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Witchy Wonderland

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1 Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 6:13 am

Steam penetrates my hand as it lingers over the boiling pot on the stove, my eyes glazed as I watch the muscles flex on the back of my scarred hand as it stirs absently at the seething liquid. The herbs clinging to the edge of the pot release a strong scent of home that can be smelled even outside in the garden, though my thoughts are far from such a pleasant place. I can't help but think of my daughter, whose pale hair occasionally catches my gaze from the window as she fusses with the new gelding she's brought home, my eyes wandering from her and then back to the thin scars that run alongside the metacarpals in my hand.

We never mention the similarities between my scars and hers, even when her gaze later lingers on my hand when she joins me at the table and I carefully serve a steaming spoonful of soup into her bowl. I eat in silence, Elwinel filling the quiet with boisterous banter as she fills me in on everything she's done with her new gelding in the week since she brought him home. She's used to my quiet, her eyes pulling up at the edges in response to the smile I give her as she chatters on. Quiet as I am, I never tire of hearing her speak - not after having once wondered if I would ever hear her voice again.

Too soon, it seems, she's gathering up the dishes and carrying them off to the sink as we bid one another good-bye for the day - the ritual not ending until she's reassured me of her every plan for the day, and told me who will be with her and when she will be checking in with Varna, her adopted grandfather. Even then, a tight ball of worry settles in my stomach, a familiar companion I know won't depart until I see her again, safe and sound, later this evening. Were it not for Varna's urging, the poor girl would never leave my sight, but alas, I can always count on him to talk some sense into me - or nonsense, in this case - but the old man is sterner even than I when he wants to be.

And so, Elwinel leaves for the day, her eyes bright with excitement as she coaxes her new companion out to the cobbled street where she'll guide him down the road to break him in at the arena where she trains. There, she'll be under the watchful eye of a Hylda, a hot-tempered, bossy, and delightful dwarven women who took a hammer to the knees of the one young lad who was stupid enough to lay a finger on El' during her first week there. (We've been fast friends ever since.)

The next few hours of my morning are filled with chores - many of which Elwinel has already tended to. Still, I take the time to brush out my own horse, cleaning and trimming her hooves, and treating her to a bag of oats before she's finally saddled so we can set off into town ourselves. The ride is broken with the periodic stops at the various message boards between the house and our destination. Etrielle is familiar with the routine, and she lingers at my side, occasionally nudging my elbow as I pull various notices off of the boards and slip them into a tube on my belt.

Midday is still a few hours off by the time I reach the edge of town, Emhyr's scowl visible the moment I've crested over the bridge leading to the city gates. I can't help but smirk at the sterness in his posture, his arms crossed over his chest as though his entire day has been taxed by having to stand there, resolutely refusing to relax against the stone walls as he awaits my arrival. Etrielle's hooves click hollowly on the wood of the bridge as we approach, the sound parting the commonfolk as they smartly avoid the horse's steady gait as she makes her way toward Emhyr intently.

"You're late," he says curtly the moment I begin to slide off of my saddle, Etrielle already trying to turn off toward the stable where she knows the stablehand will reward her with something tasty.

"I'm not," I reply firmly, my hand going up to count the widths between the sun and the horizon. "Three hours past sunrise. Same time as every other day."

"I've been here an hour already," Emhyr insists, his scowl never lessening though I know I'm right. "An hour we could have used looking for work."

"I've already gathered five notices we can check into," I respond with a raised eyebrow as I release Etrielle's reigns to the stablehand. "You could have as many if you hadn't wasted an hour standing here waiting for me."

"If you would just move into town-," he starts before I interrupt sharply.

"I am not moving into the city," I say roughly as I pull the notices from my belt and shove them toward him, the discussion ending before its even begun. "An old woman is Glennbrook says her dead husband keeps breaking into her barn at night and scaring off the horses. Another couple in the same village claims an imp has been getting into their cellar and making off with their food stores."

"There's no such thing as imps," Emhyr rolls his eyes as he takes the notices, looking through them with interest nonetheless.

"I know that," I sigh as I give him an irritated look. "Still might be worth looking into. Somehow I doubt there's a corpse walking around, either, but clearly someone is causing trouble in Glennbrook."

"Not interested in mundane troubles," Emhyr says with annoying finality as he tries to hand the papers back to me. "We're witch hunters - this? This is work for charlatans with phony holy water."

