Fire washes the forest all around,
red ‘n orange, summers final crown,
winter brings her cold embrace,
a time at last for sheltered peace,
snows melt in vernum’s calm embrace,
storms break across the forest plains,
summer wakes beneath a sunless sky,
stars each so bright, as midday light,
a moon she rose a mirror to the sun,
to light the night with Laune’s love.
– Songs of the Sun, 32 E.R.
The Autumn Shard
Etore glanced from her quiet corner across the bar. It was busy, but not packed. Frank was rubbing his head, and trying to maintain his temper. It was amusing to watch, as an apologetic waitress scurried off to refill the order. Samantha stood at the bar, and accepted and handful of coins from the sixth woman that appeared from the stairs. Etore shook her head, as Wren appeared a few minutes later. He locked eyes with her, and she turned her eyes to the table, and willed herself to vanish.
She looked up. Wren had walked past, and sat across from the taller of his sisters, with her raven hair, and that new swath of white from the temple. Odd, how it had been there the day after the battle, and not before. How they had found her like that. The conversations she had overheard shed little light on it. Only raised more questions. Nothing but questions around any of them, and so few good answers. Whispers, and near yelling about prophecy.
She turned to the other one, whose hair had regained some of its luster, but still was mostly a gossamer white. She was chatting far too agreeably with Mallory, flirting, obviously. Each of them gesturing here, or there about the bar. To a waitress, a patron, or one of the women who had appeared over the evening from upstairs, fresh from being tended by a healer for fates knew what. She rolled her eyes, and sipped her drink. Not her concern what private games the fools played. She rather hoped that wasn’t the report her patron wanted.
She wasn’t sure any amount of gold was worth watching the lot of them. Confusing, boring, and dangerous at unpredictable intervals. The exact kind of trouble she didn’t want. The kind she couldn’t control, or avoid. Them, so often leaving her feeling the one intruded upon, when she was the one spying.
Kiannae got up from the table, and walked past Etore who cringed that another of the infuriating lot would turn to her, but nothing. She drew a breath, and let it go. Being seen when she didn’t want to, happened, often enough, but it was getting painfully old in this company. She considered just leaving the caravan, and staying there in town. Waiting to join up with another in a few months. Mallory would finally win the bet she wouldn’t show up for payroll. She resented that a bit, but considered she’d just steal half the take off him the next time they crossed paths.
It was tempting, if not for her contract. Not that caravan contracts had a lot of weight in the wider world, but if you broke one, and it got out, you were out. Whatever reputation she had, it was worth nothing if she broke her bond. It was the main reason Mallory was an idiot for constantly betting against her, and why Carter kept giving him ten to one odds. There was always an out though. Her contract was with Samantha at that point, not Carter. Not that it helped. Samantha would not let her go. Not headed into western Corinthia, and scar lands, or worse up towards Palentia, and the border. Rumors were what they were. That those bandits calling themselves rebels would just take a tax. She didn’t trust rumors like that. Not traveling with the lot she found herself among.
Someone sat down across from her. She looked up from her drink with irritation to the almost girlish face of a young man leaning on one arm, staring across at her.
“What?” she demanded, returning his gaze far less amiably.
“You look troubled,” Wren offered.
“So stop troubling me,” Etore countered, and drank.
“Cute,” Wren said with a smile.
“I thought it was rather plain,” Etore retorted.
Wren flagged down a waitress, who gave him a friendly smile. “What ya want hun?”
“Something sweet, not too strong,” he answered. “And another of whatever my friend here is having,” he gestured across the table.
The waitress looked confused, turned, and shook her head. “Oh, terribly sorry, didn’t see you there.”
“I like it that way,” Etore said, pursed her lips, and glared across the table.
The waitress looked back to Wren, and seemed thoughtful. “Orange wine is probably the best I can do, if you don’t mind the fizz.”
“Sounds fine,” Wren said, “and you?” he said.
