This is my second attempt to post this. I just spent hours doing the last one, and Our Lovely Host, Blogger, just failed to post it - and lost the entire dang thing. So I'm doing it again, but it's not so pretty as it was last time.
For those of you who can't remember what happened before - and for those new readers (Hi!), I've set up a couple of options for you. You can either catch up on the entire thing, or you can just read a summary of what has come before.
Read the Prologue - "Darkness"
Read Chapter 1 - "Malcolm"
Read Chapter 2 - "Dunbar"
Read Chapter 3 - "Sloan"
Read Chapter 4 - "Melbourn"
Read Chapter 5 - "Harbordown by Day"
Read Chapter 6 - "Tzal"
Read Chapter 7 - "Harbordown by Night"
If you're interested, you can also read "Melbourn's Storm" - a short story unrelated to the book, but set some time before and featuring one of Our Heroes.
To make it easy, there is a link at the end of each chapter so you can simply read on to the next one. As "Melbourn's Storm" is not part of the book, it isn't linked to the rest.
Harbordown is a large maritime trading city in the fantasy nation of Nenderen. It is rough and mean at times, but those times are getting worse. Someone is murdering the young boys who light the city lamps.
Elias Merriwether Sloan, a sorcerer and information broker, is just starting to investigate the murders. But at the moment, he is about to meet an old friend who's just back in town...
Malcolm McMarsen is an officer-for-hire for merchant vessels trading out of Harbordown. After an eventful passage that included him capturing Red Wind, a pirate vessel, he is returning to town for new clothes, a bath with Raeline - his favorite bathing attendant, and some drinks with his good friends...
Dunbar Stormglow is a bene sidhe (great elf) bounty hunter. Tall, handsome, and strong, he is little like his fellow elf...
Melbourn is a mal sidhe (lesser elf) thief. He is currently "courting" a member of a foreign ambassador's retinue. In his spare time he breaks into noble manors as a favor to Sloan...
None of them know Tzal Rynn, a young priest from Geshuan who has been sent to Harbordown as a replacement. Not naive, but idealistic, he has already used his holy magic to help many members of the city's poor - to the level that he has expended every bit of magic he has, and in doing so, temporarily severed his link to his goddess, Semessa. He is already a bit disillusioned with what he has found in town. Exhausted and sore, he has made his way to the Shining Way, a tavern/inn where he has been told has rooms to rent.
Of course, the Shining Way is where the others are getting together.
**This must be noted. Heroes... is not for children - or for anyone of a really gentle nature. There is a bit of profanity, some adult situations, more than a bit of drinking, and quite a lot of violence and horror. Be warned. I don't like to shock people who were expecting some nice happy-unicorn kind of fantasy.
Further note: this chapter is the first time that all five are together, and it's primarily about how each perceives the other. Call it a transitional chapter, if you must, but it's vital to the story. If you need sea battles, check Chapter 1, fights and chase scenes - Chapter 2, conspiracies - Chapter 3, some thieving and a musical number - Chapter 4. Chapters 6 is all about the "new guy."
Feedback is always appreciated. That's why I post these. Leave comments here if you will. If you prefer not to make your comments public, you can email me, send me a DM or @ message on Twitter (@nickolaswriter), or let me know via Facebook. I'm easy to reach. Thank you all in advance.
The Shining Way
Still feeling the strain in his muscles, Tzal took the two steps up and through the doorway. A spectrum of noises, smells, and sights assaulted him. The most overpowering was the music. In the corner to his left, a fiddler leaned against a stool on a tiny stage. He was tall and lanky, with a head full of blond curls darkened by sweat. He played something like a reel, but faster. Notes were halved in length, doubled in number. He both tapped his toe and bobbed his head as he played. Sweat ran down his shining, smiling face. A dozen people danced in front of the stage, trying to match the tempo and mostly succeeding. Around the room, patrons stomped the floor or tapped their hands on the tables.
The fiddle player began a series of quick notes, carrying the music higher and faster still. He raised his bow and brought it down on the strings in a powerful swipe. As one, the crowd shouted, “Hai!” He raised the bow and struck again on the down stroke. Again the crowd shouted. Twice more he struck. The dancers stomped the floor in time to the shouts and about half the people in the rooms banged their tankards on the table, throwing ale into the air. The musician changed time from 4/4 to 2/4, playing a simple scale ending on an upstroke. With bow in the air, he finished by shouting his own, “Hey!”
