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|Well, I told you there was a Big Revision underway, and here it is. Much apologies to everyone whose characters aren't in the Big Revision yet--they'll probably be in the next update. If anyone wants to edit this or give me any pointers, your advice will be much appreciated.|
This is a story written by me, using characters made up by my friends. Mods: I have full and complete permission of said friends to use their characters in my own story.
Characters Not Made by Me:
SAEBYN by CHARLOTTE
RAJAKÉ by CHARLOTTE
LIRA by JUSTENE
ANITA by JAMIE
"If 'twere a demon of my own making, I might dispel it. But I can do no more
than ye until its maker has died a death terrible to enough to compensate for his evil deeds." ~~ ~~
"But all yy power--will it be for naught? While we wait for its maker's death this demon will consume us! I trusted ye, Sorcerer, to protect me! But you have failed in this, yy one duty!"
"By the gods, Saebyn! If I had my powers now do you think I would for a moment hesitate before smiting this demon as it so rightly deserves? I'm as helpless as ye!"
"Jaké," Saebyn sat cross-legged on the stage and leaned back. "You aren't following the script. Yy character has already discovered his powers and had them trained. This tale isn't about ye."
Rajaké nodded sullenly. Saebyn peered up at him and, recognizing one of the boy's more grumpy moods, patted the wooden floor beside her. Rajaké did not sit, which Saebyn took to be a bad sign.
"Saebyn, I have to leave." He offered no more explanation, but the girl guessed his reasons.
"I'm a sorcerer. I have powers. But I can't use them. It's like--like having a fortune just out of yy reach. Infuriating. I need to fine someone willing to teach me and then, you'll see, I will be able to play this part well."
Saebyn forced a light into her eyes and smiled, covering her sorrow at losing such a friend. She was a remarkably good actress for her twelve years, and Rajaké did not see through her pretense. "I hardly think such a grand magicker as yyself will stay a lowly actor. You will more likely become a king's high sorcerer, or at the least a duke's." She sighed, a sigh that said volumes more than her cheerful words. "Ah, Jaké. You will go far in life."
She sat sullenly at her table, glowering at anybody who came in the door. The girl heaping potatoes and gravy on Lira's plate gave her a cheery grin, and Lira smiled falsely back.
Lira made it halfway through the meal before she lost it. The food really was good, and it almost made her happy. And that made her mad. I don't want to be happy, curse it! Lira scratched her head and pulled out a louse. She glared at it, too, wriggling on the end of her finger. She wanted to plant it in some lady's mound of curls. Failing that, the cheerful serving girl had too-perfect hair. But how to manage it?
Cooing over her hair was certainly a possibility, but not Lira's style. Her style would probably get her booted out of the pub for good, but what did she care? She'd be moving on soon anyway.
Lira glanced around the smelly room. It wasn't for her. She didn't think there was a window in the place. She felt trapped.
The girl flounced over. "Three-and-two, ma'am."
Lira stared at her. "Three-and-two? For this mush?" She pointed to her plate of steaming potatoes and thick gravy.
"Yes, ma'am, that's three-and-two. It's actually one of the better deals in this town."
Lira decided the girl's voice was too high. She stood up, pushing back her chair. Simply putting the louse in the girl's hair, she figured, wouldn't be quite satisfying enough. And there was no point in wasting her food, either.
Nobody else had noticed her yet. That wouldn't do. Lira kicked her chair into the wall behind her, effectively silencing the room. Ignoring the quickly drooping serving girl, Lira flung her potatoes into the face of a man who couldn't keep his durn mouth shut when he ate. All that could be heard was her potatoes steadily dripping onto the table. Good.
Lira sneered into the girl's face. "I've eaten prawns for less." She held up the louse. "In cleaner buildings." She shoved the louse into the girls' hair, right down to the scalp. Leaving the pub in a silent shock, she strode out the door.
Her outburst hadn't left Lira feeling any better. She was beginning to wish she had just paid the three-and-two and stayed in the inn. Then I could have gotten a room to sleep in and I wouldn't be here in this accursed rain.