“I’m working,” the waitress said dismissively.
Wren laughed, and pointed across the table.
The woman turned, and went a bit crimson. “Oh, right, yes, sorry. Long night.”
“You trying to get me drunk?” Etore asked tilting her head. “Pretty sure even sipping your orange wine I can drink a scrawny thing like you under the table.”
“I’m trying to help you get, whatever you would like,” Wren countered.
“Eh, if you are paying,” Etore said. “Another summer ale,” she added but the waitress had started to walk away, and made no sign she had noticed. She grimaced with annoyance.
“And a summer ale,” Wren called over his shoulder.
The waitress turned, and looked surprised, but nodded.
He turned back, and leaned on his arm again.
Etore nursed her drink.
“You do know, I’m still watching you lot. You’ve given me no reason not to cash in, if I ever find that mad fool again. If he can’t pay, I’ll take his shiny little sun.”
“Doubt you know anything that makes that a problem,” Wren said. “Doubt there is anything to know, that would make that a problem. Figure I can make watching me easy.” He teased his finger along the edge of his robe absently.
“Fates, you really are a woman, aren’t you,” Etore muttered, glaring at him. “Bout as respectable as that lot you’ve been healing all afternoon. What do you even want?”
“Honestly,” Wren said, and rested his hand on the table instead. “Not a clue. I left Highvale to get away from my problems. Seems dumb, given all the ones I walked into, and the one that followed me anyway.”
“Yeah, she’s a piece of work,” Etore said and sipped. “Though listening to her, I’m not sure what your problem is. Skills I’m sure, not unlike your own, angling to share you. There any kind of man in you at all?”
“Plenty,” Wren answered.
“I’ll take your word for that,” Etore said unimpressed.
“Oh, I heard you, trying to take Sasha down a peg,” Wren laughed. “Nice try, on both counts. She’s not easily flustered. Last problem soldier we had at Highvale she reduced to a whimpering wreck in moments. Took three others to haul his babbling mouth out the front door.”
“You say that like, you like her.”
“Like,” Wrens said, “isn’t quite the right word. Mind you, I’m not altogether sure what is. I won’t fault you for thinking what you please though.”
“Thank you,” Etore offered snidely, “for your permission, your worship.”
“My worship, can be arranged,” Wren countered.
Etore sneered at him, but was distracted as the waitress set two mugs in front of him. “Sure you want both of these?” she asked. “Not a good mix.”
Wren gestured across the table. The waitress turned, winced, and marched away in embarrassment.
“Why don’t you just let it go?” Wren asked. “Doesn’t seem a convenient way to live.”
“Oh, it’s plenty convenient,” Etore said, and snatched a drink from a tray going by. The waitress adapted without missing a step. “Take what you please, and no one bothers you. Well, usually.” She narrowed her eyes at him.
Wren sniffed his drink, and sipped. He wrinkled his nose a bit. “Not quite Highvale cider.”
Etore finished her first drink, and started on her stolen one. She watched as the waitress arrived at a table, and handed out the tray. On the last mug, one short, she looked confused, and glanced between two men at the table. Frank was slow, as the other man grabbed it first. Frank slammed his fist several times, causing others to pick up their drinks in case he did something rash. He looked around, grimaced, and glared at the waitress, who ran off in search of another replacement.
Wren sipped his drink. “He do something to you to deserve that?”
“To me?” Etore asked with a rhetorical air. “No, I’d do a lot worse, if he did something to me. As if he could.”
“Who then?” Wren pressed.
Etore shook her head. “You really don’t mind your own business, do you?”
“Not what he did,” Etore said. “What he didn’t do, really. Saw him chatting up this pretty little harlot in Thebes last summer. Saw them go off upstairs, not my business, but I notice things. Next morning, some Clarion priest is making a fuss. Riling up the townsfolk to harass her, and what does he do? Nothing. Big man like him could have shut the lot up, best I could provide was a minor distraction. Not unless I wanted to break several laws, and start drawing swords in the street. So I tripped Frank when he tried to slip away, and the priest when he tried to follow the woman. People laugh at idiots, a lot faster than they chase women just trying to get through their lives.”
