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Authors: Rachel Rossano

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BOOK: Wren (The Romany Epistles)
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“Coming where?”

I sighed. “To watch me skin our kills? If this coming winter
is going to be as bad as I have heard predicted, we are going to need all the
meat we can preserve.” I then turned and heeled Brone forward. As we trotted
back up the trail, I listened without glancing back. Within moments, the sound
of horse hooves reached my ears.
Thank you, Deus,
I whispered.




Night dominated the sky before Dardon and the newcomer
appeared. I tried to watch for them without noticeably doing so. However, when
Kat declared dinner ready, I announced that I would go fetch them. I prided
myself on being a reasonable judge of character, but this Romany woman was not
a typical woman. She defied any classification I had previously known.

Dardon was a grown man, a skilled warrior, and capable of
handling himself against any man, let alone a woman half his size no matter
what her skills were. I reminded myself again of this fact as I stepped out
into the courtyard with my cloak in hand. Voices stopped me.

The silver glow of moonlight filled the courtyard showing
the reason why the two of them took so long in returning. Two lygra pelts hung
from the meat hooks imbedded in the outer walls of the smokehouse. Dardon,
loaded down with slabs of meat, ducked through the smokehouse doorway and
disappeared. A moment later he appeared with Wren on his heels.

He spotted me across the courtyard. “Is dinner ready?” he
called. “I am starved.”

I stepped aside. “Kat has stew simmering and yesterday’s
bread on the table. If we don’t get in there soon, she is going to start
threatening to not feed us.”

“Kat’s stew changes quality from day to day,” he informed
Wren. He gestured that she should precede him through the door. “Her bread,
however, is almost worth dying for.”

Wren smiled warmly back at him and shook her head, hanging
back. “I am just going to finish settling Brone.”

“I can do that,” I offered. “Kat will be disappointed if she
doesn’t see you two soon. She enjoys having new people to test foods out on.”

She shook her head again. “Brone and I have a routine. If I
don’t tend to him, he will keep your mounts up all night in revenge.”

“Then tell Kat that we will be right in,” I instructed
Dardon. He shot me a searching glance.

“Any time increment I should mention?”

“Minutes,” Wren answered.

Dardon nodded and ducked past me and through the door. Wren
and I turned toward the stable. Halfway across the courtyard I finally said,
“You didn’t have to bring in the lygra meat. I am not even sure I am going to
be able to convince Kat that it is acceptable to eat.”

“A human can eat anything if they are hungry enough.”

“Do you speak from experience?”

“Unfortunately, yes, but that was long ago.”

The animals greeted us as we stepped into the darkness of
the stable. I reached for the lantern I kept near the door, but she didn’t wait
for light. By the time the wick caught, she was in Brone’s stall, brushing him
down, whispering something in a strange tongue. Trader nickered from his stall,
clearly jealous that I wasn’t paying attention to him. I crossed to rub his
nose, giving Wren some space to complete her routine. Leaning over to lay my
cheek against his, I drank in the horsey smell of his hide. He huffed and
nuzzled my shoulder. Just as I was about to suggest that we finish and move
toward dinner, a furious fluttering of wings startled me.

I lifted my head to find myself observed by a single golden
eye. The bird perched on the half wall of the stall as though she belonged
there. Her white feathers glowed with an unworldly hue in the golden light of
the lantern. We examined each other. She kept switching from one eye to the
other while I admired her hard, curved beak, perfect for tearing through the
flesh of prey or foe. Her talons, long and deadly, bit into the soft wood
beneath her. I began to wonder if I could risk moving.

“I think she likes you.”

I didn’t dare drop the bird’s gaze. “How can you tell?”

“She hasn’t spoken yet.” Wren made a clicking sound with her
mouth and the white falcon’s head swiveled around to regard her. Then with a
sudden rush of flapping, the falcon flew at the woman. My breath caught in my
chest when for a moment I thought the falcon was attacking her. The white
falcon perched on her shoulder. Then she regarded me regally, as though warning
me not to come closer.

