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INTERLUDE: The Crone
“Haresh is where they meet Callyn!” a young voice pipped from across the fire, then squeaked with the pain of parental correction.
The crone stopped with a word half-formed on her lips, and she squinted through the flames. Inside her deep cloak, the flickers were so vividly reflected in her eyes that those seated close to her might have thought they glowed from within as well as without.
“Would you tell this story, child?” she asked in that ancient, clear voice. “Have you the mouth to carry such a tale?”
She was answered only by the sap-crackle of fresh-cut logs aburn, and the stirring of the wind around them. Satisfied that there would be no further interruption, the crone raised her mug and waited for it to be filled again. When it was, she drank.
“Who here remembers the Haresh that was?” she asked, her hooded head turning as she scanned the circle of her listeners. No hand or cap was raised. The world had turned too many times since the Great Cleaving and had outlasted the memories of all but the most aged souls.
“In the time before the world was unmade, Haresh was a great city, the final waypoint for pilgrims journeying to the Sacred Sea. Under sun or moons, it bustled and rumbled with life. The city gates were carved of the whitest stone, as if the Goddess Gidona had offered up her own flesh for their forming. The temple at the far end of the the city’s spine was made of the same stone. The rest of Haresh was made of wood and red stone, not opulent but grand enough in its way. The Greldish, then as now, were practical people. They gave glory to the True Gods, and then they put up their sleeves and did their work. It was a good city of good people. Strong and true.”
She took another drink, and this time, every member of her audience waited quietly. “But when the world was unmade, the ground opened and swallowed Haresh whole. The Ire rose up and heaved forth molten rage. It churned the earth and burned water and air alike, until nothing was left of Haresh but a deep gash in the earth, a wound oozing corruption and rot.”
As her listeners sat wide-eyed, the crone let those words waft with the dancing sparks, offering a moment’s silence to Greld and to Ibita, the goddess of blood and fire and rage.
“But the Greldish are hale-hearted souls. Those who survived the Cleaving in Haresh stood tall again and saw what was left. Inside that oozing wound, they dug deep and remade their city anew, built it of earth and blood and crumbled stone. They filled their skins and tubs with the water that was left and learned to turn the poison from it and make it fresh and good. Those who’d farmed rich, soft land reforged their plows and drays, tore down their croftsites, and built traveling wagons. Fear and vengeance unmade the world, but strong hearts and sturdy shoulders hefted up the ruins and lived on. When the Rider and Xian crossed into Haresh, the city shared nothing with its former self but a mark on a map, yet it was strong in its new way.”
The crone paused again, and drained her mug. She set it on the ground before boots dry and cracked with long wandering.
“That is not to say it knew no strife or ill intention. It was not without its dwellers in dark corners and blind alleys, or its gain-hungry monsters. Like any place in the world, then as now, the Haresh the Rider rode into had its plenty of dangers. And her business bore a risk greater than most, more even than she knew.”
Chapter 4: THE RIDER
Long ago, in a world more friendly to her kind, Lea had visited the city of Haresh. With her mother, before she was old enough to begin her training, she’d traveled across all of Brisira and experienced the vast range of cultures and terrains the world offered. In those long-ago days, travel was simpler for most. The most powerful Saapian mages could open portals, and Great Hawks flew mounted in the skies.
In her attempt to protect her people, Rheaaserea had destroyed the source of waymagic at the same time she’d cleaved the world, eliminating the ability to open portals between places. And the eruption of The Ire in the cleaving had destroyed the spawning ground of the Great Hawks. They had been fertile beasts, but short-lived, and had gone extinct before the tenth turning in the broken world.
Now, all souls traveled on the ground, step by step. In that way, Lea had seen most of what her grandmother had wrought, and her mother had disregarded. The world that had become.
This Haresh bore little resemblance to the city of her age-hued recollection. She remembered white gates that reached as high as the sky and sparkled like the stars, and cozy buildings with balconies and vining red flowers. She remembered a sprawling city of wide streets and narrow lanes cobbled with red stones.
This was a gash in the earth, long, wide, and deep. The pathways—wide but too rough to be called streets or even lanes—were heavily trodden, dusty earth, little different from any ground in Greld. Homes were dug into the striated earthen walls of the chasm, reachable by narrow steps hewn into the walls. Along the chasm floor, tents and stone huts made up the small businesses—traders and craftsmen, foodmongers and taverns.
