Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Knickknack (Excerpt)

“What is a Son of Rovish?” Jane asked her father as she climbed out of the traveling bag he had packed her in. He took a few belongings out of the other bag and arranged them on the bed. He grimaced, looking between the bed and his bag. He lifted his bag, turning it upside down over the bed. Nothing fell out.

Jane wiped her hair from her eyes and tried to rub the sweat from her face with her damp tunic sleeve. She stretched her thin body and looked up at the big man as he shook his hands to the heavens in frustration. Then her father looked down at her and said in his deliberately calm voice, “Where is the case? It had the scrolls that I will trade.”

Jane reached into the bag that she had spent the last hour in and handed the thin wooden case to her father. He eyed her suspiciously. “Why was it there?”

Jane shrugged. “You put it there before I got in. Don’ think I wanted it all poking against me.”

Stefan Geist took a deep breath, shook his head, and corrected her speech. “It made me uncomfortable. I did not wish it there.”

Jane repeated the phrase, knowing that she was probably giving him “that look” again.

Stefan nodded. “Better. Keep in mind that eight year olds should show respect.”

She put her hands on her hips. “I’m nine.”

Stefan scoffed. “I’m sure that makes all the difference. I correct your speech because you must be able to associate with important people if you are to be of any use in the world.”

Jane muttered, “That’s the way we talk. We’re useful.”

Stefan plopped down on the cot. “We? You mean that your mother’s family speaks that way? First of all, your mother does not speak that way. Second, if you continue to follow the example of your worthless uncle, Asil, you will be a vagabond, like him. I have let you spend entirely too much time with him.”

She had heard it before. “What is a Son of Rovish? You said you’d tell me.” She wanted to hear what he would say, even if it was a lie.

“Rovish was created by Silas. Rovish had the gift of making things. When he fathers a child with a human woman, a son or daughter of Rovish is born. They have Rovish’s gift. I am searching for a scroll that this Son of Rovish made. I think he still has one and I wish to trade him some very valuable things for it.”

“What does the scroll say?” She lay back on the cot beside where he sat and dried her sweaty face and hair on the sheets.

Stefan contorted. “Ach! Do not! Revolting.”

She sat up. “What does it say?”

He sighed heavily. “It is not a scroll that says anything interesting, you disgusting little rat; it is a scroll that does things.”

She leaned back against the wall, bonking her head softly. “What does it do?”

He just sat there looking out the open shutters at the darkening red sky for a time. Finally he said, “Maybe I will tell you after I have the scroll.”

The knock at the door startled Stefan. He muttered, “So soon.”

Jane whispered, “Is that him?”

Stefan stood up, his eyes locked on the door. He whispered intensely, “The Son of Rovish? Of course not. It must be Lord Chappell. But I did not tell Lord Chappell where I was staying because I was supposed to contact him before we meet tomorrow.” He looked around the room. “Quick! Back into the bag.”

Jane almost obeyed him without thinking. She decided she would rather use the bed, so she put the bag on the far corner of the bed before climbing in, while Stefan urged, “Hurry, hurry.”

Jane tried to quiet her breathing so that she could hear every word they said. The door creaked open, then after just a murmur or two, it closed.

“The maid,” said Stefan.

Jane climbed out. Stefan held a pitcher and rag, which he laid on the washbasin. He grumbled, “I am so tired.”

First he sat on the cot. Then he lay on it. Then he slept.

He was good at sleeping when he needed and waking up when he needed. Jane quietly closed the shutters so that the light would not disturb him. She washed up, then combed her hair with her fingers. Jane’s hair was cut short because she was a boy on this trip--a boy that had never heard of Stefan Geist.

If only.

She examined the latch, and then remembered to grab her pouch from the bag she had traveled in and put it on her belt. She removed a thin, pliant, copper bar, unlatched and opened the door quietly, then shut the door on the bar, bending it just right. She stepped out and closed the door, then slid the bent copper back through the space and twisted it until she relatched the door. The key lock on the door only worked from the outside--Asil would have told her that the innkeeper wanted guests to be safe, but not to lock themselves inside so that he could not get at them.

Jane was not going to doze in the room when she had a chance to see Morrow--a real city! Her mother had not wanted Jane to visit Morrow without her. Jane certainly did not enjoy being alone with Stefan, but when she had overheard her mother saying, “Stefan, he is a Son of Rovish! A little girl cannot help you with him,” Jane was dying to go.

She looked down the hallway. Something good was cooking in the kitchen. She had to return before Stefan woke or there would be trouble. But she first had to get out of the inn without attracting attention.

She was a boy for this visit, so she concentrated on the way that her brother and the other boys at their people’s camp acted. If she were a boy she would run screaming down the stairs and out through the door, but she might be stopped for misbehavior. She must be a well behaved boy. She thought that surely there were well behaved boys somewhere, though she had never seen any. What was the difference between a well behaved boy and a normal girl? She remembered the time her brother brought the baby rabbit that he had found back into the camp. She pasted on a grin and strutted down the stairs, past the innkeeper’s wife.

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