometimes a little of both, and then you move on. Though, I won’t deny you lot go bigger than most.” Etore trotted her horse after him.

“It was your idea,” Kiannae offered pulling up beside her. “He didn’t want to do it.”

“I won’t take all the blame,” Katrisha grumbled, and examined the horizon more searching. “He was the one who healed her eyes, and I won’t fault him for that, but she came looking for more help. I just made the argument in favor.”

“Well, it’s Lycia’s problem now.” Kiannae joined her sister’s surveying of the horizon. “I don’t think we can see the border from here, but hard to say. Map says it’s a few dozen miles past the tree line, so probably not, even from up here. Not like you can see most borders in the real world, outside the fantasy of mapmakers and kings.”

“And Queens,” Katrisha added.

“And Queens,” Kiannae agreed.

“You can see some of them. Where different jurisdictions decided to clear trees or not, or plant different crops. Where rivers, and mountains form boundaries easier to follow than fight over.”

“Speaking of following,” Kiannae said, and snapped her reigns.

Katrisha laughed, and followed down the winding path. Out of largely friendly jungle, onto borderlands with less favorable neighbors.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

The village was small. A few market buildings, and tavern-inn to service passing travelers, and the area. A band of unaccompanied riders from the south was an unusual sight. More in the same day, just far enough behind the first pair to be suspect, drew strange looks.

Liora and Jake stood opposite a prim looking woman in armor. She wore her dark hair up in a bun about three times too fancy. A complex knot of little looped braids, to make the simple golden bob on the other seem casual. She appeared to be giving the parchment she was holding a very scrupulous second look.

“Yer sure you want to be going this way?” the woman asked. Liora snatched the paper, walked back to her horse, and barely even glanced at the other arrivals.

Jake caught up to her, and clearly had second thoughts as he moved to grab her hand, and withdrew his. “Let’s stay the night,” he said. “Horses need a rest, or are you in some kind of hurry?”

Liora scrunched up her face only a moment. “Fine,” she said, and turned back to the guard. “Which way are the stables?”

The woman pointed, and turned to new arrivals with renewed suspicion. “More travelers headed north?” she demanded.

“The Fates are fickle mistresses,” Katrisha offered.

“You’ve more papers to show me?” the guard asked, and gave the looks this prompted a sympathetic tilt of the head. “Sorry, but we’ve had a lot of concerns about rebels coming north, and stirring up trouble no one needs. They aren’t needed, but would make me more comfortable.”

“No papers,” Kiannae said. “Will a ring do?” She held out her hand, and the woman eyed it with suspicion.

“Suppose it will. You all are a strange lot,” her eyes settled suspiciously on Katrisha, but moved on over the others. “Not local, certainly not the Osyraen. How’d you come by the Queen’s favor?”

Kiannae gestured to the pair leading their horses to the stables. “Might have helped bring those two home… briefly. It’s complicated.”

“I’ve got time, unless more unexpected travelers are about to come down out of the jungle.”

“Doubtful,” Etore interjected, “but as things go with us, you never know. Is this an official inquiry?”

“Nah, just a friendly one,” the woman remarked. “So long as we are being friendly, and I get my questions answered.”

“Then let’s make it friendly, you’re buying.” Etore hopped off her horse.

“I can do friendly,” the woman remarked thin lipped, “but only the first round. Still on duty, officially.”

Etore handed her reigns to Wren, as he got down himself. He gave her a narrowed glare. This went ignored, as she turned and walked towards the inn.

“What was that about?” Katrisha asked.

Wren said nothing, and walked the two horses past with a glower.

Katrisha glanced to Kiannae, who just shrugged.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

The inn tavern was much like any other. Rooms up stairs, tables for dining and drinking below. Etore and the guard were easily picked out, but Wren walked past to the room warden. With a few silver on the counter disappeared up the stairs without a word to anyone.

Liora and Jake were no less terse about it. An opening question of one or two rooms drew a spiteful glare, and two keys were placed on the counter.

