Chapter no 71: Strange Attraction

The Name of the Wind

THREE MINUTES LATER I strode toward the doors of the nearest livery.

A well-dressed Cealdish man smiled at my approach and stepped forward to greet me. “Ah, young sir,” he said holding out his hand. “My name is Kaerva. Might I ask—”

“I need a horse,” I said, shaking his hand quickly. “Healthy, well-rested, and well-fed. One that can take six hours of hard riding today.”

“Certainly, certainly,” Kaerva said, rubbing his hands together and nodding. “All things are possible with the will of God. I’d be pleased to…”

“Listen,” I interrupted again. “I’m in a hurry, so we’re going to skip the preliminaries. I won’t pretend to be uninterested. You won’t waste my time with a parade of hacks and nags. If I have not bought a horse in ten minutes, I will leave and buy one elsewhere.” I met his eye. “Lhinsatva?”

The Cealdish man was aghast. “Sir, the purchase of a horse should never be so rushed. You would not pick a wife in ten minutes, and on the road, a horse is more important than a wife.” He gave a bashful smile. “Even God himself didn’t—”

I cut him off yet again. “God’s not buying a horse today, I am.”

The thin Cealdish man paused to collect his thoughts. “Right,” he said softly, more to himself than to me. “Lhin, come around and see what we have.”

He led me around the outside of the stables to a small corral. He gestured near the edge of the fence. “That dapple mare is as steady a horse as any you could hope for. She’ll take you….”

I ignored him and looked over the half-dozen hacks that stood idly inside the fence. Though I had neither means nor reason to keep a horse, I knew good from bad, and nothing I saw here came close to suiting my needs.

You see, troupers live and die by the horses that pull their wagons, and my parents had not neglected my education in this area. I could size up a horse by the time I was eight, and a good thing too. Townsfolk regularly tried to pass off half-dead or gingered up nags to us, knowing that by the time we discovered our mistakes we’d be miles and days away. There was a world of trouble waiting for a man who sold his neighbor some sickly hobble, but what

was the harm of swindling one of the filthy, thieving Ruh?

I turned to face the cavler, frowning. “You have just wasted two precious minutes of my time, so I’m guessing you still don’t understand my position here. Let me be as plain as possible. I want a fast horse ready for hard riding today. For this I will pay quickly, in hard coin, and without complaint.” I held up my newly heavy purse in one hand and shook it, knowing he could tell the ring of true Cealdish silver inside.

“If you sell me a horse that throws a shoe, or starts to limp, or spooks at shadows, I will miss a valuable opportunity. A quite unrecoverable opportunity. If that happens, I will not come back and demand a refund. I will not petition the constable. I will walk back to Imre this very night and set fire to your house. Then, when you run out the front door in your nightshirt and stockle-cap, I will kill you, cook you, and eat you. Right there on your lawn while all your neighbors watch.”

I gave him a deadly serious look. “This is the business arrangement I am proposing, Kaerva. If you are not comfortable with it, tell me and I will go elsewhere. Otherwise, leave off this parade of drays and show me a real horse.”

The short Ceald looked at me, more stunned than horrified. I could see him trying to come to grips with the situation. He must think I was either a raving lunatic, or the son of some important noble. Or both.

“Very well,” he said, letting all the ingratiating charm fall from his voice. “When you say hard riding, how hard do you mean?”

“Very hard,” I said. “I need to go seventy miles today. Dirt roads.” “Will you need saddle and tack too?”

I nodded. “Nothing fancy. Nothing new.”

He drew a deep breath. “Fine, and how much do you have to spend?”

I shook my head and gave a tight smile. “Show me the horse and name your price. A Vaulder would do nicely. If he’s a little wild, I won’t mind if it means he’s got energy to spare. Even a good Vaulder mix could serve me, or a Khershaen forth horse.”

Kaerva nodded and led me back toward the wide doors of the stable. “I do have a Khershaen. A full-blood actually.” He made a gesture to one of the stablehands. “Bring out our black gentleman, double-quick.” The boy sprinted off.

The cavler turned back to me. “Gorgeous animal. I ran him through the traces before I bought him, just to be sure. Galloped him a full mile and he hardly even worked up a sweat, smooth a gait as ever I’ve felt, and I’d not lie to your lordship on that account.”

