“The Messenger” Part Two: Brella
Brella awoke early the next morning to the smell of a world washed clean. She lifted her head from the rolled-up carpet that served as her pillow and she peered out of the small window of her loft.. The water gardens below were swollen with rain but the first rays of the new day danced across the reflecting pond like shards of shattered glass. The world looked new! The rain had washed away all the clog of daily life, flushing it out of sight. It glowed with the promise of a thousand possibilities. It smelled like fresh water, cold air and the heavy scent of pine. She smiled. It was one of her favorite smells.
With a wriggle she kicked off the heavy cotton blankets and rolled from her bed of piled carpets to the edge of the loft. Grasping the edge, she flipped herself over the wooden lip, lowering herself halfway down. She hung there, suspended between floor and ceiling by her arms, her legs lifted at a right angle. With practiced slowness she lifted herself to the ceiling and then lowered herself again. Again, with one arm only, then both arms again, and then back to one.
“Why do you keep doing that?”
Brella flipped herself up, hooking her feet on a bar she had secured to a weight bearing beam. She hung upside down, peering at the world upended. At the center of it was Charlie, standing in her underclothes and bare feet, her colorful hair a nest of tangles. She rubbed at her eyes as she stretched.
“It’s a good way to wake your brain up.” Brella answered between pulling herself up by her core to touch her toes and then lower her head back down again. “Care to join me?”
“I don’t think so.” Charlie mused, watching Brella’s exercises with mild fascination. “I’d rather have a good glass of saltwine in the morning than torture myself.”
Brella shrugged. She continued her exercises, quite certain that it was not as torturous as Charlie thought..
“I’m going to head to the store room.” Charlie turned towards the entryway to the Inn’s common room. “Do you want anything?”
“No, thank you.” Brella replied. She paused mid-crunch, “Aren’t you going to put some clothes on?”
Charlie’s face clouded in a sudden scowl. Brella did a double take to make sure she had actually seen it, it had happened so fast. “Am I not modest enough to be seen in public for you?” Charlie said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Brella huffed and began her crunches again. “That’s not what I meant, Charlie.”
“Then what did you mean?”
Brella stopped her exercises and tried to explain. “There were a few stragglers drinking saltwine when I went to bed. I don’t want you walking out there naked and embarrassing them.”
Charlie’s eyes narrowed even further. In silence, she slipped her top off and held the garment out in front of her for Brella to see. “I own this place.” she growled, dropping it to the ground. “I’ll walk around nude if I want to. Anyone who doesn’t want to see perfection can shut their kagging eye holes.” She parted the curtain to the main room with a flick of her wrist and stomped through.
Brella rolled her eyes and went back to exercising. Ask Charlie to do anything and she was bound to do the opposite. It was infuriating. She was the most headstrong naiadi woman that Brella had ever known. Her temper rivaled even that of some Ifriti bloodragers, but Brella had to admit that it was part of Charlie’s charm. Back home, Brella knew a dozen fey ladies that professed to not care a whit what others thought of them. But the truth was that it was cheap talk given as an excuse when her friends had done something that scandalized their grandmothers. Charlie was different though. She actually didn’t care what others thought of her. She drank too much saltwine, swore like a canal worker and did what she wanted, to whom she wanted, when she wanted. For that Brella admired her, but she wished that she wasn’t so often the target of Charlie’s storms.
A crash came from the kitchen, pulling Brella from her musings. She stopped mid-crunch, listening.
“Brella! Brella!” Charlie cried out from the other room, her voice shrill with alarm.
Brella dropped from the rafters, landing on the hardwood floor on all fours. She scrambled into the main room, seeking the source of Charlie’s cries. Close to the front entrance a group of Naiadi men and women lay asleep in a heap surrounded by spent cups of saltwine. Charlie was not here.
“Brella! Where are you? You’re never around when I need you!” Charlie shrieked again. It was coming from the store rooms off the main kitchen. Brella rushed into the darkened doorway, around the corner and down the narrow hallway as fast as she could, taking the short route, bypassing the kitchen. She burst into the storeroom, catching Charlie as she inhaled for another scream.
