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Merivel in Marshend

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(Continued from Merivel on the Road Again)

As he came closer, he began to see a smouldering ruin to one side of the main road (which he shortly after enountered. On a patch of ground next to this were several gaily painted wagons, whose provenance was proclaimed as being "The Giants of Pentos!"

Merivel walked to a point near the smouldering ruin and stopped and starred at it for a few moments, silently. Finally, he turned and looked at the wagons, smiled, and headed toward any of the wagons which appeared to be populated.

They probably weren't really from Pentos, and almost certainly not Giants, but they might be useful as a source of information.

There strong youngish men were engaged in some arcane work that seemed to involve rope and leather straps. They looked up as Merivel appraoched, but it was a darkhaired woman, sitting on the steps of a wagon, who greeted him

"Good morrow, Maester. A hard coming you've had of it, it would seem."

Merivel smiled slightly as his gaze went from the busy men to the woman sitting on the wagon's steps.

"Good morrow. It has been a long and hard trek to stand before you." A slight air of amusement crept into his tone. It had been far too long since he had had anything to laugh about.

"And why do you say that I am a Maester?"

"A rather bedraggled one," answered the woman, ready amusement in her face, "but I was taking my guide from your chain and what remains of your robes. Can the Giants aid you?"

Merivel smiled.

"Perhaps you can aid a bedraggled Maester who has made a long overland journey and still faces another one, if he is where he believes himself to be."

"Can you tell me if this is the village of Marshend?" he asked the woman.

"I'm Merivel Belmore, from Clearwater."

"And I am Anniketta," said the woman, "of nowhere and everywhere - as is the way with we Giants."

"Even Pentos?" Merivel asked sardonically.

She swept a hand around to indicate the wagons grouped together, and then added, "If you seek the inn, I fear you're out of luck. It burned down two nights past."

"I did see the ruin of a building." Merivel replied with a nod. "I am sorry to hear that, given my travails, that it would be the Inn that suffered such a calamity."

"I am looking for lodging for a day, and perhaps fresh news." Merivel added.

Anniketta hesitated and then said, "And would you object to a bed not in a house but in a wagon?"

Merivel nodded.

"I have slept on the ground and even slept high in a tree. I would prefer to the former a wagon whose wheels go round, to a bed by the swampy sea."

"I accept." Merivel confirmed and grinned widely.

Merivel nodded.

"I have slept on the ground and even slept high in a tree. I would prefer to the former a wagon whose wheels go round, to a bed by the swampy sea."

"I accept." Merivel confirmed and grinned widely.

Anniketta laughed.

"And are you wishful to join us as a guest or as a poet and storyteller? Your robes would seem to suggest that you have a tale to tell ... and Davin, our leader, appreciates a good tale."

She rose, and Merivel saw she was lame, for she supported herself carefully as she climbed down the remaining steps.

"Would you like something to eat? The townsfolk here are fair if not generous, and we have some good bread, a fine sharp cheese and a barrel of ale for our help in salvaging what could be saved from the inn."

I can tell my stories, or stories in general, in exchange for a place to rest, as well as food." Merivel said. "I suffered an injury in the course of my travels, and if I can do something as easy on my arm as storytelling in order to get room and board, I shall do it. I don't take charity when I can give fair trade. And I believe...Anniketta, that I have fair trade to offer in the coin of my words."

"I am sure you do," said Anniketta. "But a tale around the campfire will be all that's required. At the moment we're resting, although there's a plan to take us south by and by." She smiled faintly, as though something about that plan held particular promise for her. But then she gave herself a little shake.

"But would you like food now?"

Before Merivel could respond verbally, the mere mention and prospect of hot, solid food caused his stomach to growl, and audibly.

"I suppose that would be a yes." Merivel said with a smile.

Despite her lameness, Anniketta proved a more than competent cook, organising a meal of a rich warm stew and relatively fresh bread, washed down with the ale she had promised.

Merivel ate enthusiastically. Used to food of varying types and qualities in his life, from the Vale to the Citadel to the North, hunger, in the end, proved far and away the best seasoning of all.

"Thank you." Merivel said politely. "I needed that."

"If you don't disdain to take on the clothes of a Giant of Pentos," she said when he had finished, "I could do my best to repair your robes into some semblance of order." "I would appreciate that. These mainly got torn dealing with one of those large, strange denizens of the marsh water." Merivel said. "I'd never seen its like before." Merivel looked at Ann carefully for her reaction.

