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Old 11-22-2008, 02:07 AM
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Default Fiction Sample: "Rebels Of Gor"

He was asleep; of that she had no doubt. His first nights off the ship were always like this. A tearful “Tal, my Companion!” followed by long minutes of deep, hot kisses, mutually crushing embraces, neither seeing anything but the other’s eyes.
But for her, the tears didn’t begin when she saw her Companion’s stone-cut face and broad form, his tousled shock of golden brown hair passing beneath the thickly greened limbs of the trees that bordered the narrow cobblestone lane where their spotlessly-kept house stood.
That’s when they ended. Tonight, they had ended for good.
A Zarlit fly banged to a touchdown on the thick, coarse glass of the bedchamber window, eliciting a gasp of dismay from her as she crept toward the hanging-peg on which her grey dress hung suspended. She stopped, barely daring even to breathe.
But long months on a creaking ship tossed by the temper of the Vosk had inured the sleeping man to any such night clatter. His ice grey eyes remained closed, his lips curled faintly upward at the corners. She stared over her shoulder at him and choked back a silent sob.
Even now that he was home, he was still no more real to her than a mirage on the featureless wastes of the Tahari.
As the hand of grief clutched her heart in a fist of agony once again, squeezing hot tears from deep hazel eyes which she’d already thought were dry as dust, she took her dress down from the peg, folding it over one long arm, and draped a grey hurt-wool cloak over that.
With the other hand, she scooped up her tabuk boots, and slipped quietly from the bedchamber, closing the door silently behind her.
Had Wash Rau wakened in time, he might have heard her body-racking sobs finally take voice.

* *

27 YEARS LATER

The city was busier than usual, and Mal liked that just fine. Reaching up to brush a few wayward strands of auburn hair from his face, he leaned forward slightly to try to “feel out” the lock on the heavily-laden freight wagon’s strongbox.
He already knew which picks he should use. He also knew that the men who’d left this wagon out here would only be inside the Scribe’s office for a scant few minutes while they straightened out their permit to trade in Fina. A scant few minutes was going to be a minute too few for this lock. Whatever these folk had come to trade, it wasn’t blankets or bosk-steaks.
Whatever it was, in a couple minutes it would belong to Mal.
He reached into a pocket in his calf-length dun cloak – taken off a man he’d robbed, politely, a week ago – and withdrew a tall, slim black case. Rolling it open on the flagstones between his knees, he began to extract two long, slim steel probes.
The first was serpentine, a quarter inch of ninety-degree angles forming open-ended boxes mere millimeters in size. He clamped this between his teeth as he worked the second probe free, this one needle-thin and straight until it reached the tip, where it hooked forty-five degrees like the bill of a tarn.
He slid this probe into the mouth of the lock, then gently raked it back until he had felt the distinct resistances of six tumblers within the lock’s tarnished brass casing. He repeated this action, resting the bill of the probe lightly on the outermost tumbler, then braced the lock against the iron flank of the strongbox and held the casing carefully with his fingers, the inserted probe resting on the web of skin between his thumb and forefinger.
He inserted the second probe into the casing as the first fell back into his fingers. A faint raking motion of the tiny teeth of the second probe rewarded him with an inaudible but easily felt click as the first tumbler caught and was fixed in place beneath the tarn-billed probe. Working more confidently now, he looked up.
In the near distance, a murmur rose in the arena. The unmistakable sound of steel on steel rang out across the concrete walls of the rectangular structure, carrying easily to him over two dozen meters away. As the last of the tumblers clicked and the lock sprang open, Mal grinned and congratulated himself on his superbly honed hearing.
“Congratulations,” the guard said as Mal felt a gentle nip of steel at his throat. “You’re under arrest.”
Mal reflected that he just might have congratulated himself prematurely.