“What is it?” Brella demanded. She had skidded to a stop in mid-fighting stance, her knees bent, her hands prepared to block any attack.
“Oh hello, Brella.” Charlie said, smiling. She stood on a step ladder at the lip a black stone urn as tall as she was. She was staring into its depths.
“What’s wrong? What’s the emergency?” Brella demanded, panting, eyes seeking the apparent danger.
Charlie looked up from the urn and pulled a confused face. “Emergency?”
“You called for me. You sounded like you were in trouble.”
“Did I? Well that wasn’t my intention,” Charlie said, her face a mask of innocence.
Brella straightened from her stance with a growl and stalked over to her friend. “Kag it, Charlie, you had me worried.”
“Ever so sorry about that,” Charlie said, sweetly, “I didn’t want to walk all the way back to get you and since you are here now…”
Brella sighed. “What do you want?”
“We’re out of saltwine.” Charlie poked her head into urn again. “See!” Her voice echoed comically.
Brella peered in. It was like looking into a deep smelly well. “Who drank it?” she asked.
“How should I know? Could have been anyone. Could have been me in my sleep. Could have been you.” Charlie flicked Brella’s nose.
Brella rubbed her nose, glaring at Charlie as she replied, “Charlie, I don’t drink saltwine.”
“But you could have!”
“Or it could have been that pack of drunks that are passed out near the entrance.” Brella folded her arms.
“The ones you warned me about flashing my tits at?” Charlie replied, eyes narrowed.
Brella nodded. “I could go and take care of them for you.”
Charlie waved her suggestion away, looking back into the urn. “It would be satisfying to see you drop kick them, but no. I need you to go down to the river and pull up another urn of saltwine.”
Brella groaned. “That is the second urn this month.”
“I can’t help if it’s the most popular beverage we sell.” Charlie retorted, arms wide. “Go get us a new one and I’ll take care of the sots.”
“Can’t you come with me?” Brella asked.
Charlie pulled a disgusted face and scoffed. “And have to be accosted by that hideous odor in the woods? No thank you.”
“What hideous odor?” Brella inquired, genuine excitement in her voice, “I haven’t been able to capture a good stench in a while. Is it like a dead animal or like a natural gas deposit?”
“Nothing like that. It’s that one smell. You know, the one in the woods. The one with the trees.”
Brella’s mouth opened in confusion before it dawned on her. “You mean the pine trees?” she replied incredulously. “Are you talking about the smell of pine?”
Charlie shuddered. “Disgusting.”
“No,” Brella cried, “Not at all! I think it’s lovely.”
“Oh ick! Really?” Charlie gasped. “It’s revolting! And I’m not the only one who thinks that!” She pointed her finger at Brella to emphasize her point.
“I don’t get you Naiadi and your aversion to the smell of pine.” Brella marveled, “ It’s a wonderful smell and I should know, we Janni…”
“Have great senses of smell.” Charlie finished, “Yes. We know. You tell us all the time.”
“Then you should trust my judgement on the pine thing.”
“It just so…sweet.” Charlie gagged. “It’s like snorting powdered candy while bathing in clover honey. Besides, it gives me a headache.”
Brella turned to leave. “You’re crazy.”
“Not as crazy as you for thinking fish smells bad, little Miss I-Know-Smells.”
“I think rotten fish smells bad, Charlie. Not all fish.” Brella called over her shoulder
“Like there is a difference.” Charlie replaced the lid to the urn and joined her as she strode through the kitchens.
“There is a difference! A big difference!”
Charlie held up her hands in surrender, “Fine fine. Whatever. You can take your Janni smell snobbery and go take deep whiffs of the pine trees. I’ll take the savory smell of brine and week old fish any day.”
Brella rolled her eyes and the two parted. Charlie, still unencumbered by clothing, stalking into the main room while Brella retreated back to her loft to get ready for the day.
