Warren Teague trudged down a forested back road in an unscheduled rain, his saturated boots caked in rich brown mud. He kept his hood up and his head down against the relentless onslaught, humming a tune in time to his sloshing steps and the drip of rainwater off his nose. It was a rhythmic tune that had no words, only the steady one and two and three and four timed out with the pull of a saw or the push of a plane against solid wood. A fairy work song his father would whistle while they worked in their carpenter’s shop. Warren hadn’t touched a wood chisel in 60 years, but he could still recall the worn handle of the mallet and the weight of the chisel as he hummed. The rain redoubled, joining his song to keep him company. Rain and memories were not welcome companions, but Warren allowed them for now.
As he hummed, Warren felt the road begin to change. He looked out from under his oversized hood at the muddy road before him. He had crested a hill and before him, through the thick canvas of rain he made out a road that bumped its way down into a valley of stoic pines, their tops obscured by heavy clouds.
Even through the grey curtains of rain Warren saw that the forest dominated the valley as its chief resident. The trees crowded along the road for as far as he could see before huddling together for warmth on the valley floor. Warren huffed, spraying offending rain droplets from his nose. It was a tragic waste. This valley should be logging country, but instead its good solid timber sat growing wild, without even a treekeeper to tend to it. Warren shook his head and sighed, thinking of what his father would have said. “Leave it to the Agricultural Guild to turn forests into grain fields and grain fields into brick foundries,” he could hear him say, picturing the old Fairy as he plained oakwood into boards with practiced hands. The image in his mind did not bring a smile to Warren’s face. Why suddenly so many thoughts of his youth? He sighed again, his hot anxiety escaping into the cold, wet air as he started his trudge down into the valley.
From out of the sound of rain, Warren discerned a different tune, soft at first as it mingled with the pattern of the falling rain, but louder as it approached. The creak of wheels and the clomp of horses hooves in the mud. Warren stopped his trudge and glanced behind him, seeing a covered wagon roll over the hill pulled by an old white mare.
With a exaggerated step, Warren moved to the side of the road to let the wagon pass but the rather than trundle on, the aged wagon pulled to a stop, its driver pulling his wide brimmed hat up from over his eyes.
“Greetin’, traveler!” the man said in a northern Tenth Ward drawl. “Seems a shame to have a fellow walkin’ these Dair-forsaken roads in the rain. Can I be helpin’ you?”
“Depends,” Warren said. “Are you offering me a lift?”
The man, for he was a human man as Warren saw, with his strange round ears and his quick, brash manner, chuckled. “Wouldn’t have asked if I weren’t offerin.”
“Then I am obliged to take you up on the offer, sir.” Warren said, pulling his hood back, exposing his black hair and pointed ears. Instantly the man gasped, pulling back from him as his face blossomed red with embarrassment. He doffed his wide hat in rushed respect, heedless of the torrent that now covered him.
“Beggin your pardon, your faeship.” the man stammered, wringing his hat, “I didn’t think you was a… I mean I saw you walkin’ the road and I’d never thought you was a…“
“A Fairy?” Warren said with a smiling wink.
“The very same, your faeship. The very same! Only a daft fool wouldn’t know a proper fairy gent when they see one!” the man blubbered, running shaky hands across his bald scalp.
“Then you’re in luck!” Warren laughed, crossing around the cart to the side seat. He leapt up, settling himself next to the man. “I’m not what you’d call a ‘proper’ Fairy. My mother barely called me such, and my father never did.”
“If you say as such.” The man muttered, blinking back rain water as he tried not to look in Warren’s direction. “But I still feel the burnin’ shames, I do. Deep down in my hollows, your faeship. You’ll not curse me or magic me will ya?” The man reminded Warren of a fidgety cat in a ruffed collar.
“I promise I won’t,” Warren replied, placing his travel pack in the dry wagon bed.
“By the Dair, his-self?” the man exclaimed, three fingers over his heart
Warren sighed, but copied the gesture. “Aye. By the Dair I promise no malice towards you.”
The man nodded, satisfied and he snapped his horse forward.
“And what’s your name, sir?” Warren asked, as the cart began its steady decline into the valley.
