Rumah and Ocran
Rumah’s blue eyes leveled at her opponent crouched just a few feet away. He was smiling with his weapon in hand, the dagger’s tip dripping her blood.
Careless, she berated herself. Simply careless.
Faster than the man could register, Rumah’s hand had something silver in it. Then didn’t. The man collapsed in the dirt with a knife protruding his throat. The young woman bent down and retrieved an emerald pendant from his pocket.
“Never try ta steal from a thief,” she told the corpse and placed the jewel in her own pouch before reclaiming her knife.
She pulled her cape close to her body and left the alley, trying hard not to limp. Her eyes settled on a nearby inn that she was staying at. It seemed little better than a rat’s hole, but that was the best she could afford. She went to her room without anyone’s protesting and stripped off her clothes. Whenever she went on a job she always made sure that water and bandages were waiting for her return. Just in case. There was no sense in not being prepared. With measured practice she cleaned and dressed her wounds as best she could. She slipped into her second set of clothes and set to cleaning her bloodied ones.
Her door flew open and then closed. “What happened?” asked Ocran.
“Don’t ya know how ta knock? I could’ve been just in me skins fer the world ta see.”
“That’s not an unpleasant sight.” He sauntered to her.
“Yeah well, some idiot stabbed me in me hip. What’s this city comin’ ta that a thief gets robbed frum her own kind?”
He kissed her. “Don’t sound so disappointed, Ru. You know you love to fight.”
She pushed away from his embrace. “Aye, but only when I’m not the one gettin’ sticked. Bloody mess everywhere. Now these breeches are bloody with a bloody hole in ‘em. How did ya make out?”
His dark eyes rested on her as he lounged on the bed. “I’m here.”
“Don’tcha be lookin’ at me like that, Ocran. I’m busy.”
“You’ve done what you could with those things, love. There’s a reason they’re dark. Put ‘em away.”
“I will. When I’m done.” She continued scrubbing her clothes.
“What’s the city comin’ ta when a husband can’t get his wife ta bed?”
She flicked water at him. “It’s a comin’ ta nothin’ new.”
“You’re such a tease.”
She wrung the clothes and laid them out on the table. “Aye, that’s why ya love me.” Rumah suddenly felt his arms around her waist, and he kissed her neck. Ah, why did he have to do that? She smiled to herself as she kissed him.
“One of the reasons, dear.”
Her eyes rested upon a nearby book and then to the candles dotting the room. She remained in the shadows, but her skin rippled with the unease of unseen eyes upon her. As a matter of course, thieves were edgy people, cautious and all at once risky. Again, Rumah had the strange feeling she was not quiet herself. Every time this sensation came on something strange happened. She would become violently sick for a moment and then it passed or something would fly across the room. One time Ocran was in the room, and the unmovable man went running out the room, swearing there were ghosts in their quarters. Rumah knew better. Before whatever object would move, she felt herself move it with her mind. It was not more than a brief thought, but the thing would move. Several times she tried to mimic the act, but it would never happen.
Now she could feel her mind slip into concentration. Her eyes went to the candles on the opposite side of the room and realized that they went completely still as if held unmovable by unseen, fireproof hands. She reached out with her mind to poke one flame, and it moved. Frustration, from her concentrating mind, flooded her, and the flame snapped as if to attention.
Rumah’s mouth fell open.
She waved her hand, and a candle went out. Shock went through her body, but Rumah instinctively knew these emotions, shock, frustration, were not her own.
Who do ya be? she demanded silently.
The Other seemed to leap to its feet.
I just imagined it. That’s all. Pallu stood in a fabric store looking at a dress already made. The storekeeper was looking at her as if she were the most foul creature that she had seen.
“You mean you haven’t a dress?”
“That’s exactly true.” Pallu glanced at her hands to make sure they were clean and realized that they were laced with scars, bruises, and nicks. “I haven’t a mother.”
The plump woman’s face shifted to shining compassion. “Oh my dear girl. How have you managed?”
“My father is an excellent man.”
