"Walking in the Dust"
By L. P. Charlton
Please note that the town Guadalupe as used in this story is fictional. Colin's accent is intended to be this world's version of Irish. Thank you and enjoy!
In Which There Is Debt
A woman in a soft black cloak moved gracefully through the streets of Guadalupe with the hood lowered about her shoulders. She was a pretty woman, but young and her expression was blank and forbade flirtatious attentions.
She was quite tall and had the kind of dark brown hair that was almost black – she called it black and was bothered when others insisted it was just 'a very, very dark brown'. It curled down over her shoulders in long lazy waves; it was loosely curled not those tight ringlets - a natural wave that she was ever proud of. Her eyes glimmered green behind narrow blue-rimmed lenses; she began to find it hard to read and see things when she was nine and had gone about getting her eyes checked and so on. She liked her glasses claiming they made her look intellectual, and they did; the kind of glasses that sat naturally on one's face. The blue frame was her request because a little more colour detracted from the paleness of her skin which was at once both creamy and paper-white. She didn't need the glasses all the time but wore them regularly to avoid losing them.
The people of Guadalupe were used to her presence by now; she had been coming to the town for the past six years for reasons known only to herself. She came, had a drink in the local tavern and kept mostly to herself and within three days she would be gone again and not seen for another two or three months. It began when she was eighteen years of age when she'd been naïve and open about her concerns. Some still remembered her asking about a woman called Lamia but no one could remember said woman.
She swept towards the local tavern, a place called Le Fay after the legendary witch Morgana. Inside the woman approached the bar and ordered a drink before settling back to listen to the gossip around her. "Such a pleasure to see you again Miss Lorelai," the barkeep said cheerfully as he handed her a cheap goblet, "we've been missing your custom for months now."
"I have been busy," she replied smoothly, "and I hardly think it would have been damaging to your business John. I am not a regular customer. However, I would like a room if you have one free."
"For you Lorelai, always."
"Good to know." Her eyes landed on a group of rowdy teenagers and she set her cup down. "Has much happened in my absence?"
"Nothing noteworthy," John told her as he wiped the bar top, "business as usual." He followed her gaze. "That's Mark Weller's son and his gang. They don't cause much trouble, just a nuisance really."
"Perhaps they would be more subdued if they drank less," Lorelai counselled him, "they are too young for ale."
"No, not at all. An' how old are you anyway Miss Lorelai?"
"Twenty-four in April." Her eyes narrowed. "Those boys can't be more than sixteen."
"Weller's sixteen and the youngest one's thirteen. It's no problem though; I'll kick 'em out if they get too loud."
Lorelai's lips pressed into a thin line but she reserved any further comments. What was it to her if they irresponsibly wasted away in here? It meant nothing, for people died every day and she had seen it and knew it and was no longer naïve. Friends and family died all the time and it hurt but it was no reason to stop living exactly as you always had been, and no reason to stop fighting for the things one desired.
"I'll be going to bed. Which room may I take? It's been a long journey and I don't wish to be disturbed."
John shrugged, used to her wayward nature and directed her upstairs. "You can have the one at the end of the hall – yer usual." She nodded and left the crowded tavern for the privacy of her own room.
Removing her cloak she slumped on the bed and fell backwards so the moonlight slipping in through a crack in the window shutters illuminated her features. One lazy hand extended towards the latch and flicked it open so her full form could bathe in the light and she sat up to rest her elbows on the sill. "It is a pretty town," she murmured, "though I've seen more beautiful cities and far grander views. Still, it is pretty. The people are easy on the eyes and they are kind. Perhaps Lamia found love here." She chuckled bitterly. "She might have told me though. In fact she would most certainly have told me – I am her sister."
A soft knocking on her door prompted her to close the shutters again. "What is it?"
"Miss Lorelai? John sent me up with some bread and water. He said he was worried – you didn't have much to drink."
"Tell him to mind his own business – I am not hungry."
"Yes Lorelai… shall I leave it here for you?"
"Take it away and don't disturb me again." She scowled at the door until she heard receding footsteps and sighed. Reaching into her cloak she withdrew a small brown leather-bound book and gently opened the cover. Inside was a yellowed piece of parchment with a neat scrawl across it.
Gone to get some bread, be back soon.
Lorelai's fingertips traced the faded script and she allowed another sigh to escape her. "Lamia…" Then, with a dark, angry look in her eyes, she snapped the cover shut and tucked it into her cloak once more. Once, it had all been for Lamia. Now, she was empty, bitter and angry and it wasn't only for Lamia anymore.
Arguing voices woke her in the middle of the night and she crept down the stairs to stand in the dimly lit hall. There was no one drinking in the tavern now for it was very late and they were all asleep. Only one lamp was lit and was held in the hand of a sleepy and cross innkeeper in his nightclothes. Standing just inside the door was a young man with a messy mop of brown hair that curled slightly under his ears and intelligent, warm brown eyes trying to barter a room.
"There are no free rooms," John stated firmly, "and even if there was, you can't afford it. I'm sorry. You'll have to look elsewhere."
"But there is nowhere else!" the man protested, "I can pay you tomorrow when my deal goes through-!"
"Empty promises are no good sir."
"Honestly – just let me sleep on the floor, I won't cause any trouble…"
"What is all this racket?" Lorelai called emerging from the hall. Truthfully the men had been speaking in hushed whispers but she had heard nonetheless. "I cannot sleep."