“Hold yer tongue!” The man squeaked, nearly dropping the reins, “There be no need to be callin’ a poor dirt farmer like me “sir”, your faeship!”
“I apologize.” Warren replied, his hands up in a calming defense. “I meant only respect to you, good man.”
“Respect he says! T’ain’t no need to be swishing about words like that on my account. Especially with House Sareine folk patrolling the roads.”
“Oh?” Warren asked, “And what would a House Sareine Patroller do to us if they caught me calling you sir?”
“They’d bewitch us, your faeship.” The man whispered, his eyes narrow and secretive. “They’d steal our blood with their water magics! Bind our tongues! Send us off to Lord Lutado to be chopping into fish food for his young!”
“Really!” Warren gasped. “All that, you say?”
“It’d be the right truth, your faeship!”
“And what makes you think I’m not one of Lord Lutado’s agents?”
The man’s eyes widened, decorum at war with panic on his features as they fought for control. He sputtered, the distinct three fingers of respect flashing on one hand then the other incoherently until Warren laughed.
“Do you mock me, your faeship?” the man said, his panic replaced by the slow burn of human anger.
“I jest, my good man.” Warren apologized. “I’m as I say, a humble but drenched Fairy that sincerely wishes to know your name.”
“You can call me Collin, your faeship.” the man squinted, distrust now evident in his posture.
“Then Collin is what I’ll call you as long as you call me Warren.”
“That’s right familiar, your faeship,” Collin replied. “Be you a rude prankster or no, you still be a fey! You deserve all the respect your pointed ears deserve.”
“Round ears, pointed ears, were still people, Collin.” Warren explained, “We all live the same life and we all die in the end. Life is too short to be concerned with titles and biology.”
“I’m unsure about that, your faeship.” Collin scoffed, “I gots about as much life as a summer fly compared to you. You’ll be walkin’ these roads long after my daughter’s daughter’s have gone to the ground.”
“All life is short, Collin. Be it a life lived for a year or a life lived for a thousand years, on that last day we all think it wasn’t enough time.”
Collin opened his mouth to answer but closed it again. They lapsed into a silence as they rolled down the hill into the forest, the already gloomy day becoming darker as they entered the trees.
“How far be you goin’?” Collin croaked, his voice breaking the long silence.
“Depends. What’s the next town?” Warren asked.
“That would be Fenway,” Collin answered, passing the reins to Warren as he lit a hanging lamp with a snapstick. “It be the hub of the valley and you’ll be able to bunk down for the night.”
“Any chance of a dry bed?”
“Suppose so. If you got the coin. There be only one Inn, Charlie’s Inn, and Ol’ Charlie likes her coin and she’ll take em anyway she can.”
“Sounds interesting.” Warren hummed. “Drop me off at this Charlie’s Inn and I’ll give you five iron ogs for your trouble.”
“Yes, your faeship!” Collin exclaimed, snapping his mare to a faster trot.
= = = = = = = = = = = = =
Fenway was nestled in the pines like a child in a cradle. Every building was a masterwork of pine and oak that looked to have been built so many eons ago that they had grown back into the trees. One of these masterworks sat by a languid river called the Brookstone by some, and was known to all as Charlie’s Inn. The inn was made of well kept local wood, held together by expertly made joints, stubbornness and perhaps a little magic.
Warren entered by front way, as was customary, and washed his hands in the stone basin of pure water, as also was customary at the dwelling of any water fey, or Naiadi as they were known. In this front chamber he found a round disk of suspended water above another basin. With a careful motion he dripped water from his still wet hand onto the disk. A sound like the tinkling of crystal rang and a young Naiadi woman entered.
“Welcome, traveler,” she bubbled, her long hair of pinks and purples and greens bobbing as she bowed 4 times, as was customary. “How can I assist you?”
“I’d like a meal please and a dry room if you have one.” Warren began as he set down his pack and then pulled off his oilskin coat, holding it out for her. The Naiadi girl merely looked at it.
“Dry rooms are hard to come by this time of the year,” she mused. “Rainy season and all.”
“What’s the weather schedule like tomorrow then?” Warren grumbled, his impatience growing like the puddle beneath his dripping coat.
