“Bastard gods.” Pierson said, his head in his hand as he sat on a hewn tree stump in a small hollow away from the main camp.
“You could at least pretend to be pleased.” Said Sarai archly.
“It aint that.” He looked up at her, at all three of them before him, with red bleary eyes. “And I thought Bara-made Vernoush was bad enough.”
“Ah, what was it?”
“Something that smelt of strawberries but tasted of ginger, and left me with a head like I downed a bloody bottle of greening.”
“Haggron.” Callia said lightly. Unlike Sarai she did not have her arms crossed as she looked down at the wretched city-voln. Eris, standing between the two women, fidgeted. One moment she adopted Sarai’s stern way of standing, and in the next moment she took on Callia’s more relaxed attitude. She stood, crossing and uncrossing her arms. Like a fool, she thought of herself, angrily.
“Ugh, that was the poison.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “Bastard gods.”
Callia was trying not to smile at the thick sound of his voice or the rough greenness of his face. Trying to maintain the same sternness as Sarai, who had held it well since they had told Pierson of their plans and had prepared themselves for his expected response. Eris looked up at the women. And then back at Pierson. Adults! Bloody fools!
“So.” He began, in a voice dripping with sarcasm. “Tell me again. And again, thank you for making this morning so much more interesting than a mere hangover could have made it. The mountain-voln beating at the inside of my head with a club while a woods-voln shoots arrows at the back of my eyes was not nearly enough, you were right.”
“We’re coming with you.” Callia stated in her soft voice. Sarai had announced the news the first time, and perhaps Callia’s gentler way might have been the better introduction to the idea. Especially given Pierson’s apparent delicate condition.
Pierson stared at the ground, trying to gather himself “With me?”
“With you. And Eris and Nemnir.”
“Ugh, he put away twice as much as me. Has anyone seen him?”
“I spotted his booted feet sticking out from his tent a while ago. He was snoring louder than a hurricane.” Sarai said, uncrossing her arms and resting a hand on the hilt of dagger at her side. “So, Pierson, what say you?”
“You going to stab me if I say you can’t, Sarai?” Pierson raised an eyebrow, looking at the two women and Eris. “But maybe it aint up to me. Eris?”
“I’m not much of a scout. Even now, even with…” She gestured down to her foot. “Sarai and Callia are good hunters. But it isn’t a question of what they could bring to the firm is it? Not truly.”
“You’re too smart for your age, Eris Atta-Sutith.” Pierson grumbled. “Perhaps this is a conversation I should be having with these ladies after you’ve gone to your bed?”
Sarai frowned further. “And what would you say, Pierson City-Voln? That you were always going to be leaving. That it’s all been fun but now, darling, the road is calling?” Sarai snapped.
“Sarai…” Pierson’s voice was faint, and not from his sickness. “Sweet Sarai…”
“Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter at all. Callia and I are… well, we’re enough to each other even if you aren’t a part of… this. Of us.” Sarai said, sadness behind her severity. Eris felt her cheeks reddening as the adults spoke about their feelings, looking at her feet, and then looking away when doing that brought her attention to her left ankle and foot. Then Sarai continued. “We’re not joining you on the road because you want us to. We’re joining because we have something to give, even if you don’t have anything to give us in return!”
Pierson opened his mouth, about to answer, when Nemnir walked through the tree line into the clearing. The mountain-voln was chewing on a hunk of bread as he walked to join them and sat down by Pierson.
“You’re eating? Ugh…” Pierson seemed to turn an even paler shade and then rallied. “Did you know about this?”
Nem looked confused, so Eris helped him out. “Sarai and Callia want to join the firm. And Pierson’s distressed because… well…”
“Because everyone assumes that Pierson wants to cut and run!” Pierson scowled. Nemnir placed his hand on the smaller man’s shoulder, and made a low rumbling sound that he directed towards Eris and the two women.
“What did he say?” Asked Callia.
“He said we are wrong.” Eris began. “He said Pierson was sad. That he… oh, maybe I should let you all talk on this once I am to-bed.”
“Tell us Eris Atta-Sutith!”
“I’ll tell you.” Said Pierson. “You assume the worst of me because… well, okay I’m a rogue. I’m a thief. I’ll rob you blind and move on as soon as look at you. But even thieves can have things stolen from them.”
Eris looked between the women’s sceptical faces and Pierson’s. “He’s saying he cares.”
“Okay, lass, okay. Don’t over egg the pudding. But just because I was always going, didn’t mean you didn’t get the better of me. Both of you.”
“Ugh.” Eris said quietly as Nemnir slapped the city-voln on the shoulder, smiling broadly.
“So the firm grows?” Asked Eris once she’d gotten over the awkwardness of the moment, ignoring the shared smiles between them.
Pierson looked away from Callia and Sarai, and focused on the girl between them. “You tell me, lass?”
“I’m in favour of it, but you’re the boss, Pierson.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I think I’m being well mastered by three females at the moment.”