He paused, holding the bow at arm’s length, only long enough for the applause to erupt. As it began, he started again, slowing to play a jig at normal speed. Dancing begun anew and applause became rhythmic clapping. Tzal smiled. It had been a long time since he’d seen such an energetic musician. He turned to examine the room.
Smoke rose from innumerable pipes, filling the taproom with a blue haze and an earthy tobacco smell. Candles burned on a few of the tables and oil lamps glowed above the bar. At the back of the room, a pair of tall, white candles burned on the fireplace hearth. The room was lit, but not light, filled with shadows, but not shadowy. It felt darkly safe, reminding Tzal of being in bed with the blankets over his head.
A dozen or so tables filled the room, each with six or seven chairs around it. Almost every chair was filled; only one table had any free seats. Tzal glanced at the bar, a virtual bulwark standing against a press of rickety high stools and sitting, standing, and leaning patrons. Odd semicircles covered the rough wood bar. Tzal cocked his head, unable to guess what they were. When a frowsy blonde in a shabby dress rested her elbows on the bar, his eyes widened. How long had it taken for the patrons’ arms to polish those half-circles into the wood?
Behind the bar, an older man and younger woman worked in concert. They passed by each other, doing nothing more than brushing against the other. He was big, with the build of an old stevedore or blacksmith. She was short, young, and buxom. She grinned at most of the customers, whereas he simply nodded. A tall, redheaded barmaid hefted a full tray and started across the room. Her hips swayed and her body shifted, carrying her through the crush of bodies, barely slowing her down. The tray itself rolled like the deck of Waverider, but nothing tumbled.
Beyond the end of the bar were a couple of doors and a flight of stairs leading up. To his right, beside the bar, the fishy aromas of harbor city cooking crept out from under another door. A line of benches functioned as tables and seats, and a handful of children were sitting and pushing each other, acting their ages. All wore mufti, but they also wore identical blue neckerchiefs. A voice from across the room boomed, “Messenger!” The leftmost boy bolted from his seat, ran around one table, under another, and held out his hand. A heavyset man dropped a coin in his palm and recited the message. A few seconds later, the boy pushed past Tzal and ran into the street.
At the far end of the taproom loomed the large stone fireplace. Tzal nodded his approval. It was barely early autumn, but cold, damp air would be on them soon. Above the hearth, the mantle was bare of anything except the candles, a painting, and a broadsword. The sword looked old, but didn’t appear to be rusted. The painting appeared to be of a group of standing men.
Tzal waded into the crowd. A hole appeared in front of the bar. He pushed past a chatting couple and bumped into somebody’s back. Catching what sounded like an indrawn hiss, he saw a man’s eyes glaring at him from over a shoulder. Before he finished his apology, another patron had plugged the hole. Tzal grumbled to himself and aimed his sore, aching body at the only empty seats he could see.
The table was near the stairs, closer to the fireplace than the stage. Two of the chairs were empty, but a pair of young women sat on the laps on two men. If taproom culture was the same here as in Geshuan then they were free for anyone lucky enough to grab one. He cinched his bag up on his shoulder and reached for one of the chairs. He turned, ducked, and bumped the table as the redheaded barmaid passed.
“Stop moving,” she said. “I’d have gone around you.”
Tzal nodded, pulled the chair away from the table, and collapsed in it. Every face at the table turned to look at him.
“Why, the impertinence,” said a mal sidhe, sitting across the table. He made a blue-and-black dagger appear in his hand. “I don’t recall issuing you an invitation.” He flipped the blade up, catching it point-first on his fingertip. It wavered a moment, but remained hilt-up. The stunning woman with dark brown skin turned on the sidhe’s lap, glaring at Tzal.
He looked away, glancing around the table. A half-full platter of cheeses, a pot of spicy mustard, and a few cracked clay mugs lay scattered. He glanced to his right. A tall, handsome bene sidhe nursed a tankard of ale, but kept his eyes on him. It was as if he were being summed up, totaled. Between the two sidhe sat a man best described as dull, brown, and average. He sipped from his tankard and gazed at Tzal from over the rim.
Tzal’s eyes passed over him and back to the dark woman and mal sidhe. He had added a second dagger, balancing it on his middle finger. With his free hand, he took a deep drink from a half-empty bottle of whiskey and banged it back on the table.