A long, low, oblong building of plain ruddy earth took up the main part of the canyon floor, filling the center of the narrow city from the rough iron gates at the fore to the humble temple at the rear: the water reclamation center. Heavy drays rolled endlessly to and from the wide doors, hauling sour water and fresh, keeping Greld alive and Haresh at work. Along the sides of the building, watermongers cried their wares. Between each tented station, a Greldish guard stood, swathed in desert linens and bearing a polearm with a fanged blade. Good water was a precious jewel here, so precious that even these peaceful, stalwart people let blood over it.
Lea and Xian had stabled their mounts outside the city. Elleren warhorses were unusual so far south, but not so rare as to incite more than admiring curiosity—and the same for the stag. In fact, Lea understood, as she left the stable with Xian at her side, that having a companion in Haresh served well as a disguise. The Rider was well known to travel alone. With a warrior beside her, and her eyes glamoured, she was simply an Elleren shieldmaiden come to Haresh for supplies.
Still, she knew better than to assume she wouldn’t be recognized as the Rider, and if she were, the story would spread quickly. When and if it did, the news would make a ruckus, for there were no stories of her in Haresh, or in all of Greld, until now. People would wonder, and seek her boons.
To be the Rider wasn’t a danger, but the more notice she drew, the more chance her true self would be discovered. Before the story had traveled, she could move through the swarming city in obscurity, a stranger like any other, wrapped and hooded in an ordinary dun cloak. As long as her business here were completed before she was known, she could put her focus there, and if she became known as the Rider thereafter, she might even take a chance to bring her help to a few souls of Haresh.
But first, she had to complete her business, and for that, she could not rely on the disguise provided by her companion.
Beside her, Xian scanned the high walls of the canyon, his interest keen.
“Have you never been to Haresh?” she asked, following his line of sight.
“I have, twice before, but not since before my first rising.” He squinted up at a row of homesites and round black sockets of their windows. “The place makes me wary. Too many dark holes from which to loose arrows.”
A Water Guard was one thing. But lurkers in windows shooting arrows on market day? “Greld is at peace.”
He made a grin that wanted to be a snarl. “A warrior is at peace only in death, Rider. You know that as well as I.”
The man baffled her. He was obviously mighty; he bore the proof of his strength, fortitude, and cunning on his body. Yet she often found him frustrating and unserious—always grinning, sometimes teasing, occasionally rash. When he made a statement like that, full of weighty truth, she wasn’t sure if he were serious or no.
“This is your first time here, is it not?” he asked.
“As it is now, yes. When I was small, I traveled Brisira with my mother. I saw the Haresh that was, and recollect it in some part.”
His squint shifted to her. “How many turnings have you seen?”
“Sixty-eight.” As his eyes widened, Lea felt strangely defensive. “Among my people, I am yet young.”
Another unserious, unfathomable smirk. “And you look it, Rider. I meant no offense.”
“And none was taken.” She glanced at the sky; the sun was well into its climb; she wanted her mission complete and behind her. “I leave you here for now. We can meet at the inn for the next meal.” She nodded across the crowded way, where a sign, written in both Greldish and Frentung, indicated food and lodging available.
As she stepped away, Xian grabbed her arm. She froze and turned back, glaring at the touch. “Remove your hand, warrior.”
He did, pulling it back with an easing gesture. “You go alone?”
She had no memory of the last time she wished it not to be so, but she wished now. The simple presence of the warrior was a protection, but she couldn’t bring him. “I go alone. My business is not yours. I have no need of you.”
“You think I will turn away and let you slip from me? I am with you all the way to Boreld.”
Lea huffed. She would not tell him she was considering his request unless and until she had made a firm decision. For now, she said, “On the life of my horse, and on the blade of my sword, I give you my word that I will meet you at the inn for the next meal today. There. I’ve sworn true. You have no need to affix yourself to me like a pet. If you wish to be useful, you can replenish our supplies.” She reached for her pouch, but he scowled and stepped back.
“I do not need your coin, Rider. I’ll meet you at the inn.” He spun and stomped off.
Lea left him to the strange workings of his Boreldan head and went to complete her mission.
As in any city, Haresh’s purveyors of dark goods and services crouched in its dark corners and deeps. Though Lea was unfamiliar with this Haresh, she’d been given strong directions, and she found the narrow crevice in the wall and the steep stairs downward it led to.