* * *

“Present the accused.” Wash sighed. He rested his chin in his left hand, shoulders slumped. His hair was close-cropped but wild and had somehow deepened, over the years, to a dark auburn. His face was a portrait of the most hopeless variety of boredom. It was as if the light had gone entirely out of him.
He’d awakened with a start that morning, kicked bolt upright in bed and staring around him in the darkness as his left hand wandered, despite his better judgement, to the empty space beside him. He had long ago managed to fight the impulse, for the most part, but the missive tucked into his robes had resurrected all but the most painful of his memories of her, and their attendant habits.
The bailiffs did not so much march Mal forward at sword-point, as would have been usual in Cognitio under Magistrate Rau. Wash took note of this, pointed to the senior guard, Kensei, and beckoned him to his podium, which dominated the rearmost central area of the Basilica.
The guard approached, his face lowered in deference to the Magistrate. Wash leaned toward Jed but kept his icy gaze fixed on Mal. “Guard, why is the accused not under arms as I’ve instructed?”
Kensei’s voice was low and calm. “Magistrate, he seeks parlay with you, privately.”
Wash snorted derisively. “Of course he does. But that doesn’t answer my question. Why are your swords sheathed?”
“He’s been very cooperative.” The guard shrugged. “And to be honest, he’s so weakened from hunger and lack of sleep, my First Girl could take him in a fight right now. Besides, once you give the execution order - ”
“So.” Rau snapped, “You simply saw no need to follow my order.” He sighed. “When this is over, Kensei, you and I are going to have a personal chat. Send him up.”
The guard paled visibly, retreating to where his brother guardsman stood sharing a shockingly companionable silence with Mal. Perhaps a touch more roughly than necessary, the guard wrenched Mal forward by the shoulder and then gave him a shove toward the podium. “Go have your damned parlay.”
Without so much as a backward glance, Mal brushed the hair from his eyes and strode with shoulders squared and head held high toward the waiting Magistrate. Despite his practiced air of bravado, however, the muted, casual tones of the city official followed by the whipped-dog expression of the senior guard left Mal with a growing sense of dread. The oft-tasted and well-remembered clinical air of the Finian judicial process was absent here, replaced by a notably earthy energy.
One could always cling to the faintest glimmer of hope of being lost amongst the cogs and gears that comprised the machinery of the great city. The warmth of this Magistrate’s smile, however, only compounded the absence of warmth in his gaze, silently promising that this was no bureaucrat and that there would be no such miracle for Mal.
“Tal, friend.” The Magistrate hadn’t lifted his chin from his palm, opting instead to fix Mal with a more appraising variety of that reptilian stare. Mal found himself shivering in his threadbare black linen tunic and weathered bosk-hide breeches despite the midday warmth.
“Tal, Magistrate.” Mal silently but bitterly cursed the tremor in his voice. There was no dishonor in taking note of an adversary’s skill in the attack, and the Magistrate’s lazy, folksy style of attack was indeed a clever and skilled approach. Still, letting it show… he pressed ahead, regardless. “I’d like to discuss – “
Rau looked away with a small, dismissive sweep of his free hand. “You’re not here to discuss anything. You’re here because you’re a thief with a wretched sense of timing.” The congeniality had vanished from his voice. When his eyes returned to meet Mal’s again, Rau’s expression had gone from cool to glacial. “I would have you put to the blade where you stand.”
Cold fingers of fear clamped down on Mal’s spine, racing up to clench his heart and down to press into his gut. Not at the words;, rather, at the utter disinterest with which they were spoken. No righteous indignation, no outrage or gloating lent weight to the Magistrate’s voice… just blank indifference.
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"Now I did a job -- and got nothin' but trouble since I did it, not to mention more than a few unkind words as regard to my character, so let me make this abundantly clear: I do the job... and then I get paid. Go run your little world."
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Old 11-22-2008, 02:09 AM
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But this time, Mal showed nothing. Instead, he nodded, his own features rapidly mirroring the Magistrate’s own stoic mask. Rau tilted his head, his lips turning in a barely-perceptible smile.
“I’m not going to do that, though.” Rau continued. “First, because corpses are worth nothing. Second, because I was once a criminal, though I still fancy the notion that I was not so petty a thief as you, and I was given a path to redemption; I think you might find your way along that path, as well…”
Rau leaned forward, the warmth and light of mischief suddenly lending his face humanity as he continued in a hushed voice that teetered on the brink of a whisper and a chuckle. “But mostly because the guard who arrested you wants to be the one to slay you - and frankly, I just don’t like him.”
Mal blinked, confusion written on his face in bold letters.
Rau raised himself to his full height, sliding open a drawer beneath the angled surface of the podium and placing a parchment-board atop it. He then produced and inked an expensively crafted quill before raising his voice. “Your use-name.”
“Mal Paine.”
The Magistrate recorded this, then: “Your Home Stone.”
Mal lowered his gaze. “I have none.”
An arched eyebrow and a half-smile met this answer, and Rau scrawled something further upon the parchment. “You are in error, Mal Paine. The correct answer is, ‘Fina.’” Mal’s confusion deepened further still.
“You stand before this Cognitio accused,” Rau continued, his deep, rich voice projecting powerfully throughout the amphitheatre, “of the offense of Theft.”
The guards straightened to attention. The senior guard thumbed the pommel of his spatha, a grin of predatory delight painting his face in ugly tones.
“On the power of the honor of the Guardsmen who apprehended you, I hereby find you Guilty.” Mal’s face fell, and still Rau continued, “For your offense, you shall be enslaved, con proviso: You will report to the City Armory, there to be issued a spatha, a Marksman’s Bow and not less than four dozen arrows properly suited thereunto.”
Mal’s eyes could not have been wider, nor the guards’, nor the few passersby pulled in by the Magistrate’s voice, had they all just witnessed the birth of a fully grown slave-girl from the womb of a dog.
“Magistrate!” Kensei blurted in outrage, “Have you gone mad?”
Rau fixed the senior guard with a glare that might have withered weeds down to their roots. “Repeat that question, Guardsman. Word for word.”
“Magistrate – “ It wasn’t clear whether this was, in fact, repetition of the original outburst or a fresh one; Rau held up a hand to silence the man.
“That word. Again.”
Kensei’s eyes, burning in indignation as much as shame and discomfort, locked on the tiles at his feet. “Magistrate.”
“Fix your mind upon that word, Guardsman,” Rau said, every word a dagger, “and ponder its meaning. Elsewhere.”
“Yes, Magistrate.” The man fairly snarled, and caught the younger guard by the shoulder as he stormed off.
“Jed!” Rau called to the younger guard, then beckoned him back. The senior guard paused, but offered no argument, opting wisely to simply continue stalking away into the gathering crowd.
“Magistrate?” Jed stopped beside Mal, casting a bemused glance sidelong at the convicted thief and improbably Magistrate’s Emissary.
Rau took a small bundle of scrolls from a lower cavity in the podium, handing it to the guard. “See that he reads these. When he’s done, quiz him on them. But first, give him arms, decent clothing and a hot meal.” Rau turned his eyes on Mal. “Your indenture will last as long as it takes for you to complete one assignment. You’ll receive 50 silver tarsks when you return with what I’m sending you for, intact of course.”
“What if I can’t find it, or steal it?”
Rau’s eyes betrayed a flash of horror and dismay. “Let’s hope you don’t have to steal her…”
“It’s a her?!” Mal wondered if this man would stop to take a breath between surprises.