“Fates, you’ve got to be having fun with me. I could bring you up on false reports to an officer of the law, I could.” The guard tilted her mug towards Etore, with pursed lips, and warning look.

“Not a lot fun about it,” Etore said. “You start to lose your humor for the absurd after a while. Any way, don’t take my word, ask the sisters what happened.”

“A’right,” The woman glanced to the approaching pair. “What happened back in… Duskwater was it? Terribly forgettable place if not for how they built it.”

“Not news I think needs spreading any faster than it surely will,” Kiannae answered.

“Hardly an answer.” The woman pursed her lips, and frowned, before taking a sip. She focused on Katrisha instead. “Though I think I’ve heard something about silver hair. Not one for gossip though, never worth the time. I prefer facts.”

“Wise,” Katrisha agreed. “Unless you’re bored, and trying to figure out what’s really going on, under all the pretense people put on.”

“Eh. Not around these parts. So, since one of you is a braggart, and the other is tight-lipped, are you the trustworthy one? What happened?”

“Some dire Bonabins wanted a little help… talking,” Katrisha answered.

“Dire? Like big as a house or something?”

“Not every dire creature is huge,” Kiannae protested wearily.

“Just most,” Katrisha cut back.

“Well good, cause if there’s gotta be talking monkeys, better if they ain’t big as a house.” The officer laughed, and a woman in red behind the bar offered what seemed a polite chuckle.

“Not monkeys, technically,” Katrisha corrected. “Those are a bit smaller, and have rather long tails, more distant relatives, in theory.”

“Sure, I’ll worry about specifics when I believe any of you.” The guard took a hard swig.

“Any way,” Etore added, “you can imagine when the man you’re with starts making talking ape women, one starts to question a great deal of their life choices.”

The guard laughed again. “Yeah, I’ll worry about that when my girl can actually work magic more complicated than a drink spigot, or a bar shaker.”

“Ain’t yer girl, Denny,” said the woman behind the bar.

“You and me run this town, Amy. Why quibble if we share?”

The Red Woman rolled her eyes. “I swear, if you weren’t the most capable… anything in this boring little town…”

“You wouldn’t do my hair up nice every morning?” Denny bit her lip playfully.

“No, I might not,” the bartender agreed. “You two having anything?” Amy asked glancing at Katrisha and Kiannae, “for the Stormwalker and the Storm Child, that is.”

The two exchanged dubious glances.

“I listen to the rumors, and gossip,” Amy said, and cleaned out a mug with a rag. “So, I’ll admit, I’m as suspicious as my… friend here, but I’ve heard enough. If a silver haired girl, and her too tall to be real sister wander into my bar… Particularly right after a roguish redhead, with stories of talking apes. Well, I know who I should be addressing.”

“Don’t suppose you can do a… red-lotus?” Katrisha asked.

The woman raised an eyebrow. “I can, but if you’re headed north, you’d best be careful ordering that sort of drink.”

“Figured it would be good, while I still could,” Katrisha offered back. “After the way things keep going, a moment to relax, and try to forget… well, just about all of it… sounds good just now. Some drinks I’ve learned are better suited than others for the purpose.”

“I can offer more than a drink to help with that,” Amy smiled, and pulled out some bottles. “When I’m off of course, around half past supper, should be when you’re feeling nice and soft around the edges.” She poured, shook, and pulled a large ice cube from an enchanted box. It dropped it in with a delicate plink that splashed straight up, and fell back in.

Amy set the drink in front of Katrisha, who fished out a few shillings, and set them on the bar.

“Won’t your friend here be jealous?” Katrisha asked, and took her drink.

“That’s her problem,” the bartender said with a smile. “Teach her to think too much of herself, cause I’ve heard — all — the rumors. Wonder if you can live up to half of them.”

Katrisha found herself rather unexpectedly blushing. She sipped her drink, and glanced up at the woman over the glass. Even the un-amused look of the local guard at the end of the bar, could not quite remove temptation.