Into midnight darkness she descended, pushing away the instinct to call up her moonsight. When her feet landed on flat earth, she closed her eyes and let them adjust naturally to the poor light. She was in a low-ceilinged, close-walled cavern corridor, with low slat-wood doors lining either side of the roughly chiseled walls. A small torch at each door, and faint red glow through the wood slats of some doors, provided what little light there was.
Despite the inhospitable surroundings, this undercity bustled nearly like its sun-blazed sister above. The people were quieter, overall, and the walls much closer, but the unified buzz of life was such that Lea could hardly doubt she was in the right place—what was known above as the Hive.
Under that buzz was the grunt and groan and whimper of dark deeds. Lea ignored it all and headed down the corridor. Before she’d taken a second step, however, a figure emerged from the shadows and blocked her path. “What is your business, stranger?” a gruff female voice asked.
“None of yours,” Lea replied. “Let me pass.”
The corridor was yet too dim to see well without moonsight, but Lea’s other senses were strong and her reflexes keen. She heard the rustle of cloth and grabbed a wrist before it could unsheathe a blade. With a sharp yank, she brought the body against hers and put her dagger at the woman’s throat. The woman was several inches shorter than she, and carried considerably less muscle. “You are no match for me. My business is mine. You will make way, or I will step over your body.”
“There are duties to be paid,” the guard protested, struggling to make a strong voice.
“Not for me. Make way.” She felt the surrender in the guard’s body and saw the shadowy shift of her nod.
“It is well,” the guard conceded.
Lea let the woman go and sheathed her dagger. She killed only when she had no other choice. She tried to balance the scales toward rightness, and violent death weighed the wrong side.
With her senses primed for trouble from behind, Lea proceeded down the corridor, counting the doors to the left. None were marked with sign or number; only a correct count would bring a visitor to the right door. At the ninth, she raised her gloved fist—but froze before it touched the wood. She felt something, deep at the base of her spine. Not magic, not quite that. It was the feeling she had when she traveled in Maerland, among the Fair Ones. That community of exiled Farborn had lost its magic many turnings ago, and their souls had stilled, but when they were grouped together in large number, a vestigial imprint of magic remained. Not enough to cast even the subtlest glamour, but enough for a magic-bearer like Lea to detect its mark.
But that was when hundreds of Fair Ones were in congress together. There could not possibly be so many of them here, in the Hive of Haresh.
Leaving herself alert to possible trouble of a kind she could not make out, she knocked. Four knocks, slowly.
Three souls too layered in desert linens to show race or sex passed behind her, their wrapped heads turned down. Feeling the blade sheathed on her back and the one at her hip, she turned her head slightly and watched them move to the stairs at the end of the corridor. She could not make out the guard, who had returned to her shadows.
The ninth door rattled and creaked open. A small, rotund Greldish woman peered up at her. Her dusk-grey hair was wound carelessly into greasy braids. She wore faceted spectacles that made the torchlight bounce wildly off their glass.
That sense of nearby magic grew subtly stronger and pricked up Lea’s hair at the roots.
“What?” the hag barked. Most of her teeth were missing. Those that remained were black and broken.
She’d spoken the Greldish word, but Lea wasn’t fluent enough in that tongue to conduct business, so she answered in Frentung. “I seek Ukarra.”
The hag switched to Frentung and added and a curled lip and turned-up nose. “Who?” The expression belied the question.
“I come on the word of Voss Crookhand, who lives at the ankle of Mt. Falisle.”
Behind her faceted lenses, the hag’s eyes twitched suspiciously, and she surged from the doorway with such sudden speed that Lea nearly reeled back. Checking the corridor in every direction, she reached out to claw at Lea’s arm, but thought better of it at the last, and instead waved briskly. “Don’t put such business in the streets.”
Lea ducked low and went in behind the hag.
“Who are you that the Crooked Hand sends you to seek Ukarra?”
Lea didn’t answer. Though she’d held herself in tense alertness and thought herself prepared for anything she might encounter, immediately upon entering the dank room, she’d been stunned to silence. Caged in the corner, naked and bound, was the source of the faint hum at the base of Lea’s spine. A Fair One. Old enough to have once borne magic themselves.
In their natural state, Farborn had no obvious sex. No sword nor sheath, no jugs nor jewels. Internally, they had all the organs for both. They chose their sex and gender as they wished and when they wished, and formed their shape to match their wish. Some Farborn chose to be static in their sex and were always male or female or some variation between. Others chose and chose and chose again. In Vraelon, their homeland and the source point of Farborn magic, Dark Ones retained all their power, including the capacity for shifting sex. The Fair Ones, many miles and several generations removed from Vraelon, were all now still-souled and static, and no longer passed down any magic, including the ability to choose their bodies.
