HOLD FASt Part 4: Old Steel
It wasn’t quite the sound of hooves, but it was a gait nonetheless, and Bouda Heatherwing knew that there was something – someone – new in town. Her body creaked and cracked as she rose, but the knot in her gut propelled her off her rocker and towards her blade.
She hobbled towards the mantle, her left hip a constant nuisance, and towards a sword whose blade hadn’t tasted flesh in what felt like a millennium. Her gnarled hand reached out and clasped its firm grip, the contours of her hand sliding into place like an old leather glove. It felt right in her hand; They certainly don’t make them like this anymore.
The more she moved the looser her hip got, and soon she was creeping like she had been taught as a small girl dancing through the ferns.
Krell hadn’t changed a bit since they all arrived, and Bouda had been there longer than them all. Hell, she could walk these streets blindfolded at midnight and she’d navigate every nook and cranny short of a mouse hole like it was broad daylight. Her bare feet tread across wooden planks and burning dirt with nary a sound, the blade at her side.
The main road ran through the town like an artery – all of this town’s lifeblood was found there. She snuck past the inn, the jail, the general store, and she even passed by Topper’s pub despite the smells wafting out of there that made her stomach grumble like thunder.
“Y’all don’t get many visitors, do ya?” she heard a measured voice ask.
Bouda tensed. She’d know the voice of her granddaughter even underwater. Her hand tightened on the grip of her sword.
The voices moved slowly, even though the footsteps of the…what? The horse? (No, not heavy enough. Bouda had heard enough of horses to last her seven lifetimes, and this was not a horse. She brushed the thought aside) They were on foot – and Gem wearing boots! – with the beast following behind them. Headed towards the center of town.
She crept past the smithy, and there were no sounds from the anvil. Arn must be just as perplexed as she was, she reckoned. It had to be a stranger. An outsider. Was it one of…them? She shuddered at first, but anger began to boil in her gut.
The bucket ascended from the well, the old rope straining as it brought up a full pale. They were still talking, and from his words he seemed evasive to Gem. Naturally, Bouda’s suspicion grew the closer she snuck.
“This ol’ girl is Shasta. She’s a desert walker, a monster of a lizard that’s damn hard to come by nowadays,” said the stranger. “I’ve known her since she found me.”
Gods above and below, a desert walker? Here? Bouda froze, her eyes widened – she hadn’t seen one since she was a child. She ached to run her fingers over its slick, snake-like scales, to hold its head in her hands. Any other place and time, this would’ve purchased a tear from her, but not while her granddaughter was here and maybe in danger.
Judging by their voices, she angled herself just behind a couple of barrels, directly behind the stranger. Her sword sung quietly as she drew it from its scabbard. She eased an ear up over the top, trying to focus in on that face, on those boots in the dirt; her eyes were clouded, and outside of her peripheral vision her sight was limited to wavy silhouettes.
But then the stranger shifted, maybe a hat or a scarf moved away, and suddenly she saw an eye of icy blue pierce her cloud.
And it looked at her.