“Can’t say,” the Naiadi cooed as she smoothed her scaly skin with a lithe webbed hand. “Weather engines don’t make it out this far into the Outer Tenth. We’re beyond the touch of the Weather Guild here.”
That gave Warren a moment of pause. “Are you saying the weather this far out is wild?” he finally asked. “That it does whatever it wants?”
The Naiadi girl smiled. “Not necessarily wild. Old Lady Weather has her rhythms and cycles like all us girls. Right now she’s all a gush but who knows, tomorrow she could be warm and sunny. Truth is we don’t know and besides it seems a bit rude to ask. Don’t you think?”
“Depends.” Warren said, “Does this have any pertinacity with my room and meal?”
The Naiadi girl sighed with such exacerbation Warren was sure she was going to deflate her white fish belly skin into nothing. “Fine!” she moaned. “I’ll dry out one of the rooms for you. But you’ll have to wait and it will cost you.”
“Six ogs?” Warren offered.
“A gold dair and two silver mabs.” The girl offered with a smile.
“I’m sorry, what?” Warren sputtered.
“I didn’t stutter.”
“You want a dair and two mabs for one night? That’s over two hundred lara!”
“Yahummm.” The girl hummed with delight.
“That is the most outrageous thing I have ever heard. Who do you think has that kind of money to spend on a room?”
The Naiadi girl smiled wider. “I think wayward travelers that dress in fine city made oiled leather boots and speak in a Third Ward lilt have that kind of coin.”
“I’ll give you a mab.” Warren offered, seething.
“A gold dair.”
“Six ogs still sounds reasonable.”
“We can do two gold dairs if you want.” the girl said, her eyes alight with pleasure. “Or you can sleep out in the rain.”
“Fine. One gold dair. That’s my final offer.”
“I’ll dry your clothes and throw in the meal for a mab.”
“Done!” Warren exclaimed, holding out his coat again.
The Naiadi girl smirked at him and with a wave of her webbed hand, whisked the water away from his clothes and body and pooled it into a floating orb of water no bigger than a fist.
“Food hall is in there,” she said, pointing through a curtained entryway. “I’ll be sure to let you know when your room is ready.”
“Thank you. Miss…?” Warren let the question linger.
She turned as she reached her exit and looked him up and down with narrowed eyes.
“Call me Charlie.” With a sly wink, she gave him a more appraising look. “Or you can call me whatever you like.” She sashayed out through the curtain. Warren kept looking as she went, but then thought better of it and shook his head.
Eighty years old. That was how old he guessed the Naiadi girl was. He was eighty, but a Naiadi eighty and a Fairy eighty held vast differences. Warren’s first love had taught him the hard lesson of the maturity discrepancy of fey even when they were the same age. It would not be a lesson he would seek to learn again.
Parting the curtain, Warren entered the food hall. It was no banquet room of the 2nd Ward, but Charlie’s Inn had a rustic charm to it with its oiled wood and soft carpets. Warren ran his hand along the bar as he sought out an empty table. His initial thoughts? The room and perhaps the whole building was the work of a Sylvani treekeeper rather than Fairy built. Of course the joints were hand fashioned but the bulk of the architecture had to have been magicked. No carpenter Warren had ever known could make a floor as seamless as this one. It has the smell of Treekeeper speech to it.
The decor was a mixed bag of Sylvani and Naiadi tastes. There were water vases placed about the room and water lamps giving off their yellowish green light, but the real guts of the room looked to have been made for and by Sylvani. For starters, there were no chairs. Everyone sat on thick carpets at low tables near the ground, and the sliding screen doors on every wall covered in leafpaper were also a Sylvani architectural hallmark.
Warren found an empty table near the back of the room. He had to look twice around the room in order to spot it. Charlie’s appeared to have been quite the gathering place for fey after sunset. All the High fey races were here and a good smattering of Fairies and Gobbins with the occasional Brownie thrown in. No humans though. The majority though were Naiadi, all worn and weathered like salted fish left to time and nature. He eyed them and they eyed him back, their bowl like cups full of saltwine.
