∴ A Wanderer’s Weapon ∴
The soft glow of lantern light through the trees is a welcome luxury after a hard week’s camping. You cram your hand into the pocket of your battered leather coat and grunt. Coin enough for a bed.
As you step across the splintered threshold, warm conversation fades into curious silence. You stride up to the bar, taking in the waif behind it – barely more than a child.
“A room please,” you say, your voice cracking with a week’s disuse, “and a bath if you’ve water.”
The girl’s eyes widen as she searches for the right words. You are all too aware of the blood that still spatters your face and headscarf, the ill-fitting breeches beneath your embroidered bodice and the sheathed blade at your side.
A stout man emerges from a low door, and looms protectively behind the girl. The landlord, you presume. You half-smile hopefully, taking care not to tug at the healing claw marks on your cheek.
“That’s quite the sword you’ve got there, Wanderer,” he rumbles, his arms folded tightly across his barrel chest. “Tell me, whose banner do you swing it under?”
You relinquish your attempt at a smile, instead placing a handful of coins on the bar.
“None, sir, for my code forbids it. My sword keeps me safe in the wilderness.”
It keeps him and his little daughter safe as well, you think, for all the thanks you get. You could tell him about the beast that no longer prowls this wood, or the bandits hastily dispatched – but you want no quarrel. Only rest.
The innkeeper scowls, weighing up his options. Your kind means trouble more often than not, but he could do with the coin. Business has been scarce with bandits on the road.
At last he jerks his head toward the staircase.
“Bara,” he grunts at the girl, “draw our guest a bath.”
You slip up the stairs behind Bara, who directs you to a musty straw mattress under the window. The girl watches you unshoulder your baldric, shifting from foot to foot in awkward silence.
At last she asks, “can I see it?”
You smile and draw the curved blade carefully, holding it out to her with two flat hands. She gapes at the elegant ring quillons, her pale fingers hovering over the octagonal pommel that marks your order.
“Have you ever fought a vodnik?” she asks.
“Vodniks and worse,” you say, giving in to a wonky grin.