* * *

Mal looked up for the sixth time since unrolling the first scroll given him by the Magistrate, a brief history of the Magistrate himself and his kajira Solace. The furrowed brows over his ocean-blue eyes betrayed mild confusion.
Sitting across the low, small wooden table, the guard Jed lifted himself.from his plush orange-and-gold patterned cushion long enough to stretch his legs out and soothe his own exasperation with the younger man's stubborn inability to grasp the background of his assignment.
Around them, the large open tavern rang with the half-bellowed demands, praises, laughter and complaints of Free Men, most of them scarlet caste. Beneath that lay the breathy drone of kajirae in various phases of service.
A mild breeze ruffled Mal's hair, tickling it lightly across his forehead as he flattened the scroll protectively under his palms.
"So," Mal shook his head, doggedly trying once more to wrap his understanding around the scroll's story, "he freed her, took her as his Companion, and - now that part I understand."
"Well, thank the Priest-Kings..." Jed sighed.
"And he did that because he had just taken command of a ship." Mal shook his head, still baffled. "But he was going to be gone for months at a time, so.... And where does the sister come in, or whomever she is, the woman Chani?"
A stunningly endowed kajira, her city collar smothered beneath a wild mane of black curls, appeared from the crowd. She waited, her scarlet lips teamed with aquamarine eyes in a solicitous smile. She waited until both men had been rendered dumb, transfixed by the unconcealed vistas of her body, then breathed, "Greetings, Masters. May I serve?"
Jed's scowl melted away. "Aye, girl." The sun peeked beneath the lip of the tavern's upper floor, bathing the girl's generous assets in a golden glow.
Mal, unaccustomed to seeing the finer features of the city at such close quarters, cleared his throat nervously and fidgeted. The girl's eyes widened even as her smile deepened. Impishly, she shook back the heavy mass of black ringlets from her shoulders, giving him an even better view.
It took Jed a second longer to read what the girl had intuited instantly and effortlessly. "You have no experience of women?"
Mal's cheeks flushed with hot embarrassment, but Jed only gazed evenly at him. The girl licked her lips, her hand straying in Mal's direction before she caught herself.
"Well... I... That's not strictly..." Mal fumbled, a faintly fearful look flashing through his eyes, before confessing, "But for the most part, you're right. I don't know a thing about Companionship, obviously, or kajirae... never even been with..."
He stole.another eyefull of the kajira, then quickly looked away, pretending to watch a great brown kaiila leading a cart overburdened with produce clattering toward the marketplace.
Jed gave the girl a wry smile. "What's your name, girl?"
"I'm called Kia, Master." she answered.
"Have you ever had another?" he looked pointedly at Mal to see if the younger man was following his meaning.
"Yes, Master. Before I was kajira, I was called Drianna." Kia adopted a practiced look of mild distaste at the utterance of her Free name and the life it represented, drawing a nod of approval from Jed.
"Thank you, girl. We'll want food and drink now. I would like roast bosk and grilled vulo sliced small, mixed with peppers and laid under melted cheese, a slice of toasted and buttered sa-tarna separate, and cold ale in a tall mug."
"Yes, Master." Kia lowered her eyes and smiled demurely. The smile shifted to Mal, becoming a handful of degrees more provocative. "Would you like anything, Master?"
Mal shifted on his cushion again, though it was unclear whether the discomfort was the result of the unfamiliar deference he was being shown or the nearly predatory look in the girl's eyes as her lips wrapped around the word, "anything."
"Uh... Aye, girl." Mal followed Jed's example. "The same as this man, but mead instead of ale, also in a mug."
"Yes, Master, right away." The girl bowed her head, backing away a few steps before turning and making her way toward the kitchen.
__________________
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Old 11-22-2008, 02:11 AM
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Mal watched the tantalizing sway of her exit. "You could have just said they were the same woman."
"Could've. But then you would have had less time to admire that view. You're really a - ?"
"Aye." Mal cut him off before the last word could take flight.
"But why? You're not a bad looking kid. Maybe not following the best career track before today, but many a girl seems to like a rogue. None have begged your ko-lar?"
Mal watched two kajirae giggling, playfully wrestling with each other on the lap of a man who reclined on a huge scarlet cushion. For just an instant, a shadow clouded his expression.

"When I was eight winters old, my parents were ambushed on the road outside Tarnburg as we made for the Eastern Foothills. It was late, and my mother hated to travel at night, but my father...
They made us watch while they raped and then gutted my father alive. When my mother refused to join them, they had sport with her, too, until they grew weary of her screams and slit her throat. They called themselves the Var Viverra."
Jed said nothing, but his eyes and the set of his jaw betrayed well-worn disgust.
"They sold Kara." he looked up from studying his fingers. "My sister." he added by way of explanation. "They kept me. They never used me for..." he seemed momentarily lost. "They said I was too young for that. But they found something else they could use me for, and even later they liked their new sport better."
One hand strayed to his side, a grimace on his lips. "Let's just say a woman's thighs - "
Jed held up a hand. "Drink."
Mal turned to see Kia's eyes gazing into his own, filled with sympathy and dismay. She knelt beside the table, setting a heavy tray bearing their drinks to her side.
"Your ale, Master." she intoned, then kissed the mug lightly before bowing her head and offering the mug in outstretched hands.
Jed accepted the mug, eyeing it thirstily. "Thank you, girl."
She repeated the small ceremony for Mal, stealing a glance at him from beneath long lashes.
"Thank you, Kia." Mal took the mug in both hands and ventured a small sip. "Oh... Kia, this is good."
"I'm glad it pleases you, Master." the girl showed him her smile again, gentler this time. “Is there anything else I can do to please the Masters?” she asked, though she’d politely extinguished the light of hunger from her eyes when she looked at Mal now.
Jed shook his head. “I think that will do, Kia. Be well.” Mal raised no objection.
“I wish you well, Masters.” She purred, and backed away to disappear into the throngs of tavern patrons once more.
“So the Magistrate is sending me after his runaway Companion, who was known as Solace in his collar and then Chani once he had Freed her.” Mal said after a longer draught of the mead.
Jed cleared his throat and returned his eyes from another kajira, a lithe blonde who had just sashayed past and thrown him a saucy smile and a wink. “Aye, now you’ve got it. Should’ve got some mead into you earlier, we’d have had you armed and on her track by now.” Jed laughed, and despite the faintly chiding spirit of the words Mal joined him.
Jed gauged the angle of the sun. “As it is, you’d do well to bunk down at the inn tonight. We’ll kit you out in the morning and send you on your way with a full day’s ride worth of sunlight. Oh, now that I’m thinking of it, that bow you had wouldn’t have been much use at range. The design is clever, though. Who crafted it?”
Mal’s cheeks tinted with pride, and he flashed a grin. He took another drink of his mead before answering, “I did.”
Jed toasted him with his mug, then reached into a purse on his belt and dropped a trio of silver tarsks on the table.
“What’s that for?” Mal looked at the heavy coins but didn’t reach for them.
“For the bow.”
Mal checked the bow-sleeve of his cloak, and – indeed – the compact weapon was missing.
“I found it in your cloak, so now I’ve purchased it from you. It was either that or let Kensei find it. Had he done, you wouldn’t have lived to see the Magistrate. I didn’t want to see that happen.”
“Not that I’m complaining, but why not? We’re still practically strangers.”
Jed appeared to be looking for just the right way to articulate the thought. Finally, he merely shrugged and said, “Good bow.” It seemed that was all the answer there was to be had, and when it came right down to it, coupled with the fact that he was still breathing, that was good enough for Mal.
__________________
"Now I did a job -- and got nothin' but trouble since I did it, not to mention more than a few unkind words as regard to my character, so let me make this abundantly clear: I do the job... and then I get paid. Go run your little world."
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Old 11-22-2008, 02:12 AM
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They finished their meal and thanked Kia again just before sunset painted the city in shades of crimson and burnt orange. Mal’s head felt more stuffed than his belly. He felt a momentary pang of regret at how much he’d eaten, then dismissed it with a rueful smile. He hadn’t eaten that well as far back as he could cast his considerably honed memory; he resolved not to regret seizing the opportunity this night.
The inn was colorfully named the Hanged Woman according to both ornate lettering and crude imagery on the sign affixed above its simple doorway. Its Spartan but comfortable sitting-room was tended by a matronly woman who called herself Jade. It wasn’t immediately obvious whether she had once been a bitterly cynical kajira or a world-weary panther girl. The lines in her face combined with a long-kept scowl and merrily twinkling eyes to present an intriguing character study.
“Tal, Sirs.” Her pronunciation of ‘sirs’ made it clear she would have spelled it ‘curs’ had she been made to write it down.
“Oi, Jade, you scatter-assed old bog-wench,” Jed grinned at her. “How are the rooms fitted tonight?” He fished a slip of vellum from his purse, holding it between his fingers.
The woman rolled her eyes, “It’s fall we’re coming into, you bosk-furring, half-witted sonofa*****.” She grinned back with easy warmth. “Which is to say I’ve got more tenants tonight than you’ve had willing women. None.”
Mal watched this exchange with baffled amusement. “You two know each other?”
“Oh, look out for this one, Jed, he’s a quick study.” She poked a finger in Mal’s direction. “He’s just barely smart enough to do your job. And speaking of your job, how’s the standing-about-scratching-your-balls business these days?”
Mal was about to throw in a scathing rebuttal when Jed chuckled and passed the slip of vellum with the Magistrate’s order for use of the room. “Booming, Jade. Here’s a lift to yours.” Jed turned and clapped him on the shoulder. “Be well, Mal. Tomorrow we put a proper bow in your hand and your *** on a kailla. For tonight, bolt your door.” He winked at Jade, “Been awhile since she wrapped herself around anything that – “ He ducked out the door, laughing, under a hail of joyful curses.
Later that night, the sounds of the city filtering in through the narrow lead-paned window of his room, Mal studied the drawing of his quarry. Her eyes were dark and filled with joy, her full lips stretched into a smile. Her hair was long and dark, flowing in lazy curls down past her shoulders.
He was dreaming of that face even before he finally drifted into sleep.

