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Hassan sidled up to Brubakken's booth again just as Aud issued her invitation to dine. He took a sidelong glance at her and Tomas the Rhymer, but his vigilant face did not change whatsoever when his gaze passed over the young
Mage's glowing-eyed birds. Then, noticing the tarps pulled over the coils of line,
he looked dubiously at Brubakken. Since Aud had given Brubakken the slightest of nods,
he tapped on the astrolabe that he carried at his belt. "Neither of my friends has any
Arabic; you may speak freely," he said to Hassan. "I'd be glad to address another
question before I go. But I cannot answer the same one as before."
"So you've told me before. It isn't the same." Hassan was eyeing
the Rhymer. "He watches us."
Brubakken shrugged, not as a Swede does: an Eastern gesture he'd perfected in Miklagard. "He is learning." And that Aud's friend certainly was, and would continue to do. If he survived.
"Ah." Hassan's crooked teeth flashed. "Your student, that is
different. I am honored."
He proffered a slight bow, which Brubakken was pleased to see the Rhymer return without hesitation. Only a fair imitation, but give the lad time.
"Well?" Brubakken produced an astrolabe from its leather case.
"What will happen with the King's bailiffs?"
Brubakken reflexively glanced at the Sun, gauging its position,
and rotated a plate on the astrolabe. "Legal trouble again? If that's the
"No! How should I be in trouble?" Hassan scowled. "I have stolen
nothing. All that I promised the bailiffs I gave them." An extravagantly
"Some contention there was over its quality, but what does a Swede know of
And less of fine silk--" He stopped, looked contrite. "They have not
traveled as you
have, Brubakken. Without your experience, how can they judge merchandise--"
"Be easy, I've not taken offense." Brubakken refrained from
mentioning that at a port
as flourishing as Birka, the King's bailiffs had probably seen more exotic
goods than had
"Brubakken," said the Rhymer. Softly, but the Swede took a hasty
glance down the
rows of stalls. He counted three, no, four bailiffs, including the one with
Hassan most frequently dealt and who looked particularly dour. Trailed by
dozen men-at-arms from the garrison, they were heading straight for
Which would have been innocuous enough, save for the dry irksome itching of
that was the invariable accompaniment to what faint Sight he possessed. What
Hassan done, tried to palm off a load of dead silkworms? Assuming he'd been
to smuggle them out of the uttermost East.
The itch grew into a tingle, became painful: did the bailiffs
intend to rob Hassan of the rest
of his wares, under the pretext that he'd tried to swindle them?
Sometimes sheer instinct worked much like the Sight. At sight of
the officious enclave
converging upon them, Hassan clutched Brubakken's arm. "Hide me. I pay
whatever you ask."
"They'll search my booth; you frequent it--"
"Not that way. With magic." That brand of magecraft they had
never discussed. So
Hassan did have some rudimentary Sight. They locked stares, Hassan's face
grainy as raw linen. He could die in custody, along with not a few prisoners
Brubakken grabbed Hassan's hand, thrust it into the tankard of
water he'd left on his
counter and held it there, while he dashed the contents of Aud's cup over
immaculate white sleeve. Hassan gasped.
"Hold your fingers in the water and keep your wet sleeve against
your skin. Don't
move or speak till I tell you, no matter what you see. Or we could all four
of us die,"
Brubakken hissed in Norse, which Hassan understood. Brubakken included the
in his stare. "You, play your harp and say nothing." Risky, but the young
reached for his satchel. In no time he looked absorbed in his harping, and
hopped down to his pack where it sat by the plankway. Brubakken saw how,
seeming to, the Rhymer watched Hassan. A fine way to learn. If the
bailiffs were fooled; if the four of them eluded arrest. But Brubakken would
the responsibility for allowing a man to be dragged away, robbed and
worse--over no more than a history of driving hard bargains and flaunting a
for which he'd not paid an appropriately succulent royal tithe. Over
greed on both sides. Not when it could be prevented.
Hassan's spotless robes appeared tattered now and grey with
filth. From his turban fluttered a few greasy strands of cobweb. His face
Shifted. Most of his nose had been eaten away, and the hand thrust into the
tankard of water
possessed only two fingers. On his face was a horrid assortment of weeping
where there once had been skin.
The bailiffs and soldiers shot one look at the leper, shrank to
the far side of the
plankway and hurried by with their hands raised to ward off contagion.
heard a low-voiced malediction as they passed. He'd overdone the illusion a
perhaps--a leper in that pitiable state would require a miracle to get
passage on a ship
bound to Birka or anywhere else--but small matter, no one would question it.
"Go hide by the docks," he told Hassan, who was staring at his
His ruin of a mouth worked soundlessly. "It's just an illusion! You'll keep
semblance until your sleeve dries completely, and then you can buy your way
Make haste--do you need silver?"
Hassan shook his head. "I have some for you," he whispered.
After a cautious feel of
his robes, he produced a small silken bag of many thicknesses and, with a
low bow, gave it to
Brubakken. "With all my heart I thank you. I shall send more as soon as I
may." Turning, he
hurried down the plankway, making good speed through the crowd as appalled
melted away to the left and right of him.
"But it rippled," murmured the Rhymer. "Like water. I could see
his own face through
it." He hadn't missed a note on his harp, but his eyes were narrowed and
alert, and he sat
poised on the edge of his chair as if he half-doubted its solidity.
Aud, who had seen stranger things than this, looked as she always
"It was water," said Brubakken after a moment. If Aud wasn't
taken aback that the
Rhymer, with no training yet, had seen through the illusion, he certainly
was, and he didn't bother
trying to hide it. "A water Elemental, I should say."
That earned him a piercing stare from the deep-set grey eyes.
"One connected to
Brubakken nodded. He might have said too much already, before
any tests had been
administered. "I've finished here. Shall we accept Aud's hospitality?"
The three of them began strolling along the plank-lined center
aisle between the stalls, headed for the pathway across Birch Island towards
Salvik harbor and
"You're more than welcome to visit me long enough to get a good
rest, my friend. I expect
Brubakken is of the same mind," said Aud, breaking a silence.
"That I am. You look like you've spent a month marooned on the
"Not that," the Rhymer said bitterly.