Read Deepwoods (Book 1) Online

Authors: Honor Raconteur

Tags: #Young Adult, #Magic, #Fantasy, #YA, #series, #Deepwoods, #Raconteur House, #pathmaking, #Epic Fantasy, #Honor Raconteur, #assassins, #adventure, #guilds, #warriors, #female protagonist, #New Adult

Deepwoods (Book 1) (3 page)

BOOK: Deepwoods (Book 1)
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Fei rose from his chair long enough to clasp hands with the
man but didn’t do more than say, “Hammon-jia.”

Siobhan sighed at his antisocial tendencies and moved on.
“And Grae Masson, our Pathmaker.”

Grae leaned over the table long enough to briefly clasp arms
with Hammon before quickly retreating back to his seat. She could tell Hammon
wanted to speak with him and silently wished the scholar luck. She’d known Grae
since they were teenagers and the man had always been shy and slow to warm up
to people. Even as he sat there, he ducked his head to hide behind his bangs,
not comfortable with a stranger’s attention.

“Well, Hammon, that’s everyone.” Siobhan encouraged him to
take a seat by nudging him in the middle of his back. “I’m told dinner’s coming
soon, so let’s sit.”

“Oh! Wait.” Hammon turned back toward the stairs and grabbed
his wicker basket, which he set with a slight clatter on the table. “I wish
exaltations and blessings upon this house, family, and its companions. I
brought a gift with me, as thanks for welcoming me into the guild. I wasn’t
sure of everyone’s tastes, so bought a little of everything. There’s sweet
rolls in here,” as he spoke he took things out and spread them over the table,
“four bottles of apple brandy, and some white goat’s cheese for the flatbread.”

Siobhan silently applauded his choices. Neither Denney nor
Tran cared much for meat, preferring fruits and bread instead, so his choices
meant that everyone could enjoy the food equally. Lucky guess on his part? Or
did he know enough about the cultures in this guild to know that might be the
case? She caught his eye and gave him a nod of approval, which made him wink
back at her.

As her guildmates good-naturedly passed the treats about,
their cook, Sara, brought out several plates of spicy curry and rice, which
everyone greeted with happy faces. Thick, spicy scents filled the air and set
her mouth to watering. They ate with gusto for several minutes, the
conversation overlapping and sometimes loud, as usual. Hammon didn’t say much
as he ate, just watched with slightly wide eyes. Wasn’t used to this sort of
scene, eh? Hopefully he’d get used to it quickly. Siobhan’s guild could not be
described as
quiet
.

Half of the food had been consumed when Wolf leaned closer
and asked in a low rumble, “Where did Sylvie get off to?”

“I’m not sure,” Siobhan admitted, turning in her seat to
look thoughtfully at the front door. “She said she had a quick errand to run,
but I expected her back by now.”

“Sunset’s come and gone,” Wolf said, forehead furrowing in
worry. “The streets are sure to be dark.”

Looking around, Siobhan saw that Tran’s plate was empty and
she caught the man’s eye. “Tran, done? Go look for Sylvie, then.”

“Vahh.” As he pushed back from the table, the front door
clicked open.

Siobhan turned around again, this time relieved to see the
brunette striding through the door. “Sylvie!”

“Sorry,” she said, pausing long enough to close and lock the
door behind her.

“Sylvie, we’ve talked about this.” Wolf did not look pleased
as he pushed back from the table to look her dead in the eye. “You’re not to go
out alone this late.”

Sylvie held up both hands in a placating gesture. “I know, I
know. I didn’t expect to be gone so long. But don’t worry, I had an escort
back.”

At the other end of the table, Hammon whispered, “Problem?”

Beirly answered in an equally low tone, “None of the girls
are allowed out late without an escort. We’ve run into problems when they do. I
guess it’s just part and parcel of being beautiful, eh, Denney?”

“Like we ask to be harassed,” Denney grumbled. “Anyway, if
we do need to go out, one of the men is expected to go with us. Just to avoid
trouble.”

“Ah.”

Siobhan gratefully let them handle the explanation as she
waited for Sylvie to cross to her. “So?”

“I was stopped by a messenger from Blackstone,” she
responded simply and held out a folded sheet of paper that had been sealed with
black wax, the crest of the main guild of the city impressed into it. “Seems
urgent.”

Siobhan broke the seal with a quick twist of her fingers
before unfolding the paper. Deepwoods had strong ties to Blackstone, the master
guild of Goldschmidt, and often took on minor jobs for them. To be given a
message like this wasn’t unusual. To get it this late in the day, however,
spoke of impending trouble. She scanned through the letter quickly and unease
coiled into a cold lump in her stomach.