A wiry man, dressed in new-looking finery, sat in the last chair. He smelled clean; actually, he smelled of lavender – as did the slim blond woman sitting in his lap. The aromatic man glanced over his shoulder and snorted, either at Tzal or the dagger trick.
Tzal saw movement across the table and jumped. The mal sidhe snapped his hand and both daggers flew up. One thunked point-first into the center of the table, the other slapped hilt-first into his hand.
“His eyes,” he growled. “I want his eyes!”
Tzal started to speak, but the brown man interrupted.
“Do shut up,” he said. “Errin,” he yelled, “can you bring a tankard for our friend Tzal?”
* * *
Dunbar was the last to arrive, as was his wont. He passed half a dozen people dancing to Derek’s reels and took one of the three remaining seats at the table. A tankard of ale waited for him. He hefted it and nodded to Malcolm. The waiting tankard was likely his way of saying “hello.” Malcolm hoisted his bottle of wine and saluted him. They leaned forward and thumped the vessels together. Dunbar had to reach a bit further; the tart on Malcolm’s lap got in the way. Her face was vaguely familiar, but then so were many of the women Malcolm saw. Only when he introduced her to him did Dunbar realize that they hadn’t ever met.
“I’m happy to meet you, Raeline.” In sidhe culture it was polite to inquire how they met, but the first few times he had done that with Malcolm – or with Melbourn, for that matter – it had proved to be somewhat embarrassing. Instead he just smiled at her and spared no more thoughts on where Malcolm had acquired her.
Malcolm himself looked healthy; the sea always seemed to well by him. He had bathed and perfumed himself, a luxury he reveled in every time he returned to Harbordown. He smiled; at least he had left that ugly hat in his rooms.
He turned and looked at his other friends. Melbourn sat with Sashama Altieri, whom he had been squiring around town for a few days. She was the daughter of one of the Astaran diplomats and would be returning home soon. Astar was the wealthiest nation in the Basin, and diplomats and their families all came from nobility. He also approved of her, visually; she was quite lovely. On the other hand, she found Melbourn attractive and had actually referred to him as “manly,” which only proved that the lovely Sashama was, in fact, quite out of her head.
Next to him, Elias Merriwether Sloan nodded. He was alone; his wife, Elenaya, rarely mingled with the others. He didn’t know why. She had carried on lengthy conversations with Dunbar, and he knew she actually liked the others. But she chose to separate her life from her husband’s in this area. Sloan was at ease, comfortable in his chair, but then he always was. In front of him were an empty tankard, a platter of cheeses, and a pot of mustard. Dunbar motioned to the platter. Sloan slid it to him.
“Would you slide the mustard, too?”
Sloan sighed dramatically and pushed it toward him. Dunbar dipped a thick wedge of sage cheese into the mustard and popped it into his mouth. He washed it down with a bit of ale, and looked back at Sloan. He found him watching the front door.
Dunbar turned just enough to see at what Sloan was looking. He’d learned a few years ago that if something interested Elias Sloan, it almost always interested the rest of them.
But the only thing happening at the door was the man standing just inside it.
* * *
Sloan was third to arrive. Derek had just started a reel and two couples were dancing. The room was nearly three-quarters full of people he knew. Those he didn’t recognize he glanced at, analyzed, and dismissed as unimportant. He spoke to Errin and Alyce, a zaftig blond barmaid, and ordered a couple of tankards.
Malcolm and Melbourn were waiting at their table, each with a companion. Malcolm’s girl was pretty, not beautiful. She seemed more like a real woman and less like an ornament, which sadly, was what he normally selected. Melbourn’s companion was not the daughter of the Astaran ambassador; she was one of his concubines, and her name was actually Chyla. Apparently the ambassador preferred to dabble with Downer ladies while in town; Chyla had spent most of her time away from the embassy. She would be leaving with him tomorrow, though. Of that he was certain.
He greeted Malcolm, who smelled fresh and clean, and let him introduce him to Raeline. He gave her a quick shake, passed behind Melbourn, and took his seat.
Onstage, O’Fallon was just starting “The Bull’s Lament,” a slip jig as profane as it was lively. At the next table, Gerhardt Padam, one of the Candle Street neighborhood’s most common sights, was discussing a get-rich-quicker scheme with Budrow Blue, the owner of Candle Street Messengers, the shop of those that wore the blue. In his usual gentle tones, Budrow pointed out the flaws in Gerhardt’s plans, but did so in a way that his dreams were not crushed. They’d been friends for eleven years, and had played these same roles the entire time.