"It's work," I insist sharply as I shove the notices back toward him and start off past the gates. "And besides - what would your superiors say if they heard you refused to investigate a potential necromancer or some other unnatural anomaly? Worst case scenario, we stop a thief and get paid. Best case, we find some heathen raising the dead and you get to send someone to the pyre. There is no downside.

"But lets see what else we can find," I concede as I glance back at him over my shoulder. "Might be something more worthwhile in town."

"There's never anything worthwhile in this town," Emhyr sighs in agitation as he tucks the notices into his belt and follows after me. "This whole city is full of heathens and pagans, peddling their damned magic as though it were some simple commodity like bread or shoes. They don't hire witch hunters.[i]"

"And it's better in Novigrad?" I ask with a scoff as I make my way toward the first notice board within the city walls. "Where there's a dozen jobs, and five dozen hunters all vying to finish it before anyone else can collect on it? We make more here than we'll ever make in that shithole just for the simple fact that we're the [i]only hunters here.
Even heathens and pagans have troubles with magic, Emhyr. More even than the commonfolk, I wager - and they're smart enough to know when a curse is a curse and not just a raging case of pubic lice."

Emhyr shudders at that and nods solemnly, "True enough," he admits. "I pray we never have a case like that again."

"I think you were more embarrassed than he was, honestly," I say with a laugh as I glance back at him, the stern man refusing to return my gaze even now. "For a grown man, you sure are terribly uncomfortable with something as basic as human anatomy."

"I don't have any reason to see another man's testicles, Solas," Emhyr responds gravely. "And let's just leave it at that, shall we?"

"If you say so," I smirk before turning my attention to the noticeboard, the mud squishing under my boots as I weave through the handful of people passing in front of it. Most of what I read is boring, tedious ads for an exchange of services, a few 'lost' and 'found' postings, many mispelled and barely legible scribblings, and a couple of 'looking for love' notices (which have all clearly been ignored for some time).

"Nothing," I sigh as I return to Emhyr before waving him toward some vague direction. "Your turn - maybe you'll have better luck than I."

***

But Emhyr's luck was no better, our search taking us all over the city as we combed through notice board after notice board. Much to Emhyr's disdain, we found little more than a posting asking for help moving a large set of drawers into a very magically inclined household. Emhyr was so disgusted, he wouldn't even accept the ten silver pieces the woman offered. I, however, was happy to take his pay as well as mine.

"Do you know what Solas means?" I ask some time after the job is complete, Emhyr's heavy footsteps still carrying the weight of his foul temper as we make our way to the market square. The odd question gives him some hesitation, however, and I'm quick to grasp at it. "It means pride." I say matter-of-factly. "So I'm finding it rather odd that you're being the one who's too damned prideful to do a little manual labor for some extra coin."

Emhyr only rolls his eyes as he returns to his angry walking. "It's nothing to do with manual labor," he says the word with such disgust that I can only offer a disbelieving, "Mm-hmm," in response.

"It's the fact they're all so blatant with their witchcraft!" he snaps back at me as he wheels around on his heel. "Did you not see all the black magic dolls she had hanging in her window?! Not even a shred of concern about her actions!"

"Well, in her defense, they were worry dolls, not black magic dolls," I say with a frown, Emhyr faltering questioningly as I sigh at his lack of understanding. "Worry dolls... they're made by children, out of twigs and string and bits of colored cloth for the clothes... they then whisper their fears and worries into their ears, and place them under their pillows - or, in this case, hang them in the window - and the dolls carry the fears away and dispel the evil from the child's mind. Bit of harmless superstition, really - nothing all that magical about it."

"That - that's not the point!" Emhyr insists, only a small fraction of his steam dying in his tense posture. "Those superstitions come from a place of magic! And that's only one example of this wretched place flaunting its otherness. How can we be surrounded by magic, and not be able to find a single job?!"

"Well, there's still the imp and the dead husband..." I offer lamely, Emhyr's ears growing hot with anger. At first I think it because of my comment. At least until I notice his gaze peering off over my shoulder. Glancing behind me, I can feel my heart sink. A girl, no older than eight or nine, playing a game of spark rocks - a harmless game, much like hopscotch. Except the stones thrown in the squares are enchanted to spark and smoke if you fail the agility challenge of skipping that particular square as you hop along. The game is as much about echanting the rocks as it is about the actual hopscotch aspect, and nearly every young witch has played it in their youth.

