IT WAS WELL PAST midnight by the time Kote made it back to Newarre with Chronicler’s limp body slung across his lacerated shoulders. The town’s houses and shops were dark and silent, but the Waystone Inn was full of light. Bast stood in the doorway, practically dancing with irritation. When he spotted the approaching figure he rushed down the street, waving a piece of paper angrily. “A note? You sneak out and leave me a note?” He hissed
angrily. “What am I, some dockside whore?”
Kote turned around and shrugged Chronicler’s limp body into Bast’s arms. “I knew you would just argue with me, Bast.”
Bast held Chronicler easily in front of him. “It wasn’t even a good note. ‘If you are reading this I am probably dead.’ What sort of a note is that?”
“You weren’t supposed to find it till morning,” Kote said tiredly as they began to walk down the street to the inn.
Bast looked down at the man he was carrying, as if noticing him for the first time. “Who is this?” He shook him a little, eyeing him curiously before slinging him easily over one shoulder like a burlap sack.
“Some unlucky sod who happened to be on the road at the wrong time,” Kote said dismissively. “Don’t shake him too much. His head might be on a little loose.”
“What the hell did you sneak off for, anyway?” Bast demanded as they entered the inn. “If you’re going to leave a note it should at least tell me what
—” Bast’s eyes widened as he saw Kote in the light of the inn, pale and streaked with blood and dirt.
“You can go ahead and worry if you want,” Kote said dryly. “It’s every bit as bad as it looks.”
“You went out hunting for them, didn’t you?” Bast hissed, then his eyes widened. “No. You kept a piece of the one Carter killed. I can’t believe you. You lied to me. To me!”
Kote sighed as he trudged up the stairs. “Are you upset by the lie, or the fact that you didn’t catch me at it?” he asked as he began to climb.
Bast spluttered. “I’m upset that you thought you couldn’t trust me.”
They let their conversation lapse as they opened one of the many empty
rooms on the second floor, undressed Chronicler, and tucked him snugly into bed. Kote left the man’s satchel and travelsack on the floor nearby.
Closing the door to the room behind him, Kote said, “I trust you Bast, but I wanted you safe. I knew I could handle it.”
“I could have helped, Reshi.” Bast’s tone was injured. “You know I would have.”
“You can still help, Bast,” Kote said as he made his way to his room and sat heavily on the edge of his narrow bed. “I need some stitching done.” He began to unbutton his shirt. “I could do it myself. But the tops of my shoulders and my back are hard to reach.”
“Nonsense, Reshi. I’ll do it.”
Kote made a gesture to the door. “My supplies are down in the basement.” Bast sniffed disdainfully. “I will use my own needles, thank you very much. Good honest bone. None of your nasty jagged iron things, stabbing you like little slivers of hate.” He shivered. “Stream and stone, it’s frightening how primitive you people are.” Bast bustled out of the room, leaving the door
open behind him.
Kote slowly removed his shirt, grimacing and sucking his breath through his teeth as the dried blood stuck and tugged against the wounds. His face went stoic again when Bast came back into the room with a basin of water and began to clean him off.
As the dried blood was washed away a wild scoring of long, straight cuts became clear. They gaped redly against the innkeeper’s fair skin, as if he had been slashed with a barber’s razor or a piece of broken glass. There were perhaps a dozen cuts in all, most of them on the tops of his shoulders, a few across his back and along his arms. One started on the top of his head and ran down his scalp to behind his ear.
“I thought you weren’t supposed to bleed, Reshi,” Bast said. “Bloodless and all that.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear in stories, Bast. They lie to you.” “Well you aren’t nearly as bad off as I thought,” Bast said, wiping his
hands clean. “Though by all rights you should have lost a piece of your ear. Were they wounded like the one that attacked Carter?”
“Not that I could see,” Kote said. “How many were there?” “Five.”
“Five?” Bast said, aghast. “How many did the other fellow kill?” “He distracted one of them for a while,” Kote said generously.
“Anpauen, Reshi,” Bast said, shaking his head as he threaded a bone needle with something thinner and finer than gut. “You should be dead. You should be dead twice.”
Kote shrugged. “It’s not the first time I should be dead, Bast. I’m a fair
hand at avoiding it.”
Bast bent to his work. “This will sting a bit,” he said, his hands strangely gentle. “Honestly Reshi, I can’t see how you’ve managed to stay alive this long.”
Kote shrugged again and closed his eyes. “Neither do I, Bast,” he said.
His voice was tired and grey.
Hours later, the door to Kote’s room cracked open and Bast peered inside. Hearing nothing but slow, measured breathing, the young man walked softly to stand beside the bed and bent over the sleeping man. Bast eyed the color of his cheeks, smelled his breath, and lightly touched his forehead, his wrist, and the hollow of his throat above his heart.
Then Bast drew a chair alongside the bed and sat, watching his master, listening to him breathe. After a moment he reached out and brushed the unruly red hair back from his face, like a mother would with a sleeping child. Then he began to sing softly, the tune lilting and strange, almost a lullaby:
“How odd to watch a mortal kindle Then to dwindle day by day.
Knowing their bright souls are tinder And the wind will have its way.
Would I could my own fire lend. What does your flickering portend?”
Bast’s voice faded until at last he sat motionless, watching the rise and fall of his master’s silent breathing through the long hours of morning’s early dark.