Tue Nov 10, 2020 6:39 am
In Aithne, autumn performed its office well.
That was not to say that buildings did not suffer fire or farmhouses did not catch the blackness of fires blown by cool breezes, or that trees did not turn to ash. Acreage found itself clogged by ash and patches of the woods smoked like scorched skeletons. Yet, it was the bone-deep dampness of a moist fall season that gave the fires pause, that forced whatever spark had alighted the world to stutter, stammer, and stumble its way through a short existence.
She found a gaggle of men and women, soot-stained and sweating, sharing a flask of whiskey. They knew her; once, they'd just been satisfied calling her tall or fat or dark, but now they called her Gloria ("Gloria — you know, the one with those teeth!") and understood by the tired sparks in her gray eyes and the black sweat lining her collar that her heart raced for answers.
"We lost no one," Alleander Gray told her, raising the flask. "Don't live long around these parts not being able to smell fire at its first sparks. Maybe some cattle, but that's it."
In the smoke-gray morning, the Jerno turned her head to regard the black scar slashed across a nearby field, where three lumps of char still lay smoking.
"Just some cattle," Alleander confirmed.
Fist time in hours she'd spoken. Her four-fingered hand touched Caliir's foamy, tangle-haired side. His blind eyes saw nothing. They'd have to talk. They would certainly have to talk. "Did you see who caused it?"
"Could have been some kids, we thought, until we saw the glow from up your way." He nodded toward the highroad. "It's certainly something."
That seemed fitting. It certainly was something. A premeditated and organized...attack? Distraction? Diversion? She scraped at the hairline of her neck underneath her sweaty bonnet. It certainly was something. Alleander Gray offered her a swig from the flask, which she took with no hesitation. Her teeth clamped in momentary pain. Then he said, "It's just smoke now, and something to think about. Care for something to break the fast? We've a bit to spare, for coming out all this way."
She followed Alleander Gray and his gaggle of dirty men and women into Aithne proper. They passed by the human debris of a night spent fighting tireless flames: two boys sleeping underneath a water-cart, a girl scrubbing black flakes from a dog's mangy hair with a horse-brush; a woman with her skirts hiked half-hidden in the fields, nearly crippled with a bout of the runs. All dirty, all muddy, they could have been resting miners, maybe surviving combatants of some battle or ordeal. Gloria Wynsee had never much said anything of important to Alleander Gray, but they had a flagon of tea and he warmed her with two links of salted sausage.
In the silence of morning, her eye caught something hanging above the mantle. "I would ask a favor of you, Ser Gray," Gloria said.
He inclined his chin, tilted his head to the left. Wordless assent.
She told him. His smile could have been a crescent moon.