She hoisted herself up into the loft and rummaged through her trunk for her clothes. It would be a working day and so she dressed accordingly. From her stacks of folded clothes, she chose loose linen pants, a sleeveless blouse, her utility belt and her working gloves. She came across her pair of low cuff leather shoes but she did not take them. Brella, like most Janni, disliked shoes. They were hot, and cumbersome, but Brella’s family in the city wore them to be fashionable and she had taken a few pair when she had left. Whether out of spite or nostalgia, Brella was not sure.
She changed at the center of the room where the roof peaked. It was the only place she could stand up fully. She rushed to dress herself while listening to Charlie scream at the Naiadi down in the main room. Brella shook her head and sighed. One of these days, Charlie would be the death of herself, and Brella fully expected to be dragged down with her.
She finished by pulling all her tight pink braids into a kerchief and then took a look at herself in the dirty mirror she had nailed to the slant on the ceiling. She turned this way and that, seeing the rugged clothes, the hasty braid, the worn leather gloves. She sighed, her thoughts turning to beautiful mornings like this and the memory of silk and satin on her marbled pink and white skin. She could almost taste of tea cakes, smell lavender tea spiked with floral honey, and hear the bell-like laughter of her mother and sisters.
She shook her head, banishing the fog of memory. They were remembrances from a dead life, one she had killed willingly. She refused dwell on them.
Brella climbed out of her loft and down to the main floor of the living space she shared with Charlie and headed towards the food hall. Through the closed curtain entryway Charlie was still yelling and Brella winced. She would hate to be those poor wine fogged fools at this moment. She decided to take the back exit through the water gardens rather than interrupt. It was safer that way.
She slid open the leafpaper door and exited the Inn into the crisp morning air. Sunlight was dusting the tops of the pines and the world was awash in golden light. Brella took a deep breath and slid the door closed behind her, muffling Charlie’s tirad. She exhaled and smiled thinking what a good day it was to be alive. One of the hungover patreons began to cry from inside.
Brella strolled through the water gardens before hopping the back fence and heading to the banks of local river, the Brookstone. The Brookstone “river” was more of a stream with delusions of grandeur than a river. Brella had been to it’s headwaters in the mountains to the north of the valley and this river that slugged its way through Fenway heading south was pitiful in comparison. However, there were some places along the river that the Brookstone would deepen and Charlie knew the coldest and deepest spots to store urns of saltwine.
With a skip in her step, Brella walked along the river bank to the Trausse Bridge. She crossed it, her hand idly spinning the luck wheels affixed to it as she passed them. She then took the left path into the depth of the woods.She took her time along the dappled path, stopping to smell flowers, rocks, and even trees. She breathed it all in, reveling in every smell, now heightened after the rain. It perfumed the air with pine, wet dirt and sunshine. She had given Charlie a hard time about having to go fetch more saltwine, but Brella loved the journey and being outside like this. She made sure she stopped to bottle some of the scents along the way.
From her a pouch on her belt, Brella pulled a vial stopped with a silver plug. With only the faintest bit of magic, she pulled the scent of pine sap from the air around her, condensing it into small pellet of solidified air. First one, then two and finally three. She dropped each into the vial with a soft plink and stopped it, locking the plug magically with a customary three turns.
She held up the vial, inspecting her handywork before replacing it in her leather pouch. The solid sent would be good to release into the bathhouse the next time Charlie was away.
She sighed, she wished she could share her scents with someone. The occasional Sylvani guest would enjoy them but Brella knew Sylvani favored texture and touch over smell. She missed having other Janni around. It took a Janni to truly appreciate scent. No one she had met out here could even distinguish the difference between bread baked in a wood oven or one baked in a gas oven. It was infuriating, and at times a little lonely, she realized. A thought whispered to her: Maybe it was time to reach out to her family. Maybe her sister, Neema, had forgotten about…
No! Brella stopped walking and tried to unclench her fists. She breathed, trying to calm the sudden rage that had engulfed her. It took longer than she liked and even longer for her to continue down the path towards the saltwine storage. Apparently, Brella was still not ready to reach out.