Kiannae shook her head, and took the cue of others to get a room.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Etore found the room Wren had retired to, several hours before. She knocked, but got no answer. She leaned on the door-frame a moment, and bit her lip.

A wash of crimson locks spilled down her back, as she pulled her hair pins. It took little more than two pokes, and twists before the lock clicked, and the door swung open. Terribly simple, almost disappointing after some of the clever mechanisms in Mordove. She swaggered in, closed, and locked the door behind her.

Without a word hairpins pins were tossed on a side table, and a scabbard belt clattered to the floor. Etore flopped into bed. She’d born no mind not to wake Wren, and with the force she’d landed, all too clearly meant to. On the off chance he was asleep, anyway, which she doubted, after her antics.

No reaction, had not been what she wanted. “I’m bored.”

There was a moment more of silence, and Etore kicked off a boot which landed with a thud.

“Really? Of all things, you’re bored?” Wren finally remarked, but did not turn to face her.

“Sulking, is boring. Sulking, is not what I signed up for.”

“So, I am to entertain you then, am I?” Wren demanded, and turned over to glare at her.

“Yes. That’s the deal, little bird.” She kicked off the other boot, to no less impact.

Wren sat up, leaned on one arm, and looked down on her with an anything but favorable furrow in his brow. He could smell the drink on her breath, and a slight musk under the more acrid. “You had one of those cursed drinks, didn’t you?”

“More than one.” Etore laughed, and it turned into a chain of giggles.

Wren shook his head, rolled back over, and made a show of ignoring her.

Etore moved closer. “Fates, what do you even have to be sulking about? I might be giving you grief, but far as I can figure, you did a good thing, for whatever that’s worth. So stop it.”

He said nothing, and she ran her finger-tips along his arm. Still, no response. She flopped over on her back and glared at the ceiling.

“Ya know, Yer’ makin’ me glad that cursed spirit was too weak. If this is what powers like yours makes of you, I don’t want it. Sulking, because you have no control what others will do with your blighted gifts. Lot more control than the rest of us have. That’s what you’ve got.”

Etore was no more pleased with continued silence. “You could make me into a perfect little toy if you wanted, couldn’t you? Assuming you didn’t already. You either made me this way, or like me this way, given — all — that you lot keep squirming about. So, stop being a simpering little whelp, and entertain me.”

Wren found himself breathing hard with frustration. At last, he rolled back over, and glared down at her in the dark. She just smiled back as a taunt, and hooked his leg with hers, to pulled him on top. “There he is, not a little bird after all, did the cat eat the cannery, does kitten have claws and want to play?”

“Why do you have to demean everyone?” Wren demanded.

“Because if you don’t have a spine, you are lesser, and if you do, I want to see it.”

“I thought you were offended?” Wren said shaking his head, “but you took it as a compliment, didn’t you?”

“There are no compliments, only insults you haven’t recognized yet.”

“That’s nonsense.” Wren extracted himself, and flopped back, to stare up at the ceiling.

“Fine, maybe it’s, there are no insults, only compliments you haven’t gotten yet. Usually because you are too stuck up with yourself.” She huffed.

He didn’t respond, and she rolled over, and ran a finger under his jaw line. “Fates, yer so pretty. Makes me jealous. I might find it more annoying than attractive, if it wasn’t for how I catch others looking at you. Even men, before they realize you aren’t a girl, and avert their gaze.” She laughed. “Like a pretty bauble, and you’re mine, and they can all piss right off, because you chose me, right?”

Wren looked up at her. Her eyes had the oddest quality. Not quite a faint shine like his, but he could almost make their color out in the dark. Certainly her smug smile. “Why does it always have to be this game with you? About power?”

“Because, it’s why I like you. Yer strong, when you aren’t being weak, powerful. I can feel it. This world respects nothing, like power. Everything; beauty, magic, wealth, family, it’s all power.”

