Read Deepwoods (Book 1) Online

Authors: Honor Raconteur

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Deepwoods (Book 1)

BOOK: Deepwoods (Book 1)
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Published by Raconteur House

Manchester, TN

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and
incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

DEEPWOODS

 

A Raconteur House book/ published by arrangement with the
author

 

PRINTING HISTORY

Raconteur House mass-market
edition/August 2014

 

Copyright © 2014 by Honor
Raconteur

Cover Illustration by Katie
Griffin

Portraits by Christa Triumph

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be
reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without
permission. Please do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of
copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.

Purchase only authorized
editions.

For information address:

Raconteur House

164 Whispering Winds Dr.

Manchester, TN, 37355

 

If you purchased this book
without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was
reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor
the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

 

www.raconteurhouse.com

 

 

Other books by Honor Raconteur
Published by Raconteur House

THE ADVENT MAGE CYCLE

Book One:
Jaunten
Book Two:
Magus
Book Three:
Advent
Book Four:
Balancer
Advent Mage Compendium
The Dragon’s Mage

 

Special Forces 01

The Midnight Quest

Kingslayer

 

THE ARTIFACTOR SERIES

The Child Prince
The Dreamer’s Curse

DEEPWOODS SAGA

Deepwoods

 

To Darby Ann – a faithful friend and companion for many
years.
You will be sorely missed.

 

 

The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.
-- Henry L. Stimson

 

 

 

Siobhan leaned back in her chair, propped her boots up on
the table, and sighed with ultimate contentment. Truly, today couldn’t be going
better. She sat within her guildhall, enjoying the peace while it lasted.
Sylvie had pulled one of her trading schemes that borderlined magic and found a
small bag of chocolate. Siobhan had promptly confiscated it and volunteered
herself as a taste-tester. Just to make sure it wasn’t poisoned, of course. For
the sake of the guild.

A sizeable bowl of warmed chocolate sat at her elbow,
another bowl of fresh strawberries next to it, and she dipped the fruit
liberally before popping it into her mouth. No signs of poison yet, but it
might take three or four strawberries before the poison took effect. These
things took time after all. Easing back even further into her padded rocking
chair, she snagged another strawberry and coated it nice and thick with
chocolate.

“Siobhan!” Sylvie called from the front of the Hall.

Siobhan paused with the strawberry halfway to her mouth and
cautiously looked toward the door. The sunshine outside was strong enough to
make the room look dim, casting Sylvie and a strange man in shadow, so she
couldn’t make out much. It didn’t look like any sort of trouble to her, though.
“Yes, Sylvie?”

“Someone wishes to speak to you!”

Well that certainly left the door of possibilities wide open.
“One or two?”

“Four!”

Four? Eyebrows quirked, she called back, “Bring him to me.”

As Sylvie escorted the stranger inside, Siobhan popped the
strawberry into her mouth and chewed, watching the man carefully. He didn’t pay
much attention to her at first, his eyes roving over the Hall instead. He took
in everything from the high vaulted ceilings with their wooden rafters to the
stone tiled floor, square oak tables, chairs, and the rounded bar in the far
corner. She’d bought the two-story building ten years ago cheap from a failing
guild and it was twice the size they actually needed. She kept thinking they’d
grow to fit it, but it never seemed to happen.

His perusal of the Hall gave her time to study him without
being caught staring. He didn’t look like much. Of average height and build, he
was far from physically imposing, and nothing about his features really stood
out. Slightly shaggy blond hair, oval glasses that masked his eyes,
clean-shaven fair skin, and an air of harmlessness. The only thing
distinguished about him was his clothes. That thick wool sweater, dark suede
jacket, and black trousers all said
money
from the way they fit him so
well. His polished half-boots alone probably cost as much as her monthly
salary. Now, what was a rich boy like him doing in a small guild like hers?
Escort service? Men of his wealth normally went to the larger guilds. Actually,
men like him didn’t make their own travel arrangements at all but had one of
their servants do it for them.

His eyes finally turned toward her and took her in from head
to toe in a quick scan. He didn’t look surprised by her dark auburn hair, green
eyes, or fair skin—all of which were somewhat unusual in this corner of the
world. It made her think that he’d done some asking around before coming here. She
took her boots off the table as he stopped in front of her and stood to give
him a proper greeting, hand outstretched.

“Siobhan Maley, Guildmaster of Deepwoods.”