"Emhyr-," I start, the word cutting short as the man shoves past me roughly. "Emhyr!" I hiss loudly, trailing after him as he stalks toward the unsuspecting girl. "This is not Novigrad! There's nothing to gain from this."

"She's going to the school, Solas!" Emhyr snaps back at me with barely a look. "That's our job. One we've failed to deliver on for weeks now, and our failure has been noted!"

"Damn it!" I grind out, knowing that arguing with him will achieve nothing. Instead, I can only follow along as he approaches the young witch, my insides knotting uneasily as I take in the quaint facade of what I can only assume to be the girl's home.

This is wrong. And I know Emhyr knows it, too.

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2 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 2:11 pm

Various sized bottles of tinctures and salves rest under my fingertips as I recite the familiar and quiet enchantment to charge them, my eyes closed softly against the dim light of my cluttered study. It'll be the second of many batches to prepare today, a task that is as overwhelming as it is rewarding. The healing concoctions are being shipped to one of the tucked-away communities just outside of Novigrad, a bit of aid to the witches that have escaped the city and must catch their breath and recharge before fleeing further from the dreaded place. 

Dread. A bottle of tincture clinks against another as it slips out of my hand before I can tuck it into the box I've prepared for them, my hands pausing as a sense of dread fills my stomach. Twisting in my spot, I check to see Evander is still sleeping soundly on the worn quilt spread on the floor behind me, never once stirring as I rise to my feet and step towards the kitchen. The house is quiet, Nell likely still sleeping upstairs, the only audible sounds being my footsteps and the soft rhythm of breathing. But the sense of unease doesn't settle, my breath sticking in my chest as I come to stand just inside the front door to see two men - hunters - standing out front, talking to Raefiya. 

The scene unfolds at a painful crawl, one of the men sneering harshly as he talks down to my daughter, the words Don't fight it, whispering past my lips. While the other man never speaks a word, his posture has a false stiffness to it as he stands party to the exchange. The weight in my chest eases, however, as his gaze rises to meet mine through the dingy window. 

There's a softness in it, a softness towards Raefiya, and it lessens the dread in my stomach as I watch him pleadingly. He won't let any harm befall her, and for a moment, we both know that I know that. Still, I can't help the anxious swell of tears as I press a kiss to my fingertips and plant it against the glass, a soft prayer leaving my lips as the fiercer man takes Rae's arm in his hand, their feet carrying her away from me.

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3 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 4:51 pm

My jaw is tense with anger as I follow Emhyr, pain building in my skull as I watch the girl's soft curls bounce as she tries to keep up with his fierce pace while she steals glances over her shoulder, back toward the safety of her home. The sight of her silent tears licking thin trails down her cheeks leaves the sour taste of vomit on the back of my tongue. But I can say nothing as we walk, offer her no comfort or reassurance save a few silent glances that I'm not sure she's old enough to understand.

Still, there's a wisdom in her silence. She does not scream or offer an resistance. Instead, there's a naive faith in the way she keeps looking back toward home - back toward the witch whose gaze had stolen mine for a moment. My confusion at her lack of intervention can only be clouded by concern as I wonder at the circumstances I've found myself in. What reason could the girl have for her calm? This would not be the first time we stumbled on a formidable witch hiding in a humble hole in the wall.

But my gut tells me otherwise. The girl's mother didn't interfere because she saw me. I could see that much in her eyes, in the way she watched me, fearful yet somehow trusting. What did she see? What does she expect? What does she know?

Fuck.

"What are you called, child?" I ask, falling into a squat beside her as Emhyr releases her arm once we've reached the alley behind his small home, his hand going to his belt to find his key.

"Who cares?" Emhyr scoffs as he pulls on the old, bloated wood of his back door to position it so the lock will slide out of the frame when he turns the key. The girl's eyes glisten fearfully as she looks between Emhyr and I as I cut the man a warning scowl.

"I'm Solas," I tell her gently, ignoring Emhyr's disapproving glower. "Solas Adofaer."

"Raefiya," she offers nervously, her voice barely more than a squeak.

