Melisande Flamestouch eyed Taver sidelong. The wiry historian with his scruffy head of curly brown hair, appeared even more engulfed in his thoughts than usual. He had not touched his ale and poked at his roast-pork, moved it around the plate rather than to his mouth.
She grimaced and turned to Lorena. She whispered, ‘What is wrong with that boy?’
With eyes closed, Melisande’s companion merely shrugged.
‘By now, I would have thought he would be harping on about the architecture or some such nonsense.’
‘Pay it no heed, Melisande. By the five, who cares?’ Lorena said, perhaps a bit louder than she should have. A couple of the mercenary men turned to look at Lorena, but met by her sharp gaze they quickly returned to their dinner.
Flamestouch sipped her ale and after a quick look at the half finished dinner, sat her knife and fork together and pushed the plate away. Food enough, she thought. She had a lot on her plate, excuse the pun.
Lorena and her scuffle with the Elvebat’s crew had caused more than a stir. The idea that the crew would be mutinous crossed her mind, but the young pyromancer had had more experience aboard ships than most of the said crew. She took a long slug the wiped froth from her mouth. If the need should arise, she could take command of the ship. Perhaps she should do just that? Why did she need any of these god awful men? The Elvebat wasn’t big, with a bit of savy Lorena and herself could pilot the skiff up stream themselves.
Fleeaurin was a different matter, though. Flamestouch had caught word of the journey long before presenting herself as a would be participant. Taver had knowledge that far surpassed hers, and if she was to attain what she sought, the lanky historian could prove invaluable.
What did she seek? Well, Melisande wasn’t entirely sure. Watched by the fire-god Unos; Flamestouch bore the ability to manipulate heat and flame. A wonderful gift for a sell-sword. But also a curse, certain things could trigger a violent reaction, and while she had a great deal of control of her powers, something was missing…
Melisande felt somehow incomplete. Like there was a piece missing, as if she had the capacity to do a great deal more than she, at present, could.
Practice, she believed would, in time, unlock most of these abilities but she couldn’t help but wonder if there was a fast-track. An easier route.
Even amongst the uneducated, if one had heard of Fleeaurin, one would know it as City of Flame. Flamestouch knew well the fire elves abilities were not unlike her own, and if there was a way of unlocking her full potential, surely, it would be in the rubble of the fallen city. Either way, she had to check –
‘Melisande,’ Taver said, his voice soft. Not soft in gentle way. Fear, that verged on pathetic.
‘May I speak with you, please.’
Melisande nodded. Her chair ground on the timber floor as she stood up, pushing it back with her legs. After a short stretch, she stifled a yawn.
‘Let me buy you a drink,’ he said once they found themselves alone and on their way to the bar. Flamestouch nodded. Taver swallowed audibly, and again as he waited on the tavern keeper. Whatever he wanted to talk about was making him very nervous. He scratched at the bar with a copper coin he held in his hand, and Melisande felt her eyes narrow.
‘You had best be out with whatever you plan on saying, Taver. I do not have a great deal of time for this sort of intrigue,’ Melisande said. In truth she believed the awkward scholar was taking the opportunity to court her, but as he warily unloaded his request that they remain in Mid Run; her eyes turned hot.
‘No,’ Flamestouch said. She turned to the bar as a metal stein, filled with ale was placed in front of her. ‘Absolutely not – ‘
‘But – ‘
‘But nothing, if anything, I am staying for your own good. Without me to keep them in check, only the five know what those roughians would do to a precious young lad like yourself.’
‘But – ‘
‘But what, Taver?’ She snapped, her voice raised slightly. Impatience didn’t quite cover it at that point. She watched the man’s face, his thoughts evident by a furrowed brow and crooked frown. With soft hands he took a weak sip of his ale.
‘I… I just want this to go smoothly.’
‘And smoothly it will go. You are heading into the north lands, Taver, and you don’t even own a sword. What the bloody hell will you do when the crew turns on the six of you? What then? I shall tell you what. They will kill the captain and then –“
Melisande’s face scrunched as her thoughts were interrupted by the silence that had consumed the tavern. She pushed Taver aside with the inside of her hand.
A very peculiar man had drawn the crowds attention.
Tall and lean, a bit over six feet. His skin way grey and dirty, like day-old-ash. His eyes grey. Strange eyes, Melisande thought. Eyes that matched his skin. His hair was trimmed just above his shoulders, and bright white. Over a grey shirt he wore a black wool, coat and trousers. Scuffed black boots and held a case shaped like a guitar. A guitar case? Flamestouch thought. Most bards didn’t carry a case for their instruments, most bards couldn’t afford it.
The whole room watched the man as he sauntered to the bar and took a place three strides from Melisande and Taver. Flamestouch looked around as people whispered excitedly to each other.
‘Who is that?’ Taver asked, leaning down to whisper in Melisande’s ear.
‘I have no idea.’
‘Shamus Berreliman,’ A voice growled. A husky voice, almost rasping.
Melisande and Taver looked to the albino man, sharply. His grey eyes moved from his beverage to the historian, and then to Flamestouch.
They held with Melisande for more than a moment, drifting down to the sword hung low on her hip. A long, thin scimitar with an ornate bucket-guard. The guard featured a curly pattern, like vines wrapping the grip, forged from steel, inlaid with gold an silver. Shamus smiled. ‘Strange to see a wizard with a boffin,’ Shamus went on before his lips pursed.
Melisande’s mind raced, but she remained steel faced.
‘Wizard?’ Taver said, then looked around stupidly.
Shamus’ brow furrowed. ‘Taver, of house Ferlin. I presume,’ he said.
Taver took an uneasy step back, placing Melisande between him and the albino bard.
‘I read Yedena’s Folly,‘ Shamus went on, ‘An interesting hypothesis. I had never considered that stronger relations with the orc territories could have averted the fall of the high elves…’
Melisande watched as Taver’s eyes light up. He took a step forward but as he opened his mouth, Flamestouch raised her hand to his chest. Froze him in place.
‘Who are you, Shamus?’ Melisande said, her eyes hard.
‘I am a man of the world, my lady, and that is –’
‘How do you know Taver?’
‘A picture of him is printed in the front of the Yedena’s Folly, the book. I was in Jamisford less than a week ago and they were all a-fluster about a group sailing north.’
Melisande stared at him for a moment but Shamus just returned to his drink. ‘I should prepare for the show,’ he said simply. Collected his guitar case, along with the stein and was lead back of house by the bar keeper.
‘Why did you do that?’ Taver said. He almost sounded angry. Almost.
‘Fool boy, your not in the city any more. Your not safely stowed away in the studies. This is the real world. People take. Information is to be given, only to those who require it. If the people of Jamisford know we’re heading to the Firelands so will every bloody town along the Woge. You and your colleagues scream money, and considering the trip, you don’t have much. Things will becomes very expensive for us if every port from here to the Under pass know there’s a rich lord leading the venture. Bite your tongue, and make sure those wet-eared children you call bodyguards do as well.’ Melisande shook her head. ‘We must be away before sun up. Send one of your men to inform the crew, if the damn boat’s still there.’
Taver said nothing, and just as well. Melisande Flamestouch’s mind reeled, how did Shamus known she possessed magic, who was he… She wanted to scream.
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