By Moonlight Wrought (Bt Moonlight Wrought) (4 page)

BOOK: By Moonlight Wrought (Bt Moonlight Wrought)
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         The Stormweathers owned another large
school,
The Brawny Arms Academy
, dedicated solely to the training of
soldiers en masse, whose talents were for sale to merchant houses, noble
families, and landowners, as well as governments.  The current monarch of
Mendanar, however, had lately refrained from hiring any more these men, trained
by such an influential noble house as the Stormweather’s, fearing the men’s’
loyalty might be misdirected.  Mendric was a seasoned warrior and veteran of
many military campaigns, seeing his first bloodshed in The Erulian War, and was
therefore qualified to teach at the academy.  In fact, he was one of the
primary instructors, filling many empty hours there when not helping his father
manage the vast Stormweather holdings. 

         On the way to meet his brother, Selric had
passed down a street of tremendous buildings, apartments and the like, and his
memory was tweaked.  He paused outside one of the familiar structures climbed
the stairs to the fifth floor landing, went to one of the doors on that level,
picked the lock and stole inside.  To Selric’s surprise, two men and two women
sat eating at a table in the middle of the room, none of them he knew.  They
looked up curiously at Selric, and his face flushed.  Selric stepped back out
and checked his bearings:  it was the right room, though the occupants were
not.  They continued to stare at him in bewilderment.

         “Sorry,” he said.  “Maybe you can help
me.  I’m looking for a girl...Sonya.  She used to live here.”  One of the men
rose up politely.

         “If she was the young lady who lived here
before us, I’m sorry, but she met an ill fate,” he said.

         “What do you mean?” asked Selric angrily.

         “The woman who used to live here was
found murdered.  I’m truly sorry.  If she was a friend of yours...” 

          But Selric, numb and his mind spinning,
turned, walked out and down the stairs without letting the gentleman finish. 
The sickness in his stomach passed, but not his anger. 

 

         It was another hot day and Candy was
laboring under the load, so Dirk decided to spare her from the midday sun. 
Dirk laid himself on the bench seat and took a nap while Candy rested and drank
from a water barrel filled with rain runoff there in the shadowy alleyway. 
Dirk’s nap was a short one however, as he was soon awakened by a feminine
voice.

         “Hello there, girl.  Why are you pulling
such a heavy load?  You poor old horse.”  Dirk looked up to where a young woman
stood stroking Candy’s neck.  Her hair was dark blonde and thick, hanging full
over her shoulders, and her brown eyes were so vivid that Dirk could see their
color from all the way up in the wagon.  She was pretty, with a wholesome look
rarely found on anyone who had been in Andrelia for more than a month, though
her deep eyes bore a sadness revealing a life with unusual pain.  This young woman
looked on Candy in a way indicative of one born and raised with animals, and
Candy returned the affection, ducking her head at the woman to receive her
stroking hand.  The young lady looked up at Dirk, and it was then that he
realized he had been staring.

         “Hi,” he said simple and plain.

         “This horse is too old to be pulling such
a load in this heat.  A horse in that shape should be put to pasture,” she
said, all quite matter-of-factly.  “Do you want to kill her?”  Candy tossed her
head and nudged the woman, jealous to have the woman’s attention elsewhere.

         All Dirk could muster in the way of a
reply was, “Oh?”  He jumped down.  “I’m Dirk, and I don’t own her, I just use
her.  I mean...” he stuttered, “...my boss says to use her.  I don’t know how
old she is.  I guess that could be the problem,” he conjectured, rubbing his
scrubby chin as he looked the beast over.

         “You guess?  No, I’m telling you; it
is
the problem.”

         “Fine, don’t bite my head off,” Dirk said
growing red and looking back to the woman.  Though her manner upset Dirk, her
beauty did not.  He found himself looking at the young lady’s figure: 
definitely feminine, but able and strong, having seen a good share of work in
its lifetime.  Her attire was not of the city:  her britches worn and dark,
blouse rugged, light cloak worn in case of summer showers bleached in places by
the sun.  She caught Dirk staring again and when he looked up, she stared him
in the eye.  Dirk nervously turned away.

