Eris woke first. She opened her eyes to Orrin’s bare back, finding herself nestled as close to him without touching as she could be. She drew back carefully and silently, listening to any change in his breathing. She heard none as she watched the gentle rise and fall of his shoulders. He remained asleep as she slipped from the bed and found an array of clothes waiting for them on a nearby high backed chair. Someone had limited her options to city-voln dresses in a variety of colours, but at least they were not the same slips of silk that Estille and the other women wore! The lengths of the skirts and the boots left for her might also cover her wyrd foot. Although… she was highly tempted to try on the men’s clothes, which also came in a variety of styles, and to refuse their offer of skirts and petticoats!
As a child her mother had dressed in this way and dressed her likewise, although in much plainer poorer yarns of course. And now she wondered if her mother had wanted her to look more a-like to a city-voln or a farms-voln than a woods-voln. Had it been an intentional scheming? She felt a stab of heartsickness as she remembered the little aprons her mother stitched her, covered with pockets where she could gather her herbs and other forest findings.
She put her sorrow and grief from her mind and dressed quickly, even working out how the plain cotton stockings were to be tied mid-way up her thigh with wide ribbons. Even so, they were uncomfortable and annoying. As were the boots which had strange blocks added underneath her heels which made her even taller and somewhat ungainly. They would slow down any running she wished to do too! Accused city-voln clothes! The bastard gods take them!
However, she eventually surrendered to the clothes and looked herself over in the large warping mirrors of the room, the morning light giving her just enough light to see by. Had they really slept that long?! True though, the girl in the mirror could pass for city-voln, if you did not look too closely at the sharpness of her features or the greenness of her eyes. Eris played with the lengths of her hair, which had dried into loose waves overnight. Woods-voln tended to either braid or to grease their hair to keep it out of their eyes. City-voln preferred either elaborate hairstyles with expensive clasps of gold and silver, or loose seductive lengths. She settled for finding the silver backed brush and defeating all the knots in her hair before tucking it forcefully behind her ears where she knew it would not stay. She gave the mirror one last look and saw the thin and uncertain creature looking back at her.
“I am Eris Atta-Sutith” she whispered under her breath, and drawing strength from her true name.
She left the room carefully, closing the door gently behind her so that Orrin would not be woken, and set forth to find the lounge again. The bedroom doors on the way were not all closed and she peered in to see female bodies in barely there silk slips strewn on similar four poster beds to the one she had woken in. Some slept together, curled about each other like lovers, and she wondered if some of the women found comfort in each other as Sarai and Callia did in their marriage with Pierson? Their clients were likely men, or priests, she suspected. But perhaps they found love elsewhere. She smiled wryly, that was not something she knew anything about.
Before those thoughts could run on elsewhere, she found the grand but chipped door to the lounge that she remembered and snuck in.
The room wasn’t empty though. In between the low thumps of a very distant great roarer came the sweet sound of giggles as two young women sat on a mouldering rug in front of a large box set on the floor. Inside it was an open space where card, paint and paste had been used to make a mountain scene complete with snow tops and storm clouds. Dangling from thin strings were several many-jointed puppets. Most were warriors, decorated with furs and with knotted hair made from brown wool. They were waving cardboard swords about haphazardly. Mountain-voln Eris assumed. But one of the puppets was smaller, a round faced youth wearing shining gold armour. Lios. And somewhere at the back of the box someone was moving the puppets, making the warriors bow and scrape as the boy god-king strutted up and down the small stage. The puppeter’s voice came from the back of the box to shape words of surrender for the mountain-voln to give to the young god-king. The two young women giggled and Eris noticed that their skin was golden like the puppet’s armour.
“Good morning, Eris Healer. I see you found the clothes I left for you.”
It was Estille, draped over a couch and watching the show from the back of the room with a bored eye.
Eris weighted up her options and then gave her an approximation of a city-voln curtsey. “Thank you for your hospitality”
Estille waved away the civility. “Come, sit with me and we will watch Lios subdue the mountain-voln for the hundredth time.”
Eris sat neatly by the woman, more intrigued by the Denosians than the show.
“You said that I would never see them.”
“The golden ones? Well, once Marchan heard that we had the fortune of such sudden guests, he changed his plans just so that he could meet you today. And he couldn’t leave them on their own.”
“Marchan… he’s here?” She looked about the room, before her eyes were drawn back to the show.
“And Lios rained down with blessed might on the chief warrior’s neck.” Eris watched as by some mechanism in the puppetry the Lios-puppet managed to chop off the head of the nearest mountain-voln. “And purest gold poured from the wound.” A gold silk scarf spilled out from the neck of the puppet.
“The puppeteer is Marchan?” Asked Eris.
“The one and only.” Came the voice of the man behind the small stage. The two Denosian girls complained about their entertainment being halted, but were hushed to silence by the hidden man. He let the puppets fall to death like stillness, their strings pooling about them, and uncurled himself from within the box.
