Untitled serial

↖ Stories

Untitled serial

Samuel Marshall
Part 1

‘Wastin’ time again,’ Voss accused from above her right shoulder, the sneering tone matched on his face when she turned to look.

Rowena leant against the bridge parapet, its stones hard and cool against her rough tunic. Before the smith’s apprentice had shown up she’d been looking down at the river below, trying to spot fishes. Wasting time, in fact.

‘Piss off,’ she said succinctly, returning her attention to a sudden splash that caught her eye.

An intake of breath. ‘Yer mum’ll like to hear of that. Dawdling, using language…’

‘Run cry to yer own mother for once,’ Rowena said lazily.

He paused – so stupid, even that insult took some processing. ‘Bah! ‘Least I’ve a proper trade, errand-boy.’

That she ignored entirely, not having any good answer to it, and merely waited. She heard Voss grunt in satisfaction and swagger off, his boots clacking against the stones. Bastard. Hope he slips in dung, she thought, gets a faceful of shit to match the stuff he talks…

She didn’t look round until he was gone. Showing fear wasn’t her style and indifference worked a treat, even though the boy was half again her size. But he might still complain to Mother. If so she could expect a mild beating or, worse, yet another lecture about how ungrateful she was, how she hardly ever paid her keep… It was more or less true, but what the hell was she supposed to do? Nobody seemed inclined to give her proper employment, and neither had she received any marriage offers lately.

At least she’d made a few coppers at the inn this morning, cleaning a room when the maid was too busy, and helping unload a wagon. Her arms still ached from the last; hefting grain-sacks was not her forte, since she barely topped four feet tall and was thin as anything. Tough with it, she liked to think; but the fact remained that elves were not built for heavy lifting.

This errand should bring a much easier coin; she glanced down at the package she clutched, a bundle of two or three sealed letters wrapped in oilskin. A traveller had stopped in at the Nest Egg, leaving the town’s post as he passed; it was mostly for Mayor Gifford and she’d been sent out to deliver it. Better get a move on. She hurried away, after one last glance at the river. Still no fish.

‘Who is it?’ The mayor’s booming voice echoed faintly through the solid door.

‘Rowena, sir. Got some post for you.’

Wood scraped dully against wood; he was unbarring the door. All right for some, Rowena thought. Halfway through the morning and he hasn’t even been out yet.

The opening creaked wide and she looked up at the man’s chubby, bearded face. It was blotched with effort, just from lifting the (admittedly rather solid) wooden bar that now lay propped in a corner. She felt vague distaste, but kept it to herself.

‘Thank you, my dear,’ Gifford said, accepting her bundle. He fumbled in a pocket of the fancy black robes he wore, eventually coming out with a copper coin. She took it in return and bobbed her head politely, turning to leave.

‘Will you wait while I read these? In case I need to send out for anything?’

‘Sure I will.’

‘Come in, then.’ He moved aside to let her past, then pushed the door to. She’d never been in the house before: his hall was impressive, hung with colourful tapestries. There was a place for boots so she unlaced hers hurriedly and stepped free of them, not wanting to trail mud over the polished floorboards.

Gifford led the way to his study, a snug little room with small windows that admitted a dim kind of light. A patterned rug covered most of the floor and ornaments – a vase, some strange-looking bottles – stood on a carved wooden mantelpiece. Beneath that, a fire burnt low in the grate.

The mayor sat behind a large desk, gesturing at a stool to one side. It was tall but she perched on it nonetheless, grateful of the chance to relax. She listened idly as he went through the letters, opening each in turn and going through it carefully, but he read in such a whisper that even her delicate ears couldn’t catch it.

He came to the last letter, read for a few seconds, then paused as if in surprise, glancing up at her. Uh-oh, she thought, now what? But he went back to the parchment and read it all, as thoroughly as the others.

‘Um,’ Gifford said, finally, looking her in the eye. ‘This – well, you might want to brace yourself…’

Get on with it, she thought. But she didn’t say anything, because this was the mayor and politeness was probably a good idea. She just returned his gaze calmly.

‘It’s about your father…’

Damn, Rowena thought. They saw little enough of the man between trips to the mine he worked several days’ travel away, and littler still of the money he earned, what with the drink and (she was almost certain) the women. But if anything had happened, Mother would be devastated. What a mess that was going to be.

‘Was it a cave-in?’

‘Hrm?’ Gifford looked confused. ‘Oh – I see. No, no, I meant your birth-father. According to this, he’s with a healer in Chaldon. He lies grievously wounded, barely able to talk, but the healer caught your name and that of our town.’ The mayor paused, then finished softly, ‘I’m afraid, my dear, that there’s a chance he may not pull through.’


‘I realise it’s a shock…’

Oh aye, Rowena thought, sure it’s a shock. It’s a shock that the bastard – having come to visit twice in the last eighteen years – thinks I might somehow care one stinking turd if he’s dying. Or dead.

But Mayor Gifford, nice old kindly Mayor Gifford, didn’t want to hear that. So she nodded silently.

‘If there’s anything I can do to help your journey,’ the mayor said, ‘do please say so. I’ll help if I can.’

Journey? What journey! She was about to say it, but politeness held her back once more, and in that momentary pause a thought struck her.

‘I–’ She made her voice waver. ‘I don’t think there’s aught like that. Unless… I’ve but a tiny knife to protect meself on the way… and no coin fer an inn…’

‘Now don’t you worry about that, my dear,’ Gifford said in his best reassuring voice. He dug through the pocket again, slid some money across the desk to her; silver this time. ‘This should pay for a night’s stay, even at Chaldon prices.’

‘Thank ye most kindly…’

The mayor nodded beneficently and pulled out a drawer from the desk. Rummaging briefly through its contents, he came up with a foot-long dagger. Its edge glittered orange in reflected firelight. ‘Do you know how to use this?’

She nodded. ‘I’ll bring it back soon as I return.’

‘Oh, there’s no need for that,’ Gifford demurred, precisely as she’d hoped. ‘Who knows when you might need it again… I can easily get another.’

‘Bless ye, sir mayor!’ She curtsied to him, something she never normally did, and muttered something about leaving as soon as she’d told her mother. Gifford handed her the letter – it bore the healer’s name, she’d need that – and seconds later she was outside the house, several silver pieces and a good steel dagger richer than when she’d entered.

Now that was a good morning’s work. It was all she could do to keep from skipping on her way home.