She rounded an outcropping of rock and looked up at the entrance of her destination. Two giant monoliths of stone marked the edge of a glade of rock and wood. The rock and trees created a natural labyrinth that concealed a hidden bank of the Brookstone River and at this hidden bank, Brella knew that the river bent, creating a deep clear pool. Charlie had hidden the urns of saltwine in that pool and it was Brella’s job to retrieve them. No muss and no fuss, but only if she passed the maze.
Brella entered the twists and turns of the glade, taking a right at the gnarled tree, a left at the rock that looked like a depressed Sylvani, another left at the decaying stump full of mushrooms and then a right, left, left, right, straight and finally a right through a small cave that would open up onto the bank of the river. As she passed the last marker, a crude carving of a “C”, she was met by the familiar gurgle of the river, as well as an odd splashing sound.
Brella paused warily. The splashing was too sporadic to be the river and she didn’t think anyone else in town knew about this place other than her and Charlie.
Maybe someone had wandered here by accident? she thought, then dismissed the idea. Most of the town’s fey were in the grain groves working and if they weren’t then they were doing other tasks, not taking a recreational swim. She stepped back, tucking herself as best she could behind the mouth of the cave before peeking out at the sound.
The river bank was as usual, a flat embankment that ran by the gurgle of slow moving water ever present among the tall trees. However, across the pool of water in the opposite bank was a slightly raised clearing in which was made makeshift camp. There was a makeshift tent, hastily strung between two trees and nearby a muddy pack rested on a rock. Close to the lean-to were two lines of rope, both heavy with wet clothing and gear hung out dry.
Brella did not see the camp’s occupant. She looked upstream and down, then she crept out. She was moving to get a closer look when the surface of the pool broke and a fey splashed up, swimming for the little camp.
Brella bolted back to the cave and hid at the entrance again, her brain telling her to leave and come back later. Surely this newcomer would pack up and be on their way soon. There was no reason for her to wait here. She started to leave but curiosity began to gnaw at her. She’d only stay long enough to figure out who they were, then she’d be off. That seemed reasonable. She nestled herself in the cave mouth as much as she dared and peered out.
The newcomer wadded into the shallows, rising out of the water with their back to her. They were completely naked and he, for she saw that this was a he, flung back his wet black hair out of his eyes and ran his hands over it to slick off water. From his build Brella guessed him to be a Fairy. The ears were the right shape and his skin tone was a bronzy natural tone, not colorful like high fey. The Fairy was surprisingly muscular and Brella drank in the lines of his body. As she did she noticed two things. First, he was laced with scars. Long ones, short ones, jagged ones, straight ones, ones that were years old and others still pink and fresh with healing skin.
Second, as he rose from the water completely, Brella saw his arms and thighs and her mouth dropped open. They were covered in thick, black tattoos. The intricate geometric designs mingled and danced with each other as they ran from his wrist to his shoulders. Looking at his thighs, Brella saw that they encircled both from hip to knee.
“Gobbin soulbrands?” Brella breathed, her eyes wide with shock. The Fairy looked over his shoulder and Brella fell backwards, gasping as she camouflaged on instinct. Her skin and hair darkened abruptly creating a passable approximation of the colors that surrounded her. It was a poor attempt to blend into the rock but she had no control over it.
The Fairy turned, looking about as if he’d heard something. He shrugged and then continued wading up onto the shore.
Clutching her chest, Brella steadied her racing heart. She felt hot, her skin prickly and uncomfortable with the sudden switch in color. As her fear ebbed away, the color of the dark rock bleed from her pink and white skin, taking the heat with it. With a deep breath she took stock of herself. She shouldn’t get this embarrassed when confronting new people. It had always been a problem with her, even as a child. Shyness followed her like a bad smell. She looked out again at the fairy. He was bent over, washing in the shallows. She looked away and blushed before immediately sighing. She had wondered if this fairy could be the one she chucked into the mud. She had been right.
Luckily, he hadn’t seen her, but she had seen him and his tattoos and the curiosity they had sparked refused to be dismissed. She found herself moving out of the cave, taking each step with caution. The Fairy was on the far bank with his back to her as he tested his clothes on the line. If she could make it to the tall rocks on the waterline, she could hide there, maybe get a better look.