I nodded, a full-blooded Khershaen was exactly suited to my purpose. They had a legendary endurance, but there would be no avoiding the price, either. A well-trained forth horse was worth a dozen talents. “How much are

you asking for him?”

“I’ll want two solid marks,” he said without any hint of apology or wheedling in his voice.

Merciful Tehlu, twenty talents. He’d have to have silver shoes to be worth that much. “I’m in no mood for a lengthy dicker, Kaerva,” I said shortly.

“You’ve made me well aware of that, milord,” he said. “I’m telling you my honest price. Here. You’ll see why.”

The boy hurried out leading a sleek monster of a horse. At least eighteen hands tall, proud head, and black from his nose to the tip of his tail. “He loves to run,” Kaerva said with genuine affection in his voice. He ran a hand along the smooth black neck. “And look at that color. Not so much as a pale whisker, that’s why he’s worth twenty if he’s worth a single shim.”

“I don’t care about the color,” I said absentmindedly while I looked him over for signs of injury or old age. There was nothing. He was glossy, young, strong. “I just need to move quickly.”

“I understand,” he said apologetically. “But I can’t just ignore the coloring. If I wait a span or two, some young lord will pay just for the snappy look of him.”

I knew it was true. “Does he have a name?” I asked moving slowly toward the black horse, letting him smell my hands and get used to me. Bargaining can be hurried, but befriending a horse cannot. Only a fool rushes first impressions with a spirited young Khershaen.

“Not one that’s stuck on him,” he said.

“What’s your name, boy?” I asked gently, just so he could get used to the sound of my voice. He snuffed delicately at my hand, keeping close watch with one large, intelligent eye. He didn’t back away, but he certainly wasn’t at his ease either. I kept talking as I came closer, hoping he would relax at the sound of my voice. “You deserve a good name. I hate to see some lordling with delusions of wit saddle you with some terrible name like Midnight or Sooty or Scut.”

I came closer and lay one hand along his neck. His skin twitched, but he didn’t pull away. I needed to be sure of his temperament as much as his stamina. I couldn’t take the risk of jumping on the back of a skittish horse. “Someone half clever might dub you Pitch or Scuttle, ill-favored names. Or Slate, a sedentary name. Heaven forbid you end up Blackie, that’s an ill-fitting name for a prince like you.”

My father always talked to new horses in this way, in a steady calming litany. As I stroked his neck, I kept speaking without giving any mind to what I said. Words don’t matter to the horse, the tone of your voice is the important thing. “You’ve come a long way. You should have a proud name, so folk won’t think of you as common. Was your previous owner Cealdish?” I asked. “Ve vanaloi. Tu teriam keta. Palan te?”

I could sense him relax a bit at the sound of the familiar language. I walked onto his other side, still looking him over carefully and letting him get used to my presence. “Tu Ketha?” I asked him. Are you coal? “Tu mahne?” Are you a shadow?

I wanted to say twilight, but I couldn’t bring the Siaru word to mind. Rather than pause, I just bulled ahead, faking it as best I could as I eyed his hooves to see if they were chipped or cracked. “Tu Keth-Selhan?” Are you first night?

The big black lowered his head and nuzzled me. “You like that one, do you?” I said with a bit of a laugh, knowing that what really happened was that he had caught scent of the package of dried apple I had tucked in one of the pockets of my cloak. The important thing was that he had a feel for me now. If he was comfortable enough to nuzzle at me for food, we could get along well enough for a hard day’s ride.

“Keth-Selhan seems to suit him for a name,” I said, turning back to Kaerva. “Anything else I need to know?”

Kaerva seemed disconcerted. “He shies a bit on his right side.” “A bit?”

“Just a bit. It stands to reason that he’s probably a bit prone to spooking on that side too, but I haven’t seen him do it.”

“How’s he trained? Close rein or trouper style? “Close.”

“Fine. You’ve got one minute left to make this deal. He’s a good animal, but I’m not paying twenty talents for him.” I spoke with certainty in my voice, but no hope in my heart. He was a gorgeous animal, and his coloring made him worth at least twenty talents. Still, I’d go through the motions and hope to squeeze the man down to nineteen. That at least would leave me money for food and lodging when I got to Trebon.

