With dawn breaking, shafts of sunlight slipping through the cracks in the curtains, spiralling specks of dust were illuminated. Distant clangs came from the kitchen followed by sharp inhales of breath. The whole inn was waking up. The timbers stretched and yawned.
In the room, it was quiet. Idani, were she awake, might have noticed the proprietor leave, tiptoeing over mischievous floorboards. She might have heard the slowing turning the key in the door, the lifting latch, and the woman teasing a crack just wide enough to fit through, and then slipping out, a faint rustling of her dress as the only sound of her departure. Breath escaping in a yawn. A shift in the sheets.
Were that tiny girl awake, she might’ve counted the seconds that passed until the woman returned. But no, the woman had been careful; she had been quiet as a mouse and gentle as a mother’s touch. Secrecy shrouded her. Time went missing.
Idani sat up, her slight gasp chasing away the phantoms of a dream that seemed to have been strangling her. While she had no cause to think of it in such a way, the pit in her stomach told her of nightmares. She grumbled, rubbing at the back of her head; taking a few quick glances around the room. The kindly Miss has probably already set about her day. I should be on my way, soon.
The Drasilian girl checked her sleeve, finding her dagger still in its proper place. Then she wiggled her toes, still within the confines of her soft leather boots. That didn't do me any favors.
She hopped to her feet, stretching and replacing her hood before grabbing her makeshift pillow and slinging the strap over her shoulder; familiar weight thudding against her hip. There's no excuse for me to be so tired.
Though she did little to recall how long it had been since a roof had been over her head and something more hospitable than grass beneath her as she slept. Travelling did have its rigors, but Idani thought she was well past feeling their strain the following day. Yesterday was hardly anything difficult. Today will be better, regardless. I have Oakheim ahead of me, and a lot of planni-
Her thought was interrupted, the door opening and the barkeep lady stepping in with a tray that Idani eyed with reserved longing and a holler that would have easily set her to skittering were she still in the grips of slumber.
“Rise and shine!” The woman stage-whispered, “I fetch’d ya sim fud.”
A broad, broken smile upon her face, the woman swept in with a pewter tray, filled with plates of sizzling bacon and plump sausages, a loaf of bread still steaming from the oven, cheeses various, oats, dried fruits, fresh fruits, fruit syrups and jams, churned butter in a little ceramic pot, a pitcher of iced water, a pitcher of warm, clove-spiced mead, and a tiny metal cup of a thick brown liquid that steamed the most.
“Ach,” she pressed her ring into the small of her back, massaging it, “That bed be doin’ nuffin fer me old back.” The she shrugged her shoulders and huffed.
“Eat ap!” the woman chortled, sitting at the foot of the bed and setting the tray next to her, “Got a lut fer yer to hear, ‘fore yooz be settin’ af.”
Idani waited, patiently, until the woman had rubbed the knot from her back and taken a seat; the tray properly sat and permission given. She didn't think much about what she grabbed, but she began eating. Voracity was not usually in her nature; or, at least she liked people to think it absent. It was bacon, first, followed by a sausage. "Again,"
she said through half-chewed bits of breakfast, "you have my thanks. I hadn't expected food, as well as board."
Idani gave a smile, after she had properly swallowed, and allowed herself a moment of restraint. Instead of continuing to gorge, she took up a piece of fruit and nibbled at it. "What sort of things, if I may inquire?"
That had her curiosity, to be certain; forestalling the urgency she felt at thoughts of Oakheim. By the time I arrive, it should be well near the middle of the day. I suppose a few minutes couldn't hurt. I owe it to her, after all.
“Oh, jus’ an ickle gift, a lucky charm, cud say,” She drew a small brooch from her skirt pocket, a rose flower of opalescent ivory, with two emerald leaves by the clasp. It would be slightly like soap, or carved jade, had Idani touched that before. “I fink et neds tah see the road again, been locked away so long an’ all.” She handed it over. “Et kept me safe all them years, mebbe et’ll be the same fer yerself, I hope. I see a lotta meself in yer, troof be tol’. Wear it proud.”
