Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  Epic  ➡  Dark

Nym's Road Trip (The Orphans Revolt 5)

 

 

 

 

Nym’s Road Trip (The Orphans Revolt 5)

 

By Paul Smith.

 

*

*

 

Nym’s Road Trip (The Orphans Revolt 5)

Paul Smith

Copyright 2014 Paul Smith

Smashwords Edition.

 

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to people, places or events is purely coincidental, and bears no malicious intent.

 

ISBN: 9781311393883

 

For more information on my work, and to keep up to date with new releases please follow me on Twitter @tattooloverboi or check out one of my galleries:

 

Gallery: http://gladefaun.deviantart.com/

 

Smashwords: [+ http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/starofthemorning+]

 

Blog: http://paulsmithauthor.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

‘For Sam.’

 

*

 

 

Author’s note:

This chapter is taken from The Orphans Revolt. I’m planning to serialise it and it’s sequel His Staying Hand over the coming year whilst I write the third book in the series. Anyone who enjoys this chapter and wants to keep up to date on future releases (or who fancies trying some of my other work) should check out my galleries on Smashwords or DeviantART:

 

gladefaun.deviantart.com

smashwords.com/profile/view/starofthemorning

 

Thank you.

5.

 

Ikari Trosan was quickly discovering that he did not enjoy the company of llamas. Particularly not the monstrous breed they cultivated in the highlands about Faeron’s three Great Lakes. Easily three meters at the shoulders, the beasts reminded him more of camels than the spry creatures he’d grown up with round Lake Peshra. His mount was surly and bad tempered in the mornings, and unless he offered it a lump of sugar cane point blank refused to move some days.

That said, it put up with the sorts of incline that would break most horse’s legs, thereby cutting out several of the sweeping curves the Caravans usually took to reach the shore. So he endured, swaying in the saddle as the llama’s padded feet picked their way confidently across slopes of scree and boulder ridges, down the winding route that was the descent from Junon Town.

His only problem was that the glaring sunlight, unfiltered at this height, kept threatening to send him into a fugue. The last thing he needed was to go tumbling unawares from the saddle as his steed made a particularly ill advised change in course. It wasn’t that the llama was a poor judge; indeed the skill it displayed in predicting where to place its feet as they traversed a gravel-strewn slope, or how to descend an escarpment was nothing short of miraculous on occasion. But the creature had clearly been trained for a rider who leaned into the various twists and turns, shifting his centre of gravity with his mount.

Someone who paid attention, in other words.

Not a quality one associated with your average Nym. Particularly not when the sun was out.

Fortunately it was freezing up here. Away from the sheltering walls of the caldera that housed Sha’Klairon and its oasis of hot springs and rainforest, the highlands of Faeron were a broad vista of wind swept plains and low scrub. The wind alone was enough to help keep him on his toes with its constant buffeting, never mind the cold. It was enough to stave off the worst of the sun’s song.

The slopes to the east, further along the line of the Kantars, sported forests of their own, great swathes of pines that crept up the sides of the peaks towards their snow-caped pinnacles. But the land here to the west was bare at this altitude, the bones of the earth poking through to the surface in places. Broad meadows of tough grasses and bright wild flowers gave way to up thrusts of bare rock and steep slopes, cloven by deep, boulder-strewn valleys where the fingers of the long winter storms had once reached.

With its high, clear blue sky the place held a certain stark beauty that Ikari found quite arresting.

He soldiered on. Following the caravan trail that led down, nodding to those few other travellers he met passing the other way from beneath his hood. Pitching his tent each night in slightly a warmer clime.

 

It had been hard to leave the Grove. The ruins there had been his home for so long. His only home, since he touched the thorn all those decades ago. The familiar spaces of the Cathedral were like a balm, the warm sunlight through the leaves overhead the sweetest of gifts that he, Ikari, was privileged to receive every day.

The drugs and the sex were a trifle beside that.

He’d gone for a walk the following morning, after he’d spoken to Kye. Taken a tour of the sun-dappled halls formed by the interlocking branches overhead, beneath ceilings of tessellating green and gold. Passing through the circular labyrinth that was the Cathedral. Avoiding the central grove, he’d stared up at the arching limbs, glimpsing the twisted shapes that slumbered amidst the filigree of branches.