She’d learned, somewhere along the way. Then again, maybe it was a lack of pretenses, or the drink, but her aura was a fire of alluring desire. It wasn’t the first time he’d felt it from her, clumsy, and yet all the more charming for it. Those with far more skill and toyed with him, but she said what she meant, and her desire, for all its games, was honest.

Wren closed his eyes, and reached up. His fingers ran along her cheek, and she kissed the inside of the palm. He opened his eyes again, and held her troubling gaze. He loved her, spiteful creature she could be and all. “Even gentleness?” he asked.

“If you know how,” Etore said, and bit her lip.

He reversed their positions, and she smiled all the more. Her neck arching back as he slid a finger down from her jaw, along her throat to her collar. He found himself smiling, somewhat in spite of himself. With a deep breath, and her the implied invitation of an exposed neck draw him in.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Katrisha truly wondered what was becoming of her. Though if it was more her course of action, or unfamiliar second thoughts, she could not have attested. She did question after everything, if there was good sense, following a stranger a bit off the beaten path. Then again, it was a rather well-worn path, and that was a whole other matter. A quaint, almost castle like little house stood on a small hill. Looked a bit like a lighthouse really, or that one had a peculiar love child with a rook, and some little shop.

Amy unlocked her door, and gestured in. Katrisha reconsidered again. She’d done far more foolish things. No one since Adria had implied anything dire as a consequence of her passing affections. Etore had not helped. Offering a whisper in her ear as the evening wore on, and her sense did indeed start to take leave, ‘It’s a free bed for the night. Not one to pay for. Since you like that sort of thing.’ Then some admission, even she thought the woman was pretty.

Katrisha walked in, and looked around the entry room. It was indeed something like a shop. An odd collection of trinkets, and bobbles, mostly mechanical, and enchanted objects. Well organized but densely packed. An old mechanical clock, ticked away in corner. Complex gear structures showing through a missing face-plate. It held her eye with fascination for some time. If not for the very thing she was so enamored with, she might have entirely lost track of how long she stared.

There was a click, and rustle.

“You’ve a lovely home,” Katrisha remarked, coming back to her senses, over getting lost in them.

“I should hope my home isn’t the only thing you find lovely.”

Katrisha turned to find the woman had shed her red robe to the floor quite casually. This lead to a sudden lack of words, and she only realized her silence a moment later. Her eyes found their way back up to meet a pale blue pair. Her expression became sheepish, withered under one entirely knowing. She wet her lips, and remembered to breath, almost with a start.

“I’d ask if a ‘cat got your tongue,’ but that would be a bit too funny, wouldn’t it?”

Katrisha laughed a bit nervously, and tried to get her wits about her. Perhaps the drink had been foolish. Certainly, it had been foolish, but she didn’t mind being a fool. That was her card, wasn’t it? She partly covered her face trying not to break down laughing or crying. Her card, it wouldn’t leave her head, and she sank down onto her knees and started weeping beyond.

A woman no longer in red, found herself suddenly feeling as naked as she was, and quite confused. She knelt down, scooped up her robe, and pulled it back on. She drew a breath, and it took her a moment to look back up to the balling woman in the middle of her entry hall. A once pleased expression became more thin lipped.

Amy moved over, and sat beside Katrisha. She put her hand on her shoulder, and just sat there in silence, waiting for it to pass. It seemed it might be. “I guess a lot of the stories I’ve heard are true,” she offered.

Katrisha sniffed, getting her emotions back under control. “What? That I’m a wreck. I thought I’d kept that pretty well secret enough.”

“I’ve been with enough soldiers, who’ve had to do hard things. One doesn’t get wild tales spun about them that reach far, and wide, without having to do some hard things.”

“I’m not always sure they’re so hard,” Katrisha said. She looked over her shoulder, a guilt stricken weariness on her brow. “I’m not even sure, I’ve done a damn thing, but play out some plan I thought broken, and gone. Everything keeps turning to ruin, wherever I look. Every blessing seems a curse in disguise, that I don’t have the heart to stay, and watch fall apart.”