Wren nodded. “So, justice of a sort.”
“Of a sort,” Etore answered, and took a long swig of her next drink.
“So, not quite what you pretend to be, then,” Wren prodded.
“I pretend, to be nothing,” Etore said. “Nothing, and nowhere.” She threw back her head, and took the second half of the drink in successive gulps. Then wiped her lips on her sleeve, and tossed it carelessly aside with a clatter as it tipped over. She reached across, and grabbed the one Wren had ordered for her. “Still sipping, little man?” she asked with a smirk.
Wren took a large swig himself. “Why?” he asked. He hiccuped and covered his mouth.
“Because, I hate people,” she said leaning forward. “The ones who hold their heads so high in the light of day most of all. The ones who think they are, someone, until the truth gets under their skin. Then they so often do something dumb, to prove they aren’t just nothing, like everyone else.”
She sipped her drink, and Wren did the same.
“You pretend, to be nothing,” Wren said. “Your words, not mine. Is that because you are someone?”
She laughed, and shook her head. “No more than the next fool,” she said, and sipped, looking sad. “Oh, I’ve taken the lives of plenty of someone’s. Ones, determined to be the worst sort, in their righteous certainty that they are the center of this world.”
Wren drank, and looked down, a dark expression falling over his face. He closed his eyes. “You say it like you are proud, but I don’t think I believe that. You don’t like what you do, or who you pretend to be.”
“You don’t know me kid,” Etore said with just the slightest slur. “The things I’ve seen, or just how terrible people really are, when they think no one’s looking. I don’t like a lot of things. Clarions, Lycians, lords and ladies. You lot need watching, so if someone is willing to pay, yeah, I’ll keep my eye on you.” She threw back the last of her drink, and stood up.
Wren looked up at her, as she leaned over the table towards him.
“So, we playing whatever game this is somewhere more private?” she asked with a spiteful sneer that belied her words.
Wren finished his drink, stood up, and offered her his hand. She glanced at it, laughed incredulously, turned and walked to the bar. She slammed a handful of coins down before a befuddled bartender. “Extra goes to the short brunette, when you sort out the missing drinks for the night.” She turned back to Wren. “I presume, you already have a room? For your private healing sessions.”
He nodded, fished out a silver, and put it on the bar next to her scattering of coins.
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
It was late, and Samantha had done everything she could to stay out later, save finding a room in an inn. She hesitated, wagon door in hand. She shook her head, and opened it. Sasha sat reading a book with a conjured mage light hovering above her shoulder. She made no indication she was interested in the interruption, and Samantha got in.
As soon as Samantha set the latch, she heard a voice behind her. “Show me your box,” Sasha said in a casual tone.
Samantha froze, spun, and gave her an annoyed and incredulous look.
Sasha raised an eyebrow, grinned, and then laughed. “Fates, and you think I’m the dirty minded one. There are at least six words I would choose to use before that, for what you are thinking. No. The one you think is oh so inconspicuous on the shelf. The metal is doing a bit to obscure it, but not enough. Also, I can feel the heat off it just walking by.”
Samantha did not look the least happy. “That’s my business. Not yours.”
“You want to know what’s happening, don’t you?”
Samantha pursed her lips. “You’ll have to do better than that.”
“I’m the one who healed the burn, from whatever you are keeping locked on a shelf.” Sasha set her book aside. “Not just some broken enchantment, like you claimed. No. Why would you keep it, or guard it so preciously? You want trust, I’ll tell you what you think you heard the other night.”
“I’m listening,” Samantha said, and crossed her arms.
Sasha sighed. “I like you. Whatever you think of me, I really do like you. So please, keep that in mind.”