The ancients had been quiet, their boughs silent in the still air.

Calm faces, forever immortalised in their sleep, stared back at him. Their empty sockets as blind on this side of the grid as they were far-sighted on the other.

Reaching out, he’d placed a hand against one of the trunks, closing his eyes. Immersing himself in the flow of sap, the deep thrum of sunlight against his skin matching that of the raw brilliance pouring over the canopy.

Their contentment touched his mind. Lent him a modicum of calm for the road ahead.

Gratitude came in the only form he had to hand. Taking his palm from the trunk, pulling one of the thorns from the skin of his left forearm and using its iron like edge to incise a gash along the inside of his arm.

Holding the wound out to let the blood trickle red and vital to the ground below, soaking into the rich carpet of moss and grasses that peered up through the loam.

Blood and light.

Our people’s ultimate benediction.

Smiled as he walked away.

 

*

 

To outsiders, their society looked like something out of the most lurid nightmares of Holi, or one of the other Insanatoria, whose musings on damnation and eternal punishment had been fodder for teenage campfire stories since back before the fall of the Summer Houses. Most people imagined life amongst the Nym to be a string of bloody, sexual depravities, mingled in with long periods of zoning out over the play of shadows across a flower.

In some sense they were right; the old saying about a grain of truth holding very much correct in this context. The difference lay in perspective. At least that was the opinion shared by most of the ruling cabal, both in Sha’Klairon and the grove at Carpassan. Being bound completely changed you, quite aside from the obvious physical alterations. It altered the way you experienced the world.

It was inevitable this would affect any society compromising such individuals.

 

Ikari could still remember his trepidation. The uncertainty he’d felt as he stood in the circle of light cast by the ring of torches thrust into the ground about him.

Seeking the approval of the shadowy figures stood at its edge.

Seeking a different kind of immortality, now that other road had been closed forever by his forebearers.

“Why do you seek the martyr’s way?”

The words had been softly spoken, belying nothing of the speaker’s intent or opinion in the warm darkness.

“I wish to go on,” he’d replied. Kye, as his sponsor, had warned him that subterfuge would work against him here; in the long run he would bare all regardless.

“He possesses the affinity.” Deliana, her tone rich as the scents of the rainforest canopy that stretched long arms about them, beyond the walls of the ruins.

“But he also brings animosity,” her antagonist replied. Ikari had never learnt who he was; an elder from the Carpassan grove who had returned to his own by the time the young man from Peshra recovered from synthesis.

“Because he does not know.” Deliana had cocked her head, hood shifting in the flickering illumination, a gesture he’d seen a hundred times since then during debates in the commons. “Let him see the light.”

There had been a long pause then, as he held his breath, the air suddenly pregnant in a way he would come to recognise and associate with increased proximity to the Garden.

“Very well.” He’d begun shivering with anticipation as the acceptance in those words sank in. “We are in accord.”

His heart had leapt into his throat as the figures had stepped forwards into the light, Kye pushing his hood back with skeletal fingers. Eyes shining, he moved forward to clasp hands with his protégé.

“Lie down, Ikari.”

Ikari had lowered himself to the ground, the stone floor of the ancient hall cool against his back and legs through the thin cotton vest and trousers he’d worn for the occasion.

The others gathered about, a ring of tall shadows in the swaying light. As he’d watched Kye lifted one arm, pulling the sleeve of his robe back to expose the slim muscles and tendons of his arm, knotted about with their twist of briar limb. Clasping one of the thorns, where it broke through his viridian tinged skin, Kye had snapped the protrusion off at the root with a deft twist of his wrist. He held it a moment between thumb and forefinger, an elegant triangle gummy with glistening sap, blood a dark crimson about its base. Then he leant forward and plunged it into the side of Ikari’s neck, the point digging sharply into the muscle there.

More sharp stabs of pain told him the others had done the same: at his fore arm and the curve of his ribs. The swell of his thigh and the cleft of his groin.

Shadows crept in round the edges of his vision, blurring the lines of his sight.

 

The Nym built their social circles on the precepts of inclusion and acceptance. Within their community everything was shared, by everyone. They stood together, a future echo of the forest of trees they would eventually become when they passed on into the Cathedral.

Yes, there were circles within the circles, but it was very difficult to keep secrets from others when a casual graze might spill your buried desires into the plain light of day.