He stood atop the scoured plateau, his thick.grey fur cloak shifting heavily in the fist of the winter wind.
He squinted against the assault of dry, frigid gusts, scanning the clear morning for traces of telltale campfire smoke.
There were none; always a bittersweet piece of news. No treasure, but no trouble.
As always, the calloused hide soles of her boots betrayed no sound at all as she padded up to wrap her long arms around him, nuzzling the hood of his cloak aside to warm his neck with a kiss.
He turned his face, his eyes blessedly trapped by hers as an adoring smile curled her full lips, wrinkled the corners of those eyes and painted her cheeks in shades of rose. The wind whipped stray auburn curls.
"Come, mine." her voice was low, the words barely more than a whisper. The sweet scent of woodsmoke drifted from their home in the lee of the steep, rocky ascent to the plateau.
She led him by the hand back toward the small, warm hut, back toward their shared pallet of luxurious, glossy skins and furs, her intent to warm it yet further bringing him to aching attention beneath the thick layers of his winter clothing.
He snapped his eyes around behind him even before he recognized the sound that had drawn his attention: the rapping at the door came again, harsh and insistent.
He turned back, longing in his eyes - she had faded into the distance, seeming not even to have noticed that he was no longer at her side. But then she turned back at the last moment, beckoning to him. He started toward her, saw her smile as he broke into a run.
Then the door sounded again, impatient, and she faded away as he opened bleary eyes. "Damn... damn." He struck the pillow with a frustrated fist, then sat up to discover that the seductive illusion had left a very real and very immodest impression. "Come!"
The lock turned, and Jade leaned in with her familiar scowl. "Up at it, you. Your scoundrel benefactor's at table eating my pantry empty and scratching to have us all rid of you."
"Aye, just..." he cast an eye toward the linens covering the rebellious portion of his anatomy before he could stop himself, "Give me a minute."
"Bosk crap, I've seen more man parts in my day - " with that, she snapped forth her hand and whisked the sheet away, then paused and beamed, a glint in her eye. "No need for modesty, anyway."
He covered himself until she tossed a pair of brown hide breeches over his lap. They were so new the stitching still gave off a faint, bitter scent of ink.
He slipped into them while the mistress of the house mercifully retreated to the downstairs common room to renew her merry harrassment of Jed.
Slipping on a likewise freshly made pair of tall brown roughout riding boots and pulling a mocha tunic over his head, he cast a baleful look at the thick, narrow window. The sun was only just now lifting its full face over the horizon. The bed still looked so comforting, so warm.
He sighed, driving the dream-face to the back of his mind as best he could. The dark aroma of blackwine snaking up from downstairs brought with it the scents of eggs and spiced sausage. At that, his mouth watered, his stomach rumbled, and his mind found its yearning for more dreams voted down.
He descended the steep flight of stairs at the end of the Hanged Woman’s sunny upper level corridor into the combined office, sitting room and kitchen, smoothing the front of his tunic, and was greeted by a whistle of appreciation.
“Morning!” Jed nudged a cushion out from the table. A plate descended past Mal’s eyes and came to rest before him, followed by a broad, squat ceramic mug from which rose rolling veils of steam.
A hand tousled his hair; he looked up to return Jade’s smile. “Thank you,” he said. “It smells delicious.”
She shrugged, still smiling. “I expect that plate to be clean before you go, then. Lacie, fetch the cream and sugars out here, will you? And where’s that toast?”
“Coming, my Mistress.” The blonde girl smiled at Mal and Jed over her shoulder as she hurried to the cold-box.
Mal tucked into his breakfast with a will, trying Jade’s thick green spice-sauce on his eggs more out of curiosity than necessity. He praised the meal and Lacie’s black wine profusely, and accepted a tall wooden cup of rama-berry juice to wash it all down with.
“Come on, you’ll mother him to death.” Jed groused, checking the progress of the morning sun through the sitting-room window.
“Hush, little jealous one.” Jade wrapped Jed up in a crushing hug, rising to tip-toe to place a kiss on the end of his nose. “I love all my boys.”
Mal chuckled and wondered if there was a man in Fina this woman couldn’t coax a blush out of. He scooted his cushion back, rose to his feet and patted his belly with a satisfied grin. “When this job is over, I’m coming back for seconds.”
“You’d better.” Jade leaned over and kissed him unexpectedly. “Now go on with you both, go earn your pay. Be well! Oh – “ she reached to the hanging pegs beside the door, hauling something down and draping it over Mal’s shoulders. “Don’t forget this, you’ll catch cold out there without it.”