"Well, Raefiya," I smile slightly as I get back to my feet. "I'm going to cook us a nice supper, alright? Are you hungry?"

She nods silently in response, her eyes moving about the dark alley before Emhyr grabs her arm again and pulls her roughly into the house. His disapproval is nothing compared to the slow rage building up behind my own stoic features as he glares at me for offering the child a meal. Despite my anger, I manage to remain silent and poised as I follow him inside, and head for the kitchen.

I can't help but sneer as he locks the doors, the finality of the locks' clicks leaving no doubt that all the doors have been fitted with anti-magic bolts to prevent trespassers - or in this instance, escapees. I pay him no heed beyond that except to exclude him from the meal once I've finished cooking, his glare burning right through me as I offer a generous bowl to Raefiya before sitting down across from her at the small table. Annoyed, he gets up from the couch to go serve himself from the pot, the ladle clanking angrily against the iron as I offer a small smirk to Raefiya who notes his anger.

We eat in silence, Emhyr pausing at the threshhold to his bedroom, bowl in hand, to tell us sternly that we will be leaving for Novigrad in the morning. I can see Raefiya's hands tremble at that as she tries to hide her fear in her bowl of soup, her spoon barely making it to her mouth without spilling its contents on the table. Once Emhyr has locked himself in his room, I allow several minutes to pass before getting to my feet, my unfinished bowl left at the table as I wander over to the couch.

We sit quietly, the silence broken only by the clink of Raefiya's spoon hiting the edge of the bowl as she eats. I busy my hands with some string and twigs as the time passes, the sun sinking lower beyond the window as I stitch and wind the string around the small sticks, bringing shape and life into them. Raefiya never looks up from her bowl, fear still sitting on her small shoulders as she attempts to find her fate in the reflection on her chilling soup broth.

At last, I finish my project before getting up to retrieve our bowls from the table and take them to the kitchen. The ceramic dishes clunk as they hit the counter, my attention going to the pot on the stove as I grab the ladle to fish out the small satchel hidden in the bottom of the pan. Emhyr hadn't noticed it in his haste to fill his bowl and rid himself of our company, his predictable anger something I had counted on when I'd slipped the small parcel into the pan after serving myself and the girl.

I cut the tight string around the neck of burlap, and carefully rinse the herbs down the drain before tucking the evidence of the satchel into the pocket it had come from in my jacket. Even before I turn to see her, I can feel Raefiya's eyes on me as she watches carefully, her hands folded idly in her lap. I only offer her a smile as I go to stand near Emhyr's door, listening quietly for the other man's deep snores. Passed out from the added 'spice' in his dinner.

"Let's get you home, shall we?" I say as I nod toward the back door. Her eyes seem to glow as a smile spreads across her face, reminding me so much of Elwinel that I feel my stomach flip uncomfortably. I say nothing as she slides from the chair and I go to unlock the door - the anti-magic bolts failing under my subtle touch as I pretend to unlock them normally. Truthfully, only Emhyr has the key to unlock the blasted things the normal way. But I've never been one to accept being a prisoner, and I've no qualms about ignoring the locks' intent.

Raefiya, it seems, doesn't either, as she's quick to take my hand as we head out the door into the dark.

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4 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 6:47 pm

The day has gone long since Raefiya was taken from the street, and dark has long settled outside as I sit cross-legged on the couch carving at a piece of wood. The vials and small jars of this morning's task have long been packed away, despite the lingering anxiety tickling at the back of my neck. Have faith, I remind myself, whittling away at the near-finished Hecate figure in my hands. It'd been sitting unfinished on a shelf for months, since before Evander was ever born, but idle hands do no favors. 

I can faintly hear Nell and Evander in the children's bedroom, though her words themselves are lost to the crackling fire a few feet away. I can only imagine what absurdities she's telling my son, though. She's likely chastising me for allowing Raefiya to be grabbed at all. Softly telling the boy how his mother lacks her spine and puts too much weight into her silly intuitions. They're just hunches, they don't mean anything, she'd said when I explained to her what had happened. Well, yelled. Nell has always found me to be quick to cower, a fact she was more than eager to remind me of when she stopped in looking for Rae only to find her gone. 