“If you wanted a peek you all you had to do was ask,” the Fairy said, his voice echoing. He did not even turn around. Brella gaped, feeling her skin go hot with color change as she dashed to the rocks, skidding to a stop out of sight.
She held her breath counting to 10. The Fairy didn’t call out again and Brella didn’t look to see if he had moved. Maybe she had gotten lucky. Maybe he hadn’t seen her. Maybe he didn’t even know she was there!
“I know you’re there!” he called. “You can’t just run behind a rock and then assume I’ll forget about you.”
Brella paused at hearing the voice more clearly now. She knew that voice and the realization made her curse under her breath.
“I know you,” she replied. “You’re the Fairy from last night.”
“That’s right, and I am guessing that you must be someone from the inn?” Brella didn’t respond. “Are you going to make me guess? Why don’t you come on out so we can talk. There’s no need to be embarrassed.”
“I’m fine where I am, thank you.” Brella hissed, clutching the plane of the rock she was behind more fiercely, “And I’m not embarrassed.”
“You come across naked fey in the woods often?” he said. “How pastoral. Like a Quillby painting.”
“That is not what I meant,” Brella snapped. “You surprised me, is all. I didn’t expect anyone to be here.”
“Yeah, that’d be me. Found in places others don’t expect.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Brella grimaced. “You know what. I don’t want to know.”
The Fairy paused before replying. “Fair enough.”
“But what are you doing out here?”
“Why do you want to know? Am I trespassing or something?”
“Well, not quite,” Brella mused. “But you are in a conspicuous place. Showing up unannounced to a place frequented by Charlie after been thrown out by her.”
“I didn’t know that. And besides, my stopping here wasn’t intentional given the circumstances. I needed a place to sleep. I found a nice, somewhat dry river bank and I took it. It’s not as if I had a comfortable bed at a decent inn to sleep in.”
Brella winced. “Sorry about that. It wasn’t my call to make.”
“I remember. ‘What Charlie wants, Charlie gets.’ Is that about right?”
“Did I say that? I don’t remember saying that.” Brella felt even worse.
The Fairy was silent for a moment before saying, “Why don’t you come out from behind the rock and we can talk. I get the feeling you’re afraid of me, and if I think you are who I think you are then you have nothing to worry about from me.”
Brella stepped out from behind her rock. The Fairy was still at his clothes line, feeling over the articles with his back to her. She blushed, seeing his naked backside but shook it off. She was not going to let this Fairy intimidate her. No one was going to intimidate her ever again. She squared her jaw and focused on the back of his head.
The Fairy selected a still sopping blanket from the line and shook it out. Water droplets spang into the air falling around him. He shook it again, getting a fine mist out of the blanket as it snapped before wrapping it around his waist. “So. You work for Charlie?”
“I do. Most of the year. I head back into the inner wards for the winter month but ten months out of eleven I help her at the Inn.”
“A remarkable Naiadi, that Charlie.” He crossed his tattooed arms as he leaned against a tree. “I see why you are at her beck and call.”
Brella felt the hair at the back of her neck bristle. “I’m at no one’s call.” She shot him a dark glare and he visibly winced before his smile returned.
“No offense.” He held up his hands in defense. “It was more an observation.” They stood in silence until he tried again. “My name is Warren.”
“Brella,” she replied. Warren held out his hand for her to shake and she narrowed her eyes..
“I’m trying to be polite. I promise. I’m not going to bite.”
Brella shook her head and sighed. “I hope I don’t regret this.” She muttered. She hopped out over the water and rested her bare feet on a square of air she had made solid. She felt it begin to sink and skipped to another square. She did this several times, sky stepping her way across the pool. She landed in front of Warren and took his hand in her massive one and shook once. Warren reciprocated with a wide grin.
“See. What that so hard?” He walked to the water’s edge and sat himself on a sunny rock, patting the space in front of him for her to sit. She did so.
She could see his soulbrand tattoos more clearly up close. Further away they had all looked like a solid black but now she could see the maze of patterns and runic Gobbin letters etched onto his skin. The shades of black and sometimes blue were vibrant, giving the tattoos depth that Brella had never seen. She had no idea what any of it said, or what it prevented him from doing or saying, but it was rather beautiful.
