0.2.3 – Talking the Knight Around

Aidan reached the bottom of the steps. I saw his eyes land on me, track my gaze back to the witchwagon, saw him set his jaw and ascend.  

“Slate. We’ll be ready to leave soon.” 

“Cheers, choir boy.”  

“I’m glad we’re starting with him,” Grannine leaned forward, arms around Her knees. “I like him.” 

I don’t. 

“He has conviction.”  

He’d have no problem murdering us in our sleep if he thought it’d save his wee sister.  

“At least he’s consistent.” She feigned a glare in my direction. It faded to a smile.   

Aidan reached the last step, only a few inches from where the lass was sitting. He didn’t slouch or lean, only stood looking west, perfectly still.  The lass looked up at him, hair falling back over Her shoulders. I followed Her lead. His face was as sleek as a king’s statue.  

The lad took a breath.  

“What are you thinking, Slate? You’re staring at that wagon quite intently.”  

I sniffed. Wiped my nose on the back of my hand. Gave him a dense smile.  

“Things used to be different, you know.”  

Aidan looked at me as if he was beginning to seriously question his choice in mercenaries. I smiled wider. “The world. Didn’t used to be like this.” I looked west. Corail was high, the Wandering Star, pale blue-green against the sunset. I took a drink. “The man in that wagon is a druid.” I rolled the tankard in my hands. “Once, they were welcome in Frydain. Once upon a time, when the Church was kinder. When the Templar were honorable.” I grinned at him. “I suppose they don’t teach you that in Bridgeport.”  

He dusted his hands off and looked at the stars instead of me.   

“Where does a sellsword learn this?”  

“Druids.” I nodded to the wagon. “Raised me. Didn’t know that, did you? Folk tales are true; they take children all the time.” I grimaced. Even after the beer, my mouth was dry. “Teach them their ways, let them go again. Why do you think the Church has never been able to stamp us out? We’re all around you.”  I struck the bottle into the palm of my hand, smiled at it.  

Aidan looked down, and rested both hands on the hilt of his sword. 

“I won’t let you jeopardize m–” 

“Fuck’s sake, boy,” I cut him off. “Relax. I’m not going to break him out all on my lonesome. I made up my mind. I’m going to help Eris, and I’m going to help you.” I rocked back on the step. “We’re going to get this wee nun out, and then I’m going to take my magic sword and my two hundred fryd and I’m going to fuck off forever.”  

He said nothing, but at least this time he didn’t seem like he was seething. I looked back up at him, leaned an elbow on my knee. 

Watch and learn.  

“I always do.”  

“See, what is your plan, lad? For after? You must have one.” I grinned, leaned in to nudge the lass in the ribs. She made a quiet sound of protest and vanished from under my elbow between one blink and the next. “Or maybe Eris does, and you’re going to just pass it off as your own.”  

No reaction to that. I felt a bit cheated.  

“We’re going to run.”  

I laughed at him.  

“Sounds like great fun for the girls. What’s more romantic than a life on the run with your brother in-law?”  

That provoked a glare, at last.   

“I suppose you have a better idea.”  

“I do.”  

I nodded to the wagon. Aidan looked at it, then back to me.  

“I don’t follow.” 

“The druids. They have strongholds where the Church can’t reach. You,” I pointed at him with the tankard. “Can’t find them.” I tilted the mug back to my own self. “I can. We save this man,” I nodded to the witchwagon, hoped it was subtle. “It’ll earn us goodwill.”  

Aidan looked back at the wagon again. Shifted his hands on his sword.  

“And that, lad,” I said, reclining on the steps, stretching out one leg. “Is why I’ve been staring at the wagon.”  

The wind rustled in the pines behind the inn. The stars were coming out fast, a winter night falling cold on the hilltop.  

See, lass? I looked into the tankard to hide the fact that I might have been moving my lips. Now we wait and see if he goes for it.   

“He just might,” Grannine murmured, and when I looked for Her, She was gone, nothing more than a warm presence that held back the chill. “You have quite a way with words, when you’re willing to try.” There was a laugh in Her voice.  

I snorted.  

If I can find a way to break him out without killing us, I will.   

“Please.” I felt Her eyes on the witchwagon like a weight, dragging my vision downward. “And...destroy that, if you can.”  

I give you one thing, and you ask for another.  

She laughed in my ear.  

“That’s awfully charitable,” Aidan said.   
“Do you m–” I paused. He wouldn’t have heard the other half of the conversation. “–mean, you…find that idea surprising?”  