She felt a sharp prick on her head and reached up to pinch the louse she knew was there, but it had already scurried away. Lira was coming to see that lice did not like to be caught, and her finding one in the common room had just been good luck. Maybe all this rain will wash them out, Lira thought, though she knew lice stayed no matter what. Curse it, I hate this! Stuck in the rain between towns, soaked through and cold, she could see no place that would do for stopping aside from the bushes.
The moon would have been high in the sky if clouds weren't covering it by the time Lira was seriously considering sleeping in the bushes. It can't be that bad. No worse than slogging through the rain. And I'll be lying down.
She'd given up al hope of reaching the next town before she drowned in the growing downpour when she saw a light.
The inn was just as loud and boisterous as the last one, but it was blessedly dry. Lira squealched her way to the bar in her wet boots and plopped her bundle on the counter. The inn didn't seem big enough for many rooms, and she was thinking she'd be lucky if there was a place in the stable for her to sleep. But even that would be better than the bushes or a ditch.
Lira called over the man behind the counter. "Do you have any rooms left?"
He nodded. "Yessee. Most o' this men ir here fer th' ale, no' the board. I've a rum ri' up th' stahrs tha'll be gud fer y'. 'Nita 'ere'll show y'." The man called over a tall, big-boned woman. "Will y' be wan' ay fud, er a ho' drin'?
Lira shook her head. Eating in this room could very well lead her to do something worse than infect a pretty girl's head. And she didn't want to be kicked out of a dry bed. "Just a towel, if you could. And maybe an extra blanket."
The innkeeper palmed Lira's coin and turned away. Lira doubted she would be getting towel or blanket, but knew the room and bed were more than she'd had before.
The woman smiled at her. "I'm Anita. Rile's not likely to remember you, forgetful fellow that he is. And he's got all this to deal with." She gestured to the overfilling common room. "I'll see what I can do about the towel, though." She walked up the stairs, directing Lira to her room.
"Second on the right, then. And," she put a hand on Lira's shoulder to hold her back, "we've less rooms than Rile let on. Most people are sharing."
Lira felt her happiness at the thought of a warm bed leave.
"So's you may not be as well suited to the room as he said. And, well," the bold woman looked slantwise at Lira, "Rile may have thought as you were a man."
She stared at Anita. Me? A man? Lira had been about to let fly at the woman, but suddenly it all seemed too much to bear. A man in her room? A smelling, drunken pig of a man? He'd just better leave, then.
Lira glomped down the hall. "Send up a towel, if you would. I'm fixing to drip my way into the floorboards."
She didn't even bother worrying about the state of the man. If he was changing, she could take it. I am going to get my own bed in my own room. No one was going to keep her from that. Not tonight.
Finding the door, Lira raised her muddy boot and kicked it open, letting it slam against the wall as she crossed her arms over her chest to battle for the room.
The young man in the bed looked just as surprised at her.
I tried, I really did try. I tried to please my family, my friends. I tried to make them proud of me. But nothing worked. It was as if they expected the impossible of me. When I had tried everything in my power to beat the other boys in races and spars and still came in last, I tried again, to please Father. When Mother tsked over the state of me after the sporting I stopped, to please her. When my friends complained I wasn't any fun I told jokes and laughed, to please them. When my brothers and sisters told me my humor was forced, I laughed less, to please them. And when Ané, dear Ané, told me I should be myself . . .
I'd like to say I stopped trying to please everyone, that I stopped caring what people thought. I'd like to say that I sat down with my father, with my mother, and explained that I couldn't be perfect. I'd like to say that I smiled at Ané and thanked goodness she was there. But I didn't. I couldn't. I had tried too long to please people, and even if I followed Ané's advice I would still be doing so only to please her. And I did follow her advice, really, but she wasn't there to see it. I left home.
But making my own way was harder than I'd thought, and soon I realized that sometimes I had to please people, to make money enough to live. But a few days' friendship doesn't buy a meal, and finding work was hard. No one would apprentice a fifteen-year-old runaway. I had to make use of the one real skill I had besides farming, and that was weaponry.
I joined the king's army. In time, my fellow soldiers and I found a respect for each other. It couldn't be called friendship, but it could be called a mixture of gratitude and sorrow. Gratitude for a life saved, and sorrow at a life lost. And, through all those years of all those battles, I learned one thing.
I learned how to live to please myself.