“Very well,” Kaerva said. “Sixteen.”

Only my years of stage training kept me from gaping openly at his sudden drop. “Fifteen,” I said, feigning irritation. “And that will include the saddle, tack, and a bag of oats.” I began pulling money out of my purse as if the deal was already finished.

Unbelievably, Kaerva nodded and called for one of the boys to bring a saddle and tack.

I counted the money into Kaerva’s hand as his assistant saddled the big black. The Ceald seemed uncomfortable meeting my eye.

If I didn’t know horses as well as I do, I would have thought I was being swindled. Maybe the horse was stolen, or the man was desperate for money.

Whatever the reason, I didn’t care. I was due a bit of good luck. Best of all, this meant that I might be able to resell the horse at a bit of a profit after I reached Trebon. Honestly, I would need to sell him as soon as I could

manage, even if I lost money on the deal. Stabling, food, and grooming for a horse like this would cost me a penny a day. I couldn’t afford to keep him.

I strapped my travelsack into a saddlebag, checked the cinch and stirrups, then swung myself up onto Keth-Selhan’s back. He danced slightly to the right, eager to be off. That made two of us. I twitched the reins and we were on our way.

Most problems with horses have nothing to do with the horses themselves. They stem from the ignorance of the rider. Folk shoe their horses badly, saddle them improperly, feed them poorly, then complain that they were sold a half-lame, swayback, ill-tempered hack.

I knew horses. My parents had taught me to ride and care for them. While most of my experience had been with sturdier breeds, bred to pull rather than to race, I knew how to cover ground quickly when I needed to.

When they’re in a hurry, most folk push their mount too hard too soon. They head out at a dead gallop, then find themselves with a horse lame or half dead inside an hour. Pure idiocy. Only a twelve-color bastard treats a horse that way.

But to be entirely truthful, I would have ridden Keth-Selhan to death if it would have brought me to Trebon in a timely fashion. There are some times when I am willing to be a bastard. I would have killed a dozen horses if it would have helped me get more information about the Chandrian and why they had killed my parents.

But ultimately, there was no sense in thinking that way. A dead horse wouldn’t get me to Trebon. A live one would.

So I started Keth-Selhan at a nice walk to warm him up. He was eager to go faster, probably sensing my own impatience, and that would have been fine if I’d only needed to go a mile or three. But I needed him for at least fifty, maybe seventy, and that meant patience. I had to rein him back down to a walk twice before he resigned himself to it.

After a mile, I trotted him for a bit. His gait was smooth, even for a Khershaen, but a trot is jarring no matter what, and it pulled at the new stitches in my side. I urged him up to a canter after another mile or so. Only after we were three or four miles out of Imre and we came to a good, straight stretch of flat road did I nudge him up to a gallop.

Finally given the chance to run, he surged ahead. The sun had just finished burning away the morning dew, and farmers harvesting wheat and barley in the fields looked up as we thundered past. Keth-Selhan was fast; so fast that the wind tore at my cloak, stretching it behind me like a flag. Despite the fact that I knew I must cut quite the dramatic figure, I quickly grew tired of the drag on my neck, unfastened the cloak, then stuffed it into a saddlebag.

When we passed through a stand of trees, I brought Selhan back down to a trot. That way he got a little rest, and we didn’t run the risk of rounding a corner and barreling into a fallen tree or slow-moving cart. When we came out into pastureland and could see our way clear, I gave him his head again and we practically flew.

After an hour and a half of this, Selhan was sweating and breathing hard, but he was doing better than I was. My legs were a rubbery mess. I was fit enough, and young, but I hadn’t been in the saddle for years. Riding uses different muscles than walking, and riding at a gallop is just as hard as running unless you want to make your horse work twice as hard for every mile.

Suffice to say I welcomed the next stretch of trees. I hopped out of the saddle and walked to give both of us a well-deserved break. I cut one of my apples down the middle and gave him the larger half. I figured we’d come about thirty miles, and the sun wasn’t even fully at zenith.

“That’s the easy bit,” I told him, stroking his neck fondly. “Lord, but you are lovely. You’re not half blown yet, are you?”

