Chapter Two: Myria

“Easy girl,” I crooned to Dayla as she picked her way through the crowded streets of Trandor.

Not one of the more shining cities I’d ever visited in my travels, but honestly few of them were.

Holding my satchel a little closer to me I leaned forward from my precarious perch to scratch in her favorite spot, right between the green and yellow stripes that covered Dayla’s pebbled hide above her short forearms.

“Almost to the end, and then you’ll have a nice bundle of leaves,” I promised as her long legs carried us through the winding muck covered streets.

We caught a few glares and stares, as usual.

Some people could manage to bond enough with a torwynn to last a season or two. Most didn’t manage, instead relying on the heavier zugrin to draw carts and wagons.

Torwynn required more dedication. And certainly more conversation.

I had a theory. Actually, I’d heard about it from a half-drunk grizzled old man in a bar.

You’d be surprised how much information I picked up from half-drunk grizzled old men in bars.

But back to the theory.

It seemed like there was a season in their lifespans during which torwynn wanted to explore the world, leave the herd and wander.

But they preferred to do it in company – either with a member of their herd, or another herd passing by or even, if they weren’t too picky, a human.

I had found Dayla far from any other herd, curiously picking at low hanging norvell branches.

Considering even then she was twice my height, I felt justified in being a bit nervous to approach.

But the distance I could cover on torwynn-back was enough of an advantage to spur me on, bring me closer.

She didn’t strike with her talons, didn’t bounce away on those along absurdly long, backwards hinged legs.

Just lowered her head and stared at me with glossy black eyes as if to say, “Where have you been? Scratch this eye ridge. Get on that.”

We’d traveled together for two years now, and I wondered how much longer it would be before she felt the stirring to return to her herd.

“Things are getting interesting, old girl,” I murmured. “Stay with me a little longer, all right?”

She chuffed in answer.

And as usual I read into it whatever I wanted.

We were halfway to a tavern I had worked at before when the crowd suddenly thinned out.

I frowned. That wasn’t good. Whatever was up ahead was scaring the locals away. Locals that I needed to be happy and relaxed, spending their money in the tavern.

Not too nervous to walk the streets.

It didn’t take long to figure out the problem.

A small group of men walked boldly down the middle of the street, wearing the black and orange coats that marked them as Flame’s elite guard.

They surrounded a young man, bruises clear on his face, shackles on his wrists.

What the hell were they doing here?

Flame’s citadel was at least two days travel away, and that was pushing it.

The locals scattered at the sight of them, not wanting to risk confrontation.

I didn’t blame them.

Even if this was borderland territory, Flame’s soldiers could travel just as freely as a bard.

But no one liked them.

“They like us a little bit at least, don’t they, Dayla?”

She didn’t even chuff.

In a small berg like this, no one wanted anything to do with Flame’s boys if they could help it.

Including me.

As the band approached, a dark-haired man in the lead fixed me with a pointed stare.

“We’re as far to the side as we can get, jackass,” I muttered.

His eyes felt oily on my skin and I let out a sigh of relief as they passed by.

Once they were out of sight the crowd resumed its regular movements and Dayla and I picked our way through the muck to the tavern, thick smoke pouring from its chimney.

In a bigger town, the Red Thrall would look run down, beat up.

Here it fit in with the rest of the town.

I wasn’t going to make a lot of money here, but there were other things than money that were worthwhile.

You wouldn’t think it to look at it, but from my previous trip through, I knew they actually had a good set up for torwynn here. Stalls tall enough to accommodate their towering height, and piles and piles of norvell branches.

Of course, they’d mostly be expecting zugrin, but enough travelers came through that the stable hand would know what to do with Dayla.

Unrolling the short rope ladder from the saddle, I swung my leg over and climbed down, careful not to catch the bow at my back on any of her rigging.

A lean girl with her hair in a rat’s nest but clean enough leathers strip stepped forward.

“She gonna give me any trouble taking the harness off?”

“No,” I answered, as I scratched down the side of Dayla’s pebbled muzzle. “She’s the sweetest tempered torwynn I’ve ever met.”

The girl stared at me, unimpressed. “They all say that.” Nevertheless, she stepped forward and led Dayla into a pen that looked cleaner than anything else I’ve seen in this town.

When I slipped inside the smoke-filled tavern a slow grin crawled across my face.

Unlike the smoke outside, this wasn’t from a cook fire, but the easy thick smoke of hash.

The scent made my nose crinkle, and for the sake of my throat and my brain I’d have to stay away from the worst of it.

But it meant there was a little extra coin for pleasures here. And plenty of people who would be feeling relaxed, ready to talk, gossip.

Who knew what news I could pick up?

Behind the bar a sturdy looking woman with her hair in long rows of plaits watched me.

“Passing through?”

I slid my retrew carefully from its carrying case in my satchel.

“Hoping to play for a night or two, if you’ll have me.”

I’d be shocked if she wouldn’t.

Since the so-called peace, the only way news spread from town to town was by travelers, the rumor network, and bards.

The thought still made me laugh.

Here we were, theoretically part of some great intergalactic Empire.

But the Emperor had cast us off, and due to greed and anger the whole planet had been turned into something straight out of a history book.

My great-grandmother remembered the war, and the change. The soldiers coming through, confiscating every weapon, every bit of tech.

She’d never forgotten.

Never forgiven.

Not the warlords, and not the Emperor.

 “Can’t pay’ya,” the woman said flatly. “But I can feed you, get you space in the store room to sleep.”

“Take care of me and my mount, and we’re all square,” I promised.

I stuck my hand out, shook hers and listened to the hum of the tavern.

Not quite full.

“More folks coming in later?” I asked.

She nodded. “A bit after dark is when they mostly come by.”

That would do.

That would do just fine.

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