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Authors: Karleen Bradford

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BOOK: Whisperings of Magic
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Bruhn leaped to his feet.

“Dahl is my master, not you!” He dashed the flagon of mead he had been drinking to the floor and stormed out the tavern door. Heads at the nearby tables turned. For a moment there was a lull, then the normal hubbub resumed.

Catryn looked after him. “I warned you, Dahl,” she said. “He will bring ruin upon us all. Send him home.”

“Bruhn should not have spoken so to you,” Dahl replied. “I will make certain that he apologizes, but send him home I will not do.” The words were firm, but his voice was not as sure as it had been.

CHAPTER 7

Catryn woke early, well before anyone else in the inn was astir. She splashed water on her face and slipped out to the stable. The stable boy was already there, grooming Magnus assiduously, but Sele the Plump was nowhere to be seen. It must have risen even earlier and was out about some business of its own, Catryn decided. She gave the boy a nod and a brief greeting, then set about grooming her own horse, taking care to keep his wings well hidden. The Sele came back just as she was finishing.

“Good morrow,” it said. “Slept you well?”

“Very well,” she answered, but it was not the truth.

Dahl joined them not long after. Bruhn was the last to appear. He was red-eyed and looked sleepless. Dahl gave him a meaningful glance. Bruhn flushed.

“I apologize, Catryn, for my rude words,” he muttered, the words so low she could barely hear them.

She nodded. “I accept your apology,” she said, her voice stiff and cold in its turn. Dahl looked from one to the other, obviously dissatisfied, but Catryn turned away. If Dahl refused to see the danger here, she could do no more.

They saddled their horses and made ready to leave. Catryn gave the boy coins enough to bring a cheek-splitting grin to his face. Catryn returned his smile. At least she had been able to brighten one person’s day.

“The next village is about a day’s ride away,” Dahl said as they rode out of the cobbled stable yard, their horses’ hooves loud in the stillness of the early morning quiet. “Or so I was told at the inn. We should be able to stay there tonight and perhaps learn a little more.” He dug his heels into Magnus and urged the stallion into a faster walk. Behind them, Catryn could hear Bruhn and the Sele doing the same. In spite of the fact that she rode beside Dahl, Catryn felt very alone. How many more differences would arise between them?

They reached the next village that evening. It was as peaceful as the last. The following days passed uneventfully. They found nothing untoward in the villages through which they passed. Some nights they stayed at inns, other nights they camped under the stars. The weather held good; the people they met were friendly and welcoming. Some looked askance at the Sele, but were courteous enough to accept it once they had speech with it.

Despite the apparent calm and peacefulness all around her, however, the uneasiness within Catryn was growing with every step of her horse. At one of the inns, after the others had retired, she called for a bowl of water and tried to see again what lay ahead of them. She failed. She could see nothing but mist and emptiness. The vision she had had in Dahl’s palace did not reappear, nor did she hear the voice again. She would have liked to think this a good sign, but something deep inside her mind knew it was not. She knew as well as if she had been told that the evil they were to face was waiting patiently, certain that they would deliver themselves up to it.

It did not help that Dahl and Bruhn seemed to have reestablished their former relationship. Catryn watched one night as they sat side by side, jesting about some small occurrence of the day.

It would seem as though we are on an outing for pleasure, she thought with some bitterness. Have they forgotten why we are here? But she could not help being envious of the easy comradeship that existed
between them. Why could she and Dahl not have that? They had used to, when they were younger. Where had it gone? What had happened to it?

And then, as they made their way through a copse of trees to the edge of yet another village, Catryn suddenly stiffened.

“I know this place,” she said to Dahl. “This is where I came that night.”

“Are you certain?” Dahl asked.

“Yes. There is the tavern where I overheard those two men talking.” She pointed to an inn on the path ahead of them.

“Well then,” Dahl said, “this would be a suitable place to ask for lodgings tonight.” He sounded resolute and forceful. Almost relieved to have finally reached the borders of his enemy’s domain.

Catryn nodded. “It would,” she agreed. But alarm was flooding through her, not relief. Every sense she possessed was on the alert.

Dahl turned to Bruhn and the Sele. “We will stop here tonight,” he called back to them.

The Sele shook its head as usual. It would stay in the stable with the horses.

They left the animals in the Sele’s care, then entered the tavern. As with the other taverns they had visited, a wave of warmth and smoke and smells of cooking hit them as soon as they were through the door. But something here was different from those other inns. Catryn stood still for a moment and tried to sense what it was.

“It is so quiet,” she whispered to Dahl. “Hardly anyone is talking. And there are even fewer men tonight than when I was here before.”

Dahl gave her a quick nod. The room was almost empty. The men sitting at the tables were either not speaking at all or talking in low, guarded tones, casting nervous glances around them all the while.

Even though the room was not overly busy, it was several moments before the innkeeper came over to them.

“What would you, my friends?” he asked. His words were brusque and he looked at them suspiciously.