The cloak had driven him nearly out of his skin with shock. It was a calf-length half-circle of thick, glossy fur the color of ash, fastened at the neck by a heavy, braided hide cord.
It was identical in every detail to the one he'd worn in the previous night's somnambulant adventure on that unknown plateau.
He covered his superstitious discomfort with a show of entirely genuine surprise at such a show of generosity, surprise which grew exponentially when it was announced that it was a gift from the innkeeper, whom he was assured by an equally perplexed Jed had never in her century and a half in the city given anyone anything for free other than a hard time.
He rolled the reinforced edge of the cloak experimentally between his right thumb and index finger as he and Jed approached the city Armory. The Master of Arms and the Fletcher stood in hushed conversation over a longbow and a particularly evil-looking crossbow while the Fletcher’s girls gossiped behind them at the Armory doorway.
“How long have you known her?” Mal asked.
Jed waved to the Master of Arms, who waved back blandly before returning to his conversation. “Since I was a boy. I was an orphan, and – “ he looked at Mal, but the thief’s face reflected nothing. “ – I remember the very day, because it was the day before the Magistrate had her executed.”
Mal’s mouth fell open. “Executed!” he exclaimed.
“Hanged to death.” Jed nodded. “The physicians confirmed it. An hour later, she walked right up to the Magistrate and reamed him black and blue over his executioner’s incompetence.”
“He must have mellowed since then. Magistrate Rau didn’t order her death a second time?”
“Oh, this was a different man, Magistrate Kohime.” Jed met the Master of Arms’ eyes with an impatient stare, but only got a helpless shrug in reply; the Fletcher’s mouth seemed far from running dry. “But what I’ve heard is that he ruled a great deal like Magistrate Rau – she committed a capital crime exactly once, and was put to death for it exactly once.” He shrugged. “She served her sentence, and that was the end of it.”
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"Now I did a job -- and got nothin' but trouble since I did it, not to mention more than a few unkind words as regard to my character, so let me make this abundantly clear: I do the job... and then I get paid. Go run your little world."
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Old 11-22-2008, 02:14 AM
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“Tal!” called the Master of Arms at long last, having apparently given up on extracting himself from the Fletcher politely.
“Tal!” Jed nudged Mal toward him. “I have here an order from the Magistrate that this man is to be armed and supplied ammunition for an assignment.”
“That so! Well, bring him inside and let’s get him fitted! Pardon me, Arlan, we’ll have to revisit this talk again soon.”
The interior of the Armory overwhelmed Mal’s senses; the odors of freshly tanned and dyed leather, thick honing oil, polishing paste and sweet smoke filled the broad showing room while the warm, rich aromas of the Masters of Arms’ own morning meal drifted down along with the muted talk and laughter of his girls in an upstairs apartment.
Then there were the sights: along the vast room’s east wall, staggered in rows, were blades of every imaginable size and configuration, arranged floor to ceiling by weight and length.
Lances rested horizontally just above the hardwood floor. Above them, spears with long, flat blades and red shafts beneath blackened-leather grips edged by brushed brass fittings.
Above these, long, slim spears with thin, flat blades perched expectantly.
Suspended above these were two-handed, heavy-bladed broadswords with spade-like tips; these were designed to cut kaiila from beneath mounted enemies.
Higher still, their leather-bound grips cradled in padded pegs, were gladii with wasp-waisted blades cleft by broad fullers and tipped with armor-piercing points like gleaming sharks’ teeth.
“Spatha!” spat the Master of Arms, dropping the Magistrate’s order as if it were something vile. “Feh!” He reached out and took down one of the gladii. He set it lovingly on a clean rep cloth draped over the rough wooden countertop.
“What’s wrong with the spatha?” Jed scowled down at his own sidearm.
“Oh, nothing, Guardsman,” the Master of Arms soothed, then flashed a wicked grin. “If all you want to do with it is wear it in parades. Now the gladius, that’s a working soldier’s weapon.”
Mal reached tentatively for the handle. “May I?” The Master of Arms gave an assenting nod, and Mal took the weapon in hand, turning his arm this way and that as the blade winked and flared in a shaft of morning sunlight.
Despite its solid weight, the gladius was so perfectly balanced that the weight didn’t even register to him. The polished finial that capped the heavy ball pommel winked in dawnlight.
“Mm hm.” The Master of Arms nodded approvingly, and said to Jed, “Watching him with that, I’m not so sure whether the smith forged it or it might be his brother separated just after the womb. Wait here, young man.” Disappearing behind a black silk divider, the man returned with a deeply tanned and oiled scabbard, handing it across the counter to Mal. “Try that on.”
Mal set the gladius back on the rep cloth and gave the scabbard a bemused examination. The belt loop was much longer than usual, and a pair of straps were affixed horizontally at the scabbard’s throat and tip. He unfastened his belt, slipping the scabbard onto his left hip.
“No, no.” The Master of Arms corrected with a smile. “Your drawing side.”
Mal obligingly slipped the belt free, ran it back through the long loop of the scabbard on his right side, and re-fastened it, realizing what the extra straps were for now that the scabbard hung low on his right thigh. He buckled them securely, then slipped the gladius into the scabbard and buckled the securing strap over its small oval guard. “Huh!”
“Fits like an unopened girl, doesn’t it?” the Master of Arms noted proudly.
Jed shot Mal a smirk, then announced. “I want one.”

They moved across to the other side of the room, and now Mal was truly in his element. The west wall of the Armory was similarly laden with weapons; but on this side, a forest of bows hung in lustrous splendor.
The Master of Arms checked the Magistrate’s order, nodded in gruff approval and led them to the back wall, taking down a pair of Marksman’s Bows. “Bitten!” he craned his neck in the direction of a half-hidden stairwell.
“Yes, my Master?”
“Bring the measuring line! And tell Storm to fetch my breakfast down here!”
“Yes, my Master!” The girl descended the stairs with quiet grace, bowing her head reverently as she passed a roll of measuring line to the man before stepping aside to allow her sister kajira to present the man’s meal, a mountain of bosk steak smothered in a vaguely foul-smelling cheese and some sort of sauce Mal had no pressing desire to identify. She was waved toward a back table.
“All right, then.” The Master of Arms licked his lips, giving his breakfast a longing look before returning to the task at hand. “Take up the larger of the Marksman and make as if to draw.”
As Mal did so, the Master of Arms placed the base of the measuring line over the second knuckle of his left index finger. Working carefully, he unrolled the line, counting the marks until he had reached the second knuckle of the index finger which rested just beneath Mal’s ear.
Shaking his head, he instructed Mal to take up the slightly smaller of the two, then repeated the process. “Aye, that one will do for you. Bitten!” The girl reappeared as if from nowhere. “You may bring this man fifty of the Number Twenty-Five Imperials, a crossbrace with attached quiver, and a shipping quiver. Tell your sister to bring down the lute; I’ll watch you dance while I take my breakfast.”
“Yes, my Master. Stormie!”
When Mal and Jed bid their farewells, the man was too engrossed in bosk-steak and his girl to do more than salute them.