“And what brings you here, Brella?” he asked, snapping her back to the moment.
“I said, what brings you to my little way-stop?”
Brella snorted. “What do you mean your little way-stop?”
“A temporary way-stop, I guess,” Warren explained. “At least until my clothes dry and I can be on my way.”
Brella stretched, feeling the warm sun on her skin. “And where would your way be taking you?”
“Northwest.” Warren nodded his head in that direction.
“What’s is to the northwest?”
“Secrets.” he said.
She waited for him to continue but he didn’t. “Oooh!” she crooned, “The mysterious type.”
“More like it’s part of the job.” Warren grinned and Brella thought he looked like the smuggest Fairy she had ever seen.
“Really?” Warren opened his mouth to answer but she cut him off, “Don’t worry about it. I don’t need of your secrets, Mr. Warren, so you’d better keep them.”
“How about you?” Warren asked, lounging in a meditative pose as Brella stood and walked to the water’s edge. “What brings you out here?”
Brella looked back at him. “It’s part of the job,” she said, returning his smug look with a wink.
She sky-stepped from Warren’s bank to to the opposite shore, where the river curved around the rocks. Here, stone met water, creating cliffs and a deep pool. She ran her hand along the dirt bank before finding several cleverly concealed ropes connected to steel spikes in the rock. She pulled them until she felt one connect to something in the deep.
Brella shot Warren a winning smile. “Found it!”
“What is it?” Warren called from across the pool.
“What I was looking for.” She grunted, pulling hand over hand on the rope until from the clear depths a large black urn began to rise. Each pull pushed fire through Brella’s muscles, the strain building with each pull. By the time the urn’s shadow became visible, Brella’s skin was slick with sweat. She caught Warren standing out of the corner of her eye, watching her with anxious eyes.
“Can I help you somehow?” he asked. He was calf-deep in water, looking like he might swim over just to help.
“No,” she gasped, “I’m fine.”
She strained against the ropes, summoning the deep stores of strength life had blessed her with. Inch by inch the urn crawled up from the water. Brella could see the sealed cap of it and she pulled harder. She couldn’t stop now; if she did, the momentum would be broken and pulling the urn from the pool would be nearly impossible. She continued to haul, until at last the urn broke the surface of the water and scraped up onto the shore. Brella let go of the rope and bent over, panting.
The sound of Warren clapping brought her head up. She squinted at him as she tried to catch her breath. “You mocking me?” she demanded.
“Not at all! That was incredible!” He said, clapping a little faster. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“It was nothing,” Brella said brusquely. She touched her face, not sure if the heat was from pulling up the urn or from blushing. She hoped it was just exertion.
“Kagging scrap!” he swore, still apparently reeling from the display. “I once saw a Sylvani twice your size pull boulder from pond that makes that urn look like a Warden Station, and he’d been bred from birth to be strong. You sure you aren’t part Sylvani?”
“That’s impossible.” Brella sat down hard on the ground, feeling relief in her tensed thighs and calves. Her breathing was starting to become more even and she took the time to inhale deeply. “You know that’s not how biology works.”
“Sure.” Warren kept smiling. He sat back on the sunny rock. “But it doesn’t change that you’re stronger than anyone I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot of people.”
Brella dismissed his compliments and lay back, putting her head on the dirt. She usually had to rest a bit before she could refocus her strength enough to get one of these urns back to the Inn.
“How long have you been in Fenway?” asked Warren after a while. Brella sat up with a groan.
“A few years. Why?” she said, looking over at him.
“I’m just curious. You don’t seem to be a local.”
Brella scoffed. “Is it that obvious?”
“You are a exceptional talent in town of unexceptionals,” Warren said. “In such cases greatness is always obvious.”
Brella looked cocked an eyebrow at him. He was sitting on the rock cross-legged, his blanket tucked under him as he sunned himself. His eyes were closed with his face to the sun, drinking in the light like a flower.
“And how do you know of my “greatness”, eh?” she laughed. “You don’t even know me.”