“Markl Hammon,” he responded in a surprisingly pleasant tenor,
grasping her forearm in a firm warrior’s clasp. “Light and peace upon you,
Guildmaster Maley.”

“Likewise.” Just plain Markl Hammon? No mention of guild or
family connections? He couldn’t possibly be related to Nuel Hammon, founding
Guildmaster of Silver Moon, could he? The way he politely responded to her with
Winziane greetings made her think so. No wonder Sylvie had said four. “Sit,
please. Might I offer a strawberry?”

“Ahhh…” he paused and glanced at both bowls. “It looks very
inviting, thank you. I saw you dip one into the chocolate. I’ve never seen that
done before.” His statement tilted up in tone, making it into a question.

“A habit of my own making,” she admitted cheerfully. “It’s
quite divine that way. Try it,” she encouraged, and not just out of generosity.
Much could be learned by offering people food, but it also went against her
culture to talk business without offering
something
edible.

A little gingerly, he picked up one of the smaller
strawberries and dipped it into the chocolate before taking a tentative bite.
Then his eyes went wide behind those thick glasses and his mouth turned up into
a smile. “Mmm! It’s good like this.”

“Have another,” she offered. “Wait, Sylvie, not
you
.”

Too late. Sylvie already had the berry firmly in her mouth, dark
eyes sparkling with laughter. “Escorting charges,” the other woman defended
herself, licking traces of chocolate from her lips.

Siobhan rolled her eyes and shook her head in resigned
amusement. She couldn’t help but notice that as Sylvie left, Hammon’s eyes
strayed to watch her go for a moment. But she didn’t blame him. The man would
have to be dead and six feet under to not be attracted to their resident
trader. Sylvie had been blessed with gorgeous dark hair, a voluptuous body, and
an exotic-looking face—all of which she used ruthlessly to her advantage. No
one got better deals than she when it came to trading.

“So, what brings you to Deepwoods?” Siobhan brought his
attention gently back to her without embarrassing him.

“Ah, hmm.” Hammon swallowed the mouthful he had and gave her
a game smile. “Well, let me explain. I’m a scholar by profession, you see.”

Actually, she didn’t. Scholars were not a profession as no
one paid them for their information. In fact, to call it a profession was the
greatest oxymoron in the known world. But she had heard of families that were
so wealthy that their children took on that title and studied whatever suited
their fancies. Waste of time, education, and money in her opinion. Still and
all, she didn’t make a habit of judging paying clients, so she made an
encouraging sound and let him continue.

“I want to study specifically the cultures of this world and
the interactions each nation has with each other,” he expanded, warming up to
his subject. “I think if we all understood how the other cultures worked, we
could have better relationships with them, especially where trade is
concerned.”

Oh? Well, what a surprise. At least he wanted to study
something sensible instead of how air was formed or some such nonsense. “How do
we come in?”

“I’ve come to you for two reasons.” He held up two fingers
in illustration. “One is that I’m informed that out of all the guilds, yours
tends to travel the most because of your specialties in pathfinding and
escorting.”

Thereby meaning…what exactly? “So you want us to escort you
all over the four continents?”

“Well, yes and no. I actually hoped to just stay with your
guild for a time and whenever you take a job, I travel with you. It’s less
cumbersome for you that way.”

Her eyebrows rose in surprise. He wanted to
live
with
the guild? “What’s the second reason?”

“Of the guilds in this city, yours is the most ethnically
diverse. I understand you have people from five different nationalities here.”
He waited for her confirming nod before continuing. “I didn’t hear wrong, then.
Good. So you see, you actually have the perfect place for me to observe right
in this Hall. Your people, despite their different cultures, get along
peacefully and work well together. I can learn a great deal by watching them
interact and asking questions.”

‘Get along peacefully’ was it? That might be stretching
things a tad. “So you wish to live with us.”

“An unorthodox idea, I know,” he admitted with a wry shrug,
expression bashful yet somewhat charming. “I would of course be willing to pay
you for the expense of having me.”

Ohhh? So this study of his had funding to it? Siobhan sat
back in her chair and regarded him frankly, the wheels in her mind spinning. She
saw something in his eyes that made her pause before giving him an immediate
answer. She’d seen it before—and it made all the difference to her. Logical
reasons aside, she had a feeling why he had really come.

