I nursed the fire for a couple hours while the storm howled around
(and sometimes through) our camp, visually scanning for outside
threat. My mind swirled like the snow gathering in drifts around us,
electrified by this new power I seemed to be able to harness only in
times of duress. Not wanted to disturb the tenuous slumber of my
ragged companions, I stepped carefully through their ranks toward
Cut-Nose. His eyes opened well before I neared him, his gaze fixed on
me. Appraising me for… what? Threat? Surely I had proven my loyalty.
Or maybe he was just getting his bearings. Either way, I wasn’t going
to fall asleep anytime soon so I took up position beside him as his
But how should I begin? The very concept of small-talk seemed like
something you’d read in a tome of ancient history. Might as well just
skip the foreplay.
“That fire trick of yours, you’re getting better. Saw the flames stay
on the brand afterward. Where’d you learn how to do that?”
Despite my exhaustion I was feeling invigorated, and somehow more connected to the world around me. I could sense Pigeon fluttering my way. He had a question in his eyes, and I wasn’t sure I had the answer. I got up and added some wood to the fire then sat down for my watch. The pigeon roosted next to me and asked his question. I did my best to answer:
Mostly, I just ask it. The queen likes to keep us unsightly slaves… out of sight. I was just a boy when I started in the stables, and old left-foot-lem sorf of looked after me. He told me, “we all of us have fire in us Nosey. earth and water and air too but its fire what moves us. You, boy, have too much fire in you, if your not careful the queen spill it all out at the stake. One day mahaps you can talk to the fire, but first you has to listen. the sky, the rivers, the trees, even the rocks all have things to say if you know what to listen for.”
Sometime when I was running the hounds I got a bit of what he was saying. Here and now, well its learn or die, and I don’t mean to die. So when I asked the fire to drive off the wolves it answered, else I’d be warming a wolf’s belly rather than my hands by the fire.
I laughed quietly, politely, at his wordplay. Old habits of Pigeon,
the boot-licking servant, I guess. He was trying to make light of the
situation (and most of me admired him for that), but as he mentioned,
he and I could potentially be burned alive for our talents. I prayed
his manipulation of flame would extend to that dread day as well.
“We make it to town with this bunch, we might come to prefer our time
here among the wolves. Whether you summon the power from within or
focus it from without as I do, all it takes is one of our grateful
companions seeking to heavy his purse… and we’ll be warming more
than our hands. Don’t get me wrong, I would never harm them, but how
do we know they’ll extend us the same courtesy?”
“Somebody cries WITCH and they are like to burn us all just be sure. None of us would be here if we was all full of love and trust for the Queen’s men. Most likely we all have secrets. For now we need shelter, and supplies if we hope to find our way out of this ’dwell without a caravan. No sense worrying about maybe being burned when the cold will kill is for sure, or the wolves, or a bear, or them gnoll creatures, or … well we have to live to see the village first.
“You’re right, my friend. No sense worrying for what might not come when I’ll need all my wits about me. Did you say you worked the kennels? Must have been some enlightened pups you raised if they had your wisdom within a paw’s reach.”
My mind at as much ease as it was likely to find, fatigue suddenly shuddered through my frame. I stood, clapping Cut-Nose on the shoulder before heading to my spot beside the fire. The rasping cough coming from the huddled form of Tain drew my attention.
“Let me know if I can help you find some sort of remedy for that one. I do not envy his cough.”