Each community was ruled by an inner Cabal, but its members were largely a figurehead. They held no power of governance over the larger group, their responsibilities instead involving the administration of the Grove’s interaction with outside forces. And in this they were expected to react with the good of the many in mind. To do otherwise would be to invite censure from their peers. Censure resulting at its most severe in expulsion from the Grove.

Ikari had heard whispers over years of a further, far harsher punishment: exile from the Garden itself. Such a sentence would at best render the afflicted insane, though death was the far more likely (and preferable) outcome. A few judicious bouts of digging never found any solid evidence supporting the rumours, beyond a few very oblique references. And he didn’t have the guts to ask outright, afraid at some deeper level of what he might find. Nevertheless, it was a concept his mind had never quite been able to relinquish.

 

They’d paused on the cusp of another steep incline. Ikari needed a break from being in the saddle, and the llama had become difficult as the sun approached the highest point in the sky overhead. He couldn’t remember enough of the animal husbandry his parents had forced on him in his youth to know if there might be a specific reason for this, but a handful of sugar cane and a chance to nibble at the sparse grass which littered the escarpment seemed to be doing the trick. He was keeping a firm hold on the reins, however, not trusting the wayward creature to stay nearby without his grip reminding it who was in charge.

Below him, the land stretched down towards a distant smudge of blue that might have been the sea, though he suspected not. The green in between kept doing strange things to his eyes whenever he tried to focus on it.

At his back, the slope disappeared up into the sky, before vanishing behind the last lip they’d navigated their way over. Below him a switchback trail carried on down through scrub that turned to meadowland as it reached the valley, where an enterprising soul had set up an inn. It huddled in the lee of the surrounding hills, surrounded by a brace of stables and the first copse of trees he’d seen since leaving the caldera three days ago.

At the headlands to each side of the valley, the stubby pillars of twin obelisks stood guard over the scene, their dark silhouettes like twin eggs partially settled into the ground. Ikari knew without being able to see that they would have two faces carved in relief above their vestigial bodies, one greeting the sun, eyes wide and laughing, the other facing back towards him, features peaceful in slumber. He’d encountered two already on his long trek, and expected to find another four somewhere between here and the sea. No one was entirely sure whether these huge, oval statues were road markers, or if the original inhabitants of Sha’Klairon had erected them for some other, less easily discernible purpose. It was one of their favourite subjects of debate, amongst those gathered in the commons of an evening.

Maybe they’re meant to keep the glaciers at bay,” Deliana had suggested one night. “Feigning sleep, so the ice will think it’s dull and not bother pushing down from the highlands.” She’d gazed round woozily at the faces around her, skin flushed in the candlelight. “What? If the arctic storms and ice flows thought they were bored enough to be asleep, they might give up trying to take the land, and leave the southern shore alone…”

But they’d already taken the shores of Nianen,” Ikari remembered protesting, “and the we know the Ice Lakes covered most of the Arc itself.” He waved one hand in a gesture meant to indicate the sweeping influence of those ancient glaciers and their accompanying storm systems, but which probably looked more like he was trying to fan his neighbour amidst the nest of cushions.

True,” Deliana allowed, “but the glaciers never actually made it far over the top of the island; the Ramparts stopped them.” She grinned mischievously, for a moment eradicating any traces of lingering anguish from her face, rendering its lines in the beauty it had been destined to hold. “Perhaps they had a little help…?”

Having seen the Ramparts (the cliffs that fronted Faeron’s northern face, looking out across the ocean) Ikari sincerely doubted they needed any help, even against a glacier. Still, the idea had never quite left him, and every encounter he shared with the False Sleepers now left him feeling a little unsettled. Almost as if he could sense their geological gaze peering out from behind those lidded, sleep-scrunched eyes.

 

The Great Leap, like most Inns across the breadth of the Arc Sea, was a low stone affair, sprawling across its grounds like a tired old man. The main building, at three storeys, paid testament to the size of traffic it usually saw. The caravans that made the run between Junon Town and the coast were extensive, Family owned affairs that might run to hundreds of members depending on the type of goods they carried.