“Still to be raised by a man…”
Pallu rose to her full height, which was not much, and looked upon the woman, as her sword and mind instructors often looked at her, with calculated superiority. “There is naught wrong with a woman learning the skills of combat. An unskilled person can die by the sword as easily as a skilled one. Now, if you are so prejudice as to not take my gold, I will shop elsewhere.” The young woman moved to leave.
“Forgive me, lady.” She tilted her head. “I think I may have something to suit your needs.”
Her eyes drifted over the fabrics as her mind drifted back to the night she practiced holding the candles’ flames. There was no way she could hear another person’s voice in her head or more pointedly another woman’s voice. Was there? Mind speech was unheard of. She shook her head. This was a holiday, and she would leave such questions unanswered until she saw her father. Ever since that night, she promised herself that she would not work on any difficult mind movements as she realized all the strange occurrences were those of heightened emotions or physical sensations.
“My lady,” the storekeep called. “My lady?”
“What? Oh, I’m so sorry. What did you say?”
“I wondered how you liked this one.” She held out a light yellow dress.
She hesitated. “Do you have anything in blue or green? I like those colors best.”
The woman smiled good-naturedly. “Of course.” She began moving to another set of pegs. “Is this your first time in Selaras?”
“Aye, it is. My father told me about it.”
“Yes. He was born here.” Pallu touched the fabric of the blue dress the shopkeep held out for her. “That is very nice.”
“You are jesting. What is his name?”
“Nimshi?! Tall gangling man with blonde hair?”
“Yes. You know him?”
“Know him? Child, he and my brother were the best of friends. I never knew he had a daughter.”
“He says that his family no longer lives here.”
She nodded sadly. “That is the truth there. Most of them died from the Crow a while back. Awful thing that.” Her round brown eyes looked on Pallu as if seeing her for the first time. “You look nothing like him. I suppose you look more like your mother.”
“I’m sorry to bring her up. ‘Tis one of the hardest things to bear. The loss of a mother especially when you’re so young. Is he in town? I’m sure my brother’d love to see him.”
“No, Ma’am. He’s still in Lantho.”
“You’re not alone, are you?”
“Oh this won’t do. Not at all. How could he send you alone?” She began to pace with great agitation.
“I am quiet capable of taking care of myself, ma’am.”
“You’re just a child.”
“A child that has been on more voyages and traveled farther than any that could be set before you. I have fought beside some of the most honorable men in the country and those outside it. You would not object if it were a boy before you. All I have wanted from you is a dress for the festival. If you continue to criticize my father, I will be forced to do business with someone else. This is my final warning, ma’am. I’ve laid grown men flat for a lesser insult.” That was a lie. She never fought unless physically provoked.
The expression on her face was a mixture of anger and fear. Pallu had the impression the storekeep did not fully believe her story, but, at this point, Pallu did not care.
“I suppose you do not treat your other patronesses in this fashion. All I want is a dress.”
The woman’s face soured before she nodded. “You’ll need more than a dress.”
“You’ll need some ribbons for your hair. A small coin bag. Both of a matching, paler blue. Traditionally maidens go without shoes. There is a shop a few stands down that has scents for your bath if you wish. Do you know how to dance?”
“My father always said that if you can fight you can dance.”
Pallu smiled shyly. “I suppose we will see.”
“How old are you?”
“You’ll be able to dance as a woman. I have a daughter of sixteen that could show you the steps if you would like.”
Surprise dawned on Pallu’s face.
“Accept it as my way of apologizing for my words. Your father was a good man when I knew him. He was unconventional, but a good man. And I’ll expect you for dinner tonight.”
“Oh, I can’t intrude.”
“Please,” she waved a dismissive hand. “You aren’t intruding in the least. My brother and his family are to be in tonight as well. I’m sure he would enjoy hearing of Nimshi.”
“Rasda. And your name?”
“Pallu.” She bowed.
“Well met.” Rasda curtsied. “First house outside Selaras. North. Would you like me to keep the dress until tomorrow? Inns are rather dirty at times.”
She tilted her head. “Thank you.”
“We begin serving when the Hunter rests on the trees.”
“I won’t be late. Thank you again, Rasda.”