“No more games,” Samantha said. “Out with it.”
“This isn’t my first time living this life, though, everything seems to have moved around. People I knew dead, people who never were, walking among the living. It’s taken me years to sort that out. For, feelings and flashes, to become memories and insights.”
“You said…” Samantha looked confused. “You said you knew their mother.”
“Knew,” Sasha laughed. “Yes, that’s a word for it.” Her humor failed her though. She had the look of one pained, but putting on a brave face. “I knew her, as you say, I don’t know how many years. Decades I think. Lived with her in Highvale, and followed her to Broken Hill, when her grandmother demanded a place for her at court. King’s granddaughter and all.”
“How can that be?” Samantha pressed.
“Try,” Sasha intoned. “Try, to remember last night. The versions that didn’t win you over. The moments…I was weak, and confused.” She added with the first sign of embarrassment Samantha felt she had ever seen from her.
Samantha drew a sharp breath thoughtfully. “I, remember, but it’s all a blur.” She leaned against the door frame. “What is this? What are you doing?” Her hand was on the latch, ready to run, but wanting answers.
“I was twenty-one, the first time I saw it clearly. Not just feelings, instincts, hints. The same moment, in shadows, played out three times. She was such a pretty woman, older, but so, strong, and capable. Smart, and difficult, and just a little broken,” she hesitated, “but who isn’t. Three tries I made at that flirt, before she actually smiled. Oh, it wasn’t so easy though, was it? Took me weeks to find a moment when your guard was down enough. When you were drunk, and smiling at me, and let me close. Oh, you broke that kiss, what, four times I think, but I was determined, to find just the right way, just the touch, just the presence that would make you kiss me back.”
Samantha looked away, her hand fiddling with the latch, embarrassed, and confused, because she did remember it. It had been part of what had bothered her so much. She had broken the kiss, and then, then they were kissing again. She closed her eyes, and let it play out in her head, until that moment when it felt too nice. Just for a moment. She still had broken the kiss, soon after when her senses came back to her.
“So, you’ve more than one, insidious power to play against me,” Samantha said irritably. “Yeah, I remember now. I see what you did, though I still don’t understand how.”
“Do you remember the storm-monk duel we watched in Napir?” Sasha pressed. “The next year.”
“It was impressive,” Samantha said dismissively. “I’d heard so many stories of how fast they move, how, you see more than one of each at a time.”
“How many, did you see?” Sasha asked in a very leading tone.
“Three, four sometimes, five, of each when the whole crowd cheered.”
“There was only one, or, well two,” Sasha said. “You saw five, but there was only one, of each of them. Probably more ways it played out than I saw. Which was nine, by the way. The rest were shadows in your mind, moves they did not make. Positions, and paths they did not follow, or reach. I’m sure you’ve heard of battle mages. We are traveling with two of them after all. More, if you count whatever Etore is. Special snowflake that one.”
“So you are a mage then?” Samantha asked, glancing at the light hovering over Sasha’s shoulder. She had seen so many mages conjure one she hadn’t thought much of it, but as far as she knew, Sasha had never used magic.
“Eh,” Sasha said, stood up, and strode closer. “Not much of one, no. Also, if we are to pretend that I haven’t lived another life, then who taught me this?” She gestured to the light. “I never trained with the arcanist, or any other mage. Not at Highvale, not on the road. I know of course. I know exactly who taught me, but, as you pointed out, there is no way I knew their mother. A woman who was, so far as I know, also never trained as a mage. Not, in this life anyway. Not at all, if what I am saying is wrong, and I am mad.”
Samantha seriously considered pulling the latch, jumping out, and running. Yet against all better judgment a part of her trusted Sasha. A far larger part of her felt foolish to even consider running from a mostly harmless healer. Whatever strange gifts she had, or story she was spinning. “So, you aren’t a mage, but you can do what they do, see things that haven’t happened yet?”
