I arrived at Curry’s Catch at seven. The long building was a glorified shack sitting right on the dock, and it reeked of bait, fish, and fried food. I could hear voices and the occasional laugh inside. A handful of horses loitered at the hitching rail, and his bay, Brimborren, was among them. I noted a crossbow and sword nestled among the saddlebags. Dismounting, I flipped Hook’s reins over the rail, and gave both horses a scratch as they greeted one another. It’d been awhile.
I touched my knives, scanning the docks as I approached the open door. Ayglos was somewhere nearby, wandering the docks and keeping a weather eye. One could never be too careful when your invitation had come on a wanted poster. Even if—especially if—it was from an old friend.
As I stepped into the dim interior, my nose wrinkled as the scent of fried food and bait became overwhelming. I found him immediately; he was standing at a long counter to the right talking to the large woman behind it. And he was already looking at me, a smile teasing at his lips, as if he’d sensed my approach. Eloi, he looked good. His hair and skin had been burnished by weeks in the southern sun. He wore traveling clothes in mostly worn browns, tall boots coated with road dust, not a few knives tucked here and there. In the cool of the morning he wore a leather jerkin, but it hung open over his open collar shirt. He looked fresh off the road and fresh off success. I hadn’t seen him since he’d left on that job on the southern tip of the continent last fall, and my whole soul warmed to see Quilleran Rhydderick alive and well.
Quill stepped away from the counter carrying a platter. He jerked his chin for me to follow him to a spot removed from the other patrons. There were a goodly number of patrons—all of whom I’d glazed over entirely when I’d seen Quill. Bad form. I scanned the room quickly, they were hairy fishermen mostly, a few cattle hands mixed in, and they didn’t care at all about us. I strolled after Quill, turning my attention back to him, looking him over for injuries or anything out of place. He moved easily, strong and light on his feet.
He picked a spot where we could both keep an eye on the door. “You’re early,” he set the platter down and slid onto the bench.
I dropped onto the bench across from him and slapped the folded paper containing my likeness onto the table between us.
His smile broadened into a roguish grin, his eyes bright, “Did you like my note?”
I frowned at him, but it took an effort. “You’d better hope the servants didn’t see it; some people would turn their mothers in for less.”
“Please. You eat assassins for breakfast.” He picked up the paper and flicked it open, making a show of admiring my likeness. “I thought you’d appreciate seeing the latest price.”
I did, in fact. “Where did you get it?”
“At the border crossing between Magadar and the Empire.”
I smirked. Maybe hitting that caravan this past winter had been a little much, but it had been very satisfying. “Any for Ayglos?”
“No,” his grin quirked, “There was one with a description of a handsome dark-haired companion, but no picture. So vague as to be useless. Almost as if no one spent hours gazing at his face before giving a description.”
My eyes rolled. One mistake. One time. “Really? You, too?”
He folded the paper and slipped into a pocket inside his jerkin. “Have you had breakfast?”
I shook my head, turning my attention to the platter for the first time. Fried fish, biscuits and…some sort of white paste…it smelled good. Once I sorted the smell of the platter from all the other smells in the room. Quill handed me a fork. “Lucky for you, I knew you’d be early. I got enough for two. Though, Ayglos will have to fend for himself out there.”
I took the offered fork and twirled it through my fingers. “Why the note? Why not join us at the inn last night?”
“Ayglos was making a killing, you were reading.” He shrugged. Then, seeing my look, he added, “I felt my visit would make far too great an impression on the other guests. Word travels.”
I thought of the fancy merchants but decided to leave it for now and speared the fish with my fork. Internally, I blessed the food, adding a prayer for Eloi to preserve me from harm. Just in case. Eloi must’ve heard, because the first bite melted in my mouth just the way fish should, and I nearly moaned from pleasure. Inspired, I dipped my fork in the paste and tried it. Holy heaven. Butter and spices and a faint burn sizzled through my mouth. I smeared some paste on the fish and tried them together. Blessed harmony. I caught amusement in Quill’s eyes as I scraped extra paste onto another bite of fish. As if he’d drag me from the second most expensive inn in Tanglewood Springs to a dumpy fish shack for bad food. I arched a shoulder at him. Point.
We ate listening to the hum of fishermen discussing the morning’s catch, and our meal was mostly gone before I asked, “Why are you here, Quill?”
“Because I was told this place,” he waved his fork at the unremarkable shack surrounding us, “was the best breakfast in Tanglewood Springs.”
Very funny. “Why are you in Tanglewood Springs?”
“Looking for you.”
“Really?” I was surprised. “Why?”
Quill finished his half of the fish before replying. “I’ve got a job for you, if you want it.”
My brows went up. “What kind of job?”
“A job that requires a woman’s touch.”
I stared at him.
Quill set down his fork and stared back, one brow raised.
“What in Serrifis kind of job is that?”
His grin returned, slow and enthralling, “You’ll love it.”
“I’m less sure about that.”
“Three words,” he held up three fingers and ticked them down as he spoke, “Private. Hot. Baths.”
I leaned back. “You do know the way to a girl’s heart.” Also, how to find me in any city anywhere in the world. “How long?”
He considered. “By midsummer we will either be successful…or not.”
My brother and I had planned to spend the summer working our way southeast through Villaba toward the coastal city of Cartahayna, a glittering bed of silversmiths and tall ships. Angareth was southwest. Completely the other direction “What’s the job?”
“It involves twenty thousand gold, saving a woman’s life, and hopefully stopping a war before it starts.”
“That’s all?” my scoff was entirely ironic. I tapped the table as I considered. Or, pretended to consider. Fact was that I could never resist when Quill had a job. He had this gift for impossible things which I found utterly thrilling. “I’m interested,” I leaned forward, “Come to my suite and we’ll discuss the details over tea.”
Special thank you to my Patrons, I am so grateful for your support! Thanks for coming on this journey with me.
Share Zare with your friends and we will be a merry company.