O’Fallon slipped into a fast-moving bridge, playing only the fiddle. But for just a second, Sloan distinctly heard the rolling tones of a hurdy-gurdy. It was there for a moment, adding a bit of whimsy, and then it was gone. There was always more going on in O’Fallon’s music than most people heard.
“Get what you needed?” Melbourn asked, tapping into Sloan’s reverie.
“Good. Will you be attending the wedding?”
“I believe I will.”
Errin arrived and set two full tankards of ale in front of him. Sloan pushed one to the empty seat next to him and left it. As he took his first drink of the evening, he idly examined the table. A pair of clay mugs lay broken on it; Malcolm must have tried juggling again. In front of Melbourn was a platter of cheeses, with only one wedge of Smoked Yaer left. He didn’t quite smile. That was the thief’s favorite, so he was likely feeling homesick again.
He tapped the table and pointed at the platter. Melbourn reached around Chyla and slid it to him. He popped a slice of Red Nender into his mouth.
“You know what would be good with that?” Melbourn asked.
Sloan’s eyes darted to him before he could stop himself. Sitting on the table was the very pot of mustard Melbourn had stolen from his house. Sloan picked it up and reclaimed it.
“Where’s my damn candle?”
“It is performing stellar service in my room, protecting it from the demon Ghoros.”
Sloan began to retort, but skipped it when Melbourn pointed with his chin and said, “Dunbar.” He turned to look at the tall sidhe was making his way across the room. Idly he dipped a piece of cheese into the mustard and ate it. Cursed sidhe – it was tastier this way. He pointedly ignored the thief, watching Dunbar instead. Only when he realized that Dunbar was frantically trying to recall Raeline’s name did he allow himself a smile.
Sloan shifted his attention back to the troubadour. He had just begun the “Two Brothers’ Reel,” and the dancers in front of the stage seemed even happier. He caught another musical anomaly – three quick notes in counterpoint to the melody, played on a flute. He glanced back from the dancers to the troubadour, confirming that he was playing nothing but the fiddle.
When he glanced back to his own table, Dunbar was just looking toward him. He gave him a welcoming nod, which was Dunbar’s preferred form of greeting. His second was requesting food. Sloan slid the cheeses to him, then the mustard. He sighed; there was very little chance he’d get the pot home tonight. Dunbar’s appetite was legendary.
Ignoring a chuckle from Melbourn, he looked around the room again and found a man standing in the doorway, clearly out of place. He carried a bag on his shoulder, was sweat-drenched, and looked as if he could barely stand. Even with all that, he seemed nearly to glow.
He leaned back and watched the man attempt to absorb the sensations of the Shining Way. Scratching his chin, he spoke two silent Words, ones always near the top of his mind. A thick magical aura surrounded the man; it was as if he had absorbed magic itself.
No. No, it wasn’t. The aura surrounded, but didn’t touch him. It was as if the air around him had absorbed magic. The man himself was devoid. Sloan spoke three more Words, reaching out to touch the newcomer with his magic. His mind vibrated with recognition; the man wielded holy divinos magic; he was a priest. But he was bereft of magic.
For the first time tonight, Sloan was fascinated.
* * *
Melbourn finished tucking the long tails of a bright red shirt into his trousers and threw open the door of his room. A dark female form glided in and wrapped her arms around him. He felt a sudden obligation to kiss her, and indulged himself. He pulled her inside and kicked the door closed. When he could no longer breathe, he pulled away and took a deep breath. He smiled.
“I’m glad that was you, Chyla.”
“Good. Do you kiss every woman that comes to the door?”
“Yes. Unless they are fleet of feet, or well-armed.”
“So am I Chyla again?”
He kissed her on the mouth, biting her lower lip. “You’re always Chyla to me. You’re Sashama to the plebes.”
“You didn’t have to rename me, you know.”
“It seemed obnoxious enough for an ambassador’s daughter.”
“It is. Her name is actually Beronita.”
“Is she anywhere near as pretty as the ambassador’s concubine?”
“She’s prettier than I am.”
“Oh, dear girl, you’re a liar.”
“You’re a strange old sidhe, Melbourn, but you’re sweet.”