“Well, that’s just gift, isn’t it?” Sasha asked. “Is every seer a mage? Battle, or otherwise. Storm-monks, are they mages? The word is wrong. Codified by arrogant fools who think themselves rulers of this world. Who crowned themselves kings, and emperors, and then thought to sit above even these.”
“Then…why,” Samantha rubbed her forehead. “Why am I seeing any of this?”
Sasha stepped closer. “What, do I feel like?” she asked.
“Trouble,” Samantha snapped.
“Not an idea,” Sasha said with a laugh, stepping closer. “What do I feel like, near you.”
“Warm,” Samantha said. “A flickering flame. A candle, and wax. Something soft, and…molten dripping down.” She blushed furiously. “You always do this to me,” she muttered. “Even when you promised. You still did this to me.” She looked a bit hurt.
“I’m not doing anything.” Sasha said. When the look she was getting did not relent, she sighed and turned away. She walked to the other end of the wagon, and opened a trunk.
“Hey!” Samantha protested and marched after her.
Sasha ignored this, rummaged a bit, and plucked a hand mirror out of Samantha’s possessions. She held it out to the woman who just looked confused, to be handed her own mirror. Sasha dropped the lid with a clack. “If you won’t show me your secrets, perhaps you should see them for yourself. When you are ready, when you have pieced together the obvious. We’ll talk again.”
Samantha took the mirror, and Sasha moved to pass her. Their hands brushed, and Sasha turned, smiled, and kissed her pointedly before walking to the door. She unlocked it, and stepped out giving Samantha a curious look before disappearing.
Samantha marched to the door, and looked after the woman walking away through the empty market square. “What in the Abyss does that even mean?”
Sasha stopped, looked back, and laughed. “Whatever it is, I’ll wager three gold it isn’t as bright as you think.” She turned, and walked on.
Samantha glared after the sauntering, infuriating, whip-lashing woman. One who had long ago inserted herself into her life. When her glare fell to swaying hips she screwed up her face in annoyance, pulled the door closed, and latched it again. Quite ready to leave it latched for the night. She glared at the mirror in her hand, and the box on the shelf. It didn’t make sense, not the half of it. Yet either both she, and Sasha were mad, or there was method to her games.
Samantha set the mirror on a bunk, grabbed the cloth from the netting, pulled the box out, and set it on the floor. She closed her eyes, and took a breath. She checked the windows, to make sure Etore wasn’t spying. Looked around, making sure there wasn’t some person she had been ignoring, lurking in some corner. Her keys jingled as she unlocked the box. She opened it, and glared at the brilliant faceted teardrop. It seemed brighter than ever, which was worrisome. She turned, grabbed the mirror, and tried to figure out what the point could be. Then it struck her. She shifted the mirror till she could see the box over her shoulder. There it was, still bright as a candle flame, but not half so blinding as it appeared a moment before.
She spun, and found it there bright as ever. She got down, and put the mirror so that she could see the reflection of the shard beside itself. Seeing it directly, was far brighter, so bright it should hurt, but didn’t. She looked at the more tolerable, fathomless reflection, and understood. It wasn’t as bright as she thought.
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Kiannae fussed with her hair in a mirror. It was a hand mirror, propped on the back bed of the wagon to give herself a makeshift vanity. She tried bundling it up, but she never liked it up, and it wasn’t bad enough yet to feel like an improvement. She was used to traveling, and her hair getting less presentable. Usually, she was living in the wild, among druids, or far from more social sorts. Caravans meant people everywhere, strangers and new acquaintances with potentially judging eyes. Though many suffering through the same troubles, at least the women. Few as they were.
She let the hair fall across her back, and ran her fingers along the white streak from her temple. On a level she kind of liked it, though not the memory of how it came to be. Failure, and death. Katrisha blamed herself, but if there had been two of them left standing… It was a struggle to push the pained self recrimination back. She hadn’t seen much point in dying it anymore, once Katrisha had seen how it had long since grown out.
