“WAKE UP!” KAMI shouted as she pounded her fist against the room’s door. She pulled a sliver of wood from her hand, rubbed the soreness away, and pounded again. “I know you’re in there.”
Rook leaned against the wall nearby, trying to appear bored, as if he weren’t part of the commotion. A man across the hall peaked through a cracked door but only scowled and shut his door again.
The door slowly opened, and Avestine emerged, back first. While carefully watching the room, she squeezed through the narrow opening, one leg at a time, her belt and cloak in her hands. The last thing through was her sword. When her belt buckle swung and hit the door, she stood as still as a rock. After a breathless moment, she finished closing the creaking door. Rook and Kami rushed to keep up with her as she dashed into the street.
Avestine stopped to strap on her sword, letting it swing defiantly at her waist, then reluctantly covered it with her cloak and tossed her pack across her shoulder. “Don’t do that again. You might have woke him up.”
“You mean he wasn’t awake after all that?”
“Can’t hold his whiskey.”
“Didn’t you want to say goodbye?”
Avestine grunted. “You didn’t see him when I was sober.”
Kami stopped walking. “If you didn’t like him, why—”
“I liked him fine in the dark with whiskey.” Avestine winked at Rook, who wore a worried look, and then resumed her leisurely pace.
Kami peered up into the sky. The sun was nearly overhead, bearing down with an unusual heat. She wiped the sweat from under her dark hair.
“Hot?” inquired Avestine.
Kami rubbed her shoulder across her cheek, drawing the sweat from her skin to the absorbent fabric. “Strange heat.”
“Strange heat,” agreed Rook, rubbing his own shoulder across his cheek as he walked beside Kami.
“I need a bath,” Avestine declared. “Something that smells pretty. There’s a bathhouse near the hotel. It didn’t say if they allowed women, but we have enough for something civilized.”
Kami said, “Unless you spent it all on whiskey.”
Avestine grunted again. “Child, I haven’t had to buy my own whiskey since I was ten, and that was only because I had already won every piece of silver in the barroom.”
They found the bathhouse and talked their way into two baths for a copper. Rook remained outside.
“So how do you like civilization?” asked Avestine, immersed in a tub.
Kami leaned back, closing her eyes. The warm water covered her shoulders and touched her lip as she slipped lower in the porcelain tub.
Avestine leaned back in her own tub, spread her arms wide on the rim, and closed her eyes, too. They bathed until the water grew cold. Avestine was the first out of her tub.
After tucking her tunic into her belt, Avestine slipped her fishhook necklace under her tunic, and stood up straight. An uncomfortable silence followed as Kami pretended not to watch. Avestine grew more amused because she did. “There’s nothing wrong with liking to look at me.”
Kami scowled up at her. “Did I say anything was wrong?”
Avestine was pleased with how easily she could provoke Kami. “Let’s get those boots.”
“Two silvers,” said Avestine.
“Ureth silver?” the cobbler asked.
He shook his head and kept working.
Avestine stepped back from the cobbler’s bench to speak with Kami again. “Two silvers leave us with only a few coppers,” she told Kami.
“I thought the commander got all your silver.”
“I’m more careful than that.”
“Well, I don’t see we have a choice.” Kami pointed at Rook’s feet. “He can’t go much longer with those.” The balls of his feet touched the ground through worn soles.
Avestine said, “Two silvers is extortion.”
“He’s just trying to make back what those soldiers are stealing, but I have an idea.” Kami walked over to the old man. She put one booted foot on the bench in front of the shopkeep. “What do you think of these?”
The man paused mid-hammering. With skilled hands, he rubbed and patted Kami’s boot. “Excellent,” he muttered.
“Worth two pair of not-so-excellent boots?”
His lips puckered in thought. “Let me measure your feet.”
Avestine wondered again where Kami acquired such expensive boots in the first place. When Avestine first met her, Kami had worn a burlap tunic and gray woolen trousers, the clothes of a peasant, but the burgundy boots were easily worth several gold pieces, something a princess would wear.
The shopkeep measured both Kami’s and Rook’s feet just before two Darklaw soldiers burst through his door. “You!” boomed one of the soldiers as he pointed at Avestine. “Come with us.”
Avestine didn’t recognize the two soldiers. Slouching, eyes downcast, she gestured toward Rook, saying, “I’m only trying to get boots for my servant.”
The two men looked at Rook and spoke to each other in whispers. Turning back, one soldier said, “Both of you.”
Rook glanced at Avestine, who denied him with a thought. At his delay, the other soldiers seized his tunic and pushed him backward. “Show us your hands.”
Avestine shot Rook a look of alarm, and the other soldier responded with a drawn sword. “Do what he told you.” He spoke to Rook but kept his sword point near Avestine.
Rook shook his head and mumbled, but the soldier at his shoulder slugged him in the face, and he fell back into a stack of boxes. The soldier stepped on one of his wrists. He turned to his companion, his chest rising with anxious breaths. “Arujan’s Blade! No hands. He’s got no hands!”
Avestine and Rook began talking at the same time, but the soldiers shouted for silence. The soldier pressed his sword against Rook’s throat. “Say nothing, Essanti pig, or I’ll rip your throat open.”
A slow sensation followed, when Avestine wasn’t sure what had happened. One moment, the soldier stood with his sword at Rook’s throat, the next moment he was dead on the ground.
When the soldier guarding her turned to his partner, Avestine buckled him with a kick to the back of his knee. With quick hands, she broke his neck.
Rook examined the dead soldier beside him and said, “Leather punch.” A metal spike protruded from the soldier’s neck. Kami stood nearby, shaking and unable to take her eyes from the body, her hand still curled as if it gripped the punch.
The old shopkeep had left his bench and trembled against a far wall. When Avestine came toward him, he raised his hands fearfully.
Avestine asked, “Is there a back door?”
The man’s nod sent Avestine into action. She and Rook went through a back room and piled the bodies in the alley. Avestine took hold of Kami’s arm and dragged her along behind as she thanked the shopkeep for his help. As the back door began to close behind her, she leaned in and said they would return for the new boots the following day.
Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017