Nursing her mug of cider, Inaris studied the young woman with the odd color in her hair. With long hair, the red and black streaks struck Inaris as rather fantastic. An interesting choice in fashion, but Inaris wondered how Anya managed it, and could not help but toy with the idea of it would look like with blonde instead of the red . . . . “What picture did you hide in the first one?”
Anya smiled. “A fish and a rabbit’s head and a snail and snake . . . a whole bunch of animals.”
Inaris sat up a little straighter as the young woman listed off the animals. “My, how do you think it all up?”
“I do not do much else,” Anya admitted. “I cook and clean for my brothers, but one is away right now. But I do drawings and painting most of all.”
Inaris licked a droplet of cider from the rim of her mug. “There is nothing wrong with that. Best to dive head first into a gift if you have one, and you definetly do, Miss Anya. Do you have a market for your work?”
Anyatka shrugged and then shook her head. “Not really. Not here. I do a portrait every now and then and sometimes I can sell a landscape. But most folk here do not have the means to spend frivolously on pictures.”
How silly to be excited for a painting . . . But a piece of art would definitely liven up the plain space that was her bedroom walls. And now that no rain could leak in to ruin her things — “I’m not well off by any means, but I would love to buy something of yours. If you can sketch like that, I can only imagine what your paintings must look like.”
“Really?” Anya asked, looking up with a surprised smile. “I can do a custom work just for you. What sort of things do you like?”
Inaris made a face and shrugged. “All sorts of things. I like warm places where I’m not up to my knees in mud. I like flowers . . . especially lotus flowers. Oooh! What does the sea look like?”
– – – * * * – – –
Two years prior . . . .
Tying down the last bundle of straw, Inaris sat on the peak of the thatched roof, frowning at her poor, scratched up hands. The red hood kept the sun out of her eyes, and hid the gaudy clip that secured her bangs back over the top of her head. She’d been working on the roof since sun-up, and she had quietly grumbled to herself the whole time, but now, seeing the fresh straw gleaming like gold in the late spring sun, a bit of pride swelled in her chest. She had done this, and all by herself.
“Jade?” called a woman’s voice from somewhere below. “You still up there?”
“Yeah, I am!”
“Well, hop down, dear. Supper is about ready, and you have a visitor!”
“Sure thing, Miss Wynthryth!” Tossing the last of the rope ahead of her, Inaris carefully made her way down the slope of the roof. Nearing the bottom the young woman glanced around and slid the last six feet like she’d seen so many of the young men do before. Flying off the edge she landed on her feet, but as soon as her weight came down she tumbled several times before skidding to a stop on her rear end.
Letting out a small yelp, she grimaced, and slowly rose to her feet to dust herself off.
“First time trying that, eh?”
Shit. “Yeah, but I’ll get it next time,” she said, casting a tight smile over to her audience of one. “What are you doing here, Othorion?”
The tall captain leaned against the side of the house, arms crossed over his broad chest, not bothering to hide his amused smirk. “I came by to see you, of course.”
Reaching beneath her hood, Inaris removed the clip and hid it in her pocket, her bangs falling down to veil her face. “I am honored, of course, good sir,” she said with a dramatic inflection, “but I’m smart enough to know you want something.”
Chuffing out a laugh, the Rohir pushed himself away from where he leaned to approach her. “Miss Jade, you wound me.”
“You can take it.”
Othorion leaned back against the side of the house to face her as she washed her cut-up hands in a basin. “And what if I just want the pleasure of your company?”
Her bright eyes darted up to meet his. “You never visit for my company.”
The imposing man’s eyes narrowed, and his smile grew. “You don’t know that.”
This man was unbelievable. Rolling her eyes, Inaris winced, and attempted to remove a splinter from her left pointer finger. “What can I do for you, Commander Othorion.”
“I have a favor to ask,” he replied after a moment of watching her.
Inaris chuffed out a breath and smirked. “Of course. Are we mapping out possible scouting positions, or do you want to grill me for the location of more enemy camps that I don’t know of?”
“Aren’t they your people?”
“Never. They are the enemy. But you were saying?”
“This time it is something a little more exciting,” Othorion answered with a wry smile. Moving, he suddenly stood next to her, as tall, and overwhelming as ever. It irritated her that it made her heart leap in her chest. Taking her delicate hand in his massive grasp before she could protest, Othorion, with surprising care, removed the splinter on the first try.
She did not shirk back, nor did she pull away. “The sound of that makes me curious . . . and want to answer ‘no’ before you tell me what it is.”
Releasing her, he pulled a large pair of worn leather gloves from behind him, and draped them over her hand. “I left armour inside. The set we spoke of before,” he said in that low, rumbling voice that made the air nearly too thick to breathe. He hovered there for what seemed forever, his piercing eyes cast down to meet her unyielding gaze.
“What in Arda would I do with that armour?”
Othorion stepped back. “A great many things, I imagine, but see if it fits. I will be back to discuss business tomorrow.”
Tucking his gloves into her belt, Inaris offered a curt nod. “Very well. Till tomorrow, Commander.”
Othorion inclined his head to her. “Good evening, Miss Jade.” Brushing past each other, neither looked back as they went their separate ways.