The drink was little more than fermented salt briny water that had been aged over decades. But that was just the tame vintage. The truly “good stuff” was fermented with dead fish at the bottom of the urn. He could still smell its pungent tang on his nose and feel his tongue pucker just at the thought of that first touch of brine rolling over his gums. He’d been a young Fairy, only about 28, out on his first job, when he had first tried it. His Naiadi companion had insisted on buying him a cup of saltwine to celebrate… something. He couldn’t remember. All he really could remember from that night was waking up feeling like he’d must have drowned and that his eyes had been crusted in rhime. He’d vowed off the stuff ever since.
Warren caught the eye of one blue scaled Naiadi with tentacles for hair. Warren nodded acknowledgment at the Naiaid. The blue scale merely stared him down, draining his entire bowl of saltwine in one gulp. Warren blanched.
Warren ordered as a passing Janni woman, one of the few in the room, stepped within his reach. She nodded as he spoke and then sauntered away, her marbled white and pink skin catching the light of the waterlamps. Warren’s eyes lingered but then he sighed and looked away.
“I’ve been on the road too long,” he said to himself as he rubbed the bridge of his nose.
Reaching at his waist, Warren undid his ceramic shortblade and placed it at his right on the table, open for all to see out of respect. A few fey nodded to him, placing their blades on the table as well, but the majority didn’t. They gave him hard looks instead.
Two such fey sat three tables over. They were dingy dishrags of Naiadi men that held arrogance to them like a familiar lover; too close and with little care. Every tenth moment they glanced over at him. He ignored them. It was easier to not see the weevil in the meal if you never acknowledged its existence.
The Janni woman returned with a blue lacquered bowl of broth and a platter of steamed buns filled with green leafpaste. The Sylvani cuisine was another curiosity for an establishment run by Naiadi but Warren took both with a polite bow of his head. The woman winked at him and then left. As she walked away, Warren could not help but peek at her again over the rim of his bowl as he sipped at it in both hands. The Janni parted a curtain and left and Warren let his eyes soften as he pulled the bowl to his face to inhale steam. The tendrils of vapor seeped over him and he sighed and then sipped some more with a polite slurp. It warmed him like liquid gold and he melted in contentment as the warmth spread through him.
“Mind if we sit with you, friend?” a voice said, stirring Warren from his soup.
He looked up. The two fey from three tables down stood over him, waiting for his reply. He didn’t speak, yet they remained beside his low table. Distance no longer shielded Warren from the stale odor they exhumed. He eyes them, seeing their threadbare silk vests, the cotton trousers with patched holes, their feet shod in once fine shoes, the stringy blue and green hair that rested in a sloppy knot at the back of their heads. They were Naiadi of once prosperous means, now with hungry eyes over cruel smiles. It was like they knew a secret about Warren that he had never guessed at.
“I said, mind if we sit?” the shorter of the two Naiadi repeated. He was a spotted skinned Naiadi with coloring like a salmon fish.
“Depends.” Warren answered between swigs of soup. “Are you planning to talk or sit?”
“Depends on the conversation,” the salmon skinned one answered, sitting down to Warren’s right. The taller one sat at his left. Warren’s eyes raked the taller one and he saw that he was not full Naiadi. His skin was too smooth with only a tinge of blue to it, his hair was a garish mix of pink and blue but had the too human look, his ears were rounded and unfortunately protruding. He flopped sloppily down on the carpet, crossing his legs to lounge with a smug smile. With his gangly arm he reached to the table’s center and pulled a steamed bun from Warren’s wooden platter. He pulled the white bun apart, revealing spiced green paste. The halfgene smiled and munched on Warren’s meal.
“I apologize in advance,” Warren responded, his eyes not leaving the tall halfgene as he ate the bun like a man supped between a woman thighs. “I’m not much of a conversationalist.”
“Then we will be brief,” the shorter fey said, helping himself to one of the steamed buns. With tiny fishy teeth he took a dinty bite. “We notice you are a stranger in these parts.”
“Never seen your face before,” the halfgene chimed in. He had finished his first bun and had helped himself to two more. He ate them much the same way as the first.
“You don’t get new faces here?” Warren asked with a calmly raised eyebrow. “Fenway is the center of the community and the last stop before reaching the Border Station.”
“Were an out of the way community.” The salmon skinned one replied.
“Weather won’t even pay us any heed we’re so out in the deep end.” The halfgene piped in.
