With this installment we come to the end of this short run. Wasn’t nearly as painful to wait as it might have been. But really, all I am doing right here is keeping you away from the story so I won’t stand in your way.
Check out the first half of the story at the link below.
Dance of the Shadow Wizard pt 2
She stood in the gazebo, a gift he built for her last summer. A day, an hour, any time away ached at his heart, the sight of her lifted the burden. She pulled up the hem of her dress and ran to meet him. They crushed together in a warm embrace, his traveling companion forgotten.
“All went well?” she said. “You were able to secure Mister Kren again I hope.” The words out of her mouth, but she did not wait for his answer. She threw her arms around his neck and pulled him in for a kiss.
“I missed you,” Braken said as he pulled away for air. “Yes, he will return with his crew. How are the grapes? They fat and juicy?”
“Will be a good year,” she said. She pulled away though a hand still entangled one of Braken’s own. “Forgive me sir, I had not noticed you. I did not mean to be so rude.” She gave a slight bow to Jadan, then straightened and adjusted her composure.
“I take no offense madame,” he said. “I understand you have been apart for a time.” He accepted her hand in a polite embrace. “Arlic Jadan, at your service.”
“You have been hired by my husband?” she asked. “It will be a bit still before we take on the field workers.”
“He offered a ride in exchange for a meal at our table,” Braken said. “At the time, I was cold and wet. It was an offer I thought better to accept.”
“As well you should have. Come, let’s get you in more suitable clothes and warm you with some soup.”
A modest house, they chose to keep it small and serviceable. The winery and cellars were in a separate building, much larger than their home. They gathered in the common room around the table. Maude poured soup into bowls and set them down in front of the men. She placed a log in the stove and stoked the embers before she joined them at the table.
“It was kind of you to share your coach with my Braken,” she said. “The little kindnesses seem to be in short supply these days.”
“It was nothing really. We shared similar destinations.” Jadan blew across the steaming soup on his spoon. “A hot meal of your delicious soup more than paid for the small trouble.”
“What is your destination,” Braken asked. “Are you traveling on to Locke?”
“There are a few things I will have to take care of there, yes.”
“Braken, could you be a dear and refill the wood pile,” Maude asked. “I hadn’t realized I went through so much making the soup.”
The inflection of her voice went unnoticed, though Braken made no protest. Instead he set his spoon down beside his bowl then stood. “I’ll be right back,” he said.
He picked up the wood carrier from beside the wood pile before he stepped out the front door. As the door closed behind him he scanned the valley in front of him. “What just happened?” he said. It tore at him worming into his brain. Plenty of wood still sat in the house. In the middle of summer they used it to cook but never so much that he would have to step outside during dinner.
He could still hear the words she had used, soft, ephemeral. Indistinct and pillowy they floated through his mind out of reach. He wouldn’t go back in. He felt the need to be outside strong in his core.
Braken put his ear to the door but heard nothing from the pair inside. He set the wood carrier down beside the stoop, his eyes locked on the gazebo. A stick and his carving knife lay on the wooden bench he built for her not so long ago.
Upon closer examination the stick had been worked with the knife. Intricate carvings graced opposing sides. The carvings were still fresh, hickory scented the air when he brought it close to examine.
“She’s been working her projects again…” He slipped the knife into his belt went back to the house with the stick in hand.
He stood at the front door, hand on the handle as he debated opening it. Maude could be in trouble. Probably was, no doubt. What ever this man intended Braken would be there to stop it. Still he hesitated, the handle felt heavier than he remembered. The dread he felt intensified,as he pushed at the door and it squeaked open. Jadan and Maude sat at the table. Their voices stopped when he stepped through the doorway.
Braken said nothing, walked across the room and sat at the table. He set the stick beside his chair and picked up his spoon. Warm and inviting, the soup filled him in a way he had forgotten. His eyes and spoon searched for the bottom of the bowl as he shoveled each spoonful into his mouth.
Jadan set his spoon beside his bowl and wiped his mouth with his napkin. “I daresay that was the best split pea soup I have ever had,” he said. “Thank you for your hospitality.” Maude said nothing as he stood, ready to step away from the table.
Braken took the stick in hand and slammed it onto the table. The sound and movement echoed in their home. “Sit down,” he said.
Jadan stepped back. “Is there a problem?”
His hand rested on the stick and his eyes still focused on the bottom of his soup bowl. “I haven’t finished my soup.”
“Braken, my love, I think it is time he leave,” Maude said. Her voice carried the inflection of earlier, a tone with a hidden desire.
“Not this time,” Braken said. His free hand lifted the soup bowl and poured the last of it into his mouth. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “I know your kind,” he said. His eyes now focused on Jadan.
Jadan stood his ground. “You have me mistaken…”
The stick smacked onto the table again. “Enough,” Braken said. “I will not tolerate this, not in my home.”
Maude sidled close to him, her hot breath on the back of his neck. “Let him go,” she said. The inflection in her voice intensified.
Her hands on his shoulders warmed him, a feeling of comfort much like the soup. The tension released from his muscles a section at a time; first his shoulders, then his upper arms, and finally his hands.
The color returned to his hand as he released his grip on the stick. “I know what he is,” Braken said.
“That’s right my love,” she said. Her words filled his heart with honey. Each syllable a weight that pushed his anger down. She slipped the stick from his hand and set it on the table out of his reach. Braken drifted off to sleep and she pulled away from him. “Leave,” she said to Jadan.
“What of the bargain?” His eyes followed the rise and fall of Braken’s chest.
“There is to be no bargain,” she said. “You over step your bounds.” She stood and straightened her dress. “Tell your master we will not deal.”
“Very well,” he said. “But this is not over.” He turned and marched out the door back and through the field.
Maude looked down at Braken. He had fallen forward his head resting on the table as he snored in deep slumber. “Too long away and you resist the geas,” she said.
Braken twisted and rolled, his head fell from his hand and smacked onto the table. The shock knocked him from his slumber. He looked about the room with sleep filled eyes. “Wha happen?” He asked.
Maude sat beside him and took his hands into her own. “You were overly tired. I hadn’t the heart to pull you from your slumber.” She sought his eyes with her own to no avail.
“I remember…” The words fought to find the surface of his mind. “Wasn’t there someone here?” He searched the empty room.
“Your trip must have taken a greater toll than you thought dearest,” she said. Her voice remained calm, soothing. It held no trace of the previous inflections. She had cleared the evidence of their visitor while he slept. His bowl and hers were all that remained. “You should finish your soup,” she said. “It would seem you need to rebuild your strength.”
He picked up his spoon, its weight strange and unnatural in his hand. He looked around the table, a feeling that something else was missing. Something he could hold.
“What is it?” She asked.
“Nothing,” he said. He looked at her and then through her. “Nothing at all.”