It was several hours before she returned after storming out, offering nothing but her presence as I waited out the night. When Evander grew tired and loud, she scooped him up to take to his bed, though if it was a favor to me or a show of stubborn spite, who knows. Whatever it was, her anger has only made me doubt myself. Doubt the sense of calm whenever I think of Raefiya finding her way home. Sense of safety that lingered from the moment shared with the silver-haired man. The figure has fallen to rest in my lap as I pick at my nails absently with the blade in my hand.

I don't know how much time has passed since the fidgeting stopped, the house grown quiet as Nell has no doubt fallen asleep with Evander in the bedroom and the fire dissolved to nothing but the soft glow of embers. Unable to sit still any longer, I unfold myself from my spot in the couch and head for the door. I can't help but pace in the entryway, glancing out the door's warped glass at the muddled glow of street lanterns over an empty street. 

I nearly drop the wooden figure in my hands as I spot them, though. The striking shine of long graying hair accompanied by the familiar messy curls of my daughter. Setting the figurine off on a shelf, I pull the door open and a relieved smile stretches at my cheeks as I step out onto the cool stone pathway leading to the street.

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5 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 8:06 pm

"Mama!" the girl cries as she breaks from my hand to run toward the relieved figure of her mother. I hesitate at the edge of the yard, watching the reunion silently as my hand rests on the edge of the worn fence. I can't help the faint smile as the scene unfolds, the woman's air of calm betrayed only by the slight tremble of her hands as she greets her daughter. It reminds me of a memory - similar, though far less composed than this.

"May I?" I ask as I step a little further into the yard, pulling the project I had tasked myself with earlier from my pocket. I hold it up for the woman to see, awaiting the faint nod of permission from her before I hold it out for Raefiya. The girl hesitates as she glances up at her mother for reassurance before coming over to accept the crude doll.

"L'Lani d'Treemmai," I say quietly, for only her ears to hear as I offer her a soft smile. "You've probably made something similar to this, I bet. She is a keeper of fears; a worry doll. You hang her in your bedroom window, whisper her your worries, and her spirit will carry them away from you - so nights like this will never creep into your dreams, and steal your peace away from you."

Raefiya smiles broadly, recognition coming to her soft features at the mention of the familiar worry dolls. "Thank you," she says, clutching it to her chest before quickly hurrying back to her mother's side to show her. "Look, it's a worry doll! He made it while I was eating my supper."

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6 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 8:42 pm

"Did he?" I glean down at her, running my fingers through her hair and down her cheek before leaning down to kiss her forehead. My touch trembles before leaving her, looking up to the man with a grateful smile.

Raefiya slips behind me and into the house, the door creaking as it hangs heavily on its hinges. Stepping forward quietly, I reach up to take his face in my hands, holding it firmly as I look at him seriously.

"Bless you."

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7 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 8:50 pm

"You shouldn't," I respond, shaking my head slightly as I reach up to pull her hands from my face - my touch gentle, but insistent as I take a small step backward. Clearing my throat, I rub a self-conscious hand over my cheek before frowning at her slightly.

"You must forgive my - 'friend,'" I sigh, hesitating on the last word. "He's spent too much time in Novigrad, I'm afraid. He doesn't quite know what it means to live anywhere except under the Temple's order. He thinks himself pragmatic in unerringly doing his job here, but I fear he's blind to what wrath will befall him when he seeks to assert himself where he's not wanted or needed. He had no business troubling you or your kin."

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8 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 9:26 pm

"It'll be a lesson learned for us all," I say quietly, glancing back to the house where lights have begun to glow from within the children's bedroom. "Things get too quiet, too comfortable, and we- We forget where we are."

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9 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 9:41 pm

"It is an unfortunate reality in the world we live in," I agree with a slight bow as I start to step back toward the gate. "Once again, I am sorry for your ordeal. If there's nothing else I can do for you, I'll leave you to your evening."

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10 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 9:55 pm

"Wait," I call softly, reaching out to gesture him back towards me. "I have something for you."

Stepping back through the open door, I grab up the wooden carving and turn to face him. "Hecate," I start to explain, looking down at the carving as he takes it hesitantly. "Goddess and mother of magic, the moon... Other things." I shrug as I trail off, grinning slightly. "She's a token of protection and power, and a gift for you."