We walked for about ten minutes, then we had the good luck to come across a little creek with a wooden bridge running across it. I let him drink for a long minute, then pulled him away before he took too much.

Then I mounted up and gaited him back up to a gallop by slow stages. My legs burned and ached as I leaned over his neck. The drumming of his hooves was like a counterpoint to the slow song of the wind, endlessly burning past my ears.

The first snag came about an hour later when we had to cross a wide stream. It wasn’t treacherous by any means, but I had to unsaddle him and carry everything across rather than risk it getting wet. I couldn’t ride him for hours wearing a wet harness.

On the other side of the river I dried him off with my blanket and re-saddled him. It took half an hour, which meant he had gone from being rested to being cold, so I had to warm him up gently, slow walk to trot to canter. That stream cost me an hour all told. I worried if there was another one the chill would get into Selhan’s muscles. If that happened, Tehlu himself wouldn’t be able to bring him up to a gallop again.

An hour later I passed through a small town, hardly more than a church and a tavern that happened to be next to each other. I stopped long enough to let Selhan drink a bit from a trough. I stretched my numb legs and looked up anxiously at the sun.

After that, the fields and farms grew fewer and farther between. The trees grew thicker and denser. The road narrowed and was not in good repair, rocky in places, washed out in others. It made for slower and slower going. But, truth be told, neither myself or Keth-Selhan had much more galloping left in


Eventually we came to another stream crossing the road. Not much more

than a foot deep at the most. The water had a sharp, foul smell that let me know there was a tannery upstream, or a refinery. There wasn’t any bridge, and Keth-Selhan made his way slowly across, placing his hooves gingerly on the rocky bottom. I wondered idly if it felt good, like when you dandle your feet in the water after a long day’s walking.

The stream didn’t slow us down much, but over the next half hour we had to cross it three separate times as it wound back and forth across the road. It was an inconvenience more than anything, never much deeper than a foot and half. Each time we crossed it the acrid smell of the water was worse. Solvents and acids. If not a refinery, then at least a mine. I kept my hands on the reins, ready to pull Selhan’s head up if he tried to drink, but he was smarter than that.

A long canter later I came up over a hill and looked down onto a crossroads at the bottom of a small grassy valley. Right under the signpost was a tinker with a pair of donkeys, one of them loaded so high with bags and bundles that it looked ready to tip over, the other conspicuously unburdened. It stood by the side of the dirt road grazing with a small mountain of gear piled beside it.

The tinker sat on a small stool at the side of the road, looking dispirited.

His expression brightened when he saw me riding down the hill.

I read the signpost as I came closer. North was Trebon. South was Temfalls. I reined in as I approached. Keth-Selhan and I could both use the rest, and I was not in enough of a hurry to be rude to a tinker. Not by half. If nothing else the fellow could tell me how far I had left to go before I came to Trebon.

“Hello there!” he said, looking up at me, shading his eyes with one hand. “You’ve got the look of a lad that’s wanting something.” He was older, balding, with a round, friendly face.

I laughed. “I’m wanting a lot of things, tinker, but I don’t think you’ve got any of them in your packs.”

He gave me an ingratiating smile. “Well now, don’t go assuming…” He stopped and looked down for a moment, thoughtfully. When he met my eyes again his expression was still kind, but more serious than before. “Listen, I’ll be honest with you, son. My little donkey has got herself a stone bruise in her forehoof and can’t carry her load. I’m stuck here until I come by some manner of help.”

“Normally nothing would make me happier than to help you, tinker,” I said. “But I need to get to Trebon as quickly as I can.”

“That won’t take much doing.” He nodded over the hill to the north. “You’re only about a half mile out. If the wind was blowing southerly you

could smell the smoke.”

I looked in the direction he gestured and saw chimney smoke rising from behind the hill. A great wave of relief washed over me. I’d made it, and it was barely an hour after noon.

The tinker continued. “I need to get to the Evesdown docks.” He nodded to the east. “I’ve made arrangements to ship downriver and I’d dearly love to catch my boat.” He eyed my horse significantly. “But I’ll need a new pack animal to carry my gear….”

It seems my luck had finally turned. Selhan was a fine horse, but now that I was in Trebon, he would be little more than a constant drain on my limited resources.