Anniketta's eyes widened.

"What sorts of creatures?" she asked apprehensively.

"I should hold the tale of them until it is story telling time, save that they might be a threat to anyone who contemplates even skirting the edge of the Ghost Fens." Merivel replied. "A traveling companion and I decided to make our way by water, for reasons I will explain later, when I tell my story."

"During our journey, we felt our craft hit something, although it was actually something hitting us. When the thing surfaced, it looked like the Eels, like those which some people enjoy to eat, save that this was far far larger, and seemed intent on eating US."

Merivel spread his hands apart to give the sense of size of the head of the eel.

Anniketta shot him a sharp look, as though to see if she could catch him out in a falsehood - or at least in an exagerration.

Merivel caught the look and nodded his head solemnly in response.

"No joke, Anniketta." Merivel said. "It was a near-run thing that my companion and I survived the experience. Part of the damage to my clothes was done in effecting our escape out of the water and onto dry land."

"Davin said something last night ... " she said slowly - and then she gave a little shiver. "No matter. Do you see that trunk over there? You'll find goodly gear inside - if a little gaudy. Change in my wagon - and I'll start work on your robes."

"Thank you." Merivel nodded and walked over to the trunk and opened it. After sifting through a few of the choices, he finally picked a shirt and a pair of bottoms that looked like they would fit him. Bearing these items under his arm, Merivel headed into the wagon, sighing as he closed the door.

Merivel did not linger, or allow his natural curiosity time to get him into trouble by looking over the wagon. Instead, he changed himself quickly and efficiently.

The wagon did strike him, however, as a place of comfort, hung with rich cloth and many curious devices for making living on the road more comfortable - and all in a tiny space.

As he finished changing, however, he heard the sound of horses on the road, and then a hoarse voice.

"You, girl! Have you seen the wine merchant?"

Merivel quickly finished lacing up his shirt and then crept to the door. He opened it slowly, carefully, and only just a crack, as if the door was ajar and a breeze had opened it slightly.

Through this aperture, Merivel tried to see what was going on.

"No wine merchant, Sirs," said Anniketta, "and the landlord is away - some rogues have burned down his inn."

Her voice was high and clear and unafraid - from his vantage, Merivel could see that she had risen to her feet and was addressing three ugly looking and excessively armed men on horseback who sat on their mounts, glowering down at her.

Merivel hesitated for a moment as he looked through the aperture at the individuals.

Finally, the maester grimaced to himself and he pushed open the door and jumped down to the ground. In casual strides, he walked toward Anna and the three men surrounding her on horseback.

The men looked hard at him, but with the easy contempt they would have for a travelling mountebank - clearly not realising his true identity at all.

"What say you, giant?" said one of the riders. The others chuckled. "Have you seen the wine merchant and his woman?"

Merivel delved into the part as best as he could, and shook his head with a smile.

"I could spin you a short and pretty tale, or a long and tragic one, as is my part to play amongst the Giants at this time, but it would not be the truth, and it wouldn't aid you in your desire to find either the merchant or his woman." Merivel replied with a smile. "I know nothing of when or to where either has fled."

One of the men frowned.

"Why do you think they've fled?" he asked. "They were coming here on business."

"A guess, a supposition, a thought I had when you asked me of what happened to them." Merivel replied evenly. "For the likes of the three of you, no offense sirs, to seek him so strenuously suggests that you pursue him for some purpose. If I were to be so unfortunate as to draw your attentions in that manner, I might flee, or at least conclude business rapidly and depart."

"So why are you looking for them anyway?" Merivel said, to turn around the questions.

"We're bringing the other barrels into town," said the main. "Slowly, like."

"But where would the wine merchant sell to?" asked Anniketta. "As you see, the inn has been burnt down."

The three men surveyed the wrackage for a moment. Then their leader swung in his saddle and regarded Anniketta and Merivel.

"What do you know of this?" he demanded suddenly.

Merivel held up his hands and shook his head. "Nothing, alas. If anything, my lack of knowledge and my guesses in the matter of where the Merchant and his woman has been less than helpful to you. As far as where he might take the wine, again I might speculate, but I don't think you want anything but hard, cold facts, and I've none to give. My apologies, sirs."

