Prince of Exile, 4

Satyr joined us in the yard before the inn. He had hidden the form and face he showed to his companions behind a subtle web of illusion that would fool the touch as well as the eye. Now his eyes and hair were coal black; his face was less narrow and coldly beautiful. His arms and legs, no longer clad in bristly hair, were sleek and firm and he wore a medallion of gold against the pure white of his shirt. He had traded hooves for booted feet.

The inn was very much like the one I had known of old. The ceiling was perhaps two years thicker with soot and the floor was perhaps somewhat cleaner. The rough plank tables were the same and old Harrow the innkeeper was a timeless, jovial imp. The Prince bowed to him, flustering him entirely, and the old man bustled about setting tables together with the aid of his hulking, towheaded son. The thief stayed close to the Prince, as if he were a favored member of our company. I thought he never would be.

Tian came out to take our orders and I remembered her, though she had not yet come to her womanhood when I saw her last. Now she had. Satyr and I exchanged glances and I knew that her blooming would not go unappreciated, or unsampled.

The Prince settled himself into the embrace of a woven ash chair that had been brought from an inner room for him.  The rest of us sat on benches. The Prince loosened his sash and hung it across the back of his chair, along with his cloak, and placed on the table a small casket that had been bound up in the sash. It was of gold and onyx, no longer than the breadth of his palm, but of exquisite workmanship. The catch was cast in the shape of a tiny boar’s head and it stood on tiny gold porcine hooves.

Harrow and Tian brought food. As we ate, we were watched by those who shared the common room. One in particular caught my eye; a bearded ruffian in shabby tunic and hose. He kept a sword in sheath leaning close at hand as he drank in silence, a little way withdrawn from the farmers and merchants who filled the inn. His entire being was concentrated on the casket the Prince had set out so carelessly.

I had thought that it was bait for the bland thief, but the Prince’s ways are beyond my understanding. It may have been for this ruffian that we had returned to Gleian Ellerick.

The thief we had met on the road called himself T’slalas. His voice was pleasantly modulated; it was a joy to hear him speak even though I didn’t believe a word he said. Tian wandered in and drew up a stool to listen and steal sly glances at Satyr. The Prince seemed to give his full attention to T’slalas, but he was quite aware of the ruffian across the room.

The olivewood casket with feet of brass stood mute in the middle of the table and seemed forgotten, but the ruffian’s eyes never left it. There was familiarity and inevitability in it all. more tomorrow


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