It had been a long time since Hilda had slept in a soft bed. She stretched and her knee locked. She rolled out of bed and stamped her leg on the floor, swearing under her breath. Sassy lying quietly in the dying coals of the gray stone fireplace grinned at her. Michael knocked on the door and whispered, “Are you up?”
“Damn it,” said Hilda. “I hate getting old.” Her knee clicked as it loosened up enough for her to walk on it.
She opened the door. Michael leaned against the door jamb with a small smile on his face. “Breakfast is ready,” he said. He turned away.
She slammed the door. To hell if it made noise. She felt grouchy.
Her breeches had been laundered and left on a wooden chair. A white shirt that buttoned up the front sat next to them. Instead of dressing in her traveling clothes, she looked in the carved oak wardrobe. She admired the workmanship that had gone into carving the flowers and hummingbirds in the wood. She had no clue how the craftsman had made the inlets.
When she touched the wardrobe, it felt smooth to the touch. Inside this work of art was a stylish gown that cinched from the back. Next to it was a dark blue cloak. It had been handcrafted for a noblewoman or maybe a mage. She was tempted to see if it fit.
She looked at the bottom of the wardrobe and found a simple shift that she could pull over her head easily. There were no tiny buttons to button or any of the elaborate embroidery of the first dress. It swung around her body and legs and she sighed in pleasure. Even though it was a simple dress it felt silky.
Her stomach started to grumble as she smelled breakfast cooking. She slipped on a pair of slippers and used her nose to find the bacon and eggs. The smell led her down the stairs and into a room across from the parlor.
She saw Michael, Davi, and Kayla eating the eggs. The talk was light and Michael looked relaxed. The cook put eggs and bacon on plate and handed it to Hilda. She sat down and ate like she hadn’t eaten in a long time. There were hotcakes on the table, mounds of butter, and even maple syrup. The hotcakes tasted rich and buttery.
Finally she patted her stomach and sighed. Before she could settle into the parlor with the others, a young man walked purposely through the front door and took her arm.
“Don’t yell,” he said quietly. “You must come with me.”
He took her arm and she could feel compulsion magic course through him. She could fight it, but she was curious why he thought he needed to use that type of magic on her.
So he was lucky that she didn’t hurt him right there. She glanced back and saw Sassy glinting as if she was going to make the leap to land on Hilda. She shook her head no, and Sassy stayed hidden in the fire.
Hilda had a gut feeling that she didn’t want the young mage to know that she had an elemental.
He led her through the gardens with brown leaves on the pathway. He wore a cloak against the morning chill, but she was still in a shift. She shivered through the gardens until he led her to a stone building close to the ground. Fir trees and bushes hid the building. The building could meld into the landscape and you had to get closer to see it.
Hilda wondered why something would look so small and innocuous. With all of the bushes, an enemy could hide and attack. It didn’t look like it was well-protected. There were no guards patrolling the garden and no guards on the front door of the stone building.
But she was not just a retired mercenary. So she looked with her inner senses. For a moment she could feel and smell magical traps. They were so dangerous that the traps would kill anyone who didn’t the proper safe word or gesture. She shuddered. If she had really ambushed this building, she would be either captured or dead within minutes. She wanted to swear. “Fuck’n mages.”
The young man smirked.
Whoever built these traps was more paranoid than her and more powerful. She didn’t say a word and hoped her face didn’t show her anxiety.
She sniffed, but she could only smell the dying autumn. There was no smell of burning ash or rotten eggs. So if her nose was right, she wouldn’t have to deal with a dragon or an undead. At least there was no corruption to the smells. She squared her shoulders and stilled her face. She built her mental shields just in case.
The door opened before the young man knocked. An older man with a huge smile that showed yellow and broken teeth, invited Hilda into a small room with two chairs and a desk. Then the young man left.
The older man pointed Hilda to a seat. He walked around the desk and slouched in his chair. The silence stretched as she waited for him to speak. The silence must have been too much because he looked down at a piece of paper and then looked up at her. Hilda would have given much to know what was written there. But she had never learned to read and had only learned basic math for running the inn.
She waited. She was not going to break the silence. She was not a young mage who would get nervous if some man looked at her long enough. She recognized this interrogation technique.
Finally the older man cleared his throat. She waited for him to speak.
“My name is Morcant,” he said.
Hilda nodded her head, politely.
“I will be discussing with you the unfortunate incident in the forest south of here. But first,” he handed me a piece of paper. “Sign here.”
“No,” Hilda said. “I will not sign something I cannot read.” She stopped her arms from folding against her chest. She didn’t want to look defensive. She gripped the chair arms firmly. Then said, “I want my brother to read this before I sign.”
Morcant’s eyes flickered back and forth. Hilda knew that the next words out of his mouth would be a lie. “It’s just saying that you are a mage.”
“But I am not,” she said. “I have not gone to the mage university and I have not practiced ritual magic. I am not a mage.”
“If you don’t sign this paper,” Morcant smiled. Hilda shudder. Dragons had a nicer smile than this man. Morcant continued. “Then I will send you to the dungeon for dangerous criminals.”
“I have done nothing wrong,” Hilda said, her eyebrow went up. “What are you trying to pull?” She leaned forward. Morcant leaned back just a little. He caught himself, scowled, and then he leaned toward her.
She felt his magical energies ramp up. She wished Sassy was with her because the two of them could overpower this wannabe. She sent a probe towards him on the off chance that she could read something in his mind. He blocked her and the smile wiped off his face.
He sent a probe back. She could barely push it away. She knew he was going to try again, so she reached for her knife. Damn. She was disarmed.
She reached across the desk and grabbed a silver pen. It had enough weight to be useful.
Morcant must have been able to get off a non-verbal spell because she felt heaviness come over her limbs. She fought it hard until she could move her fingers. Beads of sweat roll down Morcant’s face as Hilda tried to move her sluggish body and push the pen into his neck.”
Hilda recognized that voice, but he shouldn’t be here. The magic in that voice broke the tie between Hilda and Morcant. They both collapsed. Hilda lay on the floor unable to move. As her eyelids sagged she saw two legs and feet. He picked her up and slung her across his shoulder.
As she slapped against his back from being carried out of the room, she saw a healer leaning over Morcant. His face was white and he was breathing shallowly.
“What the hell did you do to him?” said that familiar voice. “Hilda… Hilda.”
They were in the gardens and he had set her down. She looked up into the face of Rooso. She wanted to say “What are you doing here?” but her lips wouldn’t move.
He picked her up in his arms and carried her like a baby back to the house.