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6.

The next day I work extra hard at the shop. It’s Market Day, so Mom’s out front pretty much all day, and every hour on the hour I replant the seed, in Mom’s head, of my getting Feastday Eve off.

I work extra hard into the evening, wolf down some bread and cheese and hit the cauldrons again. Mom closes shop and is gone without even a farewell: it’s either the romantic thoughts she has for Constable Robert, or the romantic thoughts she has for her intoxicants. I’m not at all put out about her behavior. I give her fifteen minutes in case she forgot something, and then I make sure the fires are all out and the ingredients put away, and close up myself.

Mother does not frequent Sleepy’s. Mother perhaps in her youth ventured into the Catacombs of Valen, but then again perhaps she did not. I chuckle as I think of it. The laugh dies in my throat. Why am I doing this? What’s my motivation here? Glory? Gold? I honestly have no clue. But that strange urgent feeling I have in my fingers and toes, that warmth in my torso: I know what it is. It’s the feeling of motivation. I just don’t know why it’s there.

I get in the door. It’s pretty crowded tonight. I push through several knots of ne’er-do-wells and wannabes, get to the bar and slap down my coin purse. The barmaid reacts instantly to the sound.

“Paying customer?” she asks, smiling.

I dump out four silver shillings. “Pitcher of ale,” I say.

“It’s a shilling a pitcher.”

“I’m paying my tab.”

“I think you owed two,” she says.

“Now I’m ahead.”

She grins and gets a nice big jug, which she fills up with their freshest of beers. “Mug too, or you drinkin’ from the pitcher?”

“Mug please,” I say. I take pitcher and mug and start away into the room. I stop to survey the tables and the loose crowd on the dance floor. I feel a hand on my tush, and, without spilling the jug, I whack someone on the head with my mug. It’s wood and it makes a nice resonating bonk. Over there, across the room: there’s Fenric and Janet, and I see Zelin and Yanos and several other people. Yes, that’s definitely Fenric. I don’t bother to turn and see who it was I clobbered.

“Daisy,” says Fenric when I reach the table. “You remember Gurth? He was with Zelin’s group, we met them coming back from Valen that first time.”

“Oh yeah,” I say, putting the pitcher on the table, “you had some bad cuts on your arm.”

“I’m good as new,” says Gurth, who’s solidly built but only one head taller than me. He grins as he shows me his arm: two fully healed but still very visible slashes in parallel.

“And this is Jorg,” says Yanos, indicating a very large, very young warrior. “And our extra special guest enchanter is Barb, right, Barbie? Up from Hardvine.”

Jorg just grins and nods: not sure if he speaks the language. “Hey,” says Barb, grabbing my hand in a clasp. She’s a head and a neck taller than me, she’s quite attractive, her tunic is cut to advertise a couple of her best features, and she seems to naturally cuddle against Yanos. “I hear you’re up for enchanter soon yourself,” she says, from his shadow, which isn’t easy since she’s an inch taller than him.

“So that,” says Yanos, “makes us two warriors, two archers, two mages, a cleric and a thief. Does that meet your expectations, Daisy?” He smiles at me, then around at everyone else, then back at me, which I think is supposed to herd me into being agreeable. I can tell he doesn’t think I’ve been very agreeable up to now. The irony is that I was already feeling strangely agreeable when I came over.

“It sounds fine,” I say. “I just need to know what the plan is.”

“By all means, Yan,” says Barb, smiling sweetly, “tell us all the grand plan.”

“This time?” asks Yanos. He waves me over to the end of the table. There I see heavy papers spread out: Fenric’s very rudimentary map, and another which Zelin is adding to. “We don’t go the way that leads us into an ambush.”

“That’s good,” I say. “How’s that work?”

“Here,” says Zelin, “down this west hall and to the right, and there, this door, down the steps, then down the wide hall and right again, and there’s this door Shermak mentioned, and behind there we should find stairs to the third level down.”

“And here,” says Yanos, “we have a room with just one door, and we can use that as a base camp. It must have been a guard room at one time; now it can be our home away from home, and we can scout from there. Does this meet with your approval?” Again that smile.

“Sure,” I say. “Can’t wait.” I look up at Janet, then Fenric, who smiles eagerly. I let my gaze drift on across the tavern. “Say, isn’t that—?”

Janet comes over to stand beside me. “Our old friend Eleanor,” she says.

“And your pal Lucette,” says Fenric.

“Gee,” I say, noting that they too seem to be poring over parchments, with a half dozen burly friends. “I wonder what they could be discussing.”

Yanos looks our way from across the table. “You see? That’s what the hurry is,” he says in a voice that drops as he goes on. “It’s going to become quite crowded in this dungeon of ours.”

I hmm to myself. I’m thinking: it must be the place to be, or maybe it’s just a really stupid place to be.

 

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