“Listen up,” she called to the table, not taking her eyes
from the letter. A hush instantly descended. “This came directly from
Guildmaster Darrens. His daughter Lirah has gone missing.”

“Missing?!” several people repeated in shock.

“She apparently was going to Sateren to negotiate something
for her father but she never got there. He’s verified that she went through
Island Pass so she at least got to Wynngaard, but it’s now three days past when
she was meant to arrive and there’s no sign of her.” She raised her head and
looked around the table, stating what everyone had already guessed. “He’s asked
us to go after her.”

Hammon raised a finger. “Ah, can I ask why? As governor of
this city, Blackstone can employ more than just this guild to go looking for
her.”

“Grae is the only Pathfinder in Goldschmidt,” Siobhan
explained succinctly. “We can get there faster than almost anyone else. Also,
Darrens is aware that I have two people who are very familiar with Wynngaard.”

“In other words, you’re the perfect rescue team for this
situation,” Hammon summed up with an understanding nod. “I see.”

“I don’t think we’re the only ones he’ll send,” Sylvie put
in, leaning over the table to snag a glass of apple brandy. “I think we’re the
ones he’s sending
first
.”

“Likely,” Fei noted. “Siobhan-ajie? Leave at first light?”

“Yes. Pack and prepare tonight. Hammon, take only what
you’ll need for six days or so. Sylvie, Fei, I leave the food up to you. Beirly,
how’s our cart?”

“I just replaced the wheels but I’ll double-check everything
tonight,” he promised.

She turned to Conli, a dozen what-if scenarios flashing
through her mind as she tried to anticipate what they might need. “Conli, it’s
likely people are hurt.”

“I’ll bring everything we could possibly need,” he promised.
“Master Hammon? If I could enlist your help? Some of the equipment I want to
bring is awkward to carry down those stairs.”

Hammon blinked, surprised to be asked, but agreed readily.
“Of course.”

She didn’t need to give exact orders to everyone, as they
had been through similar situations before, so she simply rapped her knuckles
on the table in an obvious signal. “Move, people.”

They were up before dawn, everyone bringing down bags of
supplies and equipment, loading it all into the cart pulled by their faithful reinmal.
This far north of Robarge, a reinmal was not only an odd choice for pulling a
cart but a rare sight entirely. Horses and mesans were the norm here. The breed
was used more in Wolf’s area of the world as they were made for the winter
cold. Siobhan thought of them as an odd cross between a deer and a camel—they
had the narrow legs, facial structure and coat of the deer but the robust size
and color of the camel. If not for the fact their backs were more flat instead
of humped, most people would probably mistake a reinmal for a camel.

Denney, hooked the reinmal to the cart while everyone loaded
bags and boxes into it. Grae, always the one that worried about how much weight
went into the cart, sat in the driver’s seat and oversaw the packing. Siobhan
packed for her and Sylvie both as she had sent the other woman to Blackstone to
get more information about the party they were pursuing. She wanted an
itinerary and a list of who was missing at the very least before they went
hunting.

By the time she made it out of the building, the sun had
just started to flirt with the rooftops and the air had gone from severely cold
to just cold. She hugged the jacket’s collar up around her ears a little more,
feeling the bite at the exposed skin of her face. What a terrible time of the
year to have to go searching for
anyone
. Winter was quickly approaching
here, and in Wynngaard, it’d likely already arrived. Unless they wanted to
search for people in three feet of snow, they’d best find the missing travelers
quickly.

Hammon appeared at her side, cheeks rosy from the cold.
“Guildmaster Maley. Anything I can help with?”

She’d passed him several times on the stairs as he helped
carry things down. He seemed intent on being supportive, which was not a habit
she wanted to dissuade. “Not a thing. I think we’re more or less ready to go.”

Grae must have heard her as he lifted his head and
complained, “There’s too much weight on the cart!”

“You
always
say that,” Siobhan returned with a roll
of the eyes.

“That’s because it’s
always
true,” he grumbled.
“You’re not the one that has to carry the cart!”

“It’ll lighten up in a day once we eat some of the food,”
she soothed, as she always did.

He gave her a long, searching look. “You’re really not going
to let me take anything off, are you?”

She met his eyes squarely. “Grae, I don’t know what we’re
walking into. I don’t know what equipment we might or might not need. I’d
rather take shorter hops and be an hour or two delayed in the journey than to
abandon something here that we might desperately need once we find them.”