The same gossamer as crowned Katrisha’s head, since she had managed to burn off all the mage blood in a last ditch effort to control a runaway aether tear. She’d done it, which was both impressive, and concerning. She wasn’t sure she bought Katrisha’s assertion they had created one themselves in their failure to have a proper magical spar. Yet it seemed foolish to deny the obvious. She wondered if what had formed between her and the spirit had been one. That it had countered the blight, almost as an opposing force. In practice the idea made sense, in principle it was absurd. Unproven theories, viewed with wide skepticism.
Kiannae closed her eyes, and reached for a brush, only to feel her hair shift aside, and lips find her neck. Her head leaned aside, and she opened her eyes to see Taloe in the mirror, knowing precisely how to distract her from intrusive thoughts. She couldn’t keep her eyes open long as he drew up near her ear, but said nothing, just lingered there.
Katrisha had been flirting in a way that left her little expectation she would return. Wren already had a room, for healing services, and had been staring at that slippery Osyraen last she saw. The third bunk in their wagon was taken up by cargo, and she could reasonably be expected to have the night to herself. Well. Themselves.
The ambiguity bothered her, but Taloe did not stop, and knew precisely how to distract her.
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Estae 23rd, 655 E.R.
It was long after midnight, and true to expectations Kiannae had never been called upon to unlatch the wagon door. She had almost drifted off with her head on Taloe’s shoulder. Soft, smooth and warm. Her fingers traced skin that sometimes rippled like water beneath the track of her caress. He was drifting, on the edge of sleep, his form barely held together by magic he had learned from a dragon. He wasn’t big, or strong. Not compared to Kiannae at least, but he was a force of nature, one bound by will, some of it hers.
She could feel the entropic hum of a material form held together on borrowed energy. Burning chemical bonds in the air with his breath. She felt herself drifting into him, feeling the process, free oxygen escaping his lips, like a tree. How ironic. She could feel the fractal texture of his warmth, like a dimple in her own aura, a collection of her power. He existed by her will, but he had one of his own. He, pushed her to distractions, but they were wanted distractions. Something other than troubled thoughts.
“Talk to me,” Kiannae said softly, and felt an arm squeeze her more tightly.
“What of?” Taloe asked in a sleepy melodic tone.
“Anything, and everything,” Kiannae said. “I need to remember that I’m not alone in this bed.”
Smooth fingers traced her cheek, out her shoulder, and down her arm. “You are, my anything, and everything. Yet you are afraid to lose me, to yourself. I am afraid too, because I sometimes think the only thing that keeps me from being consumed by your will, is that you want me, as I am. You want, something outside yourself.”
“Is that what I have?” Kiannae asked. “I’ve begun to wonder. Wonder if like a child, I have an imaginary friend. Just one, other’s can see.”
“Mr. Tree was real,” Taloe answered, unfazed.
Kiannae sat up, and glared down at him. “The least you could do is be offended that I questioned your very existence.”
Taloe ran his hand along her arm, and looked up into her eyes, then down across her form. “You may question my existence any time you please, so long as it is naked, with this beautiful body in my arms.”
Kiannae stared at him incredulously, then slowly smiled, and started laughing. “So, playing the role of a man after all then. Boorish, and obsessed with carnal maters. To distract me from it all being just an act. No, I don’t think you’re real at all.” It was mostly a joke, but humor and doubt warred on her face.
He rose up, and put his hand on her cheek. “I told you, that my princess and I – poor Aeliae – we traveled to an island. The island of young lovers. My sweet princess, she knew what she wanted. I knew her nearly so well as you. I knew how wonderful it was to be with her, but not how oh so wonderful, it was for her to be with me. Though I am different with you, so soft, and smooth.” He bit his lip. “There was a time, that I could only feel your senses when you communed, but I have long learned to commune with you. I could be lost in you, but for your will, to have another. For me, to not become a mere extension of your will. Your love,” he smirked, “of my difficult streak, keeps me whole, and yet, oh so delightfully near.”