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11 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:00 pm

"Oh," I breathe slightly, turning the carving over in my hands curiously before I look up at her hesitantly. "It's - lovely. But, uhm... you do know that I'm a hunter, right..?" I ask uncertainly. "I'm not sure Hecate would care much for me."

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12 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:02 pm

"And you've given my girl a worry doll. I can..." I stop for a moment, looking at him thoughtfully. "I know you can appreciate it."

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13 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:11 pm

"Indeed," I concede with a slight smile as I tuck the figure safely into my bag. Hesitating for a moment, I glance at her and then pull a small square of heavy parchment from the pocket sewn into the side of the bag. "Here. Should Emhyr appear again trying to cause a fuss, I can be found there most evenings from mid-afternoon until the hour before sunset."

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14 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:18 pm

Palming the parchment, I glance at it quickly before nodding.

"And your name?" I ask, "Who am I looking for?"

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15 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:19 pm

"Solas," I respond as I step outside the fence before turning back to her. "And you are?"

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16 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:21 pm

"Yvla." I respond, smiling slightly. "Thank you, Solas."

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17 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:26 pm

"You are very welcome," I reply, nodding toward her once more. "Have a good night."

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18 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Wed Dec 20, 2017 12:09 am

************

The paper in my hand is stiff and rough as I hold it clumsily between my fingers trying to read it. The breeze cutting through the alley makes it difficult to hold the paper still, and the infant wiggling in the sling across my front doesn't help either. 

"Mum, where are we going?" Rae asks nervously, still lingering near the edge of the alley as she peers off towards our neighborhood. "Are we gonna go back to the shops? I'm tired." She whines, pacing across the cobbles back towards me as she reaches up to pat at Evander's back.

"Shh, muffin," I hush her softly, holding the paper against the wall as I manage to smooth it enough to read. Crow's Inn, eastern edge of town. I don't read any further before tucking it back into the bag hanging on my other hip before reaching out to take Raefiya's hand in mine and setting off with the sun at my back. 

***

Venturing further from the familiar area of the city, my grip on Rae's hand tightens as we maneuver through the busier cobblestone streets. Rae's hurried steps practically skip behind me as she hangs heavily from my hand. There's a sign several yards off, it's chains rattling as the heavy wooden crow swings dully in the wind. The Crow's Perch. 

The moment I make it through the door, I'm met with the loud bustle of the tavern, Evander shifting and stirring against my front as I hold Raefiya and my bag close to my sides. Even with my jewels and charms tucked inside of my shirt collar and Rae stripped of her own jewels and baubles, I can't shake the unsteady feeling that we stick out in this area of the city. Families aren't common sights for the inns nearer the ports and city centers, instead they're usually reserved for traveling tradesmen and hunters. 

Once I hit the bar, I pull Raefiya to stand between me and the worn wooden bartop, craning my head to look for the barhand. 

"We don't serve kids," A weathered but attractive woman states as she steps over to address me, glancing at Rae and her brother before looking back to me curiously. "Sure you ain't lookin' for a room here?"

"Not a room, a person," I say over the din of the bar, the crowded and loud nature of the environment not what I'd have expected for the man who'd given me the parchment just a week before. "Uhm, hold on, I have this-" I continue, digging into my bag as I pull out the parchment and unfold it on the bar, pointing at the man's name as I look up at her expectantly. "Can you direct me to him?"

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19 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Wed Dec 20, 2017 12:27 am

"Oi!" the man across from me shouts as I laugh and scoop the sizable pile of coins and various trinkets toward me. "Ye're fuckin' cheating, ya bastard!" I can only grin as he throws his cards angrily on the table, his mug of ale sloshing onto the wood as his elbow hits it.

"Don't be a sore loser, Lib'," I grin as I make a circular gesture toward our barmaid, signaling her for another round. "This one's on me. Care to play another round? Try to win back your pride?"

The others at the table nod their enthusiasm, mugs sloshing as they drink the last dregs down before the other round comes. Meanwhile, I begin the arduous task of gathering my cards back into my hand without letting the mess of drinks and food stain them. Lib' is clearly on his last legs, his large body swaying in his seat as he extends far more focus than it should take for him to situate his own cards. I can't help but grin at that, my gaze lingering on the expensive blade on his hip. One game closer to coaxing him into recklessly betting it against my deck - a deck he's not once managed to beat in all the months we've known one another.