Seeing her point, he raised both hands in surrender and bent
back to the cart, securing everything with a rope net.

Hammon lowered his voice as he asked, “Is pathfinding that
hard? He seems legitimately worried about the weight.”

“Hard isn’t the word,” she corrected. “Complicated is a
better way to put it. But he’s not going to be able to do any pathfinding until
we’re well clear of Goldschmidt. Why don’t you ask him how it works as we
travel through the city?”

He blinked at her. “Would he mind?”

She snorted. “No. But I warn you, the last time someone
asked him that question, he spent three weeks explaining the answer. And that
was the
short
version.”

Far from being dissuaded, Hammon’s brown eyes shone with
anticipation. “Excellent. I’ll ask. I’ve always wanted to know the specifics of
how pathfinding works, but I rarely encounter a Pathfinder willing to explain
it all.”

Truly a scholar, this man. Siobhan couldn’t be more pleased
with his attitude. It killed multiple birds with one stone: it would help forge
a friendship between Pathfinder and scholar, keep the scholar happily occupied
as they traveled, and more importantly, keep
Grae
occupied. Her
childhood friend had a bad habit of worrying about unnecessary things unless he
had a mental task to chew on.

She stepped back into the thick of things, calling out a
checklist of items and equipment to people, getting verbal assurances as she
did. She’d done this so many times over the years that she only had half her
mind on the task, and she let her eyes rove over the group, verifying for
herself they were all ready. Wolf and Tran already had their leather armor on,
winter coats and weapons strapped in place. Tran kept toying with the twin
short swords strapped behind his waist, sliding them an inch out of the sheath
and back in again in a bored fidget as he waited for them to move out. The man
had the patience of a fruit fly most of the time. Wolf stood behind everyone
else, standing there like an immovable stone statue, eyes making the same
visual check she was.

Conli already sat on top of the wagon next to Beirly,
stifling a yawn behind his hand. He’d never been the best morning person. He
had so many layers of shirts and coats on that he looked as round as a ball.
Siobhan had a mischievous urge to push him off the cart and see if she could
roll him down the street. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the time for any
playful wrestling, so she squashed the impulse. Fei, who hated mornings on
general principle, had squirreled himself away in a cranny of the cart and had
already fallen asleep. She couldn’t see anything more than the tip of his
ponytail trailing out from the edge of his collar. For his sake, she hoped he
hadn’t forgotten anything as she wasn’t about to wake him up to ask.

Denney already had their dogs Pyper and Pete out. Pyper’s
pure black coat and Pete’s mix of black and silver shone in the cold and they
moved with an extra bounce in their step. But then, these dogs were bred for
cold weather—their long, thick coats, padded feet and flopped ears had all been
designed to protect them from the cold. Both dogs made the rounds and checked
in with everyone, pushing their noses into welcoming hands in a greeting before
moving on. At some point, they must have met Hammon as they didn’t do anything
but give him an extra curious nudge and a wag of the tail. Hammon, proving to
be a man that knew how to charm people, knelt and gave both colliers an extra
scratch behind the ears and a word of praise. Denney beamed at him. Siobhan had
bought the colliers for the guild three years ago—dogs were excellent guards
and traveling companions in their profession—but the whole guild knew that they
were Denney’s babies. Hammon had just won the girl over.

Seeing that they were ready, she retreated back to the Hall
long enough to lock the doors and pocket the key before waving Beirly forward.
“Go.”

With a click of the tongue and a soft slap of the reins, the
cart rumbled into motion. It went slow enough that they all kept up at a
walking pace without trouble. The dogs, in fact, sprinted a short distance
ahead, automatically scouting their road, before running back to the cart
again. They’d steady out as they traveled, but would likely do this dozens of
times before they left the city.  

At this hour of the morning the city still lay half-asleep.
Goldschmidt had become one of the major cities of Robarge over the past two
decades, but even it didn’t stay up all hours of the day. The brick and mortar
buildings they passed all had their wooden shutters closed against the chill,
the doors locked, and not a shred of light could be seen from the inside. A few
businesses had opened their doors by the time they left the guild quarter and
entered the main thoroughfare—mostly bakers and the like. Siobhan could tell by
the sweet smell of bread baking that floated through the air. But they’d all
munched on something as they’d packed this morning, and no one felt
particularly tempted to stop for another breakfast.

