The Sign of the Bronze Hammer
Part Three – First Meetings
A bell jangled at the opening of the door. It sat suspended above the door so that any who opened it would set the bell to ringing. Blade stepped into the shop and was met with a sight most unusual, for the shop was packed tight with all manner of paraphernalia, stacked high on tables and shelves. There were cages and candleholders of polished brass, jars and bottles and vials containing all sorts of liquids and herbs and floating body parts. Tools and small cauldrons were scattered through the shop, as were crystals and stones, bundles of feathers and more. There were parchments and scrolls and tomes bound shut with heavy iron clasps. Perched high on one shelf, a grey rat watched him with beady eyes, its whiskers twitching before it dashed away.
From deeper into the shop, out of sight, he could hear two people talking, both of them women. By the sounds of their voices they were both young, one of them speaking in a much heavier accent than the other, though both of them recognisable as Aedring.
“Patience child,” one was saying in tones of such smooth sensuousness that just hearing it could set the pulse to quicken. “You must trust me on this.”
“Hraega’s Beard!” the one with the heavier accent replied, “But I have waited long enough.”
Blade made his way towards the back of the shop and as he rounded a shelf and spotted the two women, he was much surprised by what he beheld. The one, short and well built, had auburn hair and amber eyes burning in a fierce countenance, clad as a warrior, with armour of leather and mail, shield and sword, all much worn by use, and the look of one who knew how to handle them.
The other, though, did not match the expectations of her voice, for she looked like an old women, her face much wrinkled and hair grey, yet she moved like a sprightly young maiden, with smooth and supple steps. She turned at his approach and looked him over with a calm regard.
“Welcome to the House of Anja,” she bade him in greeting. “There are questions heavy upon your heart, I perceive, some of which you already know the answers to and yet do not wish to acknowledge. And more, there hovers upon your past a dark cloud that you seek to flee.”
“You are Anja?” he asked, trying to betray no emotions at her words.
“I am she.”
Blade drew the red sword from his side. He saw the auburn haired women tense at his actions, a subtle change of her body, ready to spring, while her hand closed upon the hilt of her sword. Blade reversed the sword and offered the hilt of it towards Anja.
“I was told that you could deal with this,” he stated. “I have carried it for too long and yet can not allow any other to take it from me for fear of what may befall them.”
Anja wrapped a gnarled hand about the hilt of the sword. “Wise you were to come to me,” she said. She took up the sword and raised it before her, sniffing at the blade. Then she ran her tongue along it, licking it. “Much blood there is upon this blade, and much darkness locked in its steel. Aye, and great rage it still holds, churning still.” She lowered the blade. “Anja can take care of it for you, yet not without a price.”
“I have no money to offer,” Blade told her.
A peal of gentle laughter followed and once more Blade felt his blood stir. “Child, my price is never money, for I deal in favours and more esoteric fares. It is no great thing I ask of you in this regards, for all that I require is a package to be delivered to one who lives in the city, and I shall deal with the Red Blade upon the completion of it.”
It did not sound much, and such was the influence of her voice upon Blade that he found it hard to think straight. “I accept,” he answered almost immediately.
“That is for the good, and for this I will not send you off alone. This girl here owes me a favour as well, and so I shall send you together.”
Carse looked over at the woman, observing that she was young now he saw her better, and with her youth her emotions were raw and unchecked. Little did he know of the Aedring beyond that they were accounted as barbarians by all upon the plains, seldom seen down in the cities, though of recent word had reached Qaiqala of a city sacked by them. He did not doubt that she would prove a wild companion, rash and prone to violence, though such flaws would not disrupt a simple delivery.
“This one?” he heard the woman say. “I do not need a lowlander for this, especially one as soft as this, and one not armed either.”
Blade prickled at the words. “I can fight with or without a blade. You will find I am the equal of any man, skilled with sword and knife, with bow and subterfuge and adept with the Mysteries.”
The women stood regarding him with stern amber eyes before, all abrupt, she burst into laughter. “He has spirit at least. That is good. Give us the package, Wise Mother, and we shall see it delivered.”
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