Ch. 268. The Way Forward

Raurugia Rail Lines, Train No. 47 North

Ruili had only one thing on his mind when he entered the galley car with Y’lanna — well, two things if one counts his play, which was never far from his thoughts.  So, then, two things — supper and a rhyme for “lilac.”

But a third thing was added the moment he passed by the gang of four at the corner table — immediate and alert awareness of the precise placement and angle of the dagger in his belt.

He could not fail to catch the way the big one — the really big one — met and followed Y’lanna’s look with a bland, unresponsive expression such as Ruili had seen in many a low waterfront dive on many a tough.  It was an expression that said much by its very emptiness.  It added a great deal for him to the story told by Y’lanna’s words when they had sat down and been served a bottle of mead.

He took a long, thoughtful drink of the golden liquor, and then leaned forward on his elbow, chin resting on his hand, and gazed at Y’lanna with wonder.

“My darling Lady of the Lavender, that is fascinating,” he said, “but am I to understand that I have been the subject of an experiment?  You judge they are not hunting me by their reaction to me?  What would you have concluded if they had attacked me upon sight?” He smiled in spite of himself and shook his head.  “Since they are not hunting me or mine, I would say their business is none of ours, excepting that I can guess by the reaction of that enormous fellow to the sight of you how you came by this knowledge him and his friends.  Friendly chat with a fellow journeyman, I presume?  I’m not entirely sure which sounds the more dangerous proposition — to be the man those four hunt, or to be the man favored with your company over him.”

The barman returned with a pewter plate of kippered herrings, into which Ruili cut with a horn-handled table knife.

“Tell me, milady,” he said, chewing on a morsel of the savory fish, “do you still wear that charm old Middlepine gave you?  D’you remember, back on the Wolf?”

Ruili had never put much store in the almost limitless variety of love and sex charms (for and against) that were so popular just about everywhere.  In Y’lanna’s case, her allure before the charm of suitor deflection had seemed little diminished after it, so if she had made a conquest of yon gigantic apparent criminal, it would be no surprise.  But he did sincerely hope he could make it through this journey without having to fight a duel over a woman.  Not that he would hesitate even for a moment, but that was really more his brother Peino’s sort of sport.

They had another three or four days on this train, if all went smoothly, before they reached the mountain town of Isolla.  Ruili washed down some herring with a swig of mead and considered the many possibilities before him.

— — —

Meanwhile, for his part, Haug Handslayer had just one thought, not three, as Y’lanna walked by with her companion, and that thought was ‘toff.’

So the pretty purple lass was traveling with some rich, well-dressed lord-it-all, but liked to sneak out on him to kitten about with a bit of rough, eh?  Well, Haug reckoned he didn’t mind all that much, as he took the measure of the long-limbed elf who was being careful not to look his way.

His interest, bland as it may have seemed, caught the interest of the others as well, and they turned to look.

“Her again,” growled Ashcat, “and who’s that punter with her?  I don’t like seeing her everywhere.”

“You want me to keep an eye on them, boss?” Haug volunteered casually.

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