Idani eyed the brooch with interest. She wasn't used to having nice things simply handed to her, at least not over the last six years. Her eyes might have widened, her control slipping for a moment. The kindly Miss spoke, and despite the Drasilian's girl fixation on the twinkling emeralds and lovely ivory; she listened to every word. "I will do what I can to ensure its travels are as safe as my own, dear lady."
It was put gently into her hand, bringing a smile to Idani's face that could melt the ice from a snow troll's eyebrows. "And I hope it keeps me safe, as well,"
her heart strings had been adequately tugged on, and Idani couldn't help but want to embrace the old world-worn woman. She took another sausage and plopped it into her mouth, savoring the slight pop of the taut skin and the juice and grease beneath. "I..."
she wasn't the type to trail off, but Idani was searching hard for the words. "I think you and I are much alike, Miss. I hope, one day, that I can stop back by one day."
It was a strange truth. Despite her only spending a few restless hours on the floor, Idani had felt true kindness from the matron of The Traveler's Respite
; an unspoken kinship, beyond what they had acknowledged in common. "When I do, you will be hard pressed to keep me from begging to stay!"
She gave a hearty laugh, at that; a musical sound, many had said, through her years.
“More than you realise, I think,” then the woman cleared her throat, and swallowed a smile, “Right, next bit, important, sah you listen, ‘ere. A Magi and her Watcher are likely heading to Oakheim, stopped in las’ night. Might be able tah meet them on the road - mebbe even travel pass Oakheim with ‘em, wherever your business tek yah.”A Magi and her Watcher, though? An interesting prospect. Mayhaps they will be interested in this book.
As the thought crossed her mind, something railed against it. Strangely, she reconsidered. Maybe it's not for them. After all, I found it. Doubt a wandering Magi has as much coin as I want, anyway. Either way, protection on the road is always a bonus. I'll have to seek them out. "I'll do just that. Thank you! I will be certain to find them, along the way,"
she took a deep sigh, one not entirely feigned, "I'm going to miss you, Miss. The brief time we spent together has been unexpected and not unwelcome."
Idani Umbele adjusted her satchel, taking another small bite of fruit before turning. "I will not be forgetting you, any time soon. I hope you will let me sing for you, when next I pass through!"
* * * * * * *
It might be interesting to note that at some time between the woman leaving Idani alone, and then returning to her with breakfast, Aleora and Karl had left the inn and set upon the road to Oakheim.
Aleora’s head hung as she road, he brow ever so faintly furrowed, and for all her grace, something seemed to be sapping her usual poise.
Karl sensed this, upon returning from scouting ahead, “Reshi, what is the matter?”
Morning mist had left dew on her beard.
She sighed, and looked up at Karl, a smile lapping at the shores of her cheeks, thawing her icy façade, “The dreams, Karl, I am afraid of what they foretell, when I find them.” “All the stars are sucked from the sky, trailing coils shape into a hand that reaches for a candle flame and snuffs it out. Then there is nothing – an empty sky and total darkness. Afterimages of an incandescent hand dancing across the blindness. Then I am elsewhere, and I see men of bones and rotten flesh, dressed in rags and ancient fashion, dancing, or fighting, and one, with a crown, it approaches a robed figure, and gives it something, or perhaps steals, I could never get close enough – when I try, they would vanish, and a door would appear. If I opened it, inside golems are standing amongst great swelling dunes, sand continually falling, never stopping, burying them. The door always closes after that, except at this point it’s not a door, but a book, and it laughs, then vanishes too. And then…”
She faltered, trailing off, or catching herself, “Then, then… I think that is all that is apt for you to know.”
He grunted. “It is always the same Karl, never flinching –”“You will figure it out,”
gravel and thunder rolled from horseback, “You are one of the best Dreamers the Demense has had in centuries.”
Aleora smiled. I know what it means, Karl, I just hope I can change it.