Still, it’s never wise to look eager to sell. “This is an awful lot of horse to be used for packing,” I said, patting Keth-Selhan’s neck. “He’s a full-blooded Khershaen, and I can tell you I’ve never seen a better horse in all my days.”

The tinker looked him over skeptically. “He’s knackered is what he is,” he said. “He hasn’t got another mile left in him.”

I swung off the saddle, staggering a bit when my rubbery legs almost buckled underneath me. “You should give him some credit, tinker. He’s come all the way from Imre today.”

The tinker chuckled. “You’re not a bad liar, boy, but you need to know when to stop. If the bait’s too big, the fish won’t bite.”

I didn’t need to pretend to be horrified. “I’m sorry I didn’t properly introduce myself.” I held out my hand. “My name is Kvothe, I am a trouper and one of the Edema Ruh. Never on my most desperate day would I lie to a tinker.”

The tinker shook my hand. “Well,” he said, slightly taken aback, “my sincere apologies to you and your family. It’s rare to see one of your folk alone on the road.” He looked the horse over critically. “All the way from Imre, you say?” I nodded. “That’s what, almost sixty miles? Hell of a ride….” He looked at me with a knowing smile. “How are your legs?”

I grinned back at him. “Let’s just say I’ll be glad to be on my own feet again. He’s good for another ten miles I’d guess. But I can’t say the same for myself.”

The tinker looked over the horse again and gave a gusty sigh. “Well, as I said, you’ve got me over a bit of a barrel. How much do you want for him?”

“Well,” I said. “Keth-Selhan here’s a full-blood Khershaen, and his color is lovely, you have to admit. Not a patch on him but isn’t black. Not a white whisker—”

The tinker burst out laughing. “I take it back,” he said. “You’re a terrible liar.”

“I don’t see what’s so funny,” I said a little stiffly.

The tinker gave me an odd look. “Not a white whisker, no.” He nodded

past me toward Selhan’s hindquarters. “But if he’s all black then I’m Oren Velciter.”

I turned to look and saw that Keth-Selhan’s left hind foot had a distinct white sock that went halfway up to his hock. Stupefied, I walked back and bent down to look. It wasn’t a clean white, more of a washed-out grey. I could smell the faint odor of the stream we had splashed through on the last leg of our journey: solvents.

“That shim bastard,” I said incredulously. “He sold me a dyed horse.” “Didn’t the name tip you off?” the tinker chuckled. “Keth-Selhan? Lord

boy, someone’s been thumbing their nose at you.” “His name means twilight,” I said.

The tinker shook his head, “Your Siaru is rusty. Ket-Selem would be ‘first-night.’ Selhan means ‘sock.’ His name is one sock.”

I thought back to the horse-trader’s reaction when I’d picked the name. No wonder the fellow had seemed so disconcerted. No wonder he had dropped the price so quickly and easily. He thought I knew his little secret.

The tinker laughed at my expression and clapped me on the back. “Don’t sweat it, lad. It happens to the best of us from time to time,” he turned away and began to rummage through his bundles. “I think I have something you’ll like. Let me offer you a trade.” He turned around and held out something black and gnarled like a piece of driftwood.

I took it from him and looked it over. It was heavy and cold to the touch. “A lump of slag iron?” I asked. “Are you out of magic beans?”

The tinker held out a pin in his other hand. He held it about a handspan away then let go. Instead of falling, the pin snapped to the side and clung to the smooth blob of black iron.

I drew in an appreciative breath. “A loden-stone? I’ve never seen one of these.”

“Technically, it’s a Trebon-stone,” he said matter-of-factly. “As it’s never been near Loden, but you’re near enough. There’s all manner of people who would be interested in that beauty down Imre-way….”

I nodded absently as I turned it over in my hands. I’d always wanted to see a drawstone, ever since I was a child. I pulled the pin away, feeling the strange attraction it had to smooth black metal. I marveled. A piece of star-iron in my hand. “How much do you figure it’s worth?” I asked.

The tinker sucked his teeth a little. “Well I’m figuring right here and now it’s worth just about one full-blooded Khershaen pack mule….”

I turned it over in my hand, pulled the pin away and let it snap back again. “Trouble is tinker, I put myself into debt with a dangerous woman in order to buy this horse. If I don’t sell it well, I’m going to be in a desperate way.”