“I hope she doesn’t bother you.” Wren reached up to detach
something from the bird’s leg. “I know I should have mentioned Iolani and the
others to you before, but I didn’t know how their presence would be received.”
She stroked Iolani’s white chest with the back of her finger. The bird curled
its head and neck at an impossible angle to stroke its beak down Wren’s cheek.
“I can make sure they never come while I am within the walls if you would
prefer it.”

I shook my head. “No, I see no reason to ban them. As long
as they don’t attack the horses or us, they can come and go as they please.”

Wren stroked the bird’s chest again, almost absentmindedly.
“Thank you.” She smiled at me in a way that made her face blossom into something
strangely wonderful. Then, as suddenly as the expression appeared, it vanished.
“Go on, Iolani.” She whispered something softly and then made a sound in the
back of her throat. The bird bobbed its head, hopped from her shoulder to the
half wall and then flew out the open door.

“I guess I should ask. How many of those do you keep?”

“I don’t keep them actually, but if they are all in one
place, they number seven.” She tucked away the small cylinder that she retrieved
from the bird’s leg. “You said something about dinner.”

I nodded, mentally noting I needed to warn Dardon and Svhen
to not harass her. Any woman who was on such friendly terms with seven falcons
required great respect. One wrong move and one of us could lose an eye or two.
I ushered her back toward our sleeping quarters, wondering what kind of person
I had allowed into our midst.




Dinner tasted good. The slightly undercooked vegetables in
the stew ruined the texture, but the bread, as Dardon predicted, melted in your
mouth. My speed in finishing my portion earned me a pleasant smile from the
lady of the house. For a lady was what Katherine was.

Her brother, Tourth, and the men made it clear from their
behavior that she was someone to be coddled, protected, and tolerated. Arthus,
though obviously uncomfortable with the pampering, obediently lounged close to
the fire and drank copious amounts of an herbal tea Katherine insisted would
help him heal. He expressed his discontent by replying to some of Tourth’s
queries with a barely civilized grunt. Svhen always answered Katherine’s
questions. Dardon, however, did not show as much deference to her. He teased,
prodded, and cajoled her with the obvious intent of getting her to laugh.

As I watched, I wondered what it would be like to be in her
position. My brothers were wonderful brothers. Now beyond my family’s company,
I had no one to treat me as a sister. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t exactly
what they would think of as a lady. I wore leggings, could skin a ridgeback
lygra, and associated with seven falcons. Hardly ladylike accomplishments.

I shifted in my seat. As I considered her position, I
realized I was content in mine. Given the choice, I would not trade any of my
skills for hers, despite the usefulness of being able to bake such delicious
bread. Deus made me the way I was. He gave me the skills I needed to survive
knowing that I would need them.

I set down my mug on the nearby table and turned my
attention to the rest of the room. Katherine laughed at Dardon’s comments.
Svhen whittled at a block of wood barely the span of his hand. Tourth stared
into the fire.

“So, what are the tasks for tomorrow?” Arthus asked.

Tourth leaned back in his chair and frowned. “We can’t take
the sheep back to that pasture. They will be too disturbed by the smell of
death and lygra.”

“How about the western fields?” Arthus appeared eager to be
moving even tonight. “I could take them that way in the morning.”

“You will do no such thing,” Katherine protested. “You need
to rest and heal.”

“It is only a scratch, Kat.” Arthus sat up and threw off the
blankets over his legs to demonstrate. “It isn’t as though the cat crippled me.
Let me take shepherding duty tomorrow, Tourth. I will make sure that they eat

“What about the eastern fields by the traders’ road?” I

Katherine, Arthus, and Dardon turned to look at me. Svhen
continued whittling away without pause. “If we pastured the animals there,
Orac’s enforcer would see them,” Tourth replied.

“Orac doesn’t know that Tourth and I are still alive,”
Katherine offered.

“And if he did, he would either force Tourth to attend court
or have him killed.” Arthus gestured to Dardon, Svhen, and himself. “We are the
only reason he is alive right now as it is.”

“Why would Orac want him killed?” I scanned their faces.