She found herself turning into his hand, and kissed the palm. He was a shadow to her, no matter how she communed. He could see into her senses, but the path was mostly one way, save desire. She couldn’t tell it apart anymore. It came from the heart of her, but that heart was him. A presence inside her own soul, that filled her with a sense of love, and connection. She tried, to open herself to that connection, and felt a rush of warmth through her, as a shadow became a wave of sunlight. Her own warmth, near him, mirrored in her senses. She fell into him, and found their positions reversed.
“My Aeliae was dangerous, but I loved her. Demanding, but I could return the same in kind.” He leaned down, and kissed her throat, and up to her ear. “And you, thought I felt lovely,” he whispered. His hand ran through her hair. “No, though time may tell another tale, I am not you. Still, I could certainly imagine far worse fates.”
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Kiannae strode into the inn, and sat down next to her sister, and across from her brother, giving each a dubious glance.
“Enjoy having the wagon to yourselves?” Katrisha teased in response to the attitude.
Kiannae turned, and flagged down a waitress rather than dignify that with a response.
“I can tell you did,” Katrisha prodded with a disappointed purse of her lips. “Your hair is light and fluffy, and I doubt you tracked down a decent bath in this town. Must be nice, having a lover that leaves you fresher and cleaner than you started.”
The waitress gave the remark an odd look.
“Eggs, bacon, some fresh juice if you have it. Hash or vegetables, whatever you have,” she said ignoring her sister’s insinuations.
“Hash?” the woman asked a bit confused.
“Potatoes,” Kiannae added absently. “Don’t you do that around here?”
“Not a lot of potatoes in these parts, mostly grow imports like that near the capitol. I’ll ask the cook though, if we have any, and if he knows how to hash them, if you like. Might be pricey.”
“Vegetables are fine. In butter, with garlic if possible,” Kiannae said.
The woman nodded, and walked off.
Samantha walked in, and noticeably glared at Sasha, sitting alone at a table. Zale seemed to be making some case to join her. Samantha marched up, and Sasha gave Zale a sympathetic shrug before shaking her head, and waving him away. She gestured for Samantha to sit. This exchange drew Wren’s eye, but he looked back to his plate and picked absently at his food.
Zale looked to one side of the room, and then the other, and found all tables occupied in some form. Though there were open seats, at most. He looked less than pleased by any of his options, but turned back to the three siblings, and walked over to the table. “Room for one more?” he asked without a lot of confidence.
Kiannae gestured to the seat next to Wren. Zale sat down, and gave Kiannae a look, before shaking his head. “I know how to pick them, I really do. Prophecy cursed women bound at their soul to another man. Red sisters who play favorites for caravan masters. Bout two years ago I found myself flirting with a woman I could have sworn was a Lycian healer. Quiet, pretty, kept to herself. You don’t see a lot of Clarion women on the road, and, sure turns out she was. Barking up the wrong tree, again.”
A fox peaked up, and tried to paw a piece of egg off Katrisha’s plate. She swatted the paw quickly however. “You had your share,” she chided. “If you want to be cheap, and not get a whole meal yourself, don’t think you can steal the rest from me.”
Tock flopped his head on the lip of the table, and glanced to Zale who gave him a dubious look.
“Yes, not all trees are right ones.” He huffed. “You not un-liked. Just not like hou Kiannae look at you. She tricky, not like tricky situation though. Has enough. Her an trade queen. Her and nice kit,” he glanced to Wren, who stopped picking at his plate, but kept looking at it. “One tricky thing at a tine.”
Zale gave Kiannae a bit of a pained look.
“You gave me the look,” Kiannae defended herself. “She came to her own conclusions. Not looking for attachments, and all that. Being the sort of woman she is. Probably found that wounded act of yours, troublesome.”