John bowed his head. "Sorry Lorelai, it's beginning to rain and this gentleman wants somewhere to sleep – I'll deal with him quickly."
"See that you do." She studied the man carefully and he offered her a hopeful and somewhat goofy smile; she found it oddly charming but she did not let it show. "Let him sleep on the floor, he told you he would pay."
"He'll run for it Lorelai, you know folks'll do what they need to."
"For goodness sake," she snapped, "he may sleep on the floor of my room then and you can demand your payment in the morning." She glared at the man. "So long as he is silent there will be no trouble."
"In with you?" John exclaimed, "Miss I couldn't let a strange man stay with a young woman in good conscience-!"
"I am more than capable of defending myself, John. Do not mistake me for one of your barmaids. I am tired and I wish to sleep. This matter is resolved."
"Thank you," said the man bowing humbly, "I will be sure to repay you and…"
"You may repay me with your silence. Do not speak and we will pretend you are not even here." She straightened. "Give your name to John quickly so you can satisfy him and then follow."
John scowled but waited patiently as the man spoke. "My name is Colin James."
"Follow her and keep your hands to yerself," John growled, "I don't doubt she could tear you apart if you don't."
"Thanks for the warning," Colin answered and his voice carried a ringing lilt to it, an accent that was at once both grating and appealing. Lorelai was thankful for his silence as he entered her room behind her and she settled onto the mattress once more to sleep. The floorboards creaked a little as Colin lay down and sat his pack beside him. "Lorelai, was it?"
She didn't respond hoping it would discourage further conversation.
"Um… can I borrow a cushion, or pillow or…?" He yelped as a pillow sailed towards his face. "Oh, thanks."
"All right, I was just expressing my gratit-!" Another girly shriek as she swatted his head.
"Shut up!" There was no more mention of gratitude and Lorelai closed her eyes to peace. Unfortunately the same could not be said for her awakening. Upon opening her eyes in the morning she heard footsteps bustling about the room, rustling of clothing and rapping on the door. "Oh dammit, open the bloody door!" She was not a morning person.
The door opened and she glared at John framed in the doorway. Colin was already on his feet and leaning against the end wall looking nervous. "You, boy, your payment is due."
"It's barely dawn," he stalled, "just wait until noon, I'll have to go and collect it."
John looked as if he were going to burst a blood vessel, "Blackguard!" he shouted, "Thief! Get out! Don't come back!"
Lorelai got to her feet and tugged Colin's wrist so he was at her eye level. "Pay up, brat. I negotiated your stay last night and so your failure reflects on me. I come here often and I won't let my reputation be tarnished in that manner. If you don't pay by noon, rest assured that I will get interest."
"I can't force the deal, I'll lose everything!"
Lorelai's eyes narrowed as she surveyed the room. "You have no money and there is no deal. You've woken this early because you planned to scarper. What is more..." her fingers brushed her cloak, "you swine, you have touched my belongings!" A harsh clap sounded as her palm met his cheek. "No doubt you imagined my pockets would hold wealth for you. All that can be said for you is that you didn't find this," she plucked the leather-bound book from the pocket of her cloak. "Empty your pockets at once; whatever you possess John will claim in payment."
Colin shrugged and turned his pockets out but they were truly empty save for a lonely fleck of lint clinging to the lining. "Lady, I own nothing."
Lorelai pulled a drawstring pouch from around her neck and rifled through the contents. "Here, John. This will cover both of us." She took a firm grasp of Colin's elbow and smirked. "As for you, Master James, you have now incurred a debt you will find impossible to escape. Until you repay me every penny I spend on you, you will travel with me wherever I go."
He barked a laugh and tugged his arm from her grip. "Why would I do that? If you want to pay for me, that's your own problem."
John shook his head, "I can't allow this in any case Lorelai, it wouldn't be right to saddle you with his debt..."
"I convinced you to let him spend the night, did I not? So his debt is mine to pay. Take the money; I plan to move on anyway. Mr James will be coming with me – I assure you he will."
"Whatever you say," Colin scoffed as he marched down the stairs and out the tavern door.
"A pleasure staying here, as always," Lorelai said smoothly as she wrapped her cloak about her and pulled on her gloves. "I'll see you someday again soon, I expect, John. Rest well."
She slipped out into the cold and peered down at the untidy youth by the door. "You know, you're quite good. You had me fooled last night, just about – the smile, I think."
Colin glared up at her from where he knelt clutching his left hand. "I don't know what you're talking about," he spat.
"Your act is perfect!" she congratulated him, "But I am cleverer than I look, and my dear man I am a good judge of character and not easily fooled. So, let's be going."
"What have you done to me?" he growled, "I couldn't go any farther."
"You have a debt to repay. Once it is paid you will be free. Examine the back of your left hand, if you please." Colin obeyed and found a dark red-brown rune carved into his skin. It was small, about the size of a coin, and in a curious shape. He had never seen such a mark before. "It will bind you to me until you pay me back. It should not take you long and then it will disappear. I put it on your hand in hopes of reminding you that it was your light fingers that got you into this mess – a nice touch, I thought."
"Witch," he grumbled as he got to his feet.
Lorelai smiled in an overly-pleasant manner. "Why yes, I am."