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) (8 page)

BOOK: Deepwoods (Book 1)
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Those big brown eyes blinked at her. “You didn’t know he
promised me that?”

“No, I didn’t know!” she responded in exasperation. “When
did he?”

“Oh, not long after you brought him to the Hall.” Beirly
scratched at his beard and looked thoughtfully toward the ceiling. “Hmmm, a
week or two after? Remember that one squinty-looking man who was trying to
trick us into moving stolen goods to Stott? The one that Wolf squashed flat
when he tried to flee? It was after that.”

“That happened the first month he was with us,” Siobhan said
faintly. Several memories sorted and flipped themselves in her head, forming a
completely different picture than they once had. “Wait, so when I asked him to
stay on long enough to pay back what I’d spent on him, is
that
why he
gave me such a funny smile?”

Beirly gave a one-shoulder shrug. “Don’t know anything about
that.”

Hammon put his knife down, apparently too engrossed in the
conversation and history of Deepwoods to care about a trivial thing like
eating. “So what happened next?”

“Sylvie,” Grae said, like a man explaining that a typhoon
had hit.

Siobhan smothered a laugh, as it rather had been like that.
“You see, the whole incident with the smuggler had taught us a clear lesson. We
didn’t know enough about trade, and I’m not a good trader anyway. None of us
are. So I started looking around for another member, someone that would
understand the business, and give me good guidance. It wasn’t long after that
we found Sylvie. She’d left Orin and come through Converse, looking for a guild
that had a female guildmaster. I suppose she felt it would be safer that way,
or something. Anyway, she heard that I was looking for a tradesman and came to
me. We bonded over a bowl of chocolate strawberries.”

“And the guild hasn’t been the same since,” Beirly inserted,
eyes crinkling. “She wasn’t too sure what to think of a male-dominated guild
like ours at first—she’s a bad history with men trying to take advantage of
her—but we worked it out with her quick-like. The first day she was out late,
and Wolf went looking for her, she came back with the widest smile on her face.
She’d run into trouble and was in a fine pickle before Wolf showed up. It was
the first time a man had defended her and not asked something in return, see. I
knew then, she’d never leave of her own accord.”

“It took us some time to figure out how to protect her
properly,” Siobhan admitted with a long sigh. “But she’s worth every bit of trouble
and then some. Although we haven’t had as much trouble with that in Goldschmidt
the past few years. People more or less know now that if you hassle her, you’ll
be dealing with every other person in Deepwoods, and there
will
be
broken bones.”

“It’s given her space to breathe.” Grae tapped the table to
get Hammon’s attention. “Be careful with her. Please.”

“And Denney too,” Beirly added.

“And…?” Siobhan encouraged them with a smile of
anticipation.

Both Grae and Beirly looked back at her blankly.

“And what?” Beirly asked, looking for all the world as if he
hadn’t a clue what she wanted.

“And what am I?” she snapped back, irritated. “Chopped
liver? Why aren’t you worried about protecting me?”

“Shi, I feel sorry for anyone that tangles with you,” Grae informed
her bluntly.

“No kidding,” Beirly muttered. “The last time a man hassled
you, you’d taken him down before Wolf could do more than turn his head.”

She glared at them murderously. Without turning her head,
she growled, “I see that smile, Hammon. Wipe it off your face right now.”

He gave a fake cough. “Wasn’t smiling.”

‘Wise of you,’ Grae mouthed.

Grumbling under her breath, she stabbed the knife into her
food with more force than necessary.

“What are you two on about?” Wolf asked them. He’d apparently
come down without her noticing. He came around the table to pat her gently on
the head. “She’s a beautiful woman, isn’t she? Of course you should look out
for her.”

Her bad mood disappeared without a trace and she beamed up
at him. Putting both arms around his waist, she laid her head against his
stomach and crooned, “You wonderful man.”

In an undertone, Beirly murmured, “He always spoils her like
that.”

“If either of you had any sense, you would too,” Sylvie
informed them as she sauntered around the table to the empty seat next to
Hammon. “After all, she controls your paychecks.”

Grae and Beirly gave each other nervous looks.

Siobhan started cackling like a mad crone.