“Few really pass and if they do, fewer stop.” The shorter fey grinned as his taller friend munched happily on Warren’s food. “And if they do stop we always are sure to introduce ourselves.”
“That is very neighborly of you,” Warren said, his voice a calm warning on deaf ears.
“Isn’t it?” the short fey said behind an empty smile. “My name is Hank,” he finally offered with a thump of his chest and an inclined head before he pointed to his companion. “This is my associate, Quid.” The tall fey nodded, taking another bun.
“Pleasure.” Warren lied. “Call me Tarly.”
Quid snorted but Hank bowed his head with surprising respect before saying, “Dair’s Blessings upon you, Tarly.” Warren returned the respectful gesture and then raised his bowl, taking a sip as Hank continued. “Quid and I wanted to welcome you.”
“That is also quite neighborly of you.” Warren cut in.
“And to offer you a word of friendly warning,” Hank said, finishing his sentence.
“Ah.” Warren nodded. “Extortionists.”
“You see, Quid.” Hank said, grinning. “ I said he was a smart one didn’t I?”
“You did.” Quid mumbled around bits of bun and meat.
“This will make this next part quite simple. You are in the valley of Master Wendlir Trausse, friend Tarly. He is the Supervisor of the Agricultural Guild in this valley. When he speaks, his words come directly from the Head of the Guild, Lord Lutado Sareine himself!”
“Master Wendlir is very important,” Quid whispered in Warren’s direction.
“And,” Hank continued, “all who enter through his valley pay a small sum to insure that nothing goes…” he paused for ridiculous affect, “…unduly wrong.”
“We are making sure you’re taken care of,” Quid mumbled, his manner almost kindly if it were not for the cruel grin that hung on his face. “What kind of agents of the Agricultural Guild would be be if we didn’t want you to be safe?”
“I see.” Warren mused. “And how much is this guaranteed insurance of my safety?” he asked as he set the bowl down to lace his fingers.
“Six gold dairs.” Hank grinned.
“A steep sum,” Warren said, concern not reaching even his eyebrows. “Why so much?”
“Heard you say you’d pay Charlie in gold.” Quid chuckled, taking another bun. “That was pretty stupid of you.”
Under the table, Hank kicked Quid, making the halfgene drop the bun with a yelp.
“What my associate is trying to say.” Hank interjected, “is that you are obviously a man of some means and therefore have more to lose.” Hank’s eyes darted to the laden pack set by the wall and then the leather satchel Warren had placed by his left knee. His eyes danced with flickery greed. “We are offering insurance that that does not happen.”
Warren remained silent.
“I can see you’re not an idiot.” Hank finally offered, “You’re a good Fairy, a hard working Fairy by the look of you. You are one with whom fortune likes to wile away the hours, yes? Surprising for one of your breed.”
“Fortune often favors many different ilks, be it gobbin, brownie, pixie or even human.” Warren replied. “However, she does seem to enjoy being on my elbow.”
“But not today.” Hank laughed, a deep throaty gurgle frothing with arrogant triumph. “Quid, please relinquish our due from this fine fey.”
Quid joined in the laugh, snatching another bun before reaching for Warren’s leather satchel. Warren’s hand snached Quid’s, twisting the halfgene’s wrist in the opposite direction. Quid’s body was forced forward, his head ramming the hard wood table. The tall, scraggly halfgene struggled, yelping in pain. Warren applied pressure and the wrist popped, protesting as it reached its breaking point. The yelping stopped.
Hank grunted in surprise at the sudden violent shift, unable to react before Quid’s head hit the table. He reached for the squared ceramic blade at his belt. Warren’s fingers materialize around his windpipe. They dug in like crab claws. Hank pulled his hand away from his blade. Warren pulled Hank’s head forward and then down, forcing it into the table along with Quid’s.
“No one touches this satchel but me.” Warren growled. The two trapped fey struggled to free themselves of Warren’s grip. He apply more pressure. They fell into frightened stillness with Hank’s bulging eyes in rage. “You gave me a coward’s offer an I will not pay your extortion money.”
Hank sputtered as he tried to answer. Warren pressed harder.
“All there is to do is listen, friend Hank. We will make this simple. I’m going to finish my meal and then leave. You will not follow me.”