“Well,” Jed noted the hour, “We’ve timed this just about right.”
“Hmm?” Mal had assumed his departure to already have been irrecoverably behind schedule. “It’s almost noon already. I thought you wanted me to set out as early as possible.”
“You forget, I know Jade. If I’d thought your kaiila would be ready that early, you’d have bunked in my house instead of hers. And here she is.”
A young kajirus in grey woolen tunic and trousers led a saddled kaiila up the street toward him. The animal huffed imperiously at them, sniffing disdainfully at the air. It was the color of dark lager, its steps quick and sure. It gave the distinct impression that it was not so much obeying the shy, dark-haired boy at the end of the reins as merely humoring him. For the moment.
Mal reached out a hand for her, and the boy quailed. “What’s wrong?” Mal asked.
“Ah, she…” the boy looked nervously from Mal to Jed, then back. “She’ll nip, Master. Took my brother’s little finger only yesterday morning, did she.”
Mal smiled. “Oh, she won’t get at me.” He held his hand still as stone, allowing the mare to come to his touch as she willed; and she did, pressing her muzzle into his hand and snorting in his scent, then issuing a guttural, happy growl. “Will you, girl? Ahhhh, there’s a good one.”
She was already loaded for flight, he could see – behind the wide saddle rested a thick square pannier stuffed to the seams. He looked to Jed.
“Extra clothes, blankets and rations.” The guard supplied, “and a few other things. Well. This is be well to you, Mal. For what it’s worth, I hope you fare better than your predecessors.”
Mal paused with his foot in the near stirrup, looking over his shoulder, his bow slung over his back. “’Predecessors’?”
“It’s been over twenty years since she went missing, Mal, and ten since he took the Magistrate’s office. You didn’t think you’re the first he’s sent on this mission, do you?”
Mal hoisted himself into the saddle, looking down at Jed, his face a mask. “What happened to the others?”
Jed looked away as the wind picked up. Finally, he looked back. “We don’t know. Best of luck, and be well.”
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Old 11-22-2008, 02:16 AM
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Snugged under the straps of the traveling pack behind him, he found a broad-brimmed hat; trying it on, he heard a cry of alarm from almost beneath the kaiila. The animal, rather than rearing back in alarm, merely cast a suspicious eye toward the paving flags.
A dark-skinned, diminutive woman in filthy rags scurried into view. “Aii!” she exclaimed, throwing him a crass gesture. “Crazy fool! You trying kill me?!” Brown eyes glittered out at him from behind a tangle of hair cut short and ragged; she went from a glare to a pout as their eyes met. “Why you want kill me? What Doh ever done to you?”
Mal tried to hide his surprise behind a mask of cool courtesy. “I wasn’t trying to kill you. I just didn’t see you.”
Her shoulders slumped pitifully. “Nobody see Doh. Always ignored. I starving. I tell me, ‘Doh, you submit to city. They feed you. They give you good floor, maybe you sleep sometime.’ They don’t notice. Nobody notice.” The she-urt half-turned, head hung low.
Mal reached around behind him, one hand scrambling at the thick straps of the pannier behind him. It was no use, they were too securely fastened to open with one hand, even had he known where to dig into to find the rations. Sighing, he reached into the pouch at his belt and flipped her one of the silver tarsks Jed had paid him for his old bow.
She clipped it out of midair before she even saw it.
Holding it up before her smudged face, she turned it left and right. “Heyyy…” she looked up at him with wide eyes. “You rich, huh?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know about that. I got a job, though. Which…” he looked at the sun, which was now far closer to the meridian than he would have liked, “…I should be getting to… I’m supposed to find someone, and I don’t even know where to - ”
“Find!” Doh exclaimed, apparently more excited by this news than by the prospect of a hot meal or a long bath, both of which she obviously needed. “Doh find anybody!” she pointed a grubby finger at him. “You bring Doh, you find quick!”
Mal shook his head. “I don’t even know you. Besides that, I have a long ride ahead of me before I get to… do you know where the Silk Road is, in Jort’s Ferry? That’s where I’m going unless I find my target first. And if not there, then south to Torcadino. That’s a long ride. Understand?”
“Doh understand.” She said quietly.
“Well, good, I…” he watched her turn away, her head down and shoulders slumped… and the Priest-Kings only knew why, but his throat tightened up and he felt a small ache in his chest at the sight of it. A City Guard spotted Doh and made for them, snugging a thumb into the strap of his spear.
“Is this thing making grief?” the guard bellowed.
“Maybe she wants to be collared.” Mal suggested, hoping he could at the very least give her a chance at a roof over her head and food in her belly.
The guard stared at Mal as though he’d just spat up a mouthful of ****. “The only thing I’m going to do with that,” he growled, “is take its reeking remains to the city pit.” His right shoulder bunched as he prepared to reach for his sword.
“Don’t do that.” Mal said, smiling broadly. The Guard looked up in confusion.
“Did you just give me an order, boy?”
“Just free advice, friend. Doh, get on.” he leaned over, reaching for her. She took his hand hesitantly, and he hauled her up.
“I should cut that smile off your face!” the Guard roared.
Mal shook his head, still smiling. “You won’t. You’re a blowhard, and I’ve known enough to know that nobody who doesn’t get paid to would lift a finger to keep your corpse from rotting right here.”
The Guard blinked, taken aback.
“Now, I’ve been given a job to do by the Magistrate of this very city. And although I’m not a book reading man, my friend and yours assures me that I have license to prosecute that job as I see fit, and woe be to anyone or anything who gets in the way of me doing it. This woman is my hired guide. She’s helping me do the City’s work.”
He lowered his voice, leaning forward and looking down at the Guard so intensely that the man’s fingertips began to tremble. “Now you can walk back to those gates and wave my friend and I through nice and easy. But if your hand touches metal, you’ll hit the stones before the arrow that killed you.” The kaiila, sensing the animosity emanating in its direction, bared its fangs and growled. Not happily.
The Guard stood a moment, trembling in fury, before calming himself enough to nod stonily and lead the animal and its riders to the city’s inner gate, where Mal showed the pass bearing Rau’s sigil that had been tucked in with the study materials and was waved through.
They followed a wide, well-worn track along the banks of the Vosk, riding for half an hour before either of them spoke. It was Doh who finally broke the silence. “Thank you.” she said simply. “You get in trouble for Doh.”
“Plenty of people out there earn that kind of treatment and never get it.” the tone of his voice was dark but otherwise unreadable. “You didn’t have it coming.”
“You let me off here.” she looked around them at the copses of trees, the rolling grasslands, the sparkling river. “You didn’t want Doh come with you.”
Mal half-turned his head, the edge of a quiet smile just visible over his cloaked shoulder. “What, after I already went and paid you for your first day’s work?”
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Old 11-22-2008, 02:17 AM
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* * *

