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A Hand to Steady Me (Retro) - Attn: Stryce

Winter Mist

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The light coming from the east was tinged with the heralds of dawn.  Orange, purple and pink mixed in a vibrant awakening of the sky, so far from how Dilora was feeling that it almost turned the stomach.  The amount of ale she had consumed last night had had nothing to do with it.  One foot followed the other, and Dilora trudged wearily back towards her wagon clutching the bag of herbs she would need to continue her journey.


Underfoot, dew soaked her bare feet.  How she had lost her shoes she could not quite remember at the moment. There had been singing and at one point she had danced on the small stage in the village inn, but surely no one would steal her shoes.  The hem of her skirt dragged as tiredly along the wet grass as her feet did, but she daren’t stop now.  As soon as she could get to her wagon and lock herself inside she would be happy.  She had used her capacity for drink and her charms to beguile the man opposite her into parting with the small sack of medicinal herbs that Wisdoms would pay dearly for in her neck of the woods at a much lower price than she would have thought possible. 


The leaves were quite valuable as they were only found in certain locations.  Year after year of being little growth due to bad winters or excessively hot summers had pushed the price of everything up, not just food.  Anything that could be grown and that did not keep well was now about two or three times the price.  A man could buy a good horse and still have enough left over to have a decent meal and board for what she had finally paid for the herbs, yet the man had wanted three times as much.


Flashes of the evening came back to her.  Overhearing the man talk about the herbs he’d found and how he intended to sell them back to the poor village Wisdom here at an exorbitant price.  Wanting to teach the man a lesson, she had pulled up a chair opposite him and had two tankards of ale placed on the table. 


  “Go on, if you drink that in one go, I’ll sing for you.”


The man cocked an eyebrow at her and reached forward confidently for the tankard.  What little girl would dare challenge a grown man to a drinking contest?  “And if you can down that, little bird,” he said, pointing to Dilora’s tankard “then I’ll do anything for you!”  Some of his companions cheered, while the serving maids rolled their eyes, looking to the two burly men on the door to get ready for the inevitable fight at the end of the night. 


“Done!” Dilora cried happily and reached for the tankard.  When both of them had their pint pots aloft, they chinked them together in toast as the local tradition dictated and put them to their lips. 


Dilora watched him over the edge of her tankard.  He was really going for it.  Still slowly drinking the pint, although never taking her lips away from it, Dilora gradually downed hers.  Her opposition was letting streams of cold ale roll over his cheeks and collar, down onto his rough-looking shirt and probably wasting a good half a pint.  Dilora kept her slow progress with the drink and when it was finally done, a good minute after her opponent, she set it back on the table with sparks of fire in her mahogany eyes.  “Very well,” Dilora said, “I’ll sing for you.” 


The red and gold of Dilora’s wagon loomed into her view now.  If the man were after her, he’d have a hard job getting through her locked door now.  It clicked home and Dilora sat on her bed, wiggling her toes to dry them off.  Come the morning and after a couple of hours’ sleep, she’d be on her way.


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Stryce was as happy as his exhausted body could be. The small caravan he was helping to guard just barely made it to the village before night fall. The sky was already red, orange and pink with the setting of the sun. Hopefully, there was an inn here with a warm bath and good food. He wasn't the most fastidious man but after 2 and a half weeks on the road, even he could barely bare the smell the horse, sweat and rusted metal that seemed to surround him. Also, even his muscles were sore from day in and day out horse riding.


There hadn't even been anything to protect against on the journey, which was mostly a good thing. He was experienced enough to know he wasn't immortal, yet not enough to not want some excitement to break up the monotonous traveling. The caravan itself consisted of a couple wagons and several pack mules. The were traveling down from Cairhien toward Caemlyn carrying this and that to trade. Stryce never bothered to wonder what the merchants were transporting, there were very few things he actually needed or wanted. He liked to travel light with little baggage. Easier to get up and go, to continue his search and all.