“A bit of supper if you please,” Dahl answered. “And perhaps a room or two for the night?”

The innkeeper hesitated.

“We will pay well,” Dahl added, jingling a pouch of coins.

The innkeeper stared at the pouch, then greed won out over suspicion.

“Very well,” he growled. “Follow me.” He led the way over to a table in the corner.

“Your inn is remarkably quiet tonight,” Dahl said in an easygoing, pleasant manner, as if making idle conversation. “Is aught amiss?”

The innkeeper looked at him sharply. “You’re not from these parts, are you?” he asked.

“No,” Dahl answered. “We have come from Daunus.”

The man’s face cleared. “From the south, then?” he asked.

“Yes,” Dahl answered.

Catryn could sense the innkeeper’s relief.

Dahl made as if to question him further, but the innkeeper forestalled him. “I will send the girl to see to your needs for something to eat,” he said quickly. He hesitated again, then seemed to come to a decision. “Perhaps I can find room for you tonight,” he added.

“For an innkeeper he is remarkably inhospitable,” Bruhn remarked. Catryn noted that Bruhn had seated himself as far away from her as possible.

“He is worried about something,” Dahl said.

“Everyone here is worried about something,” Catryn said. “It is not like it was the other night at all. Something has happened to frighten these people, I think.”

“It would seem the innkeeper, at least, does not want to talk about it, though,” Dahl answered.

A young maid came over to them bearing mugs of ale and a huge platter of steaming meat. She looked as apprehensive as the rest.

“This is a gloomy place tonight,” Catryn said, half-smiling at her as if to reassure the maid of her friendliness. “Is something wrong?”

The maid cast a quick, frightened glance at Catryn out of the corner of her eye.

“You do not know?” she asked, looking around to make certain no one was listening.

“Know what?” Catryn asked.

“There’s talk …” the maid began. “Talk about something dreadful happening in the towns to the north of us.”

“Who is talking?” Catryn persisted. “What are they saying?”

The girl lowered her voice even more. “Several of our men have gone up there to seek work, but none have returned save one boy—and he has come back terrified and witless. He has barricaded himself in his mother’s house and will speak to no one. She, poor lady, says he cannot speak.”

“Who is this lady? Where does she live?” Dahl broke in, but at the loudness of his voice the maid gave a small squeak and looked at him in terror.

“I dare not say.”

“Please,” Catryn said gently. “Tell us. We mean to help.” She threw a warning glance at Dahl.

“I know not what help you could possibly give us,” the girl answered, looking again at Catryn, but keeping a wary eye on Dahl.

“Please,” Catryn repeated.

“Her name is Mavahn and she lives in a house at the edge of the village. Just follow the path that leads from the well to the north. Do not tell her I told you!” The words came out in a rush.

“What is there to fear if I do?” Catryn asked.

The girl began to shake. She spilled a mug of ale, but did not seem to notice. “I know not what there is to fear,” she said miserably, “but there is something.”

“Rest easy,” Catryn reassured her. “We will not tell.”

The maid scurried off like a frightened mouse.

Slabs of thick dark bread were handed around. Catryn, Dahl and Bruhn were quick to pile their chunks of bread high with meat and begin to eat. Their hunger appeased, they began to talk again.

“The men you overheard talking the other night,” Dahl asked Catryn, “are they here?”

Catryn looked around. “No,” she answered. She saw a man at the next table eyeing them curiously. His companion sat with head bowed, a hood obscuring his face. For a moment Catryn’s skin prickled. There was something about that form …

The innkeeper came back.

“I will show you a loft where you may make yourselves comfortable this night,” he said, looking at Dahl and Bruhn. Then he turned to Catryn. “For you, I have a small room.” The offers were made grudgingly.

Catryn saw the hooded man at the next table stiffen slightly. Almost, he turned his head toward them, then seemed to catch himself in time.

Why does he not want us to see his face? she wondered.

Much later that night, she woke. She lay for a moment, trying to puzzle out what had wakened her, but she could hear nothing. Nevertheless, she got up. The floor was cold to her bare feet. She crept over to the door of her room and opened it as quietly as she could. Her room gave onto the main area. She could see the embers of the fire glowing and sending out an occasional spark. A few snores told her that some of the inn’s patrons slept there, stretched out on benches. Two men sat talking at the table where she and the others had eaten earlier. Catryn froze. One man wore a hood low over his face. Surely he was the same one who had shown such interest in them earlier on. The other … the other was Bruhn!

As she watched, Bruhn stood up. He cast a look around him that seemed almost furtive, then made his way over to the ladder in the corner of the room and climbed up to the loft above. Catryn watched him disappear into the darkness. She turned to look again at the other man, but he was gone. The table was empty. A cold draft suddenly swirled around her. She looked toward the door of the inn, just in time to see it close with a quiet thump.

BOOK: Whisperings of Magic
5.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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