A Big Shiny Blue Marble Ch. 09byTaLtos6©
***Sometimes what you don't want to see just shows up anyway, no matter what you do. 0_o
They ran into each other now and then over the next two weeks. It hadn't been the intent of either of them -- it had just happened.
Selena was in an area a little far from her home, and had stopped at an inn for the night. The next morning, she was on her way out of the door when she saw them. He felt that she was nearby, he didn't even have to try to sense her. All that he needed to do was to look down.
Nahl'een's little head was looking in her direction.
Selena stopped where she was, halfway down the steps. She stood there enthralled as they rode slowly past, Dahlgren and his little girl. Selena didn't know why, but she felt a sudden pang in her heart to see them.
She thought that he hadn't seen her, but the truth of it was that he made certain not to look.
But what rooted Selena to the spot was the way that the girl in the saddle in front of him stared at her, turning her head as they rode past. The bright blue eyes fixed on her like a pair of lances into her soul. It went on long after it should have stopped, long after the girl who might have found something of interest to her in a stranger's face should have looked away. She even leaned back a little, trying to see around him.
She watched them ride off slowly out of sight. She could see that they were talking to each other. He was pointing something of interest out to her in any direction but the one where she stood. He didn't look back once.
Selena left then, on her way to some business of her own in another direction and a little glad of it. Seeing the pair of them bothered her for the next three days.
Just as she'd gotten over it and was back in the same town, she'd seen them again. She was in the small shop there to buy a bit of meat and some bread for her trip home. She had some money and no desire to have to hunt something up for dinner. She just wanted to get away from there.
But as she stood at the counter, waiting for the slowest shopkeeper in the known world to weigh out the quantity of meat that she wanted, he came in, suddenly turning to look for something on the shelves in another part of the shop. She couldn't wait to pay, and he had no idea why he was looking at women's shoes.
But at last, she had her purchases and was on her way out of the place. There was a girl there, next to his horse, the one that she'd know anywhere at a glance. She was speaking to a couple of other children, but just as Selena made it to the edge of the top step, the girl stopped speaking and her head turned around.
Those huge blue eyes stopped Selena cold.
A woman was walking up the steps. She looked at Selena and smiled. Selena nodded once, still looking at the girl.
"Excuse me," the woman said, "Is that man in here, the one who comes here with that little girl there sometimes?"
Selena nodded vacantly, still held by the blue gaze. "Yes," she said a little absently, "Why?"
"I think he's the ranger, isn't he? From the way that you're dressed, you must ride with him. Is that your little girl?"
"No," Selena replied. "I don't ride with him. He's, ... "
"He's right behind you," the woman smiled, "Excuse me."
Selena walked down the steps. The little girl almost jumped back a step, and was about to run away.
In that instant, Selena saw two young riders racing through the town without thinking to look for people on the street. Selena lunged and pulled the girl back as they passed. The girl turned her head, and Selena saw the fear in her eyes. She let go of the girl's hand and watched dumbly as she ran past her to Dahlgren. He picked her up.
Selena strode to her horse without looking back and dumped her purchases into the closest saddlebag to swing up into the saddle as quickly as she could. She groaned as she realized that she'd need to ride right past them. She tried not to look, but she just couldn't stop herself.
Time had long since gone into a sort of slow motion for Selena. She saw that the two of them were looking at her, paying no mind to the other woman who stood there talking to them.
She'd have ridden straight home then, if she could. But it wasn't possible. It was a good three day ride from where she was, four at a relaxed pace, and Selena was anything but relaxed. She was upset.
She'd seen two different things in that little girl's face. At first, she'd seen wonder and maybe longing, but it had changed in the blink of an eye when she'd held the girl's arm to keep her from being ridden down by the two young fools. What she'd seen then was terror.
She shook her head, but the image remained in her mind of a little girl who'd been in terror of her.
There was something else as well, and she'd seen it as she'd been spurring her horse and looking at them. She hadn't heard a thing but the sound of her pulse in her ears, but she'd seen Dahlgren Runei's lips moving as he'd watched her pass. She'd been riding for almost an hour before she realized that he'd been thanking her.