Sylvie grabbed Hammon’s spoon and without a by-your-leave
snatched a bite from his plate. “Mmm, good.”

Hammon regarded her with open surprise, not expecting his
breakfast to be stolen.

“She does that,” Beirly warned him belatedly. “If you sit
next to Sylvie, expect to only eat about half your plate. She can’t resist
eating both her food
and
yours.”

“Is that right?” Hammon glanced at her, expression
thoughtful and weighing. Then without another word, he reached out and piled
another spoonful of everything onto the plate before nudging it a little closer
to her.

Sylvie’s mouth parted in surprise. When he simply looked
back at her, expectantly, she softened into a sweet smile. With his generosity
established, she didn’t hesitate to steal another bite, although she did give
him his spoon back first so he could at least try to eat.

Siobhan watched this play out with open satisfaction as Wolf
took the chair next to hers. Well now. She’d known Hammon to be a kind soul
from their first meeting, but this rather proved it to the whole guild. Sylvie
had probably been half-testing him on that first bite—she routinely tested
everyone she came into contact with—but now that Hammon had proven he wouldn’t
judge her for her bad habits, they would likely be much more at ease with one
another.

They chatted over breakfast and ate but did not dawdle. With
the storm past them, Siobhan didn’t want to waste any time staying here. They
knew everything that could be learned about Lirah’s party and it was time to
go.

 

 

 

Fortified with a hot breakfast, steaming tea, and a good
night’s rest, they took to the road once more. Leaving the isle took a matter
of minutes, as it didn’t have any real width to it, just length, and then they
stepped onto the second half of the Grey Bridges. The whole party let out a
sigh of relief when they felt the warm wind flow over them. The air still had a
distinct chill to it, but it didn’t even compare to the wind-cutting,
bone-rattling cold of before.

They crossed the bridge without incident, sometimes nodding
or saying friendly hellos with the people that passed them on the other side.
With fairer weather, the traffic on the bridge picked up considerably as people
tried to take advantage and get to their own destinations.

Siobhan kept an eye on Denney as they went. The girl had
never been comfortable in Quigg, despite it being her hometown. Or maybe it was
because of it. Wynngaard and Teherani both had interesting opinions about
half-bloods, and Denney usually ran into trouble at some point when they passed
through the city. The closer they got, the more openly she stuck herself to
Conli. He put an arm around her shoulder, comforting, but also in a clearly
protective mood.

She caught Wolf and Tran’s eyes, inclining her head toward
Denney. They nodded in grim understanding, accepting her silent order to keep
an eye on her.

Still, the day passed pleasantly enough, and by late
afternoon, they arrived in the thriving, bustling, and sometimes dangerous city
of Quigg.

Quigg had never been designed or organized in any way as it
was constructed. People had added on streets, neighborhoods and whole markets
wherever they felt a need to have one. People who had been born and raised in
the city still got lost in it, or so the rumors said. Anyone going to Wynngaard
had one of two options: find a ship and sail there yourself or go through Quigg.
Sometimes people had stopped there instead of continuing on, and the city
reflected the very diverse cultures it housed. Every possible style of
architecture, masonry, and signs could be seen as soon as the guild stepped
through the main gates. Siobhan flinched from it a little, overwhelmed by the
clash of scents, voices speaking loudly in different languages, and the press
of bodies wearing every possible style of clothing.

She could tell it unnerved the men, too, being surrounded
and jostled on all sides by pedestrians and other travelers. They immediately
formed ranks around the cart, Wolf guarding the back, Fei the middle, and Tran
coming ahead to ride alongside her. Raising her voice to be heard over the din,
she said to him, “Is it my imagination, or is this place more crowded than it
was last year?”

Tran grimaced agreement.

Sylvie stood up in the cart and called, “Siobhan! Should I
go ahead and see if our regular inn has room for us?”

Instinctively, she felt it a bad idea. Shaking her head, she
raised one hand and made a circular gesture, signaling the group to stick close
together. Siobhan just knew that if they separated in this crowd, for any
reason, they’d have a terrible time finding each other again. She especially
didn’t want any one of them going off alone—no telling what trouble they’d find
doing so.