“That’s true,” he agreed, “But you barely know me and think I have greatness.”
Brella blushed. “I’ve never seen anyone stand up to Trausse’s goons the way you did.” she admitted. “Most pay the fee. Why didn’t you?”
“They were assholes.” Warren said, shrugging. Brella gave him an incredulous look and Warren smiled, “A fey may gain much at the expense of others.” he said, his tone indicating a recitation, “But they who take most, often gain least.” He opened his eyes. Brella liked the color of them, a shade of light blue she’d never seen, crystalline and deep. “I’m bound to help where I can. Even if I’m helping those that come after me. I’m bound to correct where I see incorrectness.”
“Bound?” Brella tried to clarify, resting on one of her elbows, “Bound by the soulbrands?
Warren’s eyebrow shot up. “You’re familiar with Gobbin contract work?”
“It’s Gobbin magic. They bind a contract to the soul using ink and magic. If you have one you can’t break the contract no matter what you try.”
“Break? No,” Warren admitted, “But bend?” He flashed her a wicked grin.
“So, what’s your contract?”
Warren’s smile faded and a section of his tattoos flashed with a dull blue light. In the sunlight it was almost imperceptible but Brella saw it, her eyes darting to the sudden brightness.
“Really?” she said, wide eyed. “You can’t even talk about what your contract is?”
“Only with certain people and as charming as you are, you do not count as one of them.” She saw sadness touch the edges of his eyes as one of his hands ran over his forearm where it had flashed. “Where did you learn about Gobbin soulbrands?” he finally asked.
“My mother taught me. My father’s business dealt with them and she thought I should know how my father did his job.”
“Interesting.” Warren said. “Your mother seems a wise Janni.”
“She is.” Brella answered. She looked away,
“The Gobbin soulbrands are only a small part of it,” Warren said, skipping over Brella’s discomfort. “I acted last night because I felt I had to. If I don’t, who will?”
“And because they’re assholes?” Brella smirked.
“And because they’re assholes.”
They chuckled. Brella hadn’t been this at ease with herself in some time and it felt good. She could have stayed on that riverbank all day. She considered it, but saw Charlie’s irate face and heard her cutting remarks if she returned later than expected.
“I had better get going.” She stood abruptly. “Charlie needs this urn of saltwine.”
“Saltwine? That urn is full of saltwine?” Warren gaped. “That is impressive!”
“It’s not really.” Her blush turning her skin peach. “I’m merely the only one big and strong enough to carry it.”
With a practiced hand, Brella untied the rope from around the top of the urn and the stone wall. She fashioned it into straps which she lashed to the urn in order for her to carry it. When she had finished, she tested it; yanking on the them to see if they’d hold. The tight fibers creaked but held true.
“Are you leaving town?” Brella tried to sound casual as she checked over the knots of her harness.
“I suppose I will by the end of the day.” Warren nodded at his laundry line. “Walking in wet clothes is one of my five least favorite things.”
“What are the other four?” Brella inquired.
“If I come through Fenway again I’ll tell you.” He smiled at her again, and this time, Brella smiled back without hesitating or blushing.
“I hope you do.”
Brella looped her thick arms through the straps and heaved the urn up and onto her back. The weight of the wine sloshed from side to side and she fought to keep her balance. She steadied herself and with slow but sure steps, she began her trudge down the bank towards the cave she . “Take care, Warren.”
“You too, Brella.” He paused, then added, “May the Will of the World be kind.”
She stopped, turning over her shoulder to look at him.
“Can I ask you something?” she called back. “Are you a missionary? Some kind of holyone of the Will of the World?” She inwardly groaned at the childish question but Warren’s words and demeanor had stirred her curiosity and she had to know.
Warren replied with a barking laugh. “No! No, I’m not a holyone, but I suppose I do have a message to share.”
Brella opened her mouth to reply but only nodded. It was a cryptic but sufficient answer. With a wave she turned and headed up the path through the cave and began the slow trek back to the Inn, the saltwine sloshing happily as she did.
“The Messenger” is a three-part story by Drew Mierzejewski.