Then, too, there were the private travellers who made the journey up to the lakes for whatever reason: seeing relations, trade, or in some cases simply to travel. With ancestries as restless as the Children of the Bridge, the Congregate was full of people who liked a broad horizon. Travel was actively encouraged amongst the young. It was considered part and parcel of a good education, forming the ground work for their first steps into the world of commerce that was the Congregate way of life.

Ikari nodded at the slight lass who stepped out of the stables as he came in through the broad gates, leading the llama behind him across the dusty courtyard. The broad eves of the Inn itself rose into the southern sky, the sun melting across its roof as it prepared to dive behind the horizon. The stables were directly ahead whilst to the north, up hill, stood a barn that no doubt served as a storage area for fuel and provisions come winter. A place like this would probably possess a good-sized cellar or two as well.

“He’s an arrogant bastard,” he warned, his voice gravely from misuse, as he handed over the reins.

The brief flare of her pupils might have been missed by another as she caught sight of his face beneath the hood. But to her credit, she simply nodded, catching the denari he tossed her in parting with a practised flick of the wrist. Pushing a rogue spiral of dark curls back behind her ear, she turned her back on him, leading the beast away.

Aside from the Floating City, this was the only other part of the world where sight of his kind was anything like common. Though to his knowledge the last to pass this way had been over a year ago now. Why travel to someone, when communion offered a far more intimate experience.

In through the building’s wide double doors, and he realised quite how loud the wind had been outside. He also realised how cold it was, as warmth laced its seductive fingers about his body. The room had a high ceiling, and there was a staircase against the far wall leading up to the first floor, where the cheaper rooms would be. Another door to their left would lead out into the main lobby, at the front of the building. That would contain the more opulent stairs up to the second floor suites.

There was a bar at the far end of the place, with a kitchen situated, from the smell of it, through the doorway behind it. He could see the light of the cooking hearth where it flickered across the scared wood and wrought iron hinges of the door where it stood propped open.

The main floor itself was littered with benches and tables, whilst a number of booths lined the side of the room for those desiring a little more privacy.

The place had grown since his last visit, all those years ago.

The taproom was at present occupied by two homely old men and a slight shadow of a youth in the far corner who could have been either gender. A bored looking serving girl leant against the bar’s counter, and a cat sat cleaning his paws on the rug laid out before the large fireplace that dominated the space below the stairs.

Not terribly surprising, given the time of year, Ikari mused. There weren’t many would travel this soon after midsummer’s wake. Not without a good reason, anyway.

The two men wore the thick wool and oilskin leathers of hillside farmers. Neither of them looked up from their cards. The youth in the corner allowed herself a surreptitious glance from beneath the broad Preacher’s hat on her head (he had decided it was a girl after a brief glimpse of jaw reflected in the fire light) before feigning interest in the contents of her bag spread across the table before her.

The only one who seemed curious in the slightest about the new visitor was the cat, who sidled across the rush strewn floor to rub up against his riding boots, sniffing inquisitively at one of his saddle bags where it dangled from his left hand.

Smiling, he crossed the open space, which was already starting to dim in the fading light outside, and set his bag down against the bar. The barmaid had apparently decided to pay attention as he approached, something perhaps tipping her off, and was not as good as her sister at hiding her surprise, or apparent nerves when she tried to meet his eye.

“We’ve n-no palm, I’m afraid, and only a little bliss,” she stuttered quietly, glancing over her shoulder hopefully before returning her eyes to his hand on the counter top. Then the curve of his ocular orbit. Then his chest. She finally settled on just over his right shoulder, hands clasped together tightly.

“It’s a good job I brought my own then,” he replied evenly. The cat chose this moment to arrive on the counter, and he stroked it absently as it settle down to purring between them. “I’m tired, and I’m cold, and (unusual for one of us I know) I find myself rather hungry. Do be a dear, sort me out with a room? Nothing too fancy. And see if someone might muster up enough hot water for a bath? Then I’d like to eat, preferably in that booth there…” he turned, picking one at random “…I’ll have whatever that is I can smell.” He glanced down, scratched behind the felines ears. “Our friend here will be joining me, I expect.” Looked up again to where she stood, apparently frozen. “Chop chop! Oh, and I’ll have a beer whilst I’m waiting. Your choice, something local.”

She gave a mute nod and was gone, returning a moment later with a mug brimming with yeasty, brown froth. Then she disappeared again through the kitchen door, no doubt to begin propagating tales of his malfeasance to the other staff.

