Dialog fixes everything.Just when a scene seems dead in the ink, it can breath in new life and give your characters a chance to strut their personalities with a little dialog. Normally I'm not the one in the middle of conversations, and so often times my pages are filled with sideline views. When I can get away from that, and let the characters talk, it blossoms.
The daughter was passing by, and noticed the condition of his stew. She ignored his protest, grabbing his bowl and heading straight for the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later bearing a tray of bowls and mugs. Without even asking if he wanted company, she set down the two bowls of stew with accompanying mugs. There was even a warm loaf of the rye bread to tease the appetite. She herself dropped into the seat opposite him.
Seated across from him she didn’t look quite as young as she had running ales through the crowd. The lines of her face still held the smoothness of youth, but he guessed that she was nearing thirty. The smile she’d worn like a painted on mask, now held genuine warmth as she flashed it at him over a spoon of the stew.
“I think you’ll like the bread. I made it this afternoon. I kept a few loaves in the warming basket. I even split the top with a drizzle of honey butter.”
“I’m not sure you want to sit there.”
“Of coarse I do. Why didn’t you say anything to the guards about the mouse?”
“You saw him take it?”
“No, but who else? I saw you grab him just before the fight.”
“I know they look shifty. I mean, use a razor on a rat and you could call them cousins, but it’s that very reason that they get the label of thief.”
“He had his hand on Jarl Frettle’s purse. You stopped him.”
“I didn’t see where he went after that.
The girl reached over to lift his journal from the side of the table. “You read much?” She flipped to a random page.
“That’s not for reading. It’s…”
“I see. Dearest Velimina; You’d love to see the deer I came across this morning. He stood proud on the ridge between two trees as though daring any hunter to try his luck. Who is Velimina?”
Reaching his hand out gently. “My wife.”
“There must be hundreds of these pages you’ve written, yet you haven’t sent them.”
She gently closed the journal and laid it in his outstretched hand. “Mine’s Nicquey. I’m sorry to hear about her. How?”
“That was a long time ago.”
“Mom’s done cooking for the night. Now’s when she comes out to swap gossip with the pair of old coots at the bar. I have time.”
“You’re really not letting it go?”
John sighed heavily as the memories came back once more. Thankfully dulled by the years. “I used to run through the hills as a young man, playing hunter. Velimina was a few years younger, but already filling out as a woman. Her father owned a tavern, much like this one. She would have withered there, serving drinks to the local farmers. Her heart was in the wilds, so she often took off to follow me.”
“I bet her father was furious at you.”
“The town was small, and his popularity made him the mayor. I was good at my hunting, enough that I could make a good living for the both of us. As good as I was, she was better. She could see prints in places that seemed impossible. She claimed it was like knowing the animals had been there, even though there was nothing to actually see.”
“There’s a twinkle in your eye when you talk of her. Hold on a minute.”
Nicquey strode over to the bar to pull one of the wine bottles off the shelf. Fresh mugs kept the deep red port from tasting like ale. By now there was only two other patrons, that her mother was happily laughing along with as they did horribly rude things to a song about herding sheep.
“I finally got tired of chasing after her, and asked her to marry me. She had scowled and turned away without a word. I feared I’d lost her for an entire day before she walked past me with a simple ‘yes, I will’. We had to put the marriage off for a month so that her family could plan it.”
“That sounds like a good thing. I’m sure her father let you stay in the inn until you got a house built.”
“Two weeks later, almost to the day, she fell ill. Nothing the apothecary could do even touched her fever. Fearing some thing nameless had grabbed her. The Dianasi priestess prayed over her for only a minute before screeching the truth. Velimina was being consumed from the unleashing of her magic; there was nothing the priestess could do for her.”
“A mage? How? Nobody knew?”
“I should have seen the signs when she could imagine tracks. In the turmoil of that announcement, her mother started blaming me for awakening magic in her girl, as though it were something contagious. Her father threw us both out to save his reputation as mayor. She was so weak from the ravages of awakening magic, that I had to tie her into the saddle for a four-day ride to Ridgemont.”
“But mages are highly sought after.”
“Trained mages, yes. Wild mages don’t have the training to control their magic. Magic gone wild could do something like incinerate the whole house, including the poor mage. The Uiyah temple in Ridgemeont seemed the only hope to a poor man trying to save his fiance. I didn’t care about trying to control her magic; all I wanted was her.”
“Couldn’t they help her?”
“They could keep her sedated with the help of an apothecary. That gave me time enough to ride for the Crystal Towers. Three days without rest to get there. I didn’t even blink at the cost they asked. Two years of pledged service for a rune that would react to her magic. All I had to do was get it to her and her own magic would make it work.”
“In the six days I was gone, her magic became dangerous, even under the herbs. Without the runes, her only hope of surviving was to strip away the magic building within her. I’m told she screamed for the entire four hour ritual. In the end, there was not a trace of her behind the blankly staring eyes. Her heart beat, and she breathed, and yet she could do nothing else. Like a summer gourd that’s been dried, there was nothing left inside the shell. I sat with her for a week as she slowly starved, unable to even eat.”
“What did you do about the rune? And your pledge?”
“I had nothing left that I cared for. I left the rune with the priest, vowing that I’d remove his head unless he used it for the next wild mage. I returned to the Crystal Towers to honor my pledge. Two years stretched into twenty something now.”
