View of a stranger

He’s sitting at the back of the room, a musty place where the light never reaches. An oil lamp sits on the table and casts a weak, golden glow over his hands. I can hear the ink-stick scratching on the parchment from here.

But then it’s quiet in The Hand today. All my usual Sevens are still working. There’s only Jerem near the open window, slumped in a booth, snoring softly. I smile. He’s drooling and muttering. As usual.

I look back at my stranger.

He’s not a Seven. A Six slumming? But then he doesn’t look like he sits behind a desk all day. No, it’s not my business. I’m paid to get my clients to take the fights outside and serve up the ale. Nothing else.

And if my stranger wants to stay in that corner, he’s going to have to buy something. House rules.

I brush down the front of my apron and lift my chin. My tavern. Mine. I step out from behind the counter.

“You want me to order something.”

That stops me. “House rules.” The words sound choked and I swallow. “So. What will it be?”

“Those bottles I had. One will do.” He looks up and silver eyes pierce me. The lamp light burns over the fierce Devourer Tattoo scoring his right cheek. “Start a tab.” A smile tugs at his mouth and he reaches into his pocket. I don’t miss the flash of a Spell-carved dagger on his belt. He flips me a gold coin. “I’m good for it.”

Out of habit I want to bite the coin. Probably not a good idea around this man. “I don’t doubt it, sir.”

“Bite the coin.”

Heat rises under my skin. Was the damn Magician in my head? Could they do that? “No need.”

“What’s your name?”

“Shena Moar.”

He looks back to the parchment. “Do you know Fen?”

Fen? The woman keeps herself to herself. What trouble could have this man looking for her? She’s my friend. I can’t lie. But I won’t give her up to this man. “I think she’s been in here. Once or twice. I’ve not seen her for a while.”

Something about my answer makes him smile again. He picks up his ink-stick. “Good,” he murmurs. “Exactly the right answer, Shena Moar.” The scratching over the parchment starts again. “Tell that to everyone you know.”

I stare at him. “I’ll get your bottle.”

“You do that.”