She could charge him some exorbitant price for the privilege
of staying here, but she had a gut feeling it wouldn’t work. Her people didn’t
esteem wealth. They would be polite to a paying guest but not welcoming. It
would add tension in the guild, and she avoided tension like the plague.

She had half a mind to let him stay just because she rather
liked what she saw. But she wouldn’t be a guildmaster if she couldn’t somehow
turn this to her advantage. Right now she didn’t need money so much as another
set of useful hands. “Are you willing to work to stay here?”

He blinked at her several times, head cocked. “Work? Well,
certainly, if you prefer that. But, ah, what would you want me to do?”

“What skills do you have?” she countered. “We’re a small
guild. We can use a helping hand in almost every department.”

It took a second for Hammon to answer her. “Well, I’ve
experience in booking, trading, and research. I speak three dialects—”

“Which ones?” she interrupted.

“Blasden, Ellertish and Kaberrin,” he responded promptly.

Oh? No one in the guild knew two of those dialects. It
opened up trade possibilities if he chose to stay. “Good. Anything else?”

“I’m completely literate,” he said dryly. Of course, as a
scholar, he would have to be literate.

“Good skills,” she commended. “I’d ask for your help in
translating, when necessary, but we need someone to take over the books more
than anything. I’m doing that right now and I frankly loathe it.”

He smiled at her words but it didn’t do more than flash
across his face. His eyes studied her intensely before he asked slowly, “You’d
prefer that I work over paying you. Why?”

“If you want the respect of my guild, you earn your bread.
You don’t pay for it.”

His expression relaxed into a soft smile and he nodded once.
“I understand.”

“Hammon, I must ask a few questions first. Your family?”

“I’m from the southern end of Robarge. My family knows what
I intend to do, and while they’re not quite sure what to think of it, they have
no problem with it either.”

She frowned slightly at his wording. ‘From the southern
end?’ Wouldn’t it be easier to just name the city he was from? And why not say
his family name? Siobhan smelled evasion. “I see. Do you mind if I ask how old
you are?”

“Not at all. I just turned twenty-five.”

“Oh, you’d be one of the younger members in the guild,
then.” In fact, Denney was the only one younger. “Are you registered with any
other guild in Robarge?”

“Well, yes,” he admitted reluctantly. “But I’m on an
extended leave of absence with them and they understand it might well be years
before I come back.”

“Do I need to notify them?” she asked. In truth, she should,
as it was a guildmaster’s duty and courtesy to other guilds to do so.

“No, it’s fine, I’ll handle it.”

Again, she smelled evasion. “Well enough, then. As long as
you promise to not start trouble, I have no problem taking you on.”

He gave her a half-bow, face brightening into a relieved
smile. “Thank you. Then I’ll take up those books, shall I?”

“Good enough.” She’d get to the bottom of just who he was
later, when he didn’t have his guard up. Digging right now for answers would
make him too uncomfortable and she’d prefer not to do that. “Now, I don’t know
how much you’ve been told, but here’s the basics. Deepwoods only has nine
members, including yours truly. Ten now with you. As you said, we usually do
escorts and the like, but we don’t pass up trade opportunities either. Sylvie’s
the best in that. If you want to do a trade or bargain, I’d run it past her
first. Our rooms are all upstairs, and the one at the very top and to your
right is empty. Take that one. Most of your meals can be had here, if you wish,
but you’re not bound to eat with us. We sometimes go out to eat as well.
Clothes, weapons, and the like are your own expenses. Travel expenses are
handled by the guild’s coffers. Don’t do anything to kill, maim, or bankrupt us
and we’ll get along fine.”

“If you don’t mind a question?” he waited for her encouraging
motion of the hand before asking, “The numbers you and Sylvie exchanged. What
do those mean?”

“Ah, that. It’s something of a code that Sylvie and I have
developed over the years. It cues me up to trouble. ‘One’ means that someone in
the guild has seriously hurt someone else.”

Hammon’s eyes were in danger of crossing. “How often does
that happen?”

“More than I care for,” she grumbled. “But one of my
enforcer’s a Resken and another is a Teheranian, so I suppose fighting is
inevitable. Anyway, ‘two’ means that something has happened that caused damage
somewhere, damage that will cost me a pretty penny in restitution fees. ‘Three’
is a trade or business opportunity coming my direction. ‘Four’ is the
unquantified. It’s not trouble, but Sylvie’s not sure if it’s good news
either.”

BOOK: Deepwoods (Book 1)
5.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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