“I am both those things. You look lovely tonight.”
“Thank you.” Chyla picked at his sleeve. “Red is not your color. Where’s your blue?”
“I wear blue all the time.”
“You look good in it.”
“I bet I look better out of it.”
“You do. If you’ll put it on, I’ll make it worth your while.” She kissed him and pressed the palm of her hand against his crotch. The response was immediate.
“Is that your way of saying you’ll change shirts?”
"Indeed. Any chance of having my while made worth right now?”
“Later. I don’t want to mess my hair up yet.”
“I could scuff your hands and knees if you prefer.”
“I think not.” She pushed him away.
Melbourn shimmied out of the red shirt and dropped it on a chest of drawers, making sure it didn’t land on the red candle burning atop it. He pulled a blue shirt from his wardrobe. Chyla joined him and buttoned the shirt, which felt wonderful. It felt even more wonderful when she tucked the back of his shirt into his trousers. When she tried to tuck the front of his shirt, he stopped her and took care of that on his own.
“Why do you have a pot of mustard up here?”
“There are times when a man feels the craving that only spicy mustard can fill. Let us take it with.” He picked up the pot and found his vest. Several things shifted inside it while he donned and secured it.
“Yes. Where are you taking me tonight?”
“To the finest establishment in town; the place where we went on our first night. I have a friend I’d like you to meet.”
They left his room and descended into the Shining Way. Near the door, Derek was playing a dirty little bar ditty on the fiddle and singing along. No one danced yet, but the bard did what he could to entice a couple to the floor. Melbourn and Chyla entered the taproom and found Malcolm sitting at the table with a pretty young woman next to him. The ugly floppy hat and feather was on his head. Melbourn grabbed the hat and threw it behind the bar.
“Hide that thing!” He yelled to Giorg.
Malcolm jumped up. They shook hands and introduced their companions to each other. Melbourn took Raeline’s hand in his and kissed the air just above it. Malcolm attempted to do the same to Chylapo, but it was sloppy and quite frankly below his usual standards.
“You’re drinking already,” he told the sailor.
“I have been a bit. I’ve had a bit of wine, I have.”
“I see. You’re have-drunk already.” Melbourn slid into the chair next to Raeline and let Chyla climb into this lap. He rolled his eyes as she shifted her weight on him several times.
“Giorg!” He yelled, hoping his voice didn’t crack, “Whiskey!”
“What happened while I was at sea?” Malcolm asked before picking up a bit of dwarf-goat cheese from a platter and chewing it.
“Very little. There was some drinking, a bit of thieving, some wenching…” He twitched as she shifted her weight again. “Then there was the cracking of Barrendon House, but I know nothing about that.”
“Really? That surprises me a bit.”
“It’s quite shocking how little I actually know of the subject. But enough about me: tell us of your adventures, my friend.”
“There’s little to tell, I’m afraid. I can tell you about Red Wind, but there’s not much to it.”
The redheaded wench appeared with a bottle of whiskey and a clay mug. Melbourn grinned; Giorg had gone to clay tonight for them. He ordered a glass of wine for Chyla; it was what she always wanted to drink.
He listened as Malcolm told the story. As he was describing his fight with Red Wind’s captain and his arms were flailing about, Gerhardt Padam – that genial, good-natured fool – yelled, “Juggle!”
Malcolm grinned and snatched up their clay mugs, placing them next to his. He tossed back the contents of each one and stood.
He’d admit that Malcolm was better than most, but it always ended the same way – with a crash and a crash and a crash. As one cracked mug limped across the table, he shook his head, feeling only the slightest bit guilty. He had once juggled seven mugs and Malcolm had been trying to keep up ever since.
He ordered more wine for Chyla, but neither he nor Malcolm bothered with new mugs; the bottles were enough. As Malcolm finished the story, Melbourn swiped the cheese platter and partook of a bit of Blue Crumble. Chyla nibbled at the Smoked Yaer.
When Sloan approached, Melbourn snatched the mustard pot from the table and hid it in Chyla’s lap. After she quit squirming, he looked up and saw Sloan shake Raeline’s hand. There were some things that the man simply couldn’t get right. As if he could read his mind, Sloan ignored him and took his seat. He leaned back and started to soak up the room.
