Shan and Priscilla Ride Again
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Chapter the Seventh
They rounded the corner into Farmingham Crescent and the breeze off the louch slapped their faces.
Beside her, Shan shivered and sealed the front of his jacket. She slid her arm through his.
“Damp. Why do you suppose they chose to stockpile water just here, Priscilla? It’s very picturesque, of course, but consider the townspeople. Cold and damp. Damp and cold. Dreary.”
“You thought it looked very nice this afternoon.”
“Sunlight lends a certain charm. Is it over-optimistic to hope that Mr. Sullivan has something drinkable in his cellar?”
She laughed softly and drew an unconscious few inches closer to his side.
“I think your choice is between good ale and bad wine. Or maybe whiskey.”
“Do you think he’ll offer samples of the goods? That would be pleasant. . .Three cantra to seven in half a local year! We may have bitten off more than we can decently swallow, Priscilla. How do you find your son, now?”
“Much improved from our first meeting.” She sighed. “I’m afraid the situation would have come to blows very soon, my friend.”
“We have, in fact, performed a rescue. I’d surmised that from Uncle Dick’s message. One does wish that he would have been a bit more specific, however. The fact is, Priscilla, neither Katy-Rose or Morgan see Gordy as anything approaching adult. And he’s unfolding to halfling before their eyes!”
“Katy-Rose wanted to know if Gordy would be made to contract-wed,” Priscilla offered. “She was very concerned about the possibility. She said she thinks contract-marriages are barbaric.”
“Well,” Shan said drily; “she’s right about that.”
There was a short silence.
“It would be a very distance alliance with Korval — and he’s full Terran, raised to Terran ways. I don’t doubt there would be some to try it, but — Oh, ye gods and goddesses!”
He was abruptly still, a slim, silver-topped tree growing by the shore of the louch.
She dropped his arm, senses wide, scanning. . .His pattern was a flickering play of amused horror, fondness, and resignation.
He laughed a little and touched her hair.
“It’s nothing, my friend. I was only remembering when Val Con came halfling. Sheerest luck that either of us lived through it, never mind both. My father couldn’t have known. . .I came halfling and Healer between one heartbeat and the next. Spent my first months in the Healer’s Hall, leaning control, technique. . .They threw in bed-lessons and a few basic adult-rules as a kindness. . .We’ll have our hands full, I think, Priscilla.”
She wanted to grab the hand on her hair, push her face into his warm palm, taste it with lips and tongue; hold him tight; join mouths; stroke the thick white hair —
Carefully, she moved out from under his hand. Drew a breath. Another. Began the sequence to enclosed passion.
And only then perceived the tendril of calm he offered.
She fell into it; shrouded herself in it; breath it into her.
“Goddess bless you, my dear.”
“Always of service.”
Concern/compassion/guilt/lovelust radiated faintly through his control matrix. He stood quite still, hands loose at his sides.
“I’m sorry, Shan.”
Flaring outbreak of passion.
“Do you think I don’t go through it, too? That I don’t ache to hold you? Weep to kiss you? If it weren’t so necessary, I’d –“
He glanced around at the swelling louch, and damp grass, and offered her a ragged moonlit grin.
“Well, perhaps not this instant.”
She laughed softly; straightened, wearing his calm like the cloak of a queen.
“We’ll be keeping Mr. Sullivan waiting.”
“That won’t do, will it?” he responded with the same brittle lightness.
Without another word, they turned and continued on their way, Shan’s hands in his jacket pockets and a stranger’s distance between them
As it turned out, Mr. Sullivan kept them waiting. The well-fed individual who escorted them to the lounge imparted the intelligence that, “Mr. S’ll be with you shortly. Please make yourselves comfortable.”
No refreshment was offered.
Shan perched on the side arm of a recliner. Priscilla prowled the room’s perimeter.
It was a room of many parts. One part was the long end wall, lined with tape-crammed shelves. No bound books, and little fiction. In the realm of non-fiction, however, Mr. Sullivan’s tastes were catholic. Priscilla continued her prowl.
The aquarium was given careful scrutiny, Shan noted, but the spindly table with the reading screen perched precariously atop hardly earned a gland. She frowned into the curio cabinet, but the glare of light off dusty glass panels apparently defeated her. She skirted the bar and a cluster of clean-topped occasional tables with no more than a cursory inspection.
And so came to the tapestry.
Priscilla halted, face arrested.
She stepped forward and fingered the piece; ispected the reverse side; bent over the dark red and yellow pattern as if looking for some identification.
“Something?” he inquired, strolling over to join her.
She thrust a corner into his hand.
“This is fine work. Done by hand. See that tying off of the yellow there? And here, wehre the craft had to go back and work over the section? I wonder if it’s local.”
He studied it, noting the things she pointed out and others, learned from his own experience trading cloth.
“I didn’t know you were an expert on textiles, Priscilla.”
She looked startled.