Zale learned on his elbows, and rubbed his face. “I went a good many years a virgin, I can handle a few months to reach Mordove. Just, she was fun. Little scary maybe, but fun.”
“Scary?” Katrisha pressed curiously, and missed as Tock swiped a very small extra piece of egg.
“Swear she can read my mind,” Zale said. “Never heard of that really being a thing, outside of myths of course. All kinds of crazy stories you hear out on the road. Nothing ever believable though. I mean, it’s not like you mind her little games. It’s fun, just, spooky.”
Kiannae gave Sasha a suspicious look. “I never pressed Mercu about it, because I thought Carmine was just trying to ingratiate himself with me.”
“Oh, yes, let’s hear about your flirty prince again,” Zale said with an awkward laugh.
“There are seats at other tables,” Kiannae suggested, pursing her lips.
“Permit me a little humor at my own expense.” Zale sighed.
“Wren,” Kiannae started. “You’ve never seemed to want to talk about it, but, did you ever notice anything strange about Sasha. When she knew things she shouldn’t, or it felt like she had said something she didn’t.”
Wren looked a bit pale.
Katrisha reached across, and set her hand on his.
Wren shook his head, and closed his eyes. He looked up again pointedly. “Things like I saw when I held Katrisha’s staff?” he asked for confirmation.
“I remember knowing her as mother,” Wren said. “I just told Katrisha the other day, thought, maybe she told you.”
Kiannae looked confused.
“You’ve been so worried about everything Ki,” Katrisha offered, “and, it clearly was something Wren was not ready to spread around. I planned to ask him to tell you himself.”
“Do you,” Kiannae said, and hesitated. She took a breath. “Do you remember, if Katrisha… I’m sorry this is horrible, but do you remember Katrisha being there.”
Wren looked pained.
Zale looked around the table at the tension, though utterly confused by the conversation.
“Yes, and no,” Wren said, and swallowed. “Not just Kat,” Wren said. “I remember both of you, and only one of you, and…” He struggled, trying not to cry. “Only a stillborn. She spent days crying on father’s shoulder. Names, they are just shadows on the wall, but the moments… Those moments that mean the world to you, and feel like your world has ended. Those burn through. Amidst that, if she, did anything like what I felt on the road, I wouldn’t have noticed. Being near her, filled me with emotions that tore my heart in half. Love, and jealousy, and confusion.”
He sniffed, rubbed away a tear angrily, and ate more from his plate.
“Ok, so, many questions,” Zale said flustered. “You remember your sisters never being born, even though you are younger than them? Ok, mother’s soul, I got that, maybe, I guess no one made it clear to me you have her memories, and she, and you, were with Sasha over there. Fates, what have I stepped in now.” He rubbed his brow.
“Pretty much,” Wren answered. “It’s only been coming back to me this clearly since the mountain, and the tree. Ever since I first touched Katrisha’s staff. Before it was, just after images, feelings, impressions, shadows of memories that didn’t fit.”
“Weren’t you two supposed to be the ones of prophecy?” Zale demanded looking between the sisters.
“Long shado’s,” Tock said, and stole the last piece of egg, even though everyone was looking. “At sunset, the shado’ is long, it casts all things.” He nibbled his stollen egg with smacking delight. He tilted his head that everyone was still staring at him. “All things cast shado’,” he said as though he was explaining something with it. The fox shook his head. “Does not translate.”
He disappeared beneath the table, and no one quite saw him leave.
“Talking foxes, and prophecy, just what I ordered for breakfast,” Kiannae muttered.
“Um, your eggs, bacon, and vegetables,” the waitress said setting a plate in front of Kiannae. “What would you like hun?” she asked of Zale.
“Much, much less complicated women in my life,” Zale said. “Barring that, what she’s having. Looks good.”
Samantha got up suddenly, and marched out of the inn. Zale glanced to Sasha, who was shaking her head.
“Much, less complicated,” he added as the woman gave him a curious smile.
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