"Well, Behrin's in town." There was a heavy finality to his voice that he hadn't intended. He ducked his head to look at her beneath Loki's neck. He locked eyes with her briefly then looked away.
"He's holding a slave vendue tomorrow. Everybody's pretty much making a profit off of it. Bushman's rented his barn out to house the slaves and Fetch's is pretty well filled. Lot of merchants in town. Buyers." Duran's voice dropped off and he stood silent. For once,he was glad he couldn't see her face.
Her headache cranked up a notch at the mention of Behrin. She left Loki and walked over to one of the water troughs. She dipped her hands in the tepid water and splashed some on her face. She refilled her hands and splashed her neck, allowing the water to run into the V formed by her tunic.
She tried to avoid Behrin much like a bad stretch of road. She abruptly sat down on the edge of the trough. She knew she should get on Loki and go elsewhere but--dammit!--she wanted to sleep in a real bed and eat real food.
"Slaves huh?" She muttered.
Duran took note of her sweat-stained leathers, disheveled hair, and her damp, dirt-encrusted face. He thought she'd never looked more beautiful. He picked up a halter off a nearby hay bale and looped it around Loki's neck so he could remove the bridle.
"Yep. Slaves. From what I hear he's got some men out of Borea and Crestkill. A few women. Kids to pick rocks out of your fields."
Duran talked on in his soft, calming voice and Alora felt her headache begin to ease. She took a deep breath and inhaled the rich scent of hay and horseflesh. Slivers of golden light worked their way through the many cracks and crevices of the barn and she was lulled by the ageless quality of light and shadow.
It was the color of nostalgia and time, suspended. Bathed in it, she recalled moments and memories kept stored away but now brought to the surface in golden wrapping. They threaded lazily through her thoughts like a slow moving boat on a still river and she listened to Duran with only half an ear.
"Of course it's not right. If Leomedon wasn't the size it is he could ride in here just as easily as he did Borea or where ever."
The bridle slid off and was hung on a peg to be cleaned and oiled.
"Anyone of us could be tied up alongside the horses and be considered no better. Slaves are starting to be big business now."
The saddlebags were pulled off and carefully set aside. Duran frowned slightly and his brow creased.
"Seems funny how all of a sudden nobody can take care of themselves any more. Slaves to cook, slaves to clean, slaves to bed, slaves to work your fields. Some have slaves just to show them off. Funny world huh?"
"Yeah. Real funny." Alora replied and stood up. She saw that Loki had been unsaddled and was being rubbed down with a handful of straw. She walked over and stroked his nose, happy that he was happy. The sense of euphoria was gone. It had disappeared on the tail of Duran's dialogue and she was suddenly aware of how hungry she was.
"Don't worry about him; he'll be fine. I'll brush him out and clean your gear. Oil it too. It needs it."
Duran's heart quickened a few beats as she gave him a grateful smile.
"I'll probably take him out tomorrow. I'll ride him bare so don't worry about the saddle if it isn't clean. You'll lock my saddlebags up?" Duran was one of the few people she trusted with her gear.
"Sure. I'll see that he gets the good feed too. Not the filler I feed the 'stags. Is there anything else you want me to do?"
She could have asked him to harness the moon and the simplicity of her request would have stunned him.
"No. You always take good care of him and I appreciate it."
She met his direct stare with her own and suddenly felt awkward. It was as if her simple thanks had been some sort of binding commitment. She knew she should say something, anything,to break up the awful eloquent silence that had descended in the blink of an eye but nothing came to mind.
"I'm a stranger in this world." She thought,as she took in his rapt stare. She was surrounded by people who looked like her, talked like her, but were filled with emotions as foreign to her as the inside of a church. The mother's hands that had molded her had left out a key element but no one had known she was going to have to make her way in the world like this.
She tore her eyes away from Duran and looked at the ancient yellowed light now melancholy in its bleak glow.
Something inside Duran's chest cracked a little with her sudden looking away. Something filled with delight and promises not yet made. A link had almost been forged, something shared, yet she hadn't wanted it. Her look away was as obvious as the closing of a door.
He bent over and picked up one of Loki's front hooves. He dug out the impacted grass and mud with rough fingers.
"So...does Fetch's have any rooms left?"
"There's probably room." He answered, still hunched over. "Behrin's staying there though."
"I don't care. I'm starving."
He felt her slip a coin in his pocket.
"Here. For Loki's stay."
She stood there a few moments longer then turned and silently left. Duran straightened up once he was sure she was gone. He walked over gazed out the Livery door with a bemused expression. Loki pushed his head hard into his back, almost knocking him down, and he automatically reached into his pocket for a peppermint leaf. His fingers skirted over the coin she'd given him. He pulled it out and was surprised by its golden gleam. It was enough to board the horse well into winter. He put it back in his pocket almost reverently and smiled.