Day 4 of National Novel Writing Month! We’re still with Private Miks Tavus on his sting operation to take down a dragon-egg smuggler. I didn’t get as far as I wanted with this one, but we are ramping up the tension, which is good.
Day 4, Story 2: Never Say Your Name
What’s the hag with the turban want?
Well, “hag” was as strong word—Tavus could see that now that the dusty lamp over his table lit her features. Sure, she had a few rivers of shadow on her face, a wart or two, but nothing out of the ordinary for an older woman…especially an older troll. Between the turban and all the sparkly garb, no one’s gonna look at her for more than a second.
IF she was the troll. Not enough evidence. Need more evidence.
With a sneer and a hitch-up of the pants, Farmboy straddled on back to his stool at the bar, but there was no more hee-hawing to be had from that pair. Fine.
“May I join you?”
Tavus motioned to the battered chair while Waitress came over with his stew. “And some fresh coffee for my guest here,” he ordered with a smirk. “Though frankly, Ma’m, I can’t imagine you want to socialize with the likes of me.”
No one else did. The loner’s posture had gone stiff. The pair of legit Trade Couriers were hissing something back and forth—hopefully not a hex. Not an uncommon thing—Couriers are damn competitive for clients. But a hex could cause Tavus’ badge to light up in deflection, and there goes this operation, right down the crapper.
The wind twirled in the snow outside leaving frozen curls upon the diner’s window, its whistle long and lonely. The Waitress tisked, wiped the counter. “Way past that wind’s bedtime. You two ought to send it home to its momma.”
If farmers love to talk about anything, it’s the weather.
“I was ready to give that wind a spanking last week. Fella blew my hay bales all over…” Off those two went, competing for the worst dealings with wind, judged by Waitress.
Tavus dared to sigh, just a little, and faced The Turban. “So what can I do for you, Ma’m?” He took care to let the broth dribble down his chin while he ate.
Turban looked back on her rock-still servant. Whatever she saw, Tavus guessed she didn’t like it. The lump of a servant hadn’t moved much in the two hours they’d been here. Sick, maybe? Turban’s jaw shifted, and her eyes flat. “Serving, or seeking?”
Typical opener for hiring a Trade Courier—good, I’m actually selling this. Tavus sucked the spoon thoughtfully before letting it clang loudly in his bowl. “Bit of both. Hoped to help a partner of mine tonight with his job, but this storm, think it held him up.”
Turban’s finger traced the swirls of ice on the window. “Seems we’re all held up tonight. Pity.”
“There is the Inn, you know,” Waitress lobbed the words over. “Pearl’s Price, just down the block. The night watchman would let you in.”
“I thank you, Waitress, but I am sure the storm will be parting soon.” She pulled out a thin pipe from the folds of her coat. “Is that why you didn’t approach my table? Your colleagues certainly weren’t shy when they first arrived, but I prefer not to employ occupied Couriers. You’re a greedy lot as it is.”
Contact, this could be my contact. “Right you are, Ma’m. We burn through money pretty fast.”
A wince—right at “burn.” She has to be the troll I’m looking for. But where are the dragon eggs? Hidden in her robes, by the servant? Dammit, I should have cased her better when she came in. No bags or cases. She’s gotta keep them someplace warm. And if she could fit a pipe that long in her clothes, she could probably stash an egg or two.
The wind howls angrily at the cold, cold night. Snow drifts start to reach up the diner window. It was going to be damn hard to maneuver out there without magic now. Even the Gaptooths were eyeing the snow anxiously. The walls of the diner pressed in, close, mingling everyone’s stink of the day. Tavus was certain he could hear the loner’s heartbeat from across the room.
“Traveling by moonlight—is that a problem?”
“Not at all.”
“Even on western roads?”
“Then let us shake, Alexander, and mark your service.”
Alexander? Tavus raised an eyebrow. “Courier will do, Ma’m.”
“Nonsense. I loathe vague references.” She rose and held out her gnarled hand streaked with tobacco and ash. “You are an individual who deserves identity, even a false one. When the job is over, you are released from the name.” No human could smile the way she did then.
Something is very, very wrong. Miks better be careful, or he’s apt to lose more than his cover…
Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!