A new story, started from an old relationship…
It was a cold night; cold enough to chill the two figures walking along the lonely road to the bone. One, the smaller and thinner of the two, was huddled against the weather, soaked and cold. The other, taller and lankier, didn’t seem to feel the chill, striding along as if it was a summer’s day.
“Dad, are we nearly there?” the smaller figure asked, her words nearly lost in the wind.
“Yeah.” The man pointed. “Next bend. That’s the tree.”
It was indeed a true hangman’s tree, bent and twisted. The man turned off the road as they reached it, stepping onto a smaller track. “Just a little further.”
“You said that aaaaages ago!” the smaller one whined, but continued to follow.
“I’m telling the truth this time,” the older said, and there it was; the house, wide windows lit by a warm glow. Not much of the glade that surrounded it could be seen beyond the outlines of trees bending in the darkness, but it didn’t matter. The house was warm and waiting for them.
He raised a hand and knocked at the door.
And then they waited, the wind in their ears.
“She’d better be in,” the man grumbled, glaring at the woodwork.
“What do we do if she isn’t?”
The man grinned.
“You’d break in to the Seer’s house?” The wind whipped scraggly hair across the teenager’s face and into her wide eyes.
“What’s the problem?”
The man gave a mirthless laugh. “Well, yes, that could be a minor…problem…”
The door had opened, spilling light out across them. The woman in the doorway had frozen, and the man’s words tailed off as he took her in. Dark hair streaked with grey and white, and a face lined with years; and bright grey eyes that stared out in shock at the scarred man with bright blue eyes standing on her doorstep.
The seer and the thief faced each other across a threshold for the second time in their lives. And then the seer smiled, and stepped to one side. “Well, as you’ve come this far…you’d better come in.”
“I didn’t think you’d be the type to settle down,” the woman said as the man and teenager divested themselves of wet clothes.
“I’m not,” he snapped, scrubbing a hand through his own greying hair. “She got dumped on me.”
The child in question was looking around the cluttered, interesting room with bright eyes. “Mom got fed up of me. Dad’s more interesting.”
“Lying, cheating and stealing?” the woman asked.
The seer nodded. “By the way, don’t steal anything from here. You won’t like the results.”
The teenager looked at the man, who nodded seriously.
“What are you calling yourself these days?” the woman added.
“Knight. And she’s Dan.”
“You may as well call me Beth.”
The man snorted.
“It’s as good a name as any,” the woman said mildly. “Can I offer you food?”
“You have to.”
That just got a smile from Beth. “You don’t change, do you? Please, come and eat with me. Can I ask where you’re going?”
The man spun from where he’d just put his coat and pointed an accusing finger at her. “Don’t you dare.”
“You could just tell me.” She was still smiling, serene in the face of his irritation.
“I want information! That’s it.”
“Well, come and eat while you think of how to phrase your questions so I won’t winkle the truth out of you with them.” She turned to the teenager. “Bathroom is through there. You must be frozen; I’ll make a hot drink for you.”
“So…you two know each other?” Dan asked as silence settled over the table again. They were only halfway through dinner, and she’d never seen her father so irritated. The seer just seemed to find it amusing.
The two adults exchanged a glance. “What does she know?” Beth asked.
“Very little,” Knight snapped, digging into his bowl again.
The woman rolled her eyes and turned to the teenager. “We were enemies. Long ago. I got out of the life and came into this, and your father turned his talents in other directions.”
“It’s a living,” Knight grunted. “So, are you going to give me answers, or have I just eaten something healthy for nothing?”
The woman sighed and pushed her half-full bowl away, laying both hands on the table. “What’s your question?”
“Where’s the secret entrance in the Tombs of the Fallen?” He leaned back. “And what’s your price?”
“Tell me why you want to know.”
There was a pause. And then the man said, “We’re going to the Tomb of Parrun. We’re going to steal the Knowledge.”
“Dad!” Dan protested. “You said not to tell anyone, ever! Why are you telling her?”
The scarred man gave a small smile, tender and amused. “There’s some people I can’t lie to. She’s one of them.”
The teenager turned a glare on the woman. “Why?”
“It’s an old bargain,” Beth told her mildly.
“A foolish one. So, do I get an answer?” the man demanded.
The seer sighed. “I’ll assume you know how to get to the Tombs. Once there, go into Hestion’s Tomb. The second statue has a sword in its hand; pull the hilt and that will open the passage.”
“Are you going to stay?” the seer added.
“What will I owe for it?”
“I never dealt in debts, Knight,” Beth told him, something hard coming into her voice. “You and he did. I didn’t. You can stay here tonight, and I’ll give you food in the morning.”
“And you know that I have to pay for it.” Dan had never heard that sort of pain in her father’s voice.
“An answer, then. Do you still think of it, sometimes?” Beth’s voice had dropped, and Dan felt like an intruder.
“Yes.” Her father’s eyes were on the table. “Often.”
Beth reached out a hand and gently touched the back of Knight’s. He turned his, and for a moment, they were just holding hands across the table, sharing a moment that the child wasn’t part of.
And then Knight sighed and leaned back, removing his hand. “Any other scabs you want to pick at?”
Beth smiled, as if she’d expected the sudden harshness. “Not tonight. Beds are up the ladder.”
She heard them go, before dawn had even broken; she’d left provisions on the table, knowing that they’d be needed. When she got up to check that the door was shut behind them, she smiled at the apples left on the table. He didn’t like apples. It looked like most of the bad habits hadn’t faded with age.
And then her mind turned to their quest as she stoked the fire and put the kettle on to boil. So someone else was after the Knowledge again? Parrun didn’t lie peacefully for long, did he…
She fingered the scar on her collarbone and sighed as the fire strengthened, warming the small house. Who was it this time who had paid the thief? He wouldn’t want it for himself; Knight wasn’t an idiot. Someone hadn’t read their histories, or thought they were better than everyone else.
She sighed again, standing in her small house and watching the fire. It had been a long time, but…
“Damn,” she said, her voice sounding thin in the silence. “I’m going to have to stop him.”