He nodded. “Piece of sky-iron of that size, if you take less than eighteen talents you’re cutting a hole in your own purse. Jewelers will buy it, or rich

folk who want it for the novelty.” He tapped the side of his nose. “But if you head to the University you’ll do better. Artificers have a great love for loden-stone. Alchemists too. If you find one in the right mood you’ll get more.”

It was a good deal. Manet had taught me loden-stone was quite valuable and difficult to come by. Not only for its galvanic properties, but because pieces of sky-iron like this often had rare metals mingled with the iron. I held out my hand. “I’m willing to make it a deal.”

We shook hands solemnly, then just as the tinker began to reach for the reins, I asked, “And what will you give me for his tack and saddle?”

I was a little worried that the tinker might take offense at my wheedling, but instead he smiled a sly smile. “That’s a clever lad,” he chuckled. “I like a fellow who’s not afraid to push for a little extra. What would you like then? I’ve got a lovely woolen blanket here. Or some nice rope?” He pulled a coil of it out of the donkey’s packs. “Always good to have a piece of rope with you. Oh, how about this?” He turned around with a bottle in his hands and winked at me. “I’ve got some lovely Avennish fruit wine. I’ll give you all three for your horse’s gear.”

“I could use a spare blanket,” I admitted. Then a thought occurred to me. “Do you have any clothes near my size? I seem to be going through a lot of shirts lately.”

The old man paused, holding the rope and bottle of wine, then shrugged and began to dig around in his packs.

“Have you heard anything about a wedding around these parts?” I asked.

Tinkers always have their ears to the ground.

“The Mauthen wedding?” He tied off one pack and began to dig through another. “I hate to tell you but you missed it. Happened yesterday.”

My stomach clenched at his casual tone. If there had been a massacre the tinker would certainly have heard. I suddenly had the horrible thought that I’d put myself in debt and run halfway to the mountains on a goose chase. “Were you there? Did anything odd happen?”

“Here we are!” The tinker turned around holding up a shirt of plain grey homespun. “Nothing fancy, I’m afraid, but it’s new. Well, newish.” He held it up to my chest to judge the fit.

“The wedding?” I prompted.

“What? Oh no. I wasn’t there. Bit of an event though, from what I understand. Mauthen’s only daughter and they were sending her off proper. Been planning it for months.”

“So you didn’t hear of anything odd happening?” I asked, a sinking feeling in my gut.

He shrugged helplessly. “Like I said, I wasn’t there. I’ve been up around the ironworks the last couple days,” he nodded to the west. “Trading with panners and folk up in the high rock.” He tapped the side of his head as if

he’d just remembered something. “That reminds me, I found a brassie up in the hills.” He rummaged in his packs again and brought out a flat, thick bottle. “If you don’t care for wine, maybe something a little stronger…?”

I started to shake my head, then realized that some homemade brand would be useful cleaning my side tonight. “I might be….” I said. “Depending on the offer on the table.”

“Honest young gent like yourself,” he said grandly. “I’ll give you blanket, both bottles, and the coil of rope.”

“You’re generous, tinker. But I’d rather have the shirt than the rope and the fruit wine. They’d just be dead weight in my bag and I’ve got a lot of walking ahead of me.”

His expression soured a little, but he shrugged. “Your call, of course.

Blanket, shirt, brand, and three jots.”

We shook hands, and I took time to help him load Keth-Selhan because I had the vague feeling that I’d insulted him by turning down his previous offer. Ten minutes later he was heading east, and I made my way north over the green hills into Trebon.

I was glad to walk the last half-mile under my own power as it helped me work the stiffness from my legs and back. As I crested the hill, I saw Trebon sprawling out below, tucked into a low bowl made by the hills. It wasn’t a large town by any means, perhaps a hundred buildings sprawling around a dozen winding, packed-dirt streets.

In the early days with the troupe, I’d learned how to size up a town. It’s a lot like reading your audience when you’re playing in a tavern. The stakes are higher of course, play the wrong song in a tavern and people might hiss you, but misjudge an entire town and things can get uglier than that.

