Feb. 8th, 2013

Eight

Feb. 8th, 2013 12:24 pm
“The Select?” I repeat. “Who are they?”

“The Town’s Electors,” she says, carefully emphasizing the break between the words. “We call them the Select for short. Or I do.”

“And they run the place?”

“Right into the ground,” she says. “They don’t know what’s wrong with the well. They tried to tell us it was a problem with the horses! And they don’t want anyone poking around, for fear that they’ll find something out that will start a panic.”

“My experience, Bel the Baker’s Daughter, is that the worst panics come from not knowing,” I say.

“You’re a strange person, one who’s called Wander, but much of what you say is true.”

“Oh?” I say, slightly offended. “And what have I said that isn’t?”

“Nothing to my certain knowledge, but you have an air of mischief about you… you have a very dishonest face.”

“Ah, well, don’t believe it for a second,” I say. “The very soul of truth and honesty stands before you in these poor rags.”

“Silk rags?” she says, reaching out and touching my cape. “Brocade waistcoat rags?”

“All secondhand,” I say. “Don’t let the fine condition and exceptional quality fool you, I’ve all but worn them to tatters. Honest!”

“Where are you staying tonight, Wander?” Bel asks me, after another peal of musical laughter.

“Who said that I am?”

“You would have been through and gone by now if you weren’t.”

“Well, this is a market town… I assume there’s such a thing as an inn, and from the sound of things they should have rooms to spare.”

“There is and they do,” she says. “But that isn’t where you’re staying.”

“Isn’t it?”

“It isn’t.”

Nine

Feb. 8th, 2013 02:25 pm
“Are you sure?” I ask her. “Only, I wouldn’t want to put you out.”

“It would be no bother,” she says. “My rooms are above the shop, there’s a place for you if you don’t mind being below.” When I don’t say anything, she adds, “You’re kidding yourself if you think you’ll find a better offer.”

“You’d be surprised how many doors open themselves to me,” I say, not really badly wounded but feeling the need to make some kind of account for myself.

“I didn’t say you wouldn’t find other offers,” she says. “I said they won’t be better.”

“Well, then, Bel the Baker’s Daughter… since I’m going to be coming back this way anyway, why don’t you look after my pack for a bit?” I say, handing her my oversized leather satchel. “I have some looking around to do.”

I don’t make her promise not to open it. A decent person might respect another’s privacy without being asked, but ordinary decency can’t often stand up to the promise of a dire secret.

“Sure,” she says, swinging the pack down below the counter. “And best give me your stick, too.”

“My stick?” I repeat.

“Your walking stick. The Select won’t be happy about a stranger poking around, but they won’t detain you without good cause,” she says. “You’re too well-dressed to be nobody, and it would hurt our reputation as a free town if somebody gets unfairly pinched. But somebody or not, let them catch a commoner with a concealed sword…”

“Gotcha,” I say, and I surrender my cane to her. There isn’t usually a sword inside, but with my luck there would be just when I need it to not be. And either way, I’d rather not draw attention to it. “Keep it safe for me, will you?”

“Of course,” she says, and it disappears behind the counter. “Come back here for lunch when you’re hungry.”

Ten

Feb. 8th, 2013 07:27 pm
The other reason I didn’t mind relinquishing my cane is that it wouldn’t do to pull out the tool of my trade in broad daylight, at least not at this juncture. That kind of move has its uses, but there might be something a little too provocative about a stranger in a black cape waving a wand over a well that the locals had to figure was cursed or haunted. It would be a bit on the nose.

There aren’t many people out and about, but it only takes one person to raise a cry, and one cry to raise a mob.

But I can’t resist getting a look all the same. If it is the subject of well-traveled rumor, there’s nothing suspicious about a traveler ambling up for a reconnoiter, is there?

It’s a well after the well-established fashion, with a low wall circling it and a stout wooden beam from which hangs a winch and a bucket, though there’s also a cast-iron pump that seems serviceable. The well is capped with a wooden cover with one section open for the bucket.

The cross beam and uprights are old and in good repair, as is the stonework. The cover is quite a bit new, though the hardware is old. It’s been replaced recently.

The obvious question that I didn’t ask Bel is who fell in the well. I didn’t ask, just in case the answer was no one. But something must have changed, and chances are it has something to do with the new cover.

I pump some water into an old wooden bucket that’s been left here. The pump screeches like condemned soul, but the water comes out cool and clear. I can smell nothing foul. There is no crackle of wizardry. For some reason, though, the sight of the water standing in the bucket fills the space in my chest with dread. No grim portents greet me as I peer into the depths… all I can see is the bottom of an ordinary bucket, viewed through apparently unremarkable water.

I kick the bucket over and feel a profound sense of relief as the water soaks into the ground. Bel is right. There is something unwholesome here.

I don’t like to admit it in front of you of all people, dear one, but at this moment I feel as though something important has just been staring me in the face, though I could not say what it is.

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theonecalledwander

June 2013

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