Sunflares slashed at the riders and their mount through the thick stands of trees that crowded a stretch of steep riverbank. The kaiila panted faintly at the unbroken stretch of riding, and Mal reined her in.
“We’ll make camp here tonight.” He announced, helping Doh down before swinging down from the saddle himself. “We’re not far from a camp I dug out a few months back. It’s not but a short walk from here. There’s something you’re going to do for me first.”
Doh’s eyes narrow in suspicion. “Doh all kinds grateful. But Doh not doxy!”
Mal’s back stiffened and he turned away from working the straps of the bundle of the kaiila’s back to fix do with a disbelieving stare. “I am not – you aren’t –“ he shook his head. “That’s not what I’m after!”
Doh adopted a flirtatious pout and cocked a hip provocatively, “Why not?”
Mal blinked, dumbfounded. He turned wordlessly, finally wrestled the heavy canvas bundle open and tossed a belted roll of tunic, trousers and moccasins into the tall grass at her feet. A bar of rough, porous white soap arced through the air to land atop it. “Bathe!” It was meant to sound like an order; it came out more like a plea.
She crossed her arms stubbornly and turned her face away, her nose in the air.
“Not interested?” she heard him ask after a moment of silence.
“Doh not freeze *** off! No way!” She turned back barely in time to see his arms reach out to fold her into a powerful embrace that swept her cleanly off her feet. “HEY!”
She yelled as he carried her down to the riverbank, where they descended a handful of steps crudely carved from the soil. She squalled like a baby as he waded them quickly and steadily into the middle of a brick-buttressed tub where the water swirling in from the river itself was in fact unseasonably warm.
She quieted, wide-eyed and stunned, as she acclimated to the temperature and calmed enough to notice that he had carried her into the river while wearing a diabolical grin and nothing else.

Sitting beside a small, guttering campfire of moss and twigs after sundown, they decided in a spark of laughing inspiration to name the kaiila Kaiila. The animal purred in its sleep, the half-consumed carcass of its supper in the grass beside its great maned head.
Doh had complained bitterly at the chill the campfire couldn’t manage to push back indefinitely, until Mal had piled blankets and furs into a pallet beneath the light protection of a lean-to of branches, vines and the last of their blankets. The campfire itself had finally smoldered out, leaving the camp bathed in a sea of cold light and warm shadows.
Burrowing her back into his chest and pulling his arm over her beneath the layers of wool and cotton blankets, she sighed. “Doh feel bad this time.” she murmured to herself. The triple-moonlight painted her face in a dull crossfire of cyan and amber highlights. Moisture glimmered in her eyes.
Mal’s eyes were already closed and shifting beneath the lids, his breaths long and deep. Certain that he was indeed soundly sleeping, Doh allowed her hand to stray to her right inner thigh, far higher than her carefully-cultivated disguise as an impoverished street-dweller would tempt any man’s hands to explore, and peeled back the edge of a strip of hide affixed to her own skin by a mixture of diluted mucilage.
Biting her lower lip to stifle any sound of discomfort, she slowly peeled back the layer of second skin, straightening her leg slightly to ease the process. Then she loosened the object concealed beneath and brought it into the palm of her left hand.
She turned in Mal’s arms, slowly and carefully, until her eyes were level with his thick neck. Her arm slipped free from the blankets as she committed his face, peaceful and even innocent in dreaming, to her memory.
Her left hand came down slowly, a centimeter at a time, as the object in her grip shone under the light of the moons. The handle was nothing more than an unsharpened portion of the long, narrow blade.
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Old 11-22-2008, 02:18 AM
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A dry twig snapped. Doh loosed a shriek and flinched, eyes and hand wrenched toward the sound and loosed the dagger in a tight blur of motion. Mal shouted, startled by the sound and motion, and both were on their feet, nude and shivering.
And facing three shadows, one of whom clutched at his bicep and cursed in the moonlight. Moonlight ran like rivers over long blades as the other two advanced on them. “Mal…” Doh whispered.
Mal stood still as a statue and naked as the day he was born, his hands empty and a sleepy smile on his face. “Tal.” he said, though his quick, shallow breathing betrayed the circumstances of his wakening. “Doh,” he inclined his head in her direction without taking his eyes off their three unfriendly visitors, “You take the one on the left, I’ll take the one on the right.”
The shadow in the middle sent up a bark of mirthless laughter. “You’re a funny one.” They took another step, swords held high.
Mal lunged, seeing his chosen man’s forearm come down, and threw himself forward to tuck into a smooth roll. The thrusting blade punched the air safely over his head as he slammed shoulder-first into the man’s knees, knocking him into a sprawl on the cold earth. The man reached for Mal’s ankle; Mal jerked it away as he rose to a low crouch, only to realize he couldn’t hold it up for long in such a low stance. Instead, he slammed his heel in the direction of the man’s chin, only to catch him in the throat instead.
The man facing Doh slashed at her as she too dropped lower. He grunted as the muscles of his other arm bunched around the blade she’d buried in it. Unable to counterbalance himself effectively, he was far too slow.
Doh charged, snarling, and drove a tiny fist directly into his nether regions. The man loosed a surprised-sounding, “Oof!” his eyes and mouth forming a comical trio of O’s as he staggered back. Doh swiped at her dagger as he retreated, but missed.
Mal plucked his adversary’s sword from the ground, standing over him with a dangerous smile, then turned in time to see the bandits’ leader’s hand come up full of blade, poised for a backhanded strike down at Doh. Mal hefted the long, light blade in his hand and without really thinking about what he was doing, then sent it whistling in a tight, flat overhand throw.
Doh stared up at the leader as his blade rose, figure and weapon backlit by the moons, and closed her eyes. A scream blasted into the night and she opened them again even as she scrambled backward. The leader of the bandits clutched his side, turning, the blade buried between his ribs swinging as he staggered away from Doh in time to see Mal’s fist sailing at him in a wide, arcing haymaker that knocked him to the ground.
Mal rested his hands on his knees for a moment, breathing heavily and wearing a faintly crazed look. He turned his eyes on Doh and she actually shrank back a few inches.
“You crazy!” she blurted, wide-eyed.
He ripped the sword free of the leader’s side, eliciting a howl from the fallen man. “Aye,” he noted. “Thanks.” He turned his attention to the leader, who pressed a hand to his pierced side, staring venomously up at Mal. “Take your people and go.”
“Go where?!” the man wailed. “You’re in our camp!”
Mal looked around, then blinked. A long silence of thought followed. Finally, he said, “Huh.”