Nobody knew where Ja came from. Over the east mountains, some said. Beyond the west sea. It was all joke, meant to account for the fact that Ja was different. All that was known of his past was that he'd fought in the army. But that was nothing--many men had fought.
Ja seemed ordinary enough, married with two sons and a daughter, and was a thoroughly nice man. But there was something that set him off from the rest of his fellows. He was a farmer, and would share his extra crops with those who needed. He had a kind word for everyone, and would never hesitate to lend a hand. But one thing that could be said of Ja with utmost certainty was that he never compromised his own dreams to please someone else.
A whole year since leaving home, Van was far from the glory he'd expected. After months of pleading with his father, Ja had finally given his assent to Van's trip. Mother and Anta had been sad, and Cras had been annoyed that his younger brother was leaving home before he. But that was long ago, when Vans' hopes were still high.
He had to admit that, in the boisterous, overcrowded inn, his future looked rather dismal. Van had never seen himself a mercenary, but it was a way to make a living. The times between jobs were the worst.
Still, better than that Dakérenna woman, Van thought as he sipped his water. Always complaining, and then almost refusing to pay me at all . . . He'd heard of bodyguards falling in love with their charges. That's not likely to happen, not with the customers I get. Though it might be nice, to find my someone and settle down. He shook his head and drained his mug, setting it on the table with more force than necessary. Silly me. Silly thoughts. It wasn't very late, but Van started towards the stairs. He was tired.
Van never slept soundly, least of all when on a job. But the lessened worry of being off-job and rid of Dakérenna eased his tension, and for once in a long while he was able to nod off relatively quickly.
During the night Van was roused by a ferocious stomping in the hallway. He raised himself on his elbows, still half asleep, and blinked at the door. He fell back as the footsteps continued, closing his eyes.
A few moments later, the steps paused and began heading back down the hall. Van was stretching his hand to his knife when the door banged open.
Dimly wondering why he was being attacked now, after Dakérenna had gone back to her castle, Van burst from the bed and landed in a crouch on the floor, knife at the ready.
Or tried to.
Van rolled out of his bed, foot tangling in the blankets. He jumped on his free foot, frantically trying to get into his fighter's crouch. Finally his foot pulled free of the bed covers, he landed on his two feet, and stubbed his left toe.
Lira stared at the strange man hopping on one foot. He was not the foe she'd expected, but neither was he no threat at all. He did have a knife, and she was unarmed. She waited for him to regain his balance, but after he'd disentangled himself from the blankets he stubbed his toe. Lira's entrance seemed almost pointless; the man certainly hadn't been shocked into compliance.
He sat down hard on the bed, holding his injured foot. Lira's rage seemed to dissipate, although only slightly. But then she remembered her sopping clothes and dripping hair, and reflected that she probably didn't look much better than the man on the bed. She quickly pushed her hair back and crossed her arms again.
"This is my room, and I'm not sharing with you, so you'd better leave."
The man looked up at her. "Your room? I paid a high price to get a room to myself." He seemed to notice Lira's drenched state, and his firm expression softened a bit. He gestured to a towel draped over his pack. "I got them to send it up; it's probably the only one this place has, so feel free."
Lira looked warily at the man, still sitting on the bed. He hadn't made a move towards his knife since sitting down. Carefully, she crossed the room to pick up the towel. It was still damp, but she was grateful nonetheless as she squeezed the water out of her hair. It was horribly snarled; she would have to brush it before sleeping. Lira closed her eyes, imagining. Right then, more than anything, she wanted to sit in an overstuffed armchair by a roaring fire, sipping hot tea and having her hair brushed. She opened her eyes again and groaned inwardly; the ill-lit, bare wood room with only a bed, nightstand, and window was a far cry from her imagined splendor. And the man on the bed wasn't a kind handmaid or even a close friend, and she was definitely not letting him brush her hair. As if he'd even want to touch this mess. Her parasites suddenly remembered, Lira looked down at the towel rather apprehensively.
"Ah," she said as she held up the towel, "You probably won't want to use this now." In response to the man's confused look, she added, "I have lice."
He only shrugged, finally releasing his foot. "I do too, no matter." In another burst of generosity, he added, "If you need a place to sleep, you can share the room. And," he blushed, "sleep on the floor, or something. But the bed is mine."