They blazed a path through the crowd easier as a group, but
even then their pace was slow. Siobhan couldn’t clearly remember which street
their preferred inn sat on, so Tran took the lead (bless the man’s memory) and
led them off the main thoroughfare, which took them away from that crushing
crowd. Siobhan breathed a sigh of relief to leave that noisy, somewhat smelly,
mass of people behind her.

Tran led them confidently up another two narrow streets and
onto a wider, more appealing road that emptied into a pretty courtyard. There
lay the North Bay Inn, its doors facing the courtyard, looking different than
the last time she’d laid eyes on it. Strange, her memory said that the three-story
building was brown with dark green trimming. But it now looked creamy white
with blue trimming. Had someone painted the place? It didn’t look different in
any other way. She took a peek inside the large floor-to-ceiling windows on the
front of the building as she rode toward the door. The inside seemed to be
different too, as if the floors had been replaced with a lighter wood and the
walls inside had been given a fresh coat of paint. Well now. Business must be
good to afford a renovation like this.

“Sylvie,” Siobhan called back.

“On it,” the other woman assured her, already leaping
lightly from the wagon. Straightening her hair, she walked confidently through
the main door and out of sight. A few moments passed in silence before she came
back out again, a smug smile on her face. “Five rooms left, most of them with
larger beds, which includes breakfast, dinner, and baths. I got him to cut the
price down by saying we only have the cart and two dogs.”

Then they’d need to return the horses tonight. Well, likely
best to do that anyway. They’d served their purpose here and the group didn’t
need them anymore. “How much?”

“Twenty-seven kors.”

“Oooh, not bad.” Siobhan gave her an approving nod. She
turned her eyes up to the sky and made some quick calculations. “I think we’ve
got about two, perhaps three, hours of daylight left here. Everyone, throw your
bags into your rooms. Hammon, if you and Fei will return the horses? Good,
thank you. The rest of us will split off in pairs and see if we can’t find
confirmation that our missing party went through here. Who knows? We might get
lucky and find something out today.”

“It’ll take some luck, Shi,” Beirly warned her.

She grimaced a smile at him. “Don’t I know it. Wolf and I
will take the streets. Conli, Denney, Grae, take the inns. Beirly and Tran,
take to the gate guards on both sides, see if they have any record of who came
through. Move, people.”

ӜӜӜ

Siobhan had no idea what the world had been like when
governments still ruled this land, but now every level of people existed from
the most wealthy and powerful to the completely destitute. Every class of
people had their own groups, their own places of gathering, even if they didn’t
officially belong to a guild. She had learned early on that if someone really
wanted to know something, then finding the area of the city controlled by the
street gangs was one of the best ways to go about it. Street rats thrived on
information. More accurately, they survived by knowing the comings, goings, and
dealings of every person in their city. The trick would be finding the right
person with the right information and somehow bribing them into talking to her.

She had some experience in this, having done it before, so she
stopped by several food stalls and stocked up, asking about the ‘dangerous’
places in the city of the people in the marketplace. Once she had a good idea
of its location, she and Wolf headed straight there with two heavily laden bags
in hand. (Siobhan would actually do better if Wolf didn’t go with her, as he
would scare any child at first sight, but he categorically refused to let her
go into the rougher sections of the city alone.)

The difference between this shadier area and the more
affluent section they’d just left was like night and day. Siobhan felt a shiver
go straight up her spine as she looked at her surroundings, not sure if she
felt it because of cold or unease. The buildings here looked gutted, with no
windows or doors aside from the odd tattered cloth pinned up. They looked
lifeless, and it took no imagination to believe that spirits haunted this area.
The streets were littered with odd refuse. No lamps lit the streets, of course,
and the narrow alleyways didn’t let in much natural light. It smelled cold,
dank, and rotten. She swore she could hear the skittering of rats in the
shadows, too.

Maybe Wolf had a good point about her not going in here
alone.

She kept her hand carefully away from the long daggers at
her waist and tried not to look unnerved. Somewhere…somewhere in here there had
to be signs of life. She kept her eyes peeled for it, scrutinizing everything.
Where did this group normally hang about? Oh? Up ahead a small fire burned in a
brazier that had seen better days. No one was in sight, but they’d have bolted
for the nearest cover upon seeing her and Wolf. The brazier gave her a good
stopping point. Not to mention some much-needed light.

