Garen woke to a pounding on the door and the pounding in his head. “Coming,” he groaned. Breathing in, he inhaled a scent he wasn’t expecting and forced his eyes open against the protest of his head.
“Huh?” grunted a voice close to his ear. “Again?”
Garen didn’t recognize the voice. He didn’t recognize the rafters above him, the pattern of morning light illuminating motes of dust where there shouldn’t be dust at all.
Also, it smelled like horse shit.
He sat up before turning to look at his companion. Hairy, a little older than himself. Body of a workman, not a merchant or scholar. Unkempt, musky, bearded. Not the worst he’d woken next to.
“What?” the man asked, meeting Garen’s gaze. His eyes were grey, distant. A bit feral.
“There’s someone at the door.”
The man sat up. Garen stared at his body, the sweat-matted fur of his chest making him look a bit like a wet dog. A like-able dog, though.
“What door you talking about, mate?” His voice was a bit gravelly, low timbred. His breath was raw with old wine, but no rot.
Garen turned away, back towards the knocking, his head revolting at the sudden movement. He blinked back the pain, then blinked again. There was no door.
“We’re in my father’s stables, remember?”
“That’s the smell,” Garen grunted. “I don’t remember a thing.”
The man smiled, reaching out his arm.
Garen didn’t recoil at his touch. “What’s my name?”
Worn, calloused fingers grazed Garen’s jaw. “You wouldn’t tell me last night. You seriously don’t remember?”
Laughing, enjoying the feel of the man’s hand running through his stubble, he answered. “No. I mean, I know my name.” Then, noting a look of hurt sweep over the man’s face, he added, “and I’m sure you were great.”
The man shook his head. “I’d let you knock me around sober too, mate.”
The pounding on the door came again, louder. A voice now:
“We need a provisioner.”
Understanding pierced Garen’s mind, hard. “I gotta go, mate.”
Garen stood up. “Sorn. Okay. I’m Garen, though I probably shouldn’t tell you that if I wouldn’t last night.”
“Garen, right. You did, I just forgot too. We drank a lot.”
By the way the world spun around him and his head threatened to explode, Garen was certain the man was right. “Sorn. Great. Uh, where are we?”
“In the stables by the docks. Ruyn street.”
Not a long walk, then…Garen could get back before they arrived. “Good. Uh, see you again maybe?”
Sorn rose to stand in front of him. Erect, his body hair still matted with sweat. A bit shorter but as muscled as Garen. Serious, seeking eyes staring back at him as he scanned the man’s body.
“Yeah. Maybe. Your clothes are still soaked, probably.”
A few seconds passed before his words came back to him—the man in front of him was beautiful. “Uh…it rained last night?”
Sorn laughed and pointed to where Garen’s trousers hung, dripping on a wall hook. “You jumped into the river to get your shirt.”
“Why was my shirt in the river?”
Slapping out the still-sopping wet fabric, Sorn shrugged. “You threw it. You…you were really drunk, mate.”
“Yeah,” Garen answered, holding his head. “Sorry.”
Trudging shirtless in wet boots and trousers through the dawning streets of the city was miserable. Garen was cold, his legs chafing against the soaked cloth, his boots squeaking and splashing water across the cobbles.
Whatever he’d done the night before had been stupid. Reckless. He maybe shouldn’t have told Sorn his name. He maybe shouldn’t need to hurry cold and wet through back streets to his room. He also, maybe, wanted to go back to the stables instead.
His head hurt. He’d drank too much. He remembered nothing.
Another blackout. When did it start? He couldn’t piece it together. He’d had dinner. Done some writing. Lit the candles.
“Fuck,” he muttered aloud, walking faster. Had he blown them out? Had he burned down the house? The fear made him dizzier, the pounding now like a hammer rather than a knocking.
No. They wouldn’t be knocking on his door if there were no door to knock on. The house hadn’t burned down. Maybe he’d blown the candles out before he left, or maybe they’d burned out of their own accord. Worst he might find was a wax-covered altar, a ruined prayer mat.
“We need a provisioner.”
“I’m coming, damn it” Garen shouted at the empty alley, his voice echoing off waking stone. He’d seen no one; the city still slept, no vendors or city watch to gawk at his wet clothes and shivering, naked chest.
The quicker pace was a bad idea. He stopped to retch into a corner, his throat burning as he choked out something that smelled of wine, apple liquour, and possibly beer.
He leaned his head against the wall, spitting out the acrid bile. The chill of the stone eased his headache some. He was still shivering, but the cold made him feel feverish, too.
“Didn’t see this coming,” he said to himself, chuckling at the irony.
He retched twice more before arriving home. No one stood in front, no horses were tethered outside. He fumbled for his key, then cursed when he found it gone.
He’d climbed the garden wall plenty of times before, though never while so drink-sick. The jolt from landing on the other side seared more pain through his skull, but he ignored it. He stopped at the rain barrel to drown his head in the frigid stream and wash some of the wine-vomit from his face. The cold water quickened his senses a bit.
Garen heard the noise he was waiting for. Shod-hooves over cobble, three—maybe four—sets. Still distant, but approaching fast. He didn’t have much time.
He hoisted himself up to the edge of the rain barrel, gripping the ledge above him. His balance was off, he almost tipped the barrel. His wet boots made gripping near-impossible, his fingers were cold and raw. Each jarring move threatened the temporary truce his stomach had made with his head.Just before he’d lifted himself to the window, he retched again.
The window was open. He’d foreseen at least one thing, though he still didn’t remember anything after lighting the candles. Once his left knee had purchase on the ledge, he threw himself through, landing on the floor by his bed.
He lay there for a few seconds, facing the low table where the candles from last night still glowed and flickered.
Knock, he heard, this time in-time.
He stared at the icon between the candles before blowing them out. She-who-foresees stared back, placid, calm, wise.
Knock, he heard.
He didn’t remove his eyes from the painting as he stood, kicked off his boots, peeled off his trousers. As angry as he was, the icon calmed him. Black eyes, gold skin, vestments of blue and green on a black background. Beautiful and distant, gazing upon worlds not yet born. Watching. Preparing.
“What’d you do to me?” he demanded, then caught himself. His words sounded wrong. Ungrateful.
Naked and wet and shivering, Garen remembered what came next. He turned from the shrine, dried himself off quickly with a thick blanket, and then wrapped it around himself before running downstairs.
Knock, he heard, just as he reached the door.
His key was still in the lock—he’d left without it last night, crawled out the window like some rebellious adolescent. Garen turned the key, lifted the second latch, opened the door just as the heavily-armed man on the other side said:
“We need a provisioner.”
“I know,” he answered.