1,192 YEARS SINCE THE SEVERING
The Neberan town square had been decorated with every imaginable color. Strips of red cloth covered the ground before the sacred boulder where the couple had sworn their oaths to Veri—the local god—and then cut each other. The red strips represented blood and life. To Adar Rahid blood always represented death, and not because of a religious ceremony.
“Thing is, you look familiar,” Neare Paler said, his face barely visible in the setting sun. He’d approached Adar from behind as Adar had been watching the wedding celebration. Adar had chosen to ignore Neare’s approach because he didn’t like the man.
Neare wiped a small amount of sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. The heat of the day was dissipating with the evening and Adar welcomed the chill. Before long, it would become cold enough that most would head home. He’d stayed on the outskirts of the celebration for a reason. He wasn’t big on social gatherings and had hoped to avoid speaking to anybody. He’d only come to check up on Jorad.
“Can’t quite recall from where,” Neare continued. “A poster perhaps?” Neare had a cup in hand that he looked ready to drop so he could grab the gaudy sword that hung from his belt. It wasn’t as fine of a sword as Neare supposed. Adar could see that without having to handle it, but no doubt, the blade was sharp.
Adar wasn’t worried about the threat Neare posed. Should Neare move to draw his sword, Adar could have his sword out of its sheath before Neare’s was halfway. Adar wore his blade on his back in true Radim fashion. It wasn’t Adar’s favorite weapon, but it wasn’t as recognizable as his Radim sword.
Poster? Adar thought. That shouldn’t have followed us here. He turned his full attention to Neare. As usual, Neare was dressed in clothing more suited for a big city than that of a small town like Neberan. His shirt alone had probably cost Neare half a gold piece and his sword was the ugliest weapon that Adar had ever seen. Adar wondered how much Neare had paid for the travesty.
Surely, Neare wasn’t brazen enough to draw his sword at a wedding. If the rumors around town were true, Neare knew how to use it. Adar had almost been forced to learn firsthand when he’d come across Neare roughly evicting a man and his family. The spat had ended with Neare leaving for the mayor. Neare was a fool, perhaps a moderately dangerous one, but a fool nonetheless.
“Hear you’re doing a lot of business with Polaer recently,” Adar said, turning back to the celebration. Adar had figured that the rumors about Neare and Polaer’s wife were just that, rumors. However, if Neare was going to make accusations, Adar would make some of his own.
Neare’s face tightened and it looked as though he was going to drop his cup. Adar kept his arms folded and resisted the urge to reach for his sword. If Neare reacted, it would be as good as an admission. Neare must have known the stories that were told of him. There was similar gossip about his son Erro.
Neare bared his teeth. “Hard to keep track. I’d have to ask one of my overseers.”
Adar didn’t respond and scanned the crowd. Where was Jorad? Adar had come to observe Jorad and Soret in public, but to his chagrin, he hadn’t spotted them yet. The wedding and cutting—barbaric ritual that!—had taken place earlier in the afternoon and the celebration would carry on until late. Adar had noticed an angry look from Barc Tedenhel, Soret’s father, so perhaps he’d seen them running off.
Ah, the boy was like Adar at that age. Couldn’t keep his thoughts but on one thing. Nelion drifted to mind and Adar reluctantly ignored her memory. He didn’t want to let the pain touch him now. Not when he was exchanging veiled threats with Neare.
Adar felt a light touch on his arm and he tensed as Ginne Haer hooked her arm around his. He chastised himself for being taken off his guard. He’d been so distracted by Neare that he’d forgotten to pay close attention to his surroundings. Melyah! That was something hard to do at a party anyway. Just another reason he avoided these things.
Why did she look so comfortable, hadn’t she noticed his reaction? Both of the people that he preferred to avoid at the celebration had converged on him at the same time. Part of him felt the fool for not playing along with Ginne’s flirtations because of how attracted he was to her. The other part knew that she would only be trouble.
“Adar,” Ginne said. “It’s been too long.” Her eyes went back to Neare quick enough that Adar almost missed it. Her shoulder length blonde hair was twisted into braids with strands of red and purple ribbon interwoven. The smell of her perfume and the blue dress that accented her figure caused Adar to reconsider his decision regarding the woman. It reminded him of a desire that he hadn’t succumbed to in years.
“Has it?” Adar asked as he tried to think of a way to extricate himself without pushing her. There were rumors about Neare and Ginne as well. Probably true, Adar thought as he noted another look between the two.
“Merchant Haer,” Neare said, “I may need a new coat before winter, mine’s getting worn.” A fleeting frown crossed Ginne’s face. What was her game? It would have been amusing to watch these two go back and forth, if Adar could figure out his part in it. Was he the bait or the goal? The bait, he decided. She was eying Neare way too much.
“Oh Neare,” Ginne said, “You’re always about business. Can’t you set it aside? It’s a party.”
“Indeed it is.” Neare took a gulp from his cup. “The most exciting cutting since Debie stabbed old Han, remember him squealing like a pig at slaughter?”
“Nothing like a good wedding to liven things up.” Ginne moved closer to Adar but kept her eyes on Neare. “It’s rare the boy cries as well.”
“Bad sign that,” Neare said. “When the man cries it shows that he’s not ready. Too young for the knife, too young for marriage.”
“It’s cruel.” Adar shifted, but Ginne held him tight. “Brides and grooms cutting each other on their wedding day? Just encouraging trouble.”
“Bound by blood,” Neare said. “An outsider wouldn’t understand,”
“The sting of their love’s blade,” Adar said, “will be remembered longer than the oath.”
“It’s not like that at all,” Ginne said. “A blood bind impresses the importance of marriage.”