Lira dropped the towel. "Look, I paid good money for this room and I am not sleeping on the floor. Now get up."
Van couldn't believe the nerve of the girl. He hadn't attacked her on sight, had shared his towel, and even offered to let her share the room. Van had been hesitant about that; in his trade getting too close to the wrong person could mean death for himself or others. But he'd followed his instinct--never wise--and trusted her. And how was she repaying that trust? Van fumed. His liking of the girl faded.
He stood slowly, using every inch of his height to his advantage. Van wasn't tall, but he could be intimidating when necessary. He crossed his arms firmly and looked down at the girl. Van had hoped for some sort of response--quaking would be nice--but instead the girl ducked around him and leaped onto the bed.
He gave up on intimidation. As the girl wrung out her hair over the floor, never moving from her perch on the bed, Van sat on the edge.
"I hope you don't roll in your sleep," he commented, stretching out on his side of the bed. "This is mighty small." As if the thought had just occurred to him, Van sat up and started pulling his shirt over his head. He yawned and lay back down.
The girl was stretched out on the floor in a flash. Van smiled. "Good night."
Van woke early. Turning his head to the right, he wasn't surprised to see the girl still sleeping. She'd gotten in late last night. He hesitated a moment about leaving without waking her, but dismissed his thoughts as silly. She'd be grateful to have the room to herself.
He got up quietly and shouldered his pack, leaving the towel on the bed. Exiting the room, Van's only thoughts were on how much he'd have to pay to get a good breakfast.
Lira woke well into mid-morning. To her left, she could see the bed was empty. She wished the man had woken her when he left so she could have had some time on a soft mattress. Lira had slept on the ground before, but grass offered more comfort than the bare boards. She rolled over and stood slowly, stretching.
Turning to her small bundle in the corner, Lira berated herself for having not laid her belongings out to dry. Going through them, she wondered how long she had the room for. Probably not long enough to let these dry out any. Everything was still damp; her change of clothes was soaked through. And out the window Lira could see it was fixing to be another wet day. She wished her cloak was dry.
Lira's bundle included the few possessions she still had: an extra shirt and pair of trousers, rolled up tightly to save space; a wooden brush with strong bristles that actually made it through her hair; her one tooth stick; and her stash of coins, all wrapped up in her wool cloak, to keep out of water. The money was only for emergencies, and Lira tried to use just the coins she carried in her pockets. Counting them now, Lira reasoned she had enough for a small breakfast. She brushed her hair--wishing she'd done it before it'd had a chance to mat--repacked her bundle, and headed downstairs.
The innkeeper, Rile, had apparently been telling the truth the night before when he said the inn's crowd was due to a want of ale. Or I'm the last one to wake, Lira thought. The common room was nearly empty, with one couple and a few solitary people spread out around the tables. Lira saw Anita cleaning a table and approached her.
Before she'd said a word, the serving woman raised her eyebrows. "Was I right? About the room?"
"And I didn't even get the bed." Anita looked ready to turn the whole affair into a joke. Lira quickly forestalled her. "Any chance of a meal? Or am I too late?"
Nodding, Anita swept the last of the crumbs into her hand. "Aye, and I'll have Rile give it to you free of charge. He over-charged you last night, especially considering you shared."
More than ready to take the free meal, Lira found an empty table in a corner where she could watch what went on. Anita disappeared into the kitchens with a stack of dirty plates and a washcloth. Lira settled back in her chair to wait, trying not to get her hopes about the free breakfast up too high.
The woman returned soon, with a small plate in one hand and a mug in the other. Finding Lira quickly in the near-empty room, she carefully set down the plate. Lira looked at it in wonder: a small loaf of bread, soft butter, and a slice of golden fruit next to a mug of rich milk. She hadn't eaten so well for a long time.
Anita grinned at Lira's surprise. "We feed our guests good here. And if you'll be wanting a meal for the journey, it'd be only an extra coin or a turn's work in the kitchens. Got a young master back there getting his free meal right now--you can join him once you've finished."
