As you can (hopefully) see from the picture above, I managed to make up for yesterday’s cero-word effort with a vengeance today, and am back to being two full days above par. This was managed by splitting my writing time into three 90-minute sessions. Not much else to say there aside from the customary extract.
Wychwood town market was in full force, with mobile vendors bustling up and down between the fixed stalls selling their wares. Most of what was for sale was produce, although there were a couple of darkened booths that trafficked in rather less savor items. Nikolai saw that Gytha’s was packed with younger women buying something that the old, toothless woman called “penny-royal preventatives.” Nikolai smirked at that, remembering the time twenty years ago when he’d availed himself of Gytha’s wares, and more… intimate services. He’d have to catch up with her after the market closed at sundown. If he did, he was going to make absolutely certain that Sofya wasn’t around. He didn’t need that story circulating at the Last Drop, or the less savory quarters in the Tower of Satiada.
The other darkened booth was a mystery to Nikolai, and the clientele didn’t provide any clues as to what the merchandise might be. It was mostly male, but there didn’t seem to be any particular age group or social status that comprised a majority. The old knight marked the location, and tried to identify the stallholder. Such investigations would have to wait until later, though. As Nikolai’s priority was a horse. He headed to a stall, which was daubed in the yellow and red stripes that denoted a livery stable, figuring that if they didn’t have a horse, they could at least put him in contact with someone who could.
Sofya, in the meantime, had decided that the two of them needed accommodations for the night. Quite when he had agreed that the two of them were going to stay in Wychwood eluded him, but Sofya had kept reassuring him that it had been his decision. Nikolai had been shocked at the level of giddiness the serving maid brought out in him. She made him feel at least ten years younger and like he’d had a pint of fine ale every time she was around. He knew it was foolish, after all, it was part of her job as a serving girl to put the customers at their ease, and clearly Sofya was a natural at it.
The old knight snapped out of his reverie and headed to the livery stall. There were a couple of patrons ahead of him, a young woman buying a leather riding saddle that Nikolai was sure she couldn’t pay for and a man with the scent of wine-sinks clinging to him even more strongly than it clung to Nikolai. From the somewhat haphazard way this latter was negotiating with the stall holder, it seemed that he was dissatisfied with the horse he had purchased. The man kept complaining that the horse he had purchased only had four legs. Since this was the normal complement of limbs for such a beast in Nikolai’s experience, he began to understand the somewhat exasperated expression and voice the stallholder had.
After what seemed like an eternity, the stallholder gave up on explaining to her deluded patron that four was a fine number of legs for a filly and nodded almost imperceptibly to her left. On that signal, two burly enforcers clad in boiled leather armor and carrying bastard swords stepped forwards. Using these blades, they made it clear that the livery stall had a very strict “no returns” policy. As the enforcers dragged the unconscious man away, presumably to the pillory, Nikolai found himself face-to-face with the stallholder.
“What can I do you for, good sir knight?” the woman asked.
“I’m looking for a trained riding horse capable of great distances,” Nikolai said, and then though of Sofya, “actually, better make that two.”
The stallholder sucked in air through her teeth, the universal signal for something having a high price. “That’ll cost you, sir-“ she stared intently at Nikolai’s throat, “woodneck.” The stallholder signaled her enforcers, who returned and stood just far enough away from Nikolai to be respectful while still appearing imposing. Both men had their hands on their swords.
“I can pay,” Nikolai said.
The enforcers relaxed their grips slightly, and the taller of the two stepped back.
“Exile I may be,” Nikolai said, “but I am not yet destitute.” He kept his voice low, aware that less scrupulous individuals about the market would view such a declaration as a challenge and set about to render it a falsehood. He plucked the large onyx gem from his surcoat, removing the window from the blue tower emblazoned thereon. “I believe this could pay for a half dozen mounts anywhere along the steppes. It’s yours if you find me but two.” He placed it on the wooden table in front of the stallholder.
Almost faster than Nikolai could follow, the woman had grabbed the gemstone. She placed it between her teeth and bit down upon it. This action caused a wooden tooth to crack, fall from her mouth and drop into the muddy ground with a wet splatter.
“It’s authentic,” Nikolai said. “I told you that I could pay.”
“You can. It will take some time for me to procure and ready the mounts that you seek. How long do you intend being here in Wychwood?”
Nikolai glanced over at Gytha’s shadowed booth. “At least one night, maybe more.”
“Then be at the Northwest gatehouse one hour after dawn tomorrow, and I shall have you horsed. Bring whoever your companion might be so that we can make them ready also.”
“We’ll be there.”
The stallholder spat into her hand and proffered it for shaking. Nikolai reluctantly clasped it and reciprocated.
“Pleasure doing business with you woodnec- sir knight.” She said.