Dressed, and with their blankets and furs re-packed into the pannier on Kaiila’s back, Mal and Doh rode in shivering silence until sunup. When the first dazzle of morning set green fire to the treetops, Mal nudged Kaiila to a stop, looking to the loose, fist-sized stones at the riverbank. “It’s going to be a long day, Doh. Feel like some black wine?” He felt her nod against his back. “All right, then.”
He dismounted and collected several armloads of the stones, building a small but effective firepit while Doh filled a pot with cold, clear water from the Vosk. After a few moments, the fire licked up under the pot, the water not yet boiling.
Mal caught Doh glancing at him from the corner of his eye; she looked away as his eyes flicked toward her. “What?”
She sighed. “You scare Doh. I never see man fight like that. Crazy, like sick animal.” She cringed, uncertain what kind of reaction to expect. But rather than offended or angry, he was… laughing.
“Doh, I’ve seen the deaths of a dozen men. Some I had a hand in. And they all died for the very same reason, whether they were spoiled dandies or red-handed reavers.”
“What, they not crazy?” Doh smirked.
“Actually, aye.” Mal surprised her. “That was why exactly. They made sense. A man who makes sense can be made sense of, and when a man can be made sense of, he can be made a corpse of.”
That seemed to satisfy Doh. They drank their black wine without the niceties of milk or sugars, both grimacing against the taste. “Hard life out here, Doh.” Mal propped his chin on his fist, looking her over. “Harder than in the city. You okay out here in the rough?”
Doh nodded, taking another forced gulp of the barely-filtered brew. “Life hard everywhere.” She grinned at him. “We be harder, we get through.”
“Damn right. Oh… one question.” he gave her an inquisitive look.
“Mmm?”
“Where were you hiding that knife?”
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Old 11-22-2008, 02:21 AM
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Tendrils of smoke rose from firepits and hearths into the sunset sky over Ragnar’s Hamlet when Mal and Doh crested the hill overlooking the town. “First stop.” Mal announced, spurring Kailla on. All three were exhausted from the day’s ride, and Mal had his eye on one thick ribbon of woodsmoke in particular, that of the undoubtedly raucous tavern – but not for relaxation.
He was anxious to get the job underway. After another few minutes, he eased their mount to a whickering, growling halt behind a stand of trees that stood sentinel off the road. He turned to Doh, not exactly sanguine about the reception his question was about to receive: “Collar or veil?”
Doh looked back at him, not understanding.
“Collar… or veil?” he climbed down off Kailla, fishing in the pannier to bring both out from the bottom.
“What you mean?” Doh’s voice betrayed her; she understood perfectly well what he was asking.
“I can’t exactly get us a room at the inn sending in a She-Urt.” Mal indulged her stalling. “And a Free Woman can’t get into the tavern in Ragnar’s Hamlet. If Chani’s been collared in the Hamlet, chances are she’ll either be there, or someone who *is* in there will have seen her. So either you wear a veil, play at being my Companion and get us a room at the inn, or you wear a collar and help me out in the tavern.”
“Doh hate dresses!” Doh spat. “Put on dress, look like fluffy sheep? Make Doh look like big cake running around! No way!” She crossed her arms over her chest, staring at him with a defiance that made Mal grin. “What so funny!”
“Nothin’.” Mal chuckled. Doh growled. “Really, I swear! It’s just... you’re cute when you’re angry.” He folded the dress back into the pannier.
“Doh always cute!” her mood flipped like a coin as she stuck out her bottom lip in a girlish pout. Mal fished something else out of the pannier, lowering his hand to his side to let it dangle, flashing and gleaming as burnished golden sunlight played over its polished steel surface. Doh’s eyes widened. She looked up at Mal. He looked back evenly.
“Sure you wouldn’t rather wear the dress?”

The young Mr. Simeon Partureus of the Caste of Brewers and his Free Companion, Lady Dena Bamaris of the Green Caste, trotted their kaiila to a halt before the stables of the Longshore Inn. A sturdy looking kajira looked up from her reading before quickly and expertly tossing a small flat-bound volume into a crevice between the dusty floor and the plank wall as her other arm waved to them. Mal grinned down at her from the saddle. The sleight of hand didn’t impress Doh nearly as much. “I see that!”
“Uh, G-greetings, Master!” the girl stammered, blushing hotly. “Greetings, Mistress! May this girl serve?” She rose from sitting indian-style on the rough floor, dusting her backside, her head down in respect.
“Aye, girl. Your name?” Mal waited for Doh to dismount, giving her his arm to steady herself from, then followed, taking Kaiila’s reins.
“Tyrra, Master.” Mal looked her over -- quite a bit taller and thicker than a bred pleasure slave, but not at all unattractive, her long, curly blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail from bright amber eyes set in a broad face, her curves generous and barely hidden beneath a brief camisk of thick gray cotton, marking her Master the Liveryman as a likely emigree from the Northlands.
“I’m Simeon, a brewer of Teletus. This is my Lady Dena. My mount will bed here, if you’ve room for her.” he took a coin from his cloak.
“We have room, Master. May Tyrra offer...” her eyes flickered up and over him as a smile played the corners of her full lips upward, “...anything else, Master?”
“No.” Doh replied quickly, giving her a cold glare. She paled.
“Yes,” Mal turned to look at Doh with an upraised eyebrow and a half-smirk, then turned back to the girl as his “Free Companion” grumbled something indecipherable. “You may bring the luggage to our room. The innkeeper will know which that is.”
“My Jarl is both liveryman and inkeeper, Master.” the girl supplied helpfully. “His pay is one bronze per night for the stable, two per night for his room and board.”
Mal counted a few more coins into his palm. “Then here is two for the stable. Your service is pleasant and has earned your Jarl gratuity.” Doh grumbled again, and Mal had to cover his mouth for a moment to keep her from seeing his grin and making more of a show than was called for.
As they walked from the stable to the Longshore’s front door, Doh asked, “I play it too far?”
“The Free Woman act?” Doh nodded, worried. “You’re as cold and grouchy as any Free Woman I’ve ever seen.” At her concerned look, he added, “You’re doing it just right.” She flashed a happy grin.
Then the grin was gone and she was scowling again most convincingly. “It the dress. You be grouchy too if you wear it. Maybe I make you wear it later, you like that?”
“Not going to happen... my dear Lady.” he opened the door for her and handed her a silver tarsk. “Pay us ahead for the week,” he whispered. “Get yourself something to eat if you’re hungry, you can get ‘comfortable’ again once you’re in the room. Tell them we’re exhausted and don’t want to be disturbed. I’ll see you again in an hour or so.”
“Yeah see you then ‘my love’. Maybe smack you with bread roller.” She gave an amused snort and a curt, grumpy nod, and he was off to leave her to her grouchy mutterings and a bemused innkeeper.
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  #10  
Old 11-22-2008, 11:43 AM
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I had a blast writing this. Hope you've enjoyed reading it.
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