Lira nodded, already spreading butter over the warm bread. She watched the butter melt into the soft white loaf for a moment before taking a bite. It was even better than she remembered. This inn is a good place. No surprise the people work for meals. Suddenly, Lira remembered Anita's words. What if the man was the man? The man who'd stubbed his toe and cheated her out of a room? If it is him, I'm going to have a few words to say.
Trying not to let her apprehension ruin the good meal, Lira gulped down a swallow of milk. It cooled her throat as it went down. She eyed the gold fruit; she'd never had any before. Cautiously, she took a nibble. It was tart at first, and then sweet. Lira liked it.
When she was midway through her meal, Lira saw a man emerge from the kitchens, shaking water off his hands. She recognized him as the man from the night before and was glad she wouldn't have to scrub pots with him, though she wouldn't be able to do what she really wanted to do, either. If I had a plate of potatoes now . . .
She began buttering the second half of her bread, the taste of gold fruit still on her tongue. When she looked up, she saw the man heading towards her table. Lira glared at him, hoping he'd go away. The man kept coming. She wracked her brains, trying to think of a way to get rid of him.
The man stood across the table from Lira. He was probably only a few years older than her, she decided, but looked much more grown up, with his sword buckled to his hip and his cloak flapping open. He looked . . .
"You must be pretty paranoid if you wear your sword to do the dishes." Lira raised an eyebrow at the strange man.
"Hello to you too." He nodded and made to sit down, but Lira firmly banged her boots onto the chair opposite her and gave him a defiant glare. Instead the man held out his hand. "We weren't exactly introduced last night. I'm Van."
Lira stared at the hand. "I'm Lira."
Van pulled his hand back and looked around for an empty chair. Seeing none close by, he picked up Lira's feet and set them on the floor, sitting in the vacated chair. "Excuse me."
Lira glared at him, straightening in her chair. She shoved the bread into her mouth, cursing this Van fellow for ruining an otherwise good meal.
They sat there, neither speaking. Lira was not going to make conversation with Van willingly.
Van couldn't see how he was going to get the girl talking. She said nothing, volunteered no information. He decided to try small talk.
"So, Lira. Did you sleep well last night?"
Stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid! Van gave himself several hard mental kicks. Stupid! Lira stared at him for a good minute. Van gulped under her gaze. When she finally spoke, Lira's voice was calm.
"I think, mister Van, that it would be best if you told me why you are here. And you'd darn well better tell the truth, too," she finished, her voice regaining its edge.
Van thought frantically. If I tell her the real reason, she'll leave. If I tell her a lie, she'll leave. If I tell her a plausible lie that could be the truth . . . "I found a cure for lice," he blurted.
Lira huhed, but Van noticed she seemed to have forgotten her plate. "A cure for lice? There is none. I've washed my hair more times than you can imagine since I got lice, sometimes even once a day. I cut my hair and went through it with the finest comb I could find. And they're still here."
"But this way works," Van insisted, not at all sure what the cure was. "They're gone in a week!"
Lira looked at him skeptically. "What are you, some sort of trader?" She tilted back in her chair. Then she leaned forward on the table. "Tell me about this cure."
"Oil, eh?" Lira looked doubtfully at the bottle sitting on the nightstand. "This is, if you hadn't noticed, what the cook uses for her baking."
Van looked up from his pack. "She sold it to me."
"She sold it to a loony. Whoever told you about this cure was pulling your leg." Lira sat down on the bed. Van had paid for another night in the room--she hadn't offered to contribute any money--so they could administer the lice cure. Lira still didn't know exactly what the process involved, and was watching Van rummage through his pack closely. "What are you looking for?"
"It wasn't yours, was it?" When Van shook his head, Lira continued. "Then they've probably taken it back, haven't they? Unless you stole it. You'd better go down and ask for it again."
Lira grinned to herself as Van stomped out the door frustratedly. She did not for a moment intend to let Van perform his miracle cure on her until he performed it on himself. He'd get a bit of a rude awakening when she told him that. For his part, Van seemed to have forgotten he himself had lice.
Van came back with the towel, grinning a bit. "It really is the only one they have," he said, holding it up. "Guess there's not a very high demand."
Lira showed no response, staring at him calmly. Van cleared his throat.
"Ah, yes." He dropped the towel on the foot of the bed. "The idea is to smother them."