"He talks too much," said one of the guards. "Run him through, as a warning to the rest of them to be less wordy."

Merivel looked alarmed, and stepped back a couple of paces.

Anniketta pushed forward.

"And what else should he do, Sirrah? He's our wordsmith - tis his way to tell tales and spin bright words to make a web to catch the ears."

The leading guard leaned fortward on his horse.

"Is it so? And what is your talent, my lady?"

The lewdness of his expression made his expectation of that quite clear.

"Anniketta has other talents, sir." Merivel said, moving forward to regain the distance lost in his retreat. His hand did not go to his sword, however.

"And time here lost in molesting us is time that you are wasting in finding the wine merchant and his woman that you seek so strenuously." Merivel pointed out.

"Who would count time lost, spent with such a woman?" said one of the men. "How much do you charge for the pleasure?"

"That's at the whim of my man," said Anniketta steadily. "You'll meet him soon enough - he's our knifethrower."

There was a slight but noticeable withdrawal in the men on horseback.

"Here," said one, sending a silver coin spinning down into the dust. "If you gain any news of the wine merchant, bring it to us. We'll be in the hedge tavern on the edge of town. The Holly Bush."

And the three turned their horses and rode away.

Merivel waited for the men to ride away before he picked up the coin, and breathed a sigh of relief.

"My wagging tongue nearly cost us both dearly." Merivel said apologetically to Anniketta. "I should have stayed in the wagon, but thought that you might be in danger if you faced them alone."

"It was good you stood beside me," said Anniketta. "It gave weight to my words that I was not alone, but could call on those who would defend me. If I had been alone, they could have snatched me up - and who would have been any the wiser?"

"Just I, and wracked and paralyzed by the shame of inaction." Merivel replied with a nod as he bent to finally retrieve the coin. "Hopefully, they will stay in the bush for the moment and trouble you or the Giants not for the nonce."

"Just what is going on in this village?" Merivel said, half wondering aloud and half a query to the Giant."Burned down inns, pugnacious guards...its all of a piece of a design that I can only see a fraction of."

Anniketta shook her head. "There is something here," she said, "some hidden secret ....

"Perhaps you should speak to Davin when he returns, the leader of our troupe."

"I would like that." Merivel said amicably with a nod. "I don't and didn't intend to linger here overlong, I have business back in Clearwater for which I am already past due, but such a mystery, here, tugs at my mind."

"What business is that?" asked Anniketta with lively interest. "If I might question you."

"Certainly." Merivel replied. "I am the Maester there." Merivel said. "I was making a visit to my colleague in Holdfast, when I received word that my services were immediately needed. My journey back, however, has been...eventful. In some ways that I have given my solemn word not to reveal." Merivel added.

"The story of the large fish attacking my craft is true, however." Merivel added.

"I believe," said Anniketta thoughtfully, "that Davin had some thoughts of heading to Clearwater. The Lord there holds claim to the land hereabouts, and he might be grateful for news of what is happening. And for the return of his Maester too."

Merivel nodded. "Its a reason why my travels headed in this direction. Perhaps I can convince Davin that he should return to Clearwater, tomorrow mayhap, in my company."

"Perhaps," agreed Anniketta. "I'd suggest we go out to the Septa's cottage to find him now, but I mislike the looks of those men."

"Let us hope, then, that they remain in the Holly Bush, and are far more interested in their cups than in us." Merivel said. "Is the Septa's cottage close by to it?" Merivel asked.

Anniketta looked at him thoughtfully. "It's somewhat off the road - and one could approach it across the fields. But I am lame, and not too sure of the way."

"Well, we can take it slow and easy, Anniketta." Merivel said. He regarded her for a moment and then spread his hands. "Or I could go myself, if you tell me what to say to introduce myself to Davin." Merivel offered alternatively.

"If I can't find it on my own, it would be harder yet for you," said Anniketta. "And we've both seen how dangerous it was ... oh!"

She broke off, staring intently along the street to where a small figure was trudging towards them.

Merivel turned as Anniketta stopped and stared at the figure. "Who is that, Anniketta?" he asked in a stage whisper. For the benefit of the small figure, he tried to offer a reassuring, non-threatening smile to the approaching figure.

"It's Davin," she said.