Hank face turned a splotchy pink as anger rose and oxygen became scarce. Warren pressed harder.
“You’re stupid if you think we’re going to let you walk.” Quid whimpered. “You won’t leave this town alive! Master Wendlir will string up your carcass for the dogs!” Warren gripped harder and Quid quieted.
“Trying to kill me would be a mistake,” Warren said. “And on my oath, if you move again I’ll have to…” Quid wriggled, trying to free his hand. Warren pushed sharply on the bent wrist. The crack resounded around the room and all eyes now rested on Warren’s table.
Quid bucked, throwing his head back in a howl of pain. Warren snatch him by his sloppy hair and rammed Quid’s face into the table. The impact sent bowl and platter rattling off the surface. Quid moaned and Warren smashed his head to the table again and again. Quid’s face gave and then crunched. Warren let the halfgene slump to the side of the table, gushing blood from a gaping wound on the table and carpets.
“Now,” Warren sighed, exertion in his breath as he set his eyes on Hank. “Let’s see if you are more reasonable than your associate.”
“What in the name of the Mab’s perky tits is going on over here?” The girl called Charlie, cried as she washed her way across the room like a crashing wave. “What have you done?”
Warren looked from her to Hank then back again. “I know how this looks.” He held out his hand in defense as Charlie stood over him. She was far more intimidating standing than she had been at the entrance.
“Oh do you? Because it looks like you’ve attacked two of my regular customers.” She snapped, arms crossed, eyes like dark water.
“I can explain.” Warren plead.
“There will be no explaining.” Charlie hissed, “You will let Hank go immediately and then I want you out of here.” Behind Charlie the Janni woman stood looming over her, a frying pan held in crossed arms and a scowl on her face like a storm. Warren noticed other patrons as well who were joining the throng, armed with shortblades and other improvised weapons. Slowly Warren released his grip on Hank’s windpipe. The Naiadi gasped, scrambling away.
“He tried to kill me!” Hank wheezed. His hand rubbed his red and raw throat.
“If I had wanted him dead, he would be dead now.” Warren explained as he rose to his feet, grabbing his shortblade. Warren felt the room tense, the patrons eyes fixed on his blade hand. He held up a hand in a silent plea to wait and then sheathed his shortblade in its scabbard on the back of his belt before lastly shouldering his leather satchel.
“Don’t let that calm hand, smooth eyes scrap fool you!” Hank whined. “He’s a killer! He said so himself. We should drag him to Trausse! Press the law on him!”
“Like we should press the law on you, Hank?” The large Janni woman rumbled. “This fey had no right to attack you, but I heard you trying to squeeze him for every iron og he had.”
Charlie’s eyes widened as she turned on Hank, “You dare! You dare trying to extort my guests under my roof!”
Her words rippled through the room like a torrent and Warren felt the air hum with water magic as the liquid at tables near them flickered and shook with her anger.
“Now, Charlie, I’m only doing what the boss told me to do.” Hank whimpered.
“Brella! I want these two out of my inn now!” Charlie roared and the Janni woman behind her swung into action, passing off her frying pan and lumbering towards them.
Warren had not noticed earlier how massive a fey she was. Her head nearly scraped the lower rafters some 7 feet from the floor. Her arms were taut with muscles as tight as the locks of pink hair she had tied down her back. She swooped in, hefting Warren and Hank in both of her massive arms. She trundled them over her shoulders, heading for the door. In a matter of seconds Warren could hear the patter of rain on the muddy road and felt the outdoor chill as she slid open the leafpaper covered door with a practiced foot.
Warren felt the Janni, Brella as Charlie called her, twist as she flung Hank like a discus and into the rain. The Naidai screamed before hitting the outside road with a squelch.
“I appreciate your warm embrace but I can walk from here.” Warren managed to blurt out.
“Sorry about this, stranger.” She hissed through gritted teeth as she twisted for her throw, “But what Charlie wants, Charlie gets.”
The world turned over in a swirl of rain, wind and muddy ground as Warren flew through the night. Years of training ignited in his brain and he tried to tuck and roll but the ground met him before he could. He ended up on his back, covered in muck, looking at a pitch black sky as rain pelted his face.