This was something he did get right. Melbourn knew he could scout a room as fast and well as anyone, but only the quiet wizard next to him could feel a room’s atmosphere without even trying. He let the man have a few moments before asking how it went. Getting his answer, he went back to nuzzling Chyla and drinking. Only after he’d given Malcolm’s food to Sloan – which bothered him not one bit – did he produce the spicy mustard and watch Sloan redden. It was his way of slipping a needle into him. Recently, every time they’d seen each other, Sloan had eyed Chyla in that way he had. He wanted to know what the information broker knew, but he didn’t want to know enough to tell him what he knew.
After blowing off Sloan’s silly candle demand, he glanced up. Dunbar came through the front door. Before Sloan could find something else to whine about, he pointed at the door and gave him something else to look at. He prepared a greeting of his own, but Chyla chose that moment to slide her hand down the front of his pants.
He gasped and pulled her closer while trying to extricate her hand. She seemed to have no interest in letting go.
“When are we going upstairs?”
“You’re a brazen wench,” he said. “We go when I say we go.”
“Fine. When do we go?”
“Soon, soon, I promise. But first we should nod our greetings to yon surly one.” As he greeted Dunbar he was able to yank her hand from his trousers. As he whispered promises of ravishment to come, he realized that everyone else at the table was watching a man wading through the crowd and coming toward the table.
“Who’s that?” he asked.
“Tzal Rynn,” Sloan answered.
“Weren’t you listening?”
“No, I was busy and she had her hands full. He’s coming over here.”
“Yes, he is.”
“He looks nervous.”
“He’s not,” Sloan said with certainty.
“Hmm,” Melbourn said, “he should be.” He slipped a knife from his sleeve.
* * *
Malcolm was alone when he arrived at the Shining Way. Raeline said she would meet him later, but he knew from previous experiences that she might not. He took a moment to check his appearance: crisp new tan pants and a white Lamaster shirt, short leather boots shined to a finish, and his hat. He’d had it replumed; a deep green feather protruded jauntily from it. It had been cleaned, starched, buffed, and made to look sharp – like its owner. He leaned down to check the boots. For a moment, he wished Giorg would put a bench outside for occasions such as this.
As exhausted as he was, as relaxed as bathing with Raeline made him, he still needed to come here and unwind. It would mean a long night in the taproom – drinking, carousing, drinking, and eating – and it would encroach on any time he might get with her, or any other woman. But no matter how much he tried to relax, he never could the first night home. To avoid the Shining Way was simply beyond him. He surrendered to his passions and threw open the door.
The patrons, most of them regulars and familiar, welcomed him back. He shook hands and clapped shoulders and made his way to the table, calling out his order in his usual fashion. When it arrived, he glanced at the tall redheaded barmaid who had brought it. She was fairly pretty, and would be prettier if not for the out-of-place tooth in the left half of her smile.
“I don’t know you,” Malcolm said. “What’s your name?”
“How long have you been working here?”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Anyone who works here is a friend of mine.”
“That’s good,” she said, showing her slightly crooked smile. “Can I get you anything to eat?”
“Surprise me. Just make sure it won’t get in the way of the wine.”
She left. He uncorked the bottle and poured a large splash into the clay mug. He drained it, filled it, and drained it again. He leaned back and listened as Derek O’Fallon played and sang “Prince Peter,” the vulgar tune about a ruler and his huge “rod of command.” He sang along with the bard, watching as a beautiful dark-skinned woman slipped through the room and up the stairs. When the song ended, he yelled out for “The Merry Widow,” his favorite. Derek pointed at him with his bow and nodded deeply.
He was banging his mug in time with the tune when the door opened and Raeline walked in. He jumped up, nearly falling over his chair. Making sure his hat was in place, he went to meet her. When they got to the table, a platter of cheeses waited. He immediately ignored them, so he could focus on her.
It only got better after that. Raeline took his hand and smiled at him, with both eyes and mouth. Melbourn and his lovely arrived. The jealous bastard swiped his hat and admitted to cracking a noble house, but didn’t want to say anything more. Instead, Malcolm told them about Red Wind, pausing only long enough to juggle a trio of mugs. It was clear to himself that he was a bit drunk. He lost control of the mugs early and simply couldn’t keep up. After they crashed to the table and floor, he couldn’t remember where in the story he’d left off. He aimed for somewhere near the middle and hoped he hit close to the target.
Not long after, Raeline surprised him by climbing into his lap and trying to get comfortable. “Sashama makes this looks easy,” she muttered to him.
