It wasn’t difficult to push my way out of the bar. I kept my head down and bashed aside anyone in my way. Normally I would have stayed, would have laughed and shouted and been eager to throw myself into it with anybody fool enough to get too close to me, but something about Osman set off a warning in my head. Where most of the thugs I’d encountered were arrogant, he had an air of confidence. He didn’t seem like a brute, like the kind of man who would stalk the streets of a town like a wolf amongst sheep. No, he seemed trained. He seemed to carry himself as if he knew that there were many men he’d never be able to beat in straight fistfight, but he never got into straight fistfights.
I could respect a man like that, a man who knows his limits and finds ways around them, but I’d never trust one. That’s the kind of man who will slip a dagger between your ribs in an alleyway rather than face you in the street. And after I’d turned the whole inn into a madhouse determined to kill him, that’s exactly what I expected. I may be the strongest feller around, but you don’t stay that way if you’re too dumb to recognize that linen robes aren’t going to do a damn thing to stop a dagger you don’t see coming.
I only got a few buildings away from the inn when I realized I’d left all of my belongings in my room. My winter clothes, my bow, my arrows, my rations were all in my room. My money. Not that I cared about the money itself, but without it, I couldn’t hope to replace the rest of my gear.
I cursed and looked back at the building. If the fight were still going, there’d be no avoiding getting caught up in it. And if it were winding down, the winners would be searching for me no matter what, either looking for their payment or looking for blood. I cursed again and turned away. Nothing to do about it now. Perhaps I could sneak in at night.
A voice distracted me from thoughts, high and mocking. “Well done, friend. Well done.”
I wheeled around, my muscles tensing, my fists clenching and rising to shield my face. The voice laughed. I tried to lock in on its direction, its source, but the streets around me were empty. I growled, my frustration rising as if it were threatening to break out of my body.
“Up here, mister! Up here!”
I looked up at stack of crates piled atop one another against the wall of a nearby hovel. The boy Silas sat atop it, his arm in its sling, his eyes focused on me like a bird of prey, his teeth gleaming behind the dust that caked his features. “I’ve got to say,” he began, “you did real good in there. Real good. I wasn’t expecting to see the inn go crazy like that. No, Sir, I wasn’t.”
I just stared at him, my face as cold and as hard as stone. “I didn’t hit you,” I said. “I didn’t break your arm. Your da did that to you.”
The boy laughed, pulled his arm out of the sling and waved it around. “No one broke my arm. But old Sutro would have caned me if I showed up late without a good excuse, so I had to make something up. I didn’t think you’d be staying in his inn. There’s lots of inns in this city, there is. What are the odds?” The boy chuckled. “Like striking aurum, I bet.” He paused, tilted his head to the side, regarding me like a curious dog. “Is that what you’re here for, mister? The aurum, same as everybody else?”
I shook my head. “I have no use for aurum. I simply go where my feet take me.”
Silas shook his head, clucking his tongue like I had seen women do their young. “Everyone’s got a use for aurum, mister, even if they’re not the type to want to put it in a big pile and just sit and watch it sparkle. I bet you like to eat, don’t you? You like to sleep in a nice soft bed at night, maybe with a whore or two to keep you company?”
I snorted. “If I get hungry, the woods are full of food just waiting to be caught. If I want to sleep, I find a quiet spot under a tree. And I’ve got no use for whores.”
The boy frowned. He was silent for a moment, but his eyebrows went up and his lips curled up in a smile. “Now, that can’t really be true, can it? I mean, you were inside Sutro’s when I got there. You were eating mutton and drinking ale. I’m just a kid, mister, but I don’t think ale’s the kind of thing you can find out in the woods, not even if you’re hunting for it.”
I had no response to that. The boy saw my silence and grinned all the wider. I grunted and turned away. Why was I wasting my time with this child anyway?
“Whoa, hey! Mister! Where do you think you’re going?”
“Away from you, boy. You try my patience.”
I walked towards Greystone’s main road, my mind already busy wondering where I would find the supplies to get me out of the city, someplace with fewer humans and meals that didn’t cost more aurum than most farmers would see in a year, when Silas called out one of the only things that could have made me stop in my tracks.
“Mister, if you don’t let me help you, Osman’s going to kill you before the week is out!”
* * *
The boy refused to speak any further in the street, insisting that the fight would be over soon and the men inside the inn would spill out into the street. “They’re going to be looking for you, they are. Osman and the Unblinking Eye. All those men that think you owe them aurum. You’re going to want to stay away from that part of town, mister. You want to follow me. I know a place that’s safe, no fighting allowed. Sanctuary, as it were. And you’re going to want to lose the robes. Too noticeable. Everyone will know to look for the tall man in robes..”
“I can’t,” I muttered. “If I take them off, I’ll still stand out.”
I looked down at the boy. He was in his early teens, perhaps, but there was a sort of animal cunning in his eyes that I’d only ever seen in my like Enrici. Silas’s face was starting to lose its soft roundness and harden into the sharp lines of a man, but his body was still gangly and unpredictable, like a foal getting used to its legs. But a foal can walk and run within hours of being born. Humans takes fifteen years to get comfortable in their own bodies, and even then some of them never manage it.
I sniffed and turned my eyes back to the road. “Because under the robes, I have green skin and fangs and sharp claws.”
The boy was silent for a moment, his eyes looking me up and down. “You don’t have to lie like that if you don’t want to tell me, Mister.” There was a whining note in his voice, although if I’d truly hurt his feelings or if it were an act he was putting up like his “broken arm” had been, I couldn’t say.
“Where are we going?”
“The Maison Lupa. It opened up a few months ago. You’ll like it. Most every guy who ever goes inside likes it.”
I grunted. At that moment, if they had decent food at a reasonable price, it would be my favorite place in all the land.
We stopped in front of a two-story building that sat alone at the end of a dirt road. It certainly looked new, and the designs carved into the wood of its front were intricate and playful. Forest spirits laughing and dancing and the like. Strangely enough, it didn’t have any windows on the first story. Most inns had windows. That way light got in during the day, and at night people who happened to be passing by could look inside and be tempted by all the good food and drink within.
The sign that marked the building didn’t have any words on it. Very few did. Most folks can’t read. Instead, the wooden sign had a dog howling at the moon carved into it. “This is it,” Silas said. “Come on, let’s go.”
“What’s ‘Maison Lupa’ mean?”
“It’s foreign, it is. ‘The Wolf House.’”
I was silent. The name meant nothing to me.
Silas opened the door and waved me in, and a terrible stink assaulted my nose as soon as I stepped through the threshold.