The next dawn broke with a light drizzle that slowly faded into a dull, gray morning. Wisps of cold fog blew in off the Brown River, settled around the trees and wet the grass with icy cold dew. Not wanting to run into any of Scar Man's Friends or anyone who could remember her from the Inn at the West Gate of New Town, they skirted the walls to the Southern Gate.
Stranger picked their way between peddler's carts and tented stalls, flocks of geese and pens with new lambs in them as they headed towards the Gate sentries. The two armored guards had the bored look of long time, nothing to do on them, but they did glance over her scarlet red hair, fair skin and full bosom with a spark of interest as she rode past. They also eyed Stranger's tall, muscular frame and straightened up a bit as if some bone memory reminded them that they were in the presence of one of the old war horses that could plow through an unmounted foot division and send the soldiers rolling like child's toys.
Littlefoot chattered from under her cloak.
"The thinkers don't bother me. It's the doers like we had visit us last night that get my blood up", she laughed at his opinion about the guards thoughts as she stared them down with a raised brow and sea-green eyes. It was a good thing that Littlefoot and Stranger were casual when it came to her tussles with Rowan. Those lascivious thoughts could really cause some problems if they had not accepted him!
Rowan's face with his liquid brown eyes and mane of black curls came to her with a jolt. She went all soft thinking about his powerful shoulders and strong legs.
"I miss my friends, too! I can't wait to see Firewynd and Rolf and Pudge"! Littlefoot chattered. Stranger nickered his deep horse laugh as visions of the mares of Small Wood Village ran by her mind from his inner eye.
"Gods, we're all a randy bunch! Better make for home sometime soon", Talis thought as she urged Stranger down a small and familiar back alley.
Vilene was standing just outside her doorway in the stone building that housed her shop and home. Her gray hair and wizened face lit up on seeing Talis and she opened up a toothless smile to welcome them. Bright blue eyes still sparkled from mountains and valleys of wrinkles.
A blond haired and well built young man appeared from inside just as Talis dismounted and went to one knee to show her respect for an Elder. Vilene touched Talis' head and Talis leaped up to engulf her in a bear hug.
"How's Vi been, Bret"? Talis signed behind Vi's back still hugging the old woman.
Bret signed back a short comment. With a soundless laugh, he put thumb and forefinger on either side of his nose, then together for an "okay" signal, chin jutted out rakishly exposing the thin silvery scar on his throat ear to ear. Talis released Vilene, laughed and grabbed Bret in his turn.
"What's he say about me behind my back, Talis? He's always being fresh with me, you know", Vi said with a curled lip.
"He said, 'You fart big and snore loudly' "! Talis answered.
Vilene pretended to be angry and embarrassed thwacking Bret on the head and shoulder with a bunch of dried herbs, which scattered into the air leaving behind a sweet and pungent odor. Bret fended her off with outstretched arms and a soundless laugh, planting a cheeky kiss on her old forehead in reply.
"For one with no voice, you certainly manage to be mouthy! Go see to those teas we're to deliver to the Old Lord's kitchen for his gout this afternoon or I'll disown you"!
Bret turned to go inside as Littlefoot leaped from Stranger's back to his. Bret swung the ferret around and buried his face in Littlefoot's musky belly leaving his grandmother and Talis to parley.
Vilene gratefully took the big packet of meteless Talis pulled from her saddlebag. "This root is getting harder to come by each year", Vi said appreciatively as she sniffed the dank and sandy purple roots and fingered the tiny hairs on their sides. The roots squirmed a bit from the tickling and satisfied of their freshness, Vi gently tucked them into a muslin bag that appeared from the folds of her voluminous blue apron.
"I've asked you two to move back to Small Wood where there's plenty of fresh herbs! You know that you have Her permission to search even as far as the Cairn for your needs! I'm sure She'd let Bret help you! This place grows more intolerant and dangerous every day! Your old house has been kept up since you've been here. Just give the word and I'll send Click and Rowan to pack for you, root and knob".
"I'm not ready to go back to the woods just yet, young missy! There's still plenty of business and money for and old herb woman, even if I do get Punts passing by and preaching at me. For all their talk of heresy, they're more than happy to pilfer my unguents and medicines in Shon-ar's name. Especially the virility root". Vi took the packets of greens and teas from Bret as he returned outside, Littlefoot draped around his neck like a fur scarf.
"Besides. You know that there's other work here to do", she shot Talis a sidelong glance. Talis pursed her lips, sighed and nodded her acquiescence.
The second packet Talis removed held a huge black wool shawl with an intricate woven border for Vilene and a small sheathed knife for Bret. Click had made the leaf-shaped blade for him and Talis had stitched together the leather sheaf, molding it in hot water to snugly fit the outline of the knife. Knife in hand and an enthusiastic kiss for Talis, Bret went around back with Little foot to practice his knife throwing.
"Remember to balance the haft in your hand before you throw. Think of your target, see the blade go there and throw! Smoothly" ! Talis' voice followed him. She turned to Vilene and followed her inside the shop.
"I've a list of needs from you, now. Let's have some of that warming salve, a large packet of smoke-herb, rust leaf, and the medicines on this list to start. Some dried apples and pears would be welcome for us and just a few raisins for Littlefoot if you have them.
' And if you happen to have a suitable rabbit as friend for Colt..." Talis trailed off. Vilene would know that Colt would never be capable of the familiar bond almost all of her kind were capable of. That didn't stop the youngster from wanting to have a 'pet' at his side like the other young ones in the Village.
Looking around at hanging bunches of herbs, pots and jars of liquids and potions, books and bones and parchments, the smell in the shop was a blend of astringent and floral with something else just below the surface - not unpleasant, but not to be messed with by the uninitiated. Talis fingered one of her silver traced amulets clamped tight to her hair just above her temple.
"I have just the one", Vi said as she disappeared into a back room returning a moment later with a black and white rabbit. She handed the soft creature to Talis to hold as the old woman set about filling the rest of Talis' order.
"Friend", Talis answered, amused at his obvious disappointment. "For Colt".
(Note: The Misty Morning is by Cdemo on Flicker. Littlefoot above is from the National Park Services site. The herbs are from one of my beautiful herb books. The gorgeous leaf shaped blade was channeled up by and can be bought for a pittance of it's worth from the forges of Valhalla Arms.)