She slowed her mare to a slow walk and hung her head as she began to cry. She didn't know why, she just felt the need to do it. She thought that she must be losing her mind.
As she rode into the third town later that day, she decided that she just couldn't go on any further. She really hoped that a decent night's sleep was all that she needed, and so she headed for the inn that she knew there.
As she walked up to the innkeeper, he straightened and grinned, giving a nod to someone across the room, "Why, Miss Patty," he exclaimed, using the only name for her that he knew her by, "Yer lookin' like you've been ridin' just ahead of the devil himself. Come on and have a sit by the fire. I've got yer favorite table there with a chair free fer you to sit at. There'll be no standin' against the wall and waitin' fer a seat fer you tonight. Will you be stayin' the night with us this time?"
She nodded dumbly, really wishing that he hadn't used that one particular turn of phrase, as she allowed him to guide her to the table by the fire. It was almost deserted, but for one other person. Selena didn't care. All that she wanted was a little warmth by the fire and a pint into her, and then maybe a bowl of something hot before she turned in. The old innkeeper pulled back a chair for her and she sat down heavily. It took her a second to realize that the man still stood there expectantly.
"Have you got any good stew?" she heard the other person say. It came to her that this was a woman. A little odd, but then this place wasn't as rough as a lot of the places where Selena bedded down occasionally. It was just a little different, that was all.
"Yes Mum," he smiled, almost bowing and causing Selena to wonder why, "We've got a few on the go tonight. We've a good beef stew, some tasty rabbit stew, even venison tonight, if there's any of it still left."
"We'll have a bowl each of the venison stew, or the beef if the venison is gone, and a pint of dark each as well," the stranger said, "Oh, and some good crusty bread if you have that too."
Selena raised her head, looking across the table in a bit of wonder. She began to reach for her pocket for a little coin.
"Forget it, Patty," the man said, "This lady's been waitin' on you for a long time now. She's already paid for whatever you want. Yer in luck, Mum, the bread's not long out of the oven and I can bring yer a load of it still hot, I hope. I'll be back in a shake."
"What is this?" Selena asked, as she looked across the table a little suspiciously. The other person wore a hood, pulled down low, and all that Selena could see was the lower half of a strikingly beautiful face.
"Nothing bad, so you needn't fear," the woman said, "Let's just wait a minute until old Bob there gets our pints at least, though you look as though you're in need of the stew more than the pint."
It took a few minutes and as they waited, Selena looked around the place. For this time of day and this day of the week, the place looked about the same as it did at any other time that she'd ever been in here. The old constable was in, but then he almost lived here. She'd never actually seen him anywhere other than in here.
She looked for her contact -- the man who might come to her if there were any jobs on the go which she might be interested in. But he was nowhere in sight. It was a little odd.
But Bob bustled over at that point and in another minute, Selena had a hot bowl of goodness in front of her and a pint near her right hand. A large basket of warm, sliced, crusty bread sat off to the side between them, covered with a cloth.
Selena felt the heat of the stew as a big spoonful slid down her throat. She almost wanted to cry for the way that it felt so good inside of her, radiating warmth instantly. She looked across the table, and the other woman was eating as well. "Go ahead, eat. Get some life back into you. We've plenty of time for the talk that I want." She nodded in the direction of the rest of the room.
"The copper's already stupid with all the bitter ale that I could pay for inside of him. I expect that he'll fall over asleep in a few more minutes.
Your man Harry -- the one who looks for work for you? He's a little loose too tonight, and right now, he's in the arms of a very bored wench and he thinks that he's giving her the fucking of her life. She can't wait for him to finish. I've bought her for him all night, and she's dying for him to squirt his load and drop off to sleep, just like all the other times. Then she can enjoy a long sleep, since she doesn't have to service anyone else tonight. All of the other girls are busy as you can see if you look."