Amy huffed. “I’ll tell you, what a slightly more stern faced young woman, I’ve let in my bed… a few too many times, told me. Doesn’t matter how easy the thrust, it’s almost worse, when you realize they never stood a chance. Not a qualm I often hold, given those I subdue are usually better off for it.”

Her hand found a way from a shoulder to a cheek, and brushed aside tears. “I’ve had my fair share of drinks like that one. They can be fun, and they can be terrible, as everything you’re used to, is new again. Some Sisters use the extra during harrowings. Makes them at once easier to become lost in, and more overwhelming. You wind up facing selves you didn’t even know were inside of you. Then learning, sometimes with difficulty, to love them.”

Katrisha felt sorrow wither away, and became lost in two blue eyes, and lips speaking words. They mostly connected into meaning. She felt drawn closer, and got closer. She fell into a kiss that left other thoughts pale familiar things. All that was promised far more interesting. It was a familiar feeling she could not place. Some small part of her clung to what a fool she was, and tried, as the woman implied, to love that fool.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Katrisha found herself staring up at stars. A view through a peculiar, angular glass dome that stood atop a small turret off the house. It was the feature made the house seem so odd, and just then all the more delightfully lovely to lay within.

She traced out constellations with her eyes, as wandering fingers seemed intent to find them in freckles of her chest. The thought made her giggle, a bit too much. She bit her lip, and tried to get the sway of emotions back under control.

“I’ve only done that once,” Katrisha offered, as she caught the look she was getting out of the corner of her eye.

“Which part, you seemed well versed. I haven’t had as good in years.”

“The first time I had one of those drinks… I wound up just petting a fox till I fell asleep, not that he complained. Fates, that doesn’t sound weird does it?”

Amy laughed. “I imagine he was very soft.” She hummed, and traced a curve lightly, forcing Katrisha to stifle more giggles. “Maybe almost as soft as you. Still, not sure what you meant about only having done that once.”

“What, no comment about the fox not complaining?” Katrisha pressed, and rolled over to give them woman a look that only seemed to amuse her. She had to swallow, and close her eyes at the ever so easy adoration that welled up within her.

“Among the stories I’ve heard — from traders going both ways — a silver haired lass introduced the Torta to court in Helm. Presumably the same one to the Council. Some may not believe it, but I met one, years ago, when I was barely more than a girl, and went wandering with a caravan. I’d sometimes thought I might have been mad. Certainly no one ever believed me, then, or still. Not even the ones who believe the traders aren’t just telling tall tales. Well, except ol’ Erin. She always believed me.”

“That wasn’t me precisely, but I’ll admit, I’m surprised. You met one, before they showed themselves? Also, who’s Erin?”

“Technically she owns this place.”

“Owns?” Katrisha asked, and raised a brow.

“I met her on the road, my first trip out of Lycia. A trader in trinkets, and odd bobbles. No gift, but she’s almost as good as most with it. Getting on in years though. I worry about her, out there still. The world isn’t always a kind or good place, least of all to the eccentric, and giftless.”

Amy rolled over, and stared up at the stars. “She comes around every few years, to catch up, and unload the oddest things. Some of which I sell to passing traders for her. I get to live here the rest of the time, rent-free. Some young man had held the post before me, but absconded with a few gold, and a couple trinkets she was rather fond of. Her heart she joked once, among them. None of which answers my curiosity, why you say you haven’t done this before?” She glanced to the side, expectant.

Katrisha laughed, and found her eyes wandering down. Her good humor faded though, as she let herself remember. This brought a frown as she looked back up, and Amy beckoned her closer. Katrisha curled up in her arms, and found listening to her heartbeat soothing.