So I sized up Trebon. It was off the beaten path, halfway between a mining town and a farming town. They weren’t likely to be instantly suspicious of strangers, but it was small enough that everyone knew by looking at you that you weren’t one of the locals.

I was surprised to see people setting up straw-stuffed shamble-men outside their homes. That meant that despite the proximity to Imre and the University, Trebon was truly a backwater community. Every town has a harvest festival of some sort, but these days most folk settle for having a bonfire and getting drunk. The fact that they were following old folk traditions meant people in Trebon were more superstitious than I would usually expect.

Despite that, I liked seeing the shamble-men. I have a fondness for the traditional harvest festivals, superstitions and all. They’re a type of theater, really.

The Tehlin church was the nicest building in town, three stories tall and made of quarried stone. Nothing odd about that, but bolted above the front

doors, high above the ground, was one of the biggest iron wheels I’d ever seen. It was real iron too, not just painted wood. It was ten feet tall and must have weighed a solid ton. Ordinarily such a display would have made me nervous, but since Trebon was a mining town I guessed it showed civic pride more than fanatic piety.

Most of the other buildings in town were low to the ground, built of rough timber with cedar-shingle roofs. The inn was respectable though, two stories tall, with plaster walls and red clay tiles on the roof. There was bound to be someone in there who would know more about the wedding.

There was a bare handful of people inside, not surprising as harvest was in full swing and there were still five or six hours of good daylight left. I put on my best anxious expression as I made my way over to the bar where the innkeeper stood.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I hate to trouble you, but I’m looking for someone.”

The innkeeper was a dark-haired man with a perpetual scowl. “Who’s that then?”

“My cousin was here for a wedding,” I said, “and I heard there was some trouble.”

At the word wedding the innkeeper’s scowl turned stony. I could feel the two men farther down the bar not looking at me, pointedly not looking anywhere in my direction. It was true then. Something terrible had happened.

I saw the innkeeper reach out and press his fingers onto the bar. It took me a second to realize he was touching the iron head of a nail driven into the wood. “Bad business,” he said shortly. “Nothing I care to say about it.”

“Please,” I said, letting worry bleed into my tone. “I was visiting family in Temfalls when the rumor came down that something had happened. They’re all busy pulling in the last of the wheat, so I promised I’d come up and see what the trouble was.”

The innkeeper looked me up and down. A gawker he could turn away, but he couldn’t deny me the right to know what had happened to a family member. “There’s the one upstairs who was there,” he said shortly. “Not from around here. Might be your cousin.”

A witness! I opened my mouth to ask another question, but he shook his head. “I don’t know a thing about it,” he said firmly. “Don’t care to, either.” He turned and made himself suddenly busy with the taps of his beer barrels. “Up at the far end of the hall, on the left.”

I headed across the room and up the stairs. I could feel everyone not looking at me now. Their silence and the innkeeper’s tone made it clear that whoever was upstairs was not one of the many who had been there, it was the one. One survivor.

I went to the end of the hallway and knocked on the door. First softly, then again, louder. I opened the door slowly, so as not to startle whoever might be


It was a narrow room with a narrow bed. A woman lay on it, fully clothed, one arm wrapped in a bandage. Her head was turned toward the window, so I could only see her profile.

Still I recognized her. Denna.

I must have made some noise, because she turned to look at me. Her eyes went wide and for once she was the one who was at a loss for words.

“I heard you were in some trouble,” I said nonchalantly. “So I thought I’d come and help.”

Her eyes went wide for a moment, then narrowed. “You’re lying,” she said with a wry twist to her lips.

“I am,” I admitted. “But it’s a pretty lie.” I took a step into the room and closed the door softly. “I would have come, if I’d known.”

“Anyone can make the trip after they get the news,” she said dismissively. “It takes a special sort of man to show up when he doesn’t know there’s trouble.” She sat up and turned to face me, swinging her legs over the side of the bed.

Now that I looked more closely, I noticed that she had a bruise high on one temple in addition to the bandage on her arm. I took another step toward her, “Are you alright?” I asked.

“No,” she said bluntly. “But I could be a damn sight worse off.” She came to her feet slowly, as if she was unsure how steady she would be. She took a cautious step or two and seemed more or less satisfied. “Right. I can walk. Let’s get out of here.”

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