That thought brought him out of his revelry and realize the caravan had stopped in front of the local inn. Achingly getting off his horse, he waited as the caravan leader haggled with the inn's master. His search, that's what he had been thinking about. He had been searching for his mother for years but had little luck. No luck actually. He didn't even bother glancing around at the dispersing crowd of village people, he had been through this town a year or so back. He would continue his search when in Caemlyn, it was big enough to search for a year and not see everybody, and people kept coming and going there.


Finally, the caravan leader shook hands with the inn keeper, sealing whatever deal they made. Passing his horses to the stable boy, he called out dibs on a hot bath before proceeding into the inn and winding down from the long ride.

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  • 2 weeks later...



She had promised him a song, and so a song she would sing.  Not one of the ribald ones that most merchant guards seemed to like, but she’d sing one of the old ballads.  She’d not promised him a certain kind of song, after all.  Lifting her voice above the hubbub, she began to sing.


My love, my love so far away

Like the wind that shakes the willow…


At this, the man’s face betrayed his disappointment and his lips curled into a pout.  “What’s that then?” He interrupted; ignoring the looks his friends gave him.  Dilora smiled.  “I’m singing for you,” she told him. 


“I don’t want some foolish tune to make young women’s hearts ache.  I’m looking for something a bit more … racy.  Something to warm the blood on a cold night like this.”  Dilora cocked her head to one side and looked at him.  Really, he probably had a wife and at least nine children at home, and was more than likely just trying to push his authority where he had a chance of being a man. 


“If you want a racier song, then race me.  First to the bottom of the tankard wins.”


“Done!”  Both reached for the tankards of foaming ale and set to drinking them.  This time, Dilora did down it.  Headily, she looked over the edge of her cup and watched him spill most of it.  When she had reached halfway down the tankard she set it back down on the table.  “I am done, good sir.”  Her brown eyes twinkled merrily.  “Do not think you have won.”


“Of course I have won!” He declaimed, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth, lustily.  “You have given up!”


“I have not.  I have drunk at least as much as you have.  The difference is that you are wearing the other half of your pint and I am going to drink mine in a little while.”


The man looked confounded, and then his friends began to laugh at him.  Suddenly he realised that the front of his shirt was sodden with ale, and even his hair was wet from the brew.  “Shut up!” he roared to his friends, who responded with hoots and jeers.  He threw his hands up in the air and whirled back to Dilora angrily.


“Now, now,” she began, holding her arms up in front of her “do not be a sore loser.  While it is true you are wearing most of that round, I will sing something ribald for you.  But you’ll owe me a favour.”  Dilora trailed off, waving a finger mystically in the air.  “I’ll tell it to you after the song.”  The man was nodding vapidly now, attentively waiting for his bit of skirt to dance and sing for him.  There was no way though that she was going to get on a table to dance for him.  A song would be enough, she thought.  Clearing her throat, she began.


“My thighs are strong as an anchor chain

My hips are curved like ocean waves

My current draws you close to me

But only keeps the very brave


My bosom ‘tis an awesome sight

But one you’ll never know

That’s why I wear my shirts so tight

And now I have to go!”


She had unlaced her shirt a little as she had sang the second verse, and on the last line she pulled it tighter to her body and whirled away to the door.  She ignored the man coming in, another guard from the looks of him, and held her breath as she heard the unmistakable sound of a knife being drawn from a sheath. 


“Very well,” she muttered.  “I’m sure the door guards do not want any problems here, good sir.”  Dilora spoke in a louder voice now, for the benefit of all.  Hopefully they had seen what an overweening idiot the man was being and if he had been pulled down a peg or two they would see it as something he deserved. 


“Dance for me!” The man would not be put off, it seemed.  “Will you pay me?” Dilora responded.  “I doubt you will.  Stop being so petty – you cannot handle your ale.”  The man growled at her.  Growled!  She shook her head from side to side and reached for her own knife.  “I will use this, you know.  All here bear witness – you are not behaving as a decent man ought!” 


She tried to lay back down on her bed, her toes now beginning to warm up from their walk in the cold.  Not much longer until first light, and then she’d be away.  For a time, she slept, until the loud noise of someone pounding on her door woke her.


“What is it?”


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