This Fair One had gone static in their natural state, with no obvious sex. By the strength of the hum in her spine, Lea judged that they were at least as old as she. Probably much older. But they looked as young as a newling adult. Their hair was long enough to provide for modesty, were it possible in such a situation. Soft and straight despite the conditions of their captivity, their tresses were pure white and hung at their thighs. Their skin was white as well, pale as the purest nacre, but Lea knew that in sunlight, a faint blush of violet would show, a spectral remnant of their Farborn heritage. In the dim torchlight, their eyes seemed colorless, but they, too, were pale violet. And they lifted in despairing plea to Lea.
That ghostly flesh was filthy and marred everywhere with scars and divots. The points had been shaved off their ears. Their fingertips were missing. The palms of their hands and pads of their shortened fingers were hatched with brutal scars.
All around them, in this tomb of a shop, the walls were lined with vials and jars, each one filled with cream or liquid, or with odd bits and parts floating in viscous goo. The hag was a dark apothecary. Apothecaries dealt in healing ointments and medicines. Their dark cousins dealt in promises and cheats.
It was said that magic-bearers carried special elemental properties in their bodies, with drugging effects. A few flakes of their flesh could wildly improve sexual sensation. Their blood could build muscle. Their bone could improve fertility. The meat of their tongue could give confidence. A point of a Farborn ear could make a man’s sword stand proud for hours.
It was all nonsense, of course. Magic-bearers were made of the same flesh and bone as any other soul. They bore magic, they were not of magic. The only difference was a sensitivity that had evolved in their people, which allowed them to take in and make use of—and, when in congress together, protect and perpetuate—source magic. If they had been inherently magic, Lea’s power would not have waned so starkly, and the Fair Ones would not have lost theirs wholly.
This caged soul had lost all of their magic; that was clear. But they had once borne it and been fiercely strong with it; Lea felt all the vestigial print in this one soul that she’d felt in Fairwen, the Maerland settlement of many hundred Fair souls.
Her stomach twisting in pained fury, Lea thought quickly. She wanted to turn and sink her sword into the hag’s hanging belly, but she had not survived her hard turnings in exile by acting on her wants and impulses. If she tried to save the Fair One now, she would surely have that guard to deal with, and likely more of her kind, and then she’d be running in high daylight through Haresh with a naked Fair One on her arm—or in her arms. No, she needed to complete her business and leave, make a plan before she returned.
She would return, and she would give this soul their freedom.
“Don’t mind that,” the hag said, with a dismissive flip of her hand at the cage. “It’s harmless. If you seek Ukarra, follow me.”
She pulled a heavy tapestry to the side, exposing a dim arch. Standing with the hanging held back, the hag waited for Lea to precede her through the passage. Doing so, Lea found a door to the right, and just ahead, another steep stairway downward. Into utter blackness.
A red glow rose up behind her and threw her own shadow down the stairs. “Down,” the hag snarled and waved her torch. Lea went down.
About twenty steps down, the hum of remembered magic left her spine, and she thought the wretched Fair One had died. Another few steps down, as her mental workings adjusted to that new change in her shifting plans, she felt her own magic dampen, and the glamour over her eyes stuttered. Alarm clanged bells in her mind, and she nearly missed a step as she pushed more effort into the glamour and stabilized it again. With each step, the simple spell, normally so light she could keep it cast while she slept, demanded more of her waning stores of power.
“Careful,” the hag muttered just at her back, reacting to Lea’s near stumble.
Not knowing what she descended to, Lea had no choice but to continue downward. If she spun, killed the hag, and escaped, what would she unleash on herself from below? By the time she stood before a thick slab-wood door, Lea understood what had happened to her magic, and the instinct to fight and flee clawed desperately at her heart and belly. But her mind knew she could not.
The hinges and hasp of the door were made of denotite, and the wood slabs had been painted with it.
Denotite was a strong, dull metal that served as the world’s balance to magic. It quelled the power and blocked access to the source, and was the only thing that made a magic-bearing warrior truly vulnerable.
In the days when magic-bearers moved at will across Brisira, made war and peace and congress like any other peoples, their enemies forged swords of denotite, and their lawbringers built prisons of it. The dungeons beneath the palace Lea had grown up in were barred with denotite.
