Silver and Blood – Chapter One

Best of the Boards
Trina L. Talma

The intense stare of the sandy-haired man on the opposite side of the table sent a shiver down my back. I drew myself up in my chair, trying to match his gaze. Since sitting down with Kela and me a few minutes ago, Corrian Volf and his companion hadn’t said a word. I could almost hear the question in Volf’s mind as he looked at me. What could a young woman wearing cast-off men’s clothes want with a man of his reputation, whose name was immediately recognized not only here in the slums, but in all Keldwon? I hoped I could give him a good answer to that question.

I had arranged this meeting at Idon’s tavern, where I was well-known and Volf was a stranger, because I didn’t know what to expect from him. As usual I could see a few acquaintances among the tavern’s late-night customers. The smoky taproom was busy but not crowded, though close quarters doubled the noise so that I felt surrounded.

I concentrated on Volf despite the distractions. My hand rested on the hilt of Janor’s long knife at my belt. The solidity of the silver-chased ebony reassured me somewhat, even as it reminded me of Janor himself, and my reason for being here. It was almost the only thing he had left behind when he disappeared. With his blue eyes still fixed on me, Volf signaled the barman with one hand. His companion, a tall bony man with dirty blond hair, slouched in his chair, his gaze wandering over the dim room. I guessed that he was Volf’s bodyguard, watching the men and women around us. He would be hard-pressed to pick out a single threat here, where almost everyone was a potential thief or killer-for-hire. But the throwing-knives he wore in leather bracers on both arms and the bare shortsword hanging from his belt would no doubt deter anybody not already put off by his fixed scowl.

I knew Volf was trying to unnerve me with his silent stare, to test me the way people in our line of work always did when first meeting. The best chance of survival any criminal had was to know how to read people, to learn more about them by watching and listening than they would ever tell you of their own accord. I already knew that Volf was a confident but cautious man. Indeed, he could hardly have risen to his present status if he weren’t. I wondered what he might be learning about me.

Suddenly Idon broke our line of sight, setting a tray down on the table between us. The bodyguard reached out first, grabbing a wooden mug and immediately swallowing nearly half the ale inside. Kela stared at him in disgust as Volf removed a dusty bottle and a second mug from the tray. I wondered how Idon had known what to bring him; the bottle of wine wasn’t standard fare here.

Idon stood beside the table for a moment, waiting to be paid. Finally Volf turned, leveling the blue-eyed stare on him. “Get out of here,” he suggested. His voice, though quiet, still managed to penetrate. Idon, who was big enough to break Volf over his knee, faltered in the face of that stare and walked away. Never in all the years I had been visiting this tavern had I ever seen Idon back down.

Volf’s companion chuckled, a strange sound that for a moment made me think he had choked on his ale. Then he smashed his empty mug down on the table, crushing a beetle crawling across the scarred surface. The crunch of wood on wood barely made an impact in the noisy room. A man in a shabby brown cloak at a nearby table turned to us for a moment with an irritated frown, but the bodyguard’s insolent stare turned him back again before he said a word.

“What do you want with me?” As Volf spoke he touched the silver pendant, a prowling tiger, hanging from a chain around his neck. I knew he did this to remind me that his hands were away from his weapons. I had seen the long knife at his belt when he came to the table—the large bloodstone on the pommel made it hard to miss. He probably had more knives hidden somewhere in his loose-fitting clothes.

“I’m Alyza Reyn.”

“I supposed that you were. Alyza Reyn asked to meet me here, and here you are.”

I felt my face heat up, but I went on. “This is Kela Tors. I know I didn’t mention bringing her, but this is her business too.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Volf said, though he did not look either pleased or displeased. “What do you want, that we have to meet at this hour?”

“It’s late for young ladies to be out on the street,” the other man added, looking at us for the first time with a leering grin.

I shot him a glance of cold steel, and he shrugged as if bored, turning away again. In my neighborhood, “lady” was not a compliment. Ladies were rich women from the Outer Ring, the residential district. They were naive outsiders here in the Inner Circle of the slums. He might as well have called us children.

“Anyway,” I continued, as Volf poured the dark red liquid from his bottle, “we’ve heard you’re one of the best in Keldwon at—shall we say—gathering information.”

“You’ve heard right.” He passed the bottle on to me, and I took a hesitant swallow. It was a surprisingly mild drink, sweeter than what usually passed for wine around here. This man wasn’t quite what I had expected, though I couldn’t say the same for his companion. I took another drink and passed the bottle to Kela.

“So what do you need?” Volf asked. “Someone or something?”

“You know Janor Tors?”

“In a way.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I was growing tired of this game of half-truths.