Ikari sighed. Some prejudices never die.

 

In order to understand the light most cast him in, it was necessary to understand something of the recent history of the Arc Sea.

“You see, Dermontfort, its really quite simple.” He smiled at the cat. The bliss he’d smoked in the bath was now coursing through his veins, turning the warm taproom into a private extension of Sha’Klairon in his minds eye. The cat regarded him with a lambent gaze not dissimilar in colour to his own, and he was struck for a moment by this semblance, and the possible ramifications thereof. A small meow brought him back to the present, and he passed a gobbet of meat across, watching with satisfaction and fascination twined as the animal proceeded to daintily devour it, whilst maintaining a steady purr.

“Where was I? Ah yes, the slander lain at my door. Well, our door, to be exact. My fellow Nym and I.” He paused, for a swig from the tankard that had replaced his mug. “Though to be fair, its not actually slander. We did, after all, commit genocide.”

The concept, as always, floored him, halting all other mental processes as he considered its inception and completion at the hands of his forbearers.

“The thing, the thing that really gets me, is…” he paused “…is that they asked us to do it.” He glanced up, certain he’d just caught sight of the nervous daughter disappearing back behind the doorway of the kitchen. He looked over at the cat, lowering his voice to a considerate whisper. “They asked for our help.” He skewered a slice of meat on his knife, enjoying the sensation of it tearing between his teeth. “Not these people, perhaps. Nor their forefathers either, but it was them. People. Humans.” He glanced about. “Not like there have ever been enough of us to fight a war. All we did was provide the opening gambit. And the closing flourish.”

Golden incendiary washed about ruined fortifications

He blinked, shivered.

“Indeed,” he said quietly. “If you want a war won, we’re the allies for you.”

 

The tide came in as he was sat enjoying his post meal smoke.

Food, in any quantity, was such a rare thing for him and his kith: their altered biology did not allow for the intake of sustenance in any great quantity and indeed their symbiosis meant it was largely a superfluous activity. But the animal remembered, and every now and then the plant was required to capitulate to its visceral desires, egged on by the piece of Abstainer’s soul that bound a Nym’s inner triptych into unity.

The palm was caressing its way down his nerves, like an early morning mist on the vale. Its soft fingers fuzzed the lamps that had been set up at each end of the bar, and hung from the lintel over the door. The landlord had even lit the room’s ancient candelabra. A delightful exercise that had almost had Ikari in stitches as he watched the portly gent swaying precariously at the summit of his ladder, whilst his wife looked on with folded arms. He might have been mistaken, but he was certain he’d caught a smirk out of the dark haired girl from the stable, who stood watching surreptitiously from her place behind the bar.

He wasn’t sure whether the effort was for his benefit, or if the two travelling merchants had demanded it so they might continue their game. Their group now included the girl traveller, who had apparently been enticed out of her corner whilst he was upstairs.

Needless to say no one had asked him to join them.

One does not play cards with the Devil.

 

The first clue was the steadily building rumble, which he belatedly realised he’d been hearing for some time and dismissed as the weather. It wasn’t, it was the nearing tramp of many booted feet.

It was the snorting that finally did it, penetrating his haze. Equines have such a distinctive exhalation. A particular note of derision that they seem to reserve for those occasions when they’ve reached the end of a long road. It that threatens, so Ikari had always felt, terrible retribution if fresh oats and a good rub down where not immediately forthcoming. He was uncertain of the form such retribution might take, never having ridden horses himself, but he suspected the brutes were more than capable of making their rider’s life a misery when the need arose.