Sloan appeared, and he and Melbourn spoke. Raeline leaned her head against his and asked if he was okay.
“I’ll be fine. I’ve just had too much to drink too fast.”
“I hope you’re right.” She kissed him on the cheek. Delighted, he returned the kiss. Their lips brushed then met. When they parted, Raeline smiled.
“That’s all you get for now.”
“That could satisfy any man for a day.”
Apparently Raeline lied; she kissed him again. When they parted, Dunbar had arrived and was taking his seat. As the big sidhe raised his tankard, Malcolm saluted him with his bottle. He leaned forward and they tapped vessels. Her grip tightened on him as he shifted. When he sat back, she muttered, “Not easy at all.”
“Who is that?” she asked.
He sighed and introduced them, cursing his manners as he did.
Raeline shifted and stretched.
“Are you sure you don’t want a chair?”
“No. I want your lap. I just want to be better at doing this.” She kissed him on the nose. He grinned and glanced around, to see if any of his friends had witnessed that. Instead he saw Dunbar and Sloan watching the door, and Melbourn and Sashama playing a bit of slap-and-tickle. Lovely girl, he thought. It’s always the high-class girls who are the biggest tarts. Looking away, he turned to see what the others were watching.
* * *
“That’s an odd man,” Sloan said.
Malcolm looked back at him, watched him crossing into the room.
“He just got in.”
“Really,” Sloan didn’t ask.
“He’s still got sea legs, he has a bindle, and he’s only looking for a place to stay now. He came in late. That puts him on Waverider. It came in after us.”
Sloan looked at Malcolm, who was already a bit drunk. At times he marveled at the wiry sailor’s ability to string logical ideas like pearls on a necklace.
“Waverider is out of Geshuan, is it not?” Dunbar asked.
They watched him look for a spot at the bar. Finding none, he kept looking over at their table. Sloan realized they probably had the only free seats. They watched as he turned to examine the room, looking at the fireplace behind them, at the benches, at the messengers, at the barmaids, at pretty much everything except where he was going. Twice he nearly ran into the backs of heads and once he just missed stepping on Ill-Tempered Orval’s tail.
“He’s lucky there,” Malcolm said. “Orval would’ve put him through a wall.”
“Geshuan, did you say?” Sloan asked.
“Aye,” both Dunbar and Malcolm answered.
“He’s not a big city fellow,” Sloan commented.
“He’s a rube,” Malcolm said. “Grennog’s Hold maybe. Nothing bigger than that.” Dunbar nodded agreement.
“That explains it,” Sloan said.
“What does?” Dunbar asked.
“He’s a priest.” Sloan said. Dunbar nodded.
“How do you know?” Raeline said, joining the conversation.
“I can tell,” Sloan said. “It’s in his aura.”
“He’s wearing scarves on his belt,” Dunbar added. “Those are the colors of Semessa. They’re much more common in Geshuan than here.”
“Besides, the church is expecting new priests,” Sloan said. “I know that one is coming from Geshuan – Grennog’s Hold, to be exact.” He saluted Malcolm, he grinned back.
“But how do you know that?” Raeline asked, watching him.
“I know all sorts of things,” he said, smiling at her. “His name is Tzal Rynn, I believe. It might be Derben Kilmer, though. I can’t remember which was from Geshuan and which was from Duncannon.”
“Rynn is a Geshuani name,” Dunbar said.
“And there you go,” Sloan said.
“What he won’t tell you is that he’s a member of Semessa’s church,” Malcolm told Raeline.
“It’s all still about the knowing,” Sloan responded.
Melbourn looked up suddenly and asked who they were looking at.
“Tzal Rynn,” Sloan answered. He continued to watch the priest’s aura as he arrived. A bit of purple flashed as Melbourn threatened him. Sloan could see Malcolm trying to suppress a smile at the newcomer’s discomfort and assumed that Dunbar was doing the same thing he was doing – watching for a reaction. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw even Chyla/Sashama join the game, glaring at him. He suppressed a smile of his own and shook the sorcerous vision free as Melbourn upped the odds.
Tzal Rynn didn’t look nervous; he looked a bit confused and a bit annoyed.
“Do shut up,” Sloan told Melbourn. “Errin,” he yelled to their barmaid, “can you bring a tankard for our friend Tzal?”