“I know him well enough to sometimes wish I didn’t.”

The bodyguard started to laugh, that strange choking sound again, and Volf turned to him. “Trane, would you mind leaving? Wait for me outside.”

Trane got up, shooting me a look so venomous that a snake would have backed away from it. Then he walked out of the tavern, leaving me with the impression that I wasn’t the only one not sorry to see him go.

“Now, what business do you have with Tors?” Volf asked.

I gestured toward Kela. “She’s his sister, and I’m his partner.”

“Ah. Then I guess it’s true what I’ve heard—that he’s vanished?”

I ran my tongue over my dry lips. “Yes.”

Kela spoke up for the first time. “He’s told us about you. We thought you could help.”

Volf shrugged. “Well, I know him, as I said. But I can’t help. I don’t know where he’s gone.” He took another sip of his drink, looking away as if he had already dismissed us.

“You’re our only hope,” Kela protested, an exaggeration to be sure. “Don’t you even wonder what’s happened?”

“Curiosity doesn’t pay. When someone disappears in the Circle, there’s no point asking questions. People might be missing you next.” He favored us with a mocking smile. “Maybe that’s what happened to your brother.”

I could tell Kela took this hard, but I was getting angry. “We’ll pay you to help us find him.”

He shook his head with a laugh. “You want to hire me? I told you there’s no point to it. You’d be wasting your money.”

“That’s my choice.”

His expression stiffened. “Listen to me, young lady—”

“Maybe I should make something clear.” Janor’s knife seemed to spring into my hand, hovering an inch from Volf’s throat. “I’m no lady.”

The few people who noticed my action simply glanced at us, and then turned back to their own business. Only Idon stopped to watch, though I knew he was more concerned about damage from a possible fight than about my well-being or Volf’s.

“I’m not the child you seem to think I am,” I went on. “The only person who has a claim on me is Janor Tors, and that’s no affair of yours. I just want your help to find him.”

To give him credit, Volf barely flinched. “All right,” he said, looking at me rather than at the knife. “All right, I’ll help you. Just put that blade back where it came from.”

I sheathed the knife, but kept my palm near the hilt. From the corner of my eye I saw Idon relax and return to serving the customers at the bar. “Give him the money, Kela.” My friend drew out the small pouch of coins we had scraped together. Volf raised his eyebrows when he saw it, but made no comment. “Now, what can you do for us?”

“I don’t know for certain. But meet me back here the same time tomorrow night. I’ll see what I can find out.” He tucked the money away in his belt.

“And I’ll remember how to address you in the future.” He got up from the table, gave me a mock-salute, then turned around and swaggered to the door.

I couldn’t tell whether I had wasted my time or not. There were plenty of other people who could help me find my partner. Kela and I both had friends who were almost as concerned about Janor as we were. But I knew that Corrian Volf had eyes and ears in every part of Keldwon, not just here in the Circle. If Janor was to be found alive anywhere, I felt sure that this man could help me do it. But the question remained of whether he would.

“Everything all right, then, Alyza?”

I had hardly noticed Idon’s approach. “All right,” I said, as he collected the tray and the empty mugs. “More or less.” I picked up the half-empty wine bottle, and he had the good grace to pretend he hadn’t been reaching for it. He would only have topped off the bottle with water and resold it to someone else before the night was over.

Instead he said, “They’ll be talking for a week about you facing down Corrian Volf.”

I stared at him with narrowed eyes through the smoke. “How did you know who he was, Idon? I’ve never seen him here before.”

Idon shrugged. “I never laid eyes on Volf before, that I know of. But I know Trane.” He grinned. “You made a big impression on him too, I noticed.”

I didn’t smile back. “I never liked mercenaries.”

“The rest of his men ain’t much better. But Volf’s got a good reputation.”

“And I guess it travels ahead of him,” Kela said, gesturing toward the wine bottle. She probably knew the wine’s quality even better than I did.

“It ain’t often I get someone in here who’d appreciate my private stock,” Idon admitted.

“We appreciate it.” I got up, taking the bottle with me. “We truly do.”

Idon sighed, but said, “Keep it. It’s worth the cost if it brings the likes of Corrian Volf in here. Not to mention the entertainment you gave us,” he added with a wink.

As Kela and I made our way out of the tavern, Idon called, “Good luck to the search, Alyza.”

“Thanks, Idon. See you soon.” Little did I know how long it would really be before I walked through the tavern’s door again.


Trina has been writing for most of her life (evidence dates back to the age of 6), with phenomenal success that has occurred only in her own mind. She can be reached at hrtsmom[at] or visit her Web site, Brain Dump, to see what’s on her mind.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email