But it was a rare ore, found only at the bottom of the Restless Sea, near Ibita’s Kiln. Since the Great Cleaving had broken the world, it could no longer be mined.
After the Cleaving War, when magic-bearers became monsters to the still-souled, the peoples of Brisira had gathered all the denotite they could find, across every land, and reforged it to reinforce a wall along the border between Vraelon and the other lands. Saapia had isolated itself, so Brisira focused their defense to the threat at the north.
Lea had not known that any denotite survived anywhere in Brisira but in the wall that had been built as a last barrier should the Dark Ones break the treaty. Whatever was behind the thick door deep beneath Haresh must have been made long before the war.
Voss Crookhand did not know that Lea bore magic, so he could not have known he’d sent the woman whose wounds he’d tended and whose life he’d saved to her near-certain doom when he’d asked her to balance the ledger between them with this service. He had warned her that Ukarra dwelt in the Hive and that she was shifty-hearted and dangerous. Lea had expected her greatest danger would be simply to be in Haresh, deep in the wound her grandmother had made, where any slip of her attention might reveal her to the people who hated her kind with murderous intensity.
But this unknown before her posed perhaps the greatest danger she’d faced in her wanderings.
She took a deep breath, bolstered the glamour over her eyes, using as much magic as she would normally need to fight four skilled foes, and opened the heavy door. The denotite hasp sent a flare of dull pain through her palm and into her arm, but she didn’t react. She walked into a dungeon built for magic-bearers with her back straight and her will strong.
Again, though, she was not prepared for what awaited her.
Beyond the door, stairs continued downward into a large, high-ceilinged cavern room, lit to a bright glow with many torches. Patterns painted in denotite covered the walls, floor, and ceiling—the metal was only that thin coating, and surfaces were bare except for those patterns. It was not enough denotite to block Lea from her magic entirely, but enough to make her strain to keep her simple glamour steady.
Perhaps this room wasn’t so old after all; had it been made in the time when denotite was only difficult to acquire and not nearly impossible, the walls would likely have been made thick and solid with it.
Unless—yes, now that the idea had risen in her mind, Lea could see the truth of it. She could see the scratches and regularly placed holes in the floor. She saw the eyebolts yet in the walls, where chains could be affixed. The painted patterns on the walls and floor weren’t meant to protect the room from magic. They were torture points. Of course. Chain a magic bearer naked against one of those intricate patterns, quell their magic, and double the agony of whatever torment their goaler had devised.
Stationed along the walls of the vaguely circular room, Greldish guards stood with polearms—not denotite, only crusted iron in the fanged style of Greld. A score of them, all muscular women, wearing desert linen pants and tough hide sandboots, and crusted iron chest armor above the waist. Their arms and heads were bare.
Taking all that in during the span of a single breath, Lea focused on the chair in the center of the room. Opulent as a throne, it dwarfed the body of its occupant—and Lea was stunned yet again. Perched upon that white stone throne was a Dark One. Not an exiled Fair One who had lost their magic and gone pale and still. This was a Dark One, their flesh still vivid violet. The form she had taken was female, with lush breasts lifting a long silken tunic, and hair the rich blue of Saapian skystone coiled over one shoulder. Her pointed ears were adorned with gold to match the silk of her tunic.
Her violet eyes glowed lightly in the torchlight. In this room warded with denotite, her magic was alive.
Ukarra was a Greldish name, but Lea now knew it to be an alias. This Dark One was the one she’d been sent to.
“You are Ukarra,” she said, still near the foot of the stairs, which appeared to be the only egress into or from this room. The denotite had dampened her magic, and must have dampened the Dark One’s at least somewhat. She couldn’t feel the hum of it; there was a chance that she wasn’t yet known to be magic herself. For every step she might take closer to the throne, that chance would falter.
Why would a Dark One dwell inside a cave that made her weaker? Lea made her mind work at its full capacity, maintain the glamour and sort through the tumult of confusing, conflicting bits of knowledge and perception pummeling her.
A musical voice responded to her words. “As I am known here, yes. What name did she invoke, Elgerra, to gain welcome to our oasis?”
The hag answered, “The Crooked Hand.”
“Ah. Voss. Well, stranger, you have made either a great enemy or a good friend, to have the Crookhand send you here.”
“A friend, he is.”