“Because I will not attend him at court as assuming my
father’s title requires. I refuse to tax my tenants when Orac’s enforcer is
already demanding five days’ work every fortnight from each able-bodied male
over fifteen. Their labor builds his eyesore of a castle. You might have seen
it at the other end of the valley.”

I shook my head. I missed it, but I intended to go looking
for it later.

“The people are already starving,” Katherine added. She
shook her apron out violently. “This winter promises harsher weather than the
last, and the harvest has been meager.”

Tourth nodded. “I should have been clearer about our
bargain. Between now and the next rain, we will be completely concerned with
working our neighbors’ fields. Many of the women and children have been working
all year to have a crop. However, they will not be able to get the crop in
without our assistance. They pay us in what produce they can spare. The
agreement means we all get through the winter.”

I nodded. “I will earn my keep as you wish me to.”

“I would say you have already earned yourself a month’s
worth of keep with that meat.”

“What meat?” Katherine paused in folding Arthus’ quilts.

“Not to mention the mutton,” Dardon pointed out with a sly
glance at Katherine and a wink to me.

“What meat?” Katherine’s voice rose.

“It should keep us for a few weeks at the least this winter.
And you,” Tourth gestured toward Arthus, “shouldn’t need to hunt as much.”

“Tourth, what meat are you talking about?”

Turning an innocent face to Katherine, Dardon finally
answered her. “Why, the lygra meat in the smokehouse. I would start looking
through your recipe books for a couple of ways to fix it because we are going
to be eating a lot of it this winter. Two lygras worth is quite enough.”

“Lygra meat?” Katherine’s face blanched.

“How would you recommend it be served, Romany?”

I couldn’t help the smile that pulled at my mouth. “I prefer
it rubbed in garlic, oil, and onion and roasted over an open fire beneath the
sky. The fresh air adds something to the taste.”

“Tourth, I am not going to prepare lygra meat. I wouldn’t
know how. And, I refuse to eat it. It sounds disgusting.”

“Then Romany can prepare it,” Tourth replied. “She seems to
know how.”

Taking pity on Katherine, I smiled. “I would be happy to
show you how, Katherine.”

“Call me Kat,” Katherine replied out of habit.

“I am Wren.”

She sighed. “Have you really eaten ridgeback lygra before?”

“It isn’t too bad. A bit wilder than venison, it is filling

She didn’t look convinced, but she smiled anyway. “Then I
would be happy to learn how to prepare it.”




Chapter IV



I grew ever thankful to Deus for the strange new addition to
our family. Her modest honesty regarding her hunting skills reassured me.
However, she neglected to mention her experience working a field. Upon arrival
at our first stop, she accepted the basket from the very pregnant farmer’s wife
with a smile and a slight bow. After politely waving away the woman’s attempts
to explain how to harvest beans, Wren asked where she was supposed to start. I
pointed out her row, and without a word, she set off.

“Keep an eye on her,” I ordered Svhen. “It isn’t like we
have beans to spare if she doesn’t do her job well.”

“If she says she knows how to harvest beans, I trust her,”
Dardon commented, basket in hand.

“Not all of us are as enamored with her as you,” Svhen
growled. He picked up his basket and stalked after her. He hated harvesting.
For the entire harvest season, he acted like a bear with a hernia. I could only
hope that he wouldn’t scare her off.

Taking my own basket, I wove my way to the end of my
designated row of green leafy plants.

Three hours later, a dark shadow fell over the plant I was
working on.

“Wren wants to know where she should work next,” Svhen
informed me.

Welcoming the chance to straighten my aching back, I stood
to find Wren standing just beyond Svhen in the next row over. Her dark plait of
hair was wrapped around her head, pinned up off her neck with one of her
sheathed throwing daggers. Sweat glistened on her face, but that was the only
sign she had worked at all.

“Then work with Dardon.”

Svhen shook his head. “Dardon doesn’t want us to do any
more. Something about not feeling like he has done his share if we do.”

I blinked and glanced from one to the other. “Well, then you
can help me. Start over there and meet me in the middle.” Wren nodded and
headed off in the direction I pointed. Svhen remained, casting a long shadow on
my work.

BOOK: Wren (The Romany Epistles)
3.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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