She stopped in front of it, kicked an upturned crate onto
its side, and used it as a table of sorts to spread her bounty of food on. She
made sure that the thick loaves of bread, cured meat, wheels of cheese, and the
last haul of apples for the season could be plainly seen from every angle. Then
she sat back on her heels and called out in a strong, loud voice, “My name is
Siobhan Maley. I need information. Is there anyone that is willing to eat and
speak with me?”

Taut moments passed. Finally, a tenor voice called out from
the shadows, “’o’s he?”

“Ah, this is Wolf,” she introduced pleasantly, as if this
was an everyday introduction. “He’s my friend. He was kind enough to help me
bring enough food for everyone.”

Very, very slowly, a thin body stepped out of the shadows.
The boy couldn’t have been more than fourteen, and while he looked scrawny, he
had a full set of clothes on, so he had to be fairly successful at some sort of
livelihood. He came forward with a steady but slow pace, his eyes looking them
over intently with the air of a cornered animal. Siobhan pegged him as the
leader of the group as no one else dared to make even a peep.

She met his eyes levelly and stayed very still, letting him
come in at his own pace. He stopped a good five feet away, not daring to get
any closer. He kept darting looks at Wolf, expression blank but body language
uneasy.

“Wolf,” she muttered from the side of her mouth, “Will you
stop looming and kneel? You’re scaring the kid.”

“I’m not doing anything!” he protested softly.

“You’re breathing. That’s enough.”

With a put-upon sigh, he sank to one knee beside her, hands
carefully in view.

“Come eat something,” Siobhan invited with a charming smile,
beckoning the boy closer. “Among my people, we eat when we talk business.”

With Wolf’s silent intimidation somewhat weakened, and under
the charm of all that food laying out in the open, the boy ventured in closer
although he clearly wasn’t sure if that was a good idea or not.

“Ya…ya don’t look like slavers.”

Siobhan blinked. Is that what he was afraid of?

“No, we’re an escorting guild. We’re actually here to find
some missing friends of ours.” Seeing him eye the food hungrily, she broke off
a piece of bread and popped it into her mouth, proving to him silently that she
hadn’t drugged it in any way. As soon as she did so, he grabbed the loaf and
starting stuffing whole chunks into his mouth.

Someone, at some point in time, had tried to trick these
kids. It made Siobhan boiling mad to think of it. What, their lives weren’t
difficult enough? They had to worry about being caught and sold as slaves, too?
Without a word, she picked off a small piece of everything and ate it, proving
it all safe. When she did so, more children started coming out of the
buildings, although they didn’t come to where she sat. She counted fifteen, but
who knew how many there actually were.

When the whole loaf was consumed, the boy sat back and
offered, “I’m Lenney. So what’s yar business, guildie?”

Now she was getting somewhere. “Like I said, we’re looking
for missing friends. We don’t know if they made it through this city or not. I
can prove they came through Island Pass, but I want to know if they made it to
Quigg. I also want to know if they left and where they were going.”

His dark eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “How many we talkin’
‘bout?”

“It was a group of sixteen from Blackstone Guild.”

“How long back?”

“Hmmm…I’d say over a week. They’re five days overdue in
Sateren.”

He shrugged his ignorance. “Don’t know ‘bout ‘em.”

“You can’t keep track of every person that comes and goes in
a city of this size,” she agreed, not bothered by his response. “But I bet you
can find out.”

His lips parted in a grin, revealing crooked teeth. “Eh, I
can. So what’s the info worth to ya, guildie?”

She dug into her shirt pocket and held up two gold coins,
which was a fortune to these children. Siobhan enjoyed watching his mouth drop
open. “Two coins if you can give me the day they entered. Four coins if you can
tell me when they left and which direction they were headed.”

He recovered his composure and swallowed hard before saying
through a dry mouth, “It’ll take a good day or more to find out.”

“I’m searching in other ways to find them,” she warned him.
“So you better find out quick. But when you do, I’m at the North Bay Inn. Ask
for me and I’ll come to you.”

He nodded slowly, having a hard time taking his eyes off
those coins until she put them away again.

BOOK: Deepwoods (Book 1)
7.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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