The taproom door opened with a bang that set the lantern above the lintel swinging, the resultant breeze briefly threatening the candles in their setting overhead before they accustomed themselves to the shift in air currents. Several burly men spilled in, followed closely by the other daughter, and a lad whom he suspected was another stable hand judging from the straw and grime covering his rolled up sleeves. There was a quick exchange of furtive glances before they confronted the landlord’s wife, suggesting they’d been doing something other than raking the hay. The matron listened intently, eyeing the growing crowd on her threshold with an avariciousness worthy of the Howling Maw. Ikari watched with interest as she began to issue orders, pointing to the dark haired one, who cast him a sly look of amusement before disappearing through the doorway into the kitchens. She was replaced a few minutes later by the Innkeeper himself, plus a much burlier lad who, like the boy from the stables, seemed to lack the family resemblance borne out in the girls’ slightly shrewish features. His wife meanwhile had crossed the room to clasp hands companionably with one of the new arrivals, a short, stocky figure in leather waistcoat and pantaloons which flared out from the tops of his sheepskin boots, A heavily embroidered frock coat hung over one thickly muscled arm, whose flesh was covered in the knotted litany of his caravan’s success. His balding scalp shone in the flickering light as he bent to kiss the back of her hand, drawing a scowling reprimand from the stout woman who had appeared next to him, flaming auburn hair going to grey. She and the hostess then embraced, exchanging a stream of compliments and enquiries as they drifted towards the table by the fire.

“Here lies the power,” Ikari mused quietly, glancing at the cat who purred contentedly on the table next to him.

The room quickly began to fill as more traipsed in through the open door. Someone had wedged it open to facilitate those carrying saddlebags and wagon packs, and the noise level rose as the Caravaneers brought their boisterous conversation to the hearth. From the number of strong arms and the amount of ink on show he would guess they were primarily metal movers and workers. That sort of trade tended to attract the meatheads of both genders, with their furnace blasted skin and flashy tattoos. Even the few whose heritage obviously hearkened back towards the Nianen Congregate had flesh the colour of cured hide; the legacy of time spent before the forge or out in the elements.

Several covert looks were cast in his direction. He responded in polite kind, taking in the smattering of women who seemed to bind this group together with a familial touch, their long braids hanging thick down their back. No one made further comment or approached his corner, leaving him to his peaceful solace. It was a social nicety he was grateful for. Someone here had obviously had dealings with the Grove before. Indeed he thought a couple of the group who had taken up residence around the Inn’s matron and the woman he now suspected was head of the Caravan looked familiar. Not that he’d had a lot to do with their trade back at the ruins. That was more the realm of Deliana and her acolytes. The forest about Sha’Klairon produced much that was sought by the folks in Junon Town, and indeed further a field. Some of the medicinal orchids and fungi were unique to the caldera and as such fetched enough of a profit to encourage even the staunchest of mercantile specialists to diversify.

Ikari smiled as the first of the new arrivals approached the card game. Here, he felt certain, was the source of the remainder of the evening’s entertainment. And he hadn’t even had to spike anyone’s drink. Settling back in his booth, he reached for his pouch to refill his pipe, raising his tankard as his dark haired friend reappeared with a tray and a cloth tucked through the ties of her apron. She nodded acknowledgement, ducking behind the bar. He finished packing the pipe, rubbing his finger tips against his thumb surreptitiously over its bowl as he drew air through it, pulling the sparks born there in to ignite the pungent green leaves. Glanced up to wink as the girl deposited his drink on the table before him, loading the spent one and his empty plate up on her tray and giving the table a quick swipe with her cloth.

“Pa’s not the most tolerant,” she murmured quietly as she was bent in front of him, without meeting his eye.

“Then he’ll see nothing untoward,” Ikari replied round his pipe stem, sliding a copper quintas across the tabletop.

The coin disappeared between surprisingly full breasts as she straightened with a wink, dark hair falling across her face as she turned away.

Ikari grinned.

 

The evening progressed onwards in noise and laughter, as spirits weary from the road settled in for a session of lewdness and humour that would have done any sailor proud. Several other card games had sprung up around the room, and someone had set up a Shaiku board over by the hearth. Here a beautiful, if slightly grubby young man was pitting his wits against the most grizzled woman Ikari had ever seen: she was missing half of one ear and all of her hair. He’d mistaken her for one of the men until the light of the fire had caught the swell of her breasts in silhouette. In his defence, it was a trait shared by many of the older men in attendance, for whom thick arms and broad shoulders seemed to come hand in hand with a generous belly and sagging pectorals.

The high point came when one of the drunker Caravaneers accused the quiet girl of cheating. She’d lost her hat by now, letting long blonde tresses hang loose to frame her broad cheek bones and kohl smeared eyes, the rest of her mane restrained in a loose ponytail down her back. He hadn’t been paying close attention, distracted by the approach of a pivotal clinch on the Shaiku board, when the muffled crash of a falling chair brought his attention (and that of everyone else in the room) snapping round to the original card table.