“Doesn’t make a difference,” Adar said. “Neberan carries on like any other town. Blood oaths don’t change the heart.” Adar looked at Neare as he spoke. The meaning of his words hadn’t been lost on Neare, who suppressed a scowl.
“They don’t,” Ginne said laughing; reminding Adar of a young girl’s laugh he’d heard earlier in the week. The girl had been flitting back and forth between several boys. That’s not how a woman of Ginne’s age should be acting, but perhaps he was being too harsh. It hadn’t been long since her husband passed and he knew how it took time to come back from something like that.
“Careful Adar,” Neare said, “sometimes you cause more trouble than you’re worth.” He left, headed towards a table covered with food.
“I’ve always found men like you to be worth the trouble they cause.” With a light but firm touch, Ginne brought Adar’s face back to hers. “It’s been weeks since I saw you last.” Adar hesitated; she was taking this too far.
“Once. I came by once.” Friendliness had given her the wrong idea. Adar broke from her grip on his arm but his actions hadn’t fazed her in the slightest. The time he’d been to her tailor shop, he’d left without ordering. He’d never expected her to take liberties when getting his measurements.
Ginne’s confident smile reached her eyes. She was pretty and had a self-possession that he rarely saw in others; he’d give her that. Perhaps if she hadn’t made her interest known so quickly or been so assuming. How long had it been since he’d held a woman? The thought of Nelion surfaced unbidden, the blood surrounding her and running into her hair.
“Eventually you’ll stop fighting it but by then I might not be available. I see the way men look at me. I’ve even caught you noticing.” Ginne’s words startled him from the memory and he responded without thinking.
“I won’t and I don’t.” Adar winced as he turned away but not before he noticed her leaving as well. Somehow, she made it seem as if she’d turned her back on him. How was she able to do that? Was she trying to annoy him? He couldn’t remember the last time he’d treated a woman so badly. What an infuriating woman.
Adar hated weddings. He hadn’t attended one in years. He still wasn’t quite sure why he had bothered to come. He should have guessed Jorad and Soret would skip it. Adar didn’t have a problem with them as long as it didn’t keep Jorad from going to Rarbon.
Jorad was needed there and his escort was long overdue. Adar had been feeling uneasy for the last several months and he was beginning to wish that he’d paid attention to his discomfort. It felt to him like there was a storm just over the horizon. He decided long ago that he would refuse to act on his fears because if he always paid attention to the little voice in the back of his head that was saying something was wrong, he’d go insane.
Adar turned to leave and almost knocked over Wes.
“Trying to run me over like you did her?” Wes asked. “If you broke my leg, it’d still be better to be me. Wow, you were rude and to a pretty lady no less!”
Wes was scrawny for seventeen, enough to be mistaken for a kid years younger and easily overlooked. His ears poked out from the side of his head. That together with his too wide mouth probably kept the girls away. He was dressed in his finest clothing as well, but for him that wasn’t saying much. Adar felt a stab of sympathy for the kid.
The lad laughed. “Course, it could just be your game. A woman like that gets what she wants. She’ll just try harder now.”
“How long have you been standing there?” Adar demanded. Wes had a point. Ginne might become more forward. Confound it, what else could Adar do?
“And ripping on the wedding? People already don’t like you as it is.”
“I’m not here to make friends.”
“Jorad’s nice enough, what’s wrong with you? Ginne has managed to overlook that and you push her away. Is there a bad love affair that you’re still bitter about?” Wes paused. “You do like women don’t you?”
Adar glared at Wes until he looked away.
“I guess it can’t be that since you fathered Jorad, but still, things can change.”
“You talk too much.” Adar had been rude, but he couldn’t think of a way to apologize that wouldn’t encourage Ginne further.
Despite the kid’s brash words, Adar regarded him with care. A recently orphaned kid could be given some deference. Given all the kid had been through, Adar couldn’t figure out how he was always smiling. His laugh was often heard around Neberan.
“I don’t speak enough,” Wes said. “If I did, I’d get trampled less.”
“But you’d get kicked more.” Adar couldn’t help but smile and Wes unfortunately took that as a cue to keep talking.
“Ginne’s a nice lady. Not many men would chase her away. Afraid she has the plague? Or maybe it’s been so long since you’ve been with a woman you’ve forgotten how to act. It’s easy. Just relax, it comes naturally.”
“I trust you know.” The kid had a way about him. The easygoing attitude, the constant ribbing, it was hard not to like him. Maybe Wes would have a chance with the ladies after all. “Where’s your woman?”
Wes didn’t miss a step. “At the moment I’m playing the field, you see? Can’t do that with a date chattering away on my arm. Course, if I was your age, I’d take what was offered to me. Before long your hair will all be gray.”
“Would you now?” Right at that moment Ginne caught Adar looking at her.
“Not natural you know, ignoring your feelings like this.” Wes turned and looked admiringly after Ginne who noticed and winked at him. “Ah, if I were an older man.”
“Give it a shot anyway,” Adar said as he walked away. “Maybe she’d be up for a kid like you.”
Wes laughed. “She’s almost as old as my mother.” His voice cracked. The pain of her death was still fresh for him. Adar glanced back but Wes had disappeared.
Adar spotted him chatting with a girl close to his own age on the other side of the square. Always with a smile and up to something. It was good to see somebody enjoying themselves.
Adar continued to scan the crowd from a little bit further away. He was concerned about the poster that Neare had mentioned. If that poster had made it here, the bounty hunters wouldn’t be too far behind. If that was the case, it was time to leave.
Confound it. He hated having to wait. Jorad’s escort should have been here months ago. When Adar was satisfied that Jorad wasn’t at the celebration, he left feeling like it had been a waste of time. He needed to know how far along things were with Soret. Adar couldn’t let her stop Jorad from fulfilling his duty to Rarbon.
Text Copyright © 2014 Dan Decker
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