         “I don’t mean to be nasty,” she said. 
“I’m Melissa.”  Dirk, strangely uncomfortable, shifted his weight from foot to
foot.  “Looks like you need someone to take care of your horse, maybe I could
help you.  I need a job.”

         “You know a lot about horses—at least
more than I do.  And I guess I am not afraid he would give you work in my
place.  I’m sure you can’t do the work I can,” he said proudly, unintentionally
thrusting his great shoulders back, his broad chest out.  Melissa laughed at
him and Dirk blushed, adding, “Well, maybe Mr. Bessemer could give you a job
working with our animals.  We’ve got six horses.”

         “Can I go with you and see?” she asked
hopefully, her face still red from laughter.  Though Dirk could not imagine
anyone wanting his job, let alone a woman as pretty and wholesome as Melissa,
he agreed.  “I don’t want to be forward, but I need some money, and it’s clear
ya’ll don’t know much about these animals.  Or maybe you just don’t care,” she
guessed.

         “No, that’s not it.  But...well, I have
to deliver this,” he said, swinging his arm toward the laden wagon.  “I gotta
go.”

         Melissa shrugged her shoulders.  “I
figured that much,” she said with a knowing nod.  “I’ll help you.”  She smiled
and climbed up into the wagon, grabbing the reins.  Dirk quickly sprang up into
place next to her and watched as she coaxed Candy ahead.  Dirk was curious:  he
had never known anyone who had offered to help him do anything without first
wanting to be paid.

 

         Mendric ordered another round as Selric
drained his mug.  “Excuse us, ladies,” Mendric said and the two attractive,
scantily clad companions bounced up from the laps of the young noblemen, each
of them kissing their host.  Selric patted his new friend on the backside as
she slid playfully and reluctantly away with a giggle.  Mendric, conversely,
let the other girl leave unnoticed. 

         “What was it that you wanted to talk
about?” Mendric asked.

         “Do you remember Sonya?” Selric asked
uncomfortably.  Mendric looked puzzled, but knew something was bothering his
brother:  something seemed to be troubling him all afternoon.  “You know: 
brown hair, blue eyes.  Worked at
The Yeoman
.  Real sweet.  Nice
figure,” Selric continued, cupping his hands before his chest.

         “Oh yes.  Sonya,” Mendric acknowledged. 
“I don’t know what she sees in you.  She needs a responsible man.  Like me,” he
joked, though both knew Mendric would never lower himself to fraternize with a
common-born woman, no matter how beautiful:  he simply enjoyed harassing
Selric.  His friendliness with the pleasure girls was like a man holding his
niece upon his lap.  It would never go farther than simple holding.

         “She’s dead.  Murdered.  Six weeks ago,”
Selric blurted, brushing off Mendric’s mirth.  “I checked with the district
constable.  She was pretty messed up.  Some real sick bastard.”  Selric shook
his head and looked forlornly, coldly, into his beer.

         “That’s horrible.  Of all your friends,
why her?” said Mendric, then his mood changed from sorrow to anger and he
reached over and grabbed Selric by the shirt.  “It had better not be because
you did something before you left.  Did you owe somebody money or something?” 
The hostility between the owners caused the inn staff to fall silent.

         “No, you idiot...at...at least I don’t
think so,” Selric said.

         “What do you mean, you don’t think so?”
Mendric asked, releasing Selric with a shove.

         “I’m pretty sure,” Selric said
confidently.  “I cleared everything up before I left.  I was gone two years: 
why wait this long if I was involved?  It couldn’t have been anything that I
did.  Besides, if it were because of me, they would have gotten someone I
associated with in those parts of town.  I never took Sonya to that kind of
stuff.  Just dinner and...and you know.”

         “Yeah, I know,” Mendric said looking
down, upset yet understanding.  Like their grandfather, he disapproved of
Selric’s behavior.  He also trusted his brother’s integrity if not his judgment,
and if Selric said it was not his fault then Mendric believed him.  “It’s a big
city: a lot of weird people.  Sometimes we lose those we care about.  I am
sorry.  Sorry for her.  And...and sorry for you too.”  One of the serving girls
silently brought the owners four drinks, two each, and removed the empty mugs. 
The brothers grasped their beer and drank in unison, Mendric looking down,
Selric absently watching one of the new girls as she was bent over wiping a
table clean.