The girl was on her feet, drawn blade flashing in the lamplight where it bridged the space between her and her antagonist. Its point rested just beneath his Adam’s apple, which bobbed convulsively, drawing a point of crimson darkness from his skin. Sweat beaded his brow, ran down through the kind of thick stubble that would rasp against his calluses when he scratched his ample chins. His eyes flicked back and forth from the girls face to her blade; three feet of folded steel that bore a wave pattern down the length of its fuller.

She cut quite a figure, Ikari had to admit, standing with her back straight, arm extended in perfect form. She’d clearly benefited from some sort of martial training. A fact not lost on her opponent, who was busy reassessing the amount of trouble he was in, judging from the melange of expressions running rampant across his face.

“A mere slip of the tongue, I assure you…!” he sputtered, glancing about furtively as if seeking support. But a slight shake from the Caravan mistress at her place by the bar denied that possibility. Indeed, the emotional temper in the room suggested this wasn’t an entirely unexpected turn of events.

“Then you rescind your accusation?” Her voice was calm, the vowels clipped in that way the Nianen affected. About their table, the two aged merchant outsiders looked on in quiet amusement, the other Caravaneer who had joined the game also smiling at his colleagues discomfit.

“Yes… yes! I did not realise my words might cause offence… I was speaking in generalities! A simple jest, intended to lighten the mood…!”

The girl’s eyes narrowed, but she lowered her sword. “Perhaps you should choose your witticisms more carefully, in future.”

“Of course.” The man reached up to rub gingerly at his neck, eyes darting about again as his breathing calmed. “Allow me to buy you a drink by way of apology, and then I’ll make myself scarce.”

“You’ll do no such thing!” she replied, turning to accept her chair, with the long coat she’d hung over its back, from the hands of one of the men at the next table, nodding graciously to his smiling courtesy. “We’ve a game to finish, and I’ll not let you weasel out of that quite so easily.”

The room burst into gales of good-natured laughter, which intensified at the look of disgruntlement spreading across her antagonist’s features.

“Face it, Liam, you’ve a talent for landing in the fire,” someone quipped from across the room. Liam aimed a lewd gesture in their general direction before settling back into his seat. The girl pulled herself back into the table with admirable decorum, raising a hand towards the barman before picking up her discarded cards which, Ikari noted with a grin, had been lying face down on the table throughout the entire episode.

He raised his glass in anonymous toast, as the people packing the room slowly settled back into their various social circles.

 

“You’re travelling down from the Grove up at Sha’Klarion.”

It was phrased as a statement. Which, Ikari’s mind noted through the haze of contentment, suggested he’d been the topic of conversation at some point.

Wonder who…

“Yes,” he replied, gathering his wits in enough to form that affirmative, whilst he concentrated on binding his thoughts back into the sort of coherent form that would make sense to others. In his minds eye they drifted like the trails of smoke that now littered the rafters of the common room. He tried concentrating, then wished he hadn’t as the effort sent a sharp jab of pain down the left side of his skull.

“Shall I leave you in peace?”

He glanced up and, recognising the auburn haired Caravan Mistress shook his head quickly. “No, please, have a seat.”

She smiled that knowing smile reserved for women who’ve dealt with drunken sons and husbands, and lowered her considerable bulk gracefully into the chair opposite, setting her mug of beer down on the table’s scared surface. The cat had deserted him a while back. Once it realised he’d run out of food and intelligent things to say probably.

Discovering he was still holding his pipe absently in one hand, he placed it down in the ashtray, stem hanging over the edge, and smiled at the woman opposite. She would have been quite a beauty in her youth, he noted, indeed was a handsome woman now, in that thick limbed way reserved for bakers and those who chose a life of manual labour. Her ample bosom kept everything in proportion, suggesting at least three or four bouts of childbearing at some point in her past.

“I’m Naria, of the Combe traders,” she said, extending a hand across the table, which he accepted, enjoying the dry, accommodating touch of her skin. She smiled as she leant back again. “Can I get you another?”

He glanced at his own empty tankard and nodded sheepishly. She raised a hand, and a moment later his quiet ally had returned, with a fresh tankard for him and another mug for the Caravaness, who smiled her thanks, slipping the girl a coin as she gathered their empties.

