Chapter 2 Scene 4

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 9 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Fronek raised his cup to the crowd and subtly dipped his head toward Mabel. “My humble thanks to you again for your hospitality. Guardians, I bid you good night!” He drained his mug to the dregs, and set it carefully on the arm of the chair. The inn patrons applauded in high spirits as he walked unhurriedly out of the circle of firelight and sat down at the table he shared with Devon.

Devon was all smiles as Fronek took his seat. “Was that all true?”

Fronek smiled genially. “Every word of it. I heard it from a scribe of the High Doormaker Council, whose job it was to authenticate such histories.”

“How old is that story?”

“The Council records place the Day of Discovery about three hundred and fifty to four hundred seasonturns ago, though they can’t be more precise than that.”

“Why not?”

Fronek couldn’t suppress a grin at the boy’s incessant curiosity. “Well, they don’t have any written records from the ‘turns when they were nomads for a start. There also are a few gaps in the records from the times before the Councils united the Fertile Plains.” In spite of those gaps, their estimate is pretty close to the mark, thought Fronek to himself.

“What did you mean when you said suffering taught them the price of their craft?”

Fronek smiled sadly, but shook his head. “There is a limit to what men and women can do with the Doormaker’s Art, but in the early days, the fledgling Council did not understand that. More, I can not say. The Doormaker’s shroud their Art in mystery to protect the uninitiated. One day, if you meet a mage of one of the Doormaker Councils, he or she may choose to reveal such mysteries to you. But I’m no mage, just a tired old mercenary with a few stories to tell.” He fondly patted the boy on the shoulder.

As he looked up Fronek realized the most of the patrons had settled up and left the common room while he and Devon were talking. The light crystals had faded out completely. Only the hearth fire and a few low guttering candles lit the nearly empty room. Mabel and her girls were industriously collecting scattered dinnerware.

As Elspeth quietly gathered the empty platters and tankards from their table, Fronek suddenly yawned. “Flame, where has the night gone? Devon will you check on my gear for me? There is an oblong bundle tucked down the side of the rucksack. Please leave that in my rooms before you turn in. There’s a good lad.”

Mabel had drifted closer to the table behind Fronek in that uncanny way of hers. As Devon disappeared down the back hall, Fronek commented casually without turning, “He’s grown…”

Mabel smiled as she leaned one hip against the table. “Never could sneak up on you, could I?”

Fronek looked innocent. “That’s because I’ve got eyes in the back of my head Madame.”

Mabel’s eyes sparkled at his jest. “Your trick with the lamb roast tonight was kindly done. He never buys the best specials even when he wants them. But he’s too proud to take charity.”

“Did he learn that from you?”

Mabel’s thoughts drifted far away. “No. He got that from his mum…” Her gaze grew misty, before sharpening and returning to the present.

“You remember when he was little more than a babe in arms.”

Mabel sighed and sat opposite Fronek at the small table in the dim firelight. “Yes. This town won’t be big enough to hold him soon.”

“It was never meant to hold him.”

“You’ve seen to that.”

Fronek straightened at the note of rebuke but held his silence until Mabel met his eyes. “Not I. His path is his alone to find. Did you think he would find more than its beginning here?”

She searched his face for a long moment before dropping her gaze. “No, I suppose not. There’s still too much out there for him to see. Since the dust plague took his mum and gran, there hasn’t been much to hold him here. If he had the geld price I sure he would have already run off to join the guard or one of the guilds.”

Fronek spoke softly. “Money isn’t the only thing keeping Devon in Guardian Village. You have been good to him. And good for him as well.”

Mabel looked up at Fronek. “Will you be taking him with you then, when the wagon trains leave?”

“He may choose to go with one of the wagon trains or not. He seems ready enough to leave. And some travel would do him good.”

“But if he does go, will you be there to watch over him?”

Fronek laughed warmly. “Madame, I am quite certain that a growing young man like Devon is more capable of taking care of me than I am of him! After all, I’m just a crotchety old guard who’s a bit long in the tooth…”

Mabel silenced him with a look. “If you’re just an old mercenary, then I’m a water mage! No, don’t say another word. You can teach him skill at arms that no one in the Barriers can match. I don’t pretend to know where Devon’s life will take him, but I’ve a flare’s breadth of an idea that you do.”

“Mabel, what makes you think…”

“All I ask is that you prepare him as only you can for the journey that you know is coming. Can you do that for me, my old flame?”

Fronek stilled, watching Mabel closely and wondering how much she understood. She was too smart for her own good and it would no doubt mean trouble for him down the road. But he never could deny her. He sighed heavily, and bowed his head. “I will do what I can for him. I will teach him as much as he will learn. And I will watch over him for as long as my allotted time with him allows. Do not ask more of me.”

Mabel’s hands folded briefly over his on the table surface. “Thank you. I’ll go see that your chambers are ready.” Her eyes bright, she rose briskly and whisked up the stairs to make her rounds of the guest rooms.

Fronek’s head slowly rose and he gazed into the hearth. He was unsure how best to accommodate Mabel’s request, but was determined to try. The dying embers of the fire flared intermittently, and kindred tongues of dancing flame were reflected in his eyes for long hours after the rest of the inn fell silent.

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