         “Hey, you know, you were pretty good with
that sword,” Mendric said, trying to move on from the dark topic, “even though
it is a little odd.”  Selric listened, still watching the new wench perform her
duty enticingly; casting her eyes back at him to make sure she was holding his
gaze.  Mendric’s last words snapped Selric’s attention back to his brother.

         “Odd!  What do you mean?  That’s what the
warlords of the East use, you know?  There’s nothing odd about it.”

         “It
was
effective,” Mendric forced
himself to admit, but still finding it hard to disagree with Stormweather
doctrine.  The long curved blade of the Eastern weapon was very much different—and
used differently—than the heavy broad swords of the west coast, favorite
weapons of the gentry for hundreds of years.

         “Effective?” Selric argued.  “I mangled
those dummies.”

         “Yes, I guess you did,” Mendric agreed
with little emotion.  They drained their first mugs and Mendric started his
second.  Selric, however, rose and moved toward the new girl, who, being
finished at the table she had been cleaning was heading to the back room.  Just
as Selric reached out to touch her tender waist, his own was grabbed, by the
belt.

         “Not so fast,” said Mendric, reeling him
in.  “There is a party in your honor tonight.  You
will
be on time.”  He
guzzled his second draught with one hand, holding Selric with the other. 
Mendric wiped his mouth, grabbed Selric by the back of his shirt and, along
with the grip on his belt, started hauling his brother to the door.  Selric
snatched his drink on the way past the table and set it, half-empty, on a table
near the door as he passed it, wiping his own mouth.

         “Good-bye all,” Mendric said to the
crowd; employees preparing for the always busy night ahead.

         “Good-bye,” came the jovial reply,
followed by laughter as Selric tried to wave, but was restricted by the bulk of
his half-brother as he shoved him out the door.

 

         Cinder sat upon the stairs, the house now
empty and quiet.  Her dark hair lay across her shoulder and spilt down, curling
up in her lap while she slowly ran her brush through it.  With a sigh, she
swung her locks back behind her and they slowly came to rest upon the step
where she sat.  Wasting no more time on memories she never really had, emotions
she had only pretended to feel, Cinder stood and walked down the last few steps
and across the foyer to the door.  With a last glance at the empty walls and
bare floors Cinder reached around and opened the door behind her.  With conscious
effort, she backed out of her home and into the street.

         Cinder already missed her father, Rovair,
who had left an hour earlier, just ahead of the law.  Ostensibly a painter of
signs, Rovair was secretly a forger:  the best, known as ‘The Quill’.  He could
copy any hand or style infallibly.  But this skill eventually drew the
attention of the King, who expended great effort to catch him.  By taunting the
monarchy (actually forging a satirical writ for his own arrest in the King’s
hand and posting it on the door to the headquarters of the city’s secret
police) the Quill had sealed his own fate.  King Alhad placed an immense bounty
on the forger’s head, and soon one of Rovair’s former clients revealed his
location.

         Rovair had many friends in varied circles
and through them learned of his old associate’s treachery.  He sold all of his
possessions, left his daughter a great amount of cash and skipped town, even
selling his house to an unsuspecting merchant.  By Andrelia law, all
possessions of criminals became property of the crown upon the suspect’s
conviction.  So unable to leave Cinder anything of real value, the Quill sold
it all off, knowing most of it would later be confiscated by the authorities,
to the detriment of the purchasers.  He, anyway, had gotten his money for it.

        

         Cinder’s parents met nearly fifty years
earlier on one of her mother’s rare visits to human civilization.  Cinder’s
mother, Shayna Starshine, was an elf of noble blood, known as Faeries by
humans, who as a race dealt only rarely with humanity.  But Shayna and those
she traveled with were adventurous for their kind and did, on occasion, visit
areas populated by the comparatively aggressive humans.  Rovair and Shayna’s
meeting was tempestuous and their love a matter of hours:  a true attraction of
opposites.  In the shame which followed, stooping so low as to let a human love
her, Shayna retreated to her forest domain in the vast Darkwood, carrying in
her womb a half-human, half-elven reminder of her meeting with humanity. 
Rovair, known that year as Valmar, was unaware of their creation.

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