The Blight of Muirwood Page 2

“Who is barging into my kitchen on Whitsunday,” Pasqua said, her voice building to roar as she turned around. She was dumbfounded a moment. “Martin?”

His voice was loud and thickly accented. “It is a good reason, Pasqua, and I will beg you not to raise your voice at me again. Even these many years have not dulled the ache from hearing you rant, by Cheshu. Tell me where the Aldermaston is, and I will be on my way as quickly as I came.” He turned his fiery eyes to Lia. “Do not stare so, lass, that will not do. Not at all. The rudeness of children these days. I will relieve you of several of those since the tray looks so heavy.” And with dirty fingers, he snatched three pizzelles and started eating one. Crumbs clung to his beard.

Lia looked back at Pasqua. She stood silently, her mouth gaping open, staring at the intruder. “Martin,” she said again, almost whispering. Then her eyes blazed with white-hot heat. “Out. Now. Out!”

He leaned against the doorframe and cocked his eyebrow at her, waiting.

“Get that tray away from him, Lia. Do not let him steal another bite. Where is that broom? Sowe – the broom! Out, Martin. Out!”

“Huff and holler all you like, Pasqua. Just tell me where I can find the Aldermaston and I will go.” He wandered over to a nearby barrel with a perfect dish of sambocade. Not a slice had been cut into it yet. “I always did fancy this dish of yours. I just might have a taste of it.”

“If you touch it, I will have your finger in a stew!”

He stood over it, eyeing it hungrily. “Just a little. I will use a spoon.”

“Do. Not. Touch. It!”

“The Aldermaston is in the manor,” Lia said, nodding to the man respectfully and nudging him with her eyes towards the door. “I will take you, sir, as I was just on my way.”

“Kind of you lass, but I know the way. Much has changed since I last roved these grounds. Much indeed, including yourself.” His eyes burned like blue fire. “Why, you were but a mewling little thing. It was I who found you in a basket that night, lass. I who brought you to Pasqua, if she has sense enough to remember your first taste of milk. I left Muirwood when you were but a seedling, but how you have sprouted! You have the same look about you. Why, you are even taller than me now. On our way then. Pasqua, I will have some of that later, mind you. You will save me a slice.”

And he said it in such a way that Lia felt the tingle of the Medium thread through his words.

* * *

“You wanted to see me when the guests left, Aldermaston?” Lia said, clenching her hands as she stepped into his study. “Astrid said they were gone.”

The Aldermaston’s voice was leathery and out of breath. “You may go, Martin. Enjoy the festival. I will speak to her. Alone.”

She had interrupted a conversation and paused, looking about the room. Lia had not seen Martin in the shadows on the other side at first. He blended in well, his features still and brooding. With a sour-faced shrug, he rose from the window seat and crossed to the door, staring intently at Lia all the while, his expression growing sterner and sterner, as if he found something very distasteful about meeting her a second time.

Even with the conversation unfinished, Martin obliged. “All in due time, Aldermaston. Aye, all in due time. Enjoy the festival. As if I will enjoy myself watching for sneaky cutpurses or learners getting too cuddly under the eaves instead of eating finch pie. Enjoy myself, by Cheshu.” He gave Lia one final scorpion look and then shut the door behind him, hard.

Lia turned and found the Aldermaston reaching down and lifting something heavy to the table. She recognized it instantly as Jon Hunter’s gladius, except it was polished and the leather scabbard smelled of oil soap. Next, he set down two leather bracers, a shooting glove, a tunic girdle, and a quiver of arrows. Each item had been painstakingly polished. Finally, the bow came next and the Aldermaston set it on top of them all. Slowly, deliberately, he pushed them towards her.

Lia swallowed. “I do not understand.”

“The Medium weighs heavily on me tonight, child. Concerning you. The feelings have persisted and I am too old to bother ignoring them. These are yours now. Tomorrow, after Whitsunday, you are the new hunter of Muirwood. I sent for Martin to train you. He is not pleased with the choice, as you could tell, but he will obey. There is no one better than he that I could trust to train you. He is Pry-rian, actually, which makes it all the more interesting considering our discussions since the death of the old king at Winterrowd. Your training begins tomorrow, as I said.”

Years before, Lia had stumbled off the ladder steps carrying a heavy sack of flour, had fallen on her back, the sack spewing flour dust all over her, nearly choking her to death. She felt like that now, her world turned upside down, her head aching and mouth too full of questions to even know how to start speaking.

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