As they walked, she heard Hammon join Grae on the back of
the wagon, settling in with a slight squeak as the springs took his weight. “Masson,
I wonder if I can ask a few questions?”

“Grae is fine,” the Pathfinder corrected in his usual soft
tone. “And by all means. We like to talk as we travel.”

“Excellent. I thank you for the offer of informality. I
wonder if you can explain pathfinding to me? I know very little about it.”

Siobhan cast a glance back over her shoulder. She walked to
the side of the wagon, so couldn’t see Hammon’s face, but she could see Grae’s.
He had noticeably perked up at Hammon’s frank interest. Instead of sitting
folded in on himself, he’d stretched his lean frame out, blue eyes alert and
focused instead of hiding behind his dark brown bangs.
Here we go
, she
thought to herself with a wry smile.

“Yes, certainly.” Grae answered with noticeable animation.
“I’m not sure how familiar you are, so I’ll start with the basics. Pathfinding
is actually an erroneous term in some respects. It’s more like Path
making
.
People who possess the ability to form paths can, with the right know-how,
build a path that will take you over land. The ability gives you a way to
travel significant distances within a few short strides, as you know, but
there’s many different aspects in making a path.”

“Such as?”

“Well, there’s certain factors that I must calculate before
I can determine just how far we can travel. The condition of the land, for
instance. The more natural power that resides in the land, the farther we can
go on the path. Deserts are impossible to cross by pathfinding because of this.
So, for that matter, are cities.”

Over the sound of the wheels on the cobblestone came the
scritch
scritch
of a pen on paper. Siobhan glanced back again, looking for the
source, and nearly stumbled over her own feet when she found it. Hammon was
actually taking
notes
? Grae was smiling from ear to ear, enthusiastic
that someone took him seriously enough to record what he said.

She caught Beirly’s eye, cocking her head to indicate the
two happily talking on the back of the cart. The other man bit his lip to keep
from laughing before mouthing carefully, ‘There will be no livin’ with Grae
after this.’

Siobhan nodded in wry agreement.

“So assume that you have land under you that has inherent
power,” Hammon prompted, still scribbling away in the leather-bound book in his
hands. “What other factors are there?”

“I need strong sunlight, as the power of the sun affects
pathfinding as well. I also need water from a pure source, which I drop at
certain intervals to open the path. But the hardest part is gathering enough
stones to create the stepping stones. You see, it’s not just finding a path in
the soil—I have to create large stepping stones that tap into the land’s power.
Most places already have several paths available because people cross them so
often, although only another Pathfinder can activate them. But if we’re in an
underpopulated area, I have to gather enough stones to make the stepping stones
myself. Sometimes, too, the paths that
are
there aren’t large enough to
carry a party this size.”

“Right picky he is about the stones, too,” Beirly added over
his shoulder. “We all pitch in and help him, but it’s still sometimes a full
day’s work to make him happy.”

“Would you rather be suddenly dropped in the middle of a
swamp?” Grae shot back with false mildness. “Or the ocean? If a path isn’t made
correctly, that’s what happens.”

“Was I complaining?” Beirly retorted without looking back.
“Just commentin’ is all.”

Grae grunted a “Ha!” under his breath. “
Anyway
, the
more weight and people that I have to make a path for, the more complicated the
pattern is for the stepping stones.”

“Ahhh,” Hammon said in understanding. “Is that why you were
so concerned earlier about how much weight is in the cart?”

“I’m glad
someone
understands,” Grae said sourly. “We
always hover right between the balance of ten to twenty chuls of weight. With
this amount of people, we should be fine at ten chuls. But then Siobhan insists
on bringing the cart along, which adds two chuls all by itself, never mind
factoring in Kit—”

“Kit?” Hammon interrupted in confusion.

“The reinmal,” Beirly answered, still not looking away from
the road ahead of him. “His name is Kit.”

“Ah. Sorry, Grae, do continue.”

“Well, Kit is about a chul and a half because of his size.
So we pass over ten chuls and therefore have to use the snowflake pattern,
which is much more complex than the rose pattern, and it takes more energy for
me to use—”

Siobhan tuned him out at that point as she had heard this
complaint before. Multiple times. In fact, she could probably give the lecture
word for word from here on out. Instead she shortened her stride and fell into
step with Wolf, who was guarding the rear. “Sylvie was supposed to meet up with
us by now.”

Wolf gave a grunt, eyes narrowed against the morning sun as
he looked ahead. “I don’t see her. Want me to go ahead and see if she’s found
trouble?”

BOOK: Deepwoods (Book 1)
6.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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