“House Mendoza’s fortune comes from textiles,” she said hesitantly. “I was taken around to the mills and to the weavers almost before I could walk. I continued to study, even after I was — taken into Circle — for training. I had my own loom. . .” She touched a blazing yellow flower at the tapestry’s heart.
“It was too big to bring away.”
Around a swell of pity, he began, “Priscilla. . .”
And their host was with them.
Mike Sullivan was a burly Terran, red-cheeked and smiling. A full reddish beard drew the eye away from a freckled, hairless scap.
“Captain yos’Galan. Ms. Mendoza. Good of you to come, gentles. I appreciate how important your time is and I apologize for keeping you cooling your heels.”
He paused, brown eyes shrewd.
“Good piece of work, eh? Picked that up on Filmore, in Mega Sirse System.”
“Oh.” Priscilla smiled at him. “I was hoping it was local.”
“No such luck, eh? You traders can’t have all the breaks. Would you like something to drink? Captain? Care to taste before we talk?”
“An excellent idea?”
“Thank you, yes.”
A few moments later, satisfactorily provided with refreshment, they sat in wide Terran chairs and raised glasses in polite salute to Sullivan’s proposed, “To profitable dealing!”
“For all,” Shan added with a smile, and tasted the contents of his glass.
Priscilla took a careful sip and found the stuff unexpectedly smooth: the fire ignited in the stomach, not the throat.
“Mighty fine, eh?”
Sullivan was beaming, certain their judgment would match his. Priscilla kept her face noncommittal.
Sullivan laughed indulgently.
“You traders are a cagey bunch. Now, I like a trade where everything comes out of the pockets and onto the tabletop where we can all touch and see. My proposed price for a wooden keg of Prime Grade whiskey, just like we’re drinking now, based on a shipment of no less than two hundred barrels, is ninety-eight bits per. Fair?”
Shan leaned back in his chair and took another appreciative sip of whiskey. His light eyes roamed the room; rested on the red-and-yellow tapestry.
“Beautiful work. Filmore, did you say?”
Shan nodded, eyes still dreaming on the colors.
“My dreadful memory. . .Do correct me if i I’m wrong, Mr. Sullivan, but — Mega Sirse System. That’s controlled by the Juntavas, is it not?”
Priscilla stiffened slightly. Juntavas?
Sullivan was nodding affably.
“So it is. I do a favor from time to time –“
“And the cornering of the local market in Prime grade whiskey is part of a — favor — you owe the Juntavas?”
“Captain. . .”
The big man waved a soothing hand, his pattern radiating no distress at all.
“It’s a fair price. What difference does it make it to you who’s behind the deal?”
Shan sighed; leaned forward and the glass aside.
“Do forgive me, sir. I am of Clan Korval. Our understanding with the Juntavas is — and has been for many years — that we do not touch theirs and they do not touch ours. It’s been an exemplary arrangement. You understand that I hesitate to alter it.”
“I see.” Sullivan stroked his beard. “I owe you an apology, Captain. It didn’t occur to me to check your Clan affiliation. Foolish. I appreciate your forbearance.”
“No forbearance, sir. I’m glad that we understand each other. Such fine whiskey — you should have no trouble placing it elsewhere.”
“It’ll just take a little longer.”
Mike Sullivan paused.
“Allow me to send you a keg of the finest for your own use. As a personal gift from me to you.”
Shan rose and bowed gently.
“Perhaps not.” He smiled. Please do believe me, Mr. Sullivan. No offense has been taken. A fair evening to you.”
“And to you,” the big man responded, rising ponderously.
The doorway was abruptly full of the overfed doorman. Shan bowed again, gathered Priscilla with a glance and followed the man out.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
There must’ve been a sale on sentence fragments down at the used word store the day we wrote this chapter.
Well, let’s see. . .I find myself not in agreement with Shan touching Priscilla’s hair, despite the fact that the Priscilla and Shan line was intended to be more along the lines of science fiction romance, as we call it today.
I’m also displeased with this shrouding tendril.
On the other hand, I very much like Shan agreeing with his cousin’s assessment of contract-marriage, while he immediately starts to do the marriage mart math in his head — well, after all, who would want the boy — and why? And would such an alliance profit Korval?
Mike Sullivan may possibly have forgotten to “check” Shan’s “clan affiliation,” though I’m betting it’s common knowledge among folk there in the town that the Davis family has Liaden kin, yes, it does. Who, you ask? Why, none other than Tree-and-Dragon itself!
I’m leaning toward this little encounter having been a test of Shan’s. . .integrity, let’s say. The Juntavas isn’t above putting out feelers, after all.
And I will note here that, despite it all, Mike Sullivan did not play Shan for a tourist, having offered a starting price under one hundred bits the keg.
I had forgotten that, about House Mendoza having made its money in textiles. And I’d completely forgotten that Priscilla had her own loom, even as an initiate in Circle House.
REMINDER: There will be no (that’s NO) new chapter posted on Monday June 8, because — book tour. Look for Chapter Eight on Monday, June 15.
May 27, 2015
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