The wicked heroine, p.21
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.21

           Jasmine Giacomo
 

  ~~~

  With all the extra funds they now possessed, arranging mounts was not a problem. Meena’s fat purse, swelled with the money they’d won from the Ondanta, allowed her to purchase a pair of fine roan horses, built for the hilly terrain between Braltre and the warmer climes of Hardyk, Vint and Kirth.

  As they headed up the first hill, Sanych looked at the pitted, rocky road beneath her horse’s hooves. “I’m glad I’m not walking down there this time. These feet are used to stone halls, not stony hills.”

  Meena smiled at the wordplay. “Questing isn’t all swords and spices. A lot of it is wet and cold, filled with bumps and scrapes.”

  Sanych remained silent, hoping Meena would elaborate with a story, but the Shanallar hunched into her cloak and said no more.

  Sanych began looking ahead to their arrival at the Temple and their eventual meeting with the Magister. She recalled Meena’s terrible expression when Sanych had mentioned that the item the Magister wanted was a book called the Dire Tome. What did she know about it? Apparently, at least in Meena’s opinion, the book should be left well enough alone. She had never said why, never mentioned the book at all in the weeks they had been traveling. Sanych determined to try and learn more; she felt that, being more contemporary herself, she might be able to translate Meena’s reasons into words the Magister might more easily comprehend in relation to the current situation.

  But when she first brought the subject of the Dire Tome up, as they enjoyed a hot breakfast in a small inn, the Shanallar shushed her and changed the subject.

  Sanych understood; strangers might have been listening. She waited until they were alone on the road, a cool mist rising from the bogs nearby, and quietly asked her again.

  “Can you tell me about the Dire Tome now, Meena?”

  “Yes, but I’m not going to. Please don’t say its name.”

  “It’s just a book,” Sanych retorted, more sharply than she meant to.

  Meena turned her head and stared at Sanych. Within her hood, her dark green eyes were dim pools of ferocity. “No, it is not just a book. It’s evil, and no one in their right mind should go after it, unless they’ve got a death wish.”

  “I…I don’t understand,” Sanych said, blinking at the suppressed rage in Meena’s tone.

  “I’m all right with that,” Meena retorted.

  “What? What in Wisdom’s name does that mean?” the journeyman complained.

  “It means, O Ignorant One, that there are some things you’re better off not knowing.”

  Sanych waited for further explanation, but none came. Irritation growing quickly, she couldn’t resist saying, “Like why I shouldn’t say ‘Dire Tome’? I’d think that knowing why I couldn’t say ‘Dire Tome’ would be impor–”

  A crack split the relative quiet of the road; Sanych’s cheek went half numb and half afire, and she nearly slid off her saddle.

  “Insolent child!” raged Meena quietly, shaking from the effort of keeping her voice down. “You sought me out to give advice on something you know little about. So here is my advice now: do not speak the name of the book. Ever.”

  Sane people would be cowed to silence by the horrible grimace on Meena’s face. But Sanych was driven by a desire for information that had no equal. “Tell me why, and I’ll consider it,” she grated, her voice muffled as she held her cheek.

  “Because,” Meena said in a much quieter tone, “ears are always listening. And some of them belong to those who are more powerful than either of us, and have no good whatsoever on their mind.” She turned and looked ahead at the approaching curve, her expression as stony as the road.

  “Who? Who’s listening? Who could be more powerful than you?”

  Meena put a finger to her lips. “If they’re listening,” she whispered back, “they won’t want me telling you.”

  Sanych nodded, unsure whether to take Meena seriously. She thought she saw a smirk of humor cross Meena’s lips, but it might have been a shadow.

  A light, cold drizzle began, pattering on the stony road and their cloaks, reminding them that it was still winter. It’s probably sunny in Vint, Sanych thought sourly. She couldn’t wait to get home. Then maybe she’d get some straight answers, at the same time as the Magister did. If he got any, either.

 
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