He rolled over with a groan onto his knees, checking over his body for broken bones. No sharp pains, nothing serious. Warren stood, grunting as he tried to roll the pain from his shoulders.
“I’ll need my…!” he yelled at the still open side of the Inn. He was answered with his heavy pack landing in a puddle at his feet, splashing more mud on his boots and trousers. “And my…” His coat followed, flopping into a nearby puddle. “Thank you.”
“You got some nerve, Tarly.” Hank growled over the hissing rain. “Master Trausse will hear of this! I promise you!”
“That’s a good idea.” Warren said, wiping rain water and mud from his eyes. Lightning flashed and the rainstorm doubled its pace, chasing more rain from the clouds with a peal of thunder. “You’d better run and tell him.” Warren encouraged, flicking his hand towards Hank. “No better time to nurse your wounded pride than now.”
Even in the sallow light of the open Inn door, Warren saw the emotions darken in Hank’s face. The salmon skinned Naiadi gripped the hilt of his shortblade, the anger in his eyes spilling onto his face in a savage scowl. He took a step towards Warren.
Warren settled into his feet, his shoulders relaxing. Hank took another step and Warren did not move, his eyes locking onto Hank’s and holding them like a starving dog holds a fresh slab of meat in its jaws. The Naiadi man wavered at the intensity. His fingers twitched at the smooth horn handle of his shortblade, his brain a sudden whirl of instinct screaming at him to not take another step. He did and Warren didn’t move, he didn’t blink, he didn’t seem to breath. They eyed each other through the deluge at a standstill until Hank’s rage crested to a sudden rude gesture before turning his back to Warren and running down the road through the pouring rain.
In the middle of the road Warren and watched him go. He relaxed and sighed, closing his eyes as the rain wash over him. He could feel it seeping into every nook of his being, as if washing the adrenaline that surged through him. It was cold, sweet and filled him with the smell of water. He looked up and smiled. Wild rain; a marvel he had not experienced in nearly a decade. The rain didn’t even fall evenly. It fell hard one moment then light the next then hard again but from a different angle. Madame Weather was indeed a fickle fish.
With a shake, Warren brought himself back to the moment and the muddy road. With a tired walk he gathered up his muddy coat, shrugging it on, before hefting his pack. The leather satchel still hung about him and he patted it protectively.
Waren turned and looked at the Inn. Brella, Charlie and other patrons watching him from a dry patio. He gave them a wave, which they did not return, and strolled down the road in the opposite direction of Hank. He whistled a merry lilting tune as he did. Before long the patrons of the Inn went back to their tables, a few of them muttering how they wished Hank had fought the stranger and now what were they going to do to keep them entertained. They trundled back to their tables for more saltwine and gossip but Brella stayed with Charlie at the open door. They stood watching the spot where Warren had walked off.
“Think he’ll be ok?” Brella asked, stepping up next to Charlie.
“Kagged if I know.” Charlie huffed, “Why do you care?
“I don’t know.” Brella squeaked, a blush at her cheeks. “He seemed nice.”
“Nice?” Charlie grimaced, “He broke Quid’s face and scared the smish out of Hank.”
“And strong too.” Brella blushed deeper, twirling her braid in her fingers.
Charlie gagged and then replied, “Well, he can drown out there for all I care.”
“Sure, Charlie.” Brella sighed, “Whatever you say.”
“He’ll be back though.” Charlie promised, crossing her arms and leaning on an awning post.
“How do you know?” Brella asked, her face confused.
She winked and made a kissy face. Brella rolled her eyes.
“I’m going to bed. Don’t stay up too late.”
Charlie grunted, noncommittally. Brella closed the sliding door as Charlie sat down on the stoop and watched the rain. She pulled out a thin stemmed pipe and held it out in the rain, collecting water in the bowl. She swirled it and added a few drops of liquid from a bottle kept in her cleavage. She sucked on the pipe and before long was sucking in liquid from the pipe and blowing purple bubbles that popped in little flashes of light. She sighed contentedly and listened to the whistling stranger’s tune until the song grew dim and was lost in the darkness to the song of Madame Weather, pouring her heart out over the pines of Fenway.
“The Messenger” is a three-part story by Drew Mierzejewski.