Chapter 4: Quinn
And closer she came still. So close I could smell the sent of cloves on her, the sent of baking bread from the kitchens. I loved every moment of it, shuddering when I felt the heat of her body against my skin. But she paused, her face a hair away from mine when I felt her fingers flick gently against my shoulders. I held my breath the entire time, caught.
She pulled away a few centimeters, a sweet smile on her face. "There was a bit of stray thread on that shirt of yours," she murmured in her suave cadence of a voice.
I exhaled with another small shudder, making my wings tremble. She must have known the effect she was having on me. She had to have known. I watched the sly look in her azure eyes as she rose, taking the bowl in her hands again. Then she turned to go, her golden curls tumbling back over her shoulders. My fingers itched to touch those sleek curls, to run my hands through them.
Then she was gone, just like that. It was as if she was never here. And I swore, uttering a curse under my breath. Damn it. Never asked her what her name was. How could I have been so stupid? So taken away that I forgot even to ask if she worked here? I was utterly stunned at my own inanity. What ever happened to that good old wise Asher? Flew back home to the Eyerie Hold, no doubt.
I closed my eyes for a moment, my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands with my wings pulled close to my body. For a moment, I felt lost. What was I doing here, getting seduced by a ravishing blond beauty and spooking listless brunettes? Oh ye gods take me. I was losing it. And now I lost it, what ever it was. My sanity? Or was it my piety? I hoped it was my sanity. What good was an Immortal without piety? Wait, that's a Demon and I know I was definitely not one of those. First off, I had my feathers still and a compassion blooming in me. Yes, still an Immortal and proud of it.
Opening my eyes again, I glanced out the window now, ignoring the glare of the sun. It was noon, or at least I thought it was, and all I could see were blurs of colors through the translucent glass of the window.
With a heavy sigh, I rose from the bed. I shouldn't be loitering about. I had work to do elsewhere if not here. Who knew what the Angalo had planned for me next. Besides, I wanted to get back to the Eyerie Hold. I had yet to met the girl my dear friend, Mikhail, was raving about. Though he wouldn't admit he adored this girl, the emotions were written clear as day. My Immortal friend loved this girl, who ever she was, and I wished dearly to meet her. Was she worthy of his love?
I stood, my wings spread for additional balance and grinned foolishly when my legs did not tremble with the extra weight or stumble when I took my steps towards the door. I wonder what any onlooker might have thought to see an Immortal walking with wings as wide as the room allowed and walking like child.
After a while, I began to walk normally again, passing through the threshold and entering a small hallway holding more rooms similar to my own. I winced when I heard the wood of the floor creak under my weight and when my wings brushed against the old wood that felt damp. Along my way from the room, I counted three maids who passed me along my way from the end of the hall (which was where my room was) to the other end, where I spotted the stairs. Pulling my wings close to my body in the rather narrow hall, I caught a few stares from passing mortals with a look of surprise or awe in their eyes, which I greeted with a jovial smile. Instantly I knew I was in an inn.
I climbed down the stairs, which squeaked more than the floors, into the common room. People were rushing about, moving this way and that way to be seated at a circular table or carrying a tray of food. A group of people sat at the back of the common room, opposite of the entrance, where a small fire blazed before a table and several seats. Right by the stairs I stood on was a small bar with mortals seated with their drinks and whatnot. The bartender, a haggard middle-aged man, was mixing and pouring drinks with speed I could not even manage. I simply marveled at the chaos and din through the dim lighting and the fact that I, with my great wings of silver, went unnoticed. All the better for me then. Truly, I didn't care whether the whole common room noticed me or not.
"Ah, so you have awakened, my lord Immortal!" a voice cried out from below.
I shot a glance down and saw the friendly bartender wave his hand to me in greetings. I smiled and waved back, climbing down the last few steps to greet the bartender. I leaned against the very end of the long countertop, where a few of the mortals to my left took heed of me with staring gazes of surprise. I gave them a slight cordial smile and turned my attention back to the bartender.
