The beekeeper's wife

Something's up with Ivy. Hard to tell if she still crab'd because of me or if something else bugs her. She sure got ol' Gathord all wrapped, getting his tower and all. Makes me wonder if he's knocked her up. It would explain the moods.

Looking for her, I bump into the big, grumpy bastard. Just when he is telling me he's skipping town, Ivy walks up, wearing her happy face. Gathord wants us to walk with him to the 'Beekeeper's wife'. Some hussy he needs to say goodbye too. Considering he's inviting Ivy too, this promises to be interesting so I tag along. On the way we spot Marcuis, leading two fresh women to his den. He fancies himself quite the top diver of this town. We wave, all smiles.

A slim, dusky woman opens the door to us. She's prime, superior, but in a quiet way. No wonder Gathord is shuffling his feet. He misses my chuckle. The woman introduces herself as Neftera. We go up to her rooms and Gathord says his piece. She's clearly not amused about his leaving, even looks pained.

Ivy seems out-of-sorts with the situation. She needs some cheering up. I think of the candied figs, laced with Golden Halo, in my bag. Nice, but first this Neftera and Gathord should have a go at them, to see what it does. I offer the figs and get Ivy out of there, pretending to get some drink for all. She seems glad to leave.

We return half an hour later with the last of my wine and rum. I think it will be worth spending it. Gathord and the woman are sitting quietly. I think two or three figs are missing, but can't be sure. We have the drinks and talks turns to Stygia and its mysteries. Gathord means to go there. Ivy cracks some jokes about Stygian women, but the laughter seems sour. I can feel the tension building.

I break out some cheese I brought as well and offer it with the figs. Finally, Gathord eats some of them and Ivy as well. But Neftera declines, offering me a polite smile. Did she make me? I can't tell, the woman's face is a studied blank. Ha! One worthy to test my wits against. I almost grin.

It's all plummy from here on. Ivy shows her best, quipping, laughing, getting Gathord nuts upon her. Looking at them, I would say it's mutual. Bemused, I sit with Neftera, drinking of the rum and trying a chat. The woman is glib! I learn hardly anything. We stow the talk and watch the lovebirds, until Ivy almost gets him to stay. Neftera decides she's had enough.

She calls Gathord and he almost jumps to her. She whispers to him, earnestly. I strain to hear it, but don't get more than: "Leave ... back .... found .. attracted .. time .. Khemi .. priest" Damn! This queen is playing me! But I smile, liking it.

The show is nearly at an end. Gathord is excusing himself, Ivy looking away. A fine service I did her; I feel guilty. Distracted, I start talking to Neftera about her dead beekeeper. She tells me it was quite recent. Without warning, I am thinking about Arrian, the vast hurt clouding my mind. I can't help but show it to her, but she surprises me with her compassion.

Gathord leaves, mumbling goodbyes. Ivy just sits there, awkward, perhaps a bit dazed. Just for awhile, then she leaves too. It's Neftera and me know and I can tell she's ready to show me down. I slip into my new role, educated and sharp, trying to play it smart. I can hardly imagine her falling for it, but it is worth the try.

Neftera's tweaked, but she goes easy on me. No angry rants, no threats. Just an understanding, that I am not to try and drug her again. I parry best as I can, but she has the better of me. She's not on my level, no way. Way above me. I dissemble and tell her about the house, the bodies, the scrolls, Blackthorn and the Golden Halo.

She's mighty keen on the scrolls, but did I find a ring with them? I have no clue, one of the others must have palmed it. I offer to find out and she promises two cases of honey mead. Quite a fortune in Tombstone, she assures me. The conversation dies quickly after that. Still, I have learned a valuable thing: this woman is more than she seems to be. No ordinary beekeeper's wife, oh no. She's observant, smart and, for now, way out of my league.

I say my goodbyes and return to my sleeping place, up on the wall.

Up on the hill, I can smell the camp below,
The heavy scent of horses, woodfires and even unwashed men.
It makes me long for him.

We plunge down, through long grass and sturdy shrub,
My fiery colt and I, driving as one.
Until we meet him.

Chest bared, hands dripping blood of the skinning,
He looks up to smile his crooked smile,
And I turn to water, looking at him.

We ride to the river, in silence, together.
We bathe and we dine. We laugh, and we make love.
Me ... and him.