“The second time…” she started as her mind calmed again. “I shared the drink with the last woman I… I let myself believe I could stay with. Be with, and not leave, or maybe who would leave with me. Till I learned I would be her ruin… She said though, that night, I needed to get things I couldn’t control off my mind. I’m still not sure what those things are, because the answer seems to be damn near everything. Fates, and I don’t know how I feel that I let myself stumble into… whatever your private quarrels are. You wear the Red but I find myself imagining nothing so simple about that.”

“Denny? She’ll be jealous, and back tomorrow begging. She knows the deal.”

“You want her jealous?” Katrisha asked, and looked up. “Thought jealousy was a sin for Red Women?”

“Well, I’m the Red Woman, not her. I also never claimed to be good about such principles. I’m not perfect in my faith, but I am of my faith. Even if I find myself the common law wife of a wandering trader I rarely see, and often worry if she will return again. Denny talks like she understands how things are, but she gets the wrong ideas, sometimes. I’m not looking for that, and neither is she. I know she isn’t because I’m certainly not the only one she turns to, even when she could. I’d have let her move in with me years ago. Practically does any way. Erin wouldn’t mind, that woman likes to share, but no. She keeps her own place, and her own distance. So, if she’s going to be jealous, and a hypocrite about it, I remind her. Now and then.”

“Suppose that makes… some sense,” Katrisha offered. She furrowed her brow. “You dodged entirely that you’ve met a Torta.”

“So I did.”

“Gonna tell me the tale?”

“He wanted a fish,” she said. “Couldn’t say the word, or even describe it very well. They talk quite strangely.”

“Ok, I believe you. What did he offer in?”

“Three secrets, that would make me happy.”

“Did you make the bargain? What were the secrets?”

Amy laughed. “Don’t be nice, be honest. The old trinket trader like girls, and…”

“And what?” Katrisha asked.

“Yer not going to believe me.”

“Try me.”

“A lass that has hair like Laeune’s light.” That got a look. “Had to press what that mean, and it was implied, that if one ever strode into my life… Well, I should insure she, ‘shared the night in my den, as tall ones like to do.’”

“Yer kidding…”

“Told you.”

“No, I believe you, but, how long ago was this?”

“Almost twenty years.”

Katrisha sat up. “Fates, my hair wasn’t even silver then. I was a child, still getting used to living in a castle, and not a farm. What do you intend?”

“Nothing I haven’t implied. I’ve heard legends, that gave me pause. Silver hair, and all that, but I wasn’t told to wed you, or keep you, only share the night. All else I’ve said is true. I do, like to remind Denny, and when she is reminded, things are always better for a while. So I’m not being nice, I’m being honest.”

“How’s the rest of the advice worked out?”

“I think better than if I hadn’t occasionally taken it. Not that I’m really sure, in hindsight, that foxes understand human happiness in the least. I’ve never since gone without a warm meal, and rarely without a… rather warm bed. I’ve ruffled a lot of feathers though. Been a mediocre Red Sister, because I do… get jealous, complicated, and attached.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Katrisha offered.

“Tell that to Lycian high society. It doesn’t help I like them a little broken, just not usually quite to collapsing in tears on my entry floor.”

Katrisha winced. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine. Still, one winds up living in some fringe town for reasons. Lot of Clarion’s wind up coming through here, who need a friendly ear, or a gentle touch. You’ve got to learn to not just be ok, with the ways they’re broken, but to kind of adore it. Denny, I met her when she was just a young guard. She was six when her mother left, took her from the cloister, and brought her to Lycia.”

“Why?” Katrisha asked, staring up, braced for a great many unpleasant answers.

“She confessed to being in love with one of the other girls. At six, it was just… you know what love is at that age, a foolish shadow. One that still could have ruined her, and her mother couldn’t bear it. She lost the home she’d known, and a friend she loved, but not much else. It could have been worse, a lot worse.”

“Fates, I hate them sometimes,” Katrisha muttered. “I hate, hating anyone, but I really do hate them. Just… not always sure who ‘they’ are… who’s fault it all is. There are still those who see the light, and those who wallow in the darkness. Yet I look up there… All those distant stars, some of them long gone, and I know we are all born in the dark. All trying ever so hard, to find light outside of ourselves.”

