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An Excerpt of Chapter 18 of DAGGER

~Book Two of the Hunted Mage Trilogy~

Erick did not pause at the door but shuffled his feet forward to the table. She heard him drop items onto the top and then crept toward him as he began striking a flint.

A spark jumped from the stone to the char cloth and smoldered for a moment before the smith lit a pair of candles from the ember.

The tiny lights flared brightly and the smith gave a yell as they illuminated Miina sitting across the table from where he stood. He threw the flint stone with a jerk as he leaped back a step. It struck her collarbone with an audible thud.

“OW! Damn it, Erick!”

“Damn it, yourself! Why do you creep about in the black?”

Miina rubbed the bruised spot and grinned at him. She let a touch of feral delight crinkle her nose at him.

“Because no one else does! They never expect it.”

He picked up a fallen stool for himself and gave a snort of disgust.

“You are touched! You have something wrong with you.” He made a vague gesture at his head and sat down across from her at the long, plank table. There was a rough cloth sack on the boards. He rummaged until he found a skin and two wooden cups.

“I cannot stay, Erick. I have waited too long already! Ragnor’s sister waits for me to dine with her.”

He pulled the stopper and poured for them both, despite her words.

They drank quietly for a few moments before Erick cleared his throat, refilled his cup and drained it again with a loud slurp.

“This will end badly!” His cup clattered to the table in his huge fist. His brows furrowed in a glare across the table.

Miina rolled her eyes and tipped her head at his words.

“It generally does. You simply cannot hold your wine, Erick. It makes you weepy!”

He made a scoffing sound.

“You know very well what I mean. And that only happened the once. Hold your tongue!”

He poured for them again but did not drink this time. He eyed her across the table and she met his gaze with a determined stare of her own.

“Tell me what you mean, Smith! Tell me again, so that I may feel free to come by the forge and tend to your tasks!”

Erick drew his head back in irritation and it made his beard thrust forward beneath his face and for a moment she envisioned a cat puffing out its tail before it fights a larger beast.

Bristle all you wish, Erick, but you have no say!

“You have not heard the things I have, Karhu! You do not take care enough in your dealings with Ragnor,” Erick muttered with a grimace.

She stirred her wine with a finger as he spoke and, when he paused, flicked her finger at him. Crimson droplets shimmered in the light of the candles and arced through the air to spatter his face and linen shirt. The red dots soaked into the cream colored fabric and grew larger as she replied.

“So sure, are you? I am well-placed to hear a great many things and you…clanging away in your smithy…hear more than I?” she laughed.

A drop of wine fell from his beard as he looked down at his chest and the stains upon his shirt.

“My last clean shirt! Must you always flick things at me when you do not want to hear me?” He drained his cup once more and cast the final drop at her. “My next shirt comes from your share of the fee!”

She laughed again.

“I owe you that much at least. It is hard to get you to clean up so nicely, I should not discourage clean shirts on you! What have you heard that I have not, Erick?”

He brushed at the spots on his linen as he spoke, and, truth be told, he did seem troubled by his words more than the stains.

“I have taken work from a Mage. He is the man Jorma spoke of, before you left for the lakes. Before I met with him I took a commission from Ragnor’s arms-masters. An impossibly large order, and when I refused the Mage’s offer for lack of time…he brought me Ragnor’s man.”

Erick shook his head with a grim look upon his face.

“The man was terrified of this crippled Mage. Ragnor’s warlord! He yielded terms to me so that I could take the Mage’s task first. I came to warn you! If Ragnor has dealings with this Rune-singer, you are better off well out of it!”

She narrowed her eyes as she pondered his words. Her finger swirled a drop of the spilled wine into loops on the dark wood of the table.