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2.

Needless to say, Mom has plenty of work for me when I’m up and about after three days and four nights mostly spent in bed. The fact that I carried an arrow around for a while sticking out of my belly doesn’t impress her much; as far as she’s concerned, the whole idea was “cockamamie,” and whatever happened was “no more than you were asking for.”

But as I work up jugs of potion blank and then turn around and start making them into love potions and sleep potions (another hot item, especially for the elderly) and potions of wakefulness and potions of healing and potions of anything else that won’t get us in trouble, I know I’m hooked. I’m walking around among the cauldrons listing the reasons I should never go back into the dread dungeon. I just nearly got killed; Barb, whom I never liked even a little, was better than me and she’s gone off to who knows what shadowy grave; there are people down there with three-word spells, as well as very sharp little black arrows; get my grade three alchemy certification and head for the coast where I’ll have to learn some new numbers to count the money I’ll be making; and oh, on the subject of money, my average take on two journeys into the Valen dungeon: zero. The average number of people I see die: 2.5.

We close up shop and I go upstairs and collapse on my bed. After an hour, I sit up and think. Five minutes of that, and I haven’t come up with any reason to stay in bed. I get up, put my dress back on, put my coat on and quietly exit my room. Stopping to listen, I can hear my mom downstairs flirting with Constable. I go down the back stairs and out the back door. In a few minutes, I’m at the front door of Sleepy’s.

I don’t see any of the gang at first, though I do see Eleanor, who rather sticks out, and Lucette and some guys they seem to be hanging out with. They don’t show any notice of me. The two women seem impatient with their male companionship: have they been in the digs and didn’t find anything, or have they not yet persuaded the guys to do anything? If only I had the spell, I’d love to be a bug on that table.

But maybe I’m in my own head. Maybe they’re just young women looking for men who are faithful, reliable, interesting, clever, romantic, a little ambitious—let’s see, what else isn’t too much to ask? What was that joke? Every girl wants a man who will be romantic, a man who will make sweet love to her, a man who will buy her nice things, a man who will always remember her, and a man who will interest her without making her feel ignorant, and she also wants to make sure her boyfriend never meets any of those men. Something like that. I’m no good at jokes, and when I think about it, it doesn’t seem that funny after all.

But then I haven’t been that interested in a guy since I was fifteen, when Fenric told me he was gay. I had a crush on him, but it was just as well. He may be gay and sweet and all, but he’s a gay, sweet thief.

I’m thinking about the state of the male gender and vaguely watching Lucette Barnswallow and Eleanor of North Waldo, surrounded by men who would obviously love to get into their pants, but who draw the line at doing anything more to accomplish that goal than pour beer and make lewd remarks. I sense someone next to me. It’s Yanos.

“Pathetic, really,” he says. “Is that all your friend Lucette can manage?”

“Um,” I say, “have they been in Valen Dungeons?”

“They had a go,” he says. “I don’t think it went very well.”

“Did they bring back more treasure than we did?” I ask. “It would be hard for them to have brought back less.”

“We were just scouting,” he says, “and thus, we should go back soon and seal the deal.” We continue looking their way and he adds, “Rumor has it they’re also looking for the Circlet.”

“Rumor?”

“Well, you could go ask,” he points out. “Want to do that?”

“I might,” I say. “Think they know what happened with Barb?”

There’s no answer from his side, so I turn and look at him. He’s looking at me. I’ve hurt his feelings.

“Do you know what happened with Barb?” he challenges me.

“No. I don’t. Do you?”

“I do not,” he says. “Daisy, I will tell you the truth. My heart is broken. She was in love with me, and I was not responsive, and now she’s gone. I feel awful.”

We stand there looking at each other. His scarred face is quite handsome in this light, and his eyes look incapable of lying. He’s laying his feelings on the table, baring his soul. I can’t help think he’s completely full of poo up to his earholes, I think it so intensely I almost say it, but—well, he’s got that look in his eyes. However full of poo he is, he believes what he says is what he feels.

“You’re signing people up to go back in,” I say.

“Well, yes,” he says, “but we all have a lot to deal with.” He waits just the right number of ticks and adds, seriously, “Daisy, may I buy us a bottle of wine? You look like you could use a mug of wine, and I know I could.”

“Oh, sure,” I say. “Let’s snag that table in back.”

“That sounds perfect,” he says. “I can tell you all that is troubling me, and you can tell me all that is troubling you.” He smiles. It’s quite the smile. And then we get that bottle and two mugs and a table, and he actually listens to me talk about my problems. Is he up to something? Well, obviously. But still.

At this point, I am still a virgin. That doesn’t last long.

 

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