Amy laughed. “That’s rather lovely, if clearly the babbling of someone still a bit touched by the flower.”

“Maybe a little.” Katrisha found her fingers wandering, and her mood shifted just as quick. “Speaking of flowers,” she murmured below the woman’s ear. There was a gasp, as gift flowed from fingertips, and a body arched to her touch.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Estae 21st, 1 S.R.

Katrisha found herself standing in front of a guard. Denny wasn’t quite making any direct move to block her, but certainly not getting out of her way.

“Leaving already?” the woman asked.

“As a matter of fact,” Katrisha said.

“She’s been trying to convince me, since we first met, that some foxes told her….”

“Singular probably,” Katrisha interrupted. “Just the one.”

“Really hardly the point. I always knew, some day…”

“She loves you, you know?” Katrisha said when Denny couldn’t quite finish her thought.

“She tell you that?” Denny seemed incredulous.

“In so many words…” Katrisha shrugged. “I’m not one to tell you, or anyone what to do with their life, but let me give you some advice. Figure out what works, what you really want. Is it her, as she is, or someone else? Don’t be nice, be honest, because one winds up, living in some border town, for reasons, and she likes them a little broken.”

Katrisha stepped around the woman. Several steps on, she glanced back, to see a guard walking towards the tavern where she had said her goodbyes.

“What was that about?” Kiannae asked.

“Fox bargains, they have strange ways of working out.” Katrisha walked past toward the stables.

“Foxes?” Kiannae demanded. “Torta… No, now I have even more questions.”

“’Fraid I don’t have answers,” Katrisha said. “If I’ve played any part in this, other than keeping a woman’s bed warm for the night… I really don’t know. I should have asked her… what the fox’s name was, but who’s to say he ever told her. It was he though, she said that much.”

“Any part in what?”

“We’ll probably never know, but I’ll imagine it ends well, or better, that it doesn’t end at all.”

“Fates, why are you being cryptic?”

“Because our lives are cryptic, dear Ki. Full of messages only we were meant to understand.”

“The plan? The one you threw away, in another bargain with foxes?”

“No. I don’t think I did. I think it’s all in motion, all around us, but that knowing the answers, wasn’t the answer at all. Right, is not determined by the ends, Mercu’s stories made that message clear when we were children.”

“It still seems like leaving an awful lot to chance.”

“Is it? If a book on a shelf suddenly falls, was it chance, or just a question of when? The world is caught in a web of mortal and divine wants, as sure as potentials in a spell, nearly deterministic. Otherwise, what perfect plan could there have ever been? What would any of them have been worth? Patterns on cards, measuring by stars? Moves likened to the gears of a clock, or pieces on a board, until someone cheats, but cheating is just adding a new rule. Magic, or dragons, faith, or prophecy. I cheated in the most egregious way imaginable, I lived. I freed myself of this trap, and I will free all of us.”

“Or die trying?”

“If we aren’t free, are we even really alive?” Katrisha walked into the stables, and encountered a blond haired woman. This earned her yet another spiteful glance.

“Have a good day’s ride. I’ll see you on the other side,” Katrisha offered with a bow, and walked to the attendant. “We are, after all, walking the same road.”

Liora looked little more pleased, but far more confused. She lead her horse out, and glanced back, before mounting, and riding off. Jake was close behind.

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2 thoughts on “Chapter III:64

    1. Alass I can no longer eat fish, but it made a cute thing to remember fondly as something for foxes to obsess over.

      It would be an interesting interpretation they tell the tale, so I hesitate to say no, but… Clever as they are, much translation would be needed from their way of speaking. They aren’t the most adept writers either, even if they can get by. Certainly it is one touched by these powers, who has glimpsed truths, and embraced a certain view that these mortal follies are more meaningful than divine powers, even if they can be hard to separate.

      Like

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