Fair Upon the For #16 (updates Mondays)

It wasn’t hard to shadow along after the little old magician. Even if he had looked her way, the crowd would have done a good job of hiding her. She watched him furtively, through gaps in the milling people. At a crossways in the market, Fafmuir stopped, cast a hard glance around himself and seemed to identify what he was searching for. He took off into an abrupt, straight line, directly up to a thin, stoop-shouldered man who wore a greasy leather skull-cap and drab workmanlike clothing. This skinny fellow, who looked like nothing so much as a travelling whitesmith down on his luck, raised a broom-thin arm, pointed and said something that was too quiet for Caewen to make out. The magician, Fafmuir, nodded and turned away, plunging into the crowd again, this time with a renewed energy. Caewen kept trailing him.

It was not long before she saw the wizard’s new destination. A rough and ready drinking canopy had been set up at this end of the market. There were barrels, tapped and giving out a sudsy looking beverage. Probably a cheap ale, given the sheepy, fatty stink and sallow-tan colour of the liquid. A good number of folk with mismatched faces were sitting around on equally mismatched furniture, drinking and talking, passing the time. One of them, she saw, sat by himself at the far end of things. The wizard Fafmuir immediately ambled towards the lone drinker, and as Fafmuir approached, the man looked up, shifting uncomfortably. Caewen studied him from her place of vantage. He was long-limbed, rangy and sat sprawled, legs wide. He was sitting in a way that village bullies sometimes do, making himself look as if he owned the air and space around him. He wore a splotched and old pale grey cloak. The hood was hauled forward, concealing his features. He wore black gloves too, so that almost nothing of his skin was visible. He looked familiar to Caewen, though she couldn’t place where she had last seen him. The thought niggled at her. She had definitely seen him somewhere recently, but where?

The old wizard stopped squarely in front of this lanky, stand-offish man. Planting himself directly in the drinker’s line of sight, Fafmuir continued to whistle his bird-songs, stringing out the last few notes into a irritating tenseness. While Fafmuir was whistling, the man in the cloak simply sat still and waited, looking increasingly uncomfortable. When the song finished, old Fafmuir cleared his throat, his face expressionless. They had words then, or at least Fafmuir did. He seemed to start off friendly enough, but grew angry quickly, his face colouring as he spoke. Finally, he waved a hand at the hooded man, and it was a disdainful, dismissive gesture. The man in the pale cloak stood, his whole body clearly bristling. He hunched his shoulders and scuffed away into the darkness. He went off in such a wretched huff that he left his drink behind, mostly untouched.

Caewen heard Fafmuir say, briskly, and seemingly to himself, “Ah, and be gone with you!” She waited. He still had his back turned in her direction, and had not yet seen her. She might have tried to slip away, and perhaps she easily could have twisted off into one of the dark recesses of the night market, behind some tent or awning. She decided not to. She was too curious, and maybe, perhaps, also a little too drunk still for her own good. And still annoyed with Fafmuir from their earlier encounter.

She moved quietly into the open space in front of the drinking yard, and put herself right in old Fafmuir’s path as he made his way back the way he had come. He did not see her at all, and actually, he had to pull up short to avoid walking right into her. At first he said, “Excuse me,” in a soft voice, but looked again, and recognised her. “Oh. It’s the young woman with the poisoned friend and the demonic horse. Wotcha,” he said, amiably. His smile, which never quite did seem to fully leave his face, broadened.

“What was that all about?” she asked. “Are you in the habit of going around threatening people?”

“What? Oh? Him?” He gave a soft under-breath chuckle. “No, no. You’re mistaking threats for warnings. I was talking to him sternly, oh yes, but stern would be only a light ticking-off for that one. He is a well known and reputed assassin. People call him Master Squint. I don’t know his real name. No one does.” He shrugged, and his face passed through a funny little twisted expression. “I heard rumours that he was drifting around the moot, and went to find him. If an assassin such as Squint is in a place, it is sensible to consider the possibility that he is being paid to be there. It is sensible to tell him that he is known, and he is being watched, and, furthermore, if he is on a ‘job’, such as it may be, he ought to quit it, and leave.” His smile slipped for a moment into a gusting moment of cordial seriousness. He sounded as if he was giving advice to a younger relative as he said, “Best not get involved.”

“Really? And who appointed you overseer and constable of the moot then?”

He seemed at first flummoxed, then, with a look of realisation said, “Oh, you meant that rhetorically?” His small, gnome-like grin returned. “You don’t know my position?” His laughter was small and inward sounding. “Why the peerage did, of course. I was voted to the Broadtable out of the factions devoted to Our Lady who is the Light of Day, and quite comfortably.”

She had to step through this in her head. “Hold on,” she said. “You mean by that…? You’re on the Broadtable? You’re one of the high magicians who govern this…” she waved a hand to try and take it all in, “this… this… mangle of nonsense.”

“Yes, young lady, I quite certainly am a governor of this mangle of nonsense, as you put it. I hold the position of Archimage to the Broadtable. I am one of three representatives of the Dynasty of the Goddess of Light.” He sighed. “Look here now. Perhaps we have got off on the wrong foot? I didn’t mean to put such a scare into you, but it seems I have. I really do seem to have frightened you half-to-thinking I’m some sort of terror.”

Caewen folded one arm over the other, and looked at him flatly. “I suppose you have, yes. By holding an obligation over me. An obligation that is worth a life, as you put it… well, you’ll forgive me for being mistrustful.”