Selena began to smile and it turned into a grin in another few seconds. This girl really knew how to read a room. She began to chuckle, but her companion grew a little serious just then.
"By the way, if I were you," she said, "I'd try to make the acquaintance of the big boy there, the one in the red shirt? Not tonight, but maybe soon, have a little chat with him. Your Harry's a rat. He's looking to sell you out to the deputy constable, the young one who is trying to make a name for himself before he dies of boredom in this place. Harry's thinking that you're a little too tight with your cut to him. But our big man there, well, he's missing his pretty boyfriend tonight because Harry sold him out to the law for skimming town funds. Red is nursing a grudge, and you ought to talk to him before he acts on his own.
A little smooth talk -- since you're safe from him, and a little coin, no more than a silver, I'd say, and old Red there would be happy to slip a dirk through one of Harry's kidneys. In -- twist -- and out, and Harry won't rat out anyone anymore. You know that nothing can stop a cut kidney from bleeding him dry. I'd go over there right now and talk to Red for you, but we don't need the excitement that it would cause, do we? You're too tired for that sort of fun tonight."
Selena laughed a little nervously. This lady could read things a little too well for someone who wasn't even in here every night. She'd never seen her before.
She sipped her ale a little and went back to her stew. Her companion grabbed a slice of the bread and dipped it a little in her own stew. After bringing it to her mouth, she closed her eyes in bliss for a moment. "Oh, you have to try this stew with a bit of the bread. This makes a day on the back of a horse looking for you worth every minute."
"You were looking for me?" Selena asked.
The other woman nodded earnestly, "I was. And I'm so happy to have found you, finally. I have a bit of business for you, if you're interested -- and I so hope that you are."
It was hard not to like the other person, Selena found, especially when she smiled. She found herself smiling along before she knew it. "What needs doing, "she asked," and what's the offer for the pay?"
"MMph, "the woman made a noise as she held up her hand, her mouth full of stew and bread. "Sorry," she smiled after a moment, "I'm really being a bit piggish, but this is so good, isn't it?"
Selena nodded and the woman began. "Alright, no offer," she said, "The price is fixed because the job is guaranteed. You don't even have to do very much, but it'll cost you two days of your time, once you get there, three at the outside, and that's beyond traveling time. We're not paying for that. Oh! I almost forgot,... Here."
She slid a gold coin across the table to Selena, keeping her hand over it so that only Selena could see what it was. Selena stared and looked up.
"This is yours," she said, "It's the pay for only sitting here tonight and listening to me tell you about the job."
"But," Selena almost exclaimed.
"Shh, " the woman smiled, reaching with her other hand to place the coin in Selena's hand, "Take it. Really, it's yours just to hear me out. You can accept it and walk, once you've heard me, or you can stay and hear it all. I can tell you that there are ten more as pay for the job, see?"
She opened the hand that she'd slipped into her pocket and Selena could see that there were ten more golds there. She'd never seen that many in one place in her life.
The woman closed her hand. "I'm serious. Now, are you in just to listen?"
Selena opened her hand for the briefest instant and then closed it again, slipping the coin into her breast pocket with a nod.
The other woman smiled in a bit of relief.
"Are you sure that you're talking to the right person?" Selena asked, "I'll tell you for nothing that I've never had a payday as big as what you're talking about."
The woman shook her head. "That's not important. I know about you and what you can do. Even that isn't what's really needed here. We're looking for the right person, and no one else will do. What I want will be like a walk in the churchyard on a sunny day for you, easy as slipping on cowshit. But it has to be you, no one else. I know who you are. I won't say your name above a whisper in this place. It's not important to anyone else, but it's so important to me."
She slid another coin across the table under her palm. When it got to Selena's hand, she tapped gently with her index and middle fingers. "This is something else. It has nothing to do with the job. This is the thanks of a small family for something that you did for us. Please, if you don't take the job or anything else, please take this with our thanks."
"I don't know what you're talking ab-"
Sh," the woman said, "Take it and I'll explain."