As I watch him thoughtfully, a familiar face catches my eye near the bar, and my smile disappears. Cursing under my breath, I frown at Ylva as she spots me, my posture stiffening only slightly as I carry on shuffling my deck and trying to pay half my attention to the gin soaked words coming from the woman beside me.

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20 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Wed Dec 20, 2017 12:39 am

Turning as the barmaid points me towards a table back in the corner, I spot Solas almost as soon as he spots me. Frowning sharply, I turn back to the woman and thank her quickly before digging into my pocket for some coin to drop on the bar before grabbing Rae's arm and guiding her to walk ahead of me. 

The looks we receive as we meander through the crowd leaves a humiliating knot to form in my stomach, threatened only by the sense of anxiety as Raefiya catches the gazes of several patrons as we pass by. This was a mistake, I think as we get closer to Solas's table, stopping in my tracks as I pull Rae back against me as a particularly boisterous woman slides back from the table roughly before getting unsteadily to her feet and wandering off.

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21 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Wed Dec 20, 2017 12:50 am

"Play this round without me," I say over the din of laughter as my companions natter amongst themselves, my words drawing a loud, "Boo!" as I offer them an apologetic smile and pocket my cards just as Hylda tries to reach over to grab them from the table. "Nobody take that sword! I'll win it yet, mark my words!"

"Over my dead, smelly corpse!" Lib' shouts as he downs more alcohol than I could rightly put away in one sitting.

"How'll we know if the stinkin' thing is dead or just passed out?" Hylda chides with a boisterous laugh as I try my best to squeeze out past the drunken woman. Her short legs come up as she stands on her chair to shake her fist at Lib's quick threats of violence, her arm nearly knocking me off my feet as a string of curses flies from her lips.

I offer Ylva an apologetic grimace as I squeeze behind Hylda's chair, managing to free myself from the table just as a mug of ale flies at Lib's head. I'm a little unsteady on my own feet as I reach out to put a gentle hand on the frazzled woman's arm, gesturing her toward the door leading out to the patio.

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22 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Wed Dec 20, 2017 1:04 am

Solas's hand guides me ahead of him towards a door near the back end of the bar, my own hands guiding Rae along as she reaches up to push it open and head out. I'm grateful for the considerably more quiet environment as the door shuts behind Solas, though it's broken by the suddenly more noticeable cries of the infant hanging across my chest. 

"I'm sorry," I start as I turn to face him, my nerves coming through in my words. "I must seem so desparate, coming here, but-" I stop, shifting the bag from my shoulder and handing it to Raefiya before looping my arms around Evander and bouncing him anxiously. "We were at the shops, and when we got back to our street, your 'friend' was standing in my front garden." I explain, the infant quieting slightly as he gets a handful of my hair to his mouth. A pastime of his I've been trying to discourage, but at the moment I could care less if it quiets him. 

"I normally wouldn't be so bothered by it, I've encountered your sort before but never with-" I hesitate, my voice softening as I glance back at Rae and then to Evander. "I had this bad feeling about it and I got scared."

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23 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Wed Dec 20, 2017 1:17 am

I curse sharply under my breath, my cheeks already flushed from the alcohol as I glance back at her and her children sheepishly. "Sorry," I say quickly, oblivious to the fact that my curse is not in her native tongue and was likely not understood. I find myself staring at the fussing bundle in her arms before I find the wherewithal to pull my focus back to the present.

"No, you were right to be concerned," I sigh as I nod for her to follow me toward the stables. "Emhyr is a damned fool. I fear this is partly my fault. I had hoped he would drop it, and leave you be. Clearly, I was mistaken, and I must speak to him more directly. He'll no doubt still be waiting at your house. We'll go, and I'll put this to bed for good."

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24 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Wed Dec 20, 2017 1:26 am

"I can't thank you enough," I let out with a heavy sigh of relief, gesturing back to Raefiya as I call for her to walk behind me. 

"I don't fully understand, even, why you're willing to help, but-" I shake my head as we trail behind him, looking down at Evander as he entertains himself with my hair and the hem of his own dress, "We're grateful."

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25 Re: Witchy Wonderland on Wed Dec 20, 2017 1:30 am

"Nothing to understand, really," I shrug as I glance back at her before stepping into the stables to fetch Etrielle. "He crossed a line, taking a child. It's as simple as that."

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