He was, as I said, a middle-aged man of a heavy build with black hair graying at the temples. His hands were rough from years of work as they cleaned up part of the countertop with a moisten rag. Bushy black brows were set over his bright chestnut eyes, which animated his weatherworn face.
"I trust you slept well, eh? Feeling better?" he asked, placing a drink before a customer on my far right.
I nodded. "Oh, yes, I did. Thank you for asking."
"Oh, don't worry about it, my lord Immortal," he said with the widest smile I had ever seen.
Shaking my head with a faint grin, I waved off this man's formalities. How Iloathed my title of my lord Immortal. It sounded pompous.
"Asher," I corrected kindly, "'My lord' is a bit pretentious for me."
The man inclined his head. "Pleasure to know you, Asher. I am Araquinn, but folks around here know me as Quinn."
"Araquinn," I ruminated aloud, a thoughtful gaze in my eyes, "Sounds like a northern name, a name from Catic Mountain area."
Quinn laughed pleasantly, a deep-throated chuckle. "Aye, I am. Born an' raised there too. A small village it was, but my mother threw me out of the house. Told me to get a life and get a job. Such a nice woman. And so I came here, to Evandell, just a good hundred miles south of that cold village," he laughed, placing a glass of water before me. And trust me, I knew it was water and nothing more.
I smiled in thanks with a small toast to him before taking a sip of that cold liquid. "Why this town? Why Evandell?"
Again, the man laughed genially. Was there ever a dull moment in his life? By the looks of it, probably not.
"Well, at the time, Evandell needed guards to protect against the Demons, being faithful to the gods and all, and I was but a youth with a thirst for adventure. So I joined to quench that incessant thirst for blood. Didn't do me any bloody good, I can tell you that much. Nearly lost my life three times fighting with them Demons. Aw Hell, you probably know all about that stuff anyways." I just smiled as he continued. "But eventually the Demons gave up on this tough little town and I retired here, at Warf's End with my wife, Brenna. She's the owner of this place, this inn, you know."
I gave a lopsided grin, taking another sip of water. Suddenly, a frown crossed my face and I narrowed my eyes thoughtfully. "Wait, my friend, I thought it was an inn that burned a few days ago."
The man sighed sadly. "It was. The Rebel's Rut it was called. Such a strange name and I'll never know why Marcus, the late owner, named it the Rebel's Rut. He died in the fire, along with his wife Celen."
I winced, looking down at my water when Quinn mentioned the dead. The souls I couldn't save. But the girl, I saved her. Who was she? I looked back up to see Quinn fixing some depressed soul a goblet of ale. I shuddered, remembering the last time I drank until I was drunk. Regurgitated my dinner all over some poor girl I can't even remember. Then I passed out. But that was years ago, when I was more or less a youth.
And when Quinn came back, I decided to ask him about her.
"Tell me, what of the girl who was in the fire."
"The one you saved?"
He thought for a moment, cleaning up more of the countertop. "Well, she's corporally hale as any girl her age can be, thanks to you."
Thank the gods she's well. But didn't I see her with my own eyes not moments before the blond beauty glided into my room? Wait. I frowned when I saw the subtle change in Quinn's eyes, the mournful look as he moved to attend another customer.
What did he mean corporally?
"Quinn, what do you mean 'corporally'? I can tell you are avoiding something, my friend."
The bartender sighed heavily and leaned against the countertop to face me. "Well, Asher, it's as I said. She's healthy, physically. But, I fear she's still hurting deeply inside."
"Where is she? Can I speak with her? Wait," I paused to think for a moment, "Doesn't she work here?"
"She does now."
"You mean she didn't before?"
"Yes. We don't even know who she is. Brenna felt sorry for her because the nobles of a nearby barony took her aunt and uncle in their custody. Apparently, they pilfered money, but from who, I do not know. But the girl they left behind. She was apparently innocent. But rest assured, Asher, she's in good hands. Why, I'll bet she'll learn a thing or two from Niamh," he said with a hearty chuckle.
He raised a single eyebrow at me with a wick grin. "A maid here. The one with an abundance of golden curls and bright azure eyes. She's one hell of a girl. You're sure you don't know who she is?"