“Maria’s a good child, I’ve been trying to persuade her to up sticks with me for the last couple of years,” Naria mused, watching as the girl walked away.

“She does seem a little… with it…? To be stuck here,” Ikari replied, gratified the whole sentence made it out in the right order.

The older woman smiled. “That she does.” She eyed him thoughtfully across the table. “So, what brings you to this fair hearth? I’ve not seen one of the Bound outside the Grove in a good few years now.”

He nodded. “I’m making the journey to the coast, and ultimately Carpassan.”

One eyebrow rose thoughtfully as she lifted her mug. “I’m going to assume you’ve taken ship before…?”

He nodded again, smiling as he glanced down at the table. “When I was twenty one…” He regarded her politely neutral expression “…which would have been just after the turn of the century.”

“You remember the Millennium then?”

His smile turned self-deprecating. “I wouldn’t say remember…”

Laughter took the years from her. “But you were there.”

“Aye, I was there.” He shook his head. “It was an exciting time. Well, supposedly. That’s what my parents kept telling me anyway.”

“Not quite the utopia you’d been hoping for?”

“I was a student of history.” He met her gaze, saw the understanding there he’d been uncertain he would get. She obviously caught some of his sentiment on the breeze, as her own eyes turned serious.

“You made an odd choice, given.”

“I took the only path left to me,” he replied, surprised at the surge of bitterness that threatened to drown his heart.

The hand suddenly resting on his was a surprise that almost made him jump. He raised his eyes cautiously, tracing the line of her arm up to her guarded face.

“A friend unlooked for is a rare gift,” she said, before releasing his hand.

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak, glancing out at the room. No one was paying them any thought. He felt her hand disengage as she sat back.

“You’re heading down to the coast on the morrow?”

“Setting off at first light,” he confirmed, reaching for his pouch and pipe. Sobriety had become a real possibility, rearing its ugly head prospectively. He’d never sleep if that happened. “Yourselves?”

“Up the mountain,” she replied, grinning woefully. “Got a promise on with some folks in Junon to deliver a fresh batch of sugar cane for someone’s birthday.” She shook her head with a chuckle. “Made the boys get up at dawn on the first day of the Fall, so we’d make it this far.”

Ikari grinned. “Bet that was a popular decision.”

She shook her head. “You should have seen the state of some of them. Still, be worth it to put one over the Jurai.”

“I’m sure.” He finished packing the bowl of his pipe, then glanced about, realising he didn’t have an actual flint to hand.

“Go ahead,” she suggested, levering herself out of the seat in a manoeuvre that conveniently put her between him and the bar. He nodded thanks, lighting the bowl discreetly.

“I’ve a favour to ask myself,” she said, pausing where she stood. He gestured for her to continue. “I was wondering if you’d take some mail back down hill with you? They’ve facilities in Mestrarl now, if memory serves. It’ll get where it’s going from there.”

“Sure, of course.”

She nodded. “I’ll leave it with Maria, she’ll see you get it before you set off.” She extended a hand, which he clasped. “Pleasure meeting you…”

“Ikari,” realising with a touch of embarrassment he’d neglected this nicety earlier, “Ikari Trosan.”

“Trosan…” she nodded thoughtfully. “As I said, a pleasure. Safe journey for the morrow.”

“You too,” he replied, watching her retreating back. Sighing, he levered himself to his own feet, ignoring the spasms of protest from within. It was high time he sought a bed; the journey tomorrow would be no kinder, despite the flatter terrain he could look forward to.

Glancing out over the room, he caught Maria’s eye. She nodded, beckoning to him. He hobbled gratefully across the floor, following her stiffly up the stairs towards sweet oblivion between fresh sheets.


Nym's Road Trip (The Orphans Revolt 5)

* Nym's Road Trip... is the fifth chapter of The Orphans Revolt. I'm planning to release it and its sister volume His Staying Hand episodically whilst I get a head start on writing the concluding volume of the trilogy. So if you enjoy the above keep your eyes peeled for future instalments. Thanks.

  • ISBN: 9781311393883
  • Author: Paul Smith
  • Published: 2015-09-28 13:05:24
  • Words: 6962
Nym's Road Trip (The Orphans Revolt 5) Nym's Road Trip (The Orphans Revolt 5)