might come a day when he had to face that mountain of muscle and be unable to talk his way out of it. No, it would grieve him to slay the Traug, but neither could he allow those huge mitts to clasp him and reshape his spine.
Amric turned his attention back to the matter at hand . The price on their heads was a complication he did not need. They could ignore it and be harried every step of the way, or seek out their faceless adversary and become more deeply embroiled in whatever pointless local conflict was behind it. Either way, it served only to delay them from their true objective, that of finding their missing compatriots.
He was certain of one thing, at least : they could not remain here, as the trail was only growing colder.
Movement caught at the corner of his eye . The tall, iron-bound front doors stood open and, along with all the windows, pulled a cooling breeze through the Sleeping Boar and drew away the hanging heat of the day. A sliver of night detached itself from the darkness outside and passed through the doorway. Amric’s fork stopped on his plate; Valkarr’s did not, though he tilted his wedge-shaped head to take in the new arrival. It was the old man in grey robes from earlier, and he favored them with a broad smile as he walked through the common room and claimed a secluded corner table.
Halthak noticed the sudden stillness of the two warriors, and followed Amric’s stare to the silver-haired gentleman trading words with the serving girl. The old fellow followed her with his eyes as she went to the kitchens with a pretty flush and a flustered smile, and then he settled back into the shadows to boldly return the swordsman’s gaze. As before, his eyes caught the light in a strange way, casting it back at the observer like tiny pinpoints of flame.
“That’s him!” Halthak exclaimed in a whisper. “That’s the old man I ran into in the trade district, the one who identified the cutthroats following me!”
As he said this, the gre y man touched two fingers to his forehead in a salute. Amric frowned. The timing made it appear he had somehow heard Halthak’s hushed words across the clamor of the busy room, but that had to be coincidence. In any event, the man had made his interest in them evident enough, and Amric’s own curiosity was certainly piqued. Amric exchanged a look with Valkarr, then stood and left his companions at their table. A low growl from the Traug trembled the floorboards beneath the swordsman’s feet. Gimlet eyes set deep under a heavy brow ridge tracked his every step across the room, but the creature took no other action.
T he old man waited with that expectant smile. Amric stopped before his table, and asked, “Sir, may I join you?”
“I would be most disappointed if you did not,” the other replied . “Please, take a seat.”
Amric did so, leaning forward to r est his forearms on the table as he studied the fellow. This close, he appeared less aged, possessed of an uncommon vitality that was almost palpable. Eyes so pale they were almost white regarded him with a piercing intellect that gave no ground to the advance of the years. His expression was warm but controlled, somehow authentic and calculating in equal parts, and Amric decided at once that the man’s outward demeanor was a tool he employed with scalpel efficiency.
“My name is Amric .”
“And I am Bellimar ,” the man returned. The name tugged at Amric’s memory, but he could not place the reference. Bellimar studied his expression, waiting. The serving girl came to their table, setting a large tankard of ale before them both.
“Thank you, my dear,” Bellimar murmured in velvet tones, eliciting another pink blush. His eyes tracked the girl for a moment as she hastened away. Amric’s scalp prickled; had he imagined a faint thrum of power there in the man’s voice? And it did not escape his notice that the fellow had placed an order for two drinks before Amric even stood to approach.
“Are you a
Michael Pond, Maureen Palmer