Selena palmed the coin and it went into her pocket as well. "Look," she said, "You're making me jumpy. Nothing ever happens for me like this. I haven't done a thing, and I have these. What's going on?"
"Alright," the woman said, "You ought to know who you're dealing with, right? You'd do a lot of jobs for a lot less than I'm willing to pay, but this much makes you nervous. I can understand that. Just sit still for a moment."
Selena found that she suddenly could not move or speak. It frightened her, but the other woman began to speak then, in soft tones to try to calm her.
"I'll release you in a few minutes. I happen to know that you have certain, ... fears. I also know that you likely got them for a good reason. That's my problem here -- to get you past them, at least long enough to listen.
I need you to get past them, and I think that we can do this, but you must hear me out. This way, you'll at least sit here long enough for me to finish. No harm will come to you, you have my word, and my word is better than the word of anyone who you might know, except for one man, and it is most certainly better than your own, ..." She leaned forward to whisper.
She sat back a little for a moment. "I wouldn't need to do this if I knew that you'd listen, but I have no intention of seeing you put your hands over your ears like a child. It's demeaning to us both, to say the least.
Now," she began, "My name is Ny'Zeille. If it happens to sound a little like a demonic name to you, that's because I am a demon."
Selena would have jumped up screaming, but she couldn't move a hair. She watched as the eyes which she couldn't see until now glazed over reflectively for just an instant in the darkness under that hood.
"Just so that you know who it is that you're dealing with," she smiled.
"The second coin that I gave you is for what you did this morning when you grabbed a little girl's arm to keep her from running into the path of a pair of horses. She was frightened of you, and she does not know why, much the same as you are frightened of me right now. I'd bet a lot of money that if I asked you just what it is that you are afraid of, you would not be able to tell me a real reason which makes any sense to either of us. All that you know is rooted in the superstition that you have heard in taverns since you left your home.
It's alright. I understand, so don't think that I am insulted. I understand you far better than you know. Your family was attacked by red demons for nothing which they did. My man was killed by humans, defending me as I gave birth to our son. Other than your point of view, there's really no difference, is there? So you see, I do understand you.
And you should know something else. I killed those who killed the one that I loved. They were the only humans that I have ever harmed on this world. I certainly have no intention of harming you.
Again -- just so you know -- there is more than one person who is grateful to you for what you did. The little girl's name is Nahl'een. It means Jewel of the Evening. You know that a ranger has adopted her as his daughter. They love each other very much. I love that little girl very much as well, Selena. She is my granddaughter. The ranger is my son.
It has happened that he has found children, survivors of the mayhem that he must deal with sometimes. If he can, he brings them to the local church or to the temple orphanage. In the case of Nahl'een, he saw at once that she was the same as he is, and the two found that they needed each other, her needing a parent mostly, and so he has taken her as his own daughter. They are the same. In case you need reminding, my son's father was a human.
This job that I wish to offer you involves nothing untoward about it at all. There is no crime that I wish to be committed by you. Indeed, you wouldn't understand my reasons, but by having you do this for me, I am trying to prevent what I believe to be a crime from occurring. Mostly, it involves a bit of your time, to answer questions about when you were a little girl yourself. After that, you will be asked to do simple things, such as picking up a pebble. I make no joke here.
You might wonder why I would pay anyone so much for such a thing. The answer is simple. It will involve you being in a home where two people live; my son and Nahl'een. There are a few demonic things there, but they'll leave you alone unless you try to steal something or hurt Nahl'een. Other than that, I can guarantee your safety.
It doesn't matter what a person's circumstances might be, Selena, everyone has their price. I set the pay for the job to be more than enough to interest you, that's all.
I understand that there might have been the beginnings of something between you and Dahlgren, but that you ended what was beginning likely because you learned of what he is. That is neither here nor there to me. You might feel a little uncomfortable to see him again and so the gold is partly to pay you in compensation for that. If being in the same room with him for a couple of hours over two days really bothers you, try to remember the ten golds that I'm paying you. You will likely only have to answer his questions to the best of your recollection.