SKETCH #106: WHEELER

This is a repost from my (now-defunct) writing blog, that I had occasion to come across recently. Decided I wanted to share it again, just for giggles. ^_^


I was about to leave the tavern when she walked in. Quite literally, my hand was on my sword-belt, pulling it down from the peg on the booth, and then one of the Fae strolled through the doors like a shaft of light into a darkened room.

She didn’t hide it, didn’t try. You could see pointed ears poking through red-gold hair, a hunter-green cloak with the hood thrown back, and a lute-in-leather over her shoulder. I saw the bartender perk up at her entrance, a smile spreading across his features as he reached under the bar for something. I watched as she walked through the place like she owned it, petite against the backdrop of the mahogany bar, and saw her mount a stool only to heave herself onto the bar, dangling her boots before her as she faced the common.

I’d already left silver on the table for my meal (looking back, the garçon had already collected it while I wasn’t looking, little bugger) but headed to the bar anyway. My appointment wasn’t exactly pressing, after all. I placed myself down the bar from where the Fae sat, and motioned to the barman. He gave a smirk, like he heard the punchline to a joke, and poured another pint of the Tenhain I’d just finished.

I was taking the first taste of the beer when I heard metals snaps coming undone. Looking to the Fae, she had opened the leather to pull out a lute-like instrument made of black wood. From a sleeve she pulled out a piece of horn that looked like a flattened ‘T’, and twirled it expertly in her fingers.

She gave me a wry smile (because she’d noticed I was staring, and perhaps it was the drink but I found myself not caring) and dragged a corner of her ‘T’ across the three strings. And then she played.

It was an enthralling piece, but by the end I realized something: I was the only person in the tavern, aside from the staff and the Fae.

I raised my mug to her nonetheless, and she nodded her appreciation.

“I’m afraid I’m not much of an audience for you, lady,” I said.

She idly plucked more on the instrument softly as she smiled again. “Audience enough, shaheen.”

“That’s no lute I’ve ever seen before.”

She laughed. “No, I imagine it is not.”

Where was she from? “Far away.” How’d she come to the city? “Boat.” Business or pleasure? “Business is pleasure, shaheen. Both, then?” And all the while she accompanied our conversation with an endless meandering melody on that lute, the long fingers of one hand manipulating the strings while the other picked at them with the bachi.

I realize, looking back, that it was an incredibly frustrating conversation. Or was for a time, until…

“So where are you off to, shaheen?”

“I am a swordsman. I go where I please, when I have a purpose.”

“What purpose would call a swordsman out at this time of night?”

“Business requiring only the sword, if I’m brief.” I can play this game too, Fae. Or so I thought at the time.

“Does it pay well, this business? Playing escort to a sword?”

I was surprised at the sweetness of it, but a fair hand can hurt just as much as a rough one when it slaps you in the face.”The sword doesn’t wield itself, lady.”

“But does the sword not employ you? Without the sword, what are you? Have you another skill?” She paused, but before I could say anything she went on. “What’s more, if the sword doesn’t wield itself, as you say, what is the sword without the hand that wields it?”

Still her hands plied the strings of her instrument, and the gentle smile never left her face, nor the lilt of her voice turned scornful. This was a child asking questions of philosophy, though I couldn’t help but sense there was some motive behind it all.

“Couldn’t I say the same of you, then?” I said, and it’s possible I was not as good at concealing my scorn, though for my part I tried. “Are you not a slave to your lute, if your lute is what makes the music?”

She laughed again, and my scorn burned like bile in my throat. “My lute would be in a poor business, to come to a tavern with no paying customers within. My lute makes music because I wish it to, not because it is what employs me. I have other skills for my employment.”

“Such as?” A thousand ribald examples leaped to mind, and a dark corner of my mind considered whether or not my wages for the night could be better used.

She built to a climax with her bachi, and let the last notes hand in the air. “To start, I am most pleased to own a tavern.”

Such was my introduction to Wheeler, and that is as good a place as any to begin her story.

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4 thoughts on “SKETCH #106: WHEELER

  1. I scrolled down to the comments and the final sentence in the story before reading and now I have mixed feelings. Do I read this apparently good short story knowing it has just enough of a cliffhanger to get me salivating for more, or do I just walk away and save myself because “you can’t miss what you never had”?

    • Admittedly, I never did continue the story after this point: it had spun off of a character I’d built for a tabletop game with some friends of mine that was sadly derailed by everyone moving out of town, and since I was one of the ones moving, I kinda lost the thread of the character in the process. I’m glad you liked it though! The notion of telling Wheeler’s story through the eyes of Sel (the narrator, another criminally underused character of mine) is something that I might go back to if I ever get the time.

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