Rune hefted the leather satchel that contained everything he owned—and one thing he didn’t. He trudged on, eyes open and darting, but allowed the power of the trod to do most of the work of propelling him forward. As the village appeared on the horizon, he exerted a subtle effort of will to detach himself from the airy chaos. His body slowed and grew heavy. The weight of his satchel increased, too.
He paused to wipe sweat from his brow. Now what?
His arm was still stiff, but at least the bleeding had stopped—though now he was out of healing salve no way to tell when he could get more. Was there anything else he needed?
A musket would be nice to replace the one Avice had destroyed.
Something for lunch. Anything but yet another hardtack biscuit!
A bed. Stars above, a warm, comfortable bed!
A new shirt, one preferably without rips or bloodstains.
He tromped along the muddy path. It must have rained here recently. Before long, Rune’s right foot was damp. He stopped to examine his boots. Sure enough, a hole was wearing through beside his big right toe.
He groaned and added new boots to his list.
The next time I steal from a tetrarch, I’ll plan ahead.
At least he hadn’t seen signs of Avice or her nightwalkers since the day before. If he could beat them to the river, he might dare to rest for the night.
Stars above, what have I done?
The village wasn’t much, a jumble of wooden buildings with farmland all around. It didn’t even have a defensive wall. What raiders would be interested in such a little wide spot on the road?
Rune swung his satchel around to his front. He’d slipped a folded map inside the front cover of his commonplace book before this disaster began. As he walked and read, he decided he must be on the outskirts of a place called Dunswale.
He tucked the map in the book and the book in the satchel and soldiered on. His first order of business would have to be a clockmaker or gearsmith. The trinket he’d carried off was only a liability until he could open it. But if he could unleash its power, he wouldn’t have to worry about the King of Shadows anymore—and that thought made Rune feel light as air again.
Dunswale amounted to just a few dozen houses, many with shops on the ground floor. A tailor, a barber, an herbalist. But the market square was full of people. Farmers and craftspeople hawked their goods from stalls. It was market day, apparently. That was good. There’d be more unfamiliar faces around. Larger crowds to get lost in.
Most of the villagers were swarthy of complexion and garishly dressed. They represented nearly every strand of nearkin: lithe elves, well-muscled dwarves, and more than a few humans. Rune’s own fairer features made him self-conscious. He kept his eyes forward and pretended he belonged—something he had mastered over many years.
At last, he arrived at the heart of the square. Two large buildings faced each other on opposite sides. The largest was a fortified manor house; the other was a tavern. Something was cooking inside, and Rune remembered he hadn’t eaten since before daybreak.
He passed a table strewn with curious objects: cords with metal prongs on the ends, small talismans set with colored pieces of wood, an odd cylinder with no obvious function. Curious, he approached the stall.
“How ya doin’, young man?” The short and dusky seller said.
Rune nodded at him. “What…is all this?”
“Just some odds and ends,” the seller said, frowning. “My guys got a little carried away last week. Most of this stuff don’t even work around here.” He took note of Rune’s satchel and his dusty clothes. “You don’t have any business on the Other Side, do you?”
Rune’s pulse raced. These artifacts—whatever they were—were from the Other Side.
“No,” he said.
“S’okay,” eh said. “I got some more stuff that’ll work anywhere. Wymon, bring me that box!” His assistant, up till now busy hanging pots and pans at the back of the stall, brought over the wooden box he’d been using as a stepstool.
“Here you go, Tom.”
The seller—Tom—set the box on the table and flung it open. Inside was a jumble of metal implements. At the glint of steel, Rune took a step back.
“It don’t bite,” Wyman said with a chuckle. “They call this stuff ‘stainless steel.’”
Rune peered into the box without moving closer. “Stainless steel?”
“Iron, chromium, a bunch of other stuff. Perfectly harmless. See?” The seller picked up one of the implements and tapped its disklike metal head against the palm of his hand.
“Ah.” Rune took a step forward and tried to compose himself. One touch of pure iron and he could forget about wending for awhile.
“This thing’s called a pizza cutter.”
Rune wondered what a pizza was, but didn’t feel like asking. As he studied the contents of the box, he recognized some of the objects, or at least could make educated guesses what they were for: knives and potato peelers and such. Others, like the pizza cutter, left him baffled.”
“You ain’t from around here,” Tom said. Rune’s heart pounded, but he remained stone-faced. He didn’t mean anything. Just making conversation.
“Where you from?” Wymon said. “D’you know anything about that mess over in Cruc Maur?”
Rune bit his lip.
“We got a cousin over that way,” Wymon said. “My sister and me, that is. We ain’t heard nothing since…well….”
“I’m very sorry,” Rune said.