The old man was covering his bald head with some ridiculous wig with gold thread twined into the curls, and he’d grown himself hairs on his top lip and at the point of his chin, but Eris’s sharp eyes immediately recognised the narrow eyes and deep creases in his thin face. Jerekyn!
“Peace, girl” He said calmly, spreading out his hands in the sign for peace and displaying the tassels, ribbons and bright colours of the strange motley of clothes he was wearing. A button man’s jacket, but resewn with strips of other colours. Chains made from false Lios coins made of thin wood and painted golden that jangled from his neck. Tight leggings ending in shoes with heels like her lady’s shoes. He looked like a fool.
But it was still fear that gripped her heart, not humour. The last she’d seen of him he’d been mortally wounded and one way or another the crossing of their paths had caused that. After he’d stolen Nem’s mountain stone, she’d made a deal to work with him for the life of the Gyreblack boy, and now he was here!
“Peace!” He uttered again. “I have no strife with you.”
“I think perhaps you do!”
“Deals done in Bara are a lifetime ago, sweetling.” He smiled.
The tender word on his lips was awkward and his smile did not convince her. She looked to Estille, who had only the night before shown she still had the means to hurt them if she wished. But she still lay casually on the day bed. The Denosian girls watched the exchange and Eris’ upset with intrigued faces, as though it was the beginning of another show, put on just for them.
“Are we captives here?!”
“Of course not. Although, from Estille’s telling of it you were both near dead wretches when she found you in the gutter. Perhaps you would be safer here? But whatever in the all the lands of the volnen could have brought you here?! Was it nomad fever?”
Eris bit her tongue to stop herself from snapping at him. It would not be prudent to rile him, when she was certain that he had weapons to hand her in his house. Estille was in many ways a weapon all by herself, and utterly loyal to her firm’s boss. Eris put their journey with her Atta from her mind, the pursuit of Beloved and his end by the shadow dancer, Jayk’s march on the city, and even the way her blood still called for revenge on the Gyreblack boy. “Maybe” She shrugged.
“And you dragged the storyteller with you? No. It’s more than just that… he knows about your powers-”
He left the words hanging, willing Eris to affirm her ability to heal again. She kept her mouth closed, her lips whip thin as she controlled herself.
“Orrin is a devout chap. Has he found something… someone new to believe in?”
Estille breathed out a low chuckle behind her, and Eris fought the thunder that threatened to darken her face. There was a suggestion of something more than Orrin’s religious devotion in Jerekyn’s tone and she would not justify it with a response. But perhaps he read something in her face.
“Ahh, yes. The Storyteller follows his new ‘bastard god’. You’ve healed him at some time. Maybe more than once. I can understand his reaction. There is a touch of the divine in you, however many generations from the bastard gods we are. Who would not want to be close to that?”
“You certainly did.” She snapped and instantly regretted it. But he only nodded.
“Yes. I wanted a healer for my firm. There’s blood a-plenty on the streets of Bara. On the streets of Tralis too. We could have been a great partnership. We still could.”
She frowned but he continued.
“Whatever has brought you here, I can help you with. All I would ask is that you employ your ‘skills’ for me, here, with my new firm.”
Eris looked about. “Three or so whores is not what you would have called a firm in Bara.”
“There are others, doing other work. And they face blades and roarers in the dark, much as we did in Bara.”
“Will you force Orrin to hand me over as you tried to force Nem to? What will you steal from him to make him compliant? He has no mountain-stone to take!”
“My methods were… crude, before. I’ll not try to blackmail you will your friend’s heart stone or the life of your enemy this time. But think on it. You have all the time you need, and you can rest here all the while.”
He gave her an over the top elaborate bow, the chains of wooden coins clashing against each other as another round of great roarers’ bellows started in the distance. Eris wanted to dart from the room and fetch up with Orrin before their feet could dash through the streets. But there was no guarantee Estille’s blade wouldn’t be at their necks by the front door. And there was still Jayk, somewhere in the city and maybe needing her help.
“Could I have a gesture of your good will?”
“There’s a lad in Tralis I seek.”
“Ah, the Gyreblack boy again?”
She reddened as she had to admit it was another boy, and Jerekyn raised a curious eyebrow at her.
“A lad in the army? There’s plenty of those about. How would I find him? And I do want to help you find him, as one partner should help another.”
“I- I don’t know.”
“I can help you find him.”
Orrin stood at the doorway, dressed in the fine city-voln clothes Estille had left for him.
“I could visit the barrack halls and find him. I’m city-voln, none would suspect me.”
“And if he’s gone to the Front already?” Asked Estille languidly. “Would you search there for him?”
Orrin looked to Eris for confirmation, and she saw Estille noting his searching eyes.
“I would if it was necessary.” Orrin said back to her, seeing in Eris’ eyes only the hope that they could find Jayk and help him.
“I believe then that we are on the very verge of a new deal. What say you Eris Healer?” Smirked Jerekyn.
She reluctantly nodded and took the slightly moist hand that he offered her in agreement, resisting the urge to shove some greening into him and to strangle off that smug smile with poisoned bile and foaming madness.