“And two of them will make sweet amends for that at another time, Pierson City-Voln.” Sarai said with a smirk. “But does your plan still hold? You want to live off of fat city-voln? Because I can get behind that, certainly. But how many woods-voln territories will let us stay among them? How many weeks at a time? Eris’ skills will buy us some time. The coin we steal might buy some more. If you don’t waste it all on Varnoush or Haggron, that is…”
“It’s a day at a time, Sarai. It always has been.” Pierson reached inside his coat and threw a coin purse at her, which she caught deftly. “A share of our profits so far. There’s more of course.”
She reached in and brought out a pair of pearl earrings, dangling delicately on silver wire. “Pretty. Too pretty for me.” She passed one to Callia, who immediately threaded it through a piercing in her ear lobe, letting it dangle down by her braided her. The other earring Sarai handed to Eris who looked at the small gift with some bemusement.
“The girl’s ears aren’t yet pierced, Sarai.” Said Callia.
“Easily fixed with a sharp needle and a flame-”
A low growl from Nemnir and a concerned look from Pierson stopped her.
“Hmmm. Perhaps you are right about who is really in charge here. Or at least, who is important.”
Eris shifted awkwardly on her feet. “Sarai, do you really have to say everything you think?”
Callia laughed, and Eris noted the admiration on Sarai and Pierson’s faces for the slender woods-voln. “She has you fairly tracked and known Sarai, even if she claims she is no scout!”
“True. But perhaps Eris Atta-Sutith you need to also say what you think. Which way are we to go now? The Diarnilys are my people, but you can carry a stem or so of the flower along with you and it’s no weight at all.”
Eris remembered the white flower that had pinned to Pierson’s coat… and then the shapes following them in the woods that she had assumed had been Nemnir’s young admirers. Both women carried arrows greened with diarnilys, a combination of the flower and other herbs that were a secret known only to this family, unique and a sign of the arrows’ origin. Wherever they went next they would be bringing Diarnilys with them. Something like the beginning of a thought whispered through Eris’ mind along with the memory of the Gyreblack boy, his face over cast with shadows as he sneered. But it was there and then gone.
“We go to the road, and we see where it takes us all.” Eris stated, looking from the women to the men. “We live off of the fat city-voln and see where that takes us.”
Sarai nodded, holding Eris’ eyes as she spoke. “Forward or back, you have my help.” The emphasis was light, but Eris remembered the oaths they’d already sworn to her on the bastard gods kissed rock of the pool. Back… back to the boy. If she could find him.
“Forward or back, you have my help.” Echoed Callia.
Pierson turned to Nemnir, who was still ripping into the coarse bread with his teeth. Originally stolen from some farm-voln homestead, thought Eris, as woods-voln were infrequent and poor bakers. Pierson grumbled loudly, falsely, “Are woods-voln always so dramatic? It’s like watching one of those overwrought romances that travelling players in bawdy and motley dress always brought to Liosinium to lighten the dark seasons!”
Callia moved forward and swatted playfully at Pierson, getting grabbed and pulled onto his knee for her efforts. Sarai smiled and stalked forward to join the man and the woman as they stared into each other’s eyes, his hand on her back. At the same moment Nemnir moved towards Eris and gently turned her fully about, pushing her gently to walk her away from their meeting place. Her mouth opened into an ‘Oh’ as she realised what was about to happen, and she quickened her pace as she walked away with the large man.
They tracked through the trees in silence for a while, Eris enjoying the sense of safety that she always felt with Nem. He was her guardian. Even when he was still chewing away on the loaf of bread like a farm-voln’s cattle. She took the time together to look about the woods on their way to the camp and to think more on how their party was growing.
“Do you mind?” She asked finally. “He’s been your friend for longer… and now he has other friends.”
A warm smile on Nemnir’s face.
“Maybe that’s something you don’t worry about. It’s not like they’re the same kind of friends. I do understand that, you know. Sometimes people know I know, and sometimes they assume I’m too young to know.” Eris looked off thoughtfully. “But it seems like it’s just been the two of you for a long while. Since being in the army anyways. And then there was… Hobbart. And then me. And now Callia and Sarai. Do you miss it just being the two of you?”
A low mumble.
“No. Maybe not.” She paused, stopping and looking straight up at the mountain-voln. He was less red-eyed and tired seeming than Pierson, his warm brown eyes apparently still bright no matter how many voln might be churning his stomach or battering the inside of his head. His face was as calm and friendly as ever. His braids were still clasped in the twists of metal, but now they were small rectangles of silver bent over and stamped with the same animals. Another sharing of their spoils from the city-voln, she supposed. But still he wore the old patched and repaired coat.
“Do you… do you want to be able to speak again?” She whispered the question and watched the flash of emotions across Nemnir’s face. She knew that somewhere in his head he was now reliving that violent moment again. Just as she would have done if anyone had asked her if she wanted her foot back. She stepped forward quickly and flung her arms about his broad waist, almost making him step back in surprise. She turned her head and rested it against him, barely coming to his chest. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I should never have asked.”
A rumble grew in his chest, echoing about inside him, against her ear. The sound was roughly shaped by his mouth, and Eris caught it’s meaning. Just as Pierson had explained, she knew what he meant, because she knew him.
Yes, yes I want to be able to speak again.