“You still serve them?”
“The best thing I could do for Velimina is to honor what she was. The towers pay me to safeguard mages.
“Just how many times have you told that story?”
“To people? This would be the fourth time, but my horse is really tired of hearing it. Then again, I tell him the long version too.”
“I’ll grab another bottle on the way up to your room, and you can read some of the letters to me.”
“I’m not looking to settle down somewhere.”
“And I’m not looking to run away, or have you rescue me from all this, or a thousand other methods of departing this old inn. We both just need company for the night. And no, I’m not trying to take your mind off Velimina; you earned your memories of her.”
John slid the journal back into his small pack, hoisting it to his shoulder. One last glance at her back as she was slicing off a wedge of cheese, and he headed up the stairs. The inn may have looked worn, but the building was sound. The steps solid under his feet. Nicquey was humming something he couldn’t remember the name of when he rounded the landing to the upper floor.
A few steps later her tune was drowned out by the unmistakable deep voices of Dwarves having a go at one of their ballads. By the sound of it, they had finished off at least one keg. Who makes a ballad about a cracked mug? John continued on past their room, not wanting to refresh the experience of searching for the lost coffer. His room was at the end, with a view of the mountains he’d be crossing tomorrow.
His door swung open to the small room that was one of the best in the house. A small table held the tin washbowl and pitcher, with the full bucket on the floor next to it. A hook outside the window kept the chamber pot from stinking up the room, and the straw filled bed was covered in a patchwork blanket, no doubt crafted by the innkeeper’s wife. Currently it also boasted a Bogrunner sitting cross legged on it, and fumbling with a familiar looking coffer.
“Is ‘bout time ya git here.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Is thinkin’ that be… um… oblivious. No, obvious. Yes.”
John heard the steps behind him, and whirled around expecting to find the town guard springing a trap on him. Fortunately he never completed the drawing of his dirk, or it might of caused Nicquey to drop her tray. She took the scene in at a glance and flashed an angry glare at John.
“You were in on it the whole time?”
“No, I… I’ve never met that guy before. I was just asking him why he chose my room to hide out in.”
“Is Barune ya poked. Is good eye ya gots ta see Barune.”
Nicquey turned, with the tray still in hand. “I’ll call the guard.”
John gently laid his hand on her arm. “Wait. That could bring all kinds of trouble. Let’s settle this now.”
“We need to get that back to them.”
“Is good ya helps Barune. Is shinies ta share.”
John grabbed the coffer from the little thief’s hands. “Give me that.” He slammed the coffer down on the table, where it promptly shook and tipped on its side.
“Is seein’ too? Is box jumpin’. Is shinies what wiggle.”
“John, I’ve seen those Dwarves before. Twice they’ve come through with boxes just like that. Is it alive?”
“Is box Barune no open. Is good eye can opens Barune box. Is shinies ta share.”
“It’s a Dwarven maze box. Each one is different. I’ve only seen one before. Theres a trick, a maze, to opening them. The more complex, the more highly desired.”
“So why is this one moving?”
For being barely over two feet tall, the Bogrunner could move quickly. In a heartbeat he had snagged the box from the table, and resumed his spot on the bed, hunkered over the treasure that looked enormous in his hands.
“Is arm of tree moves.”
“No, not the tree. Don’t move that. Dwarves don’t work with trees. Axes, rocks, picks, those sort of things.”
The mousy thief danced out of reach while still fiddling with the ornate work on the coffer. His long slender fingers twisting each little protuberance, trying to unravel the secrets of its maze. He even tried nibbling on the corner of the metal box.
“Is no goods. You tries it.”
He tossed the coffer at John and perched on the edge of the bed to watch the big man work. John scrutinized the box, testing for slight movements of the ornate metalwork. Dwarven craftsmanship was so precise that even seams looked solid. Nicquey set the tray on the table to stand beside John, watching silently.
John had surrendered to his own curiosity about the coffer. Nothing that he could think of would explain why it had moved. Something alive, maybe, but that wouldn’t explain why it was so valuable. Twenty minutes of gently prodding the coffer finally resulted in a soft click. Barune snagged the box from John.
“Is good eye for box.”
His broad smile vanished into a puzzled expression as he flipped the lid open.
“Is shiny um… animule?”
Barune tilted the opening forward so that the others could look inside. The bright silver rodent inside was about eight inches long with blue paws.
“I’ve heard of those before. Something Vole.”
“Where do they come from, John?”
“I don’t know. The deep roads most likely. Want to go ask the Dwarves where they got it?”
“Is funny looking.”
“Put a pair of britches on it and you could call it cousin. I think it has your whiskers.”
“Is good pet, I keeps?”
“Now you’ve seen it. It has to go back to them. Besides, look at the color. It probably eats silver.”
“Listen you little thief. I’ll give you one chance. Take this back to the Dwarves, and get your tail out of this town. If Nicquey sees you around here, she’ll call the guard to haul you away. Now choose door or window.”
“Is window I go.”
The bogrunner opened the window, and climbed out onto the narrow ledge. His long fingers finding holds easily. In moments he disappeared from view, over the top of the roof.
“Now what do we do?”
“I don’t think he’ll be back. That cheese smells good.”
“But the box.”
“I think he’ll find a way to get it back to them. Did you want to hear some of these?”
Nicquey snuggled close to John under the light of the sconce. “A few.”