October 16

Fictober, Prompt 16 – “Not this again.”

Original fiction, fantasy-ish.

Warnings: none.

There was a knock on the door.

I stopped, set down my spoon, and buried my face in my hands.

Maybe, I thought wistfully, maybe if I don’t move they’ll think no one is home and go away.

The knocking came again, more urgently. Giving up, I wiped my hands on my apron, made sure that I had all my protective sigil bands on at wrists, ankles and neck, and headed for the door. If these people were going to turn up unannounced at all hours, then they would just have to deal with the fact that I wasn’t dressed for company.

“Not this again,” I said, hauling the door open, “whatever it is you think I can do, I can’t, and no amount of money or wheedling is going to change—”

I cut off abruptly as I saw the two young men on my doorstep. Both dark-haired, the one on the right was staring at me with wide dark eyes and a dismayed, nearly despairing expression. He was supporting his companion, who was unconscious or close to it, head rolled forward so that I couldn’t get a good look at his face.

“You’re- You’re not the artificer?” the first man whispered. “I heard…”

“Oh,” I said, blinking in surprise that someone had come for the skill that I did actually have. “I am.” Then I narrowed my eyes at him. “But it depends on what you want. I won’t help with harming anyone—”

“No!” he said, and looked as though he would have jolted forward to reassure me if not for his companion. “No, but he’s…he’s hurt, somehow, and I can’t…he won’t wake up, and it was…it seemed like there was artificer work involved when I found him like this. Can you help? I’ll give you recompense, somehow, I promise, I just…”

“Come in,” I said, stepping aside to let them in, and taking a moment to observe the forest around us once they had gone past me. Wind rustled through the trees, but I saw no movement in the low, late afternoon light. That didn’t mean much in itself, especially if there was another artificer involved in whatever problem had just landed on my doorstep.

Just in case, I closed the door and shifted over so that my body would screen me as I flipped two of the switches hidden behind a decorative panel in the wall. That would make some of the border protections active, and sound the alarm if anything tripped them.

Turning, I realized that I needn’t have bothered with the secrecy – the young man was bent worriedly over his companion, whom he had laid out on the worktable that I kept clear. His clothes were sturdy, the quality good but not fancy. The unconscious man’s outer layers looked similar, but hints of greater finery showed underneath.

This was no surprise when I walked over and finally got a good look at his face: the man passed out on my worktable was the youngest son of a nearby Duke.

“Please, it’s okay,” the other man said, seeing the nasty shock on my face. “I had to get him out of there, I didn’t…I don’t know who I can trust with his safety, at court. But I hoped you might be able to help.”

I eyed him suspiciously, but sensed no dishonesty. Truthfully, the affection in his eyes as he looked at the unconscious man, the care with which he had handled him, did more to convince me of his sincerity than any words.

“I will do what I can,” I promised, “but I’m going to need to know every detail you can remember, and I can’t promise a significant amount of protection if you’ve been followed.”

“I understand,” he said, nodding quickly. “As long as he’s all right…”

“Very well.” I crossed to the cupboard and pulled out a spare apron to toss his way. “Put that on.”

He did, sliding the leather neck strap over his head. I wasn’t sure what I was about to get myself into, was sure that I was going to regret it…and had already decided it didn’t matter.

Pulling my spelled eyeglass pieces and the sound amplifier out of their drawers, I turned to him and nodded curtly.

“Let’s get started.”

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