And, indeed, as the small figure came to a halt, staring at them watchfully, Merivel saw that it was not a child, but a dwarf. Merivel was privately relieved that he had not addressed Davin as he would a child, and relaxed slightly and gave a nod of greeting.

"Hello Davin." Merivel called in greeting to the watchful looking small man. "I'm Merivel, a new acquaintance of Anniketta's."

"I'm the Maester from Clearwater." he added. Davin looked at him sharply. "Clearwater, you say? I may have run across your Steward. Tall man, not young - still strong. Built like a Smith."

"Dark hair, craggy face?" Merivel inquired. "Name of Derron Thorne?"

He paused a beat and then said. "Derron's here?" Merivel seemed surprised by this.

Davin nodded. "He was out at the Septa's house," he said. "She seems to be having some trouble with brigands."

He was looking at Merivel in his civilian clothes (whose provenance he probably recognised). "You wouldn't have come across any brigands yourself, now, would you?" he asked.

"We were headed to the Septa's cottage ourselves, to find you, as it so happens." Merivel said.And then he nodded slowly. "I had trouble with...miscreants, shall we say." Merivel continued. "I cannot take the sole credit for my eluding them and managing to make it here."

Davin looked at him sharply.

"And where are these miscreants? More to the point, where's your creditworthy companion?"

"One of the miscreants is slain, I do not know of the fate of the others." Merivel replied, as evenly as he could. "As far as my boon companion, I promised him and his that I would not give who they were away, and we parted ways after he guided me to the edge of Marshend. I owe them my life, and will not betray them." A trace of fierce protectiveness entered the Maester's voice.

"Them?" said Davin softly.

Merivel nodded. "More than one individual aided me, although only one travelled with me throughout the majority of my journey."

"And yet you fear to speak of them." Davin was silent for a moment, and then he suddenly smiled - a smile that, for a moment, lifted his face into something like beauty, and something which certainly showed considerable charm. "They brought you through the forests, you say?"

Merivel gave a look of wariness, and then felt hurt inside. He had betrayed them, by opening his mouth, so. This Davin was a sharp character and had deduced the nature of his help. Merivel closed his eyes and grimaced.

"We kept off of the roads, to elude pursuit," he said simply.

"Of course you did," agreed Davin cheerfully. "And now ... let's harness up a wagon and head out to your friend at the Septa's. I believe someone was sayong they're short of milk, and I daresay some fresh bread will not come amiss either. How's our credit at the baker's Anni?"

"Good," said Anniketta. "He came for a love potion yesterday - and I made sure to tell Grace at the farrier's that he'd taken it. I suspect we'll not be paying coin for bread for a few days now."

Davin grinned. "Do you want to help me harness the horses?" he asked Merivel.

"I have some practical experience with horses, even before going to the Citadel." Merivel replied. "I think I can manage a harness without botching it." he added with a wry smile."

He gestured for Davin to lead.

Between them, it did not take long to have the horses harnessed, although Merivel was aware of Davin's eyes on him every now and then, assessing him. Soon they were ready - although Merivel might be surprised by some of the gear Davin packed into the wagon, along with bread and milk.

Merivel looked over the equipment curiously as he woked, his expression curious as he found the more unusual items.

Mattocks and spades, which the company carried, Davin informed him cheerfully, against all eventualities.

"Do you wish to drive?" Davin asked, once they were ready.

"I'd be happy to." Merivel confirmed with a smile."Just point the way of course."

The journey out of town did not take long, and soon they were at the top of a little rise, looking down on the cottage that Davin said belonged to the Septa ... and the garden was full of Clearwater men, digging graves.

"Davin." Merivel said quietly as the cart slowly approached the garden and cottage. "Do you have any idea what's going on or how this should be handled?"

In the meantime, even before Merivel heard the answer from Davin, his eyes scanned the Clearwater men, looking for the most familiar face, or, alternatively, the face who was most familiar with him.

He saw Binnder, the reliable old guard, who seemed to be supervising the digging of a large grave - and then he saw Aerin emerhging from the house with her shadowcat at her side.

Grateful to see a familiar face for the first time in a very long time, the Maester of Clearwater could not resist calling out, holding up a hand to be recognized. "Aerin!" he called out to her.

(Continued in Aerin Outside)

Page last modified on December 14, 2006, at 04:11 PM