“Well done,” the demon in my head said. She’d learned how to be sarcastic. Wonderful.  

“Considering you told me in no uncertain terms that you planned to…take your leave, once we had finished, I’m quite surprised.” His voice was cool. “I think you have motivations of your own for wanting this man freed.”  

I shrugged.  

“Wouldn’t be a bad idea, building up a bit of goodwill,” I said, and set the tankard down on the step. “I use their strongholds to lay low now and again.”  

“This plan of yours.” The lad’s voice was suspiciously light. “It sounds as if you’re planning to keep travelling with us.” He flexed his hands on the pommel of his sword, rubbing out one palm, then the other.  

I thought about that.  

“Aren’t we?” Grannine asked, Her voice dancing somewhere on the winter wind. “I’d like that.”  

“Don’t get snotty about it, Templar. Only long enough to see yous settled in somewhere out of the way. Can’t leave you out alone in the cold of winter. The Church will find you, break you, then come after me.”  

“Mm.” Aidan nodded gravely. “Selfish reasons only. I understand.”   

“Fuck off.”  

He laughed under his breath. I thought about throwing the tankard at his head.  

Aidan reached to his belt, undid one buckle, and crossed both hands behind his back, working at a clasp behind his cloak. A moment later, his sword swung to one side, and he lifted it away, sitting down on the uppermost step with the sheathed weapon in one hand. Casual, natural motion, as light as unlacing his boots. Good to be reminded that the boy had been wearing a sword since he could walk.  

He passed the weapon to his right hand, on the far side from me, like he was hiding it.  

“How would we do it?” he said, looking over at me in the twilight. “Convince me. Tell me a plan that won’t put us at risk. Tell me what you’re thinking.”  

“I’m thinking I’m surprised you’re behind this plan already.” I looked over at him, didn’t quite hide a grin. “You’ve got depths to you, choir boy.”  

“I’ve not yet said yes.” 

“And you haven’t said no.”  

His smile faded. He didn’t speak again, not for a while. When he wasn’t talking shite, he almost looked handsome.  

See, lass, what is it you hate about this thing?  

“It’s a cage.”  

She said that as if it was all the explanation necessary. I waited for Her to say more. She didn’t. 

“I won’t kill them,” Aidan said.  

“Oh, now you draw the line?”  

“They’re only doing their duty.”  

“Aye, what a fucking shame.” I set the tankard on the steps, to keep myself from throwing it at his stupid face. “Not like those bandits, who were only trying to get a bit to eat. Fuck them. Better off dead.”  

“Your sarcasm is unwelcome.”  

“You do have something in common,” Grannine said. Her laughter lingered in the back of my head while I tried to come up with something suitably withering.  

“Fuck off.”  

The door of the inn swung open. Aidan and I looked back at almost the same moment, and his sword fell to lie across his knees, left hand resting on the hilt. The light and conversation of the tavern spilled out over us.  

“There you are,” Eris said. She stepped out into the dark, shut the door behind her. “I’d started to worry you were out here killing each other.”  

“Not at all,” Aidan said. He shot me a look which might have been a glare if it had shown any emotion other than a vague desire for violence. “You’re just in time.”  

“Eris Malarin, in the fucking flesh,” I raised a hand to her. “Come out here and have a seat.”  

Eris looked at me like I’d grown a second head.  I grinned, slapped my hand on the step, shifted to give her room, winced as more sore muscles made themselves known. Felt like I’d bruised something quite well when I’d fallen on my ass in the campfire.  

“Eris,” I said.  

“Dermot,” Eris said, sounding tremendously skeptical.  

“Enough,” Aidan cut in. “Eris. Slate, not content with sorcery and murder, has suggested that we append highway banditry to our list of sins.”  

I looked at him.  

“See, lad,” I said, slowly. “Would it kill you to talk like a normal fucking person?”  

“You want to break out the scroller?” Eris glanced up at the witchwagon in the square. “…why?” 

“A fine question,” Aidan murmured.  

“Don’t get me wrong, it’d be easy, you know,” Eris folded her arms. “But I don’t see much use in it.”  

“Easy, you say.” I grinned at Aidan. “Eris. Clever Eris. Mind telling me what you’re thinking?”  

She folded her arms.  

“Only if you tell me why I’m thinking it.” She raised her head. “Why are we stopping to break somebody else out?”  

I gestured to Aidan, who gestured to me.  
“Slate will explain it,” Aidan said. “It was his idea.”  

I smiled.  

*

0.2.2 – Highcopse

0.2.4 – Wolf Smile

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