"With a towel?"
Irritation finally showing through, Van spoke slowly and deliberately. "No. With the oil. You . . . rub it into your hair like you're washing it, and you leave it there."... Lira looked at Van apprehensively. She wasn't the sort of girl who was always fussing over her hair, but the idea of slathering oil over her head was not overly appealing. "And how long do I leave this in my hair?"
"Overnight," came Van's unhesitant reply. "And wash it out in the morning."... "So let me get this straight." Lira stood and took a step towards Van, crossing her arms. "I make to wash my hair, except I use oil, and I leave it in overnight. I somehow manage to sleep without getting oil on everything, and in the morning my lice are gone." Lira cocked her head. "Have I got that right?"
Van sighed. "All right, Lira, all right."
Leaning her weight on one foot, Lira waited.
"I made up the cure. I don't know how to get rid of lice. I don't know if you even can get rid of lice. I just . . . " He had been looking at Lira, but now Van looked down. "I didn't want you to leave."
"No cure? No cure?" Lira gaped at Van. "No cure? You lied?" She scoffed. "Liar. I'm leaving."
Van watched silently as Lira stomped across the room, threw open the door, and tramped down the hall.
He stood there for a long moment listening to the sound of her feet marching steadily away.
Liar. Lira thumped down the stairs. Pathetic, stupid liar. Didn't want me to leave, eh? Well I'm leaving now, no doubt about that. I'm leaving, leaving, leaving. Leaving! I'm-- She stopped suddenly in the middle of the common room and looked at her hands. I forgot my pack.
Van sat on the bed dismally. He remembered, once, telling Cras about his dream. His brother had laughed and told Van that nobody could possibly be his someone. Cras had always had girls swooning over him. When asked, Anta said Van was too reclusive for girls to like him much. And Father . . . Father tried. Telling me I should always be myself--he sounds . . . like a father. Van sighed. Well, Father, I was myself. And look where it got me. Lira's gone. I liked her. She made me laugh inside. I would've liked to get to know her better, even only as a friend. But now I'm never going to see her again.
Somebody knocked at the door.
Van looked at the door. The knock came again, more insistent this time. Standing up slowly, he looked out the window before crossing to the door. It wasn't late--the knocker certainly couldn't be coming for a room. Maybe it was someone for the towel. Maybe it was . . . Van didn't let himself think the thought. But he did quicken his step, making it to the door in two long strides. He swung it open, and . . .
Looked straight into the eyes of one of the serving women.
He tried to make his voice light. "Did you want the towel back? I've quite finished."
The woman smiled good-naturedly. "No, sir, thought if you're done I'll take it down. I've got your meal here; you left afore Cookie could give it to you." She held out a small parcel wrapped in cheap cloth.
"Thank you." He took the food and started to turn. "I'll get the towel."
The woman nodded and watched as Van plucked the towel from the bed and began to fold it. He stopped midway, looking at something on the floor. The woman saw him bend down and carefully pick it up. As he still stared, the serving woman spoke.
"That's the other reason why I'm here. The young mistress forgot her pack, and was hoping I'd be good enough to fetch it down."
Van tried to sound casual as he handed her the half-folded towel. "No worry. Tell her . . . tell Lira I'll bring it down myself."
But the woman shook her head. "I'm sorry, young sir, but she told me right specific-like that she wanted me to get it. Says she never wants to see you again."
"Oh." Van spoke quietly. "Well, tell her--" He paused. "I don't know. Tell her good-bye. From me."
The serving woman took the bundle, holding it awkwardly with the towel. She gave Van an inquisitory look. "All right. I'll tell the mistress good-bye from you." Turning to go, she stopped and looked back at Van. "I'm sorry, lad."
When Van looked out the window a few minutes later, he saw Lira walking down the road quickly, bundle clutched in one hand and head held high. She did not look back.
~~Lira Aquette was miserable. It was raining outside, bugs were crawling on her head, and a decrepit hand-harp was squeaking dismally at the front of the dirty inn. She wanted to scream.
|To Dance Chapter II||
The Hoodie-Crow (Bit 1)
|Flowering Black--Prologue||Hoodie Crow (Bit 3)|
|The Hoodie-Crow (Bit 2)||Daké|