The Dark One tipped her head to the side. “Then you do him a service, or you seek a boon.”
“A service. He owes you a thing. What I have brought will cancel his debt.”
The Dark One who called herself Ukarra laughed. The notes tinkled like dangling crystals in a light breeze. “Only I deem the cancellation of a debt. Come, let us see what great thing will match such a great owing.” She held out a long, willowy bare arm. When Lea saw what was inked in a golden coil around that slender stem, her shoulders twitched back as memory and teaching came keenly alive.
A ten-legged serpent, coiling from her shoulder to her hand. Its head rested in her palm.
She knew this Dark One’s true name.
She was Tantaren, daughter of Onvyr, and mother of Vulas, who was now known and feared throughout Brisira as the Dark King. Tantaren had been Dark Queen sixty turnings ago. She had led her people to attack the Saapians, and she’d been riding Ayluphun, her ten-legged serpent, when she’d done it.
This woman had incited the Cleaving War. It was she whom Queen Rheaaserea had broken the world to escape.
She hadn’t been seen since the Great Cleaving. Everyone thought her, and her mount, long dead, but here she sat, in a cave deep in the earth, on a stone throne. Sixty turnings later, she had retained her magic, and all these Greldish women—the guards, the hag—knew it and assisted her.
Saapians, they despised. Farborn, they feared. Fear always fell first to greed.
Lea understood the denotite now. Tantaren wasn’t simply weakening her magic; she was preserving it. The pressure of the dampening kept her from spending it without effort, and kept the magic from fading as well. She’d made a magic bank, not unlike the source pools in Saapia, though much cruder.
But what about the Fair One above? Were they Tantaren’s captive, perhaps an act of revenge for the Fair Ones’ renouncement of their homeland? Or had the hag taken that on herself, as nothing more than a resource for her fraudulent unguents? Did Tantaren know one of her kind was caged and tortured above her head?
“Come, stranger. Show me the thing that will dazzle me so that I return the surety that the Crookhand so desires.”
With no option, hoping fiercely that the denotite could keep her magic quelled enough to be undetectable by this Farborn queen still strong with her own magic, Lea crossed the floor of the cave. As she approached Tantaren, she reached into her cloak—all the guards shifted to active readiness with the precision of a single drumbeat—and she pulled out a small, rough-leather pouch.
What was in the pouch, she didn’t know. Voss had told her to keep it safe and not to look, and she’d carried it from Mt. Falisle in Ellerema all the way to this chilly, dank place without loosening the pouch strings.
She handed the pouch to Tantaren, holding it by its leather strings, letting it drop into a long, avian hand but keeping her flesh from contact with the Dark One’s. Skin to skin, two magic-bearers would be known to each other as their true selves, denotite or no.
Tantaren sat back and opened the strings. She peered into the pouch. Then she smiled—a wide, bestial gash across her narrow, violet face. “It is good. Indeed. Yes, it will do to settle the owing between Voss of the Crooked Hand and myself.” She snapped her fingers, and a guard swung out a piece of the wall and disappeared into an unlit corridor. No one spoke as they waited for her return, but Tantaren eyed Lea avidly, as if she were sketching her in perfect detail on the surfaces of her mind. Lea stood still, her eyes steady, her glamour solid, but exhausting.
The guard returned, with her hand on the shoulder of a young girl, aged about ten turnings. She was clean, dressed in good Greldish linens, and seemed healthy.
Lea didn’t understand. She turned back to Tantaren, whose smile showed genuine enjoyment. “He told you nothing, did he? He feared, no doubt, that you’d balk at the task. But you are the Rider, and always clear your ledger.” The Dark One leaned forward. “You are the Rider, are you not?”
“I am,” Lea said, hoping that truth would provide additional deflection from the far more dangerous one in this dangerous place.
“It is interesting to me that the Rider found herself in the owing to such a man. I would love to hear that tale, but perhaps another time. Well, Rider. I present to you Mya, granddaughter to Voss Crookhand, delivered into my care as surety against his owing. Now the care of her is yours. See to her as you will. It is of no further concern for me.”
The guard led the girl to Lea. They stared at each other without speaking. When they didn’t move, Tantaren huffed in irritation. “Elgerra, take them upstairs and away. Our business is concluded.”
“Up with you both, then,” the hag barked.
Lea turned, and the girl followed.
What, exactly, was she supposed to do with a child?
to be continued …
©2018 Susan Fanetti